Tade has been looking forward to this day for a while, and now he is glad it is finally here, although it felt yesterday like today would never come. But here it is, the day has broken.
The alarm sounds, and he reaches to put it off. He shouldn’t have set it in the first place, but he was scared he would sleep off and awake late. He doesn’t trust himself when it comes to sleep, especially during this harmattan period where one could sleep on and on for hours without having to concern oneself with NEPA supplying power or not.
Last week, he had awoken late for an interview scheduled for 9 AM. It was stated that applicants should arrive an hour earlier. Tade, however, awoke some minutes past 7. Before he could hurry to the bathroom to brush his teeth, wash, relieve himself, dry and moisturize his body, comb his hair through and put on his clothes, it was almost 8. When he got to the main road and saw the traffic that morning, he knew it was baseless going further. There was no magic he could use that would make him arrive before 9. Today’s interview is scheduled for 1 PM: these guys sure understand the situation in Lagos well enough not to have slated the interview for 8, 9 or 10 AM like many offices do, and heavens bless them for that. Yet, he has learnt his lessons and won’t repeat such mistakes. Once beaten, twice shy.
So, in angst that he would awake late, he set his alarm for 6 this morning. Eventually, the alarm was redundant as it turned out to be a long night for him. His anxiety was at its peak as if he had never attended an interview before. Well, such a reaction was to be expected. There is this opening for the post of an accountant in a big firm, the pay is huge, and the position comes with several benefits. He cannot afford not getting the job; not after he has fantasized about how he will confidently tender his resignation letter to Mrs. Benson, the principal, soon. The woman is always demanding sex from him. Is it a crime to be good looking? He knows that her lust after him is why she grants many of his requests; perhaps she is of the opinion that he will succumb eventually if she continues to be nice to him.
Tade didn’t take permission to be absent from school today because the second term break started last week. He is thankful he still has three more weeks before the break comes to an end, thus giving him enough time to search for jobs and attend several interviews. He is tired of earning a meagre salary every month, tired of teaching accounting as a subject in a low-budget secondary school. He wants to do accounts, not teach about them, all more reason why he jumped for joy when he received the invitation for this interview. The opportunity is worth his angst.
As early as 6 AM, Tade puts on his chargeable lamp and unlocks the door to his small room. He fetched water from the well outside last night. He walks out of his room into the passage, and heads towards the bathroom with his bucket of water in hand. At the bathroom, he sees a light, and there is no need to doubt it is Mr. Ade, the clerk, taking his bath. Tade cannot wait till he is done, so he moves to the other bathroom, which generally has been abandoned by the tenants and even the landlord. He starts his bath, even though he detests the foul smell emanating from the facility.
If he is fast enough, he might talk Mr. Ade into giving him a ride on his bike, but only to the junction.
“Good morning, Tade, do you have an appointment today?”
“Well, yes. Good morning, Mr. Ade.”
“Alright, all the best!”
Tade is pouring water over his head, so he does not hear the rest of what Mr. Ade says. When he is all finished, he heads back to his room, where he applies lotion to his skin and massages, then starts to comb his hair while remaining unclad. He walks to a corner where he stores a few foodstuffs, reaches for two sachets of noodles, and starts preparing them. Within a twinkle, his noodles are ready, and he begins to devour the hot meal. He craves after chicken sauce, but knows wishes are not horses. Even if he had the money for chicken sauce at the moment, he would spend it on something else. In his present condition, what matters is to eat, not whether he enjoys the meal or not. Eat to survive, that’s his motto right now. But when he finally gets this job, he will rejoice and dance for joy; then he can buy whatever he wants and eat whatever meal pleases him. He will satisfy his cravings – if only he gets this job.
Having finished breakfast, he spreads out his well-ironed clothes on his bed. He has ironed them to the last layers, so that if any sharp object pierces through them, they could easily get torn. He wears his trousers first and is about to put on his belt when he feels his balls dangling underneath. He has forgotten to wear boxers. Well, one can’t blame him, for what do you expect from a man who goes to bed unclad and who roams about the room naked when alone? He rummages through his ghanamustgo, and brings out a pair of striped boxers. He draws down his trousers, and places the boxers underneath before he zips up and uses his belt. He wears his shirt, tucks it into the trousers, and tightens his belt against his waist. He again combs his hair through and brushes his beard, sprays his body, and arranges his files into a clear bag. He moves towards his wardrobe and brings out another clear bag, from which he retrieves some documents and puts them into the former, which he now places into a larger bag. He zips the outer bag and looks at his watch, almost 7 AM. He wants to tarry a little, but decides to start heading off after remembering how congested Lagos traffic can be, especially on Monday mornings.
The cloud seems to have completely broken loose from the darkness that hugs it. The atmosphere is clearer than when he went to the bathroom. The morning cold is intense; typical during harmattan. Tade touches his lips and feels the chapped surface against his palms. He forgot to apply lip balm, but that is not of utmost relevance right now.
He wants to take the BRT, and spends a few moments at the bus stop at Berger before he remembers that it was announced in the news yesterday that BRTs would not be working today. So he decides to take molue to Obalende instead, and then enter a cab from Obalende to Ikoyi afterwards. He shouldn’t spend much that way, it will only be stressful. He flags down the first molue that drives by.
“Obalende, CMS, wole pelu changi! (Obalende, CMS, enter with your change!)” the bus conductor shouts as the bus partially comes to a halt. Tade knows the ritual already: run towards the bus while it is in motion, and as swiftly as possible, because it will not accept everyone waiting in the crowd. But such maneuvers may not be necessary this morning because there are only about five people at the bus stop, and there should be enough space to accommodate all of them. On the other hand, some effort will be necessary because the passengers inside the bus are already impatient, and so is the driver. No one can fault them with how the situation is in Lagos, always congested, especially in the mornings when people are going to work and at night when they are returning. Many worry more about being late for work than about getting home late, which is inevitable. In order to get to work on time, many leave their homes as early as 5 or 6 AM. So, why delay them more than strictly necessary?
Tade enters the bus. Molues are usually not well-ventilated, which often infuriates him. He would rather take one of the well-ventilated BRTs instead, but today he doesn’t mind because the trapped air is a therapy against the harmattan.
He doesn’t take note of the people around him. No one cares about him either, every man for himself, a typical way of minding your business. But somehow, the woman with two twin boys sitting beside him catches his attention. The kids look so adorable and take a great semblance after their mother, especially their round lips. He has never seen their father, though, and hence can’t tell if he’s misjudging and they actually look more like their dad. The kids stand in front of their mother, playing with her clothed thighs. Tade likes them. He loves kids, would love to have one as soon as possible – no, when he gets this job. Without a good job, he cannot keep a woman. Having a woman comes with a lot of responsibilities. She will request money for braids, money for data subscription, money for her nails and lashes, money for makeup, even money for going to the toilet. Everything a woman knows is money; so to keep one, you must be well-equipped like the World Bank.
Having kids comes with additional responsibilities: money for diapers, for food, for checkups and much more. He can’t have any right now, he needs to be financially buoyant first. He can’t afford to make innocent souls wallow in poverty, a mistake his father made when he married his mother and made her conceive ten children for him, six of whom died before the age of five due to one illness or another. His mother kept shouting that the witches of her husband’s household were to blame. Tade believed it, too, until he reached school and was taught reproduction, nutrition and malnutrition, diseases that affect children, epidemics and the likes in science class. Out of the surviving four, only he managed to attend university after working various jobs to save up money for school. It took him two years to do so. While in school, he also worked part-time at odd jobs. His parents had mentioned that secondary school was the peak of what they could afford; so after his two elder brothers finished secondary school, Tolu, the eldest, became a driver, while Timi became a bricklayer. Tade is the third; he made up his mind to attend school, get a degree, and become successful at all cost. Tanwa, the youngest child and only girl, has two years left in secondary school. Their father says Tanwa’s issue is the easiest because as a woman, she will get married and depend on her husband to sustain life; educating her is baseless even if the parents can afford it. Tanwa does not like this mentality; she wants to become a journalist. She often reminds Tade of that, and he promises that her wish will be granted – she will be thoroughly educated once he has money.
After he graduated, he would get a well-paying job; that was how easy he thought it would be, a vision corrected by almost two years of futile job hunting. His father called as late as last week to ask how he was doing. He could sense the “didn’t I tell you?” expression in his father’s voice, but Tade is determined to keep on trying. He can’t afford to fail now, he cannot afford to let his family mock him for choosing a separate path. Now, he quietly prays that today will be productive.
One of the boys touches his lap, and he smiles down at him. An adorable kid. Soon, his twin joins him in smiling. They leave their mother, and start playing around Tade’s lap. Their mother persuades them away from him, but he tells her not to worry. He even lifts one of them up and places the boy on his lap while playing with the other boy’s cheeks. He is enjoying himself.
The bus slows down briefly due to traffic, but speeds up again within a twinkle. The boy sitting on his lap sneezes, and the mucus escaping from his nose flies directly onto Tade’s chest. Tade cannot believe this: a sky-blue shirt ruined early in the morning.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” the mother apologizes as she hands Tade a napkin. He wipes his shirt, but traces remain. Tade wishes he had seated the other twin instead. How is he supposed to cope with the uneasiness of having mucus on his chest during the interview? He is not wearing a blazer because he didn’t want to appear too formal.
“It’s fine,” Tade says.
His bag falls to the ground, and the clear bag in it falls out. The other boy picks it up for him. As he does so, he turns it upside down, and the files inside escape onto the floor. Tade immediately drops the boy sitting on his lap, and starts gathering his things as he mutters an inaudible disgust.
“Oya, come here!” the mother screams at the boys. She then starts to help Tade pack some of his files.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. I’m done.”
Tade packs everything and starts rearranging them inside the clear bag, examining each document in the process. He picks up the last document and looks at it very well, which is when he realizes that he has picked the wrong bag.
“Shit! Driver, abeg, I wanna come down!” he shouts.
“Na mainland we still dey o, alaye. You no sabi where you dey go ni?” the conductor replies.
“Mo ni mo fe boole, I want to alight!” he screams. The driver pulls the bus over to the side of the road.
“Uncle, is everything alright?” the woman asks.
“Yes ma, it is.”
Tade pays the driver and walks away from the bus. He can predict what will happen inside the bus in a few moments. The conductor will talk bad about him, and the rest of the passengers will start to gossip him, which is how it goes in Lagos. He crosses over to the other side of the road, and begins to flag down buses going towards Berger. It doesn’t take long before he gets one, but he wants to beat himself for making such a grave mistake. How could he pick a random letter instead of his CV? Incredibly, he has been preparing several days for today just to fuck up again. The road is gradually getting congested, and the driver maneuvers through it. When Tade alights, he looks at his wristwatch. It is almost 8 AM; he should still be able to meet up.
He finally reaches home, only to find the main entrance locked. It wasn’t locked before he left this morning, and it is usually unlocked in the mornings, so what is happening? He hears the voices of his neighbors.
“Mummy Funke, please. Bear with me till I return.”
“You won’t leave this house until you drop money for food.”
Tade is annoyed, and bangs hard at the wooden door with all his strength. What insolence! How can one couple deny all other occupants admission just because of their stupid family affairs? They are lucky the landlord has travelled with his family to Ondo for a church convention; he wouldn’t have condoned this nonsense in his house.
“Please, open this door, I implore you!” Tade screams. Moments later, the door opens, and Mummy Funke apologizes to Tade. He doesn’t mind her, but walks straight to his room and unlocks his door. Hurriedly, he picks the other clear bag, which he left behind on the bed earlier. He opens the bag and peeps through it. Sure enough, his CV is in there along with other essential documents. He opens his outer bag and replaces the clear bag with the other one. He wants to change his shirt, but realizes it would take his time as he would have to start ironing from the scratch. He could have done that since there is light, but time is what he doesn’t have, so he pulls down his one and only black blazer and wears it over his shirt. He feels pressed, his gut is full and he should relieve himself, but a glance at his watch tells him it is well past 8 AM, so he decides to hold it until after his interview. If worse comes to worst, he must use the toilet at the company, they shouldn’t disqualify him for that. He closes his door and begins to dash out.
Outside, he encounters Mr. Ade who is starting his bike.
“In which direction are you headed, Tade? Let me see if I can give you a ride.”
“Don’t worry, sir. I’m going to the Island, Ikoyi.”
“And you tell me not to worry? I’m going to Ikoyi, too. To the secretariat, where I have an official assignment this morning.”
“Oh!” Tade mutters as he secretly thanks his lucky star for bringing Mr. Ade his way at this time, although he is unsure whether he should let this man bring him to the island. He has ridden with him before and knows him to be quite slow, so would it not cause him to be late? He could ride with him to the bus stop and see how fast he is today; if Mr. Ade rides slowly, he could alight at the bus stop and enter molue, lie that he needs to branch at the printer’s place.
Tade climbs onto the bike, and Mr. Ade kicks several times, but no response, which begins to worry Tade. He is about to alight when the bike finally starts and rides away. The pace at which Mr. Ade rides is only a bit faster than that of a snail, as if he is scared the wind would blow him off the bike should he ride faster. The only consolation Tade finds is the realization that Mr. Ade’s bike is faster than his own feet, so there’s no point in him alighting to trek.
When they reach the bus stop, Tade initiates his plan, which goes easier than expected. Tade waits among the crowd awaiting the arrival of the next molue. The day is brighter and busier, and about ten people are standing at the bus stop. He knows he will have to be extremely violent if he wants to go on the next bus. He looks at himself, buttons his blazer and feels his feet in his shoes, which are firm. He drops the handle of his bag off his shoulder, and wraps it round the bag before he hooks it under his armpit. From afar, he sees the next molue coming, as it announces “Obalende, CMS.” There is a woman directly in front of him, and he elbows her by the waist, making her stagger in her feet. No more obstructions, Tade worms his way inside and keeps a straight face. He doesn’t look at others who are struggling to get in, not even at the injured woman lest he feels guilty. The bus starts, the chauffeur driving at full speed. Tade silently prays that there won’t be much traffic. How feasible is such a prayer in Lagos on a Monday morning? Hahaha!
He keeps looking at his wristwatch from time to time, his patience wearing out. They’ve been stuck in this holdup for a while. Maybe if he had gone with Mr. Ade, he would have left this spot by now, since it’s easier for bikes to maneuver through holdups than for vehicles. When the bus moves, it does so at a very slow pace. When they finally leave the holdup and proceed with their journey, he heaves a sigh of relief. As he alights at Obalende, he checks his watch again: almost 12 PM. About four hours in traffic. Lagos traffic na your mate?
He enters a cab. Luckily, he is the last man to enter, so it takes off immediately. The driver maneuvers his way round Obalende towards Falomo, heading for Ikoyi. Tade keeps looking around in the hopes of locating his interview venue. Not that he is clueless about the place. Based upon the description given by mail, he probably understands how to get there, but he has never actually been there, never seen the building before, so he doesn’t know what the place looks like from outside. He will have to rely upon his intuition, which is why he refuses to take his eyes off the streets.
The street light turns red at Falomo roundabout, the driver stops. Everyone including Tade stares as the light counts down from 30 to 0. At 3, the red light changes to yellow; and at 0, it changes to green. The driver kicks the vehicle to a start, but it refuses to heed. He tries several times, but it doesn’t work. Behind them, Tade hears the sound of other vehicles honking. When they realize that Tade’s cab won’t leave the spot, they begin overtaking it.
“Driver, what is wrong?” Tade asks, restlessly.
“I don’t know, but I’ll look into it,” the driver says as he alights from the vehicle. Tade mutters in irritation as he follows suit. Other passengers also express displeasure, but Tade does not concern himself with them. What is most important to him right now is that the car works well so that he can proceed to wherever he is going.
He looks at his watch, it is now 12:30 PM. He is extremely restless. The interview is scheduled for 13:00, but it was clearly stated in the mail that interviewees should arrive at least one hour before. He should have been there since noon, but his village people – so he thinks – are determined to have him fucked up again today. As always. What if there will be no serious interview? What if the basis of selection is punctuality? He prays it won’t be the case, or he has lost already.
“Driver have you fixed it yet?” a voice asks. It could be any of the passengers seated inside the cab.
“E remain small,” the driver says.
Tade cannot take this any longer. He rummages through his pocket and brings out a rumpled naira note, which he hands over to the driver. He doesn’t look back as he walks away. He stands by the roadside to flag down vehicles, but it isn’t as easy as he thought. No one stops, not even any of the poor-figured mini buses.
At exactly 12:45 PM, Tade hears a distant sound like an explosion. Almost immediately, he hears his name being called out. As he looks up and sees Mr. Ade, he tries to hide his astonishment.
“We meet again. Are you done with your appointment yet?” Mr. Ade asks.
“Done ke? I haven’t even reached the place. There was a holdup on the mainland, and the cab I entered broke down.”
“Yes, that holdup was mad. That trailer that fell across the road made things worse.”
“I know, right.”
“Well, maybe that’s why God sent me here; to help you. Come on, climb on, let me take you.”
“Thank you, sir,” he says as he takes a seat. Mr. Ade really is a Godsend. Had he only known how crazy things would become, he would have ridden with Mr. Ade directly and avoided all the wasteful spending.
As they enter Ikoyi, he keeps looking around for a building with a description matching what has been given to him in the mail, but he is yet to see any.
“What building are you going to exactly?” Mr. Ade asks.
Tade tells him he doesn’t know the name, then describes the building. Mr. Ade keeps nodding, assuring Tade that he knows the place. Tade secretly thanks his lucky star for bringing this man his way today, and is further happy that he is riding faster than usual.
“Oh my God!” they both exclaim simultaneously at the sight before them: a vast heap consisting of bricks made of sand, water and cement, planks that have been destroyed, wires, metals, and roofing sheets that have lost their magic; everything that once made up a house or even a mansion is spread out before them in a heap like a volcano, a heap as tall as a four-story building. The bricks rest on each other like logs of wood. And it looks as if a bulldozer has carried out the operation, but when Tade looks around, he sees nothing like that. What he sees instead is smoke erupting from the heap like dust. For a while, he is unable to see through it from where he stands; but when he finally does, he brings his hands to his head in pity of the victims of the collapse He sees body parts detached as if by the angry knife of a merciless butcher: a rigid right arm with blue band that belongs to a man, a lean left hand with a diamond ring on the fourth finger that belongs to a woman, feet bleeding through long trousers, eyeglasses whose owner he is certain must be dead by now or be among the surviving few whose wails he cannot hear. He sees all of these things from where he is standing at a foot of the heap.
He cannot move even if he wants to, his feet have suddenly become numb and unable to walk. He hears screams from among the crowd whose presence he hasn’t noticed earlier, wails, especially from women whose relationship with the victims he questions. Yet, he can relate because even he feels a deep remorse; he is just too dumbfounded to express it. The wails grow louder, and he forces himself to look at the women screaming; many of them have taken off their corporate shoes and stand barefooted while slapping their thighs twice a second as if it causes them no pain. Some of them are seated on the bare floor and grabbing hard at their hair, which makes Tade ask himself: if total strangers can feel this way towards the victims, then how must their families not feel when they finally receive the news?
“A whole twenty-one story!” one of the women sitting on the floor screams, and Tade forces himself to look in her direction, a lot rushing through his mind. Twenty-one stories means several people working, possibly hundreds of lives lost. Oh God!
Tade is so engrossed with the expression of the wailing women that he doesn’t notice the long line of cars that have started to queue. Then it dawns on him that the building has collapsed on the road, thereby blocking the free flow of traffic. It will take days, if not weeks before this road gets motorable again. But it seems like many of the drivers who are stuck are in no hurry to get wherever it is they are going, as majority of them alight to feed their eyes. Curious eyes everywhere: poor and rich, young and old, men and women, all watching in pity at the scene without knowing how to help. Tade hopes the rescue teams will arrive on time. That is one of the reasons why he likes America: if something like this had happened over there, help would have arrived on time – based upon what he has seen in their movies. He soon hears sirens sounding from afar; at least one rescue team is almost here, maybe the police.
Tade finally finds the strength to move his feet, moving further away from where the diamond ring on that fine finger keeps catching his attention. God rest the soul of whoever that woman is! He moves to the opposite end, which is where he sights things that baffle him the most, things that will forever become his nightmare: the bodies! Not simply bodies, but vital body parts. While he sees some bodies that appear to be asleep with their parts still intact, he sights others where some of their parts have left them: bodies without arms, without legs. Some heads have been cut off from their hosts as if by a sword. One head in particular catches his attention; despite all of the misfortune, the head’s eyebrows remain intact; red lipstick is still evident on her lips, even though it has been soiled by dust. Such a beautiful face. Tade feels a connection between this head and the hand with the diamond ring. He hopes he is wrong. Beside that particular head, he sees another, this time the head of a man without a neck, a pen penetrating through one side of his ears, and he can see blood still gushing out slowly through the ear. The sight scares Tade, who doesn’t know when he screams.
No one hears him or pays attention to him because there is a lot to be worried about right now. His stomach rumbles, and he can feel his breakfast slowly creeping its way up, not knowing when he starts to throw up. He empties his whole stomach of the noodles he had for breakfast, and is still heaving to bring out things he ate days prior. No one holds him as he is not of the utmost priority just now.
He feels discomfort in his head after he has finished throwing up. He stands upright and looks again towards the heap. The discomfort intensifies, but he gets the reason now: the weary wails of the living still trapped in the heap. How come he never heard that? Perhaps he transiently lost his sense of hearing. The sound is disturbing, resembling the sound of houseflies on feces. Tade wishes them death; that is what everyone must wish for them because death is definitely better than their current predicament.
“I was supposed to have an interview here, what just happened?” Tade finally asks no one in particular as he stares blankly at the site, still unable to believe his eyes.
“Well, it is what it is: a building collapse,” Mr. Ade says as he walks up to him.
Tade stares on in disbelief, trying to fathom what he is seeing and what could have been. Could he have been one of those trapped inside? He ponders on what has transpired over the course of the day. Even when the police arrives, even when the fire brigade and other rescue teams finally get here, even when Mr. Ade pats him on the back and tells him to calm down, he pays little attention. When the thought of his family comes to him, when he contemplates giving a better life to Tanwa, when he thinks of getting married and having kids, when a lot of things cross his mind, he doesn’t budge or flinch. All he does is thank God for life. Even though his days of poverty have further increased by perhaps a day or two or three – who knows? – he still won’t budge. After all, where there is life there is hope, isn’t there? That is what matters, and this is how he consoles himself.
About the author
Joseph Jegede hails from Ondo state in Nigeria. He is currently pursuing a degree in Foreign Languages at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. He is also an alumnus of Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich, Germany, where he attended the summer school after he was awarded a scholarship by the DAAD in 2021.
As a thinker and interested observer of social affairs and human nature, Joseph Jegede expresses himself by writing fictional stories. His works have appeared in a number of publications, including “Mummy O!” in the Culds Anthology and “The Bond That Binds” in Ogu & Other Stories, both available from OkadaBooks. He is currently working on his novel manuscript. When he isn’t writing or reading, he is doing something in German or French.