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We are our choices

By Babajide Alabi

Today, being the first Sunday in March, let’s take a break from politics or any national discourse and talk generally on what we are facing in the new world dispensation of “development”. The new styles, new outlook on life and by extension, new way of doing things, that sadly, may not conform with acceptable norms in a society.

This piece did not directly “get an inspiration” from any recent event in Nigeria or in the United Kingdom. But, to be honest, watching the various groups of Nigerians that gathered for and against one of the presidential candidates in London on Thursday I know my people have evolved. The realisation of this “evolution” took a long time for me, though.

The gatherings in and around Chatham House were mixtures of various classes of Nigerians – Christians, Moslems, Atheists, Students, Professionals, Lesbians, Gays, Straights and also the confused. While we are used to some of the classes mentioned above, some of us at home still have not had a one on one experience with some of them. For whatever reasons, more Nigerians abroad are daily turning away from values that we are known for through the ages and adopting strange ideas.

Far away from the prying eyes of relations, parents, or friends, these “new” Nigerians are not shy to identify with their new form of “development” and freedom(?).

Let me introduce you to my friend, Adam (not real name). Adam is a thirty something year old Nigerian who came to study in the UK a few years ago. Adam stayed behind, like most Nigerians, after his studies. I met Adam at a function some months ago. Seated on different tables, waiting for the event to kick off, he approached my table and asked if he could sit next to me. “Yes, why not.” I could do with a company.

At the end of the function, I felt I had known Adam from birth. But as events will unfold later, I discovered I was wrong.

I left the event with little thought for my new friend. You know, just one of many Nigerians you run into everyday. You meet them in the library, in stores, parks and always ready to talk, sometimes about ‘home’ or just willing to keep you company or get you annoyed. Some of these country men and women are interesting, while some you silently pray to walk away and let you be.

Adam appeared to be genuinely nice, though curiously overboard in his hand movement and gesticulations.

I ran into Adam again at the City Centre a few weeks ago. I barely recognised him, but he remembered me and called out my name, excitedly. To be honest, at this time I was praying for a miracle so as to remember his name. But my memory failed me.

We shook hands and I “jumped start” the conversation in a bid to remember his name. “Buddy, you got me. For you to still remember my name, you must have good memory.”

God answers prayers. He said “I, Adam, never forget a name.”

“Yeah, Adam”, I chorused.

I had just a few minutes to spare and also not in the mood to encourage much banter, especially in the City Centre. Sensing my eagerness to “move on” Adam stretched out his hand again for a handshake. I caught it and he held on to it, looked into my eyes and said in a conspiratorial manner, “You know my status has changed. I am married now,” showing off his wedding band. I stylishly touched mine on my finger and was reassured it was still there.

I did not remember him telling me anything about his partner or love life the first day I met him. However, I feigned interest and shouted “What? Adam, congratulations. I am so happy for you.” He ignored my remark and continued: “I got married to my partner two weeks ago”.

“That’s good news, Adam,” I managed to say as I tried to gain freedom for my right hand. But he was not done yet. He said: “You know what? My partner and I do not want to change our surnames, so we decided to both keep them,” he said.

“How come?” I asked curiously. “Is she not meant to bear your surname or better still keep hers if she does not want to bear yours.”

“No, you do not understand. We love each other so much, but at the same time we do not want to lose our identities. So we have decided to bear both surnames,” Adam said, with a big smile on his face.

“Brilliant, sort of a compound name? But is your wife’s surname gonna be before yours?” I sounded alarmed at this strange arrangement.

“Yes, Babajide, it’s the modern thing. I know it has not caught up with us back at home, but times are changing. Our culture back at home is too restrictive for people like me,” he said. Now I moved from being alarmed to confused and concerned and all I could say was “Really?”.

Adam continued: “I have been running around changing records to reflect the new name. I have to change my bank cards, notify my employer and utility suppliers. It’s been hard work, bro,” he said.

Now I really felt out of place with Adam and wanted to move on so I congratulated him again ready to leave, “Adam, let me wish you a very happy married life. I can assure you it is an enjoyable life. Extend my warmest regards to your wife and tell her I hope to see her one day.”

“Oh, you mean see him one day?,” Adam said, laughing.

Shocked, I said “Him?”

“Yes,” he replied in a nonchallant manner and continued “I love him dearly. He means the world to me,” he said.

“Adam, I am really happy for you. I wish you a very happy one,” I said as I hugged him and did a few backslaps and hurried off.

Throughout the day, I could not get the thoughts of Adam and his revelation out of my mind. Adam is a completely adorable person, so I cannot fault his decision. But I find myself trying to “cook up” an excuse to avoid him when next I run into him. But a word of caution came to me and a voice said into my ears, “you cannot judge him based on what he just told you”.

Yes, I have no right to judge him. Everybody has choices. Adam has decided to make his choice and as an adult he has this right. So who am I to fault him?

I tried very much to justify Adam’s choice to the society he has found himself. Is it to conform, like many people do? Was it a case of a trial and error that went wrong? How I wish I had the courage to ask these questions from this charming Nigerian. But I doubt if I would ever have the courage.

 

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