When I was eight, I told my mother to buy me a cloth for Christmas she was sure no one else would have. She bought me a lovely blue flower-patterned material and told me to get a tailor to sew what I wanted. I still have the shirt I made somewhere – the only thing I still have from that era of my life. Since then, I have found myself drawn to wears (shoes, clothes, pants, shorts, etc) that have a lot of blue. Till now, I detest aso-ebi same as I detest seeing a person in a crowd with the same shirt I’m wearing or have.
I learned how to make semo from a Maggi food show on TV. I made it a formula: make a paste from the powder with cold water in a bowl (thicken to your taste), pour in the boiling water in the pot, stir gently, gradually add the powder into the paste in the pot, continue to stir till you get your desired thickness, then serve. The final stirring is where mastery is shown: the semo comes out without a single lump. The smooth semo is where I stop: every other thing that’ll make a complete meal – the soup or stew – is usually someone else’s job.
During hymn on a Sunday in our uncompleted Baptist church when I was eight, I found I could sing in alto. I joined the choir not long after and stayed till my family moved from the neighborhood. I was the youngest. Every other person in the choir was a mother or a father or a university student. Five choir groups, five churches, three states, four concerts later, I’m retiring into writing. It’s not any easier than singing, writing isn’t, but it feels more like home.
Towards the end of my third year at the university, I fell in love with a beautiful medical student. She was in the middle of pulling herself out of the discouragement that came after the shock of failing her first major medical school exams – pre-clinicals. We’d been seeing each other as faces in the crowd in the fellowship we were both attending in our first three school years. We began talking when she came to borrow three books from the fellowship’s library where I was the librarian. As I write this, I can’t recollect what books those were but I remember finding her handwriting very attractive when she filled her contact details in the notebook where details of people who borrowed library books were recorded. Before then, among my few fears was the fear that I’d love a doctor whose love notes I wouldn’t be able to read (I was quite the romantic) because medical people went through a handwriting evolution: from A to very horrible. Thankfully, I read all her soul-warming notes because hers didn’t get to horrible in all the years we were together.
My only sister came when I was no longer a teenager. She was born on a presidential election day. We were playing tennis when, mom, who, with dad, had gone on a stroll earlier in the day, came home with a pink baby in green and yellow shawl. We were ecstatic, all four of us boys. Later, we would reflect on that day and conclude we would have been less (or un-) excited if it was another boy.
In Novembers, I am excited. Every day is a Friday – my finest day of every week when the sun is brightest and does not scorch. I look forward to every day of it; I sing most times; I laugh deeper and care more; I do not fall ill and I never miss a work-out regimen. I avoid writing month-long because life is ethereal: every beggar is beautiful. I approach the end of it with a mix of gratefulness and sadness. Between us, November is an annual spirited lover who leaves you before the thirty-first day.
Some of my epiphanies come on the road. Some on Sunday afternoons. The rest in the bathroom. It is the bathroom that fascinates me the most. It’s an honest place where every cosmetic pales. All becomes bare, like day. Looks, thoughts, songs are unpretentious. There, I’m a newborn, briefly. Briefly stark. Naked. True. I have no audience: there is no performance. And whatever audience there is, whatever judgement it has, is largely fluid.
Earlier in my third year, months before I was in love with the beautiful medical student, I had my only hopeless crush. It was at a joint campus fellowship meeting I attended in the company of two friends from my hostel. She was among the choristers drawn from every Christian fellowship on campus (do they still say: “mass choir”?). She was resplendent in her black shirt and skirt, orange beret and black flats. From afar, I caught every smile curve her pink lips made on her fair face. All through the song renditions, I followed her happy movements very closely from my back seat: she was a song leader. That night she was a rockstar and I was her electrified fan. I found her after a few inquiries – Unibadan those days wasn’t a very populated campus. She was in a prayer meeting at the Chapel that evening and disappeared after. I came back the second and third evenings. On the third day, she didn’t disappear. I caught up with her as she walked the quiet road from the Chapel to the Arts-Science road. She was quietly praying and I walked beside her, drawing in her Apple Fantasies scent. She finished somewhere before the junction to the Zoo and I introduced myself and told her how I knew her and found her. She smiled and said it was funny and sweet. She was headed to Tech Car Park to make announcements at the RCCG fellowship holding there: she was the leader of a faith-based ladies campaign.
“What is worship?” she asked me abruptly.
I would visit her in her hostel room later that week and we’d share tea and biscuits and laughter and another stroll. A week later, she stopped picking my calls and returning my texts. It was in November.