Short of Goodluck
Goodluck stood under the front-shade of a locked shop. His eyes were firmly on Madam Philo Restaurant, a pole away from where he stood. He imagined likely worst consequences if he walked into the restaurant and ate without paying. He shook his head mournfully: none of his imagined consequences was bearable. A stray gaunt dog strutted towards the shop and stopped before him. The dog barked at him a few times, Goodluck ignored it, and the dog left. A man passing the street saw Goodluck under the shade and empathized with him. The man imagined how sweat-soggy Goodluck must be in his suit with the sun pouring down fiercely as if it was the last day it would rise.
True, Goodluck was soaked in sweat, in fact he thought if he measured flour and left it on the street it would bake into bread in less than a minute. But more than the sun troubled him. He thought the sun an ant compared to the army of famished worms that were helping themselves to his intestine. His stomach was empty, his pocket was empty, even his mind was empty of any helpful means of repairing his situation. His stomach made another gurgle followed by stinging pain; he held his stomach hoping the hunger would go away.
He was wearing the same suit he bought during his undergraduate days at the university. Now, in it, he looked like he borrowed the suit from someone fat. Every time wind blew in his direction it plastered the suit to his body, revealing his lanky frame. He dreamt of a sunny-bright future as an undergrad, but even three years after graduation his bright-future was still as hard as trekking from Nigeria to America to reach. He told himself it was lack of a job that forced him into yahu-yahu before Santa talked him into giving his life to Christ which he grudgingly accepted because there was nothing else to hold on to.
Goodluck took his eyes off a customer walking out of the restaurant looking bloated and perused the menu-signboard in front of the restaurant. He imagined what the man might have had in there. His imaginations made his hunger worst. He had to eat. The heavens should fall if it wanted to because he could not pay, he concluded. He heaved a sigh, gathered guts in his hand, and began walking to the restaurant. Close to the frontage of the restaurant, he saw a stone-face large woman dishing soup into a plate and his guts slipped out of his hands. He hurried past the restaurant panting nervously. The sweat on his back became downpours. He thought the stone-face woman must be the proprietor of the place and a face and body-size like that would not stop short of pounding him into the earth. He had not prepared his mind for this sort of humiliation.
Goodluck trudged almost a pole and felt he stood a chance of fainting and possibly dying on the street if he attempted to walk home famished. He was visibly dehydrated and the sun seemed to be more pissed off today than any other day since his arrival in the big city.
He blamed the government for his hunger. Few weeks back, the Department of Immigration advertised openings. The advert also insisted on an application fee. It was never on Goodluck’s career list to become an immigration officer, but not holding a job at all, he reasoned, was worse than holding one that was not on his dream list. He wondered briefly at first why the government would demand application fee from jobless applicants but paid the fee anyway. He prepared for the test and the interview to follow. On the advice of Santa, Goodluck had undergone three days without food and water with intense praying so he’d secure the job. He was called for the test. When he arrived at the stadium, venue of the test, he saw a mammoth crowd of applicants for the same test then did a mental summation of what the government must have made from the application fee charged and concluded the government people were more crooked than he would have been if he had not repented. He gave up on the test and left the venue when a scuffle broke out between some applicants and some recruitment officers which resulted in a stampede. The sum he had in his pocket was enough to take him home, and buy him garri, sugar and groundnut, as food for the day. But the bus drivers and keke riders were a clever lot that would spot a black goat in the dark if the goat represented opportunity for higher income. Seeing the army of youths trudging out of the stadium that must get home, they all hiked their fares three times the original amount. Goodluck could only go half way home on the new fare with all he had in his pocket, so his journey was truncated under the shade.
He clutched tight the folder containing his credentials under his armpit trying to muster courage. At this stage in his life his credentials were all he was worth. Whenever he read the papers on Thursdays for job openings and came across the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Aliko Dangote with their net-worth often cited next to their names, Goodluck would imagine his credentials as his own net-worth. Even though the credentials had not proven any real worth to him ever since he acquired them, even though he had lost sense of any real worth himself, he reasoned it was better than not having anything next to his name. So he was always quick to remind his friends to add his title of Engr. to his name.
He reasoned he’d rather die the death of embarrassment than a death of the body. To regain his guts, he muttered a short prayer as Santa had encouraged him to do at dire situations: “Baba in heaven, you’re the one that stays in heaven yet the hem of Your expensive robe sweeps the earth. I know this is not right but I can’t bear this temptation. You know my spirit is willing to do what is right but my flesh is weak and hungry. Touch the
heart of this food seller so I don’t suffer shame. I can’t die of hunger in this city. It’s only the living that serves you, Baba, not the dead.” Now that the recruitment exercise he had hoped for was clearly a scam scheme, he reasoned his fasting and praying should account for a miracle of any sort, even if it’s to put food in his stomach.
He turned sharply checking his inner breast-pocket, pretending something he forgot warranted the turn. He saw there were no eyes on him and walked confidently to the restaurant and entered. He passed a young girl seated before the entrance. Her prominent
feature was her large hips that seemed to spill over on both sides of the stool she sat on. There were three other men inside, eating. There was a long pew-like bench against the left and the right walls and equally long table before the benches so that there was an aisle in-between. Goodluck sat on the edge of the bench. He did not sit with his entire buttocks as though he would be charged separately for it if he did. The aromas of different soups rioted for attention in the air, Goodluck breathed in all of them and swallowed saliva.
The first man before Goodluck wolfed his plate of eba and afang soup as though he was being chased. He had his dirty shirt tied as scarf around his head. He had a good coat of red earth all over his glistening walnut-shell skin. The second man next to him wore a torn worn out shirt with a good patch of sweat-stain under his armpit. He wore a hair-cut that seemed between mohawk and punk, Goodluck could not really place it, and there was a good quantity of sand in the hair. The one at the far end to his right wore a sleeveless shirt. He was younger but looked no better in cleanliness. They smelled alike: dust and sweat mixed. Goodluck concluded they were labourers from the construction site across the street. The restaurant was gloomy and stuffy. The only electrical appliance in the place was a ceiling fan that was home to cobwebs and thick dust, it seemed the fan was never put there to function.
The young girl walked briskly to Goodluck. She bathed him with a grin. But Goodluck did not have the luxury of a smile to reciprocate. “What do you want to eat, bros?” she said. Goodluck avoided her eyes, and his lips slightly trembled. “Give me fufu and egusi.” He figured he needed a heavy food, something worth the trouble that would come afterwards.
“Finish?” the girl said, “you don’t want Malt or Coke or Fanta or—”
“Just give me Pure-water.”
The girl seemed a bit shaken. She thought a man as Goodluck in suit should eat in that class, with something more than cheap sachet-water. To her, if Goodluck ordered bottled water ignoring the soft drinks, she would have thought him one of those overeducated big boys who claimed soft drinks were no different from sugared water.
“You don’t want bottle water? We have Ragolis, Eva—”
“ Pure-water will do,” Goodluck maintained.
As she turned, sauntering to the counter, Goodluck’s eyes followed the sway of her enormous buttocks. The pair of moulds swayed with every step the girl took. For a few seconds Goodluck thought the girl wore nothing under her short skirt. He imagined what the girl would look like naked and what he could do to her from behind. “Oh my God!” he blurted out, snapping out of the thought. He remembered these thoughts were grave sins. He remembered how Santa had insisted that lustfulness was a major obstacle in the way of young men securing miracles from God. He prayed quietly, “Father in heaven, forgive me for I have sinned. Don’t let this sin count against me. Erase this sin from your judgement book, and let it not change your mind from the miracle You want to do in this place for me.”
The young girl returned with his order. Goodluck kept his face down deliberately avoiding the girl’s physique. The girl on her part thought Goodluck was one of those shy men and smiled. “Call me if you need any other thing, bros,” she said. Goodluck thought that must be the voice of the tempter speaking through the girl, using such alluring voice to snarl him. He would not succumb. He had so much to suffer should he succumb.
The girl returned to her stool but kept her eyes on Goodluck. Goodluck began to eat at a calm pace he was not accustomed to. He feared everyone was watching him and could see through him to know that he could not pay. Every time he raised his head from the plate he would find the girl’s eyes. He would feel the sweat on his back rush down to his boxers. Different reasons the girl kept her eyes on him ran in his head. Because he could not keep his gaze on the girl longer than a second, he could not tell the kind of eyes she stared with, if it was the kind for pity, the kind for scorn, or the kind for suspicion.
The man with a confused hair-cut finished his food and licked his plate clean. He got up, stretched out and exclaimed, “You don’t work, you don’t eat! No food for lazy man!” His words stung Goodluck, the ball of fufu he had swallowed at that time stuck midway his oesophagus. He coughed. He grabbed the sachet-water and sucked.
“Are you alright, bros?” the girl said.
“I’m fine,” Goodluck managed. Was the customer warning him in a discreet way, he thought. He looked up in anxiety to see the man pay a slim woman seated a little away from the food counter. After making his payment, the man turned to the girl and flirted,
“Baby, how far? What’s it gonna be?”
“Are you mad! Do I look like your class!” the girl retorted.
Goodluck returned his attention to his plate. The customer with his shirt as scarf also got up. “Man no work, man no chop!” he exclaimed. Goodluck reasoned that this must be a sort of common idiosyncrasy among them. He focused on his meal.
Goodluck finished his food. The girl came and cleared his table. “Shey you enjoy our food?” she smiled. She thought important customers like Goodluck must be satisfied to encourage them coming again: It was not often that they had a young handsome bank-worker in two-piece suit walk into their restaurant for a meal. Goodluck nodded his “yes” and added, “Please, who owns this place?” The girl pointed to the slim woman that collected money. Goodluck had not thought the slim woman could own the place. He wondered if the woman did not eat her own food to remain that slim. “You wan see madam Philo?” the girl asked in a tone that implied if Goodluck wanted to go to bed with her boss. Goodluck stared at her, unsure how to respond. The girl instantly sported a frown and left. Goodluck got up and ambled to the woman.
His heart was in a race as he got to Madam Philo. Madam Philo’s face was devoid of expression. There was nothing on her face to encourage Goodluck or warn him. All Goodluck could sense was that Madam Philo was a woman who had tasted and seen the different facets of life. Her complexion was shades of Fanta and Coke, here and there. And the stretch marks on her body were tangled electric cables. Goodluck concluded that she was of the lot that had no qualms reducing a man to the sandals under her feet if the occasion called for it.
“Good afternoon Ma!" Goodluck stooped as he greeted.
Madam Philo did an onceover of him with her eyes. “Afternoon, my son,” she responded.
Thoughts went riot in Goodluck’s head. He was unsure how to proceed then found a path. “Ma, I’m sorry to wahala you. And I’m sorry to come to you like this. It’s not in my habit, no be something wey I dey do every day, but as I speak to you now I hadn’t eaten since morning till I came here; I’m just coming from a test, I go find work, and the job did not click; I have a Degree in Electrical Engineering, you can see (Goodluck made to unfold his folder to show her his credentials, visibly trembling; the woman raised her palm, indicating there was no need for it.) So, ma, I could not help it, I just gat to eat, the hunger wan kill me. I know it’s not right, you’re running a business here not a charity home, you have bills and workers to pay and—”
“Wetin you want? What do you want?” She seemed out of patience for his blabbering. Goodluck dreaded her impassive face. “Ma, I just ate a plate of food and my pocket, you know, I don’t have a job, and I’m really trying but the government—”
“You no fit pay?”
“Yes, ma.” His head drooped, waiting for the worst to follow. He would take it in good faith.
“Where you from?”
Goodluck hadn’t anticipated the digression, “I bi Niger Delter, ma.”
“Ehen, I talk-am. You have that look. My husband is from there too.”
Goodluck could not tell if this was a good or a bad omen. He waited. Madam Philo called out to the girl and asked her how much food Goodluck had eaten. The girl told her.
The woman turned to Goodluck. “You beleful so?” Goodluck nodded his head and added that it was just the right amount of food for his stomach.
“You sure?” she insisted.
“Ok. No problem. I understand. I have a cousin too. Him don graduate over two years now yet no work. It’s the govament. They don’t provide jobs for youths anymore. I understand. You can go.”
“Thank you, ma. God bless you, ma.” “You get transport so?”
“I can manage to my place.”
“Oh common.” She rummaged her waist pouch and fetched a few notes. “Take, manage-am reach house.” She squeezed the denomination into Goodluck’s palm.
Goodluck could not believe his luck. “God bless you so much, ma. Your purse like a river shall never go dry!”
“Amen. It’s ok. Go well my pikin.”
Goodluck strutted out into the street humming praises, his folder firmly tucked under his armpit. He was convinced beyond doubt that it was his prayers that brought on this good fortune. On the bus home, he thought he could capitalise on this it for the rest of the day. He thought that all he had to do was ask—as Santa had taught him from their scripture study together—and he shall be given. He needed no further prove that this works. An idea wound through his head, he could not wait to be hungry again later in the evening.
Santa was sitting on a bench on the frontage of the house when Goodluck arrived. Goodluck saw Santa and a generous grin broke on his face. He swaggered in. Santa saw him and caught the infectious smile. Santa was happy for Goodluck. He thought the smile meant Goodluck got the immigration job.
“Engineer, this wan you’re smiling like roasted goat-head, how-far?” Santa joked.
“My guy, today I know that God answers prayers of the needy.”
“Ha-alleluyah! You got the job! Praaaaaise the Lord!” Santa was already on his feet dancing. Goodluck stopped smiling and gave Santa a curious look as though Santa had lost his mind. Santa saw the look and stopped dancing. Goodluck sat down, Santa joined him.
“Which job?” Goodluck said, angry at the thought of the government scam.
“I thought you got the job, you know, the wan you fasted three days for.” “I didn’t get the job.”
“But you just said God answered your prayers—”
“Yes, but in a different way, another—”
“You got a better offer somewhere, miraculously! I knew that fasting wouldn’t be in vain—”
“Will you at least allow me land first! Are you high on something?”
“Don’t insult me because I’m happy for you. Do you smell alcohol from me or—”
“No vex. The way you were celebrating more than the celebrant, e reach to ask if you high. Anyway, I thought I was going to die today. Hunger nearly tore me apart this afternoon. I didn’t have shingwi on me. Not a kobo. So I quietly prayed to God for manna, reminding Him of my small effort at doing right, and guess what?”
“I’ve already done all the guessing and they fetched me insult from you. Why ask me do another wan now. Just give me the gist.”
“In faith, I walked into a restaurant and ate. And lo and behold the owner of the place did not hassle me for not having money to pay. In fact, she gave me t-fare to come home.” Goodluck waited for an excited response from Santa but none came. Goodluck added, “I think if I pray more often like that, sincerely, and have faith I can walk into any restaurant in this city and eat without paying.”
At this, Santa reasoned Goodluck either had simply gone insane, or poverty had completely eaten up his mind and left him with a false sense of miracle. “Engineer, I don’t think—” Santa attempted to air his view. But Goodluck was already angry Santa did not share his enthusiasm on his face; he sensed the tirade of sermons to follow, it wasn’t what he needed now. “Look I’m tired. I have to get in and rest.” He got up and sauntered through the corridor to his room.
Santa remained on the bench. He thought Goodluck needed God’s true touch. He feared Goodluck was vying off the path he intended when he led him to Christ. The fear made his mind restless; he muttered a short prayer for Goodluck: “Father above, my friend is becoming delusional in your name. Lack is beginning to make him think all manner of thoughts, even thoughts of good things that don’t come from you. Teach him to know you don’t work that way. You don’t push a hungry man to cheat, capitalizing on their sympathy and kindness. He is lost now like a sheep, find him and bring him back into your fold of good, upright, and patient men! Only you can find him. In your son’s name I have prayed, Amen.”
In the evening Goodluck took his bath and got into his suit again. He was whistling a joyful tune as he walked out the corridor. Santa met him halfway down the corridor.
“Not bad,” Goodluck wore a residue of smile from afternoon.
“I thought you were resting. Where’re you headed again this evening in your suit?”
“Just going out.”
“With your credentials?”
“Have you become a monitoring spirit now? When did it become a crime to go out with my credentials in the evening?”
“I didn’t mean to harass you. I just wanted to tell you my cousin made a delicious yam-porridge, in case you’re interested.” Santa smiled.
“Don’t worry. The good Lord provides for His faithful ones.”
Before now, Goodluck would have jumped on the generosity. But he sincerely did not like Santa’s cousin’s cooking. He only ate her food because he had no choice. He was confident he had a choice now. He could enjoy the same sympathy and generosity outside, from any restaurant. Santa on his part was not sure how to take Goodluck’s no. It was totally unlike Goodluck to turn down food. He shrugged his shoulder and left Goodluck.
Goodluck did not have the patience to explain his plan to Santa. He thought it was common knowledge to everyone in the city how hard it had become for young graduates to secure jobs nowadays. Who would not empathize with the likes of him, especially the womenfolk he had come to see as the emotionally effusive species of God’s creation. He would walk into any restaurant of his choice provided a woman owned it—and women were always the proprietors—and eat and beg his way out of paying for the food. He would tell the woman-owner he is unemployed with a good Degree Certificate. He would show his certificate to prove his sincerity and earn the ever flowing sympathy of the woman. He reasoned that if his degree could not fetch him a job, it should at least fetch him a good meal this way.
He was certain if he explained all this to Santa, Santa would understand. But he feared for something else: He did not want anyone stealing his idea and using it behind his back, and before you know it all the unemployed youths in the city would be doing the same thing thereby spoiling this small means of feeding. He knew it was not so hard for good ideas to spread like wildfire in this city, this city that had her ears to the ground. Safer he kept his ingenuity to himself.
Goodluck strutted far out of his Local Council. He needed somewhere he was not known, somewhere—even if he were going to be humiliated, which he very much doubted now—the humiliation would not accompany him home. He hadn’t walked far into a street when he spotted a signboard ahead that read: Thatcher’s Buka. Goodluck hastened his pace. He got to the entrance of the restaurant. He could not see the interior from outside. There were garish pictures of different food on the glass sliding-doors. Goodluck muttered his prayers and walked confidently in. The sign at the top end of the restaurant read: No Credit Today, Come Tomorrow.
There was one customer in the buka as Goodluck entered. Goodluck sat down admiring the plush interior. The floor tiles glistened, the plastic chairs and tables were new and neat, the wall paint had intricate designs on them, the ceiling fans and the plasma TV hanging on wall were not there for decoration, they functioned. Only the aroma of food wafting in the buka was disturbed by a cloud of alcohol reek coming from the male customer. Goodluck examined the man closely and saw that his hand trembled slightly as he wolfed his food, his eyes were watery and dreamy, and stubs of beard covered his jaw and cheeks. Goodluck looked to the counter at the end wall of the Buka. Behind the counter was a back door that opened to the backyard of the building. There, the cooking was done.
Goodluck called to the waiter and made his order. The waiter brought his order and he began to eat.
Goodluck was finishing his food when a young boy trudged into the Buka. The boy’s muscles splayed from the gallon of fuel he dragged into the place. A voice from the backyard called out to the boy to bring the gallon to the back but the boy shouted his “No-o” that he wanted his balance and would not move beyond where he stood. The owner of the voice matched into the buka, her hands wet. Goodluck had a good look at the voice owner as the woman dried her hands on her apron. Goodluck sensed from her gait she must be the proprietor. She had a friendly mien. Goodluck felt relieved. She rummaged her waist pouch for a second then raised her head and turned to the male customer who had just finished eating.
“Oga, pay for your food so I can pay this boy,” she said.
The man wore a scowl and spread his palms upward indicating he had no money. The woman stood akimbo, her friendly look turned grave instantly.
“Wetin you mean, you don’t have money?”
The man said nothing, unfazed.
“You dey craze?” she bawled, “I dey talk to you!” In fury, she made for the man, held him by his collar and hoisted him up. She walloped his face twice in quick succession as the man struggled drunkenly. At the noise of the fight, two boys from the backyard dashed in and took the man from the proprietor. The man made a feeble fight to free himself of their grip but they pinned him to the wall. One walloped him across the face a few more times; the man cowered from the assault.
“Have I not warned you severally not to come into my buka when you’re drunk and can’t pay!” the proprietor retorted. “Deal with him mercilessly! He’ll be an example to others!” The two boys tore the man’s shirt and singlet. They dragged him to the backyard and shoved him down onto a stool before a basin of greasy plates. They slapped him a few more times, forcing him to start washing the plates. The man wore no remorse on his face, as he raised his face at his attackers; rather he sported a vengeful face.
“You’ll learn today,” the proprietor continued scowling as she paid the fuel boy, “I’m not called Margret Thatcher for nothing! Ask about me in this town! If you don’t know me, you don’t know anybody! I’ll make you smell your anus today! You’ll taste and see that Margret Thatcher is made of iron. Foolish man! You people walk in here to eat without paying for food. Am I running an orphanage home?” She turned to Goodluck for understanding, “Can you imagine sah! They always come in here to eat free food. Am I running an NGO?”
Goodluck froze in his seat. The ball of eba he had swallowed would not go down, he choked. He reached for a glass of water and gulped.
“Are you alright, sah?” the proprietor asked.
Goodluck nodded he’s “ok.”
“Sorry,” she turned to face the back door and resumed directing her venom there, “na like this I wan take pay shop-rent! Na only you waka come-o! I did not come to this city to count bridges, I came to make money!”
Goodluck lost appetite to finish his food. He could not hold a line of thought that could save him from his situation. He did not waste his energy thinking of one: he got up, grabbed his folder, and walked to the proprietor. Goodluck began to take off his suit jacket, his necktie, his inner shirt...
“What’s wrong with you? The proprietor stared at him in bemusement.
Down to his trousers and singlet, Goodluck declared, “Ma, I beg, I’ll wash the plates.”
“You too,” she screamed, “were you people sent to me this evening.”
Goodluck rushed his words in an attempt to calm her from yelling, “Mrs Thatcher, I’m a university graduate. I want to work but I haven’t been able to secure a job since graduation. I have a Degree in Electrical Engineering—”
“How’s that my problem. Does this shop look like Ministry of Works!”
“What I’m saying is I can’t afford—”
“Na craz dey worry you! You gadge up in suit, walk into my shop, and want to eat free food—”
“I can’t get a job, the government—this is my Degree Certificate—”
“You’re mad. I did not complete secondary school yet I own a buka and make money! That one washing plates there too (the proprietor pointed to the beaten customer) is a graduate without job. You people are mad! Do I have tribal marks on my face! Do I look like I just arrived from the village? You’re electrician-engineering or whatever nonsense you call yourself. What’s a degree certificate worth if it can’t put food on your table? Why don’t you repair broken radios and TV for people. Is that not what they teach you people in electrician- engineering? You die well today!” she called out to one of her boys, the boy dashed in.
“Collect his folder,” she ordered.
Goodluck calmly handed it over.
“Collect the smelly jacket too.”
Goodluck allowed that too.
“Now get out of my buka,” she said to Goodluck. “When you have the money for what you have eaten you will have your sheet of papers back.”
Goodluck went on his knees entreating, but she was already walking to the backyard.
Goodluck returned home and found Santa on the frontage. Santa saw him and rushed to him in alarm. “What happened?” Goodluck walked pass him and sat on the bench. Santa stood before him expectant. Goodluck calmly and honestly narrated his ordeal. When he was finished, Santa heaved a sigh and said, “And she sized your credentials, just like that?”
“Hmm! How much food did you eat?”
Goodluck told him and Santa screamed, “What-and-what did you eat to such amount?”
“I drank malt and collected small size Ragollis water.”
“You didn’t even eat like someone who didn’t have money. What were you thinking?”
“This is not the time to blame; please I need to get my credentials back.”
“Hmm. Don’t worry. I have some change in the house that can cover the cost. Wait for me.”
Santa went in and returned with the exact amount; Goodluck’s hope returned alive. Goodluck led Santa on their way to the buka.
At the entrance into the street, Goodluck saw the buka and sprinted off in full speed screaming, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” Santa followed behind. A crowd had gathered in front of the buka as they got there. Some were doing their best to put out the fire that was eating up the buka and salvage what was left of the building. The proprietor was rolling on the street wailing disconsolately. Santa asked a bystander what had caused the fire. The stranger responded, “One drunken idiot just set himself ablaze in the buka. He was tired of life because he didn’t have a job and could not find a wife. Not one single pin was taken out of the place. The workers and owner came out unhurt sha,” he concluded. Santa turned to Goodluck expecting a reaction from him. But Goodluck just stood there staring at the burning buka, his face as blank as an unused writing slate. After a few seconds, he turned to Santa and said,“You should never have talked me out of yahu-yahu, you should never have talked me into this born-again nonsense.” Santa’s jaw hung open.