The parable of the workers in the vineyard is one of the stories in the Bible that baffles me most. For the sake of those who don’t know the story, here’s a quick narration: a landowner goes out at the break of dawn and hires some workers for his vineyard. They agree a daily wage of a penny. He sends them off to the vineyard to begin work. A few hours later, he runs into another group of people standing idly in the market. He hires them and sends them off to the vineyard to join the first set of workers. This sequence of events is repeated over the course of the day, with the last group of workers hired late in the evening. Nothing remarkable, I agree, but only until the day is over and it is time for the workers to be paid their wages. For some reason, he decides to pay the workers in inverse order of the time of their hire. He pays the set of workers he hired last a penny. Those he hired first also receive a penny. Predictably, they are upset, and not unreasonably so. Surely, it was unfair that those that had worked longest should receive exactly the same wages as those who had worked for less, right?
Life too, as many of us have now found out, is often not fair. We like to imagine that people always get their just deserts. That the smartest guys end up at the top; hardworking people achieve success in the end; and the wicked will eventually get their comeuppance. It doesn’t always work out like that. If there’s one thing life seldom gives, it’s what we think we or others deserve.
Remember Bayo that was in our class?
Bayo…? That had two extra semesters?
Yeah, that’s him. I ran into him at the bank. He’s done very well for himself o. He’s into real estate development.
Yeah. I saw him off to his car. The guy drives a 2013 G550 mehn.
G what! You’re joking. The same Bayo?
Many of us still react with an emotion that ranges from mild surprise to utter disbelief when we are confronted, in later years, with the success of people from our past. They might be a former classmate at secondary school; a fellow analyst at the firm where we got our first job; or a girl that lived on the same street as we did twelve years ago. Whoever they are, there’s that common denominator – we knew these people when they were nobodies, and not just that, at the time we knew them, there wasn’t the slightest indication they would turn out any good.
Remember that efiko† in your university days; the one who won all the prizes at the Convocation and was the darling of all the lecturers? Where do you think she is now? In a top job at a big multinational earning twice the pay of her contemporaries and higher up the ladder than co-workers twice her age, right? Wrong. Majority of the career high-flyers I have come across in my professional life were not top-of-the-class students. Wait a minute, don’t get too excited, they were not stupid either.
Well, here we are, all these years later, comparing notes, unpleasantly surprised by how well those we had written off as ne’er-do-wells have fared.
Rotimi was that guy every girl wanted to be with and every guy wanted to be like. He was a good looking bloke – dark and tall, with an athletic build and boyish looks. His parents were well to do. He lived in a BQ in the Staff Quarters, drove a very clean Corolla and was always impeccably dressed. He had swag – not the in-your-face type that some of us find obnoxious – but a charming, likeable kind. As you’d expect, Rotimi had the pick of the best chicks during his undergraduate days at Ife. When I found out that he had been with Solape – a sweet, pretty 100 level law chick I was weighing a move on – I was very upset at how life and circumstances made it so easy for some guys to have all the chicks whilst the rest of mankind roasted.
Fast forward to present day. Wole – a friend from Ife – is getting married and I’m at The Haven, the venue of the wedding. I am threading my way down a narrow aisle – distracted by a girl in a red dress across the hall – when I bump shoulders against someone coming from the opposite direction. I look up to apologize and recognize the face. It is Rotimi, as devilishly handsome as ever.
Wassup. How you dey? I say. My tone is measured. I haven’t completely forgiven him over Solape.
Hey! How’re you doing man? he replies, clasping my hand enthusiastically. Long time.
Yeah I reply, noticing only then that there’s a woman standing behind him.
He draws her closer. This is my wife.
I burst out laughing. Okay, seriously, I don’t laugh, but I don’t know how I am able to keep myself from laughing.
Your wife I say aloud, stretching out my hand. What! How? Why? But I don’t say these aloud. Hi, I’m Tola.
My name is Fisayo, pleased to meet you she replies. Her voice is laced with a distinct Yoruba accent.
She is all smiles as she shakes my outstretched hand. But the smiles do not help the situation. I know that not everyone is pretty and I do not – okay let’s change that to try not to – judge people or discriminate against them on the basis of their looks. But I think everyone should look a little nicer when they smile and no one should turn up at a wedding slovenly dressed. I cannot believe my eyes.
Later on, I am seated at a table with friends, exchanging banter. But my mind is elsewhere. I am thinking of what on earth could have made Rotimi – the bad ass, smooth talking ladies man from back in the day – end up with a wife like that. Did she get pregnant? No, it couldn’t be: what would he have been doing with her in the first place. I am generally not superstitious, but I can’t help wondering if she had laced his food with a love potion, the way they do in movies on AfricaMagic Yoruba. I shake my head in disbelief. What was the point of dating all those gorgeous girls at Ife if this was going to be his last bus stop? I can make no sense of it.
Surely, I’m not the only one here that has a story like this to share. I know you must have run into an old flame at some social event, hand in hand with her beau, and come away from that encounter immensely pleased that she didn’t, if appearances are anything to go by, get an upgrade after dumping you.
There was a spring in my step as I left The Haven later that evening. It had nothing to do with the Moet I’d had at the wedding, even though I’d had quite a bit. It wasn’t the pleasure of catching up with old friends and former classmates. This is why I was thrilled: I may not have had an illustrious record in the dating game, but if there was a Girlfriends and Wives Contest that day, I could decide to show up without my babe and still finish ahead of Rotimi.
Would you have imagined, back then, that that your roommate at Idia Hall who was notorious for being an aristo‡ would be happily married today, with a devoted husband and two adorable kids?
She didn’t contract HIV?
Her womb wasn’t damaged by all the serial abortions they said she’d had?
Her husband doesn’t know or care about her sordid past?
Sorry, darling, no again.
It’s not fair!!!
Say hello to life.
I am no Bible Scholar, but I’ve been told that the meaning of the parable of the workers in the vineyard is this: the decision of the landowner – who represents God – to pay all the workers the same wage was an act of mercy – to the workers that were hired later – and not injustice – to those that were hired first. In other words, it is up to God who He decides to show mercy.
Perhaps there’s logic to the events in the other stories after all. Bayo may have struggled to remember what he had just read the instant he flipped the page, but what does that have to do with an eye for opportunities and good judgment, which are integral to succeeding in business? Here’s what I tell every young, bright-eyed student that asks for my advice: read your books, but don’t imagine for one second that good grades would give you anything in life more than bragging rights amongst your peers and a shot at a decent first job. It was possible that Rotimi had finally realized that meaningful relationships didn’t have to be hinged on physical attractiveness. Perhaps Fisayo had some extraordinary virtue I knew nothing about that compensated for the sloppiness. Plausible, hmm? To be honest, not that I care. The next time I see Tony at a client meeting dressed in an oversized suit – the same Tony that made some of us not want to come to school on Out of School Uniform Day because his older siblings that lived in Yankee sent him box loads of baffs♠ – I will still smile smugly, adjust the lapel of my tailored jacket and say to myself ehen, who kom carry last na?♦
I am on twitter @bellanchi
† Efiko – Slang meaning “nerd”.
† Aristo – Slang for a young girl or woman (usually a student) who regularly has sex with older married men for money. Could also be used to refer to such men.
♠ Baffs – Slang meaning “nice clothes”.
♦ Ehen, who kom carry last na? – Roughly translated, spoken cheekily: “so who finished last after all?”