Monday 31 October 2011

Our People in London

A friend told me this vignette, but it was full of gaps, which I have tried to fill up and relive below: Enjoy...

Though I’ve just rolled out of bed, I’m still full of yawns. It’s nearly 7 o’clock. I step into the bathroom, undress. Omamumi’s dulcet voice carries into the bathroom. I flick a glance at the towel on the railing.
I ignore the ring tone and splash water on my body.

– Na who I go ask…? Omawumi keeps pleading with me.

I try not to sing along.

Then I hear footsteps, Omawumi’s voice draws closer. I wipe suds off my face as my wife appears and hands me the cell phone.

– Private number, reads the tiny screen.

I’m in the bathtub yet my mind jets across time zones, conjuring postcard images of America, London, India, Switzerland, and Italy. I think of a friend I haven’t called a long time now, and guilt squeezes a blade through my heart. I answer the cell phone, knowing it’s an international caller, praying the voice is a stranger’s.

– How na? a male voice booms in my ear, hinting at familiarity.

– I’m fine, I reply.

– So you no dey think of us any more?

– Please, don’t be annoyed. Whom am I speaking with?

– Na so you dey forget your people?

The voice? Oh shit, it’s…no, not Okecima. I stretch my mind's eye yet no name surfaces. I put it down to grogginess, I still feel sleepy from the previous day’s tedium.

– Please, who are you?

He laughs, and I think of a belch.

– My head feels foggy, I explain. Tell me your name. Please?

He laughs again, a throaty, taunting, almost gleeful laugh. I think of Okecima in Indiana, US, and feel like a teenager caught in a clumsy pose. Yet I comb through memory old and layered. I try in vain to pin down the voice. End up not figuring out who the caller is.

– So you don forget me true-true?

My brow furrows. My soapy body feels just a bit sticky. I see myself grasping at air.

– I’ve not forgotten, just that I didn’t sleep well last night. Please just give me a clue.

– Mention any name, he insists with a chuckle.

I feel much taunted. In the last two weeks I’d traversed Uyo, Calabar, Enugu, Port Harcourt, and Owerri by road, and so I’m not in the mood to play games. Besides, it’s damn too early for pranks.

Still, I prod him for an initial.

– Gimme any name of somebody in London.

I manage a sigh, relieved that it’s not Okecima. Okecima could be cutting at times, but he’s my best friend nonetheless. Ifeyinwa, Chido, Nkeiruka. Emenike, Kelechi, names tumble over each other.

I make to blurt out a name when I hear a familiar sound, the din of traffic. My mind flashes on a busy techno street.

– You no fit remember your people in London. Na wa for you!

I feel more embarrassed than ever, knowing that I’ve never been in such a bog before. Then I hear the honk of a car again.

Realisation suddenly smacks me in the head. I’m twice as sure now that I’ve fallen into a web but then I’m positive that I’ll entangle the spider, rather than getting trapped myself.

– Just give me somebody’s name you sabi in London.

I hold back the urge to laugh loose. The images of gold-paved streets in US and Europe disappear. Fixing my mind on the caller, I don the mask of a double player.

The spider senses my hesitation, perhaps. He starts to spew out honeyed chunks of information: Did my friend call you yesterday? I gave him a special package for you. From London. He hasn’t called you yet? His English switches forms; this is the same caller who, a short while earlier, was speaking in Pidgin, but now he speaks Queens.

I’m no snake eye but I can smell snake oil.

– Dr Sesan! I play along.

– See your life! he exclaims. I can picture him heaving a sigh of relief and thinking he’s still very much in control. So you knew who it was all along, he enthuses. And you kept eating away my airtime.

– Dr Sesan, how you dey? Longest time! I’ve decided to misuse more of his airtime.

– You got the special package from London?

– Oh, no. What package?

– Don’t worry. Okay, get a pen and paper. Take down my number and call me so I can give you my friend’s name and you can contact him for the special package from me.

– Just a second. Honey! Please get me a pen and paper. Fast!

– Take down my number. There’s some urgency in his voice now.

I smile, a fox shadowing a hen.

– Please, just wait.

– I’m calling from a public phone, my airtime is almost finished.

I snicker quietly to myself, You never see anything yet, mugu!

– 00904461…

– Hold on a sec, please.


– You said, 0090…?

– 009044619902, he nearly screams and scolds me.

I don’t mind, for I’ve never felt so gleeful of late!

– Did you get it? Repeat the number; let me be sure you got it right.

– 009…I falter, then cut off the line.

Omawumi’s voice rings out again, asking questions I have no answers to.

– Private number, reads my screen again.

– It’s network, he apologises surprisingly. Repeat my number.

– It’s been like that since the last few days, I reassure him.

– It’s okay, it’s okay; just repeat my number. He’s fast losing his cool.

– I’m sorry, doc. Network’s been terrible in Nigeria.

– I know, I know. Just repeat the…number!

– 009…And I crack up, no longer able to control my glee.

– Thunder fire you, yeye man! he explodes. His ire briefly stuns me only but briefly. Come dey waste my credit for nothing, as if na your papa buy me phone!

His frustration gets me chuckling hard. My wife appears with an air of curiosity.

– Anything? she asks.

– Mugu think say I be mugu, I reply loud enough, for the benefit of the caller.

Before the line goes off completely I hear a venomous hiss in the background and between laughs I tell my wife about ‘our people’ in London; a con man being conned by a cunning man.