Four years ago I was faced with the daunting task of penning an editorial piece on Taiwo Ajai-Lycett. Of course I had heard of her and read about her. I was privy to her talents and exploits in theatre and outside and how she occupied her own space in creativity, shining a path many would follow. I was also aware of the esteem with which she’s held in the creative arts circle in Nigeria. But now I was expected to zero in on a subject; a nugget of worth tying up everything she had represented and still represented. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my foray into the newspaper’s hallowed editorial space would be on such a subject.
I stared terrified at the blank white page on my computer and after biting my nails to unbelievable soreness managed to turn out a piece before the paper went to press that evening. It turned out it wasn’t the terrible piece the critic in me had feared and by the following day I fancied myself the star of the newsroom for about two seconds.
Four years down the line I got to meet her for the first time at the last IREP Documentary Film Festival at Freedom Park, Lagos Island. It was the evening of the culmination of the Docu-Film Fest. I saw her and instantly unhinged by excitement I went up to introduce myself taking her hand and instinctively genuflecting. I stood a few inches taller than her as she accepted my handshake. She was delicate without appearing dwarfed; soft spoken without sounding weak and so warm I imagined I had known her for ages. I immediately wished she would adopt me and take me home like I had often wished African-American poet and writer Maya Angelou would.
I told her about the editorial piece and how I couldn’t believe I hadn’t kept a copy of the paper like I usually did (she said she wanted to see it). And together we mourned this fact. I also told her about what I had come to think of her after I had seen photos of her at the last Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA), on Bella Naija. And this is what Taiwo Ajai-Lycett possesses: a grace, a quality, a beauty completely devoid of the shield and aid of external pomp. Of course there are those cheekbones and intelligent eyes but this beauty bubbles from a whole other place exercising its reign on the exterior.
Oprah Winfrey has been tagged the author of this quote about one of my favourite women Maya Angelou: “In all the days of my life, I never met a woman who was more completely herself than Maya Angelou. She fully inhabits and owns every space of herself with no pretence and no false modesty. She has a certain way of being in this world. When you walk into a room and she’s there, you know it. She is fully aware of what it means to be human and share that humanity with others. Being around her makes you want to do the same, be more fully your own.
I permit myself to borrow from this quote which fully encapsulates how I see Taiwo Ajai-Lycett as a woman who occupies her own space in existence; personhood and creativity. She is every inch her own woman, bold, confident and so secure in her own space that she draws a woman like me to want to come sit at her knees in her space and learn how one’s presence can light up a place in a way that Louboutins and Manolos cannot; how one can reflect self-assuredness and courage in a place where it is easier to be quiet and how one’s actions can reflect one’s security in the comfort of one’s own truth swimming happily against the tides of conformity.
That evening I asked her how she came to possess such beauty that could steal the thunder and lightning of the most beautiful woman in the world and make the best dressed woman in the room still appear incomplete. She gave me three things: books; representing a hunger for knowledge, dance for elegance and posture and music. I guzzled the information greedily.
I remember the threaded hair-irun-kiko orisi-owu– she spotted in that notable scene with Frank Spencer (Michael Crawford) in the 70s British Sitcom Some Mothers Do Ave Em and I feel a sense of pride in the fact that she wore her Nigerianness and Yorubaness with a badge of honour (which she still does) but without losing her sense of individuality; that sense in which you do not condemn yourself in the things which you approve despite the pressures of traditions, fads and trends.
It certainly is something worth aspiring to; something the contemporary young woman needs: the pursuit of the source and growth of her own beauty; that which will still make her glow even after she’s all wrinkled up and bowed, something you’d be hard-pressed to find in the world’s beauty playbook.
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