Given our propensity to moan about the little corner of the North East where we currently live, it is somewhat strange that I, and the four or so long term friends I have here, do not make time out to meet up more often. In fairness to my friend O, it is not for want of his trying; several attempts to organise a meet up have floundered, torpedoed by our wildly varying schedules and travel plans.
The one thing we do not scrimp on though – and our inner Nigerian might be to blame for this – is on parties, and celebrations. Invited or not – depending on our perception of closeness to the celebrant – we all congregate at those venues, downing copious portions of rice and drinks and catching up on who recently got married to whom, who has a new kid and all the other banalities that everyday life throws up. It has been a little dry on that front this year, bar a couple of weddings and an unintended meet up.
This weekend, O’s son turned one – a small fact I had completely forgotten. Thankfully, Mrs O – ever the efficient wife – sent out text message reminders to a few of us lads – which was how I ended up at the venue a full hour late. This was no small affair. There must have been at least twenty adults in the room, and that many children too, possibly more.
Scanning the crowd looking for a place to grab a seat, I am rescued by the waving arm of another lost friend motioning me to a seat next to him. I make my way through the crowd, careful not to step on any children – who are chasing balloons, and kicking up a racket – oblivious to the jokes the MC is trying to tell. The lost friend, K, stands up to welcome me – firm handshake followed by a fist bump, a relic from our days in undergrad study in Nigeria.
We make small talk, in between spoons of rice and bites of chicken. He’s in town briefly; a small break in the project he’s working on out of Brazil affords him the chance to share in our little celebration. I talk about work, a trip to Nigeria I am planning, and a couple of potential work opportunities I am chasing up in his sector. He offers his thoughts on what changes I need to make in my strategy. He’s chasing a few Nigerian opportunities himself and he shares his uncomplimentary views about doing business there. A woman comes over and whispers in his ear. He rummages in his pockets and comes up with a car key. She takes it and then leaves, four packs of rice in tow.
My fiancée, he explains. I nod and offer my congratulations remarking that he had always had an eye for really beautiful women. He laughs – self indulgently – the laugh of a man who knows he has a keeper on his hands. He asks about EJ – the one thing I can’t accuse my friends of is not staying up to date about happenings in our various lives. I give him the cliff-notes version: didn’t work out. He listens, head angled, fist on chin, looking directly at me – the affected pose of a bloke who is trying hard to understand my dilemma, but can’t relate.
We move on to other more recent matters, a new kid for another friend out of London, a distant acquaintance that has returned permanently to Nigeria, and his own wedding plans. Around us, a child cries after tripping over the outstretched leg of an adult engrossed in winning the battle with chicken bones. Out front, the MC waffles on.