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Friday, May 25, 2012

BROKEN IMPRESSIONS


Image from here


“We’ll just go out and chill. Somewhere close, maybe grab something to eat. No pressure.” That’s what Jumi had said when he called. He’d said we should meet for lunch tomorrow. He always took his break at one, but he was willing to move it to two so it would be convenient for me. He wanted us to talk, get to know each other a little better. No pressure.

I noticed that my chest felt kind of tight after he hung up, but not in an unpleasant way. Jumi worked in the same office building as me, two floors above mine; and after a few very tense (at least to me) shared elevator rides, he’d asked for my number. And then he’d done nothing. For months. Oh, he was always polite when he ran into me. He would smile and wave if he was far away; and if not he’d stop me, chat for a bit, ask all the usual questions. And then he’d say, “I’ll see you around”, in that tone that always made me wonder if he was asking or saying. He’d offered me a ride once, when it was raining and the staff bus had left me because I’d had to work late. He hadn’t been going my way, but he dropped me right at my doorstep and let me have the umbrella he kept in his car. Even then, there was nothing; not even the kind of look that could keep a girl hopeful. Until today. Until this call.

I placed my phone back on my bedside table and went to my tiny wardrobe. I found the dress and took it out. Holding it against my chest, the fabric tickling my skin, I smiled. No pressure? I’ll show him pressure.

***

I got on the staff bus the next morning wearing my short beige dress and those heels that put the 'k' in killer. I was a bit disappointed at the silence that met my grand entry; but to be fair, most people used the ride to the office to catch up on much needed sleep. I spotted a vacant seat next to my colleague and almost-friend, Awele. As soon as I reached her, she grabbed my arm and pulled me down onto the seat.

“Hmm. Madam, this one that you dressed like this today, what’s up now?”

“I always dress hot, abeg. There’s nothing new here,” I said, with feigned seriousness.

“Ehn, I agree. But this hotness pass hell fire,” Awele said, her voice growing louder. “Come, where are you going after work?”

“My friend, lower your voice,” I said in a harsh whisper. She held her lips between two fingers and used her eager eyes to beg for the gist. “I’m meeting that guy for lunch. That fine one I told you about, that works on the seventh floor.”

***

I peered at my face one last time in the restroom mirror before packing up my make up and hurrying back to my work station. At 1.58, I stood and walked out of the office. I stopped by the lunch room to tell Awele I was leaving. She wished me luck, and just as I was about to continue on my way, she called me back like somebody had just died.

“Jennifer, where are you going with those flats? Where are the heels you were wearing this morning?”

“I left them in the office. I’m meeting him at Lafayette; he said he had to go around there earlier to meet someone, so I’ll just join him. Me sef I’d thought we would drive somewhere, but since I have to walk, I better respect myself and wear flats.”

“Jennifer. Wear the heels,” Awele said, the way my grandmother said things just before she would swear on her life. That kind of certainty chilled me.

“But those shoes are painful to walk in,” I whined anyway.

“Lafayette is only like two streets away. You can manage. Is it this your fine, short dress that you want to wear flats with?”

At that point, Tari, another colleague, walked in carrying her lunch. Awele promptly enlisted her.

“Tari, abeg help me see this matter. You saw the shoes Jennifer wore to work, abi?” Tari nooded. “Okay. That one and these flats, which ones should she wear?”

“Ah, the heels now!” Tari said, looking at me like I was stupid. I wanted to rip her expensive wig off.

“You hear?” Awele said, pulling her ear lobe. “You want to make an impression? Wear those heels. I swear, he won’t forget you in a hurry.”

To be continued...

Friday, May 18, 2012

A DAY AT THE PARK


Fun, anyone?

Did you hear of the mime who died?

It was 1 pm on a sunny day at a park somewhere in Europe or the Americas, and this guy, he doesn’t even think before he brings out his lunch. Like me, he loves a good routine: 1pm every day = lunch time. So he sits on a park bench and gets out his chicken sandwich, and he takes a bite. Two bites. Three. Four. On the fourth swallow, a morsel of chicken gets stuck in his trachea.

The mime tries to get the attention of a passerby. He’s gesturing wildly with his hands and his eyes bulge, like they’d pop right out of their sockets. A passerby stops and stares at the mime, then he breaks into a smile, nodding his approval. This dude is awesome! He calls the attention of another passerby, and another, and another, and soon there’s a good-sized crowd, the kind our poor mime would never have been able to pull were he not dying. The mime stretches his hand, trying to reach the person nearest to him. Too far. He falls onto his knees, grasping his throat. His face is turning blue, but it’s hidden under the mask of white that is part of his costume. With the last of his strength, he’s trying to speak. The crowd breaks into applause. People are smiling, telling each other how great he is; how real. His last thought as he crumples to the ground is, Oh, man, this sucks. The applause continues for minutes after, until some genius decides you can only fake not breathing for so long.

See, I’m human and I felt sad when I heard this story. But it was a detached sadness; a how-unfortunate-for-him-I’ll-just-go-on-ahead-with-my-day type of sadness. I couldn’t relate. Until a certain day when I decided to go on a certain ride at a certain theme park. If you know me well, you’d know that I’m not thrilled by speed or wild rides. Besides, I’d seen Final Destination 3; there was no way I’d get on that ride if it looked even the least bit not okay. I was there on vacation, not to die. This ride looked relatively harmless, though; like one of those very tame merry-go-round type things they used to have at Apapa Amusement Park. So I was like, heck, why not. My more adventurous sisters and friends charged ahead. I followed.

We got in line and got on the ride. Each seat took two people, and there were five of us in my group; I was the one left without a partner. There were a couple of guys sitting alone, but feeling like a brave someborri I ignored them and went and sat on my own. The attendant showed us how to work the braces and I smiled and took a deep breath. Seriously, a ride that looked like this, how bad could it be?

I found out. 

The ride started off nicely enough. The pace was slow; the breeze only lifted my hair a little, and I could still smile and wave at the people on the ground. But before I knew what was happening, the thing started spiraling like mad. My braids were whipping my face and I was being thrown from side to side, up and down, and everything was a sickening blur of colours. I had to half lie on that seat and put my head down. Then, I wished more than anything that I had sat with one of those boys; a body beside me would have acted as a buffer and I would have been less likely to die. Better yet, I should have just stayed on the ground; who sent me? I held on to the braces - which weren’t as firm as they’d seemed earlier, by the way - like my palms were glued to them. I knew that if I let go, I would not leave the theme park on my feet.

So I hunkered down in my seat, with barely enough air in my lungs to beg God not to let me die. My fellow riders were screaming, and the people watching us were clapping, and I could hear my mother yelling at me to sit up, smile and wave, she wanted a good picture. Really?! Well okay, I’ll just pull myself upright, let go of the braces and give a quick wave. I’ll die, but hey, you’d get your picture.

I’m writing this today, so no, I didn’t die. The ride stopped and I clambered down on legs made of jelly. As I got off the platform, the attendant smiled at me. “Great ride, eh?” he said. To this day, I do not remember what happened next, but my people swear that when they  tore me off him, all four of them plus my mother, I had a piece of his t-shirt clenched between my teeth. 

I cannot verify this, though. All I remember is blackness, and then me sitting on a patch of grass with my head between my raised knees, thinking, Oh man, this sucks.

Friday, May 11, 2012

TRIVIA FRIDAY: TAGGED!


Image from here

I got tagged by Myne Whitman, so my response will be the post for the week.

The rules 
You must post 11 things about yourself. Answer the questions that your tagger posted for you. Create 11 questions, then choose 11 people and tag them to answer your questions. Don't forget to let them know they've been tagged. No tag backs. 

11 things (you probably didn’t know) about me
1. I had to consciously learn to swing my arms as I walk, after my older sisters did a thorough job of yabbing my walk. Even now it still takes effort; you’d notice if you watch closely.

2. I’m one of those Nigerians who cannot speak a Nigerian language, including mine (except maybe if you count pidgin; and my pidgin flow is not even smooth). And I’ve lived all my life in Nigeria.

3. Moulin Rouge is my favourite musical. I’ve seen it several times, but after the first time, I never watched past the Spectacular Spectacular showing. Satine dies right after *sob*

4. I enjoy killing flies when they get in my house. It makes me happy on the inside.     

5. I have a Nokia phone that’s about six years old and still works (and looks) well. See.



6. I don’t know my left from my right. I have to pause and consider before I say either.

7. My sense of direction is… Sigh. Let’s just say you don’t want me directing you anywhere (see 6 above).

8. I hardly ever get sick.

9. I know the smell of a dead cockroach that has been left in water for too long. Don’t ask.

10. I was that cute child at the salon with relaxer burning her scalp, but who for some reason would sit still until the attendant remembered to check on her. In some ways I still am.

11. I have never fought with anyone who’s not a sibling. And even with them, hardly ever.

Questions from Myne Whitman
1. How many brothers and sisters do you have?
A. I have four sisters and no brothers.

2. What do you consider as success?
A. Thriving in the place(s) where one is naturally gifted, simply put

3. Rank Fame, Happiness, Love, Health and Money in order of preference.
A. Health, happiness, love, money, fame

4. Will you go for a PhD degree?
A. Probably not

5. What kind of books do you like reading?
A. I used to do a lot of genre fiction, but these days I’m fond of short story collections and fiction by African writers.

6. What are your hobbies?
A. Writing, watching movies, listening to gist, reading

7. Chocolate or Ice cream?
A. Definitely ice cream

8. Your best movie and why?
A. This one is hard o. Can I answer three best movies? Okay: Moulin Rouge, Shrek 2, Three Idiots. Moulin Rouge because of the music and the quirkyness. Shrek 2 is really funny, I think. And I love the music there too. Three Idiots is absolutely hilarious, plus it has a great message.

9. What do you consider your best trait, personality or physical wise?
A. Patience; a slow temper.

10. Where did you last go on holiday?
A. Uk and Paris. Fun.

11. If you could be an animal, which would it be?
A. Emm… I couldn’t.

11 Questions from me
1. What would you do with your life if you knew money would never be a problem?

2. Do you believe in one soul mate for each person?

3. When last did you cry?

4. What would you change about yourself if you could, physically or otherwise?

5. Books or movies?

6. What was the most fun you had this week?

7. Have you ever struggled with an addiction (you don’t have to say what)?

8. What’s the quickest way for a member of the opposite sex to get your attention?

9. Do you like or show public displays of affection?

10. Are you currently holding a grudge against anyone?

11. What is the quickest way for a member of the opposite sex to lose your interest?

The tagged (ghen ghen!)


Friday, May 4, 2012

VISA TO NOWHERE


Image from here

Applying for a US visa is not like appearing before a court of law; you’re not entitled to a fair hearing or a mouthpiece. But it’s simple; you go in and you listen and follow directions. A customer service notice on the wall of the waiting area says, among other things, “We promise to treat each application as unique.” But whoever wrote that knows, just like I do, that it’s asking way too much of the interviewers. The official visa denial letter says, and I paraphrase, “We treat each visa applicant, non-immigrant or otherwise, as though they were seeking immigrant visas.” That already tells me that my application is not an individual, “unique” one.

I don’t know how it is with other nationals, but as a Nigerian applying for a US visa, you are guilty – of scheming to get into the US and not return – until proven innocent. Apparently, this place is so terrible, with no electricity or social infrastructure or security, and all that poverty, that it’s inconceivable that any Nigerian would have their feet touch US soil and return here of their own volition; not carried and dumped back unceremoniously, kicking and foaming at the mouth. It’s a well-known, scientifically proven fact; every Nigerian wants to live in the US (or any other country in The Abroad). America is God’s own country, no, and everyone knows we’re an extremely religious people.

As I listen and follow directions, patiently awaiting my turn, it never crosses my mind that I will not get the visa, so I don’t consider how I’d arrange my facial features if I get a no. I just know it cannot happen. My ‘interview’ lasts approximately 56 seconds. What do you do? Editor. Where will you be going? Houston. Who will you be staying with? Friend of the family, Mr. X2. How long? About a week. Dates? So-so to so-so. Where have you travelled to outside of Nigeria? UK, France on vacation. Are you married? No. Purpose? Vacation.

He rifles through a sheaf of papers beside him and I hear: “I’m sorry, but at this time your application is being denied…”

What? Just like that! But I have all these other documents to help my case! Don’t you want to see…?

“…here is a letter explaining the reason you are being denied a visa. Off you go now.”

I don’t handle rejection well. For a moment, I consider my options. I could bang my fists against the glass partitioning, screaming bad words at the official, savouring the shocked expression that appears on his face, until five security men carry me away in a blaze of bright lights and glory. I could look the man in his albino eyes and slowly, deliberately, thrust my middle finger as close to his pink face as the partitioning would allow. I could pack my documents together and mumble ‘okay’ while avoiding his eyes, and walk away quietly. I choose option three. Pathetic.

As I leave the hall, I’m caught between anger and embarrassment. Surely there’s a box that these people tick off somewhere that alerts them to potential illegal immigrants like me. How else could he know in less than a minute? Single, check. Works at some place nobody knows of, check. Something ‘not right’ about applicant’s face, check. But I can’t blame him; there is no way he can see that I have no desire to leave my relatively comfortable existence here to ‘hustle’ in the US, scaling fences and dodging Homeland Security, working in some hole for below minimum wage. He cannot possibly know that I would not live in the US if he got on one knee, immigrant visa in hand, and begged me to.

In the room just outside the hall, I stop to put my documents in my envelope, and the security man asks how it went. My throat is tight, but I manage to answer, “Not good.” He expresses his sympathies. As I step out into the sunlight, I admit that I am not angry. I’m embarrassed, and not just for myself. While I had sat waiting for my turn to interview, I had passed the time quite contentedly watching the immigrant visa applicants at this one cubicle. The interviews are not conducted in closed spaces, so anyone who sits close enough and cares to listen can hear the details of any. I listened to the American behind the glass interview one man who had tried desperately to sound American enough to impress, and another who had faked documents. Even though the embassy official had kept his face impassive while uncovering these shenanigans, I couldn’t help the shame I felt imagining what must have been going on in his head.

There was this one woman who had met her husband online, friend.com or so. He’d come home and they’d gotten married and he’d gone back to the US, or so she said. The official had felt the need to keep reminding her that she had sworn to tell the truth each time he raised the wedding pictures to her face and asked if they hadn’t been altered in some way. Unfortunately for her, he decided something smelled really bad (you think?), especially when he checked and found that Mr. Husband had himself gotten into the US by marrying and promptly divorcing some woman. She was hearing this news for the first time, poor woman. Point is, the skepticism in the official’s eyes was echoed in my thoughts as I listened and watched. These embassy people must see countless attempts by Nigerians every day to get into the land of the free and the brave by any means necessary, most of them without any intention of coming back. How are they just supposed to wipe our collective slate clean with every new face and treat each case on an individual basis?

How to fix this? Well, how about taking down that rubbish sign that claims that each applicant would be treated as “unique”, or at least replacing it with this truth: “We promise to treat each applicant with the dignity that everyone, including potential illegal immigrants, deserves.”