False dawns, god daughter shenanigans and an unexpected meetup

The god daughter and I having a nandos moment

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.

Awkward conversations, proxy wars and the end of an era

In that productivity black hole that is the half hour before lunch – where the energy and the gusto from an early start have been steadily eroded by the mundanity of work and the insistent prattle of phone calls, emails and the odd buzz-word infested meeting – I stroll for the umpteenth time into the restroom, almost colliding with a man who is fiddling with the zipper on his fly. I least expect to find someone just inside the door, even though this time of the day is one where the restroom shuffle, coffee room trips and huddles of two and three in the hallway are time honoured strategies for the keen time waster.

Although he is as surprised as I am, he collects his wits much quicker than I do, explaining through a stutter that his zipper has somehow come unravelled. In the five-ish minutes I spend using the urinal and washing up my hands he struggles to restore the integrity of his fly with a safety pin. Just how he manages to have a safety pin in hand and to the rescue escapes me – something tells me that he’s had the safety pin in place for more than just this trip to the loo. I leave before he resolves his little problem thankful for the chance to escape the awkwardness engendered by restroom small talk.

el Madre, never one to shirk the opportunity to launch into a full frontal assault, appears to be learning in middle age that some subtlety – especially when it is related to her quietly stubborn brood – is the more likely weapon of choice for maximum impact. After the sustained attack that was the first half of 2011, she and I managed to have civil conversations through the back end of the year; ones which were largely successful in  avoiding the elephant in the room  – my perceived lack of application in resolving her grand child conundrum. In truth the attentions of a doting son in law, and a grand daughter who is quickly learning the tricks of playing adults against each other helped to keep her mollified. In tandem with her withdrawal, my uncle F has ratcheted up his interest, and he calls me one Monday morning lunch time to remonstrate with the newest prodigal in town. He is the one Uncle who has black sheep credentials, ones which he continually uses to press the case for a change of heart from yours truly.

On to Facebook on Monday night – boredom meeting a pining for just any conversation – and I end up talking with one of the lads from my class of 2009. He’s due out of the UK for good in a week’s time, his inability to get a sponsoring company putting paid to any furtherance of the dreams he once had. It turns out in the few months I haven’t been in touch with them three more of the lads have upped and headed back to Nigeria, one has acquired a Polish bride keen to enjoy the services of her black stud and one more has bitten the bullet and headed to Canada to reinvent his career. It is perhaps a testament to the harsh climes and how quickly time has passed by that my class of 2009 is light on the ground; with the bulk of us either back in Nigeria or weighing up Nigerian moves. It truly is becoming the end of an era, our era.

How He Met My Mother

dad&mum

One Sunday in December of ’76 as the dry, dusty harmattan winds dumped a fine layer of dust on a sleepy village, two best friends who had not seen each other for the better part of three years were meeting up under the shade of a kola nut tree, squarely placed in the centre of the court yard of the unpainted cement building that housed one of the ruling families in a little village nestled underneath the overhanging rocks of the Somorika mountains.

The men in question had been partners in crime, as they painted the small village red a few years before. Forming a fearsome central defensive partnership, they had been the foundation of the all-conquering village football team. Women (and free kai-kai at the local drinking spots) were a few of the trappings this revered status brought them, and like all full blooded thirty-something males, they had milked their lofty status to the maximum. They also had the fortune in those days to have parents with some education, and thus had been pushed and prodded until they had completed their A-levels and gone on to University – Ai to UNILAG, and Og to UI.

Something though had happened in between – Ai had somehow acquired a worldview shattering transformation two years into his UNILAG experience, and had become rabidly spiritual, complete with speaking in tongues and the other trappings of militant charismatism. Og on the other hand had fallen in with the folks at the Student Union and had become a radical of his own, only with a more political slant.

Underneath the tree, the animated conversation slowly segued into an attempt to unpack the changes that had happened in their individual lives in the period they had not seen each other. Og was incredulous, and perhaps a little dismissive of the fact that a full blooded young man could suddenly become able to resist the lure of free women, beer, and a reputation for playing the town. Ai tried his best to explain the spiritual changes that had happened in his life, to little effect.

That innocuous conversation underneath a tree was the first step in a chain of events that would bring Ai in contact with a delectable lass from the village next door. Whilst visiting cousins in the village next door, Og was told about someone who had shattered academic records all her life, and was attending the University of Ife on a Federal scholarship. She also had a reputation for being a hard nosed SU member. The next time Og was in town, he asked to meet her, and when his missive was repelled with a stirring master class in evangelism, he mentioned he knew just the right bloke with enough spiritual fervour to match the young woman’s potency.

Two years later, Ai and said lass would get married in the local Anglican Church amid much pomp and pageantry- she swears the marriage register was signed at 11:36am; all he remembers is saying the I-do’s and whisking her off to a whole new life.

33 years, four children (less the one who the genes took), multiple quarrels (including at least one week where one party packed out of the house), and six academic degrees between them later, they are still together, reasonably happy and still share a laugh at Og’s antics. Somewhere in between they would become my parents.

Coming clean…

On the surface, I live a life that most people would envy – 5 years working for a Fortune 500 company in Nigeria, followed by a well recognized MSc and then a job working for one of the industry leaders in my sector of the Oil industry. On the family side, it would appear that I have it all sorted – the quintessential good son, with proud, loving and doting parents. The true picture couldn’t be further from the truth.

Each day I wake up, there is a slight tinge of regret that I made the decision to leave my Nigerian job. When my parents and I speak (often only once in two to three weeks), our conversations are strained, perfunctory and often seem like a forced marriage. I know they did their very best to cater for me as a kid growing up, but somewhere in my head, I still feel their extra strong handling is to blame for my uber reserved demeanour these days. With regards to work, the UK is becoming very unfriendly to immigrants, and the settledness of the first few years in my current job has given way to an inner agitation – I feel like I need to cast the net far and wide to relocate to a different continent. Right now if I got the right offer, I would not blink twice in relocating to Nigeria – warts and all.

I often come across as cynical, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. My pragmatism, borne of years of learning to stifle my feelings, throw walls around myself and guard my utterances, have left me virtually unable to connect emotionally with people. I sigh inwardly when I read the likes of Favoured Girl, Crush Thoughts and Till my Dying Day, they make me want to believe in love again…

The truth?

  • I want to love and be loved by SomeOne,
  • I want to have a normal relationship with my parents,
  • I want to declutter my head, and tear down the walls I have spent years building
  • I want to reconnect to my inner mushy guy…..

Sigh..

Biting the bullet…

Against everything my head tells me, I pick up the phone and call my elder sister. Growing up, she and I at best had a tenuous relationship, at the worst of times we barely spoke to each other for long stretches. She always had this way of taking bluntness to illogical extremes in my opinion. Lately, Mother has put her on the job of hassling me.

When my call connects, she is in the middle of mixing up some cereal for her youngest child. She puts my call on speaker phone mode as she juggles her child, the phone call and the bowls she is using.

We talk – work, our Uncle down in London, Mother and her latest antics, her in-laws, and marriage; Kuti’s planned one and mine which doesn’t seem like happening any time soon.  She thinks I am not being intentional enough about it. In a way I think I agree. I am still trying to come to terms with the loss of EJ, but she insists I do not have a lot of time on my hands any more.

So going forward I am biting the bullet, trying to become more intentional about meeting and dating women, but first of all there is the small matter of an inquest that I need to get sorted. I need to ensure that what lessons there are to learn from Ej and the others are learned and put to use the next time around.

For Gracie…

For Gracie, who the genes took…

You never saw
the thirteenth summer through-
before the genes
claimed you.

You always were –
the sallow one, knuckle-
kneed, paper thin, but –
the lights in your
jaundiced eyes shone:
through pain and fear,
and hope and tears.

The strength in your voice
never dimmed, never waned,
until the genes – like a
belligerent marabout’s curse –
turned you,
to a mound of red-
dead earth

You never saw
the thirteenth summer through-
but like a wound left raw
We remember.

Free Food’s great…

Free food is great, especially when you are a confirmed bachelor with an aversion for cooking. I’m sure if my pots and pans have a choice they would  vote to have me back in their next ‘lives’. Such is the ease  of their lives! Providence must have decided to be kind to me though, as a few hours after complaining of feeling listless I got a phone call from my work buddy O to head off to the beach. He and I have an inside joke where I hail him as my mentor and he says I’m much too old to be mentored by him, and considering the boring lives we lead, hanging out is always a plus. Fast forward a few hours and we head off to the beach where we go to this Chinese buffet thingy at Jimmy Chung. Two huge cokes, lamb ribs, some curried rice and soup later, we could belch with satisfaction at a great days work – all for nine pounds. I should definitely do this again!

10 years on..

My Uncle Fred was the nearly black sheep of Mother’s side of the family. Bloke had all the women purring over him and he lived for the attention. As recently as the year 2000, he still left his plates on the table after eating and Mother would use him as an example of how not to behave.

It was to my utmost surprise therefore, that in the midst of a phone call with me, Uncle Fred excused himself to go stir some soup he was making! Uncle Fred and cooking are about as diametrically opposed as they come..

Maybe its the UK life, or a strong wife, but that is a sea change… So much for the archetypicalundomesticated husband.

Friends…..

Caught up with Olu again – he and I sat down in the car, engines revving pouring our hearts out on the various issues in our lives. After being so similar for such a long time, our lives cannot be more divergent going forward. He is heading back to Nigeria semi-permanently, I am looking forward to yet another winter here.

Life is good though, and the time spent chatting up has thrown up a few new directions. That is what friends are for I suspect.

A spot of bother..

Mum is running scared. A lot more scared than even I am.. And she doesn’t know the full scale of the issue. All I have told her is that I may not be returning to my old job in Nigeria. The truth is that I have quit already. As is typical with her she is bothered; wondering if I have enough funds to survive the job search, if I am seeking temporary work whilst all my documentation pulls through, the whole lanyards.

I think, God willing, I have things covered- and barring any major glitches I should be fine. But she can’t understand the decision. Truth is I got totally fed up with the politics and the scheming, and decided a fresh start was in order. Still fingers crossed,  palms closed together, hoping and praying that it works out.

Ciao!