“Nobody ever calls me,” Sumbo sighs, pleasantly surprised at your call. It is a Sunday and you have no deadlines or readings or dinners or dates. It is not that you do not have them, but you have decided not to respond to any of the many emails or texts inviting you to something in some bar or lounge or mall or hotel. Today, you feel like something has left you. You feel breathless after having spent the last two years burrowing deep through damp city-earth, searching, digging, moving, because that is what city people do—they do not stop moving.
You think of the last time you called anyone. Apart from your mum who doesn’t have a Blackberry or email or Facebook or Twitter you haven’t had phone conversations longer than two minutes in a long time. Maybe six months. These days you are irritated when someone chooses to call you instead of just send you a message. It interrupts the myriad online platforms where you have yourself spread out, thin, doing business, making appointments, engaging in debates and fights, sharing the things you wouldn’t tell your best friend Tricia who lives far away and is slowly becoming someone you just know.
You over share, compulsively, on Twitter and on Facebook; it feels like a duty, almost de rigeur, to talk about your new hair dresser, your bad internet connection, friends that hurt you, relationship advice you just Googled, the heat. Your fecundity is at its sharpest here, where nothing is real but the buttons that you press and the screens that you touch.
It used to threaten to give you a hernia when you first came to Abuja and saw that people sat in rooms heads bowed into their devices like they were all saying prayers, when you saw people out on a date, both smiling, but at different things on the screens of their phones or iPads. You would walk away angrily if you were talking to someone and they replied you without lifting their heads up.
Ill-mannered people in a cold lifeless city is what you told Tricia when you spoke, daily, giving her updates on shocking scandals, the lesbians that won’t let you be, the men you think are insincere, the money situation, your date at the Hilton where you saw a drink that cost nearly N2 million. You talked about the drink for nearly two weeks, amazed at the expression of vulgarity that was a N1.8million drink. Some days the city depressed you and she sighed along with you when you would say nothing for 10 minutes on the phone.
Tricia came yesterday, en route Accra where her mother lives with her stepfather. You said you would meet her but things kept coming up until your Blackberry battery ran out and she couldn’t reach you. You didn’t have your charger, so you rushed to Silverbird Galleria to use the charging machines and have a drink. Her message was the first to come in when you switched back on one hour after. She sent you the address of her hotel. She wished she could have stayed with you but couldn’t reach you. She hoped you could meet, even briefly, because she hadn’t seen you in one year and she didn’t know how long she would be in Accra for.
It was almost 10 o’clock when you saw Tricia. It felt awkward the way she looked into your eyes after she hugged you, a bit reservedly. Her eyes bored holes in your soul and you looked away while she asked you questions about everything. “You look tired,” she said, when you yawned the third time and you admitted that you’d had a long torturous day, didn’t have much sleep the night before but was so so glad you could see her. She said she had lunch with Sumbo. You had almost forgotten that Sumbo was a mutual friend. After yawning again, you wish her a safe flight and say you really really have to go home and sleep.
“Tricia was a bit disappointed she couldn’t spend time with you,’ Sumbo says.
“Yeah, I know, I was a bit busy.”
“She feels a bit let down. Said, Abuja changes people.”
You sigh and go quiet. She can feel your discomfort. She clears her throat and asks if you have watched the new Iron Man 3.