I was not invited, and as I sat there, I certainly felt distinctly out-of-scene. A deputy editor of my paper had ‘arm-twisted’ me into going. They tell you this all the time as a journalist in this country: “This profession is like the military. Once you are told ‘go’ you just go. Nobody cares how you do it. All that matters is that you bring the story.” I have heard such small-minded and outrightly anal lines severally.
The invitation my ‘oga’ (how they love that tag) forwarded to me via a text message merely read: “… birthday ceremony organised by our friends in our honour…” But wow, what a birthday! What friends and what occasion!! Now, parties are not part of my strong points but I have attended my fair share of them – birthdays, dinners, get-togethers, wedding ceremonies, etc. But this one seems to top my list of all, maybe because I was seething with irritation to be there at all and as a result, I sat there with an extremely critical eye.
In what was a shindig, I was desperately out-of-zone amidst the sea of bottles with different contortion; the geles; the kaleidoscope of colours; the loud indiscreet music; and dare I say, the share adrenaline. But I still was duty-bound to make a story out of it all. So, I managed to note down a few things – some for my own personal cut-away. I noted down the unabashed display of excitement from millionaires, the majority of them grandmother and grandfather millionaires, mind you.
There was so much to eat and drink but I was too busy getting irritated to bring myself to eat. Worse, I inadvertently chose a seat directly in front of one of the air conditioner vents in the vast hall to sit on, and so, all through my stay there, I kept shivering with cold like someone from the Sahara Desert on a first visit to Siberia. The hall was one vast space but it was so full that there was barely enough space to stand much less sit. But even as I struggled to find space for my feet, one appallingly bloated (not fat, mind you) woman still found enough room in front of me, to jig around with her uniquely fallen features – a pair of sorely sagged breasts held mercifully together by a helpless bra; a pathetically protruding tummy; and shapeless backside. Her wizened face – complete with its athletics track lines – was so heavy with brown powder that you would think she had just robbed an Estee Lauder shop and decided to use all the loot at one go.
Two hours later, as I left the venue, still filled with irritation, something soured my mood further; at the gate two men were punching, slapping and kicking at one helpless man. Soon, he was asked to kneel down, as he frantically begged another man who must have been his age, if not even younger. The man’s sin I got to know, was that he had accidentally stamped on the other man’s foot in an attempt to gatecrash an occasion to which he wasn’t invited. Eventually, he was ‘pardoned’ after another man pleaded on his behalf. I was galled. And that is saying the least.
Outside the gate, I was still shaking my head in silent disapproval of such brazen aggression when I saw him once again. Not Mr. Stamp. This other man had been there earlier as I hurried into that extravagance. He had beckoned on me (or so I thought) as I hurried past him. He had said, in a clearly beaten voice, ‘bros, abeg find me something now, I dey hungry.’ Honestly, I didn’t take in the full import of his words until I was halfway through the entrance. You know one of those instances when you hear a word but it then takes that extra second to hit home. Seeing the man again was, therefore, Providence’s second chance to me. But this time he didn’t say anything, perhaps he didn’t see me, although he seemed to be looking in my general direction.
Walking towards him, I pretended I was seeing him for the first time, and with a cosmetic smile – of guilt – etched on my face, I stretched a polythene bag containing a loaf of bread at him. The bread was the only thing I managed to take away from the gig (and why I even bothered, I don’t know). Pronto, with the alacrity of a drowning man, he grabbed the bag like a drowning man would do any lifeline thrown at him. He added a brisk ‘thank you’ as he walked towards the nearby Tafawa Balewa Square while I hailed down a motorcycle.
Of course the irony of it all wasn’t lost on me: That man only wanted, in fact, needed to have a bite but could not get one. Meanwhile, few yards from him some people could not just have enough bites. His was for survival while for that motley crew in there every succeeding bite was an indulgence. They could not waste food enough but he could not, it seemed, attract enough compassion to get a few survival crumbs. Talk about the contrasts of life. And just how do people find the will to sit back and encourage or even breed such contrasts?
My judgmental self could not help believing that somehow, that man’s fortunes and those of others like him could be better, with a little less avarice and a little more let-others-survive disposition from characters like members of the motley gang at that shindig, who are scattered across the Nigerian landscape. It could be argued that none of those party animals had anything to do with the desperation of the man. But as was evident in the case of Mr. Stamp who was ‘disciplined’ for trespassing, this other man is directly or indirectly a victim of the indiscretion, gluttonous, utterly selfish and oppressive life some of us lead in this part of the universe.
Mind you, the gathering in question had some of the people who individually or together with their agents and accomplices in the corridors of power, have ensured a clear absence of the middle class in Nigeria, a place where you are either rich or poor. And there in lies the connection, or so I think. You may not see it. Or do you?