The job interview hadn’t gone as expected. Not at all. In fact, to be candid, it had been terrible.

I had been horrible. Every response I gave to the questions asked rubbed the interviewer the wrong way, so much that a mere five minutes into the process, I was praying for it to be over so I could cut short my humiliation and leave. I’m sure the poor man felt exactly the same way.

I can’t explain it, but even the simplest of the questions had me stumped, and for the ones I thought I had answers to, my tongue had felt as unwieldy as piece of unshaved wood in my mouth when I spoke such that every word I uttered came out slurred as if I’d been binging on fermented Zobo.

Maybe it was anxiety or fear. But never have I been that awful during an interview session in my three-year career as a professional job seeker in Lagos. Based on the performance, I needed no soothsayer to tell me that my search was far from over.

Dejection had her arm firmly resting on my shoulders as I trudged back to the bus stop on my way home, and it told in the weight of each footstep. All I could imagine as I walked was the slow fade of the hopeful light in my mother’s eyes when I get home and she asks how it went. How her shoulders would slump when my face told her one story while my tired smile tried to spin another.

I chose the backseat on the danfo bus, the one by the window, hoping to hide my failure from the world. At least, I had enough money to get home from Obalende, even if it was because I’d trekked there from Ikoyi under the scorching sun and skipped breakfast.

The huge patches of yellow sweat under my arms told the world of my struggles, same as the lopsided heels of both shoes, and the rowdy scenes of another hot afternoon in a Lagos motor park played out before my uninterested eyes as I looked on.

The fragrance, her fragrance tickled my nose, drawing my eyes from the window to seek out the source of such an anomalous pleasantness.

I had a companion at the backseat, and she was wearing one of those expensive perfumes with smells that open happy doors and brought back good memories. A simple dress, brown leather sandals and black bag completed her ensemble.

“Hi.” She greeted, a small smile adding color to an already good-looking face as she took her place beside me on the hard wooden seat.

“Hi.” I replied, with the warmth of a bag of wet sawdust.

Two more people joined us, pushing us closer together, but I paid her no further mind.

In a few more minutes the bus filled up and we moved off. My stomach clenched at the thought of what waited at home.

It could have been hunger, fatigue or the burden of disappointment. Maybe it was the refreshing envelope of her fragrance or a combination of everything. I was soon fast asleep, my worries about the future in remission for the time being.

The speeding vehicle ran into a porthole at Gbagada, startling me awake to find my head resting on her warm shoulder. Embarrassed beyond measure, I mumbled an apology and quickly returned to my rightful position, hoping I hadn’t disgraced my ancestors by snoring, or worse, drooling.

She only smiled.

The whiteness of her teeth was attractive and befuddling at the same time, and it was a few seconds later before I remembered I hadn’t paid my fare.  I reached for my pocket where the two hundred naira remaining from what mama gave me earlier in the day was resting.

“I settled the conductor so he wouldn’t disturb you while you slept. You looked as if you needed the break.”

It was her again. I hadn’t noticed she was watching me. Mumbling, I thanked her for her kindness but she waved it off with another smile.

Hugging my job seeker starter pack to my chest, I sat there with different thoughts racing against each other inside my head.

What should I do when we get to Oshodi? Thank her again? Ask for her number? What if I just walk off without saying a word? Wouldn’t she think me an ingrate? Would that make me rude?”

I had no one close by to help me out with tips on social interaction, but as if she had an ear for my thoughts, my benefactor came to my rescue once again.

“Conductor, Anthony wa.” She called out in her sing-song voice.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

The bus rolled to a stop soon after that. Just before she moved off, she turned to me and flashed her beautiful smile again, then leaned close and gently whispered.

“Don’t worry. It is well.”

***-***

Much later in the day when I got home, mama was sitting on the steps outside our one-room apartment, peeling yams in preparation for the evening’s sale.

Selling fried yams soaked in fish sauce at the street junction in the evenings has kept the two of us housed and fed since papa passed away five years ago. It was hard work with minimal gains, but it was better and safer than sweeping the highway like she used to do.

She dropped the yam and knife inside the plastic basin in front of her as soon as she saw me.

“Welcome, son. Welcome, my dear. How did it go?”

The hope in her voice rang louder than anything I’d heard the whole day, and I answered with the only words that readily came to mind.

“It is well, maami. It is well.”

Then I broke into tears.