Panic at the disco
How do you solve a conundrum like sapa?
Shola was broke. There was no other way to say it. He had nothing, nada, shíshì, shingbá in his bank account. Well, there was N1285 in his account but N1000 was the minimum balance which the bank insists or demands- rather unreasonably too, he might add- be always left in the account, and there was no way to withdraw N285. The ATM wouldn’t dispense it given how small the amount was, and he couldn’t withdraw it across the bank counter. Even the thought of walking up to the bank teller with the withdrawal slip filled and signed for the total sum of two hundred and eighty-five Naira only was enough to make him cringe. He could imagine the teller- perhaps a middle-aged woman with a pretty perm and an ugly suit- taking one look at the slip, then back at him, and back again at the slip just to be sure before bursting into a laughing fit that rings through the banking hall.
“Ha ha ha hahaha hahahahahahaha hahahahahaha”
“Hahahahahahahahahahaha... Jésù K’rístì oko ìjo!”
Right. That brings us back to where we started. He had nothing, nada, shíshì, shingbá in his account.
He sat in the consulting room contemplating the metaphysical nature of the soul, the angst that dwells within being, and his dire financial straits. He had already seen his last patient for the day, but he had to wait until 5pm when the dermatology clinic was officially over. The clinic was usually sparsely attended, with most of the patients being follow-up cases returning to refill their prescriptions and the occasional smattering of new patients every other month or two. That was to be expected. With a tertiary hospital located in Ifaki, or igbó elérin as his friends in Lagos liked to call it, cases of atopic dermatitis or tinea vesicolor weren’t going to be much. Not that there was no incidence of such cases, rather it was just that the mostly agrarian community would rather not spend all their money on something cosmetic. He didn’t exactly blame them. He couldn’t afford to be ill either, not malaria or subarachnoid hemorrhage.
He checked his wallet in case there was money trapped in one of its many compartments but all he found was a crumpled receipt from KFC and the business card of an Anne Oyebode with call me written on the back in a clear, legible script that was certainly not his. He wondered who this Anne was but no one came to mind. She was the CEO of her eponymous company, an importer of all manners of lace and other fancy fabrics. He still couldn’t remember her. She was probably a patient he had seen in the past, or perhaps a patient’s relative. He tossed the card on his desk. That was a dead end.
Last night he had checked all his clothes, turning out the pockets on every danshiki and sòkòtò, every shirt and trousers, and even his only suit. The idea for the search had sprung up fully formed from the hope that he might have forgotten some money in one of his pockets. It wasn’t a far-fetched idea, especially for someone like him who was essentially running on fumes. Indeed, he remembered one occasion in secondary school when he had found a N100 note in his shorts on a hot and sunny day when he was out of provisions and money. He was by the library that day, waiting for the bell for dinner to ring, when he had dipped his hands into his pockets. The crumpled note had seemed like a mirage at first, but as he straightened it out, it acquired a concreteness unequaled by a thousand gold bars. He had spent the money on an egg roll, two puff-puff, and a bottle of Fanta. All was well with his world that day, but his search last night had turned up empty. He found no treasures and all he could show for his efforts was a jumbled pile of clothes- right in the middle of his bedroom- that needed to be rearranged. Things weren’t looking good and that was putting it mildly.
This was a good time as any to take stock of his situation. On the plus side, he was a single, young guy. On the other column though, his rent was due in about 2 weeks, his food would run out in about the same time, there was the fee for his Part 1 residency exam that he had to take next year, electricity bills, a generator that needed servicing, stipends for his parents, and his car that should’ve been serviced 4 months ago. Since this was also a catalogue of his problems, there was also his neighbors and their weekly prayer vigils that kept him awake every Wednesday. In any case, there was no way around the fact that he was as dry as the Sahara Desert or perhaps drier. It was a difficult comparison to make, and the situation was more of an àgbálùmò versus pawpaw- not exactly like for like- but if he had to make a call, he was sure he was drier than the Sahara.
It should be said that his present situation was due to circumstances beyond his control. He wasn’t a profligate spender. He wasn’t frugal either, but he made sure to save a certain percentage of his salary every month. His only vice, money wise, was the catfish pepper soup sold at Aníshulówó hotels in Ado-Ekiti. The pepper soups weren’t very expensive, but catfish pepper soups were also not made to be eaten alone. They were meant to be accompanied with cold beers, particularly ones on the verge of freezing over, right on the edge of being liquid and solid, and when you add them all up, it all comes up to a significant amount in a month.
There were also his trips to Lagos. In between catching up with his friends and the night long club hopping, he always spent a large amount of money, usually more than his budget. In his defense, one which he recited out loud whenever he was back to base, the visits to Lagos were infrequent, perhaps once every four months or thereabout, and he hadn’t been to Lagos in over a year and half. Moreover, his salary wasn’t enough for him to be truly prodigal in his spending. Popping countless champagne bottles might be the norm with Davido and his ilk, but his salary, the entirety of it without withholding a Kobo back, was barely enough to buy a Dom Perignon in any decent club in VI. Not that he was ever interested in popping champagnes- he found drinking champagnes to be quite meh or the equivalent of an indifferent shrug to a bland egusi soup- and he most certainly wasn’t interested in impressing any lady with ostentatious displays of wealth. He got by on his good looks, his sharp wit, and being a doctor- which was the only good perk of being one.
“Hello, I’m a doctor.”
Any lady that wasn’t impressed by a combination of the three was beyond his reach and beyond saving. In truth, he loved his job as a resident doctor and was paid a decent wage that allowed him to live out in Igbó Elérin quite well. He was comfortable with his place in the world back when his salary was paid on time but that hasn’t been the case in a long time.
The first time his salary wasn’t paid was 14 months ago, 2 years into the tenure of the State governor. He hadn’t even noticed at the time until Dr. Alaka had mentioned it as they left the Doctor’s lounge.
“Maybe the banks just haven’t sent the alerts.”
“No, it’s definitely late. Salaries are paid on the last Monday of the month. Today is a Friday.”
He shrugged. It was probably nothing. A week later and it was not nothing; actually, it turned out to be a very big something. The initial murmurs were now full blown, disgruntled chats. There were several theories and a plethora of unconfirmed rumors. Finally, the hospital management issued a statement expressing regret at the slight inconvenience and promised a swift resolution. When salaries weren’t paid at the end of the 2nd month, the association of health workers and civil servants in the state voted unanimously to go on a strike. Strikes, as a negotiation tactic, work because of the consequences associated with cessation of work, and in this case, the threat of mounting morbidity and mortality across the state. Surely, it would have the desired effect.
During the 1st month of the strike, the governor- His Excellency, Dr. Adékúnlé Fámúrewá, MSc, GCFR, FRCN- traveled to Europe for about 3 weeks on official business. It was an extended tour of major cities in Europe such as Paris, London, and Madrid with the stated aim of understanding the dynamics of these cities. The trip was also for drumming up investments for the state. Two for the price of one long traipse across Europe. In the 2nd month, he took his official vacation, together with his wife and kids, in Dallas, Texas. In the 3rd month, he expressed his sadness at the continued strike across the state and reiterated how the situation wasn’t his fault.
“Surely if I could, I would turn my flesh to money,” he said with a look of sincerity plastered across his rotund face “but I am neither a miracle worker nor Jesus Christ.” End of quote.
The governor got an honorary chieftaincy title from Ègbá land in the 4th month of the strike. Henceforth, he was to be known as His Excellency, Dr. Adékúnlé Fámúrewá, MSc, GCFR, FRCN, aláseléyìn Ògún, igbákejì òrìsà. Some òyìnbós also came to visit him at the State House in the 4th month. They were duly paraded in front of cameras as saviors who would invest in the state and without the inconvenience of wearing dirty robes or the ignominy of a bloody crucifixion. In the 5th month, the governor expressed his willingness to end the strike, however difficult it might be for the state. The proposal was to pay the civil servants half of their salaries henceforth and the arrears will be paid in due time, whenever that was. This was the best that could be done; the state simply had no money. When the new half salary was paid the next month, it was like a drop of water falling on a parched earth. There was no trace of it as soon as it landed.
Technically, this marked the end of the strike, but Shola could not be convinced otherwise. He kept his count going. In the 8th month of the strike, posters for the governor’s reelection started springing up all over the place. These declared him as the man of the people and the logical choice deserving of another term in office. The half salaries weren’t paid in the 8th month but were paid in the 9th and 10th month. Salaries, half or otherwise, weren’t paid in the 11th month. The governor also went cavorting in the marketplace in the 11th month. In front of a throng of onlookers and handlers, he bought àgbàdo sísun from an old lady by the roadside, and he also bought bòlì and èpà. He ate the food with relish and the people cheered at such displays of humility. Surely, he was a man of the people.
Shola took a deep breath as he watched the ceiling fan twirl lazily on the highest speed. This was all his fault really, not the broken ceiling fan but his present predicament. If he had traveled abroad like most of his classmates, then he wouldn’t be in this pot of steaming soup. He didn’t even care where he went, anywhere but home would have been fine. Of the 90 or so people he had graduated with, he could count the number of those still left in the country on his hands. Most were in the US, UK, and a few in Australia. Even Olamide moved to Japan and he seemed to be doing alright judging from the pictures he posted online. Why hadn’t he left when he had the chance 2 years ago? The question was still rattling in his brain when the nurse walked in with an old man besides her.
“Matron, I thought we were done for the day?”
“Yes, but this baba came from Èfòn and today isn’t his clinic day.”
Shola looked at the old man standing by the door, looking small and hunched with age. The man had come to the wrong clinic, the hospital staff was skeletal at best, he- Shola- was broke, and the world was closing in all around. He looked at the old man again and motioned for the nurse to give him the man’s case file.
When he was done with the old man, he returned to his problems that were right where he had left them by his feet under the table. The old man had offered to give him N1000. That surprised Shola because he didn’t even think the old man had money to spare but he refused it anyways. He was getting paid to render a service by the government, not the patients. In any case, N1000 couldn’t solve his problems although it might be enough to buy fuel for his generator tonight. Anyways, it was too late to call the old man back. What he needed was a large sum of money and he needed it fast.
Not that he hadn’t tried to get money one way or the other. In the early days of the strike, around the 1st or the 2nd month, he had applied for an opening in a private hospital owned by one of his consultants. The job was a 10-hour shift that alternated between a morning and night shift for 6 days of the week. It was the perfect option until he was told what he would be paid. N400 per hour. Even if there was a strike, that was bordering on criminally underpaying for his services. He knew some prostitutes in Lagos- olóshós wey fine pass mamiwater and aristos wey no get part 2- who were making way more than that and all tax free too. Without giving it much thought, he had refused the job right there and then, just on principles. Like his uncle would say, he was prouding, with his shoulders puffed up and arms akimbo, but he always thought that without a modicum of self-respect who were we? Would we be any different from dogs who were perfectly willing in eating their own shit?
In the 4th month of the strike, when his cash reserves were well and truly dry, he returned to the private hospital to find out if the opening was still available. It turned out there was a waiting list of doctors looking for a job, any job. He would’ve been 32nd on the list but he didn’t bother to put his name down. It was the same principles again. He thought of something else to do but being a doctor was the only thing he knew. He couldn’t earn a living from playing video games. His prowess in FIFA was only good enough for tormenting his immediate circle of friends. Being a Yahoo Yahoo guy seemed like a good option. Surely swindling people over the internet wasn’t brain surgery, but it wasn’t his cup of beans either. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself otherwise, he just could not bring himself to do it.
He got an assortment of loans to tide him over but solid ground never seemed to appear over the horizon. Most of these loans were from a circle of his friends he could count on come rain or blinding sunshine and usually for an amount they wouldn’t balk at. A N20K here, another N40K there. Sometimes he had to go beyond his usual circle, asking money from people that required he regale them with his entire life story- including the sad parts- before his request could be considered. Sometimes the answers were long winding rhetoric that meandered to a resounding no.
He was occasionally surprised by requests for loans from his colleagues and sometimes his superiors. Last week, Dr. Alaka wanted N160K from him. She had two daughters who had to be in school and her husband was a senior registrar in the department of surgery in the same hospital. That qualified as double wàhálà, but- surely- she knew they were in the same boat, stuck in a putrid marsh without oars. He told her a long winding story that concluded with a no.
He picked his phone and scrolled through his contact list, looking for someone he could get another soft loan from. It was a delicate operation. He had to find someone he hadn’t borrowed from, someone he was close enough to ask for money without fear of an outright rejection, and with the possibility of this said person having the cash to lend. At first, he found no one within this tiny space on the Venn diagram where all the parameters intersected. He tried again, this time relaxing his definition of closeness and found one person, Mary Orji. She was his ex, his first love during his first year in Unilag. That was when roses in full bloom filled the world with fragrance and he thought love never-ending. She was an omo-mummy, a pampered girl who wore her religion on her sleeves with a cross usually dangling from her wrist in lazy arcs and sat with a stiff bearing that screamed of moral rectitude. She was also brilliant, and he had a thing for smart women. They hadn’t spoken in over 2 years or more, but he once thought she was the love of his life and that should count for something.
The trick to asking people for money, especially when you’re doing it over the phone, is to start off with something unrelated to your real objective; the weather, the news, the wretched state of the economy, Arsenal vs Manchester United. The further removed it is, the better, and then at some point during the chit chat to segue into your request for money, like a molue transitioning off the Oshodi bridge. It works like a charm.
“Yes. I figured we haven’t spoken in a while and...”
“What do you want?”
“Nothing. Just wanted to hear your voice.”
“What do you want?”
“Can’t I want to just hear you speak after all this time?”
“Ok. Well, I’m getting married next month. Do you want to come?”
That didn’t go so well, but it wasn’t all bad either. At least he could scratch her off his list of potential lenders.
With nothing else to do, he picked up Anne Oyebode’s business card from the table and decided to call her, whoever she might be. He didn’t have any intentions of asking her for money, but you never know; she might just be his good Samaritan. He turned over the card in his hand as the phone rang, waiting for Godot.
“Hello, who is this?”
As soon as he heard her speak, he knew who she was. She had a way of talking, with a rasp in her voice that thrilled through her sentences, that was unmistakable. They had met at a wedding party in Ado-Ekiti several months ago. He didn’t know the couple very well. It was really a mogbó, mo-branch affair; he knew the friend of a friend who was related to the bride and all he was after was the food at the reception. She sat two tables away from him and he noticed her because of all the gold she had on. All the chains, heavy as they looked, heaved up and down in what seemed like slow motion on her huge breasts. To borrow from his favorite rapper, she was blinged out of her fucking mind. She looked well put together except for some signs of straining at the edges where seams of ageing could be seen coming loose. She was on the road to middle age or already past it and running to flab, with jowls and webbings at the corner of her eyes that her makeup couldn’t hide. Their eyes met for a brief second and that was that. Shola was surprised when- without a moment’s hesitation- she got up and walked over to him.
He was used to women flirting with him, but he had been taken aback by the rapidity of it all. Even as she walked over to him, you could tell everything about her. Her every stride spoke of a confidence, or more aptly the roiling swagger, of someone who knew for a fact that the world was her oyster. Now he had nothing against older women, he actually preferred them. He found their surety interesting, that certainty about what they wanted and how to get it refreshing compared to the bumbling of ingénues. Nothing annoyed him more than the coy pretensions of these small girls. His philosophy was let us do what we have come into the room to do. Rárà! Anne wasn’t his type though.
As soon as she sat down beside him, she had gone full throttle into what could only be considered flirting on very generous terms. It was more of a spiel, peppered with more pros and unspoken cons, and without any subtlety. It was a full lyrics lórí gángan, complete with bells and whistles. The more she talked, the more he found the jollof rice more interesting, even though it could use more pepper and salt. He had collected her business card and promptly forgot it in his wallet.
“And why haven’t you called me?”
“I’ve been very busy with work.”
“Doc, doc! You know I have dreamt of you several times o”
“Hope they weren’t nightmares?”
“How now? How about you come into town tonight and let me take care of you?”
He wondered what it would be like to be a kept man. Sex should be fun and free, but would that still be the case? Was there a quota he had to fill? 4 times per night of vigorous fucking accompanied with screeching orgasms? Maybe he could add that to his CV; MBBS (Lagos), Gigolo (Ekiti).
“Let’s just start with dinner and we’ll see how it goes.”
The clinic was finally over and he was on his way home. He did some calculations as he drove, and everything checked out. He had enough fuel for the trip to Ado-Ekiti and back, there was enough time for him to get home, have a quick shower, and be in town before nightfall. It was just dinner. If he didn’t feel like going any further, he could always come back home afterwards. At least he’ll be fed, if nothing else. The interior of the car was still hot, but he couldn’t use the AC. He had to watch his fuel religiously. He was humming to Wizkid on the radio when he heard a creaking sound coming from beneath the hood of the car. Before he had time to even make out what exactly it was, there was a loud bang accompanied by an acrid smell and the car crawled to a halt.
Ló bá tán.
Shola Olubunmi can't be bothered to write his bio and that in itself says a whole lot about him without saying too much. His instagram account @sholaolubunmi offers more insight into his enigmatic (euphemism for lazy) persona.
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