We Never Lose What We Value

Ife Nihinlola on Loss

It was the morning after a long night that I’d spent working on copy. I was sleep deprived and my mind was slow to react to things around me. So when my phone dropped to the floor, I reached for it sluggishly. The danfo that I rode in had body parts, which moved even after the bus stopped, held together by the ingenuity of welders and panel beaters. We were on Third Mainland Bridge at 6:30am and moving as fast as the dying engine could permit. I looked down, saw asphalt through a gaping hole, and knew I had just lost my phone.

Kathryn Schulz, in an essay titled, When Things Go Missing—a wonderful piece that stuck to my guts days after reading—quoted Abraham Arden Brill, who said, “We never lose what we highly value.” I have thought of the many ways in which this is false. We do lose things we value. They slip away from our hands, like my phone. One month without calling a friend becomes six months of not keeping in touch, and then a relationship is irreplaceably lost. The same goes for the loss of faith. It might be gradual, but the heart knows it is gone.

We groped the floor as the bus sped along the bridge. A woman with a little kid on her lap—bless her soul—kept dialling my cell phone as if calling it would make it reappear miraculously like a genie.  The bus conductor rearranged the jerry cans, wrenches, and other bric-a-brac stored on the floor beside the door. But as all this was going on, I knew my phone was forever lost. In my six months of using that little Samsung device, I’d grown to love its size, its understated beauty, and its hard metal shell that accommodates my clumsiness.

Phones have become a large part of my living, serving as everything: from library to notebook to entertainment system to life planner. Although I’m always in need of a good phone, my finances are set up in ways that replacing what is lost is a decision that has to be made with extra thought. Do I just buy a cheap phone whose loss, when it happens, won’t hurt at all, or do I buy a phone capable of meeting all my needs—which means it would have the capacity to store information that stands the risk of getting lost again?

Loss is an inevitable part of this world where everything, humans inclusive, comes with an expiry date. All kinds of loss can probably be read as a shadow of losing life in the end. “Regardless of what goes missing,” Kathryn writes, “loss puts us in our place; it confronts us with lack of order and loss of control and the fleeting nature of existence.”

Loss, of any kind, often works like a flood that cracks the dam of my mind. One minute I’m sad that I’ve lost my phone and the next I’m wondering about lost friends, lost time, and the brevity of life.

My reflex reaction to loss is to do everything I can to avoid pain. I spent most of my childhood learning how to avoid connecting with people to the point where I missed them in ways that make the heart break. But emotional insulation comes with its own kind of pain. One stands the risk of becoming stunted, incapable of fully expressing the range of feelings needed to make a healthy inner life, incapable of loving. One cannot afford, for fear of loss, to shut the heart to the joy relationships can bring.

Perhaps, the ultimate lesson in the loss of my phone is that after two decades and a half spent on this planet, I’m just learning how to live and love.

© IfeOluwa Nihinlola 2017

IfeOluwa Nihinlola writes essays and short stories and has been featured in online magazines such as Afreada, Omenana, Klorofyl, and Litro. He works as an editor and is an inaugural fellow of aKoma’s Amplify fellowship. He is a fan of Zadie Smith, is looking for a replacement for Pringles as muse, and blogs at ifenihinlola

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/man-mobile-phone-person-smartphone-1868730/

 

©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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A Landscape of Friendship

friends-landscape

 

Sotonye and I were friends first. I forget now, how we met, that memory superseded by memories of our friendship: the innocence of it. We walked around town and hopped on buses to places too far to walk like the old amphitheatre at the university. One afternoon, we sat together on a leather beanbag, shoulders rubbing, while we fiddled with the controls of my parent’s Panasonic sound system. We took turns to put our cassettes into the tape deck and listen to each other’s mix tape.

“Sit apart!” my mother’s voice startled us. Before I could understand the implication of her words, Sotonye had sprung to the chair farthest from the beanbag, and from me, in the living room. That day heralded the beginning of the end of our friendship, I think.

After I met his best friends, Charles and Karibi, I saw Sotonye less and less. He caved under my persistent interrogation and admitted that he had kept a distance because Charles had warned him that girls like me could derail a guy’s destiny.

I should have told him that I was hurt, but I did not. I could have pointed out that in his stead, Charles was now spending more time with me, the destiny-stealer, and Karibi was a close second, borrowing books from the library to feed my love for books, but I did not. Universities were on strike and Sotonye was convinced that his future lay in the United Kingdom. His plans to relocate consumed his focus.

Ten years have passed since the alliance—three boys, then two boys and one girl— we formed crumbled because we grew up and went to discover ourselves on the map.

Presently, Charles and I are having lunch after a chance encounter earlier in the week, and I am reminding him of how we met. He is laughing so hard, he begins to cough.

“That’s not how it happened, didn’t I meet you first?”

“You wish,” I say, rolling my eyes.

“I can’t believe I did my guy like that!” He slaps his thigh, still amused.

“Better believe it; do you know where Sotonye is now?”

“Last I heard he’s still in the UK, directing theatre productions or something weird like that. That’s what Karibi said when I bumped into him, last year.”

“Karibi . . .” I say wistfully.

“You always liked him. That traitor who swooped in when I left for school—”

“No, it wasn’t like that at all. He was like a big brother to me.”

“Yeah, right!”

“Go away joor. He was the sweetest boy I’ve ever known.”

“That’s because he didn’t shave your head. Abeg, leave that thing!”

“We all were great friends . . .”

“Yes,” he agrees, “but you did not understand boys.”

We distill years past by exchanging phones and swiping photos, who’s this and where’s that, make our puzzle pieces fit faster. But photographs cannot capture all. Suddenly, Charles looks down at his drink and admits to being a closet alcoholic.

“It’s not so bad,” he says, looking up at me.

I nod. In the movement of my head and the steady gaze of my eyes, there is no judgement.

“Why don’t you tell someone who can hold you accountable on the road to recovery—”

“What! You haven’t changed! You’re still naïve . . . like back then . . .”

I trace the rim of my glass with my finger, uneasy and unsure of what he means.

“You still think everyone is like you, and everything is black and white,” he answers my unspoken question.

“No not really—”

“You trust easily. Haven’t people hurt you . . . enough?”

I sigh. Maybe I should not have let him look at all my photos.

“I am no longer afraid of getting hurt. But this isn’t about me. Isn’t your secret too heavy to bear alone?”

“I’ll survive. I haven’t told anyone . . . I don’t even know why I told you.”

I know why he told me. In just two hours, we have travelled back to the road leading to my parent’s house, where, unable to stop his voice trembling, he confided in me about his parent’s impending divorce.

The moment passes and we reminisce about happier times, about the place near the overhead bridge where we met in the evenings after Sotonye left. Charles would arrive with a packet of cigarettes and after he dragged on a cigarette a bit, he passed it round. I took tentative puffs while Karibi backed away as if it were a snake, reminding Charles of his asthma and me of the dangers of lung cancer.

“I gave up smoking,” Charles says. “Best thing I ever did.”

I nod again.

“You were the glue . . .” he begins.

“Nah,” I say, “Sotonye—”

“It’s true, everything was centred around you.”

He signals to the waiter for another drink. I shake my head, no.

“Do you think . . . answer me honestly, Charles . . . that boys and girls can just be friends?”

His answer is slow to come.

“I don’t know,” he says at last. “Even back then, Sotonye, Karibi, and I, wanted more.”

 

© 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.

 

Soul Food For The Hair

hair-soul-food

My hairdresser arrives my home at 10 a.m., two hours later than I would have preferred.

“My brother, ma,” she begins by way of explanation.

“Happy New Year,” I say, waving her apology aside, my mind on my missing WiFi dongle. 

She arranges her wares on the sofa—combs, hair extensions, conditioner—priority and proximity guiding her placement. I plop my iPad, phones, and a folder on the other sofa, where a full-length mirror sits. Then I sit on a rattan dining chair, facing the sofa so my reflection is visible to me.

“This is how I want my hair to look.” I lift up my iPad for her to see the photo of a model, and then lower it, using my fingers to slide the screen and zoom in on her hair.

“But, she used a different kind of hair extension—”

“Are you sure?” It looks as if they just layered the extensions to get the look—”

“No, the extensions are different.” She points at the photo and then pulls out my hair extensions from the pack to show me.

I sigh, spilling my disappointment around the room. I am not convinced, but she is a hairdresser not a magician. Although I know the photo has been airbrushed to perfection, still, I want the look.

Her hands are gentle as she parts sections of my hair and weaves them into cornrows. She knows all the secrets my full head of hair holds and an easy camaraderie exists between us.

“How have you been?”

She talks about her dream of studying film in Australia, and then tells me about her recent work on the set of a film, how an actress accused her of cutting her hair around the temples.

“Ma,” she says, “can you imagine? Me that my fingers are so light, I’m even afraid of holding hair tight!”

I nod. “So what did you tell her?”

“I was so angry! Hmmm. I didn’t say anything!”

I laugh and she laughs too. It is not odd that she swallows injustice and later regurgitates it to a listening ear. The customer has might and is always right. My validation is the closest thing to fairness that she will get.

“Don’t mind her. Your hand is feather light. I hope she didn’t get you in trouble.”

“No, the director knows I never touch her hairline while styling.”

After she completes the cornrows and starts crocheting extensions on them, I get lost in reading.

“It’s too much,” I remark when I look up to examine her work.

“It’s not too many. You will like it. Just wait and let me finish.”

A good hairdresser deciphers the subconscious desires of her clients. My hairdresser represents the part of me that bucks against conformity with random strands of blond extensions that she calls highlights. I squirm at my reflection because I want conservative hair and I do not want conservative hair. Zig Ziglar says that if people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you. 

When she is done, I turn my head from side to side and smile at the result.

“How much do I owe you?”

We should have set the price before she began and I can insist on the amount I last paid. She looks at the ground before reluctantly meeting my eyes in the mirror.

“Ma, the price has increased because of the recession.”

We both laugh at our intangible exchange. I am proud of her because she has crossed a hurdle. She found the muscle to put her business before the indistinct blend of sisterhood and friendship that we share. I pay the new price without haggling.

She is young and her dreams are tall. I hope she does not one day respond to the vagaries of life with cold cynicism. Her combination of innocence and honesty is increasingly rare.

 

© 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.

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

 

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.

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.

 

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Saying Yes to Nigeria [4]

Naija in my Blood

Perhaps nothing reveals the spirit of a city like the attitude of its drivers. Do not even speak of the courtesies you possess until you have driven in rush hour on the streets of Lagos, where every hour is rush hour.

“Foolish man, can’t you see I’m indicating?” she cast a sideways glance at the offender. 200 metres later, with one hand on the steering and the other on her temple, she yelled at another offender, “Are you mad?” A minute later, she placed her hands on her horn repeatedly in bursts, peep, peep, peeeeep, “Stay on your lane!” And at the roundabout, looking less confident, she let out, “If you scratch my car, you will pay o!”

I watched her chest heave and dip, heave and dip, as we rode from Victoria Island to Lekki, while she continued her monologue with drivers who couldn’t hear her because we were cocooned in air-conditioned comfort in her car.

“They can’t even hear you,” I said.

“They can,” she insisted, but changed tactics, making me the subject of dialogue. “Timi, see what that driver is doing? That’s the problem with—”

“You’re going to give yourself a heart attack at this rate; can’t you just drive without the commentary?”

“You don’t understand, wait until you start driving.” She was darting in and out of lanes, “You can’t stay on one lane in this Lagos, you’ll never get anywhere . . .”

Famine brings out our worst instincts and the famine in Lagos is severe—lack of good roads, petrol, patience, politeness, empathy, sanity, alternative transportation like trams, trains, or water transport, diligent traffic wardens, and a responsive government.

Driving in Lagos has not changed. But I have. Or do I still have Naija in my Blood 

Read about my former experience, which is still relevant today here.

© 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.

 

Saying Yes to Nigeria [2]

Naija Movie Night

In his essay for the New York Times Magazine, A Too Perfect Picture, which examines Steve Curry’s work, Teju Cole concludes that:

Art is always difficult, but it is especially difficult when it comes to telling other people’s stories. And it is ferociously difficult when those others are tangled up in your history and you are tangled up in theirs. What honors those we look at, those whose stories we try to tell, is work that acknowledges their complex sense of their own reality. Good photography, regardless of its style, is always emotionally generous in this way. For this reason, it outlives the moment that occasions it. Weaker photography delivers a quick message — sweetness, pathos, humor — but fails to do more. But more is what we are.

I do not own a camera, only words. I’m sharing this story I wrote years ago even though my experience in 2016 is different because it remains a snap shot of who we are. I hope my lenses are strong. I hope they do more. Read about Naija Movie Night …

 

©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.