Girl Crush-ing… Hypothetically….

I think I have a crush.

…… And what is perhaps most disconcerting about the waxing and waning of this particular attraction is just how atypical its advent has been.  For one she is well and truly outside the +/- 2.5 year band that I once swore to live and die by… And perhaps most importantly, the sum of our interaction over the last one month, one week and six days has been fifteen emails, five phone calls and one handshake; hardly a compelling oeuvre for a bloke whose standard MO – bar the not exactly happily-ever-after spring misadventure from 2009 – has primarily been based on weighing pros and cons, extensive googling due diligence  and incremental engagement rather than a full on pursuit.

My friend Des seems to think there’s at least something to explore, but I suspect it might just be a case of cake cravings on her part (she’s called dibs already on providing the little bride)… Me the cynic thinks it’s more molehill than mountain and that lurking just beyond the edge of what little I know are revelations bound to kick this delirium into touch… Me the pragmatist agrees with Des, and thinks it would at least be useful practice, bringing me closer to the magic 12 number which supposedly is the ideal number of partners required to define our dating baseline.

Me the analytical, in the few quiet moments the cacophony in my head allows me, wonders if there’s some low risk, non-intrusive way of closing the knowledge gap and progressing the opportunity (which may or may not be there)… Or if a wild plunge isn’t the way to go here…… After all someone once said doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result was insanity….

Or not….

About Town: Chance Meetings, Moments of Discomfort and a life-in-a-song moment

kfc_union

A sudden bout of hunger assails me just before the clock chimes 5.00pm and I find myself making a detour – turning left at Guild Street and then  making a beeline for the KFC on Union Street. Usually at this time of the day the singular focus is to get myself home, settle on my couch with a bowl of cold cereal and unwind with a Big Bang Theory/How I Met Your Mother TV marathon. Even the spectre of steaming morsels of eba potentially chasing themselves down my throat in short order is not enough to draw me home – the coup de grâce is, I suspect, the fact that it has been the better part of six months since I have savoured the fiery goodness of battered, deep fried chicken.

It takes all of seven minutes between arriving and finally getting my fare set on my table and being set to dig in. One bite in, someone calls my name, loudly. Out of the corner of my eye I catch sight of a bloke I used to know. A few months ago, he had left the current employer in a huff – word around the office was that there had been a disciplinary issue involved. He has company – three females and two blokes besides him. He walks up to my seat and pumps my free hand in that overstated, uniquely Nigerian way – “Ol’ boy, na your eye be this”? he asks rhetorically. “Na me o”, I reply, a reply that ends up merely being the prelude to a barrage of greetings until I am rescued by one of the ladies who catches his eye. He excuses himself and leads them to the till.

Four minutes later he is back, having got them to place orders – a giant bargain bucket and two large Pepsis. We catch up on what he has been up to since he moved on – chasing up graduate studies and applying to new jobs. “Nothing concrete yet, just a few leads to follow up“, he quickly adds. I nod, intelligently I hope, and give him a quick run down of where I have been so far. He left under a cloud, one so intense that the Boss was compelled to send out an email to every one assuring us that it was a one off, and further departures were not planned. As such, it is no little discomfort that I have to endure as we attempt to make small talk. I am saved again by his companions who by this time have finally ordered their food and have located a seat to settle in. I shake his hand as he prepares to leave, assuring him that I would be more than happy to provide a reference if required. Deep down, I hope it all gets sorted out without my involvement.

On my way home, my stomach filled to its brim with chicken, I fire an app to stream music to enliven my stroll. These days the gidilounge app has become my first resort in moments where mindlessly listening to music is required. In between listening and picking my way through the throng of people walking in the opposite direction to me, a line in a song jumps out and grabs my attention. I never quite catch the song in its entirety but it includes something about being ‘hot like atarodo‘. I chuckle to myself as a memory forces itself to the fore of my mind. Many years ago, in the peak of the Abacha years, my mother took to buying tomatoes and pepper in bulk to stretch the family’s meagre income. She would leave the baskets to us to wash up and then drag off to the local mill a few streets away to be turned into her very own purée. This would be steamed to drive off water and then stored in her freezer to be used in making stew from time to time. On one of those days, I went from washing atarodo to taking a leak too quickly, transferring the fiery material unto my nether regions to great discomfort. It took a prompt cold bath, and more scrubbing than I care to remember to douse the fire in my pants to a manageable level. The one small positive from that experience was being excused from picking atarodo from then on till I eventually moved away to University. Small positives, after all I guess.

Certainly Uncertain….

A few days ago, mid way through a telephone conversation with one of the lads I used to work with in my UX5 days, the delectable lass who joined a few months before I was due to leave overheard our conversation and asked to speak with me.

Even back then, in those early days of 2008, I was the bloke with a 5 year rolling plan complete with milestones, leading and lagging indicators and a roadmap. Her question had an air of inevitability to it; it had to do with the current iteration of the plan. Sadly, I could not give her the reassurances she was seeking – namely that the plan was still on track, and that an invite – amongst other things – would be winging it’s way to her Nigerian post box in the not too distant future.

The one thing I could not have factored into those – admittedly bullish plans – was the uncertainty around a few of the critical outcomes on which the plan flew or sank. I couldn’t have known that what looked like a door temptingly left ajar was in fact a door on its way to slamming shut with my finger stuck between it and the door frame; or that what felt like nirvana two years later would spontaneously combust over one big thing.  The uncertainties have not somehow dissolved into thin air with time. Au contraire, they in all probability have somehow become greater. More important because the outcomes are now more critical than before, and also because the interdependencies are even more convoluted.

In an ideal world, I suppose one would be able to tell with a reasonable amount of certainty what certain outcomes would be, without having to resort to Bayesian techniques, or applying the relational equivalent of hit and hope. Or maybe,  like my mother insists, I am simply over thinking it – micromanaging my outcomes so much that I end up not doing anything or losing the sense of adventure and unpredictability that not having all those backup plans brings.

Or maybe not…..

In which I recall my memories of being a new hire…

Recovered from an old computer…. The joys of spring cleaning, I guess… Apologies for any one who finds the pidgin English excessively ‘conc’

Not too long ago I resumed at one of the much vilified companies in Nige… No complaints from me though, as long as them roger me my small thing at the end of the month and dem no kidnap me – No long thing..  I went to complete my in-processing a few weeks ago. Over serious naijaboy like me go organize better trouser and korrect shirt, come tuck-in with my glasses and fresh hair cut. Mehn.. Me sef trip na, as I look myself for mirror o..  Note to self – Next time take a photograph for posterity’s sake!

But sha police na the same everywhere o, whether dem stand for road or dem be Security Specialist, all na the same o…

Like a real ju-man, I arrived there well ahead of time.  8 am sharp, I don tanda for the gate, meanwhile na 10 o’clock dem talk for the letter o. The gate was closed as expected. But I just waited anyways. One police man come dey eye me one kind. Me self dey pose na, like wetin concern me, na Oga I come see o, not police.

Maybe the police come dey suspect sha, cos after a while he walked up to me. Like a well brought up Naija boy, I come greet the guy.

Me: Good morning sir,

Policeman: Yes, Ken I help you? You have been loitering around here for a while

Shoo – persin wey seat down for bench outside gate, na loitering be that?

Me: Yes please, I need to see Mr ** in HR

Maybe I was imagining it, but the police man was suddenly more alert.

Policeman: Do you have an appointment? You can’t just see him like that. He is very busy especially on Tuesdays.

Before nko? Which one concern me concern day of the week? Shebi I get letter

Me: Yes I do, I have a letter.

Mistake number one, telling him I had a letter. Mistake number two having my appointment letter in the top section of my portmanteau.

Policeman: Oh you do? Lemme have a look at it. I need to verify the signatures.

Naïve me, promptly delved into my portmanteau begin find the letter o.

Me: Here it is.

See wahala o, police man dey jack the letter like say na JAMB exam o..

Policeman: Ermm, young man, follow me. You need to speak to my superior officer.

Omo, one kain fear begin grip me sha o, Abi na fake letter dem send give me?

Superior officer ke? Na so dem go bundle me go kirikiri o.. And some kain string faced community boys dey outside gate dey try peep sha.

Anyhow, superior officer turned out to be one woman with a very Igbo-itic skin color. I come dey believe small sha, say if e too  hard I go beg am as Mummy. There was a barrier – like the stuff at banks, so I stayed outside it. She motioned for me after a while.

MummyPolice: *No long thing*, come over.

I jejely waka enter the barrier go meet the woman o. I dey use style spy her name tag whether I go fit see her name, no be lie na one Ibo name like that sha.

MummyPolice: Do you have any identification? I mean how can we verify that this is you? A lot of you young men are into impersonation.

Haba! Impersonation ke? Me wey don drop my ID card for school and Nige no gree give me National ID card. How I wan take prove say I be me?

Thankfully, my ID card from my bank account as a corper was in my wallet. I presented that. Mummy police dey eye the ID card like say na rat poison o.. After much sha, she looked up..

Mummy Police: Okon, give Mr *** a call and see if he is expecting this young man and take him in if he is.

No be small relief flood my body o.. I jejely collected my letter while Police Man placed a call to Oga’s Secretary.

PoliceMan: Madam, his secretary says they have been expecting him, I’ll take him over.

Mummy Police: All right then, just make it snappy.

Police man prepared a temporary gate pass for yours truly and proceeded to lead  me through. The guy just dey try walk side by side with me. Which pattern?

As we neared the office, the guy cleared his throat,

PoliceMan: Ah, e be like say you know persin for HR o, because company never employ for like 5 years o.

Which one the guy come dey speak pidgin na? after all im hassling me?

Me: No o, na just God do am o.. My papa na lecturer for University o.. Im no know anybody o.

PoliceMan: Mbok! Na so una dey always talk!   Na the office be this sha. O boy e don better for you o. Anything for your man? At least make me sef drink beer follow you celebrate o.. U know say na me call you enter that time o, u for still dey outside.

Olodo, so na small thing you dey find before come make u dey try harass me.

Me: Oga, Nothing dey today, I still dey come here tomorrow, I go roger una small thing tomorrow

The guy no wan waka comot o. Thankfully secretary saw me through the glass door and motioned for me to come over.

Me: Oga, thank you, I no dey run, I full ground. I go represent..

As the guy see say nothing go drop , he turned to walk away.

Oloshi, im wan panic correct Naija boy before! Nonsense!

As God would have it, dem charter company car go drop us for hotel, so norrin’ doing for the police man..

That NYSC Year…

My short Saturday morning sleep (I’d stayed awake till 4.30 am) was shattered by the insistent buzz of my cellphone at a little over 9.00am, and with it came summons to meet up with a bloke I met at NYSC camp and his wife. After braving howling winds and nearly passing out on my feet with the sheer amount of shops we went through, we got to share my peri-peri chicken addiction, and chat. True to form our conversation segued into the murky waters that are Nigeria and its various issues. Thankfully, reminiscing over the highlights of our service year provided a spot of cheer.

My memories of the NYSC year were largely good – bar three weeks spent in the hell hole that was Yikpata with its over-crowded rooms, near non existent toilet facilities and mosquitoes. Thanks to those mosquitoes from hell, I – famed for my obstinate resistance to all things malaria – ended up with a bout so massive that the camp days blurred into each other, a continuum of delirium from which all that survived were hazy memories of flitting in and out of the camp infirmary and nightmares so intense they often felt like someone had a pillow over my face and was suffocating me.

Ending up in Kwara had been the product of my famed quiet stubbornness. In a huff over something or the other my mother had said, I had insisted to the death that I needed no help in securing a favourable posting. In public I sounded very self assured – confident in my ability to take care of myself irrespective of where I ended up. In my less vocal moments, I was very concerned that getting Zamfara would be the end of me, especially given the fact that the sum total of my life lived northward of the Osse River was two weeks, bar my six month sojourn in Ajaokuta.

Postings came with further trepidation on my part. I’d hardly had a stellar three weeks – no success with either the sports or the arts meant I had hardly set myself up for one of the much sought after postings. It turned out I scored a fairly cushy number – 11 months teaching math and physics in a secondary school on the outskirts of Ilorin. Lodgings would be provided in the mission house right next to Maraba with all its accoutrements – loud Yoruba music from the shops across the road, waking up to the mellifluous, if insistent call of the muezzin, and community development meetings at the state secretariat on Ahmadu Bello way. A few of the lads were not so lucky – Dayo* copped a spot in Kosubosu, the Baruten nightmare we all feared, complete with a seven hour trip into the unknown, insular West which was more Benin Republic than Nigeria if the been-tos were to be believed.

Within the first few hours of reporting at school, I quickly learnt that we were being thrust into the deep end. The school – with the requisite mame as long as an arm – was on its last legs, tottering on the edge of the precipice of insolvency. It was massively under-funded, with a new mission head seemingly intent on making it fail and had students who seemed more interested in flirting with the latest batch of Corp members than getting good grades on their SSCEs. I also had an interesting set of Corp members. There was Bukky* – whose Lagos-chic affectations provided good sport for the rest of us (and brought back a few ice cream tubs from the only Mr Biggs place in town) and Musa* who took nominal Muslim to a whole new level complete with nights at the local beer parlour and more than one suspected tryst at the brothel next door.

Thursdays were a special highlight; we would gather at the state secretariat and swap our often very vocal views on the latest Premiership scores whilst pretending to be involved in some community development group or the other. The women by the road side ensured we spent our hard earned allowee on extra spicy akara and fried plantains topped up with a dollop of pepper stew so fiery our eyes would water. It also turned out that my wish to be far from home backfired spectacularly – my mother somehow found a friend of a friend to keep tabs on me and the trip up the road to Tanke every other weekend became a fixture. It helped that they had a son who like me thought DC Talk and Audio Adrenaline were the business, and that Football Manager was a valid reason to offer a full night’s sleep at the altar of a computer monitor.

Eventually, as the service year drew to a close and we began to chase jobs, the physics, math and chemistry refreshers I got from teaching served me in good stead, as did my spiel about mentoring which was made up entirely on the spot.

Reminiscing with my friend and his wife over chicken and coke zero, it all came back to me. I suspect if I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Memories of Christmas

My earliest memories of Christmas – and ultimately of growing up – are inextricably connected to the sounds of roosting chickens, the anticipation of a hearty Christmas afternoon meal and the Chapel’s annual Christmas carol night. We were by no means very well off. Those were the dark days bookended by SAP and its attendant devaluation of the Naira and the Abacha dictatorship in which people in the Academia essentially lived hand to mouth. What was an already thinly stretched wage was steadily eroded until my proud, well read father resorted to farming yams and cassava in the space behind his house to augment his wage. The main garnishing to the routine fare we got served as soups and stews was beef bought in abundance from the local butchery, and fish.

Chicken was reserved for special occasions – the odd milestone birthday and Christmas. Over time, a family tradition would evolve around Christmas. Two to three weeks before Christmas, the University farm would hold a sell off of their old ‘layers’ – mother hens which had been pumped full of feed and chemicals would be auctioned off. Mother had excellent links with the farm management – the farm manager had been a classmate from her under grad days – and would give her a heads up which allowed her to scout out excellent bargains. Typically, she would buy two chickens – in one particularly good year, I reckon she bought three. The chickens would be kept alive till two days before Christmas; fed ground corn to keep them fattened and to induce them to lay whatever eggs they still had in them. Two crates of coke would be bought and kept under lock and key in the store, only to be served during the Christmas celebrations.

In tandem with her preparations, an assortment of students from the main church would get us prepared for our special guest appearance at the Chapel’s carol night. Us children from Sunday School would gather twice a week in one of the houses in the Quarters to memorise bible verses from the Nativity narrative, as well as learn our parts in its re-enactment. These usually started off in bedlam – children ages all the way from five to eleven are hardly poster children for law and order – but due to the persistence of the teachers a semblance of order would finally emerge. One year, in one of my less proud moments, I earned the dubious honour of memorising an eleven verse portion of scripture – a punishment for pushing my friend Ejemen so hard she fell and scrapped her knee. The year after though – older and wiser – I would redeem myself by giving a stirring performance as the King of Myrhh from ‘We Three Kings’. Interestingly that would be the only time of note that I would sing a solo.

Two days before Christmas Father would sharpen his knives, command that the chickens be brought before him, and then he would slit their throats – each with one smooth, fluid motion. We would gather around to watch their final gory, macabre dance of death as their surprised hearts pumped out their final life blood. The sisters and I would be tasked with de-feathering the chickens – copious amounts of boiling water would be poured over the now dead chicken to soften the quills and then we would proceed to remove them until the chicken was picked clean. Father would then proceed to quarter the chickens into reasonably sized portions for storing in the fridge for cooking on Christmas morning. Mother allowed us a sneak preview of the chicken meat – the feet, wings and head would be boiled by her in her biggest pot after stewing in all sorts of spices. We would have this as a communal meal – a preview of the Christmas feast.

Early on Christmas morning, Mother would wake up – I don’t remember waking up before her on any of those days – to commence her marathon of dicing, slicing, boiling and frying. All told by the time the rest of us woke up at seven there would be several pots going at the same time as she made up her special Christmas rice recipe, infused with the smell of wood smoke. Church would follow – there would be a short homily (perhaps the anticipation of chicken meat and rice made time seem to pass that bit quicker on Christmas day) and soon enough we would pile into Father’s old beat up Peugeout 505 to head back to the certainty of a hearty meal.

Mother had a thing for refusing to let us drink too many cokes, the thing we quickly learned was that on Christmas day she pretended to turn a blind eye.

A Question of Happiness

Between bites of peri-peri chicken and sips of Coke Zero, my friend Des asked me if I was happy. She – amongst all my long term friends – complains the least about my propensity to wall them off from the reality that is in my head, but from time to time she insists we meet to ‘catch up’. These meetings haven’t happened a lot recently – thanks to her juggling a return to full time employment with an energetic three year old, and travelling. Skipping merrily through town,  as she is wont to these days, she asked if I was up for a bite and a drink, which I accepted. We ordered the usual – a platter to share, bottomless drinks and sides of rice and settled in to talk about the minutiae of life, and all the quotidian pleasures we have enjoyed in the year so far. Then – out of the blue – she asked if I was happy. I suspect I managed to side track her question by rolling out my usual spiel about life being what it was – normal and mundane without anything out of the ordinary.

Mulling over that conversation again, I realised that on this one occasion, I had probably been as truthful as I possibly could. Most of the time life has either dealt me hands that have made me deliriously happy, or left me bogged down in the deep, dark depths of despair.

For the first time in a long time, though I know I am not deliriously happy there is a measure of contentment at how much progress has been made. Given the way the year’s panned out, I reckon that is enough to be thankful for…

On Reality

Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems..

…so said Salman Rushdie. The corollary is that memory is deceptive, and nostalgia can skew our recollection of things so much that it becomes an alternate reality far removed from the cold, hard facts as they occurred.

Sometimes clarity hits you suddenly like a blow to the solar plexus, at other times the bleeding obvious slowly becomes apparent. All told, some day a bloke has to decide – what’s important, what’s not, and what to leave to fight another day…. 

The illusion of ‘new’

In theory, fresh starts are great: you get a clean slate, a new life, the chance to reinvent yourself and lay the past to rest.

In reality, the break is never clean – past actions have consequences, past events leave signatures that are etched like indelible tattoos on the mind,  and on memory,  and there will always be connections to people we can’t escape.