Joseph strode into the lobby in false confidence. He had no reason to fret. After all, he was Joseph Haruna Saleh, the punctilious genius of Kaura Namoda. But his names sounded a bit awkward on second thought. He used to be just Haruna Saleh before Father Benedict and the other missionaries stormed his village and won over his entire family. He had adopted Joseph in line with his new found faith. It was logical. He was a big dreamer just like the biblical Joseph. The only difference here was that he was surrounded by a supportive family and not backstabbing brothers.. Habib, his elder brother, who chose to bear Reuben, was his biggest fan. Everyone seemed to believe in him.
Taking one long stride after the other, he decided it was time to yank Haruna off his list of names. Yes, he’d simply be known as Joseph Saleh, he decided. “…sounds brilliant and better”, he said with a playful smirk. He pushed the door to Room 108 open and immediately felt caught up in a woozy twirl. A voice in his head startled him with the words, “Welcome to Paradise”. He had travelled hundreds of kilometres from his little village where there was no electricity and the water pipes were always dry. But here he was, visualising a kind of heaven he had never imagined. The sapphire-coloured carpet was so soft that he almost stumbled as his legs sunk into them. All
around him, the ambience was foreign. He felt like a shark swimming on land. It was his first time in the Capital, but his intention was to make the most of the opportunity. He struggled to put his mission in perspective. He wasn’t going to lose sight of it for a minute. He had dreamt of this day since Fr. Benedict walked up to him with the invitation letter. He would walk in, thick-skinned and undeterred by the poor Boy shepherd he was. He would stand before the panellists and show the stuff he was made of. Convinced of his ability, the judges would immediately recommend him for a scholarship abroad.
He would stretch out his hands graciously to receive the award and off he would fly to the land of the Queen to become the medical doctor he always wanted to be. But this reality was turning out different from his dream. He stood rooted to where his legs had been sunken. The hairs on his body stood on end. The cold in the room was worse than a hazy December morning in Kaura Namoda. He looked up and saw pockets of light peering out of the whitewashed ceiling. They were spaced out around rectangular windows that had many narrow slits. But of course, they looked very much like windows to him, and he actually thought they were, until he heard a man refer to them as A/C vents. What they meant by A/C vent, he didn’t understand. He was trying really hard to make sense of this new
world that threatened to take his breath away. He swivelled around this time focussing on the cream walls on one side and polished woods on the other. He would have found this arrangement very amusing if he hadn’t been in this very strange but exciting place.
Lifting his legs remained a difficult chore- he found himself still rooted to ground zero. His mind drifted away for a minute as he thought of the grass fields of his hometown. Then his eyes stumbled on the trees at the corner of the room. “Weren’t we taught in science classes that plants needed sunlight to survive?” Suddenly, he remembered the lights hanging out of the ceiling. Yes! He had thought they were too many. Now it was all making sense. The lights could be substitutes for sun rays…” He was still busy postulating when a young man dressed like the many others he had seen on his way up, pulled out the ‘young trees’ from their pots and replaced them with a more colourful set. The so-called trees had no roots. Their bases were round and sparkling clean- free from soil. Joseph grew more confused. Just when he thought he had nicked it, this man from nowhere comes to complicate things for him? He was determined to understand the scene that played out, so he called out to the man in a subdued voice.
“Please Sir, How come those trees have no roots?”
“They have no roots because they are not real trees. They were made to serve as decoration… but you should know that already?”
Joseph nodded his thanks, embarrassed by his own naivety. He remembered how Fr. Benedict used to tell him he had a creative but naive mind. “Very malleable, Joe, very malleable… It’s the right kind that can be nurtured for success” He would say, patting his back. Fr. Benedict had a tinge of Edo accent which made the word malleable sound like ‘Ma-le-bo’.
With the soothing words of father Benedict playing on his mind, Joseph’s legs finally felt light enough to move. He was about to command his limbs to take him to the empty seat adjacent to where he was standing when a barrel-chested man in dark glasses walked in. The giant had his searching eyes on him. He towered above him standing close to seven feet. The muscles on his face were tighter than the ropes his folks used to tie down the mad cows back home.
“What are you doing here?” His voice rumbled like a thunderstorm.
Joseph felt a quantum release of shock wash over him from top to bottom.
“I-I-…” then a long pause followed.
His body was covered with sweat, but he felt even more wetness around his groin area. He looked down and noticed a fountain gushing out of him. The flow was strong and ceaseless. Just then did he realise he had lost control of his bladder and had been wetting the lush rug in the past few seconds. He turned his gaze to the coloured paper in his hand. He desperately needed some reassurance that he wasn’t in the wrong place. Like hell he was! The invitation letter had Room 018 boldly printed on it. “But how did it change?” he was too sure he had seen Room 108 while he prepared for the interview. “Kai, someone must have used black magic on me”, he concluded in a
shame-ridden voice, as he stood transfixed, waiting for Goliath to throw him out the window.