A Curious Angel
The mid-day sun was merciless on my skin-shaven head. I was forced to take refuge in a roadside shop. An empty seat beckoned so I sat down heavily and ordered a chilled sachet of water. If wishes were horses, I would have asked for two, given my state of exhaustion and thirst.
I kept my documents carefully on a side-stool before taking the water from the friendly shop-keeper. She was young, pretty and cheerful.
“Thank you,’’ I said, giving her a well-folded ten Naira note. I guzzled up the water in an instant. Perhaps my eyes asked for more, or maybe she read my mind; who knows? The shop-keeper came back presently with another sachet of cold water and a charming smile.
“No, I did not ask for another one,” I said.
“I know, but I know you need more.”
“But I…. ”
“I understand. You don’t have to pay for this one.”
“Really? O, thank you very much,” I said.
“ I know how difficult it is to search for a job in this town.”
I gave her a puzzled look.
“How did you know?”
“Over time, I have learned to recognize that look of despondency that job-seekers wear on their faces.”
“Are you sure you are not a seer?”
“In a way, you are right. Sometimes, I see what others do not see.”
“Yes, I do. For one, I see solutions where others like you see problems.”
“You are confusing me. Who are you?”
“Simple. I am a realistic and practical Nigerian. Let me leave you to enjoy your drink,” she said and walked into the inner chamber of her shop.
My stunned mind went to work. Could she be a psychic or just plain queer? Either way, she was definitely an interesting character.
Presently, she came out again, carrying a stainless bowl in her hand.
“I will like to share this with you,” she said, placing the bowl on the table. It contained paw-paw and pineapple cubes. My face was screwed up in surprise.
“Tell me, dark angel, are you always this nice to strangers?”
“Yes, that’s what you are.”
“No, Elvis, you are mistaken. I can be really nasty at times.”
I shuddered on hearing her mention my name.
“How did you know my name?”
“Relax, man. You are so jumpy.”
I stared at her with a greater intensity. The fear on my face amused her, but I had an eerie feeling.
“Hello, relax, Elvis. Your name is on your file.”
I heaved a sigh and glanced at the file she referred to. I joined her to eat the fruits, relishing every bite.
“So what’s your name?” I asked.
“Exactly what I thought! You are an angel. And you have not answered my question.”
“Why are you being so nice to a total stranger?”
“Well, something tells me you are a reasonable young man and I like to have dealings with reasonable people.”
“That is curious, but thanks all the same.”
“You are welcome.”
We ate in silence until she spoke again.
“You are too smart to be doing this,” she said, touching my file. “How long has this job search lasted?”
“About four years now.”
“And nothing. I am still searching as you can see.”
“So what do you do to keep mind and body together while you search?”
“Nothing really. I am a full time applicant.”
“Are you sure you are a true citizen of this country?”
“Of course I am.”
“It’s hard to believe. A lively, strong and smart young man like you cannot just fold your hands and allow a stagnant system turn you into a pauper. I mean, look around and you will find so many ways of making a living.”
“You may be right, but one needs a capital to start a good business. That’s the problem.”
“Well, you may also be right, but I can show you a good business that requires no capital, just your willingness to co-operate.”
“That will be really great, but I don’t see how that is possible. This shop, for instance; could not have been set up without money, could it?”
“Yes, the shop requires money but this shop is only one of the outcrops of the business I am talking about. The business gives the capital which you can invest in other ventures. ”
“Wow! That must be one hell of a lucrative business. So what is it all about? I hope…”
“Don’t be afraid, my dear Elvis. It’s nothing scary like armed robbery, drug trafficking or even money rituals, no.”
“That is good to know, so what is it?”
“Tell me, Elvis, how would you like to help the needy and at the same time, earn some cool cash?”
“Sounds too good to be true.”
“But it’s too real to be false. Here’s the detail,’’ she said, pulling her chair closer. “The schools are full of needy people, but only people with vision see this true picture. Students are in dire need of meal tickets called certificates. They are as yet too blind to see that the certificates they crave have not really saved those who possess them from poverty. That is to our advantage. Again, fortunately for us, the various components of society conspire to make sure they will never get enough from the school program to be able to earn these certificates on their own. That is where we come in. We give them what they want and they give us what we need. At the end, everyone is happy. The outfit I work for needs to expand our networks, so we are recruiting. I believe you will be an asset to the organization. What do you think?”
“Are you by any means talking about examination fraud?”
“I wouldn’t call it fraud. Why don’t you see it as a game where no one loses?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t agree with you on that. Every examination misconduct produces only losers.”
“Elvis, don’t tell me you are a morality freak, because I will be really disappointed.”
“Well, my dear Angel, I am not a saint, but there are certain things I will not like to soil my hands with. One of them is the crime of destroying an entire generation.”
“Oh, Elvis, you break my heart. And to think that I actually chose you out of the lot; gosh! Look, Elvis, many people in your shoes will be willing to do anything for this chance to join a very progressive trade. What are you talking about?”
“My dear Angel, if you really think about it, you will realize that the fastest way to stagnate the present and cripple the future is to promote examination fraud and other forms of malpractice involving the youth.”
“I can now see why you are still carrying files about when many of your mates are already employing others to work for them.”
“Angel, please don’t take offence. I just don’t think I will be happy to feed from the decay in our education sector. It would tear my heart apart. I will like to get a decent job because I have a sensitive conscience.”
“Oh, I see. I am the heartless brute, right?”
“No, my dear. You are a sweet angel forced by pressure to embrace a means of livelihood that is beneath your noble status. ”
“So where do you intend to find this decent job you are dreaming about?”
“I know I will find a good job and something tells me that it won’t be long.”
“Pipe dream, my dear fool. Who told you that jerks like you who will moralize about everything will ever get a job in this town? At the rate you are going, I’m sure you cannot grease a palm or grace a bed to get a job. Why don’t you go to your village and take up the hoe? That’s the only available job for people like you. Idiot! I don’t ever want to see you again.”
“No, Angel, I will see you again, because you have just given me a life line; a virile challenge. I will definitely see you soon, but I will no longer be carrying files about when I do. I will be here to tell you how I cut my ties with poverty without destroying the future.”
“In your dreams, bloody coward!” she fired at me.
As I walked home, her words caused blisters to form in my soul. I really felt like an idiot; a cowardly idiot. What real man would remain a burden to a family that sold virtually everything to see him through school, four years after graduation?
When I got home, Elechi was around. He was my distant cousin, and had provided me with shelter and food since I moved from Benin to Aba, where he was teaching.
“Good afternoon, brother,” I greeted.
“Ah! Elvis, you are back. How did it go? Mine, you look terrible.”
“I feel terrible.”
“Oh, dear cousin, take it easy. All will be well.”
“Brother, I am tired of this torture. I have decided to go back to the village.”
“What? Just like that? No, my dear cousin. Listen, some people persevere for years under worse conditions before they get a job. Please take it easy.”
“Brother, I have persevered enough. Four years is not four days. I remain indebted to you, but I don’t want to hang on any longer. I really have to leave.”
“You are really serious?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You must be out of your mind. You want to go and become a burden to your old mother whose pension has not been paid for eleven months?”
“No, brother, I will no longer be a burden to anyone. I want to take up my father’s profession.”
Elechi laughed noisily, clapping and stamping his feet on the floor. He saw that I was not laughing, so he stopped.
“Elvis, you will not kill me. You want to tap wine with a certificate in Geography?”
“Brother, I’m done with certificates. I’m going to make a living like a real man. Moreover, I hear that there’s hardly anybody remaining in the palm-wine tapping trade in our village, so I’m sure it will be lucrative. My vision is to bring some pride and dignity to that business. I want to work towards making it attractive to learned people. ”
“Interesting but ridiculous! How can my brilliant cousin end up as a palm-wine tapper?”
“Brother, the only option I have right now is to get into crime, and I have decided not to do that. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that taking up Papa’s trade is my best bet.”
“You are right about the prospect of making money from the palm-wine trade, but what will people say?”
“They will say what they will say and I will do what I know is right. Brother, I have to prove a solid point to a certain young lady I met today. I am looking forward to a date with this lady, but I cannot see her until I have proved to myself and to everyone else that I am a real man with or without a certificate.”
My cousin had no answer to that. He just left me and went for his chaplet. I could imagine what was going on in his mind.