Woman in Bloom

I love that term: in bloom. Normally I would use it when talking about beautiful spring flowers but this time, I am talking about myself. This was my 23rd year of life. I was in the penultimate year of medical school and to be honest, I didn’t particularly feel ‘in bloom’. That year, I had moved into my uncle’s house to save money on rent so that I could pay for my elective in Malaysia. My sister had quit her job in Lincoln and moved down to Birmingham to look for a job after graduation. It was during the economic crisis so jobs were hard to come by and money was tight generally. I had been single 2 years at this stage (I won’t count one date and a lot of light flirting the year before). I had a great 2 months in Malaysia and Thailand then flew straight home to Nigeria afterwards.

I think it may have been something in the Malay/Thai food, water or air. It didn’t take a long time after I got to Nigeria for the first proposal. In fact, I wasn’t even in Nigeria yet. I was on the plane to Lagos. My first flight on Virgin Nigeria. I was pleased that after the disastrous end of Nigerian Airways, here was a semi-Nigerian option. All of the flight staff except 1 pilot were Nigerian. My section in economy was served by 2 strapping Nigerian young men. I remember thinking ‘wow, I wouldn’t have thought this was the obvious career choice for these 2’. But there they were and they seemed very happy in their job. Polite and friendly, 2 qualities that are not in abundant supply when it comes to the Nigerian Service Industry. One of the stewards waited until after the inboard meal was served and cleared away to come and sit in the empty seat by me. I noticed of course and I reluctantly removed my nose from the book it was buried in. He started with chitchat (which made me cringe in those days) then went straight into compliments and then ended with saying that he was interested in a ‘serious relationship’ and slipping me a piece of paper with his details. I took it with a murmur of appreciation, tucked it into book and promptly tried to forget whilst ignoring the knowing looks from the passengers listening intently.

Next, I went to Kano City with my sister and her boyfriend (let’s call him Ahmed). We were all invited to dinner with an aunty and uncle. Ahmed’s friend, who we had known for 5 years, decided he wanted to come say hi at dinner and popped in unannounced. Ahmed must have told him where we were, not imagining he would turn up uninvited. He (who I will call Hassan) was a twin, the extroverted ladies’ man in comparison to his less confident twin. He was very charming and always had us in stitches with his funny anecdotes. He seemed to come across the funniest people and situations so his tales of everyday life would keep us all entertained every time we hung out with him. Hassan was Ahmed’s age, 11 years older than I was. So he always treated me with fondness like Ahmed did. As a little sister I thought. My uncle and aunty were gracious and insisted he joined us for dinner. He didn’t need inviting twice. He sat next to me and did what he did best, entertained us. We were all in stitches. Then, unexpectedly he turned to me and announced that he wanted to marry me. In front of my aunty and uncle!!! I was mortified. As a Fulani girl, that is probably as embarrassing as being seen naked by my uncle and aunty. Thank God for brown skin because I would have been beetroot red had I been fairer skinned. I tried to laugh it off but he was persistent and oblivious to my discomfort. My uncle and aunty were good sports and pretended this was an everyday occurrence. My sister smirked at me and appeared to be entertained. When it became really uncomfortable for me, I pretended I needed the loo and left the table. I stood outside to cool off and was wondering how long I could politely be away for when Hassan found me. He launched into why it would be an ideal marriage and how beautiful our children would be. Really? After a few polite ‘No’s’ I fell back on a lie. I announced that actually, it would never work because I had a boyfriend back in England who I loved dearly. Give the guy an A for persistence. It didn’t faze him one bit. He reckoned that if I gave him a chance, I would come to realise that he was a better match for me than my fictional boyfriend. Everyone who knows me knows I am a terrible liar. I was starting to crack when Ahmed came to my rescue. He draped a protective arm around me. Hassan immediately looked for support from him. He asked Ahmed ‘is it true she is in love with a guy in England?’ Without blinking, Ahmed say ‘yes’. It was said so matter-of-factly that Hassan bought it and backed off. I clearly don’t lie convincingly. I could have kissed Ahmed in that moment. I was very impressed!

Still in Kano, the very next day in fact, I got another marriage proposal. This time from another unlikely source. I was visiting an aunty who happened to be a judge. This means that she gets state security in the form of policemen on patrol at her house. I walked a friend to the gate of the house and when I turned around to go back in, there he was. I instinctively stepped back and with a quick greeting, tried to go around him. ‘Hold on’ he says in Hausa. ‘Can I ask you something?’ Basically, I seemed like a ‘nice girl’ and he would like to marry me. As he was on duty and shouldn’t have been trying to pick up girls, I didn’t hesitate to say no thank you and leave.

Next, I went to Kaduna to visit the aunties and uncles there. I had made no arrangements to get back to Abuja and was just going to hop into a public car the next day. My cousin and I were hanging out with her then boyfriend and his friend. She brought up the topic and the friend ‘Omar’ said actually I have to go to Abuja to meet with a client so I could give you a lift. My cousin and I went with him and he dropped us off. He was friendly and a great talker so naturally I got on with him and thought we were just mates. Until he said he was considering breaking up with his fiancée to be with me. Whaaaat?! 1. He had a fiancée and 2. He was in love with me. I was shocked. I was firm in my refusal. My feelings were definitely friendship and no more.

Finally, I was in Yola with my family and thought the craziness would have to stop because no Yola boy had ever approached me before (discounting the one at 13, less said about him the better). Wrong again. As I tend to be, I was my mama’s constant companion during the Yola trip and we went to visit one of her work colleagues. He was brilliant. Probably about 10 years older than me but he was well-educated, well-spoken and had achieved so much at his age. I was impressed that here was a Fulani man I could potentially get on with on many levels. But that was where it stopped. I admired him but didn’t even consider I could fancy him because he was my mama’s (young) friend. He told my mama he wanted to marry me. ‘Crazy man!’ she said. He was already married with a child on the way. Why would her baby want to be any man’s seconds?

I remember looking in the mirror and studying myself. I wasn’t any different from the previous year. I had no more curves than the year before. I was still too skinny for my liking. My hair was its normal self. I wasn’t dressing to impress. I wasn’t on the hunt for a man. I was happily single. So the only conclusion I could draw was that maybe I was in bloom and I couldn’t appreciate it. Whatever it was, it certainly was a major ego boost for a girl who looked in the mirror and saw skinny instead of slim, gawky instead of elegant, cute instead of beautiful. What an amazing summer!

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