I spent last Sunday at Café de Vie’s Inaugural Bazaar where renowned Nigerian author and award winning journalist, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim held a book signing event for his latest collection of short stories, Dreams and Assorted Nightmares.
I’ve been meaning to write about this but I never got around to it. It was an event I will never ever ever forget. I just can’t imagine not sharing it here on my blog with you. So, guys, here’s the story of my evening with Adam.
The event was scheduled for five pm. By ten to five, I was still a hot mess. I was sweaty and confused on where to start preparing. Should I take a bath? Should I take lunch? Will lunch make me look bloated? Will there be food at the event? The questions ran through my mind.
I was pacing half-naked in my bedroom all the while I asked myself these questions. I stared at my dress for a moment. It looked a bit too formal from where it was hanging on my wardrobe door. I didn’t know what to expect—what the dress code would be—and I was sort of scared of looking too dressed up, you know? But I went with the dress I picked out anyway. I couldn’t start thinking of a new outfit. NEPA had done their worst. And even if I did choose a new outfit, I wouldn’t be able to iron it in time. Somehow, I managed to make it to the event, and only a couple of minutes late.
I pulled up in a taxi. My heart was racing by the time we’d arrived and I could see all the people mingling inside. In my head I was like, what the fuck are you doing here? Really. I wanted to float. Float up and out of my seat. Float back to the comfort of my bedroom. But I was there already. What point is there in not going in now? I thought.
I scavenged my purse for a five hundred naira note to give the taxi man. Ordinarily, I should’ve been charged two hundred for the drive, but I had to make a stop at the ATM first. So I thought, three hundred on top of two is enough of a compensation for that, right? right??Wrong.
The taxi driver wouldn’t accept the money.
“Ah-ah. No-o. Aunty… Na 800.”
I was ready to pick a fight with him there and then. And I won’t lie, a part of me was sure I was being overcharged because my nerves were showing and there were a bunch of white folks roaming the place. Well… Know what I did? What else could I do? I sucked it up and paid the man. I had withdrawn five thousand already. And I believed I would still have enough money to get a copy of Adam’s book and pay for the taxi ride home. So, I paid him. I paid him four times what I should’ve been charged. And I stepped down from his car.
In and through the small aperture leading into the café, a blonde haired woman approached me. This lady approached me like she knew me from somewhere, guys. Like she was my best friend from secondary school. Like we share a bed with each other at night. You can just imagine my level of shock. She got in my face and everything.
“Hello.” She said.
Her accent sounded European. I (obviously) had not a clue what country from, but definitely European. She was in a long white dress. Her eyes were… umm… green? I think. Or was it grey? I don’t remember. However, I do remember her looking wispy and willowy. Sort of like a gypsy or a daisy. She looked very beautiful.
“Are you here to see Abubakar?” She asked.
“Ummm…Yes.” I answered.
“Well, there he is.” She pointed beside me.
“WOAH.” I screamed. I think. I definitely screamed.
He was standing right beside me the whole time. We did this weird thing where we were just standing there not knowing what to do. And then, he extended his elbow—the COVID handshake. I elbowed his elbow, and I felt a little calm after that.
I would later learn that the blonde haired lady is Victoria, the curator of the event. After I elbowed Adam, she offered me a chair near the entrance to the event and beside the staircase. As stated earlier, I honestly had no idea what to expect. However, a part of me expected to be in the midst of other readers and maybe a few writers who equally appreciate Adam’s writing. I had even hoped that there’d be a reading of one of his short stories at the end.
“Oh. No. No.” He said that evening, “This is actually sort of a secret thing. It’s not a reading. Oh, no. I’m just signing copies.”
All of this was well after I took my seat though.
By the time I’d settled down, post Covid-handshake, the nerves kicked in again, and for good reasons. First, I was seated (literally) in the middle of the way. The passers-by had to take permission from me each time they needed to go up the stairs. And I would’ve moved my seat but there was actually nowhere else to go. The second reason for my nerves was that it suddenly hit me. I was seating across from Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.
He looked so much like a man, you know. It was disappointing. I wasn’t expecting some demigod, but given his writing abilities you wouldn’t blame me for expecting some zazz. He just looked like your everyday nice guy. He was—there I say—humble. And friendly too.
Anyway, we were seated a few feet from each other. We had barely introduced ourselves when a lady came down the stairs. They seemed to be friends, the lady and him. She had dark skin like I do; wore this beautiful, long, (satin? I think) lavender dress, and spoke with a really polished accent. She was being far too informal with him to have been a stranger like myself. And from what I saw, he was enjoying her company. So, I just sat quietly by and waited until they’d finished.
And when they were finally finished, and she’d returned back up the stairs, I got the opportunity to introduce myself.
“I’m honestly star struck.” I remember saying.
“Ah. I don’t bite.” He joked.
I showed him my copy of his first short story collection, The Whispering Trees. It was an out-dated copy apparently and at first he joked that he wouldn’t sign it.
“I can’t sign it.” He said. “This is an old copy. The new one is published by Cassava Republic. You’ll have to buy that one before I sign it.”
And I believed him. I’ve had my fair share of egotistic Nigerian men, lecturers who wouldn’t mark your scripts until you’ve bought their hand-outs, teachers who would only let you into the exam hall with the receipts of a purchase of their textbooks. I honestly believed him. And I was processing it all for quite some time. I think he must’ve noticed.
“I’m just kidding. I’ll sign your copy.” He smiled.
And we laughed. But my laughter was tinged with a feeling I don’t have a word for yet.
He took an awfully long time to sign my copy. When he handed it back to me, he said
“I promise you it’s not a love letter.”
And then he laughed, and I laughed but for real this time. I realized it soon after that he was trying really hard to make me feel comfortable and easy. Looking back now, I really appreciate that. It didn’t work, but I appreciate it.
I took my copy of the Whispering Trees back from him. His autograph read, “Amarachi, Thank you for coming and for enjoying this [the book]. I hope you enjoy the others and the life you have.”
The most beautiful words an author has ever written to me.
When we finally got to talking about his new book, a group of ladies walked in. The rest of the conversation was punctuated by interruptions from the people at the event. They were all white people. Expats, I believe. I had never been around so many white people in my life.
I’ll forever remember that day as the day I got a taste of what it feels like to be a minority. I just felt so out of place. Sometimes, I’d look around, and Adam and I would be the only black people in sight.
The white folks love him though. The women fawned over him. Everyone wanted to meet Abubakar, the writer. And Victoria had only good things to say.
“He’s the best writer in Africa.” She said. “Number one in all of Africa.”
After a few minutes of seeing white folks come and go, I started wondering where all my black non-bourgeois Nigerian people were. It was a bit depressing to see. Everyone looked white and in their 30s. And most of those getting the short story collection were only just discovering his writing. But I guess his company made it all better.
I asked a few questions about the book and got myself a copy too. He autographed it. The cost of the book was well above what I had estimated, but I guess I was paying for the experience too. I am yet to begin reading, but when I do, I’ll definitely come back here to write a review.
After the small chat, we took photos. He complimented my dress. I complimented his beard (I think). The sun was setting behind us. It was an overall pleasant evening.
Meeting Adam—seating across from him, listening to him talk about his new book, his love for Nigeria, just having a conversation with him, with someone who has written one of the best books out of the country—was truly a unique experience that I will never forget.
Left to me, I would’ve sat there and kept picking at his brain. I would’ve offered dinner and kept the conversation going. I would’ve even told him I am a writer too and I would’ve asked him about his journey, what it was like starting out, how he overcame his doubt, you know? But it was just a book signing. I honestly shouldn’t have been seated there too long.