Lessons from a Lagos Mainlander: Never overstay your welcome (by Obinna Okwuolisa)

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

When the job offer from a Lekki company dropped on my phone, I felt like running and hugging and jumping and dancing. My jobless years had finally come to an end. I could now join my mates in posting to Facebook, taking selfies in the office, on a starched white shirt and a tie, a swivel chair, and not missing a computer or two at the background. And the photo caption would be "Work Flow".

I had arrived.

But I lived on the Mainland with my parents, and commuting every day through the crazy Lagos traffic to Lekki would stress me out, and eat deep into my eighty-thousand naira-a-month salary. So I picked up my phone to call Uncle Peter, who lived in Lekki with his wife and four kids.

The last time I saw him was twelve years ago, he had not been married then. I did not even attend his wedding and worse still, I had not kept in touch with him via phone nor social media. So while the phone was ringing, deep down in me was a tinge of doubt he would oblige my request to live with them.

"Hello, Uncle Peter, good evening sir. It is..." I called him that evening, hoping I still exist both in his memory and good books.

Two things surprised me; he recognized me even before I announced my name, and he sounded very excited to have me come over.

"You are no longer a small boy o, you sound like a grown man!" his voice was filled with so much excitement, it had me blushing. "So you mean you have finished school, completed NYSC and now you have gotten a job?"

I appeared at Uncle Peter’s house on a Sunday evening, a day before my official resumption, ready to move in. Uncle Peter and his family occupied the ground floor of a yellow painted one-storey building. The compound was not so spacious, but (boy!), it was quiet.
There was a fine array of freshly trimmed flowers, red and green and yellow in colour. The smell of the flowers, the serenity of the environment, the clean surrounding, the fresh air and the bliss and the cool and the calm made me not want to set foot on the mainland ever again. Never again!

On the direction of the security guard, I walked further down, turned left and pressed the doorbell; still in admiration.

Uncle opened the door on the second ring and he was surprised at how tall I had grown. I caught his wife and kids peering through the window, stealing glances, and when I got inside the living room, they were all cheerful to see me. His wife - Aunty - happily carried my bag to the guest room, where I had been assigned. She came out through the kitchen with a huge plate of rice I considered too much for my small stomach.

After eating, Uncle walked me to the guest room, showed me the bathroom and asked me to ‘manage’ it.

"Manage this ke? With the air-conditioner and big bed? Uncle this is more than conducive!" Everything was falling so perfectly in line. I could not be thankful enough.

When I came back from work the next day, I was surprised to have dinner set for me. All I need is a place to rest my head at night, I did not bargain for this, this is too much,  I thought to myself.

Time saw Uncle and I bond over football matches together and throw banters each other, him being an Arsenal fan and I, proudly Chelsea. We became closer with each passing day, like friends, and we often engaged in chit-chats on a range of topics, from the renaissance to the contemporary, sports to politics.

And yes, girls. (He called me a grown man remember?) He has a sound mind and I enjoyed every moment with him, until that time when things started to fall apart.

I cannot remember the exact time things began to fall apart, and the centre could no longer hold. There was no specific event. But I realised that dinner became more inconsistent, and then, it was nothing but a distant memory. Notwithstanding, I did not take it very seriously. After all, what brought me to Lekki was shelter... right? Every other thing was a bonus. I just learnt to buy my breakfast and dinner from a roadside local buka on my way from work, and leave KFC for the big boys.

One morning before leaving for work, I was asked to vacate the guest room for the Aunty’s brother who came for holidays. Although Aunty’s brother was light-years my junior, I was sensible enough to realise that even in a circle of family, some members are more important than others. So I moved to share a room with the housekeepers, who before this time, looked up to me for orders when uncle and his wife travelled.

I came back from work one evening, tired and a rather hungry. It had rained heavily that evening, and I could not buy food on my way from work. As I lay on the bed going through the likes on Facebook for my ‘selfie-on-the-Island’ post, I was interrupted by a housekeeper who informed me my attention was needed in the living room.

I got to the parlour and like a criminal suspect, I stood at a distance from the dinning area, where Uncle, Aunty, Aunty’s brother, and the kids were all seated like a jury panel, ready to convict me. Then Uncle asked;

"What soap do you use in bathing?" The question was as embarrassing as it was unpleasant, but I managed to refrain from expressing my displeasure.

"I always use the soap I bought to wash and bathe", I answered him respectfully, but firmly. Then I excused myself, wondering what prompted the question. Maybe someone told him I was using the family provisions.

Another night that same week, I was once again summoned before the jury, with more than five pairs of human eyes staring at me, unflinchingly.

"My wife has noticed some things missing from the kitchen and it all started since you began staying with us", Uncle said, with concern.

At this point, the house was becoming very uncomfortable for me with such allegations and similar other happenings. I was disturbed by the change in attitude of my hosts and I thought deeply about it all through the week. I decided I was to blame. I was a victim of my own circumstance.

"I have not been doing domestic chores, and I have never assisted in buying house provisions", I thought aloud to myself. "Maybe that is why they are treating me like this way”.

So that Friday after work, I stopped by a supermarket and bought toiletries, beverages, biscuits for the kids and any other house hold item I could lay hands on.

The next day, with optimism and excitement, I brought out the items I had bought and took them to the kitchen. Uncle collected them, inspected them one by one, and with a blank face rejected them all.

"We do not need any assistance from you" he said, calmly dropping the items on the floor. "If you look at us thoroughly, you will see that we are living a comfortable life. Please take your gifts". He said that and left. My bones became weak, and my legs could no longer support me. I leaned against the deep freezer and allowed dejection to consume me.

I would later give most of the provisions I bought to the security guard, , and keep some for myself.

Desperate to still make a good impression, I woke up early before dawn the next day and swept the house, even before the housekeepers woke up. Aunty found me sweeping the second day in the wee hours, I was happy she did. In response to my greeting, she stated that they have paid housekeepers who took care of house chores, and no extra hand was needed.

The subtle hints that I had overstayed my welcome continued, but I failed to consciously acknowledge the handwriting on the wall, until I was forced to do so one unpleasant evening.

I was entering the compound, coming from work, and saw Uncle and Aunty leaning against their black SUV, with the children playing around. I greeted them and walked past. Then he called me.

"Come. For how long do you intend staying with us?", he asked, gently stroking his beards.

Ahhhhhh!!! The day of reckoning had finally come!

The question was as unexpected as it was hurtful. Every happiness and sense of fulfilment in me from the day’s work vanished like a sweet dream at dawn. He looked at me intensely and our eyes locked. Then I looked away.

"I will leave immediately I find an apartment Sir".

I lied (ish). I wasn't looking for any apartment in Lekki. The apartments there were not for starters to life like me with a meagre salary. A small cubicle costs about three hundred thousand naira in rent, exclusive of other fees.

Later that week, I would leave his house and thank him for the hospitality. I would go back to the Mainland, because the Mainland was where I had my home, and my dignity (or what was left of it).

I would eventually quit my job because the cost of transportation barely saw me save thirty thousand naira from my salary, and the traffic induced stress was not worth it.

***

Everyone can welcome a visitor, but it takes much more to keep them. Not that those who cannot keep a visitor are wicked. It just takes something much more; something uncommon, perhaps divine, to harbour another person indefinitely. It is a burden that cannot be assumed unilaterally by the beneficiary of the arrangement.


So if you have ever been sheltered without any pain, be very, very, very grateful. And whatever you do, be sure to never overstay your welcome".





Obinna.

(Obinna is a (not-so-regular) guest contributor to the blog, and has written other witty articles for the blog)



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Photo-Credits (1st Picture):  Mantas Hesthaven on www.unsplash.com 

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3 comments

  1. This is really nice. I love the flow of words and sentence construction. The scene description was very fascinating.

    I can also relate with the writer's experience. Although I work and live on the mainland, the distance between both locations have made commuting very challenging. I had had thought of squatting with a friend during the week but oh boy... I hate to be a form of liability or to lose my self esteem. Anyone that welcomes a visitor whole-hardheartedly will be an angel in this Lagos :)

    Thanks for making my day!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I can totally relate to this. I stayed with my uncle during my I.T days and it panned out the same way you narrated. I knew the best time to leave and I jejely carried my kaya and vamoosed, when I found out everything I did in the house was wrong to them.

    Fast forward eight years later, my same uncle's kids came to my house for summer holiday and I was looking at them like if I decide to maltreat you people now like your mum maltreated me in the past, Jesus wont like it.

    Always know when to draw the line and end the bullsh*t. Regardless of if someone is helping you out.

    ReplyDelete