Retirement is a stage of life that most workers look forward to. It’s a time to rest from regular work for the rest of one’s days. For some, it means rest but for others like ninety-year-old Nwana, it means death.
He believes that the moment he stops working, he will die.
He’s a painter and painting makes him feel the blood in his veins. He loves painting houses and old age has not changed his passion and expertise.
It began when he turned seventy and refused to retire, his children did not understand why he kept working at his age. It became a thing for concern when he turned eighty-five. They knew what people were going to say – no one caters for his needs. But all their effort to stop him failed.
‘Force your father to stop now before he dies working!’ People say.
And his children try all the tricks they know to make him stop, including soliciting with his clients to stop giving him work. Nwana finds out and summons them and says, ‘ I know you care about me but if you care about me, let me live my life the way I want. It’s my life. If I die living my life, it’s my death as well. Please, let me be..’
‘No papa, you must stop. It’s not good for you. And People are talking!’ The youngest says.’ They’re laying blame on us!’
‘Well, let them talk.’
‘You must stop or I’ll make you,’ the eldest says.
In the night while Nwana sleeps. They gather his painting tools and burn them to ashes. Nwana wakes up early in the morning with no tools for his day’s work. He searches for them until he finds out what happened. His children burnt his tools. I force-stop him.
He stays at home the whole day in silence and his children think they have won. But he calls them again in the night and gives them a warning.
‘Before tomorrow’s dusk, I want to see all my tools in my hands. That’s all I have to say for now.’
He gets his tools back and keeps working into his 90’s, and everyone fixes wide and condemning eyes on his children, who are in the position to support his used life.
But each time Nwana sees their sympathetic stare, he wonders if they think old age is a time to sit around and depend on others. He’s not tired. He’s strong and healthy enough to work. Why do they insist on retiring him?.
Nwana turns 92 and his strength fails him. He’s forced to stop painting. He only stared at his tools.
Ten years later, he’s still alive and knows that what keeps him alive is neither work nor rest,
You own the house, the tenant owns the dog. You have to travel and stay away for quite some time for a reason.
Finally, you decide to go back home and on reaching your house you discover you can’t enter your own house. Your tenants furious dog is right in front of the house about to make your life a living hell and refuse you access to your house. It begins to growl and bark.
Your tenant is not around to make the dog behave. You have to hasten outside the gate and have to stick outside the gate to wait for your tenant to come back.
Your tenant comes back and takes the dog away. You look at it, it growls at you showing its wicked eyes and teeth.
The next day you step into your compound, about to go out, and the dog on seeing you, makes at you. Your tenant has gone out again leaving you and the dog. The tenant forgets to put his dog in the cage.
With desperate effort to prevent a fatal attack on you, you drop your briefcase and run.
The dog grabs your briefcase and keeps watch over it. Your phone is in it. No means to call your tenant to come to retrieve your briefcase.
You’re angry and have plans to disallow the dog in your compound. The dog looks at you again and growls and barks. It lunches an attack, you run to the gate, the only option you have. On reaching it, you discover it has been locked, your tenant has locked it from the outside forgetting you’re still in the house.
The dog rushes closer, nothing to do but climb the wall and that’s what you have to do.
A passer-by sees you jumping the fence, alerts other passers-by and they chase you to catch you. You know that thieves stand a good chance of being stoned to death in the area.
You run and run until you meet one of your neighbours who stands to explain who you are. But you are no where to be found.
When you later come back you have to send your tenant and dog packing.
Staying away for too long can make you a stranger in your own home.
Chase your dream but always know the road that will lead you home again.
All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” — Walt Disney
Altoe Sert Company Limited, within its anti-climb mesh fence, looked huge, alluring, magnificent, above standard, unique, progressive and all.
There it stands!
Right before us!
Looking like the opulence of the entire globe.
Our captivated senses held on it as we approached, never to let go.
We must stay focused. No looking back. No distractions. No diversions. We must belong here as part and parcel of Altoe Sert.
We walked to the nearest gate with GATE1 written on it and waited to be let in. The surveillance camera kept staring at us. Our worth must be exposed to its scrutiny.
After a couple of minutes, I flipped the bell switch again. A man’s voice boomed through the speaker we never knew existed below the camera and our eyes rushed to it.
‘Good Morning young men, what can we do for you?’
“Good morning sir! We’re here for jobs sir,” I replied boldly and watched Ikedi nod in affirmation.
“What are your names?”
“Obinna J. Obinna sir”
” Ikedi James sir.”
“Here on the invitation?”
He paused for a moment and looked at our heads thoughtfully.
“Well, presently, there are no job openings in our company.”
“Sir please open the gate. We need to drop our resume with the HR department.”
“Sorry, that’s not how it’s done here. Job applications are online. Visit our website to apply under career.” With that, the speaker went dead.
We lingered at the gate for a while before seeking shade.
A lady walked by where we sat waiting for nothing. Going by her appearance, she worked at Altoe Sert. I walked to her before she reached the gate, and my friend, Ikedi followed.
“Hello please, spare us a minute.
“I want to find out something from you, please. You work at Altoe Sert, right?”
“Yes. Yes” she nodded proudly.
“Please we’re job seekers, and we’re interested in your company. How do we go about getting a job?”
“Online application only. You’ll have to apply online. Employment here follow a strict procedure.”
“Okay. What are the expectations?”
“If your application scales through you’ll be contacted for the first stage of interview – online test. If you pass, there wll be a second stage – oral interview. This is followed by practical tests, then personality checks, before six months probation. If you’re lucky at the end, you’ll be fully employed with good pay and pleasing working condition.”
“That’s scrutiny,” Ikedi said as he jotted down some points about stages of the interview.
“Well, Altoe Sert is like the apex of electrical companies in Lagos, well sort after nationwide and recognised worldwide as among the best. To maintain its standard, the company is careful about choosing its workers. Altoe Sert must keep up not down and what keeps it up? The quality product and services it renders to its customers worldwide.” she said and frowned at her wristwatch.
“How often does employment take place here?” I asked as if I didn’t hear the praise she sang.
“The company is expanding and there’s an enormous need for more workers. That notwithstanding, getting a job here can be very very difficult because the employees come from all over the world. As you know, this is a foregn establishment – foreign investors are likely to be from Japan, UK and US.” Do you know with my master’s degree in Electrical design, it took me five years and a half to get in there? I threw a party after.” she giggled.
“You should. Why not?” I said and wished. I didn’t like listening to a pessimist. She shouldnt be an angel of doom, sent to dash our hopes and expectations. If we should listen to her, we would lose hope of ever getting a job in life. I didn’t really blame her, It’s because she didn’t know me. I was a die-hard job seeker and for the company before us, my zeal would make the unexpected happen.
“The thing is, it’s not just qualification that gets you there. You must be good at what you do and must be fast, smart thinker, ready to learn, learn and learn and then teach teach and teach fresh employees,” she said.
“That’s not a problem. We’re right for the job.” she studied me and smiled and I wondered what was going on in her mind.
“Oh! Break time is over. Sorry, I have to go now. All the best to you both.”
“Do you know someone who knows someone who could help us get in there?”
She laughed heartily and we joined her.
‘You’re such a joke! That company you’re seeing doesn’t work that way. If it did, the whole of this nation could have probably been among its employees.
“Thanks for your patience. What’s your name?
We shook hands and smiled together.
“May I have your contact, please.”
She opened her purse and brought out her card. It read;
Mercy Ibietan, Electrical design department, Altoe Sert Company Limited. Contact...
I glanced at it, with the thought of what format to give mine before handing it over to Ikedi
All she said about the difficulty in securing a job there could be true but the truth should not be an obstacle.
My destiny should not be likened to that of another loser somewhere. I’m not a failure. So we shouldn’t be cast down and away. In fact, our hopes must be stronger.
“Ikedi, we’re coming back here tomorrow, very early before the workers.”
“To do what again?”
To show our faces to the Recruitment Officer.”
“How on earth are you going to enter there?”
“En route Mercy.”
I think she’s right. You’re such a joke.”
“I know. first thing before coming back, we must go online and make our submissions.”
“Look, my friend, online application is a farce in this part of the world. How many people do you know who got their jobs through it?”
“Hundreds of people get jobs every day online. Don’t believe fake news about online job seekers being time wasters.”
“The truth is, online takes time, weeks, months or years to get noticed. I’m sure it works for Altoe Sert but I’m not casting all my eggs in one basket. I’m going to try many methods. A desperate desire requires desperate measures. I’m determined to break the protocols and go ahead to meet Officer in charge of recruitment. I want to penetrate into this company as soon as possible.”
Ikedi had since stopped talking as we went home by Keke Napep. He looked dead in his sleep.
The next day, I dragged Ikedi out of his father’s two storey building and nagged him for idling around. He told me he wished his old man would fix him in his business. The man had told him to go into the world and bear good fruit.
He regretted having him as a father.
“Your father is wise you know. He wants you to stand on a solid ground on your bare feet and feel the sand and every other thing under there. He’s training you to be independent. It’s for your good.”
“Forget that. I’m his only son. Who is he making his money for if not me?”
“Well….” Then I saw Mercy coming!
I nudged Ikedi’s side and we braced ourselves, read to make use of the opportunity as planned. Her right shoulder was laden with her laptop. I ran to help her but she hurried away as if she had not set eyes on us before.
We hurried after her. At the gate, she stood before the camera and waited. We were right behind her and we were going to enter with her — as her friends.
“Mercy!” I whispered and she didn’t even act as if someone was there with her.
Remember us? Yesterday? During break? Remember?
A sensor light under the camera came on and the pedestrian gate opened. Mercy entered and as we were about to enter, the security alarm came on.
It was loud enough to alert the community around us. We kept cool and kept walking behind her. Then saw them! More than ten armed security officers of different sizes and colours!
“Is this a bank?” I asked myself because Ifedi was already out of the gate. I thought he was as daring as I was.
They caught and detained me in a cell- inside Alto Sert for a few hours. As I sauntered to the gate, downcast, I heard my name. The manager liked my zeal. He interview me and gave me a call the next day.
Veronica stood before the ancient gate of her great-grandfather’s mansion staring at the faded white walls with grey patches and cracks that harbored dried weeds.
The thought of the story she was told about why no one lived there, lingered in mind. She was fourteen and fearless, her desire was to set her feet on the ground beyond the ancient gate.
“Please don’t go anywhere near that gate, ” her mother had warned her.
“It’s an evil house, ” she had retorted. “Your great-grandfather lived there but abandoned it when strange things began to happen. He would go to bed at night only to wake up in the middle of the night outside the house – in the compound, on bare ground.”
“The day I gave birth to you was the same day your father died.”
“What happened to him?”
“He entered the compound while I was at the hospital and was later found in the compound beside an old baby cot -/ dead.
“Yes. It was. When he told me about the properties in that house and how his father, your grandpa had always wanted to take…. some ou…” She began to sniff and Veronica snuggled close to her. I warned him not to go there. He wouldn’t listen. Losing him was the worst thing that has happened to me.”
“It’s alright mama. It’s alright.”
“I don’t want to lose you too.”
“You won’t mama. You won’t lose me. I promise never to go near that house.”
As she stood there before the gate, the same one she was warned against, she had made up her mind to break her promise to her mother. She had a strange desire to enter the house. Strange and strong desire!
As she looked at the many chains that secured the gate, a whiff of despair swept across her.
Just then, her eyes caught a young lady standing in the room upstairs, facing the gate. She stood before a glass window and her pale palms showed through the glass. Veronica flinched and backed away as she called her name.
“Veronica! Veronica! Please, help me. ” her sweet voice sounded as if she was close to her. She seemed to be trapped in her room, lonely and sad. Her antique wedding dress clasped her delicate body as if beaten by the rain.
“Why is she so sad?” Veronica whispered. “Hello! What’s your name?”
“I can’t remember!” her voice was cold and shaky this time.
“Don’t worry! I’ll help you,”
Veronica sensed her chapped lips curve upward and her bony cheeks set. She quickly swept the tears from her cheeks as her mother’s voice came through, warning her not to touch the gate.. She smiled at the lady.
“I’ll be back soon. I promise,” Veronica turned to go but the chains clanked behind her and the gate swung open. Her mother’s call became hysteric when she turned and took slow steps towards the open gate. She looked back and saw her running towards her.
“Veronica! No!!! Come out!” Her mother screeched.
Veronica!” The woman called.
Mother! Why are you scared? There is a woman in this house. She needs help. Let’s help her. Please, mama.”. But when she looked back, her mother was already locked out, the chains that secured the gate was in place. Her eyes went wild and she looked up at the woman questioning.
“Be fast Veronica or she will stop you from setting me free.” Veronica walked to the house and on touching the door to the entrance, it came open, she saw the wooden staircase and the cobwebs everywhere. Her mother kept calling but she was determined.
She took slow steps up, cutting through thick cobwebs with sweep of both hands.
She reached the first landing and felt a cold chill and wanted to go back but she called again.
“Over here.” Veronica saw the room with Private. Stay Away. written on it. Her heart raced as she reached for the handle. It’s locked. She pushed until she couldn’t. She turned to go but heard the door click. She reached for it again and it opened. She took a calculated step and looked inside, there was no one in it. She walked to the glass window and saw people gathered waiting to see what would become of her.
She waved at them. “I’m not dead mother.” She whispered and began to look around for woman.
Her eyes caught it. A human skeleton in tatters lay in a broken wooden couch. Veronica turned away from it in horror and stormed out the room. She ran towards the gate. The gate remained locked.
At Veronica’s command, the chains were broken and the gate was opened. People who were courageous enough went in with her to see the bones. Since no one knew who it was, the remains were taken to the cemetery and buried.
“Who could it be? Who lived in that room?”
“I don’t know. When I got married to your father, no one lived in the house.”
“I know she’s a wedded young lady.” Her mother stared at her. She had no idea who the lady could be.
The curtains drifted apart and the sun rays crept into Chidi’s bedroom. He lay carelessly on the bed and his overgrown beard made him look a bit older than 36.
The stranger stood there by his bedside waiting. His face was expressionless as he transferred his briefcase to his left and brought out a paper from it.
He tapped Chidi again and moved swiftly to the other rooms and looked around.
Chidi heard unusual footsteps moving towards him and it seemed like another of his usual apparition had come. Ever since the disappearance of Amara and the kids, he had been seeing things. Images and sounds that came and went, like flashes of light. The illusion would soon disappear like the others – but he spoke.
“Get up. I need you to sign this.” he extended the paper to him.
Chidi’s eyes shut open and the first thing he saw was the white paper.
“What document?” Chidi asked nonchalantly before waking up to reality.
He jumped to the other side of the bed and backed away towards the closet but the stranger followed calmly with the document.
“I’m not holding any weapon, Chidi!” The stranger said to amuse himself.
“Who are you? How did you enter my house?” Chidi asked frantically.
“What does it matter? Chidi, I don’t have much time to spare. I need to return to my boss on time.”
“Who are you? Who sent you? I don’t have any agreement with anybody concerning signing any document.” Chidi almost shouted.
“Sign the paper and stop asking questions,” he said firmly and began to walk away.
“I heard you lost your family.” He said as he reached the living room door. Chidi was hypnotised by the sentence. He followed him.
“Yes? My wife and kids have been missing for five days now.” Chidi stopped as the man entered the living room. He picked up his phone for a quick call. To inform his friend Kc about the trouble in his house.
“What are you doing?” He peeped through the door. “Drop the phone. Not until I’m gone.” Chidi stopped dialling.
“What if I told you that someone I know knows where your family is?” He said and Chidi dropped the phone and moved closer to him.
“My family? You know where my family is?” Chidi asked in his softest voice, looking at him without blinking
Chidi sat slowly on the sofa, bent his head, and wrapped his occiput with his entwined fingers. He brainstormed for a while before smiling as though he had solved his hassle.
He took the document, it’s the same one he had refused to sign for a year now.
“My wife is your boss?”
“No, her fiance is.”
Chidi laughed. Something had gone wrong with the world. How could someone married with kids run away to her lover? Married woman in her late 30s – blessed with 2 kids. Something is wrong with the world Chid lived in.
“Amara! Amara!” Chidi said calmly and bent his head.
She had told him about Ralph. She was only being stupid. Even though he was the man she had always wanted to marry, he had left her and never called because her parents said he would not marry their daughter.
He was from another tribe. She had talked about how deeply she loved him. When he left and travelled back to the US where he lived and never spoke to her, she had cried on Chidi’s shoulder who had loved her all along even when he knew he loved another man that deep.
When he didn’t come for her, she accepted to marry him. Four years into their marriage, he showed up. And she started seeing him behind his back. The day she brought the divorce paper for him to sign, he couldn’t believe she could be that stupid. He had refused to sign. Not with kids involved.
“Don’t tell me you’re leaving me and the kids for this home breaker who left you for because of a little conflict! how are you sure he isn’t married with kids?” he had been very mad at her but she never uttered a word. He talked to her at length and she had agreed to never see Ralph again.
Six months after a lovely and peaceful relationship during which Ralph was never mentioned, she disappeared with the kids. He was sure Ralph had gone back to the US but he could have come back for her.
“Where are my children?”
“Sign the damn paper, your kids are waiting to join you.”
Of what use would it be for him to fight for his right when she’s made up her mind to leave?
“You know when you love someone and she loves someone else? That feels terrible. She only married me because he left her and never spoke with her. He left her because he couldn’t fight for her. You see, he’s not the right man for her. I am. But, unfortunately, she can’t see that.” The man stood up and extended his hand to take the paper from him as if what he was saying was falling on deaf ears.
“Her parents died two years ago in a car accident. He didn’t call her. Now he’s back as if she’s still single and I, an intruder.” He said amidst tears.
“Too bad man… Sorry. But you know, I’m only here to do my job. Emotion is not tolerable during work” He took the papers from him and made a call.
Few minutes passed and Amara came in with two new black trolley boxes.
She had returned the kids to him and apologize to him.
“Chidi I’m sorry it has to end this way. Please take care of them.” Silence ensued as Chidi bonded with the kids.
“Please know that Ralph is innocent, I’m the sole offender in this case. Please don’t go after him because nothing will bring me back,”
“Oh Yeah! I can see the glory around his crown for taking another man’s wife. No problem. Just go,”
“If you ever need my help, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.” Chidi took the kids and wrapped his arms around them again.
Chidi glanced at the door while the kids went to the balcony to watch her. “Mommy! Mommy!” Her seven-year-old called but got no answer, Raph drove her away.
Within two weeks, she announced to him over an e-mail and to the kids that she had moved to the US with Ralph.
She kept sending him emails to ask about the kids and had been sending money into his account for the kids, but all those gestures were annoying. He never touched her money and never told the kids about her emails.
Three months later, she sent him an e-mail.
She’s stranded in the US. Ralph had been married to an American lady and had introduced her to his wife as his sister. She was devastated and couldn’t stand America. She was coming back to Nigeria. She was sorry but wasn’t expecting him to take her back.