There is a man who stands at the entrance of the lift on the ground floor of your office building. He greets you with a broad smile as you approach the lift and lets you know that he has called the lift. “Oga, it is coming down,” he announces, as though looking at the numbers on the display changing in reverse order is a job for him alone.
He wears a pale blue shirt tucked into navy blue trousers with the seriousness of an employee on his first day at work. When he moves his cap slightly to scratch his head, you see that he is bald and his fingernails are long. You wince before you hear the sound and you are surprised that the sound is not as harsh as you expected. He taps his black baton, which hangs by his side, and you nearly forget that both of you have been waiting for a full sixty seconds.
In the lift, his shirt is not pale blue but faded blue, and the cracks which extend for a few millimetres from the buckle holes on his imitation leather belt, remind you of harmattan, of chapped lips in need of Vaseline.
“Oga, seven or ten?”
You are usually among the first to arrive at the office. Sometimes you get off on the seventh floor. Sometimes you get off on the tenth floor.
“You choose the floor.”
His fingers hesitate at the control panel. “Ten sir. Ten, because the higher you go, de more money you go get.”
He smiles and some of the years roll off his face. You think of your late father and swallow a lump.
“Ten it is then.”
You no longer hold your breath when you ride with Joe. The smell of day-old perspiration has grown on you, just as the way his black shoes shine and reflect light, no longer fascinates you.
Joe clears his throat.
“Oga, today is Friday.”
You know because you woke up at 4 a.m. to complete the presentation for your meeting at ten. However, you can tell it is not the response Joe was expecting because he clears his throat again.
“Oga, happy Friday, sir.”
You think it is too early, but the weight of expectation that causes his words to land on your shoulders, the demands of communal responsibility that is thrust on you for earning a certain level of income, and the unspoken rules of this ritual, constrain you to respond.
“I’ll see you later.”
Joe clears his throat yet again. “Oga I will close early today.”
He has taken a gamble and he watches to see where the dice will roll. Only he does not let it stop. “It’s okay oga, I will wait.”
Your irritation vanishes.
“God bless you sir,” he calls as you walk out the lift.
When you close, he is there. On the ground floor. Saying, “Happy Friday,” to a colleague. He monitors you from the corner of his eyes, eyes that fill with indecision as you walk past. He must be aware of the foolishness of abandoning the fish in front of him, to dash and catch you. So he calls out, “Oga, abeg, I will soon finish!”
You almost laugh, in amusement, but check yourself. It is shameful that this culture dignifies begging and elevates it to an art form, complete with colloquialisms—How weekend sir? Anything for the boys sir? Oga we dey here o? Happy weekend, and so on.
An old man. A beggar. A corporate beggar. A beggar cushioned against the sun and the rain. A beggar in uniform. A professional beggar.
He catches up with you outside as you head for the car park.
Breathing hard, he declares, “Happy Friday sir!”
You hand over a couple of notes.
“God bless you sir! Your family will never suffer. Your wife will born plenty children, strong boys. Your children will become great ….”
You do not pay attention as you keep walking. What is his life like? What qualifications does he have? You turn to ask. But, Joe has resumed duty on the stairs leading to the entrance doors, his head bowed slightly and his hands outstretched.
You let your shoulders sag. “Happy Friday Joe,” you mumble, knowing that his praise-singing would have drowned out everything you intended to say.
In the car, before you turn on the ignition, you pull out a couple of notes from your wallet and leave them on the passenger seat. They are for Adamu and the others who man the security gate.
© Timi Yeseibo 2013
Photo credit: © Timi Yeseibo 2013
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