There were people everywhere; definitely in the thousands.
She had thought because it was a role-specific aptitude test, the crowd would be far less.
But there were still people everywhere.
The sun was blazing hot. As she alighted from the taxi, she moved towards the shade of a big tree. It seemed a lot of people had the same idea as small groups were formed under the few trees in the vicinity.
‘Buy past questions’, a man from under the tree said. He had his eyes turned towards her but his voice was raised high enough to get the attention of everyone. His car was parked there and past questions, pens, pencils and other writing materials were spread out on the hood. He was sweating profusely and perspiration had flooded the armpits of his shirt, however, he didn’t seem to mind much as he tried to convince people to buy something from this merchandise.
How much is it? She asked.
‘Two hundred naira’, he said. She dug out the money from the pocket of her jeans and handed it over to him. Buying it seemed like the sensible thing to do, considering she hadn’t really read much and almost everyone else under the tree seemed to be holding a copy and some even discussing its content.
It was still half an hour before the stated time. She questioned herself on what she was doing here; hadn’t she said this part of her life was over? Hadn’t she said she was no longer going to honour mass test invitations? But here she was, waiting. She moved around a bit, trying to find a less crowded spot that wasn’t too uncomfortable to wait.
Hawkers, almost half as many as the applicants writing the exams, crowded the vicinity as well. They were selling anything and everything from ‘pure water’, bottled water, cold drinks and snacks to writing materials. it seemed everyone wanted to make the most of the opportunity; another opportunity for a better life.
A job within a federal government parastatal offered the benefits of a government job; flexibility, no pressure, longevity, life pension, an avenue to make side cash, but unlike the regular government job with the pitiful pay, a federal commission/parastatal offered a better pay that could contend with some private organisations. When such opportunities came knocking, almost everyone wanted to take it whether they had jobs already or not. It was an opportunity for something relatively better.
As a result, the place was crawling with different group of people from seemingly different works of life; tall, short, fat, slim. Some dressed casually, some corporately and others, semi-both. Some with babies and heavy bellies. One of the pregnant lady looked like she was about to lie down on the sandy ground and poop out her baby any minute now. But as tired as she looked, the belly did give her the special privilege for first on the line.
The different types of cars parked by the applicants intrigued her as well; it ranged from the latest models and trendy brands to the ‘four legs are better than two’. She wondered to herself ‘if these people can afford these expensive cars, why are they here?
As she moved from one spot to another, she couldn’t help but hear people’s conversations. A man holding a book over his head to shield himself from the sun said to his group, ‘They already know at less 95% of the people they want to take’, but for some reason he was still there, despite the sun, despite the crowd, hoping to be one of the remaining 5%, she guessed
Another said, ‘I hope this is not going to be like the immigration exams of last month? I was there and it was bloody’. The sad test event, where a stampede had occurred and claimed lives, still on everyone’s mind but they were all still there.
‘I didn’t get the printout ID, but I got the mail’, a lady said to the other. ‘They said to bring both. Are you sure they will let you write?’ The other lady asked. ‘I don’t know but I will try; at least, I have one’. The lady responded.
Eventually, it was time to go through the gate and everyone pushed towards the gate with just enough force to get through quickly but with little caution so as not to repeat the last month immigration stampede episode. Everyone pushed towards the glimpse of hope in the dark, all praying that God will shine his light and they will be one of the lucky remaining 5%; never mind that almost everyone of the thousands of people were praying for the same light from God. Never mind that the probability of a favourable end result was almost same as winning the lottery. It sounded stupid to her but yes she was still there, waiting and looking towards the little crack of hope on the horizon.