Obika rarely went to church. For him, he has personal issues with God, and continued to blame Him for what he called ‘the fundamental mistake of being a Nigerian.’ But Obika’s step-father had other views about him. As early as ten, Obika had come back home, one day, from school and said to his step-father, “daddy, I believe you can afford a washing machine.” Obika had not complained about the clothes he washed nor did he revolt against washing them in the future, but Mr. Ike had figured the thrust of the whole matter. “Washing machines are for lazy people,” he bluntly replied. Another day, while Obika was scrubbing the rug in their sitting room, he turned to his step-father and stated abruptly, “Daddy, we learnt of the existence of a rug-cleaning machine today. That was in our Home Economics.” Not replying directly to the question, Mr. Ike briefly responded, “Obika, aka ajaja na-ebute onu mmanu mmanu.” Implying that sandy hands result to oily hands. Obika had certain reservations about his step-father’s response. He wondered if Mr. Ike really meant a ‘sandy hand’ in the literal sense of it, or perhaps, a mere figuration, but he knew better than to ask him about it, so he let it pass away.
After Obika’s primary education, Mr. Ike enrolled him in a boarding school. According to him, it was to make Obika realize that life was not easy, and thus, begin as soon as possible to face, tackle, and confront the harsh realities of life. Of all Obika enjoyed about his new school, the concept of the morning function as one’s own home gave him a fulfilled sense of awe. For his own reasons, he did not so much value the objectives been projected to the heavy manual labour they did on certain days of the week, yet he took his function very seriously. Having enjoyed one of the ‘white-collar functions’ during the first term of his JSS two, Obika had anticipated a function where he would be expected to sweep a particular area – the type fondly referred to as ‘the artisan’s function’ which is the direct opposite of the white collar, where no sweeping was needed. Following his supposition, and the need to make things easier for him, Obika came back from one of their holidays with a broom – the brush-like type which he held to be more efficient. The function schedule was released, and as anticipated, Obika was meant to leave his post as the school receptionist and continue as the sweeper of their refectory corridor. The first day of his new function was not completely glorious as he had expected. The new experience and fun accompanying a new exploit were intact, if not for the gaping eyes of all who came past him, which made him feel like a square peg in a round hole. Obika did not understand their weird looks until one of his teachers came across him.
“My friend, what do you think you are doing?” the teacher inquired, with the tone of an amused policeman.
“Eeeh, sir! How do you mean, sir? Good morning sir,” Obika stammered innocently.
“My friend, is that the kind of broom your colleagues are using? So you are so lazy that you don’t want to bend down and sweep like a responsible human being right?”
Obika looked at the broom he was holding, realizing that the poor thing had been the bone of contention. He turned to those around him and noticed they were all bending down, and sweeping their respective portions. It then occurred to him that he was the only one who was sweeping while virtually standing, owing to the long handle of his broom. It had never occurred to him that the poor item would initiate trouble for him. He had simply thought of it as a matter of choice. Though, to be true to himself, one stroke of thought had earlier occurred to him, making him glee at the pains his counterparts had to go through to do what he was doing pretty well, standing. “Sir, I just prefer to use this one. It makes things easier for me,” Obika finally responded, jolting back from his few seconds trance.
The prosecuting teacher looked at Obika and shook his head, with the pity one gave to a psychopath, who neither knew what he was doing nor the reason why he did what he did. “Let me not see you again with that nonsense by tomorrow. You better go to the implement store and buy the normal broom if you don’t have one. You don’t have to show everyone how lazy you are.”
In absolute bewilderment Obika looked at the domestic tool he was holding, the magnificent work it was already performing on the dirty corridor; and wondered how anyone could call it nonsense.
By the next morning, Obika was using the normal broom, in obedience, but the incident of the previous day had left an indelible scar behind his memories. And unlike the previous day, the duration of his function extended by ten minutes.
In the next four years, Obika was already in SS3. The school colloquium held at the beginning of the Academic year had always been fraught with a particular petition by students. Only the matter of the petition kept changing along the year, since the abstract form always remained the same – that the school authorities provided rotary mowers for use during labour. The only reason while this particular petition kept coming year after year was because of its continuous counter and rejection in the previous ones. Today, as the senior prefect of Excellence Secondary School, Obika sought to give a new dimension to the perennial problem.
Speaking to the school authorities at that year’s colloquium, Obika began, “all protocols duly observed. Let me first of all thank the school authorities for their ceaseless efforts in seeing that we get the best of all that we can get, academic-wise, morals, character formation, among other things… to ensure that we gain excellence in all our endeavours, just as the very name of this noble institution urges, we humbly suggest that the authorities review their stand on the use of rotary mowers in this able institution… In order to allow the authorities save money for our basic care, some students have volunteered to donate the rotary mowers to the school. All we seek is your permission…” Obika had completed his solemn speech with beautiful smiles all over his face, like a triumphant general at the end of a prolonged war. It was a happy feeling that such a perennial problem would be finally resolved once and for all during his tenure as the senior prefect. He had thought that the major reason why the school authorities had scorned and rejected the idea all these years was because of some financial considerations. But with the rotary mowers ready to be bought under the auspices of some students, through their parents, he thought that the issue was finally coming to a close today. Why, yes, it did, but not as Obika had thought.
“The culture of laziness that is gradually creeping into the value codes of modern-day youths is quite alarming. Nobody wants to work hard any longer. We did labour manually during our days. In fact, we even enjoyed and looked forward to the labour days; and so I see no reason why you want to manipulate things now. It must continue the way it has always been. In short, let no one ever bring this issue up again, in this noble institution which has hard-work and excellence as her watchwords…” the principal responded and sat down, with an air of righteousness, as one who just fulfilled a religious duty. The principal was in his middle sixties.
That night Obika could not sleep. Lots of questions clogged his mind, each struggling to be explored first, like one would at an incident of stampede in a large crowd where the only hope of one’s survival hinged on being one of the very first to break free and escape from the crowd.
“Why would the principal compare their era to ours? Were rotary mowers even affordable or available then? What does it mean to work hard – to suffer, to make one’s work harder? Or to work efficiently, with increased output? If we work so hard why then do we still have so little to offer? Does aka ajaja equate to brute force and manual work alone, exclusive of the mental, intellectual, and mechanical initiative and input? Must one suffer to work hard? And which is more: working hard or working efficiently? Hadn’t the brains who invented these machines worked very hard themselves?
“No! I refuse to be termed lazy because of my refusal to accept unfounded suffering, because of my insistence on increased output rather than increased labour. Why do Nigerians, nay Africans like suffering and smiling – and worst, even boast about it? For how long will the cutlass serve us? Or hasn’t it done enough already? Same with hoes, grindstones, charcoal and other tools brought about by our fore-fathers, at a time when they were their best alternatives. Why do we continue to treat them as absolute in themselves, rather than see them as the best available tools, once upon a time, to be left for good whenever the human mind found better substitutes? Why the double standard? We are being reprimanded for trying to make life easier, yet, later scorned for not measuring up in technological competitions against white children who by usage, had learnt the basic principles of many domestic machines at the age of seven! No! I refuse being subjected to brute slavery in the guise of ‘working hard,’ when my mental and intellectual faculties can save me. No!!! I refuse wholly”, he thought to himself.
That was one of the nights Obika never did forget. He held his head tall, believing that if ‘working hard’ only implied making a work harder, then to blazes be that standard. That if working efficiently, with lesser input bringing about better output equates to laziness that standard begone too.
With such lofty, nay, sincere thoughts in mind, Obika never allowed himself to be called lazy. With every independence he gained from his step-father, he made himself more and more machine friendly, spending less time in the application of brute force, and more in mental and intellectual processes.
Now, Obika was fully grown, already possessing total independence from Mr. Ike. He lived in a faraway land and only came by on weekends to visit his step-father. He was in his step-father’s obi, reading Paulo Coelho’s ‘Alchemist,’ while waiting for the clothes he had placed in his newly acquired washing machine. Mr. Ike had just returned from the kindred meeting. Obika overheard him lamenting about the increasing laziness of modern-day youths. “They just want everything to be done for them. None of them wants to do anything any longer. How could they be clamouring for a tractor, saying it is to help enhance the farming activities of the different families in the kindred? We have always done these things ourselves – we and our wives and children – the clearing, planting, and harvesting. Now they want us to use the money scheduled for the upcoming ‘end of the year celebration’ to buy a tractor. Oh! Very lazy set of people. It shall not work for them.”
The stench of betrayal on Obika’s face as he overhead his step-father’s lamentations was similar to that of a dead dog fast decaying, with cold, heavy dew as the catalyst. But the betrayal was directed not at his step-father, but himself. For once, he realized how right his step-father had been regarding his insistence on the laziness of modern-day youths. Though, not as his step-father had meant.
“Look at me,” his thoughts began to flow, with some controlled violence, “almost clocking twenty-seven, yet haven’t gone to formerly join the kindred. Look at Ephraim, Kosiso and Nonso – they too, and many others have not officially registered with the kindred. We have been too lazy about it. We have been too lazy even to stage peaceful protests or stand up for ourselves whenever one infringed our inalienable rights. We have been too lazy to take up the mantle of leadership from aged men with black hair. So, we have left it to men like my step-father who are neither progressive nor competent – to men who call us lazy while their biological sons go about riding bicycles at times of scarcity. But we have truly been lazy. Lest, we would not have left them dictate our moral codes for us – a code where there are no absolutes, no rules, no codes; but everything left to their own arbitrary judgments. We have been so lazy, and that is why we just stand and watch, letting the old men toil with our future; letting them subject us to physical slavery and using us as thugs. We have been so lazy, that is why we accept their double standard games, where they joke with the things that affect us mostly, yet expect us to respect them as our culture demands, as our fathers – the highest form of socio-moral fraud.”
Obika could not evade the shame that had now beclouded him. He struggled helplessly, like a drowning man against the limitless boundaries of a stormy sea. He who had always fought against laziness was the laziest of all. He dropped the classic he was holding, abandoned the clothes in the washing machine, and with the poise of a man with a new vision, walked straight to the village centre, only few metres away.
“Good afternoon sir. Please can I get the card for Igwebuike kindred…?”
It was the card that would get Obika registered into his kindred. And make him legible to vote or be voted for.
They call us lazy
We say nosy
They call up gerontocracy
We say democracy
We‘ve been so busy
Yet, still too lousy
Because we’ve actually been so dizzy
About politics we deem too classy
Why, yes! We’ve been too lazy
But not in the way they meant
In the way they don’t mean.
Chukwuemerie Udekwe is from Nigeria. Born on the 30th of August, 1995, he aspires to reach out to the world through his writings and works. He loves reading and putting down things that would affect people’s lives positively. Find him at email@example.com or WhatsApp- +234 8135851554