Monday, June 29, 2009


To tell the truth, it wasn’t such a bad idea.

Everyone knows that Fridays are dress-down days. You’re allowed to showcase a milder version of your traditional outfits. Ankara, Tie and Dye, Dry Lace, Java, Woodin, Akosombo…the list is endless. I already knew what I was going to wear the next day – my cute, yet-to-be-worn Java Gold skirt and blouse. It was stylish yet not too dressy at the same time.

I am one of those who pick out all the clothes to be worn for the week every Sunday evening. I have it all set out to the littlest detail. When they’ve been ironed, they’d be hung in the wardrobe in the exact order in which they are to be worn. It made life easier and a lot less complicated. Besides, seeing as I hate ironing so much, it made sense to restrict ironing to one day each week.

You can therefore imagine the extent to which my eyebrows were arched when my friend and colleague Zeb suggested that we dressed differently for the next day, Friday. Instead of the usual traditional look, why don’t we dress in sporty outfits? T-shirt, jeans and a pair of trainers.
“Let’s do something different for a change!” He exclaimed when he saw the disapproving look on my face.
“Okay” He continued, “do this for me just once and if you don’t like it, I swear, I’ll never suggest anything like this again”.
I sighed and walked past him and then with a backward glance I told him to give me till the end of the day. He’d know my answer then and not a second before.

At least that kept him off my back for the rest of the day. Zeb was such a nice guy that it’s really difficult to turn him down. It’s not that he was incapable of doing his own thing; he just felt that life was a lot better when shared. Why enjoy the ‘different’ look alone when we could both do it together? Yeah right.

The thing though on my mind was the fact that I didn’t have any respectable pair of trainers to my name. That was going to be my strongest point when I turned Zeb down at the close of work…What? Do you want me to come to work tomorrow in a pair of trainers that look like they’ve seen better days...?
That argument remained intact in my mind until it was 15minutes to closing time. I don’t know what triggered that memory. I don’t know what brought it forward from my subconscious but suddenly, I was bubbling with excitement. My Sexy Grey Trainers! But of course!!
I couldn’t wait to get home. It’d been so long since I saw them trainers that I was nearly afraid someone had thrown them away. It had to be under the bed somewhere, it just had to be!
My answer to Zeb was brief and clear. I’ll go along with this little scheme of yours if and only IF I find MSGT. I don’t care if you know what that stands for, just pray I find them!

Less than an hour after I got home, the entire room which I shared with two other sisters of mine was in complete disarray. The mattresses had come off and I was struggling with the wooden bottom frames of the bed which supported the mattresses. Shoes were strewn everywhere, most of them old and covered in dust. My Sexy trainers had to be here somewhere! I was beginning to panic.
It was another thirty minutes before I found them wrapped in a fancy colored polythene bag. Aha! I remembered that bag. And the shoes were in pristine condition just like they were when I’d wrapped them up 2 years before, or so I thought. My Sexy Grey Trainers at last!

They were my companion when I’d gone to Camp 2 years before. Someone had advised that I went with a pair of personal trainers because sometimes the white canvas given to corpers by the NYSC was usually oversize. True to form, when I got to camp, mine were like a pair of canoes on my feet. My trainers served me well. After camp I found not much use for them so I wrapped them up the bag, placed them under my bed and promptly forgot about them. Now they were going to serve me well again tomorrow when I and Zeb showed up at work dressed ‘differently’.

Friday dawned bright and clear. I kept walking to and fro Zeb’s cubicle all morning. I couldn’t believe he was late! Like a little girl, I wanted to show off my ‘dress’ and tell him how many approving looks I’d already received from the other guys just that morning alone.

Finally I could hear his voice several cubicles from my own. I wasn’t going to wait for him to get to mine; I was going to meet him there.
I got up a little too quickly and dropped my pen. I bent to pick it up and that’s when I noticed for the first time dark circles of grey dust on the tiled floor. I bent lower to get a closer look. Did I pick something up on my way to work? No time for this now. I’ll sort it out later. Zeb was already on his way to my desk and I wanted to be ready, striking the right pose when he got there. And I did just in time! He even made me do the twirl as though I was showing off a ball gown instead of a pair of Jeans and a T-shirt. It was clear he liked what he saw.

He didn’t look bad himself and I told him so.
“I see you found MSGT?” He said.
“Yes! How did you know what it was?!”
“I don’t. You said you’ll go along with my scheme only if you found it”
“Oh” I had on a sheepish grin as I raised my right foot while supporting myself against my desk “These are MSGT – My Sexy Grey Trainers!” I was laughing now.
He just shook his head at me and was turning to leave when his eyes caught something on the floor next to my feet. I knew at once by the look on his face that he wasn’t trying to get an up-close view of my trainers.
I looked down and to my horror there was more of the grey dust smeared all over the area where I’d done the twirl. From his bending position Zeb looked up at me.
“Raise your feet again” he said.
I did and he caught hold of my left foot and bent it in such a way as to get a view of the soles of my trainers.
“What?!” I exclaimed questioningly as he shook his head at me.
I withdrew my foot from his hand and grabbed a hold of my shin so that I could raise my foot backwards and view it for myself.
My eyes widened as I saw that there were several holes on the soles of the trainers from where the grey dust flaked off.
I raised the other foot and it was even worse. Some of the holes in this one had no more grey dust in them, they were empty. Empty holes!
I quietly sat back down on my chair. The mirth of the last few minutes already forgotten.

This was not good. Not good at all.
Zeb knew enough to just leave me alone. I was sure I could make it to the end of the day without incident if I just sat at my desk.
But I couldn’t very well just sit at my desk all day. I had to get lunch.
Okay, if I walked gently and slowly, the holes should hold.
Zeb was being nice but I was suspicious. We were half way to the cafeteria and I’d been doing so well with my slow walk when suddenly “Plaat!” The sole at the tip of my right trainer split open!

“Ohmygod! Ohmygod! Zeb!” I yelped.

He stopped short and I stood still, pointing at my right foot. And you won’t believe what happened next.
Zeb burst out laughing!
He was laughing so hard that there were tears in his eyes when he finally got a hold of himself.

“Enkay, I’m sorry....
hahahaha!.....I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you…hahahaha!...I swear, I’m just laughing at the trainers….I swear…hahaha!.”

Msheeeeew! I just turned around and went back to my office. I’d reached my desk before I realized that I’d left quite a chunk of my right trainer sole in the elevator.
And suddenly it all seemed really hilarious to me and I started laughing all by myself.
My trainers were serving well me indeed! So much for my ‘different’ look.

The worst was yet to come.

On our way home, Zeb and I had to walk down the road to the bus stop to catch the bus.
Every few steps had me leaving small chunks of my trainers behind.
Whenever the bit came off, I’d say “Oops! There goes another sexy piece!” And we’d both burst out laughing.
By the time we boarded the bus, the right shoe was in tatters. Several chunks were missing from the center but the overall external frame was still somewhat intact and then there was that ugly split in front. A whole chic like me! “Ewu!”

We were just a few passengers left in the bus. Zeb and I occupied the seat at the back with one other woman. Somehow I caught the lady’s eyes on me and smiled at her. She was probably embarrassed at being caught staring so she dipped her head and that’s when she did THE double take. (You know how someone glances at something momentarily and in looking away, something catches their eyes and they take another, quick, usually more surprised look? That’s a double take.)
She was looking at my trainers!
I followed her gaze and there on the floor was one whole edge of my right trainer sole. It was still attached to the shoe but it was hanging at an impossible angle and any movement would yank it off!
The lady couldn’t contain herself and she looked like she was about to say something. I didn’t give her a chance as I straightened up and looked straight ahead as though nothing happened.
Ha! My bus-stop at last! I hurriedly got off the bus and I could have sworn that the woman was going to throw my chunk of sole out after me.

The bus-stop was a good five minute’s walk from my house. I braced my self and took the plunge. Yet nothing prepared me for what happened next.

Most of the day, all the ‘incidents’ were with the right foot of my trainers. The left one had behaved itself mostly. Apart from the initial flaking, there had been no major mishap.
Just as I passed by Dee Sam’s shop hoping he wasn’t there to shout out his customary greeting “You don return from work?” my left shoe gave out on me.
The entire sole came off! No, not tiny chunks, but the entire thing! And this happened right in front of Dee Sam. He had seen me approach and was undoubtedly preparing his greeting but it froze on his lips as he saw my shoe drama. It was an awkward moment.
We were both sure we knew what had just happened but neither of us was willing to acknowledge it.

He smiled at me “You don return from work?”
And I smiled back “Yes. How Business today…?” and I walked on, leaving my soles behind. It definitely could not get any worse than that. I practically jogged the rest of the way home and stood at the door waiting for any sibling to come see me in all my embarrassment.
The first one at the door opened it and stared at me wondering why I was standing outside. I looked down at my feet and she followed my gaze. It took her a few seconds to realize what she was seeing and she burst out laughing. I joined her and laughed so hard that tears came to my eyes.

We left the trainers at the door ready to give the story in detail to anyone who asked. My Sexy Grey Trainers….How are the mighty fallen! Hahahaha!

PS: The moral of this story?
When next anyone called Zeb asks you to dress differently for Friday. Tell him Capital N-O. No!!!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Arranged.....well ahead of time.

The day was turning out to be one of those bad days. The clouds were darkening, gathering enough momentum for a heavy down pour.
Why won't any car stop for me? I'd been standing at that junction for close to 20 minutes - seemed more like one hour - and my furious flagging had yet to catch the attention of any benevolent driver.

I had hardly caught a shut eye while riding in that rickety coaster bus all the way from Lagos to Abuja the night before.
The bus was cramped and I was sandwiched between two chunky guys each one attempting to strike a conversation with me. They weren't succeeding and worse still they couldn't take a hint and shush it!

That road trip qualifies as the worst I've ever had. Somewhere around Kogi state at about 4am there were shouts of "Armed robbers! Armed robbers!!" Our driver did a quick U-turn and we were heading right back the way we came from. I was so scared!
Eventually, we made it to Abuja in one piece. I barely caught my friend on her way out and she gave me just enough time to drop my stuff and take a quick shower before we had to leave again.

I was headed back to Kogi state. Ajaokuta Steel Company to be precise. I had a 9 o'clock appointment with one Mr Saheed there and it was already 7am. I was already late. The trip to Lokoja was going to take 3 hours and I had just 2hrs to spare. Things were already beginning to look bad.

I made it safely to Ajaokuta town but my challenge at that time was how to get from the junction of the main gate to the office complex. Taxis and okadas were stopped at the gate. You could only get to the office complex by the "city train" - the company staff bus or by private vehicle. The city train only worked at specific hours owing to the fact that staff of the steel complex worked several shifts.
I had just about given up when an okada stopped to ask if I wanted to get to the complex. I paused only long enough to verify that he was actually a private okada owner and I hurriedly got on it before someone else beat me to it.
I was so relieved to finally be on my way that it was a rude shock to feel a drop of rain on my arm. "Aw no! Not now!" I looked up pleading with the rain clouds to just go away, I almost sang that rain song we used to sing as children "...Rain, rain go away, come again another day...".
It didn't work.
The heavens opened up in defiance of my plea. I and the okada rider were drenched. It couldn't be helped as there was no shelter between the main gate and the security outpost at the complex.
I got off the okada and tried to squeeze out the edges of my skirt. It didn't make any difference. The security men pitied me and asked me to come into their office to wait out the rain and probably dry off a bit.
I was grateful but that didn't take the scowl off my face.
Today of all days!!

The rain slowed to a drizzle and I made my way into the main building all the while conscious of my wet dress. No one seemed to mind though. The rain was enough excuse for anyone to come into the building soaking wet if they wanted to.
I was relieved to find Mr. Saheed in his office. It turned out that he didn't remember the exact time we'd fixed for the appointment and he even apologized that I was beaten by the rain.
Strangely, that made feel better.
Better that is, until he broke the news to me.
"I'm sorry Enkay, but we cannot confirm your placement here until you prove to us that you have a place to stay"

"But I was of the impression that the company provided accomodation..."

"Yes that was several years ago. We stopped when we discovered that most of the industrial training students treated our facilities poorly and even destroyed some of our property..."

No amount of pleading could prove to Mr. Saheed that I was an Industrial attachment student with a difference.
I picked up my bag and walked out of his office. Tears threatened to spill from my eyes but I fought them back. Eventually, I just let them pour.

So my trip was just a waste of precious time? I had taken that night bus the previous day because I had felt that that was the fastest way to get here before the deadline.
I made my way back to the security outpost. I was a familiar face and the security men did not bother me as I pulled out a chair. The rain had started again. I was in no particular hurry anyway, so I decided to wait it out.

I held the letter in my hand. The letter that offered me a place in the steel complex as an industrial attache. If I had been accepted, I wouldn't have been holding that letter.

My mind went back to how I even came to have that letter in the first place. I'd found out that one of my professors in school was on the board of Directors of the Steel Company. I'd gone to his office feeling really small as I asked him if there was anything he could do to help me get a placement at the company. He told me he was due to go on his sabbatical in a few weeks and that he wasn't sure he'd be having anything to do with the company for the period he'd be out of the country. He ended by saying he'd see what he could do. That didn't offer me much hope.

He left and I didn't hear anything about the issue until four months later when my HOD informed me that I had a letter to pick up at the Department office. The professor had done more than he promised. He'd delivered my IT placement to me on a platter of gold.

What was I to do now? Go back home and wait? Wait for what?
My thoughts were interrupted by a ruckus outside. I looked up and there were teenagers everywhere. Even though they weren't wearing any school uniforms, I got the impression they were students from a nearby school. I ignored them because frankly, a bunch of noisy kids was the least of my problems.

At that time, a bald headed guy walked into the room. I gave him a cursory glance and returned my gaze to the letter in my hands.

"Ahn, ahn, why the sad look? Was today's paper tough?"

I looked up with a question mark on my face.

"Are you talking to me?"
"Yes now. Was the paper tough?"
"Paper? Tough?"
He laughed and the expression on his face was like "Duh?"
"Are you not one the GCE students?"
"Me? GCE?"
This guy was obviously not a serious person. I silently hissed and turned to look out the window willing the 'gorimapa' guy to just disappear from my side. I had no time for such nonsense.

"Ah! Sorry o! I thought you were one of those students." The guy was far from disappearing.

"Really. So I look like a GCE candidate to you abi?"

He only smiled. That smile accentuated a scar on his face that I hadn't noticed before. I was curious but I wasn't going to ask.

"My name is Segun and I work here" He offered me his hand.
I could have ignored him but it struck me that this guy just might be able to help me. I took his hand and shook it slightly and introduced myself.

"Enkay. I'm an IT student. Well not really. I came to confirm my placement here..." I handed him the letter and continued. "...but the guy said he could not confirm me until I had proof of an accommodation."

He handed me back the letter with a look on his face as though he were about to reprimand me for some wrong doing.

"So that's why you were crying?" I didn't think that my face still bore traces of the tears I'd cried earlier. He continued, "Don't you know that when you get to a place where you know nobody, you should first ask for the corpers?"

I was about to scoff at his statement when he grabbed my hand and pulled me up from the chair.
"Oya go upstairs now and tell Mr Saheed that you would come with proof of accommodation tomorrow morning. Drop your letter with him and tell him you would be back by 8am sharp"

I looked into his face to see if he was actually serious but I didn't have the time to ask him. He was already ushering me outside. "Hurry up! I'll be waiting for you when you get back".
I couldn't smile. It was all happening so fast. I hurried up to the lobby and I looked back one more time at the security outpost just to be sure. Sure enough, Segun was still at the door waving me in from that distance.

I found Mr. Saheed who agreed to take the letter from me but warned that it would not be signed until I returned with my proof. I agreed and rushed back downstairs somehow harboring fears that Segun might have disappeared.

He was still there. I couldn't help but smile at him in relief. He smiled back. There was that scar again.
I walked out of the complex with him and he handed me a note to one Fatima. He put me in a taxi and gave the driver directions.
He said he'd see me later that evening but that I shouldn't worry. Fatima would take good care of me.

The taxi dropped me off and I walked down a well-worn path to an area occupied by several portakabins. There must have been like twenty of them arranged in no particular order. There was still a slight drizzle and not a soul was in sight.

I pondered my predicament. Were all the portakabins occupied? Was I to go knocking on every door asking for Fatima? If so, where do I start?
I was still standing at the spot where I'd stopped to think when a lady came out of one of the cabins towards my immediate left. It was obvious she hadn't seen me as I was not in her line of vision. She had a bucket with her from which she threw out some water onto the front lawn.

I knew that if I didn't make my move then, she'd go back inside and I'd have to go knocking.

"Excuse me!" I called as I hurried towards her.
She had a startled look on her face which disappeared when she saw it was just me. No danger here.
She held the bucket by the handle and let it hang by her side and turned to face me as she watched me approach.

"Please I'm here to see Fatima" I noticed that the lady had a pleasant face which gave nothing away when she replied.

"Who's looking for her?"

"Er..Segun asked me to give her a note" I said as I fumbled with my handbag to produce the said note.
She reached out her free hand to collect the note from me and I hesitated for a fraction of a second before handing it to her.
She read the note and without a word motioned for me to follow her inside.

I thought that was strange but I followed her anyway.

Her room was cosy and I was glad to finally be able to sit down and relax. Fatima didn't say much but she was a wonderful hostess. She filled my tummy and and offered me a space on her bed to catch some sleep.

Later that evening, Segun arrived with another guy and a signed letter authorizing me to stay in one of the portacabins in the back and he brought me the keys to prove it too!

My heart was so full. I had no words to express my gratitude.

Everything happened real quick after that. I had more than enough proof for Mr. Saheed the next day and my letter was signed. I returned to Abuja to get my stuff and moved into my own room.
From then on, I became a part of this community of Youth Corpers. They included me in almost all of their activities and I soon began to see myself as one of them.

I found out later that the room I was given belonged to one of them who had an uncle working at the complex. He preferred to live with his uncle hence the free space. No one asked me for a dime. It was all free!

When I fell ill, they all rallied round me and the doctor corpers got me free treatment at the hospital. Fatima cooked for me and made me feel comfortable all through. She even made me stay in her room throughout the ordeal. When I got better, she told me I could stay on if I wanted. I wanted, so I did! We became fast friends.

Segun told me that all the corpers did PP (Private Practice) and if I wanted, he could get me a part-time job. He came through once again and I found myself earning some extra bucks effortlessly!

When it was time for the NCCF Rural Rugged, I volunteered my services. The expedition was to go to a village not too far from Ajaokuta but it was accross a river, and we were to take the gospel to the people as well as render humanitarian services. Those 3 days among the villagers were simply awesome. We brought smiles on their faces and the trip was well worth it, mosquitoes and all.

6 months passed by so fast. Where did all the time go?
Unbeknownst to me, the corpers organized a surprise send off party for me. I was so thrilled that I cried. The tears just kept coming and I didn't bother wiping them off. I hugged all my friends one after the other knowing that I may never see them again. I had a basketful of gifts!

It was on the ride back home that it occurred to me that those six months didn't happen by chance.
I counted off on my fingers one experience after the other. At every impossible turn, there was a solution.
Getting the letter, meeting Segun, the free room, the free medical care, the extra bucks (I wasn't getting a dime from the company the whole time), my new found friends, the opportunity to volunteer and even the opportunity to work at the complex!(I was the only one in my entire class to get a first hand experience of the workings of the steel complex).

No, none of these happened by chance. it was all arranged just for me, well ahead of time.

Up till now, those six months stand out as one of the most memorable periods of my life.
Every time I face a tough period, I remember those six months and I'm comforted, knowing that I'm simply part of the bigger picture. A work in progress while my heavenly Father puts all the pieces together.

I am not a child of Chance. I am a child of Destiny. Divine Destiny!

PS: I never got to ask Segun about that scar. I'm still curious! lol!