Seems like you’re having a ball for one, the ginger haired man who had seemingly popped out of nowhere said to me as I attempted to retrieve my cup of tea, and turn around at the same time.
Epic fail. I managed to do neither, very nearly tipping my life giving cup of tea over in the process. I had been waiting on our epileptic coffee maker to finish pissing a shot of hot water into my cup, passing the time by whistling to myself and looking out with longing for the clear, sunny day that was out there, just beyond my reach for the next few hours.
The most I could do for a reply, given how startled by his sudden appearance I was, was to mumble something about TGIF counting for something at least, at which we both smiled.
It had been a relatively quiet Friday up until then – Fridays in the summer months tend to be like that on this current work gig as half the team takes alternate Fridays off. Thanks to the sunshine I had slipped into a reverie of sorts, mentally gearing myself up for a long and lazy weekend – hence my whistling – until said ginger haired man popped up and ruined my little party.
We ended up at the coffee table, I leafing through the Times Sports pages and he the Press and Journal. That was the little accident of happenstance that led to him asking me what part of Africa I was from.
Nigeria, I replied to which he flashed a satisfied, slightly smug – I thought – smile.
I very nearly guessed that! You seemed to have the two things I’ve come to expect from Nigerians – a great, happy personality and good English.
I laughed at that – pointing out that having to learn an official language does wonders for your ability, more so if it is the formal language of discourse between people from 252+ ethnic groups.
He nodded. Must be something having to manage all those ethnicities in a country that size.
I nodded in agreement, mentioning that in my home state of Edo, there were at least seven fairly distinct ethnic groups with numerous language and custom delineations within them.
It turned out that he’d never worked in Nigeria, despite having worked across the African oil patch from Algeria’s Hassi R’Mel, via a number of stints in Libya, Egypt and Angola to Esso’s Doba development across the border in Chad.
Missed opportunity pal! I told him. His response was a smile and then a slip into a slightly more reflective mood.
Nigeria never did work out for me. Had a few opportunities to work out of Calabar and Warri. Pay was great but the wife never was comfortable with the security situation.
We were quiet for a few minutes. Until he interjected, again.
I did work with a Nigerian bloke once – offshore Angola.
I looked up as he proceeds to reel off a tale about some bloke called Boma. They’d been drilling offshore Angola back in 2003 – Boma the drilling engineer aboard had shown up to a morning meeting late one day. The drilling supervisor had had a few choice words to say about him in his absence but Boma, ever the jovial, friendly chap had shrugged it off.
The drilling supervisor wouldn’t let up, leaving Boma with no choice but to pull a sheaf of papers from the side pocket on his coveralls.
You know, if I hadn’t stayed up late correcting your English, he told the drilling supervisor, I would have been here earlier. The man across the table from me swears the report was riddled with red ink. That definitely shut the drilling supervisor up for good he swears, to everyone else’s satisfaction. Said Supervisor had a reputation for being a right twat, apparently.
We fell silent for a few more minutes with only the rustling of the turning pages breaking our moment of introspection. After a while, he stood up, stretched and yawned.
Have to run off mate.
He extended his hand for a handshake as I made to leave also.
Iqbal’s the name. Yours is?
Seni, I replied, taking his outstretched hand. He must have spotted my furrowed brow as I tried to process the unspoken question – how did a very English man have a Muslim name, and live and work in Scotland.
Long story, mate. Short version is I’m English and Muslim, the wife is Tunisian.
I nod as it finally sunk in. That might just have explained why after all his interest in African oil, he did not make a pit stop in Nigeria.