So there I was, standing in the kitchen staring at the cup of gari that was my home and abroad. You see, like the Widow of Zarephath, this three quarter cup of gari here was my last handful of flour. And the three or four tea-spoons of over-warmed egusi soup ‘without’ left in the pot? That was my little oil in the jug. After I ate this meal I had no idea where my next one would come from, but I had decided not to think about that just yet because sufficient for today was the trouble thereof. I had bigger fish to fry – I had to decide how to prepare this last meal. Did I want to drink gari? Or did I want to make eba? Either path had pros and cons. If I drank the gari then I could trick my body into recognizing the egusi soup as another meal tomorrow. If on the other hand I made eba, I would use up the soup but it would send me straight to sleep allowing me forget my troubles for a while, hopefully till Jesus came or the Lord called me home. Yeah, that was the better choice. They say if you want to eat a frog you should eat the one with a big head. So if I was going to have my last meal I should have a proper meal, not a snack. Eba it would be. And then like an affirmation from the gods my phone rang.
I started at the sound and then regarded the device suspiciously. It had rung only four times in the last week, three calls from my creditors, which I naturally ignored and one call from my younger brother, which I also ignored, the parasite only called when he needed money. Looking closely at the phone I realized the call was from a land-line. Well, that was strange. And good news too, since none of my creditors could afford a land-line. In fact, most of them couldn’t even afford the airtime to call and harass me for their money, and I always took advantage of that when they did, “hello… hello… Andy/Kunle/Adamu/Friday/Monday, (my dear, they were many)… what… hello… what did you… I can’t… I can’t hear… what…” and by this time most of them would weigh the cost of the airtime against the money owed and decide to fight another day and I would have another day or two to breathe and pray for a job. One had to thank God for little mercies and bad network providers.
Anyway, back to the story. So this was a land-line call and I picked it. Now, that was the best decision I’d made all year because guess what, the lady on the phone was a recruiter! She was calling about a job application I’d made ages before my last allowee ran out and she wanted me to come in for an interview. She said they needed the position filled immediately and would I mind coming in tomorrow? Tomorrow? If she had wanted me in yesterday I would have found a way. So we agreed on the next morning and I ended the call and danced off into the kitchen to prepare my eba.
The next morning I woke up at 3am and rushed to the shared bathroom, I couldn’t risk waking up later and having to wait in line with the other tenants. It was just as well that I’d kept forgetting to wash my one suit and good shirt since my last interview because I’d sold my pressing iron to buy kerosene last week and I was sure Friday, my next door neighbor, wouldn’t trust me with his since I was owing him N715 and an onion. But no problem, my borrowing days were over, I was going to do whatever it took to get this job. Whatever.
So I dressed up, emptied what was left of my deodorant on my shirt and tie and set out. I had to first stop by the bank to withdraw my last N2000 which I needed for transport and any eventualities. I think I can comfortably say that resisting the urge to withdraw that money during the darkest six months of my life guaranteed me a spot in heaven. But resist I did, and today I was the happier for it because it meant I didn’t have to endure another Efik-laced pre-lending tirade from Friday.
I had actually planned to take a bus and save some money, but looking at the road I could see that traffic had already begun to build up and like I said before, I simply couldn’t risk being late, so I took a cab instead and arrived an hour and a half too early and a thousand Naira lighter. But that was OK, this was my future I was investing in. Who knew, when I got the job they might even give me an advance on my first salary.
As I stepped out of the cab it hit me – this was most likely going to be my last shot. If I screwed up this interview I might as well buy a hoe and move back to the village. My heart skipped a beat and I felt a bout of panic coming on. I remembered every interview I’d been unsuccessful at and I wanted to turn back. I took a deep breath and looked up and that’s when I spotted a little, bald man through the gap in the blinds of a window. He was the only occupant in the office but he wasn’t sitting behind the desk, he was sitting on the only other chair in the room. I watched what he was doing in amazement for five long minutes and had to laugh in surprise, bewilderment and a little disgust when he was done. Yeah, I needed that. I suddenly felt OK, I could do this.
So I went in and introduced myself. A minute after I sat down the secretary spoke to her boss on the phone and asked me if I was ready to interview immediately. I gave silent thanks to my mum for flogging punctuality into me from before I could walk and told the secretary I’d be happy to. She gave me a door number and directions and wished me luck. Just before I turned to go she called me back and whispered conspiratorially that her boss was OK and very easy to get along with just as long as I was careful never to argue, disagree or say no to anything he said. I thanked her with a big smile, made the sign of the cross and went in the direction she’d pointed out.
That was some useful information the secretary had given me there. My credentials were perfect for the job so all I had to do now was smile and agree with whatever boss-man had to say and who knew, by the end of the month I might be able to pay the bukka lady all the credit I owed and maybe even send some money to that parasite at home. I was still budgeting my first salary when I knocked on the door I was directed to and entered. The little bald man I saw from downstairs, now behind his desk, stood up with a very deep frown and offered his right hand for a handshake. And with his left he pointed me to the seat he had been in earlier.
His right hand… His left hand… The seat…
His right hand… His left hand… The seat…
OK, let’s go back to when I got out of the cab…
I took a deep breath and looked up and that’s when I spotted a little, bald man through the gap in the blinds of a window. He was the only occupant in the office but he wasn’t sitting behind the desk, he was sitting on the only other chair in the room…
If he hadn’t been so engrossed in what he was doing he might have noticed that the rest of the world had stopped to watch him with some sort of morbid fascination. At first I’d thought he was trying to open a bottle or something on his lap, but on closer inspection and to my utter embarrassment I have to admit that I recognised the open fly and the up and down motion of his right hand. I really wanted to look away as I’m sure every other guy there did but we were all oddly transfixed and just knew we had to see it through and cheer him on, in a manner of speaking, to the end. I must have caught the show towards the end because by now he was pumping frantically and I could all but see the sheen of perspiration on his forehead and neck. His body began to jerk sporadically and before I could decide if I really wanted to see the show through he gave a violent shudder and slumped.
A few seconds later he raised up his head and looked around him in alarm. I recognized that look too, it was the damn-I-forgot-the-tissue-paper-again look, the one you have before you grope around for a sock or similar garment to stand in lieu and be condemned to the laundry basket. But our bald friend here wasn’t in his bedroom and there was no sock. So he looked left and right guiltily and to the horror of his audience, used his palms to clean up the mess which, now I think about it, looked worryingly sparse. Then he rubbed the palms together thoroughly, moved back to his seat, picked up a pen and began to write. I remember commenting to the cab driver who had also stopped to watch that I felt sorry for the next person whose hand the little bald man would shake.
His right hand… His left hand… The seat…
I noticed his frown deepen as I had neither accepted his handshake nor the seat. I looked again at the hand, then the seat with the little smear his palms must have missed during his ‘clean-up’. I thought of the last two months during which I’d eaten just one meal a day every day and how much I needed this job. I looked at the little smear of semen on the seat and the flaky crusts that had begun to form on his outstretched palm…
“People who live in glass houses should masturbate in the basement”
OK, so I had to stop the story here because I’m not a guy and I have no idea what a guy would do in this circumstance. I wrote this whole story to ask the question, what would a guy do in this circumstance?
Image credit: cepolina.com