The eagle-eyed amongst the readers of this blog (sometimes I wonder if there any!), would have noticed there was no entry for yesterday. Unfortunately, I had not given notice of that possibility, so I do apologise if indeed there was anyone wreaked with disappointment. Actually, I had taken the day off in respect to a friend who passed away 5 years ago yesterday, but who still remains one of the richest sources of inspiration for most things I do with my writing.
Joe was sixty and in the 'dawn of his life' (his words, not mine) when I first met him at Gatwick Airport, during my civil service days. He had a thing for Africa, defying his very Jewish family to travel to various countries in the 'magical continent' as he often described it. His list of visited towns, villages and cities, made you realise you were in the presence of a true world citizen. When a European recounts their 1957 trip down dirt paths in Aba, Jos and Osogbo, just to name a few, one is left with nothing but awe....well, at least I was.
So, how did chats about travelling in Africa progress to a strong relationship? Well, Joe was also a keen follower of politics and had some interesting views on world events, which he jotted down and espoused passionately during our lunch breaks. This meant what began as a simple 'hello' in 1996 had now morphed into a combative 30 minute daily session in 1998, which had now began to attract other colleagues. Unknown to the onlooking observers though, the sessions had continued after work on the train between the one-stop of Gatwick and Three Bridges, and then for a few more minutes before Joe turned into his street. We had become pugilists in a ring with no ropes and our relationship grew from strength to strength. I had even been present at a family meal, when Joe's nephew had brought home his Eithopian girlfriend to the consternation of his parents. Joe's brother, Isaac, a very conservative man, had blamed Joe's negative influence as a factor in his son's decision and he did not hold back.
"I don't think this would have happened, if it wasn't for all your mumbo-jumbo nonsense. I had to put with my niece marrrying a foreigner and now this?"
Joe, for his part was resolute; "the fact that my daughter married outside her race is not down to anything I did, it's what she wanted. I brought her up as free thinker, not a shackled slave to my ideas! Also, please feel free to ignore the presence of our foreign guests, Isaac," he screamed loudly. "You should be grateful your son has a mind of his own and has not ended up like you!"
Of course, on that occasion I had wished we were not so close, as it become obvious that my presence wasn't exactly helping. The meal was fantastic and full of unknown delights, but I was left with no other option than to rush the contents of my plate, to the displeasure of Sara, Isaac's lovely wife. But worse was to come.....
Isaac, a royalist had taken exception at the African head of state on the TV, who had not bowed when receiving Prince Charles. He was apopletic; "why can't this people show respect in the presence of royalty? We introduce these people to civillisation and this is how they repay us? They are like the Arabs; bloody ungrateful!"
Of course, pandemonium descended on the house, with Joe and Isaac at each other's throat. In the ensuing drama, I had begun to negotiate my exit and I was on the way to success, when Isaac threw me a wobbly;
"Kanmi, you will bow if you met our royalty, wouldn't you?"
I found myself stuck to the spot, like a rabbit caught in headlights...but I had to come back.
"Your royalty, Isaac? I don't know, would you bow if you met Nigerian royalty?"
He looked at me with narrowed eyes and cursed under his breath. Joe was jumping up and down with joy. He could not resist, as his tongue let loose.
"What a comeback! Come on Isaac, give our 'foreign' friend an answer. Okay, I will apply some brotherly love and assist. Kanmi, his answer is no, which is good. For my part, I did bow to deities and chiefs in Africa, but I would never bow down to desendants of Germans, just because they are the accepted face of royalty in this isle!"
As it turned out, Joe and I had now become the unaccepted faces in Isaac's home. As we walked out of the house, Joe turned round to me, deep in thought, before asking;
"Seriously, would you bow to any member of the royal family just because you inhabit this country and would you ever see them in the same regal light that you view the royals in Nigeria?"
It was a good question and when asked without the ambient pressure of our previous host's home, it was a question I found surprisingly hard to answer honestly . Even today, as I continue to miss Joe, I still cannot tell you what I would do if I met the Queen or Prince Charles, although, I have no doubts that I will remain postrate in presence of the Ooni of Ife. It's my Yoruba blood....can't help it.
So, to bow or not to bow, where do you stand?