Is there a greater turn-off than arrogance? I know you’ll want to say ‘unhappy hygiene habits’ or ‘rampant racism’ and possibly, probably, you’re right about that. But for me, I would rather be immolated than be forced to hang around the cocky, arrogant so-and-sos for whom Shakespeare’s ‘all the world’s a stage’ is an invitation to make the rest of us unwilling observers of their ‘Me Me Me’ shows.
So, when I was invited to the Oxford and Cambridge Club of Nigeria’s Spring Lecture, I was a little dubious. We Nigerians at the best of times are a cocky bunch, and I worried that a group of Nigerians who had repatriated after being educated at the two best universities in the world would result in a lot of Me Me Me.
This deserves its own paragraph: I was very very wrong.
The Spring Lecture was a day of lovely people and the sort of conversation I live for- about the things that truly matter, rather than the things that one can buy. I met a great and adventurous girl who, having been born and bred in England, decided to come to Nigeria to do NYSC. She has no family here, no friends, no job, no ties..and she came anyway.
“I think you’re a bit of a superhero” is what I said to her after hearing her stories, and she looked bemused.
“I’m not. I just wanted to know what it was like.”
She didn’t seem to think she was in any way extraordinary, which of course is often the best proof of extraordinariness. She is though. Nigeria is just not the sort of place people come to when they don’t have to, and it’s also not the sort of place people come to without any sort of safety net or soft landing and there this girl is- shrugging her shoulders and telling me quite matter-of-factly that she’d left Oxford and England and everything behind to “know what it was like”.
I met so many more interesting and intellectually curious people; young, old, and inbetween, that I regretted even the momentary indecision I’d had about coming in the first place. If any of you are in Lagos and are ever invited to a similar event, hear me when I say: Go. Mingle. It’ll be worth it.
But all of this happened on Monday. Let’s roll it back a few days to my rather surprisingly excellent birthday. As I said in my last Adventures post, I’ve had a roller coaster of a year, and whilst that would prompt most people to have a blow-out party, it just made me want to sit quietly somewhere and whisper ‘thank you’ to the universe. Despite my best efforts, I was instead buried in fuss and love and hugs and phone calls and cakes. My best friend threw me a surprise party, and gave a speech that made me cry, and invited a large number of my favourite people here in Lagos. I don’t deserve any of them but I plan to keep all of them forever anyway.
Obviously I spent most of the next day nursing a hangover.
On Saturday I woke up late, ran errands with my cousin, then hit the gym. He trains me, as I think I’ve said before, and returning from weeks of pre and post-op inactivity means he’s got his work cut out for him. “Time to kill it!” he said, ominously, as we walked into the gym. “Why can’t I just gently maim it instead?” I asked sadly. He didn’t bother to answer and I didn’t have much breath left to ask again- it was torture. We went through the same routine on Sunday and the only thing that got me through the second day of this madness was the thought of the heavy, fruity bottles of shiraz we had waiting for us at home.
We’d just been about to open one when my friend, A, messaged to say he was coming round. He turned up with a belated birthday present for me- a very pricey, very lovely bottle of wine which I promptly declared wouldn’t be opened for at least a year. He deigned to join us in a glass of our (lesser) shiraz, which opened up the dormant avenues of conversation such that one glass turned to two, then three, then…
As an evening, it felt like a new jumper which starts out itchy and uncomfortable but after a few wears and washes, becomes a favourite; fitting you like a second skin. A is someone I like, not just as a person, but as a person I’d have been happy to call my person. I never said anything about it- I never do, as I firmly believe in boys doing the saying- and what with one thing and another it had been months since we’d seen each other. Some strange alchemy caused by the shiraz, the Lagos rain pounding at the windows outside, the fact that my cousin abandoned us around 10pm for his own bed and my post-workout zen meant we finally had a bit of a chat about it. It happened as we were discussing a one-time secret between us.
“I’d have told you” he said calmly, one arm flung lazily behind his head and the other laying as flat as a no on the arm of the chair. “I’d have told you if I thought we were at the point where we were about to start dating. I mean, I knew you liked me. And I liked you. But I don’t think we were at that point so, I didn’t tell you.”
He was wearing light blue trad that stretched slightly over his broad shoulders. I was in an old Star Wars t-shirt and ratty denim shorts. We were both barefoot.
I nodded, understanding. I was stretched out on the couch and had my wine glass balanced on my tummy.
I sipped and spoke.
“I get that. I mean, I get why you would think that. It’s just that I thought we were at that point. I thought we were totally about to start dating. So I was really surprised when you didn’t tell me.”
I drained my glass and he shifted in his seat. Then he spoke again.
“I really enjoy awkward conversations, you know.”
I grinned and said “So do I, but that’s about all the awkward I’ve got at the moment.”
And then there was a lull, in our conversation and in the rain outside, and I could feel the ‘what might have been’ float around in the air like the last strains of your favourite song. But a crack of thunder shook the windows and I drained my glass and he reached over to top me up and the whole thing eased over, like a wave crushing a sand castle and returning it to flat, calm, beach.
We carried on chatting until 1am when, failing to keep the yawns from his face he finally gathered himself to leave. I walked him out of my front gate, where we bussed our cheeks against each other under a large umbrella and said goodnight.
The next day I went to the gym and ran 15km. It hurt, obviously, but it felt good. When I got back home to change and dress for the Spring Lecture, my cousin caught me heading up the stairs.
“Oh hey! How was the gym? Did you kill it?”
“Yep.” I said, sore and tired. “I killed it. It’s well and truly dead now.”