When I smile and say “Good morning, sir” I lie because it is clear who between us is really having a good morning.
I rose 4.00am, barely four hours after hitting the sack. With a dying rechargeable lamp, I took my turn at the compound toilet and bathroom before venturing into the dark street, my life at the mercy of robbers and their different mutations. I finished up what was left of my sleep, leaning against the cold railing of the weather beaten bus that meanders through the narrow streets on a journey to earn a living.
You woke up when the bus I boarded was already making its third trip, sipped some coffee, jogged across the new bridge to keep fit, and then made a quick stop at the club to play some tennis. Back home, you grabbed a bite of breakfast and showered, before jumping into the back of your 4WD SUV to be chauffeur driven across the short distance to work.
I do not begrudge you your lifestyle. You’ve earned it. Many years of hard work; calculated risks that worked out, some shady deals here and there that paid off and a sprinkling of some good luck to taste. Dues well paid by Nigerian standards. So much so that you’ve been able to establish this business and have employed me to work for you. Fantastic stuff.
What I cannot stomach, however, is your definition of the relationship between me and you.
What if giving me a job is not a privilege? What if your ability to afford the next three nation summer tour for your wife and kids is by the grace of the hours I spend slaving away at your office?
You see, what we have here is a partnership. Ought to be one, actually. I have some knowledge and set of skills that you need to enable you sustain the flow of cash that in turn sustains your lifestyle. In exchange, you are to pay me for the deployment of these knowledge and skills to your benefit. There are no privileges here. It’s an exchange, a contract. I work, you pay. I am not here to be your friend, protégée, errand boy, domestic servant or slave. We are partners, but your actions don’t suggest such.
What if, sometimes, I think you are a comedian because what you pay me is a joke and it is not lost on me. It is called take home pay for a reason but you seem not to have ever really appreciated that or do you?
What If my take home pay cannot take me home? What if it does not manage to even get me beyond the bus stop?
You know the state of employment in the country and that a thousand others are queued up, ready to take over my job the moment I quit. So you use it against me. Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded, wouldn’t have as much as grumbled audibly at my fate as the weaker party in this relationship if you made good your word of paying even the paltry sum, as and when due. But no, you decide to hold it back, this take home pay that isn’t worth its title. You decide to take from me and add to your own, just because you can. You decide to push home so far away that I do not even know where it is anymore.
What if you knew that like you, I have a family too, a wife who is worn lean of my excuses, a son who does not know the taste of jam, aged parents who hope to reap from me, the fruits of their labour? What if you knew that my rent is late and my landlord, a neighbourhood drunk, gets quite sober when he is issuing a quit notice? What if you know that ends for me are like unlike-poles that will never attract?
The business has cash flow issues you say and we all need to be patient. Patience equals understanding which equals not being paid. I stay on, working. And when you didn’t offer me any excuses, I found one for myself, a reason to keep turning up every morning, to keep wearing the company ID card like a dog tag around my shrinking neck, waiting for a pay that is nowhere in sight.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is the author of ‘The Funeral Did Not End’ and tweets from @nzesylva