I became a fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie only last year, on the abandoned dance floor of a gay club in Syracuse, with a music video DJ throwing up selections on the TV screens scattered between empty pink and blue strobe lights.
I had read all her books by then and I’d enjoyed them, although they didn’t resonate with me in the ways that my favorite art does. To me, her books were important reflections of pre-existing conditions—important because all of this needed to be seen and discussed, because representation must be full. If anyone ever asked me what it was like to be a Nigerian immigrant at the time that I moved to the States, I could hand them a copy of Americanah and say, ‘Just read this.’ That documentation, like that of the war, matters. I knew the content of her talks and the things she’d famously said in conversations with Nigerian journalists who never saw her coming. I admired the tightness of her writing, the way she spoke, the overall body of her work, and when ‘Flawless’ was released, I was excited to hear her voice on the track, a Nigerian woman, one of ours, my skin prickling at the simple power of what was being said and who was saying it.
starts with plenty small talk in hushed tones, while we wait. We are trying to get to know each other, yes – but the main priority is to keep talking, even when we are repeating things – because we must quiet the anxiety. It is a silent agreement.
So, when we run out of things to say, we talk about hunger. Some of us, after much contemplation, decide to do something about it. We walk out of the room in an awkward line.
When we come back in, it is with Coaster Biscuit and Burger Peanuts. It is not what we expected, but we laugh about it, because it works.
When Ms. Adichie comes in, a hand reaches for my own under the table. I know that it is my new friend. I don’t look at her. I just tighten my grip and together, we exhale.
It is before we’ve laid each other down and bare in front of the entire class in writing, it is before she pairs us up and asks us to write about what we know after 15 minutes, it’s even before we start the class properly. It is right there, when my new confident friend, hand still in my own, is asked to say her name and she can’t. It is when she begins to cry and apologise, her shoulders shaking uncontrollably. It is how she does this for all 25 of us – how every eye in the room is fixed on her, unbelieving, understanding. That’s when I realise it: that everyone in the room too, is human.
My people have a saying, it goes thus: “ze mbe si na ihe ya ji-achiri ihe egwu ya aga njem bu maka ya ezu ndiegwu”. It means that the reason the tortoise carries his instruments around is in case he meets other musicians.
I am happy to announce that I, the humble tortoise himself while carrying my out-of-tune instruments, met with some of the best musicians ever. Before I gush about my new squad let me take you guys back a bit and we’ll go through what an awesomely crazy month June was for me.
It is not news that just before I attended the Future Ready University Conference, I got an email that said I was a selected participant for the 2015 Farafina Trust Creative Writing workshop – in other words, I was going to meet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Well I met her. She is amazeballs – I say amazeballs because there are no other adjectives in my kinda limited vocabulary. I talked to her, hugged her, was in her personal space. It took Jehovah’s intervention for the creep in me not to just emerge from his doormot. She speaks Igbo with her brother Okey, who by the way is the turntest person I have ever met. IN. MY. LIFE.
She did not come early on the first day of workshop and all of us sat around the U-shaped arrangement of tables. There was a certain silence. People who knew themselves before then talked and laughed. I tried to intrude on some conversations since I did not know a soul from before then. When she finally came, she apologised for coming late… I found it funny because we did not even care. She was there. Standing in front of us. The emails were not a scam.