excerpted from my forthcoming novel The Foreman
Hanging the blind to see the Hatchery Dept. workers smartly sweeping the driveway, again, for the fifth time this morning, the incident returned in vivid colors to the Foreman who was visibly forlorn.
Whatever it was that suddenly derived pleasure in unsettling him seemed to derive immense contentment in playing it from just the door, ignoring the interior of his office; the time the thought came, 5: 30 pm, the exact time he plugged the dongle in the Egg system to transact with Sogius-Sakanmino Resturant’s manager of Foods, the time his wife called to remind him of their daughter’s birthday, the exact time he seemed to be overly out of the control of his own mind, the time he was seeing for the first time a long-mouthed mice swishing from the small triangular hole in the left leg of the company’s shelf of Broiler and Old layer transaction files into the tiny square hole under the bathroom door he was also seeing for the first time. The moment he was wondering what he would do if the unstable network the company choose for Egg transaction refused to connect him as usual to one of the company’s most esteemed client, the only restaurant he enjoyed lunches of pizza-mayionesse that reminded him his five-days residency programme in the company’s headquarters in Burma India- the place where pizza-mayonnaise seemed to be cooked by God himself.
The devil seemed to castigate the need to dissect his mind and show him what was actually going on within his own skull at the moment, for he was sure he was being uprooted from his own mind by some seemingly enormous wicked force, or why on earth would a man with his own poultry farm of twenty-five workers condescend into the demeaning thought of stealing the company’s eggs.
Anyway. It began as usual from the door he opened and plodded into the Peacock Vaccine dept. to collect a polybag. He greeted Dr. Samanta, who was too busy to respond. The behavior lobbed fears in him, the fears that virtually succeeded in restoring his sanity, that almost made him changed his mind, . The attitude that persuaded him to concur to the fact the rump of his motive had been bared, that only opened his mind to reason he’s been hated for hatching the hideous thought at all. But Dr. Samanta pacified him, tucked him deeper in the devilish thought with sudden smiles and loud response. The Forman demanded for an empty bag she handed to him. He slammed the door behind him and slogged awfully to the Hatchery Dept. As expected the Hatchery Dept. workers were sweeping in the driveway as usual. The place was empty.
The fowls cackled at his presence. Looking sideways he ducked into the egg room. The room was silent if not for the rapid whirs of the fanafrick fan. Fearfully and religiously he filled the bag with fattest eggs. His fears came from the fact he’s not supposed, for any reason, Forman or not, to be seen in Hatchery Dept. with a bag. It’s not his job to pick the eggs, or if he must do that because the Dept. workers weren’t around, for some cogent reasons the company endorsed, it must be done with the Egg registrar not with a bag but with the carton or cartons with the company’s insignia. Now he’s in here with a bag, without the Egg registrar doing the counting and jotting in her official register. He’s broken the rule and indubitably he’s simply stealing now and the consequence is an unquestionable sack.
The demon possessing his mind bumped out of his head when he heard a loud unnatural cough from Hagi, the gateman. Hagi passed him into the room, picked the broom he came for and walked out pretending he had seen nobody. He held the bag and stood like he’s glued on the floor utterly confused.
No any reason to defend himself. He’s been caught, breaking the rule, caught trying to steal the company eggs. That’s the fact and been caught trying to or caught after the deed is tantamount to the consequence of getting sacked immediately. No! it would be a shameful sack. How do he explain it to her Banker wife, to her daughter, to his workers that he had been sacked for stealing fifty-five eggs.
He returned the eggs and decided he must see the gateman at once. He met the gateman sweeping the verandah of his quarter. The Forman tapped Hagi, flailed the bag before him and altered feverishly he had returned the eggs. Before he’d finish the last sentence, the gateman that had dreaded him, that dared not look at him in the eyes glared vigorously at him saying he’d report him to the manager. The Forman tapped him to lower his voice before the Hatchery Dept. workers clustering the driveway would hear him. The Forman promised to give him whatsoever thing he would demand. The gateman smiled, sensing he’s in for business. He outlined the consequences of attempting to steal from the company before going on to make his demand; the Forman would share his monthly salary into two, one for himself one for him, the gateman. The Forman raised a yell swiftly belated by the thought of the Hatchery Dept. workers . No argument, the gateman added and said the payment begins from this month, he ran into his room and returned with his First Bank account number he properly stuffed in the Forman’s pocket.
No argument ! and dishonorably the Forman slogged into his office. The office seemed abruptly narrow. Some invisible hollow seemed to engulf the breezes the whirring fan produced for plenty beads of perspiration, on his skin sprouted and cut off in endless continuum. The castrated bronze elk leaning slightly on the sepia mantelpiece seemed to change colour as the body of the chameleon in his eyes. The fridge containing bottles of foreign mega wine and fruits the company manager bought specifically for him in Machester, London for his contribution to the growth of the company seemed to dance atilogwu. Tumbling and twitching. The white plate of oranges on his guest’s table dimmed wholly to a tiny square of jade-freckled Orion.
He lifted his eyes to the string of silver medal(awarded him just last month by the company to recognize and congratulate him for his efforts in broadening the company’s commercial boundaries in the last three years ) hanging by the copper-colored Germany-made wall clock , though the silver plate and the yellow string seemed to have acquired new coloring of old snails and young cobra he wondered how on earth he’d stand the company that trusted him much. What if the whole of his poultry farm was confiscated for this gruesome act by the company. He slumped in his swivel chair and concluded he’d satisfy the gateman if it was the only thing needed to be done to shroud his hideous act in the sink of oblivion.
For six months now the foreman shared his salary with the gateman. This wasn’t the issue bothering him now as he’s moving away from the widow to his swivel chair. The way the gateman interrupted him in staff meetings was beginning to make everyone to wonder what’s going on between him and the wretched gateman. His own fear waskilling him. He’s own crime, the crime he couldn’t define the persuasion is eating him up. A man that used to be plumb gradually emaciated to what his wife called the undergraduate Fiji when he suffered from typhoid some years ago.
His assistant had informed him he’d be visiting his office this morning not for any other issue other than why the gateman, an illiterate would always interrupt him, the Forman of Gago Poultry, a first class degree holder from the university of Legon, Ghana, who employed him unceremoniously. An act deemed over-stepping one’s boundary by other staff members. Another headache. Very soon he’d be knocking. What on earth must be said to squash down this top secret struggling to pop to light. Struggling to ruin him.
His phone rang, but his arms were too heavy to lift. He hissed and walked back to the window. Hagi was singing with a girl he had never seen around in a way that showed she’s his lover. If it had gotten to this, then it had gotten to the height the Forman would be sacked. It’s a standing rule. None of the staff members are expected to bring in a lover and misbehave with such lover within the company premises; the company owner is an ardent Christian who strongly believed his success came for his ability to make his company sin-free for the holy spirits. Such act whisk off holy spirits. The act, this act Hagi enjoyed now with sense of abandon was as a result strongly prohibited and the Foreman was supposed to curtail this. Hagi would, if he dare strike, bare the secret and he must stop this new act before one of the staffs became peeved. He heard five knocks coming quick and consecutively and his heart leapt. Feverishly he plodded to the door.
He saw nobody when he opened the door. He hissed, and knocked his own mind for going out there to knock the door. Then a real knock came; the knocker did not wait as usual for the Forman to command the knocker to come in. the knocker was a lady, the registrar of the company. The Forman struggled to hold himself from showing he was quaking. He knew why she’s furious she had seen her spoke briefly with Hagi outside through the window. Without any action of courtesy, an indication she’s pissed off, she blasted her mind. From the look of surprise in the registrar’s face the Forman himself noticed the lady suspected the sudden diminution of his own air of authority. The Forman, was known to be strict and extremely disciplined; even as the registrar spoke brazenly deep in her heart she harbored the fear she might be writing her own sack letter by her own self. The Forman was aware of her own fear but he seemed to be seeing the face of the gateman in her eyes, the eyes that continued to hush the real Forman spirit of courage, audacity and authority.
The summary of the registrar’s words was: he should go out there, command Hagi, as the Forman to send the harlot out of the gate, warn him seriously never to recap such act, or she’d call the manager and owner of the company in Singapore right away.
The Forman forged up an authoritative voice and feature, ordering her to get Hagi for him right away. He shook to the window as the registrar slammed the door behind her, another act that reduced him. No one dared, not once in history, to drop his own door hard on its frames.
Hagi, caressed the lady’s wavy hairs, kissing her large black lips; what an impudence. What is fear doing to the real man he is. He slumped on the floor, tears rolling out of his eyes like they had gathered and waited for him to loose them. He bumped up quickly, as his door opened, it’s too late, his tears were seen by the registrar and his assistant before his brown kerchief could wipe them off. His red irises were conspicuous.
They stood dazed and traumatized. He was ashamed of himself. He’d lie now, an act he hated from childhood even when he never believed God the way a real Christian should believe God. He must lie- the sort of lie that would send him out of there means on the whole or he’d be pushed to bare himself before the parrot of a registrar who would, in few seconds, fly to Singapore by the company land phone. He told them he just lost a friend and he had just received the information from a recent call. They consoled him and inside the Forman was delighted, he would at-least for the moment crossed the huddles set before him unharmed. But the registrar would never hesitate to express her mind. She whispered that the gateman commanded them and him to go to hell and stink with his damned ass. The Forman coughed and demanded for a cupful of water. May be they did not hear him, the two walked out, and this negligence of the highest order intensified his emotional quagmires. He signed out with the complain of depressed for losing a friend this afternoon. He only glared at the gateman as he drove out of the company.
* * * * *
Back home the Foreman was silent, he did not touch the homemade hamburger on the dining table, and he never listened to their house help, Rose, when she informed him the hamburger would lose its taste if it becomes cold, he was too deep in his own thought he never heard the beeps of his wife’s car outside the gate and her greetings as she walked into the dining room. He feared when her wife pinched off a bead of tear from his left eye. He feared, for the eyes of the gateman seemed to paste themselves everywhere, he lost and lacked strength like he’s standing before him. He’s own dread of Hagi, surprised him. How the gateman he had barely noticed in the scheme of things seemed to become part of his life’s centrality. A part pulling an enormous weight, upon which other parts depended to stand.
He repeated the lie of losing an old friend in Les vagas. And felt so bad for his wife said to have fainted in the city of Detroit on hearing the news. His wife took time to swallow the unfortunate news. The story was indeed disheartening but she was wondering whom among his friends was that since she could bet with her life she knew all his foreign intimate friends from the beginning to the end.
He read his wife’s mind and covered up. He claimed she’d never know him; she was told it’s been long, and he had known the friend who travelled from Accra to South Africa before they met in Legon University.
His wife persuaded him to take heart welcoming their daughter, who had been sad for his father’s low-spiritedness during her birthday party. Passing them, Joy refused to greet his father as usual. If things were normal, he would lift her from the ground and properly fix her buttock with his koboko, but things weren’t normal. He’s in the heart of a trouble. But the girl had been encouraged by his own aloofness for months now. Realizing his own self-made trouble was beginning to tear his family down he cried brushing his teeth in the bathroom the following morning.
The gate man refused to open the gate for him. He pressed on the beep buttons until the entire staff came out to see what was going on. More fear; he’d never be able to shun the gateman for the debasing slur and what was expected of him was to yell at Hagi and send him packing. He packed his car on the driveway and came back to greet the Peacock Dept. cleaner who opened the gate for him and answered the greetings of the top staff members nervously awaiting his reaction. They know their Forman. Everyone understood what he’s capable of doing to correct such insolence and impertinence of the highest degradation. The gateman was enjoying the loud East-African disco from his transistor radio, in a way that hinted he undermined everyone present, the Forman not excluded.
The Forman sweated. What must be done to balance the equation that seemed to be falling out of place. He must not infuriate the gateman, for a secret upon which his own title as the Forman balanced and he must not step into his office without demanding heroically and stanchly the motivation of such horrendous act of inattention. Some force seemed to bond his lips as he struggled to say a word. He stared about, seeing irritated faces of the staffs waiting for him to castigate the egotistic gateman that suddenly became fearless. That suddenly took everyone for a nobody, that suddenly decided he’d open the gate for any of the staffs he wished to , by the time he wished to. The most infuriated of all the staffs was Kabiru, the West Nigerian head of Exportation and logistics; he had always bared his mind in a moment like this; he had always said the Yorubas aren’t good for going mute when everyone is silent for the inability to say things they way they are because of fear. He had claimed to come from the family of Wole Soyinka the African Nobel laureate who’d tear off the ears of a bad government without minding it has the power to command the battalions of the armed forces of the nation after him. For the first time, he walked up to the Foreman, disregarding the bemusements of the staffs, dabbed off the sweats on the Forman’s face and told him he had just been neglected by a gateman in the brutal way he had been neglecting everyone in the past six months and now what he must do would be to get him sacked.
The word ‘sacked’ forced the gateman to lower his radio. Hagi was from the north of Nigeria. And he used the language of that part to condemn the Yoruba man with the threat of tearing him, the dan iska with dagger if he’d not respect himself and keep silent as the Foreman.
The Forman swallowed. The audacity and the incontrovertible verity he’d never be able to shun him in the way that would please the livid staffs set the Forman’s body on fire.
‘You need to be careful’ the Forman said apparently plummeting
‘What? You talked to me like that? The gateman said flailing his index finger before the Forman’s nose.
Everyone stared, stunned expecting the Forman to realize the gateman has just crossed the Rubicon, and deserved to be fired straight away.
The Forman swallowed again briskly walking into his office hallway, neglecting the yells and screams of the staffs, the yells of ‘what is going on’ ‘sack this wench’ ‘something is not normal here’.
‘No . It’s over’ the Forman said sweating and breathing profusely as he slumped in his swivel chair. He rushed up to the door, locked it and returned to the sit again. Fear has reduced him to mere rag, his wife and daughter were all angry with him. It’s now obvious he’d be sacked. The staffs would talk to the manager and it would be over. He’s been molested during staff meetings by this gateman until he wouldn’t tell if him or Hagi was the Forman of the company, and everyone was beginning to follow suit since he abruptly became tepid. No, the suffering is enough. He decided he’d fly to Singapore tomorrow, roll on the ground before the desk of the manager, detailing his crime and asking for forgiveness, if he wished to kick him out, he should go ahead. It’s better than dying secretly. It’s enough. Fear, he killed he learnt, it won’t kill him. God forbid
He drove out of the company straight to Dafo airport.
The manager was in the middle of transaction with Laso-jik eggroll company, but he rushed up to him, his Forman’s presence by the door sweating and weeping library unsettled him. He thought something was wrong with his Nigerian prominent branch.
He knelt before him, explained how something he couldn’t delineate took over his mind and forced him to play foul game with the company eggs. And how he had been molested by the gateman, how he had shared his own salary with Hagi for six months, how he had been wounded by the fear of keeping everything secret and how he had had become a nobody in the eyes of the staffs because of the disrespects from Hagi. The Forman expected the manger to scold and tag him a wicked fellow then sack him but he made him sit on his client’s chair.
He was forgiven and given outright authority to sack the gateman as he’d not be able to fly down to Nigeria with him due to some transactions on ground. He’d endorse the sack via phone if Hagi argued. He’d be sacked for keeping a secret because of money, he would keep a secret that could ruin the entire company when properly paid. The Forman could not believe the manger until he reiterated himself. The Forman flied back to Nigeria; for once full of poise and buoyancy.
The Forman called an emergency meeting. The gateman refused to show, he only listened to his transistor radio in his quater, nodding to an hausa martial song hailing Osmon dafodio. With the staffs they trooped down his quarter. The Forman slapped him and ordered him to walk out of the company in the next five seconds without any of his properties. The gate man bemusedly stared at the Forman; has he forgotten he’s the egg thief who would be sacked if the manger becomes aware. Hagi, after several slaps and shuns from the Forman called Singapore. He was shocked when the manger narrated briefly how him, the gateman caught the Forman attempting to steal the company’s eggs and decided to keep it a secret. He deserved to be sacked and the manger announced his endorsement of the sack. The Forman ordered the staffs to push him out of the gate.
For once, in six months the Foreman laughed from his own heart.