The grass always seems greener on the other side of the lawn.
It never usually is. It’s just a trick of the sunlight, most of the time.
As a lawyer in my firm, I was hewn to be a hustler. I had worked and ‘waka-ed’ Vitamins A to Z in my hustle on the job. After all, my survival depended on it. I technically knew every nook and cranny of every police station in Eko. I could reel out the names of the DCO’s/DPO’s of most police stations off heart, so acquainted was I with the force, stemming mostly from petitions against unscrupulous elements of the public at the behest of my clients. Every day was a grind, filled with the assault of spittle from numerous miscreants and their likes, as they chant ‘D Law’ to me, fists raised in deference, eyes expectant of some reward for their sycophancy, as though it is expected of me to pay for their ‘services’. Life had become radical and urgent, with bills pilling high like the groundnut pyramids in Kano, and my account balance as red as a truckload of tomatoes from Jos.
It was depressing. It all seemed to beg the question: ‘What’s the point?’, one which I posed myself often on that morning I’d look into the mirror and behold the man suited in his coat like a local priest, with a big jute bag bursting with books, crowned with a wig and clad in a gown, a mild caricature of the Black Father Christmas. But then, no one was amused by the levity; certainly not me.
After a clash in court with a senior member of the bar who seemed impressed with my bravado, he thereon asked me to drop my CV at a firm in dire need of a seasoned litigation lawyer. I set my heart to occupy the position. It was a high profile firm on the Island, and I was put through three weeks of exhaustive exams, interviews and tests. They worked me over, as though testing me for candidacy to Heaven.
I finally got the job, landing a position in the litigation department. (Did I hear ‘Praise the Lord’?) I put up a notice of resignation from the firm that had seriously seasoned me like an aboki‘s chicken suya. My boss looked solemnly at me on that day, and with his usual braggadocio, he said, “You don’t know what you’re attempting, Mr. Berthram Okoji by asking to resign. You’re making a big mistake, young man.” And upon realizing that I was resolute, his parting words were: “May your road be rough. I am not cursing you, take note. Best wishes in your future endeavors.” That line had obviously been stolen from Late Tai Solarin of blessed memory.
I resumed a week later at my new workplace. It seemed like the dawn of a new beginning. A new environment, a new office, everything was new. I had arrived. I was on top of the legal world. I took a moment to draw in a deep breath of fulfillment, before setting my heart and soul to the job.
About twelve weeks later, I started getting depressed. I’d been in court once, to take a date for trial for one of the firm’s celebrated cases on the firm’s list. By the time the first quarter rounded up, I realized I’d just being to court twice. This was a new kind of world record for me, a pace I wasn’t used to. The ferocious grind was gone. Life was more now all about desk jobs, shuffling paper and elegant lunch breaks. My body reacted to the desuetude, my waistline gradually blowing from a 32 to a 36. In my former life, the street hustle was all the exercise I needed to keep me trim. Now that that was gone, I was fast developing an ugly waistline.
On a particular Monday morning, I overheard a secretary gossiping to the cleaner. “God dey o, see this lawyer wey join us don turn orobo…” The muttered chatter was accompanied with snickers. I stood before the mirror in the men’s room, and I stared dismally at the stranger on the other side. He looked like a virgin maid from Akwa-Ibom sent to the fattening room in anticipation of her marital obligation. He was not me. He couldn’t be me.
I couldn’t identify with him. I couldn’t identify with all this. I missed the courts, the bullying and the random escapades associated with the profession. I yearned for real legal practice. Litigation was the opium of my existence and the moral justification to which I strived. Everything around me seemed stagnant. The once loving environment I had dreamed and flirted with once upon a time suddenly seemed unbearable to me. I realized then that I was a born litigator, not a solicitor.
I struggled awhile with the job. I carried on. I hoped to adapt. But none of it made sense anymore.
And so, one morning, I made a decision. I walked away.
Written by B. O. Okoji, tweets @bertokoji