Scripted potpourri

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Something To Offer

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Today, I passed by Schizza’s Won and there was no awe and longing oozing out of my eyes as I did so; as it used to be all those years ago when the image of those neoned calligraphic letters on the front of the store clung to my brain like my two times-table. “Skeezas,” I preferred to call it, even though my brother who was twelve at the time, said it was “Sheetzas, not Skeezas.”  The flamboyant boutique opened on the main road, the same road where my mother perched under a large Mirinda umbrella at the hem of a mechanic’s workshop to sell fruits everyday. I was ten, and pretty quixotic for a child from an economically underprivileged family as mine. Truly, nothing was more fascinating than a store that was air-conditioned and had glass sliding doors through which women, who drove their own cars, pranced in and out of. There was something fittingly out of place about Schizza’s that got the whole neighbourhood agog—my mother said the only other boutique she knew was at the city capital, Ikeja, “And those ones don’t even have shine-shine name like this one”, she noted.

One time, I was with my mother at the fruit stall when, along with an orange I was peeling, I sliced my palm without realizing it. “Oghene me!” my mother screamed for her God, before I saw the poor orange sheened with my blood. I was trying to understand how the blood got there when she landed an earsplitting smack on my back—what Yoruba people call abara. “You are looking at that shop again! You are looking at that shop again!” My mother rapped in Urhobo, almost wailing. “Let me tell you something: the people in that shop do not look at you, because you have nothing to offer. You only have something to offer by working hard at what God has given you to do. Alero, God has given us fruits. Concentrate!”

That was exactly what I did for the next four years—peeling and slicing fruits after school for my mother. She later got a small container and added soft drinks to her sales stock, but she didn’t get rid of the Mirinda umbrella that had seen better days. It was right in front of the container, and under it, she roasted ripe plantains, boli, every afternoon. By then, Schizza’s had become Schizza’s Won!, and they had opened a new nicer-looking store, Schizza’s Too, at the extreme end of the same long, now busy main road. Then Aunty Helen came to stay with us.

She was only four years older than I was and had just finished secondary school in Warri. My mother said she was very hardworking and wanted to pursue her university education in Lagos. A few weeks after she came, she told me she was tired of being sales girl at my mother’s fruit cum soft-drink cum boli store. “I get SSCE o.” She announced one day. “A-fit do sales geh for dat boutique wey dey there”. I didn’t bother reminding her that the only reason my mother allowed her to come was because she was perfect for selling fruits and soft drinks and boli. “Tell Mummy,” I said. Of course she didn’t, and the day she was going to apply at Schizza’s, she asked me to accompany her. It was a public holiday. My mother had gone to the market and expected us to open the shop. I was excited about breathing in the air of Schizza’s Too, and even though I was sure that Schizza’s, as sophisticated as it was, would never employ a Pidgin English-rapping person like Helen, I told her this might be her lucky day. Pleased, she bought orobo Coke for me before we went.

I wore my cutest top—my Betty Boop—and my faded but clean denim dungarees. Helen wore a form-fitting stretchy skirt with a scandalous side slit and topped it with an equally tight blouse that had a Rastafarian image on it. I believe it was for this reason that the security man, after questioning us senselessly, told us there was no vacancy. In other words, we were not allowed into Schizza’s. Helen thoroughly cussed the man in wafe. I was crest-fallen. It wasn’t until I watched Pretty Woman a year later that I realised that big boutiques had a policy for turning people back based on how they looked. But at least, Julia Roberts entered that store before they told her they had nothing to offer her.

Meanwhile, the worst thing was happening while we were begging to be let into Schiza’s. The Lagos State task force, who were really ruffians in tacky uniforms, was on their usual rampage looking for roadside traders to harangue and obtain bribes from. But because there was nobody at my mother’s container to give them what they wanted, they ransacked the stack of fruits my mother concealed with layers of sack cloth at the back of the container, made a dent in the container itself and in the process broke my mother’s beloved Mirinda umbrella, before they painted white X’s all around the container. I would never ever forget the spanking I received. Of course, Helen was sent back to Warri but I later learnt that she never went back and neither did she ever go to the university. After the whole episode faded away and my mother found a way to cart her container to the front of the face-me-I-face-you where we lived, I told all my friends at the public school I attended that I had gone shopping at Schizza’s on one public holiday. They believed me.

Today, my mother is not alive to know that I am a lawyer with the Lagos State Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning. Today, I did not just pass by Schizza’s Won!; my chauffeur drove me past it in my Toyota Camry 2013 model to Schizza’s Too where I have some important business to perform. I would be stepping inside that place for the first time. Today, I don’t have to look across the road from a fruits container or plead with a security man; neither do I have to fabricate my experience there as I did all those years ago. I could have, and should have delegated this assignment to a subordinate. But from the moment I started working on this case, I looked forward to today. Indeed, there was no way I would have passed up the offer to let the people at Schizza’s see me as someone with something very important to offer—court orders for demolition, and my money, with which I bought an Yves Saint Laurent scarf.

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Confessions of a Readaholic

readaholic 2It may not be Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Puzo’s Godfather, Rivers’ Mark of the Lion Series or Crichton’s Jurassic Park  but I’ve come to a point in my life where from experience, I can determine that even though a book has not received rave reviews or is not authored by a popular person, it can still qualify for a great book. I am a readaholic and I’ll like to think of this space as my own version of AA- Alcoholics Anonymous. You see, I woke up one bright sunny day and decided frankly and unpleasantly that I am a very weird specie. It was a difficult decision to reach, that is why I have constantly questioned the validity of that abasing thought. So here I am: confessing. I am about to hang up my dirty linen at the risk of scathing public glare. But I have to do this; I have to confront myself. I mean, is it not weird that on a very languid day when others are out visiting or shopping or seeing a movie, I find it very comfortable reading through my secondary school Physical and Health Education textbook? Or poring over an old cook book that contains only foreign recipes? Or again, relishing the science articles in Jehovah’s Witness’ pamphlets even though I am not one of them? Beats you, right? Well, beats me more!

So let’s get into the 411 of me: I am intoxicated by the sights and sounds of a bookstore — yes, those air-conditioned havens sprawling with tomes and paperbacks. A bookstore to me has that surreal tang of newness and sage-hood mixed delicately with a bit of paradise, and if you ask me, the only thing that comes that close, is a library; with its time-tested volumes and sedate ambience. Ah, but you see, bookstores are not the only places I can find books that make me tick. Indeed, those roadside stands, whether at Iyana Ipaja or Ojuelegba are brimming with books, from magazines to political commentaries to “For Dummies”. At these Lagos road sides, I can also whip up a John Grisham or Danielle Steel for ridiculously low prices and I can exchange an old novel, sorry, vintage novel (*wink) for another vintage novel. You see, I don’t only know these resourceful book stands, I also know the Igbo boys that man them (Goddy and Chuks and Obinna to mention a few) and they know me back because they are quick to hail, “Customer!” the moment I as much as walk by. These guys, they have mastered the art of coaxing me into buying at least five books before leaving their makeshift stands and I give in so easily because I am a readaholic (Please don’t tell my dad that that’s where all my pocket money went, back in secondary school!). I have to admit here on Linda’s blog that when I’m with a book, I feel like I’m in love. It’s reminiscent of the Rebecca Bloomwood craze, if you know what I mean.

Actually, I have a habit of finding good in every book – like a girl teenager does her crush (nothing he does is ever bad; all his actions only make him more attractive!). When Non-Readaholic says, “That book is too technical. I slept off after the first page” or “I didn’t get the idea of the article. Seemed like Greek to me” I’m there thinking, “You have to be joking. I totally enjoyed and understood every page of the book. The author is soooo good!” Needless to say, another habit is talking to myself in public — I’m either mumbling to sample how a character’s name sounds in my mouth — or conversing with a book I’m reading in a public place where you can hear me say, “No way!’ or “Oh my God!” as I flip through those arresting pages.

As a readaholic, I’ve done some real terrible stuff: I’ve sneaked a book away without the owner’s knowledge only to have it fall into mud! (Please, don’t ask me how I confronted the owner afterwards). I’ve lied that I already returned a book just because I wanted to read it again for the third time! I’ve pretended to finish a 600-page novel in 24 hours just because I wanted to preserve my reputation of being a fast reader! I have lied that I have read books I have not read (well, they all expect me, being a readaholic to have read them!) Countless times, I have stolen chips or fried meat or chinchi — anything to munch on while I’m reading! I have been so carried away by thoughts of a novel that I almost got hit by a car only to thoroughly cuss out the driver for being negligent! I have lent out books I did not own to other readaholics just so that I can later on bask in the thrill of a book discussion with them. And when I lend books to non-readaholics, my hope is to lure them into my cerebral community of weirdos where we egoistically regard ourselves as the repositories of knowledge, as interpreters of all that is scripted, as lovers of novelists, poets, playwrights and academic researchers and finally, as the non-readaholic’s last resort when they are on the hot seat at Who Wants to be A Millionaire! But guess what? We’re none of that. We’re just book-afflicted souls.

bookwormLet me now borrow from Pidgin English and say, “this matter for ground, e tey wey e start o”. Deep inside however, I know that I am not alone. There are many of you out there who totally connect with my weirdness. Go ahead and share some of your idiosyncrasies. For others who are thinking, who is this readaholic nut-head?, please spill it out or, share any encounters you’ve experienced with a readaholic that annoyed the heck out of you. Perhaps I’ll be challenged to get my act together and become a better readaholic or I would just throw caution to the wind and accept “weird” as a good word– you know, as a message from the Maasai to simply be me. *wink*. Just one piece of advice though: a good book is always a good thing. It takes you to realms you thought utopian and stands you out like integrity in a corrupt Nigeria.

I’ll like to thank Linda for giving me this opportunity to release. It has done me good like therapy.

NB: Readaholic is a fictitious guest blogger.

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