“Manage am”

Mr. Ajayi stood in the compound’s open space in front of the dusty workshop, staring at the work before him. As he did so, he began to feel a growing anger and disappointment.

All he had asked for a simple table. Not one with fanciful mouldings or expensive wood; just a basic structure that was capable of supporting the files and books that he would be using in his accountancy practice. But he had wanted it to be well made, with attention to detail, and from his previous experiences, he knew that he was going to have to search very hard to find an artisan whose work would satisfy him.

So when his wife told him about the carpenter that her friend’s brother had used when he moved into his new flat after getting married, he was interested.

“Her brother was praising the man; he said that he did a wonderful job! And he’s like you – very particular.” Mrs. Ajayi smiled archly as she uttered the last word.

Mr. Ajayi smiled back. “There’s nothing wrong in being particuIar if it means that you like a job well done. But are you sure this carpenter is good? I don’t want to be disappointed.”

She shrugged. “Me, I’m just the messenger, but I can get my friend’s brother to give you the man’s number so that you can talk.”

Mr. Ajayi had got in touch with the carpenter, Jamiu, who seemed to know his job, and more to the point, seemed to know what Mr. Ajayi required of him. So in two weeks, when Jamiu called him to let him know that the work was finished, Mr. Ajayi had not been anticipating what he saw before him now in the workshop – a structure which, in his view, was just the barest approximation of a finished office table.

“Jamiu, you are not serious! Are you seriously thinking that I will accept this shoddy piece of work?”

“Ah ah… wetin, now? E no too bad,” replied Jamiu, gesticulating with a mixture of cajoling and pleading. “Manage am, oga.”

E no too bad? Mr. Ajayi wondered whether he and Jamiu were looking at the same table. Just a casual glance showed that it was unstable; it was a windy day that day, and the stiff breezes blowing through the space in front of the workshop caused it to rock visibly. The table top was uneven and had dents scarring its surface. There were clear gaps in the planks of wood that had been joined to make the top. He feared what he might find out if he were to look really closely.

And on top of that, he had the nerve to utter ‘manage am’ – the phrase of champions of sub-standard, second-rate, pedestrian work everywhere. It was though recently, it had begun to reverberate around him like an irritating echo everywhere he went. Like when he pointed out to his tailor that the suit that he had sown was too tight around the shoulders. Or when he asked a recent client what he meant by paying him only three quarters of the fee that they had agreed on for some tax preparation work he had just completed. Maybe they had made it the national motto when he wasn’t paying attention.

“ See am. See as e strong,” Jamiu added enthusiatically, and as if to demonstrate, he slapped his palm hard on the table. In response, a crack opened up on one of the legs.

Mr. Ajayi shook his head in further disbelief. “Is this your strong table?” he asked scornfully, pointing at the crack.

The carpenter peered at the crack, and nodded his head in reassurance. “No problem, oga. Na small crack. Di table go still stand. See,” but a shout from Mr. Ajayi warned him off as he moved to subject the table to some more stress testing.

“Just leave it alone. I don’t want to have to pay for more of your bad work.”

Mr. Ajayi’s raised voice had brought the other carpenters in neighbouring workshops out to see what the problem was. As they trooped into Jamiu’s workshop, he started to recount the story and bemoan the fussiness of his customer, and they murmured along in symapthy.

One of the carpenters, a swarthy, muscular man who was wearing dusty overalls, spoke up. “Oga, it’s not like that, now. The important thing is that the table should stand. The crack you are pointing out is very small; it won’t develop into anything big.”

“Abi o, Justin,” chimed in another carpenter, a sinewy, tall fellow. “Who dey notice dat kin’ ting? Plenty people wey we dey make table for, dem no get problem wit’ am. Your wahala too much, jo.”

Mr. Ajayi rounded on his latest interlocutor. “So… because they don’t complain, you think they don’t have a problem with this kind of work? Do you think that people will be saying things like…”, and here, his voice took on a mimicking tone, “’Ah, oga carpenter, thank you very much for this nice crack you added to my table. It is very beautiful o! When I have my next party, I will show everyone how fine it is.’ Do you seriously think so?” he added, ending on a note of high fury.

The carpenter named Justin responded. “Oga, look – we can make a table for you without any crack in it. It will be good, very good. But the thing is, it will cost twenty thousand naira to make a table like that…”

“Twenty thousand naira!” Mr. Ajayi interjected. “How can you charge so much for an ordinary table? Or will this your table cook and serve the food that people eat on it?”

Justin regarded him evenly. “Oga, I am telling you – it will cost nothing less than twenty thousand naira. The wood, glue and nails will have to be special. We will have to use special equipment. And we will have to take special time to do it. All these special things we will have to use are not cheap.” He paused, to the choruses of agreement from his colleagues. “Yes, twenty thousand naira. Take it or leave it.”

“But when I agreed with Jamiu here that he would do my table for seven thousand naira, he did not say that he would make it like this. Or did you?” Mr. Ajayi asked, turning to the hapless carpenter.

“I talk say I go do am well. Na so I do am… e good, so…” he trailed off lamely, looking again to his colleagues for support.

Responding to Jamiu’s silent entreaty, a third carpenter added a placating voice. “Oga. Abeg, no vex. Eh, maybe di table no be as you want am. But, just take am like dat. Manage am,” he finished, with a smile.

Mr. Ajayi sighed. That phrase again. He supposed that he would have to mark this whole episode down in the “Hard Lessons to be Learned” column in his life ledger and move on; the next time his wife recommended a worker, he would demand to see at least five samples of the person’s work with his own eyes.

“OK. But I won’t pay you seven thousand o. For this, I can only pay six thousand naira.”

The speed to which Jamiu agreed to this new price made Mr. Ajayi wonder whether the work had been even more sub-standard than it looked; or maybe he had reflected on Mr. Ajayi’s earlier outbursts, and felt it might not be wise to push the issue. But Mr. Ajayi himself was in no mood to overthink the issue, so he counted out twelve five-hundred naira notes and handed them out to Jamiu.

Jamiu took one look at the notes and recoiled in horror.

“Ah, oga! Which one be dis? Ah, no-o, rara o, mi o le gba owo yi o!

Mr. Ajayi was stunned. “Why? What is wrong with it?”

In response, the carpenter called some of his colleagues and pointed to two of the notes.

“See dis mark! Dis money don spoil. Na bad luck money; I no fit take am.”

At this remark, the group broke out into a hubbub of disagreement. Some said that Jamiu should not be stupid, that money was money and if he didn’t want it, he should give it to them. Others said that he was right, that nobody would accept such money that had been defaced like that. One or two others agreed with this comment, going further to add that these particular marks were demonic in nature and bad luck would surely attend anyone who accepted them; in fact, that was why Mr. Ajayi was trying to palm them off on to Jamiu. Through all this, Mr. Ajayi stood bemused.

The group finally quieted when Justin, the carpenter who had intervened earlier, raised his voice. “Jamiu, it is true that his money is not to your liking. But you also agree that your table is also not to his liking. So just as he is managing your table, you too should manage his money,” he concluded with a big grin.

At this, some of the carpenters burst into laughter, and they urged Jamiu to accept the money. But Jamiu, backed by the other carpenters, remained resolute in his refusal. According to him, this was a different case; whereas the table could be managed, this money was simply bad news to someone like him who was dependent on the goodwill of customers.

After a while, Mr. Ajayi tired of waiting for them to resolve their dispute. “So you yourself understand that not everything can be managed, eh? Anyway, let me find you something. Look at this first, and let me know if money like this is OK for you.” He reached into his wallet, selected a note and, after a cursory check, handed it over.

Jamiu gingerly took the note and lifted it high up to the sun, squinting in search for any more unlucky markings that might be hidden in its design. Just as he had decided that it was good enough and was about to hand it back to Mr. Ajayi, Fate took a hand; one of the gusts of wind that had been blowing through the compound seized the note and sent it whirling into the air.

A cry of dismay and sympathy went up, along of shouts of “Catch am!” Meanwhile, the note continued to playfully evade capture, soaring higher and higher until it was caught fast between the rafters of the workshop’s roof. But it was obvious from the way the note was fluttering agitatedly in the breeze that they wouldn’t be stuck for very long, so someone cried out, “Oya, bring sometin’ make we stand on top.”

Later on that day, Mr. Ajayi would manage to discover a shred of sympathy for Jamiu hiding somewhere in his heart. After all, the man didn’t really deserve to get next to nothing at all for all the hard work he had put in. And having a deep cut in his head was really adding pepper and salt to the wound of unfairness. But when he saw Jamiu leap on to the table to get to his fugitive money; when he saw the table, after a moment of indecision, disintegrate under the weight and send the unlucky carpenter crashing to the ground, the only feeling he felt then was the deep, rich, satisfying feeling of being in the right. He took one last look at the scene, with the injured Jamiu being consoled by his colleages, and the pieces of the broken table that he would never use, lying in the dust. Then he shook his head in disgust and strode out of the compound.



43 thoughts on ““Manage am”” by Tola Odejayi (@TolaO)

  1. Honeywrites (@Rachel_Williams)

    Hehehe :)…nice story

  2. Lol…I’m so glad Jamiu fell off his own creation…what went around really came back. I can so identify with Mr. Ajayi, bad customer service everywhere you go even from the least expected places.

    1. Unfortunately, @ayobare, most people are able to get away with bad service/products.

      Thanks for reading.

      1. Which is very sad @TolaO, some would even tell you that you have no right to complain because customer Jane Doe didn’t!

  3. The moment i saw the ‘manage am’ title i knew it has to do with something of our famed low standards. In fact there is a variant of it called ‘ko mean’. That phrase almost single-handedly made me dream of another clime. I enjoyed the weave in the story and the deportment of the artisans are all too familiar. Thank you for writing

    1. Thanks for your comment, @kingsleyA.

      Do note the other side of the story that Justin pointed out, though. As much as we want good service, are we ready to pay for it?

  4. Quite Interesting… felt something about the Ajayis… keep on @TolaO!

    1. What ddi you feel about the Ajayi’s, @innoalifa? Please share.

      1. It’s a nice story I must say again. After such a substandard work by Jamiu, Mr. Ajayi, though working on his wife’s recommendation, was not content with the work. If I were Mr. Ajayi, I wouldn’t have been content too.

        “Manage am” reminds me of the presence of mediocrity and inferiority here and there, I think @TolaO should write more about that, sequel to this one. …waiting for the continuation…

        1. Hello @innoalifa,

          I’m not sure what the sequel would be.

          I would like to think that the likes of Jamiu would have learnt his lesson, but I suspect that he will be back at work soon, continuing to make substandard tables for unsuspecting (and in some cases even, fully aware) customers.

          As for Mr. Ajayi, he will continue to search for the elusive artisan who delivers good quality work at reasonable prices. :)

          1. @TolaO, that’s good know, it’s been a nice piece…

  5. Now This Is Something Else, Talk About Naija Slogan, Lol

    1. Thanks for reading, @sarah. I wish the slogan wasn’t so used, though.

  6. Lol. Good piece

    1. I’m glad you liked it, @mscnol.

  7. @TolaO, good piece. You’re a good chronicler of ordinary Nigerian life, and you tell them with such ease. What I think you could work on is getting even CLOSER to the setting and characters. Let us see the sweat, or none of it, on the artisans. Let us perceive their scent, and that of the setting. Not everyone is familiar with roadside artisanship, and so a few more details (with writerly brevity, of course) would help. For example: what did Jamiu see on the note? I’m sure Mr. Ajayi, and the reader (through Mr. Ajayi’s eyes) would’ve loved to know.

    1. Thanks a lot for your comment, @howyoudey.

      I think my ‘problem’ is that I have an idea for a story, and I want to execute it as quickly as possible, so it ends up more barebones than fleshy. I realise that to bring life to the story, I have to ‘be there’ – see, hear, smell, feel what my actors are experiencing, but it’s a lot of work to show this, and I guess I often don’t feel I have the time to spend on it. I should try harder, really…

  8. Nice one @TolaO, I think you should consider @howyoudey‘s comment, even though not all stories need a close up on setting and characters details.

  9. After reading this, I laughed and laughed and laughed! well done.

    1. So you laughed, @basseyperfecta? You couldn’t find one shred of sympathy in your heart for poor Jamiu?

      Anyway, thank you for ‘managing’ my story.

      1. lol! it was a hillarious read, thanks for writing it.

  10. Nice piece. I can somehow relate with it buh I was unlucky to get the punch line.

    1. When you say you can relate, @fadehan, I hope that you don’t mean that you can relate to Jamiu as a producer of mediocre work. :)

      What did you mean when you said you were unlucky to get the punchline?

  11. @tola I could relate with the ‘manage am’ stuff becos it’s happening to me at the moment. That I was unlucky to get the punchline was that, i’d expected an emotion to stir inside me at the end of the story, maybe humour or pity, but it dint and that was yestada. But now that I re-read it dis morning, it dis stir an emotion in me and it was humor and pity for the poor jamiu and his average work. I open my cap for you, will you like to work with me, pls??

  12. This is an epitome of what a short story should look like. It generates the desired emotional effect on the reader. But I wud only suggest a rearrangement to the last paragraph. “But when jamiu climbed” should start and “later on that day” should come after. I think it will sharpen the effect more… check it out…

  13. For all those who have a problem with this piece, “manage am”.
    For those like myself, who didn’t want it to end, “manage am’.
    As much as perfectionism may appear frustrating to those who perpetrate it and to those on the receiving end, a moderate measure should be encouraged.
    I like the balanced message in this piece.
    Thank you.

    1. Thanks, @whyte.

      You didn’t want the story to end?

      There’s nothing left to tell – poor Mr. Ajayi must continue to search for someone who will make his table and will not have to tell him to manage it after he sees it. I may use Mr. Ajayi in another story, though.

      I agree with you that there’s a middle ground between being too slack and being too perfectionist. Unfortunately, I think that the scales in Nigeria are tilted towards slackness (for any number of reasons).

  14. LOL!

    True story!

    True in the sense that you perfectly related the way artisans do shoddy jobs and try to preempt customers to ‘manage’ their badly done service. Nicely captured @TolaO

    Was this borne out of a true life experience or inspired by one? The realism was just so stark I could have sworn it really happened to you.

    1. Thanks, @afronuts.

      Well, you know how writers work – we pull information from all our life experiences, whether experienced first or second-hand. So think of Jamiu as a composite of all the incompetent artisans that I have heard about or interacted with. :)

  15. I laughed at the end. Jamiu found out how manageable the table was.
    But then I stopped laughing and wondered, how much the economy of his society impacts on his ability to churn out ‘good work’. Perhaps he has a wife or two at home and a few other dependants whose needs are more important than Mr Ajayi’s need for a perfect table.
    ……… I can’t maintain this argument. The description of the table is too funny to focus on anything but your story.
    Good work @TolaO. Thanks for this.

    1. Thanks for reading, @olajumoke – I’m glad you liked it.

      I’m curious – why do you think that delivering a perfect table will impact Jamiu’s ability to meet the needs of his dependants? The two goals are not mutually exclusive, I would have thought.

      1. @TolaO: okay, imagine him having three tables to do between wednesday and Thursday where his child will be sent home on friday if he doesn’t pay his fees, the work he does at that time frame is going to be shoddy. He has spent the money and will only use the little time left, after worrying about money and paying the money, on the tables. I think.

        1. But @tai, in that case, the right thing for Jamiu to have done would have been not to promise more than he could deliver. He should have let Mr. Ajayi know when the work would be done so that he was not under pressure.

          Still, I appreciate that some customers are not realistic, and if an artisan tells them that their work will be done much later, they will threaten to go elsewhere. So the artisan ends up overpromising, and the customer gets what he pays for in the end…

  16. Did you leave something behind in this line, “All he had asked for a simple table?” The personification of wind as “Fate” is not to be capitalized.

    Mr. Jamiu represents ‘us’ when we do not take care of the finishing touches of our daily endevours. Nigerians are sadly such ‘managers’ as portrayed.

    1. Thanks for reading, and spotting the omission, @Ostar. However, I think capitalising Fate is OK in this case.

      You bring up an interesting point. Would there be less mediocrity if we all were more like Mr. Ajayi and less inclined to ‘manage’ what we get?

  17. Perhaps he thinks the more ‘manage am’ tables et al he produces, the more money he will get. The materials he purchased to make that table wouldn’t have cost that much, so more profit for him to splash on his family.
    I know in the long run, it isn’t really a good business plan. But short term wise, Jamiu is making his money. Well, until he had the misfortune of meeting Mr Ajayi……hehe.

  18. Hilarious and yet sad. it depicts succinctly the mediocre mentality that has pervaded our society today and also highlights what we can hope to reap- injuries and loss of lives, which hopefully will start from the perpetuators.

    well done

    1. Thanks for your comment, @topazo.

  19. Nice one, @TolaO. I had a good laugh at Jamiu. Unfortunately, it rarely happens like this in real life. If only it happened often, we’d be compelled to always give our best, instead of the “manage am” quality.

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