The problem with this for me was that the cybercafé where I worked as an attendant was at the top floor of a three storeyed building. Following a fire scare the previous year, the landlord had insisted that all generators were to be situated on the ground floor. Meaning that each time someone’s fingers got itchy at PHCN, I would have to go down and climb back up an exhausting flight of stairs. The problem with the absence of power for my boss was having to hear the customers moan and whinge, something, he had told me in confidence, he hated even more than PHCN (and my boss hated PHCN with more than a passion).
“Na wa o”, moaned a customer, as if on cue. The computer he was using had gone off because the UPS it was connected to was bad. “Upon all the money wey una dey collet for pesin hand, una no fit by korret GPS.”
“It’s called a UPS,” I heard my boss mutter before saying aloud to the man, “sorry sir, power will be back just as soon as we turn on the generator.” We, meaning me, of course. Then he turned to me and said, “Go turn the gen on.”
I heaved a sigh of frustration as I imagined the flight of stairs I would be going down shortly before running back up. Then I dragged myself up from where I was seated and headed for the stairs. When I got to the stair well, I took a moment to survey what lay ahead of me. The stairs loomed large and menacing, stretching all the way down into infinity. In spite of the fact that it was a sunny afternoon, the stairwell was dark, like it was really inside Dracula’s castle and I was somehow Van Helsing. Well, better get it over with, I thought to myself, taking the stairs.
It took me nearly a full minute to emerge from the stairwell on the ground floor then head all the way to the back of the building where all the generators of the building’s inhabitants were located. My boss had had a long, drawn out argument with the landlord over having to take his generator downstairs and to the back of the building. Consequently, the generator was sent all the way to the other end of the backyard, behind all the other generators. Meaning I had to pick my way past a group of noise making, smoke belching, grease spurting, heat radiating machines. By the time I got to the generator, I was smoky, sweaty and partially deaf. And my white shirt now had new, spotted patterns that weren’t there earlier in the day.
It took me about five minutes (or more) to get the old generator functioning, head back up the (menacing) stairs, switch over to generator power and get back into the cybercafé. By this time, trust Lagosians, the customers had reached full volume and my boss was close to the end of his tether.
“Wish kain rubbish be dis sef, ehn?” fumed a rotund customer in the thickest Igbo accent I’ve ever heard. “Una go jus dey waste pesin time anyhow.”
“Please, sir,” my boss responded through clenched teeth. “You can see it’s not our fault. PHCN…”
“Na pee hesh see en carry una jaynayraytor rish downstays?” the man cut in. I could see from my boss’ facial expression that he was about to punch someone. He was simply not up to having to explain why the generator wasn’t closer and that if he did part his lips to respond, the words that would emerge would be far from complimentary.
“You’ve switched over to the gen, right?” He asked me instead. I nodded in response. “Sorry for the delay,” he announced to the customers. “You can continue browsing. We’ll add five minutes to your browsing time to make up for any lost time.”
“Fiveteen minis!” yelled Igbo accent. “Waitin I go use five minis do?”
“Sir we cannot add more tha…..” My boss broke off to let off a sigh of annoyed frustration. “Add five minutes to their time,” he said to me instead.
Igbo Accent was appalled.
“Come hia!” he hissed. “So you wan do like say you no hear wetin i dey talk, abi?”
My boss quietly ignored him but was obviously seething with rage on the inside. This was a prime specimen of the kind of customers he didn’t like. When people like this were around, my boss was always on edge and most times, i would bear the brunt of his displeasure. Not wanting that, i swiftly went to perform the task he had assigned me to do. As i reached for the mouse to begin the task, a green light went on somewhere above on the wall adjacent to where i was seated. PHCN power was back on.
“Leave what you’re doing and go switch of the generator!” My boss yelped. “That’s how you waste my fuel all the time!”
Imagine! The very cheek, if i could call it that! Wasn’t he the one that had asked me to do what i was about doing? Now he was snapping at me like all i had been doing all day was sitting cross legged while he bustled about attending to customers. Don’t get me wrong, my boss is actually a nice man but when he gets like this, all his subordinates begin to feel like buying rifles and shooting people. Exactly how i felt right now but seeing as, at he moment, he didn’t give a rat’s arse wether i shot people or moved to morrocco to start a rock band, i decided to do what he said without another word though, like him, i was boiling on the inside.
I nearly growled as i reached the head of the stairs. Down the stairs, to the back yard and to it’s opposite end, switched the generator off, puffed up the stairs (don’t get the wrong idea, i’m not fat!), switched over to PHCN power and was back in the cybercafe, a harried man. The lights were still off.
“They’ve taken the light again,” my boss said flatly. “Go and switch the gen back on.”
Now I was in a black mood. Each step i took down the stairs brought black murder to mind. If I could just lay my hands on the bastards in charge of the power switching at the PHCN substation! And also that silly landlord that had mandated that all generators were to be kept on the ground floor and then maliciously sent ours to the oppoite end of the backyard! I would make them shed many unhappy tears!
“Can you help me switch my generator on?” The voice rudely cutting into my rather pleasant thoughts of vengeance belonged to the lady that owned the beauty salon on the ground floor. I took a moment to suppress the obscenities my mind so wanted me to yell at her, then nodded stiffly and marched away without a word. Back at the backyard, I switched on our generator and then the salon lady’s generator before taking a look at myself. There was no way i was going to be wearing that shirt ever again. Or maybe I would. The spots of grease kind of looked like a design on the shirt. Probably that was the explanation i would give anyone that asks.
I could barely see as i trudged back up the stairs; i was so angry. Back in the cafe, my boss and Igbo accent were already going at it full volume.
“…….and what do you know?” My boss raged. “You think it’s about coming to someone’s cybercafe to make noise?Buy your own computer, buy a modem, get an internet subscription, AND LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!”
“See dis man o!” retorted Igbo accent, looking wildly round at the other customers who were now more interested in the ongoing argument than whatever had brought them here in the first place. “Na so you dey talk to customer? See, if you talk rubbish ehn, I go just close dis ya shop hia!”
“Close it na!” My boss yelled, switching to pidging English and very ready to start throwing punches. “Close am! You get mouth, abi? Close my cafe!” He then turned over to me. “If this man ever comes here to browse again and you sell a time ticket to him, one of us will leave here on a stretcher and i’m sure it won’t be me.”
Me? Now what did I do? What was my business with their argument? I was already annoyed at having to descend then mount up that annoying flight of stairs that i wished would collapse already so i’d have an excuse for not climbing them again and he wanted to drag me into their tiff? Now I FELT like YELLING at someone! Besides, what gave him the impression that if it came to a stright duke-it-out between us, I would be the one leaving on a stretcher?
That silly green bulb blinked back on.
“Light’s back,” my boss said, noticing it inspite of his anger. “Go switch the gen off.” Then continued his shouting match with Igbo accent.
Back downstairs for me again, it appeared. I genuinely began to wonder what could possibly be worse than murder. Slow torture to death, maybe. Put them in an electric chair and shock them within an inch of their lives….
“What are you still doing there?” My boss shrieked, taking a time off from his mouth battle with igbo accent when he noticed I hadn’t moved a muscle..”You want to waste more of my fuel, abi? Don’t worry, if that fuel runs out before the end of the day, we’ll refuel out of your salary.” Then back to his slagging contest.
I went to the stair well nearly in tears.
“Ehen,” came a voice as i got to the ground floor. It was beauty salon woman. “Abeg, help me off…..”
“LOOK HERE WOMAN!” I yelled.”YOU DID NOT EMPLOY ME TO SWITCH YOUR GENERATOR ON OR OFF! iF YOU NEED SOMEONETO DO THAT, PUT OUT A VACANCY!”
“Ahn ahn,” She returned. “Na fight? No be jus…..”
I Ignored her and continued my walk of black rage to the back yard. After flipping the generator’s engine switch to off with as much venom as i could without actually breaking it (my boss would probably deduct the cost of replacing it from my salary), i marched back to the stairs, taking care to leave beauty salon woman’s generator running. As i passed her salon, she had already congregated a small crowd of listeners to pour her woes to.
“……No respet at all!” I heard her say as I approached. When she noticed my advent, she fell silent but her eyes told volumes of what she would have liked to say to my face but lacked the nerve to. Good for her then, i thought, ignoring her completely and beginning the climb up the stairs. As soon as my head was out of her view, she continued with venom.
“You see? You see am? Na wetin i dey suffer for hia everyday.” (When in the world havd i ever spoken with this woman except greet her whenever i saw her on my way up to work or when i was leaving?) “Na so im go just dey inult im mama for house. You no see dat small boy? I get am three for house, im dey hia dey do big boy for me!” (If i remembered correctly, my boss had said something about not going to her wedding last month. When had she given birth to three of me and stashed hem at home?)
“Abi,” agreed one congregant. “All dis small boys get no respet at all! No respet!
I had half a mind to go back and show them exactly where i wanted them to stick their nosey noses but decided not to. Engaging one of them in argument would mean engaging all of them and the last thing i wanted was to engage a gang of gossips in a battle of lip.
Back in the cybercafe, things hadgot to a head. My boss and Igbo accent were physically ready to punch the living daylights out of each other, possibly knock in a few night stars as well. And they would have, if they were not being restrained by quite a number of able bodied men who had materialised from goodness knows where. Lagosians and their penchant for showing up at people’s arguments!
“Ya papa dia,” Igbo accent fumed. “Ya papa and ya mama!”
“Just mention my parents again and I swear, na mortuary go be your bedroom this night,” my flung back. “Try me na! Just try me! E be like say you wan die today, try me!”
I ignored them and set about rebooting the computer systems that had gone off. I switched the first system on and left it to start booting. Then went over to the second and pushed the power button. Nothing. I pushed again, a bit harder this time. Again, nothing. I pushed it repeatedly in anger. Still nothing. I gradually raised my head, expecting the expected. I wasn’t dissappointed. Power was gone.
“AAAAARGHHHHHHHH,” I screamed. “THESE FUCKING BASTARDS! NA GOD GO PUNISH DIA MAMAND PAPA FOR NEPA!”
My boss totally ignored meas he was still straingin against the men preventing him from laying his hands on igbo accent. Unfortunately (for igbo accent, fortunately for my boss), one of the men slipped and, in falling, tripped the others, causing them toinadvertently let go of my boss. For a moment, my boss was stationary, not realizing that he was now free to wreak havoc on the bane of his afternoon. Just as he noticed his freedom and was about to land the first punch (or slap, or eye-poke, am not sure, the way his palm was positioned made it quite difficult to tell) on the still restrained (and obviously defenceless) Igbo accent, we heard a rap at the door. That knock froze us all in our tracks. Even my boss paused in his intended onslaught on Igbo accent. The knocker was short, dark and hard a rather intense pair of eyes. His hair, or what was left of it (he was balding) was a mixture of grey and black, what my boss once called “suffer head”. His shirt bore the PHCN crest. Behind him were two men, one tall and dark and quite unkempt, the other a bit shorter but wider and bearing quite an impressive pot belly.
“Who is the owner of this establishment,” he asked no one inparticular with an air of borrowed authority.
“Who are you?” My boss asked him specifically, his hand still raised for the strike on his hated foe.
“Well, we’re from the PHCN,” the man replied pompously. “This building is yet to settle its bill and we’re here to disconnect…..”
I’m being truthful when i say that I never knew that my boss kept a machete somewhere beside his desk and this was quite an amazing moment to discover that fact.The PHCN officials, however, had no time for amazement. That was mainly because they had fled the doorway where they had stood only a moment ago. It was at this point I had more reason for amazement. Usually, it takes me nearly a full minute to get downstairs from up where the cybercafe was located. In thirty seconds, the three men were already out of the building and off down the street! Even more amazing in their race for dear life was that the pot bellied man was well ahead, his belly bouncing up and down as he ran like a ball being juggled by Cristiano Ronaldo. The unkempt one followed quite a surprising distance behind and, bringing up the rear on his short legs, the one that had spoken and triggered the revelation of the machete.
Having depatched of the rag tag three, my boss turned back to Igbo Accent to resume their epic battle. Only that Igbo accent wasn’t there to pick up the cudgels. Having correctly deduced that if any heads were to roll besides those of the PHCN officials, it would be his, he had taken off in the small melee that had trailed the machete revelation. So had everyone else that was in the cybercafe. Suddenly I realized that besides my boss, I was the only one left in the room. Hope this guy wasn’t actually raving crazy, i thought, alarmed. If he came for me with the machete, my chances of escape were non existent. He was standing in the doorway, the only escape avenue. I quickly scanned the room for any place I could hide. I couldn’t find any.
“E don be for me,” I whispered to myself.
My boss turned to me, his face still contorted in anger. After looking at me in silence for about a minute, he burst into uncontrolled laughter.
My God, i thought to myself. His village people have finally got him. He’s now mad. I prayed to everything I could think of, promising to devote my life to charity and good works if i got out of this alive. I would never lie in my life again, i swore. I would give a lavish offering in church this sunday but I would have to be in Church to be able to give it. Please save me God, I prayed.
“Idiot,” my boss hissed, turning around. “They should have stayed to find out what I wanted to use this for,” he concluded waving the machete aloft, then resheathing it in its hiding place beside his desk.
Oh, I thought. So he’s not crazy afterall. Meaning i’m free of my lavish offering promise, right?
“Hey, you,” my boss said. “These crazy people have taken the light. Go and switch the generator on.”
I wonder how much a machete costs.