Yesterday, I was a salesman. Today, I was more or less a security man.
And in the future, I’m the son of a man who answers to ‘Your Excellency’.
The boundless ironies of my predicament struck me, not for the first time. The bite of this phantasmagorical hereafter had left behind an aftertaste that appeared to have taken deep roots into my entire being, nearly ravaging my mind with the near desperate need to return.
And here I was, the minder of an exhibition that may possibly hold the key to my truth. Yesterday, as Sunday got me acquainted with more aspects of the job, including brief introductions to the team I’d be joining, my mind was enraptured by the thought that so soon after losing my alarm clock, I’d landed the job in the time piece museum.
I think not.
I wondered if it was possible that one of these clocks I was supposed to shelter from the cutaneous attention of a fawning public bore the magical inscription that would catapult me back to the future. I found myself reigniting the possibilities of finding a link to the future. Maybe my second chance was here. Just maybe.
With feet strapped up in an almost undersized pair of boots, and body clad in an over-starched khaki uniform, my salesman instinct felt stifled and suppressed. The thought that one of my former colleagues or customers could walk in and see me in security flashed through my mind, turning my face hot with chagrin.
The morni9ng crowd was a trickle. People strolled in, and idled before the exhibition to chatter and take pictures, clearly not needing the caution of the uniforms to mind the lined barricade separating the rest of the room from the exhibition.
“This isn’t so bad,” I said with a small smile aimed at Rhoda, my female workfellow, a robustly built woman with a perpetual stoic expression on a face that possessed the character of a mahogany door and eyes that stared out like they’d seen it all. There were two other colleagues, Obed and NK.
“Well, enjoy it while it lasts,” she’d returned without any inflection in her tone.
It was about a quarter of eleven that I understood what she meant. The trickle quickly turned into a surge as hordes of people poured in and legions were set free to roam the commodious room. People walked into the gallery in droves, and all five guards stationed around the exhibition suddenly found themselves idling no more. Work was in full throttle.
I scanned from my left to right, then right to left. Then I looked far across the hall, then down my nose. That was the routine Rhoda had explained to me. It seemed dreadfully monotonous, just standing there on the fringes of the action pulsating in the gallery. I was only able to endure my stationary position for about twenty minutes after the rush crowd overtook the room, before I decided to move around.
Avoiding Rhoda’s admonitory stare, I shuffled away from my position and into the throng of tourists, a crush of people which was a mix of Europeans and a handful of elite-looking Africans. They weren’t just Nigerians as the dialectal conversations and chatter coloured by accented English floated about in the room. This didn’t seem like where the average Lagosian would be anyway, I thought, wondering how the search of employment had been the precursor for my knowledge of such an exhibition. Such elegant pursuits like this were considered improvident by the everyday denizen of the Lagos city.
As I drifted through the crowd, invisible to them because of my uniform, I found myself checking out designer brands worn so effortlessly by some of the people and taking in the swell of perfumery from their bodies. The tour guard was a young woman with dark hair pulled back in an austere bun; she addressed those paying attention to her with a trained smile and a mental script that had stayed on her lips as a result of the frequency and monotony of her job. I recalled the little tour Sunday gave me yesterday; most of what he’d said to me appeared duplicated in what the tour guard was regaling her public with. I was sure that in a week, I could be a substitute for the tour guard.
As I mingled, my gaze occasionally flicking over the massive grand arrangement of time pieces, I wondered yet again about the possibility of finding the clock that had the magic words. Umendikayat… Angrandaso… How would I find it if there was such a clock?
If, my mind reminded me.
There had to me, I thought around a flicker of desperation. The clock had to be here somewhere. And I would find it.
At six in the evening, over a thousand people had occupied the gallery, a lot more of the tourists turning up after 5 pm. Judging from the strain of the day stamped on their faces, this was the more proletarian crowd. While stationed back at my position, I had checked out Facebook and Twitter to observe that the hashtags #ClockColletor and #ClockMusuem were trending on the social media. A lot of art-informed enthusiasts were discussing the exhibit. If it wasn’t already clear to me from the day I was having, perusing the online conversations confirmed that this was clearly a big do with these people. The brains behind the exhibition was a diasporic Nigerian who’d been scheduled to be at the event today, but had instead opted to spend the day on different urban radio stations, talking up the event and urging the listening public to come visit the museum. One of the guards had caught him on 99.1 FM and I’d joined her to listen to the man’s adenoidal chatter with the radio show’s presenter. I wasn’t sure whose accent was more affected, the presenter’s or our esteemed exhibitionist.
My plan to embark on my own private assignment, an investigation of the exhibit, was thwarted by Sunday, who was under strict instructions to lock up the gallery as soon as it was six thirty.
The gallery gradually emptied out as the exhibition wound to a close. After several minutes, the room was bereft of its visitors. My job was done for the day, it would seem. And so, I began preparing to leave.
Just then, Sunday approached the corner where Obed, NK and I were loitering. “Where is Andrew?” he enquired as he drew up before us, resting his wide palm on the table beside me.
There was a chorus of disjointed answers as the three of us spoke up at the same time. I didn’t know the whereabouts of our team head, and it was clear that none of the others had any idea either.
“He couldn’t have gone home already,” Sunday said. After a moment, he gestured to me. “Eli, come with me. Come take a record of this.” He began walking away, leaving me to follow after him after throwing a hasty uncomprehending look at Obed and NK.
In the backroom office, two bulbous, well-dressed women stood waiting. Sunday stepped in, and I stood on the threshold of the room, with my arms crossed behind me.
“One of these ladies, it would seem, forgot her handbag somewhere around the clock gallery where you were stationed,” he spoke to me while smiling solicitously at the women.
One of them, obviously the one whose bag was missing, raised thinly lined eyebrows in affirmation.
“Very well then, Eli, quickly reconnoiter the gallery and take a note of everything inside the gallery, and hopefully we can locate the bag without delay.”
“We don’t have the time to wait for your discovery,” the woman said, flicking a quick look at the leather watch strapped to her corpulent wrist. “We’ll just leave you to do what you do” – she squinted briefly at the name tag pinned over Sunday’s breast pocket – “Mr. Sunday.”
“Yes, of course,” Sunday said unctuously. “You just drop your information with us. Since you say you have an ID in the bag, there shouldn’t be a problem getting your bag to you.”
The women nodded appreciatively, and moved their combined heavy weight around till they were out of sight.
I was able to locate the bag about twenty minutes after I began my search. When I did, I returned back to the backroom office where, acting on Sunday’s instruction, I upended its contents on his desk. Then I retrieved a pen and a jotter to take note of the contents. I reeled off their names and Sunday double-checked as I placed them back into the bag one after the other. There was a dead Nokia phone, a tiny glass case of what smelt like idi agbon, a thick dog-eared phone diary, a tiny bottle of half empty gin, a neatly folded stark of DSTV receipts, a hand mirror, two wooden combs, a roll of rubber thread, and a silver chain wristwatch.
…A hand mirror, two wooden combs, a roll of rubber thread – and a silver chain wristwatch.
I stared at the timepiece in my hand. The trembling began working its way from my hands over the rest of my body as soon as the tiny words jumped out at me. My eyes were fixed on the inscription in the inner lining of the wrist watch. All I could do was stare.
I heard Sunday say something, perhaps ask me something, but I couldn’t answer him. I didn’t even know what he’d said. My entire comprehension was wrapped around the tiny inscription etched on the watch in my hand. My every sense was attuned to it, already stretched out on their journey back to the future.
Written by Ojay Aito, tweets @1ojay