Six degrees

Walking into the phone store in the bowels of the big sprawling mall that sits right next to the hell-hole I currently work at, my eyes are drawn to one of the lads at the till. My first impression is that he is Nigerian – what with his thick lips and his quick and easy smile. I am in-store to activate the 6 month’s free internet that should have come with the phone I bought. After much haranguing from my cousin about my being notoriously difficult to catch, I agreed to buy a blackberry – even though I am well aware of the madness being pinged at odd hours can cause.

It is just after 12 noon, and the store is almost empty – besides me there are only two other people, a clearly bored mom and her excited son merrily zooming and pinching away on one of the tablets on display. The lad at the till reads my hesitation, and in a few quick steps he is next to me. ‘Any thing I can do for you sir?’ he asks.

His voice is soft, almost girl-like in its quality. I note a slight inflection, that uniquely Nigerian blend of British, American and goodness-knows-what-else accents, picked up [I dare say] from watching too many late night sitcoms. Up close, I notice the barely discernible facial marks, he sports. His name tag bears the particularly bland moniker ‘Chris’, hardly helpful in my attempt to place him. I explain my dilemma, he listens and then heads back to his console motioning for me to follow him.

He types furiously for at least a minute, then asks for my original receipt, and types some more; verifying my purchase is what he says he is trying to do. Eventually, he raises his head and confirms that I am indeed eligible for the freebie, providing I register the device. That seems a small price to pay for a device I really do not need anyway. I hand him my bank card which has my name. Nigerian or not, my surname – all ten letters, a jumbled mess of vowels and consonants – is difficult to pronounce, and my default solution is to hand out a business card or my bank card.

That’s you sorted then, he says after a while, When your current upgrade expires, the six month freebie will kick in. I nod, and thank him. As I turn to head off, I notice some hesitation on his part, as though he is weighing the pros and cons of saying something more. I pause, and then he blurts out.

Your surname looks familiar, he says. I used to know a Bee with the same name. That is when it all falls in place, almost in slow motion. He once lived next door to my sister and cousin. I must have met him on one of the days I popped in to see them. We chit-chat a little, he’s wrapping up his dissertation, and working part time to make a quick buck. I give him my card, with a promise to set up a meeting with him in the near future.

So much for me running from the past………