“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is a 24-year-old caterer who’s currently out of a job. He talks about how he lost his old job, losing his friend in the #EndSARS protest, the frustrations of unemployment and his plans for the future.
I can’t breathe.
And to make things worse, my inhaler is empty. My chest is tight, and I feel like tearing my heart out. I can’t breathe.
Thankfully, my alarm wakes me up. I check my phone and it says 5 a.m. I’m having nightmares again. Normally, when I wake up by this time, I’d start preparing for work. However, after the incident of last week, I no longer have a job to go to.
My routine was: wake up, say my prayers, take a bath, brush and dash for work so that I could resume for 6:30 a.m. Every week, I’d work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays to Saturdays. This time last week, I was excited about the possibilities of working in a kitchen — I was looking to learn discipline, how to make the taste of food consistent and all the new cooking methods.
It all started on Wednesday or Thursday morning last week. I was at work cooking in a closed space with only a fan and an extractor when I had my asthma crisis. It was still morning, so I hadn’t started cooking deep. I don’t remember how I survived. The last time I had this type of crisis was when I was a child. I remember feeling a pinching pain and wanting to tear my heart out. I don’t remember how my inhaler finished. I could have sworn that I used it the night before and even shook the bottle to confirm that it still had “air” inside.
I vaguely remember my brother dashing down and taking me to a nearby pharmacy with a sympathetic pharmacist and overpriced medicines. My boss was so scared by the incident that he called his boss who told me to take some time off. The next two days, I was informed not to resume. They told me that I shouldn’t come back because it was unhealthy for an asthmatic patient to be working under their kitchen conditions.
It’s been almost a week, and I still have my alarm set for 5 a.m. My body needs some time to adjust to the new reality. Until then, I’m going to pray and maybe watch some anime. I’m not in any hurry.
I’m thinking about the recent #EndSARS protests today. Truth be told, I’m usually the first person you’ll see at these things. I’m that guy who carries chest and protests for people. Last year I was in a protest in my school where students were killed, and because I witnessed those deaths, I struggled to join in the EndSARS protest.
The fear of not wanting to die can make me come off as a coward, but I’ve lost a lot of people. And believe me, when you go, people will only miss you for a bit before they move on. They’ll remember you on some days, but that’s the limit — with time, dead people become forgotten history. If I die today, I want to be remembered for generations. I don’t want to be someone that you don’t know his name when you’re remembering the deaths of the 2020 protest. I don’t want to be part of “many people died.”
That fear didn’t allow me to join the protest. I was going out one day and saw some protesters. I joined and walked with them for 5-10 mins before boarding a bus to my destination. Not up to an hour after I left, I heard there was a shooting there.
The fear just came back again. Like this is what I was saying. There was also a shooting in Ebute Metta where they killed an old friend of mine. It was sad because he wasn’t a protester. He was just a casual observer working with the LNSC, and a stray bullet hit him. I only thought about him for two days before moving on with my life. I really don’t blame anyone that doesn’t go out.
We want Nigeria to be a better place, but there are many forces kicking against it. I don’t even have fancy dreams, I just want to be the best dad for my kids. Fighting for this country is part of the process but if I’m dead, how do I even father the children I’m fighting for?
This period of unemployment has made me happier because I’ve been able to reflect. I’ve realised that you’re alone at the end of the day. You were born alone, and you have to run your race alone.
Before I started the job I lost, I was always busy. I was catering for one event or another and the jobs were back to back, so I didn’t have time to breathe. But Corona scattered plans, and everything paused. Then I had to get a job. Now that I’m unemployed without a business to fall back on, everything is boring. I can’t complain. If I do, it’ll be like I’m rushing too much. Nobody understands that I don’t want to be a liability to other people. I’m willing to survive by doing other things — I recently started a courier service in Lagos where I help people transport goods from point A to B.
I see my peers and what they’re trying to do, and I’m just there sleeping and waking up. It’s easy to feel like I’ll soon be left behind. This period has given me time to evaluate and evolve. I’ve realised that everyone experiences times like this. Truth be told, I’ve experienced frustration, boredom and depression. But I’ve made a conscious decision to get out. Something as little as gratitude has been helpful for me.
I’ve gone from having my Monday to Saturday occupied to not having anything to do. I’ve gone from my mum saying: “You’re never at home,” “How’s work?” to her saying I haven’t done house chores.
It’s all good though. What matters is that I’m in a good place, for now.
I’m hopeful that I’ll get another job. A few people I worked for have promised me jobs at the end of the year. I’ve also been trying to follow up on them. Check-ins here and there. In the meantime, I’m trying to survive here and there. Today, I realised that I haven’t even opened my school books since protests and Corona started. Not because I don’t want to but because I wish not to. I’m not in that space mentally, and I have a weird relationship with school.
I attended two schools (but I didn’t finish) before attending this one. If I had certificates from one of them, shebi I’d have used it for work during this period. The only thing I have to show is my leaving school certificate. There are many jobs I feel I’m capable of but there’s no certificate to back up my claims. I have three years of an Engineering programme at a university, two years of the same Engineering program at a college of technology. In the past when I tried to apply to Engineering companies, they took me in as a labourer. I’m not saying I’m better than them, but I felt out of place — like an oddball.
I’m going to get my degree because I think I’ve suffered enough. When a soldier goes to war, he gets a medal of valour. My certificate is going to be my reward for what I’ve gone through. My catering will still be at the forefront, but the degree would be a useful addition; a safety net for times like this.
Compared to my mates, I haven’t lived. I want to travel. I want to go hiking, biking, mountain climbing. I want to live a stable life for my kids. Most importantly, I just want to live while I still have that crazy, youthful energy.