I came to your house out of a sense of duty. Although I told you I was late, you brought me a plate of beans, fried plantain, and chicken stew. While you shouted Sade’s name, and looked for change so she could buy cold coke from mama Kunle, I quickly made a phone call to Sista Kemi:
“Sista, e ma binu, I can’t eat it. You know I’m travelling—”
“Femi, just try. You are like a son to her.”
“Anything else. I will drop 50k for her instead of 25—”
“After everything I’ve done for you ….”
With those six words, Sista Kemi sealed my fate. I did not refuse a second helping of your beans because you cooked it with a little sugar and plenty onions. My big sister had slaved to send me to school in the U.S., so, I ate after I protested and you laughed.
I finally boarded my flight at 9:30 p.m. and dozed off shortly after take-off. I woke up to the smell of coffee and croissants, which I munched hungrily before we began our descent.
At Schiphol, jet-lagged passengers sprawled out on the black metal seats in a small lounge. Drawn like a magnet, I sat beside a striking lady with a small afro who was shaking her phone, tapping her phone, assembling her phone, and disassembling her phone.
“Hello, let me help?”
“Oh, do you know what to do? It fell and it won’t start—”
And just like that, we moved on to talk about our lives, our work, and our passion. My flight to Maryland was four hours away. Her flight to New Jersey was three hours away.
Her eyes glowed as she talked about the non-profit where she worked. Just then, the contents of my stomach lurched. I stylishly shifted and sat on only one bum. This attempt at bowel control thrust me forward, and I hoped she did not think I was trying to get a better view of what lay beneath her V neckline. I bit my lip and silently commanded my tummy to settle. I don’t know whether she paused or I imagined it. But I carried on talking.
“My company encourages employees to get involved in community service by giving donations to worthy causes and staff bonuses for participation. I see a win-win here.”
“Yes,” I replied, crossing my legs and shifting my weight to my other bum to stem the tide. I leaned backward. Her V neckline was high, not that I would have seen anything if it was plunging, for thoughts of white porcelain toilet bowls beclouded my vision.
I masked my pain by contorting my face in concentration. Her voice sounded farther and farther away, as if she was at one end of a tunnel and I was at the other end, stooping and shitting. Now and again, I scanned the lounge for the toilet icons, pretending to observe the passengers who were dragging luggage and crowding the seats. Then I returned my gaze to her face and flashed what I hoped was a charming smile. I don’t know whether she paused or I imagined it. But she carried on talking.
“So, let’s make it happen. How can we take this to the next level?”
“I need the toilet.”
“Nothing. What did you say?” I blinked several times, and then moved so that both cheeks of my bum were in full contact with the seat. Now that the word toilet had escaped from my mouth, the pressure on my rectum doubled. I pushed my chest forward, the way I used to as a lanky teenager, and prayed that the noise in the lounge had muffled my words.
She frowned and watched me.
My anus took the heat.
“Go to the toilet,” she said calmly, pointing the way.
He that is down, need fear no fall. I chucked mortification away, buried it in the recesses of my mind, and tried not to run. As soon as I turned the corner, I picked up speed.
Five men queued outside the toilet. I eyed the vacant women’s toilet. Dare I? I asked a cleaner if there was another toilet nearby.
“Downstairs, turn left, after about fifty metres.”
I started to go when I saw a young girl pushing an elderly lady in a wheelchair purposefully. I followed the trajectory of her eyes and changed my course. Nearing the doors of freedom, I saw the cleaner and began to limp.
I hit the toilet seat just in time. And finished after pushing twice. But I sat there. Because I heard the commotion at the door. The real disabled people were waiting and wondering aloud. Shame, hot and sharp, overtook my relief. Oh, the smell was one thing, but I was too embarrassed to “limp” out of the toilet.
As I moved my feet to alleviate the pins and needles, I heard directions being given. Then the voices receded. Satisfied, I opened the door slowly and looked in either direction. Although no one was there, I felt compelled to limp.
“Are you all right?” Miss Afro looked alarmed as I approached.
“Yes,” I corrected my limp, pushed my chest out, and walked tall.
“No, I mean your tummy?”
Humiliation covered me the way caramel sauce covers ice cream, slowly, gradually, until I could not meet her eyes. But I sat like a real man, legs ajar and arms resting lightly on my thighs.
“Please write your number?” She dropped her card on the magazine which lay between us.
I patted my shirt pocket and shook my head. She frowned as she brought a silver fountain pen from her bag. When I finished writing, I handed her the card. She didn’t take it. Instead she used her white hanky to snatch her pen.
“Femi right?” she said as she stood, “why don’t you call me? It’s been a pleasure meeting you. I have to board.” She ignored my hand.
I smelled myself after she left. What was I sniffing for? Body odour? Beans? Shit?
I looked at her card. Busayo. What if I married her? What if you came to visit? What if you cooked beans, fried plantain, and chicken stew? What if I ate it? What if I went to the toilet twice at night? Would she tell me to face the wall while she slept with her back towards me at the edge of her side of the bed, like a lone matchstick in a giant matchbox, stiff like a bag of cement?
Nonsense! I tore the card to small pieces. Who cares about corporate social responsibility and employee participation in meaningful community development projects? I tore the small pieces to even smaller pieces, hurled it in the trash, as I limped to the disabled toilet for the fourth time that morning.
And now, you are calling me at 3 a.m. local time, asking why I am not yet married. Aunty e jo!
© Timi Yeseibo 2013
Photo credit: rhodes / Foter / CC BY-SA
Original image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhodes/2181258/
Title: well designed signage
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