Sunday, January 11, 2015

Short Story: Accents of Christmas

First it was Labake, and now Tokunbo. I was getting increasingly tired with the arrival of my “Just Got Back” cousins. Their idea of Lagos was narrowed to parties, champagne and lots of money being spent.  Each of them had a list activities they wanted to carry out while they were home for Christmas and it involved me.
Sadly, all I wanted to do on Saturdays was sleep. Well, that and picking my clothes from the dry cleaners. I had it perfectly planned out – dash in and dash out before the wedding traffic on Oba Akinjobi trapped me.  Tokunbo insisted on coming with me; perhaps we could stop by Allen Avenue to see one of his ‘mates’ from Secondary School? 
Oh my cousin had plans. He had lots of them.   No, his plans were not even the biggest problems I had. It was the incessant talking. He never stopped - always prattling on about how he’s very familiar with the city of Lagos and how we’re a bunch of party animals. He spent the time in traffic telling me about how he reads the blogs and keeps abreast of the social scene by the pictures online.
Yes, Tokunbo. Those are the true indices of reality in Lagos.
I must have grunted because he stopped talking – thank goodness. But only for a second.
“Tope, did you say something?”
I cranked up the volume of the radio. I needed something to help me zone out his annoying voice that came with all that affectation. Was it just me or why the hell did Toks have a bloody accent? I’m his cousin for crying out loud… and we lived in the same house for 17 years.  What is even more baffling is the fact that we enrolled in Imperial together, and we graduated at the same time.  5 years after graduation and he is speaking to me through his nose?  It is well.
Thankfully, I made it back home without my ears being talked off.  I was going up the stairs when I heard Mummy talking on the phone. From her side of the conversation, I picked up news that my Uncle Richard was coming this evening and he was bringing his new wife. Mum and Aunty Rolly were always gossiping about other family members but recently, Uncle Richard’s new wife was the butt of their everyday discourse. According to her she had an agenda and she was a schemer. Contrary to their thoughts, I quite liked her.
She was as quiet as a mouse but with her skin as bleached out as many of the people in the Nigerian entertainment industry, I knew she had a back story which was interesting. I wasn’t thrown by the façade of sweetness but it wasn’t a turn off. She was probably a diplomat who wanted to study her environment before showing her true self. She was well versed in the art of war. My mother and aunty needed to take lessons from her. They played their hands too early in the game and it was why they would never win this battle.
I was planning to sneak out of the house around 8pm but the lure of watching the family drama was too high. I figured I’d sleep for a few hours and if I felt better, I’d decide if to stay in or go out.  I turned on the air conditioning and I was drifting off into the blissful land of sleep when the power went out.
Oh how I hate Nepa. Well, not just because of the unbearable heat and the noise from the generators. Those are valid reasons, true but I hate it when the power cuts lead to more unbearable pontificating from the cousins. I was still midway in thought when Labake came into the room.
“Tope! The government really needs to do something about this power situation”.
I wasn’t sure if it was a statement of fact or a question, so I ignored her. Lord knows it took all the strength in me to bite back the retort that came naturally.
“Oh, are you asleep?”
This was my cue to pretend so she would get out but curiousity got the better of me.
“No, I’m awake. Do you need anything?”
She took it as a sign that she was welcome to sit. She wanted to know which telecoms company she could sign into with her iPad. She droned on about how the data plan she had signed on had been exhausted in less than a week.
“Tope, I’ve spent over 20,000 Naira on data in just a week. That’s almost 80 Pounds”
Oh thanks for doing the conversion Labake. I really needed to know the Sterling equivalent.
I smiled sympathetically and told her to cut down on the YouTube videos and the Skype sessions. Those things are enemies of Naija data plans.
I closed my eyes, hoping she’d take the cue and leave. I wasn’t so lucky. She decided to tell me how the Skype sessions were important to her relationship.
Yes, tell me Labake. Because, just one more time I need to hear about how in love you are and how you are so sad Le Boo didn’t want to come to Nigeria with you this year.
 I was literally saved by the bell when my phone rang. I held it up as a sword, hoping she would take this as her cue to leave my room. She smiled and nodded.
I got up and ran into the bathroom to take the phone call. God bless your soul Michael. 15 seconds into the call and it cut off. Four more attempts at connecting the call and I was able to get the entire message. Michael wanted to hang out this evening. He also had a couple of friends from London who had come home for the holidays. They needed to be entertained and he didn’t want to have to sit through it alone. I figured I might as well go. If possible invite my thoroughly bored cousins, they might enjoy the company of Michael’s friends and I won’t have to pretend to enjoy the company of our entire family.
I gave up on trying getting any rest and decided to put my freshly laundered clothes in their place. Thankful that Labake had left my room before I finished on the phone, I gladly welcomed the solitude.  I opened the windows, to let in some fresh air – if you call the air with the fumes from our neighbor’s noisy generator fresh.
Next on the agenda? Pick out an outfit for the evening. I didn’t want to make an effort but I didn’t believe in going out looking like a pauper.  When you have a mother like mine, attention to dressing is a trait that you ingest with breast milk. Left to my mother, I’d only go out in heels as she could not understand my obsession with flat sandals.  I was tempted to remind her of her current battle with arthritis and how she secretly had a pair of flip flops in the car everywhere she went.  No, I didn’t want to end up like my mother so I tried to be fashionable with a bit of sensibility.
I finally settled on a short pink Ankara dress with a mono strap. Nothing says it’s Christmas in Nigeria better than a deluge of colours and prints. My dress was cinched at the waist and flowed down from the pleats.  There was no need to pretend I didn’t have slightly bow legs so I embraced it by trying out things that were not long and dowdy.  Tiny pearl studs from another time and place to match the cream sequins the tailor had lavished all over the dress. According to her, they were the justification for making me pay 8,000 Naira for the making of fabric that cost a third that sum. 
Ah! The tailor – that was another errand her cousins had insisted we had to run together.  Labake’s last shopping trip to Balogun market had her hauling in 13 different fabrics.
“They’d be delightful in the summer” she said.
Yes, tell me about it.
I didn’t want Iya Fatai to start getting ideas about scaling up the pricing for her services, so I haggled properly. My cousin’s exaggerated appreciation of all things Africa was not going to be a reason to start paying 10,000 for sewing a dress.
We told my parents that we were going out for drinks and wouldn’t be able to stay for dinner. Shame, I’d miss the drama with my new aunty.
Mum said we could have her driver for the night. It was an offer I wasn’t about to decline because if the night went well, I was going to be in no state to drive. If the night went badly, I was surely going to find solace in booze.
We got out of the car and Toks, who sat in front promptly, came to open the back door for us to get out.
“You look really lovely, Tops”
My cousin was the quintessential gentleman.  It was a shame that he was extremely annoying. I couldn’t wait for these ‘returnees’ to leave my city.  I led them towards the entrance of Sip where Michael said he and his friends would be. A quick scan of the room and I saw him waving his hands frantically. Standing next to him was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.  He stood about an inch taller than Michael who was comfortably 6ft 2”.   Grey eyes, firm nose and a mouth that looked like they belonged on mine. Oh, did I mention he had the most disarming smile?  All of a sudden there was nobody in the room and I felt the firmness of this man’s torso against my skin.
Has it really been that long, Tolutope, get a grip!
One foot ahead of the other, I walked towards them, knowing that Michael would make the necessary introductions.
“Majid! This is my best friend Tope. This is Majid”
I knew I was supposed to say something smart and intelligent, but I couldn’t form the words. My head felt empty. No, not empty, just filled with extreme lust.
“Hi, Majid, welcome to Lagos. Are you staying for Christmas?”
“Oh wow! Tope, that’s quite a strong London accent. How long have you been back?”
Fuck! I’m just like the rest of ‘em bloody Returnees!

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