13 March 2011

Commitment by Olalekan Olaifa

The fan is squeaking again, its blades turning slowly; its own form of protest against the perpetually low voltage of our power supply. Sometimes the television also protests, solid black lines will move across the screen vertically in quick successions like rollers innocuously grinding out the bones in the figures. Then the figures on the screen wobble as if they were made without bones and formless. My father never bothers about any of them before ten pm, once it is ten, we put on our generator and the electronics stop grumbling and even our refrigerator wakes up from its hibernation. At ten in the evening every day, my father listens to the evening news. It is the last major event of a regular day in my family, as after the news we pray and everybody goes off to bed. However, in the last five months, since my brother got the job on Lagos Island, another major event has crept into our schedule gradually.

Dele is the pride of my family; the first born of my parents. Though he is my immediate elder brother, he is ten years older than I am. They said they had problems with childbirth; they had almost given up hope when I came and were pleasantly surprised when I was followed almost immediately by my sister. My brother went through school with flying colours, winning prizes and awards at all levels. He received a first class in the university and was quick to get a job with a major accounting firm on the Island after his youth service, five months ago. It was all celebrated with great pomp in my family and my father even bought him a car to ease his long commute. All our family friends congratulated my parents and wished their children were like my brother. When my father looks at him I see great pride in his eyes and my mother prays an extra hour for him every day. She believes you need to pray about good things so they don’t go bad. My brother was not about to go bad, instead he was getting better. Four months into his new job he started an executive MBA programme and everyday he would come home to tell us about action learning, distributional analysis and all sorts. We would all listen with rapt attention, my mother with gleaming eyes and my father feigning distraction with some newspaper, but I always knew he was listening because he never reads the papers in the evenings. However, there was a little problem.

At about quarter to eleven every evening, Dele arrives from work. A practice my parents were not happy with, they have complained and implored incessantly but my brother has refused to make adjustments. Last week Monday, he arrived late again. After Ahmadu the gateman let him in, he walked into the living room jauntily holding his bag. My father did not need to look at the wall clock; the one-hour news was in the sports section. On such days, before his arrival, my mother would be extremely worried pacing up and down the sitting room expectantly; starting from 9pm. She would start to recount tales of dangerous events that occur daily in Lagos; how they killed a man, took his car and all his money; how they ambushed a whole highway and searched the vehicles in turn, stealing, beating, killing and raping. We would not pay her any attention and at intervals, my father would interrupt her soliloquy by pointing at the television and saying “please let’s hear what is on the news”, like it did not matter to him if my brother came home or not. The same events reoccurred before he arrived that Monday.

Dele entered with his hung over bag, my father ignored his greeting then leapt up from his seat and shouted at my brother “Where are you coming from?”

“Office sir”

“What is the time?” A question that is never answered.

“Daddy I had a lot of work to do and there was a lot of traffic on third mainland bridge”, he explained, with splayed palms like he did not understand what all the noise was about.

“You must be very stupid, which third mainland?” Then, my father launched into his usual tirade.

“When every well meaning person is safe on their beds, you gallivant around this deadly city then come back home to tell me there was traffic.” He was shouting and gesticulating with his hands, pointing at my brother as if he would strike him.

“What such nonsense!” He continued, “Just last week a man and his family were shot dead in cold blood just about five minutes drive from your office. And you are telling me about a lot of work at the office!” These kinds of examples always vary; sometimes I think he gets some material from my mother’s horror stories.

All the while, Dele was standing with his arms behind his back like a sinner seeking penitence. Then my father added a threat for effect “As from today, I will tell Ahmadu to lock the gates by 9pm every day,” he tried to be considerate “maybe 9:30pm because of your work, if you don’t come early you’ll have to find another house to sleep in”, and added “nonsense”, that means a period and an end to his conversation.

My brother bowed low and said “sorry sir, sorry ma” to both of my parents and the whole episode was forgotten. My mother glad that he was finally safe offered him food and we retired to sleep. After that episode, my brother returned home at 9:30pm on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, he reverted to his normal routine that provoked similar episodes after two days of getting home by 11pm. It was a vicious circle.

Monday this week, after the threats and abuses of the previous week, Dele returned home by 8pm! A big surprise, even before my sleep loving younger sister had retired to bed. Everybody was happy, I hugged him, and my mother said a prayer for him. Father even chipped in a comment “good” with great emphasis, “that is how to live in this dangerous city of ours, you are now becoming responsible.” We all had supper together and then settled down to listen to my brother’s experience at school the previous week.

He started “A very important aspect of managing a business and employees is to know that” and paused; my great brother usually does that before delivering his punch lines. Then he continued, “Complaint means commitment.” My father had already picked up a newspaper, pretending he was not listening again. I wondered at what he meant, my mother asked him to elucidate, I am sure she used that word to remind him that she was learned too.

Dele had the floor, the way he loved it. He shifted to the edge of the sofa and began to teach his non-executive MBA class. “When you own a business and you have employees, you must realise that they have a level of commitment to your establishment that is why they complain about anything” another pause for the students to assimilate “they feel they have a stake in the business, so they want things to change for good.”

“Yeees, yees” That’s my mother drawing on the yes’s, urging Dele to go on.
My brother continued bolstered by the enthusiasm, “It even happens in the family, for example, every night when I come home late and Daddy starts to complain...” I look at my father, he does not even move a muscle at being referred to; he never lends his attention to such conversations. He once told me, “Men only discuss with men and children with children”. I guess for him women fall in the latter group.

Meanwhile, Dele went on with his lecture “Of course we know it is because he is committed to my safety and well being, if Ahmadu comes home late I am sure he will not be that concerned.” My mother and I nodded in understanding. “As such commitment can be measured from complaints, the employees that complain the most are usually the most stable”. Then he raises a finger in caution, “there are exceptions definitely but often times, the employees that complain the most will never leave abruptly. They don’t harm the business, when they make threats, they never actually carry them out, and they are the safest”. He was about to continue when my father hushed all of us, “It’s time for the news.” We put on the generator, relieved our electronic appliances of their complaints, listened to the news and went to bed with prayers.

On Tuesday, Dele did not return home even after the sports section of the news, my usually frantic mother was more disturbed than ever “He never used to stay this late” she repeated in between her tales of Lagos mishaps. My father remained unperturbed; I decided to stay awake to see where this episode would end. After endless pacing, my mother called my brother on his mobile phone but he was not picking his calls and she became doubly worried. At quarter to twelve, she was about to go in search of him with Ahmadu when we heard his car horn sound outside. My mother held her head and started thanking God hurriedly.

Dele entered the living room with his bag hung loosely as usual; he greeted my mother and my father bowing low and using his right index finger to touch the tip of his right shoe; a measure of unreserved respect. Surprisingly, my father answered and continued watching the television as if he did not know that the sports section ended about an hour ago. Dele climbed the staircase up to his room not bothering to offer any explanations. After he left, my mother went to sit by my father; she pulled his arm “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“About what?”

“Dele of course” She shouted my brother’s name at him.

My father looked at her for a second too long as if she asked a rhetoric question, when she met his gaze, he answered “my level of commitment has reduced!”

Commitment was written by Olalekan Olaifa.

Copyright © Olalekan Olaifa 2011.

Olalekan Olaifa is a Nigerian writer currently based in Atlanta, Georgia. He studied medicine at the University of Ilorin and worked as a general practitioner in the years afterward. Though he is a medical doctor by training, one of his biggest passions is the written word. He first began putting his passion to paper while in school, and that enthusiasm has since blossomed into several short stories. Olalekan hopes to own his own business someday, but meanwhile he is expanding his collection. For more information, connect with him on Twitter @lilfivepoints.


smoothly said...

great story..any more???

TemiY said...

Nice work.. iLike!

Olalekan Olaifa said...

@Smoothly, thanks ........more to come very soon.
@TemiY, thanks a lot... I'm glad you like it.

Strong Self said...

This is really a good read. I love this piece. I wish I could more of this captivating narrative style.

Olalekan Olaifa said...

@Smoothly, thanks ........more to come very soon.
@TemiY, thanks a lot... I'm glad you like it.

TemiY said...

Nice work.. iLike!

SheNKO said...

Wow auskaka just stumbled unto this. What a read. Great piece. You are a genius brother.

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