“So no one told you life was gonna be this way;
Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s D.O.A.
It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear
When it hasn’t been your day, your week,
Your month, or even your year, but…”
My daydreaming ends as the doors to the danfo bus I’m in are flung open by the conductor. I’m greeted by a gust of cool breeze that suddenly ventilates the bus and reminds me that it has been raining heavily outside. The heat that radiated from the engine warmed the cabin, and if not for the uncomfortable steel-framed wooden seats, it would have been a cozy ride to the bus stop. I hate the fact that I must step into the cold rain, but I have no choice; my house is a 10-minute walk from the bus stop, and there are no covers I can take shelter under. I place my mobile phone into the plastic document holder my CV and other credentials are in and tuck it under my armpit, mentally preparing myself for the trek home.
The rain hits me and reminds me of my poverty. The hues of brown and yellow of the muddy water-logged street are hidden in the darkness of the night, but the smell lingers in the air. It is the smell of lack; of wealth and of infrastructure, and it clings to you in warm embrace, even when the air is cold. Having spent the afternoon interviewing in fancy office buildings and high-rises on the streets of Victoria Island and Ikoyi and gazing at 2-year-old Toyota Camrys and the occasional Mercedes Benz in the parking lots, the poverty in front of me is stark and damning. I skip over a puddle of water almost out of reflex and half-chastise myself for my proficiency in navigating the street…navigating this life.
I find that the words in the intro song to my favourite TV series accurately depicts my life, only that I have no job, not even as a joke. I am already too old for many positions in companies, even with the affidavit tucked under my arm that says I am three years younger than I really am. A sudden wetness in my socks tells me that I have stepped into a puddle of water. It must be a new puddle. I am familiar with this road…this life.
As I trudge on and the rain begins to seep past my undergarments onto my skin, I am acutely aware of the darkness all around me. There is no power supply, there hasn’t been since the boys in the area assaulted NEPA officials over a lack of stable power supply. We have since learned that the electricity provider has a long, and vindictive, memory, and that unstable power supply is much better than no power supply. Not even the generators are on tonight, and the darkness and silence are somewhat unnerving. The buzzing of those generators, annoying as they may be, serve as proof that human beings are about. This night may as well belong to the spirits, but I don’t think even they appear this dead.
I greet my mother before I hear her. Over the years she has developed a routine that she hardly deviates from, depending on the weather. With this rain, and at this time, I know she is bent over a pot on a stove cooking something in the shared kitchen of our apartment. She responds and turns just as I come around the corner. Our eyes and meet and she already knows, just as she always does, and with just her eyes she says to me “Don’t worry, you’ll get the next one”. What she does say with words is that I am wet and should change my clothes and wait for my meal inside, as opposed to helping her with the cooking. I want to argue, but I do as I am told and head inside. I prepare to take a cold shower and almost wince at the thought, but kerosene is a precious commodity in our house, and I figure I can warm myself back up with a warm meal in my belly. I chuckle at my humour and remember how my grandmother once said that I got it from my mother. I wonder what my grandmother would think of me if she was alive to see what I have become, or better yet, what I have failed to become.
There are two stalls in the shared bathroom of our apartment building, and there is a war fought every morning to determine who uses them first and how long they can be used for. Everyone fights this war, even my mother, but not me. I have learned that the best times to use the bathroom are before everyone is awake, or at night when everyone is back in their rooms. These are the times I can have some privacy, when I can shed the tears I keep hidden from my mother. I have wept for my inadequacy in our room once, but she heard and consoled me for days. I did not know how to tell her that her consolation only fueled my sense of worthlessness, so I told her that I was fine, that I had taken heart. Tonight, as I share the mattress with my mother once more, a half orphan and his queen, I wonder if the sobs I could not get rid of in the bathroom stall will wake her up again.