For You

Maybe one day the sun would finally decide to take its job seriously, and outshine your smile

But till then, I will bask in the impossibly magnificent brilliance of what happens when your lips part into a smile.

 

 

 

 

 

For you, Elo

‘Falling’ in Love

I didn’t fall in love with you
I suppose that phrase is an understatement
I didn’t fall in love with you
I somersaulted into love with you

Flipping in the air
Carefree
With abandon
Like little children do
When playing in the rain

I didn’t fall in love with you
I somersaulted into love with you
And without much practice
I landed – not on my feet as the experts do-
But hip first and bottom next
Across the cold hard floor
Of Unrequited Love
Eating the dust of regret.

 

‘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.

 

The Before

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The Before: the period before we make up our minds; the period before we acknowledge to each other how we really feel;

it is the period of playful flirtation;  the period of quiet painful painful longing for the warmth of the other’s breath over our lips; the period where our eyes seek each other out in a room of 4000 other eyes, the period our eyes the tell stories and betray emotions we are too insecure to voice, the period where our eyes and lips curl into a smile at the probability of that which we just made a reality, at the odds we just beat, in meeting each other’s eyes, in finding each other, in that room, in the world,

it is the period of stares that last a second too long, embraces that add a springing in our steps and soaring in our hearts, it is a period of nervous sweaty hand holding, shamelessly genuine compliments, shameless senseless giggles, senseless tiffs; senseless reasons to touch each other, senseless reasons to do the painfully obvious;

it is the period of insane mind numbing jealousy and uncertainty, a period where we hope to consume each other’s attention and devotion, a period where another’s hand carelessly draped over a shoulder brings the sinking feeling in the well of my belly, a period where we analyse and re-evaluate  every friendship on how it impedes on our status, a  period where we convince ourselves that we must be alone in what we feel, where we try, desperately and hopelessly to move on, with little success and find ourselves back at where we began; back to the period of many daydreams, about first kisses and first anniversaries, and nightmares of rejection and walking away.

It is the period of tentativeness, like a flower in early spring, sensitively opening up our buds, to soak in the warm rays of pleasant sunlight and learning all over to bloom again.

A Red Dress for Valentine’s Dinner

I look listlessly through my wardrobe looking for an appropriate red dress to wear. We have bantered and endlessly poked fun at each other’s concept of romance on whether it was cheesy or not to wear red on February 14.

‘Babe it is like not wanting to wear white on your wedding day. It is tradition.’ Odera would posit.

‘What???!!! They are absolutely not the same.’ I would squeal. ‘And I don’t even want to wear white on my wedding.’

‘Babe my parents are pastors. You are going to have to wear white if you are getting married to me.’ .

‘Who says I am getting married to you?’ I respond, my voice cutting like a sharp kitchen knife.

‘Kemi, you are getting married to me and you will wear a red dress for Valentine’s dinner. And you will love both of these things exceedingly’ Odera would note conclusively, yet his voice playful and cheeky.

‘Hmmm I don’t know about that dress’ Tumi blurts out, peering at me through her thick spectacles. I know she is uninterested in this exercise. We have been friends for over 20 years and even tell people we are sisters. Had Tumi being interested, she would have been the one in front of this wardrobe, pulling out dress after dress, asking me to try it on, to tiptoe across the room to see how it would look on a pair of heels, to turn around so she could see the fitting on my ‘teletubbies ass’ as she called it. Today she is sitting across the room staring at me, throwing off-handed comments at each dress I pull out.

‘I am going to wear this dress’ I say with an air of finality, yet searching her face for some form of approval. She shifts from one buttock to another, crossing one leg over the other.

‘Then I guess my job here is done’ she says, with a wry cold smile.

Tumi hasn’t always been like this concerning my relationship with Odera. In fact when I newly met him, she thought we were perfect for each other. ‘Two spirikoko people have fallen in love.’ She would tease non-stop. She said spirikoko because the year I met Odera, I had just started my one year ‘man fast’ as Tumi called it. The ‘man- fast’ was simply a time I set apart to seek God alone; to not be in a relationship while doing it. ‘No distractions.’ I would tell Tumi who would roll her eyes and laugh at me. During my ‘man-fast’ I fell in love with God, met the Holy Spirit, started speaking in tongues when praying (to the eternal discomfort of Tumi). I also met Odera.

We happened to always sit at the same spot during Wednesday prayer meetings, we always shook hands to welcome each other to the presence of the Lord as the pastor instructed, always held hands to pray in pairs when the pastor instructed we pray in pairs and always bumped into each other while singing and shouting and dancing in church. We got used to each other’s presence. We automatically without meaning to reserved seats for each other in church. People reserved those seats for us too because no matter how late we were for Wednesday prayer meeting, those two seats by the door, near the banner quoting John 14:27 stood.

It was my favourite verse in the Bible so I always sat there. When I met Odera, I sat there because of him and because of that sign too. He was the perfect  prayer meeting seat partner. I just liked that he wasn’t one of those who prayed loudly and feverishly when the pastor asked us to bring our requests to God, but their voices dwindled when asked to pray for their neighbour or Nigeria. I noticed that he maintained an even tempo whether he prayed for Nigeria or Syria, whether he prayed for himself or a random stranger. ‘He is a great prayer meeting seat partner Tumi.’ I said and the next Wednesday, my devout Catholic and Pentecostal skeptic Tumi came to with my very Pentecostal speaking in tongues, laughing in the Holy Ghost church.

‘You are deceiving yourself. That guy likes you, and you like him too’ she had declared after her second week visiting. And from then, each Wednesday she took special interest in what I wore to work; because she knew I would go straight to prayer meeting after work.

‘Kemi, you know you can’t wear that today’ Tumi would say shuffling past me, to our shared wardrobe.

‘Why can’t I?’ I would say in frustration.

‘Because!’ She would respond as if that was supposed to mean something, as if the word because was something other than a preposition.

Odera, after months of sitting next to each other, started walking me to my car.  He never really asked me out during my year of seeking God. But he did little things that led me to believe he was interested; he walked me to my car, asked more questions about me, my work, my family, my faith and why I liked the seats by the door. He also told me about himself. He told me things about himself; his ambitions, his challenges, family secrets I would never have found out even if I set a private investigator on him. When I would say ‘why are you telling me all this?’, he would shrug and respond ‘I don’t plan on telling them to you really. It just happens’.

Odera finally asked me out after 17 painfully long months. Painfully long because even if for a whole year I was on the ‘man fast’ somehow I just wanted to know that he liked me as more than a prayer partner, I wanted Tumi to be completely right about him, about us. The other 5 months were long too but I had given up hope on him liking me. I friend-zoned him and started calling him my best friend. We started meeting outside of church, we enjoyed each other’s company, he visited me as often as I visited him. Most Wednesdays’ I didn’t have to drive to work; Tumi would drop me off at work – never mind the inconvenience of driving from Victoria island (our home) to Lekki (my office) and back to Victoria island (her office). Odera would appear at 6pm to pick me from work and we would head to church together and he would bring me back home; sit for hours and listen to Tumi tease him, tease us about our status and then drive back at around 11pm.

When he finally asked me out during one of our drives to church on a Wednesday. I readily said yes and asked him what took him so long. ‘So long? So you had been waiting for long?’ he asked chuckling, his eyes narrowing flirtatiously.

‘Kemi all I am saying is that you guys have been dating for 7 years now. You are putting a hold on your life for this guy. You know sometimes love isn’t enough right? Sometimes common sense has to come to play’ she says twirling her engagement ring round her ring finger.

‘Tumi, I told you we have talked about this. Odera and I have talked about this. We want him to be done with his specialist residency programme and then….’

‘Is that what you want or what Odera says you guys should do? Because while we were serving at NYSC 6 years ago, you were sure you wanted to be having your second and final child by 2018. Now 2017 Valentine’s Day you are picking out a red dress again to wear on a Valentine’s Skype date.’ She said, sarcasm dripping from her lips

‘But that is the thing Tumi. Life doesn’t always give us what we plan for. Odera is a human being too. He had his plans and ultimatums before meeting me too. But we have had to adjust and make compromises. Yes I wouldn’t be having my last kid by 2018. Hell, I might not even get married by 2018, but I am at peace with the situation. You didn’t plan on having two kids for your fiancé before marriage- that wasn’t in your plans but yet that was the card that life dealt you. And you are dealing with it. What is the big deal that I am having a Skype Valentine’s date?’ You used to think this was the coolest cutest thing Tumi’ I say without stopping to catch my breath.

‘I thought it was cool, in 2013 when it started. He was a student, trying to get a job. He couldn’t afford coming back for Valentine’s Day. It was cute and romantic then. And 4 years down the line now, he has a good well-paying job. He is an American citizen, so there are no visa limitations. So I don’t see this as cute or romantic anymore. It is just a bit cheap. Sorry but it is cheap’ she repeated looking at my tear glazed eyes.

‘You don’t get it’ I say, tasting the saltiness of my own tears.

‘Enlighten me please Professor! Please enlighten me!’ she says derisively.  ‘You are in a 7 year relationship and for the past 4 years you get to see him once a year. You celebrate every major milestone over the phone and over Skype. And you are 28. Not 20 when long distance is considered cute.’

‘Having 2 kids to convince your boyfriend to put a ring on your finger is not cute either. And yet here you are!’ I mutter, wrapping a towel around me and heading into the shower, without waiting for a response.

I emerge from the shower and I am surprised to see Tumi still sitting across the chair, staring at the spot I was standing, like her eyes had never left that spot. I slip on the red dress in an awkward silence. Tumi was here to help me with my makeup but she has gotten into this her judgemental all-knowing mood. I was sure I didn’t want her touching my face while in the mood. I sit by the make-up stool and try to decide what goes where. Tumi sits still and peers at my confusion. ‘What the hell do you think you are doing?’ she shouts, frightening me.

I hear the sound of her shuffling feet as she connects her phone to the speakers and Tu face’s African Queen swallows the awkward silence. She moves her hips and sings along. ‘You are my African queen’ she sings, touching my chin affectionately and wielding a brush expertly over my face. I watch her face in the mirror as she worked. She is singing gingerly, moving her hips this way and that. There was a tear stain too on her face underneath her glasses. ‘Why was she crying?’ I wonder shaking my head at her how dramatic she is.

‘Stop shaking’ she orders, holding a sharp  kohl under my eyelashes, drawing a straight line into rim of my eyes.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR AN INEVITABLE TONGUE LASHING (FROM THE PARENTS)

Every (Nigerian) kid must have gone through that phase where you know you have offended your parents. You expect them to lash out at you but for some reason, they do not do it immediately! They remain normal. But at the back of your mind you are expecting them to flip out any minute now. If you are at this point, then you need to know how to prepare for this inevitable tongue lashing. I have had so many of those recently. Currently, I am expecting two tongue lashings before I return to school. I have become an absolute professional at preparing for them. Yes – I said preparing NOT taking them. I am still learning the ‘taking’ part.

So I wanna share with you how I (and you too can) prepare for an inevitable tongue lashing from the parents.

  1. PRAY

Yes I said pray about it. You need to pray for a few reasons.

a. If you have messed up (like I did in my situation which is earning me a tongue lashing), you need to ask God to make your parents forgive and forget. If possible ask for a complete blurting of your entire mess up from their memory.

b.  If the scolding is meant to be then ask God to keep them focused. What do I mean by focussed? If you are for instance being scolded for having a messy room, ask God to restrict their memory to that. Let them not start digging  into what happened last week when you disagreed with their politics in front of a guest, or extrapolating into what it meant when you handed them a spoon with your left hand earlier that month  or you forgot her birthday or wedding anniversary. You know… to keep them focused!

c. You need to ask God to make the tongue lashing occur at a place and time when you are willing and able to take it- e.g. I am not willing and able to take tongue lashes early in the morning (that is my mother’s specialty- early in the morning halla! It ruins my entire day.) Not in front of friends- yours or theirs! Not in front of strangers either. And sometimes not in front of siblings!

d. You need to ask God to give you the strength to take that halla ‘like a man’ whenever it comes! That too is one I am desperately working on!

2. GO THE EXTRA (EXTRA) MILE

This is an extremely important step and also one of the most inconveniencing. You have to go the extra extra mile to make them happy. You have to preempt what they need and get it sorted for them. Preempt their thirst- get them a cold glass of water. Preempt their need of a toothpick- get them the toothpick container. Preempt their hunger- get them something to eat. There is also another layer to this going the extra mile. Preempting their anger. Once you feel them getting angry against someone else that isnt you, e.g. a sibling or a worker. That is not the right time to sit around just doing nothing. That is not the right time to tell them it is not a big deal if they overacting. It is probably not the best time to start giggling or laughing. This happens to me when I look at someone’s face when they are being scolded. It cracks me up! So No!

What is the right thing to do? Go do that thing the parent needs done! Go earn yourself brownie points.It helps postpone the evil day or makes them merciful while they are doing it.

3. DO NOT HANG AROUND EXTRANEOUSLY

Now there is a fine line between going the extra mile and not hanging around. I mean, to go the extra mile you might have to hang around them a little. But there is still a line and it is at ‘extraneous’. When you give them a glass of water, stand around only to make sure they dont need a second glass. BUT I CANNOT REPEAT THIS ENOUGH, do not sit around and try to enjoy senior jokes with the parents!!!! Or try to watch TV especially if what they are watching is not the news or T.D. Jakes preaching.

But at the same time, do not go so far away so that when they need you they have to shout your name a few times! Once they start to shout your name, they start to recollect and once they start to recollect your slip-up starts to flash before their eyes! So stay close enough to answer their calls immediately and dont just hang around like there arent any chores in the house to do. There might not be, but pretend there are!

4. BE STUDIOUS (OR MAKE A SHOW OF IT)

This is a very important time for you to pick your books and read them! Keep your books at hand! Even if you have just graduated from your PhD programme. You better pick up a post doc book and start reading. If you have absolutely nothing to read, pick up a newspaper, your Bible or any of these motivational books. This is the time to read that ‘Think and Grow Rich’ or ‘Emotional Intelligence’ book they gave you 2 months ago but is lying on the spot where they gave it to you. Just read read read! Make them feel proud of you. The prouder of you they feel, the less they will want or remember to shout at you.

Also, this is a bit of hypocrisy but make sure they ‘walk in on you’ reading or doing this productive work. No point reading in your room all the time and they dont see you. If they dont see you they assume you are ‘pressing your phone’. YES AND DO NOT PRESS YOUR PHONE! DO NOT PRESS YOUR PHONE! I cannot emphasise that enough. So it goes without saying, do not read e books- read hardcopy books. Something they can see and hear you turning over pages and if possible underlining and highlighting.

Nothing annoys parents like seeing you press your phone, especially when they are mad at you. The tongue lashing will start something like ‘Every time you will be pressing your phone. You dont do anything around here. Every time PING PING PING. That is how…..’  Yeah, you get the point, avoid your phone.

5. ENGAGE IN INTELLECTUAL CONVERSATION

Reading a lot should help with this unless you are actually just starring at the paper blankly! Try as much as possible to initiate thoughtful intellectual conversation if you absolutely have to be around them. Don’t allow that awkward silence sit. It gives them time to think and remember other stuff to bring on during your tongue lashing. Talk to them about the ministerial nominations or about Buhari’s economic policies, about the immigration crises or any other topical and intellectual issue in the news. This is not the time to argue about anything controversial with them. For example, this is not the time to argue with my mom about not agreeing with the pastor’s sermon the Sunday before or argue with my dad about Jonathan versus Buhari. This is absolutely not the time. If they veer into topics like that, bite your tongue and pinch yourself and stay quiet! STAY QUIET!

6. DO NOT LEAVE TRIGGERS

In addition to everything above which could be a trigger, do not leave other triggers like sleeping in later than you should, missing or sleeping during morning devotion, playing loud (Nigerian or hip hop) music, arguing with another sibling, talking too long on phone, or leave plates in the sink or leave your room a mess or … Generally do anything that would remotely trigger their anger!

Be as sweet as possible, answer all calls extra respectfully, and you can be extra subservient by saying things like ‘at your service’ or ‘with pleasure’ when they say thank you or acknowledge your helpfulness.

None of these are guarantee that you wont get scolded. But when you do, chances are that it will make the parents focussed- they wont run around the mulberry bush and they wont make it last too long. Instead of a lashing, they might have a firm discussion with you.

And what is more, when you say ;’I am sorry Daddy, I will do better.’ They will actually believe you or pretend they do. 😀

So that is how I am currently preparing! Let me know if there is something you do (THAT WORKS!)