I read Wole Soyinka’s poem, Telephone Conversation when I was fourteen. I liked it so much I made it the desktop background on my laptop. Each time I turned on this shiny new device, I would read the words:
‘The price seemed reasonable, location indifferent.
The landlady swore she lived off premises.’
The poem struck me. Perhaps it was because I was in an English boarding school, discovering for the first time my ‘blackness.’
Soyinka ‘s landlady asked the character who I assumed was Soyinka himself.
‘Facially, I’m brunette.’
Facially I was…
I had never stopped to consider. I was Nigerian. My classmates, sensitive to but ignorant of the nature of my dislocation, would sometimes say as if in reassurance, ‘I think black people are cool.’ Why are you telling me, I would wonder but never ask?
My spine weakened a little when I moved to England. Confident, boisterous, perhaps overbearing in Nigeria, I became unsure in England: unsure of my accent, unsure of the value of what I knew, flabbergasted by my ignorance of Jack Wills and lacrosse. Soyinka’s poem put some calcium back in my bones. Every time my eyes wandered to the bottom of the screen and read, ‘Friction, caused- foolishly, madam- by sitting down, has turned my bottom raven black,’ I would shake with laughter, the punch line new again.
A new country, that poem suggested, was to be met with this verve, this panache, this style, this trademark Soyinka wit. No apologies for where I was coming from. None at all.