Deji stared at his phone, respect and hints of envy shining in his eyes. He was staring at a Facebook post made by one of his university coursemates.
“125 reactions in 30 minutes,” he muttered.
When he and the coursemate were in the university they both planned to write – novels, poems, short stories, everything else. Deji was a mentor of sorts to the coursemate, who was two years younger.
Four years after graduation, Deji was unemployed. He had written poems, stories and so on, and everything he wrote, he shared online and sent out to literary magazines.
They always rejected his applications, the replies to his mails always including “We regret to inform you…”.
Online, he would post a story he thought was amazing, and he would get two likes, three.
Meanwhile, that his coursemate who had looked at him with childish awe in the university and gushed over any piece he wrote – even those Deji had thought as too saccharine or too dismal – had become so popular online, his posts generating hundreds of reactions and comments. People had called him an ‘amazing writer’, ‘immensely talented’, sycophantic stuff like that. The guy had gotten a job in a law firm, all his posts about work said so, all his pictures were with a wig and gown.
Deji always felt this tightness in his chest whenever he came online and saw another new post, with more likes than Deji’s own 2 day-old post. The guy was younger than he was, and yet…. He had better looking pictures, he had a car.
That tightness would remain in Deji’s chest throughout the day. Feelings of inadequacy would plague him. He would feel like he was watching valuable gold dust slip away through his fingers and that he was powerless to stop it.
“How does he do it? What does he have that I don’t?” he said, eyes still glued to the phone. The story wasn’t that good anyway, he thought. There were punctuation issues, the…
“Adedeji”! A piping voice called from the kitchen, shoving aside his thoughts.
“Ma!” Deji shouted back, and dragged himself from the bed and trudged to the kitchen, back hunched.
“You knew I was in the kitchen and you didn’t even ask to help,” his mom said, launching into one of her tirades as soon as he stepped in the kitchen. It was more frequent these days, and the encouragements and random short prayers that characterised his first two unemploymed years had disappeared. There was no more “Don’t worry, God will do it” or “Don’t be sad. They don’t deserve you. They’re not good enough.” Now it was complaints and reproachful looks.
“You’ve been in the house since morning. You’re not even going out to find out what you can do. It’s just lying down and eating my food and staring at that stupid phone.” Deji stared at her as she spoke, the tightness in his chest joined by fire in his eyes and clenched fists.
“Your food is on the table o.” She said and then stalked out of the room, murmuring about dead husbands and people who just ate her food and didn’t do anything worthwhile.
Something snapped in Deji. He was going to work tomorrow. Anyhow he did it.
Six months later, Deji went into his boss’ office with an envelope. The envelope’s side was labeled in neat block letters ‘Resignation’.
“Deji” his boss said. “How was work today?” She was the CEO of the place he worked, the offices of a very popular fashion magazine. She had other things going for her, but apparently she was one of those people who weren’t creative enough to be writers but loved watching them work. So she came in every weekday at 8am and parked herself on a desk till it was time to go.
“Fine ma,” Deji said.
“Your face looks somehow. Is there a problem?”
“Yes ma,” Deji said. “I’m quitting.”
She adjusted herself on her chair. She looked very concerned, but Deji knew it was fake.
“Quitting?” she said, her voice alarmed. “Why?”
“My work as an editor is not appreciated here.”
“No that’s not true,” she said. “La’Belle appreciates your stellar work. I am very grateful we snatched you up first before anyone else.”
“Ok,” Deji said. “But that’s just talk. Increase my salary, then I’ll know you appreciate me.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking at him. “We can’t increase your salary. We have to think of others too.”
He knew. All that talk about appreciating him, yet they were taking advantage of him. The woman even looked like a leach. A leach that lived in Lekki. Polished leach.
“Then,” Deji said. “Here’s my resignation.”
“Deji stop,” she said. “Think about this. You earn enough. 120k is not too small for an editor. Consider what you’re doing.”
“I’m sorry ma,” Deji said. “But I’m out.”
He turned and swaggered out. It was good he took a stand. He wou6get something better, and he’d have time to concentrate on improving HIS writing and not others’.
Two years later, Deji lay down on his bed, looking at a Facebook post. His laptop was open, the cursor blinking at the beginnings of a poem. The time was 11:50am.
“What does he have that I don’t,” Deji said to himself.