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The International Writers Magazine: Oil on Troubled Waters

Strains of Paradise
Oluwatobi Odetola
Ouch! My finger tips are hurting. I pray I have not got frostbite. Here I’m – thousands of miles away from my roots – staring with forlorn at this white mountain made of snow.


There are just six of us toiling to ensure the mobility of the residents of this posh neighbourhood; all clad in thick clothing and looking like Eskimos with no igloos. Shovels, blowtorches, whiskey and cigarettes which were the closest to living things around, kept us company. Do I need to say two of my colleagues are of the same nationality as mine, one is from Ghana and one from Jamaica?

Suddenly, my mobile phone brings out of my reverie. I’ve got an international call. The moment I hit on the green button, the unmistakable boom of Femi's voice impinge on my eardrums. The guy's got a voice comparable only to a lion's roar.

After the usual greetings, teasing banter and rounds of laughter, the talk took on a serious tone. On my prompting, he told me how things were working for him in Nigeria. He was working in one of the most prestigious law firm in Lagos and moving into his own house next year. His wife, Nneoma is expecting their third child by December. He then asked me how life was treating me in the land of our former colonial masters. Being my bosom friend – from whom I could hide no secret – I  started to tell him of my predicament but the sounds which came out were that my sobs.

Tears hitherto held back, swiftly bowed to gravity whose commands they had defiantly disobeyed for several years. Years of utter frustration and hopelessness. When it seemed as if I had achieved my newfound quest to empty my share of the world’s salty fluid in one single attempt, while Femi waited quietly, I began to tell the story of my ill-fated odyssey. I narrated my flight across Britain with Immigration hot in pursuit. He gasped when I reeled out names of the cities I had taken refuge in. London, Birmingham, Dublin, Aberdeen, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Dundee, Middlesbrough to mention a few. The list is really endless. I even told him about the temporary respite my arranged marriage to that bitchy white girl, Megan gave me until she kicked me out when an argument over my refusal to scrub the bathroom for the umpteenth time boiled over. I told Femi my survival skills were so honed I could survive even in the evil South American jungles

My eyes reminded me of my pseudo-victory when I described the numerous jobs that I had done, most of which the locals turn up their noses at. From flipping scorching hamburgers and pizza in blazing ovens with my bare hands to washing dead bodies in the morgue, even changing diapers in an old people's home. I made him realise my case was worse than living from hand to mouth.

In a bid to brighten the sour mood and take the focus off my dire situation, I asked about our mutual friends. He said Emeka Umeh is now a Senior Registrar in Internal Medicine at the Lagos university Teaching Hospital, Lagos; Seun Johnson is now a much-sought after executive officer in a new generation bank in Abuja, John David now owns a PR consulting firm etcetera. My sour mood could only get worse.

He promised to find me when he visits Manchester later in the year for an international conference. He encouraged me to hang on like the fighter that I was. I thanked him for listening and we said our goodbyes.

Then, the reality of what I just heard sank in. I sat on a nearby pavement and pondered how I got here. My mind – for probably the thousandth time – replayed my life story.

At age 12, my father used to tell anyone that cared to listen that I am the most brilliant of my lineage. His boastful claims were not without basis.. I blasted my way through numerous science competitions and passed WAEC O’ level exams effortlessly. The University entry examination fell like a pack of cards before me and I was offered admission into the prestigious University of Lagos to study Petroleum and Gas Engineering. At that time, I seemed to be destined for big leagues.

However, the journey to this quagmire began when Uncle Jide – who had just returned from the United Kingdom – suggested that I write the Cambridge ‘A’ level exams. He claimed that I was too bright to be languishing in ‘one Nigerian university’ ill-equipped to train a potential Nobel Prize winner.

I bought into his now obviously warped logic and conned my parents in order to buy the registration forms. Of course, I passed and was offered admission in a midlevel school in the UK. Despite my father's protests – because I was in my second year in the university and the huge cost involved – I travelled with the help of Uncle Jide.

On arrival at my new school, I realised I could not get the loans and scholarships hitherto promised. I had no choice but to take up odd jobs so as to be able to pay the tuition fees and fight off the pangs of hunger. However, when the debts began to overwhelm me, I dropped out of school. The realisation that my dreams of being one of the world’s foremost scientists were all but over brought the profound depression into the innermost recesses of my very being although the sudden threat of death from starvation brought me back on my feet.
No sooner than my student visa expired, the Immigration hounds came calling. Even Schumacher would be green with envy even at the speed at which I raced around the entire Great Britain to currently take refuge in Manchester when I seemed under the radar.

Then, this Mutallab boy! No thanks to him, I lost my plum job of an office cleaner. The advance fee fraudsters and credit card scammers have already made it difficult for us to get decent jobs but this wannabe ‘underpants bomber’ just made life harder for most Nigerians on exile abroad. My Cameroonian friend, Pierre has been teaching me French so I could pass off as his kinsman ever since.

I've not spoken to my family in eight years. If I had listened to my father, I would probably be one bright engineer in the employ one multinational oil company now, directing hordes of workmen and not shovelling away in the snow.

Damn the Golden Fleece. I've decided to swallow my pride. To the land of my fathers, I shall return and attempt to start my life all over again.
©  oluwatobi odetola Feb 2011

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