The mini heat wave that was, threatened to leave nerves frayed and tempers flared all week in Room 3.26 before – like a duplicitous conman – it vanished as abruptly as it had arrived. It just so happened that the air conditioning – perhaps suddenly burdened by the heat load and the multiplied tinkering of the occupants of the various offices in our section – huffed and puffed to an untimely death; leaving us in varying degrees of grumpiness. I had taken half the Friday off, looking to spend the afternoon strolling leisurely up and down Union Street, binging on the copious amounts of skin that had suddenly appeared, coaxed out by the warmth from beneath the bland greys and austere blacks that had been the standard fare for the last few months. The flirty weather had other plans though, and Friday morning arrived with a chill in its wake putting the dampers on any thoughts of prancing about town. I promptly cancelled my holiday, resigning myself to a full day of number crunching and copious amounts of milky, weak tea. So much for an early return to warm, sunny days!
My weather induced malaise extended through to Saturday morning – until some wily scheming from the god daughter finally lured me off my back side. I was in the middle of a telephone conversation with her father – wrapped in a snuggie for warmth and with re-runs of NCIS on TV for company – when she interjected to remind me of a promise I had somehow failed to deliver on. A year and some ago, she had turned five, smack in the middle of my North American jaunt. The promise of an afternoon out on my tab had been the only way to placate her at the time, something I had hopelessly failed to deliver on. At her insistence, no doubt egged on by her father, we agreed to meet up at 1.00pm for a walk down to the centre of town to grab lunch and chat. It was barely one o’clock when my doorbell rang, shattering whatever sense of lethargy I might have slipped into. I grabbed a large jacket and proceeded to take the fifteen minute stroll to Union Square, with her skipping merrily along a tad bit too excitedly, whilst her father and I – not exactly quintessential examples of fit, young men – struggled to keep up.
We clearly were not the only ones keen to spend the day out – in spite of the chill there was a small crowd of ten to twelve people clustered around the entrance to my Nandos all waiting to get seated and enjoy lunch. All told, it probably took the better part of thirty five minutes before we finally got a seat for three, wedged into a corner with the bristly leaves of some unknown plant digging into my side and a stern looking gentleman on the other. The scant consolation was the wide vista that the position afforded us – looking outward unto the central courtyard and the milling masses of gaily dressed people seemingly intent on sticking the finger to the weather, sudden chill or not.
I am handing the kid a chunk of lemon and herb flavoured prei-peri chicken when I see some movement from the corner of my eye. He walks past, pauses, moves on and then returns a few minutes later like someone weighing up a decision. When he returns a second time he marches straight to my table; only then does the flame of recognition flicker into life in my head. He and I shared six years studying together at the turn of the century. Not since those rain-beaten July months just before we shipped out to serve the nation have I seen him. He’s lost the gaunt frame, mean, hawkish eyes and the goatee that were his signature look back in the day, all that replaced by premature balding, a rounded face and the beginnings of a pot belly.
We shake hands excitedly, our enthusiasm only slightly doused by the icy look from the man to my right. He’s spent the last four years working in Port Harcourt and is in town for a three week training program. I fill him up on what I’ve been doing since leaving UX5 – studying and now stuck behind a desk crunching numbers. We swap phone numbers. He has a flight to catch early the next morning and is keen to do some last minute shopping – my now forsaken chicken is rapidly growing cold.
His parting shot is to nod in the god daughter’s direction and remark that she’s got my eyes. All I do is offer up a wry smile without comment. I suppose if MG and I had worked out – and no although I was at that wedding, I didn’t get married – I could conceivably be her father. That, somewhat sadly, I am not.