‘You have been grossly inefficient in this office. Very apathetic and lackadaisical. You take thrice the deadline to complete simple tasks, well, suspension might not be enough…we might have to lay you off’ bickered the stout and able bodied Mr. Suraju who supervised all the tellers and staff of the bureau de change.
‘But sir…I tried to…’ stammered Anike who looked all fearful and shivery. The wads of yen notes she held fell off her hands and littered the office floor.
‘We do not tolerate riff raffs and idiots in this organization! We do not hesitate to sack people and send them home to their parents if they are bent on making fools of themselves! Mr. Audu did not carry waste bins in far off Tokyo for twenty years to have his hard earned business go into liquidation!’ shouted Mr. Suraju who heaved and huffed like the first set of diesel engines that sent so much rage and fury into the air.
‘But…I…I…I’ Anike tried to explain whatever it is she had in her mind,
‘Shut up!!!’ Mr. Suraju shouted and made as if to physically assault Anike who ran out of his way and scurried to safety.
Her co-workers looked on and had a bland expression on their faces. They were fixed on their respective tasks and did not as little as steal a glance at the direction of the brouhaha in the office. They were used to it. They had all been either verbally or physically assaulted by Mr. Suraju or even Mr. Audu who sometimes came around and spanked the backsides of the girls. And the girls dared not talk. If they did not like such gesture, there was an unwritten code that mandated them to leave the employment of the company immediately and unceremoniously.
Mr. Suraju not only had a very imposing stature, he had a menacing demeanor that sent staff scurrying anytime he approached them. He was the chief task master of Mr. Audu the Chief Executive Officer of Danbaba BDC, Lagos.
Anike gained employment into the BDC about six months ago, she had applied to hundreds of roles via the internet and also submitted her curriculum vitae to several organizations all to no avail. She had joined a local church where deliverance services were held and she told the pastor that she knew for certainty that the spirit of unemployment hovered on and around her hence her inability to get a job of whatsoever description.
There was hardly a night that Anike went to bed without weeping profusely after she got the job at the BDC. Her days were long and uninspiring. She would leave her ramshackle tenement in downtown Iwaya beside the great slum of Makoko and rush to take the bus to Sabo, Yaba and then to Computer Village, Ikeja. From Computer Village she would then trudge the remaining two Kilometres to the office at Ogba.
Most times she got to the office late, tired and worn. Despite looking all haggard and tired from the stress of commuting and trekking in Lagos, she would mostly get to the office and contend with the Minotaur that Suraju was. He would bellow like the trains of India in great fury and send files and sometimes, humans flying in various directions.
And all these was for a salary that could be any means or stretch of imagination, sustain the staff of the BDC till the end of the Month.
The leaves always made loud sounds when the winds of the North rush through them. They would crackle and give off sharp dry sounds that disguised the movement of reptiles in the undergrowth. Birnin Kudu was a rustic town but the people of the town welcomed all, both Christians and Muslims, Nigerians from whatever direction and foreigners from the ends of the earth.
There were Indians and Lebanese in droves, Italians in their numbers and even Canadians doing their business in the town that welcomed everyone and has done so for many centuries. Anike had been a youth service corps member in this hilly Northern town and she had had a really good time.
Since Anike grew up in the ancient town of Iwo with her grandmother who was a cook that specialized in the preparation of local dishes like ayamase and ofada stews, the preparation of masa with the use of corn, dodo ikire which is a deeply fried overripe plantain recipe and other indigenous and local dishes like amala and ila asepo, she had learnt how to make all the local dishes indigenous to south west Nigeria and had even picked up bits and pieces here and there to make her dishes taste even better.
While Anike was in Birnin Kudu, she taught in one of the local primary schools and had to go to the school only once in a week as the children were more interested in being farmers and herders than in having any sort of western education.
On the other days of the week when she didn’t have much to do, Anike would make little portions of her native dishes and stand close to the entrance to the State Government Secretariat under Mallam Illiyasu’s shed and sell her food to the civil servants who would stop by and buy the dishes they considered really strange. They would eat and give reviews about how tasty the food was. They would encourage her to cook even more types of the various meals from her homeland and she would giggle and smile and exchange pleasantries in her staccato Hausa and she made far more money than she was paid under the NYSC Scheme.
And everyone in the town would talk about the Yoruba girl from Southern Nigeria who cooked tastier meals than that made by the house wives of Birnin Kudu. Some of the women of the town got very jealous but could really, not do anything as Birnin Kudu happened to be a town where civility, dignity and uprightness were highly upheld.
‘Anike, ojo a jina sira o, owuro ana ni iya agba ku o’ that was the phone call that made Anike go back to Osun State. Her granny was her only known relative and she spent a significant part of her savings on ensuring that the woman who had raised her all alone have a befitting burial.
The women of the town had wept and wailed and thrown themselves on the ground in mourning and wails.
‘What would become of poor Anike who has no one in the World to call family? They had asked.
‘Iya agba raised Anike into a responsible young lady and gave her best’ others had said.
Imam Imran had told everyone who cared to listen that mama lived a good life and that everyone who witnessed her burial should also go into the World and be of help to people. He reminded the people that no single person created by God had an endless or infinite lease of life, he prayed for the repose of Iya Agba’s soul and everyone went home distraught and in low spirits.
Tajudeen, the owner of the Sports Betting shop at Oke Odan had approached her and professed true and undying love to her. He promised to be there for her. He promised her a share of his bustling bet shop. He wanted to be her all and more. Anike looked on with disinterest while he spoke; she had told him she would give him feedback the next morning. By the time Tajudeen got to Iya Agba’s house to get a feedback, Anike was on the Lagos bound train at Oshodi, Lagos. She had taken the first train from Oshogbo. She had left the first half of her life behind and she vowed to make Iya Agba proud.
Anike was taken aback by the Lagos magic, while she looked out from her window side seat on the train, she saw a one legged man chase six able bodied men in several directions, she saw men neatly lined up in rows by the tracks openly defecating and having a jovial time as they conversed, she saw market women haggle and throw jabs at customers they considered stingy or frugal, she would smile when same women struck a deal with the customers and have their face take up a wide glow and grin, and she saw the reserved parts of Lagos too, where the crème de la crème of the Mainland lived and she vowed within herself to make something good for herself in this famous State.
That was six months ago! Now, she was stuck at the BDC, living every day in drudgery and woe, hoping for a better tomorrow and logically expostulating against same.
‘Why are you seated there?’ Suraju bellowed. ‘Are you a plague sent to this organization to ensure it ends up bankrupt?
Anike was shocked by the anger in the face and voice of her supervisor, she immediately scurried away from him and right onto the streets of Ogba where she walked to nowhere and wept. Passers-by stopped to observe the girl who wept along till she met mama Onome.
Mama Onome was a very fat Urhobo woman who sold corn on Oba Akran Avenue; she saw Anike weeping and immediately approached her and drew her to her shed.
‘Wetin happen? Wetin dem do you this fine girl for this Lagos?’ Mama Onome inquired. Anike had explained her life travails in the next twenty minutes and the fat Urhobo woman burst into tears while listening to the tale.
It was mama Onome who then asked if she had any hobbies and that she should think of commercializing her hobbies. It was at that point Anike remembered the beautiful town of Birnin Kudu, the town of the free, the town of expression and of values. Her face brightened up and she immediately told mama Onome that she would sell the local dishes she made in Birnin Kudu and manage with her in her lowly shed.
Mama Onome was initially against an educated girl sharing the shed with her.
‘You sabi book. Me I no go school. How graduate go stand for sun come dey sell food like mama like us wey no sabi anything?’ and she burst into laughter while her monstrous body heaved. Mama Onome however, eventually agreed and the duo struck the partnership plan.
THREE YEARS LATER
The CEO of Fantastic Fingers, Ikeja and Victoria Island was young Miss Anike Fapohunda. She had risen from the corners of a lowly roadside shack on Oba Akran to become one of the biggest restaurant owners in Lagos. She got her initial funding from a micro finance Bank and the rest, you all love to say, is history.
One day while on a routine inspection of her Ikeja shop, she saw a shriveled man lift his empty plate and try to hide behind. She approached with a quizzical glare and behold! The Minotaur Suraju!
Suraju was in for the greatest shock of his life when Miss. Anike who had added a few kilograms moved towards him and gave him a hug. ‘But for you, I would still be that the BDC’ she said.
Mama Onome, now the manager of the Ikeja store, dressed in her neat apron moved close to the duo and inquired who Suraju was. Anike responded.
‘Useless man!’ she shouted. ‘You be useless somebody!’ she screamed. ‘E good say you useless sha. Na from your uselessness na im my pikin Anike find usefulness. Who know say the sumor geh wey all of una dey laugh go become big madam for this Lagos?’
Suraju grimaced while staring at his own feet. He imagined his worn shoes scowling at him. He tried to remember his own hobbies but couldn’t. he had been an evil taskmaster of another for the greatest part of his productive life.