Contributor: Ayo Awoyungbo
Everyone has to survive
I walked into Macdonalds on Leytonstone High Road primarily to get out of the rain. It was pissing down and I was wet through. It was half past three in the afternoon and the place wasn't busy. As the rain showed no sign of letting up, I thought I'd get a coffee.
I headed for the end till and stood behind a woman with two kids. When it was my turn the guy behind the counter said "Can I help you ? "
Have you ever been so shocked that you lose the power of speech? I looked at the guy again. It was Tayo Adegoke - he was wearing the uniform and his name badge said "Delroy" but I knew it was Tayo! His hair was cut in a "flat top" with patterns around the shaven sides, and he wore a stud in his left ear. I saw from his badge that he had 3 stars.
It's difficult to describe the thoughts that raced through my mind then. To explain, I need to tell you a bit about Tayo/Delroy, so that you can appreciate where he's coming from, and how I felt.......
Ten years ago, about 1200 freshers were admitted to the University of Ife, Ile -Ife, Oyo state, Nigeria, full of hopes and dreams. I was one of them. We were called "Jambites" because the examining body for entrance into University in Nigeria was (and still is) called the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board or JAMB for short. It was a derogatory term, synonymous with callowness. It also meant that we wouldn't get girlfriends because all our female contemporaries preferred to go out with "Staleites", that being the term for second year or older students who were supposedly, more mature, less rustic, and generally better boyfriend material. In my opinion, this was a matter of opinion.
As a Jambite, I accepted my lot with stoicism, secure in the mistaken belief that my time would come (I'm still waiting, but that's another story!). Not all jambites, however, were prepared to wait, and Tayo was one of the impatient ones.
He was my room-mate, and right from day one, I knew he was different. To start with, he had clothes, and he knew how to wear them. To my hungry eyes, his wardrobe was an emporium of the latest fashions. He mentioned, in passing, that he bought all his clothes in London (with hindsight, I believe that he shopped in "Mr. Sellrite" - the clothes were of that standard) and I was impressed. He had a Cassette player and stacks of tapes with all the best and most popular American tunes. Although he didn't have a car, he knew a man who did, so he often got lifts to lectures. He never went to the student Cafeteria for meals - he hated the queues and had picked up on the fact that it wasn't "cool" to be seen there. You see, that was the crux of the matter - Tayo was cool.
He knew all the Campus slang and all the trendy, "happening" people. I don't know how he managed it, but within weeks he seemed to have lots of friends, mainly second and third year students. He started getting invited to parties and meeting girls, and it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened - he moved out of our eight-bedded room and into the Staff Quarters.
For those of you who didn't go to Ife, the Staff Quarters were seen by many students as the ultimate in Campus accommodation. Set in landscaped grounds, each house had a "Boysquarter" usually consisting of three rooms with a separate shower/toilet. Lecturers often let favoured students live there rent free. You didn't have to own a car, but some form of transport was desirable or you were faced with a daily walk of at least a mile and a half. In certain circles, a Quarters address was seen as a status symbol and some of the students who lived there thought that they were better than those who didn't. Anyway, don't ask me how, but Tayo got a room, and promptly left the student Halls of Residence.
During the time we'd been room-mates, Tayo and I had been casual friends. I knew I wasn't his type - I neither smoked, drank, nor knew how to chase women - but we got along. We weren't studying the same subjects and had nothing in common except our age. However, I was a good listener, and was always eager to hear stories of parties and Campus events, most of which I wasn't invited to or couldn't afford to attend. I also got the lurid and grossly exaggerated details of his sex life, free of charge. I often thought that he looked down on me because I had no social life, no dress sense, and no money to fund the former or acquire the latter. I know I certainly looked up to him. I wasn't really part of anything happening on Campus - I was just passing through. I must admit that I envied him. He was never in on a Friday night!
Tayo moved to the Staff Quarters and I didn't see him for nearly a month. Then one afternoon as I walked to class I spotted him in a group of about seven "E-dey-happens" (Campus-speak for the hip, party going crowd). They were sitting on a low wall outside the Students Union Building, girls and guys, laughing, talking, and trying to attract attention. I went over, keen to hear how he liked living in Quarters and to catch up on his news. I secretly hoped he would ask me to visit him or something. I had never been to Quarters and was curious to see how the other half lived. Honestly, I was genuinely pleased to see the man, but he pretended not to see me approach and ignored my outstretched hand. All the while his friends kept talking and laughing. I tapped his shoulder and he said "Hi" in an off-hand way and turned back to his pals, as if he'd never seen me before.
To say that I felt slighted would be putting it mildly. There and then, I vowed never to speak to him again. Obviously he was ashamed to talk to me in front of his trendy friends. At 16, things like that really hurt. I walked away, feeling angry and embarrassed.
After that "incident" I saw Tayo around Campus every now and then but we never spoke. In our final year I sometimes saw him driving a red Volkswagen Golf. I often saw it parked outside Moremi, one of the female Halls of Residence. To my credit, I didn't let his tyres down, although I was tempted. I am not a vindictive person, and I never bear a grudge for long. Eventually we both left University, me for Law School, and he for wherever (I couldn't care less). By and by, I came to England.......
The guy at the counter said (again) "Can I help you please ?"
I said "Tayo Adegoke ?" Half statement, half question.
"You must be making a mistake, mate. Me name's Delroy." This as he touched his badge.
There was no spark of recognition, but I could have sworn that there was a hunted look in his eyes.
I tried again. "Did you go to Ife ?"
He said "Where ?" but did not look confused.
The accent was almost Cockney, but not quite right. I detected Nigerian undertones. After a 60 second pause during which we stared at each other, Tayo/Delroy said "Do you want to order or what ?" The standard, MacCheery politeness had given way to a stony glare and flat tone.
I couldn't think of anything to say, so I turned and walked away from the counter, totally bemused. I knew it was Tayo, I was positive. I guess he was ashamed because he was working in Macdonalds.
The rain had stopped. I pushed open the mirrored doors and his watching reflection split into two. I left without a backward glance.
I don't know why he was ashamed. I work in a Macdonalds myself. Everyone has to survive, somehow.
Note: The author no longer works in Macdonalds!