Friday, June 27, 2008

The nameless

A few months ago, I was sitting at the local airport in Ikeja when this was announced over their public system. “Would Driver company name please report to the front desk”. Driver “company name” apparently had no surname; he now bore the name of the company he worked for. I found it all very amusing that even the woman announcing this, had actually agreed to address another human being like that. However, I was the only one laughing. Everybody else seemed to think that it was very normal for a driver‘s surname to be the name of a company. I asked the gentleman sitting next to me, if he did not find it amusing that a man’s name was “driver” and his surname a company name. I mean, think about all the drivers that now bear “Julius Berger ” as their surname or “MTN”...the worst surname would have to be “NEPA”! Anyway,(before I digress into a rant about the hopeless state of electricity in this country) as I tried to explain why I found the whole thing amusing, the lady sitting next to me jumped right in the conversation and asked “why should I know his surname?”. In fact, she was very upset that I would even dare to suggest such a thing! Preposterous! She said her driver had been driving her for more than two years now and she had no idea what his surname is. She defended her reason by adding that the driver did not know hers either…..which I very much doubt. If there is anything drivers are very familiar with, it is the names of their passengers. Imagine how many times you have sent them to deliver useless messages to friends and relatives. Imagine how many times you have sent them to the market, the pharmacy, tailor and other little errands that have nothing to do with his main job, which is actually driving. So, please believe that your driver knows your name very well and has probably cursed you a couple of times too! For a man in whose hands you put your life every day, it is preposterous that you do not know his name, family name and where he lives.

Anyway, the conversation with these two people got me thinking about how many people I see every day, talk to them every day, yet I do not know their names. The first person I would have to apologize for never asking her name would have to be “acara woman”. For years as a child, I bought acara from this woman. I played with her baby every morning as she fried acara, we had conversations about the weather, my family, her family, my health, her health and I never knew her name. Next would have to be “sweet woman”, which is very depressing to me because this woman knows the names of all my siblings, asks about every single one of them every time she sees me and even a grown woman like me still gets free sweets when I pass by. The third apology would have to be the “shoe boy”. “Shoe boy” is a shoemaker and stops by every Saturday to collect all those worn out soles of mine. I never have conversations with “shoe boy” but his presence in my life is very important. The fourth apology I will just have to give “newspaper boy”, who tells me the gist of all the newspapers, reads my column and sometimes suggest topics I should write about.

Now that I have started this countdown, I realize they are too many people that have been important in my life in such small ways that I never knew their name. A grown woman shouting “swimming pool uncle” across the street to a man who made me believe that I could be an Olympic champion, the best swimmer, I could do anything if I set my mind to it, is very embarrassing indeed. (By the way, God go punish all of una former Bendel state sports people wey go destroy all those better better swimming scholarship program those days, who know? I for be champion self, maybe na me for represent una for Beijing now? Shebi una see una selves?).

Well, what is done in this case, can be undone. I will have to introduce myself properly and they would have to do the same. They are human beings as we all are, no less important in life, yet every day we humiliate them by calling them the names of jobs which funny enough, we could never do without. We call them “house girl”, “driver”, “gardener”, “cook” like these names are their identities. They are not; these are just the jobs they perform (which many have no choice to but to do, by the way). They are fathers, mothers, daughters, cousins, somebody’s best friend, a Christian, a Muslim….. They are much more than we would ever know…… because we never ask.

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