Someone shouts my high school nickname in the middle of Union Square, just as I am about to take a left turn through the train station. I am more than a few minutes late having allowed my typical Sunday morning lethargy – part relapsed faith, part lingering hangover – to leave me in real danger of arriving late. By the time I finally pull myself off my bed, complete my preparations and grab the number 16 bus to the city centre, it is already 11.10am; meaning Sunday school is over, and the opening hymnal is just about to be sung.
Hearing my high school nickname is no ordinary blast from the past, more so because Union Square is the last place I expect to hear it. It is a throwback to a very specific time and place, especially because it was known only to a select few – six or seven at most. When I spin round to see who has called my name, the dots begin to connect in my head. The peculiar shape of the head, a vaguely triangular outline which earned him the unflattering nickname of opioro mango, is the final piece that completes the jigsaw in my head.
– Kuti Baba, I say. That is the less irksome of his nick names. Opioro mango used to be my preferred name for him and in another time and another space, I would have used it. We shake hands firmly, our hands coming together in a rather loud clap.
-Na your eye be this? He asks.
– Na me o, ol’ boy, I reply. We shake hands again, with a gansta hug thrown in for good measure.
– You don kpuff 1 up o, he says.
I give him my evil eye. The burgeoning keg that is my stomach is enough reminder. He was never really a bulky chap in any case, but the beginnings of his own beer belly are there for all to see. There is a lot to catch up on – it has been almost thirteen years since we last spoke at length. There have been degrees, a wife, girlfriends won and lost, jobs gotten and changed, but as always it appears our meeting will go the way of all the others we have had since then – merely a brief intermission from the bustle of our everyday lives.
He has two travelling cases with him, he explains that he’s here to catch a train to London with the family. Whilst he is still speaking, a
Caucasian woman pushes a pram out of the adjoining shop. There is a child seated within it, sucking on a pacifier and another which she holds by the arm.
-My wife and children, Kuti says.
I shake the woman’s damp, limp and cold hand, touch the kid on the cheek and mutter a greeting. Kuti Baba was always a sharp man. On this evidence, Kuti Baba and his legend still live on.
1 – A euphemism for calling someone a fatso