It took some persuasion to convince me that the farewell party was worth a whole seven pounds.
For that amount, I could buy myself two whole “road runner” chicken, what they call in the UK “boiler chicken” apparently because they require hard boiling to be tender enough for Britons delicate teeth. I would still have two pounds left to spend on a dozen hooves at the City market, the equivalent of Nairobi’s “Marigiti”.
I have never bought hooves for sure. I’m only mentioning them because they seem to be a much-sought-after delicacy among West Africans. The other day, I passed by the meat section in the market. I was struggling with the guilt of extravagance as I waited for my turn to buy a kilo of beef for five and a half pounds (Ksh800), the first and only time in seven months!
Ahead of me was a lady. I could tell she was a Naija daughter from her accent, confident airs and loudness. “How many hooves do you have over there?” she bellowed as she fingered a pile of hooves behind the display glass.
“I guess a couple of them but we’ve got more in the freezer,” offered the butcher. “I need 30 kilos…beef,” she said. The butcher offered his apologies that they were not enough to meet her demand because there was a standing order for 12 kilos. “Top up with pork but pack separately,” she suggested.
The guy behind me, another West African, began complaining. He, too, needed some hooves and it was unfair for a single client to purchase so much, he argued. “The early bird catches the worm. You should have beaten me to the queue if you needed some…and in any case, is this the only meat store?” the woman retorted while clinically examining each hoof.
I had no idea what she was looking for. She turned the hooves around, poked her finger between their horny ends, sniffed at them and hit them against each other while listening to the resultant sound as if it were a strange ritual. She insisted on a particular way of splitting each hoof: once from the end and between the “digits.” She cursed the butcher for ruining the hooves taste whenever he failed to get the split right.
It must have taken more than an hour for her pile of hooves to get ready. While they were being packed in huge bags, I patiently waited for my turn to pay for my kilo. I felt like a bachelor waiting to pay for just a loaf of bread in a crowded supermarket behind someone paying for a family’s monthly shopping!
Quick budget calculations are part of a student’s every day life. They tend to be relatively easy because they are pegged on essential expenses.
Thus, seven pounds is not just an equivalent of Ksh1,000 but rather enough money to feed on for a week if well spent. If I’m going to waste it on a farewell party, therefore, it better have enough fun.
After the very last class, Alicia asked me for my seven pounds. Until then, I had paid little attention to the event’s details on the class Facebook page. Whatever vestige of interest I may have harboured was extinguished when I noticed it was a formal wear event. I couldn’t imagine having to purchase a shirt and/or a coat. There were more pressing needs for my money.
I lied to her I had prior commitments to travel and felt guilty almost immediately. It is difficult not to like the girl from Manchester, easily the warmest British girl I have met so far. When she was 18, she spent three months in volunteer work in rural Tanzania and learnt a smattering of Swahili, gyrations of hips and friendliness and not necessarily in that order.
A few classmates, including my friend Olawemi, heard of my lie. I had confided in him, half-jokingly, that I did not want to go because of financial and dress considerations. He now recalled this confession in typical loudmouth version. As a “born-again,” he insisted, he could not keep quiet while I courted God’s wrath with untruths. Alicia offered to pay for me. And I could still dress in my jeans and sneakers if I so wished.
Other ladies joined with offers and persuasions. As one of the four men in a class of 25, ladies attention was not exactly a rarity. But I had never experienced a collective out-of-class interest. It felt nice to be on the receiving end of all this. So I dug in by pretending to be hard to get.
Wei, the shy Chinese, offered a beer and a dance. Nang, the Indonesian, promised to turn up without the hijab. Lucy would wear the shortest dress manufactured in the UK. But it was Hannah’s promise to tag along and get Dr Dee, the matronly lecturer who taught the boring research methods module, silly drunk, that tickled my interest most.
For some reason, Dee intimidated me by remote control. We may have never talked one-on-one. But there is a way she stared at me in class that made me feel foolish and unserious perhaps because I seldom listened to what she was saying anyway. I only paid attention when she asked a question – by looking down in case she pointed at me for an answer.
I had heard rumours that she was easy company off campus and preferably in a bar. I imagined she approached her drink like research questions: was the drink preceded by uses and gratifications market survey? Was the sample population representative enough? Was the margin of error statistically significant…?
Dee was among the first people I saw at the farewell party. Her clothes stood out for their oddity. While other ladies turned out in sexy outfits, many too skimpy that I imagined they could have easily fitted in a clutch bag, she was in a rumbled top over dirty jeans and equally dirty boots. It is as if she had strayed into the party from a weekend’s farm visit!
Not to look too keen on the party, I had deliberately delayed my arrival. But I did not reckon with the UK’s fastidiousness with keeping time and my lateness was noted. I was met with shouts of excitement partly because the attendees were beginning to get drunk.
The attention left me feeling like a boy in a toyshop. There were beauties everywhere calling out my name. But the rich options turned out to be my waterloo. I ended up hugging too many of them that I didn’t see Dee slip out of the room before my “revenge” dance!
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