Day 9: Balcony People

“12 Days of Christmas”: Day 9/12 – Balcony People

Dear Diary,

December 21, 2023.

This morning, I found inspiration in Joyce Landorf Heatherley’s book, “Balcony People.” The idea is that some individuals stand on the ‘balcony’ of our lives, cheering us on, and providing positive energy through their affirmations, while others dwell in our ‘basement,’ doing exactly the opposite. The question arises: Are we balcony people or basement people?

Here is the twist. I’ve always aspired to be a balcony person, uplifting and supporting those around me. However, despite our best efforts, there are times when we find ourselves labelled as basement people. In those moments, it’s crucial to be kind to ourselves, to move forward, and to continue doing our best for the next person who crosses our path.

The same principle applies in reverse. When surrounded by basement people, why subject ourselves to a circus of negativity? Why strive to impress those who cannot be impressed? It’s a call to be kind to ourselves, shed the weight, and seek out balcony people who are everywhere.

Let me share a story about Cabo.

When Cabo arrived in this country, she had nowhere to stay. We connected as co-latecomers in a classroom, sharing a common struggle to catch up with our studies. My instinct to help kicked in because I would do anything to help anyone, with the highest expectation that when I needed help, random people would come through for me too. And so it has always been with me – a compelling force of nature helping me every time I need it.

So, when Cabo told me she had nowhere to live and the acquaintance she put up with had told her to leave the apartment on the same day she was telling me this story, I was petrified for her. I called my landlady and asked if she could give her a place, even vouching for her. After all, if we have made it this far as students of this prestigious school, we can’t run away. Accommodation was provided, and I was very excited for her.

Cabo continued to face challenges, and each time she asked for help, I stepped up, never expecting reciprocity. Not even friendship. And I am being very honest. Why? Because she seemed to always have problems I couldn’t identify with, and I thought, when you help, that is one less problem for the world.

Then came the academic problem. A problem I initially had, but you know as Nigerians, we like to face the gravest of situations first and then the easiest one subsequently. I had faced the situation and handled it like a pro. I also made sure to lay a precedent for any other student who would ever have to be in my kind of position. What did I do? I wrote a very lengthy badass email petitioning every gaddamn person, and I showed up to their offices with all my guts to back up the daring letter I wrote. They knew not only my words but my face; I was cleared.

So when Cabo had the problem, I was like ‘piece of cake’. Let’s go there. I had won this battle before, I could win it in my sleep all over again. Not to mention, when I was wide awake. I was ready to face the Dean of the school plus the president of the country if need be.

I was afraid she would lose her four-year scholarship. Every time I got the chance to be at the university, I was stalking the program director, dean, or anyone who mattered for this girl. I found myself booking appointments and she wouldn’t show up, but I didn’t lose faith. I finally got the program director’s attention, stating the problem, and she requested to see the student so we could see how to resolve it. Then, I called Cabo that I had successfully gotten the director’s attention, and she was waiting for her to arrive, assuring her that I would be there too. You know what Cabo told me? She said I should mind my business (this is me painting it pretty).

It felt like a knife ran through my heart. I came up with a lame excuse and apologised to the program director for taking her time. I told myself – Toyo, you have moved from the balcony to the basement. It’s time to shift. Cabo, of course, lost her scholarship, and now I believe she is very bitter. If you know me, you know I know how to mind my own business. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. Cabo later started reporting to other flatmates that I never really cared about her success. I did, but I only stopped to mind my business.

This story is not unique to Cabo; there are others who, after receiving support, chose to disconnect. It’s a realization that kindness should not be contingent on reciprocation. Some friendships are fleeting, and it’s essential to be kind to ourselves, excusing ourselves when necessary.

There is another Cabo I just remembered. This Cabo is a unique species. This one will call you while you are minding your goddamn business and ask that you two apply for a program/activity she is applying for. Now being a Nigerian who doesn’t have lavish money to spend, I always subscribe to things within my level. The freer, the better.

First, these activities never concern me or let me say I can do without them. But as friendship is involved, I will sign up just because of my friend. For clarity, we both would further agree to sign up for the free version because there’s always the option to pay for food or accommodation. I am living in the same city; why pay for accommodation? Also, I truly never like the food, since I can always bring mine, why not? In fact, they will ask you to bring your food if you want to. She will agree with me to this logic, and we both would register for the free version (or so I used to think). We will now get there; I will see that my friend paid even premium services and would now be acting weird.

If you also know me, you’ll know I have perfected the art of being dumb. I would act dumb as if I don’t understand anything, but to be very honest with y’all, I am always very happy for her, but where I get confused is, why did you have to lie? Or would I say, why were you evasive with the truth? If you wanted to pay for the full package, why not say so? Even if you do, emi temi o, lai lai! I know I will still sign up for my free version because that is what I want to do.

What is the need to act funny or make me feel awkward? I still can never get this. TO START WITH, THIS IS AN EVENT I DON’T EVEN HAVE A BUSINESS WITH. Knowing I cannot be a member of a circus, I excuse myself as I have come to realise I don’t like to be drained, evasive or hideous. I will package you and archive you in my chat and memory. Then, all of a sudden I become the mean one. Yes, I am mean, shuush! Shoo, go away!

In contrast, some friends go above and beyond for you. They sponsor courses, encourage you to enrol in coaching programs to improve, motivate you to take steps you are too afraid to take, pray for and with you, send you cute winter jackets across the continent, speak life into you on your weakest days, ensure your birthdays are memorable, and support your causes, whether it’s raising tuition fees for a stranger’s child or collecting a food bank to feed a family. These are the balcony people who enrich our lives, and it’s important to cherish them and reciprocate their kindness.

As I reflect on these experiences, I remind myself to speak life-giving truths into the hearts of others and to be true to myself. May each word that proceeds from my mouth be filled with positivity and understanding.

To conclude, in the tapestry of life, we encounter both balcony and basement moments. It’s a reminder to be kind to ourselves, gracefully navigate relationships, and seek out those who uplift us. As we strive to be balcony people, let us also appreciate the balcony people in our lives and release ourselves from the burden of basement relationships. May our words be a source of positivity and understanding, creating a tapestry woven with threads of kindness and authenticity.

I know people like to say ‘do you,’ but I dislike that phrase. If we all focus solely on ourselves, life would be nasty, brutish, solitary, and short. So, I will say, ‘Do God’ and ‘Be human to yourself and then to others.’

Thank you.

Balcony People

For other episodes in this 12 Days of Christmas series see:

Day 1/12: Spit-proof Grace at:

2/12: My Mum – the unbeatable champion of all time at:

3/12: Were you a truth-teller as a child at:

4/12: Can you pray? at:

5/12: My ode to fear at:

6/12: Mary’s breakup line to St. Joseph at:

7/12: Tower of Babel at:

and Day 8/12 – The Non-Whisperer  

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