In retrospect, it was the best weekend to have been away from work – but I didn’t know that three weeks ago when on a whim I decided I needed an extended break. It just so happened that Thursday morning, which was my last work day of the week, brought with it the slight irritation of an unwelcome work event that needed a response. That event ended up spawning a response that had burgeoned into a full-fledged emergency of sorts – complete with the mindless, headless running around centred on being visible and being seen to be doing stuff, however pointless – by midmorning on Friday, by which time I was sauntering casually down Links Road, up the beach Esplanade and then unto the Boulevard with the sun on my back, tempered by a cool breeze from the sea and the barely perceptible sound of the waves lapping the shoreline, the sound track to what was a very leisurely stroll.
The feeling was one of peace, of uninterrupted solitude and of at-oneness with nature, a feeling heightened by the rabbits scurrying about in the grass and the birds chirping merrily away. The plan was to amble on in a loop, back up Links road and then homewards, to my 2015 FM2013 AC Milan save, where as the precociously talented AJ McSedge, I was on the fast track to league, cup and champions league double number 3. Finding myself at Cineworld for a breather, with ads for the opening day of Iron Man 3 bang in my face, I made up my mind quickly and decided a pit stop was a no-brainer.
There were only three other people in the queue for tickets, served by just one attendant. Two of them – a pox upon them – had that
love lust ravaged look of horny teenagers, seemingly less able to walk straight than keep their hands off each other in what was a very public place at the most unreasonable hour of 11am. The other person, a tall, fairly muscular bloke had on a jacket with splotches of what looked like carpet glue, my best guess being that he was a joiner or handy man of sorts looking to use some downtime to catch Iron Man 3.
It turned out three other people had already settled into their seats in the cinema for a grand total of seven. I found my way to the topmost row, slouched in my assigned chair and proceeded to slowly whittle down my pile of nachos alternated with sips of coke as the endless parade of trailers and ads rolled by before it was time for the movie. Iron Man was ok, the movie that is, when I could focus on watching it without the distraction of mumbling from the two lovebirds who ended up sat within a few feet of me.
In the end, I tacked on lunch at TGI Fridays, copping a seat with a view looking out to the now less sunny, but still miraculously dry, beach front, surrounded by scores of people doing lunch in pairs and threes with my steak, chicken and shrimp combo and an appletizer for company. My leisurely stroll continued after that hearty lunch, completing the loop I’d terminated at Cineworld.
It was nearly 5pm by the time I finally allowed myself to log back in to work email, ostensibly to assure myself nothing life threatening had happened. There were the usual back and forth, pointless work emails.. And one particularly snide one from my verbal sparring partner, sarcastically applauding me for perfecting the art of vanishing…
A big pox upon him!
Carry Me – Josh Wilson
♫ I’m at the end of myself/ I know I’ve got nothing left/ Feels like I’m stuck in the valley of the shadow of death/ And I’ve been down here so long/ I just can’t find my way out/ Oh God I don’t stand a chance/ Unless You carry me now ♫
The woman clutched my arm. The first wave of feeling that hit me – when my mind frozen for an instant by the brazen grab – was fear, and then confusion, as she peered intently into my face with not even the faintest hint of recollection bouncing about in my head. She wasn’t wearing the flowing robes of an aladura prophetess, thus ruling out a smash-and-grab prophesy as the reason for her intrusion. Something about the deeply lined face, the light grey hair peeking out from underneath her tight head wrap and her uber thick lenses left me positively unsettled.
You don’t remember me, she asked; her iron clad grip loosening as her face retracted to a safe distance, a hint of disappointment at the lack of a flicker of recognition in mine showing on her face.
Vaguely familiar, was all I could mutter as she finally let go of my hand as one who had suddenly discovered she had been hanging on to an eel.
Bala, Mrs Bala, she mouthed her name several times as though by dint of repetition her words could penetrate my thick skull. It might have done just that because from the name, a whole avalanche of memories came rushing in, connecting the older, more lined face thrust out of the blue into mine on the corner of a very business market street with five years of history. She had taught sunday school at the church I attended intermittently back in my undergraduate days – when my parents had succeeded in dragging me along – before I discovered the ploy of escaping to University on Sunday morning pleading the need to close out piled up assignments. Now convinced this was no precursor to a kidnap attempt I must have loosened perceptibly because the next thing she did was to offer me a hug, which I accepted, and then to quiz me rapid fire about life, work and the inevitable wife and children banana skin.
We heard you got a job at XCorp. You be big man now O, so tey you come forget us! Me, Mrs Bala? Na sooooo? Tricky recollections navigated, she had lapsed into a less formal, pidgin english based lingua.
I tell her I left XCorp in 2008, grabbed a masters degree, am weighing up the next move to yet another far flung corner of the world and am yet still unmarried.
Where be this place sef, ehn OJ? Shey dem no still dey comot people head for there? I don’t know if it is concern or just plain ignorance. I explain the little I know. It’s not the bastion of liberal, self-indulgent, cosmopolitan life that’s New York’s Queens or London’s West End but its no battle scared, devil’s romping place either.
Wetin you dey go find for there sef? She sighs in resignation. Your mummy is happy with you going there? This time it IS concern, her forehead had developed its now familiar crease of worry.
I nod in the jaded, beaten manner of one who has had this conversation one too many times for the past few days. She shakes her head and then suddenly as though awoken by a synapse firing she dips into her bag and begins to rummage within it, eventually coming up with her cell phone.
Ehennn! Back to pidgin English, I sigh inwardly thinking I may have finally escaped here. She has her eyes fixed on me intently now.
P* sef never marry. She was around three months ago. She has a masters too, from abroad. She throws that in, perhaps hoping that some shared experience might help circumvent my perceived ‘pickiness’. She goes on to extoll P’s values – head screwed on right, solid job at some Lagos auditing firm, and most importantly someone whose familial antecedents we both know very well. She scribbles some digits on a sheet of paper somehow exhumed from her purse and thrusts it in my face.
That’s her number. Call her o!! God might have orchestrated this meeting for this purpose. She is back in her stern sunday school teacher/ up and coming Mother-In-Israel mode. I nod respectfully, push the folded sheet into my shirt pocket and return to my humble boy pose – head slightly bowed, eyes averted and hands clasped together at my back. She smiles one last full toothed smile, waves and continues on her journey, leaving me wondering what just hit me.
A few paces after I’ve escaped her clutches, the piece of paper with the phone number has morphed into a crushed ball of wet mush and nestles in the gaping mouth of a broken sewer pipe. Unless God now specialises in the business of breaking up marriages for single blokes, there will be no dice with Mrs P
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