A Tale of Two Cities

a tale of 2 cities

I was born in the USA and for as long as I can remember I’ve always felt like an alien who didn’t quite fit in. This is partly to blame, I suppose, on the fact that I was raised in a military family and was constantly pulling up roots and moving every year or so, while growing up. As an adult, I kept up this pattern. I’ve lived in or near some of the largest cities in the U.S.—Houston, Philadelphia, and the New York City area.

I feel comfortable in large cities because they afford me the anonymity that I, an alien, crave. No one looks at you “funny” and as long as you don’t hold a stare for too long, you are left alone.

I recently visited London and Paris. I had long dreamed of visiting these places as they have lived in my imagination for years from reading books. Using the subway systems of Philadelphia and New York City, primed me for the London Underground and the Parisian Metro system.

On one of my many excursions around London, I descended the steps into the underground, and encountered a smiling, red-faced uniformed attendant.

“Hello!” I said.

“Hello!” he returned.

I inquired about the best route to get to my destination.

“Take the Circle Line to Baker Street, transfer to the Jubilee Line. Get off at Southwark and it is only a short walk to the Globe.”

“Thank you!”

“Cheers!”

This was typical of my experience in the London Underground— easy to navigate with friendly attendants and patrons who were willing to answer questions.

When I arrived Paris, I approached a Parisian Metro booth and spoke to one of the attendants.

Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?”

Un peu.”

Although I did not speak the language, I was able to communicate well enough to find my way using a few words and hand gestures. Perhaps the incongruity of being in a strange land made my existence in Paris somehow congruent. I felt at home at last.

On one of my last days in the city, I sat outside the Café de Flore on Boulevard Saint Germaine, enjoying a glass of red wine. A Frenchman, who took the table next to mine, lit up a cigar, and then glanced in my direction to ask if the cigar smoke offended me.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I understand that people who sit outside often smoke and I am not offended.”

He nodded and smiled. He puffed on his cigar a couple of times and we began chatting, he in perfect English. We talked for a long time about a wide range of events including the recent terrorist attacks. I mentioned the increased security around the metro. He shared that he had just spoken to his daughter who lives in the neighbourhood where the attacks occurred and she felt safe using the Metro System.

“Yes,” he cautioned, “but the police and soldiers cannot be everywhere. You have to be vigilant. In effect, we have to be responsible for our own security.”

While sitting outside, we watched many police vehicles drive by with sirens blaring.

“Something’s going on,” he said. “If a car were to pull up in front of us right now and gunmen alighted and started shooting, what could we do about it? Nothing!”

He was right of course. So I concluded that the French are a little fatalistic about such things.

C’est la vie?

I travelled to London and Paris by myself because I needed time to think about my life and my absurd existence. With only myself for company, I walked the cobblestone streets of Montmartre and the rain-swept pavement of Trafalgar Square in London The encounters I had helped me believe in the possibility of happiness and hope for humanity. A big smile and a hello or bonjour broke down the normal barriers humans erect, especially in urban areas.

You can be anonymous, but by using the universal language of a smile followed by a greeting, you can touch and be touched by the human heart.

 

A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.
– Phyllis Diller

 

©Benn Bell 2016 @ Ghost Dog

 

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I Hope Someone Calls Them Beloved

 

oworonsoki by Logor

There is something about Lagos, about this human chaos, about entering danfos and crawling into kekes and jumping on okadas and pushing against bodies reeking of sweat while dancing between pungent puddles that makes me wish I could read minds.

Not all lives interest me. Some people are just derivatives of other people, stock personalities coming out of the human conveyor belt, uninteresting in the way I imagine I must be. But a few stand out: fascinating humans who compel me to observe, like the three girls who piled into the bus at Obalende and sat behind me on Saturday.

They wore clothing that strained against their youth. One sat and two lapped themselves. One pleaded with another in Yoruba, telling her she was sorry.

“Let us go to Alhaji’s place,” she said.

The friend replied, “You can go, I’m not going.”

She pleaded again, “I am sorry.”

They repeated this sequence as more people hauled their bodies into the bus. I took a bite of Gala and a swig of Lucozade Boost.

“I said I’m sorry,” she began again.

The third friend was silent throughout this exchange.

The reluctant friend finally gave in, “Okay, we can go.”

Who is Alhaji? Why is the need to visit him this strong a few minutes past 6pm? It bothers me that there is a whole swathe of human experience and emotions I do not have access to. It bothers me that this bothers me.

As we sped along Third Mainland Bridge, the girl who had been pleading so she could visit Alhaji received a call and spoke to a guy who, from what I could gather, was expecting her.

“I’m at home now,” she told him.

She spoke in heavily accented English with some hesitation, which shows the speaker has the basic vocabulary for fluent communication in English, but is actively translating from Yoruba in her mind.

At Oworonsoki, the trio started a Yoruba Christian song, the kind that choristers in long robes chant enthusiastically to the rhythm of gangan. There was so much cheer in the girls’ voices, and they giggled intermittently as we moved on to Oshodi. There, I alighted from the bus and took the overhead bridge. I looked down and saw the three girls walk towards Ilupeju.

I hope one day to have the courage to ask these people for their stories. I want their stories told with care and empathy, in a way that will make me see them, as they are, not just as the world labels them. I hope, somewhere at the end of their journey, there is someone waiting for them who calls them Imzadi* in a way that is not predatory.

____________

*In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Will Riker, Deanna Troi’s love interest, calls her Imzadi, which translates roughly, in the Betazed language as Beloved. It is what she called him the first time they met.

Alhaji: a Muslim (man) who has been to Mecca on pilgrimage; often the title connotes that the bearer is wealthy.

 

©Ife Nihinlola 2015 @ IfeOluwa’s Rambles
Ife is an avid observer of life in metropolitan Lagos, which he translates into rich ruminations on his blog. Read the unabridged version here.

Photo credit: Owonronsoki by Logor Olumuyiwa

 

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.

 

 

 

Bus 281

Bus 281

The bus driver did not look at me when I entered the bus. I spared him a glance as he sped away from the bus stop and grabbed a red pole to steady myself before I flopped into my seat.

“Sorry,” I apologized to the man on the window seat when I regained my balance and saw what my lipstick had done to his sleeve.

He shrugged and smiled.

Whenever we approached a bus stop, we lurched forward as the driver braked, and we fell backwards as he accelerated again. No one got on the bus.

At the intersection between Park and Jacob Street, a grey Toyota on the opposite lane anxious to beat the red light, navigated a left turn. But it was caught in the middle of the road, in the path of our angry bus. The bus driver brought the bus within scratching distance of the Toyota. The Toyota driver inched further left. The bus growled and heaved. I felt the faltering bravery of the Toyota driver. Chatter climbed a few decibels.

Vroom, vroom, vroom! The bus driver’s impatience bellowed from the engine.

“Go! Go! Go!” the passengers cheered and clapped, with necks extended.

The lights turned green, and the Toyota rolled into Jacob Street just as the bus charged forward. I fell back in my seat and began to breathe again.

Five hundred metres before my stop, I pressed the button. The buzz pierced the chatter and the display flashed, STOP, in the monitor overhead. Moments later, I stood and held a red pole to brace myself, but the driver rode past the bus stop.

The passenger sitting beside me called out, “Chauffeur!”

More passengers called, “Chauffeur!” and then chanted, “Chauffeur! Chauffeur! Chauffeur!” stamping their feet to match the two syllables in the word.

Eventually the driver swerved towards the kerb. Passengers rose and shambled to the door like zombies. The driver lowered the belly of the bus, and the door puffed before opening. Twilight had bowed to a moonless night, and we were in the middle of nowhere.

“The world is full of crazy people. Get out while you can,” called the driver.

My feet developed roots, and I watched all the passengers except the man I sat beside, file out of the bus. They wore pale blue tops and trousers. He nudged me, and we got off together.

The passengers in pale blue led the way. Their voices floated and filled the night. In the absence of buildings and street lamps, the tree branches were monsters looking on. Reprieve from the darkness came from a dim signpost where the passengers melted into the shadows. I read the sign, National Psychiatric Hospital, and we quickened our pace. His presence by my side, kept me from running. The next bus stop was still ahead.

The bus stop, a pole with a twisted metal sign, offered no protection from the night. I checked my phone. The battery was dead.

“Mine too,” he shrugged.

Darkness stretched time like fitted sheets that are too small. I stifled the urge to pee. The wind whistled through the leaves.

“Did you hear?”

“What?” I replied.

“I thought I heard my name,” he turned in a semi-circle.

“Me t . . . t . . .  too.”

We huddled closer. Then he started singing, “Love is like two dreamers dreamin the exact same dream . . .”

“Nightmoves, Michael Franks,” I mumbled.

“Marry me,” he whispered.

The leaves answered the wind, “Whooosh!” and fell to the ground.

But the wind whistled back in hot pursuit gathering leaves in its arms and spinning them round and round. Some leaves broke free and circled our feet. Something in the pit of my stomach churned.

The music begins and the titles fade in, starrin’ you and me. The hero is struggling to say that his lady is far away in her prison of wishes . . . ,” he continued singing.

Headlights appeared in the distance. I moved as far out to the edge of the road as I dared and waved.

“Marry me!” his voice was urgent.

The thing in my stomach grew. My chest rose and threatened to pop the buttons of my blouse. I darted to the middle of the road and waved my hands with all my might.

Two yellow eyes flashed twice, cutting through the darkness. The sound of the engine grew louder. I ran to the side just as the bus screeched to a stop, lowered her belly, and the doors swung open. I clambered in and willed the driver to read my eyes.

“Close the door!” I screamed.

“Aha, the world is full of crazy people, get in while you can,” he smiled and sped away.

I turned and watched the passenger singing and dancing as his pale blue form retreated into the darkness, then flopped into my seat. I closed my eyes and opened them when I started breathing through my nose again, grateful for street lamps. By now, the bus was ambling over the cobblestones of the deserted shopping district. I saw our reflection on the floor-to-ceiling windows and squinted to read the inscription on the side of the bus, Bus 281: Property of The National Psychiatric Hospital.

“Honey, just marry the idiot already. One of these days he’s gonna tire of the game and find someone else,” the bus driver caught my eye in the rearview mirror and winked.

I looked at his shirt, pale blue. I looked down at my blouse, pale blue. I fainted.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

——–

Michael Franks, Nightmoves, from the album, The Art of Tea.

Image credit: illustrations from Microsoft

 

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Perfect Strangers

Perfect Strangers

That awkward moment when you step into the lift with the colleague you see in the corridor, at the coffee machine, at lunch, and because neither of you acknowledges the other, one of you takes up elevator-door-staring while the other fiddles with a smart phone.

That awkward moment when standing in the lift, each one pretending that the other does not exist, pretending that there isn’t a world where you both coexist, the lift jerks to a stop and the light goes out.

That awkward moment when phones act as torches and your fingers touch as you both reach for the alarm button, apologise and laugh self-consciously, and then make the same mistake again because neither of you can decide who should go first.

That awkward moment when you know you’ve spent too many nights watching Criminal Minds and Crime Scene Investigation, because in the dim light, your colleague looks like Frankenstein’s monster and you expect a switchblade to suddenly appear.

That awkward moment when crisis forces both of you to skip introductions and attempt chitchat that lacks the finesse of children forging new friendships, to manage the silence which otherwise would stretch to infinity.

That awkward moment when like a steam train your chitchat sputters to an unsteady start so you ask, “How’s work in legal?” And silence follows because your colleague responds, “Fine and where do you work?” making you aware that in this game of show me yours and I’ll show you mine, you’ve just been outwitted.

That awkward moment when anger that you mask, masks the hurt you feel because there are no perks in being treated like a wallflower, unnoticed by someone with whom you share 5000 square footage in a twelve-storey office building.

That awkward moment when your colleague clears his throat and admits that he’s seen you over at finance but wasn’t sure as he’d also seen you in sales. His words placed like a winning serve, are honest words that deserve your applause.

That awkward moment when you confirm what you’ve always known: you are not claustrophobic. Trapped for ten minutes in a lift, with a stranger, you have not begun to pull your hair. Instead, you have discovered things about yourself that you can now define.

That awkward moment when the fluorescent bulb flickers to life causing you to blink, but not filling you with relief. You see your colleague as the lift ascends and wonder why you never thought to greet each other in bright, wide, open spaces, as if either of you would lose points for being the first to say hello.

That awkward moment when the lift slows and tings as the display stops at number seven and you look at your colleague, nod and then smile because words would get in the way of the silence that you have both come to accept. A dysfunction in technology has made your world not only smaller but also richer.

That awkward moment when you realise independence is not all its hyped up to be. Although you have been striving for independence all along, interdependence—the union of independent minds in mutually beneficial harmony—is the greater prize.

That awkward moment happened to me.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2013

image credit: ©Timi Yeseibo 2013

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.