25 Nov

Basia: A Childhood Memory

In my early teens, I spent some time with my great-aunt. You know the type that is revered and feared by family and friends alike. The one that everyone, the entire adugbo defers to. She was a staunch Catholic and I can only write about her now because I know she is miles away in purgatory. Or heaven.

My visit stretched longer than the one week or two it was supposed to be, during which time she felt she had worn my mother’s shoes long enough to earn her the right to change a few things about me, like the fact that I spoke English and not Yoruba.

“I have no idea why you don’t speak Yoruba, from this moment on, there shall be no English in this house.”

“Yes, ma.”

I didn’t mind, it would be a burden removed if at last I spoke fluent Yoruba like everyone around me. I understood Yoruba fairly well, my trouble was with the intonation, I struggled to get it right and was self-conscious about the fact.

She was the first health freak I met. She drank Swedish Bitters,  brewed herbal teas and concocted strange drinks. She was big on personalization too for she had her initials LYM, printed, engraved or embroidered on most items as the case may be. She had her personal printer, the way most people have a seamstress or a family doctor

We were seated at the dining table, where she strained an organic yeast tea. It stank. I had heard her lauding its healing properties to anyone who visited. Being a pretty woman even in her 70s, many offered their two cents worth on her rare beauty, sometimes attributing it to her drinking of the tea. I doubt that she regarded any of it as she was aware of the spell she placed her minions under. They’d say anything to sweeten her up. Who’d want to fall under the wrath of my great-aunt? She had a quiet laugh and her eyes twinkled when she smiled. Her speaking voice was equally quiet, deliberate and some worth threatening. She shifted about in her chair, looking first to the left, and then the right. “In my room”, she said partly to herself. Quietly.

Lọ mu basia wa. 

(Go and bring the basia.)

What the hell is a basia?

I dared not tell her I didn’t know what it meant since she’d rain down some choice words on me. With one foot placed carefully in front of the other I made my way to her bedroom.

What is a basia? Toks think, think! What on earth is a basia? Baaasiabasiiaaa… I dragged out the word slowly hoping that its translation would be squeezed out if I stretched it long enough.

Once in her room my search began for any item whose name in Yoruba I was unaware of. I spotted a large rosary, a small chair, stack of Manila folders, a photo album, statue of Mary the mother of God, 2 Cherubim. None of these items seemed like a basia I thought to myself. Could it be the name of the latest lace? She had some bundles of muted coloured lace fabric on her bed and Nigerians are known to accord their fashions exotic names.

I returned, lamb-like to the slaughter and opened my mouth to tell her I couldn’t find it. I don’t remember how the words formed themselves.

Basia bantu bantu???!!!”

I didn’t know what bantu bantu was either. She said something  unsavoury in relation to my eyes, ( I have big eyes and my eyes often became the subject of conversation when I was with adults who’d run out of clever things to say). She also spread her arms out wide to demonstrate how sizeable it was- that,  being either my eyes or the basia.
She was already impatient and this was only my first trip. My plan had been to make several trips each time presenting a different item until I got it right.

“Ooh!! Of course ma!” I feigned realisation.

I went back slowly but with a bit more confidence. What’s the largest item in her room? Besides the bed? Surely she didn’t expect me to drag her bed out did she? Or did she?  I stared at her bed, feeling very foolish yet knowing I was intelligent. I looked around some more and then wandered into her bathroom. It was the first time I’d been in there, the shiny tiles were in navy blue and being an en-suite with only a tiny window, the bathroom was quite dark. The eeriness matched the fear that was brewing inside me. I prayed for the phone to ring, to buy me some time. I retreated to the bedroom, could it be in the wardrobe? I’d have some explaining to do if she caught me in her wardrobe looking for a large basia, besides  didn’t she say it was in her room?

She is going to call my name any minute.

Another sweeping glance around the room this time grabbing chunks of courage with which I would tell her I didn’t know what a basia was. As I walked out of the bedroom I bumped into a large metal basin. I thought of the uncanny coincidence. Basia, basin..basin, basia... could it be? Or was God making fun of me? I ran out of time playing tennis with my own thoughts as she yelled my name.

With the large basin in the crook of my left arm, I steeled myself for big trouble and made my way to the dining room. With each step I reaffirmed to myself that learning to speak Yoruba fluently wasn’t worth this trouble. I didn’t miss the look of disdain on her face that said;

“What is wrong with you? I thought you said you didn’t find it the first time?”

My sigh of relief would be heard many years later in 2015.

That wasn’t the last time I got lost in translation, there were many others, including the time I made  amala so soft, she had to eat it with a desert spoon. Hubby says I can write an entire book on the period I lived with my great-aunt, he is right. My experience spanned months and it was decades ago but the memories of what most would call a formidable woman makes an appearance every so often. I’ll be sure to invite you for a natter whenever that happens.

 

03 Dec

How to Rock the School Run

You dash out of the house cradling your coat, your brown belt, bronze lipstick and bag. You snatch #4’s coat out of his little arms as he struggles to walk with his lunch bag and rucksack. You get into the car to discover you left your phone plugged in by your bed. That’s when you nearly trip as you bound up the stairs to retrieve it. You tell #4 to put his seatbelt on, wonder why your annoying neighbour chose to shout her greeting today rather than say it, do a quick 180 degree spin of the car and leave a cloud of dust behind.

You ask #4 what lessons  he has in school today while mentally searching for the person you offended that has now cursed caused you to end up behind the Peugeot 205 that’s driving as though it’s in a parade of some sort. This appears to be a deliberate ploy to rile you. But you resist the temptation and hold on to your joy as you drive. Slowly. You grit your teeth- a mixture of irritation and relief as the car pulls to the right. Now you are left to nurse the guilt that’s rising like bile at the realisation that the driver is a pensioner. Anxious thoughts of ageing start to cloud your mind- but you push those out too. Because you know if you don’t you will begin to recall foods that cause ageing. You’ll remember the last thing you had for breakfast yesterday. Bread. You ate bread with a slab of butter and sliced mushrooms and scrambled eggs neatly arranged on like they do at Carluccio’s. Did you not say you’d stop eating gluten and dairy? You will then begin to make new vows to change your diet and start exercising again. So you refuse to think about ageing. And health. And looming changes in your appearance. You don’t imagine your mostly black hair becoming mostly grey. You choose instead to chat with #4 by answering his random question; “how does a woman know when she’s meant to have a baby?” Not so random really as you’ve just gone past the heavily pregnant mum who was due to have her baby last week, and you just exclaimed ‘the baby still hasn’t arrived!’

Your left hand rummages through your bag for your eyeliner which you are sure you threw in as you left the house, the green shoulder bag your friend Aji bought you from Spain.

You drop off #4 after a failed attempt at kissing him. He says he just doesn’t want a kiss when you ask him if he’s okay. He says it with a small smile. You remember his teacher’s words last parents evening, that he is a ‘very factual’ boy, he is not dreamy. You smile at God’s blessing as you release him from your grip and rush to the car praying the traffic warden hasn’t showed up with his oversized uniform and parking ticket paraphernalia.

Off you go for your first appointment of the day following the school run. You are accompanied by the songs of India Arie and presently being stirred up by the words;

” You inspire me the way you make me feel inside is amazing
Your honesty your artistry is engaging
You are everything I hope to be”

You take in the ‘rolling hills and glowing trees of Kent. Kent, which you love so much. Only 8 years ago you were sad to move back here. Now you love being surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation.

You dither at the mini roundabout as you doubt your own right of way since bus 216 is racing down like its the one with the right to pass.
India Arie is now singing Video– you admire her sheer guts at singing the naked lyrics- sometimes I shave my legs and sometimes I don’t…Such courage. The song has you glued to the seat of your car as you rock from side to side singing at the top of your voice. You have arrived but you are not about to deny yourself the joy of singing. So you sing. And sing. And sing. And you knock on the door 7 minutes late.

10 Oct

Toks goes to Downing Street

First you touch your hair after receiving the invitation. Like most black women, my confidence is unevenly distributed and linked to my hair. So you touch your hair as you wonder if it is Downing Street worthy. Next you mentally scan your wardrobe and the department store occasion wear section all in the space of one minute.  Then you wonder what you’d say in conversation? My extent of global politics begins and ends at ‘should I do the laundry now or wait till the kids get back from school, that way they have an extra clean shirt for the week?’ Or ‘Did I remember to take out the chicken for the freezer before I left to do even more grocery shopping?’ I wonder what clumsy spirit will take hold of me. After all wasn’t it me who spilled water on a news anchor’s shoes at a posh event at The Waldorf? Will I sneeze and stuff fly onto the lapel of the  prime minister’s Saville row suit? Or will I drop my plate of canapés on the ridiculously expensive yet muted coloured carpet of the Prime Minister’s drawing-room? And when that happens do I wait for the staff to pick it up or do I do so myself? If I choose to clear the mess will I not be viewed as subservient? Won’t it cause all black people to be seen as so low that we automatically switch to servant mode when the opportunity presents itself? And if I decide to leave it to the servants, what do I do during that eternal minute before they arrive?

The night before.

Since you don’t want to appear ignorant you find yourself reading the genealogy of the Prime Minister and his wife. You were meant to only read about their parents and children, so you have an emotional platform for conversation but the spirit of Wikipedia possesses you and takes you six generations off course. You discover they both come from influential, wealthy families. That’s also when you learn that as at the last election we no longer had a deputy PM. You conclude that a commoner cannot possibly become PM as they all seem to come from very good stock. You wonder what juju Obama used to get into office and if Jeremy Corbyn has at yet been introduced to the same babalawo.

How about the journey there?

Do you simply walk up to the door, no 10 Downing Street,  the black door flanked by two policemen as we see on the news- do you just walk up there like I walk up to Suzy’s house and… knock?

Enroute and I begin to wonder if RSVPing twice was such a good idea after all. What if the second email cancelled out the first? Thankfully I’ve kept the news quiet so it’s only about four people that will be made aware of my klutzness (Hubby’s word of the month) should I arrive and I’m denied entry. But really what would I do? How would I wear the shame on my face? Will I smile it away or just cry it out? I decide I should cry. Crying is a better option in this case because years from now as the story is told about the Nigerian girl who couldn’t even RSVP to an invitation from the Prime Minister, it wouldn’t end with ‘would you belive she was smiling sheepishly when they denied her entry?’ Tears it will be. My confidence picks up once that dilemma is settled.

The man sitting behind me on the train is on the phone ordering 4kg of dry ice and a large block of ice. He is very insistent and stresses the urgency of the dry ice. What do ordinary people use dry ice for? I want to ask him why. Oh wait, he’s giving out his phone number. Should I call that number and ask him what he wants the dry ice for?

Mum just called. She’s screaming with joy. ‘Is it true my daughter? You are going to see the Prime Minister? Ehen! God is great o!!!’ The phone suddenly dies, and then autotune-like  sounds start to emanate instead of my mummy’s voice. I knew it. The thought that I was being bugged did cross my mind, after all wouldn’t they have checked me out and ‘swept’ my house and phone to make sure I had no links with Boko Haram? or Jeremy Corbyn?  At this point I’m so glad I don’t allow negative words on my Facebook page. Imagine if I was one of those who curse out the PM and his cabinet regularly? Can you imagine if I chomped on the hand that will be feeding me canapés, ( I later find out) today?

The walls in the hallway are mustard. Very mustardy, and there are massive portraits of predecessors long dead pressed onto the walls. The lady in that picture looks familiar- it’s The Queen! In black and white? I wonder why. Such a natural looking picture of her majesty. Up the second flight of stairs and into the drawing room. Canapés. Juices. Wine. No wine for me, wine is what causes me to spill drinks on people’s shoes or start talking about my Brazilian ancestry when asked the meaning of my Nigerian name. Wine might cause me to start referring to the PM as Dave or DC or even’D’. So no wine, just juice. I look around and feel very chuffed at the company I’m in. I chat with a few friends and acquaintances and meet some new folks. I start a conversation with a woman who introduces herself to me with her first and last name. She does it the way it’s done when someone tells you their first name and they don’t get a roaring applause, then they add their last name so that recognition first dawns on you, then shame overwhelms you as you realize that in your own stupidity you didn’t recognize them. Only in my case I really don’t know her.

Off I go to chat with another lady, a solicitor. She notices a closed door with flashing lights coming out of the gaps and we decide our man Dave must have landed. We saunter towards the door. Sure enough, he appears. Skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom. So soft you want to stroke his cheek. Taller than I imagined too and very warm, personable and friendly. He makes his way around the room and eventually reaches me. Power is good o! See everyone calling him ‘Sir’. A firm handshake and a smile. ‘So where do you fit into all of this then?’ He asks what I do. I tell him my profession and there’s a hint of the surprise I see in most people’s faces when they find out for the first time what I do. But his hint is so controlled it’s almost not there. A fleeting shadow if you will. This room is packed with the who’s who of entertainment, sports and business. And there’s me. Toks. Oswald Boateng needs to eat a bit more I think, but I don’t tell him that.

David Cameron gives a speech and immediately afterwards I find myself talking to a lovely guy-  I begin to court him mentally for my bestie. I start to get annoyed in advance should she tell me ‘she isn’t feeling him,’ he’s not the one or there’s just no chemistry. My anger dissipates slowly seconds after I discover he is married. I want to ask him if all is well in his marriage, but I change my mind. He’s an ex-Royal Navy officer and I’m sure he knows just what nerve to pinch and finish me off. The phrase ‘all the good ones are taken’ snakes its way around my mind, I shake off that thought and keep my eye out for an available suitor.

I spend the second half of the evening chatting with my new friend and catching up with a few others. It’s time to go home. More than half the folks are gone, but here I am still basking in the very shocking fact that I am in the PM’s residence, and leaving to go home would erase the truth. It’s not like they’ll let us back in if we stepped outside and changed our minds to come back in. The security and process to come in was like going through Stansted airport without the loud Ibiza holiday-clubbing crew. As I leave, I know I’ll be back someday for something, I just don’t know when. Down the stairs, I retrieve my phone which they took from us and I get my coat.

On the train, I gist with Joxy and Suzy. The train is packed and the guy standing in front of me has such thick beautiful hair, it’s egging me on to grab a fistful just to confirm its real. When you’ve been to number 10 you start to think anything goes, even grabbing strangers’ hair on the 19:18 train to Orpington.

My key fits into the lock of number 17 and I am met with reality as my number 3 greets me with; “Hi mum, I think I need a doctor, I hurt my foot whilst playing football.”

 

31 Jan

Blurred Lines

I arrived at 11:30am to discover that the hospital car park was full and street parking limited to permit holders only until noon. I had 30 mins to wait out the ticket warden who was behind me a minute ago and is now possibly crouching low behind the red Nissan Micra ahead on the left side of the road.  Poor guy. He’ll have a long wait cos this chick ain’t leaving one minute before noon.

At 12:03 I exit the car and look around for Kofi and he is nowhere to be seen. I consider taking a photo of the windscreen of my car as proof that I didn’t have a ticket at 12:03, don’t laugh, I’ve heard stories and I know there is no limit to what the council will do to ensure you get a parking ticket. I’m talking drawing double yellow lines after you’ve parked and even recalibration of the GMT so that what’s 12:03 to you is actually 11:53 to them.

At the X-Ray department all seats are occupied. One becomes vacant as Mr Goddard is called in, I replace his behind on the soft red chair. Now I am seated next to a woman who is Romanian. Or Albanian. Or Latvian, you can tell a lot by accents these days right? She informs me that she needs to dash to the toilet, and can I please let the radiographer know she’s only a minute away if he calls her name, “Sofia?” I oblige.

She returns barely a minute later. I inform her of the obvious, that she hasn’t been called yet.
“Oh thank you. Because my bladder was very full”, she says thankfully with a smile.
Since I don’t know how to respond to that, I smile back and nod.

The woman on my right is being shouted at by a man, presumably her husband.

“…and you are very stupid”, he ends his tirade and lumbers off.

I am inclined to say something since fate, in cohorts with our sitting arrangement has shoved me to the front of the line of aghast onlookers.

“Is that your husband?”

Her shame is now overflowing and has drenched a part of my heart.

“Yes”

Men come in all sorts of species…”, I begin with a sigh.

She nods slowly, going ahead to soak in the words I’m about to say.

Now at the start of my sentence there was a clever and encouraging ending. That ending has now abandoned me mid-sentence and I don’t have a replacement. My attempt at being supportive is crumbling as the incomplete sentence may have suggested that ‘all men are dogs’, which I don’t subscribe to, or, ‘your man is a dog’, suggesting that mine isn’t. Either way, she doesn’t win and neither do I.

“I need to go again”

I wonder how I turned into Sofia’s pre-school teacher.

“Ok,” I nod.

Another 56 seconds passes and she’s back. I am baffled at her speed. She is wearing a tight pair of buttoned, zippered and belted jeans. She has to walk to the loo, wherever it is, yet she comes back so quickly all zippered, buttoned and belted up.

“Phew! I was told to keep it empty but not too empty. But I always feel I need to empty my bladder, and I was desperate. The last time I was here they couldn’t do the scan because it was too empty.”

 

I love being a woman. We share an unspoken bond that erases the lines of separateness. As strangers, we can hold full dialogues with each other about men- well most can- and we can talk about body parts. But I’m just not feeling this bladder talk. Because each time she says she needs to keep it slightly empty, my mind tries to figure out exactly how many teaspoonsful of yellow pee we’re talking about here.

A woman in a red coat waddles out of the X-ray room.

“It’s broken”, she says to her husband who gets up to meet her.

“Oh no!” He exclaims quietly but urgently.

Another patient chips in.

“It’s broken?” He is in dismay, just as I am, we’re clearly both wondering how long she has walked on her broken foot for.

“Yes, they told me it’s broken.” She responds directly to him, glancing at her foot no doubt waiting for some common human sympathy.

“Oh your foot is broken!” He breaks into a broad smile, chuckling as he explains he thought she meant the X-ray machine was broken. He doesn’t hide his relief as he returns to reading his paper.

“Mrs A.”
A cheerful Asian man calls my name and summons me with a smile into the x-ray room.

“Please take off your bra and leave just your blouse on, once you’re done meet me in this room.”

Did he just cross the line? Into our territory? There is something not quite right about that. I have always perceived Asian men as being conservative and I’m mildly surprised he even knows what a bra is, let alone allow that heathenish word to proceed from his lips. “Disengage any undergarments” seems more like his thing.

Or

“Disrobe, please madam, leaving just your outer garment.”

Or

Undo any paraphernalia that may or may not be fully connected to your upper body”. That covers the strapped and the strapless variety.

He takes the X-ray tells me to go back and change. I go back, stuff the ‘undergarment’ in my bag, put on my cardigan and coat and pray it doesn’t fall at the feet of a good-looking doctor when he asks me for my business card. I pray I might bump into him on my way out, he will inform me that his wife is expecting and they would need to buy some expensive baby furniture.
No such luck. My luck is more the type where I reach into my bag to retrieve my car keys and the offending undergarment falls at the feet of Kofi,  born in Accra under very interesting circumstances- another story. He will then burst out laughing through his gappy teeth at his two-fold fortune:

1) That he issued me with a parking ticket

and

2) That a bra landed on his size 11 work boots in the middle of the day on Croydon Road.

Thankfully I am spared all of that, because I stayed in my car for three whole minutes after the clock struck 12:00, to make sure I did not violate the parking rules. I drive off happily, leaving behind Sofia the bladder woman, the poor lady with the irate elk for a husband and of course, the Asian (possibly muslim) radiographer who dared to cross the lines of haram by mentioning an unmentionable.

Thank you for reading!

25 Aug

The White Party

The invitation was an intriguing sandwich with words like electric slide, plenty of time to practice, karaoke and good food. The menu was listed but is too mouth-watering to type out. There was a YouTube link. The other side of sandwich was the phrase, ‘dress code is white‘.

A lot of stuff happened between the time I read the invite and the time I was seated in her sitting room, with a bunch of cool people dressed in white.

I received an email from my landlord that the office rent will be going up threefold, the greedy people that they are. I fought and resisted and just couldn’t accept that my situation had changed. You see, my office is very plush. When suppliers or potential partners visit we are greeted with respect and awe. I throw my head back and there’s an extra spring in my step. I act as though this is how we roll and even when I tell customers we’re not open to the public, I do so without the horror that comes with your backside potentially being exposed as you blow your own cover and let them in.

Anyhow, the rent was being tripled to bring us in line with ‘market rates’. My foot. I didn’t want to move because, well, anything outside of that building and within my budget would likely be a disaster. Think EasyJet vs Virgin Atlantic. The first place I scouted went down like this;

Me to man in pointy snake-skin shoes, big belly, clearly loves himself. Coiffed hair.
” ‘xcuse me do you have the name of the landlord, the company that runs this centre?”
Fabio carries on tapping at his phone, unmoved, no answer.
“Ok, bye.”
“I’m not ignoring you, just trying to find the number.” Silence.

“Here. But I must warn you, he’s quite a difficult fella. Actually he particularly despises women, just so you know.”

I ask my friend to call him for me, he kindly obliges. He gives me feedback later about the man’s rudeness. We agree if he’s difficult before I become his tenant, he’ll be unbearable afterwards.

The next place I viewed was a stone’s throw from our current space. The price was more forgiving but the place. Hmm the place. It’s tough when you’ve been spoiled, the windows were dirty. How can they not be bothered to clean their own windows? I conveniently ignored the fact that only a few years ago my office had no window. And prior to that my business had no office. They tell me how lucky I will be to ‘snap up’ this place especially because of the view which overlooks a brick wall, a roof and some scaffolding and let’s not forget the coziness of the space, which as you and I know is a euphemism for claustrophobic.

Next I viewed a space in Croydon. I am very sorry to say but I’m not a huge fan of Croydon. It conjures up images of young adults drinking themselves into a stupor. The office was plush. But it was still Croydon! Coupled with an hour’s bus ride, that was a firm no.

Besides viewing office spaces I’ve been battling some personal issues. I woke up one morning with ominous clouds hanging over me. I faced the stark realisation that life is all about change. I had become so comfortable with my life as it is, I forgot change does happen. I went through a brief period where I was moody because of an impending doom, mostly imagined.

I was  in that mood when I read the invitation and immediately my spirit rejected the words ‘wear white‘. I hate white, it has no character. See one reference here. Plus an early memory of white was when it was forced on me by the agency, I worked as a waitress in my school days and for the most part I felt I should be the one being waited on, so no fond memories there. As a child, I got into a lot of trouble for dirtying my white dress. I was a tomboy and I loved to climb trees, white dress or no white dress.

I decided I wouldn’t wear white, after all we’re close friends and a white outfit isn’t required to prove my love to her. Her other non-close friends can knock themselves out in white. What shocked me was that hubby, who can be likened to a loveable hermit agreed to attend the party. And wear white! Friend sends another text with the words, ‘don’t forget to wear white, please.’ Ok so this is clearly important to her, I’m a close friend so white it is.

We’re in the car enroute to the party. I log on to YouTube  to learn the electric slide. No, I’m not driving, hubby is. I don’t know what the need is for that extra step back and touch left foot with right is, everything else seems easy enough. We arrive and my friend looks super glam, nothing new there. I’m glad I wore white.

One guest is late, as if that’s not bad enough, she’s wearing a red and brown top. I am so glad I’m not the one with the blended look of embarrassment and apology on her face right now. Thank God I wore white!

Another guy comes in, approaches our sitting area and proceeds to shake hands, first with one guy, skips the guy’s wife/girlfriend and shakes hubby’s hand, the only other male in our circle. A certified insecure chauvinist. I decide whatever happens from that point onwards, I will not like him. In fact I start looking for an opening to shove him in a corner where he belongs. His behaviour reminds me of Chimamanda’s speech on feminism. I imagine his wife- whom he did not permit to attend- at home doing housework and getting all dolled up for him. She doesn’t work- or maybe she does but her earnings go into his bank account. He then gives her a paltry allowance weekly which she must account for. She ‘accidentally’ became pregnant with their 5th child and he has threatened to divorce her. She has begged, and so have her family members. Letters have been written from her agbolè to his agbolè. Presently they have reached an agreement that he can sow his wild oats outside the home, but not bring any strays indoors. The wife is pleased, after all wasn’t it her fault and hers alone that she got pregnant? Plus her husband being an Otunba has a reputation to protect. And she’s grateful to God, Otunba never found out about John, her brief bit on the side. He would probably have dismembered her body, there are still whispers amongst people about how his first wife was found in a black bag. Her limbs were tied up. Otunba said she left a suicide note.

I apogise I didn’t mean take such a long stroll away from the party.

I am looking forward to the karaoke. The electric slide, not so much since our 10 minute drive did not give me enough time to practice. Plus our car isn’t roomy enough. A pretty, bubbly girl whose name contradicts her face and her accent volunteers to coach the likes of  Toks who did not prepare. I seem to be the only one who keeps doing the final kick and slide anticlockwise instead of clockwise. I don’t get it, I’m right-handed. Wow! Even Otunba himself is trying to get down too.

I choose an Anita Baker song for my karaoke, whilst desperately praying I don’t crash and burn in an attempt to hit her high notes. Someone else sang a Bruno Mars song which belongs in a mental institution- talks of hands being run down a knife, throats being slashed and finally being blown up by a grenade. That ‘love song’ will have me dialling 999 should any man sing that to me.
Another guest sang a decidedly threatening Beyoncé song- all of your stuff in the box to the left, to the left, you think your replacement isn’t round the corner? You must not know ’bout me. Catchy. But threatening.
Hubby of course goes for another mental institution song. Content? There are two people in my head, one pointing a gun at the other. Title? Crazy by Seal. It goes without saying that I kept a side eye on hubby for the rest of the night.

My relocation woes might be coming to an end as I may have found somewhere to move to. I’ll keep you posted, come back to find out.

PS: Happy birthday to my friend, Aji. For you, I’ll wear white, pink or green! I had a blast and your friends are cool- even Otunba, but keep him away from me sha.

PSS: To the guests who attended, no harm was intended in this post, I’m the one with issues. Pray for me.

Thank you very much!

 

24 May

Thoughts on the London Underground

First he sits down, moments later his stomach joins him- no, not on another seat but on his lap.

In my defence, it was a long train ride with no stop changes and I forgot my kindle. So I was left with no choice but to share my thoughts- every single one. With you 🙂

“How old do they have to be before you offer your seat? I don’t want to offend anyone.”

“Why did I choose to scratch my ankle at precisely this moment? If I get up I’ll certainly lift what’s left of her mini skirt right up.”

“I hope he doesn’t fart. I’d rather inhale smoke than someone else’s fart smog.”

“Dandruff on his jacket, ugh!”

“I wonder if she’s happy. Does she like her job? Maybe her boss is harassing her. Then again maybe she’s willing.”*

“A Blackberry?! People still use those?”

“Is she pregnant? I love newborns!”

“I wonder if they’re married? To each other?”

“Nice bag!”

Candy Crush? All that twitching for a game of moving jelly beans about. Big baby.”

“Jubilee line extension- you almost expect to hit a bump as the train transitions from the new section of the tracks to the old. But it’s seamless and you’ll never know!”

“Lovely dress but I’m not convinced that the coral goes with your red shoes. And army green bag. Then again what do I know?”

“Poor woman, all that effort just to get up from her seat. She’s probably going home to cook for her brood too. Lord, please give her strength.”

“I hope this RSI pain isn’t due to excessive dedicated use of my iPhone, it started in January. Funny coincidence?”

“I thought they said they now had wifi on the tubes. Someone definitely said.”

“There are so many people in employment. Just look at the crowded platforms.”

“City workers that wear trainers while dressed in skirt suits look so cool. Reminds me of Manhattan. Sadly no one ever invites me to a board meeting in the city. Or anywhere. So I won’t be able to partake in the fashion succès.”

“The Evening Standard. Must be the number one selling underground paper. Wrong Toks, it isn’t sold, it’s free. #justsaying.”

“Once upon a time only trendy people used white earphones.”

“I’ve never quite got the hang of a white jacket. It just seems so bare. Plus you have to be sooooo careful not to get dirt on it.”

“I could do with an iPad”. “Why Toks? Because the woman in the red jacket is reading from one?”

“Baker Street, yay! Only a gazillion more stops to go!”

“Woman in red jacket just sat next to me, she’s watching a movie!”

“I wonder if I can lip read. Hmm, she doesn’t seem to want to share”. Suck teeth.

“For all we know the man opposite me could be a paedophile. Or a collector of ladies fingers and toes, (he stores them in his freezer). He is wearing grey jogging bottoms and a grey hoodie. My question is why are you not dressed like the others? Look around what’s everyone wearing?’

“Cath Kidson, I love Cath Kidson. Reminds me of Mills & Boon stories. No, I have no idea why either”.

“So glad I seasoned the turkey before I left this morning.”

“Yowzers! Bright yellow trousers, you go girl! #confidencepersonified”

Three university students mosey into the carriage, chatting about their courses. “Oh to be young again! If I could go back in time, this is the moment I would march right up to my younger self and sit me down over a plate of macaroons- which I wouldn’t have discovered then. I would tell myself to stick with that business studies course which wasn’t compulsory, because I would be needing it later.”

Girl in yellow floral dress. “She’s pretty, a Caucasian version of my cousin Toyin”.

“There’s something mildly disconcerting about a man tying his cardigan around his waist. A pullover is fine but an unbuttoned cardigan that hangs down on either side like an A-line dress? Not cool.”

“No, no, no! You did not just pick up a newspaper from the bin? They are free and everywhere! Haba!!”

“Did someone say collagen? Why did you do that to yourself?” SMH.

Low battery, I’m staring daggers into the backs of everyone with a half or full battery symbol. Thank you for riding with me on my journey home 🙂

 

*Note to Women’s rights proponents:

I don’t mean she tolerates harassment, I mean she might be a willing party to a consensual relationship. Plus this is my blog. Filled with my thoughts. Random ones.

18 May

Urgent Nollywood Appeal

I have tried very hard to keep this under wraps, it isn’t exactly the sort of information you broadcast, especially when described by one’s own husband with terms like actress or worse, alata, which means pepper-seller. In Africa no one grows up wanting to be a pepper-seller and if by some misfortune they fall onto that path, they would not broadcast the fact either. Sadly, my mum and brothers are on the same bandwagon and have even dragged my innocent sons, kicking and screaming onto it to join them. They think I’m an actress and may have missed my calling. The only one who insists on seeing me as I am, a dignified, ambitious woman is my precious father.

So here it is, I need a connection into Nollywood

Starring in a Nollywood movie isn’t number one on my bucket list but it is there nonetheless. And since I’ve never deluded myself into thinking I’m Ms Organised, I won’t explain why I’m not addressing my list in chronological order. Plus of course being me, chronological order does not mean in order of importance. It just happens to be the order in which the thought  forced itself on me.

Why Nollywood? I can’t tell you why because I don’t know. I only watch the occasional movie and those occasions are very few and very far between. Like many people I became fed up of the cliffhanger annoying endings signalled by the words ‘To God be the Glory‘, followed by credits to the many Chief and Chief Mrs Okonkwos and Otunba Babatundes.

Still, I want the opportunity to ‘side-eye’ people up and down to the cham-cham, kpas-kpas sounds of my chewing gum.  I want the Nollywood style makeup that not only transforms your face, but changes your accent while you’re wearing it. I want to play the part of that wicked madam who treats her minions as though she is only just coming to terms with the bitter truth that they breathe the same air, or maybe even play the role of the secretary that’s so rude even the mice shudder. I want to be able to gist with my friends and say; ‘Gurrl!! Can you imagine? Ehnn!?‘ complete with appropriate hand gestures. I want to say I’ve got my ‘international passport‘  That one baffles me, is there a local or national type?

I’m not keen on the role of being the bit on the side with whom  chief belts out his dirty sexy laugh; and he puts his arm around her shoulders saying ‘Come here my dear, he he heh!!’

So will you hook me up? Bear in mind I do  have a reputation to protect. I don’t want the ones where every character including the vulcaniser has an American accent. I also don’t want any movies with a car accident scene- they just don’t work. Especially when the doctor has the task of breaking the sad news of  death to a worried relative. Although he has been instructed by the scriptwriter to ‘break… gently’ he chooses instead to jab the pre-wailing character with these exact words (every time); ”sorry, she’s dead. No need to cry, no need to cry, be a man!”

My friends and I went to watch Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun a couple of weeks ago, which by the way in case you’re not familiar does not fall under the Nollywood umbrella. First we had dinner and then the movie. We were very surprised to see a red carpet and a bevy of  beautiful Nigerian folks dressed to the nines all milling around. There were 8 inch heels, weaves down past their bums, make up that I swear changed them on the inside as well as the outside and tons of backs. Chocolate-coloured backs, yellow backs, bleached backs. I’m thinking the dress code was backless dresses. Thankfully I took some pictures- otherwise you would not have believed that there really was a man dressed in a gold shirt with gold accessories. And a white waistcoat. And a white fedora hat. I spotted an acquaintance on the red carpet, sashaying about as the cameras took her pictures. She is fairly well-known on the entertainment scene. She told me it was the premiere for a movie which raised awareness for cervical cancer. My brothers and sisters, there was no indication of cervical cancer awareness anywhere.  There were backdrops, camera men, photographers, actresses and actors, but nothing about cervical cancer. Just hair, make-up, dresses and gold outfits. And backs.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not looking to make a name for myself, go backless on a red carpet or hang out with gold-shirted men. I just want to cross one line off my bucket list.

Thank you for reading, do write something in the box below, I’m desperate for comments I would love to know your thoughts. It’s been a while.

 

2014-05-02 23.11.52

Gold Shirt Tinz

2014-05-02 23.12.36

Backs & Weaves

Raising Awareness.

Raising Awareness…







 

 

 

 

07 Mar

Stalking is a Strong Word…

On my way home from the school run I saw what looked like a cat being walked. On a leash.

I whipped out my phone to take a picture, but couldn’t quite get a good shot of it.

The dog that thinks its a cat

The dog that thinks its a cat

The owners are an older couple. They’re walking their dog which appears to be dressed up as a cat. I drive slowly behind them to try to get a clearer shot. The blasted trees are getting in the way, thankfully no cars are behind me. They keep walking, I drive up some more, now we are near the junction and I don’t know if they’ll be turning left or right. So I slow down to a crawl. I reluctantly admit to myself that I may have stalking tendencies. Then again don’t we all? I say a silent prayer that they turn left since that’s the direction of my house. They turn right. I turn right too. Now this road is one if those thoughtlessly constructed ones where the trees separate the sidewalk from drivers trying to get a good view. It’s even harder to take a pic unless I come out of the car and walk behind them. But I can’t find a parking spot. Eventually I find one far ahead which means I have to wait for them to go past. I pull up, starting to get rather annoyed with this couple. You’d think they knew I was stalking following them because now they are deliberately being difficult.

So I come out of the car, it occurs to me it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a shot from the front as well as the back. But we’re the only ones in the area and it’ll be hard to conceal taking a photo of them. I also have on red loafers, I ditched the boots to get spring to hurry up and come. Do you know anyone who hasn’t had enough of winter? Even those in tropical countries are just about done with it. At this very moment I ask myself how exactly I got to this juncture in my life. That I am chasing an old couple and their dog? I start to contemplate simply asking for a photo of their cat dog. But what if they say ‘no’? I know there’s no way I could live with myself after taking a long detour and risking arrest for stalking while dealing with a migraine- if I don’t come away with my picture.

They’re getting closer.

Deep breath! I put on my “trust me I’m harmless voice” it comes out a bit higher pitched than I intended.

“Your dog is so cute! What’s his name?” Dumb question Toks, that’s the question you reserve for strangers’ babies.

”Cindy”

”Wow!!! What sort of dog is she?” Again too enthusiastic, tone it down sister. I suspect she’s a corgi, but just in case I feign ignorance. Telepathically I inform them she is so pretty she looks better than whatever her actual breed is which is why I don’t recognise it.

”An American corgi.”

”So adorable!” Wrong answer again Toks, get with it.

”What sort of dog do you have?”

”I don’t have one yet, but my children want one, however I grew up with dogs” I announce proudly, to let them know I belonged in their circle. That  I too, was a dog owner. In the past.

I quickly go back in time to Benin City where we had Scooby, Scrappy and Snowy. I don’t know what sort of dogs they were because in Benin they just call them dogs, except they are German shepherds or Alsatians which I know quite well that ours weren’t. I hope they don’t ask, I can’t just say local dogs now, can I?

They advise me that this dog who used to be a show dog is quite difficult to maintain and requires 2 hours of coat brushing daily. So to think twice before I get one for the boys.

“Can I have a picture?” I blurt out. ”Of your dog?” Bated breath. She looks surprised- or is that suspicion? She looks at her husband, he looks puzzled, or is that pride that their precious dog is so beautiful that strangers want a picture?

Meanwhile I’m wondering, why the hesitation? it’s only a dog! I understand the dangers of babies pictures circulated on the internet, could they also share that apprehension?

”Of course you can, sit Cindy”!

Cindy.  Former Show Dog

Cindy.
Former Show Dog

Isn’t she beautiful?

But now we have a problem. Because the whole thing that got me embroiled in this malarkey started with what Cindy looked like from behind. And I still don’t have that picture. I find myself at another crossroad for the second time this morning. I realise I can still save myself. I have a good life. Besides the weirdness that comes with being a parent, some may even say my life is perfect. Why would I destroy what was once beautiful? How would I explain myself to my dear parents who worked hard all their lives to give my brothers and I the best life they could afford? I can hear people discussing my ‘plight’; ‘And she seemed ok o, we heard she became a dog chaser, stalking old people in her neighbourhood”. I could see myself on TV and in the Voice newspaper.

With that I got in my car, turned around and headed home.

Now what dog do you suggest I get for the boys? And please don’t say a local dog.

04 Mar

A Brief Report About Nothing

I first awoke at 5:36am. Some days I wake up twice. And I don’t mean postpone waking up by 5 or 10 minutes with the snooze button. No. I actually go back to sleep, the sort of sleep you embark on at 11pm, having left home at 4am to go to work in a factory with faulty machinery. That sort of sleep.

My second wave of sleep was accompanied by a dream in which I was driving. In India. Ladies and gentlemen I’ll have you know that the only time I’ve been to India was in conversation with my friend Tanya who makes Luxury Leather Fairtrade bags there.
I haven’t got ‘go to India‘ on my bucket list. I haven’t even got ‘perhaps go to India‘ on the list.
I woke up again at 9:32am, and thankfully remembered #4 had a birthday party to attend  exactly 18 minutes from that moment. I had my day planned out- and it didn’t include hanging out waiting for him at a party. I wanted to read, blog and do some outstanding work  that’s been outstanding. The double emphasis is not an error. The single good thing about that party is that it was in the shopping centre that housed my favourite cafe.
I arrive looking like the coolest mum in town, no one knows what’s happening underneath; that my insides are carefully knitting themselves back together again, the way it does after you’ve done something as drastic as getting yourself ready and out of the door in 18 minutes, with #4, the one who has Mafia mannerisms, not the one who has a story for every word. That’ll be #3.
I say ‘Hi‘ to the other mums and will forever remain baffled yet stand respectfully in awe of those supreme women who choose 20 or more children, over their own company.
Why would I? When I can go for a Chocolate Viennese and toasted baguette all by myself? The Chocolate Viennese is a steaming mug of chocolate drink topped with a generous swirl of whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder. I barely finish taking off #4’s coat and escape from the scene like I’m being pursued.
I make my way to the cafe and place my order. I scope out the joint to find my favourite table, the one by the window. That spot is perfect for observing. It is from that seat that I will later swing effortlessly and in perfect rhythm between guilt and justification, as I watch mother after mother arrive for a special time of breakfast with their children . While Toks ran away left hers behind so she could be by herself. That feeling will occur in due course, because like my sleep, I arrive at the cafe twice. Meanwhile I go to pay. My wallet isn’t there. Yes Toks, how can your wallet be there when it’s in your other bag?
I brace myself as I prepare the speech for the security guys as to why I can’t pay for my ticket. At that point I remember a few years ago when I lost my parking ticket . It was the second time in as many days. So I buzzed the help button at the exit barrier to let them know I needed their kind assistance to please let me out. OK I didn’t quite put it like that. They were not ecstatic.
”Madam, did you not use the same excuse just yesterday?”
”Yes I did. Because I actually lost my ticket”
”Sorry madam, but you have to pay a lost ticket fine of £10”
”Ok, but how do I do so when I don’t have my wallet on me?”
By this time a long line of cars had started to form behind me. Some drivers were already craning their necks to see who was holding up traffic.
”Well there’s nothing I can do, I offered. No ticket, no wallet.”
Defiance was starting to set in . Life for me was hard so some drama to punctuate my sadness was welcome.
”I’ll come down to sort it out”.
The security guard sounded like he couldn’t wait to let this woman out. I was wrong. I think what he really said was I’ll sort you out. He came for a fight. He proceeded to erect a temporary barrier behind me and direct traffic to exit on the oncoming lane, effectively locking me between the exit barrier and the makeshift one.
I switched off my engine and got on the phone to hubby. After a few unsuccessful minutes of role-playing as a traffic warden,  he let me through. Hubby’s concern was more for my emotional well-being as I had become rather forgetful and distracted, and it was starting to look like a ‘pattern’.
Thankfully on this occasion I was treated with grace and sympathy and was immediately allowed out without any drama.
My drive home to get my wallet was uneventful, besides nearly running through a red light. I am later seated with my mug and baguette, by the window where I pick up a rhythm; observe, guilty; observe, guilty. 
I picked #4 up from the party, this is #4 who never has enough of parties. This time there were no mild tantrums about leaving. Instead he had a look on his face like something was bothering him.
”Mum, can I ask you a question?”
”Of course sweetie!”
”Are we vegetarian?”
I laugh in amazement at his perfect pronunciation of a word (I think) he has never heard before.
”No darling we’re not. Why do..”
”Oh crumbs! I think we have a big problem mama!”
”Why?”
”I was asked and said we were and I was given chicken nuggets for vegetarians!”
He sounded like being classed wrongly as one meant certain doom for he and his family. Like he had unknowingly initiated us into some kind of cult. I assured him that we were both vegetarian and not vegetarian, we ate everything. I confused him more I think.
I went on to explain that vegetarians didn’t eat anything that was once alive, like chickens or cows.
The next day and I decided to buy some fish, I rarely eat fish but I decided some grilled fish and roast plantains sounded exotic and yummy so fish it was. I had them gutted and cleaned but according to Mustapha ‘we don’t fillet fish here’. And yes he may or may not be called Mustapha.
I showed the whole, gutted, headless fish to #4 and he promptly asked; ”Is it dead? Why did they kill it?”

About now I’m blinking rapidly, wondering if I’m prepared for what might come next. I have never imagined living the vegetarian lifestyle- nothing against them but you can almost say it’s against my religion not to eat meat.

I think I may have created my first vegetarian. And since it’s this particular child, we’re all in trouble. Big trouble.

Do share some words of support. Please!

08 Feb

All Stations to London Euston

After a week of full-English breakfast debauchery at the Hampton Hilton in Birmingham I return home to my beautiful family. They all seem so normal- compared to what, I don’t know. I walk indoors thankful for my spacious kitchen- staying in a hotel room for a week will do that to you.

The sun showed up as soon as I stepped into the taxi, almost as though the city was glad to see me leave. Hadn’t it rained non stop for the entire 4.5 days I’d been there? Even last night when I went searching for Afro-Caribbean food, I stood outside in the rain for 15 minutes, OK maybe 10. Still that was 20 minutes after they were to have opened. Another man came and stood next to me and asked if that was the Caribbean restaurant. I wanted to draw him into the heated discussion I was having with myself, about the state of affairs in our community and how were we supposed to get ahead if we didn’t even stick to our own opening times. But I couldn’t tell if he was Black or Asian. So I hushed up.

I chat with Ahmed, the cab driver. No he doesn’t tell me his name but he looks like an Ahmed. I double-check with him about Birmingham’s ‘city centre’. I don’t hide the incredulity  that laces my question; ‘Is the city centre by the station really the city centre of Birmingham?’ A part of me wants him to say yes, so that I can have one more thing to be thankful for, that I don’t live there. The other part hopes for his own sake that there’s a real centre, I just didn’t see it during my stay. As if he can read my thoughts he says ‘I don’t live in Birmingham , I live in Dudley. And yes, this is the city centre’. He explains to me that the city is fraught with a network of canals. At the mention of the word ‘canals’ I drift off to Venice where my head becomes filled with a network of idyllic images of passionate love and romance. It occurs to me that if I were to be asked about the size of my city centre, for example,  I would not be able to descend into its history or topography. I think that’s a bit sad and needs to be rectified. Oh to come from a beautiful city that has a network of canals, like Venice! Or Birmingham.

He tries to tell me my fare is £6, when I know fully well that it’s £5. I don’t prepare to argue. I simply tell him its £5. He mumbles an apologetic explanation as to how he forgot that ‘customers like you get a discount’. A feeble attempt to erase the brief shame you feel when you’re caught doing something infantile and silly- not silly enough to be told off, yet the silliness is what embarrasses you and not the being caught or the telling-off.

There is an immaculately dressed, older woman making her way quickly towards the station entrance, she tries to force me to confirm that she is scurrying in the right direction of the entrance, I nod with little certainty. It would appear the architects of Birmingham New Street Station made a grave error; it never occurred to them to put the entrance closer to her, knowing this day would come. I say a silent prayer of thanks because for once in my life and in what might actually be the first time, I’m not rushing. I have a whole 45 mins before my train departs. It is with this newfound calm and dignity I go to pick up my tickets- prepaid, I might add. I meet the older lady there, snapping at the ticket machine; ”it’s no point, I’ve probably missed my train, this is so ridiculous’‘. Her tone doesn’t go with her appearance, funny how the external can mask what’s going on inside. I realise I have been on the receiving end of a casual observer  many a time. I decide I prefer to be the observer and not the observed.

I sit in a waiting area and chat with my friend on the phone. A woman comes in with her guide dog, a beautiful cuddly, friendly thing. She snaps at her friend ‘sit down, please’, ‘please‘ is uttered with more force than ‘sit‘ and ‘down‘ and the dog quietly obeys. I think this must have been how Adam told off the animals in Eden. Soon my platform is announced, I make my way there where I am gifted once again with a feeling of superiority as I arrive on the platform to wait for my train. Usually trains wait for me, then change their minds as I arrive at the door huffing and puffing.

This one is a slow train, the type that makes up stations as it goes along just so it can stop at them. Our first stop is Stetchworth. Yes. And people clearly live there for a few passengers get on the train. Even more surprising, some people alight. A woman comes in with her 2 gorgeous little daughters. They look about the ages of 4 and 2, the kids look Nigerian but their mum looks err.. not Nigerian but she can pass for one. One daughter seats opposite me and the other stays on the other side of the aisle with her mum. Before long they’re skipping and whizzing around, and starting to irritate passengers. My eyes unintentionally lock with another passenger’s and she gives the polite British smile that says ”control your kids”. I smile back hoping my smile conveys to her; ”they’re not mine”.

The train stops at Rugby. It is standing room only and ‘my daughter’ is seating on her mother’s lap. A friendly passenger settles into the now vacant seat opposite me. Before long she is speaking French to the girls, ooh-la-la-ing with them, It’s a rare and beautiful sight. A complete stranger choosing to converse with 2 little girls. In French. The same girls that a few minutes prior I didn’t want mistaken as mine. The older girl smiles broadly and asks, ‘you speak French?’ Suddenly I feel jealousy creeping up . I want to be associated with these girls who speak French. I want to speak French too. I wonder if I can conjure up a reverse smile that does the opposite of denying them. I try to find the woman I need to offer this smile to, she’s gone. La zut! Ce qui est très triste!!!

Thank you for reading!

Partagez votre opinion ou être à jamais condamnée. (Translation: Share your thoughts or be forever doomed!)