Should I give them? Can they take it?

So I have seen the phrase ‘if I don’t give them, how will they take it?,’ used on social media very often recently.   I love love love the phrase and honestly I have been seeking an opportunity to use it too. Unfortunately, I am rarely in a state where I think one can use that phrase. You know, the people (mainly girls – actually I have only seen girls use this phrase) who usually use it when they are all glammed up and snatched, they have their nails done, makeup on fleek,  dressed to the nines and even baby hairs are laid. I think I am only any of these things once every 3 years.

I mean to start with, I don’t even have baby hairs to lay – the crust like clusters on each side of my head definitely do not fit the definition of baby hair. In igbo they are called – ‘isi ukwu ose’. (Translator needed please?) So that automatically makes it impossible for me to fulfill that criterion. Moreover, in terms of dressing, a jean and tshirt are always the winning outfit choice in my life.  Of course how can I forget, my eyebrows have refused to understand that they do not always have to form a confluence at the ridge above my nose and the only item of makeup I currently own is the sheabutter I use as lipbalm.

So each time I  see the girls who put up this posts, I would dream in my head about the day I could get to use that phrase. So far I have gotten to use it twice (both occasions on friends who met the above criteria) out of fear that by the time I would finally get to use it on myself, the phrase would be extinct.

Anyway, I am very happy to announce that I too can get to use the phrase!!!!! (This isn’t dramatic at all!) A few months ago, I got an offer to leave the most noble (and least paying?) profession in the world (law) and join the glitzy (and only marginally better paying) and artificially seductive streets of corporate Nigeria. (I have sold a part of my soul, I know!) A few months before I got this job, I was lying in bed early one morning and thinking very deep thoughts about my life. This lasted for a few hours and at the end of which I made up my mind to cut – rather to scrape off – all the hair on my head once the sun came up that day!

Shocking? Perhaps! Drastic? Not so much! I mean, I had been sharing with close family and friends earlier that year that I wanted to cut my hair by the end of the year. I mean there were many reasons, one of which is that I had been a ‘naturalista‘ for a whole 7 years and my hair had not grown past thumb length in all those years…. yet I would see someone with shoulder length natural hair and was barely past a year into this natural hair world. The person would look at my length and try to comfort me with ‘dont worry, keep at it, the first year is usually the most awkward year’. At first I used to bother shocking them with the fact it had been natural 7 whole years and go through the charade of disbelief, then laughter, then endless questions on what ‘my routine’ is and get offered more and more advice on ‘new routines’. What they did not know and I tried to explain is that in 7 years, I had been there and DONE ALL OF THAT. My hair has just refused to get with the programme (I lost the genetic lottery on hair – (no) thanks Mom!).  After sometime, I too got tired of the charade and the laughter and I let the adviser feel the comfort of sharing their natural hair  testimony and I would listen humbly and pretend to be excited to hit the one year mark too. I have digressed, havent I?

Anyway, my mom bluntly told me not to cut my hair. My dad didn’t say a word, but in reality I never pointedly told him, I only said it in his presence. All but one of my close friends were mortified that I dared mention it and advised me not to. Even I tried to talk – or think- myself out of the idea. At the back of my mind, I remembered all my horrific memories of my hair being scrapped off by the barber when I was much younger. I was about to head to secondary school and because my dad ‘did not want me to be stressed about figuring out how to get my hair cornrowed in school’, he invited a barber to the house and against my will, my hair was scrapped off! In reality, his real concern was that hair would distract me from facing my books (my dad and my education? Truest love affair ever!) He also mentioned that didn’t want me looking unkempt – lol but he should have been advised that that was a battle he could not win. Over 20 years later, the good Lord is still working on me! Anyway, I didn’t like my hair being cut then. I felt I I did not look as ‘pretty’ as the girls in school with their hair. What is more? I didn’t have a relationship with my hair comb so I barely ever combed my hair so really  – JUST HORRIFIC MEMORIES.

In fact I recalled when I was chewing gum in class and I was caught and the teacher asked to put the gum in the middle of my hair. I have always had a thing about being a good student, being liked by teachers, so getting caught doing something ‘terrible’ made me feel very bad so I tried to show the teacher I was truly remorseful by pressing the gum into my hair while listening attentively from my kneeling position in the front of the whole class for the rest of the 2 hour lesson (it was a double period). After the two hours, I couldn’t get the gum off without chopping off the hair in the middle of my head with the help of a ‘friend’ and a pair of scissors. So I walked around for the next few weeks or months with an obvious bald patch in my hair. Horrific, truly horrific memories!

However, as I lay in bed that morning drowning in thoughts, I had a deep longing to start over! I was determined to cut my hair that same day! I couldn’t wait till December (2018). I would do it that morning I concluded. It occurred to me that this might be the reasoning of a sleep deprived mixed with a deeply anxious state of mind but I was convinced it was the only thing I wanted to do so I went ahead and cut my hair that same morning – BALD! I didn’t consult a soul. I just came home to shock my family and the rest of the week shocked friends with it.

Now the reaction was overwhelming. I had friends who teased me endlessly. A friend said ‘Mr. XYZ (insert surname) now has 5 sons’. Other friends thought it looked dope. Honestly the truth is that I couldn’t care less about the reactions of people who didn’t like it. I cut my hair with the mindset that I would look terrible and I wanted to free myself from that mindset of caring, of wanting people to like me. I wanted to in my head know that I might not look physically attractive to the rest of the world and not care about it (because it really bothers me in my head that I do care about this even if I shouldn’t!). I was trying to shake my reality to match my beliefs. I went to my brothers’ barber (yes I didn’t learn. I cancelled my appointment for the bourgie natural hair salon that charged me N6,000 for a mere wash and ‘treatment’ – the lady put conditioner in my hair and stuck me under a steamer and called it a hair treatment!!!!). So everyone who expressed their lack of love for it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would and when it did, I told myself I needed to free myself from their prisms and expectations of beauty and propriety.

Now I let me go back to the story at the beginning – Should I give them? Can they take it? Like I mentioned, I resume a new job next year. Mind you when I went through the interview stages of this job, I had a ‘full’ head of hair even if they couldn’t see it under the wig on my head. I went for the interview completely like a ‘normal’ Nigerian young girl, with my braids wig on my head. Since I cut my hair, I have worn my wig on the very few occasions I ventured out, usually because I had no interest in shocking the people I was to meet. (For what shall it profit a Nigerian girl that the data page of her passport shows her with a full head of hair and the actual visa has a bald head? I already stand too long at immigration, I wasn’t about to undergo facial recognition.)

Recently the 5 sons comment friend asked me ‘I hope you won’t carry your hair like this when you resume work?’ I looked at her and laughed, mainly because she hated it so much and had expressed same severally and also mainly because I didn’t even know what I would do. Is it okay to show up looking completely different? I have wondered if anyone including the people that met me during the process would recognise me? Does it tell on my character as an erratic and unpredictable person or a girl who is going through some deep emotional struggles – you know they say a girl cuts her hair when something dramatic happens in her life? Would they think I would wake up one morning and pull a similar stunt with regards to their job?  Would they take me seriously or take the first few minutes to question me about what necessitated the change? Would that kind of attention distract from the work I am there to do? Does it even matter? Am I over thinking it? My friend has been in the corporate world for an entire year. She already expressed horror at the fact that I carried a back pack – not a fancy looking one- but literally a school bag to go pick up the appointment letter . She was like ‘better don’t do this behaviour when you resume. They will just know you are a JJC’. So now will I be the weird bald chick who carries a school bag to work because I believe that it is my professional abilities that should speak for me? (Although I also know and believe that half of climbing the ladder is about people’s perceptions and ability to relate to you- in other words, packaging!)  Should I show up a conformist, with a handbag and a full head of hair and pretend that is who I am (and on some days, that is who I am and want to be!!!!). Is it okay to be bald one day and show up with a wig the next?

Another friend recently chatted me up and asked me ‘I hope you will give them with this new look at that job next year?’ I laughed and my instructions from my girlfriend played through my mind again. I am still thinking and deciding who I should be at the job with many many things, but especially with the hair, the question is ‘if I give them, can they take it?’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Catcalls and Fragile Egos…

I am walking down a street,
It is dark, fruitlessly  lit by dim yellow street lights
I am wearing my sports clothes
They are wet and clinging to my body
I am uncomfortable; because they show contours of my body I am trying to modify in the gym

I walk past you, you are standing tall with someone else beside you
right in the middle of a narrow road with cars double parking all the way down the street
‘Fine girl’ you call out, as I squeeze past, my head down and my eyes glued to my phone.
You are convinced I owe you an answer
Or perhaps you are slighted by the fact that
a woman would not indulge your careless and thoughtless attempt
at sexualising her on a random street

With bitterness in your tone
You call out ‘you cannot answer? Will it reduce you to answer?’
For a second, the jab at my insecurity startles me.
There is snickering from your companion. You are encouraged
‘See as you be like man.’
‘See as you be like Taribo West’ you call out and your partner snickers all the more.

I am tempted to turn around to yell out the obvious, which the log sitting comfortably in your eyes would not permit you to notice.
The fact that you, an adult ‘man’, are standing in the middle of a darkly lit street,
In front of a provision store by day, turned beer parlour by night
Wearing a jersey that is at least 2 sizes too small
Not considering your 6-month-pregnancy-sized potbelly squeezing through the shirt, Occupying more space on the street than the entire frame of the other grown man standing next to you

Yelling out invitations to a young woman, rather a form,
for the street is too dark to make out much else,
whose attractiveness or lack thereof
Whose charm or lack there of,
Whose character or lack thereof
Is unknown to you,
And whose silence stuns you to stupefaction and bruises your fragile ego
That all you can do to maintain your ego and masculinity
Is to assume that she looks like a man.

The irony.
Or perhaps you must be on to something though.
I must look like the man, because you, with your football sized head and swollen beer belly have the semblance of a heavily pregnant woman.

I snicker at you and your perceptiveness.
I raise my head from my phone, chuckling,
The insults you pelt to mask your mental and emotional fragility
Rolling off my back, like water off a duck’s back.
I glide more gracefully  down the road.

 

Oh how that must have hurt you to see
Oh ye of fragile ego
Whose masculinity is threatened by the silence of a random stranger
Watch me sashay away’

FRIENDS

May we find friends who are hard enough to break our shells when we put up walls in the hard times…

May we find friends that carry with them, brightly burning candles to bring warmth and light into our hearts when the blinds are drawn…

May we find friends that hold on steadfastly unto our hands and hearts when grief threatens to make us slip away…

May we find friends that slap us across the face to remind us that giants, warriors and heroes have no business in the dungs of despair and self pity…

May we find friends…

Shifting Perspectives: Should how I dress to church matter?

I think it is important that I start off this post noting that I am a very carefree person where my appearance is concerned. Having grown up with a father who makes me believe I am absolutely better than gold and diamond mixed together, a father who would look at my acne covered face and tell me that God only gives acne to beautiful girls because he knows they can handle it, I have grown up not caring too much about my physical appearance but about ‘the stuff up there (in my head)’ as my father would say.

Studying in one of the coldest parts of the United Kingdom during my university years did not help matters much. I was content to wear track bottoms and big jumpers around campus with big fleece jackets. When I would wear jeans and apply lipgloss, my friends would believe there was something unusual about the universe.

I came back home to the Nigerian law school (One day I will write about that place…. literally!), I continued in my ways. My other 4 girl room mates tried to make me repent, to spend a few hours in the mirror titivating before heading out in the morning, but I referred to spend my time either catching up on sleep or loving up with my new law school crush on some corridor somewhere. Lol.

Sundays were legitimately the worst. I believe we attended a 9am service and from 6am, my girls were up, showering, slaying and re-slaying. Some days we would arrive a few minutes later than those who had woken up minutes before 9pm. I remember that one of the girls who eventually became a super close friend would even take time to pick out what I would wear before she would pick hers out. She would always say ‘if we leave OMA, she will go in her black and white to church’. She would insist, I wear heels and somehow before i got back from church I was in flip-flops or pumps. I even once or twice tried to put makeup too. The only thing I could do (till now) with makeup is apply foundation, some crooked eyeliner and some sure to be smudged mascara.  Other days, I would put lipgloss as an accessory to my oil forehead and match into church.

I must give the girls credit because they looked absolutely breathtaking when they were done and if I would be honest, I felt somewhat self-conscious hanging around them with my shiny forehead and crusty lips (my lipgloss is quick to disappear and I dont understand why?).  In fact at some point, I changed churches for a few weeks and the girls in new church seemed to be even more over the top if that was possible.

I must congratulate myself for improving over my university days’ style of wearing track bottoms- even to church. In law school, I always wore my signature tank top, blazer and a skirt or trouser. On days when I woke up on the great side of my bed, I would slide into a dress. But I always convinced myself that dressing up was just another way for us (Nigerians) to show off again even in a place of worship. In my head, even if I would never say it, I judged my friends and their slay, believing they were trying to get admirers, I mean if not why would you spend that much time baking your face early in the morning?

After law school, when I returned home to my ‘only daughter’ life, I became even more ‘rebellious.’ I would wake up at 9:45am for a 10am service and somehow be ready and waiting for the boys. I would slip into some dress and throw on a blazer and many times I would be forced by my mother to use some lipgloss. She would often shake her head and say ‘I cant believe  I was excited when I got a daughter’. I did this for over a year and as circumstances would have it, I fell into deep unhappiness at some point, with effects on my weight and so I ballooned. Soon my clothes choices were limited and that meant that I wouldn’t stress myself even more. I would wake up, put on my black camisole dress, my oversize blazer which was now a mini blazer and shuffle in black pumps desperately in need of polishing to church.

I told myself that God does not care about my appearance. All He cares about is my heart. I judged everyone (in my head) who looked like they spent more than two seconds dressing up- this included my mom who woke up at 5am to prepare for her 7am service. It didn’t help that I also have had first hand experiences of women sizing each other up in church, what this person is wearing, who is your tailor, whether the person has repeated this outfit or not, and all other things that just made me resent the culture of dressing up to church.  A woman once slipped my mom a note between sermons telling her she loved her dress and she would like to get the phone number of her tailor!!!! During the sermon! My mom obviously was super flattered and also pointed out the fact that she could have just waited till after sermon. But mostly, she was flattered. I just judged more!

Who are we dressing up for? Ourselves or God? Are we dressing to show up in our best to worship God or to showcase ourselves, our ability to look better than others, all in overt shows of false humility? Does God care for the outward show of beautiful dresses and geles or does he care for just our heart? The show and over-the-top nature of Sunday attires  honestly stressed me out and still does stress me out to some extent. I wore whatever shit I could throw together very rebelliously. My mother would swallow many words on seeing me descend the stairs to go to church, because the alternative is that I say that my clothes don’t fit and I wouldn’t go.

Now the shift in perspective came a few months ago. I had been fruitlessly applying for jobs in Nigeria, falling into the heartbreaks of several promises to help that never materialised and cursing the decision to return home to qualify as a lawyer instead of staying back in the United Kingdom. I imagined that by now, if I stayed in the UK,  I would have a good well paying job that could sustain the kind of lifestyle I need (this life style is not a want- it is a NEED). I spent my NYSC year crying, going in and out of depression, self blame, self loathing, some more crying, some praying and a healthy dose of indifference (bothering on hatred) for Nigeria. I finally at the tail end of the year managed to get an email to show up for a job interview at a law firm I loved.

Boy oh boy!!!! My excitement!!!! I walked with a pep in my steps. I ‘bragged’ about the benefit of trusting God, waiting on Him etc. Before a friend would open her mouth to tell me a sad story, I would spend time testifying! Days before the interview, I started to plan what I would wear to the interview. I mean the notion of planning an outfit is so foreign to me; this is why I avoid most events I am invited for. I bother my head thinking of what to wear to appear presentable. I couldn’t come in my jalamia obviously.

But for this interview, I did plan- days ahead! I planned to wear my white tank top with my Call to Bar suit and heels. YES I actually thought of wearing heels! Lol. I wanted to look impeccable. A night before my interview I spent over half an hour trying to iron my clothes to give it a crisp dry-cleaned look. I only succeeded in putting some iron marks after which common sense demanded I stop. I woke up super early the next day- I mean I could barely sleep, took a quick good shower and proudly donned my clothes. I eventually did not wear the heels but my pumps were immaculately polished. I looked at myself in the mirror and I felt I looked as good as my brain looked inside. The first time I cared about matching both.

On the long drive from Ikeja to Ajah, while I sat behind my taxi too nervous to sleep, drifting in and out of various thoughts, it occurred to me that perhaps, I should care as much about my looks when going to church as I did when going to an interview. I tried to push the thought away and focus on interview questions. But the thought floated back around and I found myself considering my hypocrisy.

Does it really matter how I look to the interview after all the interviewer would look at my cv and speaking to me, glean that I had my shit together? So why did I try so hard to impress with my looks? This interviewer is just man! And you do all this for him? Yet you can’t do this for God? You don’t care that you show up to church with sleep crusted eyes, ashy knuckles and feet but you care so much to even use coloured lipgloss for this interview and attempt to use an eyeliner?

But God is not man! He has seen me in my innermost and deepest parts. He has seen my filthiest parts and still loves me just the same. He only cares about my heart. He only cares about my heart of worship.

But the way you look and dress is an act of worship to God isn’t it? The way you dress especially when coming to worship Him, surely is an act of worship?

I debated back and forth in my head till I got to Ajah (a 3 hour drive), stopping halfway only to respond to questions from the cab driver. When I got to Ajah, I was emotionally exhausted from the mental acrobatics trying to make sense of if it matters, if my appearance going to church matters, if God, like my interviewer cares to see me neat and crisp, or if He is above all of the show; and just interested in my heart?

The interview went fine and I could tell that the interviewer was impressed with me on paper as well as in person, she said so as much. Surely my appearance mattered to her. I was invited for a second interview and the same encomiums were poured. (P.S. I did not get the job eventually- remuneration disagreements I believe) but I left the interviews feeling that surely appearance does matter, to humans. It does matter to the humans staring at me in church wondering why I showed up looking like a rag doll. But does it matter to Christ? Does it matter to God? Would  He rather I show up looking pretty and fancy or show up looking just how I felt?

Does it matter to God?

 

‘Get over yourself! You are not even your husband’s first love!’

first-love-batumi-6photo credit: http://iraklitsuladze.com/portfolio/first-love-batumi-georgia/

I attended a friend’s birthday dinner earlier in the year. This was one of those dinners where there were more ladies than the guys and where there was one enthusiastic married person who took the liberty to match make the few available guys with the single girls.

Before Mr. B arrived, I was having the time of my life. We had been teasing the best friend of the birthday girl about giving the young man sitting next to her a chance. They seemed to have a lot in common, least of which was the fact that they bonded over their unsuccessful attempts at gaining weight no matter how much they ate. I mean, ‘what are the chances of such a bond?’ I chirped from across the table. The birthday girl high-fived me from her seat across the table and her best friend shook her head ruefully at our partnership in embarrassing her. This was a big deal because since we had known the best friend she had been in a constant bid to gain weight. In secondary school, the birthday girl and I, both too chubby for our own good, joined in her quest as we wolfed down huge communal bowls of biscuits and milk, garri and groundnut, cornflaskes and milk, all with unbelievable quantities of sugar. At the end of the term, while the best friend returned to her house skinner, the birthday girl and I returned rounder than when we left our houses. Who would believe our stories of bullying and a stressful academic year?

When it seemed like I was having the best night of my life, despite not wanting to show up to a surprise party I was heavily involved in planning (my extrovert-introvert issues have a way of dealing with me), Mr. B showed up.  Mrs. J, sister to the birthday girl, only married person in our midst and the self-appointed match maker immediately asked Mr. B to sit between me and another girl. I didn’t think anything of this seating arrangement till the tables dramatically turned around and the whole table suddenly agreed that Mr. B and I made a perfect couple.

I am painfully shy and terrible at being the centre of attention and what I didn’t know about this game of hook-ups at the time was that the more you fought it, the more everyone else saw a connection which you couldn’t even glimpse. ‘The secret is to play along, eventually they get bored and leave you alone. The more you squirm, the further they tease you’ Mr. B advised me a few days after the dinner over a telephone call.

‘I mean they actually speak the same way.’ the best friend said in mock thoughtfulness, now so excited at this turn of events.

‘He has a great job at Ikoyi oo’ Mrs. J added.

‘OMA, Mr. B sings, plays the guitar, speaks Spanish and a bit of French’ the birthday girl insisted encouraging her best friend, as this time they burst into laughter at my concentrated effort to focus on the lone slice of cucumber on my empty glass of chapman.

Playing along with the charade, Mr. B, slid his palm into my left palm, leaned over and spoke rapid Spanish or what seemed like Spanish to me. The whole table was agog with excitement. My entire body was hot with embarrassment and a part of me melted on the inside because of my love for proficient speakers of foreign languages. I finally turned to look at this guy. I noticed his light skin baked golden brown by the harsh Lagos sun, his bushy brows sitting beneath the rims of his quirky and misted glasses. He had a smile too, a kind warm but nervous smile and a shy squint in his eyes. I quickly extricated my palm and exclaimed for the 100th time ‘people o I do have a boyfriend’ as I excused myself to go use the bathroom. Immediately I made to stand up, Mr. B stood up and in a flourish,  drew my chair back.

‘Awww and he is a gentleman’ Mrs J announced to the table as I walked away, willing my legs not to give way beneath me.

Outside in the hallway, outside of the bathroom I was accosted by the birthday girl and the best friend.

‘I hate you girls so much’ I said burying my hands in my face.

‘Come on OMA. On a serious note, he is so completely your type’ birthday girl retorted. ‘What exactly don’t you like about him?’ she asked with a look of concern on her face?

‘OMA, seriously I think he is your type and I actually think he likes you’ the best friend encouraged.

It took me a minute to realise that these two girls had no disguise of humour or teasing in the conversation. They actually wanted me to give the guy a chance!

‘OMA, He is a really nice guy o. He is the one I told you drops me off in the evening after MBA lectures. The one I told you lost his wife recently’ the birthday girl said, making me recall a few more personal details which she had shared with me previously concerning this young man. She told me about how he often spoke about her, about missing her and about the kind of things she would have done in certain situations.

‘Hell NO!!!!’ I screamed in disbelieve! ‘No now! With all due respect. No. He seems like a nice guy and all but come on babe!’ I said walking away from both girls I believed had temporarily lost their sanity.

‘No what now?’ birthday girl said swiftly cutting me off in my escape.

‘No now. Babe I want to be my husband’s first love now! If I date this guy, I won’t be his first love.’ I said looking at her with wide disbelieving eyes.

‘See this babe o. I want to be my husband’s first love’ she mimicked me poorly, slapping me carelessly across my arm. ‘Get over yourself abeg! Who said you are anyone’s first love? Chances are that we really are not anyone’s first love. That guy you are talking to now, you are not his first love. You end up with him, you are still not his first love. He is probably not yours too. It is what it is’

I turn away from the birthday girl to her best friend who I hoped would offer a vehement rebuttal because, although best friends, they seemed to disagree on everything.

‘But it is kind of true OMA. I mean, what is the big deal? He married another woman? It is even better you know about it and it is settled. This one you are dating a guy and eventually marry him when deep down in his past he has imagined being married and having children with someone else who isn’t you. What is then the difference?…’

‘ Mr. S is her own first love’ birthday girl chipped in, laughing at an inside joke we girls had shared for years.

‘Mr. T is still this one’s first love, even if she keeps forming bestie, abi big brother with him’ best friend responded quickly at the jab. ‘OMA, seriously what are the chances we actually end up with any of these guys?’

‘ZERO!’ birthday girl said bursting into laughter as they teased each other on the implausibility of getting back with their university sweethearts, although it was an open secret among us that both harbored hopes of same.

‘What is wrong with you girls tonight?’ I remarked, making my way away from their circus. Immediately Mr. B saw us arriving, he was up again, exaggeratedly pulling my chair and this time, I looked at him with very different eyes. I managed a stiff smile and concentrated very seriously on my plate of grilled fish and chips which turned out to be more unsavoury than the hook-up taunts which continued.

I came back from that dinner with the words of two of oldest friends ringing in my head. Who said you are anyone’s first love? Whoever ends up with their first love? The next week, just like there was a giant conspiracy going on around me, the office assistant at my place of work recounted how the past week was a very tough week for him. The company had gone on an exhibition to Igbobi hospital and that was where he lost his first fiancé. Sitting there those two days, he narrated in his pidgin English how he got video replays of every minute they spent together down to the minute he looked over to her in the taxi which rushed them to Igbobi hospital and realised she was gone. ‘Till today, I mark her remembrance. Once that time of the year come, I no fit eat. I just weak.’ He said wielding an incredible amount of power to mask the depth of his pain and to hide his tear glazed eyes.

‘And your wife knows about this?’ I asked wondering how any woman could live through that. I can barely bear the thought of hearing about an ex-girlfriend of anyone I remotely have an interest in.

‘Yes now. She know, around that time she just dey give me space. She know. She understand’ he said trying to convince me, and possibly himself as he walked away to his office.

‘I am sorry. I know this sounds selfish but I don’t want a guy who has that kind of past’ a colleague said, reading my mind, while his feet were barely out the door.

That night, I spoke to another friend about the past days. ‘OMA, but it is true. I mean I once met a girl I was sure I would end up with. I imagined my entire life with her; meeting her family, shopping for furniture in our first house. OMA, I pictured her pregnant, even her swollen feet and inflated hormones, my children tugging at her skin while suckling her breasts. I imagined we would argue a lot because she likes to have her way. She would have wanted the children to attend a private day school but what is the point of secondary school if not spent in boarding house under a senior’s bunk bed catching a pregnant mosquito? I mean, I imagined we would argue a lot, I looked forward to them, I really did. I imagined we would make up and wake up and repeat the same process till we grew old together. A few months into my dreams, she moved on and left me trying to forget her, every day. It has been 4 years now OMA. I don’t know that I can.’

‘You believe she would hold a special place in your heart, possibly over even your wife?’ I asked in a small voice, humbled at this side of my revelation of my ever merry friend’s heartbreak.

‘I think so. If she walks back into my life today, I would have a lot of thinking to do.’ he said, a few seconds of uncomfortable of silence hanging over the line. ‘So I see what your friends mean. I can count several other people who have this same story. We usually hand over to our eventual life partners, residues of our broken hearts and remnants of our shattered dreams’, he concluded very ominously.

‘No wonder you have been ignoring my calls these days. You met the man of your dreams!!!!! Feeling proud’ he finally said between guffaws.

 

Of Police Harrassment and an erratic taxi driver…

police

May I begin this good ole rant by saying that I have a dislike-dislike relationship for people in uniform; I mean starting with the security guard at Chicken Republic all the way up to the General Commander of the Armed Forces of Nig…(okay you get my point)? There is something that a uniform does to an ordinary Nigerian; especially when that uniform comes along with an instrument of force e.g. gun, baton, stick- generally anything that will put this person above the ordinary non-uniformed Nigerian. A simple experiment might be to pick up the ‘average Joe’ from the street and give him a uniform and stand him at the corner of the street. You will not have to wait long to see him exhausting the countless unthinkable ways of using that authority to the menace of other ‘average Joes’ like him. This is probably why it is rare to see a Nigerian girl say ‘I love a man in a uniform’; the Nigerian girls who usually say this are the ones who live abroad and the ‘man in a uniform’ they refer to do not cross the boundaries of the country in which they (the girls) reside;in fact they are likely to cast and bind at the inclusion of Nigerian uniformed men in this mix’.

Recently, I have had to make a few journeys to the island  for which I employed the services of a taxi and it is because of him that this post arises. So this taxi driver is Kenny (not real name of course). Now Kenny is one of those people with what I call the Nigerian ‘je ne sais quo’. Those Nigerians who do not have a minute to engage in even one unnecessary conversation, let alone fool around- basically the Nigerian No Nonsense Attitude. It is that attitude that tells you the hell off when you are being an idiot- as he did to many drivers on our way. I mean for bus drivers who are usually mouthy and rude- he sure kept them quiet! Sitting in his cab was like being on the First Class Ticket to every country of the world- you felt you could get your way with anything and everything; you felt invincible really. I found this very sexy. (I am sorry I admire beauty everywhere I see it!).

Now this is what was not sexy: Kenny trying to get us killed a few days later with his ‘je ne sais quo‘. Kenny drove my father and I to Apapa for an appointment. Returning from Apapa, Kenny was again veering his vehicle between lorries and got stopped by a police man. Now remember this guy has an erratic temper and I think like me he really shares a dislike for uniform so once he was stopped I could smell trouble. The police man, in his dusty black uniform asked Kenny for his driver’s licence. Kenny produced it, without a word but his body language said ‘Fuck you’ in a thousand languages across the globe. The police man asked for his ‘particulars’ and the same charade was repeated. While the police man circled around the car, looking at plate numbers over and over, Kenny kept hissing and saying ‘Wetin e dey check there? Leave am! Na money e want! Illiterate, Ordinary School Certificate Holder ‘(I got the feeling Kenny is well read but had been conditioned into doing this job by the state of unemployment). I found all this hilarious sitting at the back of the car because we both shared a dislike for the person he was taking down. The police man circled the vehicle for as long as his dignity would allow him and finally he turned in the papers with a ‘Have a nice ride’. Kenny was short of breaking the poor man’s wrist while snatching the paper from his hands while moving the vehicle and it cracked my dad and I up desperately.

Now if you live in Nigeria, you know that the police has a habit of queuing up, in a straight line, at their check points so that if you are stopped and you try to escape, the next police man down the queue stops you. It is interesting to notice that this second police man is usually the arms bearer, at least in our case he was. So as Kenny veered the car away from one police check point, literally 5 seconds after he was asked to pull over. Instead, Kenny parked in the middle of the road and refused to move, to our sides, gigantic poorly balanced freight cargo lorries were whisking by and in our front was an aggravated armed police man wearing a dusty black beret in the heating sun; I knew this would easily be a case of ‘accidental discharge’- that might be the end of Kenny, and possibly my dad and I as well. In appreciation of this fact, my father practically barked at Kenny to obey to the policeman and go park to the side of the road. Well Kenny wouldn’t be Kenny if he simply gave the policeman the pleasure of winning, would he?

No!

He obeyed the customer and reversed the car in the middle of the traffic, in the process, leisurely rolled his tyres over the policeman’s foot!!!!

The minute that happened, the police man barked, growled, quacked, bleated, shrieked and made all kinds of sounds that an injured beast would make.For a minute, I was certain I was at a circus, or a zoo. Kenny aware of his actions, concentrated hard on ‘parking the car’ and when he finished making the slowest parking in the history of the universe, my father and I begged him to pacify the shrieking officer whose gun was now moving more frequently, instead of the previous way it lay lazily over his arm. Kenny jumped out of the car and started a barking rage with the police officer!

‘You no see say you climb my leg’

‘Na you say make I park, no be park I dey park? You know see say na middle of road be this? Trailer fit jam me throw away!

‘If you be experienced driver, you know sabi say you go use mirror dey look as you dey reverse?

The idea of being called inexperienced threw Kenny into another feat of rage.

‘You sef you no get sense, you no see me dey turn?’

At this point, my father barked at Kenny one more time to apologise to the police officer- although between the 3 of us in the car, we knew the policeman had deliberately left his foot there thinking Kenny would give a damn. He didn’t!

All this while I, in the back seat, was suddenly thrown into the world of my first year and second year Tort and Criminal Law lectures. The case Fagan v Met Police Commissioner came to mind.

Here is a quick look at Google for the facts of this case:

The defendant, Mr. Fagan, was in his car when a police officer approached him and told him to move his car. In accordance with the directions, Fagan backed his car up, accidentally rolling it onto the foot of the officer. When the officer yelled at him to move his car off his foot, he cursed back at him, told him to wait, and refused to move.

Classic Kenny Right?

And the decision on the case?

At trial, Fagan was convicted of “Assaulting a constable in execution of his duties”.

At this point, I became genuinely scared for Kenny. He might not make it to court in Nigeria, giving the incredibly fast movement of the gun of the police man. And if he did, the law couldn’t help him, he would lose the case. Kenny in obedience to my father’s instructions finally apologised very tersely.

‘Oya Sorry, but next time no go put your leg for ground when you see motto. You be pikin?’Kenny barked again and jumped into the car. I had never seen anyone speak to the police in that manner, so I could hardly contain my excitement.The policeman on his end was desperate to show the gradually emerging crowd ‘Lagos style’ that his authority was not diminished. He shouted instructions at the driver to produce his driver’s licence and papers, which Kenny produced again from the brown envelope from which he had just secured it a few seconds ago.

The policeman stared at the picture on the license and glared at Kenny for close to 30 seconds, looking him up and down, details of his eyes, his ears and mouth like he could make all that out from the fading driver’s license. I was at this point again feeling exhausted, the sun beating down on the car with the windows wound down was ferocious and unforgiving, as the look in the policeman’s eyes. From the back seat of the car in which I was  seated, I started to stare at him. I stared at his dusty black uniform, bursting at the buttons from which his belly threatened to burst open and lambast Kenny’s shave induced bumpy face. I stared at the belt securing the surprisingly loose trousers; the belt was also brown, like it had been coated with a layer of clay, although you could see it was once black. The buckle of the belt was once silver or stainless coloured but now was a dull metallic shade of brown. It held his trousers awkwardly against his belly, making the zip area of the trouser look like it had been folded. I could tell that the police man had acquired a big sized uniform, just to cushion his belly but his legs weren’t growing at the same rate.

I observed all this without feeling much emotion, I turned to his face and saw the dirty brownish beret again and the beads of sweat pouring out from under it unto his puffy cheeks. I could tell that he was as uncomfortable in this sun as I was, sitting in it. His eyes also seemed to be twitching nervously. He wasn’t a young man anymore; a man of about 45 or more. I wondered if he was married? If he had kids? How they would feel seeing him in this situation? While I stared or glared at this poor man, I forgot that my mother thought me that it was rude to stare, so that when his eyes met mine, I knew that I had been caught doing what I shouldn’t have done.

Should I look down and away, it might make him feel like he had an edge, an authority over the occupants of the car. But should I stare, it might make him feel more defiled, like the entire occupants of the car had dared him! It isn’t impossible he would shoot at us- there are many instances of police brutality across the world and often- especially in Nigeria- NOTHING HAPPENS! I thought of my dad sitting calmly in the back seat, and Kenny sitting uneasily in the driver’s seat, waiting to be yelled at once again, to return the ‘honour’- basically ready to get us shot under the hot sun on a Tuesday afternoon. All this I thought about while holding his gaze.

I could tell he was making a mental assessment of me, like I did of him. I remembered my mother’s voice telling me that something about my afro hair (in its uncombed state) made me look like a village warrior. She hadn’t really meant it as a compliment but I took it as one and at that moment hoped with all my heart that this man saw a village warrior in me too. I kept my eyes straight, fixed on his and he made an effort to match my stare. We were basically in a contest. I held his stare for close to a minute while continued his assessment. A minute must have passed when I think I saw a little squint.

I was winning!

I stared harder but this time poured a heavy dose of irritation into my eyes.

He squinted again, as though he was being blinded by the sun. I held his ‘squinty’ gaze

Finally, he dropped his eyes!

I had won I thought. I had won! So what happens next?

I thought I would help him regain his composure, because now he stayed glued to the driver’s particulars, not even shuffling the papers, just staring down looking blankly.

‘Sir,’ I said all sweetly and a tad overtly diffident ‘we have just been checked literally a minute ago by your colleague down there.’

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, stared at me for a second, probably thinking that I had various personalities lurking in me, waiting to be unleashed as well. He turned his eyes now towards his colleague who he had previously seen harassing us, now harassing another driver. When he looks back at us, he gently bent down, looking through the window by my side of the car, avoiding my eyes and shot a quick look at my father; who has recently refused to run a clipper through his hair, leaving it in my opinion beautifully all grey.

‘Oya driver comot. Na because of this old man you carry I leave you o’ he said quickly and thrust Kenny’s papers into the car, very glad to get rid of us.

‘You know say I carry old man and you keep me under sun since?’ Kenny sighed, making a show of rearranging his papers, meticulously placing them back in the brown envelope before he veered the car back into the Apapa traffic.

‘Who is an old man?’ my father asked humorously; sending the little triumphant smile spread across my face into full blown laughter. Even Kenny laughed too.


Actually, looking at the title this post now, I can’t honestly say who did the harassing; the policeman? Kenny? My third personality; the village warrior? Or unspoken intimidation at seeing a fully greyed man- but then again when has that ever stopped them?

5 People I met on my flight to Nigeria…

The ‘Posh Warri’ Boy

I am usually not very lucky with flight seat partners. I once sat next to man who saw me reading a book called ‘Ugly’ (by Constance Briscoe- one of the best books ever) and he said ‘Why are you reading such a book, this clearly isnt you’. There were many things I wanted to say in response like:

‘How do you know this isnt me?Do you know ANYTHING about me?Cant you see I am reading and would much rather not involve myself in flight chit chat?Do you only read books you personally identify with? Isnt the point of reading to explore new worlds? Why read books which only point out to me what is going on in my life? Why wont you just leave me alone in peace to fly these 7 hours?!!!’

Anyway, let us just say these are the kinds of seat partners I have. I usually sleep deprive myself so I wouldn’t have to be subjected to awkward silence inter-spaced 7 hour conversations! When I flew on Tuesday, I was VERY sleep deprived- I hadn’t slept in 48 hours!

But on the flight home, sleep eluded me- my head couldn’t seem to find that right spot that triggers my inflight sleeping beauty. So I turned on my inflight tv and started to watch Catching Fire- one of the Hunger Games trilogy. One thing about me is that I find myself crying a lot during movies, even when I do not want to. So when the tears started dropping, I quickly sort out my prepared tissue and held it below my eyes. But too late, the guy sitting to my left caught me.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked. I nodded very quickly and looked away.

‘Are you sure?’ he asked again and I started to laugh at how stupid I would be look if I explained the situation.

‘Of course.’ I said, and explained the situation.

And that was our conversation starter; which lead to a 7 hour discussion of everything under the moon; Career, Education, Christianity, Feminism,  Love and ‘Intimacy’, Veganism and Culture (he thinks I cant be vegan because it is against my culture!), Music, Movies and Literature. I actually enjoyed the discussion and for the first time I can say I had a cool flight seat partner- at least during the duration of the conversation.

So meet ‘Posh Warri Boy; he is a music producer (hahahaha- surprise surprise), 26 years old, studied music at University and now produces for ‘famous artistes; he dropped names like Waje and Wande Coal.  He played me some of his tracks (I actually enjoyed them). When he found out I am a new graduate, he ordered us wine and we toasted to my graduation- that was kind of nice. When he asked how old I am and I made him guess- He said 26 (and when my mother saw me outside the airport she said I look 16 because my afro was out ). I told him I had my passport to prove it- he said it means nothing because his passport says he was born in 1999 and yet he is 26,  he tried to explain how this was possible but I think tuned out after that (something smelled fishy-I sm newly Vegan so I try to keep away from fish- or anything fishy! Lol- okay dry joke -sorry :p).

Oh why did I call him ‘posh warri boy’- because when he told me he was from Warri,  I made the comment ‘Warri boy no dey carry last’ (meaning that they are super street smart and are born with hustler genes) and he said ‘I am a Posh Warri Boy’.

 

The Hyper Baby

I am obsessed with kids- I think they are the most beautiful things created- they are angels. Well this angel was super HYPERACTIVE. She turned the aisle of the plane into a stadium and kept running up and down and making friends. She actually made friends with everyone in the flight, even the non-Nigerians and flight attendants. The first time she saw me; she acted disinterested, till I wove my beady African hand band in her face and she instantly climbed on my lap and I fell in love with her. I could not help but give her the hand band. She started to play with my neatly arranged afro and I surprised myself by not caring. She made friends with Warri Boy too- Oh random fact Warri Boy and I had exactly the same hand band and so he insisted on giving me his when mine got taken by the little girl. She actually took my bracelet and ran off and the next time she came back they weren’t on her wrist anymore.

I put on some cartoon for her but my hyper baby was too hyper to watch it- she was too busy bouncing her head off my chest, and unhooking and re-hooking the food table with her feet. I fed her for most of the flight and I got orange juice and cake spilled on me severally. She got given a pen by one of the flight attendants and my white shirt, face and palm became her canvas. I was in such a good mood and I didnt care. She stood up occasionally and ran around but always came back to me. When I tried sleeping, she would run, wake me up and run away. At some point, she pooped in her diapers and her mother took her away and the next minute she was back.

Meet hyper baby, he name is Angie. She is beautifully dark skinned, very very adorable- those huge cheeks and large eyes. She wore a pink shirt and and pink shorts and made me her work of art.

 

The Typical Nigerian Man

Well there is nothing much to say about this man except that when he saw that ‘hyper baby’ was so interested in me he said ‘You should hurry up and have your own babies. This is a good sign.’

(Okay then, I guess the whole flight should be expecting babies too!) While I contemplated whether to respond to that I looked down his wrist and saw my bracelet- the one I gave to Hyper Baby- it was on his wrist!   I had a good mind of asking him for it, (has a lot of sentimental value- I stole it from my brother) but I decided to leave it with him- ‘Sisterhood of Traveling Bracelets’ (I guess).

 

The Activist

I call him this because he saw a situation he didn’t like and he took action immediately. Since trollies for packing baggage are not free of charge but for hire  at the Nigerian airport, I always find myself either having to log my bags like a maniac or getting lucky and someone pays for me( has happened twice now). This time, I had only N100 and was hoping  I could cry talk my way out of this (have gotten a trolley like this before). As I stood on the line, I decided against cry talking, ‘Posh Warri Boy’ was somewhere down the line and if he happened to see me cry twice today, I might look weird. I was about to turn around and accept my fate of unglamorous piling my bags on top of each other and bending over and pushing them at high speed out of the door into the waiting area, when this very frustrated ‘Americana’- I say Americana because his accent was Nigerian-American but I dont know where he actually came from. He got to the ticket stall the following exchange took place

‘I would like a trolley please’

‘You have to pay sir’

‘Pay? Pay for what? You people in this country wont kill someone.’ He let out a long hiss and the rest of the queue burst out laughing. In protest, he paid for 10 tickets and while shouting about how messed up the system, he handed out the other tickets to the other 9 people down the line. I was the 9th person! I am grateful for the activist.

 

The Guy in the Blue Shirt

This is the man in the blue shirt. I am in love with blue and so anybody wearing blue is automatically my person of interest-well not really but close. I got to gate D47 and saw guy in blue and did the small awkward smile that Nigerians exchange at airports. He got checked in behind me and sat a few seats behind me. When I got up to use the bathroom or to give Hyper baby to her mother, we exchanged quick stiff smiles too. And finally when we got the Nigerian Immigration and after going through 3 different hoops to enter our country, we finally settled into a conversation while waiting for our baggage. I told him I expected my bag to come out 50 years  later and he said he expected his to come ‘a bit earlier than that’. We chit-chatted about this and that; most of it was about the ridiculous man who came down from the flight with a bottle of Hennessy in his hand, grossly inebriated and kept talking and cussing loudly (most times in Igbo- moment of silence fellow Igbo people).  Guy in Blue Shirt and I talked about how different things would be if Hennessy Man tried this in another country, and we talked about how the immigration did nothing but laugh at his behaviour.  He asked me about the legal repercussions and he laughed when I said I was brain dead after my exams. He was very kind to me, helped me get my suitcases when they went by and got it arranged on my trolley. My suitcases came out after only 10-15 minutes so his parting words were that I have ‘more faith in Nigeria’.

 

Most Entertaining Flight Yet!