By Emmanuel Howahowa (Malawi)
Today the premises of the Peoples Bank have been invaded by strange faces carrying clear bags, envelopes, plastic bags and files. People of all ages are here—the youth, the young men and women, the grey haired. People from the north, the centre, and the east are all here. All the tribes—the Ngonis, the Yaos, the Tumbukas, and the Lomwes—have their representatives here. You can easily recognize their presence from the languages that are being spoken here. Nobody asks what all these people have come here for unless the person is the only visitor in this “Jerusalem.”
The story is this: The Peoples Bank is expanding its business and would like to open more branches. It would like to recruit about twenty tellers to work in the new branches. So today is the interview day. The minimum requirement for these posts is a certificate in Business Management or Accounting, but people with Diplomas, Advanced Diplomas, and Bachelor’s Degrees like me are among us here. Like insects going towards the lamp on a moonless night, people continue to flock to The Peoples Bank from all directions and the crowd is getting bigger and bigger. Seven young boys and girls have lined up to the far right, children who are supposed to be at school at this hour of the day. They have taken advantage of our interview to sell biscuits, water, pens, sweet beer, bananas and fries.
All the faces are just new; I can’t recognize any. Close to me, four men and three women have formed their group. I can judge from their discussions that they are married and perhaps have children. They are discussing the poor rainfall that swept their crops in the fields, fertilizer prices and school fees. I leave them and as I move about, I come to a place where four girls, possibly in their early twenties, are discussing facebook issues.
“Innocent,” screams a girl behind me. Almost simultaneously, a young man at a distance of about two meters screams “Bridget.” The two then come together and hug each other on both sides strongly and happily. It seems they last met a long time ago and they are now very happy to meet again. I am sure that even if they are not successful they will not worry much; at least the interview has helped them to meet again.
As I continue moving, I bump into another group—soccer fans. Seven young men and one lady have formed a circle. They are discussing English Premier League. This group is the noisiest of all the groups that have been formed here. They are pointing fingers at one another as each of them wants to convince the group that the team they support is the best. Despite that all the teams are based in England, it is the first person pronoun ‘we’ that is dominating in their discussions: “we shall take the championship”, “we shall buy that player”, “we shall meet at our home ground”, “we shall…”, “we will…”, “we can…”, “we…”, “we…”, “we…” as if they have any say in the running of the teams. Soccer lovers indeed!
After an hour of waiting, we see a coaster coming. From the coaster comes out eight people, five men and three women. Immediately a security guard, dressed in a green pair of trousers and a navy blue short-sleeved shirt, opens the offices. The coming in of these people creates tension among us. We move closer to the offices, and some rush to the toilet.
“Excuse me! Excuse me!”
It is a young man, one of us the interviewees, speaking. He is in a Mohawk haircut and his tinted spectacles with big glasses are on his forehead. His trousers are right at the bottom of the buttocks, almost falling down. His necktie has been loosely tied. Despite the looks of this fellow, we still listen to him attentively because it is that awkward moment when any information during the interview seems very useful regardless of the one saying it.
“Ladies and gentlemen, mine is just a plea to my fellow youth not to attend this interview. My fellow youth, let us pave way for these elders—our parents who are among us here. These elders have children like us who need food, clothes and school fees. My fellow youth, our time will come when all these elders have been employed. Our Malawian culture tells us to respect elders. Let us be polite my fellow youth.”
Very few cheer at this nonsense. The facial expression of many elders clearly indicates that they have not been amused by this mockery.
As we continue waiting, a woman comes out of one of the offices. She is dressed in a black miniskirt exposing her spotless legs and the knees. She has perfectly matched the skirt with a silver white tight blouse, white earrings, a pair of white high heels, and a fragrant perfume diffusing within her parameters. She does not have to silence us as we all just keep quite upon seeing her.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you are most welcome to this interview; feel free. I will call out the names of the first twenty people to make a line towards the offices. After the interview, please leave through the back door as you will not be allowed to interact with those that have not yet been interviewed. So here is the list of the first twenty people.
The names are arranged alphabetically, but it’s very surprising that even those whose names begin with the letters X,Y,Z still listen attentively, just in case a miracle happens and a Z becomes the first letter of the alphabet and they get interviewed at first while the interviewers are still fresh and increase their chances of getting employed. I listen very attentively as the list goes down to B and then C, D until she reaches E.
I immediately rush to join my friends that are on the queue. Six people later join me at the back, and we move along the line sluggishly. There is no cloud in the atmosphere to restrict the sun from pounding us. We are sweating heavily. My necktie is making me uncomfortable, but I cannot loosen it, let alone remove it; otherwise, some marks will be deducted for indecency.
There is a woman in front of me. In her hand is a small piece of paper. In the paper are questions: ‘why do you want to join us?’, ‘can you mention three services provided by The Peoples Bank?’, ‘what is your salary expectation?’, ‘what is your weakness?’, ‘do you have any question?’ So this woman keeps looking at the paper and looking up as if memorizing the answers.
My turn. I look down to make sure that my shirt has properly entered the trousers just like a duo colour capsule. I then take out my certificates from the envelope I have been holding the whole day. Then I follow the man who has been leading to the interview room. Together, we walk along the white tilled corridor to the furthest end and then turn left. He finally opens the door labeled “Interview Room.” We are finally in the air-conditioned room. I remain standing as he introduces me to the panelists.
As I sit down, I recognize one face. It’s the face of the Human Resources Manager who is also the chair for this interview. I am sitting face to face with her. As I bring my memories back, I finally find out that she is Vitumbiko Bwanali. So I remember that I was with Vitumbiko in form two at Mphande Secondary School some fourteen years ago.
Vitumiko’s looks then were not all that attractive. We used to mock her that she had all masculine features except just ‘one’. We used to refer to her as a fellow boy. We went further to mock her that being in love with her can lead to imprisonment as the country does not allow same-sex marriages. She was then very plump and we had nicknamed her Two-in-One. So we mocked her that she was actually two people put together and that a pastor cannot bless her marriage as the church does not condone polygamy. In short, Vitumbiko was a laughing stock then. She was the cause of one of my severest punishments at school when I told her openly to work hard in class so that she could get employed in future; otherwise, she was too ugly to get married. This statement annoyed our head teacher we had nicknamed Osama. So I was told to dig a two-meter deep pit.
While I am seated, my head is clouded with memories about Vitumbiko. I look at her and can see that she has recognized me. I hope there is no room for revenge. To tell the truth, I am ashamed and not at peace with Vitumbiko’s presence. But the interview has begun. All the interviewers are happy and smiling as they ask me questions. So I am forced to smile and look at them all as I answer the questions despite the psychological trauma that I am going through.
“Mr. Howahowa, we thank you for coming to attend this interview and we wish you all the best.”
It is now Vitumbiko, the Human Resources Manager and the chair for the panelists, concluding.
“Thank you, Madam.”
So I stand up to leave the interview room, but as I am just at the doorstep, she seems to have remembered something very important. So I am called back. I almost shiver. Does she want to remind me of what I did to her at school?
“Mr. Howahowa, we forgot to ask you one very important question. Tell us about your work experience.”
“I do not have any experience, Madam.”
“You mean you have not worked in any company or organization before?”
Silence. The panelists exchange glances.
“Mr. Howahowa, we are sorry to say we cannot employ you. We are looking for people who have the experience, those that have already worked before. We want them to start work immediately. You answered all the questions correctly and we are all impressed, but since you have no work experience we cannot do otherwise. Our company does not have immediate funds to send the new employees for training. We wish you all the best in your daily life, Mr Howahowa.”
My body now gets as heavy as a rock, but I force myself to lift it from the chair, tears cascading down my cheeks. I leave the Interview Room.