When you’re waiting at a bank, the last thing on your mind is whether a star-crossed love will turn out well. Indeed, despite the well-tied neckerchiefs of the staff, it may be an airiness of not being anywhere. Of boredom. Wanting to abolish your boredom with a lean one way or another, so you may better survey the line and your place relative to the desk, or to have a fit, with tepid fake froth at your lips till they bend down, the bank managers, to hear you breathing, and you clutch them and say, “You are real, thank you for reminding me, oh flesh of the earth; can I have a replacement card for luck?”
Because that’s what I was getting, a card, after a machine swallowed its predecessor. When I was not thinking of romance but the debits that swirled around my head like budgies, the stuff I’d have to cancel – the perishing pain of organisation, about to peck me once the hangover wore off – not mad but not happy and yet content to ride the drink in my system to a courteous ambivalence. And standing in front of me was a guy who was looking around, or leaning, like me, with a sense of amusement. When you lose a bank card, and it harms your day, there’s a sense that life can only be good to you for a while.
The guy was African, with a trilby, a black suit. It was well-fitted and he moved gracefully in it, almost trying to catch someone’s eye. I must’ve done it. I dunno how we started talking. Might’ve been a communique of ‘Hey, you’re bouncing around a little! This place doesn’t defeat you!’ Which is really me saying I think I was more buoyant more than I probably was. Either way, he goes, “Bro, I’m meant to be at work right now,” and I enquire as to the Saturday aspect of the day, and he says, “Yeah, crane driver at a scrap yard. And y’know I have better time in rubbish, even though I don’t call in.”
Love it, I say. Also: there are cupcakes in the corner there; and there were, with a bluish hue and an outrageous bouquet of icing. He grabbed three. The charity people or whatever looked supportive. The icing shortly marred his lapels; he licked his fingers and spoke quickly. He began to enjoy himself. When I told him what I do – that I write, or try to write seriously – he lit up. “Ohhhhh man,” he says, “you need to help me out. My woman is pining for me. That’s truth and that soul is beating.”
“Yes man, I caught the whiff of worse fortune. This girl, she – she know me all my life.” So I ask whether he means it literally, or just like I’ve found the one being that makes all previous incarnations of me seem one and eternal, and he says, “No, she came over to my house a lot.”
And he says: “She is trapped in a forest.” And I go, right, that sounds like a predicament. And he goes, “You’re telling me! All because she was friends with my sister!”
So at this stage, I’m curious. I motioned for him to speak. For the fearless finger of journalism to be satisfied.
“You want my story? Yeah? Ohhh, listen, I could tell you a story. Maybe she could tell it. Maybe you help her. Because she was around a lot, and she knew my family, and we knew theirs and – well, in Nigeria that’s bad, they didn’t like it. Either side. We were just getting on, y’know. There is always something. When I was with her, oh, on the sofa – this after many years. My sister found out. Then they take her from me. They move her – ” He counts with hand chops. “Four countries over! For many more years, I did not see her.
“And so much time goes by that I’m dying, man, I dash around, and my dad buys me a car. Lots of distraction.” There are crumbs flying at me from the last cupcake – I know how he feels. “Lots of party and women. But I never stop searching. I never stop. Then I find her, at last, in her big house.” The man’s pupils are incredibly dilated. “She is with an oil baron, some big rich cunt.”
Damn. Jesus, I say. Suddenly my limbo-esque present experience is polluted. I can no longer be annoyed and a little snarky about a lost bank card, if this is the situation for another dude (who calls himself Amnet, though I could’ve misspelled it) who’s pretty much living a novel in freefall.
Go on, please, I urge.
And he asks me to reach her; to facilitate her emancipation from a tycoon who does not love her, as she scorns him. They are sending each other postcards in secret – Amnet and the girl. He would kill for her. He would murder the line of bodies right here if she asked him. “You can help,” he says. “She needs to tell her story, and we must finish ours together.”
Just at that moment, he is called forward, and we swap numbers. When I call him the first time to arrange an interview, days later, he answers. When I call again, the phone is dead.
I wish I could see him. Boredom has become less achievable. Whenever part of me balks at having to be a cheerful Westerner with an axe to grind against the head of financial institutions, I think: Hey, at least that shit doesn’t cost me my right to be with a woman. To be with the person who knows me for me.