I watched the droplet of water from my hair roll down my newly painted green nail polish onto the thin foil covering the tray of freshly grilled South African lamp chops and spare ribs I was gripping while cursing under my breath as the lift lumbered up to the 13th floor apartment of a shabby high rise complex. I was on my way to meet friends for the June 12 Nigeria versus Argentina match but had wasted ten minutes threatening to slap an irrational driver who’d blocked the path. I of course had no intention of slapping him; I’m not Kaita!
I was just going under the hair drier at a spa in Ikeja when l got a blackberry message, “where are you? Match has started.” I ran to my car, hair in dripping rats’ tails, heart thumping and sped through the deserted streets to Victoria Island to catch up with friends and watch a match we all expected to lose but secretly prayed to win.
Not given to overt religiosity myself, l am as likely as the next person to be irrational and superstitious about football and Nigeria. The desperate hope of the damned. As I walked into the lavish apartment someone said, “Don’t worry, they haven’t scored yet, God is on our side.”
Someone else hissed in reply, “sharrap my friend Maradona is the god of football and he is coaching Argentina.” This is of course the best way to watch football, with a loud diverse group of people, their faculties momentarily beclouded by alcohol and food high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, and blowing vuvuzelas. There are no longer geographic boundaries and comments zipped from Lagos to Abuja to Maputo and Johannesburg.
We of course went on to lose to Argentina although the goalkeeper, Enyeama, has become a national hero. The measured celebration that followed that victory may have been perplexing to non-Nigerians who kept pointing out our defeat as though we were blind. We celebrated because we had expected to lose by an embarrassing margin and in a totally inglorious manner. A very important point to learn about Nigerians is that we hate to look bad to others never mind how we bad we look to ourselves.
A confused Italian kept asking what people mean by the phrase “they tried o”. I said it means that we know that the odds against the team lie not only in the mediocre talents on the field, a new coach, corrupt football management and the totally shambolic arrangements from qualification to kick off but in other intangible factors of ethnicity, favouritism and politics.
By the second match, against Greece, I knew that the forces of ignominy far outweigh the bits of magic. As one of those rapid viral comments went, you spend 11 years trying to building something and out of the blues someone comes and kaitas it.
The thing with Nigeria’s obsession with football and her inconsistent national team is that it not only provides the occasional platform to showcase our much vaunted, yet to be realized potential but it is a universal distraction from our various conflicts, drama and differences, as well as a thermostat for measuring the state of the nation; a veritable microcosm for the Nigerian situation.
Just as Kaita became the poster child of the sort of aggravating, hair splitting, self-defeating theatre of indiscipline and absurdity that our polity often is, so is Enyeama the momentary exception that proves the rule.
Now, in typical fashion we have resorted to mathematical permutations in the irrational hope that once again the universe will conspire to deliver to us that which we soundly do not deserve.
The mad truth however is that somewhere deep in my Nigerian heart, and in the corner of my bed room where no one is looking l am also doing those permutations of the damned hopeful.