Previously on TWO LIVES AND A SOUL…
I jerked back to life from the edge of my bed. My breathing was raspy and shallow, and my eyes were wide and panicked as I whirled about on the bed.
The bed – what bed is this?! The question drummed into my mind as my consciousness came alive with recollections. The king-sized bed with the snow-white covers, or the raddled mattress hollowed in at the spots where my head, buttocks and feet had taken their perpetual positions for years?
The room was dark, but as my consciousness restored itself, so did my vision as my eyes adjusted to the environment and my olfactory senses heightened, instantly picking on a familiar smell. It was the stench of the pig sty outside my window, one I’d gotten accustomed to ever since I made my residence here.
My heart constricted as realization dawned. I was back to 2015! I was back to my original life. A tide of sadness washed over me, prompting a shocked awareness. Oh my goodness! Am I about to cry?
I climbed off my bed and got to my feet. Then I tripped on something. I lost my footing and landed with a dull thud on my shoulder on the cracked floor. Sharp pain jarred through my body and I gasped. Rubbing my shoulder, I got back to my feet. The room needed some light. I walked to the window, with no curtains overhanging them, and pulled the grey painted panes down. Daylight streaked into the room.
I turned to face the room, feeling my mind reeling, spinning faster than I could control. I groaned and rubbed a hand over my face, mentally willing some order in my subconsciousness. Then I swept a look around the room. It looked like a 6.0 earthquake had torn through here. My lone chair looked like it must have partaken in a street fight, with bits of the wood that had come together for its existence strewn about the spot where it once stood. My table was still standing, but the books and other knickknackery on it lay in a scattered heap. The door to my cupboard was unhinged and lay on the ground beside the cabinet. From where I stood, my kitchen looked like a rodent heist had taken place there.
The only thing that remained in its original place was my shirt. My light-blue office shirt hung perfectly undisturbed on the nail in the wall, with my name monogrammed above the left chest pocket.
I stared at the etching, hating my name for the first time, and hating along with it my job. I was a salesman, but now, as I stood in this sordid little tale my life was, shaken from a life I’d momentarily being a part of and missed, I realized that I had been – still am – a slave. A slave to the good life I always wanted. I was now running the rat-race to my dream destination.
As much as I suddenly hated my work, it was ironical that the only thing that remained undisturbed in the room was the work shirt on the wall. More like the handwriting on the wall, handwriting reminding me that I had a life to live. A life that was real and right here.
And I was also very late for work.
I pushed away from the wall, intent on getting ready for work, and suddenly I stilled, weaving about on my feet. The effect of my surreal adventure into the future had suddenly hit me. My vision blurred and images multiplied right in front of me. My vision swam for some moments, and then, images of Suss, Danny and Joko flipped like photographic clips in my head.
I struggled to keep my balance till the mental delirium slowly passed, and I was able to see clearly.
The alarm clock!
The thought slammed into me with a sledgehammer-like force, and I winced as I scanned the room for the timepiece, oddly hoping that it was still intact.
Underneath the heave of books was where I found it. I scooped it up unto my left palm and turned it around twice. It still worked. The time read 7:12. I had been away from 2015 for only a few hours, but had lived almost an entire day in the future. I stopped myself from processing the meaning of this. I realized how thin the line was between sanity and malady. Something in my head told me I may have crossed that line more than a few times already.
In my first year in the university as a Physics student, I’d thought of career options I could possibly venture into after school. Never once did being a salesman nudge its way into my mind. In fact, it was hardly ever heard that people studied to be sales persons. Not formally anyway.
Toward the end of the four-years-turned-five of my undergraduate programme, my friend, Shyllon, who owned a book club in school, left most of his sales materials with me in my dorm. For some reason, he never came back to pick up his books. After graduation, I was left with no other option but to transport the two Ghana-must-go bags that belonged to him, along with my meager possession back to Lagos. That was five years ago. I had neither heard from Shyllon since then nor met someone who had. He wasn’t on any social media platform, at least not with the name I knew.
The day my father’s will was read – and the interpretation from the title deed revealed that the 12-by-12 ceiling room I lived in was now legally mine – was the day a few of my belongings scattered all around the house were left at my door post. I was sorting through the content of the baggage when I discovered a new interest in Shyllon’s books. I was broke, jobless for years after graduation, and fatherless. And I was inspired to find a meaning to my life from the pages of books and tapes that were in Shyllon’s bags. I listened to CDs by John C. Maxwell, Steven Covey, Brian Tracy, Les Brown, and a host of others. Soon, I had a plan, and it began with getting two jobs – one as a huckster, the other as a middle man. The former was where I learned, the latter was where I practiced. I didn’t care if I was crossing the Rubicon. This was my life, and I had to make it count.
Three years and a few months later, I had moved from a door-to-door hawker of home appliances to a store representative. Soon, a door would bear my name with the title HOD by its side. It was light at the end of the tunnel, even though the loud voices in my immediate surrounding snarled at me daily, daring me to nurse the dream of becoming a head of department in the company.
Kobo Olanto was his name. He was the current head of department, and a very mean-spirited character. And I was constantly in his crosshairs.
I was certain that my lateness to work today would serve as the grave upon which he would dance. As I hastened to work, I tried to work out the perfect excuse to explain my tardiness, but either my mind was still too woolen from my recent trip to the future or no viable excuse was within mental grasp. At some point, I gave up. I’d just take whatever was about to happen in stride.
In my best moods, I knew I still loved my job. I hadn’t lost the zest to serve, but I had fallen into the snare of workplace politicking. I had become entrapped in the snake-eat-frog mentality of the hustling workforce. Here, everyone did whatever they had to do to bring sales. It was a case of the end justifying the means.
On my way to work, the events of…well, that morning kept swirling about in my head. The alarm clock… the watch… The alarm clock of 2015… The watch of 2075… The words kept looping about my head, adding to the weight of the workplace pressure.
When I got to work, I moved past my colleagues, scarcely acknowledging their greetings. I continued walking, not stopping until I came before the door of the General Manager’s office. I suspected Kobo Olanto would be there, most likely reporting my lateness.
I rapped twice on the door and waited. Instead of a vocal response, I heard a little screeching, as though a chair was getting pulled back, and then the shuffling of feet. Seconds later, the door was opened. Kobo blinked at me from the threshold.
“Good morning, sir,” I said to him, before shouldering past him into the office.
I could feel his surprise quickly give way to smouldering resentment as he shut the door behind me.
“Eli,” the General Manager said when his bespectacled gaze flicked at me from the document he’d been reading, “I thought you would never show up late to work?” The man was half Lebanese, half Indian, stoutly built with a receding hairline. His name was Zath Tobias.
“Good morning, sir. I thought so too.”
“You could have called your HOD. Don’t you think?” he said, his eyes flickering from me to Olanto, who’d come to stand beside me.
“Yes sir. I should have,” I admitted. “But since yesterday, I haven’t set eyes on my phone.” I couldn’t even remember the last time I saw the device.
I felt Kobo’s angry stare on me. I could feel him gathering the breath to say something snappish, when Zath asked, “But you have your private line, don’t you?”
“I do, sir. But it is both phones I haven’t set my eyes on.”
The man narrowed his gaze at me. He seemed to be picking up a nuance from me that I wasn’t aware I was giving off. He took off his glasses to better reveal the discernment in his stare. “Are you okay, Eli?” he queried.
“I hope so, sir.” I smiled solicitously. “I will be. But I am very sorry for showing up at work late.”
“Well, your HOD said he has once given you a query to this effect. I’m sure he already has another one waiting for you. So make sure you reply ASAP, am I clear?”
I wanted to turn and burn Kobo Olanto with the sudden fire banking in my eyes. I had never received any query from him or any other superior in the company during my three-year employment. But I wasn’t interested in defending myself. So I maintained my level gaze on the General Manager and said with some stoicism, “I will, sir.”
“Who even asked you to come in here?” It was Kobo who finally blurted, apparently no longer able to contain his antagonism.
“I needed to see Mister Tobias on some private matter, but as the case is now, I would rather not bother him.” Turning to the general manager, I added, “I’ll bother you again on a better day, sir.”
He canted his head in acknowledgement at me.
“You may go now!” Kobo barked. I recognized his pathetic attempt at showing his boss that he had his subordinates under his thumb.
I nodded at him and turned to leave. I felt somewhat liberated as I stepped out of the general manager’s office. Something in me didn’t care again. I was tired of the running battle between Kobo and I. I had to do something about it. I felt as though some realignment would do, and it must begin from my mind.
And then maybe my alarm clock…
I knew what I must do. I had to dream again, and as often I wanted. I had to travel back to the future. I preferred to be Sam Akinfe. I had no desire for the life of Eli Akinfe. With Sam’s life, I had an escape. I had someplace I was seriously considering getting to and never returning.
Written by Ojay Aito, tweets @1ojay