Scripted potpourri

A blend of topnotch writing prowess, significant issues and scintillating stories!

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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Shadow, shadow

shadow2When your neighbours and church members begin to call you by your sister’s name instead of yours, you do not realise that you are receding slowly into the muted world of shadows. You know very well that ‘receding’ is a more apt word than ‘advancing’ because you are now here in this world of shadows and you know that something similar to “missing the bus” has happened to you. Yes, missing the bus—it’s the only way you can describe how you feel in this cruel world of shadows; a world that does not care who you are because it does not even know who you are. Here, you are not a human being with an identity and a personality. You are just a disembodied entity, defined by silhouette and void of substance, wafting airlessly, noiselessly and purposelessly. Of course, you did not intend to end up here, but somehow, you know you have a hand in your getting here. Your mind recalls now to that time when someone said, “Hi! You are Somto’s roommate, right?” You should not have said yes. You should have said your name because you are more than Somto’s roommate. You are you. Rather, you chose to be Somto’s shadow; you chose to be an extension of her personality; you chose to be remembered as Somto’s roommate, not as you. Well, sadly, you got served.

Now, as you rummage through your memory, you begin to remember those many times when people referred to you and your group of friends as “Victoria and co” or “Demilade and co” but they never made the mistake of saying your name “and co” even though it was three of you that were friends. You were never that important. You could only be viewed and understood through the personalities of Victoria and Demilade, but never through yours because you always passed across as someone without a personality, as someone with nothing to offer or to be remembered by, even though that was not the case. When you did not try to prove everyone wrong by showing them that you are an excellent  sprinter and a talented still-life sketcher and a mind-blowing juggler (apart from being intelligent enough to be among the top three in your class all through school days),  you really became Victoria’s and Demilade’s shadows. This is a painful realisation for you now.

In the midst of all this reminiscing, it is now etched in your consciousness those three lecturers who never really knew your name while you were in school even though you always had A’s in their courses. Whenever they saw you, they will say with much gusto and sincere concern, tinged with that unmistakable filial regard, “How are you, Kemi? I hope your CGPA is still steady. You must make a first class o!” Of course you were not, and never will be Kemi—the other egghead in your class who got as much A’s as you—but you smiled and assured them that your CGPA was steady and that you will finish with a first. In this again, you chose to not be you. You chose to be Kemi’s shadow.

There was that other time too, you remember, when you got that gown that your first boyfriend thought was nice. You did not really like that it showed too much skin, but you let him buy it for you anyway. On the day you wore it, nobody said you looked good; not even him. What he said was, “Wow! You look so different!” and Demilade said, “In this dress, you remind me of Antonia!” You knew Demilade was not complementing you because none of you thought of Antonia as good-looking—Antonia with her old-woman face that she tried to conceal under layers of clownish make-up; Antonia with her sorely bleached complexion that she liked to show by wearing dresses that showed too much skin; just like that gown did. You should have hated being your boyfriend’s shadow enough to break up with him, but it wasn’t until eight months later that you broke up with him, not because you called the shots, but because he decided he was tired of being with you. And what about when you went for that camp meeting with your volunteer group and there was a discussion on respected world leaders. You did not want to say you really liked Niccolo Machiavelli and Adolf Hitler because everyone else was mentioning Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill. You let it slip past you that everyone was saying why they respected those leaders and you could, in the same vein, also defend your liking for those leaders. So instead, you said Mother Teresa and everyone nodded. But when Alfred said he thought Adolf Hitler fit the bill and went ahead to say why, he got a resounding ovation. So nobody knew that that ovation could have been yours.

Now you know that the doors of this world of shadows are always waiting for ‘those’ who are ever quick to acquiesce than to believe in their beliefs; for ‘those’ who prefer to be nice than to be true; for ‘those’ who would rather swallow it all than to chew it first; for ‘those’ who would rather be others than be themselves. Knowing that you are among these ‘those’, you now have only one question gnawing at your consciousness: For how long will you remain in this world?

At this point, you’ll be foolish to not know the answer.

This is the answer: It is for as long as you continue to stay mute; and for as long as you continue to betray yourself; and for as long as you continue to not get irritated, inconvenienced and frightened by the sights and sounds of the world of shadows, where the eerie “shadow, shadow” song is chanted day and night… until you are ready to catch–and ride–the bus of your life, and only your life.

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