Getting out of Lagos was a tug of war. I’d been there like forever and there was no other place I knew. At least, not since 1970 when my mother, cousin and I joined my father who had transferred his services from the Nigerian Ports Authority, Port Harcourt, to NPA, Lagos, after the war.
I attended Christ the King Primary School, Orodu, Ajegunle; Gaskiya College Cardoso, and then went on to Jibril Martins and the University of Lagos.
Apart from the brief spell during my national youth service when I returned to Port Harcourt, I had completely transformed into a Lagos boy, with the ‘city’ not only giving me a job - which I did for nearly 25 years, but also a wife and family.
You can understand my wife’s trepidation when I had to move to Abuja, nearly 700 kilometres outside my comfort zone.
The impact of my physical absence from home and family was what worried her the most. My attempt to assuage her anxiety by telling her Abuja was only 45 minutes away by air and that, in any case, vast improvements in telecommunication technology had done much to bridge distances fell on deaf ears.
When it dawned on her that not going to Abuja was no longer an option, she started a scheme which all members of the family decided to call Bonding Game.
This was how it worked. Whenever I was in Lagos – say once in two or three weeks – she would ensure all members of the family ate together while sharing jokes in the kitchen, watched a movie, and went to church together on Sunday.
For a while the bonding game seemed to be working very well, even though I indulged a few of the bonding things – like going to the movies – with a baleful and nagging heart. Of course, I inflicted a few boring routines on the gang, too, like paying them back for dragging me to the movie by insisting we should, also in the spirit of bonding, spend a few hours watching CNN! If you’ve been with a crowd of teenagers and twenty-somethings before, you might agree that nothing comes close to asking them to hug a transformer like asking them to watch CNN!
On the whole, though, I think we were getting on fairly well with the bonding things until I began to notice something. Maybe it had always been there and I didn’t quite notice, but bit-by-bit, it began to rear its disruptive head until I could almost swear that it would spell the death knell for our bonding things.
If it was the TV, it would have been easier to manage since we had all agreed to watch one channel at a time whenever we were together. And if it was the movie, we had reached a compromise that I could sleep through the damn show as long as I was physically present in the hall.
The disruptor was something more personal to each member of the family, something each person had and had become addicted to and obsessed with. Each one first owned it, and now it seemed the thing owned them, completely.
You guessed right: it’s the phone. The more it seemed we were making progress with the bonding game, the more I noticed that each of us, especially the teenagers and twenty-somethings, was actually mastering how to live and bond happily in two worlds – the world of the actual family and the world of the virtual family.
In the midst of a joke, or halfway through a meal or a TV programme, I’d sometimes notice a phone light up, but no ring tone. The receiver sneaks off to a quiet place to take the call, or cuts it off, followed by a trove of chattering exchanges by text.
At other times when you think you’re all present and sharing the moment, it’s because you have not seen what that young man or woman is doing with the tab. They may be on Netflix, Vimeo or YouTube. Or catching up on the latest post on Facebook or Instagram.
Sometimes when someone is laughing in the room, you can’t be exactly sure what they’re laughing about – whether it’s about the joke you just cracked or the latest skit by Falz on Facebook.
I once proposed a ban on the use of the phone during family time, but it was widely decried as “harsh” and “excessive.” To be fair, I also discovered - after proposing the ban - that I was just as guilty of hugging my phones and disrupting the time with “necessary calls” as anyone else.
As the nest empties, and the bonding things are fewer and farther between, I look back wistfully on the bonding game and sometimes regret not forcing through the phone ban. Or, maybe, the bonding things are now about how to live and be happy in two worlds at a time?