I felt myself levitate. I could sense gravity but I was also aware that my body was floating in a dark space. My hands and feet flailed. My tongue stuck to a dry palate. I sensed tears leave their ducts and slide down my temples. I heard scurrying feet and distant calls. My torso had been lifted and I was being carried somewhere. Gusts of wind stirred the hairs on my arms as someone fanned me. My sensory organs, except my eyes, were functional but I lacked the will to escape this dark place.
Then gravity pulled and I was dropped on a hard surface. Drowning followed. The hard surface melted into an ocean and I sank, deeper than I thought possible. What was happening to me? Why couldn’t I speak? I was aware of my environment but I couldn’t respond to it. Was this what a stroke felt like? That wasn’t possible! Twenty-seven was too young an age to have a stroke. Or was this what the aftermath of a heart attack felt like? Twenty-seven was also too young for a heart attack.
Suddenly, the same water that drowned me rushed into my nostril and I choked. I opened my mouth to breathe and gulped a tank. If there was ever a time I wished I knew how God worked, this was it. I screamed for help but I couldn’t hear myself. Was this how my life found its end? Because of an alarm clock?!
The thought sent jolts through my system. Those two words were like a defibrillator that shook me awake and my eyes fluttered open. From my mattress, I looked up at the painted louvers that also doubled as a blind, in search for a ray of sunlight, but my sight was only able to reach as far as the wall before my face, which gave me a lackluster glare in return. I had no idea what time it was and I didn’t care.
There was nothing to care about. Not the wretched life of a struggling salesman who earned less than the minimum wage. My Lebanese boss didn’t care about regulations and the well-being of his staff – more like servants – as long as he made profits. I was sustained by commissions; a graduate of Physics surviving on tips and ends. This is what my nation’s economy had reduced me to. Yes, I blamed the economy. What else would I blame?
Some days came with healthy commissions, but today, no amount of commission would drag me out of bed. I was going to call in sick again. It had been three days since I lost my precious alarm clock.
After the dizzy spell passed at Madus Waste Disposal, I’d stood up and walked away in gloom. Chioma had hailed me in desperation but I didn’t answer her. It was her fault that the alarm clock had been recycled anyway. She’d followed me home and tried to placate me for her near fatal mistake, but I didn’t utter a word to her till the next day. And then she left, the same way she came, quietly and unobtrusively. I called in sick that morning, and the one after that. Today was sure to follow suit.
I reached for my phone on the floor beside the dingy mattress to call Kobo Olanto. As I picked it up however, it began ringing. It was Nene. She had called in regularly to check on me since the first day I called in sick. She’d been so caring.
“Nene –” I answered with my best sick tone.
“Oh boy, if you like yourself ehn,” Nene cut through from the other side, her voice brisk and urgent, “quick, quick show for office oh! Gbege don burst.”
”Wetin happen na?” I asked after a grunt meant to feign bodily ache.
“Na for house your wan take know?” Nene responded “If you like the tachere money wey you dey collect from commission, better show nah-nah.”
Then the line went dead.
If whatever situation there was at work wasn’t grave, Nene wouldn’t be so rash on phone with me. She had her seasons of madness, but this was beyond mad. Something appeared to have gone wrong. I dragged myself out of bed and ransacked the pockets of the trouser at the foot of the bed. I found a mangled one hundred naira note in it. Not enough to get me from here to Mega Plaza on the Island, but didn’t waste any time thinking on it. If there was a will, then there would be a way.
I had a couple of bus conductor friends that plied that route, and I was certain I’d be able to wheedle my way to free transportation.
I shook my head as I got dressed. I could not believe how low I’d fallen.
It quickly became apparent to me that I had a few more lows to reach.
I stood before Zath Tobias, rage dancing in the pit of my belly. Sacked? That was impossible. I was the best salesman in all of Mega Plaza. How could they just sack me?
“Sir, are you saying I don’t have a right to fall sick?” I asked, struggling to maintain the civility in my tone.
At his perpetual accuser’s corner, Kobo Olanto stood wearing his most evil grin. This was surely his machination.
“Of course you have a right to fall sick,” Zath responded. “But not at the expense of this company.”
He had a small smile on his face as well, reminding me of the special brand of sinister found only amongst these unfortunate Europeans.
“Sir, I beg you to reconsider,” I pleaded despite the bile stuck in my gut. I needed the job, no matter how paltry for a graduate I felt it was. It put the proverbial Agege bread and ewa agoyin on my table. How did it happen that just when it felt like I had grasped the tethers of the good life, through that unfortunate alarm clock, that situations suddenly went awry? Before the alarm clock, I had no hopes of affluence, but I had a job at least. At the end of the day, it was all bad luck. Bad luck, bad luck, and nothing more.
My employer wouldn’t budge. He’d made up his mind. In spite of being the best salesman he’d ever employed, I didn’t deserve a second chance. Kobo Olanto had done a perfect job of screwing me over, it would seem.
I couldn’t process most of my thoughts, but it was more of a certain tiredness in my soul than anything else that restrained me from using profanities and lashing out at the men verbally. I walked out with a heavy feeling of defeat, my past trophies and achievements here tipping over to the ground. There went my dreams of becoming HOD Sales. Or even anything for that matter.
Nene wished me well and helped me with a thousand naira note which I used for transport. She promised to come check me as soon she could, and I quickly feigned a stoic stance when I sensed her about to get emotional over my dismissal. I told her with a firm expression that I would be fine. I knew I wouldn’t be, but that was my truth. She didn’t have to know that.
I took a BRT bus from TBS home, and I didn’t realize when I went past my bus stop. My mind wondered like a thirsty gerbil under the hot desert sun. The walk home from the eventual bus stop where I was dropped wasn’t good for me, but I didn’t have a choice. I had to be careful, miserly even, with my finances. My savings at the bank was less than what could take me for a month. As I crossed the highway, I realized that my focus on the job had even limited what I could do elsewhere. The last time I thought of making any sense from what I studied at the university was when I was just out of the university. I was a sales man, but even my mind was now wired to sell only what I was asked to.
I sat in bed, my back against the wall, my hands clamped between my thighs. I was thinking. Not about 2075, but about 2015. About now. The former was fantasy, the later was more tangible. If I had no ability to get back to the future, I had to think of a way to make a living in the present. And it had to be now.
I had been able, to a large extent, to put aside the animosity and pain that brewed in my heart against Kobo Olanto. I had to live, and that meant I had to think of what I could do.
I couldn’t say what time it was, but it was already dark outside, and the hubbub coming in from the corridor meant that my neighbours had returned from work. Soon the sounds from power generators would increase, and one’s sanity would be wrapped around the concept of living in the engine room of a train. This was the time I usually got home from work, but here I was on my bed for the past two hours, pondering, only hanging to sanity by a thin thread.
My phone rang then. It was out of my arm’s reach, and the thought of even expending the teensiest of energy to reach for it made me uninterested in the call. It soon stopped ringing. I resumed thinking. If it was Nene, then I’d probably call her later. Other than her, I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak to anyone.
The phone rang again. Again I ignored it. The caller was determined, because my phone rang incessantly, on to the sixth time. By the seventh time, I was furious and decided to switch the phone to silent mode. By the time I’d grasped it, my temper fizzled out. I sighed and picked the call instead.
“Hello,” my voice was dry, like Harmattan came early. I waited for the caller to respond. The caller ID bore no registered bearer.
“Bro.” The voice sounded faintly familiar.
“Hello?” I said again, impatience creeping into my voice.
“Bro, this is Friday – Friday from the plaza.” The caller said his name twice for clarification, in case I thought he was trying to remind me what day it was.
“Friday, good evening,” I said woodenly, and waited for him to speak. He called me; I wasn’t the one to begin a conversation.
“Bro, how are you?” Friday said.
I was quickly beginning to get irritated. What sort of question was that?
“I’m fine. What’s up?” I asked, breathing deeper to calm down.
“My elder brother works at the Freedom Park on Broad Street,” he said. “I know that their attendant at one of their galleries has left for school and they were looking to employ someone new.”
“Why didn’t you take up the offer?” I asked. The offer sounded suspect.
“Because it pays less than what they pay at the plaza,” he said, suddenly picking up on my sour temperament and sounding like he wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision to inform me of this.
I inhaled as I mulled over the suggestion of employment. Grinding my teeth while I thought, I felt my heart begin to pump faster. Then I sighed again and said, “Can I get your brother’s number, please?” What was the point having an ego with no job.
Friday was starting to sound like someone else I knew. My mind scanned through my memory bank with the speed of light, and it came up with a result – he who had called Sam buggie. Dan. And the thought didn’t sound like a dream.
By 7:30 the next morning, I met Sunday, Friday’s brother at the security post. Except for the names their father borrowed from the days of the week, there wasn’t any sort of resemblance between the brothers. I knew Friday to be thin, light-skinned with a husky voice, and Sunday was more heftily built, with skin the colour of coal and a thin voice.
Sunday moved about casually and with the familiarity of one who had been here for a long time.
“So, it’s not like we made the vacancy open, but I was thinking Friday would prefer this place. Although the job he got at the plaza pays better, I felt this is more secure. At least, I’m here to make that possible.”
I nodded and said nothing. Job security versus better pay – Jeez! That is such a tough decision to make.
We walked past bronze sculptures along the terrace and into a building designed with a lot of arcades – a pointer to its nineteen century style. Sunday’s speech and gait remained casual, making me feel like he’d forgotten why I was here. I wasn’t a guest here to be shown around. I was a guy in need of a job.
We came through a gallery, and suddenly we stood before a towering exhibition of clocks. This was the largest number of clocks I had ever seen in one place: wooden, steel, rusty iron, raw gold, silver, bronze, thread, plastic, digital, classic, futuristic, art and abstract, oriental and symbolic. Clocks of all shapes and designs ticked away, creating a lulling effect. It was enthralling. Here, it looked like an international conference of clocks.
Sunday suddenly switched into a business tone, with his right index finger pointing in a commanding gesture. “This exhibition will be here for the next two to three weeks. Your job would be to make sure that no one touches the clocks. They can take pictures of the clock with their phones, take selfies with the clocks, smell the clock, take videos, do whatever, but they must not touch them. In fact, no one goes beyond the red square line on the floor. If that happens, the sensor goes off.”
I nodded my head, my attention rapt as I stared at the red tape line around the square floor.
“That there is an Aspiral Kinetic clock, and that is a Turn Table clock.” Sunday was gesturing at individual timepieces. “There is the Time Turner; there is the Binary, and that one over there is another original from the ancient palace of Pharaoh.” He was clearly aiming to impress me with his knowledge.
I nodded, impressed, and not exactly remembering any name.
“We have the Good Afternoon clock there which uses light beams instead of the usual clock fingers.” Sunday looked at me, expecting to see a confused reaction on my face. He didn’t get any, but he prattled on, “Don’t worry, after a while, you will be better acquainted with the rest. But your job would be just to do your job. The tour guard would do his job, okay?”
He smiled. “What’s your job again?”
“To make sure nothing and no one touches the clock. Not by accidence, not by coincidence, not by antecedence.”
He chortled. “I like your sense of humour. Any question?”
I nodded and shook my head almost at the same time before I could spin my thoughts into words. “How were all these clocks gathered?”
Sunday flashed his customary smile, and pressed his lips together. “Hmm, a trade secret, but I will let you in on it.” He leaned forward and in a stage whisper, he said, “We stole them.”
I gaped. “You what?”
He leaned back and guffawed. “I got you! I was just kidding.”
I nodded, feeling dumb.
“It’s an exhibition by a clock collector, and it is sponsored,” Sunday said.
“Hmm, I see.” I could sense that this was going to be an interesting job, at least for the next two weeks. I wanted to ask Sunday what would be my role after the exhibition ended, but he had already started walking back out, like I’d had only the one chance to ask a question.
“It’s a tough job,” he was saying as he walked and I hastened after him, “and we’ll see how you’ll fare today. Please come with me to get your kits and meet the other people you will be working with.”
Written by Ojay Aito, tweets @1ojay