Reluctant conversations…

The flight into London was uneventful, the only thing breaking my ear-phones-plugged-in-music-playing routine being an exceptionally friendly gentleman and his wife who I had the misfortune of sitting next to, on one of three adjoining seats. After tossing my knapsack into the overhead locker, I motion for them to make some space for me. He smiles, far too easily and obliges me, as I slither into the seat, somehow managing to do it without entangling my ear phone wires on the various odds and ends he has left on the seat. He is dressed simply; a North Face jacket from which a bland, grey shirt peeks through a half done zipper. I can’t help but notice that the woman on the other hand is much better dressed, the highlight being an eye catching, flowery, brown dress that stops well shy of her knees as she sits, and a full mane of blonde hair. I settle in, toss a mirthless, slit lip grin in their direction and proceed to detangle my ear phone wires.

Going home? Or holidaying, the man to my right asks.

Holidaying, I reply, hoping that my reply is sufficient brusque to stifle any further attempt at conversation.

Somewhere warm? He continues. I shrug inwardly resigning myself to losing my peace on this flight. I give him the cliff notes version –  a wedding in Oklahoma, a dash up to Chicago if I can manage it and a couple of days to meet up with old buddies in Dallas. Not boiling warm but warm enough given the weather forecasts for TheBZ. He explains that he and the wife, whom he indicates with a slant of his head, are headed westward too – California for four days and then Hawaii for two weeks. In the space of five short minutes, I learn that last year he did the Caribbean, and the year before some other exotic place. I murmur my compliments at their timing – they like me should miss the worst of the typically soul chilling TheBZ weather.

We make some more small talk, before I am rescued by the announcement of take off over the public address system. He turns to the woman at his side – who has passed the time thumbing through the high life magazine and chattering excitedly with her friend across the aisle – and they confer briefly.

He pats down his jacket, re-checks the buckle on the seat belt and leans back in his chair as the aircraft is towed on to the runway. In the few minutes it takes till we are airborne, I find that he has somehow managed to fall asleep. For the first time in at least ten minutes I am left in relative peace, enjoying the silence of my thoughts, and music. Across the aisle, the woman and her friend share a snicker at how quickly he has fallen asleep.

OK was a blast – within minutes of my arrival I was treated to my very own steaming bowl of goat meat pepper soup. I toyed with heading out to Houston to meet up with my old Welding Engineering mentor, but the prospect of running into people I frankly had been trying hard to forget deterred me. Over all the only dark spot was being saddled with a couple of cry-y little children whose mother was only too glad to enjoy her new found freedom whilst I did my very best to keep them occupied. In a bizarre twist of fate,  I ended up bonding with them so much I suspect I caught a mild case of baby envy fever.  As for the wedding – I attended.

And no, I didn’t catch the garter.

About Town: Westward…

On the morning of the day I am due to fly westward, I wake up late – late being a few minutes before 9.00 am – on a day on which I have an 11.35 am flight to catch with neither a packed bag nor sorted transport for comfort. When I finally pull myself out of my bed, I call a cab for 9.30 am, and beginning tossing clothes, books and my laptop into the grab bag I use for these quick across-the-pond jaunts.

The decision to head westward –  though made on a whim  – had been the culmination of a few weeks of agonising and endless analysis to the point of paralysis;  weighing the pros and the cons of heading across the pond yet again this year. One day, early in November, one of the lads had called me up from across the pond to announce that he was finally ditching the unfettered freedoms of chronic bachelorhood for the not inconsiderable constraints responsibilities of married life.

The surprise was not that he’d finally seen reason, but that it had taken him so long. The rumour mills of the old boys network insisted – without proof of course – that the sharp words from his mother had finally borne fruit, aided by rumoured frolics in the dark, bowls of steaming pepper soup and more than a few tantrums from his girlfriend of seven years and some, a bruising dynamo of a woman whose abilities belied her 5-2 frame. She was appropriately named Patience. 

The driver of the cab that gets assigned to me is at least sixty by my reckoning, with a receding hairline almost white in its entirety. When I finally lug my bag downstairs to where he is waiting, I have to rap his window twice before I get his attention which is fully occupied by staring into the distance whilst tossing biscuit crumbs into his open mouth. I confirm my name and my destination to him as we pull out of the parking lot onto the side road and on towards the airport. There is a light drizzle, some wind and light traffic as we drive. Unusually for an older cab driver – I find that they tend to be more friendly and gregarious than most – our conversation takes a while to kick off so we cycle through the usual suspects; moaning about the weather, the latest lousy football score for the local football team, and an unusual one – council taxes.

As we crawl past the impressive stone facade of St Machars, he asks what church I attend.  Unsure if the name might ring a bell, I mention the street it is on. Recognition flickers in his eyes as he confirms he does know it.

Your priest is always sharply dressed, he says. I’ve taken him from the airport a few times. He’s a good bloke too, very spiritual. I nod in agreement. If we are talking about the same person, I am yet to see him dressed in anything beyond a freshly pressed shirt, a tie, well pressed pants and shoes shined to the max. He also is one of those rabidly (in a good way) spiritual blokes who wear their faith on their sleeves – I suspect he might have tried to do some preaching to the cabbie.

We are making the final turn towards the airport, with a head of traffic building when I ask him what church he attends. He points in the direction of a side road out of town towards the next small farming outpost.

Out that way, he says. About three miles.  He explains it’s a church that serves the small farming community out there, and that his parents and their parents, as are those of the bulk of the forty or so people who attend it, are all buried in the cemetery that adjoins the church. He adds that the Vicar who has served for nearly thirty-six years is retiring, to be replaced by a thirty something year old, single female priest. Change, even one as benign as this, doesn’t strike me as one that will come easy to a church that appears steeped in tradition. He agrees, but adds that the female priest has filled the role intermittently over the past few years and is quite liked around those parts.

I glance at my watch – it is just past 10.15 am and what looked like a small head of traffic is revealed to be a long line snaking all the way back to the drop off point at the airport. Worry sneaks into my mind about making the check-in, but he oblivious of my discomfort goes on to talk very excitedly about a new stained glass window to be commissioned that weekend. He’d gotten the installer to give him a sneak preview, a fact he seems particularly keen to share.

I smile at his enthusiasm, chipping in with adequately placed oohs-and-aahs as he goes on about just how gorgeous it is. After a few more minutes, the long lines snaking towards us clear up, and we finally make it into the airport.

When he hands me my change from my fare, I hang on to it for a few seconds and on yet another whim hand back the loose change. He hesitates but I insist, adding that if I were not travelling, I would have very much liked to witness the unveiling of the new window at his church. He smiles, nods and accepts the coins.. His enthusiasm has bitten me so much that oblivious to the biting wind and cold, I catch myself whistling some obscure tune under my breath to myself as I drag my box into the terminal building.

The weekend of debauchery (that wasn’t)

It was supposed to be the weekend that banished my 2011 troubles from memory and got me to let my hair down – something I admittedly do not do often enough. There was the small matter of needing to send in my passport to Mama Charlie’s lackeys for an extension to my residence permit, as well as navigating a week of water survival training (given my well documented aversion for large water bodies).

The plan was simple – jump on a flight to London and party hard. There was to be a surfeit of beautiful, intelligent women, pepper soup and music from back in the day. Surely nothing much could go wrong with the MO? Unfortunately everything did.

First off – uncharacteristically – I failed to get all the relevant details about the venue before leaving and ended up having to make frantic phone calls at Heathrow trying to locate the bus stop. This left me feeling drained by the time I arrived at the venue.

Secondly, my shocking inability to dance left me hugging my seat for dear life, meaning all the wonderful fabulous women around were left hugging the floor by themselves.

There are lessons to be learned.. My social skills need an upgrade, if the girl sized gap in the five year plan will be closed out. From the looks of it, my dancing skills (or more strictly the lack of them) needs reviewing ASAP.

And she wasn’t there

Each day – for the past two months and some – when I get off my bus and walk the couple hundred  metres  to the hole office I work at, I take a left turn off Union, down the dingy stairs via the back roads on to Guild street and then into work. Most days I am plugged into my iPod, listening to whatever catches my fancy on that day, hands in my pocket deep in thought. Nine days out of ten, just before I take  the turn I see her – a lone black face bobbing in a sea of browns and whites,  wrapped up to the nines waiting for her bus. She can’t be more than 5′-2″, usually rocks a ‘fro and dangles her little bag in the tell-tale Nigerian chic ninety-degree arm pose.  At first all there was were a couple of  furtive glances, followed by the straight face pretending-I-never-took-a-peek look. And then with time, and the familiarity of a shared routine, there was the almost imperceptible nod and the odd mouthed greeting.

Today, just before I took the turn, I looked, but she wasn’t there.  As I walked the last few steps to work, there was a certain sense of disappointment as though I were a kid who had been promised a treat which was taken away at the final moment.  I got to thinking about how one face – however distant and removed – merely by being there and by its sameness can become part of a routine, something to be looked forward to amidst the frothing morass that is daily life.

I do not think our non-verbal exchanges  – if I can call these exchanges – have ever extended beyond a couple of seconds at the most, but for me at least they have become part of my commute. In a logic-defying way, I am left hoping that she will be there…tomorrow.

About Town: The chicken tikka edition

My memories of previous encounters with Indian cuisine are not exactly fond. The last time – an impromptu appearance at a leaving do for an Indian expat from work – I ended up tossing and turning through the night, tormented both bodily and mentally by masala dosa. Thanks to that, and my well documented lack of adventure when it comes to food, it was my last attempt at eating anything Indian- a full five years ago.

Without any prior planning we end up standing and chatting outside an Indian restaurant. There’s me, my Iranian buddy and a third guy who he once worked for. We have spent the last few minutes catching up and reminiscing on the various bits and pieces of the shared lives we have missed in the intervening months.

The thing about these meetings is that they invariably segue into a catalogue of cynical musings. We moan about the lack of excitement in our line of business, gleefully swap stories about former bosses whose careers have gone awry, and self deprecatingly (in mock humility) discuss what it is we are currently working on.

As we stand in front of the Indian restaurant, someone suggests we go in and grab a bite. My Iranian friend is ambivalent, his ex boss is keen to try something new in the city and I am positively petrified, but for lack of a coherent excuse I agree and we walk in.

There are several empty tables available and we grab a seat by the window, in a smaller section of the room. I skip the starter, some sort of corn wrap with mixed sauces.

When the main menu arrives, it is a curious mix of names I am blissfully unaware of. I eventually order a chicken tikka with some rice, only medium spiced. When it arrives, it has a soft, light aroma. The chicken is slightly salty but tastes great, as does the accompanying rice side dish and the curry sauce. As I eat it, I half expect to suddenly throw up and massively embarrass myself, but I survive; washing it down with a sweet cider.

All in all it’s a great evening out, one more place to file in my places-to-take-a-prospective-love-interest-to and more importantly there’s one more flavour to my international food basket.

That Awkward Moment

… when after finally finding a seat on the packed bus, some odd smell hits your nostrils like a Mike Tyson left hook. It is an odd mix of stale sweat, putrid urine and beer. You look around, wondering what the source might be. When the portly gentleman seated right next to you moves, a fresh salvo assaults your nostrils identifying him as the culprit. Unfortunately, the next stop is a full fifteen minutes away, so you are stuck with ‘savouring’ the smells.

You would think that people would take a bath before jumping on a bus early in the morning. One more reason to avoid public transport on a Sunday morning…. Sigh.

Recapping the road trip..


I finally went on that road trip. I packed my bags, booked my flights and went on a jaunt to America. America for me was two cities – a flying stop in Chicago and a couple of weeks spent vegetating in Houston. The America I saw was a welcome relief from the biting cold that was my home city; 17 degree temperatures were Lagos-esque when juxtaposed with the near Arctic conditions I had fled from.

Passing through immigration at O’Hare was an interesting experience. I had the misfortune of having a Latino officer check my passport. Travelling on my Nigerian passport from Heathrow, with a female as my host seemed to have set off a few bells in his head. First off he wanted to know what I did in London; and having shared that he asked if my host was my only girlfriend. Short story was he was convinced that I had multiple girlfriends, and Houston for me was one more pit stop on the FWB circuit.  O’Hare was merely the book mark for the first 13 hours of flying and waiting for connections; and hunger made its presence very keenly felt. Thankfully, my Visa card was able to acquire a coke and a chicken/bacon/something else I don’t know baguette. Both items were extra size and that was my first real shock – the large-by-default servings of junk food.

Houston was fun – warm, friends to visit, food and loads of free time to chill. Fortuitously, I was able to take a look at the Ife exhibition. The only blip was some sad news of job losses amongst my close friends.

All in all, it was a good 2 weeks, tempered only by the spectre of a return to the drudgery of work and a mild sense of loss. If I had a wish to allow myself be beguiled by America, Houston would be the perfect bait.

On Turning Thirty…

I never celebrated turning thirty. The significance of achieving that chronological milestone was lost in the hustle of every life – a barely discernible  peak in the flat line that had become a monotonous existence. I had just lost a cast iron guarantee to return to my old job in Nigeria followed quickly by the petering out of what I thought was a nice, strong girl connection. One day I fell asleep,  the next I awoke to being thirty plus.

When I was much younger, I had planned the day in my head. Over time I had rehashed the  planned events over and over. Lots of food, hanging out with the family and a road trip were a few of the things I had pencilled down. In reality, the only thing I allowed myself when it finally came was gorging on a bargain bucket at KFC, and flushing it all down with a 2 litre bottle of Pepsi..

Finally, a few years down the road, I am taking that much delayed road trip… Belatedly, I will be jumping on a few flights over the next few days.. Hopefully I get to enjoy it as much as I thought I would – if the weather permits….