I hate crowds, literally. It is one of the things I dread the most about working in a bank I do not like people so much. I have Googled it before, this phobia of mine, but I am yet to determine whether it is anthropophobia or social phobia. Sometimes, I get anxious just thinking about having to be around a lot of people – at the bank, I have learned to manage it because I have my own office space, a space designed to keep people a reasonable feet away from me.
One way I try to keep this phobia at bay is to show up for events early, so that I secure my space without having so many eyes on me. The thought of walking into a crowded room on my own gives me stomach cramps. Today, I have misjudged my timing. The Uber driver showed up late even though the app kept saying he was five minutes away. And then he took a road that was clogged with traffic for about fifteen minutes before we moved. This means that where I would have normally arrived some fifteen to twenty minutes earlier, I am rather on time and a lot of other people are arriving at this time.
I think about Catya who is driving in and I decide to wait for her. Catya is courageous, being with her makes me feel strong, and of course it helps that she can cover my insecurities.
I step aside, away from the entrance to the garden and I reach for my phone.
“Where are you?” I demand, the moment she picks up.
“I’m trying to park…Mummy,” her voice is low, teasing. “I thought you weren’t waiting for me?”
“I changed my mind,” I say. ”Anyway, I am in front of the entrance. That place they are selling zobo.”
‘Be right with you,” she says and hangs up.
The thing is, I have learned that to ‘make it’ in life, one has to ‘fake it’, first of all. I am often reminded of my mother, whose one dream was for all her children to ‘settle down’ and ‘marry well’.
“Don’t be like me and your father,” was her favourite quote.
I wasn’t always sure which aspect of their lives she wanted us to avoid…the poverty, the mediocrity, the need to compare their lives with Mr and Mrs A or Mr and Mrs B?
“Fake it, till you make it,” was another thing my mother constantly said, this time as we grew older when motivational speakers were in vogue and she spent half her time listening to one or the other speaking about how to make it in life.
As I stand by the entrance, beside the woman with the zobo, I smile at her, trying to appear confident, trying to pretend I am not jittery about this reunion for reasons best known to me.
Madam, come buy sweet zobo,” the zobo woman says, taken my smile as an invitation to market.
“Later, when I am coming out,” I reply.
I see Zen before she sees me. She is talking to the zobo woman, a tense smile on her face. She has the look of someone who would rather be anywhere but here.
Her dress is casual but fashionable, and it reminds me briefly of the dowdy girl she was in Uni. I marvel at how she has grown, how she has changed.
“Say cheese!” I say, as I bump her with my hips, my phone outstretched for a selfie. I click off a shot before she can protest.
“I don’t want to be on your Instagram,” she says. “So better delete it.”
“Calm down, I don’t post pictures of random people on my IG, remember? I have to be deliberate about those kinda things. My followers need to know I am hanging with the right people.”
Zen frowns, and I laugh knowing that she is contemplating whether or not to feel insulted.
“Abeg, let’s go inside. How you dey?” I steer her towards our destination.
“I’m fine. You?”
“Great. Working on this endorsement deal for a new hair brand. I hope I get it.”
Zen shrugs. I know she does not think that what I do is as important as what she does, but who defines what is important work? What is a career? Something you are passionate about, right? Something that pays bills?
If working in a bank is her career, why can’t being an influencer be mine?
“The other day Chef Chi commented on a post I made,” I say, determined to make her uncomfortable. “I was like…Mama, I made it.”
“Eh, and did money enter your account when the comment dropped?” Zen throws back.
“No, but my followers increased, and more followers means more people being influenced by me and my brand.”
“Oshey o. Well done.”
I refrain from responding and we walk together in silence to our destination.
“Cat! Catty baby!” someone calls my name and I strain to see.
Finally, I spot him; he is someone from our set but I don’t recall his name.
I wave, hoping he won’t decide to come over.
“Celebrity,” Zen mutters under her breath, but I can’t tell whether she’s being sarcastic.
I want to respond but I notice that the guy has caught up with us. He is smiling broadly.
“Catoski. You don’t remember me?” he stretches out his hand for a hand-slap and I respond in kind, smiling. “Donald, Kay’s friend that year. We used to hang out when you came to visit…”
“I remember,” I snap, cutting him short.
Suddenly, I am feeling claustrophobic and I want to get out from there. I didn’t think I would have to deal with news about Kay so soon.
“Are you okay?” Zen is whispering to me.
“Is…is he here?” I ignore Zen and face Donald.
“Yes,” he says, with a grin.
And I feel my whole body freeze involuntarily.
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