Sunday, 10 February 2013

A Full Yoruba Prostration in the Centre of Manchester


Seeking insight on sight
I found myself at the much improved Arndale Shopping Centre in Manchester where just 17 years ago on my very second visit to Manchester the IRA set off a bomb that had shards of glass fall on someone hardly 10 yards from where I was standing.
For a while, I have been thinking of my sight, the state of my natural eye-sight as compared to when I have my glasses on, basically, I have not had an eye-test since well before I fell ill, so I walked into an opticians to have a test with the hope that I will walk out with a pair of glasses in an hour – well, that is the spiel but nothing could be further from the truth.
Squinty eyes with puny pupils
In any case, the tests began with a check on the strength of my glasses, then what prescription might be right by peering into kaleidoscopic instruments that brought a colourful hot-air balloon into focus before jets of air were shot at my eyes to test my eye pressure.
Then, reading the charts where F, P and R or Y and V had you seeing one thing and thinking another, though it is better not to second-guess the system and let the natural sight guide you.
The light tests to observe the back of my eyes left the optometrist running the tests thrice before he decided my pupils were too small that I needed my pupils dilated with the help of rather stinging eye drops; this easily added another 45 minutes to a visit that I thought will not be over an hour and 15 minutes.
Choices between frames and types of lenses took their toll between avoiding the trendy whilst at the same time getting something fashionable and traditional enough to fit my generally conservative and typically formal look, I just about succeeded but my lenses were not in stock; which means another visit to Manchester in two weekends rather than having the glasses posted by mail without the benefit of a fitting in the shop.
I’m an Englishman
However, something more bizarre happened, a loquacious young man, well-dressed in a single-breasted suit with all buttons done up walked in apparently to fix his glasses and when he saw me he came over to ask where I was from. I already sussed he was probably Nigerian and Yoruba but I had to avoid being accused of sorcery.
The answer I always give to that question is, I am from many places, starting with my being an Englishman of Nigerian parentage. He scoffed at the idea that I might be denying my Nigerian heritage but the real story is I have spent almost two-thirds of my life outside Nigeria apart from the fact that I was not born in Nigeria.
The optician’s assistant who has Pakistani parents was also born in England and we stated that the fundamental difference between us and him was that he was naturalised whilst we were born here, it meant that he could lose his acquired British citizenship whilst we could never be denied our status by any organ of the state.
Undue familiarity
By which time, we had exchanged mobile phone numbers and he had learnt I could speak Yoruba and on realising I was over twice his age, he prostrated in typical Yoruba genuflection in the shop, I had to pick him up and tell him it was unnecessary.
At the back of my mind, the familiarity was getting concerning as he fawned in language and action towards me, suggesting I could become his new father he having lost his father only the year before.
From then on, he addressed me as daddy as we made to leave the opticians and walk out of the Arndale Centre.
Tales of convenience
A number of uncanny situations came up, I could not say if he was channelling me or he was genuine, as he fed off my answers to find affinity, like going to the same secondary school as I did though I had left long before he was born – now, the whole story on reflection does not seem to fit together if he is 23, he has lived in the UK since 2002 and he apparently finished secondary school in Nigeria.
In any case, he said he had just moved up to Manchester from Cambridge and when I said I lived in London, he averred that he once lived in Edgware.
As we conversed, I had a phone call from a friend that interrupted flow of communication though he seemed to be keen on talking over the conversation I was having on the phone.
The loaded invitation
I promptly ended the phone conversation and asked about Nigerian restaurants in Manchester, he offered that instead I come to his home where his wife who from his rather chauvinistic tone was available to cook and make homely meals for me and I could also have the opportunity to bless his new born son in more traditional ways than through Christian provenance.
It made me more uncomfortable that I was ready to tell him that I was too much a stranger to be invited to his home just like that.
No apple for this worm
Then I saw the toilets and politely excused myself to use the conveniences; by the time I came out he had disappeared, it was like a hit-and-run event, as if my break for toilets had interrupted a confidence trickster’s ploy to inveigle his way into my confidences and in turn relieve me of something that he might have wanted to use to his nefarious ends.
I was both relieved and strangely concerned but somewhat happy that I had been left to my own devices. I can only wonder what he can be up to and though I have his number, I will rather wait for him to call if he would, else, one can deem the encounter one of those where providence and good fortune have spared me much pain and the embarrassment of being used or worse abused.
But the ‘Coming to America’ moment was a classic, in the middle of Manchester, well away from the cultural hotpot of Yoruba civilisation, a man recognises the presence of an elder and prostrates fully in respect – let us not read too much into what the intentions or ulterior motives were – encounters like this are just as well the spice of life.
Was this respect on retrospect? I do not know.

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