Adedokun Oluwakemi – Corporate Begger
Jos rain had been incessant. It poured down without caution and wet the earth without prior notice. Jos soil is loamy – never taking in water, always swampy. This had led to the near-death of my shoes. My cover shoes. They were my ticket to official look. You wear suit and sandals equals ‘Error’. You wear shirt, jean and then shoes equals ‘Correct.’
Everyone knows slip-ons (often called cover shoes) can give you that official look. That look that makes a Nigerian Corps member appears different from a student. That is the kind of look I cherished. A look that would make me respected wherever I find myself. An appearance that would make people address me with dignity and put a gait of seriousness on me. That was the look I relished. When I was on campus, I remember how I used to write off lecturers whose appearances were too casual or below average. I would sneer and gossip about such in whispering tones. That was the hobby of many campus girls evaluating and criticising people’s fashion sense.
“Oh! Chai! Didn’t madam lecturer view herself in the mirror before coming to school today? Orange shoes on red gown. Haba! See how she looks. Later, she will be bragging about how her husband took her shopping after a stressful week at work. This is all they can shop for?”. An outburst of laughter often followed such gossips. In unfortunate situations where the lecturer in question is sighted, the girls will cutesy and smile sheepishly. “Good morning Dr. Bola. You look good ma. We have your class today o…”
“I know. Thank you. See you in class.” The ignorant lecturer will say in a reserved smile. I wonder what her reaction would be if she had known that the idle girls were speaking ill of her.
The gossip is usually harsher when the lecturer in question is a male.
“Hian! He has come again with his two left legs. I am yet to finish the stupid assignment he even gave us sef. He knows how to give assignments but never knows when to shave his beard. Chior! And the plumb woman he puts at home will never tell him. Tswwww. See the kind of sandal he is wearing! With all the salary he is collecting, he cannot buy common designers sandals. Abeg! Make
im waka.” A long deafening hiss often followed such gossips. Some lecturers knew that they were the talk of the campus but they never gave it a thought. They just never cared. Who cares? I however did care.
These were the kind of criticism I was avoiding. And though I knew my dress sense will never be appreciated by everyone, I wanted to ensure that if at all I would be criticised, it wouldn’t be so bad and such epithets as ‘blind dresser’ and ‘amoeba’ would not be used to qualify me.
I was a lucky Corps member. I had been posted to the University of Jos where I taught 200 level and 400 level students “The History of the English Language” and “Psycholinguistics” respectively. I was a ‘lecturer’ and so my dressing was of concern to me.
The sole of my black shoes had been drenched with water and bitten by mother earth. The last time I wore the shoes, my left foot kissed the bare ground. It was embarrassing. I was not poor, yet my shoe was tattered. Do not look at me that way. Tell me you have never had that shoe which was bad yet beautiful! Rather than throw the shoes in the garbage, I decided to repair it. It was beautiful and a good fit on any dress. Besides, it was only 5 months old. Only God knows the kind of factories we have in Nigeria! Goods produced here are rarely durable. After 1-5 months of use, your money is gone. Fiam! Just like that!
I took the shoes to a cobbler that very day. The cobbler had a shed adjacent my office.
“Ina wuni Baba” I greeted. I had just begun to learn the language of the Northerners.
“Lafia,” he replied.
I met a young man sitting at Baba’s stall. He was waiting for Baba to attend to him. Baba on the other hand was busy mending a shoe.
“Well done”. I greeted the gentle stranger.
“Thank you. Good afternoon. How are your exams?” He retorted.
“Fine.” I said. I did not have the time to explain to the stranger that I was not a student. At this point, I concentrated on the cobbler.
“Baba, please, do you have a new sole? I want you to help me change this sole. E done chop. Rain don spoil the shoe”. I struggled to explain to him the condition of my shoes in code switched terms.
“Ok, no problem.” The Baba said.
As if I was being waited for, the stranger immediately called for my attention in whispered words.
“Auntie, please, my belt cut. I wan repair am. Please, help me pay for the repair. I no get change. I just wan go withdraw.” He said pointing to the banks at the roadside. He had just tried to explain that he had come to the cobbler without any money and that he wanted me to save him from any embarrassment by paying for the repair of his leather belt. Hmmm! I was startled.
“What if I didn’t come here to repair my shoes? Would he not pay for the repair? Or was he going to repair his belt on credit?” I thought aloud in roughly two seconds. I had not even paid for my repair and here was a stranger asking me to pay for his.
“Ok, no problem. I’ll pay.” I declared.
He smiled and thanked me.
I accepted to pay only because I knew it would not cost me so much. Let us say it will cost me an extra
N20. That was a chicken feed. Money for Epa!
After about 2 minutes of waiting for Baba, (he was busy rounding off some repairs). Mr stranger picked up some tools at the stall and started repairing his belt himself. Why? Probably because he had little time to spare.
“Interesting.” I said to myself. He was able to sew successfully the two torn parts of the leather together. All this while, I was staring at the leather belt. It was original. The type that is sold for a thousand five hundred naira (
N1, 500). I tried to imagine how it tore…The belt has probably seen better days and needed to rest.
He stood up to assess and wear the belt.
“Where money?” Baba requested for the repair fee. Though he repaired it himself, the stranger used Baba’s tools. The stranger smiled and wisely evaded paying Baba. The fee I should have paid. All well and good, his craft was to my favour. I did not have to pay for his repair again. I thought.
He wore his belt and made to leave.
“Sister, give me the 20 naira na”.
“Which 20 naira, Baba isn’t collecting any money again na”. I retorted.
Why was he asking for 20 naira again after the repair had been made?
“Ok. Please give me 5 naira, let me buy pure water. The sun is hot.”
Choi! This stranger was hell-bent on getting money from me. I thought he wanted to withdraw. Why can he not suspend his thirst until he withdraws? Lucky him, the banks are only few miles away. Nah. His begging was not normal. I concluded that he was a corporate beggar. He was well dressed yet begging. Corporate beggar! His types are many. They are all over the city – Abuja, Enugu, Lagos, Ibadan, even Jos! I had fallen a victim of one in Lagos. He looked so pitiful that I did not know when I gave him a whole 500-naira note. My eyes opened only when he left the scene. That was Lagos. This is Jos. I had vowed never to fall a victim of such again. Never again.
I threw pity away and looked straight in his face.
“Sorry, I don’t have.”
“Ok…thanks”. He grudgingly said and left.
I turned to Baba for my repairs.