I get a call in the morning. The connection is very bad – hissing static and a caller’s voice that keeps crackling in and out of focus.
“Hello… Are you Walter Ude… Have a package… Come to our office…”
“Hello, hello, I can’t hear you well, sir,” I keep saying until the call is cut off. Whether the disconnection is man-made or is from natural causes, I do not know.
But I start trying to call back. With each try, I get that snotty-voiced MTN lady telling me the number is not reachable. I send a text, politely informing my caller that I did not get what office he expects me to come to. And I get no reply.
As the day goes by, I keep trying the number, and the MTN aunty keeps telling me it’s not reachable.
So I decide to consult with the friend who I am expecting a package from. She tells me the office is likely to be the post office closest to me, seeing as she sent the package using the US Postal Agency. So okay, I hit up Google to find the post offices in the Oshodi environs. Google spits out three results – three offices with locations scattered about.
I laugh. Under this heat! With the nightmare Lagos traffic is wont to be! This is when my village witches want me to start going to three different places? No nau! Beyoncé did not conquer Coachella for me to be this unfortunate.
So I step out to see my neighbour. I ask her which post office is the nearest to us. She tells me to just get on a bike and ask to be dropped at Oshodi Post Office.
I do exactly that, and two minutes later, I am walking into the rundown establishment that is the Post Office. The place looks like it has been forgotten by the government. The modest building looks so dilapidated, I can’t even tell which entrance is the front. The first entrance I walk in through turns out to be the staff side entrance. A dumpy, middle-aged man snaps at me to get out and take my right to the front.
I obey him and find myself approaching two surly-faced women behind glass-shield counters. They look like the heat is getting to them. They look like they’ve not been paid their salaries since February. They look like they are in the business of transferring their aggression to the patronage of the post office.
“Good afternoon, ma,” I offer to one of them.
She doesn’t look at me, busy as she was rifling through an envelope, her stiff silence seeming to ask me: And what is good about the afternoon?
“Good afternoon –” I venture again.
“Yes, what can I do for you?” she cuts me off with a hissing snarl.
“Somebody called me, said I have a package.”
I am not even sure I’m in the right post office, but I am keeping my fingers crossed, hoping I am a step ahead of my village witches.
“Eh, call the person and tell him you are here na,” she snaps.
“His number hasn’t been going through,” I patiently respond.
She gives me a beady glare, like I am an inconvenience sent by her mother-in-law to disrupt her afternoon. Then she expels a heavy put-upon sigh and gestures with her hand pointing rightward. “Go out, walk to your right. You will see the next building. Go in and ask the people you see there for your package.”
That is all. That is all she was supposed to cordially pass on to me without the initial drama.
I nod my thanks to her anyway and walk out of the room. The next building is right next door. I go in to see a row of desks and shelves with parcels haphazardly stacked in and out of them.
Yes, this is clearly the room I’m supposed to come to.
There are just three men seated behind three of the desks. One of them appears to be a looku-looku, so intent and unwavering is his stare on me from the moment my shadow darkened the doorway. I move to the man behind the desk on my immediate right.
“Good afternoon, sir,” I greet.
“Ehen, good afternoon,” he responds, his demeanour a lot friendlier than the madam from next door. “How may I help you?”
“I’m here to collect a package please.”
His face brightens a notch. “You are Walter Ude?”
I do a mental double take. Is business that slow? Walter Ude is the only customer you people are expecting today?
“Yes,” I say wryly, forgetting to be grateful to the universe that I am after all in the right post office. “Yes, I am.”
“Ah, sit down,” he says, gesturing to the seat before his desk. “I have been calling you since morning.”
No, sir, it is I who has been trying to reach you since morning, I think to myself. But I say nothing in response. I smile and nod at him, as if to say: Let’s hurry it along, shall we?
He reaches behind him and produces a large brown envelope. I feel a bloom of pleasure spring to life in my soul as I see the imprint of the goods the envelope contains.
The man says something.
I look up at him, startled out of the moment I am having. “Excuse me?”
“I said, let me see your ID card,” he reiterates.
I produce my National ID card and pass it across to him. He gives it a perfunctory look and returns it to me. There is a hesitation about him now, something sly about his smile – and I instantly recognize that we have come to that part of most service provision in Nigeria that exasperates me.
“OK, but oga, you have to pay something for the package,” he says, an oily smile hovering on his lips.
“Pay something like what?” I say crisply, my expression closed, refusing to encourage him with a smile of my own.
“500 naira,” he answers.
“How much?” I ask, because he had mumbled his answer and I hadn’t heard him.
“500 naira,” he repeats, “but if you want to give me 2000 naira, I won’t argue with you o.” He punctuates this bad joke with a short laugh.
Somebody else laughs. I look sideways. It is the third man on the other side of the aisle. Mr. Looku-Looku is busy still intently staring at me. He is starting to make me feel like I walked into this office with shit on my face.
I turn back to Mr. 500 Naira. Wordlessly, I pick out a 500 naira note from my wallet and hand it over to him.
He looks at me with pretend-shock. “Ah, ah, oga, won’t you even buy credit for me? Upon all the time I have been calling you…”
Is this man serious? All which time he has been calling me? I am not even in the mood to do this dance with him. I simply nod at the envelope on his desk and say, “May I?”
He gives an awkward laugh and pushes the envelope to me. I pick it up, feeling the comforting weight of the books inside, and stand up.
“Thank you, sir,” I say to Mr. 500 Naira.
He smiles his response at me.
I take one last look at Mr. Looku-Looku. I feel as though me and him honestly have to have a conversation about what he finds so fascinating about my face. I spare no glance in Mr. Laugh-A-Little’s direction; I have no respect for people who seem like they’ll laugh at AY’s jokes.
I just want to say a heartfelt Thank-You to my dearest friend and woman after my heart, Maureen, for these two beautiful babies she has given me.
Written by Walter