“Walter…Walter, are you listening?”
At the call of my name, I blinked my eyes rapidly, as though groggily pulling myself from sleep. Then I turned to stare at the questioning expressions on the faces of Eketi and Ebuka. A faint stir on my left made me turn to face Ifeanyi Nduka on my other side. Four of us were seated on cushioned, straight-backed chairs on one side of a large office desk. On the other side lounged a pot-bellied, dark-skinned man with a heavy jowl and beady eyes that peered out from a face made complacent with prosperity. He painted a veritable picture of an oga at the top.
Wait – where did that thought come from? I thought. Where are we? What is wrong with me?
“What is wrong with you?” Eketi asked softly, reiterating my last thought.
I suspected we were in the middle of a meeting – an important one, judging by the tense postures of Eketi, Ebuka (I’ll start calling him by his nickname ‘Yakadude’) and Ifeanyi. I must have experienced a blackout episode, because I had no idea why we were here and who the man before us was; although, judging by the plaque on his desk upon which was stenciled the block letters ‘AIT’ and all sorts of important-looking paraphernalia hanging on his wall, I suspected he was some sort of top executive in the TV station.
I wasn’t about to let on my discombobulation to them. I cleared my throat and said, “I’m fine – really, I am. So…um, where were we?”
“Well, Mr. Ayodele here” – Eketi inclined her head at the TV exec – “finally agrees with us.”
“He does?” I asked, stifling the other two words I wanted to say, which were: “To what?”
“Yes, he does.” Eketi was beaming.
“Indeed, I do.” Mr. Ayodele’s swivel chair creaked as he sat up. “I think the idea is brilliant. Simply brilliant. And the potential ratings – oh! Simply…simply…” He looked up as though searching for the word.
“Brilliant?” Yakadude supplied.
Mr. Ayodele snapped his fingers and pointed. “Simply brilliant.”
“It does have the potential of beating the TV ratings of Fuji House of commotion, doesn’t it?” Ifeanyi asked.
“Hands down!” Mr. Ayodele exclaimed.
“Nigerians do love a good show,” Yakadude intoned. “Especially one with a lot of drama.”
Will someone please tell me WTF we’re talking about? I wanted to yell. Instead, I plastered on a tight smile and ventured tentatively, “So…a good show, huh?”
Four pairs of eyes swiveled on me, their expressions telling of their incredulity at why I wasn’t appropriately enthusiastic about this project.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Eketi asked.
“Yes, I am. I mean, why wouldn’t I be? We’re about to entertain the public with a good show on television, the best since Fuji House of Commotion, right?” The bright smile felt stiff on my face, and the enthusiasm in my words rang false in my ears.
But they must have bought the act because they all nodded appreciatively.
“So what are we going to call it?” I asked.
“Well, I was thinking we should stick with our name on Facebook – the Smart Alec Roundtable,” Eketi suggested.
“No, that’s too long,” Ifeanyi interjected. “What about the SART House of Commotion?”
“That’s not long?” Eketi’s brows were arched superciliously.
“It’s funkier,” Ifeanyi retorted.
“And an imitation,” Eketi rejoined.
“What about House of SART?” Yakadude supplied.
“Or the SARTian Domain…”
“Or simply The Roundtable –”
“What is it with you and the Roundtable sef? This is TV – think outside the box.”
“Hey! Back off, Ifeanyi –!”
“What about the Den of Drama?”
As I watched the three of them bandy words around, while the TV exec looked on with approving glee, I began to realize what we were doing here. It really wasn’t that hard to figure out. TV station. Good show. Drama. SART.
“You want to turn SART into a TV reality show?!” I blurted out at Mr. Ayodele.
The four pairs of eyes oscillated in my direction again, their expressions now betraying their wariness over the state of my mind.
“Why, that’s great!” I enthused. “I think it’s a good idea.”
“Of course you do – you’re the one who sent in the proposal to me,” Mr. Ayodele said.
“Of course I did. And you’ve obviously given the green light, so –”
“I’ve done more than give the green light. I’ve already set things in motion.” He depressed the intercom and said, “Grace, send Bayo in.”
Moments later, the door of the office swung open, and a tall man, thin and wiry, slightly balding with a neatly-trimmed beard, walked in. Upon the man’s entrance, Mr. Ayodele got to his feet. The four of us stood as well. Mr. Ayodele gestured towards the man. “This is the director of your new show, John Nasiru. He’ll be your boss on the filming set. I’ll now hand you lot over to him so he’ll apprise you of the details of everything we’ve done so far.”
Moments later, we were following John out of the office and down the station’s hallway. The man had an air of hyperactivity and a sprint-like gait, one which caused the rest of us to walk after him in a near-run. And he talked fast too. “So, the moment Ayodele pitched this idea of yours” – he flicked the briefest of glances at me – “to me, I knew it was going to be TV gold. I know what I’m saying because I have had the opportunity of being a part of your clan on Facebook. For the briefest period before I was kicked out.” He stared pointedly at me again before adding, “Remember Husseini Williams?” Our jaws dropped as he smirked. “Yes, so I know firsthand how much of reality TV hit SART will be. And that was why I urged Ayodele to give the go-ahead and give me carte blanche to get everything started. I’ve looked over some property and rented a house in the suburbs of Lekki.”
Lekki!? Wow, these guys are not kidding, I thought as I tried to keep pace with the hyper director.
“I also had my assistant call up everyone in SART to see who will be available on short notice for the pilot of the show, which we begin shooting today.”
“Today!” the four of us chorused.
“But…but…not all of us stay in Lagos…” Eketi spluttered. “We have SARTians in Owerri, Calabar, Lokoja…”
“And they’ve all given notifications of their availability,” John interjected. “Even Melody Okoye, who is tucked away in the dusty terrains of Maiduguri. They’ll all be flying in today. Location and transportation has been made available at the airport for all those coming in from outside Lagos, including that lady from Zimbabwe – what’s her name again?”
“Deborah!” the four of us chorused again. We were starting to sound really stupid.
“Deborah is going to be on the show?” I added, making me the stupidest of us all.
“She is a SARTian, not so?” John cocked a brow at me. “And since we’re filming SART’s reality for the entertainment of the viewing public, the emails my assistant sent out requested that everyone come in their different true SARTian characters. And they all agreed.”
Including Ben? I thought, nervously recollecting that his true SARTian character was as the resident nudist. We were signing up for a reality show, not a soft porn flick.
Just then, John’s phone chirped with the receipt of a text message. He read the message and his grin widened. “Ah, and the cavalry starts to arrive. Come on, we have to hurry” – as if we weren’t already hurrying – “we have to be at the house in Lekki to welcome the rest of your gang.”
Soon, we were out of the station’s building into the bright glare of the Lagos sunshine, in John’s car and out in the chaotic traffic. The house John took us to was a large, limestone, two-storey mansion with a slate roof and an airy interior, expansive grounds, a spacious living room and a plethora of bedrooms. It was spartanly but elegantly furnished, and we could already see the possibilities of a new home. The most striking sight, however, was that of a massive oaken table that dominated the centre of the dining room, ornately carved in an oval shape, a breathtaking piece of craftsmanship.
“The roundtable, lady and gentlemen,” John said with some flourish.
“Wow,” I said.
“Impressive,” Eketi gasped.
“Spectacular,” Yakadude intoned.
Ifeanyi had just opened his mouth to utter his amazement when a horn tooted loudly outside.
“That must be the first ones,” John said before shepherding us outside to welcome the new arrivals.
The first to arrive was Enobong. The woman sauntered over to where we stood, all dimpled smiles, sparkly countenance and delighted squeals, bussing our cheeks exuberantly and gushing her long-time-no-sees.
“Hey, Wallie! Howdydo?” she exclaimed when she turned to me again.
“Hey back.” I narrowed my eyes on her. “Eno, John’s email said everyone was to come, true to his or her SARTian character.”
“And I did.” She fluttered her eyelids on an expression of exaggerated innocence that I just knew had to be feigned.
“Well,” – I swept a searching gaze over her, looking for something – “I don’t see it.”
“See what?” She was smirking now.
“You know, your – your –” I turned a helpless look to Eketi, Yakadude and Ifeanyi. They knew what I was having a hard time saying, but they weren’t going to say it either. Not in front of John, anyway.
“Relax, Wallie,” Enobong cut in, her cheeky grin still in place. “I’m here to have fun. Lots of TV fun. And I brought my bikinis with me. I hope the swimming pool is big enough to convince me that I’m swimming in open waters.”
The five of us chuckled, with John adding that ‘sure, the swimming pool is ocean-sized.’ With a gleeful squeal, she skipped inside with her luggage to get settled. Moments after her arrival, the compound started teeming with people, laughter and boisterous noise. Blaring sirens announced the coming of Anderson in an ambulance.
Ben mercifully kept his clothes on upon his arrival; that is, until he got inside and started complaining about how hot it was.
Edeeth swept in with a large suitcase that I suspected was filled with lots of ODM booklets, because she walked past us with a stern reminder that we’d be having devotion every morning for the entire duration of the show.
Kelechi came clad in a chef’s uniform and trundling a shopping cart filled with – #sigh – cucumbers.
Ikenna arrived, looking very tall and gangly in the hot afternoon, and with something cruelly sarcastic to say about the house, the show and Eketi, before sweeping past us. John was left laughing and Eketi fuming in his wake.
The sun’s bright gleam splintered effortlessly on Edgar’s well-barbered bald head as he strutted past us into the house. Behind him, his sister, Bella, tried to match him strut for strut, while looking hot and flustered in the sun.
Mayowa came staggering under the weight of books; his hands were clutching them, his shoulders were hefting them, and a large tome was balanced precariously on his head.
“Who is that?” John asked in an incredulous tone.
“The librarian,” the four of us chorused.
Uzoma arrived in a cloud of perfume, complete with a pouty look and a snappy remark when the cab driver pulling his luggage from the boot kicked up a little too much dust close to his spitshined shoes.
John arched a brow at the show of temper. “And that is…?”
“Heiny,” Eketi answered with a tone rich with disdain.
“Fancies himself the sexiest man alive,” Yakadude said.
“And a descendant of the most royal of bloodlines,” Ifeanyi added tongue-in-cheek.
“A man of many personalities, I see,” John said with a small laugh.
“You have no idea,” I replied.
Emem arrived with a grin that was similar to the one I saw on her sister’s face earlier and a large van from whence swirled the sickly sweet smell of –
“Popcorn! Oh boy, am I going to get rich from this show,” she sang out as she waved her instructions at the workmen setting up her shop at one corner of the compound.
“Er…get rich selling popcorn?” John said. “How’s that so?”
Emem tsk-tsked. “My dear man, there’s two things SARTians love doing. Giving drama and munching popcorn. One party unleashes the drama, the other party feasts on popcorn. My popcorn! And since this show is about drama, imagine how fast I’ll sell.” Her eyes rounded as she looked past us, at the Naira signs hanging somewhere in the distance. Then humming the lyrics to ‘Oh Happy Day’, she turned back to her workmen.
We knew the Alozie siblings had arrived long before any of them stepped out of the taxi because Kellie’s querulous voice was resonating from inside the vehicle with evident displeasure. “I told you we should have chartered one of those Hondas for hire at the airport,” he complained as he stepped out into the sun. He squinted and snapped huge sunglasses over his eyes. “This taxi doesn’t even have an AC of all things. What car doesn’t have an AC in this weather?”
“Oh, would you relax,” his sister, Yvonne, snapped as she alighted. She lifted a languid hand to her sheaf of Peruvian weave-on, patting the tresses back from her face. “And please save your theatrics for when you see Heiny.” She followed the cab driver to the boot of the car.
“Who knows if that drama king has even arrived,” Kellie said with an arch look at the house.
“Don’t worry, pot. You’ll soon meet kettle,” Yvonne rejoined.
From where we stood, John said, “Let me guess, that’s Heiny’s sworn opponent.”
“Indeed,” Eketi agreed. “His arch nemesis.”
“Mortal enemy,” Ifeanyi said.
“Heiny the second,” Yakadude added.
“Actually, he would rather think of Heiny as Kellie the second,” I said.
John rubbed his hands together with evident glee. “Oh, I’m going to love filming this show.”
Let’s hope things don’t get out of hand, I thought.
The sky was almost overcast with the stygian cloak of the night by the time the last of the expected housemates arrived. John’s filming crew was also present and had set up shop for the shooting of the show’s pilot. The house was alight with fierce banter and spirited laughter. The faint sounds of splashing coming from a corner of the compound spoke of someone having a late swim. Something was cooking – or being served – because whiffs of the meal’s aroma stretched out from within and caressed our noses outside.
“Maybe we should get back inside now,” I said. “There can’t be anyone left who hasn’t already come.”
“There is actually,” John said as he scanned the register he’d held in his hand all day. He tapped a finger against a name. “Chrome Chinke still hasn’t come.”
Eketi was staring into the gathering sunset and shook her head as she said, “It would be typical of him not to arrive when the sun is up and the normal ones are coming.”
We followed her gaze to where it was resting. On a figure standing by the gate. Clad in black. A black cloak hung over his frame, and a black hood completely shrouded his dark-skinned face. As he advanced slowly, John asked in a stage whisper, “Is that –”
“Chrome?” Yakadude cut in. “Yup. That’s him. Staying true to his SARTian character.”
“what is he – Voldemort?”
TO BE CONTINUED