It has taken me some time to get used to spending dimes, quarters, and cents, and whenever I bought something whose price sounded like $7.11, all I had to do was pay the $7 with the notes I have, then bring out the numerous coins I have in my pocket, open my palms and let the cashier pick out the remaining 11cents herself. I mean which country is this that still spends coins when everything could be made in notes/bills? Couldn’t they have at least taken some lesson from Africa’s most populous country where less than three months after the coins are issued, nobody else accepts them from you except the surrendered taxi drivers on the campus of a few (in)sane Universities (like Ibadan). So here I was trying to grapple with the fact that a dollar consists of four quarters, ten dimes and a hundred cents. Bull! Bloody waste of precious time if you ask me, especially for this travula who must always first do a mental conversion of each of those amount he spends in dollars to Naira before he pays for the order. Yea, yea, I know I shouldn’t still be thinking in Naira by now. But what shall a man do when his income is not unlimited? Sigh.
And so it was even a greater wonder to find out that almost everything here takes money from you, mostly the coins. If you park your car at a parking meter, you put money in it. If you were speeding too much, the police would stop you and make you pay for a ticket. If you wanted a condom, or a drink of soda, there is a machine you could go and put a coin into, and your product would be dispensed immediately. I first saw the one for condoms at Heathrow airport. Who could have thought that somebody is already smart enough to know that people may wish to have sex while on a plane? My final wonder about vending machines came on Saturday when I had to do some washing. Interestingly there was a self-serviced laundry machine service in house #429. All you had to do was put in a dollar and your clothes would be washed clean. The only problem I had with that was the fact that the machine only took coins. And it was my first time.
Now when Reham, my co FLTA from Egypt first took me into the laundry, all she said was, “You put your clothes in here, a dollar in here, in coins, and then press this. The machine would tell you how many minutes you have to wait and you can come back to pick your clothes. Then you take them out again, and put them in this other machine, put another dollar, in coins, press this, and it will tell you when to come and pick it. This second one is meant to dry them up.” What she didn’t say was that one also had to put some some detergent in the first machine. By the time I discovered this fact, my clothes had spent thirty-eight minutes in the machine, they were wet but they were not washed, and I had paid a dollar. I was vexed. All that money, and I still have to put in detergent myself! I was even more annoyed because prior to this oversight, I had wasted some three more quarters in a similar washing machine in this same building on this same day. What happened was that I had put in only three quarters, and failing to find one last quarter, I took the other coins I had with me (which turned out to be dimes and cents) and put them in the machine, hoping that it would just do the math and let me go. The machine refused to collect them (I later found out that it collected ONLY quarters) and it also refused to refund my three quarters already put in. Who says machines don’t have criminal minds?
Now when I buy coffee and the cashier begins to look for change. Instead of saying, “Oh, you may keep that”, I stiffen up my upper lip as a now smarter Nigerian, and say “Oh, make that change in quarters, please. Thank you very much.”