Friday, December 24, 2010

Riding the I-95

I wonder if they see me, warmy esconsced behind the tight restraints of the seat belt in the passenger's side of the Range Rover. I think back to years in secondary school watching with envy the seniors, and when I got older the classmates, who would receive their suave admirers at the Love Garden, transported there in cars borrowed from parents. Years later, I would watch with a mix of curiosity the couples wheezing by while I huddled at the bus stop waiting on the bus or at the stop light waiting for it to turn green; both of which in extreme weather, would take their painfully, sweet time.

now i wonder who sees me, jetting down the i-95 in his silver grey range rover with the beige leather interiors. wonder if they see that we hold hands as we cruise. wonder if they know that we have already had two tiffs about what music to listen to and that the first time, - won and the second he let me win. jazz it is. i know i amgoing to pay for this on the return trip. he listens to middle eastern rap. but no worries, i have ear plugs.

wonder if they see that i am happy to be on this trip. wonder if he knows. wonder if he understands that right now, right this moment, it does not matter where we go but that we go together. wonder if he knows.

wonder who sees me, happy to be riding the i-95

Friday, December 17, 2010

Walking among the stars

I meet American celebrities in the oddest of places. I once met the R&B singer Mario at BWI airport while trying to wiggle out of heavy boots to pass through security. He was in a hurry but he stopped to take a picture with me, a picture that I do not have because the passerby I gave my camera to, possibly did not know how to operate it and so took nothing. I could not run after Mario for another opportunity. And I could not break my camera over the person's head. After all, it was not his fault, I did not have extend-able arms to take the pictures myself.

I met Tamara Tunie on the metro once. She was sitting there with no fan fare, like any regular rider. Smiled even though I stared at her the entire ride--granted, I was trying to ascertain that my eyes were not playing tricks on me. Was more fair than she appears on television and was kind enough to give me an autograph which went in my copy of Ha Jin's A FREE LIFE; a copy that for the life of me, cannot seem to locate. I am bummed about both the loss of my novel and the loss of my autograph. The book I can replace, the autograph will have to wait till when I have the time to stalk and locate Tamara Tunie.
picture from here

So, yesterday, while staring at the list of canceled flights at the airport,who comes walking past me but John King. Now, I can understand how some of you might be like "who?", seeing as the majority don't know any show anchors unless they deal with celebrity gossip. He must have thought the same when I asked quite slow-ly, "Excuse me, but are you on television?".
Nice guy. Smiles, introduces himself, watches in mild amusement as I rummage through my bag for a piece of paper to take his autograph. Found one with itinerary of the person that I had come to meet and he signed it nicely. Shook my hand and everything.

I hope when I too am famous, that I can be as gracious as the famous people who have met me and have treated me nicely.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

How I learned not to mess with my mother

picture from here
One morning, many years ago, when I was a little girl of about eight or nine (so, donkey years ago), my mother bundled my brother and I to the town’s one and only health center for what I initially thought was a courtesy call on the doctor. We got there to find the clinic packed, mostly with mothers and their squalling children. My mum sashayed her educated self to the front of the line, possibly intimidated the nurse—as she liked to do—and got our names on the list. We found a spot and sat down to wait.

As we waited, I began to have a sinking feeling in my stomach. One, almost every pair of mother and child that disappeared behind the nurses’ reception would later reappear with the children bawling their eyes out. I asked my mother what was going on. She told me to wait and see. My brother could not care less, stuck to my mother’s side, his world was complete and if she said we were to wait and see, that dude was going to wait all it took.
I on the other hand, was not having it. It took me all of ten minutes to figure out that there must have been a memo—which I missed—and all kids had been brought by their secretive, plotting mothers for an immunization. Basically, we had been brought to the hospital to be stuck with needles.
I had to get away.
What was I to do? I was all of four feet and some inches. I could not drive. Was not quite sure I could find my way home if I ran and that was if I out ran my gangster mother, which was very unlikely.
I started telling my mother some tale. The plan: distract the woman until she forgot why we were there and she put us back in the car and drove us back home.
Thinking back, I think my mother was thinking the same thing. Except her version was something like, “keep this twit talking until I can get her back in the nurses’ room and chook her with some vaccines.”
Someone called our names. My heart sank. My mother grabbed my hand like a g clamp. And dragged me along. My brother went silently, resigned to his trusting fate. His mother could do him no harm.

He took his injection like a champ. Very little tears and what little came out, my mother hugged away. Then it was my turn. And I must say, I let those nurses know why I have three very unique first names. I shook that dispensary with my whole being.
First, I had to be caught. Then when I was caught, I writhed this way and that way, and bit someone and shook, and screamed, and thrashed, and kicked and….it took my mum, two nurses and a doctor to try and hold my eight year old bad self down; all to the entertainment of my five year old brother.

My mother was fed up. The doctor refused to stick the needle lest it break in my butt and leave me walking lopsided with a limp or something. My mother warned me and told me to behave myself. I gave her the evil eye. How easy it was for her to order me to present my bum for the evil injection. Hell Nawwwwwww.
So my mother said to the doctor, “If she does not want the injection, you can take her to Homaj”. And with that, she grabbed her son, her purse and whirled out of the clinic.
Leaving me behind.

--Now, let me tell you a bit about Homaj International Home School. It was an orphanage between the towns of Ikere and Akure, right at the bottom of the hilly part of the road. Because it was sort of in a valley and the road was no good, when it rained, the front of the orphanage would be a muddy traffic jam. Then unemployed youth would show up to place planks across the muddy pools of water so that cars could pass by for a “fee”. But that was not the sad part.
The sad part were the kids in the orphanage who would line the fence, their skinny, arms poking through the patterns in the walls, begging passersby for food or money. They were not allowed out so of you had anything for them, you walked up and put it in their arms. Their faces would hunt me and I was always terrified of ending up there as an orphan. And that was why I always stalked my father, in case he was having an affair because I knew his second wife would send my disrespectful behind packing over there—why I thought that is another story for another day. Anyway, anytime I was bad, my mum would threaten to drop me off at Homaj.

I never took her seriously until I saw her small white Mazda drive out of the hospital compound.
Like a scene out of my worst nightmare, there I was, my skinny eight year old self left behind at the clinic.

And guess what the nurses began to do? Oh, they taunted me. My dear friend, the doctor came out to cajole me to come back in. Another doctor came out to let me know that he was sending for the one ambulance the clinic had to come make the long, long drive—cos that was what a 45 minute drive seemed like to me at the time—to Homaj to drop me off at my new home.
I sat in front of the hospital like a homeless person and cried. Then I started telling myself stories to make myself feel better. I could not believe THAT WOMAN had abandoned me here. But what was I to expect, my five year old brother had clearly told me he had overhead her saying I was adopted. That he had said that I after I throttled him was not important; what was that he had said it and I believed it.

I mean, what would you think if your mother left you at 10 o’clock in the morning?
So, I sat there and sat there, hissed at the taunting nurses and sat there some more.
Then some hours later my father’s old Volvo pulled into the compound but stopped right at the gate.

My Daddy was making to leave the University’s campus after a hard day’s work. A colleague asked for a ride back to town as the college was at the time, in the middle of nowhere.
My father had no problem and gave a couple others a ride too. One of them wanted to be dropped at the clinic/hospital. There was only one, was on my father’s way and so it was all kosher.
So my father pulled into the clinic's compound and in the distance, sighted a little girl sitting on the steps of the clinic. He apparently says to his friend, “My daughter has a dress, just like that.”
To which his friend replies, “That is because, THAT is your daughter.”
My father peers through his glasses and what-do-you-know? It is me.

I thought my father had come to save me.
I ran forward. My arms flailing. My father drove in and packed the car. He and his friend came down in a panic.
“Why are you here? Where is your mother? Where is your brother?”
Mainstream cell phone use did not come to Nigeria until 2001 and so had there been an emergency, there was no way he would have known. And we did not have a phone at home either.
So I can imagine all sorts of things flying through his mind.
Oh, I spilled my guts. “Do you know what happened to me, Daddy?”…And I let loose. I relayed every bit of the illtreatment and disrespect my small person had had to endure all day. How could this have happened to his child? Hun?

The nurses must have noticed me talking to some men because like three of them came out with the doctor on their heels. It took a bit of talking over each other but it was made clear to my father and his amused colleague that my mother had brought me to the hospital for the state mandated immunization and when I would not cooperate, she had left me there until I agreed to sit still for the injection which they had not wanted to force me to have so that I did not break the needle.
My father asked, “This little girl gave you problems?”
I am not sure what I thought I heard but I thought he was about to curse out the doctor and so I turned to poke my tongue at the evil group when I found myself air borne.

My father had picked me up by the midriff and motioned for the doctor to proceed to the dispensary. His friend followed us in.
It took me a good minute to realize that I was about to be given an injection.
I started round two of my struggling but this man, my dad, was not having it. My dad's friend waited in the waiting room. We--my dad, my airborne self, the nurses and doctor-- went into the room, my father took a seat, all the while not loosing his grip and somehow managed to bend me between his legs and under his arms. My head was all the way behind him. I felt breeze on my butt as the skirt of my dress went up and my panties were pulled down. Then, the cold sting of a needle. I swear I heard the nurse chuckling.

I let rip the strongest scream my vocal cords could muster. A scream that died immediately as my father covered my mouth. Long and short, I got my immunizations.
I promised myself as my father repaired my clothing and wiped my eyes that I was never going to forgive him. As soon as I had my dinner, I was going to run away. I sniveled as my father got the signed proof that I would neither contract any particular disease nor infect another child and followed him to the car. I refused to hold his hand. His wife abandoned me and he just sided with the doctors. Oh, I was so out of that house after dinner.

He bought me a coke. Stuck a straw in it and handed it to me in the back seat. I took it but I did not say thank you. That would show him. I could not reject it. I had not eaten all day. Plus, I had to conserve my energy for my escape later that evening.
We drove home. A small town, the commute was short.

On the way, we passed through the King’s Market—every town has one. Saw my mother’s car parked. This woman was shopping!!!!!!
My father parked and got down. I imagined that he was going to let her have it. Suddenly, he did not seem like such a bad man. I sat up and watched as he walked up to her car and peered inside. Saw a small head come up: my brother’s. then my mother emerged from the market. She smiled at her husband. Ooh, she was going to get it. Nothing happened.
I could not make out what they were saying, just that he pointed at his car. My mother’s gaze followed his motion and then they both came over. I sat back in disappointment. I could not believe I had been so wrong about the two of them. Neither of them loved me. I was definitely leaving that house that night.
My mother peered into the car and I still remember her cheeky smile as I did my best to ignore her. She called my name. I turned my back on her. She laughed. Can you imagine? And her husband was entertained by the whole thing. See my life
We went home in separate cars. I had dinner and decided to wait till morning to run away. By morning, I had forgotten the plan.

That was how I learned never to mess with my mother. Years later, she swore that she would obviously have returned for me; the town had but only so many people and so everyone knew whose daughter I was anyway and there was no way they would have used the one ambulance to give a ride to a little girl who was afraid of needles.
I don’t know if I believe her.