Firers and Heartbreakers: The Nature of Pain

My first real heartbreak came a few days to the defence of my final year thesis in college. One last call that drove the final nail to a coffin which housed an already comatose relationship which I was hell-bent on keeping alive.

She ended it and ripped a hole in the space time continuum. My heart was fine. No, I’m kidding. It went numb but my mind quickly went into overdrive and I worked on my thesis and aced the defence. OK, I got a B. Things could have been much worse. The aching resumed right after and took about 12 weeks to completely go away. Experience has hardened or deadened that feeling over the years though.

I have always been curious about the nature of internalized pain and how it affects both those who bear it and those who inflict it – whether directly or otherwise. (The person who ends a relationship aches too, to some degree. Unless they weren’t really vested in it, to begin with.) I have watched people wither away and be withdrawn from everything for a while as a result of a heart break. And then the pains wears off and things normalize.

Fifteen months ago, I got fired from a job I had worked at for 10 months before. The global price of crude had tanked and market forces forced the company to downsize. When it came down to it, my department got the axe.

When HR handed us our letters that day, I felt nothing. No grief or sadness. No pain. I had mastered heart breaks from experience. Or so I like to think. I and my friend, who also got a letter, went out and celebrated at some new fancy restaurant that had opened down the street a couple of weeks before. (We both have since moved on to better things.)

The ache that comes from firing is weirdly like the one from a heartbreak (they’re both, essentially, a termination of a relationship). At least from the perspective of the person pulling the plug. It is not easy to deal someone a crushing blow without taking some sting yourself.

I had to fire a member of my team recently and I, too, ripped a hole in the space time continuum. It was my first “official” firing and the phone call left a sick taste in my mouth afterwards. It was literally heartbreaking to pull off (I imagine he felt worse and that ruined it further for me). I swore I was never doing that again, but I know the odds are against me. I can only hope it is a long, long way into the future before the chance presents itself.

Ending an emotional relationship is a tad easier than ending a professional one, in a sense. When you don’t call, text, reach out or respond to the other person for an extended period, they start to get the hint. Keep that up properly and you both might be lucky enough to not have to go through the torture of a formal, tedious call to wrap things up.

On the other hand, there’s really no buildup process for firing someone. They won’t suddenly get a hint if they get no emails or Slack messages from you for an extended period of time – it usually bodes well for an employee when this happens. If you don’t send them invites to collaborate on a spreadsheet, it means nothing to anyone – just less work to bother about. There’s no avoiding the formal call or face-to-face chat and secretly hoping they get the point and walk away. The confrontation will happen. Whatever the circumstances, it will never be easy to do and, unless you’re some cold-hearted robot, you’ll diminish a little from the experience.

Naturally, the people on the other end of the spectrum bear a bigger weight of the pain than those who pull the plug. They also often take longer to recover. But those who inflict the pain will have to live with it too for a while.

One way to avoid having to go through this pain – whether from having to fire someone or having to break up with someone – is  to do all the hard work at the start. Hire better. Choose better. Going with your gut may sound like a good advice when choosing or even hiring someone, but it mostly is just gooey advice. The signs are always there if you look hard enough. Do the needful and stave of the pain for as long as you can.

Language & Communication: My Journey Through Lagos


I went grocery shopping this morning and had an interesting chat with the lady who owned the shop. She spoke in Yoruba and I spoke in English the whole time and we both left off feeling like, “Yeah, good talk.”

I don’t understand Yoruba at all – and, if I didn’t occasionally ride the bus to work, I’d probably not know “owa”, which I use to signal my stop point. The grocery lady probably understands English but is unable to (or won’t?) speak it, apparently. But I’ll bet she understands English way more than I understand Yoruba. Yet, this obvious language barrier seemed nonexistent when we talked today. Because we both agreed on one thing that transcends language: the rising price of goods.

I basically expressed my shock at why a small bowl of fresh tomatoes had quadrupled in price in the last 5 weeks. She responded with something along the lines of the economic dynamics at play in the market lately (at least, that’s what I hoped she said), coupled with the whole “Change” agenda getting in the way of young, single men like me being able to do our grocery shopping in peace without having to toss whatever shred of dignity we have and haggle over prices. She said all of that in Yoruba and I understood.

I chipped in the occasional “ehen?” or “Mm-hmm” expressing surprise or agreement with her thesis – also, to kind of get off of my English-speaking high horse and whatnot. But she never compromised, not even once did she switch to English. Well, after a long chat, I made payments and left with one thought reinforced in my mind. The need for me to learn a new language.

Well, not necessarily Yoruba, please. I’m not exactly interested enough to commit to it nor do I consider it critical to my survival in Lagos. I spent a year in Abakaliki – where virtually everyone converses in Igbo – and learnt only two, maybe three Igbo words and lived out my time there just fine. I think I’ll survive Lagos as well.

But I do want to learn another language just for the heck of it. German, Spanish and French are my top three choices, in no particular order. Also, it’d be cool for the voice in my head to not be English for a change. Maybe we’ll even role play at some point.

I think I might pick up more Yoruba, the longer I stay here. Only snag is that I never get to hear it unless I’m riding the bus or shopping for groceries in Yaba. Also, if and when I stop riding the bus and when I no longer shop for groceries, the chance will be gone altogether. I may have to befriend and marry a Yoruba girl to remedy the situation if it comes down to it. Like I said, I’m not sure I’m that vested in learning the language. Yet.

The Life of A Schizophrenic Traveler

“Karen likes to pretend like she’s better than the rest of us. That’s why nobody likes her. Anyways, as soon as these fellows sort us out for the night, gimme a call, alright? We should meet up later for drinks.”

Ugh. It’s the same old attention-seeking drama every time. Nessa can’t sit still for five minutes. If there are people within earshot of her, they have to be burdened with her essence. And there’s always that one moron of a man who falls for her antics and then proceeds to dote on her. Okay, usually more than one, but who is even counting? I am exasperated. I just want to sleep.

When the Captain announced that we would have to turn back due to some technical problem with the plane, you could almost taste the collective feeling of disgust seeping through the plane as sighs echoed from different corners. This was the last flight for the day. Some guy in the adjacent row to mine swore in German – or what sounded like it, I really don’t know. He was completely bald, had no beard, and his face was contorted into a scowl that seemed like he might want to hurt the pilot if he got the chance.

As soon as we landed, we all filed out onto the tarmac. Nessa’s seat was 5 rows behind mine – she never seats close to me when we travel. Something to do with freedom to meet new people. My sister is an attention whore. Ouch, yes, but I’ve come to terms with it. When she and Greg came down from the plane looking like a couple heading to their honeymoon the ache in my stomach hurt just a little bit more. You wouldn’t think they’d only just met on the plane. Ugh.

“Hi, I’m Greg. What’s your name?” “It’s a shame what’s happened, right. I mean, When will these airlines learn?”


Look at this one. Please go away, with your overcooked smile and fancy jacket. Yes, you’re handsome, but I don’t really care right now. No one cares, please move along. I look away at the other passengers scurrying into the holding area where we’re all supposed to get some form of debriefing and whatnot ahead of the next flight in the morning. Everyone is sufficiently pissed. Well, except Nessa and this Greg fellow. They seem rather carefree, like this whole thing was a non-issue. Nessa is whispering something in his ear, and they both giggle.

The airline official saddled with the unfortunate task of addressing us apologizes profusely on behalf of the company and assures us we’ll be put on the morning flight. There’s a couple of people haggling over lodging plans for the night. Nessa and Mr Hi, I’m Greg are huddled together at the back smirking to each other, like they know something the rest of us don’t. I give Nessa the “let’s go” eye and she takes the hint. They share a long hug and I see him looking at me, eyes filled with longing. Prick. I suppose you want the entire world for yourself, then. He keeps staring as we walk away, Nessa’s grin as wide as that time we were at Don Jazzy’s birthday party in Victoria Island last year.

I go online and book a room at a hotel near the airport for the both of us. As soon as we check in, I shower, change and lay on the bed. Nessa is on the phone the whole time. No prizes for guessing it’s her new best boyfriend on the other end of that call obviously. She then lectures me on how I should loosen up and try to make the most of the bad situation. The hotel bar is nice, she says. There’s no need to allow these Nigerian airlines ruin your entire day. We already missed the flight; might as well find something to smile about today. I hate that she is right.

Last night was a blur. I recall realizing it was a bad idea to go down to the bar as soon as we got there. There, as if on cue, was that fellow from the flight. I should have known Nessa would tell him which hotel we were staying at. Drinks and some reluctant dancing after – well, it all is a bit hazy now that I try to recollect it. I went up early to catch some sleep, only rousing a bit when Nessa came up later and snuggled up in bed beside me. I’m not even trying to remember now, there’s a flight to catch and we’re not trying to be late.

The cab ride to the airport is brisk. The driver keeps looking in his rear-view mirror at us as we argue in hushed tones about all that transpired last night. Soon as we arrive, we head to the boarding area. The flight is in 50 minutes.

“Sorry, ma’am, your flight was for last night. It says so on your ticket.”

“I know, we were here. Your plane had issues. The pilot had to reverse the plane because of some technical issue. You people were supposed to put us on this morning’s flight. That’s what you said last night.”

“Madam, I don’t understand. This plane left last night as scheduled. It landed already in London.”

“Can you believe these people, Nessa? Where’s your Greg, by the way? He’s not traveling anymore?”

“Please ma’am, you’re holding up the line. Please let this gentleman attend to you, instead.”

Wow. This isn’t happening. I want to throw a tantrum and shake up this place but my senses get the better of me. That’s kind of Nessa’s specialty, by the way – throwing tantrums, that is. She’s awfully calm now, though, just looking forlorn. Maybe because Greg isn’t here to dote on her. I now have to call mum and tell her we missed the flight after all. We’ll have to book another flight for tonight.

Mum is surprisingly calm and I’m a little angry that she doesn’t share my frustration at the airline for messing up our flight plan. She says to wait at the lobby for her. She and Dad are coming over to get us. I tell Nessa they’re coming to get us and she just nods wistfully. This one is obviously still thinking about Greg, who apparently changed his mind about flying this morning, I guess. The bald German-ish fellow too, I wish he was here now. Maybe he’d have broken something or make these airline pricks pay for their scam. I am tired.

“Honey, Karen has finally called. She’s missed her flight. Again.”

“Sigh. Did she stop taking her meds again?”

“See, I’m tired. Please let’s go and get our daughter.”



This story was first posted on

Neverwhere: Tale of A Nomad

I hate that I don’t drink Coffee.

It’d probably help with me feeling cranky every time. I had no taste for sweet things when I was little and now I can’t stand things that are bitter. My parents missed the window to teach me to drink coffee or any of those shitty bitter things that are supposed to be good for you and whatnot. But what do you do when your kid hasn’t got a sweet mouth like they should? You strive for normalcy.

Normalcy sucks. But it is efficient.

I haven’t been home in a really long time. It’s funny how we keep longing to go home but never quite get to make it there. Because what’s supposed to be home isn’t by the time you’re grown. The people and the bricks are pretty much the same but the feeling isn’t. You return now, every once in a while, only to catch a wisp of the fond memories now buoyed by the faces of the people you love and in the eyes of those you must.

This is the third city I am settling into in the last 3 years. I have averaged a year in all three, going where work takes me. When I left home for university a decade ago, I was a precocious teenager seeking the thrill associated with unravelling the mysteries of the world. Six years and two majors later, one was not nearly as keen about the world as one once naively was. I’m not quite sure precociousness applies to teenagers anyway.

I am not rich yet and it’s hard to not be a tad disappointed at the universe for not taking its cue – we should have already moved past this. Three years ago, when I hosted a breakfast TV show in the East and juggled a radio show in tandem, I was some kind of rock star. People would fawn at you in street corners, at events and market places that you’d have to keep up appearances. You had to be the guy who has got it all together and was really just waltzing through life. You’re on TV and you had it all figured out and had to be rich.

I’m still that rock star. No longer on TV though. I’ve broken into two other industries since – and changed cities twice in the process. It all sounds pretty remarkable when you hear me tell it. I even almost believe it when I see how some react to it. Maybe it is, I’m not quite sure. I just know my nomadic proclivities aren’t quite cured yet, albeit I am slightly more at rest at this current stop.

I am compromising my health on the regular now. Skipping on breakfast is a way of life for a lotta young people like me who have to wake up early and beat the Lagos morning traffic rush to get to work. Sodas and snacks for brunch, an undignified lunch, more Sodas and noodles or some other shitty dinner like that. That’s how a typical day goes. Then you try to get a really good meal at some point – usually over the weekend for me.

One barely gets enough sleep. But it’s been that way since University, so one has come to terms with that, somewhat. Exercise? Lol… now, there’s something that gets romanticized every now and again. The only sporting activity one does now is the Soda can Slam Dunk at the office – a really competitive pseudo basketball game, except that we’ve replaced the ball and hoops with soda cans and trash baskets respectively.
Someday soon, I’ll just actually walk into that gym up the street and register myself, I say. Sweet nothings my mind whispers to my muscles already mired in mild atrophy, to keep them hoping that it isn’t quite the end of the world for them.

There’s way too much to learn still. As one grows, you find out you’re not going to have all the time to learn everything you want or need to. So you focus on the ones you need to do your job better or to survive, with little time left for others. I think that’s the sad thing with the way adult life is set up – you come to terms with the fact that there are some books or skill sets you’ll never have the time to absorb, regardless of interest. Because necessity takes a stronger hold on the mind than interest does when you’re grown.

Having never actually left Nigeria, it is pretty ridiculous that I tend to feel what might pass of as an immigrant experience. I read books that depict actual immigrant experiences of people long and far removed from what they used to call home and I kind of feel a tad guilty for being able to relate to it, somewhat. Maybe I just really miss home and the early years when life was simpler. Technically, home is only a couple of hours away, but you get the point, I suppose.

Lagos grows on you and then quits. I don’t even look out the window on the bus ride back from work in the evenings. My phone or an unfinished book (usually on the phone, or just the phone, mostly) take any attention left to give after a long work day.

It is only five years ago, when I had my internship in this same city, that I looked forward to bus rides everyday. I basked in the sights – the lights on the ships docked at or leaving harbour in CMS, the Nitel tower in view from Third Mainland Bridge when you’re approaching Lagos Island and the sheer beauty on display across the city, mostly at night. I used to feel sorry for the other passengers who couldn’t be bothered to look out the window to take in the sights. No wonder you’re all so glum, I used to say in my head. Now, I know.

Morphing into a man in Nigeria is tedious. Too many things trying to get in the way of those who are making the effort. Moving out of your parents home and foraging out in the world on your own is kind of the ultimate rite of passage – bigger than graduating college, apparently. As you get to grapple with and slay dragons like housing and other bills, you start to think your parents may have been secret superheros for being able to raise a home and hold down the fort with such little money! One is not even married yet and is basically grasping at straws with this being a grown up business.

One is gradually approaching the time when being aloof about goings-on around the country and the world is no longer cool. Soon, someone in your age-group is going to hold public office and either shame us all or do well. Those are the only two options, I suppose. Although one has grown up in this country with public office holders marvellously bereft of the latter.

The world is going to shit. War looms every now and again in some corners of the world and here at home. There’s not a shortage of people willing to take other unsuspecting humans with them to their miserable deaths. You kind of have to constantly repress the news info on atrocities around so your mind could still function without breaking down at the sheer horror on display.

Life is tedious enough with the crazy schedules, Lagos traffic and the many sides to eking out a living as a young man. Now, I also have to try to not die while at it. Who’s to tell one of these guys in the bus or in the mall doesn’t have a death wish they’re looking to reach for today? This isn’t how to live.

I hate that I don’t drink Coffee.

The Road Often Travelled [By Me]

One question that has flitted through my mind more frequently lately is:

Why haven’t we built an algorithm that racks up a person’s cumulative “road miles” and/or heat map? You know, kinda like we have air miles for air travel.

I mean, we have figured out a way to tell how many kilometers a player ran, how many passes they put through in a single football game — and it’s not like they were on a treadmill or something. Can we not look at a person and immediately know they got, say about 25km road miles under their belt?

Since the Fall of 2012 when I shipped out for my NYSC in eastern Nigeria, I have been on the road an awful lot. Barring the central and northern States (for obvious — and yet coincidental — reasons), I have transversed or made a stop at nearly all the other states in the country since.

By road.

You spend enough time in a moving bus and you’ll pick up a few things. From catching up on an unfinished book, an article or Long read on your device, trying hard and often failing to make use of the depressingly poor Internet to check your twitter and the other attention sapping apps you traffic online, to glancing at the other passengers so as to reassure yourself that they’re not mannequins and that you’re not being goaded into an elaborately planned kidnapping, one tends to look out the window and let the mind roam. Or you write — like I’m writing this right now.

I always take a window seat if I can help it. Seats 10, 8 and 14, in that order, are my choice seats, as they give you a mixture of comfort and enclosure coupled with the window view at the same time. (Seat 14 is least on the scale as it has the extra pesky feature of being atop the rear right tire and you get hit hardest by the shocks from the road bumps — just like at seat 11, but 11 is an odd number, so yeah…)

Please let the reader picture a God is Good executive bus for all intents and purposes. Although there are other lines I seldom take.

I find it extremely difficult to sleep while traveling. Much like some folks find it quite hard to read while in motion. I don’t have that problem, thankfully. But staring out the window in transit is my favorite pastime. There’s no telling what I might see or the rad things that may pop in my head.

The country side is not exactly aesthetically appealing to begin with. Trees and vegetation interspersed with the occasional rural settlement don’t necessarily make for viewing delight. But seeing and hardly taking note of them as they whiz past — kind of like visualized Doppler effects, if you may — creates a canvas for my mind to work with as it paints fleeting pictures.

Or is it us doing the running? Sometimes I think, what if the trees by the roadside, with their arcing branches nwhatnot, are really just trying to hail a cab and no one is stopping for them? What if those at Saganmu are trying to get to a tree union meeting at Órè?

Looking out the window, your whole life can flash before your eyes in intermittent bits. Sometimes, I’m awash with existential thoughts for extended periods and at other times, grandiose imaginations prevail. Also, there are moments random and bizarre thoughts come to ones mind — like the thought on stacking road miles that prompted this post. Although, I also think it’s much more complex to track a person’s accumulated road miles because of the inconsistencies with ticketing and data logging with the transport companies. I suppose it’s easier for airline companies.

I think the feeling of taking in the sights and taking a trip in my head while my body is simultaneously on a cruise is why I enjoy these trips so much. Except for the fatigue afterwards of course. I have often toyed with the idea of paying a cabbie to just drive me around town so I can stare out the window and think. Maybe it’ll be something I’ll do regularly when I have a driver later.

I am yet to fly anywhere — and I wish I could give an elegant-sounding reason like the fear of flying for never having been on a plane ride. Well, let’s just say it kinda has been the case that I seemed unable to afford to fly right when I really needed to. Weird.

Maybe when I fly soon enough I will be able to take these trips in my head as well. Maybe the clouds will be a better canvas for my mind. Maybe they won’t, and I’ll miss the trees. Maybe I will chat with the next passenger. Maybe I’ll close my eyes and sleep.

Until then, I’ll ride the bus.