“Alhaja, are you not going to pray today?”, he asked while grouting the spaces in between the tiles. There was a lull in the construction project I was working on and except for the daily supervision of tiling which I was tired of, I had nothing to do. So, I chose a room to do all I had to do; read, eat, and surf the net. That day, my phone was dead and I had come out of “my room” to talk to real life people and right there was Sunday.
“It’s not time yet”, I replied.
“I used to be a Muslim”. I guess he saw the disbelief hidden behind my smile. “I’m serious o, when I was learning tiling in Lagos. I used to pray sef but fasting was out of it. We used to start carrying head pans of sand from dawn till dusk. Can anyone survive fasting in such conditions?”
I was surprised happy go lucky Sunday had experienced such a thing. He was one of the tilers I worked with and while he wasn’t the boss, he knew the craft so much that even the head tiler asked for his opinion often. They were all from Togo, all five of them, but Sunday was the easiest to talk to. You could hardly see him without a smile and even when he was angry which was rarely, he would say all the things on his mind and go back to his playful self.
“I came to Nigeria when I was very young”, he started. He proceeded to tell me about how hard he worked when he first came here and the number of places he had worked which was a lot. In response to my question on why he was still working under someone when he clearly knew his onions, he said he wanted to get something called an “assignment paper” (work permit) which would grant him permission to work in about 3 countries. He could have paid for it even if he weren’t half qualified but he wanted to go through the right path.
Sunday disapproved of fighting. Whenever people on site started to exchange words, he would say “I no dey like these things wey you dey do, I swear. Find 2 by 4 plank make we see who get plenty energy”. According to him, if someone comes to site to work for his daily bread and thinks their fighting is what is next, they might as well just kill themselves. He would rather focus on his work.
“Na my mum and siblings I dey work for o, I don tell dem say make dem forget say dem get family member somewhere”. There were some of his siblings he had never seen; he had left home before they were born. When I asked if he would ever go back, he replied in the affirmative; he wanted to get his work permit and work in a big construction company.
That day, the respect I had for him increased and I wished I had the power to put him where he wanted. I had no such power, so I settled for praying that his dreams came true.