It was Mr. Thomas’ forth time of visiting the local government that week and it was still the same story.
He wore a worn out brown trouser that was well ironed, a white shirt, black belt and black shoes to match, the shoes were bent by the corner, it looked like he has worn it across the globe. He held his portfolio tightly, his hair was gray and well-trimmed, he walked in smiling to the people at the reception, they greeted him like they are used to seeing him.
He watched as people walked in and out of the office, he wondered if it is still going to be the same as him with the young men that sat in the office.
“They don’t know what the world holds for them after here” he murmured.
30years ago, he also sat there as a young man attending to the people that came to the local government for their local government identification card, he remembered how he worked with pride, shouting at people that failed to provide all the information needed for their local government identification.
The office held a lot of memory for him; it was there he met his wife, Ngozi.
That day she had come to get Local government identification for her admission. She looked flashy with her afro curl and wedge shoes; she wore a flared gown with a tiny belt, she walked to his table and said, “I am here for my Local government identification” and he said, “That’s why I am here.” He smiled and she blushed.
He did not take her to bar like other men do but instead took her to meet his parents, they got married three weeks later. Abel, who was his colleague, then offered his Volkswagen for his wedding.
Abel died 3years ago from stroke. He still remembered how Abel teased anytime he came to work with food from his wife, “Thomas, since you got married, you have started eating well.” they would laugh and eat the food together.
He was the only one that he was close to, they played draft at the game house every Saturday and watched community match on Sundays, it was a memory he didn’t want to forget.
“Same story oo, we haven’t heard from them.” the fair lady seated at the entrance of the office told him.
The smile on his face faded immediately. It was already 5years since he retired but his pension is still not paid.
He stepped out to meet other pensioners seated under the tree, they all looked like they were in the same age. Charles, whom he also worked in the same office with then was talking to the others, he looked healthier than the rest. He wore a blue senator, well-polished black shoe, a gold wrist watch, his glasses glued to his eyes. He dyed his hair black to hide his gray hair but you could still see the gray from the root of his hair. His skin had no patches on them like the man that sat on the root of the tree. Mr. Thomas remembered the man’s face from the conference they attended the year he retired, he looked tattered like he was coming from the farm. Another man who sat next to him didn’t look familiar to Mr. Thomas, he was eating groundnut and looked like he wasn’t bothered about his pension being paid or not. Mr. Charles kept talking and demonstrating while the rest watched and nodded.
“The government doesn’t care about the retired, they just want us to starve to death.” the only woman among them stated.
She also looked healthy but older, she looked like she was in her late sixties, she had a long gray hair that sat beautifully on her shoulders.
“Maybe they have eaten the money.” Another man chipped in.
Mr. Thomas made to join them but changed his mind and walked towards the gate, he was visibly sad.
His last child was 25years and preparing for his NYSC. His wife’s illness drained him.
His first son could barely survive with his salary, the first daughter was the only one that had a decent job, the whole family burden was on her shoulder and it made him sad.
He didn’t know when tears rolled down his eyes, he was sobbing. He thought of the times he was younger, the father asked him and his younger brother to choose between business and education, he chose education while his brother chose business.
His brother had followed their uncle to Onitsha where he served his Oga and was settled.
The house he stayed with his family was built by his brother.
The sound of a car jolted him to reality, he didn’t realize he was walking in the middle of the road, the driver came down, it was Mr. Charles.
He led him to his car, “Mr. Thomas what were you thinking walking in the middle of the road.” he scolded him.
He drove Lexus 330 that was bought for him by his son. Mr. Charles never felt like he was retired, his first daughter was a nurse in Germany, his first son a pilot while his last son was an entertainer.
Mr. Thomas admired how life has been for him. He chatted like he had no worries and laughed at every sentence he made.
He drove Mr. Thomas to the beer parlor at the junction.
“How has life been for you?” he asked Mr. Thomas as soon they settled down. Mr. Thomas shrugged and said nothing. It has been decades since he lied against Mr. Charles but he still felt the guilt anytime he is around him.
He looked at Mr. Charles and bent his head.
“Do you always have to act like I did nothing bad to you?” he looked up to see if Mr. Charles was listening to him.
“What?” Mr. Charles asked with a perplexed look, even though he heard him correctly.
“I have nothing against you, what is important to me now is how to bring you out from the state you are in. you look pathetic.”
He could still remember it like yesterday, he and Abel had blackmailed Mr. Charles so he would be removed from their office as they never liked his guts.
They lied against him taking their money and left money inside his drawer, he was searched and suspended for theft.
“I forgave you long ago.” Mr. Thomas looked relived.
He often wanted to apologize to him but he didn’t know the best time to do it.
“I met Onwa at Onyi’s burial last week, you remember Onwa?” Mr. Charles changed the discussion.
“I don’t remember him.” Ikenna said with a tone that shows he was trying to recall who Onwa was.
“The young man that did her IT with us 10years ago, he is now a big boy.”
He nodded to show he remembered “Wow, he is lucky.”
“What other options do you have to feed?” Mr. Charles asked with a tone of concern that sounded like pride to Thomas.
The waiter served them their drink, Thomas gulped his own like water, he took another bottle and then another one, he became tipsy and spoke freely.
He talked about how his wife’s salary has never increased; he talked about how his brother’s wife talked to him like a child anytime they visited home and finally his Children’s inability to make money like their age mates.
“I understand how you feel; I would have been in the same situation too if I wasn’t lucky to have my kids and wife”
“Mr. Charles, you won’t understand, I have nothing in my name, nothing to show for the 40yrs I worked, I felt more would always come till 40yrs passed me by, I can’t even finish he house I started building 20years ago.” A tear dropped from his eyes, he felt like his world was crumbling on him.
“Sorry.” Charles said sorry, even though it wouldn’t make him feel better.
He watched the once vibrant Mr. Thomas struggling to stop tears from dropping from his eyes, he felt pity for him.
“The best I can do is to help find jobs for your kids, the government is dealing with all of us, some of us are just lucky.” Mr. Charles patted him on his shoulders.
He asked for his account details, transferred 20,000 naira to him and told to tell the kids to send their CV to him.
Mr. Thomas got home feeling better but still wondered if Mr. Charles will help his children get a good job or not.
He walked into the balcony, where the wife normally sat in the evening. The ray from the evening sun was directly on Ngozi’s face and it made her glow. Her eyes were swollen like she had been crying, she quickly cleaned her tears with the edge of her wrapper when Thomas walked in.
Since she fell sick and became paralyzed, she had been indoors and only left the house on her checkup days.
She still had her curly hair which had turned grey.
“Are you crying?” he bent down to get a glimpse of her face. She withdrew from him and smiled.
“Don’t think too much, things will soon change for us.”
“You sound happy, were you paid?” she asked him.
“I ran into Mr. Charles today; do you remember him?” she nodded to show she remembered.
“He promised to give the kids jobs through his children and he gave me some money” Mr. Thomas smiled.
“God bless him, I still hope there will be another means of getting money.” She didn’t sound excited like he thought. It pained her more that her husband couldn’t get his pension and gratuity after many years of being a civil servant.
He wheeled back into the sitting room; he opened the refrigerator. The top shelf was stacked with water bottles that they refilled with tap water. He picked one and drank.
He picked her medication from the top of the fridge and gave her. She swallowed them and squeezed her face.
“Till now you find it difficult to take pills.” She teased him and they laughed.
Thomas left his wife in the sitting room and went into his room, he sat at the edge of the bed with his hands on his laps. He picked his phone and called his three kids, repeating the same thing to them.
“Call this number I sent to you and tell him your father asked you to.”
When he was done, he sighed and lay still on the bed. The sound of the ceiling fan made him restless, he stood up and switched it off.
Two weeks later, Thomas still called his children everyday hoping to get a positive call from them. He sat outside listening to the radio. He liked watching people pass In front of the gate every morning replying to their greetings.
A call came in from his first son, he picked the call, “Daddy, I got the job.” He could hear the happiness in his voice from the end. It felt like a burden was lifted from his shoulders. For the first time in the past five years, he was genuinely happy.
“It seems we are about to smile again.” He said as he broke the news to his wife.