Monday. It rains from Ibadan to Ajah and I sleep through most of it. At Ajah, I am awake. Lagos exacts the price of wisdom even from people with open eyes. I slide my phones into my front pockets, lock my bags, hold the cash I’ll need for my ride (to Lekki in this case), wear a frown, breathe. Lagos, welcome.
I get to Lekki Waterside Hotel in an hour. A small, cosy, two-story building that names its rooms with three-digits (why do hotels do that?).
Chika Jones, my roommate, is waiting for me, a big smile on his face. I take to him immediately.
I meet next-door-neighbour and Chika’s friend, Nnamdi. I meet his roommate Chinaza later that night. Miracle Adebayo (Mimi) is not yet here. Minutes later, we meet Okey Adichie in the restaurant downstairs for a briefing. He leaves and awkward small talk ensues. Ife and I take a food-finding stroll. We find a restaurant, and Chika and Nnamdi in it. The semo and edikang-ikong with chicken tastes good. Kunle, Muna and Chinaza find us later. We pay N1,950 each and leave when we are done. The owner tells us to come again. We smile.
Tuesday. At breakfast, there is a little tension in the hotel restaurant. Kunle comes in, and greets everyone in his fancy, girl-like voice. Ice breaks. We begin to talk. Conversations are less awkward today. Chimamanda is teaching and it’s by noon.
Noon. We sit in the conference room down the hall from the restaurant. There’s that tension again. There’s small talk too. The seating arrangement is a rectangle cut out at a shorter end where a projector is placed. The chairs, tables and draperies are deep blue. I like blue. Chimamanda walks in a while later and there’s a few seconds of silence during which she sits at the head of the rectangle and says good afternoon everyone.
“Her voice is exactly how it sounds on video,” Stephanie tells me. She’s sitting to my right and will later mention Linda Ikeji as what she likes when Chimamanda asks us to say one thing we like and one thing we do not like.
For most of the day, we talk about ourselves and our lives and say little about writing. So, when we begin to talk about writing, after lunch, we are talking as friends who know one another. If Chimamanda is pleased or surprised at the ease of interaction between the class and her, one devoid of any trace of fawning or worshipping, she doesn’t show it. The class work for the first day is to tell a story with prose dialogue only. The workshop has begun.
We (about ten of us) spend the evening on a stroll to find cheaper food. We find a supermarket too and stock on supplies. Ama, the Ghanian participant, tells us how the Uber driver at the airport cheated her. I like her accent.
On Wednesday, we turn in our assignments for Chimamanda’s second day of facilitating. If reading twenty-three stories is tedious, I do not notice. In giving her very helpful comments, Chimamanda handles each story with a delicateness as if it were an egg in an incubator: careless handling, the egg breaks; careful handling, a new life hatches.
We begin to earn names from Chimamanda. Chinaza is Nwa Nsukka; I am Mother Issues. Miracle Adebayo is Breasts. She writes a non-fiction piece on how she wanted to play football, but was told if she chested the ball too much (a move she loved so well), she would not grow breasts and she made a choice. “It seems it’s a good thing you chose breasts,” Chimamanda teases. The class laughts. Everyone breathes easier; we are in a safe place and our imperfections need to show in our stories. We write from a flawed place.
Aslak comes on Thursday. He is the National Librarian of Norway. Blue-eyed, hippy-blond, Viking-like.
He will teach non-fiction. His accent is funny. He asks the class if he gets some English words right. He writes, in a strange font, the soul of his two days of teaching on the whiteboard “Normal is good enough.” On Friday, Chimamanda tells us he will leave for Norway the next morning. We are sad.
Saturday. Binyavanga Wainaina comes in.
On Friday, Okey Adichie emailed us Binyavanga’s assignment for his Saturday morning class — 500-3000 words of stories on any five of Wangenchi Mutu’s surrealist artwork in the body of the email. A group of us spent Friday night in Nneoma’s room trying to figure out how to write anything on Wangenchi’s works we could barely understand).
Saturday morning. The ready assignments are read. Umar, Chika and Ama do well as always. Then Ife reads The other Things in the Blood. Everything stops. When life resumes, after minutes of standing ovation, Ife becomes Baboon Buttocks. No one wants his or her story read after. Nothing will compare to what Baboon Buttocks has done today. We need some time. Maybe we will find salvation on Sunday, but tonight, we party. About nineteen of us go to Shaunz Bar. Muna does his first public Karaoke; there’s applause. Lesley sings two exotic songs. Aisha and Kunle do a duet. I think Nnamdi and Ama too. Umar turns down my request for a duet. Lesley says the beer is expensive. Miracle beats everyone at the bar at Mortal Kombat with a strange and funny leg move. It is so simple it should count as a cheat. The whole Farafina 2016 class at Shaunz Bar dance on stage. The audience cheers. Ife and Nneoma sit through it all. Almost midnight, we return to the hotel. Before we sleep, Okey’s mail comes in: Binya’s second assignment.
Sunday. We chill. At night, we write.
Monday. Binyavanga. Wangechi Mutu. Every story is brilliant. There will be no pushovers today. Bimbola’s is absolutely brilliant. The second assignments are read. We gist.
Tuesday. Eghosa Imasuen. Comes in after Binyavanga. He is a Fine Boy. A brilliant man too. Knows too much. Teaches like it’s a classroom. The class warms up to him so well. Chimamanda comes in. Kenechi Uzor gives an insightful talk on the business side to writing. A poor writer is a poor man no less. No flourishes.
Thursday. Eghosa. Rounding off. We rewrite Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code’s prologue. Kunle writes a Nigerian version. Has Yewande and takes place in the National Museum. Beautiful work.
After lunch. We talk. We are a family. Chimamanda, Eghosa, Binyavanga, us. We miss Aslak. COZA’s never-coming “robust response” generates a big debate. Miracle (the class pastor and a COZA member) is uneasy. There’s no malice, only conversations and the need to ask questions so we can tell our stories properly.
Thursday night. We sing karaoke in-house and play charades.
Friday. Morning. Chika and I get a Lekki haircut. Everyone is miffed at the cost. Everyone laughs and take pictures.
Evening. Oriental Hotel. Literary Evening. Friends are there.
Night. We gist over dinner. We premiere our class movie “Kuku Kill Me”. Chimamanda and Eghosa laugh. Eghosa asks many questions. Umar is a film maker. His writing and films are testament to his brilliance. Umar shows his short film “Salt”. We retire into our family discussion with Chimamanda. There’s a big reveal that Pamela Naaki already knows. She is a brilliant writer and a good detective. Class snoop. I like her. No one has dirty secrets. Our set is ‘holy’. About 2 am, Chimamanda’s baby calls. she dismisses us with “I have to go do my motherly duties” in her phenomenal mocking tone. We laugh hard and say our final good nights.
Saturday morning. By the time I wake up, Chioma, Umar, Grace, Nnamdi, Chinaza have all gone. I see Miracle off. I check the group chat. Everyone is sad. I do not wait for breakfast. I go to the restaurant and say goodbye. Everyone wonders what the hurry is. Ibadan is not far. I know. I do not want to wait. There’s no tension today. Only emotions. Nneoma hugs me.
I get to Ibadan three hours later. I bring out my phones from my pockets and don’t look at the faces around me. I don’t frown either.