Barely eight months I completed the national Youth Service programme for graduates, I moved to Lagos with a renewed spirit and my nagging quest to groove on a greener pasture. The stories of the city’s prospects prompted my decision. On top of these stories was the believe that a week of intensive search for job would undo the regrettable months I spent haggling for salary at the Learning Centre where I was a physics and mathematics tutor. I left East with the hope of regaining my diminishing dignity in the West of the country. I recounted sadly the successes of the guys I know who passed out with me from the Youth Service Corps last February. The batch A corps members, we were called.
I landed in Lagos, my city of hope, and squatted with my cousin who was doing a menial job with a small firm in Ajegunle area of the city. His residence was in serious shambles and quite out of my imagination. It was a face-me-I-face-you apartment in the city slum where a single toilet and bathroom serve the needs of over forty tenants. And the store-like room occupied by my cousin was shared by his friend and me, the new arrival. I was not deterred by the situation of my cousin. In a way, I kind of anticipated it, since he dropped out of school during our second year in the university. He had dreamt of joining the fast-lane, but I persevered, knowing my smile would come last later in our days. This condition I met him on arriving in Lagos was only a confirmation of my postulation back then in school.
I have come to conquer, armed with my University Statement of Result and NYSC discharge certificate. Soon, I will tread the paths to glimmer hope for his shattered ambition. There was no point informing him and his irresponsive co-tenants that I will be with them only for a little while, but my conducts, attire and gait gleaned the difference between us. I set out every morning to a nearby cyber café to surf the Net, clutching a list of job sites and copies of my credentials under my arm. Hope was hoisted in my eyes and in my thoughts. Julius Berger, Schlumberger, Noble Oil, Mobile, Shell, KGM and their likes all got my application. Then I widened the scope to include shipping companies and banks. I applied for both high and middle positions, and when no reply came after one month, I began to worry because my resources have dwindled alarmingly. I never meant to seek the advice of my cousin. However, he offered me one when he seemed to notice my soft-pedaling on the cyber café routine. The truth is that I was fast becoming bankrupt with my reserved account going below five thousand naira. His advice came handy for a change. Lagos Island was the new key provided by him. By 9:00am the next day I have already taken my bath, scoffed the left-over jollof rice in the pot, and began to dress up. In navy blue trousers, a striped white shirt and a dotted tie, I picked up my file and set out to scout the streets of Lagos for a job.
Lo and behold on the Eko Bridge I observed Lagos Island, an incredible sight, the Lagos I had dreamt about! Sky-scrapers stood everywhere before my eyes. My countenance dissolved in a knowing smile. I got off the bus at Oando filling station and hauled off to clinch the jackpot. The first port of call was encouraging. I managed to talk myself into the Head office of Wema bank. They advertized for vacancies, but they had contracted a consulting firm for the recruitment. After much persuasion, I was allowed to drop my CV with a desk officer. But the second place I visited was a total deadlock. CBN! The security men couldn’t let me pass the gate. I was turned back on my heels. From then on, the attitudes that greeted me at each stopover started denting my earlier formidable courage and almost let loose a pent-up emotion. Ten subsequent companies I went to did not permit me go beyond the entrance, and out of the ten, only four accepted my package. It was another thing to think what a lower rank worker at the entrance of a company would do with my application. By the time my count rose to seventeen, I realized that I have lost a lot of energy, and the time on my watch showed it was nearly 2:30pm. I searched around for a restaurant or mini eatery. I was disjointed as I spotted a dingy out-of-way restaurant. I have no choice. I stepped inside and joined the queue of customers. When I chose plates from the big basket and a woman at the counter dished out my request, I almost gobbled my saliva in hunger. Then I took the food and a piece of paper handed to me by another woman to meet the cashier. This was the order of the queue I joined.
“N300,” said the corpulent cashier behind the table. My heart skipped a beat. I fumbled for the lone five hundred naira note in my back pocket. It was the last money with me. There was no pure water in the dingy restaurant and so I bought a N50 bottle one, and this left me with only N150 which was my fare to the Island. Satisfied and energized by the food, I set out for the final round. But nothing seemed to work out any more. My tie was now bulging in the left front pocket of my trousers. I was an underdog, oozing like a he-goat with my armpits soaking the striped shirt. The dirty streamline of the sweat was making a contorted map of the Island visible even under the shades of the looming sky-scrapers. I could smell the male odour of my armpits. This undid my confidence, and I gave up. I began to find my way back to where I started out. My compass was the sky-scraper I thought I had noted earlier, but thirty minutes effort assured me that I have lost the bearing. I tried to ask the way back, but the first two people I approached sidestepped me and went on their way without giving me the opportunity to speak. I felt very embarrassed. It was difficult to keep the shame away from my face. I took my time before approaching a third person.
“Sorry, I don’t have money with me,” he said quickly as he detoured me like a contagious disease to continue down the road. He must have gone more than a hundred meters away before I realized what he meant. Angry and frustrated that the three men could mistake me for a mendicant, I resolved to move on without bothering a fourth person. I strode for another thirty minutes before I became completely exhausted. Then I sat down on a pavement trying hard not to accept my fate. Am I lost in this network of streets and identical tall buildings? My head could not conjure up any way out. It was already getting dark. If only I know the direction to Ajegunle, maybe I will try to trek home. Few people were now walking along the road, but I didn’t look up from my position. I wasn’t thinking. I was too tired to. “Engineer Steve, what are you doing here?” I almost flinched. As I looked up to see who was talking to me, I felt like crying. This was the least of my expectation. My cousin’s neighbor! I couldn’t figure his name. They were four guys staying in the same room. One was John, I remembered, but I found it hard to place which face was John’s. As the young man drew nearer, I stood up from the pavement. “John, you dey go home?” I ventured. I’ve never used Pidgin English for them in the compound. “Yes. What are you doing here?” he repeated, glancing intently at my face. “O’boy I tire. Abeg mek we dey go home,” I said and we started moving. I didn’t have the strength to register how I had missed my bearing. Perhaps we took another route. When my cousin returned at night I was already fast asleep. The next morning, he waited for me to tell him if I struck gold in my first outing, probably such thing is not farfetched in Lagos job-hunting. But all I had to show my cousin were the blisters and corns on my heels and toes. A painful lump was stalking the vein on the upper part of my lap near the pubic hairs. And then my story, I got lost in the streets of Lagos.