An egg, two sausages, a slice of bacon and a hash brown.. All on a roll.. #Delish
The one last, irrevocable act that settles the inevitability of these trips is the phone call, typically sometime between 3.30pm and 5.00pm, confirming a check-in time for the next day. Beyond that, it is a fairly straight forward routine – wake up just past 5.00am, sort out my morning ablutions and then proceed to drag my two pieces of luggage down Park Road, up Kings and up to the bus station just outside Union Square. Thereafter there is a wait – between five and twenty minutes depending on when I arrive – before the 727 to the airport begins its crawl towards Dyce and the airport.
That ride, typically a 30 minute one, is largely spent in silence, punctuated only by bell presses alerting the driver to people’s need to alight as required; their stern, mostly tired faces, hardly inspiring conversation. Outside, there is only a steady stream of early morning commute traffic, and the overwhelming grey of dull, bland buildings to view, until the final stretch of the A96 where some greenery mercifully appears to break the depressingly monotonous view.
Today’s trip lasts just a little over 35 minutes, a snarl getting off Great Northern Road ensuring we spill over the allotted time. Delay notwithstanding, I arrive with plenty of time to grab a coffee before proceeding to the counter to check-in for my flight which is planned to leave by 10.45am.
Check-in is quick. The frazzled woman at the front desk runs me through the routine – passport checked, vantage card eyeballed, bags weighed, quick step on the scale and then the check to confirm my stored details are still correct – and then waves me through to baggage check in.
I join the lengthening queue in front of the full body scanning machine as it inches along. When it is my turn, the man on the other side motions for me to step through. I do not set off any alarms today. My bags get scanned, and then taken apart and searched. I get the all clear after two minutes and some, and then proceed to get my jacket, belt and shoes back on.
9.10 am… My day has just begun.
Thirty odd people, myself included, cluster around a table in a somewhat private corner of the Monkey House. Once a quarter, the guys and girls from work all pile in here to de-stress, and let our hair down. Rumour has it that after enough beers have gone around, fortuitous slips centred around what certain bosses actually think about certain staff have been known to occur. Usually, the evening starts with a few beers and nibbles – fish fingers, spring rolls, and all the other light food we’d collectively call small chops in my other world, the small matter of a few thousand miles away.
Three beers in, I find myself somehow wedged between two women from a different group within my larger team. Besides the odd ‘Hi’ tossed across the hall way as I have passed them on the way to the shared printer, or the even more occasional chit-chat at the coffee machine, these are not people I would consider myself particularly well acquainted with.
In allowing myself to be stuck at this end of the table, I have perhaps made my most grievous mistake. The conversation that begins around my being single – uncomfortable enough as it were – eventually segues in to the even less comfortable territory of botched spray tans, gelish application and removals, and endless harping on about a perceived slight; a contractor had used one of the ladies’ parking space without asking.
It takes all of my will power to not physically run, but I survive, long enough to seize the arrival of a fresh platter of nibbles as an escape clause.
She taps me on the shoulder, seemingly after several attempts to get my attention. In my defence, I have my earphones plugged in, cranked up to the maximum as usual, and have my hands in my fully done up jacket, braced up for the nip in the air, a far cry from the fairly balmy weather we’d had for all of three days that week.
I am waiting for the Number 5 bus from Seafield Shops to Union Street, at a little before 20 minutes to 5pm, and besides the slowly lengthening line of cars on the opposite side of the road queuing up to get off Seafield on to Springfield road, there is an uncertain quietness to everything. At the time she tapped my shoulder, the only thing on my mind besides the cold was clearing my head of PRENs, Carbon equivalents, hydrogen embrittlement and all the other buzz words my ears had been filled up with at the training course I was on.
The bus can’t have left yet? She asks, when it is clear she now has my attention as I pull my earphones out of my ears.
I want to respond with a retort along the lines of I’m still here, silly, but one look at her wrinkled face peeking out from beneath the scarf she has on head and tied up beneath her chin, slight stoop and thick blue jacket perishes the thought from my mind. My grandmother would roll in her grave if I so much as disrespected this woman I think.
It doesn’t leave till ten minutes to five, I finally respond, just before she shuffles over to the bus timetable and traces the next run with her finger. Finally convinced she lets out a whiff of pent up breath and seems to relax a little bit more.
We share a few moments of uncomfortable silence where it seems she sizes me up. I must cast a sorry picture – overgrown bushy hair, dirty brown moccasins, blue jeans and a knapsack.
You don’t live around here, no? I respond with a shaken head and explain that I am only in the vicinity thanks to a training course I am at, at the hotel across the street.
Ah, I see. You’re Nigerian though? I nod in the affirmative. Uncomfortable silence broken we share a moan about the cold weather and how summer only lasts two days in our corner of the world. Somewhere in the midst of our idle chatter she lets on that her son worked for Shell in Port Harcourt in the mid 90s.
He’s away to Australia now though, she adds. Left in 2006, she lets out a sigh, evocative in my mind of a pining mother, much in the way mine might bemoan my seemingly lack of application in delivering a daughter in-law to her pronto.
Labour’s sold the country down the river, she adds. I maintain silence. These are dodgy waters to be treading. Presumably Labour’s selling the country down the river has something to do with their less than glorious record, the perception that is, on immigration and border controls.
We are saved by the appearance of the Bus down the road, Two stops away. Here it is she says. I nod, surreptitiously plugging in my right ear bud back in. The bus arrives, and I let her get on first inspite of her attmepts to wave me on first.
I plant my bum in a seat in front, just behind the driver. She seats in one of those reserved for the elderly and promptly whips out a Sudoku book
Twenty minutes later, we’ve snaked our way on to Union Street. I am dropping off at the last Union Street stop, just before the bus goes up Union Grove. She presses the bell and shuffles off three stops before mine.
As she gets off, she waves when she goes past me.
Stay happy son..
I have no riposte for that.
I woke up to five missed calls on my phone. I had felt, rather than heard its insistent buzz deep within lalaland but sheer tiredness had kept me from waking up. Instead, the phone’s chirpy ringtone somehow ended up blending itself in with the background to some weird dream I promptly forgot on waking.
Of the five missed calls, three were from my mother, one from my father’s phone and one from a private number. This has more or less become her standard M.O. – when she feels I am intentionally refusing to answer her phone calls that is. That she’d called five times suggested it was important, so I groaned inwardly, punched in the numbers for my calling card and made the phone call to Nigeria.
The full repertoire of grunted, fairly redundant greetings done, she proceeded to the core of the reason why she’d called.
“So ‘Seni, I hear you young people now find wives on facebook”
“Mummy”, I reply in best son voice, “where did you hear that from? Facebook is just a website for staying in touch with old friends”
“That’s not what I heard” she replies before she launches into a ten minute tale. Some distant friend of the family, who I had met two or three times at most, who is now retired had scrapped his savings together and sent his son abroad to study at one of my former Universities. Post graduation, he’d found a job in London and was doing quite well by all accounts until he found a wife “off Facebook” my mother insists and got married to her.
A year later, he’d lost his job, it turned out she had been a fraud of sorts (she’d lied about where she worked amongst all other things), and he was back in Nigeria trying to find a job. Somewhere in between talk of having visited some medicine man in an attempt to suss out the cause of his misfortune and all the other ‘spiritual’ sleuthing a traditional Nigerian does..
My mother’s point – important enough for her to try to call me five times in quick succession – was that one wrong move such as finding a wife off face was dangerous. And I needed to be warned/ have my ear pulled to remind me… When it had all wrapped up and the telephone conversation had ended. I sighed and returned to whatever remnants of sleep I could eke out.
It was only 8.30am
In retrospect, it was the best weekend to have been away from work – but I didn’t know that three weeks ago when on a whim I decided I needed an extended break. It just so happened that Thursday morning, which was my last work day of the week, brought with it the slight irritation of an unwelcome work event that needed a response. That event ended up spawning a response that had burgeoned into a full-fledged emergency of sorts – complete with the mindless, headless running around centred on being visible and being seen to be doing stuff, however pointless – by midmorning on Friday, by which time I was sauntering casually down Links Road, up the beach Esplanade and then unto the Boulevard with the sun on my back, tempered by a cool breeze from the sea and the barely perceptible sound of the waves lapping the shoreline, the sound track to what was a very leisurely stroll.
The feeling was one of peace, of uninterrupted solitude and of at-oneness with nature, a feeling heightened by the rabbits scurrying about in the grass and the birds chirping merrily away. The plan was to amble on in a loop, back up Links road and then homewards, to my 2015 FM2013 AC Milan save, where as the precociously talented AJ McSedge, I was on the fast track to league, cup and champions league double number 3. Finding myself at Cineworld for a breather, with ads for the opening day of Iron Man 3 bang in my face, I made up my mind quickly and decided a pit stop was a no-brainer.
There were only three other people in the queue for tickets, served by just one attendant. Two of them – a pox upon them – had that
love lust ravaged look of horny teenagers, seemingly less able to walk straight than keep their hands off each other in what was a very public place at the most unreasonable hour of 11am. The other person, a tall, fairly muscular bloke had on a jacket with splotches of what looked like carpet glue, my best guess being that he was a joiner or handy man of sorts looking to use some downtime to catch Iron Man 3.
It turned out three other people had already settled into their seats in the cinema for a grand total of seven. I found my way to the topmost row, slouched in my assigned chair and proceeded to slowly whittle down my pile of nachos alternated with sips of coke as the endless parade of trailers and ads rolled by before it was time for the movie. Iron Man was ok, the movie that is, when I could focus on watching it without the distraction of mumbling from the two lovebirds who ended up sat within a few feet of me.
In the end, I tacked on lunch at TGI Fridays, copping a seat with a view looking out to the now less sunny, but still miraculously dry, beach front, surrounded by scores of people doing lunch in pairs and threes with my steak, chicken and shrimp combo and an appletizer for company. My leisurely stroll continued after that hearty lunch, completing the loop I’d terminated at Cineworld.
It was nearly 5pm by the time I finally allowed myself to log back in to work email, ostensibly to assure myself nothing life threatening had happened. There were the usual back and forth, pointless work emails.. And one particularly snide one from my verbal sparring partner, sarcastically applauding me for perfecting the art of vanishing…
A big pox upon him!
It was meant to be a quick year off work- away from what had quickly degenerated into a morale sapping, five-year-plan derailing slog complete with over-paid and over-pampered expat bosses more keen to leave a boot in to demonstrate their continuing relevance than develop fresh graduates. That year’s appraisal was the final straw – the spiel about the ranking process being an assessment of the best and the brightest and the slowest driver in a Formula 1 race being a darned good driver somehow put the lie to being ranked firmly in the middle percentile AND yet being offered a position of greater authority.
I took the first opportunity to bail – grad school, pipelines and the prospect of a study leave for it all seemed a good safe bet. All unpaid, but with an almost iron-clad guarantee of a return to the very well paid job I had, or so I thought.
All that was not to be, the official company line was they couldn’t find a role that fit my skills and experience.
At first the lostness was intentional, a purposeful forgetting of the past and its accoutrements – an attempt to isolate myself from the longing and nostalgia for dirty, rowdy, yet loveable Lagos. And I didn’t go back for the first three years.
These days, it’s more a case of never quite fitting in – neither in Nigeria, nor in the cold, wet and windy corner of the world I have squirrelled away in..
It’s been 4 years, 7 months and 17 days but yet there is no abatement of the inner lostness.