After a satisfactory day at the Polytechnic, Aboderin was choosing an anniversary card when a woman hailed him from across the bus garage, huge grin in place. ‘Egbon!’ she shouted excitedly, barreling through the evening commuters. Although he was nearing sixty, he had perfect eyesight and could tell, even at sixty feet, that he did not remember her at all.
It was the bane of his life: a memory like a sieve, that completely forgot out-of-sight friends and relatives. Two years was enough to lose a name. In five, a face could sink without a trace. From embarrassing experience he knew that the handsome woman’s grin would disappear as soon as he asked for a reintroduction. She looked fortyish, wore a wedding ring and a nurse’s uniform, and had used the Yoruba endearment that junior relatives employed with their elders… he fed those clues into his disgraceful brain and racked the organ desperately, but they were insufficient to throw up a name. As he set down his briefcase to greet her, he decided as usual on subterfuge rather than hurtful honesty. Usually a minute’s conversation was enough to jumpstart his memory, although it was not always easy to have a conversation with a party one did not remember. He brushed away the offered handshake and hugged her, using his aggressive familiarity to disguise the truth. ‘Aburo,’ he laughed delightedly, using the corresponding moniker for a junior relative, ‘How are you?’
‘We’re fine o, what about you?’
‘We thank God. Longest time!’
‘Yes Egbon, how was work today?’
‘What can I say? At least they are owing us today’s salary.’ They laughed together. Aboderin felt his performance was strong, but from years and years of wounded interactions he could recognise the vaguest uncertainty in the woman’s eyes and he knew that the disappointed, Ah, it seems as if you don’t remember me anymore, was just about to pop from her lipsticked mouth. He upped the ante, ‘Just last week my wife and I were talking about you! How was hospital today?’
‘I only worked half-day o. Today I had to go and push Taiwo and Kehinde’s JAMB placements,’ she smiled indulgently. ‘The sooner my twins start their engineering course the better, they are eating me out of the house. How is Auntie?’
‘She is well. I’m just buying her a card, you know it is our anniversary this weekend.’
‘That’s true. Congrats o. I hope you will call us for rice and stew.’
They laughed again. She wore a name tag, but sadly it was reversed for her trip home so that all he could tell was that it was issued by the General Hospital. She was rather gray, but could not be more than 45, he thought. She had an endearing gap-toothed smile that produced dimples when it was wide enough. The name “Debola” flitted around his mind, but Debola who? Did he have any Debola at the General Hospital?
Then he had a brainwave: ‘We are compiling admission lists at the Poly just now,’ he began, ‘if you like I can see what I can do. Do you have their school results here?’
‘Of course, I always carry photocopies,’ she foraged swiftly in a handbag, ‘… here!’
He felt elated, intelligent. He opened the folded result sheets for Taiwo Shittu and Kehinde Shittu. She was Mrs Shittu! Mrs Debola Shittu? He threw her name and her face into the sluggish soup of his brain and stirred, but no neural sparks flew. His wretched mind was as blank as a Lagos sky in dry season. He wished there was a market offering fairly-used but serviceable memories! Yet, Shittu was probably her husband’s name. Perhaps they last met before her marriage? He fished some more, ‘My phone fell into the toilet last week,’ he lied, ‘I lost all my contacts…’
‘Terrible!’ she said, producing a complimentary card from her bag. ‘That happens to me all the time!’ He glanced at it with relief. She was a matron, and her name was Remi Hotun-Shittu. She was nee Hotun! It still did not ring a bell. He racked his brain. Remi. Who was Remi Hotun-Shittu? Was she a distant relative from the Badagry end of the family? Where had they met?
‘That’s my new card, Remilekun,’ he said, reciprocating. Full names were always good for bonding, he had found from experience. Proved you knew them right to the natal root. – Full names and play names. ‘We’ve moved to the new faculty building, so my numbers have changed.’
‘Thank you Egbon,’ She took the proffered card, her knees dipping in a curtsey. Then she glanced from it to her phone and the bus behind her, ‘Kehinde is flashing me, it seems our bus is about to leave, please say me well to Auntie.’
‘I will,’ they hugged again.
‘Don’t forget my twins, o!’ she called happily as she went. Maybe it was God, she thought as she caught her bus, but she’d go for her new eyeglasses all the same. Next Monday for sure! At five paces she had seen clearly that it wasn’t her uncle Moyo, despite the strikingly similar cup ears and stocky frame. She was seconds from apologising, when he seemed not only to recognise her, but to know her pretty well too- even though he had called her Remilekun instead of Aderemi. In retrospect she was glad she had held back. As she looked at his card again, she felt pretty sure she had never met an Aboderin Osho-Green who was now a dean at the Poly. Her eyesight was crap but her mind was as sharp as an okra grater. Yet, she had prayed about her twins’ admission this year, hadn’t she? She had fasted all Lent, giving up her beloved gbegiri for all of forty days. Not maybe, she thought.
Definitely it was God.