The Periwinkle List

‚Äč9.58am.

Victoria Garden City, Lagos.

It was an unusual time on a Monday morning to still maintain the affinity between my back and the multi-coloured bedsheet that I had been too lazy to wash over the weekend; I should be in my slave plantation of a workplace, dazed by the grueling traffic from a few hours before, responding to threatening office mails in servile fashion and flashing plastic smiles to customers with an unnecessarily huge sense of entitlement…..but today was different. The ones who worshipped on Fridays rather than Sundays had their version of December 25th going on, so the federal government pleased all 9-5ers as it rarely did, by announcing a two-day public holiday. Left to me, I would have loved that a search be conducted for another missing moon thereby causing an extension of my days away from the plantation, but no horses were going to have beggars riding them. I scrolled down my phonebook (in vain) for the phone numbers of friends who would have me partake in a binge on those juicy ram parts, and finding none, I opted for another outlet to search for company: my social media timeline.

Being a creative comes with the urge to express your art on social media, being active on social media while displaying expertise in your craft translates to a significantly huge following, and from that ultimately springs up a dedicated fan base. I did not necessarily rate my prowess by social media approval, but if the likes, comments, retweets and shares were anything to go by, I was pretty good with my pencil and paintbrush. Creativity attracts enthusiasts, and sometimes enthusiasm evolves into devotion, some of which would usually flow from the opposite sex…..which allows for flattery…..and flirting…..and the tendency to confuse curiosity with genuine admiration, and in extreme cases, a mix-up of art appreciation with emotional attachment. 

I was aware of the complicated procedure involved in creating new e-bonds; the witty lines, the comebacks, the need to avoid corny statements, the necessity of keeping out small talk, the continual steering of the conversational wheels so they remained in a particular direction (especially if your intentions were not exactly noble, though there was no real way to gauge that), the need to conduct due diligence on the timeline to get a clear picture of their views on issues (like ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and feminism), the rule of typing in full (relevant in this age of Grammar Nazis), carefully negotiating the line between straight talk and douchey behaviour, the silent prayer to avoid the ones who made every inbox conversation the subject of a status update…..so I opted to direct my sliding tackles to familiar terrain instead. There was no way I could get a new social media acquaintance comfortable enough to pay me a visit in hours. 

I figured that it would be futile convincing Temi to come over; she often complained that I replied her Whatsapp messages after three business days, and only chatted her up when I felt like having her around. Oge was eight hours away, and even a free flow of “extensive physical interaction” with her was not guaranteed. Somto’s crush on me had faded, her calls and texts no longer streaming in like they used to, my uploads of landscape drawings no longer “captivating” enough for her to publicise like she loved to do five to six months earlier, though I admittedly complicated things with my unresponsiveness and mental shut-outs which (coincidentally) began after that two-day visit. I was left with the option I felt would be the easiest, the tempo of our curiosity ride still good enough to secure a rendezvous…. 

********

Cathy was a graduate of Economics from the University of Lagos stuck in that limbo between the end of national service year and that first contract of employment, as well as an art enthusiast…..or at least that was what I could gather from her Facebook timeline. I slid into the fast-flowing river that was her inbox, just at the same time her situationship with Tunde, a writer famed for his cheesy poems often published on rainy nights, had hit the rocks. Being a creative gets you surrounded by similarly wild minds to the point that it feels like a cult, so the friend request was always a question of “when” rather than “if”, and if seeing that we had about four hundred e-friends in common was not going to get me comfortable, Lord knows what would. 

The popular story was that Tunde had got into a heated e-scuffle with online personality Hymar David over a post which the former had perceived as a subtle dig at his craft, and Cathy had unwittingly clicked the like button one of Hymar’s incisive comments. Tunde had gone ahead to unfriend Cathy, who responded with a post about “nursery rhyme scribblers who lacked depth”. Tunde, nursing a bruised ego, composed a long poem on “paper dolls and blondes clothed with dark skin”, and Cathy hit back by uploading screenshots of the many conversations they had, from the downright corny to the ones laced with smut. 

I was aware of all this, and from the first “hello” I knew I had to impress. A long chat history laced with wit and sass evolved into a back-and-forth texting marathon, then the likes on every single sketch I uploaded, then the Instagram mentions, then the 2am voice notes, then the exchange of photos involving mounds of flesh (though I was careful not to send out shots of my ‘German machine’ in sheer over-excitement, who knew where those could end up?) 

A request to stop by and check out some of my new furniture was met with some reluctance from her. Her words were:

“James, you live at VGC, and I in Ketu. See the distance? ”

“Geography means nothing where Desire is involved”, I replied. 

“All these mushy lines you artists use. By the way, I think we’re going too fast, we only started talking three weeks ago.”

“Cathy, I think it would be unfair of you to try dictating the pace of this thing between us, let’s go with the tempo, why interrupt the flow? ”

And when I slowly pencilled out her features on a white cardboard paper while she lay totally unclothed on my mattress, she inquired:

“James, you’d better make sure no portion of this sketch leaves this room. ”

“Baby, you want us to sign a non-disclosure agreement? ” I answered, making a derisive face. 

“Hmm…. you called me ‘baby’……how many of your female fans on social media have you addressed by that term? ”

And midway through our joint bath, before which she had tightly wrapped her legs around my hip, clutching my head as I nibbled at her breast and mouthing unintelligible statements as I ploughed the moist mangrove swamp with the German machine, deciphering the texture of her butt cheeks with my palms, she implored:

“Jamie, none of this makes your Facebook page, even in the most subtle of posts, ok? ”

“I am not a writer, Cathy, only writers kiss and tell….and by the way, it’s ‘James’. Let’s clean up, dress and sleep.”

We didn’t find our clothes, at least not until she left the following evening. We had no need of them anyway. 

*********

12:19pm.

Victoria Garden City, Lagos. 

According to the general “missed calls rule”, I made it a point of duty not to dial a number after two attempts without a response, but I had broken the code for Cathy’s sake, and even after the fifth attempt, all I got was the “no answer” notification, accompanied by that tone which meant that the human at the other end was unable (or unwilling) to pick up. Determined to not appear too “thirsty”, I refrained from dialling for the sixth time. I wouldn’t have lent much thought to all of it if the two text messages from my phone had been met with a reply. Cathy was usually the first to trigger the text-a-thon, so this was unusual. 

I swam through the waters of my newsfeed into her Facebook inbox to drop another chat message (I had sent out a random “hey miss” by 7.52am), and I found that not only was she online, she had seen the words from few hours earlier. She had also posted three updates within the past hour, shared a video, and commented on two short stories. Yea, i caught all the details in totally insecure fashion. 

Cathy was ignoring me. 

There was no need to make a fuss out of it, but I wanted the company.  Cathy’s company. I could feel her butt cheeks all over my palms, and with that flash of thought, I grabbed my phone, scrolled to my Facebook messenger and typed:

“Not quite good at multi-tasking, are you? ”

It was read within minutes, with no reply given, but shortly after lunch which comprised of bread and egg sauce (I couldn’t stress myself to conjure an actual recipe or visit Nigerian Lazy Chef’s Instagram page),  I scrolled down my newsfeed to find a recent status update from Cathy. It read:

“Ultimately, we’ve got the right to choose where we want to be, who we are comfortable with, and for how long.”

I got the message. The novelty had worn off.

 I ceased all communication with Cathy. It was not a conscious effort, but the texts dried up. She withdrew her likes from a few of my sketches, and pulled down the photos of us together taken at The Palms from her wall.

In the following weeks, the social media pages of a young man named Mickey felt the effect of Cathy’s keypads. I knew Mickey, affectionately known as Mickey Strings; he had shared the stage with promising Nigerian rock acts Johnny Drille, Phrance and Nathmac at a number of gigs, played the guitar as well as the harmonica, and the pseudo-elite girls who frequented Bogobiri Lounge couldn’t get enough of him. I stumbled on a video of him rendering a cover of Mumford and Sons’ “Believe”, and while I felt he was trying too hard, I couldn’t deny the talent. Cathy clicked the ‘love’ button on all his posts, shared his videos, reposted his practice sessions on Instagram, gave glowing reviews of his songs (I particularly liked the guitar solo on his hit track “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone”), and was quick to upload photos of them smiling together at Hard Rock Cafe. 

I shrugged inwardly whenever I saw those updates. If i had invested my emotions in the positive social media feedback, or expected anything meaningful to spring from soft-copy affections, then a short scroll down Cathy’s timeline would have got me clutching my chest in agony. It was not that deep, no, it never was. Everything ran its course, from high-octane crushes to weather-induced company, and this was no different. 

“Sometimes you are reluctant to translate e-acquaintance into real-life familiarity because of the difficulty in gauging the level of depth (or lack thereof), as well as the particulars of intent…..and other times your thoughts run in the lines of ‘oya coman feed your curiosity and be going to your house’ ”

*********

7.21pm.

Freedom Park, Lagos. 

“Dude, why aren’t you up there performing tonight? ”

It was the Lagos State International Poetry Festival, and while we were waiting for the headlining acts, we had to make do with a few performances from two “cold-weather poets” who had opted to sacrifice meaning in order to achieve rhyme schemes. Sure enough, there were no rules to poetry, but I just found the renditions abysmally poor. The atmosphere of the event was getting lost on me, causing me to take solace in a glass of Heineken, but I only just spotted Tunde, and I set about to teasing him. 

“Oh, you want me to perform, so that someone will run to her wall and do an editorial on nursery rhyme scribblers”, he cut back. 

I laughed. We both knew who he was talking about. 

“Oh, where is that one by the way.” I was eager for some gossip. 

“I should be asking you.”

“No, we should be asking Mickey Strings.”

No information. This meet-and-greet was getting boring. 

“Talk of the Devil! ”

Tunde had seen him first. I turned. It was Mickey alright, on one of those rare public appearances without a guitar. Dressed in a navy blue turtle-neck t-shirt, beige-coloured trousers and black sneakers, he walked up to us, leading to an exchange of “bro” hugs. 

“Why are you here alone? ” I inquired, wasting no time to put him on the spot. 

“What do you mean? ” Mickey asked, confusion finding home on his face. 

“Usually, you would be here with….”

“Oh!!!! ” Mickey exclaimed. He had finally got where I was driving at. “We don’t talk anymore. As a matter of fact, she blocked me on Twitter.”

“Wawu! ” I blurted, feigning shock. 

“Guy wetin happen? You guys were the IT social media couple.” Tunde was hungry for some gossip too. 

“Well, we had this argument. She wanted a song written for her, and she wanted it on her birthday. My muse deserted me at the time, and I couldn’t deliver, so…..one subliminal diss, then another, then one day I go to her Facebook timeline and see “Add Friend. ”

“Na wa o….. ”

“Oh well….. I hear she is crawling all over Femi Laniyan’s feeds nowadays.”

“Who’s that one? ” My ears were now more alert than ever. 

“He is one guy who recently joined the cast of Tinsel, same time as Falz”, Mickey responded generously. “He is tall, dark, team beard gang sef. Played ‘waka pass’ roles in Phone Swap and The CEO.”

“Cathy sha! ” Tunde cut in. “Should we tell him? ”

“Where’s the fun in that? ” I retorted. “Let the girl have her fill. I’m sure we were all just part of a long list.”

“Waking up next to very male creative on your timeline is a pretty tall ambition, but who says a woman cannot dream? ” Mickey was getting salty now. 

“The way they treat some of us creatives like periwinkle ehn….pick, suck and move ahead”, Tunde interjected. 

We giggled.

“The worst part is when they show up, seeming all genuine, and then you make the mistake of pouring your heart out to them. You are left with the feeling of being naked”, Mickey added. 

We slowly nodded in agreement. Poor Mickey, he probably thought he had found someone he could be honest and comfortably vulnerable with when he met Cathy. 

I poured some more Heineken into my glass from the bottle and dutifully observed the bubbles. It was amazing, really, how the foam would appear so thick for a few moments, and then settle back into the glass without warning…..just like social media relationships. I thought about the “hey James, I really like your drawings, they have so much soul” inbox message I received earlier in the day from a lady whose friend request I recently accepted, grinned and took a long sip.