Reminiscences: Embarrassing Telephone Moments

Reminiscences: Embarrassing Telephone Moments

Friday, October 13, 2023 5:20 pm

Tunde Asaju

Tunde Asaju

So it’s Friday and time for reflections. Because you know bá, I hate when people just die with their gists. You all know that I came from Ok-City, the only authentic City in present Kogi State? We used to have this kind of telephone there before Mr Lugard came and removed it out of jealousy and spite. That was before I was born eh!

In 1979 while I was training to be a Telex Operator preparatory to being sent to Radio Kano, my head trainer was one Ẹ̀gbá man who lived in Kundilla Housing Estate with my second mom but worked in Gidan Gwamna, Kano. That was where I first ‘discovered’ this magic box. I used to wonder how well-dressed humans would pick up this black thing and start talking to it when they are not mad. You can see that with earpods, problem has only changed name, eh!

The day I started using the Ọ̀sanyìn was a day I won’t forget in a hurry. I picked up the receiver, gently pressed it to my ear and pronto, one beautiful voice asked me ‘hello, what can I do for you?’

Àgbákò àbúrò àgbákàn! When did I say I needed help? I just want to talk to the people at Gidan Rediyo. So I answered, ‘I’m not talking to you, I want to talk to Radio Kano’.
‘Do you have the number’, she persisted.
In anger, I dropped the handset and reported the interfering lady to my supervisor one Mohammed Mujitaba who, I was told came to Kano from Ẹgbẹ́ but converted to Islam and became a ba-Kano.

He understood my troublem and explained to me that, to use the phone, I needed to talk to the mystery lady at the other end. She is called a telephone operateress and no-one gets to another phone line except by her (Christians will understand John 14:6 better). In those days, they used a portal and switched chords to make calls go through. Ayé ń lọ à ń tọ.

I wouldn’t forget that day. I used to have agídí villager back then, if I had seen the lady, I could have smashed the phone on her head. Ẹ̀gbọ́n Folajimi Iyeku would bear me witness.

The second day was the day Journalists in Europe called to break the news that I was being offered a spot in that prestigious programme and that the Kingdom of Netherlands was picking the tab. A villager like me was going to Paris, France for eight awesome months.

I had only started working for Newswatch for a while, thanks to the Ilorin connection of my brother and friend Ọgà, Muyiwa Akintunde. I had just gotten a ‘breakthrough’ in Abuja and came back to Lagos to drop my copy and then take some I.O.U to return when someone came to say the Editor-in-Chief wanted to speak to me.

Now in Newswatch, when Ọgà Dan Agbese summons you to his office, there must be wàhálà. It’s not that Ọgà is wicked, but when it comes to editing, a hawk has no better eye for details than Mr Agbese’s. It does not matter where you hide your malapropism, he would find it and he would verbally query your sloppiness. So I summoned courage to go because I had no option – òpeni nii ṣọlá.

As usual, he barely looked up from the stack of papers he was editing even as he handed me his precious cellphone. It was those first generation phone with a little flip in the mouthpiece. They weigh a ton and Naija big boys called it nought-nine-nought because they all started with the 090 number.

As they say in Warri, afraid catch me as my Ọgà said – you have a call. Number one, I didn’t give my Ọgà’s number to any soul on earth because I considered it a privilege to know it and would only call that number if and totally when it is necessary. So, I wasn’t sure if the office assistant didn’t miss the errand.

But my greatest problem was on the phone. I have never handled a cellphone in my entire useless life up till then. I had no idea how to even hold it. These were the days when even conventional land lines were locked up with a ingenious padlock. I didn’t want to hold this precious status symbol wrongly or break my Ọgà’s phone so impudently I asked’ who was on the line’.

One look from Ọgà convinced me that I was wasting his time. So I accepted the offer and – thanks to Ashimoko and my ancestors, I placed the handset properly, ignoring the weight and the heat from the bulbous battery. It was good news.

Madame Guillemette Tessier-du-Cros was the magic at the other end. They had been trying to contact me but because of a nationwide strike, had difficulty. Not willing to make me lose my spot, they had looked at the magazine cover page I submitted and found that Ọgà Kayode Soyinka headed our London Bureau and had called him. It was he who gave them Mr Agbese’s mobile line. Imagine such diligence!

You want to know how I took the news? Well, it’s Friday, go and eat a proper lunch and drink responsibly fes. It’s a story for another day. So, when you call me and I tell you I don’t do calls, that may be one of the reasons. I am shocked that in the basement of my office, they have this phone hanging on the wall, so I thought I’d beat Olubadan Ademola H Adigun to a selfie. Then I remembered how different it is to grow up in a City and a city. If you know, you know.

*Tunde Asaju writes from Canada

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