February, in Retrospect

language

February some say is the month of love. Work that should have been finished in January dragged into February and filled February with editing and late-night reviews. It meant that I put new projects on hold, but who was keeping tabs when love was in the air?

“How old are you?” I asked the man who seemed smitten by me.

“Thirty-six.”

“And you’re not married?”

He started to explain the difficulties of finding the girl of his dreams, and I realized he had read my question wrong.

“I just wanted to know if you’re married,” I said softly when he paused for air.

“Oh?” he said, and then smiled, reminding me of the way he looked a few days earlier, when he had accosted me at the supermarket with, “Let me help you, you look tired.”

I had been dragging my feet behind my shopping cart as though the sum of the hardships of living in Lagos, sat in it. He charmed me into small talk and out of my phone number.

Later when he called, his many compliments and my thanksgiving done away with, there did not seem to be anything left to say. I was surprised that a man, who had used a shopping cart effectively, could not find his voice. He must have interpreted my silence as a semi-colon because he said, “Your driver seems nice,” referring to that night when my driver retrieved my shopping cart from him and loaded its content into my car.

My driver is not nice; my driver thinks he should be my boss, but I did not tell him that. I asked him about his line of work instead of putting a full stop at the end of his sentence.

I persevered to get to know him because I am curious about people, not because my friend had said, “You never know, why not give him a chance?”

But I knew. A woman knows. I knew that I did not always want to be the one to steer conversation to a place of interest for both of us. I knew that I could not continue receiving SMS messages like this:

Gud mrn pretty. hw waz ur nyt. u r sum1 worth reely lykng. deres just sumtin abt u. hapi Sunday.

I would not, and none of my friends, would abbreviate their text messages like that. It would take too much brainpower.

“I think he lied to me,” I said to my friend, “about being thirty-six.” 

I replayed several incidents for her to decide. They revolved around language, or rather the lack of it.

“Or maybe he is thirty-six, but his brain is nineteen.”

We laughed; it seemed altogether plausible.

When our laughter subsided, I accused her of being cruel. She quoted Chavez, “Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.”

I was troubled by her inference. Wasn’t the shorthand way he fashioned text messages a positive measure of his ability to adapt to a mobile culture? Weren’t his text messages a genre of contemporary poetry; language is fluid, after all? Or, was it not more likely that the eight years between us equal a generation gap because as some have said, a different language is a different vision of life?

“Let’s keep it simple,” she replied. “It is either he’s nineteen or you are a grammar snob.”

In March, all my delusions will fall off.

 

© Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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January, In Retrospect

january-time

From my window, the strains of a fight enter my room. I have never enjoyed boxing, the punches too violent for me to stomach. I do not look out of my window, but I know the fight will not take place when I hear, “Do you know who I am? Hold me! Hold me before I slap this idiot! I say do you know who I am?” The ruckus dies shortly, and I smile. They say the time to quit is before you wish you had.

I have heard it said that time is faster in retrospect than in the present. Not for me, not in January. My January ran like a cheetah in the Serengeti, fast and focused. Projects that involved what I love, making sense of words, made me think of quitting something else I enjoy, making sense of words—blogging. As my days turned to nights, and nights, days, I thought I would surely arrive Sunday with empty hands, no blog post to show. January seemed like a good time to quit.

In Lagos, there is a choreography to a fight you do not want, your true intent masked by halting forward motion. The aggressive advance to your opponent’s eyeballs, the flexing of arms, legs too; and most importantly, the words that shrivel your opponent’s courage and makes him, and you back down; words, more effective than punches.

I had promised myself that in January, I would do my best writing. The promise, a noble thing, naively made at the cusp of a new year, looked undoable just a few days into the year. Work overwhelmed me. I had put my heart and soul into writing Love is a Beautiful Thing, for which, I received praise, and I thought, if I quit now, I will be quitting while I am still ahead.

Few people want to brawl on the street, tearing shirtsleeves and rolling in the ground, mixing sweat with dust and grass. Or else, why throw words in the air, heightening tension, for a boxing match that is not pay-per-view? Why not just fight? 

I fantasized about quitting blogging last year. I had not anticipated the upheaval that moving would bring to my routine and the loss of my support group—people like me, who wow over language and the chemistry of words. But then, ideas would come. Starting a series or surprising myself with beautiful prose would mesmerize and energize me, reminding me that writing is my core. In January, my notes—observations about people and places hastily scribbled on my phone—rescued me. From them, I crafted the stories you read.

I realize now that the fight that did not take place had only one voice. Why was the other man silent? Is that what cowards do to end a fight? What if the crowd had not mediated with, e don do, abeg, e don do? Maybe he was sizing up the aggressor to determine the cost of peace. I should have looked out of my window.

I saw a quote that said: if you get tired rest, don’t quit. January was busy; a blessing in an economy where some people can only siddon look. Someone remarked after reading one of my blog posts that writers lead the most interesting lives. We do not. We have just learned to make sense of words. I am glad I did not quit. Come quick, February.

———————————-

E don do, abeg, e don do – an appeal to stop
Siddon look –  do nothing, in this context, because of the recession

———————————

© Timi Yeseibo 2017

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/time-past-watches-timepiece-1897986/

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Much Ado About Something

lagos-airport-night

The man seating across the aisle from me is what Nigerians call Kora, which loosely means that he hails from somewhere in the Middle East—Lebanon, Syria, Israel.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” he calls to the flight attendant. “Can I use the toilet over there?”

He gestures to the business class section, which will be cordoned off with curtains after the airplane takes off and reaches cruising altitude.

The flight attendant says, “There is a toilet over there,” and points down the aisle.

The man and I are seating on adjacent sides of row 11, immediately behind the curtains that define our class; those seats with a little more leg room and no trays.

“But that means I have to go to the back.”

He speaks with a Nigerian Pidgin accent. I place him as Lebanese. Many Lebanese families have been in Nigeria for generations.

The flight attendant is quiet, his expression stoic like a doctor.

“What’s the difference? Is it not the same toilet?” the Lebanese man turns his hands so his palms facing upward, are asking the questions too.

“It’s for the business class passengers sir.”

My view is limited, but the business class section looks empty and passengers have stopped entering the airplane.

“Yes, but what’s the difference? Is it not the same toilet?”

“Sir, you can use the toilet at the back.”

“That means I have to walk all the way to the back. This one is closer.”

The Lebanese man places emphasis on the word all, in a way that reminds me of how petulant teenagers roll their eyes. I peg him at between 47 and 52 years old. His stomach strains against the buttons of his white shirt and his hair is mostly grey with silver highlights.

He looks at me, maybe because I have been following the conversation, but I look away. Although I am fully Nigerian, I have no desire to moderate the debate.

The flight attendant adjusts a bag in the overhead luggage compartment. It seems like a passive way to deal with a belligerent child.

“The toilets in the back are cleaner than those in business class, sef,” the man tacks this sentence to the conversation, like an insult.

It should provoke a reaction, but it does not. The overhead luggage compartments demand so much of the flight attendant’s attention.

He continues, “I have been waiting since 9 in the morning for my flight. You people are just useless.”

My 13:30 flight was also grounded. All Lagos-bound passengers finally boarded this 18:30 flight. I commiserate with him.

Communication is like dance and grouse takes many forms. If a man asks a woman, what’s wrong, and she answers, “Nothing,” he knows that something is wrong. The toilet, business class or economy, is not the problem here.

“I’m very sorry about that sir.” The flight attendant’s voice has a professional inflection, sympathetic but detached.

“Sorry, sorry. Take your sorry. I don’t need it!”

Minutes later the flight attendant demonstrates the safety instructions coming from the airplane’s public address system. Twenty minutes into the flight, the man ambles down the aisle, all the way to the back, to the toilet. The flight attendant serves refreshments. The man gists with his travelling companions in Lebanese.

I am still rolling their conversation over in my mind, intrigued by it because of something I once read: two monologues do not make a dialogue.

What if the man had started out by stating his displeasure over the delayed flight and the inconvenience it caused, explaining his tiredness because of waiting all day in the airport, before requesting to breach protocol, would the outcome have been different? 

But in Nigeria, to be polite is to be weak and to be aggressive is to be right.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Photo credit: Photo credit: artforeye via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

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More Than the Sum of All That

compass

My aunt is wearing a striped tube dress with spaghetti straps. When she sits, love handles circle her tummy like three rubber tires. “Timi, where have you been?” she asks, but does not expect an answer. I am there and it is enough. She sucks me in a tight embrace, her warmth spreading over me, her smile wide. 

The years apart are too many to fit into an evening. We make small talk highlighting the events that count. Did I hear what happened to her son? Only God could have saved him. And what about me and my hopes for tomorrow? I do not burden her with sad news; there is no need to slow down the tempo of the music we are making. Soon we are silent, each of us locked in our world, making sense of words.

When my sister says, “Aunty you look as young as ever,” she returns to the present.

“No o. I am old.”

My sister counters, “You’re looking young. No one would believe if you tell them your age.”

“Please don’t deceive me, don’t give me false hope,” she says like a woman who has been lied to and preyed upon. She pats her Halle Berry wig and looks at me with a small smile.

She is seeking corroboration from me. I cannot just give it, mouthing empty words. I do not know how old she is. I have no compass with which to navigate true north, therefore I cannot tell if she is indeed looking young. Having not seen her for years, in which I harboured memories of her younger fashionable self, she is in fact looking old to me.

My sister and my aunt continue the cycle of compliments and weak rebuttals. I fight within myself. Where is true north?

“Things separate from their stories have no meaning. They are only shapes. Of a certain size and color. A certain weight. When their meaning has become lost to us they no longer have even a name. The story on the other hand can never be lost from its place in the world for it is that place,” Cormac McCarthy wrote. 

My aunt’s husband is long gone; one son is far away, the other closer by, and her only daughter died too early. She has forged a whole life for herself apart from them. Her carefully made up face—thin black-pencilled brows, two large dots of muted raspberry rouge, and red lips that complement her hazel skin—is like a photo from another era. She has weathered storms and raised many children that are not hers, including me. I sense her hunger to be seen and admired as I too have on occasion hungered to be seen and admired.

I stop fighting because I have conquered myself.

“Aunty,” I say, “You look young and beautiful.”

It is not false hope; it is true. I remember learning that a (magnetic) compass almost never shows true north. True north is different from magnetic north, which changes depending on local magnetic variation. About a million years ago, the position of magnetic north even wandered closer to the geographic South Pole.

I had planned to ask my sister how old my aunt is. But when we leave, I let the question die in my throat. What does it matter? I am in charge of my compass. Moreover, she is more than the sum of all that.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/compass-magnetic-orientation-801763/

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Naija Tinz

naija-tinz

1.
It is her loud voice—the confident obnoxiousness of her request and her reference to the economic recession, under which the store attendants cower—that makes me look up from watching the cashier at checkout work the POS machine. Sure enough, she is the one. I call out.
“Timi, is that you; I didn’t know you were in Lagos?” Her open arms stretch her boubou like patterned bed sheets.
I reply, “Yes, I just got back,” and embrace her.
Guilt snakes around in my stomach. I have been in Nigeria for several months. When does, I just got back, become old?

 

2.
The story is told of a returnee riding his power bike in Victoria Island, years ago, before Lagos state government imposed limits on the routes commercial motorcycles can ply. Approaching a red light, he stops causing the eight okadas trailing him to crash into him and one another in a classic pile on. The motorcycle drivers recover quickly. Helmets gleaming in the sun, one grabs his trousers at the waist; another seizes his shirt at the neck. A slap prefaces the interrogation.
Why you stop?” the leader of the pack charges.
“Because of the traffic light.”
Another slap. “You don see okada stop here before?” Another slap. “You nor know say dis ting,” the okada driver wags his hand in the direction of the traffic light, “na for motor?”
He is confused as returnees often are about unofficial codes of conduct and he knows it is futile to argue he is right.

 

3.
“Are you here for good?” is I suppose the logical question that follows the surprise at bumping into me in Lagos. Some people are not in a hurry, so they ask instead, “When did you get back?” before segueing into the question of the permanence or not of my residency. My answer varies depending on the level of interest in the inquisitor’s eyes or the kind of relationship we share. Always, my eyes travel in distance and space, as I narrate a version of the story titled, I don’t know.

 

4.
Hyperbole is a literary device, which refers to exaggerated claims that are not to be taken literally. It manifests in a curious form in Nigerian street speak, where words are doubled for emphasis also.
De house big?
E big well well, well well!
An oxymoron on the other hand is a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction. Like this sign on the road:
Buy original Tokunboh laptops
That second-hand laptops aka tokunboh laptops, can be original is beyond oxymoron. It shows how language bends to accommodate the prevalent malaise of refurbished parts sold as (brand) new.

 

 

5.
Nigerians who move back home after living abroad are subject to a subtle game of numbers, which begins with the question, “How long were you away for?” Your answer validates or invalidates your expatriation. Ten years and longer, garner approval like Instagram Likes so that your cluelessness and discomfiture regarding Nigerian culture is overlooked, explained away by your long absence. Those who were away for a shorter time, do well to prefix their answer with just, as in, I was away for just two years and to not speak with a foreign accent like people who go for a two-week holiday in London and return with an American accent. The problem of colonialization is this: long after Lord Lugard and co. left, we are still using their yardstick to measure ourselves by.

 

6.
My dentist is situated on the third floor of an edifice that once showed promise because of the elegance of the architecture, but the building is aging and in need of fresh leadership. I wait in the reception where magazines make the clock tick faster.
“Mrs Timi? The dentist is ready for you.”
In the examining room, the dentist’s assistant makes small talk.
“It’s not Mrs Timi,” I begin, it’s Miss Timi.”
She beams, “You will soon get married, in Jesus name!”
Because her underlying assumption concerning my desires bothers me, I lecture her mildly on the broad aspirations of women beyond Cinderella dreams. “You don’t even know me. Why did you not say, you will soon get a better job?”
“But don’t you want to get married?”
“I do, but—”
Ehen! You will soon get married, in Jesus name!” she ends her prophecy on a high note, smiling as she lowers and reclines the chair for me to sit.
“Amen,” I reply. I know it is futile to explain my point any further.

 

7.
The walls are white as are the rattan chairs arranged in a loose formation for intimacy. My girlfriends and I were sipping our drinks and trying to gist despite the music booming from the speakers. I am convinced that Nigerians are loud because our eardrums are traumatized by music that drowns out our voices. Suddenly a photographer appears.
“No o! I don’t want my photo on Facebook or Instagram,” I protest.
He convinced us that he would email the photos to us and they would not be shared on social media. We posed and posed again. Our photos now grace the Facebook page of the bar. In Nigeria, we say, awoof dey run belle, which loosely means, freebies can kill you.

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Boubou: a kaftan worn by women.
Okada: commercial motorbike used for transportation.
You don see okada stop here before?: Have you ever seen a commercial bike stop here?
You nor know say dis ting na for motor?: Don’t you know that this thing is for cars?
De house big?: Is the house big?
E big well well, well well: It is humungous.
Tokunboh: A second-hand or fairly used item.

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

To Commit To A Fly

to-commit

 

Does the saga continue or does it end? Can these two find love and make it work? It all started with To Catch A Fly.

To Commit To A Fly

“Junior, the fish tastes really good, mmmm.”

“You like? Fresh from the Atlantic—”

“Fish pepper soup, just the way I like it.”

“I’m glad. Nothing pretentious about this place; it’s clean, decent, and very affordable in this Buhari economy.”

“I like trying out new places. Thanks for bringing me here. So, what’s on your mind?”

“What’s on yours?”

“I asked first—”

“I know . . . ladies first . . . please.”

“I don’t know, we seem to take one step forward and then two steps back . . .”

“Yeah?”

“I’m not a virgin like you, I have been with other men, deal with it!”

“I’m coming to terms with it. It’s not as big a deal anymore.”

“I like how they serve the pepper soup on wooden fish trays instead of on a rectangular mat . . . do you come here often?”

“What? Yes, yes. May I please hold your hand? Thanks. Your hands are dainty and so soft . . . right now, it’s as if I put my heart in your hands and you have the power to squeeze life out. I haven’t been here before. I didn’t think I would be here . . .”

“Hmmm.”

“You look really beautiful tonight.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ve missed your smile, the way your face comes alive when you talk about something that matters to you . . .”

“Don’t look at me like that—”

“Like how?”

“Like that . . . that . . . you’re doing it again—”

“Isn’t it a good thing?”

“It’s too good. That’s the problem!”

“Ha ha ha!”

“But seriously, being with you has made me rethink what I thought I wanted in a man. I wonder about patterns of attraction and this thing we call ‘my spec’, like how I could be drawn to someone not-so-my-spec, you know? Like if we look beyond the externals—”

“You are my spec.”

“Now you’re making me blush.”

“Girl, I don’t think we should give up. We share the same fundamental values, although our expressions may differ . . . we have the right building blocks—”

“There’s so much to navigate, though . . .”

“If two people are committed—”

“Still love does not conquer all . . .”

I’ve often thought the general definition of love faulty. Like the love songs today, they focus on ephemeral things like desire and feelings. I worry when I see my niece listening to Tekno’s Pana on repeat—”

“♫ Love is a wonderful tender feeling, you dey give me ginger . . . baby pana . . . you like cassava, I get big cassava ♫. Hahaha! Ah ah, but there’s nothing wrong with feelings and desire—”

“Love endures, desire ebbs and flows . . . that’s why I was talking about commitment. You know my parents would be married sixty years this November. My father says an irrevocable commitment to one another is the secret of their longevity. I want that.”

“As do I. My parents divorced when I was nine. I didn’t want to get married for a long time . . .”

“I’m sorry to hear that. That must have been tough.”

“Yeah, thanks . . . but I’ve healed.”

“Old woman, since you persist in calling me Junior, would you like to have more fish?”

“Hahaha! . . . No o, is it because I deboned this one?”

“Deboned? Deboned is an understatement; there is nothing left! Here, have some of mine . . .”

“Are you sure?”

“Sure. So where are we?”

“We’re navigating this ship.”

“That’s not enough for me.”

“What—”

“What I mean is that I’m not doing trial and error. This is it, baby.”

“Neither am I. Sometimes I feel bad about . . . like, I should have waited, kept myself as you have . . .”

“What’s done is done. What matters is how we go from here. I think, and I may be wrong, that you also have to come to terms with it. We’ve all got a lot to learn—”

“True. True. Speaking of learning, how well do you take instructions?”

“Meaning?”

“To the left, to the left; to the right . . .”

“Silly woman. I’m good at football. How hard can it be? Oya give me back my fish!”

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Riposte: To Call A Fly

riposte-to-call-a-fly

Should a person’s past sexual history matter in their current relationship?Last week and the week before, it would seem that shame made our main character defensive. This week, Ife Nihinlola delves into the mind of her boyfriend.

 

Riposte: To Call A Fly

 

“Dude, somehow, we’ve not had lunch together this week. Is this office making us slave that much or you’ve been avoiding me?”

“Avoiding you? When you’re not my landlady who wants to hook me up with her niece?”

“Look at you. Hot cake! Mr. Loverman! Anyway sha, how is the madam?”

“What madam?”

“You want to start playing word games again? You know who I’m talking about. How is she?”

“She dey.”

Wetin? Trouble in paradise?”

“You must think life is a Mexican telenovela, with these your corny lines.”

“Just answer my question. Or are you guys fighting already?”

“Not really. We are probably just not compatible after all.”

“That is what men say when they find out the woman they like already has a daughter approaching puberty. Suddenly, compatibility becomes an issue like Windows 97.”

“You must think this is a joke.”

“No, really. Tell me—”

“Tell you what?”

“Or is it her body count?”

“Why do you have to mention that now?”

“So it is body count. You children of nowadays.”

“I didn’t mention body count.”

“But you’re not saying I’m wrong.”

“You can’t understand.”

“Can’t understand what? See, what a woman did before she met you, all the lives she lived, all the people she’s been with, only matters as much as you allow it.”

“Okay. It’s not about body count. Are you happy now? It’s about other things in our lives… you know… ermm… experience and all that jazz.”

“All that jazz? Now who has the corny lines? See, the past doesn’t matter. It’s all gone, and nothing can be done about it. That’s why we call it the past.”

“Wow! All you need is a shiny suit, oxford shoes, a haircut shaped by a calligrapher, and you’ll be a perfect motivational speaker!”

“You think this is funny abi? It’s your love life you’re joking with. Not mine. And see, it’s about to evaporate in your very before. You’ll grow old and little girls will end up using pictures of your unmarried big head with grey hair for bae goals on Instagram.”

“I already told you. You can’t understand.”

“Can’t understand what now?”

“Okay. Let’s put it this way. How… how much upper hand did you allow your wife have when you guys were courting?”

“Upper hand? What is this? Table tennis? Hehehehe! See, someone is always going to have to be the mumu in a relationship. Too bad you’re the one in this case.”

“That’s not what I asked you?”

“So? What is my own? Better come to terms with how you feel about this lady and be a man.”

“Be a man, seriously?”

“Nah. Not in the way you’re about to think. I’m saying you should stop worrying about things you can’t change, and take charge of your emotions. Show this woman you love her if you do, not all this past nonsense you’re talking about.”

“I don’t know. I already said you wouldn’t understand.”

“Can’t understand what exactly? This woman doesn’t deserve this indecisive nonsense you’re doing. Either commit or commot, but please, don’t waste her time.”

“I hear you. I’ll call her.”

“I’m not asking you to call her. But if you want to, better make up your mind. See lunch is almost over. Are you eating or not?”

______________

Hey
23.20

Hey
23.50

Asleep yet?
23.55

What do you think?
23.56

I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.
23.57

I have some work to do before sleeping.
00.00

I actually thought you’d dumped the old lady and gone after a good virgin.
00.05

Smh. You know we have to talk, right?
00.05

Really? You think so?
00.06

Yeah.
00.08

So is this going to be like a confession where you’re the priest and I’m the sinner?
00.14

Smh. Who said anything about sins?
00.15

Okay. I don’t know o. Can we do it now?
00.18

Not really. We’ll have to fix a date or something.
I’m already feeling sleepy
00.19

Okay.
00.21

Can I call you tomorrow?
00.21

Sure
00.22

I’ll also be the one to choose the place,
somewhere I don’t have to lose my
teeth trying to read the menu.
00.23

Whatever makes you happy… Junior 🙂
00.24

Really?!!!
00.25

*lips sealed*
00.26

Hope you’re good sha?
00.27

Yes I am. Thank you for asking.
00.27

You’re welcome. I’ll call tomorrow
afternoon, old lady.
00.28

Don’t call me that! 😦
00.28

 

Call you what? 😉
00.29

You there?
00.35

Good night.
00.40

Good night. Till tomorrow.
00.45

 


Mumu in vernacular means, a fool.
Commot: to move away
Wetin: what

 

 

©Ife Nihinlola 2016 @ IfeOluwa’s Rambles

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.