The Travel chronicles of a sorry Nigerian to Asia. Chapter four Writing in progress. Related
“Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.” – John Locke
I was not brought up to be a gentleman, at least not in the fine sense of the word.
But my natural inclination was to be on my best behavior all through my childhood years, as I was determined not to bring shame to my folks or to return home with poor grades.
This therefore lays credence to the assertions that a gentleman is made, not born – and made only through a process of painful refinement, self-reflection and discovery.
Today, I share a 20year old story of my journey of refinement through the league of fine gentlemen and how my first stint with the Alpha Club turned out.
The envelope arrived pristine three days earlier, as if it had travelled in some steam-press rather than hand-delivered by a student. It bore no stamp. It didn’t need one after all It didn’t pass through a post-office mail room. I peered curiously at the contents of the letter after I carefully tore it open.
You see, I have a penchant for tearing up sealed or tied items; like envelopes, gift wrappers, nylon bags or even padlocks. I had no patience with untying knots or unsealing things as normal people would. I just tore them open. That was it!
I am not quite sure if it’s about the thrill, eagerness and excitement to see its content or just the basal need to be violent in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone. I still wonder!
It was an invitation to an interview session at a small meeting room somewhere on campus. I hadn’t realized until then that a waiting lounge was nicely tucked underneath the Amphi-theater, smack at the center of the campus. I wasn’t quite sure whether to be excited or allow the trepidation creeping through my nerves decide if the invite was worth honoring. I thought the allotted time for the interview session was a bit odd – 1.17pm.
Dress Code – Formal (Black suit, white shirt and red/wine tie) “What is with the drama” I sighed.
“And what’s with the precise timing too” I wondered.
“1.17pm” I mouthed shaking my head side to side in feigned mockery. I sniffed the scent of dry ink on the paper tilting my head slightly before slipping it unclad between the pages of my biggest textbook, whilst thrashing the envelop.
My friend Kennedy was convinced that I was just the sort of gentleman that the club needed. He was an Alphite. The term used to address members of this exclusive club of young students that aspired to be true gentlemen.
One word that resonated with me from our discussion that afternoon was “gentlemen”. He had mentioned that it wasn’t the usual sort of social club on campus and that this was a league of extra-ordinary gentlemen. He started to sound like he was rehearsing a well-written movie script.
This wasn’t the first time he was doing this for sure.
“The guys are a highly disciplined bunch and speak the most impeccable and polite English. I am sure you will love it there” Kennedy enthused.
“Ken, I can barely survive with my monthly allowance from home, there is no way on earth I can afford to pay the club dues” My stand was firm and unflinching.
“Don’t worry about the dues. I am sure you can afford it easily without breaking a sweat. Trust me. Just fill out this form and I will pick it up on my way back from lectures tomorrow” With that said, he thumbed-up his goodbye, turned and walked away. I was grateful that he was at least the one paying for the form. If it didn’t work out, it would be his loss only. Mine would be the loss of time invested in filling the form.
I wanted to tell him that he had no idea how much my parents sent me every month and there was no way he could decide if I could afford the club dues or not. A flash of enlightening hit me then I had a rethink after it occurred to me that Kennedy himself wasn’t exactly from an affluent background either. If he could afford to pay the dues, then he was probably right. I wouldn’t break a sweat paying it too.
But there were so many other questions that begged for answers, but were stuck somewhere down my throat. Asking them would make me appear too eager and give away the feverish enthusiasm that his interest in me had sparked.
Kennedy was studying computer engineering and he was one of those tall lanky lads who barely tucked their shirts out. His dressing was modest yet impeccably so. He would match his well laundered chinos pants with a lovely pair of loafers and a shirt that oozed of nothing but sophistry. His perfume was as his face, unforgettable, leaving scents of a rich masculine musk that was captivating yet elusive wherever he went. He was soft spoken with his words measured for effect. There was everything to admire about his person. He was enough reason to consider this offer.
This exclusive club of gentlemen is called The Alpha Club. I started to ask around about the club. Very few of my really close friends had any idea what the members were about. I had very few friends, so my sample size didn’t help much. One of them was certain that they were a cult group that pretended to be a social club. Another opined that they were just a bunch of students that donated blood to the university teaching hospital every year. There was something ominous about them that he couldn’t seem to explain.
What people do not understand they mystify!
I soon realized that asking my friends for details about this club was an exercise in futility. There was no way Kennedy could be a cultist not with his gentle stride and cool diction. Cultists I had met in my first year had a darker, carefree and sinister persona. I wonder why I thought it was a cool idea to join one in my first stint at the university years earlier.
Kennedy certainly didn’t fit the profile.
The ladies I spoke to were much helpful with information though. They thought the club threw the best parties and that members of the club were true gentlemen, sophisticated and cool. My raised eyebrows accompanied by gentle nods of my head was all the affirmation I could muster.
“All the guys are good looking and well dressed. They wear suit a lot. You should consider joining them. They would love you” Seyi gushed.
Seyi was one of the roommates of my love interest, Kemi, whose attention I struggled to win. She paid me no heed when I first asked her about the club within her roommate’s earshot.
I promised myself that if I ever passed the interview into the club, Seyi was going to be my partner to the famous parties they threw. Not Kemi.
That was all I needed to hear. Armed with the commendations, I filled out the forms and handed them over to Kennedy the next day.
I didn’t own a black suit so I had to borrow one. It meant that I didn’t quite get the luxury of a stylish and proper fit. It wasn’t over-sized or anything of sort, it just wasn’t my exact fit, not quite the way I liked my cloths to fit. It wasn’t stretchy, but was set to hide my body rather than showing it off. It only looked better after I had buttoned up the jacket. But I wore it nonetheless. Not that I had any choice.
When I stepped out of room 202, half of the outfit I had on owed credits to other students within the dormitory. Though the black shoes and linen socks were all mine, the 2-button, double breasted suit jacket and high waist trouser pants were borrowed. It was easy to tell because they didn’t fit snuggly. Since I was unable to get the only white shirt I owned to look blinding white, I borrowed that one too.
The tie? You ask? What do you think?
Thankfully a red-colored tie wasn’t that difficult to find. Two blocks away, a medical student was glad to proudly show off what he called his exquisite tie collection. I would never have spoken to this dude if I hadn’t needed a tie. He was one of those medical students that made the rest of us feel less human for studying non-medical courses. One of my room mates was his acquaintance. His famed exquisite collection was a set of half a dozen ties with colors ranging from blue to red. I picked one of the two red-striped ones which he kindly knotted into a full Windsor. All that I was left to do was to wear it around my neck on the next day. It was just the right length and I was grateful because I couldn’t knot a tie to save my life.
Please do not even ask if the boxer shorts or inner Tees were mine!!!!!
I already felt like an impostor that had one item of clothing contributed by the whole dormitory. It wasn’t my fault, I had absolutely no reason to wear a suit to an engineering class!
I arrived the venue of the interview just at the nick of time. Two minutes shy of the 1.17pm. I was almost caught out because I was unable to find a motorbike to the campus center. It was a Sunday and most students were either nicely tucked in bed in their rooms observing a siesta or cooking a hot pot of beans. Others were still at the weekly church service and mobility at that time was pretty minimal. When I finally found one, I pleaded passionately with the rider to test the maximum speed limit of his bike. He obliged without questions.
With the gust of wind to my face, the neck tie whipped my face silly while my open eyes cranked out tears that skied down the gentle slopes of my cheeks.
Yet, I was still grateful when we arrived my destination safely even when he claimed he had no change.
The cheating bastard!
Still smacking from the bike ride, with my suit jacket disheveled I located the meeting room. It was right under the stair well of the majestic Amphi-theatre.
The building is one of the most symbolic structures on the campus not just for its grandiose of scale and opulence but for it’s notoriety as the meeting point for the student union rallies during the days of protests and unrest popularly called aluta, that Obafemi Awolowo University was renowned for.
I adjusted my jacket, patted down the dirt and creases from my shirt as I approached, chin up, the oversized but well-polished and maintained mahogany door that held secrets I couldn’t wait to unveil.
Is that my heartbeat I was hearing in my left ear? I could have sworn it was the throbbing from a loud speaker in my eardrums.
“Hello, good afternoon sir, you are most welcome. I believe you are here for the interview session” A young man in shinning immaculate black suit beckoned politely.
I could only nod. Twice. My suit in comparison to his felt like a washed-up rag, this was in spite of all the worthy contributions from my room mates and their acquaintances, I was still miles away from looking as dapper as the guy who was only inches away from me.
His face was a tad familiar. He looked like someone I had seen within the corridors of one of the faculty buildings on campus. Yet he didn’t look like a guy I would see in a distressed jeans and a pull-over top or shirt.
“Your name please” His voice punctuated my thoughts.
“Akin Akingbogun” I managed to respond.
“1.17pm” He mouthed quietly. “You are up next” his face peering into mine.
There was suddenly an urgency in his stride as he turned to open the door.
That was when the panic started. My brain was bombarded by fear so much that my initial response was erratic and escalate. I wanted to check myself in the mirror one last time. I wanted to take a leak. I could even feel the need to take a dump. I didn’t have enough time to mentally prepare for what I was about to experience in that meeting room. I had no idea how ready I was and I was thrust right into the middle of it.
The humongous door swung open and I was ushered into this dimly lit meeting room. My eyes struggled to make out shapes as my pupils struggled with the contrasting and blinding afternoon sunlight and the low intensity fluorescent tubes. I could make out a chair just in front of me. Everything else was a hue of dark outline clearing slowly as though fog at dawn.
“On behalf of the Lord Mayor I would like to welcome Mr. Akin Akingbogun to the interview session” I still couldn’t make out the fellow that was speaking. He appeared to be standing. His command of English was quite impressive. Fluent and smooth.
My five senses were in over-drive. A whiff of wet rug hit my nostrils but it was soon replaced by the scent of clashing perfumes. I blinked my eyes in rapid succession as the outline of bodies started to give way to gentlemen in crisp dark suits. I smiled.
The low humming of the air-condition claimed responsibility for the coolness of the room, but it had no explanation for the bead of sweat breaking out on my forehead.
That was when it hit me that someone was making a formal introduction. I must have missed a good chunk of it between my raging heart beat, the anxiety and my curious mind.
“…sitting next to him is the Bugle, Alphite Bayo, and next to him is the deputy Lord Mayor, Alphite Tayo Adeyemo. Please permit me to introduce his eminence…..” the voice continued.
I was starting to get confused. I thought we were all students. Was there a member of the traditional royal family in our midst? There was no respite.
“…in his majestic presence I wish to introduce The Lord Mayor Seye Fatoyinbo”
The gentleman I met at the door moments earlier was now standing right in front of me, within hair’s breadth. This time, my confusion was starting to explode in my face. I tried to look at the Lord Mayor who was being introduced. But this dude was starting to ask me questions and blocking my view. I would have to shove him off the way to see the panelist, but that could only happen in my head.
“Mr Akin, did you knot your tie yourself” I was a bit baffled at the emphasis on “Mr” and theirs on the word “Alphite”.
“There must be a class system in use here” I wondered, starting to get irritated.
He asked again. “Did you knot your tie yourself sir” he asked again, his hands were already on my neck tie. He yanked it off in a swift move before I could summon a response. At that time I was still fighting a battle of morals, whether to confess or keep with the ruse. I kept mute. He handed the tie into my shaking hands.
Harassment popped into my head like a neon light. But I had no clue what to do.
I could see the room better now. Strange faces, all of them.
“Where is Ken?” I searched their faces for semblance of my friend. There was no succor.
“Are you wearing a singlet sir” The dude is asking again his fingers fiddling with the top buttons of my shirt. My hands were busy wiping the sweat on my brows, I couldn’t even be bothered with his questions.
“Please calm down. You would be fine” The gentleman continued.
Someone was starting to recite what could only be a citation and I was sure I didn’t submit any.
“Mr. Akin Akingbogun is a 300L student of civil engineering department. He is 22years of age and lives in Lagos. His greatest achievement is gaining admission into the university and he likes to read and write. He is…”
His voice trailed off as the gentleman in front of me was still prodding.
“Are you wearing any socks sir?” he asks
“Yes” I quickly replied hoping that he would cut me some slack.
“…..Mr. Akin believes that he is a natural leader and that he is destined to achieve great things with the Alpha Club. He is the first of ……….” His voice trails off again, replaced by the gentleman who was still standing smack in my face distracting me from the proceedings.
It dawned on me that he was distracting me on purpose. Perhaps that was part of the plan.
“Right” I figured.
He disappears in a swift move as he bent down low to the floor. Instinctively I looked downwards, then I suddenly felt his hands on my right ankle taking off my shoes and then my socks.
If he had gone for the left foot, he would have been welcomed to the sight of many small holes in my linen socks from months of overuse.
I wasn’t going to be humiliated any further.
“Please knot your tie please” The gentleman ordered as he walked away towards the door behind me.
That was when I heard the last word from the speaker.
“…..You are welcome Mr. Akin”
I simply frowned in response.
I wore the tie loosely around my neck having no clue how to knot it, swinging it with both hands up and down. I started to regret not paying attention to the medical student while he was knotting the tie the day before.
“Did you knot your tie yourself sir” A voice from the lot asked.
“No I didn’t quite get it. I was trying to…….”
“Mr. Akin, please take a sit” Another voice offered.
I was unmoved. There were too many delayed reactions, I wasn’t sure which one to let out first.
“Would you like to take some water?” Another voice offered.
Even though I hadn’t spoken, I was as patched as a forsaken lizard in the hot desert. I wasn’t having fun at all. If only I could stop the sweat. I didn’t have a handkerchief. Sweat patches stained my shirt in front and at the armpits. I was getting irritated quickly.
I took them up on their offer, then walked a few gingerly steps to the table away from the interview panel but towards the only white wall in the room – which by the way was the outline of concrete staircase above the room.
My steps were awkward because I had been stripped off my right shoes and socks and I was literally limping. I didn’t care at this time how I was perceived, afterall, the henchman had set to humiliate me by stripping me half-naked.
I gulped some water hurriedly like my life depended on it. It felt cold as it slithered down my throat and calmed my frayed nerve only for a moment.
“Please have your seat” Another voice asked politely. This time, I could see that the room was filled with about 7 or 8 young men each wielding a sheet of paper and a pen. I was emboldened, afterall they are students just like me.
I sat down.
“Who resides at No 10 Downing Street?”
“Who is the vice chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo university?”
“What is the capital of Chile?”
“What is the name of the Alphite seated next to the Lord Mayor”
“How many states are there in the United States of America?”
“Where is the highest mountain in the world located?”
“How long did the Vietnam war last?”
“What is the first name of the current Queen of England?”
The questions came in torrents and from everyone, every corner and everywhere. One after the other. It felt like they didn’t care for anything but the promptness of my answers. When I managed to answer one question, it came with even more questions.
“The Vice chancellor is Rogers” I countered quickly.
“Is he your family member, why would you call him by his first name” another voice queried my response.
“Professor Roger……” I stammered.
“Are you a proud fellow?” one voice spoke. It felt like a declaration than a question.
“If only y’all allow me respond to the questions before you ask the next one” I thundered in response.
“It appears you have a fiery temper Mr. Akin. Have you had an anger management session before?” another voice fired back.
I could barely answer the questions. The sweat beads were beginning to drip into my shirt. It felt like I was struggling to breath when suddenly the room went quiet after the next question.
It was the sort of eerie silence before someone gets knifed at the back.
“Why do you want to join the Alpha club?”
I heaved a sigh of relieve.
“I am convinced that I want to be a part of the league of fine gentlemen” I was borrowing Kennedy’s exact words.
“….because they represent a set of values that I believe resonates with my personality. I also believe that the club would offer the right platform to groom young men in the finest communication skills to become leaders in all their endeavors. I am confident that…….”
“Look at how you are dressed and your performance during this short session. Do you think you deserve a place at this prestigious club?” It had to be a rhetorical question because if I were to manage a response, it would probably be filled with invectives that would reveal my irritation.
My anger had come a full cycle and I was not just feeling hot from anxiety but also from the rage boiling up inside looking for a release.
“You may leave Mr. Akin Akingbogun. We have no further need of your presence.”
My last name had been poorly pronounced so often during the session I didn’t care to correct them until that moment.
“AKIN-GBO-GUN” I corrected the lot. It was my name and I held the exclusive right to how it was pronounced. I picked up my shoes and limped out of the meeting room back into God green earth and reality.
I couldn’t quite tell how I felt. Anger, displeasure, irritability, exasperation, what else?
But I welcomed the fresh gust of air in my face. It was like an imaginary beary hug. The fresh windy smell in the air was a relieve from the choking mix of perfumes from the meeting room.
The awkward looks I got from the other interviewees waiting to take their turn reminded me quickly of my banjaxed dressing. I looked like a crazy man who had been beat up rather than interviewed. They were going to get theirs soon. I welcomed a sly smile on my face.
I could sense worry on their faces. I didn’t care, I was just content to walk all the way back to the dormitory.
“I was harassed in there” I declared to myself.
I wore back the socks and laced up the shoes I had carried with my hands out of the room, leaving the white shirt untucked and unbuttoned at the top with the red tie hanging loosely around my neck.
“I hope job interviews are not this intense” I told myself as I walked away in indignation.
Please continue to the second and concluding part of the story here.
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