It was the early evening of what had been a sweltering hot Saturday. The last thing that Amaziah had wanted was to come down to the city centre – especially because he had been looking forward to a weekend of blissful indolence after a hard week at work. Unfortunately, an old friend had invited him to an social engagement, and after deftly dodging previous invitations, he had finally run out of excuses.
As it turned out, the event had been a bust – it started late, and the food ran out before Amaziah could get a serving. Even worse, he had been shaken down for cash as guests had been required to donate and donate again to the celebrants. Never again, he swore to himself, his stomach rumbling in agreement, as he left the venue in search of a bus that would carry him back to the comfort of his home.
As he paced the streets looking for the nearest bus stop, he chanced upon a queue of people that ran alongside a two storey building. It was a long queue with every kind of person in it – tall, short, young, old, male, female, stocky, thin. In fact, the queue was so long that it stretched round the building. Where to, it was impossible to say without following it all the way to the head. Amaziah’s curiosity prompted him to ask the person at the end of the queue what it was all about.
“I don’t know”, his correspondent replied. “I got here one minute ago, and I saw this queue so I decided to join in case betta dey.”
Amaziah shook his head in disbelief. “You joined a queue even though you didn’t know what was at the head of the queue?”
“Why not? Can you not see how many people are in the queue? It means that there must be something good – after all, people will not join a queue for nothing.” One or two people next to the man in the queue nodded their heads in agreement.
Amaziah’s astonishment grew. This was the height of madness. Couldn’t someone go to the head of the queue and find out what was going on? But as he wondered, someone tapped him on the shoulder. He spun round to see a burly man in a safari suit.
“Oga, you dey for queue?”
He hesitated. Did he really want to join this queue whose purpose he didn’t know? On the other hand, what if there really was something good at the head of the queue? He decided to hedge his bets.
“Erm… yes o, I’m on the queue.” He could always decide to leave the queue if it turned out there was nothing there. Mr. Safari then stood behind him, followed in short order by several others as though joining the queue was the natural order of things.
OK o… perhaps I’m the one-eyed madman in the land of the blind, Amaziah thought to himself. Perhaps someone will come along to answer my questions, and all I should do is to exercise patience. But after five minutes of scanning the street for the approach of anyone who looked like they might have an answer, his patience gave out.
“Everyone, listen to me,” raising his voice as he addressed the other people in the queue. “It looks like nobody knows why we are waiting here.” A murmur of assent rose in response to this.
“And I’m sure that we do not want to spend valuable hours waiting for something when it is possible that the thing we are waiting for might not be worth our time.” Another murmur of assent, though not quite as loud this time.
“So this is what I propose. Let us send someone to the head of the queue and let them find out what is going on. If it is worth staying for, then we can all stay. But if it is not, then we can all go our separate ways.”
Immediately a chorus of disagreement arose from his fellow queuers. There was no point in going to the head, some said; if there was, wouldn’t other people ahead of them in the queue have gone already? Others were even more pessimistic; what if the person who went ahead returned and gave a false report to discourage others from waiting? Then they would leave, and he would jump ahead ahead in the queue. Then there was the question of who would go.
“I don’t mind going, as long as someone keeps my place for me,” volunteered Amaziah.
“Why should we reserve your place?” challenged a thin, light-skinned young woman.
Amaziah eyed her with irritation. “Have you not been listening to what I’ve been saying? I am doing a service for the rest of you – I am helping you decide whether you should waste your time here or not. And even if I wasn’t doing that, how does keeping my place affect you? It’s not as if I’m jumping the queue.”
The woman thrust her face at him with a hostile glare. “Oh, you think you are smart, eh? You think that those of us on the queue here are too stupid to say ‘please reserve my place’ so that we can go and relax with a cold drink in the nearest Mr. Biggs while the rest of us are sweating under the hot sun?” She pointed her finger angrily. “If you want to go – just go! Don’t try and trick those of us who have spent two hours waiting here already.”
“You are talking nonsense. In fact, because I am doing you all a service, I should even go to the head of this section of the queue.”
At this, there was an unholy commotion. Virtually everyone present raised their voices to denounce this suggestion for its autocracy and unfairness. Amaziah tried several times to make his voice heard above the noise, but eventually he gave up. Finally, when the noise had died down, he said:
“All right, I won’t go anywhere. Ill just stay here. We will just wait and wonder what is going on at the head of the queue. We won’t know whether we’ll be here for another 20 minutes or 20 hours, just because everyone is too selfish to take the risk of going to the front.’ His voice became more strident. ” This is the problem with this country – everybody wants to enjoy the benefits of someone’s action, but nobody wants to be that someone!”
At this, there was silence. Then someone added “Nobody – including you, Mr. Politician”, and the entire assembly dissolved into laughter. Amaziah allowed himself a wry smile, and soon, the acrimony of a few minutes ago was forgotten as everyone adjusted their positions and waited in the long queue that stretched all the way to a distant nowhere. Including Amaziah. In spite of his stomach’s loud and indignant protests. After all, who knew what goodies lay ahead?