I Know You
Last week, I met a lady at the checkout line of a grocery store in Ikoyi who said that she knew me. The confession was sharp and clear, coming out of lips of which deep red lipstick escaped its borders, like unruly children who do not heed instructions. She said that she knew me, and because I’m awkward in the wake of such confessions, awkward whenever someone comments on my work publicly and in the physical, I didn’t know how to manage the conversation beyond saying thank you so much.
I know you, she said again, more confident in her memory, you were the one screaming at a telecommunications office in Victoria Island some days ago. I remember thinking and perhaps saying oh fuck, and immediately inserting all the little ideas she must’ve formed of the scene. As though sensing my thoughts, she began to describe the day, exacting the shirt I wore that Wednesday. It occurred to me then that she was the sort of person who was also used to being noticed, too. With heels, she stood almost same height with me, she had on silky straight wig parted in the middle. Her dress went a little over her knees but was still flattering, its fabric as gleeful as candy wrappers.
I said that yes, that was me, my voice punched with a mix of acceptance and casual embarrassment. I was not only conflicted in which way to thread with the tone of my speech but also how to float through whatever was to occur next. Do I excuse myself now and wish her a lovely day ahead or do I plead my case, make her see that I wasn’t entirely crazy that day? And what use was it anyway, we owed each other nothing. If anything she was out of line bringing it up in the first place.
Yes that was me, I tell this woman. She is beautiful, I can tell, but she is unsure of it. She is bothered with pushing her long hair to the back and returning it. Her cart is loaded with beauty products, milk and sardines. As she moves closer to the point where she would empty her cart, she makes her confession more elaborate, telling me how she, and whoever sat across from her, was taken by my build, the sound of my voice. She tells me how everyone was still staring even after I sat. I am not afraid of her, so I tell her that that was not particularly show worthy, it was a performance perhaps but it was, in my head, just me communicating my displeasure to the manager, me saying in very exact sentences, that I give them three hours to sort this issue out. I am not afraid of this woman so I begin to tell her the story.
My line had been blocked by my service provider without any warning and for no defined reason. I was at work that morning, running on a busy schedule and as I do on such days, my phone was ignored. In the middle of a meeting, I was informed that my father had phoned the reception, inquiring about me. I panicked. I excused myself to return his call and found that I couldn’t make any calls on my mobile. I called him from my extension and he told me he’d been trying to reach me all morning. That was I okay? A strain of worry ruptured his voice. This was my discovery of the situation for which I needed an urgent solution.
During my lunch break, I went to the telecommunications office and upon arrival, resisted the protocol of taking a number tag that would allow me lodge a complain. Of course I would not put myself through sitting on uncomfortable seats in a ridiculously air conditioned waiting room when my presence there didn’t even make sense to me to start with. That was perhaps the announcement of an arrival for those in the hall, after which I insisted on speaking to a manager and was extremely generous with my feelings, sparing no language either polite or not. I remember hearing very little of what the manager said but knowing for a fact that everything I said was heard.
In telling the story to this stranger, I arrived at a place of astonishing clarity, one that hadn’t appeared at all since the day of the incident. This knowledge might have moved through my face, causing her to cock her head, as if unsure of what was in front of her. We exchanged a polite laugh that marked the end of the story, after which we were to resume our lives as strangers ticking off elements on our to-dos. I held the bottle of wine I was about to purchase under my right arm and with the other, did a sort of polite wave, though she was not far in distance. I took a final look at this stranger’s face, her side portrait, as she waited diligently to puncture in her pin, and knew that I might never see her again but was strapped with the desire to carry something of her by way of narration into my day.
The discovery is this: my father knows my quirks, knows that I’m clueless about cars and do not engage with his patriarchal guests when they visit the house; my father knows that when I’m occupied with work, my phone is off. Yet he had never phoned my office in any of the times he’d tried to reach me with no avail. He just always seemed to get it. There is a strange sensation associated with this realization, like entering cold water, that on this day, my father was so sure that my unavailability was beyond work. Later, when I talk to him about this encounter with a stranger and how it led to this small revelation, he will say that yes, that he just knew that something was wrong, that there is always a feeling, that with the people we love, our instincts are never offline. I won’t doubt him, though I release a small bellied giggle, warmed mostly by the utility of the word offline. Before I leave his room, I tell him that if I go missing, he will be the first to know of this, possibly even before it becomes a thing with my consciousness. I don’t wait to hear what he says but I know it.