Baby Birthdays, failed détente and motherly ultimatums

In what must be a first for me, I get invited to a birthday party over WhatsApp. Truth be told, there were mitigating circumstances. Although the parent in question and I have some tenuous familial connection – my grand father and her grand mother somehow managed to get entangled in the far distant haze that is a few generations ago – she and I haven’t stayed much in touch, in spite of us living the the small matter of the length of Union Street apart. I suppose the invitation was one last hopeful punt in my direction. If it was, it worked, the twin attractions of something to do on a Saturday afternoon and proper Nigerian food proving too strong for even I the quintessential recluse. Izzy, the kid in question had just turned One, and her parents keen to celebrate the milestone were putting together a small get together for the guys; for that I was very much a willing eater.

I arrive at fifteen minutes past the hour. Given our Nigerian predilection for African time, I have figured that this is a considered compromise between not being the first bum on a seat and not keeping the hosts waiting. It turns out I have timed my arrival horribly; the only other person besides the chief host by the time I arrive is a Caucasian woman and her two children, with the next person strolling in leisurely at thirty minutes past the hour. Arriving early does prove useful though, as I am pressed into service putting finishing touches to the placement of cups and drinks on the tables.

It turns out to be a fairly well attended event. There are quite a few people I have not seen in a while, each with their children in tow. Both parents have connections to my alma mater and it shows. I end up sharing a table with yet another distant family member, one who was also a contemporary of my youngest brother. He has his girlfriend on his arm when he breezes in just after 2pm, and a few handshakes and a quick swig of Don Simon later, he plumps into a seat next to me. We talk, about Nigeria, about Aberdeen and the looming winter, about work and future plans. He thinks he’ll head off to Nigeria in the next three to five years, I think that elusive PhD needs putting back on the front burner.

The one blot, on a personal level for me, is an extended encounter with the brash tactlessness of a friend of a friend. When he finds out we all went to the same University but that I graduated two years before he commenced studies, he straight away asks which of the children chasing birthday ballons near by are mine. I reply I have none, and am not married, which is his cue to waffle on about how I am wasting time. I am minded to give him a telling off, but given the context and the fact that our host would most assuredly come down on his side, I hold my peace and move off to grab some food instead. In that little six minute and some exchange is all the background and proof that has typically driven my avoidance of these events.

On the subject of my mother, the last few weeks have been somewhat frosty. In a sense she has been feeling the absence of the kid brother who’s upped sticks and headed back to full time study in a different country. Being the fairly accessible ear, she has tended to dump on me. Her mood has not been helped by my uncle down south and his ongoing meddling. True to type, and perhaps influenced by all the things I have going on in my life at this point in time, I opted for withdrawal and managed communication to limit the opportunities for irritation. This weekend I decide to try to mend fences by initiating a call and allowing her unload. Needless to say, she does a lot of the talking, and manages to add an ultimatum at the end.

Mothers! Sigh.

Thankful Thursdays #18

Thankful for:

  • Summer Fridays and the chance to focus on some of the more proactive/strategic components of my role at work
  • Conversations with my Uncle F: Even though I moan about his ‘interference’ at times, the one thing I cannot argue with is he’s walked the self same paths I’m currently walking, and he does have a good head and good intentions.
  • Improved work relationships: Our shared office space has been seeing a lot more laughter lately. Even though some of it is banter I’m having to lap up, I have to say I’m thoroughly enjoying myself this year from the looks of things.

How He Met My Mother

dad&mum

One Sunday in December of ’76 as the dry, dusty harmattan winds dumped a fine layer of dust on a sleepy village, two best friends who had not seen each other for the better part of three years were meeting up under the shade of a kola nut tree, squarely placed in the centre of the court yard of the unpainted cement building that housed one of the ruling families in a little village nestled underneath the overhanging rocks of the Somorika mountains.

The men in question had been partners in crime, as they painted the small village red a few years before. Forming a fearsome central defensive partnership, they had been the foundation of the all-conquering village football team. Women (and free kai-kai at the local drinking spots) were a few of the trappings this revered status brought them, and like all full blooded thirty-something males, they had milked their lofty status to the maximum. They also had the fortune in those days to have parents with some education, and thus had been pushed and prodded until they had completed their A-levels and gone on to University – Ai to UNILAG, and Og to UI.

Something though had happened in between – Ai had somehow acquired a worldview shattering transformation two years into his UNILAG experience, and had become rabidly spiritual, complete with speaking in tongues and the other trappings of militant charismatism. Og on the other hand had fallen in with the folks at the Student Union and had become a radical of his own, only with a more political slant.

Underneath the tree, the animated conversation slowly segued into an attempt to unpack the changes that had happened in their individual lives in the period they had not seen each other. Og was incredulous, and perhaps a little dismissive of the fact that a full blooded young man could suddenly become able to resist the lure of free women, beer, and a reputation for playing the town. Ai tried his best to explain the spiritual changes that had happened in his life, to little effect.

That innocuous conversation underneath a tree was the first step in a chain of events that would bring Ai in contact with a delectable lass from the village next door. Whilst visiting cousins in the village next door, Og was told about someone who had shattered academic records all her life, and was attending the University of Ife on a Federal scholarship. She also had a reputation for being a hard nosed SU member. The next time Og was in town, he asked to meet her, and when his missive was repelled with a stirring master class in evangelism, he mentioned he knew just the right bloke with enough spiritual fervour to match the young woman’s potency.

Two years later, Ai and said lass would get married in the local Anglican Church amid much pomp and pageantry- she swears the marriage register was signed at 11:36am; all he remembers is saying the I-do’s and whisking her off to a whole new life.

33 years, four children (less the one who the genes took), multiple quarrels (including at least one week where one party packed out of the house), and six academic degrees between them later, they are still together, reasonably happy and still share a laugh at Og’s antics. Somewhere in between they would become my parents.

Wedding bells…

I wake up to the insistent whine of my cell phone. I try to let it ring, hoping that whoever it is will leave a voice mail but when the call ends there is only a respite of a couple of minutes before the next call comes in. I drag myself to my desk and pick up the phone on the third ring, it is my mother.

– Oohjay how are you, she asks.

I mumble something about being fine, and it being a little early to chit chat. Perhaps she senses my irritation, because unusually she cuts to the chase.

– Kuti’s getting married in two weeks, are you aware? What are your plans?

Kuti is the cousin who was closer than a brother. We’d shared a room since he came to live with us when I was 8 or 9. Alongside my kid brother, we had all our illicit football games together, played table soccer leagues with bottle tops and swapped girl stories. More importantly to my mother, he was the most visible one of her progeny who had refused to get married, well into his late thirties. He turned thirty-seven this year.

– I have no plans ma, I answer.

I have a couple of projects wrapping up at the end of April so I won’t be able to get two weeks off to travel to Nigeria. Plus getting a ticket at two weeks notice would burn a huge hole in my finances, which are barely limping along at the moment in any case.

– Okay o, she replies in a tone of voice that clearly is not satisfied. Keep me in the loop whatever you eventually decide.

We make some more small talk and then she signs off. It is only 5.44am. Sigh.

Marriage Matters..

I am checking my emails when a LinkedIn notification comes in. Over the past few months, LinkedIn has morphed into a Facebook for professionals – never more so than in its ability, and willingness, to dreg emails and address books for connections to suggest. This particular suggestion is for a connection to a friend of my father’s from back in the day when he was a struggling academic, labouring under the especially onerous conditions of the Abacha era.  I add him, and after a few minutes he accepts. He emails me, asking me where and how I am, how my parents are, and then adds  the marriage question..

At a mere thirty one years of age, I appear to be at a stage in life where, when people who have not been in touch for a few years reconnect with me, one of the first things they ask is how my family is – implicitly accepting that I am married already. I wonder how the girls survive it..  Sigh!

Father Issues…

On the 4th ring, someone answers the phone. The voice is distant, seemingly attenuated by all the miles of cabling and ether between me and the recipient. There is a certain sleepy quality to the voice too, as though I have woken them up from the depths of an afternoon nap. Its late afternoon in that part of the world, that time of day when the oppressive heat and the lack of activity on a Sunday afternoon combine to lull one into a dreamy haze.

Father answers the phone. He and I have not exactly seen eye to eye for a few years now. Not since that September morning in 2008 when I packed my bags, quit my job at a Fortune 500 company and headed back to full time studies. Thankfully time’s attrition has worn the walls we’d built up between ourselves down but the reticence between us is still there – sometimes seething, sometimes manifesting in monosyllabic exchanges that give the lie to our semblance of civil conversation.

Today is one of those days for the monosyllables. I want it over with as soon as possible.

10 years on..

My Uncle Fred was the nearly black sheep of Mother’s side of the family. Bloke had all the women purring over him and he lived for the attention. As recently as the year 2000, he still left his plates on the table after eating and Mother would use him as an example of how not to behave.

It was to my utmost surprise therefore, that in the midst of a phone call with me, Uncle Fred excused himself to go stir some soup he was making! Uncle Fred and cooking are about as diametrically opposed as they come..

Maybe its the UK life, or a strong wife, but that is a sea change… So much for the archetypicalundomesticated husband.

Back… again..

At the insistence of some sections of the family, I was dragged away to London for the weekend… No complaints though because it included home cooked meals, no internet (sad but good – Twitter on my BB tried to fill the void) and some ‘transport’  money – critical for a bloke on a (self imposed) student budget. Plus I got the opportunity to bond with my niece whom I had never seen (bad ‘uncle’ abi?).

Got the opportunity to join the incredible folks at the ExCel centre too – loads of great music and some really burning words to muse over.. Sadly, the music concert confirmed my fears about an increasingly obvious generati0n gap between moi and young people.. All in all it was great though! Yup..

Family Matters

I am currently embroiled in a little family spat – with Mum, Dad and ‘the Uncle’ being the principal players here. Mum is one of them prim and proper women – married in her mid twenties, had her children fairly early and then gave her career a good shot. In between multiple children and numerous extended family members, she managed to get herself three degrees in total! She also gave the blokes at work a good run for their money – and came close to landing the top job several times except for the political posturings of a few well connected individuals. She and I have this love-hate relationship though. She’s never accepted that I am grown and can handle myself. She’s always tried to help out or plain take charge of me, which I have resisted with every fibre.These days, she and I have a mutual respect. We both know where the limits are – that is the recipe for survival I suspect.

Where Mum is the energetic, always in your face, scurrying-around-to-help-you-out-of-the-umpteenth scrape person, Dad’s more laid back; more inclined to let you crack your knee, so you’ll learn not to try a Clark Kent-esque stunt in future. He’s an austere academic – has been for as long as I have been alive – and a totally unbending disciplinarian. I have lost count of how many times my butt was tanned – flayed by the unerring delivery of strokes via a koboko that seemed to morph out of nowhere when it was required. Overall, the bloke’s a good guy, and despite the fact that we have had issues growing up, he and I have turned out OK after much..

The Uncle is becoming an increasingly prominent player – for long considered the black sheep of Mum’s larger family, he has finally gotten his life together. He’s now married, after quite a few years spent in a rigmarole and has a steady job. In some ways he’s Mum’s immanent voice, he’s nearby so he can haul me in for discussions if required, and he’s also an example of what my Mum fears I may become.

I, the lost Son, am caught in the middle. I need to stay on my feet and survive!