Conversation with The Man at Seat 32B by Chinaza Ezeoke

We talk about everything and yet nothing.

Our conversation weaves through the traffic jams of Lagos and Tanzania. I tell him about how long I spend on bridges every day to and from work, and how bridges are the clear demarcation of the haves and haves-not in Lagos.

I like the way his eyes crinkle at the corner while he talks. I am sitting at 32A, the window seat, when he sits beside me. The flight from Jomo Kenyatta International airport, Nairobi to Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, Zanzibar took off twenty minutes ago so I am certain that 32B is not his original seat.

He is telling me that in Tanzania, it is the exact opposite. The haves are the ones on the Mainland and the haves not are on the Island. He talks about corruption, and how it is pervasive in African countries.

He says that despite all the revenue Zanzibar Island makes from the tourism, they send it to Tanzania, that is, the Mainland, to fund them and build roads while Zanzibar remains grossly underdeveloped despite the thousands of Muzungus that flock the Island yearly.

‘Munzungu?  Does that mean stupid people in your language?’ I ask, laughing. ‘Because that sounds like mumu in Nigerian pidgin.’

He says that it means white people in Swahili and that quite frankly, only a mumu will buy a ‘locally woven raffia basket’ for two hundred US dollars.

I tell him Nigerians hike prices for tourists too, and that reverse racism is an Africa-wide phenomenon, and that it is Africa’s way of ‘getting back’ at the colonialists.

‘Getting back at them for what?’ He asks.

I am not sure so I keep quiet. But I feel quite clever for using reverse racism in a conversation with this gorgeous man.

He sees me watching him, then smiles, a smile that causes need to course through me till it lands finally in the middle of my legs. He continues talking. He talks about how he is from a place called Old Town and when the first house that ever had an elevator was built, he would stand outside every morning and watch people go up and down in the oscillating machine.

I feel a pang of jealousy, because I do not even know enough of Anambra state to engage in a conversation with a stranger I just met on an airplane. I do not even know when the first house was built. Was it in Onitsha? Or perhaps in Nnewi? Did it have stairs? Was it a mud house? Would I have cared enough to stand outside to watch people in an elevator?

I did not let myself think that maybe I did not find my origin fascinating enough to read about it. Because then, what kind of Nigerian woman did that make me?

My father made me go to my village every Christmas to ‘learn about my rich Igbo culture’ but I know it was counterproductive because I mainly drank wine and watched How to Get Away with Murder indoors instead.

‘Are you married?’ The stranger asks, interrupting my thoughts. Finally, a question that indicates the possibilities of something.

‘Are you hitting on me?’ I reply, laughing.

He looks into my eyes for a moment, laughs, then replies.

‘No. Not really. I am just wondering how a woman is able to afford a vacation to Zanzibar all by herself.’

 

 

 

Chinaza Ezeoke is a 2016 alumni of the Farafina Trust creative workshop. She loves travelling and is currently working on a collection of short stories based on the countries she has travelled to. She lives in Lagos and tweets @theaugustmodel.

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