A Piece Of Palaver

Ehichoya Ekozilen

© Copyright 2002 by Ehichoya Ekozilen

Sometimes ordinary people experience things that border on the extraordinary. The true story below tell of such an occurrence. I hope you enjoy it.

Photo of the Sheraton Hotel in Abuja, Nigeria.

After seeing the Punch advertisement that Monday morning I knew what I had to do. This was an opportunity I could not miss so I went into action immediately.

From Onigbongbo I made my way to Maryland Bus Stop and jumped on a commercial bus going to Obalende, and then took another to Victoria Island where my auntie worked. She worked as an Accountant with a cell phone service provider. My auntie was usually in the office in the mornings and I met her. Her immediate boss was in her office when I came in. He was a large, fair complexioned man with a large beard on a large jovial face.

After we had exchanged greetings I asked my auntie if I could take a look at her copy of the day’s Punch. I opened it to the page and began to rave about the advertisement. Soon the three of us in the office were discussing it.

"This should be very good for you since they did not specify any extra requirements like working experience and all that," my auntie said. "And airlines pay very well."

"I would not go," My auntie’s boss said. "You could die in a plane crash. There are far too many of them these days."

"He is not to apply for any of the cabin jobs," my auntie said. "He is an Accountant so he is to apply for one of the administrative jobs."

My auntie’s boss, who was known to do business with the bottle, was not defeated yet. "I know. You could be transferred to Lagos some day and they will certainly have you fly down in their plane. Before you know what is happening there could be a plane crash and you’d be dead."

In the end it was understood that I had to go. Of course I had to go!

My auntie really seemed to take to it. "Add the fact that it is Abuja to the fact that it is advertised just three days ahead," she said; "the crowding usually seen at ‘walk-in interviews’ will not be there. And even if you did not get the job you would have acquired some experience in airlines interview."

Then I casually mentioned that I did not have the money to commute to Abuja. (Abuja is approximately 880km from Lagos.)

"You mean you have no money to pay bus fare to Abuja?" my auntie asked as if that was the most surprising thing in the world.

"What do you think brings me here? You reckon I could not get Punch in the whole of Maryland?"

"I certainly did not envisage this and so did not plan for it in my budget for this month. So where am I supposed to get the money from?"

"You have to give him the money now," Her boss said. "He needs to attend that interview."

The good lady gave me the money in the end and I went to book a seat at ABC Transport Service at Jibowu.

10PM the following day saw me on the bus going to Abuja. Inside the bus I met a university classmate of mine. He was going for the same interview!

When we got to Abuja the following morning, my classmate’s sister who worked at the Ministry of Water Resources had sent a car to pick him at the bus stop. We were driven to the sister’s house at Garki and we had a shower and breakfast there.

It was to be my first visit to the glitzy Sheraton Hotel and Towers, where the interview was to take place, and I looked forward to it as we set out. As soon as we got past Sheraton gate we stood transfixed for some time. The River Benue is parched placed beside the Atlantic Ocean, so was the Onitsha Market forlorn compared to this place. The biblical "great multitude" had manifested and we stood facing it, so it seemed.

Some talked in groups, some stood alone, some stood as though contemplating whether to go home. There were over ten thousand people. Some were still coming in and there was obviously no one in control, there was no order.

My classmate and I knew we could not stick together and we soon missed ourselves inside the crowd.

I soon learned that people had come for the interview from all over the country - from Degema to Damaturu, from Calabar to Kaura Namoda. There was this delicate looking young man who stood aside from everyone, looking like a lost, frightened child. There was a lady who couldn’t cope with her shoes and so held one on her hand. But nothing had started yet.

The fellows who had invited us for the interview soon let on they had not expected this mammoth assembly and so had only printed 1000 forms. "Where did all these people come from?" they asked.

A thousand forms for over ten thousand applicants! You see our dilemma? Well, from that moment on, the stage was set for the war. Pack some of my fellow countrymen together, tell them they have to queue up to get what they came for and you set the stage for an unpleasantness; let on there are much fewer opportunities than there are people around and you have the perfect recipe for a war.

Soon a lady who looked like the sort you see on beauty soap advertisements came out and announced that airline professionals should follow her in. But the crowd would not take this and promptly erupted into a bedlam.

When some "professionals" managed to get inside, all hell broke loose. Those outside threatened to break down the place if they were not allowed in so as to have forms. Those inside, we learnt, were rushing and falling over themselves to get forms. They soon began to destroy things and shatter glasses. "So this is you, Sheraton," a man reportedly said as he kicked at a flower vase.

Meanwhile those outside were cursing and swearing. "We all came here together so why should you hand pick some and give forms to?" "I come all the way from Benin City." "You people are joking. You think I will use money and a whole day to come here in vain?" Those inside came out and met us in a while. Not one of them had a form.

After what seemed an eternity a man came out with some forms - the forms! He held tightly to them and was saying something, but nobody lent ears to him and it was impossible to hear him in the din. He extracted a form from the bundle he held; several people surged forward and he quickly withdrew the form. He began to say something again but the horde broke into a song: "All we are saying, give us forms!" He extracted the form again and a hundred hands grabbed it. He refused to let go; then he let go and the form was torn in a hundred pieces, a hand holding tightly to a piece. He extracted another one and the drama was much like the first, except that this time the important piece of paper was shared by two hundred people. The fellow seemed to realize this would not do and he disappeared back inside.

I looked around and saw a chap nursing a bruise he received in the face from the rush for the forms. Then I saw the scared looking aje butter - as other children call children from rich homes who go to exclusive schools - and went over to him. I began to chat with him. I soon learned that he come from Port Harcourt. His father was a big shot lawyer and his mother was a Permanent Secretary in the Rivers State Civil Service.

While we were still chatting, a police corporal came out with the forms. They had gone to get a policeman. These people had shown how brilliant they were so far; and now this most ingenious idea! The policeman extracted a form and two hundred hands grabbed at it. He put it back in the bunch he held in his hand and shouted at everyone to maintain order or be dealt with. Then he realized he was going to be mobbed any moment.

What he hoped to accomplish by the next thing he did can only be conjectured, but holding on tightly to the forms, be broke into a run. The undisciplined crowed turned and loped after him. He ran to the cubicle at the gate, entered and secured the door. The crowd massed at the window and began to beg, shout and curse.

I asked myself what I would tell my loving auntie when I got back to Lagos. She might not take it. She would ask me why I did not make enough effort to get a form. I went behind the cubicle and as I had calculated I found a door at the back. I stood there and began to beg the policeman to give me a form. He told me to get away from where I was or he would shoot me. (The Inspector General of Police had recently launched the Operation Fire for Fire anti crime outfit in the city and some policemen in the street understood the whole thing to come down to one thing: firing at anything, anytime. So it should be deemed stupid to dismiss this threat as the empty rants of a boorish man in uniform.) When the policeman and the other man inside were absorbed in something and looked like they had forgotten about me, I dashed into the room, snatched the bundle of forms and took it on the lam. The turbulent crowed, like a junkie sighting the thing, turned and ran after me. Shouts of "drop a form for me, drop a form for me" filled the air as I ran. Still running, I extracted a form for myself and cast the rest at the crowd. That effectively took them off my trail. I was later told that the whole forms got destroyed. I found a back room and hurriedly filled out my form.

While filling out my form I looked out the window and saw a man running with a bundle of forms. Then he apparently heard a friend’s voice and dropped a form for that one - but his friend was too far away and the form fell at the feet of my acquaintance from Port Harcourt who was standing all by himself, morose. He speedily picked it up and managed to make away with it. So it worked out well for aje butter. However, the man who held the forms still ran on. At a point he slowed down and tried to extract a form for himself, but by then he had sweated so much that the papers had stuck together in his palm, soaked and inseparable. He tried hard but neither he nor any other person in the throng at his tail got a form.

It is disturbing how wickedly low some people can sink under challenging situations. A man who saw someone’s résumé sticking out of his folder yanked it out and tore it to bits. That one had gone to fight for a form; he got one but he had no résumé to submit with it. My classmate later told me that he had his form snatched from him and torn.

When I finished filling out my form I looked at myself and wondered if I looked like someone who came for an interview. My clothes were scruffy and my tie was at the back. I did what I could to right them, submitted my form and was eventually interviewed. They gave me that line that is familiar to any job seeker around here - I would hear from them.

As I was about to leave, I surveyed the scene. There was a wig on the ground. There were torn papers and several other things ranging from biros to buttons. And I saw more. The great Sheraton Hotels and Towers, which I had always heard of and seen from afar, had been demystified. Many of the flowers that adorned the frontage were destroyed. The place was like a war zone. It occurred to me that these air people would now have to pay so much to repair these damages in addition to what they must have paid to use the place. Well, that was the outcome of a foolish plan, the dénouement of a badly plotted play.

And poor Sheraton - they will not forget their harebrained guests in a hurry.  

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