The memories of my last visit to the Dustbin Estate, Ajegunle have become regular especially when I see the sandal I received from the cobbler. Somehow I felt I was envied by all and sundry whenever I walked past, but that was all in my head actually. I still remained in touch with the cobbler and his family… Oh! Please do not be surprised, I am that grateful for what they did for me. I was still rolling in my subconscious when I heard my phone alarm beep and I realised I had been awake for almost three hours. Ofcourse it was too late to grab another round of sleep for the fear of my horrible boss. She is Agnes by name and most times I wish I could bypass her demeaning frame and get on her good side. A rumour at the office says, she has been really unlucky with men, hence her negative outlook on life. Before I could continue, my phone alarm reminded me that I had wasted fifteen minutes analysing my boss’ attitude to my detriment. I jumped up to prepare, but didn’t meet the time as I was late again and very foggy looking. I was surely in soup…..
I work as a journalist for a multinational company by name “FactorSystems Media Limited,” which is Nigeria’s leading enterprise as far as journalism is concerned. I work in the Newspaper section and I have my own column – “Dealing with depression” which is actually one of the hottest columns in any Nigerian newspaper.
I got to the company gate and saw my boss at the entrance to the main building from outside and my heart pulled an Elsa on me (It froze with fear). It was no use thinking of an excuse as she always expected that from me. Do not be surprised, it was actually that bad. Sometimes I always wished that the main building had more than two entries, I sometimes feel that it was made that way to punish me. As I walked into the compound, I took a periodic gaze at my boss in the distance and discovered that the resentment on her face just kept intensifying making her look uglier than I have ever imagined; she was beautiful actually but my hatred for her brutality became like a mask over her face.
I got over to her and didn’t utter a word. I expected her to rant or tell me the story of my life, make me regret I was born and remind me that the reason she has been stalling my sack is because of my wonderful attitude to my work, which she always reiterated was failing, meaning I could lose my job any time if I didn’t make amends, But on the contrary, she said “follow me to my office”. Normally I should have been scared that it meant that I was up for a sack, but this time I was more afraid at her decision not to yell at me. I gave her a five minute head start to her office and met her calmly seated, waiting for someone that seemed to be me, because I have never been in her office on my own.
“The company is organising its usual camp retreat this year for the newspaper department, as one of the programmes to kick start its Golden Jubilee celebrations,” She said as she adjusted comfortably into her chair. She went on, “It is compulsory for all staff of this company and as you know, everyone would be grouped in teams of twelve members”. I was about to cut in when she gave me ‘The hand’, that shut down my ability to think and reset my mind to listening mode. “You have been grouped already and you would be spending the whole of the next two weeks in any rural settlement of your choice”. She kept talking, but I was busy thinking of where to choose without listening, since I knew all she was about to say and then it hit me, “Dustbin Estate”, I said without recalling that I wasn’t listening, which meant that I cut short her sermon. She noted my choice of location without making any fuss about my interjection, which was borne out of my desire to see the cobbler and his family again. For the first time since I joined the company, I just picked a rural area to camp without thinking of the consequences, but it was already too late as Margaret Thatcher already acknowledged it and would never edit it for the world, but being that the essence of the camp was to rejuvenate passion for writing and an opportunity to heal any writer’s block available with a price tag on it for the best team, all at the company’s expense, who was I to complain?
Time dragged by and it was time for the retreat. We were all assembled for one final briefing and I discovered that my boss was going to Banana Island for her retreat. The human nature in me blamed me for not being able to pick somewhere better than my present destination, but I didn’t regret it since I was going to see the cobbler and his wonderful family again.
The company made all the arrangements and soon my team of six guys including myself and six ladies, were enroute Dustbin estate, Ajegunle. On our arrival, I discovered the company had arranged for the best hotel in the area which was like a boys quarter compared to the hotels in the urban parts of Lagos. We were ushered into our rooms, they were four in number: Two for the ladies and two for the guys, mathematically leaving three souls in a room of the same sex. The rooms were already customised with three beds, a toilet and a bathroom with a poor taste in furnishing. It took us the whole day to settle in and as we did that I felt my teammates secretly cursed me for this kind of location but I didn’t care actually because I was more concerned about the task at hand and emerging as the team of the year for this year.
The following day was like a day set aside for conflicts as my teammates kept arguing about what we should write about. Some wanted something abstract while some wanted a motivational piece and so I came to a conclusion that we should all head out to different venues to sit down and think for a while and that was what we did. I decided to capitalise on that opportunity to visit the cobbler. I felt I had taken advantage of my teammates since they didn’t know I wanted all to head out for my selfish interest, but who cares, I was doing it anyways. I left the hotel premises without looking sideways at the poor excuse for a restaurant the Hotel manager bragged about and headed straight for the Tricycle Park popularly known as “Keke Maruwa,” which was down the street, more like a ten minute walk. I arrived at the park and I was taken successfully to my destination, only to discover that the cobbler’s shop was locked. I instantly got on a bike to the cobbler’s residence and met Kenny and this time, his sisters. He was so excited to see me and introduced me to his sisters, Lade and Kemi. I didn’t want to waste much time and so I inquired about his parents with a wind of urgency because I also wanted to start my meditation as soon as possible. “They are at the market,” Lade said meekly. From her voice I could deduce that she was about ten years of age and so I asked for directions and left them with the sum of five hundred naira each.
It was hard locating the market for a newbie to that zone like me and the poor state of the ‘Dead’ pathways, yes! Pathways, they didn’t deserve to be called roads as I barely recognised the colour of my sandals by the time I arrived at the market due to the enormous amount of mud around it. As I kept analysing the poor state of my footwear it struck me that I didn’t ask the kids how to locate their parents and the market was so crowded that one would think there was a stampede. It was just a large body of moving people buying and selling in one way or the other to satisfy a need. I decided on the most frustrating strategy ever – to walk round the market, shop by shop, kiosk by kiosk, pathway by pathway till I could find either the cobbler or his wife.
Hours went buy and I didn’t need a magician to tell me that my strategy was a colossal disaster. I got hungry, frustrated, pissed, at myself majorly and at the poor state of the market. After about four hours of futility I decided to chill. I approached a sorry excuse for a restaurant and began to imagine how people ate here, but I was too hungry to do any medical analysis, so I went in and did justice to my stomach, hoping I don’t fall sick afterwards. I planned another strategy this time I decided to search item by item, from shoes section, to stationery section to food section to metallurgical section and then to clothes section. With other sections in sight and the sign of another failed strategy staring in my face, I decided to give up. Turning back to move out of the market, my phone dropped into the mud and kept cursing in my mind till I reached for the phone, and as I made to stand up, I saw the Cobbler’s wife, three steps away from me with clothes on her hands.
My joy knew no bounds; I was ecstatic, unimaginably happy, and so happy that I didn’t make to approach her immediately. She was still with a moving customer trying to sell the wares in her hands, but she didn’t anyways and so I stepped before her. “Good afternoon, ma,” I said with a consummating smile. She was also surprised in her own way. “Precious, how have you been? Please come with me,” she said as she ushered me to a kiosk containing more clothes and offered me a seat. I saw her husband, the cobbler in the distance returning with another bundle of clothes and the smile that erupted on his face when he recognised me set up a fresh beam of smile across my face.
We all settled down at the kiosk and I explained to them what brought me to Dustbin Estate, the hotel I was lodged how I went to the cobbler’s shop, found out that it was locked, took a bike to their residence, meeting their daughters and Kenny and how the kids directed me to this place and how I eventually wriggled and fought my way till I found the wife and how she brought me here. I also explained that I would be at the hotel for two weeks and I needed to write a story with my whole team involved and how we all headed out to meditate on what we should write about and how I haven’t figured my title out yet. The cobbler apologised for not being at the shop and explained that on “Market days” he usually accompanies his wife to the market to maximise sales since the influx of buyers on these days is usually enormous as I could see. He also advised me to write about my experience and a title hit me “Life in The Slums.” I was there with them for so many hours and departed the market by 5:30pm.
Once in my hotel room, I discovered that all members of my team had long returned as most of the guys looked like they were asleep for most of the day. I went to the bathroom and after I showered and had dinner, I called for a team meeting to ask for the various titles and I discovered that no one had anything tangible to offer, so I told them about what I had come up with and they lazily agreed. It turned out that my deceit paid off in the end since it brought forth a title of the write up to be done.
For the next twelve days, I engrossed myself with frequent visits to the Cobbler and his family and writing the article, by stringing different experiences together, from frequent mosquito bites, to erratic power supply, to poor drinking water amongst other amenities, poor transport network and my experience at the market. The day before we were to go back to civilisation, I completed the write up, left it to my teammates to edit while I went to say my goodbyes to the Cobbler. It was a sad setting as I was about to leave that day but I promised to return in no distant time. A family that I never knew from Adam had this effect on me and it was overwhelming.
The following day we left dustbin estate and once at the company, I immediately sighted my stiff of a boss looking really radiant and for the first time in my three years in that company, she was all smiles. “Who knows if she finally found the man of her dreams?” I joked. I went to the editor’s office to drop my piece on behalf of my teammates and left to resume my duties…
Did my team and I emerge champions of the retreat? Only time will tell….