That day was a Wednesday. Class finished earlier than usual, as the teacher had to travel out of town that afternoon. So, at 11:15 a.m., the class was dismissed. Minutes later, Remi walked to the station to catch the next train.
The train she usually took, which was a later train usually took about fifteen minutes to arrive at her regular stop. This time around, due to some construction work, the train she boarded would take an extra ten minutes to arrive at the destination. This was what she heard some of the fellow passengers say in English, after the announcement was made in German over the public speakers on the train.
“Great! I’ll just use that time to catch up on sleep, then,” Remi thought to herself as she found a seat. Kayode, who had caught a cold, had kept her up for most of the night, with his intermittent nose-blowing and trips to the restroom. To top it off, when he actually fell asleep, his heavy breathing progressively evolved into a very noisy snore.
Remi who slept in the room next to Kayode, and who was generally, a light sleeper, had found herself staring at the clock, counting the hours until daybreak. So, by the time her class ended, she was seriously sleep-deprived.
After setting an alarm on her phone to wake her up in exactly twenty minutes, Remi promptly nodded off to sleep. And she had a dream, right there on the train. In her dream, she saw herself wandering down a familiar street. It looked just like the street on which she grew up as a child, the one in Ikeja, except that the houses were all the same.
She was looking for something and seemed to know intuitively exactly where to find it. So, she kept walking, until she got to a side street on her right. The minute she turned into that street, she saw a man walking towards her, holding something in his hand. It looked like a brown parcel that was neatly wrapped.
Just before he handed it over to her, he opened his mouth and said something to her. The language was not familiar and she said so in English. As soon as the man heard her speak, and realized that she did not speak the same language with him, he retracted the hand bearing the gift and began to walk away from her. She kept running after him, but even though he was walking, she could not catch up with her. Suddenly, she tripped on a stone, and fell. That was when she woke up.
The train had come to an abrupt stop and it was the jolt that woke her up. As she stared wildly about her, it took her a few minutes to remember where she was. The first thing she noticed was that the faces of the passengers around her were different. These were not the same people who had boarded the train with her.
She grabbed her phone. One look at the screen and she realized that she had been sleeping for almost an hour! The alarm had gone off at the time she set it for, but she had forgotten to add a tone to the alarm. It had gone off silently, as the phone was set to silent when she left her class that day.
Just then, a voice announced over the public speakers that the train was now departing for another stop. That name was not familiar to her. Confused and dazed, she quickly got off the train. Once she got on the platform, her suspicions were confirmed. While she knew the name of the station where she stood, she had no idea how to get back home. Remi was lost in Berlin.
The first thing she did was to try calling Kayode for help. Unfortunately, his phone was turned off. She had not saved his office phone number, so that was out of the question. She began to panic. She tried to ask a few people she saw for directions to her apartment complex, using a combination of the little German she had learnt and English. It did not work, either because she was mispronouncing the words or the people she asked really did not understand her questions.
Remi resolved to keep calm, but she felt herself veering closer and closer to the edge of absolute panic and fear. So, she made her way upstairs from the subway to the ground level. She found herself on a street lined with cafes, restaurants and bars. Not exactly knowing what she would do, she darted nervously into the nearest one. It was a small café called Café Isabella.
As soon as she entered the café, she noticed that there was only one customer sitting down at a table, deeply engrossed in a newspaper. She could not see the man’s face, but she definitely saw the top of his head. He was quite bald. There was soft jazz music playing in the background, which ordinarily made the atmosphere calm and relaxing. But all that music was wasted on Remi, as it did nothing to ease her nervousness.
She half-ran, half -floated to the man behind the counter. The man behind the counter was really a young boy with red pimples decorating his milk-colored face, who looked like he would much rather be anywhere else than working at a café. He looked to be about 19, though without the pimples, and possibly with a beard or moustache, he could easily have passed for a 24 year old.
Remi repeated the series of questions and wild arm movements she had already performed at the train station just minutes before. They had the same effect on this boy, as they had on the people she had met earlier: absolute confusion. In fact, the boy thought she was trying to get a special brew, and so the poor boy kept telling her in German to “look there” while pointing to a blackboard with the café’s menu chalked in white and blue letters.
“Oh God! Ki ni n ma se?” a frustrated Remi cried out, further scaring the already frightened sales clerk.
“Ki lo de? What’s the matter?” a man’s voice asked, out of the blues.
Remi turned around so quickly that the rubber band which had held her braided hair in a loose pony tail, simply broke off, and went flying into an obscure corner of the café. Her hair, thus liberated, fell in cascades over her shoulders and in front of her face, temporarily blocking her vision. Had she imagined it or did she just hear someone speak Yoruba and then English? In this café?
“Excuse me, could you repeat yourself?” She felt the words form in her head, but they never made it to her mouth. She just stood there, mouth ajar, gazing in wonder at this stranger. It suddenly occurred to her that her hair was blocking her view.
Pulling her hair away from her face with her right hand, she let her left hand fall to her side, holding onto her large purse. With her hair out of the way, she got a good look at this stranger. She knew he was the same man who had been sitting at the table in the café, when she entered, just by looking at his bald head. From where she stood, she could see the newspaper he had been reading lying carelessly on the table like a pile of dirty laundry. The man must have been reading Remi’s thoughts because he repeated his words, exactly as he had said them the first time.
This time, Remi heard him correctly and knew she was not mistaken. This man had to be a Nigerian. But how could that be? His face was …
“I said ‘Ki lo de?’ ” the stranger repeated.
The man in front of her was slightly taller than her. He had a long torso, broad shoulders and big hands, the sort of hands that looked like they were built to lift heavy things. He was light-skinned, the kind of man Nigerians would refer to as a ‘yellow paw-paw.’ Thick black eyebrows framed deep-set eyes, which Remi knew she would never forget for one reason: they were green. And his lips? They used to be pink, but were now tainted black, a tell-tale sign of a man who has been smoking cigarettes for years.
He never lost his cool and seemed mildly fascinated by Remi’s flustered appearance.
“Are you a Nigerian?” was all Remi managed to say, as if that was the solution to her problem.
“Of course. Or do I sound like a Ghanaian?” he said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he switched to a perfect Ghanaian accent, and quickly added “Chale, long time!”
Remi laughed in spite of herself. This stranger was funny.
“Sorry, it’s just that … I need to get back home … and well, I’m lost,” was all she managed to say.
“But of course you are, and you’ve scared poor Rupert too. It’s his first day on the job.” He was right. Even though she had failed in her attempt to ask him for directions, she had certainly succeeded in transferring her anxiety and nervousness to him. The stranger apologized to him and the boy happily returned to his duties.
Taking Remi by the hand, he gently led her away to one of the five tables in the café, the one right beside the window overlooking the street, and offered to buy her a cup of coffee. Remi, who was only too glad to have met someone who understood her, eagerly accepted his offer. Ten minutes later, they were both sipping hot cups of coffee and talking.
The stranger introduced himself as Olisa Adigwe. His father was a Nigerian, an Igbo man, and his mother was a German. They had met when his father was in Germany for studies in the ’70s. Olisa was the third of four children, and had lived in Germany until he was six years old.
His family had relocated to Nigeria in the early ’80s, but he had visited Germany almost every year since he was 13. He worked as an engineer for Mobil in Nigeria, and was on a month-long vacation. Remi, on her part, parted with only a very condensed version of her life’s story, leaving out sensitive details, and being careful not to refer to Kayode as her husband, but rather as her fiancé.
“So, Olisa,” Remi said, taking another sip of her warm beverage, “since your mother is German, do you have a German name?”
“Do birds fly?”
“An ostrich cannot fly so …”
“You know what I mean jo,” he said laughing at her feeble attempt to make a joke. “My mother named me Klaus, after her father, my grandfather. So my full name is Olisa Klaus Adigwe. Some of my friends call me Olisa, some call me Klaus. For those who are prone to butchering both names, I tell them to call me “Kay.” That way, everyone is happy, and my name is safe from unnecessary mishandling.”
That first day, they talked for hours in the small café. Remi who had been worried about getting home late, completely forgot the time and the clock ticked away. But, at about 4:30 p.m., when a few people who had finished early from work began to stream into the café, they felt like they had lost some degree of privacy, and promptly left the café.
With Olisa’s help, Remi was able to get back on the right train and in no time at all, found herself back home in Kayode’s apartment. Remi never mentioned her little adventure to Kayode, but rather, chose to keep these things to herself. In her mind, this newfound friend, was her little secret, and she had no intention of sharing it with anyone. Not even Kayode.
– to be continued –