Diaspora Matters

August 18, 2019

My friend’s story is gripping

My friend’s story is gripping

By Morak Babajide-Alabi

I ran into an old friend some times last week. He is the type of friend you only see, probably once in a decade. I have known him from way back in primary school. We were best of friends and sometimes, worst enemies. We argued, fought and laughed on basically everything. I guess you will say, this is what makes friendship sweet.

As we grew older, we somewhat drifted apart from each other. This is understandable because we both had to face life’s challenges individually as we chased our destinies and over the years, we occasionally run into each other. With the little times we had together on these “run-ins” we always try to catch up on each other’s stories, as much as we could. My friend is one of the few from my kindergarten days that I still have strong connections with.

Strangely, we bump into each other in odd places. Before last week’s unplanned meeting, the last time we saw was in 2007 at the Edinburgh Airport, and before this, I saw him last in Lagos in 1999. It was a chance meeting in front of Juli Pharmacy at Ikeja. With the advent of the Internet, we did try keeping up with each other via email messages and the trusty “Yahoo messenger”. But at a point, this means of communication dropped off the radar and became obsolete. I guessed we also both dropped off each other’s radar. Yahoo Messenger outlived its usefulness and became an invention from the last century.

You wonder why we do not “meet” on social media. Well, my friend seems to have a big dislike for social media? I had searched online many times for him, with no luck. Neither Facebook nor any of these modern-day online community is his thing. Although I later found out that he is very much active on Twitter. He tried to justify this to me, without much success, though.

You can, therefore, imagine our excitement when we ran into each other again at the Leeds Train Station. Bless my friend, he is a great talker. Growing up, our friendship was always a means of amusement as we were classed opposite of each other. My friend can talk a dead man back to life. On the other hand, I am the type that believes in sitting back and see events unfold. I do offer one or two comments where necessary. But I always admire people who can talk without any “restraint”, whether they make sense or not. I guess I hung out with my friend most times in my early years just to make up for my shortfall in the “talking department.”

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However, one thing I learnt growing up is when you talk too much, you are most likely to say “things” out of context and regret later. Sometimes, you say inappropriate things for the moment. My friend is in this class. He had talked himself into and out of many troubles while growing up. His mouth has always been his greatest weapon as he most times talks himself into whatever position he thinks will benefit him. He might be a “bit” quiet with new people, but with me, he lets down his guard. He must tell me his stories.

When we ran into each other, as usual, he could not hold back. He screamed and did a 100-metres dash in the opposite direction, made a u-turn, charged at me in full speed and got me off my feet. By stature, under normal circumstances, I should not be easily swept off my feet by my 5ft tall friend. But he did. It was a spectacle at the station as the folks passing by thought we were having an  African wrestling match (Ijakadi). If not for the smiles on our faces, the policemen on standby at the station would have mistaken us for terrorists about to detonate bombs.

My friend was in the Train Station en route to London after speaking at a Centre for African Studies, University of Leeds-sponsored programme. I was at the station to pick up train tickets for a guest of mine. My friend had mistaken his departure time and came early to the station only to be told he has another fifty minutes to wait. And here I am to fill the “time” for him. I am available and as usual, earful for my friend to keep me updated on what he has been up to in the past years.

“Let’s get somewhere comfy to sit and talk,” he said. When I hear this, my heart skipped a beat as I thought of the impending parking charge. I had left the car at the Short Stay Park, but I was sure this would turn into a Long Stay Park. We headed to the lobby of the nearby Queens Hotel. “Bobo (he calls me this, for no apparent reason) you have shed a lot of weight. The last time I saw you; you were bigger than this.”

“Yes. I know. It’s no longer fashionable to be fat. You are not doing badly, you still retain your stature at your age,” I replied. “Bobo, I could not have put on any weight at all. I have been through a lot in recent times. If I start the story, I won’t finish it till tomorrow. But I thank God I am still standing.”

We finally found a space at the lobby, and it was in here he unloaded all. He told me how life has been very good to him, had been moving from one level to another in his career, travel all over the world on speaking assignments, have properties in some choice cities of the world. I can see his pride. But behind all these, I could also see there was a hurt that he was trying (albeit unprofessionally) to hide.

“Good for you, my friend. You are not doing badly,” I said. By his look and story, I knew he was not doing badly. You know there are some people you see and just conclude they are doing fine in life. Sometimes we judge by their appearances, clothing, and all the superfluous things. We often forget that as human beings we know how to cover up. As a result, it is most times possible for a man or woman to be in real pain and disguise without sharing this with friends or family members.

My friend was not going to cover up. No. I am not that type of friend, he will cover up for.

“Bobo, you know while growing up, we always tease each other on the type of wife we will marry.”

“Please don’t get to that again. You know I sure remember,” I answered him, while I recollected how we “dreamt” as kids.

He continued: “Bobo while growing up I have always had an idea of the type of woman I wanted. I fantasised every day about my type of woman. Back in the days in the classroom, while classes were going on, I was always “weighing” my female classmates against the criteria I had drawn up in my head for my future wife. I had a clear picture of the type of wife I wanted.”

“But you are married now, so what are all these got to do with the present,” I asked him.

He ignored me and continued. “Bobo, growing up I wanted a woman who can read and write. I usually say to myself in my those days that a Primary School graduate will be okay for me, as long as she knows how to cook good food.”