MEMOIRS OF AN ABUJA JOB SEEKER (Eketi Aime Ette)
The bright red hue behind my eyelids told of the blinding rays of the sun that shone through my window. I instinctively turned away from the light and executed a full stretch on the bed before gingerly opening my eyes. Then I quickly sat up in the bed like an electrified Jack-in-the-box! Oh no! Today, I had a job interview by nine o’clock at a prestigious engineering firm and by the looks of that sun, it was afternoon already! Why had that stupid alarm not woken me up?
In panic, I jumped off the bed and ran to the wristwatch that lay on my reading table. The time was seven twenty-eight. I heaved a sigh of relief; a race to the bathroom and thirty minutes later, I was ready. I whispered a prayer for success and favour and dashed out. The sun was now hidden behind thick-water laden clouds. I boarded a keke napep and said another prayer, asking God to hold back the rain until I reached my destination. Very few things beat arriving at a job interview, soaked to the skin.
I got off at a junction where I boarded a cab to Wuse 2. The clouds suddenly released their watery offerings; the ferocious pounding of rain sent pedestrians scurrying for shelter and temporarily blinded the drivers. The driver of the cab I was in wisely pulled over to the side of the road. With the side windows wound up, a steaming interior and fogged up glass was inevitable. So also was the putrid stench that informed us that one of the passengers had either had a breakfast of rotted fish or a generous helping of beans, the kind that wasn’t parboiled first.
Wary glances were exchanged as I steadfastly stuck my hanky to my nostrils. Thank goodness I’d spritzed it with perfume before leaving. The man seated next to the left back door, was brave enough to voice his displeasure. Brave, I say, because I wouldn’t let that smell go in my nose, how much more my open mouth! Or perhaps he is the culprit, I thought. If we were still in primary school, we’d have made him turn around so we could sniff his bum. Yes, stop scrunching up your face like that! You know that back in the day that was our CSI Naija way of finding out who was waging chemical warfare against the entire class. Or messing, as we called it.
Nine seventeen and I walked into the office, late. The cab driver had been kind enough to drop me in front of the location for the interview. I will not waste words on how opulent the interior was. Even the air smelled rich! The carpet beckoned to my feet, asking it to strip. I walked into a roomful of applicants. Make that two roomfuls of applicants packed into one room. Arrrrgghh! Some of them looked like they were CEOs and shouldn’t be here, scrabbling for jobs like the rest of us.
I looked at my outfit and sighed. Mine was a modern version of a shirtwaist dress; instead of long sleeves, I had three quarter sleeves, the collar and bodice were that of a dress shirt, with black buttons running down the white front. From under the bust down, was black. Unlike the pencil skirt drones that surrounded me, the pleated skirt of my gown billowed a bit. I have only the semblance of hips, and take pleasure in not showing off that deficiency in skirts.
My nervousness was not diminished by the sidelong glances I was getting; who is this one? What is she wearing? I could hear them think and whisper. Never one to let my fears show, I walked up to the very official-looking receptionist and showing all the white and visible half of my dentition, politely asked her where I could get a chair, since all the others were occupied and I didn’t fancy standing. Nice lady, she sent me to someone in an office next door. I returned with my trophy, sat down and placed my bag on my laps. Then I slid off my shoes and sank my feet in that sumptuous carpet. Aaaaaahhh….heaven!
“Babe, where did you find a seat?” a young lady walked up to me and asked. Thirtyish, pretty, bespectacled and curves everywhere.
“I asked the receptionist,” I replied.
“That one?” she asks, pointing her nose and pouted lips in the lady’s direction. “She’s been carrying strong face since we came o! I don’t know that she can talk sef.”
You don’t know? What manner of grammar is this? I shook my head and shrugged as she went off to try her luck.
One hour later.
Some have made friends, some are still solo; others had gone in and then left. As is the case wherever I go, there’s a circle of people around me. With the aid of another fellow, Maurice, who has a fantastic sense of humour, we tell jokes and swap funny stories. Even the receptionist forgets herself and joins the mirth. We even poke fun at each other; one of the applicants has memorized the aims and objectives of the organisation and intends to recite it to the panel. Many others have recommendation letters and complimentary cards from some prominent people. They laugh as my cohort and I explain that we’re here to get the job on merit. Merit? In Nigeria? They laugh again. Time passes and the applicants dwindle.
“Miss Enoidara Ufott,” the MD’s secretary calls out. She’s the majordomo who’s ushered in every applicant to the interview panel.
“Present auntie!” I yell. The entire room erupts in laughter. Maurice gives me a thumbs up sign.
I walk into a room even more lavish than the reception. Three men and two women are seated in front of a long table at the far end of the room, shuffling papers and conversing. I walk up to the chair set across the table and greet them. They reply, but with no smiles; just a sort of bland curiosity. Be calm, Enoima. Be yourself, I nervously whisper.
“Please sit,” the man in the middle says. Looks like he’s running the show.
“Thank you sir,” I reply and deposit my buttocks on the soft, but cold-as-a-cadaver executive armchair.
“Tell us about yourself,” the Man-In-Charge asks.
I clear my throat and ramble off a sentence that begins with my name and ends with my love of nature.
“You studied mass communications. What makes you think that you’re suitable for the role of a confidential secretary?” This came from the lady at the far right. Thick-lensed glasses, tightly pulled back hair and a square jaw gave her a no-nonsense look.
“I may not have the paper qualifications, but I was a confidential secretary during my national youth service year and before that, I worked for four years as a confidential secretary to the CEO of Megadon Enterprises. I have acquired the requisite skills needed and I believe I can do well here.”
“Are you willing to travel at the drop of a hat?”
I start to answer but my reply is cut off by a fit of coughing; the cough that has plagued me for the past two weeks. I see the members of the panel cautiously shrink back. I raise a hand in a quasi-apology till the fit is over. One of them pushes a glass of water across the table, which I immediately gulp in gratitude.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Are you sure you don’t have Ebola?” the other lady asks, lips quirking in a smile.
“No, ma’am. I went for the free test,” I reply.
“Free test for Ebola? Where?” the Man-In-Charge asks.
“At the Transcorp Hilton, sir,” I replied. “At the entrance, the door man points one device at your head to check for Ebola. Since it didn’t go off when it was pointed at me, I’m assuming I don’t have the virus.”
There was a moment of silence and then the panel burst out in raucous hilarity. They laughed and laughed. From that point on, the interview sailed smoothly. As I got up to leave, the Man-in-Charge put out his hand for a handshake. I hesitated.
“You don’t want to shake my hand?” he asked, his face a mix of surprise and mild irritation.
“Not that, sir. I just want to know if you’ve been to the Transcorp Hilton recently,” I replied, tongue-in-cheek.
Another round of loud amusement accompanied my comment. We shook hands. “We’ll get back to you,” he says, smiling and I turned to leave.
“Young lady, have you considered a career in stand-up comedy?” the only man who hadn’t spoken since the beginning, asked.
“Well, sir, if you fail to get back to me, I will.” I replied, shutting the door behind me.
And thus ended another job interview.
Eketi Aime Ette