“My Friend, this degree is useless… I’m sorry.”
His words hit you like a hard brick. They left you feeling like a prick. But you were not struck with the same intensity they had the first time you heard them. Despite your worthless Architecture degree, you knew all about the theory of sensory adaptation.
Sensitivity to prolonged stimulation tends to decline over time as an organism adapts to current conditions
Mr Okon, the biology teacher, constantly drummed it in your ears during your secondary school days. It was for this same reason he constantly varied his methods of punishment.
But you had adapted nicely to this punishment called rejection. In your years of experience as a job hunter, you had discovered some HR persons to be more courteous than others. You knew the nice ones. They wore a smile and made you feel your destiny lay outside their doors. That you just had to step out, and reach for it and grab it! You also knew those who didn’t give a hoot about how people felt. They were the carefree ones who just went ahead to drop the bomb, without waiting to see if you walked out in one piece or not.
The midget who just delivered this terse note of rejection belonged to the latter. You thought he had a serious case of inferiority complex to contend with. You were taller, more muscular and way handsome than him, so it was logical that he threw you out. You slammed the door behind you, and reasoned out your next line of action.
You were back on the streets and it felt like home. You happened to work round the clock just like many other working class citizens. You left your house early every morning, hanging from your favourite spot in the popular El Rufai bus. You liked the spot not because it was the most comfortable of places. You liked it because besides being cheap, it afforded you the opportunity to follow goings-on around you.
You let out a loud laugh that made you look unwell when you remembered this morning’s traffic. Traffic jams were an integral part of your mornings. So much that a morning without its usual dose felt like a morning without the bristly feel of your toothbrush. You even learnt to classify them based on the pace of movement.
But this morning, you had added another class…
Rat Race, you called it.
You were inspired to create this class thanks to the honking old man who addressed the young boy riding a Volkswagen bug. You sniggered when you remembered him screeching at the top of his voice,
“My friend, is it a rat race?”
And so it was this morning. You figured some news had probably broken out that there was a huge bounty up for grabs somewhere in the city centre, and that everyone hurried to get there first. You remembered the wobbly, frail-looking car owner who took on a bus driver and his conductor at the same time. He knuckled the young conductor and flung his foot into the face of the driver in a typical kung fu manner. He had his wife-or at least you imagined she was- trying in vain to stop him.
“Some pummelling there. Only kick boxers do that”
You had remarked as you joined the host of other passengers in laughing away. Then the show ended abruptly with the arrival of koboko-wielding policemen, only to continue a few metres further when you were startled by a loud voice from a vehicle nearby.
“That man will see today!… Shebi he thinks he can eat my share of the money and go? I don’t blame him o. It’s you I blame for not telling him about me. In fact, I’ll show both of you that you don’t bite the finger that feeds you! Ehnnn! You people don’t know me o.”
The ranting middle-aged man was an occupant of the Mini Van that struggled for thoroughfare with your bus. He held a phone to his left ear. And apparently, the erring one received his venom on the other end. But he wasn’t the only audience there. The curses and expletives that were shelled out were audible to everyone within the 5-vehicle radius. He was loud enough despite the humming sounds of the car engines.
And you recalled how the young Ibo guy behind you passed his uncomplimentary remark,
“This Yoruba people sef… they nor sabi to keep them secrets. Na to dey shout shout for outside, na im dem sabi.”
You turned to watch his lips move. He spoke with his mouth filled with the Okpa he munched and you wondered if you ever discussed your secrets in public just as he said.
Then your attention had shifted yet again to what looked like formalities that usually preceded any big title challenge. A ceremony Papa once told you was made popular by the Mohammed Alis and Joe Fraizers of this world. The contenders would be unveiled before the media, showing off naked biceps and triceps. They would throw tantrums, poke fingers at each other and go toe to toe, or nose to nose, teasing each other fiercely. But no one ever dared to land the first punch. It would be unacceptable to do so.
The contenders you observed this time had clothes on. One looked stunning in his three piece suit while the other had his lovely babariga complimented by a matching cap.
“Your Father…” the babariga man blurted out, spreading his fingers across his opponent’s face. His northern accent made his F sound like a P.
“Leave me, I say, let me teach this aboki a lesson”, his opponent replied.
He seemed to address the crowd that surrounded him. His request, you reasoned, was out of place. After all, he had the chance to land the first punch a while ago, but he didn’t. He probably was one of those Lagosians; those Lagosians who talked a lot, but never learnt to walk the talk. You knew all about Lagos and its restless people from your days as a student of the University of Lagos.
Next, you played back the scene of that tumbling Okada man. The sprawling biker who appeared to have miscalculated while attempting to meander through the winding sidewalks. He had found himself in the stinking gutters. The comic picture he painted got everyone but you reeling in laughter. You thought you had had your fill. You however couldn’t resist the urge to giggle when you saw the cab driver who drove against the flow of traffic. He hadn’t given up even when it was clear that he had been boxed in by a couple of V.I.O officials.
You looked up and realised you were right in front of your favourite newspaper stand. You had found your way there while still lost in a myriad of thoughts. It was a sub-conscious thing you just did. Being there, by the way, afforded you the opportunity of cooling off whilst also keeping tabs on happenings around the world. You were a prominent member of the free readers’ club. You made strong points whenever arguments broke out and so they all respected you for that.
On Mondays, you joined in reliving the ecstatic moments of the football matches played over the weekend. But you looked forward to Tuesdays the most, because they granted you the chance for a fresh start. To fill your special vacancy book with new information. You would write and write, putting down enough vacancies to last your hunt for the next couple of days. Then you would spend the rest of the week scouring the beautiful streets of the Abuja- dropping applications and making job enquiries.
You loved the streets at the centre. They were nothing like the filthy neighbourhood you live in. They had no streets in your neighbourhood. Just in-roads tucked between shanties people called homes. You dreamed that someday you would live in one of those beautiful houses you often admired. It was difficult but not impossible, you thought.
This morning you read about the Federal Government’s resolve to create a million jobs every year. The story made the headline of every newspaper on the stand. You shrugged your shoulders, doubting the credibility of the resolution. You wondered if the president and his yes-men (and women) were in touch with reality. You wondered what kind of jobs they were planning to provide when the economy itself was in shambles. A million jobs a year probably wasn’t enough, you thought. You had a useless degree, yes, but you knew quite a lot about the current economic situation of the nation. You flipped the pages of the newspaper in your hand because you felt you had no time for frivolities. It was a Tuesday and you needed to get down to business as quickly as possible. You brought out your vacancy book from your scruffy backpack. You hired a pen and started scribbling.
Capital Projects is recruiting…
Vacancies at Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company…
You scrawled down the details fast. The guy who owned the pen was on your neck. He was done with free-reading and was about to check out.
You were still in the middle of scrawling when you heard a loud voice,
Tunji… Tunji… Arise, for I have called thee into the ministry of reconciliation… You shall serve me and take my words to the ends of the earth.
You turned around to be sure it wasn’t one of your unemployed preacher friends playing a prank on you. Your eyes met the cold stare of the now impatient free reader. You decided it was time to let his pen go.
The words you heard moments ago kept playing back on your mind. You finally said,
“Yes Lord! I will do your bidding, but not before checking out Capital Projects and submitting an application at NLNG.”
You walked to the bus-stop where you hoped to catch a bus home.