The little kid – he’s barely eleven months – plods after his mother, hanging onto her left leg, and bawling. She has her hair swept back, hidden by the folds of the scarf she has around her head, is bedecked in baggy pants and has that forlorn, tired look only the hassle of splitting her attention between steaming pots of rice, partly boiled chicken and her 11 month old bundle of energy can cause.
I shouldn’t have been there. A mere three months prior to that I had sworn off hanging around babies, thanks to a particularly unsavoury experience in which a much younger friend of a friend of a friend thrice removed had managed to reach levels of tactlessness I hadn’t known previously, but the lure of meeting up with an old acquaintance had proved too strong. Sometime in mid 2008, she had been the smoking hot, part-Delta, part-Akwa Ibom
vixen Chemical Engineering intern keen to get her teeth stuck into the rarefied world of corrosion. Her introduction had been the kindling that set fire to the tinderbox that was the testosterone filled cluster that was a group of thirteen plus blokes in various phases of singleness. Like all women, assured in the knowledge of the influence she had, she broke a few rules, played the lads against each other and left more than a fews single blokes heart broken by the time her six month tour was up. She had emailed out of the blue to say she was stopping in London for a couple of days on holiday, wondering if I might be keen for a meet up. A few phone calls, hurried flight bookings and with every rule in my book about traveling at short notice broken, here I was trying my very best to distract a kid, seemingly intent on making his mother trip up whilst she tried to make dinner.
The flight up to Luton had been largely forgettable, bar being filled up to the rafters, the default facial expression on everyone’s faces the barely cognisant vacantness of knackered-ness. It didn’t help that the cheap, budget airline we had opted for ended up delaying the flight – the inbound leg from some exotic Norwegian town had had to battle a strong head wing and came in late – nor that the near full complement of passengers meant the cabin crew had to work miracles to fit everyone’s luggage in. Finally settled in a full hour behind schedule, I promptly stuck my nose in my book – I have been re-reading Yusef Komunyakaa‘s poetry collection Pleasure Dome – keen to avoid any unnecessary banter. An hour and twenty minutes later, I find myself safely deposited on the tarmac at Luton with the small matter of a shuttle to the Luton parkway and then the First Capital Connect to St Pancras to navigate. Nearly an hour later, I am standing just outside St. Pancras trying to find the cheap hotel I have booked, on Google Maps. It takes a few mis-turns, a detour into a not very helpful kebab shop and a fortuitous glance at a street name before I find the right turn on to Argyle square and the comfort of a warm bed.
Si ended up not showing up – she’d caught a bug of some sorts and was too woozy to be out and about in a city she didn’t know too well – leaving me with a big hole in my schedule to fill on Saturday morning. My regular Hillsong pit stop was not to be for another day, the promise of hot moi-moi could not be cashed in till late on Sunday, and there was nothing particularly exciting on TV, so I did the next best thing and phoned up my friend V, which was how I ended up in his kitchen, chatting with his wife whilst helping her with her cooking, remotely.
disciplinarian extraordinaire budding aunt-in-waiting, did put me to good use – when she wasn’t needling me about being single and my reputation for being an intellectual snob of sorts. I put in a good shift – if I say so myself – with the chicken, ensuring the fiery chili sauce was well mixed in before it was grilled, and keeping an eye on the fried rice whilst she gave the young man her undivided attention for a while. I did get my reward – two packs of fried rice and chicken pieces with two bottles of malt to take away on my return journey to my hovel on the edge of St. Pancras. The kid and I? We did bond, spectacularly too. An unintended consequence is I may have identified the little groom for that ever elusive 2014 wedding.