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Lost in Warri but found by “33’’ friends

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Reading a quote attributed to renowned American Essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, made me recall the story Kayode, my newfound friend, told me about his friends.

Emerson said, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

This is Kayode’s story:

About 13 years after he graduated from the University of Abuja, Kayode reconnected with one of his close friends on campus, Chidi. He stumbled on Chidi’s profile on Facebook. And of course, they had a lot to talk about.

A lot has changed. Kayode and Chidi are both married with three children apiece. Kayode lectures at the University of Ibadan while Chidi works for an oil-servicing firm in Warri.

From skinny boys (judging by images in Kayode’s photo collection), they have grown into men in bigger frames. Kayode’s dark chocolate skin now glows while Chidi’s fair complexion seems brighter, having avoided the scorching Abuja sun all these years.

A number of other things about them have remained unchanged: their appetite for contemporary jazz and their preference for “33’’ Export Lager Beer.

Kayode told me he discovered “33” Export Lager Beer when he began experimenting with beer, at 21. He claims he introduced Chidi to “33” Export Lager Beer during their occasional hangouts away from gruelling studies.

In one of their chats online, they recalled their graduation party, where Kayode met his wife Kemi for the first time.

It was an epic moment. With a glass of “33” Export Lager Beer in hand, his eyes caught the image of this young, beautiful and elegantly-dressed damsel across the room. He couldn’t stop staring at her. Taking the last sip of his beer, Kayode pushed through a sea of excited and dancing boys and girls and made his way to meet Kemi, while cheered discreetly by Chidi and another friend. He left the party with Kemi. The rest, they say is history.

Seeking to recreate their university days’ hangout, Kayode planned a surprise trip to Warri to visit Chidi. It would be his first time in the city, which is located in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

With his wife and children away on a one-week holiday at his in-laws’ in Akure, and without informing Chidi, Kayode boarded a bus one Saturday morning and headed for Warri. His plan was to call Chidi on arrival in Warri. “Chidi will be shocked when I tell him I’m in his neighbourhood,” he thought.

Things don’t always work as planned but true friends can be trusted to fill the gaps and get one’s back when one blindsided.

In his boyish excitement, Kayode did not confirm exactly where in Warri Chidi resides. But he had heard Chidi mention Effurun, Ekpan, PTI Road and Sapele Road. As the bus sped through roads sandwiched by the thick rainforest forest, spiked with its palm trees and other trees, Kayode began to imagine what Warri really looks like.

As they approached Warri, thoughts flew through his minds, highlighting tales he had heard about the city. They evoked caution and expectation of fun. He quickly settled with the thought enjoying chilled bottles of “33” Export Lager Beer with Chidi in a quiet bar like the old times.

With that thought in mind, the bus arrived Warri. Kayode alighted and reached for his smartphone to make the call. That was when he realised how stupid his plan was.

“The number you are calling is not reachable at the moment, please try again later” was the response Kayode got each of the eight times he dialled Chidi’s mobile phone number. On the ninth dial, it was “the number you are trying to call is currently switched off.”

Three hours later, the sun had receded and he had lost hope.

He was done asking questions on the streets of Warri. He had met different shades of people: from those who laughed at him for not possessing an exact address of where he was going, to those who were willing to help, but couldn’t. He struggled to grasp the brand of Pidgin English the people spoke. It poured out with an amazing fluency, laced with slangs Kayode never heard before.

At that point, he accepted that he had goofed; lost in Warri and unable to reach his friend. His next move was to look for a hotel to rest his tired body then get on the bus back to Ibadan the next day. Just then, his phone rang. It was Chidi.

It turned out that Chidi was hanging out with another friend of theirs, Edosa, at a bar less than one kilometre from Jakpa Junction where he was. They went in Chidi’s car to fetch Kayode and returned to the bar for a bigger reunion.

In the final year at the university, Kayode, Chidi and Edosa were known as a clique. They never thought they would lose track of one another for years. But life happened.

Kayode didn’t know Edosa, a banker, was transferred from Abuja to Warri that week, and he was meeting with Chidi the first since they left university

At the bar, memories flowed along with bottles of “33” Export Lager Beer. As they raised their glasses to toast, Kayode suddenly realised how important friendship is.

Now, he is planning another trip to Warri, and I’m tempted to join him. Observing Kayode and his friends closely will no doubt contribute to my research on the value of friendship.

My interest was triggered by two studies conducted by William J. Chopik of the Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, USA, which shows that supportive friendship has a greater impact on health, especially in old age than strong family connections.

The studies, published in the Journal of the International Association for Relationship Research in April 2017, concludes that investing in close relationships is associated with better health, happiness and wellbeing in adults across the lifespan.

Now, one question for you: Who are your friends?

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