You hate Mondays. You get your weekly wages on this day, but you still hate it. And today is just like every other Monday at this Chinese flip-flop manufacturer where you work. The manufacturing hall is just as unbearably hot–hotter than the machine that cakes the rubbers into their formatted shapes—and it t swarms with german german workers who only want to work for a few days. The machine scalds, burns through the wool gloves on your already peeling hands–caused by too much contact with hot water. Loud chatter mixes with cacophonous smells, meshed with white smoke that erupts from the machine exit space each time a flip flop is completed.
Nwabugo, next to you, has complained all morning about Chung, the only Chinese supervisor whose name you and the rest of the factory workers know (his name tag is the only one not written in Chinese ideograms). He says Chung is being too bossy today. Nwabugo earlier told of how he saw Chung leaning his lithe, Cowbell milk frame over a shorter man. Nwabugo said Chung berated the man for not cutting off the long rubber under the flip flops to a slim shortness.
“That man is old enough to give birth to him, tin ye jara,” Nwabugo spits now. You can see how irritated he is, has been, and will be for the rest of the working hours.
“I bet he’s fresh from one of their Chinese secondary schools,” you reply. Then you see Chung leaning on the office door and sipping from a transparent flask filled with greenish water and things that look like tiny cockroaches. Chinese Tea.
Nwabugo continues to say that Chung would be nothing more than twenty years, and that if he brings his rubbish here, he will wring the boy’s chicken-like neck. But you’re not paying attention, because as though you telepathically call him, Chung turns and winks at you.
And you wink back.
The night is cold, but you welcome it with open arms. It banishes the hotness of your skin. You have walked past Nwabugo’s junction, and instead of walking further to catch a danfo at the bus stop, you turn back, past the blue factory gates.
Your leather slippers slap the concrete floor as you make your way to the motel where you’re certain Chung awaits you. He will be naked, and sprawled on the bed that smells of Omo detergent, his skin smooth and translucent as always, melding perfectly with your cocoa skin. After the first round, he will slip out of bed with the ease of a snake, go over to the only table in the best motel room, and turn on the radio that sits there.
He likes to listen to Wazobia FM. He says the Pidgin English reminds him of where he is.
“So very Nigerian, really,” he will say. Chung speaks with an under-developed American accent. His words spill out at a velocity that can only be comprehended by paying extra attention. But he speaks better English than his colleagues who produce English that makes Pidgin sound melodious.
Maybe because he grew up in Korea. The first night you both were together, he asked where you were from and you said, “Anambra”. He spent the rest of the night rolling the word around his tongue. You try to remember how he eventually said it, but your memory fails you.
Unprompted, he told you that his father is Chinese but his mother is Korean. He said he spent his early years in China, and went on for College study in Seoul. You don’t care really. They’re all the same. They all still speak Panya.
He likes talking about Korea, about his eccentric friends whose pictures he has on the butter-coloured motel walls, as though he intends to stay there forever. The pictures show the different weather conditions in which they were taken. There’s one where Chung stands on the left of a group, his brown hair picked up lightly by the wind, leaning too close over a stout man about his age. Another has a snowy background, he and his group scattered about, their bodies buried inside heavy jackets and cardigans.
After your ritual of eating Suya from pepper-soiled used newspapers with slices of cucumber, eye-watering onions, and dried pepper, you ask him about the Nigerian he was maltreating. He says nothing, but you press on, with the commanding tone that nobody knows you exert over him.
You have wondered what Nwabugo would do if he knew of this power you have. He will ask you to make Chung push the Nigerian supervisors–who keep half of the original factory workers’ wages to themselves–to pay him, Nwabugo, his stipulated wage. He will ask you to tell Chung to stop treating your people like rubbish. He would request for many things, and then he will get curious, and he will find out.
Later, after a third round of mounting his body, he tells you he is sorry, that he is stressed, that his father is dying in Japan–that’s why he’s here working. He tells you of the Engineering School he intends to still go to.
He says many more things, then you cradle him, and he drifts quietly into sleep beside you. Your mind wanders back to Nwabugo and what he would have said had he been here. Something like, “Indi anu ofia.” Animals of the bush.
In Lagos, it is compulsory for one to have something to do. You are expected to wake up as soon as the first danfo zooms past, or the piercing cries of conductors rouse one from sleep. You have to fight over the one bathroom you and the many neighbours share. It is considered typical for you to dress up and leave the apartment you share with friends, whether you have somewhere to go or not. Even if it means you have to go visit someone just to keep up appearances.
But you got tired of visiting all in your queer circles. You woke up, dressed up, and took long walks in a quest to get away from it all. It was on one of these days that you came upon the factory estate at Agbara, and found yourself waiting in front of a factory gate along with many chattering people. Their faces had unsettling determination, the kind that implied that by hook or crook, they intended to bag the job.
In search of a nice and approachable face, Nwabugo came up to you from behind and, like a child with hope for a candy, asked:
“Nwa nnem, okwi buo onyi igbo?”
My brother are you Igbo?
Just how you didn’t know you would stumble onto the restless wannabe workers, that same way you didn’t know they wouldn’t ask for your flawless CV, or care to know about your managerial skills. They just sent a delegate, a stocky Nigerian man who, despite the rough spots on his skin– especially on his face–looked well fed, a kind of undeserved well-being.
“You there, oya come.” He pointed, extending a robust and black finger at a man with tribal marks on his mud-coloured face.
“Hey, boy oya come.”
“You wey put earpiece for ear.”
He kept saying this until he called Nwabugo, and then you. With no apologies to the other wannabe employees outside the gate, he ushered in all you selected and soon-to-be-employed factory workers through the smaller gate. You waited behind, until the others had stopped shuffling and pushing at one another to get in first, for the fear that the delegate’s mind might me changed.
The Nigerian supervisor asked you and the others to refer to the Chinese men as Masters. All of them, whether it is the one with button eyes and a shock of grey hair that sits in the office reviewing forms, or the slim woman with charcoal-dark hair patrolling the factory like her other Chinese brothers. In the many weeks to come, it will come to your notice how overly superior he acts while speaking with people like himself, and how overly servile he is with the Chinese Masters.
Chung hits a man to death.
Yesterday, you thought he would stop, but today, he seems crazy, animalistic, wild. He hits a worker, a few inches shorter than he is, into one of the steel working tables. Everyone becomes quiet and still, only the active machines making their usual noises, interrupting the silence.
At the far end of the hall where a group of women package the cooled flip flops into crisp nylons, a woman’s voice rings out so loud it mutes the obnoxious machines.
“Yee! Oti pan yan oh!”
He has killed someone.
Like a Go! whistle at a competition, chaos ensues.
You are outside the factory gates, standing beside a man chanting along with many other factory workers:
“We no go gree oh, we no go gree! We no go gree oh , we no go gree!”
It is many hours after before policemen arrive in a truck that has obviously seen better days. The Nigerian supervisor ushers them into a private office, and when they come out, they order the dead man’s body to be carried away, and for Chung to be taken to a safe place. Chung is bundled into a sleek black car, probably to China.
People are still shouting. Nwabugo, protesting with the others since the murder, had rushed out with the many that went after Chung–who’d tried to escape. They’d come back with him, his nose bleeding, his hair mixed with brown sand, and his clothes ripped off to almost nothing. It was the Nigerian supervisor who silently called the Police. All the while, you stood transfixed, at the back of the factory, under the roar of the machines working on without care.
Nwabugo comes to your side now and nudges you and your teleported mind to the present.
“What’re you doing? Don’t you see what’s happening?”
You do not reply him. His eyes are glued to yours. Then he leans in, whispers something into your ears, his eyes overflowing with strange understanding.
A hush has descended over the factory and its workers. Of course you all came back, after three days and a one-day protest. Work goes about quietly, without the usual chatter, the playful pranks, the mesh of indigenous tongues, the surreptitious complaints. The life of the factory has seeped away, like the now buried factory worker.
Somehow the worker’s family was informed, in the most unsuspecting way. The Nigerian delegate sent to them went with a fat envelope.
“He drank too much shekpe that day,” the delegate said. “At work, he suddenly stood and landed head-down onto the metal work table.”
That was that.
You haven’t seen Nwabugo. When you called him yesterday, he mumbled something about his twins being sick, and that he would make it today.
The other workers have started to give you odd looks, in their eyes is a certain kind of bewilderment. An incomprehensibility as to why you never joined in the protest. It is known that you are liked by the Chinese, but does that mean you should betray your own sisters and brothers? their eyes ask, aloud.
Nwabugo asks you to do something. He doesn’t know what you have in common with Chung, but like the other workers, his speculations make him say that to you.
And you decide to do it.
Of course Chung still sees you. Now he treats you like an egg. He once gave you three times the amount of your wages for you to flex with. He no longer talks about Seoul, or China. But he allows you to detail everything you know about Anambra to him.
You both ask and say many things, but when it dawns on you to ask him why he killed the Nigerian, the words which should subtly prod him for an answer suddenly go on exile.
Before you knock on the door of Chung’s hotel room today, you’d visited a friend who sells chemicals, You explained how you wanted it done. Then he left and returned in no time. He filled a syringe with a greenish liquid, and with experienced fingers, pierced the syringe’s contents into one of the green apples you bought on your way here.
In the years to come, the few times when you would find time to glance out of your flat at the top of your apartment building, you will seek the smoke coming from far ahead–though that is from a biscuit factory. You will think about Nwabugo, and wonder if he ever returned. You will ponder on what would have changed if Nwabugo’s request had been executed.
You will be glad you turned your back to him just right after handing him the apple. That that exact move put in the line of sight of his marijuana stashed under Chung’s lowest drawer. You will be glad he stiffened, rooted at an inch from biting from the apple. You will be glad he never got a chance to put his lips to it, spending the rest of the day–and the weeks and months to come–scared and fidgety over his stash instead. You will be glad it finally became too much for him that he packed his bags one day and went back to China, without a word of farewell.
You will be glad you left the factory workers with their speculation and grudges. But at least, you know it’s not easy to kill a man.
Nelson C.J is a fiction and non-fiction writer, and a poet. His works have been read on air at Smooth F.M 98.1, and have appeared at Dwartonline, AfricanWriter and a host of other places.