Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

20 Dec Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

Those Text Messages

It is a norm. Wherever two or more are gathered these days a sheet of paper ruled with rows and columns for name, telephone number, email address and sundry details is passed around for all to complete. So there I was at a reading filling in my details in the attendance list, and for once I had the common sense to leave out my phone number. Unfortunately, my omission was detected before the end of the event and I was harassed about filling the blank space, which I did, deliberately mixing up the last two digits.

Sometime before then at a bookshop in Ceddi Plaza, a pretty, eloquent proselytiser accosted me with a message of salvation. At the end of her sermon she asked for my name and telephone number and I obliged her without thinking of the consequences. That moment of politeness, or whatever virtue or weakness compelled me to release my number that easily, has ensured that my life is choked with spam. Once my number was imputed into the database of the youth organisation to which she belonged, I became acquainted with the word, nuisance.

Through those bulk text messages that is impossible to reply to and thereby plea for the restoration of my privacy I receive weekly updates on all their activities: meeting days, picnics, concerts. They don’t trust that I can remember the things that are really important, hence the ceaseless reminders. Eight SMS invitations in three weeks, yet I do not show up at any of your events, doesn’t that show that I am simply not interested, not that I have forgotten, and be deleted from the list?

Should this youth organisation, Salt, miraculously lose my number, my life would still not be entirely spam-free. For every message I receive from Salt, there are ten more messages entering my phone from different organisations. As I write, I am on the messaging list of two reading groups, three bookshops, an Eastern religion, and at least seven churches. And then there are the messages from my network provider asking me to download caller tunes. This just isn’t right. Only one out of many appeals to be deleted from a texting list has worked so far. Else, it is frequent beeping as usual, and to think that I am complicit in ruining my peace.

When my phone beeps, I hope that it is a credit alert, otherwise a message from a human being, not an update on new arrivals at a bookshop, and from human beings I actually know. Sometimes, it turns out to be one of those annoying, impersonal wedding invitations from an old schoolmate I have a hard time remembering because we were not exactly friends then, and I wonder how she managed to get my contact after these years.

Sometimes it is from James, which James, it is impossible to tell immediately, texting just to say ‘Hi! Longest time’. He, too, may be a former schoolmate, so I text back, ‘Yeah! Longest time’. My enthusiasm is encouraging, a conversation ensues, and in the process his identity is revealed: someone I met at an eatery, to whom I gave my number because he paid for my meal. A little rudeness keeps him at bay and in a subsequent review of phone contacts, he is the first casualty.

I am in the process of undoing what years of naive politeness have turned my phone into. My number has become as sacred to me as my ATM pin. I have learnt to withhold my number from all public forms. An isolated act of rebellion isn’t going to change everything but it is a good place to start. I am practising to say ‘no’ upon request for it, and to keep saying ‘no’ in all unreasonable situations.