Olorunleke, M.A: Hopeless [Nigerian Voices]

 by Olorunleke, M.A

Hope, like talk is cheap. But it’s hard to picture a future without hoping, hence hope becomes a cheap necessity. The year two thousand for some was a turn into a new millennium of hopeful possibilities. For her, it began on an unfortunate note. With all the textile industries in northern Nigeria folding up slowly, but steadily, it was only natural to be worried. Eventually, time confirmed her worries – within a year, the largest textiles company in the north had closed down. She was jobless, herself and about a thousand others. Life took a new turn. Initially, workers with expensive diseases, who had their treatment covered by the company’s insurance scheme, died. Next, some of them started meeting each other at bus stops (their cars had become luxuries, so they had to sell them). Then the company’s residential estate welcomed homeless families of workers who couldn’t pay their landlords’ rent. The sound of children playing in the streets early in the morning, during the weekdays became normal. School fell out of the children’s schedule after school fees fell out of their parents’ budgets.

A sudden and profound financial depression can have a peculiar effect on a middle class family. While ends can still meet, they worry about how they are perceived. They feel ashamed when they think they’ve fallen below certain living standards. But after things truly fall apart, shame falls out of their psyche. Survival becomes foremost. Their spiritual lives takes a more intensive course. Then, occasionally they look for who or what to blame for their predicament.

The workers threw the blame everywhere:

“Those useless Indians! They came and stole so much money you’ll think they were trying to pay off their country’s debts”

“As if that wasn’t enough, they went on to borrow money from banks using the companys’ assets as collaterals! Then they disappeared” they said.

The workers couldn’t get their salaries because the banks wanted their money back. However, unlike those workers, she wasn’t so quick to blame the Indians. She remembers that the companies didn’t fold up immediately after the Indians left. They folded up after the machines stopped working, and the machines stopped working after some workers started embezzling the money for black oil- the fuel for the machines. To make up for the deficit, they came up with the retarded idea of filling the black oil containers with water.

Anyway, all of that didn’t matter anymore. The company had died and the only way forward was for everyone to get paid, so they could leave. The only hope for that was the government-they had promised to pay everyone their ‘gratuity’ at least.

“They will announce in the 6p.m news after government has released the money. So just wait patiently and listen”

Six o’clock every day, they sat in front of their radios. It became a ritual. Those thirty minutes of news broadcast became the most anticipated thirty minutes of each day. A ritual in the name of hope, that still hadn’t borne any fruit.  Six months passed, then a year. Her despair starting to consolidate itself. Then a year passed; more people died. Fewer people sat beside their radio by 6p.m.

It was so hard to get another job. Other public service jobs had age limits for applicants, age limits that disqualified her. Then, her qualifications put her at a disadvantage for jobs at private institutions. She had been comfortable at the company for so long that updating her qualifications didn’t seem necessary. Luckily for her, she had a small business that put food on the table. Unluckily for her, that trade failed after a while. With no backups she was alone.

Her ‘missing’ rib was missing. After marriage, he travelled abroad in search of greener pastures. Initially, he would call almost every day; then the frequency went down to once a month, then once in six months, until she totally lost connection with him. That was four years ago. She still wasn’t sure how she would tell their two children that they were fatherless. But that could wait.

Time passed, and more time passed still. The hardship only grew with time. She sat beside the radio, listening, silently praying, and taking intermittent glances at the clock. With five minutes left, her anxiety had built to a crescendo and her hope had fizzled out; she began to sob. It was the first time her children saw her cry. She had been stayed strong for so long, stayed strong for them. They were alarmed and bewildered. Their reaction wasn’t unexpected-she had shielded them from the harsh reality. They knew things were different, but they still happy anyway. She made sure of that. At that moment, her crying brought them up to speed on the situation of things. Her tears had explained circumstances better than words could.

They walked slowly towards her, crying all way; crying because all of a sudden they were scared. She held them tightly in her embrace and cried… and cried.

In that moment, she didn’t know if any hope still existed. Something else she didn’t know-the future. If only… If only she knew that six months later she’d receive an employment letter from Lagos. If only she knew that six years after, she’d resign to start a company of her own. If only she knew, that that moment of profound sorrow would later become the butt of jokes told over merry conversations years after. If only she knew it would inspire a story.


This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.

We publish, un-edited, Nigerians telling the stories of their everyday lives. Read all the narratives daily on the Nigerian Voices vertical. You can also contribute your own story titled ‘Nigerian Voices’ to [email protected].

 

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