SubZero sat on the rumpled mattress that served as his bed, and scrolled through his phone. His stomach rumbled and he bit his lips. His last cup of garri was in the bucket in the kitchen and he was reserving it for breakfast the next day. When you are jobless and penniless, you have to find creative ways of putting body and soul together. Subzero swallowed some spit and hoped that his two roommates, Afro and Beebytee, who had gone out to the betting shop earlier in the day to make inquiries on the availability of white tickets and also to hustle would bring home a grub or two for dinner.
Subzero began humming the song playing on his phone’s music player;
“Killer with the flow nobody sicker
The money and the fame now coming quicker
Queen of the coast don dey find the nigga
God save me from Karashika”
He opened the Google PlayStore app and searched for “Jellyfish” game to while away time. The game didn’t appear on the search results. Subzero hissed and decided to tap the back button to close the page and do a fresh search. As he brought his finger to tap the button, his eyes suddenly fell upon an app in the list;
JOLLOF RICE TRACKER
He tapped the yellow square box icon and the information about the app was displayed:
“Jollof rice tracker tracks and updates you with locations of Jollof rice within a 50 km radius. This app works by the aid of pheromones carried by the breeze and tracked by the ultra sensitive rays embedded in this app.
Size: 15 mb
Total number of downloads: 4
Developed by CrackHactivistNG
“Jollof rice tracker? This is interesting. Let me download it!” An excited Subzero said.
He swiped across his phone’s screen and tapped on the app icon.
The app opened up and he quickly selected the “Search for Jollof rice signal” button.
……searching for jollof rice….
A tiny black revolving circle appeared on the screen.
Searching for Jollof rice….60%…..80%…..100% completed.
A flashing pop up box suddenly appeared on the screen.
“Jollof rice signals has been tracked to No, 45 Aggrey drive, off Williams street, Uyo. Distance: 540 metres away from your location.”
Subzero rushed out of the room. He kicked the weather beaten palm sandals at the door into his legs and hit the road. Aggrey drive was just two streets away from his location.
Subzero boldly knocked and pushed open the gate of 45 Aggrey drive. He walked into an expansive compound. Two big canopies were erected in front of the house. Subzero gazed at the large banner on the wall;
“Happy 7th Birthday miss Uduakabasi David”
It was a birthday party and kids were everywhere, having fun. Aggrey quietly sat on a plastic chair seat and watched as large coolers of jollof rice were brought out from the house and placed in front of the canopies. Two young ladies were dishing out the rice into small plates for the kids.
“This app works!!!” Subzero exclaimed to himself. The jollof rice tracker app had suddenly become the most useful and most important android app on his phone.
A steaming plate of jollof was brought to Subzero who accepted it with thanks and attacked food like a starving lion in the desert. He would request for another plate as soon as he finished the first one. He would eat until he could eat no more.
“Guys! I found something interesting today!” A happy and satisfied Subzero shared the good news with Afro and Beebytee. The duo couldn’t believe their ears.
“Here is the app. Make I show una how e dey work” Subzero proudly said as he launched the app on his phone.
….searching for jollof rice….
“Opps, no signals tracked for now. Try again in 15 minutes.” The message on the pop up box read.
“Guy this thing na hoax, e no dey work” a disappointed Afro said.
“This na pure scam” Beebytee said.
“I dey tell una wetin I use chop today, una dey doubt me. E be like say network no dey this room. Make I stand outside do am.”
****20 minutes later*****
“Guys make una come see o!” Subzero yelled.
“Jollof rice tracked at Chief Akpasung compound, Ikot Ifod, 2 km away”
“Wey ikot ifod dey sef?”
“Na after that flyover, keke fit collect N70 carry us reash there” Afro suggested.
“Make we go there abeg!”
A soon as they alighted at the venue, they knew that the app was right. The big funeral poster of Chief Akpasung greeted them. It was a big vigil night with food and drinks in excess.
The young men couldn’t believe their luck as they gobbled hot Jollof rice down their throats.
“Guy, abeg send me that app. I don put on my Flash share”
“Open your Xender make I send am, e go dey faster”
“Abeg use Bluetooth send my own”
And so the three jobless guys feasted on jollof rice at diferent occasions. The app gave them signals as they crashed wedding receptions, funeral ceremonies, birthday parties, send forth ceremonies, engagement parties, child dedications, even private lunches and dinners in homes. They ate and their bodies filled up and took a lovely shape as flesh covered their bones. Their cheeks became rosy and rounded, their sunken eyes became bright and sparkling.
The Jollof Rice tracker app spread like wild fire in the city. Afro sent it to Precious, a female student he was chyking. Her male colleagues got it from her and it spread in the university community. Every student downloaded the app and put it into good use.
It spread to other cities. Jollof rice tracker became the most popular android app in the country. People used it all day long to track the location of their next free Jollof rice meal.
However, as the users multiplied into hundreds of thousands, the app’s bandwidth and server was used up. It crashed on one cold and rainy day.
“Guy! How far? Your Jollof rice tracker dey work? My own never gree open since morning!” Beebytee lamented to Afro on the phone.
“My own get the same wahala. I been tink say na only me dey experience this. E belike say the app get small problem”
“I don delete my own, download another one, e still dey tell me ‘service timeout’. Make I call Subzero find out weda e dey experience wetin we dey experience.”
“Subzero, how far? Your Jollof dey work?”
“Ol boy, my app never work o, I never see jollof rice chop today. How we go do now?”
There was a surge of emotional outburst in the country as users wailed and lamented about the crash of the app. No one knew the address of CrackHacktivistNG, the app developer. Young people spent days poring over their phones, deleting, downloading and reinstalling the app, desperately hoping that it would work on each trial.
On the third day of the app’s crash, #BringBackJollofRiceTracker hashtag was launched on all social media sites.
In the streets, people stood huddled in groups discussing the topic. In offices, workers talked all day about the sad demise of the Jollof rice tracker.
In a week’s time most users began deleting the app as they painfully adjusted to life without free jollof rice signals.
Subzero, Afro and Beebytee bemoaned their fate and wept openly in their rooms as they could not contemplate life without the jollof rice app. Life was bleak and empty without the app showing the location of the next free meal.
“I can’t take this…i just can’t!” Afro sobbed.
“Oh, how I miss my jollof rice app, what will I be eating now?” Beebytee sniffed.
Subzero laid on the bed and turned a tear stained face to his roommates, and said in a weak tone, “if I don’t wake up tomorrow, please let it written in my biography that I died of Jollof rice starvation”, he sighed sorrowfully and turned his face to the wall.
“Are you telling me that the last time this ministry went for inspection of this out station was 6 years ago? This is incredible!” The commissioner frowns his face and at the head of the monitoring team in his office.
“Sir, we do try our best. The staff in that place are all ghost workers. I hear they only go to work once a month”
“What? Ghost workers? But do they collect monthly salaries?”
“This nonsense must stop today! I am going to sanitize and overhaul the system. I will pay them an unscheduled visit! Give me their address now!” The commissioner glares at his subordinate, and adjusts his thin rimmed glasses perching precariously on his nose.
*****Monday Morning. 8:45 pm*******
Commissioner parks his car at a safe location and begins marching towards the office located at the end of the street.
“Good morning sir” two women sweeping the long veranda with long brooms greet him with a questioning look on their faces.
“Who are you people?” Mr commissioner asks in his most authoritative and official tone.
“We are cleaners. We open the office and sweep the floor every morning”
“Are there any staff around?” The commissioner asks as he glances at his wristwatch.
The women shake their head.
“Alright, you people should go away now, give me the keys of the office. I am coming from the ministry headquarters!”
The commissioner paces around the building and walks into the different offices, muttering to himself with righteous indignation.
“This is gross negligence and abscondment from duty! It is 9 am and no staff has reported to work! I am going to deal with them today. I will issue queries! Immediate demotion and sack letters! Where is the time book? Do they even have something like that here?”
He roughly pulls out a drawer and brings out a dog eared exercise book that serves as the time book. Immediately, a lizard jumps out of the drawer and lands on the floor with a thud, and scampers away.
“Can you imagine a lizard in a government office? They have not opened that drawer in years! Oh, they have not been signing the time book, no wonder” He opens the book and furiously scribbles a little note with his black pen.
“Let me wait here for a while. They would come and meet me here. The system has to be cleansed!!!”
He pulls a chair, gives it a disdainful look and sits down at the edge while tapping his foot on the ground.
“Good morning sir” a loud unearthly voice sounds over the commissioner’s head. He looks up….
“Jesus Christ!!!” He screams as he sees two skeletal beings standing before him. The skeletons have red ties hanging around their bony necks.
A third object in the image of a lady shrouded in white veil appears and stands besides the two skeletons.
“Oh my God! Abasi mmi o!” the shocked Commissioner wails. He quickly jumps over the table and runs into the inner office. These are ghost workers in the real sense of the word!
“Why are you running sir?” the voice calls out as footsteps suggest the ghosts are advancing towards the inner office.
Mr commissioner wildly gazes around the room for a hiding place or weapon. The only thing he sees is big black bucket with a lid in the corner of the room. He swiftly gets inside the container and hastily places the lid over his head. He crouches in the tiny enclosure, peeking out from time to time.
“….The lord is my shepherd I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…he restoreth my soul…he shall keep his angel charge over me, lest I dash my foot against a stone…” The now sweating commissioner mouths off random Bible verses as goose pimples develop over his body.
A long rustic and bony hand yanks the lid off from the bucket, exposing the terrified man inside.
“Come out sir, we can see you. We are your staff and you are our boss”
The frightened man crawls out of the container on all fours and hastily makes a sign of the cross.
“Sir, you are welcome to our station. This is the first time in years that someone from the headquarters has cared to visit us, so we are happy. Why did you visit us today?” The tall ghost asks in a surreal voice tone.
“I…i, I came to say hi and appreciate you for the good work you are doing here and en…encourage you to do more work…”
Mr commissioner is slowly backing out….if only the ghosts would move away for him to run out…who would have thought it that a government office harboured real ghosts as workers! It was a grave mistake not to have come with the police escort….
“Sir, when are you going to pay us leave grant?” The female ghost asks in a demonic tone that reverberated around the building.
“Today! It has been keyed into the system already. You will get the alert today, I promise you…” Mr commissioner replies….just say anything to buy time to run out…
“Sir, we have not collected our promotion arrears up till now, why?” The tall ghost pulls his tie angrily and begins advancing towards the hostage.
“Please, you will get it soon, before the month runs out, I swear to God who made me!”
“We did not collect Christmas rice that was shared to all staff of the ministry last year. Why?” The second skeleton snaps, baring its hollow eye socket.
Mr Comissioner’s knees are wobbling….the rice…didn’t they bring it here?…
“The rice…err, I am sorry, it was not enough for everyone, i myself, I didn’t get even one cup”
“Lie! You think we don’t know what you did? You and the permanent secretary collected the bags of rice meant for all workers and kept them in your houses, and sold them for cash! Why are you lying to us, sir?” The angry ghosts yelled in unison.
“I am…I am sorry….” hot urine is trickling down the legs of mr commissioner.
“Please forgive me, I will make it up to you this Christmas….and…but you are ghosts and ghosts do not eat rice…”
“Ghosts do not eat rice? Whaaaat?” The angry ghosts scream in unison and throw themselves at the commissioner….but just before they make contact with him, they suddenly disappear into the thin air.
“Edi enno oooo” commissioner screams and takes to his heels.
He hits his legs on a log of wood at the entrance of the building and tumbles to the ground. The unsettling laughter from the ghosts behind him is chilling. He staggers to his feet, gasping for breath and races away….
……run son of man run…
All 56 years of him is invested in the race as he runs the race of his life on the road….
Run…man…run for your life….Usain Bolt style…Kenya marathon style…..
“Ghosts do not eat rice abi?” The scornful and booming voice of the ghosts sounds once more behind him.
Mr commissioner is out of breath as he tumbles to the ground…his fatigued body can’t take it anymore…
“Leave me alone! I resign! I am no longer commissioner! Governor, I resssssssiiiiiignnnnn!”
By Iniobong Umoh
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