I don’t know at what age Soyinka wrote poetry to his first white hairs, but it must have been exhilarating or debilitating to discover the white intruders in his all black congregation of hair. I just realized recently that when human beings get to a certain age they begin to have intense conversations with their body parts. My mother has been talking to her knees now for some years. She suffers from arthritis, but she can still move around the house and the courtyard. She is in her 80s. She used to sprint like a cheetah after an errant impala, whenever I misbehave, which was often as a kid. My mother would walk miles to the market if there was no car. Then gradually, her knees and legs started rebelling. Like a sully immigration officer denying one a visa to attend a best friend’s wedding in London, the knees said NO to some of her moves. She visited us in America a few years ago. Instead of talking to us, it was always about – If not for these my knees that say I wont go anywhere again, I would have done this or that.
Now I am the one talking to a part of my body, the way my mom speak to her legs.
This past weekend, I was at Afropolitan Music jam in Freedom Park in Lagos organized by Ade Bantu. One of the performers was the actor and musician, Wale Ojo of New Nigeria Cinema day at the British Film Institute in London. Wale was the Fela of the night, which means he wore a tight ankara trousers with a denim jacket. The first Fela song he did was Lady, one of Fela’s most energetic songs. Wale’s performance charged up the wild Lagos crowd and the night was electrified. Seeing he had the crowd by their throat, the actor/musician decided to take off his shirt. This got all the ladies screaming their head off. At this point I decided to turn my face from the stage, because one can never be too sure what’s lawful these days especially with some brand new law that nobody is too sure if it is trap for elephants or mice. But before I turned, I asked myself a very serious question – if I were a musician performing before a beautiful Lagos audience, would I be bold enough to remove my shirt on stage and reveal my once-upon-a-time six pack that is fast becoming a small sack of basmati rice?
At the beginning of this week I had started having conversation with my belly. First I blamed this phenomenal rise in status on my pounded yam breakfasts. My roasted yam launch. My eba dinners. I blamed it on everything I could possibly think of that make us Nigerian men grow potbelly proudly. After these round-about-police-station accusations, I finally resorted to what Soyinka did to his first white hairs – I had a frank conversation with my belly:
My friend, how did we get here na? Where exactly do you think you are growing to? Let me just tell you now, I don’t have money to maintain your sudden status that you are trying to acquire o. This is not what we agreed when I was younger. Do you want to make me a laughing stock? Do you know there is no time to go to the gym in Lagos? Why are you trying to make me change my wardrobe? You know that I am not a politician with plenty agbada to cover my excesses. I know it’s a status symbol and Nigerian men like flaunting you with so much pride, but I don’t think I am cut for that.
That was the kind of conversation I had with my belly. You see, here in Nigeria many people aren’t sensitive to people’s body weight like they do in the Western world. Any stranger or friend can walk up to you in a public place and scream – Oboy you don fat well well o! You don hammer abi you don dey chop government money? See enjoyment!
Why am I alarmed with my belly that’s begging to shape itself like Ladi Kwali’s pot? Apart from the sometimes-embarrassing snide comments from friends and families sometimes, I know that a big belly is not always healthy, especially for someone who is not big-bodied naturally. White hair might be healthy and worth writing an alarming poem for, but growing a pot belly at my age is more alarming.
Seeing that if I don’t take matters into my own hands my belly will keep going on its mission, I had one more conversation with it. Look, guy, I know it’s not your fault, it’s all mine. I have totally ignored you all these while and ate what Nigeria culinary environment had to offer. I know I am not the man I used to be. I am no longer that young village boy with loads of active metabolism that could granulate Aso rock if I were to swallow it. I am sorry, I understand I have to work on you or with you. Here is what I am going to do – I have decided to run. Not for any office like President Jonathan would do in 2015 by every means necessary but I want to run every morning and every evening for my dear life. I want to run to stay fit and healthy. Kindly work with me.