The Handshake: A Short Story
This is a work of fiction.
When Enebeli lands a job in the Central Medical Stores in the city of Lagos, little does he know how his life is about to change following the august visit of an international rock star and a timely handshake.
It was Karunwi who told Enebeli about the vacancy for a security guard at the Central Medical Stores — assuring him, with the authority of someone who knows about such things, that the pay was excellent and the hours were flexible. Enebeli respected his friend’s opinion when it came to jobs. Karunwi had made the right job choices and was now approaching his tenth year as a company driver for a large multinational corporation. It was a high paying job with a myriad of benefits, and when he wore the company uniform, Karunwi had a remarkable aura of respectability and dignity. So far, he had had two bosses who had heavy travel schedules. Their prolonged absences meant that Karunwi would always have the company car – always the latest model from Toyota- at his disposal as was the case today, as the two men sat in the popular Mama Calabar restaurant, strategically near a window with ample view of the car to observe any attempt at mischief. Karunwi had just devoured a large portion of edikaikong with pounded yam and succulent goat meat. The massive belch he had released a few seconds before was enough to register the sense of contentment that he felt after the meal. Enebeli watched his friend in admiration. Pride had prevented him from joining him and Karunwi’s offers of ‘Come and Eat’ had been politely declined. Instead, he chose to slowly nurse a bottle of Fanta orange and munch on the complimentary chin chin provided by the good people at Mama Calabar.
He continued to listen as Karunwi explained the position to him. The Central Medical Stores had recently been refurbished and was under new management. “They got foreign money, and they have AC in the warehouse,” Karunwi said with the knowledge of an insider. This was good news for Enebeli, and the icing on the cake was that the Central Medical Stores was just a twenty-minute okada ride from the house where he rented a room. He needed a better job more than anything. His present position working as a salesperson for Chief’s real estate company was pulling him back from the goals that he had set for himself. Chief was the most tightfisted Shylock he had come across. He always found a reason to deduct this and that from the measly salary he was paying. Enebeli and the other salespeople were the ones who were busy canvassing Lagos under the hot sun for paltry returns while Chief sat in his fully air-conditioned office barking orders. It would be good for Enebeli to have a job where he could enjoy free air-conditioning for a change. This was the sort of situation that he had hoped and prayed for.
A week later his prayers are answered. The employment verification process was rather swift – two people had vouched for his upright character, he had passed a short English test, undergone a half-day training session, received three sets of uniform and he was all set. His duties were pretty simple: as an indoor security guard, he was one step above the outdoor security guards whose mundane tasks included opening and closing the iron gates that barricaded the premises and also watering the plants that were in the compound. The Central Medical Stores needed security guards round the clock. Enebeli was part of a team of security guards who worked in shifts to oversee the warehouse where all the pharmaceuticals were kept, some of them were in cold rooms, and some of them were under lock and key because as controlled substances it was vital that they did not get into the wrong hands. He was on the day shift which was when the most active period. Representatives from hospitals and other medical stores in the region passed through the Central Medical Stores to have their orders processed, and he was the first person they would see on entry as he needed to check their bags on their way in and on their way out. He also had a walkie-talkie which he and the other security guards around the massive warehouse used to communicate with each other and their supervisor – Mr. Abayomi whose tiny office was in a corner at the very end of the warehouse.
Enebeli had been working in the Central Medical Stores for close to two months when Mr. Abayomi announced at a morning meeting, that the international rock star Bono was touring medical facilities in Lagos, and the Central Medical Stores was one of his stops. The day time security guards were expected to be present and on high alert when he was visiting. Enebeli did not know much about Bono and kept quiet when, after the meeting, an argument erupted among two of the guards one of whom swore that Bono was a rap singer who had done a duet with the late Tupac Shakur. It was Felix, one of the more enlightened ones in their group who had quelled this absurd claim by whipping out his cellphone and sharing a YouTube video of Bono singing with his group U2. Another round of arguments followed as Felix chastised the other security guard for making him waste his cellular data on such frivolities. Then the guards resumed their positions.
On the day of Bono’s visit, everything went seamlessly well. He and his entourage entered the warehouse with minimal fanfare and as he toured the facility the building was abuzz with his presence. All the security guards were acutely attentive at their duty posts. Mr. Abayomi stood at the entrance with Enebeli and two other guards, and they remained there until Bono and his entourage were ready to leave. It was the first time that Enebeli had seen anyone famous up close. In the days leading up to his visit, Enebeli had also looked up YouTube videos of Bono on his phone just to get acquainted with his music, and now here he was only a few feet away from him.
As Bono approached them, Enebeli genuflected.
It was the sort of reflex action that you would do to someone that you revered, and it was not until he was doing this that he realized it. Bono adjusted his trademark glasses and walked purposefully towards Enebeli with his arms wide open. There was a momentary hesitation as Enebeli was confused and thought he was in trouble, but the enormous smile on Bono’s face convinced him otherwise. He stole a glance at Mr. Abayomi, but the latter was looking straight ahead, his face expressionless. The Director of the Central Medical Stores, whose side Bono had left to come towards Enebeli, was also smiling widely, beaming with pride. At that instant, Enebeli remembered something that Mr. Abayomi had told them during induction: “If your boss is happy, then you are doing the right thing.” The Director of the Central Medical Stores was less clearly pleased, judging from his smiling face, and so Enebeli also smiled. His mother had once told him that his smile was his best feature and it transformed his face, and when he remembered this, he put his smile on full wattage.
It was a smile bright enough to light the darkest room. His mother would be so proud.
He and Bono were now standing shoulder to shoulder, and before Enebeli knew what was happening, Bono had grabbed his hand in a firm handshake. The rock star was saying something, but Enebeli could not make out his accent. All the people who had accompanied Bono were smiling and laughing. He and Bono were now shaking hands like long lost friends who had been reunited after years apart. Their greeting had now evolved to the point where Bono had his other hand around Enebeli’s shoulder and was saying something which was undoubtedly pleasing to those gathered judging from all the laughter that had now erupted around them.
One of the photographers who had accompanied Bono as part of his tour now gestured to the two of them so that he could take a photo. Enebeli would always remember this man – an avuncular-looking gentleman whose hair was graying at the sides. The effortless manner with which he handled the camera exuded reverence, wisdom, and experience. He snapped away while Bono continued to talk animatedly and Enebeli continued to smile widely. The moment was captured for posterity.
And then, it came to an end. The handshake over.
Enebeli did not know what else to do, and he rubbed his hands together. Bono was back at the side of the Director of the Central Medical Stores who threw a smiling glance in Enebeli’s direction, causing him to adjust his cap and salute him.
As the group left, the other security guards started to mill around Enebeli excited at what had just transpired. Many lamented that they had not been allowed to use their cellphones to take selfies with Bono, the good-natured rock star would undoubtedly have welcomed it. Others wondered out loud how Enebeli could get a copy of his photo with Bono. A few recommended that if Enebeli ever got the photo, he should make it his profile picture on Facebook. Mr. Abayomi loudly reminded the security guards that they were still on duty and each of them went back to their duty post. Enebeli was reeling pride and joy. Out of all the security guards on duty that day Bono had been drawn to him. It was an irrefutable fact that his luck was shining. The question remained: how would he be able to get a copy of that photo?
He did not have to wait much longer.
The next morning, Enebeli was woken by a loud and violent banging on his door. A voice he did not recognize was calling his name. He wondered who could be making such a ruckus this early in the morning. The voice on the other end identified himself as Alariwo. Alariwo was a community musician that Enebeli knew in the neighborhood. He did not think much of him because the latter did not have a steady job and if he was not promoting some musical show, he was always looking to borrow money.
What could Alariwo be doing at his door this early in the morning? He opened the door slightly. He was still sleepy and knew he still had a few hours of sleep before he had to get ready for work.
Alariwo beamed at him.
“Ol’ boi, wetin now?” Enebeli asked groggily.
“You be super-star o!’ Alariwo declared.
Enebeli was getting irritated and was trying to find the right words to respond, when he noticed that Alariwo was holding a copy of the national newspaper in front of him and pointing to the front page. There was his photo with Bono, taken the previous day. He snatched the paper from Alariwo.
Sleep disappeared from his face immediately as he peered at his smiling face shaking hands with Bono. The caption underneath the photo said: Bono makes friends at the Central Medical Stores in Lagos. Enebeli could not believe this.
He had gone to bed agonizing about how he could get this photo, but here it was for the whole world to see. Alariwo was saying something, but Enebeli was not listening.
A million thoughts were competing for his attention in his head. It was like a dream come true. He looked up at Alariwo and realized that he had to dismiss him.
“Make I borrow this one from you abeg,” he said, referring to the paper.
Alariwo hesitated and then shrugged saying “No problem. Me and you go talk later. E get one music show wey you go help me with o” and nodding at the paper. “As per your levels don change now.”
Enebeli smiled uneasily and muttered, “Yes, ehnn, later.”
He shut the door to his room and bolted it.
He looked at the paper again, and Alariwo’s words echoed in his ears. His levels had indeed changed. Who would have thought he would meet an international rock star? Who would have thought he would have his photo taken with him? Who would have thought that the same picture would make headline news?
By now, more people would have seen the paper. He scrambled around the room and looked for his phone.
Just as he had suspected. Eleven missed calls and seven text messages. He read the latest text message.
It was from Kuburat. Ehen. So upon all her shakara, Kuburat could pick up her phone and send him a message.
After all the unanswered text messages he had sent her, her message now screamed at him: “Na wa for you o. Call me sha!” She had sent him a photo of the front page of the newspaper. There were two missed calls from his friend Karunwi and Enebeli dialed his number.
The lady with the sweet voice from MTN informed him that the person he was calling was not available and he should try back later. Karunwi was probably driving which was why he could not pick up the phone.
As he started to lay the phone down, it buzzed indicating that another message was coming in. Enebeli looked at the screen, it was from a number that was not stored on his phone but the message was signed Alariwo. He let out a long hiss, hoping that this Alariwo character did not become a nuisance. His levels had changed. Alariwo was just a community singer. Enebeli had rubbed shoulders with rock royalty. He was looking at the paper, admiring his smile when his phone buzzed again.
“This Alariwo bobo should free me nah…” he started to say, but then he noticed that the number was not Alariwo’s.
t was his landlady: Madam Omoboriowo. Her texts were always short and to the point as was this one informing him that the rent for the room was going to increase by twenty thousand naira effective immediately.
It seemed that the news had spread like wildfire and the handshake with Bono would have its benefits as well as its complications.