False dawns, god daughter shenanigans and an unexpected meetup

The god daughter and I having a nandos moment

The mini heat wave that was, threatened to leave nerves frayed and tempers flared all week in Room 3.26 before – like a duplicitous conman – it vanished as abruptly as it had arrived. It just so happened that the air conditioning – perhaps suddenly burdened by the heat load and the multiplied tinkering of the occupants of  the various offices in our section – huffed and puffed to an untimely death; leaving us in varying degrees of grumpiness. I had taken half the Friday off, looking to spend the afternoon strolling leisurely up and down Union Street, binging on the copious amounts of skin that had suddenly appeared, coaxed out by the warmth from beneath the bland greys and austere blacks that had been the standard fare for the last few months. The flirty weather had other plans though, and Friday morning arrived with a chill in its wake putting the dampers on any thoughts of prancing about town. I promptly cancelled my holiday, resigning myself to a full day of number crunching and copious amounts of milky, weak tea. So much for an early return to warm, sunny days!

My weather induced malaise extended through to Saturday morning – until some wily scheming from the god daughter finally lured me off my back side. I was in the middle of a telephone conversation with her father – wrapped in a snuggie for warmth and with re-runs of NCIS on TV for company – when she interjected to remind me of a promise I had somehow failed to deliver on. A year and some ago, she had turned five, smack in the middle of my North American jaunt. The promise of an afternoon out on my tab had been the only way to placate her at the time, something I had hopelessly failed to deliver on. At her insistence, no doubt egged on by her father, we agreed to meet up at 1.00pm for a walk down to the centre of town to grab lunch and chat. It was barely one o’clock when my doorbell rang, shattering whatever sense of lethargy I might have slipped into. I grabbed a large jacket and proceeded to take the fifteen minute stroll to Union Square, with her skipping merrily along a tad bit too excitedly, whilst her father and I – not exactly quintessential examples of fit, young men – struggled to keep up.

We clearly were not the only ones keen to spend the day out – in spite of the chill there was a small crowd of ten to twelve people clustered around the entrance to my Nandos all waiting to get seated and enjoy lunch. All told, it probably took the better part of thirty five minutes before we finally got a seat for three, wedged into a corner with the bristly leaves of some unknown plant digging into my side and a stern looking gentleman on the other. The scant consolation was the wide vista that the position afforded us – looking outward unto the central courtyard and the milling masses of gaily dressed people seemingly intent on sticking the finger to the weather, sudden chill or not.

I am handing the kid a chunk of lemon and herb flavoured prei-peri chicken when I see some movement from the corner of my eye. He walks past, pauses, moves on and then returns a few minutes later like someone weighing up a decision. When he returns a second time he marches straight to my table; only then does the flame of recognition flicker into life in my head. He and I shared six years studying together at the turn of the century. Not since those rain-beaten July months just before we shipped out to serve the nation have I seen him. He’s lost the gaunt frame, mean, hawkish eyes and the goatee that were his signature look back in the day, all that replaced by premature balding, a rounded face and the beginnings of a pot belly.

We shake hands excitedly, our enthusiasm only slightly doused by the icy look from the man to my right. He’s spent the last four years working in Port Harcourt and is in town for a three week training program. I fill him up on what I’ve been doing since leaving UX5 – studying and now stuck behind a desk crunching numbers. We swap phone numbers. He has a flight to catch early the next morning and is keen to do some last minute shopping – my now forsaken chicken is rapidly growing cold.

His parting shot is to nod in the god daughter’s direction and remark that she’s got my eyes. All I do is offer up a wry smile without comment. I suppose if MG and I had worked out – and no although I was at that wedding, I didn’t get married – I could conceivably be her father. That, somewhat sadly, I am not.

A little piece of autumn, brain drain and chance meetings

It is the end of August, and the new crowd is in town. I imagine the cold, wet and windy autumnal weather can hardly be the sort of welcome anyone from warmer climes could have been expecting, but for those of us north of the border, it is our lot, and moan as we may, it is what we are stuck with.

Union Street is pretty much akin to Port Harcourt’s Aba Road, and every time a fresh batch of people hits town it swells like a river straining at its banks. As I pick my way through the human traffic I spot elements of the new crowd. It is always easy to spot them – either by the fact that they walk in groups of two or three, peering at maps, and chattering loudly in whatever their native tongue is, clearly excited at the new adventure they have set themselves,  or by the fact that they are dressed up to the nines, over coat, head warmer, gloves and all, even though it is barely September.

Just in front of the Primark store, someone calls out my name, loudly. It is the nickname I was known by a few years ago as an under grad, so I straight away know it is someone form that era. When I turn around, it is indeed a lad I knew from back then. Last thing I heard about him was that he’d snagged a job at Shell, and was doing great – BMW, a steady girlfriend and parties every so often at some Port Harcourt bar or the other. We shake hands firmly. He has to drop the bulk of the items he has in tow – duvets, pillows and a big brown bag which I imagine must contain some warm clothing.

O boy!!! You sef dey here? he asks. He has the unfettered joy of someone who has finally seen a friendly face amidst a milieu of strange, not quite friendly ones. His question is clearly rhetorical – I am here in person, not in spirit; of that there is no dispute. I motion for him to move his stuff out of the way, closer to the walls so the milling crowd around can keep flowing around us.

He gives me a rapid fire low-down. He’s joined an MBA program in one of the Universities in town. He’s hit a glass ceiling at work, and he presumes it is time to prove his mettle elsewhere, the MBA being the door to the switch he intends to make. Off the top of my head, he must the 8th person out of the top ten ranked grads in my class to have left Nigeria. The only two chaps I definitely know are still in Nigeria work for Exxon out of Lagos.

What are you doing in town?,  he asks. I explain what it is I do – some dead beat job behind a desk crunching numbers, hardly exciting stuff.  He nods, excitedly.

Good to see you man, we should meet up some time he says. I nod.. Give him a card with my phone number and then we part.

I didn’t ask if he resigned, I hope he didn’t. Out here, the hardest lesson we all have had to learn is that the grass on the other side only looks greener because it is synthetic…..

Baguette days

 

unionsq_sunny_post

Given the decidedly appalling weather we have had out here, the very first signs of sunshine returning are enough to tempt people out of their various hiding places on to the public spaces again. Walking down my usual route back to work  – after a quick lunch hour detour into town – I notice the forecourt at the Square is a lot busier than usual. There are people seated on the wooden benches,  others standing in little groups and more , like me, passing through,  all united by the desire to soak up the rare sight of the noon day sun.

I make my way to my baguette place and order the usual – a freshly baked baguette stuffed full with plain chicken, crispy bacon and mozzarella cheese. I add a bag of potato chips and a coke and then join the queue slowly snaking its way towards the till. It is one of the regulars manning it today.

 – I think you not come anymore today, she says. She is Polish, speaks English in a decidedly belaboured manner, and smiles a little too enthusiastically at times.

 – Had things to do in town today. Totally forgot the time, I say shaking my head for emphasis.

 – No sauce for you?  Her tone is flat, almost listless, delivered in that half-question half-statement tone that masks resignation at the fact that I am short changing myself – or so she thinks.

Nah, I reply. You know I like it dry.

 – Your money, four pounds, she says.

I rummage in my wallet, find a five pound note and hand it over to her.  She unlocks the till, finds  two fifty pence coins and hands them over to me.

 – Tada.  That is the one Scottish quirk of language that is default out here. Even she, knows that.  I nod her my reply, grab my stuff and head out the door.

Outside I find a spot on a bench,  settle in to attack my greasy carb fest and soak in the sunshine. Knowing this city, there is no telling when the next opportunity will come.

At the insistence of O.

aberdeen beach

I owe my Saturday afternoon out to the persistence of my friend O. It is 3.30pm when his call comes in. Having taken the luxury of a long weekend off, I have rocked my couch well nigh to extinction, subsisting on NCIS and CSI and re-runs of The District on the television. The bright and sunny day out there has not been enough to lure me out of my comfort zone. He has been holed up for a different reason. Finals on his PhD are coming up thick and fast, and he is grateful for the chance to take a breather.

We head to the city’s Beach resort to catch the sun, watch children play and grab some food. The shore line curves as far as the eye can see in both directions- beautiful golden sand – dotted with people catching the sun.

Food is at the Chinese buffet in town – an assortment of meats, rice, and other servings topped off with tall glass of orange juice. It’s difficult to see that life’s boring in this city, with days like these…

Turning Point..

Following on from the increasingly earlier start to first light, the fading of the rains and a strengthening sun, I had my first day this year of sleeping without heating. Spring truly is here then I guess….

Heatwave Dividends…

Twenty-six degree weather has its perks – especially when one has valid reasons to be within the city centre. Knee length skirts, low necklines, and the occasional sleeveless top are easy on the eye, if not downright encouraging to a mind beaten to senility by spreadsheets and excess coffee. After choosing the worst winter in 20 years to come up to the NorthEast, I can be forgiven for reveling in the warm – almost barmy – weather. Winter was mind numbing, depressing, tiring, and fun sapping. I really wouldn’t be bothered by the excess skin on display, but being stuck in a nearly all male working environment does things to the mind, especially when there is no relief valve to vent it out on in town. I’m so needing to get a holiday men – dang!

The cold March weather

The cold March weather is back, and that with a vengeance. I spoke too soon when I declared summer was here. Temperatures dipped to as low as 3 degrees centigrade today. Taking into account the high winds that accompanied the weather change, it must have felt like it was sub zero at some stage. My friend O and I practically shivered as we tried to grab lunch today. I hear snow even fell in the outskirts of town! More cold weather is forecast for the rest of the week into the weekend.. God help us o.. I’m sooo over the weather!

My 1st quarter performance review is up this week. Its the first test of the recovery, the coming back together of the shattered bits of my life… Hopefully it all goes well… and we can move on……