Back in 1986 when I was younger and life felt definitely good—perhaps because I never took things too serious—I lived in Houston, Texas. This was the first time I heard the phrase ‘Graveyard shift’.
I did not quite understand, but my oldest sister explained it to me—I have two older sisters ahead of me. Both of who were members of this night time crew. Their schedule was school, work and then back to school— this was working while the rest of the country slept.
Somewhere in this routine there was fun, goofing around and being home sick. As their younger sister, I was sort of scared to be left in the apartment all by myself. So I usually ended up at work with them. They both worked at the local dinner, Denny’s.
Back then Denny’s was quite popular. Their store was located at the busy intersection of 59 and the Summit; home for the Houston rockets back in the day. Now, this was a rather good experience for teenage girls, because every once in a while, the likes of Akeem Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe would pop in for breakfast around 3am.
There would be excitement and autographs were sure to be signed for the lucky. The lucky waitress who served them would get a huge tip. I used to sit in the corner at my sister’s station and write poetry and silly romantic stuff. Other than the NBA stars; our regulars were fellow grave-shifters just getting in or off work and truck drivers on a quick stopover to tuck-in before continuing on the lonely highways and interstates.
I was a dreamer back then and it used to be that I would make up quite a few interesting tales about the bright lights from downtown Houston and beyond which used to mesmerize me, to entertain myself. They were the coolest things for a bright eyed teen just in from Nigeria. That was then, this is about now.
Ever wondered what happens when you go to sleep at night? Does the whole country sleep with you? Okay, I know most people do realize that life does go on: the police department, fire houses, nurses and doctors in hospitals, factories and shops.
I never used to worry about stuff like this until a certain point in my life; when I worked nights in London’s West end. Then I looked after three kids all day. I never knew that years down the line I would have four more, life…full of many pleasant surprises!
We had one car and parking was hell back then and still is now. I decided the night bus 18N from northwest London to Baker Street was the best solution. I was a shelf-filler for a big retail departmental store. I was rather proud of my job and took it too seriously. Hubby used to wonder why I even bothered, but after dealing with three children all day, I needed sometime to myself away from home and work was the only way I saw this happening for me.
Night time life had many new discoveries and I was pleasantly surprised with them. I am not talking about the ravers or pub-hoppers, but about true nocturnal people of the night: hardworking men and women who came out late at night. Some do this by choice because it was the best thing that fits in with every other thing in their lives, while some others opt for the night to feel protected by the shroud of dark.
These are the ones with the big hearts and even bigger dreams. Many of which are educated with various degrees but owing to pitiful conditions in their home countries, seek the UK as an escape; a place perhaps of better chances to a better life. Some have no choice but to do these jobs because it is all they know how to and they do it with dignity and pride.
Objectively and subjectively, society has always placed certain value judgments on certain jobs. In places such as hospitals, police stations, fire houses etc. these jobs are considered dignified. Then there are the lesser beings; considered so because of the work they do: cleaning the streets, subway toilets, and sewers, garbage collectors and sanitation workers. Under the shroud of night they toil so that we can once again wake up to an orderly sweet smelling world.
My job involved shelving various items; one day I would be putting up Allsorts Liquorice, the next sexy lingerie. Sometimes it would be Baked Beans and Cock-a-leekie soup cans or pretty dolly night dresses and funky suede frilly boots for ten year olds. I did not matter what I did, I loved it, as long as it was work and it was outside our home: this was me time and it was precious.
Okay in the process I did suffer many a humiliation and insults from supervisors and managers, who clearly had IQ’s of patio furniture and colleagues who thought ‘denial’ was a river in Egypt; still I loved it. My most cherished memory of this period was the bus rides to and fro from work to home.
The 18N travelled Harrow road all the way down to Euston and would stop at Baker Street. Seated on the upper deck, I feasted on everything. Memories of my observations are sharp and acute: images of the homeless in cardboard makeshift shelter to hide from London’s bitter harsh winter and those of young lovers in denim and tweed jackets, giggling as they chase the bus down to the next bus stop.
At times it would be folks drunk to a stupor, either sprawled on the pavement or hunched over a lamp post, stewing in their own vomit and you could see the vapor of their breath like a cloud of smoke in the cold winter air. At other times, it was the rich ones with their imported luxury sports cars and designer clothing, laughing without a care as they stepped out of some posh eatery, blowing fake kisses in the air at each other as they departed.
On a good day you would see the odd good Samaritans going about handing out cups of hot soup and blankets to people huddled up between entrance enclosures of closed stores trying to keep out of the cold.
From my spot on the top deck of bus 18, I would smile and say a prayer of thanks; thanks because it is uplifting to know that in this cold harsh world there are some who still care about their fellow man and because I am grateful that I have a warm house and loving family to go home to.
Those days now seem so far away, but I cherish the memory of it all. I witnessed numerous things that left indelible impressions on my mind and a few poignant ones with rather bold footprints in it too. Of all of these, one of the boldest prints was that of laughter. My night crew family was one of many a laughter.
The street cleaners, sewer workers, bus drivers, drunken homeless and even my up market store all had fair share of characters. The competitors: these were the beat your neighbours type who had no preference to their victims. If they felt threatened in anyway, they cut you down. Then there were the uppers…always on a high and infusing life to those around. And finally the downers: those who had no choice but to spread misery or dampen spirits. We all had our share of laughter. To all of us our time together was normal, real and timely; despite the harshness of various situations and reasons, we always had the time for laughter and we laughed really hard.
My experience of the graveyard shift back in Houston and then a decade later in the city of London is one of awe. I was hooked from my very first exposure and you would be right in saying I romanticized my experience. Initially young and impressionable, I had neither the interest nor wisdom to view my experience any other way.
As an adult in London, my experience was more real; I could relate to many things I observed. London was a different kettle of fish in comparison to Houston: life without the glamour. People change, technology advances, but fundamentally, the demographic dispersion of human beings in big cities remains unchanged. People are drawn to bright lights and big cities where life stumbles on, one foot in front of the other.
Elements about her has me mixed up
Making me completely loose myself
I need not see her, just her voice
And I am tune into her wavelength
She stares unflinchingly at me
Eyes widened, inquiring
Why do you look at me,
Yet not a sound nor a word speak?
Like a devoted bride I stand before a mirror
Rehearsing and rehashing four simple words
“Hey, how are you?”
Now become a mantra refusing to be heard as long as you’re there
My reflection stares back at me
Hopeful and confident I repeat out loud those words
Smiling, I pat myself saying tomorrow my voice will be heard
Elements about her has me mixed up and tongue tied;
I’m hers I must declare
My defenses fall to pieces when you come around
Bracing myself I say out loud
No, not this time! Never again!
My cries and bravado come to nought
Yet again, my knees do knock;
Just because you are near again
Why, I wonder do you appear so calm and cool?
In the face of love you are but a cowardly fool
Your actions say one thing
But in your eyes I see the truth
Trying to run away from the love that’s me and you
Prisoners of love, we both are locked in a world;
A world where denying our love is embracing pain, illusions, and deceit.
Take a good look at yourself in the mirror’s glare
Blinded by denial you hold your ground
Who is fooling who?
Like it or not the heart is unwavering
It stays its course; rages on refusing to be held captive
Regardless of threat, intimidation or hindrances
Unapologetic it rages on like a bull seeking the matador
Its only mission: reuniting with its love or die trying to do so
I have forgotten what it sounds like
I remember not, what it feels like
Hearing those words from your mouth
Lips of you my desired
Cannot tell for sure the reason why
I know the reasons I think it is
Why those words fled your lips
Why you chose to stop your love
I know the numbness when it comes
An unwelcome guest; yet familiar to our world
It knows just when to sneak in
Knows when to shut your heart
The numbness I feel is not by choice
Born out of many miseries;
The screams, demands and bullying tones
I recoil and shut my eyes for calm
Deep in slumber I remain;
Resisting reasons to stir
Yet I cannot sleep my life away
With reluctance and stir of hope I awake
Awake only to feel the pain of loss
You took life along with you
Awake, yet I remain deep in sleep;
Where hope alone is my friend
Alone I cannot go on
Since you took your heart away
I Let go of love hoping for its return someday
If truly mine meant to be
Torn, and in awe I ask
Have I been alone all this time
But your heart replies;
With you always will I be
Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh; the two becoming one, husband and wife they will be.
This is what many come to understand and believe as the union of marriage. There are many areas to explore in these simple lines. I in particular often wonder what two becoming one really means. To couples in a marriage, what does two become one mean to you? When are you separate from your spouse? Where does the line become drawn in this acceptance and what defines it for each person in their personal relationships?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I do speak for myself here; from my understanding of these words, I cannot separate my religion from my faith; they go hand in hand. So what I am saying is that if you find as you read this that my views are not similar to yours, take is as differences in opinion.
I find marriage very interesting, exciting and downright pleasurable. When I finally married, I was happy for various reasons: I had found a best friend, confidant and brother. Yes! A brother, because in my case, I married someone I had known since I was almost fifteen years old.
Before marriage he knew all there was to know about me, whom I had kissed, touched and the ones I found outright gross! We worked well like that. I must say that I too knew him well. So marriage for me was a continuation of an adventure we both embarked upon, long before the I do’s came.
I have written a few things about my take on personality and individuality in the past, but lately, I have found myself bugged with this issue of separate manifestoes (In marriage of course). So began my quest to find out what others think and what we all see or classify as “two become one”. Do we have margins of what is acceptable or right? Where do we draw the line of perpetually being Siamese twins with our hubbies or wifeys?
This is about Chris and Manny. Christian and Amanda Torres are married. They graciously allowed me into their world for about one week and I came out humbled and more confused than before.
Theirs was a real story book thingy; high school sweethearts, both Catholics and both from good middle class families. Manny is the extrovert; vivacious, beautiful and incredibly very likable and popular. Chris on the other hand is quiet, gorgeous, even though he does not believe so, and more a home body. One would wonder how these two opposites came to be huh? Well you know the laws of attraction, eh? “You can’t help who you fall in love with.”
Everything according to them was fine, until two years into their marriage, according to Manny, Chris became weird. Manny was an idiot with technology, so everything about the internet Chris did for her. Online banking, setting up Facebook, emails etc. Prior to this she did everything the human way (her words, not mine).
In a strange turn of events, Manny took to the world wide web like a duck to water; she soon became the little expert herself and in the course of her new discoveries, opened new email accounts, new Facebook accounts and a blog page in her name with new passwords. This was when the problems began. Chris demanded to have access to these new accounts, but Manny said no!
She thought it was no big deal, but it was to Chris. He demanded to know why. Manny’s response was because they were her accounts and she did not want him to have access to them except when she lets him in herself.
He was outraged saying this was never a problem in the past. Why the change? What had suddenly changed? As a married couple he believed they should not have secrets from each other or accounts that neither of them could access.
Manny felt this was ridiculous and told him so. “This is what makes me different from you.” She had told him. “I can make choices which you may not necessarily like or approve of. I have to have this or I will no longer be me.”
Chris’ take was that, “Where was this you previously? If this is the real you, who was that person who used share things and not keep secrets? The only conclusion had to be that you have something to hide, else why now?”
In response Manny claims previously she was not clued on to how anything worked. But now that she does, she is free to do as she pleased.
This is where I need your feedback guys, where does the line become drawn between being an individual in a marriage? Is it possible to draw a distinction between married couples on issues like these?
Similarly, another couple’s demon was about company and friendships. A wife objected vehemently to certain friends her husband had. One such friend was a childhood friend. They had been friends since they were six years old.
Her complaint is that these friends of his did not get her and did not like her because her husband married outside their clique. But more importantly, some were married, some divorced and some single; they all had one thing in common. They were serial womanizers. As they drop one female they pick up another. Sometimes they date two women, unknown to each other simultaneously.
All this being true, her husband still says no to giving them up; specifically his childhood friend. What he has done is to keep him and them away from their home, believing that so long as they don’t come over to their home or be around her, everything is fine, except it is totally inevitable.
These two are crazy about each other, but he feels she should not and does not have the right to dictate who should or should not be his friend.
Her argument is that they come first as a couple and no one else should matter more than them. He says if she’s not mature or secure enough in their love and life, then what the heck was their vows all about?
His wife even went further to say that she does not believe either of them should keep or have friends of the opposite sex, who are single with the exception of someone they have both known or know for a long while who would and should become both their friends.
So here it is folks. What does two becoming one mean to you? Where do you draw the line if any exists at all?