In twenty years

So, some months ago, I attended a couple’s twentieth wedding anniversary celebration. I knew the couple very well; I had attended their wedding along with my parents brothers. They shared a picture of their wedding day on facebook and the comments that followed it were the usual ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ of surprise, and delight from friends who were seeing long forgotten versions of themselves and many more who wondered, so it’s been twenty years already?

Yes, twenty years. And three accomplished teenage children. That was the foundation of their testimony at the anniversary celebration service. It was a complete church service, reminiscent of the services we used to attend together at our old church many years ago. They shared experiences and astonishing stories of agony, endurance and incredible near-death moments. Many of us who had known them since then wondered how they had passed through all that. From their words and stories, we relived each of those twenty eventful years with them, sharing each moment of pain and suspense, joy and triumph with them.

The congregation was sprinkled with familiar faces. Older, different, but still recognisable. We exchanged smiles and hugs on seeing each other again, the customary shrieks of “you’ve grown big!” as though it was a miracle of life, and filled in the yawning gap of years with seconds of stories about what we had been ‘up to’ and made the usual promises of keeping in touch from now on.

It was the kind of happy reunion that nonetheless left you with a jarring jolt of reality. You suddenly understand you’ve passed twenty years in a moment. And you wonder if, like the celebrating couple, you have garnered enough stories to fill up the years; if your stories have enough inspiration to keep you going.


Generator troubles


I got home late from work again and met my neighbourhood in darkness, NEPA (or whatever splinter of its present incarnation) was hard at work as usual. A few lighted windows dotted the dark street here and there complemented by the irritating drone of generators powering them. It was a noise I had not only become used to but contributed to as well and I drew comfort from the knowledge that my own generator was going to join the sputtering street symphony as soon as I got in. With my jacket still on I went to start the generator. For five minutes, I pulled and pulled at the power cord, adjusted the choke, pulled again and again, but got nothing but a false faltering splutter. I was surprised. The generator had just been serviced, today. Or was it? I had begged the generator repair man to make sure he serviced the generator that day and he had promised me he was going to do exactly that without fail. A phone call to the devoted gentleman informed me that I was mistaken and presented me with the gloomy prospect of spending the night in darkness. He said he told my security man a few hours before that he would do it the next day and promised me with equal fervour as he did the day before that he would do it without fail the following day.

“I no fit lie for you, oga”, he said, “I no fit lie, I’m not that kind of somebody.” he said again, reassuringly.

I told him I believed him, cheered him up with the earnest promise that he would never do any work for me again, and I would do my best to warn my neighbours of using him for their work. If I cannot depend on you to keep our agreement, then, I cannot do any business with you, no matter how good you are. He did not understand why I was so angry, why I was taking that decision, after all, he had promised to come the next day. We ended our conversation on that sour note and I went out to find another generator man.

Thinking about my outburst with the fellow a few days later, I thought I had been rather harsh and should not have just shut him out abruptly. But then, I knew that if I did not do that to him, I would have done it to another person. I’d recently been on the receiving end of poor service from a host of artisans, companies and shops and the generator man’s episode was just the last straw for me. No doubt, this is a familiar situation for many people, we can all exchange horrendous stories of poor service we are hit with daily, and the unfortunate thing is that the trend doesn’t seem to be going down. More disturbing is the fact that like my generator man, most service providers don’t see what they have done wrong.

This is part of the reason why we don’t have many indigenous companies in Nigeria that outlive the founder, because over time, the attention shifts from the customer to the interests of the owner only, and with that selfish business model, the business is guaranteed to fail. I’ve seen shops open up with a huge loyal customer patronage, which thins down a few years or even months later and then the shop closes down unceremoniously one day.

I think this poor work ethic is linked to our values as a people. For all our celebrated hard-work and tenacity, there is yet an entrenched selfishness and disrespect for people that affects our work and business culture. And an unyielding commitment to mediocrity that has now become a national epidemic. It is the reason why my generator man will renege on our agreement without informing me, or why your airline will cancel your flight abruptly without offering compensation or why your tailor has a rather personal perception of time – when she tells you your dress will be ready in one week, that is code for one month. It is the reason why we are where we are as a country.

And while I accuse the poor man of not being dependable, I wonder if perhaps, the same thing has been or is being said about me in certain circles…

A happy couple

I wanted to buy sausages. Hotdogs. Frankfurters. Whatever they call it, I don’t really know the difference, as long as it was delicious and spicy. But it was hard deciding which brand to choose. I was standing in the frozen foods section of the supermarket examining pack after packet of sausages, looking for something on the wrapping that assured me that the long shafts of ground meat were to my special taste. As much as I liked sausages, I had had a rather unsavoury experience buying them for myself. There were several packs of barely touched franks and hotdogs in my fridge at home, which I had bought with so much gastronomic anticipation, only to spit it out after the first bite because it was too spicy, abominably spicy. In the end, after much trial and error, I stumbled upon an acceptable Polish brand, which I stuck to safely. This evening at the supermarket however, I wanted to try something different, because it felt unjust to stick to one type in the midst of so much variety.

While I was hunched over the freezer in confusion, a young couple sauntered to the freezer beside me. To call the lady beautiful alone would not be enough. She was beautiful, pretty and gorgeous, lissom and elegant. Her husband didn’t have any noticeable striking good looks, like his wife, I guess she married him just for his good heart. But together, they were lovely; holding hands and talking casually, they seemed completely at ease and relaxed with each other. They peered into the freezer for a while, then the man turned and began to examine rows of fruit juice in the refrigerators by the wall. He wanted orange juice, and like me, he wasn’t sure which brand he should get. Unlike me, he had someone to assist him in choosing. I had stopped what I was doing and looking unashamedly at them, admiring, envying, enamoured. At that moment I pitied myself a great deal, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I had a wife like that too, to shop sausages with. She would know, I was sure, the best brand to buy. She would relieve me from the dreary mental effort of guessing, and above all, she would make this normally mundane activity an intimate pleasure shared by two of us. They suddenly laughed over something, the wife nudged the husband on the shoulder, and he laughed a little louder and gently grabbed her by the waist. They condescended to spare a glance at me, then turned back to picking packs of juice. I returned my attention to the freezer, a little hurt. They were too absorbed in their mutual enjoyment to even greet me. I shook my head, picked up my regular brand of sausages and began walking towards the counter.

Husband and wife followed me to the counter, too. And they continuously flaunted their affection in my face. He would touch her hair now, then she would brush off imaginary dust off his shoulder. I was tempted to roll my eyes; maybe I did even, I was sure I sighed aloud in irritation. She pointed at the chocolate bars at the counter and they both bent down to study it as if it was anything but regular chocolate bars. They were getting on my nerves now, I began to think they were deliberately doing this to infuriate me. Okay, that’s absurd, I know. But everything they did just highlighted my sorry solitary status. They made my bachelorhood, which I was very proud of, feel sinful. I was relieved when the cashier attended to me and I stalked out of the supermarket. On the drive home, I couldn’t take my mind off them, or ignore the fact that I was going to a lonely house, and that that situation was unlikely to change for a while.

But then, I was grateful, too. In observing them, I had learnt something, something I looked forward to enjoying in my own marriage. Soon.

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