14 things I discovered that made my life in 2017 just that bit easier (in no particular order)

1. Lidl: because no one is paying £3 at Tesco for a pack of prawns that you can get for £1 plus
2. Alpro yoghurt: because I developed primary lactose intolerance, but still love to put yoghurt in my smoothies
3. Soya and Almond milk: Because I never appreciated it when my mum made soya milk for me as a child….but I can still get my vitamin D and calcium despite the fact that I don’t consume dairy (see 2)
4. Allergy tablets before my run on cold day after I’ve fallen off the wagon: because of the increased blood flow during running, blood capillaries closest to your skin collapse (when you have fallen off the wagon) and your brain interprets this as an allergic reaction and causes an itch. I cheat this by popping a pill 20 minutes before my run especially when it’s cold.
5. My daughter’s 100% warm FireTrap coat: because she didn’t want it so I took it. Its a total windbreaker; It’s a size 10 so fits me properly. Winter has never felt warmer!
6. Calvin Klein Curvy girl jeans: because I have an African backside and my figure doesn’t always conform to regular jeans….these ones are marvellous for the typical African backside….
7. Moisturising my hair with body cream: because I saw this on a YouTube video. The lady said she did it as a student. I tried it and it was an instant pass! Means I only need to pack one type of moisturiser in my holiday bag!
8. Bulgur Wheat: because we are tired of couscous
9. OluOlu plantain crisps: because we need fast food and these are low in salt and sugar and not high in saturated fat either. Plus they are super duper tasty. Buy a box of 24 for 14 squids and thank me later!
10. Food Smart App: because you’ve gotta know how much salt, sugar and Satfat your food contains. It’s so easy to use; just scan the barcode!
11. Netflix: because there are loadsa things to watch. I have the app on my mobile phone too. Please don’t judge!
12. 8Fit App: because high intensity interval training is where it’s at. Quick calorie burn and effective cardio in 8-20 minutes right from your living room
13. Fresh parsley: because I only used it for fishpies but discovered that I could use them in my salads and smoothies. It adds a certain freshness to food!
14. DeepHeat: because when those aches and pains set in, there’s no shame in my game. A good massage with this banishes all aches and pains. Smelling like a grandma never felt so sexy! It’s the new sexy!


One For Ladies Only: Mirena And Houseflies 

When I was a child, I learnt a nursery rhyme about an old lady who swallowed a fly. No one knew why she swallowed a fly, but then she swallowed a spider to catch the fly. Then she had to swallow a bird to catch the spider because she didn’t like how the spider ‘wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her’. She swallowed a whole catalogue of animals to catch the previous animal before it. In the end, she swallowed a horse and the writer of the rhyme declared ‘….she’s dead of course’.
I found myself in a similar sort of conundrum recently. I have always been a shameless pill popper. If there is a pill to fix my headache, I take the pill. No questions asked. I cannot understand people whose stance is to ‘wait for the body to wake up and do its thing’ when there is a fully licensed pill that can stop whatever ails them a lot quicker. Especially when no one is handing out medals for bravery or longsuffering!
I visited my doctor sometime ago as I wanted to review my method of contraception. I got sold the idea of a Mirena coil. Which sounded fantastic. Almost too good to be true (as they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is). Once inserted, it lasts for 5 years. In the five years, your periods become incredibly light (a plus), and sometimes, they could stop altogether (plus plus). I was told that I would experience some irregular bleeding until the coil ‘settled’. The leaflet that came with it said that a small percentage of women experienced prolonged, irregular spotting. Turns out that I was one of that ‘small percentage’. Mine was prolonged alright. 8 months worth of ‘prolonged’. And not strictly irregular either. It was more like every single day.
I went to see my doctor, I went for a scan. Nothing was wrong. She felt I had a hormonal imbalance and put me on the combined oral contraceptive pill for a month and a half to balance out my hormones. Which would have been fine; but the combined pill also had some side effects. A small percentage of women also suffer nausea with the combined pill. Yours truly also happened to be in that small percentage! What are the chances, ey?
I went back to my doctor. And of course there is a pill that can also counteract the effect of the nausea. I began to feel like the old lady who swallowed a fly. But I put my foot down. I could keep popping the pills like the old lady swallowing her various animals. In the rhyme, she swallowed a cat to catch the bird, then a dog to catch the cat, then a goat to catch the dog. The writer of the rhyme gasps in horror ‘what a throat to swallow a goat’. It seemed that as she swallowed more and more animals, the original issue of swallowing a teeny weeny little fly got lost in the increasing size and complexities of the new animals she swallowed.
I think that as our lives get more and more complex, we grow new issues and develop new ways of dealing with them; and often times, the new ways come with their own challenges and a brand new facet of issues.
I decided to draw the line. There is no magic cure and there is no need popping pill after pill to counteract effects of the previous pill. Science says ‘You have a headache? Here take paracetamol for it. But not too much or your liver will suffer’

I think in truth, my decision from the beginning should have been to get rid of the Mirena and to explore other options instead of trying to plug new holes in my leaking bucket! Why did I opt for Mirena? Perhaps I need to fix that. Whatever I do, I am determined not to be the archetypal old lady who swallowed a fly….


Embracing My Vanity

Almost 20 years ago, my friend came visiting with her older cousin. We had a great time talking, eating, and laughing until tears streamed down our faces. Her cousin Em, had great stories, and told them with such humour! Cousin Em was a lot older than us. She was in her forties, very well traveled, very well spoken and extremely down to earth. She felt at home in our student flat and ate whatever we gave her in our chipped mismatched student plates and enjoyed it too! It was such a shame when she had to go home; we wanted to freeze the moment and keep her with us forever! We asked her to spend the night. See, in my student days my flat was the flat to which everyone came and went and spent endless nights. I was so sure that it was a given that my friend’s cousin would spend the night.

But she turned us down: ‘I have all sorts of soaps and potions for different parts of my body. I couldn’t possibly spend the night away from home without my various soaps, potions and elixirs’

That was her reason. It was funny and we all laughed. I wanted to offer her my cocoa butter and Superdrug brand face wash, but suddenly, I knew they were inadequate. It was a shame to see her leave in the wee hours of the morning, but still, we have the memories.

Fast forward to twenty years later. Me.

This morning as I get ready for work, I’m startled by my rich array of creams and potions. The bathroom counter is spilling over with all sorts: hair creams, hair sprays, body creams, face creams, blemish removal creams, hair removal creams, hair growth creams….all sorts! I have never really classed myself as vain, but recently I bought a cream that promised to rid me of the stretch marks that I acquired in my teen years. I have no idea why I bought it because I never believed for a second that it could do what it promised to do on the jar. But I guess I thought I had nothing to lose. The magic ingredient in this particular potion is snail slime. Yes, I know.

Whatever you think, trust me when I say that my mother’s voice in my head has said it to me; not once, not twice. And it has also said worse. Snail slime. And I really ought to know better too. And I promise that I do know better. But, I bought it, so I am using it. It has an accompanying soap. Yes it’s made out of snail slime as well, but surprisingly they smell really good. The soap has a really rich lather and is actually quite refreshing. The body cream is not heavy; it is kind of light for a moisturiser but I mix it with other thicker moisturisers.

These snail slime products claim to heal all: wrinkles, stretch marks and all sorts of blemishes; well, unless you’re allergic to snail slime and then you’re really buggered!

The next question on your mind of course is ‘how do you know if you’re allergic to snail slime?’ I mean it’s not like people routinely find snails and rub their slime on their bodies….your guess is as good as mine!

Well, I’ve been using it for about 3 weeks now. And of course the marks are still there. But I’m still shovelling it onto my skin and smelling like it everywhere I go. On the train this morning, a guy attempted to flirt and said ‘you smell nice’. I had to bite my tongue because I almost replied ‘Yes, it’s snail slime’. He was lucky I was wearing my snakeskin shoes instead of my snake hair oil. Because if he thought snail slime smelt nice, he would have been bagging a real winner with snake oil! I mean, he’d have been mesmerised. He was as slimy as actual snail slime too, so instead, I smiled and kept walking down the platform. Wouldn’t want him to have smelt the macadamia oil in my hair, because that actually smells pretty good!

I am not sure what compels me to buy this stuff. Most of it doesn’t even work. But I am guessing that it is the human spirit of hope. We all need hope just to get out of bed and look at ourselves in the mirror each morning. I know that my hope is being geared towards having perfect skin (which in reality will never really happen), but it is hope nevertheless.

I celebrate my vanity, I celebrate my hope, I celebrate getting older….and I celebrate the fact that I will be saving a few pennies when I stop looking for the magic potion when I’m 200.

The truth is, I don’t necessarily want to live until I’m 200; but if I do, I’d rather not look like it!

Hazel Eyes From Beyond the Veil

It is a hot summer afternoon in London. The kind of heat that keeps your throat perpetually dry. I am not sure if it is just the heat or the heat combined with the high pollen count that has zapped my last shreds of energy, but I am feeling more than mildly irritated because I am also stuck southbound on the A12 trying desperately to leave London via the Blackwall tunnel.
London is one of the cities that seems to suck you in and refuses to spit you out. It always seems to take twice as long trying to get out of the city than commuting around it. I am trying to go to Kent but have opted to go via the A12 and then the A2, rather than the M25 orbital.
I am in my black Mini Cooper listening to Pharrell Williams’ song, Happy. I’m nodding my head and willing myself desperately to feel the sentiment of the song but I’m hot and frustrated. Not happy. Still, they say that if you repeat something enough times, your brain starts to believe it and then it eventually becomes true. For instance, if you fake a smile, your brain can be fooled into believing that you are happy so that it eventually produces feel good chemicals that actually make you smile for real. Well, it doesn’t seem to be working today because I’m still thirsty, hot, and frustrated. I switch off the air conditioning and open up the window because I feel that the air filter in my car is clogged with pollen and petrol fumes.

‘This city is going to kill me one day’. I say out loud. Then I notice something from the corner of my eye: it is insignificant at first. An old plain blue, Honda Prelude with an ‘I love Bradford’ sticker on the lower right corner of the back windscreen.

‘Bradford? Really?’ I think. ‘Still, I suppose there are worse places to love; after all I have been in this city for twenty years!’ I laugh out loudly as I realise that I have now become a true Londoner who views other cities with disdain. As I laugh at myself, it occurs to me that perhaps Pharrell Williams’ song actually is working.
I level up with the Bradford Prelude. We are both going the same direction on the A12. I’m on the inner lane but going just as slowly. The traffic news comes on. There are emergency road repairs on the A12 which means that journeys are taking almost three times as long. It looks like we are going nowhere fast. A Robbie Williams song comes on and I’m wondering why the DJ is playing Millenium when this is 2014! I think I’m grumpy as well, and back to being frustrated and hot. I wind up my window and turn the air conditioning on again. I’m going to die of something one of these days, if it’s from hayfever or asthma brought on by London traffic fumes, at least I will die in relative comfort. It is better to be cool and frustrated than hot and frustrated.
I feel like I’m being watched. Not the same kind of feeling of being perpetually watched that you get living in London. I mean really being watched. Scrutinised even. I look to my left. And then I see her.

A pair of strong hazel eyes piercing through my skin from underneath a niqab. The glare is so strong that I temporarily take leave of my senses and almost forget where I am. I am mesmerised for a moment and I forget that the eyes belong to an actual human being. The car behind me honks and I immediately come to and step on the accelerator to move my car another three feet before I am forced to stop by the solid traffic. She is temporarily out of my gaze, but then the Bradford Prelude reappears as it catches up and is side by side with my Mini and I can see her again. She’s still looking at me. The driver of the Bradford Prelude looks at me, then looks at her, and she immediately lowers her gaze and looks into her hands. He glares back at me with irritation. The spell is broken again temporarily. I inhale sharply and try to assess the bizarreness of the situation. The Bradford Prelude driver is an Asian male from the Indian subcontinent. From the looks of it, he is a devout Sunni Muslim. He has a full beard and is wearing a white kaftan and a white circular cap. The front seat passenger with hazel eyes is looking at me again. She has jet black skin. The kind of skin that my West African friends refer to as five-to-midnight. Five-to-midnight because that is presumably the darkest part of the night. I cannot see her features but from what I do see, she is African in origin. Like me, only much darker. I can see the bridge of her nose; it is wide. I can make out the outline of her nostrils from underneath the niqab; it is wide. She is definitely African.

She is looking at me again. There is something in her eyes that I’m trying to read. She’s not gazing into my eyes. She is looking into my life. She’s looking at my car, at my clothes, at my hands on the wheel. She is gazing into my life; a snap shot of my life. The Bradford Prelude driver looks at her again and catches her staring. He jabs her sharply with his left elbow. She lowers her gaze and stares down at her palms on her lap. I cannot make out any rings or henna, just really jet-black skin from the back of her hands and lower right arm.
The traffic is moving again and the Bradford Prelude driver is indicating right. I allow him move into the gap ahead of me, then I indicate left and move left so that I am where he used to be and he is now in my space. It also means that I can get a better view of his passenger with hazel eyes.
I’m now side by side with the Bradford Prelude and side by side with Hazel Eyes. Traffic is at a standstill again. She’s looking into my eyes and looking straight into my soul. For a split second, I feel sadness in her heart, it seems to be asking me ‘when could I ever be like you?’

I’m staring back at her and willing her to telepathically speak to me.

‘Who are you? Where are you going? What is your story?’

Beads of sweat are forming on her forehead. I’m not sure if a tear is forming in her left eye or if I’m having a sensation of swimming in it!
The Bradford Prelude driver catches her staring. But this time, she does not avert her gaze. She keeps looking at me. I see what looks like a smile. It is hard to tell under her niqab, but I think it is a smile. I smile back. The Bradford Prelude driver is saying something, he’s straining his voice but I cannot hear what he is saying as their windows are wound all the way up. He’s jabbing her but she’s still looking at me. I have no idea if she speaks English or not, but I mouth the words ‘Be strong, follow your dreams’, and smile again. The Bradford Prelude driver is getting more and more animated as he shouts. He’s not jabbing her anymore. He raises his left hand as if to slap her but traffic is moving again and the man behind him is honking his horn loudly, so he is forced to lower his hand and change gears in order to move. He glares at me and immediately starts indicating left.
I have been within 2 miles of the tunnel for the last hour and a half. Traffic is moving faster now. I think we may have passed the bottleneck. A song by The Spice Girls is playing on the radio.

‘Not today!’ I say out loud as I switch the radio off.
The Bradford Prelude driver is still side by side with me and still indicating. I can see the entrance to the tunnel. I’m having mixed emotions. I am happy to be escaping the traffic, but I’m also left feeling heavy about Hazel Eyes. I allow The Bradford Prelude driver to pull up ahead of me, then I gently manoeuvre my Mini into the right lane. I know what he is doing, and he knows what I’m doing too. He immediately starts to indicate right but we are at the entrance of the tunnel. This is my city, I know that everyone stays in their lanes in traffic congestion inside the tunnel. He will have to drive side by side with me for the approximately four thousand feet we would need to cover to clear the tunnel. I smile contentedly. It looks like he is cursing. Hazel eyes is no longer looking up. She’s looking at her hands. Her shoulders are hunched and she has that resigned look on her face. It’s the same kind of look that I had when I was shouted down by my boss. It’s not pretty. I’m feeling hot again but I switch off the air conditioning and keep my windows wound up because I’m now in the tunnel and my paranoia of breathing gas fumes from the tunnel is more compelling than the heat I’m feeling.

I drive side by side with the Bradford Prelude through the tunnel. I neither look at Hazel eyes nor the driver and I don’t feel the burn of Hazel eyes’ glare on my skin anymore.

Just as we are exiting the tunnel, the Bradford Prelude accelerates. In a split second, Hazel Eyes looks up at me, smiles and waves her left hand, and the Bradford Prelude is gone. It disappears just as suddenly as it appeared. I’m not hot anymore, nor am I irritated; I’m driving my mini almost transfixed in the moment. I have more questions than answers but what burns strongest at the forefront of my mind are those hazel eyes and a simple question: who is she?

I look at the prayer beads hanging on my rear view mirror, pull my scarf down over my ears and say a prayer for her: Bismillahir rahmanir rahim……

Waiting For The Bus To Truro

I sigh loudly and sniff into my daisy handkerchief. The receptionist looks up at me then quickly picks up the phone. I can hear her trying not to sound exasperated even though she is almost as frustrated as I am. 

“But she has been waiting here for three hours! When is the bus coming? What? You said that an hour and a half ago when I last spoke to you. Please send the bus. We are all tired of waiting!”
Then she looks at me and tries to smile. “I’m very sorry. They should have been here ages ago. I will write a letter of complaint”. She hangs up the phone in frustration.
I try to smile back, but I’m tired! I look at my daisy handkerchief. It is not as white as it used to be, but the daisies are still bright. Red daisies. Christian bought it for me. He said that red daisies signified beauty. I catch sight of my wedding ring on the middle finger of my left hand. It’s hanging loose. I might have to take it off altogether. I had moved it to my middle finger because it was too loose for my fourth finger. It has not lost any of its brilliance. It still shines as brightly. I remember when Christian bought it, almost 66 years ago to the date! “See? It’s polished English gold” I think he called it English gold because it was hallmarked using UK symbols rather than the fact that it was mined in England.
I have only ever taken it off once: when I was pregnant with Joseph and had oedema so that my fingers swelled and looked like palm weevil larvae. I was glad to have the baby finally even if only so that my fingers could return to normal.
Joseph. I remember myself as a young mother. I was a stylish young mother. With my bright red lips, cooing and touching foreheads with my son. He was not as light skinned as me. But then again, I am what used to be called a mulatto. People don’t say that word anymore. Apparently it’s a corruption of the Portuguese term for mule; which of course is half horse and half donkey. And no one should be called a mule, not even half a mule! But I quite liked the word until Joseph came home one day and told me it was ‘not a nice word’. I looked at him with his incredibly pointed nose, his skin that shone like polished bronze and his piercing black eyes that always reminded me of Egyptian scarab beetles. ‘Not a nice word’. That decided it because that was the last time I ever used the term to describe myself or Joseph.
I loved being a mother. I loved kissing Joseph and I loved the way he held my finger in his hand. It filled his whole hand.
I look at my hands again and I am snapped back to my present moment. I sigh again. The receptionist looks at me again and tries to force a smile. “Would you like another glass of water? I’m not sure what’s keeping them”. I shake my head. No. I don’t want another glass of water and I don’t know what’s keeping them either. I wonder why there is a pressing need to get there. It’s not like I’m in a hurry though. I’m just tired of waiting. People shouldn’t be kept waiting for this long. Even if they are not in a hurry.
I remember waiting on a plane at Heathrow airport. We were there for 2 hours because there was a faulty fuel truck on the runway which meant that our plane could not take off. Surprisingly, I was not in a hurry then. But only because it was a trip to South Africa that I had been chosen for. I had been chosen to represent my university, and I felt unworthy and inadequate. As if I was a fraud and that any minute now, someone would realise it and ask me to disembark so that a more worthy person could board in my place. I look back now, and I know that I was worth all those hundreds of miles. I was chosen because I had done incredibly well in my Anthropology class. I had published a paper and now it was being presented at the University of Witwatersrand. If I could go back, I would tell my younger self this.
I see myself telling Joseph to believe in himself. For a moment, I almost jump out of my skin as I actually hear my own voice “Joseph, there is nothing you cannot achieve”. It’s a strong voice, full of conviction. I think I actually believed it. Immediately, I am back in the present, looking at my daisy handkerchief and the hands that hold it. They are painfully thin, with skin hanging. The skin is smooth so that I cannot see any veins. Just bones. Bones and liver spots. I wipe my eyes with my daisy handkerchief. It smells like mothballs and white musk. Christian also smelt of white musk.
A young lady walks in with her son who is wearing a Spider-Man costume. He looks like he’s about 6 years old. He’s crying and sucking on a lollipop. He has a shock of blonde curls that contrast nicely with his bright red face. His father is walking behind and bends over to try to wipe the boy’s nose. He is as blonde as the boy but with considerably less hair. He’s making such a mess of it. His mother takes the tissue, squats beside her son and skilfully wipes his nose. She wipes it dry. I smile to myself ‘ask a man to wipe a child’s nose and he feels useless so he consults his friends. They form a think-tank and call it something exotic. They discuss about the best tissue to use, the most accurate angle to position the tissue for the most precise wipe, then they create a formula to work out how much force to use. In the end, nothing gets done. You ask a woman to wipe a child’s nose, she gets the tissue out and wipes the damn nose within an inch of its life, so much so that the snot retreats in fear’. I remember hearing Germaine Greer saying something like this. The child has stopped crying and is sucking on his lollipop noisily. His tongue and lips are as blue as his lollipop. Blueberry flavour. I can almost taste it. Joseph loved blueberry.
A young lady walks in. Confident, purposeful and beautiful. She reminds me of my younger self although I’m not sure if I was this confident or beautiful. She’s carrying a black handbag, a laptop bag and luggage which she is pulling behind her. The wheels are rather squeaky. She’s dressed in a pink tweed dress. Not as loud as her bright pink luggage, which is rather gaudy. But a softer pink. I like her dress. I should be sick to death of tweed by now. But her tweed is very pink and very modern. When I moved here 27 years ago, Joseph made fun of me.
“Mum there are going to be enough old men in tweed and flat caps walking their ferrets!” Joseph was always a Londoner. There are going to be enough this or enough that. He never said a lot, or plenty, or even many. No, he said enough. Of course he was right about the tweed and flat caps, but he was dead wrong about the ferrets. Dead, dead wrong. Sick to death. It sounds almost ironic.
The lady in the pink tweed dress looks at me, she tries not to look it, but I know she’s taking me in. “I was once like you, you know?” I think it, but I cannot say it. This young generation don’t understand that they do not own exclusive rights to innovation and perceived intelligence. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the automatic doors that I have been facing for the last few hours. My reflection almost takes my breath away. The same piercing eyes, but I read the eyes, and it is obvious that I am tired. My soul is tired. Tired of having hopes and dreams and not enough strength to carry them out; tired of fighting; tired of the drip stuck in my arm; tired of the pain. The brilliant white in my eyes is now a sickly yellow. And my face is a bit more wrinkly than the last time I looked. Wrinkly with yellow undertones. The lady in pink tweed is speaking to me. I am transported back to the present. Her hand is on my shoulder as she bends over and talks to me. It is warm and pleasant. I feel my shoulder underneath her hand and imagine it to be a bag of dry bones.
“The receptionist tells me you are going to Truro?” Is she asking me a question or is she telling me? “I’m going there too and can take you in my taxi. I came to get my grandma but she’s gone already and I have a big bus that could fit both of us and your wheelchair”. Just then, my bus driver arrives. I smile weakly at the lady in a pink tweed dress.
“I will take it from here, luv”. He sounds like he’s from Manchester. I imagine that I am being fought over. It feels good. But I’m too tired to look like I’m enjoying it.
“I can take you and your wheelchair too” the lady in the pink tweed dress is saying. And my wheelchair. Because that is my plus one. My old trusty. Joseph emigrated to South Africa.  Christian died 13 years ago and left me in my wheelchair. I was full of dreams and ambitions; I fulfilled a lot of my dreams and ambitions, and now I’m just an old lady in a wheelchair. In a wheelchair waiting for a bus to Truro. A bus from the cancer clinic. To my final destination. The hospice in Truro. I look at the lady in the pink dress “I will go with my bus but you can ride with us if you want to”. She smiles……..

Timeyin’s Room and Parlour

Timeyin lived in the ‘Room and Parlour’ at the end of the corridor; the one on the same side as the communal bathroom. I never understood how he could stand the smell of stagnant soap scum water that wafted freely in the dark corridor into his abode through the gap between his door and the cold cement floor. I never understood why he always wore a blue polyester three piece suit with a bow-tie whenever he left home either.
We lived in a part of town that no one visited as soon as dusk even so much as threatened. Our street was full of uncompleted buildings; not the types that were being worked on, but the types that seemed to have been abandoned by their owners. The ones with unplastered walls covered in spirogyra, with bushes growing in what should be the inside of the buildings. It always seemed like the owners had money and decided to build a house then stopped halfway; either due to lack of funds or lack of zeal. Or maybe they decided that this part of town was not a part of town that they wanted to be associated  with.
Three uncompleted buildings away, there was a brothel. It was not called a brothel; it was called Mama Emeka’s Bottle Store. But the green blinking lights from the inside, and the scantily clad ladies with white platform shoes smoking cigarettes outside as soon as the sun went down were unmistakable. It was painted bright pink and had a bright red door which looked surprisingly beguiling to me. There was always loud music, laughter and the smell of pepper soup. There also always seemed to be a patron drinking beer and slurping on goat meat pepper soup outside while one of the ladies massaged his back.
Occasionally, there would be an argument and a fight at dawn. Always about money. Then Timeyin would come out of our building and start his speech about the evils of ‘belligerent, wanton women’ and of how the smell of their cigarette was bound to cause us cancer. Most of the times, people laughed at him but sometimes they humoured him and engaged with him.
Timeyin fancied himself as a bit of an intellectual. He lived in absolute squalor like the rest of us, but he had dreams. Oh, he had big dreams. He used words like ‘echelon’ and ‘parasitic’ on a daily basis. As in ‘My friend, you are not in the same echelon as me!’ Or ‘your relationship with me is parasitic; I teach you world class wisdom and gain nothing from you’.
I often wondered why. As far as I and the other residents in the other 10 flats knew, he was unemployed and struggling to pay his rent like the rest of us. He also insisted on calling his Room and Parlour the proper name: ‘It’s a bedsit, my friend’
For a man with perpetually dirty, plaque covered teeth who farted very loudly and always smelled of key soap and camwood, he truly was ‘a comical little shit’ as oga landlord called him. His light skinned face was always shiny and he always seemed to have a diarrhoea. I can hardly remember seeing him without his skinny pale hand clutching his stomach.
It was a matter of shock when Timeyin came into the block with a beautiful, well dressed woman. They walked in with their arms linked, so it was obvious that they were not brother and sister. Timeyin brought out a rickety wooden chair from his Room and Parlour for her to sit in the communal verandah. The rest of us were tripping over ourselves to take in the spectacle. She spoke perfect English with an accent that had a bit of an American twang to it. Not the kind that Timeyin spoke; Timeyin’s was a strong unmistakably South-South accent. When she spoke, her eyes twinkled.
Where did he find her?
She sat there gazing at Timeyin in awe, as he used his big words. Suddenly, farted and stood up. ‘My dear, I have to defecate’
He produced a handful of neatly folded toilet roll from the inside pocket of his blue polyester jacket and rushed to communal toilet which was at the back of the building. I stood there wondering what sort of home Timeyin grew up in. He was a mishmash of awful manners and good grammar.
Aunty Clara walked up to her.
‘Good afternoon my sister, you and Timeyin na friend?’
‘Yes we are’ answered the lady with a sweet smile that betrayed a set of brilliant white, perfectly set teeth. She made small talk with Aunty Clara but I was too mesmerised to catch what she was saying.
The more we looked at her, the more too-good-to-be-true she seemed, and the more we wondered how she ever ended up with a man like Timeyin! He was uncouth, rude and condescending all in equal proportions.
Later that evening, they both retired into Timeyin’s Room and Parlour. The rest of us sat in the verandah talking about Timeyin and her.
‘She’s definitely a spirit. Mammy water spirit; hmmmmmm Timeyin is finished ooo’ said Aunty Clara.
‘I think she’s desperate to get married. Why else will she go with a man like that?’ Quipped Grace from number 3, beside Aunty Clara who lived in number 2. Grace was a divorcee and always preached about the evils of marriage and controlling men. It was obvious that she often spoke from her experience, but none of us ever questioned her.
‘No, nah person do jazz for her. I have seen this before. It’s either someone did her jazz and she can’t see; or they did her jazz and the only way to revoke it is by sleeping with a mad man. The jazz was done in the river. Definitely mammy water spirit that only a madman can release ‘. Shola from number 5 was a self-styled prophetess. She knew how to break every curse and always knew some man of God who had successfully prayed someone out of any number of sticky situations they were in.
‘But Timeyin is not mad now’ I decided to point out.
‘Person when dey use dat his kind of big English meanwhile he no get school certificate, wetin you dey call that kind of persin?’ I could almost feel the venom in Patrick’s voice. Especially as he was usually the butt of Timeyin’s many condescending jokes. His Room and Parlour was across the dark corridor from Timeyin’s but he wanted to move to number 1 which had been vacant since the last rainy season.
The debate raged on and on. By the time we retired to bed, it occurred to me that Timeyin and his lady would have long fallen asleep. I got into my Room and Parlour and pushed an empty oil drum against the door, just as a precaution in case armed robbers decided to make an appearance again. At least the drum would slow them down while I hid the little money I had. I closed the louvres and lit a mosquito coil. One day oga landlord will fix the mosquito netting on the windows and I won’t have to close the windows and choke on the smoke of my mosquito coil. And I may finally get rid of the chesty cough that had plagued me for most of my adult life.  My last conscious thoughts drifted to the enigma named Timeyin. How did he end up in abject poverty even though he spoke such good English? He couldn’t have been a rich man’s son. Maybe he was a houseboy in a rich man’s house.
I slept fitfully. If Timeyin could ‘catch’ such a woman, then there was hope for a man like me. As far as I knew, he did not have a job. I did not have much of a job myself, but at least I had one. Being a wheelbarrow owner at Pessu market was hard work. I had to stand at the market entrance with my wheelbarrow so that women with a lot of shopping would hire me to push their shopping around in my red shiny ‘truck’. Sometimes, I was hired by builders who wanted bricks or cement moved. On days like that, I also doubled as a bricklayer. But it was now rainy season, and no one was building at the moment so I had to make do with ferrying shopping around.
As usual, I was up at the crack of dawn. There was no sign of Timeyin’s lady but He was singing loudly to a song on the radio. It was obvious that he did not know most of the words to the song, but he still sang loudly and out of tune.
In the weeks that followed, Timeyin’s lady friend visited more frequently but only ever spent one night at a time. It became normal, until we started hearing noises that made us uneasy. On one of the nights that she visited, we heard shouting and arguing. Timeyin’s radio was playing very loudly so it was almost impossible to hear what was being said or who was saying what. But then we heard thuds and crying that went on for a few minutes. The crying was both loud and unsettling. It made the kind of sound that one of Mama Emeka’s goats made just before it was slaughtered. Then there was absolute silence. The following morning, there was no sign of Timeyin or his lady friend. It was obvious that Timeyin was in because his radio was still on, but he didn’t come out of his Room and Parlour. Not even to go to the toilet.
‘I’m sure he’s ashamed of himself, and so he should be. A man that beats a woman is not a man at all!’ That was Grace. In a different setting, she might have been a radical feminist. But in our current setting, we were all dirt poor and our main concern was our next meal or next pay cheque. We had no time to rationalise or define our political affiliations.
‘We should report him to oga landlord. This behaviour no good at all’ said Patrick.
Shola couldn’t help herself. ‘It’s either the spirit of witchcraft in her that is pushing him to beat her, or he is possessed with the spirit of Gog and Magog. These spirits are fighting spirits ooooo. That girl should be careful’
‘I thought you said she was mammy water’ I pointed out again.
‘Me? When did I say that? I only said they did jazz for her. It was Aunty Clara that talked about mammy water ooooo. That girl is in trouble, mark my words. I will recommend her to Pastor Ejim I have seen him pray for one girl like that’
‘So how does the jazz invoke the spirits he has, or make her have witchcraft that turns her into a punching bag?’ I asked Shola
‘Abeg, you have come again. You already don’t believe so I can’t even start explaining’. Was Shola’s curt reply
These conversations became more frequent. Timeyin’s lady seemed to visit him at least once a week, and there was always an argument that ended up in a beating and goat-like crying. But she was always gone at the crack of dawn before anyone had a chance to talk with her privately. She rushed out of the building leaving only a waft of perfume; the kind of perfume that I had never bought but had carried in my wheelbarrow for women who had money to burn. We felt pity for her. Money to burn, attractive, well spoken, and she ended up with Timeyin who beat her and who clearly did not deserve her. Shola had taken it upon herself to try to trace the lady’s family to tell them about the spell that their daughter was under.
We all felt pity for her, but my envy for Timeyin grew and quickly gave way to malice and resentment.
One day we were able to corner Timeyin. Aunty Clara boldly scolded him about the beatings and gave him a smelly cowhide drum which  smelt of wet mouldy leather.
‘Take! Whenever you feel like beating someone, beat this drum! If i hear anymore nonsense, I will tell oga landlord to come and evict you. A beautiful woman like that agrees to love you and you beat her like an animal? God will punish you and your father!’
It seemed to work. Timeyin’s lady came to visit a few more times and there was no sound. No shouting, no thuds, no goat crying. But it was very short lived. It started again almost as suddenly as it had stopped.
We felt that we had to get the oga landlord involved especially as Timeyin was blatantly avoiding us. Whenever we knocked on his door and he would snap. ‘Depart from my door. I will converse with no one today!’ Still speaking his stupid artificial English in his bush Downtown Warri accent! The man was unbelievable. Ugly, dirty, female beater. Less than a man and he still had the effrontery to speak his big English to us.
We decided that the time had come to call in oga landlord. And as preplanned, we called him when Timeyin’s lady visited. He arrived almost as soon as the arguing started wearing a dirty grey pair of trousers pulled up to his breast bone. The thuds and cries followed almost immediately. Oga landlord knocked decisively on the door.
‘Timeyin Okoro, open this door now now!’
The thuds were sounding in quick succession and the cries were getting louder. The cries  sounded like Mama Emeka’s wounded goat as usual. In a blink of an eye, oga landlord kicked the door down.
To our eternal shock, we saw Timeyin’s lady fully clothed, dealing blows to Timeyin who was on the floor and crying. Timeyin had been the wounded goat all along!
My malice and spite quickly reverted to pity and shame. The shame that Timeyin was feeling now that his secret had been uncovered. Now that we all knew and would call him a weakling.
Was his love of fame bigger than his dignity? Why did he prefer that we envied him instead?
Oga landlord was unable to tackle Timeyin’s lady. He went in there, all guns blazing hoping for a showdown with Timeyin. But when he got a little bit more than he bargained for, he lost his gall.
‘Em madam, please pity this man, no fight am again’ he said weakly. In reality, she wasn’t fighting with him. She was beating him up. Oga landlord closed the broken door the best way he could, turned around and walked out of the building, leaving the rest of us in his wake, aghast with our mouths open.

Starting the year with gratitude!

In the final third of last year, I got drawn into the Gratitude Challenge by a friend on Facebook.
It entailed listing three things I was grateful for, everyday for 1 week. And then challenging three different friends to take it up everyday.
The idea behind it was that people would find things to be grateful for where they hadn’t noticed previously. I think it worked for me. In fact, it worked so well that I decided to live everyday with an attitude of gratitude.
People are not born lucky; it is your positivity that draws people your way. People bring with them opportunities, and your positivity in turn compels you to take on new opportunities.

This is my excerpt from day 7: 

 So today is day 7, the final day of my gratitude challenge. During the day, I made a mental note of all the things I wanted to be grateful for but I’ve forgotten most of them now. So I think I will have a bonus day of gratitude tomorrow.
But for the ones I can remember, I’m grateful for 

1. My resilience: I had very difficult years during my early adulthood and had struggled with depression since my teen years. I’m not sure at what stage I rose above it, but I had to decide to choose happiness each day in order to. Nowadays making that choice comes very easily but I’m aware that not everyone is able to bounce back. I had a friend who committed suicide some years ago due to depression amongst other things. I still miss him terribly but I’m glad that I’m able to be a part of his son’s life, but more so that I am able help people bounce back. The human spirit is indomitable and resilient but each person needs to recognise that in himself. 

 2. The sound of laughter in my house: I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal but I love that we can all laugh at ourselves and amongst our selves. My nine year old was a bit of a cry baby when she was a lot younger. It wasn’t until she was 4 that she developed a great sense of humour. My 6 year old was born laughing and has always had a ‘wikid’ sense of humour. It makes life soooo much more pleasurable. 

 3. My father in law: I went to school in Abuja where’s there’s a 725m monolith called Zuma Rock. It’s just after the northern edge of the city but visible from just about every part of it. My father in law is a bit like that. Not as foreboding, but constant, solid and always there. Kinda like a compass that always tells you where you are and where your true north is. I had a few struggles with various in laws (and outlaws) in the first 6years of getting wed; but my father in law kinda came through and always made it right. Not that he ever got involved in the madness, in fact he never really did. He rose above most of it and just showed the way.