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March 17, 2015
African Voice
by Imo Eshiet

The other day I went to visit a friend. It was an unplanned visit. As a fellow Nigerian whose work schedule I know pretty much, I did not bother to call him that I was on my way to visit.

I regretted I didn’t because soon as I stepped into the house a steamy family fight was in progress! It was then I realized how stupid I was not to have told my friend I was coming over. We Africans like to laugh at Americans that you can’t visit anyone without first of all calling ahead of time.

In our neck of the bush in Africa, visits are spontaneous affairs. One could be in a neighborhood and at the spur of the moment decide to drop in on a friend. Such is the lack of formality that one takes whatever one sees during the visit. That is why our elders say if you visit the toad and find him squatting you should squat with him.

If the visitor meets the friend eating, he joins in. If he meets the friend at work at a garden, he lends a hand. If he meets the family members fighting, he makes peace.

So even though one has been around for quite a while in the United States, the culture thing simply refuses to die. That was why I assumed I could pay my friend a surprise visit.

As I rang the doorbell, I could hear some aggravated tones, but it was too late to retreat. When my friend opened the door and saw me, he did something that reminded me of the line, “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” in T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Only my friend did not have time enough to reconfigure his face.

If he was embarrassed by my inauspicious visit he did not show it. All I could read on his face was resignation as a slightly trembling hand pumped my hand and drew me into the living room.

Apparently not aware there was a visitor or too mad to care, the wife who was in the bedroom kept firing verbally.

“When I met you, you were miserably poor. Have you forgotten that the first TV and stove you ever had were bought by my mother?” she asked furiously. I overheard that much to my discomfiture, because that under-the-belt attack eerily reminded me of a familiar background.

When my friend noticed I was shifting uncomfortably in my seat, he said something that, try as I did, I could not help cracking up. “Honey”, he replied, “didn’t you ever hear me repeatedly say when I was dating you that you were all that I had in this world?”

When the wife heard me laughing in spite of myself, she came out of the bedroom to see who it was. Now it was her turn to prepare a face to meet my bewildered face! I could see her face fleeting with embarrassment, shock that I was there, and an ok-you-heard-me-but you-possibly-have-such-times-at- home- too.

Eventually we both smiled awkwardly, knowingly. To reassure the gladiators that I was family, I stood up, walked to the refrigerator and helped myself to a soda. I then reassured them that if they had something to eat I would gladly forget whatever I heard or saw. That helped them postpone the fight.

The kids who had possibly scurried into their rooms while their parents traded barbs, stealthily returned to the living room the way rats do when the cats are not prowling. Their little girl, happy at the sudden return of normalcy, flew into her father’s lap and called me uncle. (Nigerian kids address their parents’ friends as uncles and aunts whether or not they are blood relations.)

Her older brother walked up and pumped my hands in a manner hinting he was grateful a family friend stopped by just before things got out of hand.

At the end of the visit I remarked that my friend’s mother-in-law was a generous person to have furnished their home for them. Turning around, I asked the wife if indeed my friend told her during their courtship that she was all he ever had.

Without giving his wife a chance to reply, my rascally friend spoke up, “Yes, I did. She was all I had. She’s all I have and she’s all I will ever have!”

The pretty little daughter, still nesting in her father’s arms, cut in sharply, “But, Daddy, that is not fair. What about me, I mean, what about the rest of us?”

Everyone exploded in laughter, and I used that love-at-home opportunity to sneak out.

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