One of my very girl-best friends calls me and after we exchange a string of sentences, she asks me, “are you happy, Emmanuel?” I respond without thinking, “yes.” I respond without thinking. She asks me if I am happy, and I respond. Yes.
I think I am happy. I think I know the value of happiness. Or not.
Hours earlier I was with Ekiko, alias Sogolo, alias Günter. He’s an old friend, now in his early 30s, studied in Ife. Studied philosophy in Ife but was by all means a literature student. Wrote his undergraduate thesis on Dostoyevsky – and his lecturers, before they approved the topic, two months before the submission deadline, wondered how literature intersected with academic philosophy.
Wondered how literature intersected with philosophy.
It is an evening of beer and malt and waffles and cookies. A bar somewhere close to Domino, Sabo-Yaba. Behind us is a Baptist Church, the dominant feature of Raymond Street. House number 7 on Raymond is our friend Adebiyi’s office. Adebiyi is a Research Analyst, Ekiko is an art dealer, I am a Senior Project Manager— the description on our cards. At Ife, we were nothing else but students who were in a system that handicapped us – we were studying Mechanical Engineering, or Law or Philosophy, but our souls were entrapped in the pursuit of language, literature, everything we weren’t being taught. Adebiyi said, once, which he has repeated time and again, which seemed to have been Mark Twain’s words, “I have learnt not to let my schooling interfere with my education.”
I tell Ekiko he is wrong to be regretful about how he played out his life as a student, missing logic classes for two weeks and all the while writing a logical equation that disproved the existence of God through biblical injunctions. He was wrong to be regretful because he had been trying to transcend a conventional educational system, one that had no regard for outliers, prodigies. I told him that, and for a brief second I had a pang of regret, I had been a conformist, never having the guts to fail Law courses, careless and self-righteous, in a quest for greater truth.
A pang of regret lasted a brief second. Or longer.
There is a man in the bar sitting behind me who feels there is a practical reality and a theoretical reality. He is a lawyer, graduated from Ife in ‘97, when, as he says, there was no GSM. For Chinedu, we are the theoretical realists, with our high-sounding ideas that do not work in real life, because in Nigeria ‘intellectuals’ are not respected. They are, even abused, even denigrated. I want to tell him that I am not an intellectual, but I am not sure, or I am sure, or I have not read Edward Said enough to know.
I am not an intellectual, or I am not sure, or I am sure.
Ekiko and I end the evening talking about living, and dying, the shortness of life, essence, writing, art criticism, and a small group of us that were friends in Ife. I hug him twice at Ikeja, where the Computer Village, like existence itself, is staring at us, daring us to move. I hug him twice, because I am happy seeing him again. I am happy.
These things pass; tomorrow like the day before I will find a bus to Yaba, then to Sabo, then I’ll walk ten minutes to Alagomeji, somewhere on Herbert Macaulay Way. Life will go on. Then perhaps I’ll stop in the middle of something and think of being 25 and the world at my feet. Or I’ll think of my friends who are 27 or 30 and how age is an illusion, or not; and I am listening to Yaasin Bey and The Brooklyn Philharmonic, live in concert, Coming Together, “I think the combination of age and a greater coming together is responsible for the speed of the passing time.” This is what Yaasin Bey says in tandem with classical music.
“It’s six months now and I can tell you truthfully few periods in my life have passed so quickly. I am in excellent physical and emotional health. There are doubtless several surprises ahead. But I feel secure and ready. As lovers would contrast their emotions in times of crisis, so am I dealing with my environment in the indifferent brutality, the incessant noise, the experimental chemistry of food, the ravings of lost hysterical men, I can act with clarity and meaning. I am deliberate, sometimes even calculating, seldom employing histrionics except as a test of the reactions of others. I read much, exercise, talk to God’s inmates, feeling for the inevitable direction of my life.”
That’s all – an evening of friendship, happiness, and the inevitable direction of my life.