African shop…


I am carefully arranging the items in my shopping basket to make room for the 1800g tin of milk I have just taken off the shelf when someone to my left blurts out – Brossss.. Your Nidoooo milk no get part 2 o!

So engaged in that most banal of tasks have I been that I have not noticed him until he has spoken, pretty much directly into my left ear, I might add. When I look up, his face has a vague familiarity to it. I give it a few seconds before I give up trying to place the face, and assume he is someone I have run into at church, or one of the multiplied baby birthdays I have been forced to attend this year. I smile and explain my thinking behind grabbing the big tin – I come to this African shop on the corner of George and Fraser’s only so often, and for what it’s worth I try to make it worth my while.

It must be nearly three months in fact since I last came this way – replacing garri with Irish potatoes and palm-oil laden egusi soup with steamed broccoli and chicken breast made the detour redundant – but today a feening for soft, squishy, bread washed down with the thick, delicious gooeyness of Nido milk, with just enough water to give it the consistency of ice cream – is what has won over my resolve, enticing me into showing up here.

When the young man on my left doesn’t move on after my explanation, I begin to suspect there is a little more to this meeting than just a casual comment.

You been dey Engine for UNIBEN abi?

I nod tentatively, still wondering where all this might lead. He breaks out into a broad grin as he explains he spent a year in my corner of the world, sharing jokes, bed-bug infested couches and the odd fiver for bread and groundnut in the Hall 3 common room, which I insisted on making my reading spot, bang in front of the TV.

I ask him what’s brought him into town. He explains he’s been interviewing for a role at one of the corrosion rust consultancies in town. I explain I work in the field these days, and share a few choice thoughts about the rife dysfunction in that organisation. He shrugs – Make dem take me first o. All these one na tori,  he says. Given the patchy job scene, I have to agree.

Very nearly four years since I moved up North, the ‘Deen hasn’t lost its ability to spring surprises in the shape of old, lost connections. And apparently even back in them UNIBEN days, I had a thing for Nido milk…

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