The filming of the reality show’s pilot was underway. The cameras had started rolling. John Nasiru was at the helm of the affair, his sharp directorial gaze darting here and there, taking everything in, and gesturing this way and that as he directed the crew on who and what to focus the lenses on. Everywhere in the commodious living room were scattered the different men and women of SART, all of them carrying on pockets of conversations, munching on the dinner that Florence’s and Binta’s combined culinary skills had made happen, and studiously ignoring the cameras that were focused on them.
It was a reality TV program designed to capture our collective drama, and everyone was supposed to give the potential viewing public a good show. The problem was – the show hadn’t started yet. Sure, Ben had changed from his street clothes and was now wearing a dressing robe. Just a dressing robe. The sash was loosened and the folds of the robe were hanging open, affording us – and the cameras – tantalizing glimpses of his flaccid manhood. Each time that brown-skinned shaft peeked out of the shadows of the robe, and crossed my line of vision, I shuddered with mounting distaste.
Please, stay covered, please, stay covered, I found myself feverishly muttering.
Then there was Emem, who maintained a brooding silence in one corner of the room. A lack of drama meant poor sales in popcorn. Besides, who would pass up the plates of rice, chicken and coconut chicken curry sauce for the crunchy taste of the snack? No one, that is, except Chrome, whose umbral presence hovered over the saleswoman.
“Gerraway from here, you this agent of darkness!” the snappish voice of a very irritated Emem carried from her corner to my side of the room. “Who knows, perhaps it’s because you’re here that people don’t want to come and patronize me.”
Chrome merely chuckled darkly and continued to silently torture her.
“But wait oh, how did our ancestors come about foofoo?”
The cameras zoomed in on Monica, who had just asked the question. The petite, dark-skinned woman held a lipstick-stained flute of champagne in her hand, her lips pursed pedantically before she continued. “Isn’t it strange that you put something in your mouth and swallow it straightaway, like a snake, without chewing? It’s a learned behaviour, no?”
“Maybe they learned from snakes,” Deborah answered.
“My mother has a theory that foofoo may have been invented by old people who lost their teeth,” Joy quipped from where she sat behind Monica, before daintily shoveling food into her mouth.
Responsive laughter rippled amidst the people over which Monica held court. Nonso was one of them, and he said with a chuckle, “Well, I have my own theory. A long, long time ago, there was a very severe famine – that famine they keep alluding to in our folktales. Food was in very short supply. Our resourceful fathers realized food stayed longer in their stomachs, giving them that satisfying ‘belly-full’ feeling, when the food is made into balls and swallowed whole.” Noticing the skeptical arch of Deborah’s brow, he added, “Think of it, labourers today still prefer their ‘swallow’ to any other food. And our agricultural fathers were indeed hard labourers.”
“And somehow, it was only garri and foofoo they were swallowing during this famine?” Deborah’s voice dripped with light sarcasm, and her remark elicited some chuckles.
“Well, perhaps that’s the only thing they could squeeze into a ball that would stay that way, right, Nonso?” Ikenna intoned.
“Exactly,” Nonso agreed. “Before, na boiled yam you wan swallow? Good luck getting that down your throat –”
“So what?!” someone snapped from another corner of the room. The cameras spun and descended on where Dozie was sitting, glaring up at Anderson. On the coffee table in front of Dozie was a blown-up photograph. The camera crew moved in for a closeup; the picture was that of a table decked out festively with a number of young men seated around it, wearing yarmulkes. The two men were flanked by Kewe and Elkanah.
My first thought – bar mitzvah. If it’s Jewish and it’s festive, then it’s a bar mitzvah.
“Bar mitzvah?” Kewe supplied. There seemed to be some sort of contention going between them concerning the exposure.
“Oh no, that’s not a bar mitzvah,” Elkanah intoned. He was a Jewish Igbo, so he would know. The other three men turned to him, a deference to his superior knowledge on the issue. “That’s the table set for Sender night.’
“Oh…” Kewe exclaimed, nodding like he’d finally understood an age-long secret. “I see.” He didn’t seem like he saw at all. “Nice skullcaps though,” he commented, glancing at the picture.
“They are not just ordinary skullcaps; they are called Kipas or yarmulkes,” Elkanah said.
“So what’s this Sender night thingy about?” Anderson asked.
“It’s the Passover night,” Elkanah replied with his characteristic smile. “It was actually last night. We had a celebration at my place in Enugu. My brother wasn’t able to attend because he was already in Lagos, for his meeting with the network to finalize this reality show deal.” His gaze flickered to where his brother, Yakadude stood deep in conversation with the Omons, no doubt disseminating some abstract and literary predication.
“It still surprises me that there are Nigerians who are Jewish,” Dozie said. “I think of Jews and all I think of is Jerusalem.” He gave a self-deprecating chuckle. “Shalom…mazaltov…That’s all the Yiddish I know…”
“A word ending in ‘tov’ is Yiddish? Or Jewish?” It was Anderson. And there was something superior about his tone that seemed to put Dozie off instantly.
His brows crocheted into a frown. “Since when did Jewish become a language?” he hurled back. “You need to ease up on the peroxide.”
“Loosely speaking, Hebrew and Jewish can be used interchangeably,” Anderson retorted. “Don’t change the subject…” This last bit he said with a smirk; I saw Dozie flex his fingers; he looked as though he was itching to slap Anderson’s smirk clean off his face.
The cameras edged closer.
“Was I? You haven’t even found the subject!” Dozie snapped instead, and a little too forcefully. He began thumbing the keypads on his Blackberry, rooting for the etymological roots of Yiddish on Wikipedia mobile. When he found the webpage he wanted, he read out loud, “Yiddish is a high German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken in many parts of the world. It developed as a fusion of different German dialects with abstracts of Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic vocabulary…”
“Oh no, you didn’t!” The choleric timbres of Uzoma’s voice pulled the attention of the entire room. It was loud, shrill and rang with the strength of his indignation.
The cameras spun and focused on the two men standing in the center of the room. The fluorescent lights that illuminated the living room bounced small, iridescent reflections off Uzoma’s Rolex watch and Kellie’s gold necklet.
“Ah yes,” I heard someone murmur beside me. “Finally, the battle of the drama kings.”
“I told you –! You know that I intended to purchase all of Mai Atafo’s latest designs for this season. And I did! Yet, you went ahead and bought the same collection and now we’re wearing the same clothes! You are unbelievable!” Uzoma’s jaw was set, and I thought I saw wisps of steam curl out of his ears and evaporate off the top of his head. But perhaps, that was just my imagination.
“Well, excuse me for moving in on a good thing when you were busy dilly-dallying,” Kellie snapped back.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I called Mai and asked if you’d placed any orders yet. And when he said no, I made my order.” Kellie made a dismissive gesture with his hand.
“I was going to, eventually. And I did. I just wasn’t ready then.”
“You weren’t ready.” Kellie gave a cruel cackle of laughter. “Oh my goodness, what are you – poor?”
Someone in the crowd sniggered loudly. I spotted Emem sidling her cart through the spectators, peddling her wares.
“No,” Uzoma hissed, “I am not poor!”
“Then why didn’t you –”
“I just had to move some things around, get some finances in order –”
“That’s just a roundabout way of admitting that you were poor –”
“Call it whatever you want. At least I’m working hard for my money. Unlike some people I know who are living off Daddy’s money.”
Kellie did not like that, and his eyes ignited with a fresh surge of anger. “Watch it!” he said, pointing a slender finger in Uzoma’s direction. “I’m on a trust fund –”
As the war of the words raged on, I suddenly realized that Yvonne was nowhere to be seen within the immediate vicinity. That was odd; she was usually at the forefront of any battle between her brother and his frenemy, cheering one, then the other, at intervals. I craned my neck, looking around and then suddenly stiffened. A camera crew was pulling up on a couple huddled close to each other. A male with his slightly bulky build, and the female with her sylphlike frame. I turned and started approaching them, feeling a sinking feeling of dread settle in the pit of my stomach when I saw the pearly whites of Yvonne’s dentition revealed in a tinkling laugh, and recognized the aquiline features of Kelechi, with his face inclined towards Yvonne’s. I was close enough to make out the distinct hum of their private chat, and the mounting sexual tension eddying around them was heavy.
“So, you know, I’ve got a good-sized cucumber you should do,” I heard Kelechi aka Cheesy murmur.
“You do, huh? Well, I don’t like cucumbers,” Yvonne said.
“I’ve got a banana too. Now, who doesn’t like bananas? They’re delicious, give you a lot of nutrition, and are very, very” – he stretched the word in a meaningful drawl – “satisfying.”
Yvonne threw her head back in a laugh that bespoke how much she relished the double entendre. “It seems you’re quite the accomplished fruitarian.”
“Oh, you have no idea.”
The sexual tension thickened a few kilograms.
“I wouldn’t mind giving what you have to offer a taste.” She lifted a fingernail to the side of her lips in a coquettish gesture.
“It is quite a dish, I can assure you. The question is, do you have the time?”
“No, the question is, do you have the energy?”
“CHEESY!” A sudden roar sliced through the room with a startling loudness, causing Kelechi and Yvonne to spring apart from each other as though scalded, one by the other.
A silence descended and everyone looked in the direction of the living room front door. The sinking feeling settled deeper inside me when I saw the person who shouted the name. It was Enobong. She’d just come in from her swim outside, and her hair hung in lank wet tendrils which dripped water on the bathing robe that was wrapped over her buxom body. Her angry eyes seared a path to the exact place where Kelechi and Yvonne stood, a path everyone else quickly traced back and forth. But the scary thing about this virago was what she had in her clenched fists. The very thing I wanted to know if she’d brought along with her when she arrived earlier on. Her knives. A gleaming blade in each hand. A collective gasp rippled across the room as she advanced towards Kelechi and Yvonne with a slow stomping gait.
“We’re right in the same house” – she came closer – “the same room” – yet closer – “and I leave you alone for a minute” – she stopped before Kelechi – “and what–you’re already flirting with that skank!?!”
“Hey, who are you calling a skank?” Yvonne began furiously.
“Shut up!” Enobong snarled. “Don’t you dare talk when I’m talking!” She spat the words with some ferocity, involuntarily lifting one of her hands. The blade clenched in that hand winked menacingly.
Yvonne eyed the knife and tightened her mouth in a grim line.
Enobong turned her glare back to Kelechi. “How could you, eh Cheesy? What is it with you and your need to flirt with every female in SART? Have you no self control? So what were you peddling this time – cucumbers or bananas?” Her lip curled over the words. “Did you promise her a fruity experience as well? You do know what happens when one wants to have a meal of fruits, don’t you?” At this juncture, she waved one of the knives in front of Kelechi’s horror-stricken face. “Do you? Answer me – do you?!”
The knife waved with a bit more aggression. I threw a quick worried glance at John. The director seemed spellbound by the unfolding drama. The cameras stayed in place. Mouths moved rapidly over popcorn. Emem was being made a rich woman one naira at a time. What is wrong with these people? Can no one see that a woman scorned armed with a weapon is a potential murderess?
Kelechi began with a croak, a poor attempt at cajolery, “Now, Eno…you don’t have to do this –”
“Shut up! I don’t have to do what! What exactly is it I don’t have to do?” Both knives were now up in the air, doing a macabre dance that was both terrifying and fascinating. “Tell me, you male whore! What can’t I do! I’m supposed to be calm and meek, and take all the bullshit you keep passing to me, is that it?! You didn’t answer me – do you know what happens to a fruit that wants to get eaten? Do you?!”
Kelechi swallowed hard and said nothing.
“The fruit gets cut into pieces! Diced!” One knife swished. “Chopped!” The other knife followed suit. “Hacked! And that’s what will happen to that cucumber you keep passing around unless you keep it in check. You hear me? The next time you offer it to a floosie such as this one –!”
“Hey! I’m not a –”
“I TOLD YOU TO SHUT UP!” Enobong screamed viciously, and with eyes turned mad with the strength of her anger, she whirled on Yvonne, her hand raised.
The knife in it scythed through the air and descended towards the other woman with deadly precision.
I am @Walt_Shakes on twitter