THE WHITE MAN'S GRAVEYARDchapter 15 (1)
Alex knew they were getting the best of him then. And they'd just laughed when he'd slammed the door in the Ministry. He was so uptight he'd almost reached across the desk and started beating on Adamu. That would have been it he knew. They'd never do his work then. Once they took a dislike to you it was over. He'd seen it before. When Steve lost his temper his pay sheet disappeared into a drawer. They'd get you one way or the other, never up front. They'd just refuse to do your work which was required for the Ministry and that was that.
This was it -- one of those days. Beat before he began. It was only 10 o'clock. He just couldn't take it any more. He waited two hours for Hassan who was out, the messengers had hassled him, his file was missing in another room and then Adamu had sat there belligerently and intimidated him, refusing to give him his tax card.
No wonder people left. The hostility was for no reason. They just liked screwing people around. Alex knew it might be two or three more days before he got his tax card. He just couldn't go back to the school till it was done. Not that they cared. They'd say, "So what, I'm not at that school any more." Introspective. If it was of no immediate concern to them they didn't care whose time they wasted. It was no effort to pull out the pay sheet. Adamu was just sitting there reading his James Hadley Chase novel. He was just hostile, the fifth wife's bastard would be a good insult. You couldn't get more derogatory.
It was one of those days when they just got on his nerves. They played with them. He was at the breaking point. A van nearly hit him, people hanging out the windows. "Idiots," Alex swore to himself. It was chaos. He stepped across the ditch filled with a green putrid slime, the smell of urine and goat shit rotting in the sun. The dirt and dust and heat and noise. Those were the nauseating aromas that permeated his senses. Normally they didn't bother him. He was used to it. But today, the sewage and oily mud puddles filled with plastic bags and refuse, the mangy goats with their udders full, laying in the dust, rambling tin shacks with their coke cases and rotting fruit and 4 or 5 people laying on the benches, the vans driving every which way, the noise, the pollution and mad throngs of people culminated in an explosive revolting bombardment to all his senses at once.
"Massah, dash ten k," one of the urchins said. "Bature, give me two shillings," the kid said again. They know no pride, Alex thought, brought up to hustle everyday in the market or the streets.
"See your Alhaji," he replied sarcastically. He'd had it. If he gave ten kobo to everyone who asked in a day, he'd have nothing to live on himself. They'd take it all if they could. Everyone was so aggressive. He didn't give anything any more, not even to the lepers and those laying in the dirt or dragging their mangled twisted legs behind them, crawling in rags with blocks of wood for leverage. Not with the Mercedes driving by he didn't. Not when every second student at the school said, "I'm feeling hungry, sir," after they had eaten. Not when a guy with a roll of money in his shirt pocket said, "Dash me 50 k, mallah."
Alex ignored them all now. He didn't give anything any more. He'd been ripped off, cheated, lied to, mobbed, nearly killed, pushed and butted in front of too many times to have any sympathy left. He didn't notice the beggars any more either, except when they bothered him too much. When you saw so much poverty and suffering all the time, you became hardened to it. It had even ceased to disgust him. The lepers and the deformities were ignored and melted into the scenery of everyday occurrence. It was like the conditioning of a mortician -- one ceased to acknowledge the mutilated bodies as human.
It was all a question of relevance. It boiled down to survival in the jungle, survival of the fittest. Diplomacy and reasoning were left to the conference tables in office buildings thousands of kilometres away. A far cry from the liberal faculty club lounges when they came in the night with machetes and would spill your intestines all over the living room to the horror of your screaming children. Politics and diplomacy were not relevant then. The everyday reality called for immediacy of action to survive, for the African had no concept of the future. Nor was it relevant when the water was off or there was no petrol or no salary. It came down to everyday survival, to immediate needs.
"I got no sympathy left," Alex reiterated. "No patience left. Out of stock," he muttered to himself. They let each other starve, even killed in a frenzy of mob action on the spur of the moment. There was no respect for human life. Those were morals they couldn't afford. He didn't trust them anytime. He'd witnessed last year's Kano riots where 3 or 4 thousand were killed. That was the mob behaviour that scared him -- the muslim jihad eruption of political rioting. Any spark could be the catalyst. He imagined how those departing Ibos had felt being hauled off the plane and hacked to death on the tarmac at Kano. Once the mob tasted blood, they'd kill you in a second.
Lately, there were just too many hassles, more problems than usual. Things had gotten worse in the Ministry. Their attitudes towards expatriates had become increasingly hostile and unco-operative, so that you needed to go through six departments to get anything done, or two or three forms for everything. They kept putting in more obstacles and red-tape so that it was becoming quite blatant that they were only giving you a hard time.
The other problem was money. Since the price of oil had fallen, there wasn't any money (or so they said) for anything. Everything was being diverted for the upcoming elections so that once the word was out, "ba kudi" was an easy excuse to use.
He knew that they'd never pay up on their debts unless forced to anyway, notorious in that respect. It was usually hard to collect what you were owed, but now it was impossible. Foreign exchange wasn't available except for import licenses so that all expatriate remittances were diverted and they were issuing supposedly "cleared" drafts that had to be tediously approved by the Central Bank and they'd still bounce when sent to London or New York. The delays and excuses got worse.
The lack of money was easily used as a political weapon also. He noticed all these things happening. Some local governments were cut off and even some schools suffered from lack of funds. It was either siphoned by the Sub-Treasurer, the principals or used by the Ministry for other things. A couple of schools had food riots when the principal couldn't pay the food contractors. They just refused to supply any more and the students rioted when they didn't get their meal.