I don’t like making or receiving phone calls on public transport. I prefer texting, not so much because of confidentiality, but because sometimes that could be a nuisance to other people. I get irritated when people’s phones ring with some weird ring tones or when the person next to you speaks so loudly that your ear drums are in danger or in a language that you don’t understand. There’s one phone that I cannot ignore. That’s my brother’s. Femi will call you repeatedly until he hears: “Hello!” from the other end.
On this day, I was on the bus home after a busy shift. I heaved a sigh of relief that I found a nice seat where I could just settle quietly and hopefully have a nap. On a good day, it would take an hour to get home. The guy sitting next to me smiled, as I took my seat. He had a gentlemanly look. I smiled back, thinking, Not the type of person who would spend the whole time on the phone! Having made sure that I had set my phone to vibration, I settled down. I was about to dose off when my phone started to vibrate. At first, I ignored it as I always did when on the bus. My eyes blinked several times as the caller’s name appeared: Femi. “Oh no, not now,” I grumbled, as I put the phone back into my pocket. But I knew, of course, that I was joking. Femi would never leave a message on the smartphone. He would try and try until I picked it. So I wasn’t surprised when my phone vibrated again seconds later.
“Hello!” I answered, hoping that the signal would be poor and I could tell him that I would call back when I got home.
“Bawo!” Femi replied, breathing heavily. And that was it. My brother was unstoppable. Thirty years abroad have not robbed him of a good control of the Yoruba language. My sleep disappeared from my eyes as I kept nodding, laughing and replying with encouraging “O ti o!” “Beni!” and “Rara!” I was glad when Femi said, “O dabo,” signalling the end of our dialogue.
Although I did actually enjoy talking to my brother, I felt terrible that I had done something that I really disliked. I turned to the guy sitting next to me, and with guilt conspicuously written on my face, I said, “Sorry about this.”
“Ko si wahala,” he replied with the most amazing smile.
I nearly collapsed. I had not expected a guy of a different colour to understand my language particularly on a bus in a foreign country. “Oh, my God!” I screamed, ignoring the attention of the other passengers. The guy surely heard and understood everything that I discussed with my brother. Imagine what would have happened if I had said something bad about him or discussed things that were somehow implicating.
“Lola,” I said as I stretched out for a handshake.
“Tom,” he replied, still smiling.
Son of an oil engineer, Tom Solomon grew up in Lagos. Talking to Tom in my native language gave me a feeling that I could not describe. It was like talking to my own brother. We subsequently exchanged our contact details and have since formed a strong friendship.
This reminds me of Dr Chucks’s encounter with Pam Boggy, his medical student under Dr Braver. He had not expected to find a girl who could speak pidgin English thousands of miles away. That moment of discovery sent powerful impulses through both of them and formed a good soil for love to blossom.
Both stories had positive outcomes, one resulting in a lasting friendship, and the other in romance. My encounter with Tom could potentially have resulted in embarrassment had I assumed that the guy sitting next to me had no chance of understanding my language. The power of language must not be underestimated. Next time you sit next to someone who apparently looks different, there’s a chance he/she may understand your language. Watch your tongue.