Dele raised his right palm and called out ‘here.’
His heart raced as he walked the few feet between his seat and the table. His knees threatened to give way a few times, but he made it to the table and stood in front of the person who had called his number.
‘Please sit down,’ Emma smiled at him.
After a few questions, he was given two forms which he was to fill and bring with him by the next week with copies of his credentials and a valid means of identification.
When Bruce was done he called Michael.
‘Bros how far?’ Michael asked.
‘Dem don give me interview date.’ Bruce told him the date.
‘That’s good oh, we thank God.’ He said. ‘I have a friend who went early yesterday. His interview is the day before your own.’
‘Bros, abeg you sabi anybody wey dey do driver’s license?’ Bruce asked him.
‘Yes, e get one woman wey dey come around my office. Na she dey do license for most of our drivers, even me sef.’
‘Do you think she can get me a license within a week?’
‘She can get you a license in a day,’ came Michael’s reply. ‘But do you want a license or an international passport?’
Bruce weighed the cost of either and settled for the license.
One week later, armed with his brand new driver’s license and credentials, Bruce arrived for the interview.
While waiting to be called in, Dele got talking with the girl on the couch next to him. She did not seem anxious and when he mentioned this, she said she had a friend who had already written the test and it sounded easy enough.
“Really? Questions like what?” Dele asked.
“I don’t remember specific questions, they were quantitative reasoning questions and sounded simple enough.” She shrugged. “There are two sets of tests, and only people who passed the first got to write the second. I’m sure you’ll be fine.” She smiled.
He sighed. “I hope so.”
The candidates were called in in batches of twenty. A security man checked their IDs before waving them through to a room where someone else checked their credentials and collected the photocopies.
When Dele saw the test questions he allowed himself a small smile – it was just as the girl had said.
The test was graded right there and one of the facilitators addressed them with the score sheets in his hand.
‘Thank you very much for coming,’ he started. ‘I will call out your numbers and if you hear your number please get up, take everything you brought with you and come this way.
Dele leaned back in his chair, confident that he would be remaining in the room for the next round of tests, so he did not hear his number when it was first called.
‘Number forty-seven,’ the facilitator repeated sweeping the room with his eyes.
Dele’s eyes swam and his vision blurred. With leaden feet he made his way to join the two other candidates standing by the door.
The facilitator called some more numbers and in the end seven candidates were called out to stand by the door.
Dele did not notice that one of them was the girl from the reception.
‘Please come with me,’ another lady appeared in their midst and ushered them out of the room. She took them to a second room arranged like the first, with chairs and desks.
‘Congratulations,’ she said.
Dele did not hear any other thing she said. Relief washed over him, and the happy beating of his heart drowned out all other sounds.
He saw the six others move towards the seats and he followed them.
The second was a memory test.
They were given a passage to read for three minutes, before it was collected from them. Then they were asked questions based on the text they had read.
Though Dele was more confident of his performance this time, he put a cautionary stopper in his keg of confidence.
This time, two people were called to the door and left with the facilitator. The remaining candidates were congratulated on their performance before being asked to stand in a line in front of a room in the hallway.
It was while they were waiting to be called in that Dele finally noticed the girl from the reception.
‘Thank you.’ She replied. ‘Congrats yourself. See? It wasn’t so bad.’
‘Do you know what’s next?’ He asked.
She smiled sheepishly and shook her head. ‘I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, so I didn’t ask my friend.’
He liked the sound of her voice and her smile and, standing in that hallway, Dele checked her out.
She was dressed in a grey trouser suit, her shirt lapels overlapping her jacket ones. Her hair was done in the style made popular by Alicia Keys, and it suited her.
‘Forgive me,‘ he offered a hand. ‘I’m Dele.’
‘Nana,’ she said, taking his offered hand.
‘Nana?’ He raised a brow.
‘Yes,‘ she flashed him a dimpled smile. ‘It means mother.’
‘Oh. Where are you from?’ He asked her.
‘Really? I’m from Edo state myself. We’re practically neighbours – if you discount the River Niger.‘
They made small talk till the person in line before him came out of the interview room.
‘All the best,’ Nana said as he walked to the door.
‘You too,’ he smiled before pushing the door and walking in.
The room was set up with a big table in the middle and three chairs around it; two to one side and one facing it.
In one of the chairs sat Emma. The other chair was occupied by another lady.
‘Please sit down Ayodele Aderemi.‘ The lady waved him to the chair opposite them.
It felt good to hear himself addressed by his name for a change.
She introduced herself as Bola Soyinka, her accent was as English as Emma’s.
She again congratulated him for making it that far in the interview process and asked how he felt about everything so far?
‘Does she really want my opinion?
Do I even have an opinion?’
Dele smiled and bobbed his head and said everything was okay.
‘Alright then,’ Bola said, and on cue Emma opened a file she had in front of her.
Dele could see it contained the forms he had filled and submitted earlier – he recognised his handwriting.
‘I can see you speak a little French,’ Emma said.
The advert said a foreign language was an added advantage, and believing that he could pick up a few French phrases in the week before his interview, he had said “yes” to the question about speaking a foreign language, and circled “a little” in the French column.
‘Besides ‘bonjour’, ‘je m’apelle, ‘merci’ and all that stuff, do you speak any other French?’ Emma asked.
Dele’s heart slammed in his chest as a fog descended over his brain.
He had spent one week listening to tapes and repeating phrases, he even tried constructing his own sentences, and now, in an instant of panic everything he learnt was gone.
His eyes must have reflected the blank that was his head because Emma smiled and said:
Dele opened his mouth, but no words came out. He swallowed and tried again.
‘Je,” the squeak startled him. He cleared his throat and started again.
‘Mon francais est tres mal.’
If that was even French, he did not know and he did not care. What happened next though was something he did not expect.
Bola and Emma erupted in laughter. Unsure whether to join in their laughter or not, he plastered shifted in his seat.
Dabbing her eyes, Emma wheezed, ‘Do you know what you just said?’
‘Am I supposed to answer? Or is this one of those rhetorical question things?’
‘You just said you have shit French.’ And they broke into another round of laughter; Bola was bent over struggling to catch her breath.
Dele had hoped to say ‘My French is very bad,’ but this their version worked as well.
‘Thanks for the giggles,’ she said looking at his form. ‘So it’s safe to assume you don’t speak French then?’ She cocked her eyebrow.
‘Yes.’ Dele said in a small voice.
‘How about your swimming? Is it anything like your French?’
In school there was a stream where Dele and his friends sometimes went to do laundry. One day he asked a student he met there to teach him swimming.
That first day he only managed to drink more than a fair share of the water. They fixed another lesson, and after four lessons Dele could move a few feet in water with no more than a gulp or two.
It was those lessons he was banking on when he circled “yes” to the “Are you a confident swimmer?” question.
‘My swimming is far better than my French,’ he said, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt.
They both made notes on the paper they had in front of them.
Bola then gave him a sheet of paper and asked him to read from it. It was the passage from the last test.
At the end of the first paragraph Emma stopped him.
‘You will hear back from us soon.’ Bola said, smiling.
Dele thanked them and let himself out of the room, his heart heavy.