I woke up from sleep with a chill and a headache. I dressed up, popped an icebreaker into my mouth, pulled on my old sweater. I was going to have exams the next day so I went to the library to study (my room gets too comfortable sometimes, haha) .As I walked out i noticed everyone else was wearing shorts and teeshirts and here I was in a sweater and jeans. I imagined someone would ask me- dude why are you wearing a sweater in this nice weather? and then I’d say “I just really like wearing old sweaters”.
I went by the nearest Tim Hortons (Canada’s most popular coffee shop. Just think of Starbucks or KFC) for a cup of coffee. Yes you know I hate the taste of coffee and I’ve often wondered aloud why people like coffee. But this is French Vanilla, a wickedly delightful sweetened coffee; plus I was cold and had a headache. Nothing like a warm beverage to chase that away.Tea or hot chocolate would make me sleep and miss my study period. Who buys a coffee on a “hot” night? Me. Anyway, as i walked out, I saw a very pretty girl, with a complexion like the malo chicks (northern Nigerians will understand). I literally jerked awake. I couldn’t afford to be caught staring so as I walked by her I tried to slow down and get a better look at her face (I’m sorry, Fish. I’m human). I couldn’t stop because I’d hold up the queue. I shook it off like I shake off every attractive girl. I went for a burger at Wendy’s (if you’re in North America and you haven’t tried their spicy chicken burger, half of your life is wasting away 😀 )
I finished the burger while printing out my study notes for the exam, and then i went to find one of the group study rooms. Actually I have a favourite study room- study room H. Tucked in a corner with a glass wall so if I get bored I can look up and watch the people walking about. It’s therapeutic 😀 So as I walk to room H, I see a very pretty girl sitting in one of the smaller group study rooms with an open door. Dear God, why are there so many pretty girls in the library area today?
I walked past her room, plugged my laptop in, pulled out my study notes and tried to study. But this wasn’t working. In fact, that was the last academic thing I did for that Tuesday night. I went back to the printer, telling myself i just wanted to check if I left the last page there (but my alter ego declared to me that I was just pretending. I really wanted to glance at Pretty Girl at least twice more). As i walked by she looked up. She looked Indian, or Pakistani. When i came back to my study room, she looked up again as I glanced past. I spilled my coffee on my cream sweater. I love that sweater. My mom gave it to me in 2005 and I have kept it carefully spotless since then.
Great. Now I’ve spilled my coffee. Even if I said hi, there was no way she would take me seriously. But I remembered Salem and how I missed an opportunity to make more friends by overthinking everything. I thought to myself- she’s pretty. Say hi. Practice making friends. You’re a LAWYER! how long will you be shy?
My heart beat faster. I would say a quick “hi” and come back. How could that hurt? I made to stand up, then I remembered there would be nothing else to say after “hi”. It would be like that really pretty Nigerian girl I saw staring at me on the bus and I said hi but became too shy to say anything further. That day did not end well. She was giggling and told her friends. They happened to live on the next street. *facepalm*
As I was about to get up, some three Indian guys (all 6-footers) with amazingly mature beards started walking down the passage towards our study rooms. They also slowed down when they got to hers. And I thought, damn, one of them is her boyfriend and imagine if i’m in the middle of saying “hi” for no reason…if this were Nigeria, I’d be lucky to get away with a verbal confrontation. So I chilled.
Wait…where were they going? They walked past her room and sat in the other glassed-in study room!… Hallelujah!
I told myself it was now or never. Go in. Say hi. Get out. Really simple. And if all fails, just tell her you’re shy and get out of there. Just face the fear. So I did just that.
“hi, I’m Peter” I declared as I pulled up a chair and set my coffee down. she smiled and said hi right back. Ah, Canadians. always so polite. If this were Nigeria…*shudder*
“Okay, the thing is- i saw you and I wanted to say hi but i’m very shy when I’m talking to…”
“girls?” she asked
“girls I don’t know” i corrected
“ahhh…” she nodded
“what’s your name?”
She said some name I’d never heard. It sounded Arabic. But she looked Indian. So I asked
“where are you from?” i asked
“you mean my origin? I was born in Canada but I’m originally from…”
“oh you wanna guess? go on” she smiled
“yeah. three guesses. India, pakistan…” I really wanted to add the third country that looked like Indians but I couldn’t remember the name.
“Sri Lanka. I’m from Sri Lanka”
“ohhhhhh..!” i exclaimed. So close.
“so are you Punjabi or Bengali? Sri Lanka is to the Northwest of India, right?”
“I’m Tamil. well it’s a good thing that you even know there’s a country like that” she laughed.
“yeah…no offence but of all the different nationalities i’ve met, Canadians seem to be the most geographically ignorant people…”
“yeah it’s true. Toronto is multicultural but Canadian people don’t seem to know much about other places. But I’ll see if I can guess where your’re from” she said and started to smile. This one smiles a lot, I thought to myself.
“emmm, Ghana…?” she tried
“nope…why do people think I’m from Ghana?!”
Dang. She’s a sharp one.
“oh, you know your geography” I said, and offered her a high-five.
I think things slowed down. In that split second between the offer and when she put up her hand to get it, i thought I saw some hesitation. I don’t blame her. It could have been too early to initiate physical contact. But she took it anyway. Good sport, this one.
“well I took an African Studies class” she confessed.
“oh come on that’s cheating!” I teased
“well I also know you have different tribes like the Igbo” she said, pronouncing it as “eeg-bow”
“Igbo”, I corrected. “well yeah, there’s like 700 languages in Nigeria. how many do you have in Sri Lanka?”
“two. Sinhala and Tamil”
“but your name…remind me?”
“yeah it sounds Arabic.”
“it could be. I’ve met a Russian girl with my name before” she said and burst out laughing.
As the talk progressed from countries to studies to interests, I felt the Lisa effect kicking in. The Lisa effect is when I meet a complete stranger and talking with them become so easy that time flies and I abandon whatever it is I came to do. Named after a Lisa I met in the Spring. Time ran as we talked about feminism and the patriarchal system; Arranged marriages in our countries. I asked if she’d read The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta and she said no. She actually whipped out her phone and wrote the name down and said she’d get it. Attagirl! I asked her what she liked doing for fun and she said “I like to dance. I’m a very shy person but when I’m dancing it’s like the whole crowd disappears and I’m just having my fun“. I could totally relate with that feeling. When I’m on stage, it’s like I just put on a new set of clothes and instantly become the character…the crowd fades except for the friendly faces. I thought about mentioning that my roommate was halfway through her Masters in Dance- but i thought better of it. Too much Information.
Then I realized i hadn’t asked her what she was studying at York.
“I’m a Psych Major” . Yet ANOTHER Psych student? Wow!
“fourth year. Finishing soon” She said. “what are you studying?”
“oh I’m studying law?” I answered.
“oh what year?”
“I’m completing my Masters in Law”, my head swelling internally with the look of wow on her face.
“ooohhhh are you serious?”
“yeah, it’s kinda hot back home to have a masters degree”
She asked me about schooling in Nigeria. I talked and talked 😀 It was sort of a wonder she didn’t pack up and leave. It could be confirmation that Canadians are really polite people; or that she was actually interested in the conversation. It was good to see that she didn’t just sit back and allow me talk on and on and on but she pitched in. At some point she showed me something on Instagram.
We talked high schools; compared the income disparity between men and women in Nigeria and Canada; racial tensions…I knew this was someone I’d like to talk to again. Then we got to favourite TV shows and when I told her i disliked Game of Thrones because the sexual Content was just too much and totally irrelevant to the storyline in my opinion- I didn’t see a judgmental look on her face. Usually people would just call me “holier than thou” for saying things like that. When I told her my favourite character from OITNB happens to be Crazy-Eyes, she said it was hers as well. The words came out before I could stop them- “normally i’d wait till we’re leaving before I say this, but it IS nice meeting you”. She laughed.
“I’m probably going to write about you” I declared, my mind already thinking about how punchy such a blog post should be.
“on my blog. I have a blog where I write about meeting people like you”
“oh do you write often?”
“nahh not really. Not that regular anymore because of school- maybe twice a month”
“ooh I’d love to read what you write about me”
She asked me what I thought about Toronto so far.
“it doesn’t really feel like I left home.”
“yeah. The city looks a lot like Nigeria’s capital- you drive the same way; the downtown is similar to Abuja’s; there are Nigerians everywhere i look. There’s no day I go out without seeing Nigerians or hearing Nigerian English. I make Nigerian Food. I talk with my Nigerian friends every day and it doesn’t just feel like I left them”
“but are you in touch with your family?”
“yeah. I talk to them a lot”
“like every day?”
“what? Gosh no. Maybe once a week or so. My mother is an expert at guilting me for not calling often”
I noticed that i seemed to be dominating the conversation for this whole time. I used the last question to steer the discussion back to her.
“how about your family? what’s it like?”
“oh i have two elder brothers. Superbly overprotective when I was growing up”
“like all brothers except me” I quipped, searching my memory for a time when I fought for my younger sisters.
“you’re not protective?” She asked.
“I didn’t get the chance to be when my sisters were young. I always lived in a different city. Different schools and all that”
“ohh…my brothers would try to scare off any guys that didn’t seem like good guys” she said.
When she mentioned her boyfriend was black I just laughed it off. It was always going to be a possibility that someone as pretty and engaging would have a boyfriend. And the guy had to be black. We’re just awesome like that :D. I glanced at her face on more time and realized something looked really familiar about her. I asked her- “hey did you get a coffee today?”
“yeah. From Tim Hortons” damn. Same girl I saw on the queue.
“I was there. I got this coffee from there. Did you see me?”
“no I’m really shy and avoid eye contact. So wouldn’t have seen you”
“well, I saw you and i jerked and I was like ‘there’s a really pretty girl’. But i just walked on as usual, shy Pete and went to get a burger from…”
“Wendy’s” she offered.
“yes! how did you know?!”
“everybody buys from Wendy’s. PLUS It’s the nearest to the library”
“ahhh, I used to love Hero Burgers back in the day”
“But they’re so expensive right?”
“I kinda didn’t notice. I was paying from my Yorku card. All that tax-free money was going until I maxed out”
We shared a laugh on that. The Library attended started shutting down all the lights. I looked at my phone. Damn. 11:000pm. I didn’t study anything all night. I went back to my study room and packed my stuff up. The attendant came and asked us to leave. She asked me where I was going next- if I was walking her. I told her i just needed another place to study for the exam. In my mind I was willing to follow her to an occult shrine 😀
“it’d be nice for you to walk me. But I’’m getting picked up…”
“oh that’s fine…” I was going to say something like “we should hangout one of these days when you’re around” But when i last said that to someone she thought I was hitting on her…
I snapped out of my mini-reverie when her voice poked me awake.
“I have a boyfriend…so…”
Here we go again. What is it with Canadian girls and declaring boyfriends at the point of exchanging contacts?!
“is this what it’s like in Canada? when you take a girl’s number you have to be seeking a romantic affiliation?” (ermm i didn’t say “affiliation”. I don’t remember the word I used)
“yeah”, she replied, hands flung in the air. “usually when a guy approaches you it’s hardly because he wants to be friends. He just wants to date you and that’s okay; but the moment you tell them you have a boyfriend they go ‘whoahhhh’ and they back off.”
“i think it’s the opposite in Nigeria. You take their number, talk with them for a few times and then you ask them out on a date or something. People like to get to know each other before hanging out. And if the guy turns out not to be a serial killer, all good!”
“in Canada it’s the other way around. so here’s what- i’ll take your number. If I’m school I might text you. I’d like to learn about your country”
“you sure about that?” I asked.
“oh yeah, i’d really want to see what you write about me”
“but how do I let you know when it’s up there? okay are you on instagram? I’ll send you a link. Now smile…” I ordered as i pointed my phone at her for a picture. She moved away from phone and said
“Nooo…! I don’t like pictures! I’m shy!” and she covered her face.
“hold it right there. the last person I wrote about- she did exactly the same thing. Maybe this will be a thing”.
As she covered her face once more, this time more comfortable with the idea, it occurred to me that she would never text me. Did I feel bad? No, not really. I mean, it would suck a little- but worst case scenario, I made one more acquaintance, one more story for my blog, one more encounter with an intelligent human being. These encounters kind of keep me “high” for a few months. They’re energizing. It’s exciting to talk with rounded people who don’t kill themselves for only books or movies or music.
It was Amazing to see the world through another set of eyes. The reality is that humans aren’t that much different from each other. We’re just wearing different skins. Every culture just wants the same thing at the end of the day- to enjoy the comforts of life. To share happy memories with family, to pursue dreams without limits; explore liberating moments like throwing off your shy personality and dancing on a stage in front of a hundred people; The rush when you learn something new. The light bulbs going off when someone completes an Idea you’ve nursed privately in your head.
Maybe it’s not always a good idea to take people’s numbers after all. Sometimes one encounter is enough. Maybe some encounters are special because they happened by chance. Maybe the mystery of what could have been is more exciting than knowing it all at once.
So Ramiya? If you never text me, I won’t be mad. Honest 🙂