“Have you been here before?” the barista asked, in a low voice.
“WHAT?” I responded, typical of my reactions when doing things in Lagos and talking to Nigerians. I usually need the thing to be repeated at least twice before I can hear what is being said. Is my hearing this bad in the States, also? I silently thought to myself.
“Have you been here before?” he asked again, barely loud enough for me to make out what he said this time.
“No, I haven’t,” I replied.
“WHY NOT?” he asked loudly and rather boisterously this time, anticipating my need for him to speak WAY LOUDER.
I chuckled heartily when I realized he was teasing me. He was making a cheeky joke. A Nigerian making a cheeky joke! He must have an American or English friend who taught him to be cheeky. Ah, that little joke alone was enough for me to feel thankful that I left the house today.
I have been rather down lately. Lagos is not suiting me this time. Not to say that it suited me well in my “first round of duty” last year, but this time, well, I am just having a hard time. I am more miserable than if I had a paper cut on each finger. Meaning, sure, I will live and survive, but I’d much rather not have a paper cut on each finger, if you get what I’m saying.
Because I’ve been down, I’ve been staying in a lot. For some reason, last year, I made it a point to go out somewhere almost every single day. I did this for two reasons: 1) I felt obligated to give my driver something to do. My previous driver was a charismatic fellow and it seemed a shame not to take him on an adventure every day. My current driver is much more relaxed and quiet. 2) I felt compelled to go out every day. When I first came here, the traffic and noise and general malaise caused by Lagos had not worn me down. Now, I am a little nub. Before, I was a brand new pencil. Lagos, and change, and homesickness, and feeling generally lost in life has worn me way down. I feel as though I barely exist. But what’s the good thing about feeling like a worn down pencil? There’s usually a lot of eraser left; I still have a chance to do things in a new way, make a new path, and there’s still a little of me left.
Today, I was determined to go out somewhere. I literally had not left the house at all in almost three days. I decided to go to Cafe Neo.
After ordering a chai latte from the cheeky Nigerian barista, I looked around at the VERY SMALL seating area, hoping to find some place somewhat secluded. No such luck. Suck it up and sit down next to someone I thought to myself.
I looked out the window longingly at my driver and the car. I should just take this to go, I thought. NO! I will sit down right next to someone and got damn it I will enjoy it.
I sat down next to a girl who had very kind energy. Part of the reason that I don’t enjoy other people that much is most people have an exhausting kind of energy. People need attention. People need acknowledgement. Some people have an unkind energy about them. Some people project hate and dismay and jealousy and foolishness, just by waking up in the morning. I can feel it. I know that might sound crazy or like I ate some mushrooms, but I know it’s a real thing. My ability to feel energy has served me well over the years and has kept me out of trouble…and mostly away from terrible assholes. Well, that and my general dislike for being around other people. It’s quite difficult to get into trouble when you’re alone.
The girl next to me was reading the newspaper. The table I sat at had the sports section. I pretended to care for a moment, picking up the paper and looking at the multi-national faces of all the soccer players. Ugh, I’m too tired to pretend to care about this stupid soccer crap I thought to myself, putting the paper down, but respectfully not resting my cup on top of it.
A fat-bottomed girl then came and sat on the other side of me. I collected myself as she came to sit next to me. I knew eventually someone would come sit next to me, but I was not prepared for it to happen within five minutes of me sitting down.
The fat-bottomed girl was wearing the tightest pair of leggings I’ve ever seen. They were like leg-length tourniquets; I have no idea how she was breathing or moving, but she seemed to do both just fine.
Eventually, another girl, also in leggings, but in a more reasonable size, came to join her. They embraced each other for a long time, the kind of embrace that I see women, especially Black women, do to each other often. It’s the kind of soulful, kind, heart-wrenching kind of hug, the kind of long hug that can gently touch wounds that you thought were long lost. The kind of hug that makes you feel welcome and appreciated and understood. I turned my head and covertly watched them hug each other for a long time. My own heart ached a little bit; I wished I had a friend here to hug me like that. But my heart also rejoiced for those two women because they DO have a friend here to hug them like that. I felt a bittersweet mix of homesickness and gratitude; I know that I have friends at home who will hug me like that, who will greet me like that. I remembered that I am here for a short time; my friends at home have not and will not forget me. I wondered if they think of me often.
The two leggings girls chatted and giggled and listening to them (what I could make out of what they were saying anyway) warmed my heart and made me glad that I decided to venture outside today. I was surrounded by good energy; the silent, but kind, girl on my left and the energetic, legging twins on my right.
I sat there until I finished my entire latte and for a few moments, I was just existing in Lagos, with a chai latte. My yearnings from home left me for a little while. My worries about my career seemed to be distant. Who I think I should be and who I actually am were one person. It did not last long, but it was nice to just be in Lagos, in that coffee shop, sandwiched between those three women, for a little while today.
Until tomorrow, my friends…