“How bad is he?”
They were standing in the lobby of the hospital; same hospital he had come to meet her when Efe had gotten herself in trouble; same hospital he met Sophia in.
So long ago…
Igo; demure in red blouse and blue jeans, looked everywhere but at Frank as she answered. “I haven’t seen him – nobody has been allowed to see him. But the doctor says it’s real bad.” She gripped his arm and finally met his eyes, concern making hers darker. “Frank, she poured boiling oil on him!”
The floor swung up and hit Frank in the face with no apologies. He staggered and would have fallen if it wasn’t for Igo’s grip on his arm. She held him steady and led him to a bench set against the wall.
“Excuse me,” she said to a frowning woman who shifted grudgingly as though she had wet the bench. Igo set Frank down gently and touched his forehead.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m – I’m fine. I just…” Her palm felt soft and warm; her face glistened in spite of the worry that put wrinkles where they didn’t belong. The neck of her blouse fell loose; presenting a lighter shade of skin, lighter than her face and arms. He could also see two protuberances; two black-wrapped protuberances…
Hastily he looked away.
“Frank?” Igo said plaintively as she took her hand away from his head and straightened.
“Where is Stella now?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“Nobody knows. She called Efe and together they brought Fola to the hospital, and then she said she wanted to go see to her kids. She didn’t come back. Efe says the house was empty when she went by there on her way back home. She probably just took the kids and left for God knows where.”
Frank’s hand came up; he wanted to say something, but he changed his mind. Igo, who could tell what he was thinking said, “She’s at home with her family. She just waited for me to get here before leaving.”
Nodding gratefully, he rubbed his forehead. A small throb had begun somewhere in the back of his head and he felt overwhelmingly tired. He tried not to think of his friend, a few meters away…
“Which one of you is here for Fola – “ the woman, a doctor recognizable by the stethoscope hanging almost negligently around her neck, adjusted the reading glasses she was wearing and looked at the file open in her hand. “…Mr. Fola Akanji?” She looked up and squeezed her face.
“Here,” Frank rose and, with Igo hanging onto his arm, stepped away from the wall and towards the woman.
She met them halfway. “I’m Dr. Sheye.” Her handshake was firm. “Your friend is stable but in critical. He suffered third degree burns to his face, upper body and arms.” Frank’s ears started roaring; he heard the doctor through layer after layer of static. Beside him Igo tensed; her nails were cutting into his arm.
He struggled to focus on what the doctor was saying.
“…might lose sight in one eye, facial tissues are badly damaged, extensive surgery will be required and maybe some grafting, but for now, the focus is to keep him alive.”
Frank tried to talk; but for some reason, he couldn’t.
Igo asked; “When can we see him?”
Dr. Sheye shook her head. “It’ll be some time yet. But he’s okay, and we’ll do our best to care for him. You pray too, okay?”
Igo nodded. “Yes we will, thank you.”
The doctor turned to go – and then turned back. “Are you related to Mr. Fola?”
She removed her glasses – and he saw empathy in her eyes, something he would never have thought possible. “Who did this to him? His file says it was boiling oil.”
Frank swallowed. “It was his wife.”
She shook her head. “That is…that is horrifying.” Putting her glasses back on, she touched his arm lightly. “We’ll do our best.”
Her sensible shoes made almost no sound as she turned away and disappeared into the door she came out from.
“I appreciate your being here,” Frank said softly.
“Oh Frank,” Igo said, raising her head from his shoulder where it had been resting, “Of course. Efe called me in a panic after Stella called her. I’m sure you understand Stella wouldn’t call you herself.”
“She knows I’ll probably kill her or something.” He closed his eyes and leaned his head against hers, which she’d put back on his shoulder. “And he was telling me he was fixing things o, just last week or so.” He sighed. “This life sha.”
“I didn’t even know things were this bad between them,” Igo said softly. “Baby – I mean Frank, were we ever at this point? The point where you started to feel as though you had to hit me to make me listen or shut up?”
“I should be asking you that. She’s the one who’s been doing the beating na.”
There was a moment; a small pocket of time in which Igo looked at Frank with an I cannot believe you said that expression while trying not to laugh. But then Frank decided to top it with a wink.
Igo’s laughter was explosive – so explosive, dozing people in the lobby started awake and some nurses came running to see what the noise was about. The only thing they saw were a running couple; a man holding the arm of a woman as they ran towards the exit. Frenzied laughter followed the running figures; frenzied laughter and a drawn out hiss from a frowning woman seated on a bench.
“We aren’t supposed to be laughing about this,” Igo managed to choke out amidst spurts of laughter.
“So stop na,” Frank said, hands on knees gasping for breath. “Man, I haven’t run that hard in a while.”
Igo stopped laughing and looked at him. “And smoking and drinking – Frank, you don’t take care of yourself like you used to.”
The frown that colored his face made him look unfriendly. “Why would I? You left me, remember?”
“But I didn’t leave you Frank! I…you pushed me away, you asked for the divorce! I didn’t have a say in how the whole thing played out! I just stood and watched!”
He was suddenly subdued. “I know. And not a day goes by I don’t wish – “
His phone started to ring.
Cursing softly, he kept his gaze on Igo’s face as he struggled to pull out the device. After a few minutes of struggling he was able to get the phone out of his pocket. It was Priye calling.
“Guy where you dey?” Was his friend’s raucous salutation.
“Where I dey?” Frank intoned. “Which kain question be dat? Wetin happen?”
“Guy cool down na. We dey fight ni? I dey travel tomorrow – uncle say make I show villa na im I reason am say make we commot dis night. After I free you now, I go call Folly…”
The woman he hadn’t stopped looking at could see depression set on his features. Reaching out a hand, she rubbed his shoulder nearest her, sending some warmth into it. He nodded gratefully before speaking into the phone; “Guy, na hospital I dey so o. I dey hospital with Folly.”
There was a moment’s pause – and then, “Which hospital una dey?”
Frank told him which hospital it was. “I’m on my way,” was all Priye said and hung up.
“Priye?” Igo asked.
Frank nodded. “He can be annoying at times, but he’s a loyal friend. He didn’t even ask what happened, just said he’s on his way.”
“Well – “
Frank’s phone started to ring again. This time it was Sofia.
“Hi baby,” came the gushing reply. “You didn’t let me know you were home and I was getting worried. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Frank was grateful as he felt rather than saw Igo walk away to give him some space. “I just ran into a little traffic. How is everyone?”
She chuckled softly. “Ales is happy for me, mummy is using the age difference between us as an excuse to be grouchy; dad is…well; dad.” She laughed again. “Everything is fine! Stop worrying so much, you hear?”
“Okay,” Frank mumbled. “I’m glad at least they’re not fighting us.”
“No o,” she answered, sounding surprised that he would think such a thing. “Why would anyone want to do that?”
“I don’t know…maybe – “
“I already told you to stop worrying! Everything will be fine; I promise.”
“Okay.” He sighed.
“Goodnight, my darling.”
Frank looked at the warm phone, wondering why he didn’t tell her where he was. The first excuse that jumped into his mind was that he didn’t want her to worry; but as he looked at the red-blouse-wearing woman walking towards him, he wondered if it was something else.
“Can we got back inside?” she asked, hugging herself for warmth. “It’s cold here.”
“Okay,” Frank said, putting an arm around her.
Together they disappeared into the brightly-lit interior of the hospital.
Frank started awake suddenly; Igo was shaking him gently. “Frank, Fola is conscious. We can see him now.”
He raised his head from her thighs where it had been resting and stood up, stretching and yawning. She rubbed his shoulders lightly and smiled at him. “Are you okay?” she asked.
He nodded, querying the warm feeling he had from being around her. He wanted to touch her, he wanted to hold her and say nothing, just lose himself in the warmth that was her. He was actually stretching a hand to pull her back as she preceded him into the corridor that led to the ward
Why am I thinking these things now? Which kain wahala be dis now?
when guilt assailed him and he flinched. Igo saw the movement from the corner of her eye and stopped. “Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked him again.
He nodded. “I’m just, you know nervous. I don’t know what to expect.”
The nurse leading them turned and addressed them in a voice as stiff as her demeanor; “You will please be quiet; you will not agitate or stress the patient. Also you must; under no circumstances show any reaction when you see patient. He will be looking at your faces for a clue of how bad he looks; he must not know. Else, he might give up fighting and give up.”
Frank wanted to point the absurdity of her closing sentence but thought the better of it. “We understand,” he said instead, rubbing his hand on Igo’s back in a circular motion. She wriggled and looked at him over shoulder. “That feels nice, thank you.”
Instantly he took his hand away from her back.
Her face registered surprise. “Why are you stopping now?”
He shrugged. “You are not supposed to enjoy that. You’re supposed to take it as a matter of course. The money you paid does not include enjoying it.”
“Oh you – “ she swung her purse at his head; he ducked and she missed, almost slamming herself into the wall. The nurse turned and frowned at them; Frank waved an apology while trying not laugh as Igo righted herself. She frowned at him and slowly drew her forefinger across her throat. Frank started to laugh –
The nurse cleared her throat. “Come in quietly,” she said sternly.
In spite of the nurse’s warning and what they also knew, Igo couldn’t contain her gasp of horror at the sight that was once a healthy, handsome man of thirty-something years. Now, Fola looked like a survivor of the zombie apocalypse depicted in the Resident Evil game. His injuries were burns and so couldn’t be wrapped; the gory details were clear to see.
One side of his face and his entire chest were a mass of purpling flesh. His left eye streamed water, his undamaged right hand clenched and unclenched as though trying to grasp air. But for a few patches here and there along his left leg, his lower body was untouched.
There was strangled sob from behind him; Frank heard Igo rush out of the ward. He could barely hold his tears in himself; they crawled slowly from behind his eyes as he looked at what was left of his friend.
“He is in a lot of pain but we’ve sedated him and he will go under soon enough. The Dr. just thought you would want to see him; to see for yourself how he’s doing.”
Frank nodded. “Thank you,” he said, swallowing painfully to get the words out. As he watched, his friend’s clutching hand slowed – and then dropped onto the bed. For a terrifying moment, Frank thought he’d died.
“He’s asleep. Let’s leave him alone for now.”
As he stepped outside the ward, the first thing he saw leaning against the opposite wall was a weeping Igo. She raised her head and looked at him.
“I’m so sorry. I just couldn’t….” she shuddered. “Frank, what sort of woman does this to her husband? What sort of woman?”
He opened his arms to her and she collapsed sobbing against his chest. Frank looked up, finally understanding why blaming God for things never made sense.
Fola couldn’t hide his excitement. “Man! Isn’t this what you’ve been praying – “ He saw Frank’s frown and corrected himself. “ – what we’ve been praying for? I don’t understand. Why aren’t you bringing the house down with excited noise?”
Frank sighed. “You don’t understand…”
“Oga, I am not a woman. Make me understand. What is the issue?”
Sofia, standing away from Frank, nodded. He rushed towards her excitedly and carried her off the ground, swinging her around and yelling.
He snapped back to himself and put her on the ground gently. “Sorry,” he said. “You’re right. We don’t want to hurt the baby.”
She turned her nose at him. “Yimu, baba pikin. I’m not at that point yet – “
“But you have to be careful! You cannot just be saying – “ He broke off as he noticed her frown and folded arms. “I’m sorry.”
He put his arms around her gently. “You’ve made me very happy, Sofia.”
She looked up at him. “Are you sure, Franklin?”
“Of course I’m sure. What do you mean?”
Sofia pushed out of his arms. “I’m pregnant, Franklin. I thought you were going to ask who the father is.”
Frank’s eyes widened. “Why would I ask that?” He said, walking towards her. “Who else could be the father?”
He was going to hug her again, but changed his mind when she put her hand against his chest.
“We need to talk – or I need to, and you need to listen.”
Frank nodded. “I’m listening.”
“I’m pregnant for you, and I’m happy about it. But I really want to know, what do you want?”
“Uh? What do I want?”
Sofia smiled. “Listen. I love you, I do. And I want to…I like the idea of carrying your baby. But I won’t be your baby mama. I don’t want to have a child without a father. So here’s what I think. If you want me to get rid of this pregnancy,” her voice shook at that. “…I will. But if you want me to carry it to term, you’ll marry me.”
She walked to Frank and kissed him softly. “I know that’s a lot for you to take in at once, so I’ll let you think about it.” She carried her bag from where she’d dropped it and went into the house, leaving Frank staring after her.
“So what’s the problem?” Fola asked again.
Frank looked at his friend angrily. “For someone who’s supposed to be smart you can be a mumu sometimes,” he retorted.
“Oga calm down. I’m saying this is what you want, isn’t it? A child of your own? And a woman to go with it? You could do worse – “
“I’m not sure I want to get married ever again o. Do you know how scared I get just thinking about it? Man, if someone had told me Igo and I wouldn’t make it…” He shook his head. “I’m not sure I can go through all that again.”
Fola put his arm around Frank’s shoulder. “I think I understand, bro. I’m married to a woman who beats me! If I was the abuser wouldn’t everybody be telling her to leave? But where do I go? Where do I start from? I’m just trying to make the most of the situation man. Live day to day. Even I have had to rethink my ways, and become a better husband.
“I know you, Frank. We’ve been friends for a while. I was there when you and Igo started, remember? Sofia’s no Igo; and that’s the best part! Like I said before you could do a lot worse. And really, fair is fair. Do you think she’s being unreasonable; or you just want to eat your cake and have it?”
There it was.
It occurred to him that maybe he spent too much time thinking about himself and his problems. He had been all indignant about Igo cheating on him with a younger man, so angry and hurt he hadn’t bothered to find out why. He still wasn’t talking to Efe…
It’ll be nice to think about someone else for a change.
Frank squeezed his face. “Man, I hate it when you make sense. I prefer the fish-eating beer-drinking you jare.” He patted Fola on the back. “Thanks man.”
Fola nodded. “So what are you going to do?”
“Marry her na.”
The smell of vegetable and afang welcomed the couple as they walked into the house on Ibeju street. Mama Omure hovered in the background, waiting impatiently for Frank to enter the house. As soon as he and Sofia were in, she grabbed the poor girl and hugged her to her bosom.
Mama Omure had an impressive bosom.
“My daughter! My daughter!! See how beautiful you are! Eh – hope my son does not stress you o! Eh! Welcome! Welcome!!”
Sofia was blushing, unable to look at the older woman. Mama Omure released her and stood back, turning to precede them. The moment her back was turned, Sofia faced Frank and pulled her forefinger across her throat. He laughed.
Mama Omure led the way to the back of the house where her husband sat in his usual chair, fanning himself and wondering what the noise was about. When he saw Sofia, his lined and aged face cracked and made way for a smile.
“Hehehehe! He haff bring me – brung me a daughter! Ah, I can go and die now! Fine gehl, come and sit down with me!”
As a blushing Sofia went and settled herself gingerly in the older male Omure’s lap, Frank’s mother pulled him aside. “My son,” she began, choosing her words carefully, “Frank…I don’t know o, maybe she hasn’t told you but I think…”
“Yes, mama. She’s pregnant for me.”
Have you ever seen a sixty-something year old woman dance shoki?
“Ah!” Sofia belched and leaned back in her seat. “Mama you have killed me o! This food is mwuah!!!!”
Laughter rippled across the table and Frank followed it with grateful eyes. His mother was beaming; feeding fish into his father’s mouth as she was. Sofia held his hand under the table and the warmth in her hand flowed into his heart.
He was happy.
Later, he helped his father to his room, waiting till the man was comfortable. As he made his way out of the room his father called him.
“Frank, come hia.”
“Yes papa,” he said, and walked back to the man’s bedside.
“Takia of dis pikin, you hear? Na good pikin o.”
“I know, papa.”
“Okay. Gerrout of my room. I wan’ sleep!”
Frank chuckled as he obeyed. He walked to the kitchen, where Sofia was helping his mother tidy after the meal. They were having a conversation about the government and change; but Frank wasn’t interested. He was watching Sofia.
She looked over her shoulder at some point and caught his eyes on her. Smiling shyly, she blew him a kiss. He looked away, feeling some kind of warmth in his belly, and then with unusual suddenness he moved till he was standing behind her, dipped his hand into his pocket and whipped out an imaginary ring.
“Will you marry me?” he asked the stunned girl.
“How old are you, Mr. Frank?”
Everyone within vicinity of the woman’s voice looked up at the question, ‘everyone’ being Frank, Sofia, Sofia’s brother and her father. Sofia’s mother, who looked something like Diezani Alison-Madueke was the one who asked the question.
She was sitting in a love seat directly opposite the couple. Frank and Sofia were holding hands; Sofia’s left hand displayed in such a way that the elegant engagement ring was obvious to the eye. She squeezed Frank’s hand reassuringly, all the while trying to catch her mother’s eye. The older woman pointedly ignored her daughter and keep staring at Frank.
“Well?” she said.
“Ah – “ Frank started to speak but Sofia’s father, a copy of Papa Ajasco except he had a full head of hair left his position beside the sitting room window and came to stand beside the couple.
“Walk with me, will you Frank?” he said.
“Yes sir,” he responded and let go Sofia’s hand. As he rose, the older man winked at his daughter, walked to his wife and kissed her gently on the forehead. Then he put his arm around Frank’s shoulders and led him down a corridor. Frank tried to ignore the weight on his shoulder, choosing instead to stare at pictures that lined the walls. And then the man stopped in front of a door, took his arm off Frank’s shoulder and opened it.
“In here,” Sofia’s father waved him into a room that looked like a mini office, complete with file cabinet and desktop computer. He showed Frank into a sofa facing the desk and he took a seat on a stool facing it.
And then, he cleared his throat.
“I hope you understand; it is not my wife’s intent to be disrespectful. She’s just concerned for her little girl as I am.”
“I understand completely sir,” Frank said.
The older man shook his head. “I don’t think you do, Frank. But that’s okay. I mean, I have nothing against anyone wanting to marry my daughter, I just wish you had waited and married her before impregnating her.” He waved Frank to silence. “Now, you want to tell me why you haven’t married till now?”
Frank sighed and slowly began to tell his prospective father-in-law about his failed marriage. The man listened without interrupting, and when Frank was done he stood up.
“Thank you for being frank with me, Frank,” he started – and then he chuckled loudly as he realized what he’d just said. “I appreciate forthrightness and I think you have that. I won’t ask you to take care of her; I know you know your job. And I have to admit; I haven’t seen her this happy since.”
The man led the way out of the room, and laughter pointed them in the direction of the living room. Both men stood by the door and watched as Sofia, sitting on her mother’s lap showed off her ring to her mother and brother. Her brother; Ales was pulling her cheeks and laughing as Sofia acted shy.
“My son, the recovering addict. Did Sofia mention him?”
Frank shook his head. “No – I mean yes; she tells me about him but she never mentioned anything about addiction. What’s his substance?”
Nodding approvingly, Sofia’s dad answered “Codeine, sedatives, cocaine, hash – you name it; he has done it before. This is the most sober I have seen him in a while. I try to enjoy it while it lasts so I don’t have my hopes dashed. Sofia’s ever the optimist; never gives up on him.”
Suddenly the man leaned close to Frank. “Take care of my little girl.”
Before he could recover, the man was in the room laughing along with his family. Frank definitely felt threatened.
“Your father’s rather…intense,” he said.
Sofia grinned happily. “I hope he didn’t scare you or threaten you. He’s like that, but really he’s just a big teddy bear. Think of the Kung Fu panda.”
Frank blinked. “Who?” he asked.
“Never mind. Just be as you’ve always been and everything will be fine. Okay?”
“Okay.” There was a pause. “He asked if you’d discussed Ales’ drug issues with me. Of course I said no, that you only mentioned you had a brother.”
Sofia kissed him. “Oh baby, he was testing you. He knows I told you already; have you forgotten how we met?”
Frank stared at his fiancé, mouth open. “Na so,” he muttered after a short while. “My father-in-law to be already thinks I’m a liar.”
“No,” she shook her head, weave flying this way and that, “your father-in-law to be knows you can protect his daughter; from him if need be.”
“Okay o. I’ll tell him you said so.”
She looked at him fondly. “Will you stop your worrying? Everything will be fine, I promise.” Taking his hand, she held the back of it to her mouth. “Say it with me: everything will be fine.”
“Everything will be fine,” Frank repeated.
“Okay then.” She grabbed his neck and pulled him towards herself, kissing him fiercely for about six seconds. “Goodnight, my darling.”
He watched as she exited the car and walked into the house gate, turning to wave at him once. He waved back and she disappeared within. He exhaled and, catching himself in the rearview mirror, grinned.
I’m happy. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
As though in answer to his question his phone started to ring.
He pulled out the device and took the call. “Hey Igo, how are you – “
A barrage of words he barely heard assaulted his ears. “Calm down! Calm down – I cannot hear what you’re saying! What is it? What happened?”
He heard her swallow over the phone. “FRANK!” She yelled excitedly – and then she seemed to calm herself. “Frank, Fola is in the hospital and it’s really bad!”
Frank didn’t know when he dropped the phone.
Okay. I admit. I have missed Genevieve. The last time I saw her on screen was the movie Ije – and that was a big deal to me because it featured Omotola too. But she (Genevieve) had enough time to herself on screen, so there was enough to last me for a while.
So I have been getting high off fumes from Ije for almost three years. Of course, I didn’t realize it till I was watching her latest effort, Road To Yesterday.
Road to Yesterday is based on a story by Genevieve herself, with screenplay by Ishaya Bako (who also directed) and Emil Garuba. A story about a dysfunctional marriage, Road to Yesterday is a sure tear-jerker for the weaker person; male or female.
Victoria (Genevieve) returns from a trip to the UK for her husband’s uncle’s funeral. There is some undisclosed tension between Vicky and her hubby Izu (played with stiff detachment by Oris Ehuero); some issue Victoria keeps asking them to talk about. She arrives the house, offers to cook the man dinner. He not only shuns her, he walks out of the house and tells her to be ready by six the following morning, when they’ll be driving down to Izu’s village for the ceremony.
The trip starts earlier than anticipated, with Izu returning from a night drinking with the boys. Vicky insists on driving; he surrenders the car keys and they start to leave.
How they got their luggage into the car is beyond me. But I digress.
Their journey is interspersed with flashbacks; how they met, how they started dating and how much of the typical male Izu was. What is good for the gander is good for the goose apparently; as she steps out on him on the night of her birthday because she had gone to his office earlier to meet him wrapped around his secretary.
Excuse me; but this is a much-required digression: I need to sit with our esteemed Nollywood actors; because they apparently are the only males in the world who can make women moan and scream just by burying their faces in their necks. I mean.
That’s an art I must learn. End of digression.
So; Vicky stepped out on Izu on her birthday night, with her friend’s cousin who had introduced her to Izu in the first place; with devastating consequences. Izu comes to his senses and asks Vicky to marry him the morning after.
But some things cannot be changed; as we found out.
It’s a depressing movie; with the ambiance and dialogue and everything pointing towards impending doom. You keep getting the feeling that the characters are heading for some kind of irredeemable end- yet you cannot stop watching.
Product placements are in a couple of scenes, but if anything they enhance the story very much unlike we’re used to; like watching a full-length Glo ad in a movie by a certain renown director. The scenes are well-shot, camera angles are smooth and sleek. It is definitely a visual candy.
Long, and in some cases unnecessary scenes and stiff, choppy dialogue makes the movie a slow meal – but like mentioned before, camera angles, sharp editing and almost-flawless acting more than make for the lapses. Chigurl shines; once again as Vicky’s bosom pal and ride or die chick. A cute little girl plays Genevieve’s daughter – and they combine to make Road to Yesterday a memorable, if sparse watch.
Road to Yesterday is showing at Ozone Cinemas at the following times:
I recall one of K’Naan’s songs in which he was talking about gangsters, making fun of the gangsters he saw in the states. And he was talking about how those gangsters should travel to Somalia where they would meet kids who have been gangbanging since they were twelve; kids who have killed more people than I’ve had meals.
Maybe a tad exaggerated but – you get the point.
Beasts of No Nation feels like that.
An angry, uncompromising yet hopeful film, Beasts of no Nation is adapted from a novel by Uzodinma Iweala, son of Dr. Ngozi Okonji-Iweala, which in turn takes its name from Fela’s 1989 album of same name, which also happens to be my favorite Fela track of all time.
But I digress.
The movie has won two awards, The Marcello Maestroianni award at the 72 Venice film festival and the National Board Review award in Breakthrough Performance for Abraham Attah, lead actor who plays Agu. The movie and Attah and Elba are still on several waiting award lists – with Idris himself bagging an Oscar nomination for best actor in a supporting role.
The movie is about a boy, Agu, growing up with his family in an unnamed African town, the mischief he gets into with his brother whose only ambition is to sleep with some girl. Brother works out, dances – all in a bid to get said girl’s attention. Agu on the other hand keeps wondering what soldiers (ECOMOG soldiers, amended as ECOMOD) are doing in their town and what will become of them.
All too suddenly everything changes as war is declared on the village with the country’s military sent to occupy. Agu’s father manages to buy safe passage for his mother and sister, so he has to stay with his brother and father to protect their land.
The military invades and takes Agu, his father and brother and calls them spies. They’re lined up to be killed, but his father tells him and his brother to run. As they run, he sees his father shot – and then his brother.
And then, we are introduced to the rebel commandant AKA Idris Elba.
The man who got critical acclaim for playing Stringer Bell in one of the highest rated TV series of all time; The Wire is his charismatic finest here. He is a violent, unapologetic warrior whose purpose and goals become confused as the movie progresses.
And he got an Oscar nomination for his role in this one. Finally.
Beasts of No Nation is a raw, honest movie about war; the horrors, cost and purpose of it, how many die to protect the selfish interests of few. The commandant kept stressing “We do it for our people” but at some point they sack a civilian town, murdering hundreds and hundreds of innocents. Agu continuously questions God, because his father told him, “When things like this happen, you have to be strong. It is God testing us.”
Few moments later, he is dead.
Further into the movie (which is narrated by Agu in voiceover), he says, “Mother, it is you I talk to now because God isn’t listening.”
Beasts of No Nation is intense and gripping, a tightly-wound narrative that follows the rise and fall of ambition as personified by Elba’s commandant. There is a scene in which Agu makes his first kill, a very graphic scene and not for the fainthearted. The commandant asks him; “Have you chopped watermelon before? Oya chop chop!”
The boy soldiers are strong characters; my personal favorite being a mute kid named Strika. Strika is the one who the commandant marks Agu for; together they are in the Commandant’s personal detail. They also share something else in common – something I suggest you see the movie to find out. There’s one guy who was nude through most of the movie – who finally wore pants only to die. A friend who saw the movie with me kept asking “Are you sure they casted these guys?” in reference to the Commandant’s rebel forces – or the NDF.
They look so real; thrown together by desperation yet bound together by love – or what passes for it. The tragedy of this movie is we watch and are being entertained by the reality of some children who grow old before they grow up.
I suggest that the fellas do this without the ladies, except you have a few pieces of tissue handy and are prepared to be clawed to pieces. Beasts of No Nation is impressive, saddening yet hopeful at the same time.
Do not see any other movie after this. Just come home, hug madam/bros if you have one, pour out some liquor if you’re on your own.
And be grateful for your life and simple pleasures; like enjoying a movie at the cinema.
Beasts of No Nation is showing at Ozone Cinemas.
Fri-Thur: 11:50am, 4:15pm, 6:00pm, 8:20pm
Sometimes; I’m stuck in a rut.
I have so many things to do and have no idea where to start. Deadlines. Promises to keep. Appointments. Dates. Hang-outs. The lists go on.
Sometimes I feel as though I have a 24-hour day and I’m awake through it. It’s almost as though I get home, manage to remove my shoes and slump in bed; and twenty minutes later (on a good night) I’m up again, repeating the cycle.
A man has to eat, right?
But is that my motivation for doing what I do? Strain myself almost to breaking point just because I want to stuff my gut with some proteins and mineral and nutrients?
There has to be more to life. But a man must eat.
There’s this bumper sticker I remember seeing in my youth; it goes something like ‘I owe, I owe, so off to work I go’.
Bad enough that I don’t sleep as much as I need to, I also damage and impair my health with the amazing dosage of caffeine-infused stuff I drink, all in the name of working. I’m a high-strung hyperactive always-busy individual – running around trying to make something of himself.
Boy. I do sound like an entrepreneur, don’t I?
I go for days on end without speaking more than three sentences to another human being; and that’s when I go to the store to refill my caffeine-drink stash or when I go to the filling station to arrange fuel for the generator. I eat a lot of to-go food simply because I cannot take the time necessary to cook. Sometimes when I close my eyes for a nap, I wonder which one of us is hotter; my laptop or me.
I know this isn’t healthy; I know for a fact that I can do better than that.
But my song goes; ‘I owe, I owe, so off to work I go’.
It’s almost as though hard work is more valued than actual results. I mean; I’m working hard – very hard, and as far as I’m concerned that’s enough. Do I have goals? Are there things I’m trying to achieve with all the stuff I put my rapidly-aging body through?
Apart from eating a hearty meal? Not much.
But here I am; working myself to an early grave and thinking, ‘that’s the way to go; that’s the only way to be a man where I come from’.
There was a time when it was popular to answer the ‘when are you getting married’ question with ‘I’m married to my work’, right? Well, I am actually married to my work and I’m cheating on her with a mistress named ‘stress’.
You read that right.
I am busy being unfaithful; and my wife is just checking the clock for when it’ll be over; when the fat lady will sing.
No o, I am not trying to be funny. Reality is this is the life that confronts almost every young and employed person in this country. Rush, work and work and work, it does not really matter if you’re achieving anything; it doesn’t even matter if you’re happy where you are. Just work and keep working. Leave your house in the morning wearing a suit, come back late at night with the jacket over your shoulders and the shirt stained with sweat.
“How was work today?” you’re asked. “Thank God,” you must answer; even though you spend every moment wondering what exactly it is you’re working for; why you must work so hard and earn so little – you think about your university days and how you couldn’t wait to get out and experience life.
“Is this what it all comes down to?” you ask yourself.
I was raised on the saying ‘you can’t eat your cake and have it’. And for most of my younger years I believed it. But since I knew the difference between cake and buns I have been contemplating the implication of that sentence. Why can I not eat my cake and have it; not literally of course? Why can I not be happy doing what I do for a living? Why must I; like most everyone else be unhappy at my job?
Now the first thing that occurs to people reading an article like this is; I’m asking them to quit their day jobs. No. Definitely not; because if you quit your day job I won’t be the one to feed you.
You’re on your own.
What I am saying however is; you can be happy at your day job; whatever that is. In fact you should be happy at your day job; whatever it is. If you’re not, then something is the matter. Time should be devoted to understanding the source of the unhappiness and seeking solutions. For example, as crazy as Lagos traffic is there are ways around it. You do not have to stay stuck in it; swearing at bus drivers and okada riders and sweating like Christmas chicken.
Though sometimes being stuck is inevitable, you can avoid the worst of it. All it requires is a lot of planning, awareness and discipline.
Why are you unhappy at your job; and what can be done to fix it?
Bottom line is; be less of a ‘such is life’ person and be more of a ‘life is what you make it’ person. Live intentionally.
As I write this, I am signing divorce papers. And I have handed my mistress her walking permit too. I’m going to marry life – and the only way to do that is to live it.
Fucking stress. I’m done.
The sun was calling it a day; kissing the tall roofs of Palm Groove with fiery red lips when Priye and Fola; straining and staggering moved the last of the furniture from the back of Priye’s Uncle’s truck into the house.
“Drop am hia,” Priye said.
Fola shook his head. “No o – Frank said we should put it against the wall.”
“Yes na; we go put am down fest come shift am go wall.”
“No. It can affect the rug – “
Priye dropped his end of the settee. “Na why I dey quick tire for you be dat – you and your yeye English. Who you wan kill?”
“That’s I get tired of you too, you and your nonsense broken English. When it’s not as though you’re not educated…”
“Guys! Guys abeg chill! Haba na,” Frank said as he walked into the room, clutching a bottle. “You both are here for me, can you not forget that?” He looked Priye in the eye and shook his head. “Priye….”
Grumbles pouring from his lips sounding like a rumbling stomach, Priye hoisted his end of the settee and moved it along with Fola till they got to the desired wall. Carefully both men lowered it till it was sitting properly. Fola exhaled and wiped his forehead as Priye slumped on the settee.
As though on order, Sofia emerged from another room bearing a tray with cold drinks. “Thanks guy,” she beamed at the breathing-hard couple. “I didn’t think to bring alcohol, but next time I promise.”
Fola couldn’t hide his admiration. “It’s not a big deal o jare. This would do fine for me. I don’t know about Priye sha.” He took a bottle from the tray as Sofia lowered it before glancing at Priye. “How about you, area?”
“Like say I no dey drink minerals. Thank you jo,” the last part he directed at Sofia as he took the remaining bottle off her tray.
Sofia smiled and softly nudged Frank. “Where’s James?”
“Oh a customer called about an urgent delivery and I figured it would be best if he handled it himself.” He put his bottle to his lips.
“Chei!” Priye exclaimed. “This house come fine. Abi how you see am?” He asked Frank.
The friends moved for Frank as he joined them on the sofa and together they looked around the apartment. It was finally together; everything was as he wanted it. He nodded his appreciation and touched bottles with his friends.
“Thank you guys,” Frank began. “To new beginnings.”
“Yes o,” Fola started before suddenly laughing. “Oh men,” he started, wiping his mouth. “New beginnings. Hehehehe.”
Priye and Frank exchanged glances. “I’m sure you’ll share what the joke is abi?” Frank asked.
“Sorry jare. It’s not a big deal and it’s not you, Frank. You remember when I told you we were celebrating our boss’ sixtieth birthday?”
“Yes, that was last – about two months ago na,” Frank interjected.
“Well, you won’t believe what happened. My oga has this secretary; Eyitayo. Crazy woman. Anyway, while we were worrying what to buy oga and all that, she decides to surprise the sixty-year old with a blowjob.”
Frank spluttered. “What??” he said incredulously, catching Sofia’s eye on the opposite couch. Fola nodded, smiling.
“You heard me right. Blowjob.”
“Na my kind secretary be dat,” Priye said, nodding. “Ol boy!”
“The problem was oga, according to office gist, had never experienced a blowjob. Not once. You can imagine what that would do to a happily-married sixty year old bj virgin.”
“Oh man,” Frank said, slowly shaking his head.
“That’s right. The man simply went insane. And of course, his wife had to bear the brunt of it. I can’t even think of what happened – maybe he would have gotten away with his sudden requests for head had he not mistakenly shouted the secretary’s name during a session. In short sha, oga’s marriage is on the rocks.”
“Oh man,” Frank said again. “That’s a secretary from hell. How are you guys taking it?”
Fola chuckled. “It’s a joke in the office. Guys be asking if they can experience her life-changing oral skills and what not. Crazy girl just says ‘let me know when you’re sixty’.”
Amidst the general laughter, Priye said, “Na de madam fault na. How woman go allow her husband reach sixty years without giving him once? Shay she wan make de man get cancer ni? She’s evil!”
Frank chortled – and choked on his laughter as he caught Sofia’s unsmiling face.
“So it’s the wife’s fault?” She asked Priye.
“Yes na,” he answered enthusiastically. “Every woman should know to never let her man go without any of these three things: food, sex and head! What was she looking at for sixty years?”
Frank and Fola couldn’t hide their surprise at hearing their friend speak proper English.
Priye shrugged. “Because I no dey use am no mean say I no get am,” he said.
Sofia shifted forward. “So if he wanted…if he wanted head couldn’t he have just asked for it? Instead of allowing some other woman corrupt him for the one he has been with – “
“You be woman na. Wetin you know about those kain tins? Abeg enter kitchen jo,” Priye interrupted her.
“Now hold up – “ Frank started to speak.
“Don’t worry baby,” Sofia said, smiling. “I should enter the kitchen?” she asked Priye. “What do I know about such things? Maybe not much, but I know someone like me gave birth to you, and she didn’t do it in the kitchen. Maybe you should think about that, the next time you embarrass her by insulting women.”
In the silence that followed Sofia stood up, took the empty bottle Frank was holding, kissed his cheek and disappeared into the house. Fola looked like he was struggling to hold back a fart – laughter erupted from him suddenly. The other two eyed each other and then joined in.
“I like this your madam, Frank! I swear! She’s a keeper!” Fola whispered loudly. “How body, Priye?”
The laughter started again, with Priye looking embarrassed. “An na play I dey follow am play o wey she jus’ enter me like dat,” he grumbled.
“What do I always tell you about this your woman talk? What do I always say, ehn Priye?”
“Ehn, e don do na, Frank. Shebi my eye don clear now?” He put his bottle on the table and stood up. “Where she dey?”
A frown appeared between Frank’s eyebrows. “Now hold up – “ he started.
“She’s in the kitchen like you asked her to go,” Fola said, holding up a hand before Frank’s face, effectively silencing him. “Go and find her,” he concluded to Priye who nodded and disappeared into the house.
“What – “ Frank started again but Fola hushed him. “What do you think he wants to go and do – beat your woman?” Looking at Frank as though something was growing on his face, Fola found the remote. “Can we watch some soccer?”
“There’s enough fuel in the gen for the night,” Fola said, indicating the generator as he stepped out ahead of Priye. “I made sure he filled it.”
“Thank you guys!” Frank enthused.
Priye and Fola faced their grinning friend as he stood outside his gate – the gate to his new house. It was dark; the groans of a thousand generators filled the night with raucous noise.
“No be anything na. We dey together always.”
Fola nodded and pounded Frank’s back. “What he said.”
Together they turned to go; Fola leading the way to the truck that brought them. From where he stood he could hear the engine come on in spite of the generator noise, and he waved before turning to go in the house.
As he opened the door Sofia hugged him. “Hello Franklin,” she said before she kissed him. He kissed her back, mouth lingering on hers before he turned away to close the door behind him. “I expected you to leave with them,” he said.
She shrugged. “I just didn’t want you to be here by yourself for another night. But if you don’t want me to stay – “
He put his arms around her again. “It’s not like that at all o. Why would I not want you to stay? I just – “ he broke off, looking everywhere but at her. “You don’t like being alone with me is all.”
Sofia stepped out of his arms, turned her back to him and hugged herself. “It’s not like that, Franklin. It’s not you…”
He stepped up and put his arms around her gently. “It’s okay, really. I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to, and you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. There’s no hurry.”
Sofia turned in his arms and pushed her mouth against his, kissing him lingeringly. “You sure about that?” she asked.
“It’s not fun talking to papa again since he coughs half of the time,” Frank said into the phone in his hand. “At least he’s out of the hospital.”
Knocking the ash off his cigarette, he leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling while listening to his mother. It was early evening yet; he expected Sofia anytime from that moment.
“…yes ma, Idowu told me. I’m sure papa is still upset with me about that but it’s not my fault. The heart wants what it wants.”
“So when are we meeting this new girl of yours?” His mother asked.
“New girl? Mama, I’ve been dating Sofia for almost five months now!”
“As long as I haven’t met her she is still new. So…”
Frank chuckled. “Don’t worry mama. I will bring her to you as soon the time is right. There’s no need to rush o. Not when it comes to matters like this – “
“You don’t want to rush?! Frank, how much longer do you think your father has on this earth? How much longer do you think I have for that matter? My son, don’t make me start talking like those Nollywood women o!”
They both laughed at that.
“Mama, I will bring Sofia to greet you soon. I promise.”
The relief he heard in her voice was worth it. “That is good, ehn Frank? We thank God.”
His phone beeped, indication that another call was coming in. “Mama I have to go,” he said.
“Take care, my son. Give me notice before you bring her o,” his mother said before hanging up.
He took the second call.
“Hi Frank,” Igo’s matter-of-fact tone came on.
“Igo! So good to hear your voice. How na?”
She chuckled lightly. “I’m good o. Really good. You nko?”
“Everything is fine. What’s going on?”
“Well…there’s this – “ there was an awkward pause. “My boyfriend needs a tailor urgently, Frank.”
He sat up, forgetting the cigarette in his hand for a moment. “And you recommended your ex-husband?”
“No, silly! I recommended a very dear friend of mine.” She cleared her throat. “We are friends, are we not?”
Frank took a deep puff from the cigarette before speaking. “Ah – sure we are.”
“Okay then. I’ll just send him to the shop.”
“Let me know soon as he gets there, I’ll call James and tell him to get on it immediately.”
“Thank you, Frank.”
“At all. After all what are friends for?”
“There you are.”
Sofia came in the house and hugged him, burying her face against his shoulder. He hugged her back, tangling his fingers in her coiffure and closing his eyes, inhaling the rich smell of her. He made to ease away from her – but she held on tight.
“Are you okay?” He tried to lift her face to look at her but she moved her head away and put it back where it was. The sour taste of unused adrenaline was in his throat; his palms began to perspire in spite of the air-conditioned room they were standing in.
She inhaled and lifted her face to his. In the white light of the living room he could see her face clearly; she was pale and looked like she had been crying.
“Kiss me, Franklin.” She said.
He obliged, and for the next few moments all that could be heard were soft moans and inhaled breaths. Then she pushed away.
“Franklin,” she sighed. And then she stared fixedly at him. “I’m pregnant.”
The Curse of the Nigerian Male
I’m coming from the Island; Ikoyi to be exact (anywhere from Marina to Epe is the Island; deal), from the Waterside where I’d just had fish peppersoup and Smirnoff Ice with a friend. It’s a few minutes after eleven; I’m racing on the Third Mainland Bridge eager to get home. There’s usually power at this time of the day; I’m thinking. And if there isn’t, I still have some fuel in the gen.
I want to get some writing done before I sleep.
A few meters past the Ebutte Metta exit I spot a motionless vehicle. Beside it is a woman who’s equally just as still. I should stop; I think. I should stop and ask if she needs help. Besides, she isn’t safe where she is. That’s the humane thing to do.
Thinking back, I wonder if I was gunning for the Nobel Price for Stupid because anyone who’s familiar with that stretch of road knows it’s usually bad karma to be caught there at that time of the day with motor trouble. All sorts of sordid tales have been told over the years; from robbery and assaults to rape and molestation. I really don’t know what I was thinking; I doubt I was even thinking. I stop the car and exit it, feeling like some superhero.
I intend to ask if she needs help; if she’s okay. I get as far as opening my mouth when she screams and reaches for something in the backseat of her car.
Gun; my hyperactive imagination shrieks in letters of fire. For a second I think I’m in New York again; pulse pounding as I am pushed against the wall by a policeman who probably thinks every black man with a hand in his jacket pocket is packing. Whatever the case, I am not waiting to see what she has on her backseat. I do a 180, run – run – back to my car, jump in and go from zero to ninety in five seconds.
I can still smell rubber burning.
I am at Ogudu before I realize my car is screaming; I am at Ogudu before I’m aware of anything again. My heart is doing hoops and spins; my teeth are chattering, I am scared. I have to verbally tell myself to take my foot off the accelerator before I can slow down the vehicle. By now I am approaching Alapere Estate, so I just ease into the filling station just past the estate exit, turn off the engine and get out of the car.
My legs are trembling so much I have to sit on the tarmac. Sweat pops from all over me like a pure water sachet just pulled out of a really cold freezer; I look at my hands and to my absolute horror, burst into tears.
I am crying.
After living in predominantly-white countries for a bit, you get used to people crossing the street to avoid you, people changing seats on a bus when they see you approaching or women clutching their purses and walking faster because a young black male is approaching. The thing is in Lagos, the crime is not being black.
The crime is being male.
At a time when just one of my friends had a car and we wanted to go out, we would dump ourselves into the vehicle but be on the lockout for police checkpoints. Once we spotted one up ahead, the car would stop out of sight, about one or two of us would get out, walk past the checkpoint and wait for the vehicle to catch up.
Three or more males in a car? Potential suspect things. Even if you weren’t caught with any illegal goods, the time wasting alone was insane.
Maybe those are too-serious issues. Maybe I should talk about how you’re looking at a woman and she’s looking down to see if she’s showing too much flesh. Or how you want to ask someone for directions and they just look straight ahead or hurry past you, assuming you want to beg for transport money. Or maybe I should talk about how I hesitate to invite a woman over to the crib these days; not because I’m afraid of her refusing, more like I’m afraid of her reasons for refusing.
I’m not a rapist; I want to scream.
But should that be her problem?
What is the problem – or maybe we should begin like this; is there really a problem? If so, what is it and how can it be solved?
I can’t lie; one phrase that makes me clench my teeth and want to hit something is the all men are dogs something. I mean, ‘statistics’ seem to support the ridiculous notion that men think about sex every nine seconds. Just think about the implications of such a bogus statement. So; I’m paying a woman a compliment, she thinks I want to get between her legs. I’m smiling politely at a female receptionist she’s thinking I caught a glimpse of her breasts. I offer to help a stranded woman; she wonders at what point during the journey I’m going to make my move.
How about the unfortunate reality that quite a number of guys actually lost their virginity to an aunt, the house girl, ‘mummy’s friend’ and so on? How about the most unfortunate reality that Nigerian law does not acknowledge that a man can be raped? ‘Unlawful penetration’, that’s what the law calls it – and since it’s the man doing the penetrating…
How about the service girl at the bar, the fast food outlet, the store – who keeps flirting and making suggestive remarks just because I’m a guy therefore I am susceptible to her charms and feminine wiles? How about the bank cashier who cannot seem to get enough of my charm?
Or am I paranoid? Am I guilty of the same crime that ‘politeness is so rare these days people confuse it for flirting’ meme seeks to address?
The truth is, most people – most guys are moving so fast through the day they barely notice any of these things. Unfortunately, I’m a writer. All I do is notice. I cannot bury my head in the sand and act like well; sexism is a global phenomenon and it’s our turn here too, so I should just man up and deal with it. Unfortunately; sometimes it’s as intense as hearing voices in my head. I cannot turn it off.
Finally; I am done crying. My chest is still heaving; I’m still sweaty and shaky but the leaky faucet in eyes is exhausted for the moment. I stand up and brush my hands off, and briefly wonder what exactly made me cry; that I had run from a screaming woman or that I had been scared by a screaming woman.
Or maybe I’m just tired of humanity’s collective bullshit; how we can hardly resist treating one person a certain kind of way just because they are.
Black. White. Brown. Straight. Gay. Religious. Atheist. Fat. Thin. Male. Female. And all other categories we put ourselves in.
I remember a while ago I resided in some area ago; I was coming home one evening and as I walked towards my apartment, wondering if NEPA had been gracious enough during the day and I would get cold water to drink, my landlord’s last born tells me his father summons.
Sighing, I ignore my apartment and instead climb the stairs to his, open the door –
And find the Oputa panel waiting.
I am shown to a seat and before I am addressed I ask for a cup of cold water. The panel looks offended; but I couldn’t care less. I didn’t owe rent; so they were the ones interrupting. They could wait.
I drank my fill of water before looking at the panel members. “Yes?” I asked.
The landlord was equally blunt. “Young man, are you the one that impregnated my daughter?”
It was so unexpected I could only ask, “Ehn?” with my mouth hanging open after the question.
Then I realized; he had asked a question, not made a statement as he would have if he knew the answer. I adjusted on my seat and asked, “Have you asked your daughter?”
The man eyed his fellow panelists, looked back at me and nodded.
“What did she say?”
He folded his arms against his chest and grumbled. I knew then his daughter had refused to answer him so I said, “As soon as your daughter answers, I will.”
And I stood from my seat, intending to leave.
“Who else can it be?” He complained. “You’re the only irresponsible man in this area. A man your age – why are you not married?”
Irresponsible being the same or equal to being unmarried.
I stopped and turned to face him. “Baba, shebi you are married?”
“Ehen?” he answered aggressively.
“That must mean you cannot impregnate a woman again, shebi?”
“Who said – “ he shot forward in his seat, starting to evoke all sorts of gods and incantations. And then he realized what I had said. He sat back in his seat, eying me like a well-fed lion would eye a fat buffalo.
“Goodnight sir,” I said, bowing from the waist before exiting the building. It wasn’t long after that before I was evicted; but not before they discovered who had impregnated the landlord’s daughter.
Yinka, the manager of the bakery next door. Married with children. How many? I lost count (and interest) after attending the naming ceremony of the sixth.
Is it my fault I am male?
I get home at something past twelve and put on my laptop. Life goes on. I think about the woman I meant to help and try not to blame her; who knows what she’s been through? Yorubas say ‘if you close your eyes for a bad person to walk past, that’s where you’ll be when a good person goes by’. I think about the policemen who are occasionally extra-rough with me just because I’m male; I think about the cab I stop that drives past me to stop for the woman up ahead.
I think; and wonder what life would be like as a woman. It can’t be that hard to wear a skirt; I think.
But then, I remember the bra. And smile.
Maybe life as male in Nigeria is not so bad after all.