The second time i met Ramiya, there were no fireworks.
There were, however, tiny adrenaline worms crawling up my veins when she texted me “i’m in class. let you know when i get out”. I should have been watching straight outta Compton with the guys at Yorkdale but this was definitely more important in the schedule of things.
let me tell you why.
She’d come to represent Canada in my head- this land of opportunity that embraces every culture so completely that you’re free to be who you were back home with a few modifications so that everyone can live peacefully. No one made me enjoy being Nigerian like Ramiya. Sometimes I’d start telling her something and then wonder in my mind what the Sri Lankan version would be…i had to apologize at some point if i seemed to assume she did everything from a cultural perspective rather than by personal decisions. Like when I asked if she talked about boys with her mom- she said she didn’t…she had never really found it necessary to share those personal things with her mom. I just had to ask if Sri Lankan parents were like that- distant from their kids?
“oh no, my cousins talk with their parents about their boyfriends” she responded.
“ugh… i can’t talk with my mom about stuff like that. With my Dad it’s fine but it just feels awkward when it comes to my mom” I said.
“but why is that? aren’t mothers the more emotional ones?” she asked
“well when I was a teenager i once made a joke about girls that my mom didn’t find funny. Since then it’s been hard to have those kinds of conversations. But with my Dad- if i like any girl enough to want to start something, My Dad would probably already know. He’s cool like that”
“by the way, my cousins loved your piece about me. They laughed and laughed. I mean, who does THAT for a person they just met? You write really good! you should write a book!” she declared.
She showed her cousins? Oh man! My head started to swell to the size of mutant watermelons.
(Ramiya, i’m not sure if that turn of phrase is uniquely Nigerian or you get it).
We talked about road trips and she told me of how they would drive five hours to Montreal or Ottawa. Sometimes they drove to Washington for a family event. She said she didn’t enjoy them because the Washington trips were 13 hours each way, more than twice the longest distances they drove in Canada. I thought it would be more fun because it was the whole family but she said her biggest annoyance was with sitting in the same place for hours. I told her about family trips from Port Harcourt to Otukpo. How we would stop at 9th Mile in Enugu; how the landscape changed from Swampy south to Forested East and Browning Savannah and finally Dusty Desert as you drove further north.
“so do you guys have lions?” she asked. I think I was a bit surprised she was asking. I haven’t heard that question in all my time in Canada.
“what ? haha no, no more lions in the wild. That’s more like Zimbabwe and maybe Kenya” (sorry, Kenyan friends. No slight intended. But with Cecil and all the other guys getting loose these days…)
“so what do you guys have then?”
“we have antelope in the savannah. And grasscutters . Do you know grasscutters ?”
The discussion moved from family to living on campus. Yeah Yorku IS a big community. She said if she had to choose to live in any school it would be Yorku.
“why? Ryerson looks like it’s more fun” I offered.
“huh? where do you get that? York is a big community. It has that university-campus feel”, she reasoned.
“nothing happens here. No concerts!”
“do you ever go to the Underground?”
“no…nobody tells me about these things. All my friends are international students so it’s like they don’t know about these things either” I said, rather sadly.
“yeah but do you look at flyers in school?”
“yeah I do. So far the only concert here was Keys n’ Krates and after I looked their music up I couldn’t convince myself to pay money to listen to live electronic music. If it’s METAL…aha! now we’re talking! i’d definitely pay to go live” (horns up!!)
“metal? what are your favourite bands?”
“”well I doubt you’d know them. Oh,Sleeper, Underoath, August Burns Red, Tourniquet, Theocracy…” There’s this joy i find in knowing bands other people don’t know. (Think about it, when you see anyone else who knows them you’ll feel more awesome).
“I saw theocracy on your instagram”
“”yeah. I like them because their lyrics always have extra layers of meaning. I mean sometimes, they’re yelling something that sounds really dark or satanic and then you realize they’re just quoting from the Bible. It’s sick and it’s cool at the same time. It kind of makes you see Christianity in a different light every now and then”
At this point I realized that I’d never asked if she had any religious beliefs. It’s something I’ve noticed over time in Canada- people just don’t care about religion. Not that they attack religion- they just DON’T talk about it a lot. I half-wondered whether it was rude to ask “do you have any religious beliefs?”. Considering she was from Sri Lanka where religion is a big part of daily life…i would be shocked if she didn’t have any particular beliefs.
“I’m Hindu” she replied
“oh good. Now I can tick that off my list”
“haha how do you mean?”
“you’re the first Hindu I know personally”
“oh is that right?”
“yeah I know a Sikh and a Buddhist but not a Hindu”
The conversation drifted back to life on campus. She explained that that was one reason she had to check her phone so often. Her family called very often to be sure she was okay. Because Yorku was supposedly unsafe.
“what do you mean?”
“you know, what happened in school?”
“are you talking about what happened last December?”
“No…didn’t you know people got robbed in school? don’t you get those security bulletins?”
“yeah I do. But they’re usually about a guy flashing his wiener at the Fine Arts building. Anytime people get robbed it’s usually in the village and they’re out at 3am or so”
“oh yeah. I guess because York is a big place even if something happened streets away from campus, the news will still say “york university”
“you know, something i feel scared about is that we could be in class and then someone just walks in and shoots everybody” she said. I froze. Why was she telling me this? Had something like this happened here before? did she know someone who had threatened to do something like that?
“you know how someone just walks into a cinema or church and starts killing people…yeah I just feel scared it could happen here” she continued.
I laughed and told her it was a Western problem. too many guns. “In Nigeria, it’s the police and robbers that have guns. Private citizens don’t carry weapons. So the likelihood that someone will go on rampage is very low. Well, except for Boko Haram”. I ended up telling her about how I felt when i realized my mom was far more badass than I was. She DID go to police college and she could assemble (and fire) an AK-47.
“I just can’t fight. sometimes I wonder why girls would ask you to walk them when it’s late. It’s not like if an attacker had a gun I’d be able to do anything for you!” I laughed.
“would you be upset if your girlfriend knew how to fight better than you?” she asked.
“upset? no. never. embarrassed maybe, but maybe she can protect me if anything is about to go down. Gender roles are changing you know” . I answered happy to use that card to avoid responsibility for once in my life 😀
As we left the library area, we walked down the same hallway we did last time. Straight through Vari hall, left through the bus loop and another right through the student centre. I couldn’t resist reminding her that we did exactly the same things. “as usual, i’ll walk you to a safe distance, after which I’ll attempt to take your photo, and you shall vehemently refuse. Maybe that should become a ritual anytime I see you”
“haha I don’t like to have my picture taken” she said.
“why is that?”
“because I’m shy”
“you’re on instagram” I asked, unable to reconcile the two statements.
“well that’s different. I take them myself”
“okay then take a selfie with my phone”
“haha never…i’ll take them with my phone”
“Well, maybe you can do that every time we see”
“Oh I didn’t tell you? next week is my last class and then i’m done with YorkU”
“what do you mean?”
Do I need to tell you that time stopped for about 10 seconds?
“Nooooooo! But I just got here! Not fair!”
“I know right?”
“you just have to take an extra course”
“oh please! I’m trying to graduate as fast as possible!” she said, rolling her eyes. I don’t really know any York Student that isn’t in a hurry to leave.
“So you’re gonna make the October graduation then”
“yeah it’s sad. I always wanted to graduate in the summer”
“why is that?”
“oh my family will be all around and we can take photos and they’ll look nice because of the sun”
“Do you always walk this fast?” I asked, amazed at how this human being could walk faster than me even though I had longer legs.
“do i even walk fast? this is how i normally walk. Anyway i never stop to look at anything when I walk this path. Just straight to the car park”
“i like to walk for the fun. Stop and smell the roses kinda routine” (you KNOW i didn’t say anything remotely related to roses. I must have thought it in my head).
As we slowed to a stop, I didn’t linger this time. Just short goodbyes and i-may-see-you-arounds. Already my mind had begun to conjure up all sorts of meanings. It’s in these little moments that I make long-term decisions like “never take a girl’s number the first day”. It wasn’t particularly drastic this time around- but my Canada was walking away. That was the day I lost interest in seeing Canada. The summer was in its last days and while I relished the cool breeze slowly weaving through the buildings and chasing the heat- something in me just hated the way things changed so rapidly.
Was it about never seeing her again? maybe. She said she would visit sometimes, but even I knew that was a snowball’s chance in hell. (sorry I need to work on those English Idioms that have absolutely no equivalent in Africa). Maybe it was everything. Maybe it was nothing.
That was how ennui descended heavily upon me; a fog that made me wish for nothing other than my own country, to which I shall return any moment now.