I came to like football as a careful choice unlike many of my friends for whom the sport was a natural favorite. Growing up, the sport that came to me naturally was basketball. Of course, there was wrestling from TV that I tried out with my younger sibling, which earned me a chipped tooth and sprained wrist, but B-Ball was the sport I played in my sleep. I bought illustrated books on basketball and stayed up late during NBA Nights on TV. I watched movies like Blubber, Love and Basketball, and Like Mike endlessly. I became friends with Akin, the tall but otherwise uninteresting guy and later, Babs, the lanky Hausa boy who opened his mouth to reveal brown teeth and bad English, because of B-Ball.
Akin brought the first basketball to school and made those interested practice in the school hall during mid-day breaks. In three weeks, our number dwindled to five. B-Ball proved difficult, particularly avoiding traveling, the game rule violation everyone but Akin and Babs committed repeatedly. Still, I stayed after school to practice throws, which I was good at, especially throwing from the left side of the hoop.
“Maybe we should play with Loyola College sometime,” Akin said one day after break-time. He talked in an offhanded manner, leaving a listener to decide what was serious, and what wasn’t. I stopped coming to practice after that day. Babs cornered me to find out why.
“I don’t like how I have been sweating and having to wash my uniform all the time,” I told him, stealing glances at his legs.
He had spindly legs like mine, only fairer and straighter. I didn’t want to tell him the thought of stepping into another school in shorts—my legs exposed and defenseless—was enough to give me a migraine. It was not going to happen.
I found I could play football with a pair of jogging pants if I wanted to. Then, I found I couldn’t play real matches with jogging pants, except as a goalkeeper. So, I became a goalkeeper.
When I was called up to stand in front of my secondary school assembly and announced as the male senior prefect, I imagined that the sea of eyes staring at my bony legs, sticking out underneath my blue shorts, zoomed in on every hair follicle. The next week, I had two pairs of shorts made. The new pairs were a couple of inches longer than my former knee-length pairs. Everyone called me three-quarters head boy. Standing in front of a mirror, my legs, sticking out from mid-calf to ankle, did not look so thin.
At NYSC camp, I always looked forward to evenings and weekends when I could wear my long, oversized, khaki pants. On weekdays, I pulled down my small shorts until they grazed the edge of decency. I sat in the middle row during boring lectures from NGOs and prospective employers and stayed away from crowded places like the mammy market, where a drunk corps member could spew remarks about my broomsticks legs.
Earlier this year, a female friend saw my lower legs because I was reclining and stretching my feet.
“You should wear shorts, Akintunde, you have really fine legs,” she remarked.
That day, I ordered a wine pair of combat shorts in size 30. I drove to work wearing a gray T-shirt over the combat shorts and a pair of brown ankle boots the day after the shorts arrived. I strutted into every office and later in the afternoon, strolled down the busy road in front of the office, saying hello to a couple of people. I stared back at the faces whose eyes lingered on my form, their approval or disapproval notwithstanding, and smiled consciously. I couldn’t drive after work so I took a total of four cabs en route home, transiting at busy terminals. The fascinating glances I received from homebound commuters made me wonder if I hadn’t been saved by my car in the morning, if my comfortable denim pants wouldn’t have been the better choice. That evening, my youngest brother came home from school and threw me a mock salute when he saw my outfit. When he was leaving three days later, I gave the combat shorts to him, packed in the plastic bag in which it had come.
This originally appeared on livelytwist.