26 Sep

The Blooming of Madness

“Mum, can I have a sleepover at my friend’s house?”

“No”

“Please mum!!!”

“Which friend is that?”

“Charles”

“Charles. I don’t know him or his parents, let him come round after school. When I meet him and his parents I’ll consider it.”

“But mum he can’t come here since we have a birthday party and the sleepover on Friday.”

“Too bad then.”

“Please mum, here’s his address and his mum’s number, you can call her. They’re Buddhists and are peace-loving and easy going.”

(His best friend in primary school was Buddhist and I liked their family.)

I google the address. I check zoopla for house values on their street. Too high and they might do cocaine. Too low and it might be weed. I call her and get a default text message- I’ll call back, driving.

Hmm. Responsible. She doesn’t drive and text or chat. I get a missed call and a text later, explaining she was on her way home from work. She works, Looking good.

I speak to her, she is well spoken. She begins to tell me excitedly about the plans her son has carefully made, she is proud of him.
The group of 7 children will go from school to her house, then to the party, then back to her house for a sleepover. In tents. In the woods- since they’re so many. They’ll even have a fire pit. She carries on as though she cannot contain herself, Charles said they will be leaving the party at 9pm, but she thinks if it is a good party they really should leave at about 11pm (23:00 hours. 11 at night, the hour before midnight) 14-year-old boys and at least one girl. Yes, a girl amongst boys.

I politely allow my reluctance to show, you know how sensitive women can be. One octave too high and she’ll site harassment or conclude that I think I’m better than her. An octave too low and I would have just called her a bad mother. She goes on to explain her parenting style as being liberal. She tells me she gives her son lots of freedom. Since he is responsible. She believes it is the giving of that freedom that has made him ‘a responsible young man.’ I ask if she has any other kids. I am surprised when she says ‘no.’ I nearly say in my naija accent; ‘and you’re being -what was the word- liberal, with him?’ If I did, I would have yodeled  the ‘him’ to the tune of ehn-hen?

I don’t explain to her that there is a reason you won’t hear about us being trapped under layers of snow in the Himalayas. Or being hacked to death by a psycho in the woods. I don’t tell her that I don’t plan to one day sit in front of a TV crew crying and appealing for ‘justice to be brought to those evil people’. Or that he is unlikely to become paralysed from using a malfunctioning bungee jumping harness, having leapt from a 2 engine plane over the Kenyan jungle.

I simply tell her I’ll speak with my husband and let her know- that the day I let my 14 year old son attend a party to go home at 11pm at night, 23:00 hours, the hour before midnight, and then let him sleep in a tent in the woods on an autumn night without adult supervision is the day madness would have reached full bloom.

09 Sep

The Flight

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At the airport, I am surprisingly on the ball. I am quick, not wasting time. I’m enroute to see my beautiful family. I have missed them. A lot. Cannes is stunning, no one can ever deny it’s beauty or audacious wealth, but even the horn of plenty cannot compare with my own home. I realise I love my life, even with it’s challenges and there isn’t a lot I will change.

For the second time on my trip my mind flashes back to the pack of three pairs of colourful earplugs I saw at the counter in the pharmacy. I was staring at them while paying for my goods, wondering what circumstance would force one to wear them. Now I am being subjected to Norwegian airline’s pop music grating it’s way across my brain. The airline clearly thinks this is entertaining. We started boarding at 9:57am for a 10am flight. It is 10:39 and my line of vision remains interrupted by the tail of another marooned airplane.

A Norwegian flight attendant stumbles through the first paragraph of his script, welcoming us aboard the flight. He connects his sentences with a lot of erms and umms. In the middle of his speech, while uttering an erm, the English captain cuts in as if to show off his own ability to speak without struggle. He whizzes through the same speech in a flawless accent and in clipped tones. It is clear that had the Norwegian man carried on speaking, he would presently be stuck at an umm.

The captain decides to undress his crew member further by explaining in fluent English, no less, that there was a delay leaving Gatwick. Immediately I realise that my concern should not have been their tardiness. Was it terrorists? The terror alert in the UK was raised to ‘serious’ before I left for France. “No”, he answers my telepathic question. “It was fog”. This time he is speaking with ‘errs‘ between each sentence, but his carry a weight of certainty.

If God placed before us a buffet table laden with an assortment of world famous punctualities, I will pick Germany’s. I’m off to Germany in 3 days and I know if my flight says 10:31:33, it will lift into the aerosphere at 10:31:33. I also know that I won’t eat my words. The Germans are like machines, I know that because my best suppliers are Germans. We were once asked to design and source a nursery in 4 days. Our nurseries take 8 to 12 weeks on average. We could have chosen the Italians for the unique style and beauty of their furniture, but we chose the Germans, because we knew we could rely on them to be on time and not a millisecond late.

I sleep for half an hour and read for the second half. At a point the English pilot announces ‘for those who care’ that we are currently flying over the city of Paris and we can see it if we look to the left of the aircraft. The Norwegian is verbally absent, it appears he has been relegated to a non-oratorical task. The next time we hear him is when he is forced to make the “welcome to London” announcement. He is the natural choice since the descent onto the runway is as bumpy as his sentences. It’s the type that would have left you tasting your own blood, if the tip of your tongue wandered too close to the gap between your top and bottom rows of teeth.

I can’t wait to tell you all about my trip to the South of France, carried out in celebration of Shade’s birthday. In true Toks fashion, I share the gist in reverse.

30 Aug

The Scoop on Otunba

Following last Sunday’s White Party, I did some digging and you will not believe what I found out about Otunba. It turns out that his issues run quite deep. I will tell you exactly as they gisted me. A bit long but stay with me..

His father was well-respected in the community as the Pastor of the local Thunder by Fire Ministries International, headquartered in Ijebu Ode with branches all over Ogun state. There were rumours that he dabbled in the occult. The day he
addressed those rumours in front of his congregation will never be forgotten. He confirmed that juju, in fact, played a substantial role in the delivery of his eloquent sermons, and went on to explain why. No one understood fully but it was something to do with a white cloth and candle given to him when he turned 21. The silence could be heard for miles. All rumours ceased from that moment.

When Otunba was 16, he visited Lagos for the first time and was amazed that there was a world outside their little village, Ipoti. He vowed to return and one day marry a woman as yellow as Fausat, the pepper seller.

His plan, fueled by thoughts of Iya Beji, his step-mother who often fed him Eba without soup, came together when he had saved enough money. He didn’t feel guilty about leaving his father but knew one day he will return to present a set of Peugeot 504 keys to him, never mind that the old man, who had just one functioning eye, couldn’t even ride a bicycle.

Otunba picked his way through the bushes and finally arrived. He had been squatting in an abandoned house for two weeks when he realised he wasn’t in Lagos, he was in Fiditi.

The people of Fiditi were warm and friendly. It was there Otunba met Yodi, who had big plans to move to London and become a big shot at something, anything. Yodi was fascinated with stamps and their ability to carry letters around the world. It would be 3 years before Yodi would illegally enter the UK and land a job at the Royal Mail sorting office in Vauxhall using the alias, Alex. Of course at this point, he didn’t know that. He simply busied himself selling dodo ikire and courting his neighbour’s daughter, Bola, who was Fiditi’s only seamstress. Her stall was constantly overflowing with angry customers demanding a refund for dresses that did not fit. Otunba and Yodi struck a friendship and he continued on his journey to Lagos. He had been there for an entire month before he accepted the fact that he was actually in Lagos.

His first job was as a mechanic. He knew nothing about cars except that they killed people who wandered in front of them. Fatai was very helpful and showed him the ropes. He loved his new life, but there was something missing. A wife. A yellow, buxom wife that would call him ‘daddy’.

Wife #1
Sikira had just completed her law degree in LASU and wanted to move to London or the USA to practice as a human rights lawyer. She didn’t exactly know what that meant but her favourite actor, Wesley Snipes, had played the role of one and it sounded like a cross between sombre and important. On this fateful morning which will forever remain cursed by her entire agbole, she dropped her car off for repairs at Wole Auto Repairs. There was a new guy- pudgy, short and nervous.

‘I hope you won’t damage my car o!’ she hissed impatiently.’

Otunba smiled and gave thanks to God. His mother was clearly watching over him. He felt it in his spririt that she was the one. The sign was there when he awoke that morning, the dark clouds interrupted by brief glimpses of warm sunshine meant someone new was about to step into his life.

Her large eyes were guarded with eyelashes as stiff as nails. Her thick lips were further bulked-up with two or three slabs of rich, red paste. He fought the urge to release her ears from the gravitational pull they were under due to the weight of her gold earrings.

‘Hello, my name is Musco, I’m new here.’ Otunba didn’t know where ‘Musco’ came from. His name was Muyiwa, and he was nicknamed Otunba by his mother’s brother, the only person who truly cared for him. Most people called him Muyi.

‘Ehen, you’re new? And so? I should start dancing abi?”

Eight months later Sikira stood in front of a church full of people, mostly strangers, and pledged her vows to the man she loved. Even as she said ‘I do’, she remained baffled at the inability to remember the events that led up to that moment. She had no recollection of ever dating or even falling in love with the mechanic from Ipoti yet here she was, against her better judgement pledging to cook for him for the rest of her life. Was this man worth being disowned by her family? Clearly not but she could not explain the dichotomous thoughts wrestling within her.

Otunba on the other hand couldn’t believe his good fortune. That in 10 months of being in lagos, he had not only bought a house and a car, he was even getting married to the wife of his dreams. He shoved the ring past her blackened knuckles until it sat secure against yellow skin. Baba Ijale’s juju was so powerful and effective, the man deserved his own television show.

There isn’t enough time in the world to tell you all that transpired between the time they stood at the altar exchanging vows and the time Otunba woke up from what he described to Woli as a trance, his hands dripping with blood and a stuffed black bag a stone’s throw from him. Let’s just say it involved Sikira working as a care assistant (she couldn’t land a job in the UK as a lawyer with her forged degree certificate and her cousin’s NI number), there was a lot of money from overtime and Otunba repeatedly feeling disrespected by her.

 
Woli
Woli was law-graduate-turned-prayer-man and knew the law, he told people, ‘like the back of his hand’. He ended every other sentence with ”Ho-o-o-ly Michael!” He looked around at his lavish surroundings and said a quick prayer of thanks for his unexpected source of income. The last 10 months had been nothing short of a blessing, all his bills except his council tax were covered under the new ‘arrangement’ with his latest victim client. He had been planning his stint for a week now, what he needed was an opening. Someone on the inside who needed him and whom he could in turn be of service to. It was a shame the last job ended the way it did, that hadn’t been his plan. But he wasn’t the one who had blood on his hands.

Wife #2
Feyi, Sikira’s best friend moved in days after her friend’s apparent suicide. The first few months of married life was bliss. She was the envy of her friends, after all why else did they gossip about her husband’s source of income? Not that she hadn’t wandered about it too, but her mother raised her well and taught her not to side-eye the hand that fed her.
She had enough on her plate, it was bad enough her husband thought Omokiya was his son. Thank God for bleaching creams, the boy’s light complexion was never questioned, even with Otunba being as dark as Amala that had been left out too long.

Feyi couldn’t recall exactly when the problems started but Otunba found every excuse to argue with her. He called her lazy, a show-off, and the one that upset her the most was ashawo. Now, yes she had had an affair, ok two, but that’s not enough to be called an ashawo. She didn’t do it for money- except that time with Chief. But that was only once.
She looked back wistfully at each of the naming ceremonies of her four children. Otunba couldn’t be have been prouder, although the exuberance did dwindle with the arrival of each child. After their third child was born, he told her there were to be no more babies as people in London had a maximum of three children. That irritated her, him acting as though she wasn’t the one who brought him to London. His British-Ipoti accent got on her nerves even more. If it wasn’t for her dear friends Helen and Funke, life would have been unbearable. Helen was the CEO of a world-renowned jewellery brand, she dined with presidents and the likes. Funke was a distributor of luxury shoes and was known across the Atlantic. And then there was her. She was supposed to be working in a top law firm but her enemies won that round in the ring. They had all met at university and have remained close friends since their first year.

This fifth pregnancy was harder than the others, money had become a problem for Feyi since Otunba took all her earnings and claimed he was investing in their future. He no longer allowed her to attend parties. Last week he claimed he was going to a barbecue and told her to stay home. This evening, he says he is going to one Aji’s party- a white party. At first she wondered when he started having oyinbo friends. The penny only dropped when he brought out his white buba and sokoto, his white shoes and white laptop bag.

Sikira looked at the piece of paper Funke gave her, her friend’s words rang in her ear- ‘there is no problem Woli can’t solve…’ She picked up her phone and dialled.

Thank you to my friends- Ibiyomi who gave me the town Ipoti, Helen, Alex, Funke Bola and Aji. Thanks to Woli who is a real person but doesn’t want his cover blown. You all are my inspiration!

Disclaimer
Most characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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!)

18 Jan

A World Away

I’m sitting with Ian, he’s driving. My ears are being held hostage by the radio. The song’s chorus goes; ”every time I think about you I touch myself”. Uncomfortable does not describe how I feel. Nothing does. So I do what I do best, I start to chat.

He studied Eastern European History. I don’t ask why, even though I really want to know why he chose to dedicate his future to the past of a group of people who thankfully have stolen the spotlight from Nigerians in the UK. He is Welsh, born of Welsh parents and raised on Welsh soil. I ask him what sort of career path he’ll be taking, he doesn’t know. Perhaps my question isn’t clear. So I rephrase. His answer remains unchanged.

I leave Ian in mid-sentence and mentally teleport myself to West Africa, where I arrive in the sitting room of an average Nigerian family. They’ve just finished dinner and father asks son to repeat what he just told him. Then he holds up his hand signalling to the son, to ‘hold that thought’… he calls mother  to come and hear what her son is saying. Then turns back to son;

”Oya, tell us again what you want to study at University, the university that I’ll be paying for. With my own money”.

The rest of the scene is a blur so I take my leave and return to the car, we’re nearly at our destination but there’s time to chat some more. He tells me he’ll be leaving his job in 15 days to travel to South America. I ask where- eager to add my tuppence worth. I have Brazilian roots and I’m buzzing with the newfound knowledge that my ancestors first arrived on Nigerian soil exactly 100 years before I was born. My dad is our genealogy tzar. I’m blessed.
He tells me he’ll be travelling everywhere. I probe deeper. When will he be back? Because in my world people come back when they travel- usually within two weeks, four weeks tops if you’ve gone to bury a relative who had a chieftaincy title and lived long. Any more than that they’ll consider you as having emigrated. His answer reminds me he’s not from my world; for he’ll be gone for a year, maybe even two.
He did the same thing two years ago, quit his job and went travelling. Again I ask where.

”Oh you know, the standard. India, USA, Turkey”.

Standard?

I shut the heyall up. He carries on humming to the song. I don’t make the comment that’s been slowly making its way down to my mouth from my head.

Yesterday I met another one. I needed to buy a mobile broadband dongle, she looked and sounded like she would rather be in bed. The 21-year-old proceeded to take my details.

Ms or Mrs?

Mrs.

She replied in her sleepy voice, ”oh! You’re sooo lucky!”

I decide she needs some advice. A slap upside the head. A wake up call. Kick up the backside. So I ask how long she’s worked for Carphone Warehouse. ”one year”, she manages to offer. As though an additional word would send her over the edge and into Alice’s wonderland, which is precisely where she doesn’t want to go- in my opinion she’s halfway there.

So what do you plan on doing? I’m sure you don’t want to work for Carphone Warehouse forever?

No, I want to travel. Afterwards I want to finish my final year of degree.

Oh that’s nice! Where are you off to?

Australia.

What’s your degree course in?

Criminal psychology.

Sounds exciting!

Everybody says that.

She drags out ‘everybody’ so much so that the poor thing is unwillingly turned into a seven syllable word. I pay for my dongle, and as I leave, I wish her well on her travels.
Oh it’s not for a while, I have to save first. I don’t even know when I’m going.

I start to tell her where the nearest Starbucks is, so she can grab a coffee. then I change my mind. It’s only 10am. I don’t need this. Besides they may not drink coffee in her world.

Joanne says I attract odd people. Like those gypsies. Did I share about the day they came to the office? And puked in the toilet? It was no small matter. Another day! Now you have to come back!

Thank you for reading!