© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
The collar of your shirt is well worn, as is that of your only suit. And the elbows and arms of the suit are also frayed. But no one knows, no one will know, except they are up close and personal with you.
But you know, from a thousand or so experiences, that no one gets that close in an interview room. The fellow applicants for the same job will not get too close to you. And the interviewers will be sitting opposite the room from you.
At the door to the single room you share with your friend, you say a quick prayer to the heavens, petitioning the gods of employment to grant you this job, even though you know there will be at least a hundred of you vying for the same placement.
This is your fifth year of seeking employment, and you are bone weary. You remember with numbness the day you graduated from the university. Your parents had travelled all the way from the village to see you walk to the podium and receive your certificate even though it had been absurdly expensive for them to travel down.
But you are their first son, the first of eight children, and you were the bearer of all their hopes. They’d starved and scraped and struggled mightily to send you to the university. Your immediate younger brother, who is only two years younger than you, had sacrificed his education for you, as had the next brother. Both had been apprenticed out after their free secondary school education expired.
Your first sister has started her first year of apprenticeship in a tailor’s shop. The last four siblings are still in school, still enjoying the government’s largesse of free education. The plan is that you will get a job immediately after graduation, and become your family’s breadwinner. You are supposed to sponsor the last four of your siblings in their higher education.
You are five years behind schedule. The weight of the world presses down on your shoulders.
You owe your roommate eight months in back rent, and he has been feeding you for the past two months.
In the past five years, you have been a bus conductor, a Laundromat receptionist, a bus driver, and many other unmentionable things. You have sold sachet water, and recharge cards, and plantain chips, and popcorn. You are bone weary.
It is getting towards the end of the month, and you are aware that you have to send some money home. Yes, your parents are aware that you are not gainfully employed yet, but Pa is sick, has been sick for two years now, and Mama’s back is not what it used to be, so the farm has suffered. Your brothers are helping out as best as they can, as is your sister. But it is tough, near impossible to feed nine mouths.
It is as you expected. The applicants, including you, are at least one hundred and fifty. It is going to be a long day. You are now seriously considering returning to the streets as a bus conductor because it pays a daily wage, no matter how dehumanising the job is.
You take a seat and wait to be called. It is going to be a long day, and you are already tired.