By Prof Gabriel Osoba

The thirty-one day month ended on a note of no-pay-yet for the workers at the Ministry of Work, Labour and Unproductivity. Since the 27th of the month, hopes of a salary payment had been raised and dashed on a daily basis. Each rise and fall of expectation had made the workers emotionally unstable.

The 18th of the succeeding month surfaced before the pay could arrive, first at the bursary unit and later at the various banks of salary destinations. The cause of the delay had always been left for speculations: insufficient fund in the treasury or money in fixed deposit to generate interests for greedy leaders. Nonetheless, it was the likes of Osise who complained all day long while the principal actors in the delay were aloof to the plight of the workers.

Like one whose nerves had been excited by wine, Osise rushed to the Bank on the pay day to pick his once-in-a-month visitor. He checked his pay slip to be sure of what to draw. He discovered that his take-home-pay would be N10,000.00 less than the usual salary. The tax deducted was more than the one of the previous month. He knew what he would be told if he should make enquiry. He had not filled his tax form these past months. Now the month of vengeance had come. Another critical look at the paper revealed another source of deduction: cooperative society loan to be deducted from May to April of the following year. But why these deductions that had made the May salary to become lean? May 1: a happy day to celebrate the workers; May 31: a sad day to mourn the pay that would come one day and depart within four days! His pay slip had provided more food for thought than for the stomach.

He trekked to the nearby bank and with his ATM card, withdrew the salary, and counted the money in dirty and not so dirty notes for correct amount.

No sooner had he left the bank and stepped into the oppressive heat of the sun than his eyes and Tunde’s met. Mind spoke to mind. They had to move away to a place where the umbrella- like canopy of a mango tree was offering some shade. There, a transaction, which made Osise’s purse lighter, took place. He could not afford to be an ingrate to Tunde who lent him the N5,000.00 to buy the rescue drugs for his wife when she was in the hospital.

He was about to climb the stairs that would lead to his office when he came in contact with Mama Book-me-down, the Manageress of Daily Food Bukateria. The obese woman always reserved her serpentine tongue for customers who would not pay their debt on pay day. Osise had to “settle” her. N2,000.00 took a flight from his pocket.

Frightening thoughts had begun to settle on his mind by the time he was at his duty post. He took a piece of paper to calculate the distance the rest of his pay could cover in the 31-40 or 50 day journey. So, many speed-breakers on the road! N 10,000, Electricity bill, N7,000.00 for buy-now-and-pay-later food items and a textbook on Mathematics plus four big notes for Tolu, his first daughter – N4000.00. Transport fare for the month – N15,000… kitchen allowance for madam – N20,000.

He paused, beat his lower lip with the tip of his biro trying to recall other people to see on the pay day. Abruptly, he stopped the remembrance train. The debt burden was crushing his spirit and his body was no longer at ease.

Osise looked up to the ceiling, then down. He shook his head left – right, right-left several times and dropped his care-worn face on the table. His big boss who walked in to request a file on Contracts and Contractors saw him and queried, “sleeping on duty?” Osise lifted his head and kept mute to retain his sanity while the boss sermonized on the dignity of labour, of being a responsible and productive worker, of being a patriot, of being a…

But the more people Osise remembered he had to see on the pay day, the sadder he became, the closer to the grave he felt. Had the boss not just preached to a working corpse?

Gabriel Osoba is a Professor of English (Stylistics), Department of English, Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos.

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