It is the end of August, and the new crowd is in town. I imagine the cold, wet and windy autumnal weather can hardly be the sort of welcome anyone from warmer climes could have been expecting, but for those of us north of the border, it is our lot, and moan as we may, it is what we are stuck with.
Union Street is pretty much akin to Port Harcourt’s Aba Road, and every time a fresh batch of people hits town it swells like a river straining at its banks. As I pick my way through the human traffic I spot elements of the new crowd. It is always easy to spot them – either by the fact that they walk in groups of two or three, peering at maps, and chattering loudly in whatever their native tongue is, clearly excited at the new adventure they have set themselves, or by the fact that they are dressed up to the nines, over coat, head warmer, gloves and all, even though it is barely September.
Just in front of the Primark store, someone calls out my name, loudly. It is the nickname I was known by a few years ago as an under grad, so I straight away know it is someone form that era. When I turn around, it is indeed a lad I knew from back then. Last thing I heard about him was that he’d snagged a job at Shell, and was doing great – BMW, a steady girlfriend and parties every so often at some Port Harcourt bar or the other. We shake hands firmly. He has to drop the bulk of the items he has in tow – duvets, pillows and a big brown bag which I imagine must contain some warm clothing.
O boy!!! You sef dey here? he asks. He has the unfettered joy of someone who has finally seen a friendly face amidst a milieu of strange, not quite friendly ones. His question is clearly rhetorical – I am here in person, not in spirit; of that there is no dispute. I motion for him to move his stuff out of the way, closer to the walls so the milling crowd around can keep flowing around us.
He gives me a rapid fire low-down. He’s joined an MBA program in one of the Universities in town. He’s hit a glass ceiling at work, and he presumes it is time to prove his mettle elsewhere, the MBA being the door to the switch he intends to make. Off the top of my head, he must the 8th person out of the top ten ranked grads in my class to have left Nigeria. The only two chaps I definitely know are still in Nigeria work for Exxon out of Lagos.
What are you doing in town?, he asks. I explain what it is I do – some dead beat job behind a desk crunching numbers, hardly exciting stuff. He nods, excitedly.
Good to see you man, we should meet up some time he says. I nod.. Give him a card with my phone number and then we part.
I didn’t ask if he resigned, I hope he didn’t. Out here, the hardest lesson we all have had to learn is that the grass on the other side only looks greener because it is synthetic…..