I get my sister’s old room back. I have been way for so long that I have to go back two house moves to the time I still had a room here, one that I shared with the kid brother in the house on 3rd Street.
I spend the bulk of the five days I spend in total in a haze of sorts – thanks to the ASUU strike, there’s precious little going on about town. NEPA does it’s very best to limit how much access to my devices I get, battery life being a significant issue of sorts.
I do get to sort out my bank problems, a spanking new ATM is delivered in time for me to avoid having to pay significant penalties for using my UK debit card in Nigeria. The nieces are good sport – V’s all of nearly four years old, G’s nearly nine months and A’s nearly seven. They take to the two christmas bears I get them very well. The difference between both G and A can’t be more obvious – one’s quiet, friendly and easily amused by my tech, the other is agitated, bubbly and keen to be up and about.
Mum, as always, manages to throw in a visit to the tailor. The downside, or upside depending on how you look at it, of being away all this while is I have missed a number of events and the associated scurrying about to get the entire brood kitted in matching clothes.
The tailor is a long term friend of the family – she’s privy to my F debacle from 2009 – I wonder if it is pity in her eyes when she tries to make small talk as I get measured for my danshiki. God go do am, my brother, is her parting shot. I suppose there can never be too much of praying on one’s behalf.
I don’t get to see T and his kid – bad form on my part, I leave a gift for them and my trusty MacBook Air for sister #1’s who’s been pining for a functional laptop.
All told, it’s about catching up with family, and resting up. Nothing fancy, nothing out of the ordinary, just enjoying being home.
By 7.20am, I am in a cab, speeding towards the Yaba Motor Park. The plan is to grab a seat on an early bus to Benin, and then on to Ekpoma. Overnight my Mum has tried to call me several times. My gamble – forwarding my UK mobile to a Skype Out number- has failed spectacularly; no thanks to the dodgy internet I’ve got. The forwarded calls come in but I can’t answer them with any decent quality. 😦 That early on a Sunday morning, Lagos is already agog – blaring loud speakers, shrill cries of hawkers and bus conductors alike and a steady stream of pedestrians.
At the park, three buses are being filled concurrently – one has the luxury of a a DVD player and screen and air conditioning, the other has only air conditioning, the third is the RyanAir (link) equivalent – no frills, no fancy, basic get-you-there service. I plump for the mid-tier option – handing over 2,600 Naira. There are four more spaces to fill – I settle into the back seat to wait. The loader, a small, wiry, quick witted man whose deeply etched face belies his boy sized body hops about, keeping us entertained with his brand of wit and sarcasm.
The middle row of seats – and one on the first row – is taken up by four women who seem to be part of a traveling party. They have that settled, stolid unflappable-ness of middle aged safety, accompanied with a few tufts of greying hair peeking out from beneath their head scarves. It seems like they have been attending a church convention of some sort. The woman in the front seat who appears to be the leader of the group – reminisces almost to herself, given the lack of comments from the others – on how well a certain person preached the night before.
After another hour of waiting in which the six or so people who have arrived at the Edegbe Line stand opt for either of the other options but not our mid-tier one, I decide to pay for an extra street to speed things up. The bonus is I won’t have to worry about managing my hand carried bag of extra gifts for the nieces and my parents, and the chance to ease the discomfort I am already feeling from squashing my legs into the tight space I have afforded.
Two last two passengers to arrive join me at the back – a much older husband and wife pair, I assume. She is carrying a small purse, whilst he drags a large traveling case. When they speak, it is in faintly accented tones – I place them as academics of some sort. My hunch is proved right when it turns out they have UNIBEN connections and remember my father from back in the day.
We finally get the bus loaded up – the exits blocked completely by the various odds and ends we are all traveling with. I shudder inwardly at the prospects of escape if a fire breaks out.
Just before we head out, the posse of women break out in singing and clapping, followed by an extended payer for journey mercies, and protection from armed robbers and all the other dangers of the road, apparently – thank goodness I think to myself.
The journey passes without significant incident – bar the few potholes our bus clangs through. To be fair, the road is in a much improved state than I recall – for portions of it, we have to switch the side of the road we use – which leads to some confusion.
At Ore – we break for food; I end up grabbing plantain chips, coke and some suya. Missing my regular hotel in Lagos threw the spanner in the works for my first night suya/ chicken republic staple. Ore makes amends.
Benin… We arrive just after 2.00pm. Speeding past Precious Palm Royal, and then UNIBEN in short order, there is at once a lot of and yet little change visible. What is immediately obvious is that a lot of building has been completed since I last passed through these parts. To the right of the main gate, a row of freshly built banks stand, new, clean, resplendent, no doubt profiting from being repositories of all the various fee accounts the university creates.
After I come off the bus from Lagos, I find a bus headed for New Benin motor park to kick off the second phase of my journey. It has just rained – odd for early November. In the midst of the bedlam that is the motor park, someone calls my name; or at least I think so. Not in the mood for any mindless prattle, and using the fact that my earphones are plugged in as an excuse – I feign not hearing.
We are all sweaty in the tightly packed bus. Packed as tightly as we are, the air doesn’t get a lot of circulation, bearing the various smells it is saddled with – cray fish and garri from the ghana-must-go across from me, and a motley of other smells given off by the open gutters around.
Salvation comes when we finally move off, the forced draughts clearing the dense, suffocation that has settled upon us like a blanket. We complete the 80-ish kilometres in just over an hour, the imposing facade of the University gate welcoming us to town. All that is left is the intermittent stopping to offload people, their luggage and their wares. By the time we are past the city centre and heading towards the outskirts, we have been whittled down from fifteen to less than six.
At the last stop there are just two of us – a woman who looks vaguely familiar and I. We hop off the bus, claim our baggage and attempt to hail a cab. She catches my eye and seemingly after weighing it for a bit asks me if I’m not an S. I reply in the affirmative. It turns out she works at the primary school I attended back in the 80’s.
You haven’t changed much since your sister’s‘s wedding she says – I laugh and try to make small talk until I am saved by an okada heeding her call. Grett your mum for me she says.
I wave as she disappears, borne by the bike rider.
I surprise my parents by walking the last few kilometres from the bus stop home. They are surprised – you have always been quietly stubborn mom says.
Home.. Is always home.. As will a fiercely independent child remain…
I wake up to singing – slightly muffled but loud enough to filter through to that neither here nor there place between sleep and waking up, where ambient sounds meld into dreams, or whatever it is conscious people do with their brains. When I make my way downstairs, it turns out it is the hotel staff having morning prayers.
I am low on cash, I half start to prepare to go out before I am minded to ask my friend V, who confirms an ATM is my best bet. I end up walking a few kilometres to the nearest bank, a Zenith Bank, and empty my cash passport in the process; 20,000 naira should cover an extra day’s hotel costs and the transport fare by road from Lagos to Benin which is next on the agenda.
The rest of the afternoon is spent lazing around – TV, internet surfing and lunch at a KFC which I stumble on amidst my morning walkabout. Trying to decide what to buy, I find it more than a tad different than the KFC I’m used to. For one they have meals that include rice, and also have a very crispy variety of chicken. The equivalent of my regular three- piece variety meal is the hungry meal – for 1800 naira – three pieces of crispy, chicken, chips and a Pepsi. No obsessing over what that will do to my calorie counting numbers for the year, mind.
Late afternoon, I get the call I have been waiting for. It’s third time lucky for meeting M – three years and some in the making. The plan is to catch up somewhere on the island – she suggests The Palms, after a bit of back and forth as she’s attempts to sort out transport.
I hop into a cab – a far more reasonable thousand naira the fare this time – and head out from my Ikeja hide out to the Island. By the time I arrive, M is no where to be find – typical woman I dare say – but in this case for good reason on her part.
Waiting in front of the palms, the overwhelming sense is of being surrounded by proper middle class self indulgence – a milling mass of young-ish, upwardly mobile families tumbling out of their SUVs, 2.5 kids and poorly dressed relative in tow. The odd toddler on the way out has a huge ice cream cone to his mouth, a defence against the searing heat at 3.00 in the afternoon, I suppose. Besides my irritation at being made to wait, there is the genuine trepidation at the possibility of running into some of my old chums – my old playground at UX is only a stone’s throw away. I am hardly dressed like the triumphant returnee – my bushy hair, week old stubble and weight loss more indicative of someone who has fallen into hard times. My worst fears are realised when I run into one such bloke. He has his three kids, and wife in tow, and is pushing a trolley full of an assortment of tinned food. We shake hands – Good to see you he says, giving me the eye. I shrug, came in on Friday night, on to Benin tomorrow morning I quickly add. I give the wife a hand shakes and rub the head of the boisterous six year old who was barely born the last time I saw them. We mouth a few more pointless banalities, before he shoots off with a promise to call. I am too used to these things to hold my breath over that.
I wait for another thirty minutes before M calls to advise she is stuck in traffic a few kilometres away. I wander into the MTN store to try to sort out a Nano-SIM for my iPad with an eye to the journey ahead. By the next morning I will be winging it 400km to the east where wifi, if it exists will be the equivalent of dragging water out of rock. As I head out mission accomplished twenty minutes later, someone approaches me asking for money.
Nightfall….It is very nearly half past seven when we begin our final descent into Lagos. From the window, all that is visible is a thick, dense darkness, interrupted by clusters of lights here and there.
I’m surprised it’s not totally dark out there, my seat mate ventures. I shrug. Maybe generators I say. He seems unconvinced. Over the course of the last 6 hours, and some, he and I have conversed intermittently – first about the busyness that engulfs travel hubs like Schiphol and Heathrow, and La Guardia where the first leg of his flight originated. Then a moan about the delays in the cabin crew delivering head phones to use – from which it transpires that on his La Guardia – Schiphol leg he had to ask for them before he got them. The antics of our dear Bini granny also provide fodder for our intermittent, light hearted chatting. Descending into Lagos changes the bent of our conversation into something decidedly more Nigeria focused – mainly how in a few short minutes our motley of people who queued almost impeccably at Schiphol would disintegrate into a seething, boiling mass of one-uppers and corner cutters.
We land, smoothly, much smoother than I can recall in a long time, prompting the entire complement of passengers to break out in spontaneous applause. As the plane taxies, in blatant disregard of the announcement over the tannoy to keep seat belts buckled and mobiles switched off, the click-click of unbuckled seat belts resounds all over the cabin, and more than one person whips out their phone to make a loud phone call.
It takes nearly ten minutes before we get the chance to disembark. Once the hot, humid air hits, it seems the last restraints around our inner beasts are cast off. A woman stumbles on the stairs headed towards immigration; the surge of people barely takes notice, stepping over and around her in the quest to be early at the desks. She hurls a few choice Yoruba insults to the crowd around her with the extended five finger salute. No one takes any particular notice. By the time I reach the immigration desks, our line – reserved for us Nigerian passport holders – has snaked all the way back, curled upon itself many times over. The air has a certain thickness to it, sweltering, boiling; raging even.
In the rush and tumble, a young man inserts himself close to the front of the queue. Given how tangled it is, it a minor miracle no one else tried to imitate him, at first at least. Once the non-Nigerian passport queues disappear, and the free hands do not offer themselves up in our service, things become a little less clear cut on our line. A grandmother, in a show of extreme bravado, walks calmly to the head of the queue, mouthing off about how she’s been stuck on the same part of the line whilst others who came after her have jumped the queue. I distinctly remember her hauling several duty free shopping bags behind me on the amble from the plane into the airport..
As feared, I spend the greater part of two hours waiting to find my bag. I could have sworn there are at least five or six three to five minute sections when nothing new drops out of the chute on to the conveyor belt. When I finally find it, I drag it behind me and head towards the exit. Very nearly two-thirds of the flight is still waiting for their bags.
On these jaunts, I have a fairly simple MO designed around blending in imperceptibly. Dressed simply, usually with too much hair, I try to wear my best impression of a weary student, mentally preparing myself such that somewhere between clearing immigration and hitting the exits, I am very nearly fully primed to utilise the full gamut of my pidgin English.
This time, braced to face the gauntlet of SIM-card, taxi, and money changing hustlers, I walk eyes straight ahead ignoring their insistent drone. One outside, I cast my eyes around looking to find a cab driver I might fancy. I settle on one, his boyish charm, perhaps best encapsulated by his Chelsea tee and New York Yankees baseball cap.
He asks for 5,00 naira to run me the nine or so kilometres to my usual budget hotel in Opebi. I insist 3k is less of a rip-off. He moans about how as a younger guy I should understand – clearly my poor student demeanour isn’t fooling him. We settle for 3.5k, after it emerges that I do not actually have a confirmed reservation at the hotel. Apparently it’s a Friday night and between leery old men and their consorts hiding away for weekends of debauchery, travellers and gigs in town, hotel spaces are at a premium on Friday nights. I shrug – we’ll see what we will see.
We make good progress once we escape the traffic snarls around the airport. Thirty minutes later we are on Allen Avenue, where our good progress gets halted. Babes dey o, he says – all kinds, lepa, orobo, 10k for short time. You go relax tire men.. He is pointing at a row of scantily clad women lining the streets, and strutting about. displaying their ‘wares’ in too tight outfits.
The traffic eases. By the time we reach the hotel, they have run out of spaces. The cab driver offers to run me to a good place – his words – for 500 naira extra. Too tired to haggle, I accept. There will be no chicken republic for me from the looks of it.
We end up somewhere on Awolowo road. The only spare room is one which the AC doesn’t work. Normally goes for 22,000 naira, the Manager advises, but because of the AC, we’ll let it out for 15,000. I take up the offer – a large fan should do me fine I reason, bar the noise. I order a plate of fried rice with peppered goat meat – not Chicken Republic fare, but I’m hungry enough to eat anything.
It takes another 30 minutes before it arrives at my room – parting with 2,200 naira in the process. The bonus is the complementary internet service over wifi. I whatsapp a few of the usual suspects – Tee holidaying in Chicago, K in London and B. Somewhere in between, I fall asleep.
Wheeling my suitcase – out of breath and breaking a small sweat – I arrive at the check- in counter a mere ten minutes before boarding is scheduled to commence. I am Lagos bound, via Amsterdam, thanks to a few extra holidays earned from being stuck in the middle of nowhere by the vagaries of the weather in October. Even though I have had over a month to plan, and pack, I have ended up facing the very real conundrum of having to decide between a pair of blue Levi’s jeans and blue Lee Cooper’s- difficult choice mind, and pondering if a phone and tablet might meet my computing needs this trip; enabling me to dispense with a laptop for the next ten days..
In my defence, a late flurry of activity both at work and in the team I volunteer in at church have contributed to why I have left things this late; as well as the need to travel as light as possible with an eye to not having to check-in any luggage. The plan is to catch the 7.00am 727 bus to the airport, leaving me plenty of time to scale security. In the end, I miss both the 7.00am and 7.20am departures from Union Square, and only have the dexterity of the cab driver, and a burst of speed from me between the drop off point and the check-in desk to thank for making it at the time I have.
The vast majority of the fliers seem to have already gone through – the only other person at the check-in a few desks removed looks Nigerian. There is no further confirmation required when the animated conversation he is involved in with the lady checking in his luggage turns out to be entirely about 7 kilograms of excess luggage. When she speaks, it is in short, terse, Dutch accented words, insisting he has to fork out the extra money required to cover the excess. Given the size of both checked in bags, and his carry-on luggage, my only surprise is that he is only 7kg over the limit, the bulging seams of his carry-on testament to more than a few iterations of the pack, weigh, unpack, reweigh routine.
My plea – delivered in my best imitation of a posh British accent, and an engaging smile – gets short shrift. I am directed with a rather dismissive wave of the hand to try to fit my trolley suitcase into the designated checking spot. As suspected, no amount of pushing and shoving can get it to fit in, the offending appurtenance being the rather large wheels. I return to the check-in desk and go through the process of checking in my bag, more than a little disappointed. Business done and dusted, the check-in attendant’s mien changes into a more conciliatory one.
‘It’s a full flight from Schiphol to Lagos today, on any other day I might have been able to help’. It doesn’t change anything for me I think to myself. Across from me, the other chap has fared no better. As we both leave the check-in counters to scale security we share that pained look of mutual, self-righteous suffering.
No mind them o, them no wan help jare. I nod my agreement, the thought of facing baggage reclaim at MMA hardly easing my mood. Never mind that rules are rules and we both fell afoul of them…
The flight to Schiphol from Aberdeen passes quickly, the snow covered mountains of northern Aberdeenshire replaced by clouds once we reach cruising height, and then water as we swing outwards on towards Amsterdam over the North Sea.
A few seats across, and in front of me a party of eight excitable women sit. American accents are my guess as they chatter continuously. They look like they are having a ball – one is a writer of some sort, her MacBook getting lots of use as she hammers out what looks like a chapter of book, or a travelogue, judging by the pictures she flips through intermittently – a month’s worth of weird and wonderful picture I guess at. From the snippets of the conversations I pick up, their plan is to stop over in Amsterdam and then on by train to some other city I don’t catch.
At Schiphol, I grab my stuff and make my way to the D gate. Just how full the flight truly is becomes obvious when I find the queue in front of the Nigerian boarding gate is already snaking around the corner, with quite a few people already passed through security. The check-in attendant in Aberdeen wasn’t so much of Grinch after all I think to myself.
I have a mooch around the duty free shops; a couple of bottles of perfume for my parents should ease the welcome – not even my black sheep/lost son/ prodigal affectations can absolve me of arriving empty handed. For my nieces, I grab a couple of Christmas teddies, affectively named Ginger and Fred. They are favourites with travellers, the lady at the till tells me. I’m indifferent, at nearly 12 euros a pop, the nieces had best be pleased with them! There is a wait of about an hour after I scale check-in, before priority boarding is announced, and then the rest of us cattle class travellers have the joy of boarding.
Making my way to 37J, i find my path blocked by a slightly older woman. She is trying – and failing – to stuff her carry-on luggage into the overhead compartment. I suspect it is at least a tad longer than the one I was forced to check-in back in Aberdeen. Whilst fuming inwardly, I catch sight of a younger woman seated in 37H. She has her glasses perched on her nose, natural hair all wiry and loose and a certain geekish charm. She is half turned, looking up at the woman blocking my path. Mentally, I start to think up a suitably charming chat up line. It takes nearly twenty or so more seconds before the woman succeeds in forcing her luggage in, and I get free rein to head towards my seat. It turns out that the woman is her mother, and she asks me nicely if I wouldn’t mind sitting in 35H – we’d like to sit together she explains. So much for my world class chat up line – never mind the fact that a few years ago I once spent all of a night out swapping glances with a woman in green.
My reward for giving up my seat is to plump my behind down firmly in a seat next to a quiet looking bloke. He looks the classic upwardly mobile Nigerian – glasses, clean shaven, very short hair and an iPhone which he types into from time to time. We nod a greeting as I detangle my seat belts, dump my jacket and settle in. The slight positive just might be a quieter flight for me…
One of the last people to come aboard is a middle aged woman dressed in blue hollandis who coughs a dry, rasping cough as she crashes into her seat.
I don run tire today, this col’ no go kill persin o, she declares rather loudly, for our benefit I suspect. My seat partner and I share a look and cringe. I suspect she is form the Benin area, my worst fears being confirmed when she hurls a koyo o!! across to someone she spots trying to use the loo just before take-off. She fits just the mental caricature I have in my head of some dour, matronly, Bini market woman returning from a month spent taking care of grandchildren.
After that, all that we hear and see are the last flurry of text messages and phone calls as people get in touch with friends, loved ones and perhaps business associates to advise of final boarding and take-off which is only a few minutes away now.
Waiting our turn to take off with the queue of aircraft waiting to go visible through the window, it turns out my seat mate has flown from New York’s La Guardia earlier in the day.
I am carefully arranging the items in my shopping basket to make room for the 1800g tin of milk I have just taken off the shelf when someone to my left blurts out – Brossss.. Your Nidoooo milk no get part 2 o!
So engaged in that most banal of tasks have I been that I have not noticed him until he has spoken, pretty much directly into my left ear, I might add. When I look up, his face has a vague familiarity to it. I give it a few seconds before I give up trying to place the face, and assume he is someone I have run into at church, or one of the multiplied baby birthdays I have been forced to attend this year. I smile and explain my thinking behind grabbing the big tin – I come to this African shop on the corner of George and Fraser’s only so often, and for what it’s worth I try to make it worth my while.
It must be nearly three months in fact since I last came this way – replacing garri with Irish potatoes and palm-oil laden egusi soup with steamed broccoli and chicken breast made the detour redundant – but today a feening for soft, squishy, bread washed down with the thick, delicious gooeyness of Nido milk, with just enough water to give it the consistency of ice cream – is what has won over my resolve, enticing me into showing up here.
When the young man on my left doesn’t move on after my explanation, I begin to suspect there is a little more to this meeting than just a casual comment.
You been dey Engine for UNIBEN abi?
I nod tentatively, still wondering where all this might lead. He breaks out into a broad grin as he explains he spent a year in my corner of the world, sharing jokes, bed-bug infested couches and the odd fiver for bread and groundnut in the Hall 3 common room, which I insisted on making my reading spot, bang in front of the TV.
I ask him what’s brought him into town. He explains he’s been interviewing for a role at one of the corrosion
rust consultancies in town. I explain I work in the field these days, and share a few choice thoughts about the rife dysfunction in that organisation. He shrugs – Make dem take me first o. All these one na tori, he says. Given the patchy job scene, I have to agree.
Very nearly four years since I moved up North, the ‘Deen hasn’t lost its ability to spring surprises in the shape of old, lost connections. And apparently even back in them UNIBEN days, I had a thing for Nido milk…
It was meant to be a quick year off work- away from what had quickly degenerated into a morale sapping, five-year-plan derailing slog complete with over-paid and over-pampered expat bosses more keen to leave a boot in to demonstrate their continuing relevance than develop fresh graduates. That year’s appraisal was the final straw – the spiel about the ranking process being an assessment of the best and the brightest and the slowest driver in a Formula 1 race being a darned good driver somehow put the lie to being ranked firmly in the middle percentile AND yet being offered a position of greater authority.
I took the first opportunity to bail – grad school, pipelines and the prospect of a study leave for it all seemed a good safe bet. All unpaid, but with an almost iron-clad guarantee of a return to the very well paid job I had, or so I thought.
All that was not to be, the official company line was they couldn’t find a role that fit my skills and experience.
At first the lostness was intentional, a purposeful forgetting of the past and its accoutrements – an attempt to isolate myself from the longing and nostalgia for dirty, rowdy, yet loveable Lagos. And I didn’t go back for the first three years.
These days, it’s more a case of never quite fitting in – neither in Nigeria, nor in the cold, wet and windy corner of the world I have squirrelled away in..
It’s been 4 years, 7 months and 17 days but yet there is no abatement of the inner lostness.
The woman clutched my arm. The first wave of feeling that hit me – when my mind frozen for an instant by the brazen grab – was fear, and then confusion, as she peered intently into my face with not even the faintest hint of recollection bouncing about in my head. She wasn’t wearing the flowing robes of an aladura prophetess, thus ruling out a smash-and-grab prophesy as the reason for her intrusion. Something about the deeply lined face, the light grey hair peeking out from underneath her tight head wrap and her uber thick lenses left me positively unsettled.
You don’t remember me, she asked; her iron clad grip loosening as her face retracted to a safe distance, a hint of disappointment at the lack of a flicker of recognition in mine showing on her face.
Vaguely familiar, was all I could mutter as she finally let go of my hand as one who had suddenly discovered she had been hanging on to an eel.
Bala, Mrs Bala, she mouthed her name several times as though by dint of repetition her words could penetrate my thick skull. It might have done just that because from the name, a whole avalanche of memories came rushing in, connecting the older, more lined face thrust out of the blue into mine on the corner of a very business market street with five years of history. She had taught sunday school at the church I attended intermittently back in my undergraduate days – when my parents had succeeded in dragging me along – before I discovered the ploy of escaping to University on Sunday morning pleading the need to close out piled up assignments. Now convinced this was no precursor to a kidnap attempt I must have loosened perceptibly because the next thing she did was to offer me a hug, which I accepted, and then to quiz me rapid fire about life, work and the inevitable wife and children banana skin.
We heard you got a job at XCorp. You be big man now O, so tey you come forget us! Me, Mrs Bala? Na sooooo? Tricky recollections navigated, she had lapsed into a less formal, pidgin english based lingua.
I tell her I left XCorp in 2008, grabbed a masters degree, am weighing up the next move to yet another far flung corner of the world and am yet still unmarried.
Where be this place sef, ehn OJ? Shey dem no still dey comot people head for there? I don’t know if it is concern or just plain ignorance. I explain the little I know. It’s not the bastion of liberal, self-indulgent, cosmopolitan life that’s New York’s Queens or London’s West End but its no battle scared, devil’s romping place either.
Wetin you dey go find for there sef? She sighs in resignation. Your mummy is happy with you going there? This time it IS concern, her forehead had developed its now familiar crease of worry.
I nod in the jaded, beaten manner of one who has had this conversation one too many times for the past few days. She shakes her head and then suddenly as though awoken by a synapse firing she dips into her bag and begins to rummage within it, eventually coming up with her cell phone.
Ehennn! Back to pidgin English, I sigh inwardly thinking I may have finally escaped here. She has her eyes fixed on me intently now.
P* sef never marry. She was around three months ago. She has a masters too, from abroad. She throws that in, perhaps hoping that some shared experience might help circumvent my perceived ‘pickiness’. She goes on to extoll P’s values – head screwed on right, solid job at some Lagos auditing firm, and most importantly someone whose familial antecedents we both know very well. She scribbles some digits on a sheet of paper somehow exhumed from her purse and thrusts it in my face.
That’s her number. Call her o!! God might have orchestrated this meeting for this purpose. She is back in her stern sunday school teacher/ up and coming Mother-In-Israel mode. I nod respectfully, push the folded sheet into my shirt pocket and return to my humble boy pose – head slightly bowed, eyes averted and hands clasped together at my back. She smiles one last full toothed smile, waves and continues on her journey, leaving me wondering what just hit me.
A few paces after I’ve escaped her clutches, the piece of paper with the phone number has morphed into a crushed ball of wet mush and nestles in the gaping mouth of a broken sewer pipe. Unless God now specialises in the business of breaking up marriages for single blokes, there will be no dice with Mrs P
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An altogether forgettable weekend – and at my age they all are – is bookended by a pit stop at Union Square for lunch with a friend of a friend. A random conversation a couple of weeks ago about (yet another) mutual friend and my lack of proactivity had ended up in a challenge of sorts being issued in my direction. Three phone calls later – with a few text messages thrown in – I end up making my way up the stairs towards the safe bet that is Nandos for a quick bite and chat. I arrive early – knowing Union Square, getting a table can be a hassle on sunny Sunday afternoons – the added advantage being that I get to see her first, and the satisfaction that she fits the image I have of her in my head. We order simple food – lime and herb flavoured chicken with a mixed leaf salad for me and a ratatouille for her and bottomless drinks and make small talk over the course of an hour and a half. All told it is a pleasant afternoon, and but for the fact that I have dodgy genes, and family history I would already be inventing scenarios involving white picket fences and 2.1 kids in my head. 🙂 Given the choice, I would most certainly like an encore by all accounts.
My friend O arrives at my house a few minutes after I get home. His wife has visitors from church – all women- and he takes the opportunity to make himself scare. Being just around the corner from him, I end up being the default host. We settle in to catch up, and the subject of Nigeria inevitably comes up. The shambolic showing at the Olympics gets our juices agitated especially, and we end up throwing in the mis-use of federal character and the educationally less developed state criterion to water down academy entry requirements in Nigeria. The one thing that this guarantees is that it leaves us unduly agitated and down right depressed at the cesspool that is Nigeria.
All too soon, between grocery shopping, church and marathon football manager saves, the weekend runs away and it is 8.30pm on a Sunday night – inevitably bringing the spectre of Monday morning front and centre to my mind. It’s the second week since the paths of Ms Bitchy Boss from my Nigerian assignment and mine have crossed again, almost five years apart. It turns out that I am not the only one with whom she has history. It has been a quiet return so far, deep down in my mind, her return is just another more incentive to take that PhD search a tad bit more seriously.