Adaobi’s letters 01.
How many times has he done this? This early trip to Lagos. In university, how many times did he hurriedly leave Ile-Ife, in a jacket, with a grateful colleague. He would text them two days before, “We have to be at Deloitte on Thursday!”
With mobility, he had one rule — the “clean boxers” rule. As long as he had clean boxers, he could travel. Everything else would sort itself out. Oh, he always had clean boxers.
How many times did he pray, “God, let there be no traffic at Lagos-Ibadan expressway”? His meeting would be scheduled for 12PM. He would leave Ife the same morning to save costs and well… because he was a student and until 2020, students were supposed to be in school. How many classes did he attend in his final year?
By the time he graduated, the assumption was that those 6 years had taught him the law, that at least he was versed in the basics and deserving of trite nomenclature—“learned”, “the law”. He had the grades to strengthen this assumption, to command respect. It did not matter that he was often absent from class, school. It did not matter that he only ever studied half the syllabus and forgot it all after “stop!”
No. Those 6 years did not teach him the law, they taught him the struggle. He became familiar with that hardship culture ingrained in the Nigerian system.
Eventually, he programmed himself to turn all kinds of lemons to lemonade. In his second year, he vented. After, he quietly, rabidly pushed. He had to succeed. Grades were not enough, there was more. To become what we wanted, he had to step outside the classrooms.
He explored many options. Oh, public university gifts you time — to try a wide variety of things. He chose to be a “corporate hustler”. He hunted internships, attended conferences and made fast pitches. The money is in Lagos, so he had to travel all the time. He would speed through meetings on Lagos Island, receiving handshakes and lapping pledges. He did it for himself, his club and faculty. Leading a vibrant student organization is no feat for the feeble minded. You want money, you want sustainable development, you want your event to pop. And if you were the larger-than-life David McCoy, these things were undoubtedly of some incomparable standard. Sometimes, he hated himself. He could not let things be.
To him, it was his responsibility—to save the faculty. They had to see what he had seen. They had to want and have those internships, they had to understand the standards of employability in the competitive global market. They had to learn pragmatism, creativity, effectiveness. There had to be an awakening. People sneer, but he revolutionized that faculty. And there was always more to do. He became an “organizer”. He would think up events in the bathroom, give them fascinating names and obsessively proceed to execute them.
As a child, he suffered from road sickness. Now 3 hours is no distance and in those final years, he left as late as possible. It’s just Lagos. He would sometimes leave after classes, arrive Lagos at night, attend his meeting the next morning and return to school. And he always felt safe. He felt relief once he saw that overhead bridge, over Ibadan road. That bridge opposite the school gate told him he was home. He would be cramped in a crowded bus, feet aching, earphones blaring, nodding to something M.I. said.
He loved it. He loved everything his experience had taught him. He felt alive. He loved the heat his steel had been through to forge that David McCoy. He loved that road. It told him, “Yet again, you did it. Until next time!”
Is that life’s great lesson? That the end of one battle is always the beginning of another? Is it a good lesson? He used to think it was. These days, he doesn’t know. He swears he is a shadow of his former self—unmotivated, tired and reckless. After that Property Law exam at the Nigerian Law School, he was going to quit. It was the most tiring day—his confidence had failed him, he had lost his sense of purpose. Why was he there? What was he doing? What was the point? He lay in his bed, turned to the wall, cried and cursed. It was then he decided to write to you.
Today, he is sitting in the front seat of a car. It has only been 3 weeks since the end of those exams. He has already returned to the hustle.
It is 7AM in the city he is abandoning. Is Ibadan a city? He has a 1PM in Lekki. He is keen on justifying the decision to travel today. It is remote work, he cannot be late to a quarterly physical meeting. His presentation is ready, he worries about his laptop. He was going to replace the thing but those Ethereum numbers were tempting. It is all he and his brother talk about these days—cryptocurrency. They want their own huge slice. Daddy is getting old so they have to make that money.
He overthinks these meetings. He always thinks he will get fired. They always think he is doing a great job. It is ironic eh? The imposter syndrome does not leave overachievers until they are where they should be—the very top. He is doing a great job because he came ready. Those many notices, emails and articles he wrote in university brought him here. Because of those many pitches, today’s presentation will be effortlessly fire. Everyday, he is grateful for everything he did in university. Content creation is so easy, it feels like he is doing no work at all. Often, he sighs and wonders. Am I really been paid for this?
He is wearing native attire today. The t-shirt from last quarter made him look like a kid. And he is quarter to 25. 25 is still confusing to him. He feels both young and old, mostly old. Most of his life is still in front of him, but he is already older than half the footballers he likes. He loved Foden’s late goal against Borussia Dortmund. Manchester City is in the Champions League semi-final! Is 20 year old Foden a realistic inspiration? He is 8 years older than Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, and they almost retired the lad’s shirt at that championship club. And then there is Mahrez, who scored City’s first goal. Riyad Mahrez is 30. Earlier in the week, in an interview, the Algerian lamented his last years at Leceister.
“After the year of the title win, if I was in a top team, it would not have been the same story,” Mahrez argued. “For me, it is clear that I lost two years at the very highest level… I lost two years! Because instead of being 27 at City, I could have been there at 24, 25 years. I was really frustrated. It’s not easy to go from being one of the best Premier League players to being part of a team fighting to stay up. It’s not the same job. Everyone is waiting on you at every turn, everything falls to you.”
He found these words oddly relatable. He has lost years too, he is late to every party. While many look up to him, he has forgotten how it feels to be the best at anything. He does not strive for meaning or depth anymore. He does not want to change the world, he does not make any lofty plans. Nigeria has beaten him into a seeker of basic, material things. Like an overaged footballer, he just wants to make this money. He needs to.
He needs to make this money for himself. He almost screamed at the supermarket yesterday. What are these prices? Who is checking this inflation? He needs to make this money. He does not want to stress, he wants to live off ROI soon. He was going to splurge, to reward himself for a stressful first quarter. He did the math and crossed the plans from his red book. Everything he makes goes to whatever genuine investments exist. No guilty pleasures. Food. Data. Women. That’s all. NSCDC.
He wants to make this money for them, the women — three of them.
There’s her. His stay with her has expired. He must afford his own life now. She talks about him building her a house and he chuckles. He fears that law will not do that. He has heard enough about her own dreams, he knows he took a lot from her. They fight all the time but as he wrote in Midnight in Ibadan, it is his mission to spoil the woman, aloud.
Then there’s her. He needs to make this money for her. Good writer must become rich writer. This is Nigeria, Sade no go chop poetry. He needs her to think he is there, that he is going there.
He too feels incapable, insecure sometimes. He too reads a text, stares at a picture, sighs and sings to himself — won ma mi o, won ma mo, for my baby o, won ma mo. Before pulling his laptop close to work some more. He wants her to be proud of him, and the many things he has pulled off. He wants to bamboozle her friends, then her father. These are the things that matter.
And then there’s her, you. He wants to provide everything you could possibly need. He wants to fund your dreams. He wants everything to seem possible, achievable. He wants you empowered. He wants your feet cleaner than the lips of these misogynistic savages. You would intimidate them. They would ask you to tone it down and you would refuse. Because your father is, shows, spoils, believes.