Metropole Magazine

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

06 Mar Written by  Elnathan John

An Invitation to Dinner

Reading it again, your email response to the invitation to the ambassador’s house was rude. You shouldn’t have shot back asking why they were inviting you to have dinner- you should have remembered that the head of their commercial office in Lagos was an acquaintance. She must have been shocked or irritated at this Nigerian asking her to justify an invitation to the home of a European ambassador.

If there is anything that makes you want to pluck out your teeth, it is dress codes. You find them colonial and oppressive. No one should tell a grown person what to wear to an event. If they are respectable enough to be invited then you should trust their judgment in dressing. Last year you recalled a small, fast talking woman in London who was handling arrangements for a dinner for writers reminding you that you should be properly dressed. You could feel your retort almost knock her off her feet as she struggled to explain that although no one would turn you back if you wore casual clothing, it would be inappropriate. For a moment you had considered wearing jeans to the important dinner at Oxford in protest.

You are the very first to arrive at the dinner. This is not a good sign, you think. That would make you the most eager. You hang around the premises and wait until the fourth person arrives before you walk to the gate. As you look for your name on the guest list, it is the wine glasses that occupy your thoughts. Most persons will be discussing trade with Europe, or at least that is the idea, and having nothing much to contribute to the topic, you plan to indulge in whatever fine wine will be served. Small wine glasses will make you look like an alcoholic, especially when you have to walk to the wine table.

As people begin to arrive in their nice suits, you suddenly remember your jewellery, which you think authenticates your writer façade. They all lie on the table in your room, freshly cleaned and forgotten. Your arms feel naked. People are supposed to wonder about the many things on your right arm when you shake their hand, and when you say you are a writer they are supposed to exhale deeply in sudden comprehension. It is supposed to add to the mystique. To the charm.

Everyone says hello with a business card. They tell you their full title, what they do, why they are here and their relationship with the embassy. All you say is your name. You refuse to have business cards because first you find it annoying and pretentious how everyone in Abuja and Lagos flashes a nice glossy card in your face five seconds after they meet you even if you have absolutely nothing in common. Apart from that it is your firm opinion that as a writer you do not need a business card. Business cards are for hustlers. But you do not say this. ‘I don’t have any cards on me,’ you say instead.

In thirty minutes you have mixed up the business cards which all look alike to you and you cannot remember who gave you which. An older man from Finland is earnestly trying to have a conversation with you. You are not sure if it is his age or his accent that makes it hard to hear him. When your ear gets used to the rhythm of his words, you make out that he is talking about the early rains and the weather and the environment and global warming in each of the many countries he has been posted to. After 20 minutes you feel the global warming reach your stomach and you find a polite way of leaving the conversation to get some wine.

You are planning an exit, one that will not seem rude so that you do not have to spend the entire evening being asked ‘So, who are you with?’ Once you felt like saying, I am here with the holy ghost just to show how annoying the question is. You want to get a 'Frequently Asked Questions' card that has all the answers you have had to answer: I am not ‘with’ anybody. I work from my bedroom, for myself and yes that is how I make a living. No I have never lived abroad. Yes you can learn how to speak good English without a strong Nigerian accent without leaving the country. No I am not interested in trade with a European country, I am just a writer.

A middle-aged man smiles politely as you get your wine. You shake him and say your name. It comes as a relief when he asks what you do instead of who you work for. ‘I am a writer,’ you say. He sighs and nods and widens his eyes. ‘Satirist,’ you add to seem cooler. This is the last conversation you will have before you leave.

‘You must have read the 'Nigerian God' then,’ he says.

Suddenly the wine tastes better, the room lights up and you shelve plans of leaving.

‘Yes,’ you say, sipping some wine, ‘I wrote it.’