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Issue 18 Cover by Cass Garrison.jpg

Fahmidan Journal / Issue 18 

Who Will Pay the Workers?

By Chimezie Chika

The shovels are already stacked inside the warehouse and the workers are at the tap washing off the gritty lime of caked cement from their bodies, talking loudly in the quick breath-and-stop of the gratefully exhausted. Having already collected their wages, they cannot wait to besiege the roadside eateries and beer parlours. 

The site looks haphazard the way such sites do, the blocks and planks and rods and scabs of mortar strewn all over, ready to welcome the grinding and straining and sweating of the labourers the next day. The barren mango tree—where they usually sit to have their midday rest and eat afternoon meals of either abacha or beans-and-plantain or bread-and-coke bought from the many hawkers that visit the site every day—is the only greenery in the large plot of land. 

Evening has come now with a violent breeze that leaves the earthy taste of dust in their mouths as they filed out of the gate, a close-knit group of thin, sinewy men longing for food and a taste of beer. These are simple men and it takes nothing much to make them happy: food and beer and wives will take most of their wages tonight but they will be back here again in the morning, hungry and bereft, and ready to work and strain towards the surety of their daily wage in the evening. 

The restaurants first: food bukas crowded with the poor working class and blue-collar workers, where fufu and egusi soup are served without the complications of ‘proper’ etiquette or ceremonial niceties. A medley of aromas and hot steam hanging thick in the room. These famished men eat simply out of a desire to fill their bellies, not taste the food. Each man puts away three or four wraps of fufu in one go and licks the soup plate clean without shame. And after paying for the food, they will move to the nearby beer parlours. Three or four bottles later, you will hear their choral voices singing the tipsy songs of the progressively drunk—voices that know those bawdy lyrics by heart, yet shaky, elliptic, and stuttering. 

They will be alright mehn. Don’t worry. Some will even be able to bring home sizable amounts of those wages (or some paltry change) to their wives at home. Those who will not, they will meet crying and scolding and recriminations and physical fights. And sometimes the night squabbles might wake the sleeping children, some of whom—in the families of the most short-sighted of the men—would have gone to bed hungry. 

As for me, I lock the gate after the workers and drive onto the main road, turning away from the big Chivita billboard to the right, still thinking about the men’s future. It makes sense to indulge these thoughts after work, for no wife or partner awaits me at home, no chattering children or home-cooked food. I do not, I suppose, have the temperament of a normal civil engineer in this country whose visions circle around the limits of measurements, quantities and financial estimates of construction. Not me. 

I did not choose this life; this life of exchanging one dusty or squelchy construction site for another. I had once wanted a deep life. I wanted to sing, you know, to be a musician of the people, a Highlife musician singing about the life I had known all my life in this rowdy city of toil and mushrooming markets. I still held that dream as late as my university years ten years ago (I remember the band I formed with Ikenna and Ada—Ada and many, many warm nights o, chai!—and our weekend gigs in those open-air joints and uwamgbede bars); but this country has a way of pushing dreams away when survival becomes the uppermost thing in a young person’s thoughts, like, the in-thing. 

Already on the highway, the mottled grey sky begging to release dim specks of stars, driving quickly past the yellow glow of the willowy street lights, I do not hear on time the oncoming screech of the 18-tire trailer with failed brakes. The hour of my death comes to me so unexpectedly. I have not paid my mother’s monthly allowance for this month yet; my clothes at the dry cleaner’s . . . That nice girl, Maris, I started talking to her recently, it’s moving fine, it’s moving like those toy cars I owned almost three decades ago, no my mum will manage, I have willed it all to her, that’s a foresight, not that I have ever been that reasonable though; I have always dreamt of owning a vinyl record, a house by a small lake with trees, you can imagine; I have dreamt many times of just lounging in an airy room and playing music on that hoped-for vinyl; you know, the sort of music I love, you know, mainly classical music, Highlife, country ditties, blues; and how I never took my dreams by the horns I do not know, but for sure that site will not be opened tomorrow, at least not by me, and so who will pay the workers their evening wages, so they could wash off dry cement from their bodies and eat and drink and sing the song of the exhausted who have learnt, like sensible people, not to dream or think too much?

Chimezie Chika

Chimezie Chika

Author / 

Chimezie Chika is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. His works have appeared in or forthcoming from, amongst other places, The Shallow Tales Review, The Republic,, Lolwe, Iskanchi Mag, Isele Magazine, Efiko Magazine, and Afrocritik. A finalist for the J.F. Powers Prize for Fiction (2024), he was a 2021 Fellow of the Ebedi International Writers’ Residency in Iseyin, Nigeria. He is presently the Fiction Editor of Ngiga Review and currently resides in Nigeria.

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