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?"
He laughed and the expression on his face was like "Duh?"
"Are you not one the GCE students?"
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!