Follow Franque’s DUETS on Fridays only in the month of June – featured in this week’s DUET is Roli (follow her @maye_rolz) .
Folding my just laundered clothes and singing along to the Billy Joel’s “She’s Always A Woman To Me” coming out the speakers in my bedroom, I saw the red light blinking on my blackberry. I picked up the phone, casually tossing the dress I was about to fold over my shoulder. Taking a seat at the foot of my bed, I checked to see what the “blink” was about, hoping it wasn’t a facebook notification. It was a ping from Franque. “Have you read my latest post?” It read. I wondered at the question because his write-ups were usually posted on Fridays. “But today is Wednesday” I replied.
“Yeah, I know. I decided to do a special edition today and you got a mention.” He replied. Unable to hide my excitement, I typed “Wow! I’ll go check it out right away” inserting the dance smiley before sending.
I couldn’t help but wonder what Franque would have mentioned me for. Eyes on my screen, I watched the red Opera mini page slowly give way to the black and yellow home page of 360nobs and then I saw it. ” F.A.M.E (Fans Are My Everything)”. I smiled, knowing that Chris Brown had nothing to do with this post. Franque always, and I mean ALWAYS has a way with titling his stories; something only a few writers like Lola Shoneyin and James Patterson are gifted with.
My eyes darted quickly left to right, trying to keep pace with my thumb scrolling down the page to see where and what I was mentioned for.
I did not know what I was expecting to see. My name across the page written in gold for everyone to see?
The story had me feeling a lot of emotions at the same time. He told the simple tale of a young man who knew he had a way with words but didn’t know that putting these words together would inspire lives differently, attracting friends, fans and groupies in the process. I got to the “Thank you(s)” and four gratitude(s) later, there it was. Not in gold like I expected but in 26 simple words, radiating all the warmth that was intended as it read. “Roli – My best critic. I count myself lucky to have met you on that Accra flight, and accepting for Tade to bring you along the second time.” I read it twice, maybe thrice and it had me grinning from ear to ear as my memory took a time travel back to 2008, the year I met Franque for the first time.
I cannot remember the exact day but it was one of those teen dates in the 3rd week in August. I know because I was returning to school in Legon, Ghana. I should have been worried about my luggage and how much I was going to cough up for excesses, but I convinced myself that there was nothing a bright smile, student ID card and, if I got desperate, tearful plea wouldn’t handle – as long as the person checking me in was male.
I met up with two friends of mine, Wonu and Tari, and we quickly rushed ahead to find a long queue in front of the check-in counter. Waving endlessly to different people was inevitable as it was school resumption, hence this flight was bound to be a school bus. Taking notice of my luggage for the first time, Tari said to me “Babe! Hope you’ve got money for your excesses.” Feeling like a genius, I shared my plan with them. They chuckled and prayed that it would work. Finally getting to the counter, I presented my ticket and passport to the… Dang! The ticketing agent was female. This one mistake had thrown a wrench in my plan.
“Put your bags on the scale, please”, she said not cracking a smile. I did just that and the scale kept reading until it stopped at N15,000 worth of excess baggage!
I considered that smile routine, wondering if it would work, but who was I kidding? I only got as far as forming my lips into a curve when I realized that this woman was not even paying any attention to me. I thought about the tearful plea and the “I am a student” line but gave up. Unwilling to part with such a large sum from my pocket money, I stood by the counter and muttered something I hoped would pass for a plea. By this time Tari was already giving me the “I told you so look” while Wonu had broken into spasms of laughter. I checked my wallet for the last Naira notes I had on me, Wonu and Tari pitched in too and it came to roughly about N9000. Not nearly enough. The last option was to lobby for passengers’ baggage allowance left over. This was suggested by the male ticketing officer at the counter who took pity on me but was quick to add “I didn’t tell you to do so” I smiled back at him in perfect comprehension of what he meant. Immediately, I set Wonu and Tari about on a task to look out for passengers who seemed to be travelling light.
Tari and Wonu came through with 3 people who I was able to offload 10kgs on. I still had a few kgs to go before I could try again for my boarding pass.
Just then, I heard the female ticketing agent say, “Fine boy! You have come to show yourself abi?” I never thought she was capable of a smile, yet she wasn’t just smiling, she was positively beaming!
Curious, I turned to see who was responsible for this transformation. “Aaaaha!” I drawled when I saw him. He was not your regular ‘bloke’, this one came in a different specification. Not Greek god handsome, he managed to get the height right. He stood around 6ft maybe 6ft 1inch; though slim, he did not look like a six-packer. The charcoal grey jacket he wore, from which peeked a white collar, perfectly knotted green tie and peculiar waist coat perfectly framed his shoulders and accentuated his torso. The crease of his trousers looked sharp enough to cut. His black shoe was so well polished, the sheen was almost blinding. The air of arrogance about him was unmistakable. He obviously had a way with women for he had the young woman blushing some more, and you could tell he knew this. I could not believe I had scrutinized him so thoroughly, this stranger.
“You have pretty girls on your flight o” the check-in agent teased.
“Oh really?” he said, turning around and doing a quick survey. I thought I saw his eyes linger on Tari a moment but he turned back to the agent to continue his conversation.
“Where are they? I don’t see them” he said.
“He’s cocky too” I muttered just loud enough for only Tari to hear.
“Who?” She asked.
“Him” I pointed then quickly added “Don’t mind him abeg. I’ll give you the gist later”.
“I’ll be nice to the ladies up there if they are nice to me first down here.” I heard him say. By this time I already figured he worked with the airline but was still unsure about his specific role.
Trying to keep my cool, I walked up to him and said “How about we have it the other way round? You’ll be nice to me down here and I’ll be nice to you up there” trying not to think much about what being ‘nice’ meant to him.
I was more than mildly surprised when, without a word, he gave me a cursory look and turned back to his colleague.
“What’s her story?” he asked as if I wasn’t there.
“She has excess luggage” the agent said, giving a knowing smile at some inside joke. Turning back to me he asked “Who is your friend?” Cocking his head in Tari’s direction. I kept my composure as I realized she was going to be my price for getting my boarding pass. Trying to keep the bargain to my advantage, I folded my hands across my chest, hiking my confidence level up to Mount Everest.
“Oh Tari, she’s my friend” I said smiling.
“But I already know that much” he replied.
Feeling quite stupid, I heard myself say “That is not the point. Are you going to help me out with my excesses or not?”
“I’m sorry but it is not within my power” he explained.
“I totally understand” I said, not understanding.
Quickly looking at his wrist watch, he said he had to go and I said my goodbye.
An excited Wonu came up to me and announced that she had gotten the balance N6000 for my excess. “How and where did you get the money?” I questioned; not like I was going to give it back.
“I ran into a cousin of mine I hadn’t seen in years. I told him I needed money to pay for excess luggage and naturally, he expected it to be mine. An impression I did not bother correcting at all.” She narrated.
Drained from all the hassle, I just drew her close and gave her a hug, letting out a deep sigh, grateful that the drama had passed. We had just made it through immigration when our flight was announced. I slept through most of the flight and was woken up by a light tap from Wonu to have refreshment when I saw him.
“Damn! Not again.” I said in a hushed tone.
He no longer had the jacket on. I tried but couldn’t make out the name on his tag – it was on his left breast, away from me. I looked away as he started to turn, he saw me and flashed a smile. I wanted to play coy but decided against it and returned his smile instead. On ground Accra, I got up to retrieve my hand luggage from above my seat, and there he was, just ahead wishing passengers a pleasant stay in Accra. I smiled in disbelief. I never thought him capable of such politeness, but I guessed it came with the job.
At the exit, I finally made out the name on the tag when he asked for my name. Stretching out my right hand I said “Not pleased to meet you Frank. My name is Roli.” He looked at his tag briefly, shook my hand and said, “But it was nice meeting you.” Unable to keep a straight face any longer, my lips parted in a smile as I turned away from him to descend the steps of the aircraft.
Who would have thought I would see him again, become very good friends and even get to critic his work? Coming back to the present, I finished reading “F.A.M.E.” I typed and posted my comment with Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” playing. I turned down the volume and lay on my bed to ponder the kind of things fate throws our way, knowing I would probably still not find answers to that. At least, not today.
The first time I saw her was at the check-in counter. I had reported for my flight two hours and fifteen minutes before the flight was scheduled to depart – thirty minutes before my report time.
I walked to the counter to say “wassap” to my colleagues, plus I had noticed there were more ladies than usual on the queue.
“Fine boy!” My colleague hailed me. “You have come to show yourself abi?” She asked smiling. I hugged her, pecked her cheek and complimented her looks.
I walked across to Derin, my homeboy at the counter, and was saying how good it would be if the ladies were nice to me when a voice said “How about we have it the other way round? You’ll be nice to me down here and I’ll be nice to you up there.”
I turned towards the voice to see a female looking at me as if in challenge. I took in her 5ft 5 or 6inch frame, balanced precariously on a pair of really high heeled shoes, clad in a red dress that hugged her curves. She had what I like to think of as ‘child bearing’ hips, and the dress drew attention to them. I know her type, I thought to myself. “Daring” and “bold” were two words that crossed my mind. I knew a proposition when I heard one, and this was a game I knew how to play.
“What’s her story?” I asked Derin, turning back to him and ignoring her. Then I asked about another girl a few feet away.
A few minutes later, I flicked my wrist to check the time. I really had to run.
The next time I saw her, it had been at the behest of Tade.
Tade. Now that was a memorable meeting.
I was boarding passengers on a flight from Accra to Lagos when I saw her coming up the stairs. Giving her a really bright smile, I welcomed her on board, but she just walked past me, floating on the cloud of airs obviously generated by her over inflated sense of self. Ok, all she did was ignore my greeting as she walked past me in search of her seat. I handed over boarding duties to my colleague, and then made my way into the cabin, taking a very good look at her as I passed her, and making sure she saw me do that.
In flight, I went into the main cabin to help out, and when I drew level with her to offer her a snack, I made sure it was with a calculated bored expression. A few rows later, I looked up and caught her looking at me. I smiled then. All services done, and with just enough time before landing, I went to her and we struck up a conversation. When she asked for my number, I made sure she pulled out pen and paper and took down the number I dictated. I could have written it myself, but this was a game we were playing, and I employed my “ABP hunting rules of engagement”.
When she called me that night, it was to mark the start of a mobile phone romance. And when she asked me a few weeks later if I knew a Roli, I weighed my answer very carefully lest a past dealing came and bit my behind. At the mention of excess baggage however, I remembered who and said as much. It turned out they were close friends.
The next time I was in Accra, Tade came to see me at the hotel. Feeling tired from all the travelling and a little mellow from the cocktail I had drank before her arrival, I crawled into the bed next to her. As my fingers came into contact with her skin, she squirmed and shifted.
“Come here before you fall off the bed.” I told her.
“I am just fine where I am.” Came her reply.
Too tired to process this change in attitude from the very excited Tade looking forward to the visit, I got out of that bed, left the room for another – I had been put in a 2 bedroom Chalet. I was halfway around the world when she came and woke me up that her friends had come.
I was expecting them, Ogo and Roli, but it was still grudgingly that I went out to meet them. The rest of their visit passed with Ogo and Tade huddled in talks about boys, and Roli and I playing catch up. We talked about school, work, family, plans, music, books, relationships; we talked about anything and everything. And there in that room, with Tade and Ogo in the next, our relationship was consumated – my brain had intercourse with her brain.
That was three years ago. In that time Roli and I became fast friends. Because of her interest in words – writen and spoken, and her ability to stay objective, I turned to her for a second opinion on my works when I started writing.
As for Tade, she made it past facebook friend to BB contact. We exchange the occasional “Just thot to say hi” ping, but she never made the transition from acquaintance to friend.
PS: Friendship is not about the number of people you know, but the number of these people you allow into your life enough to matter to you.
The DUETS so far: