The woman clutched my arm. The first wave of feeling that hit me – when my mind frozen for an instant by the brazen grab – was fear, and then confusion, as she peered intently into my face with not even the faintest hint of recollection bouncing about in my head. She wasn’t wearing the flowing robes of an aladura prophetess, thus ruling out a smash-and-grab prophesy as the reason for her intrusion. Something about the deeply lined face, the light grey hair peeking out from underneath her tight head wrap and her uber thick lenses left me positively unsettled.
You don’t remember me, she asked; her iron clad grip loosening as her face retracted to a safe distance, a hint of disappointment at the lack of a flicker of recognition in mine showing on her face.
Vaguely familiar, was all I could mutter as she finally let go of my hand as one who had suddenly discovered she had been hanging on to an eel.
Bala, Mrs Bala, she mouthed her name several times as though by dint of repetition her words could penetrate my thick skull. It might have done just that because from the name, a whole avalanche of memories came rushing in, connecting the older, more lined face thrust out of the blue into mine on the corner of a very business market street with five years of history. She had taught sunday school at the church I attended intermittently back in my undergraduate days – when my parents had succeeded in dragging me along – before I discovered the ploy of escaping to University on Sunday morning pleading the need to close out piled up assignments. Now convinced this was no precursor to a kidnap attempt I must have loosened perceptibly because the next thing she did was to offer me a hug, which I accepted, and then to quiz me rapid fire about life, work and the inevitable wife and children banana skin.
We heard you got a job at XCorp. You be big man now O, so tey you come forget us! Me, Mrs Bala? Na sooooo? Tricky recollections navigated, she had lapsed into a less formal, pidgin english based lingua.
I tell her I left XCorp in 2008, grabbed a masters degree, am weighing up the next move to yet another far flung corner of the world and am yet still unmarried.
Where be this place sef, ehn OJ? Shey dem no still dey comot people head for there? I don’t know if it is concern or just plain ignorance. I explain the little I know. It’s not the bastion of liberal, self-indulgent, cosmopolitan life that’s New York’s Queens or London’s West End but its no battle scared, devil’s romping place either.
Wetin you dey go find for there sef? She sighs in resignation. Your mummy is happy with you going there? This time it IS concern, her forehead had developed its now familiar crease of worry.
I nod in the jaded, beaten manner of one who has had this conversation one too many times for the past few days. She shakes her head and then suddenly as though awoken by a synapse firing she dips into her bag and begins to rummage within it, eventually coming up with her cell phone.
Ehennn! Back to pidgin English, I sigh inwardly thinking I may have finally escaped here. She has her eyes fixed on me intently now.
P* sef never marry. She was around three months ago. She has a masters too, from abroad. She throws that in, perhaps hoping that some shared experience might help circumvent my perceived ‘pickiness’. She goes on to extoll P’s values – head screwed on right, solid job at some Lagos auditing firm, and most importantly someone whose familial antecedents we both know very well. She scribbles some digits on a sheet of paper somehow exhumed from her purse and thrusts it in my face.
That’s her number. Call her o!! God might have orchestrated this meeting for this purpose. She is back in her stern sunday school teacher/ up and coming Mother-In-Israel mode. I nod respectfully, push the folded sheet into my shirt pocket and return to my humble boy pose – head slightly bowed, eyes averted and hands clasped together at my back. She smiles one last full toothed smile, waves and continues on her journey, leaving me wondering what just hit me.
A few paces after I’ve escaped her clutches, the piece of paper with the phone number has morphed into a crushed ball of wet mush and nestles in the gaping mouth of a broken sewer pipe. Unless God now specialises in the business of breaking up marriages for single blokes, there will be no dice with Mrs P
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