David And Jonathan

Friday nights were always lively at this club located somewhere in one of the more secluded parts of Lagos, but there was an extra dimension to the frenzy that night. It was as if the rain that fell earlier in the day did much to fuel the mood. Everyone was dressed in bright-coloured clothes as if previously planned, the diverse genres of music that seeped from the club’s loudspeakers influenced the dance moves on show, and no one chose to shy away from the drinks that flowed from table to table. Somewhere at one end of the room, two lovers were making out with that passion which suggested they may not have seen each other in months. No one could blame them though, this was one of the very few places where they could really express how they felt about each other.

Yes, this was one of the few hangouts in Lagos, or South-western Nigeria as a matter of fact, where two people of the same sex could give expression to the sexual desires they felt for each other. Club Rainbow, the most exquisite of the very few gay clubs in these parts, was strategically built in a part of town most difficult to locate or maintain surveillance, and thrived on patronage by some of those in the upper class who could effectively combine guts and discretion. For Alex and Bob, the two males whose lips were so passionately tangled, this was the best place they could celebrate the fourth year anniversary of their romantic relationship without the fear of being arrested, or worse still, lynched.

Seated at the club’s bar, apparently scouting for some boy-loving company, was Frank, a branch manager of one of the nation’s leading banks. Frank became aware of his sexual preference at the end of his secondary school days, and had managed to keep it under wraps since then, getting into relationships with ladies from time to time, of which the longest lasted for ten weeks. Standing six feet two inches tall and rather handsome, he was used to having lots of female bank staff and customers make passes at him, and they sometimes even teased him about his sexual orientation, not knowing that they were actually right. It was his habit to sneak in here every other weekend and cart a young man away to Hotel Pink Heaven, which was 50 minutes’ drive away and equally ‘hidden’. He wished that people knew what it felt like to be a woman trapped in a man’s body, or what it felt like to have ‘’ruptured chromosomes.’’ He liked to think that the bond in homosexual relationships was deeper than the emotional farce that prevailed everywhere between heterosexuals, where guys just wanted a convenient spot for their thrusts and paper dolls who called themselves ladies went for the highest bidder. He attributed society’s perception of gay people to a lack of appreciation of people’s individual psycho-physiological dispositions, and could only hope that there would surface more shrinks who could understand and explain things.

Laura and Diane, undergraduates whose romance had sparked off six months earlier, were chatting away at a table not too far off, their eyes radiating with amor as they looked at each other. Laura had been disowned by her Methodist parents as soon as she told them who she was upon entering the university, and had begun to fend for herself. She was now in her penultimate year in the state university’s Faculty of Law, and it wasn’t so hard convincing Sociology fresher Diane, who needed a break from her abusive father. They wished in both their minds that the world was as free for them as Club Rainbow was. They wished the nation’s legislators could face real pressing issues such as security, unemployment, power and education with the same zeal as they pursued the passing of the anti-gay bill, just to seem as if they were actually working. Unemployed graduates prowled the streets, inhabitants of Northern Nigeria slept with both eyes open, roads had remained death-traps, tertiary institutions had been shut down for months, yet all those pot-bellied moneybags knew how to do was to clamp down on interactions between consenting adults, just to score some cheap moral points. It was not like a number of them had not been at this very club before.

George, impatient to set eyes on his date, had already set upon two bottles of Night Train, but in his fading sobriety, he managed to reflect on the all the cheerfulness around, and how things were so different out there. He wondered when society could accept him the same way the American society accepted Ricky Martin, Ellen Degeneres, or Raven Symone. For crying out loud, this was 2013, not 1994 when England-based footballer Justin Fashanu committed suicide due to the stigma that followed his decision to come out. He wondered why people could not be seen beyond their bedroom choices. How did his choice of sexual partners affect his next-door neighbour? Heaven knows how many intelligent and industrious Nigerians have had to leave the country because of their sexual orientation, he mused. That was how ideas and manpower are lost, yet people wail about brain drain. He could relate to this, as his architect ex-lover Iyke had left him for Australia two years before. So what if Jane prefers Helen to Charles? Should her brilliant ideas not earn her a job? Why should people be judged with only one aspect of their character? Yes, being gay was seen as a mental disorder some three decades ago, but so was it a crime to be black back then. Damn, even science as well as some pockets of Christianity tried to prove the supposed inferiority of blacks! Did Wentworth Miller’s sexual preference get in the way when he starred as Michael Scofield in Prison Break? Did it stop Ian Mckellen from perfecting his role as Magneto in X-men? Does being gay take anything from Elton John’s or Frank Ocean’s musical talent or prowess? Does it make Anderson Cooper a less efficient CNN anchor? These were questions George wanted the larger society to answer. He found a hero in U.S. gay politician Harvey Milk, who had been assassinated in the late 1970s for daring to advocate for gay rights.

In all the intense moments with Alex that night, Bob found time to think. He was no longer finding it easy to hide his true identity from the congregation of St. Anthony’s parish, where he served as a chief instrumentalist. He had been introduced to homosexual acts in his days at the junior seminary where he had his secondary school education, and after series of unsuccessful personal retreats, monastery visits and counselling, had chosen to accept who he had now seen himself as. He wished he was as lucky as Gabby, his secondary school classmate who moved with his family to England and eventually left the closet soon after, without the backlash and stigmatisation that would have followed if it had happened in Nigeria. He wished people could understand that being gay was more than matching outfits and butt lubrication, that it involved something much more selfless and sincere, like the friendship that existed in the Bible between David and Jonathan. He wished people could understand that two men could actually have much love for each other, or what did they think when the Bible referred to John as ‘’the one Jesus loved’’? Yes, it was a sin, but so was stealing and lying, so why did people have to set double standards? Why did people have to classify wrongs just to make themselves look better than others? Was he more guilty than the promiscuous lady who went for an abortion, or the office clerk who falsified cheques? Why did churches choose to preach hatred and resentment for gays from the pulpits, as opposed to Jesus’ teaching to show love? Why did people choose to play God over a pre-disposition? Well at least Pope Francis had decided to show a little bit tolerance, if his statement ‘’who am I to judge them?’’ was anything to go by. He loved to think that God loved him just the way he was, and hoped that one day people would understand St. Paul’s words ‘’love covers a multitude of sins’’.

There was however one person who did not share the sentiments of the rest of the people in Club Rainbow that night. Jerry barely managed to avoid throwing up as he turned away while snatching a beer bottle from Chris the bartender, who had chosen to apply eye shadow and lip gloss that day. Jerry was only here because he had come to get the money due to him from a Northern state legislator after he had linked up the latter to his gay cousin Ifeanyi. Jerry had discovered Ifeanyi’s tendencies shortly after they had begun to live together following the death of Ifeanyi’s parents, and while Jerry found it disgusting, he decided to see it as a financial opportunity. That was how he managed to pay rent at their little apartment in the state’s capital, and that was how Ifeanyi funded the pursuit of his Engineering degree at the state’s federal university. The deal was simple: get a rich butt-thirsty fellow, link them up to his cousin, get paid in advance, and get the balance after their rendezvous whose details he didn’t want to imagine. He couldn’t understand why a man would want to choose Brad Pitt in bed over Sofia Vergara, or Jon Dumelo over Nadia Buari. Except for the goose and a few other annoying species, animals didn’t even get down with those of their own gender.

Jerry’s urge to walk out could only intensify as he saw two men hold each other by the waist, heading to the rest room. If only I didn’t have to come get money from that filthy Alhaji, he said to himself. He wished that there would be an opportunity to gather all these ‘’sexually confused beings’’ (as he liked to call them) from all over the world into one building and set them ablaze, like God cleaned out Sodom, or like Hitler tried to rid the planet of Jews. He wanted them to ask themselves how they would be here tonight if their parents had chosen to follow the path they now did. Maybe the world’s population would have been a couple of millions rather than seven billion as we now had it. Or why didn’t God churn out Bruce and Steve the same away he made Adam and Eve? And for those who felt they could just adopt children, didn’t they think that the kids would have problems knowing whom to call Dad or Mum? He admired the stand which Nigeria had taken so far; world powers could go to blazes with their foreign aid. He secretly hated Ifeanyi for being gay, moreso as he loved to be the one doing the ‘receiving’, but what could he do? They needed money! After a long nauseating wait, Jerry finally got his money and stormed out without so much as a word of appreciation, hoping that he would never have to be back in that club anytime soon.

Jerry would eventually get his wish three weekends later, as irate residents chose to reduce the club to a pile of debris. They had been showing their discontent from the very first day the club building was erected three years earlier, but the efforts of police and some big shots in the state had kept them in check. That fateful Saturday night however, they decided they had enough. They had to make it clear that this was still Nigeria, and that people like Frank and Laura who dreamt of freedom for the ‘’sexual minority’’ would have to go find it elsewhere. They burnt the club to the ground, and with it the romance between Alex and Bob, who had been unfortunate to be within club premises when the residents struck, and were too drunk to escape.

(Follow on Twitter @Le_Bouquineur)

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Sketch: Courtroom Melodies

It’s about 8.45am when you arrive at the court premises. It’s forty-five minutes past the time when you were supposed to be there, but you have reasons why, or so you like to think. You slept late after watching episodes of ‘’Suits’’ long into the night. Then again, your family has a way of always keeping you behind schedule, from drab sessions of morning devotion, to mentally manufactured chores, to a tempting recipe you eventually give in to. There was also the matter of being too shy (or proud, depending on how you see it) to get into a bus while in your well-tailored suit and tie, waiting for a flashier taxi cab to come your way. It matters little, you are going to fill in 8.00am as your time of arrival in that logbook which you have to present to that boot-camp of a campus where you have one last hurdle to cross before officially earning the appellation ‘’lawyer’’. After all, lies and logbooks go hand in hand, as you have found out soon enough.

You are barely able to sign in the attendance register before it is taken away. You find out that the chairs reserved for externs (that is what you wanna-be lawyers are called here) are all occupied, but fortune smiles at you, as you get to have space created for you by the lady whom you would later have a crush on, and this kind gesture is crowned by a wink. The cause list (list of cases for that day) soon shows up in limited quantity, and you predictably lose out in the scramble. You inquire why there can’t be enough copies, and the response you get is that you are lucky to get to share (which turns out to be true, as when you visit another court several weeks later, you find that the cause list is on a single sheet without duplicates, and handwritten.)

The judge steps in just when you are done exchanging pleasantries with those around you. The wig he dons is not as white as the hair on his head, and he is reported to be in his sixties, but a good pay package has made the years kind to his looks. Just before he orders the registrar to call out the cause list, a group of haggard, fierce-looking men are brought into the courtroom. They have each been charged for various offences, ranging from kidnap to rape to murder to managing a brothel. They are all bound hand and foot, grouped in twos. ‘’So much for the law on bringing an accused to court unfettered’’, you say to yourself. They are made to sit in front of those whose matters are civil and family related. One of them begins to read a Bible, and you just feel that he wouldn’t be here if he had kept to the words contained therein. While the lengthy cause list is being read out, you notice that one other accused person can’t help ogling the short beautiful extern sitting in front of you. You let her know and she looks away in embarrassment, but not without thinking that there is something dangerously sexy about this man in chains.

The first case  involves a charge of rape. The counsel to the accused is not in court, and as such the case has to be adjourned, since the accused and his counsel must be present at every stage of trial. The next case involves a murder charge. The accused has claimed that the confessional statement he made to the police was obtained by way of torture, and so a ‘’trial within trial’’ is being conducted to prove whether his confession was made willingly. The accused man opens his shirt during his testimony and shows all sorts of wounds, some caused by hot irons and others by gun butts. The prosecution counsel takes him on a cross-examination in an attempt to discredit his words, and all she says from start to finish is a repeated mouthing of the phrase ‘’I put it to you’’. You wonder what she could have possibly achieved by that, and you heave a deep sigh when you learn that she is about eight years old in the legal profession.

Besides the next case which involves jumping bail and the surety called to show cause why he should not forfeit the sum of #500,000 which he signed as bail bond, the other criminal matters witness adjournment after adjournment for all sorts of reasons, from  ill-health to bereavement of the lawyers involved. By this time the court orderly has taken position and is subtly taking a nap, his eyes concealed by a pair of dark sunshades. The first civil case is called for mention, it is a land matter, and the only interesting thing about it is that the two lawyers representing the plaintiff are husband and wife. Whispers are heard round the court as they announce their appearance, and as they leave, you recall your contribution to an opinion poll in a student magazine a year ago, where you stated that you couldn’t see yourself waking up next to a lawyer.

The next case is one for breach of a contract to supply cartons of milk. The lawyer representing the defendant asks for an adjournment. He explains that he could not prepare his statement of defence all the while because he had been preparing for his best friend’s wedding, and maybe he would have made more sense if only this was not his 5th adjournment in a row. Predictably the plaintiff’s lawyer does not buy it, and soon a fierce argument ensures. It soon gets into questions of who is older at the Bar, and culminates into one of them saying ‘’You dey mad ni?’’ The judge soon calls them to order, but not before directing them to see him in chambers the next day. ‘’Ghen ghen’’, says Miss Future Crush in a low voice, ‘’they will hear it tomorrow’’. At this time one extern sneaks in, managing to squeeze out some butt space at the back. He is not even fully dressed, and you say to yourself that he is lucky not to be in the neighbouring court, remembering how one extern in that court was ordered to stand throughout proceedings for not wearing a suit.

The next case involves a petition for divorce. By this time two other registrars can’t take it anymore, as they brazenly put their heads on the table in a state of  slumber. The woman has filed her petition papers, and today the man is to reply, but his lawyer is nowhere to be found. After a long wait the judge loses his patience, and the man steps into the witness box to defend himself. It is a pathetic story involving stillbirths, animal sacrifices and mixing food with water from a woman’s privates, with knowing glances taken at the woman from you and the others from time to time. You find out that the man’s lawyer failed to show up because outstanding appearance fees were being owed.

‘’But Rule 21 of the Rules Of Professional Conduct says lawyers should not withdraw from employment once assumed’’, you say.

‘’Dey do RPC for there, ‘’the extern without a suit cuts in, ‘’na when you never fit change shoe for like four years, na then naim you go know how far.’’

Next up is another land dispute. That is the major cause of litigation in this part of the country, and this case is one of those which make you want to walk up to the witness after his testimony and say, ‘’Cool story bro.’’ Beyond the courtroom drama, what amazes you is that the lawyer to one of the litigants had to borrow a wig and gown from another lawyer who had concluded his case earlier on, the exchange occurring away from watchful eyes of course (except yours).  You wonder why a practising lawyer cannot even afford the major apparel he wears for his trade. ‘’What then did he wear for his Call To Bar ceremony?’’, you muse. You choose to stretch your bored legs outside and you find a lawyer who graduated from your former university when you were in your first year; it was her who represented the guy charged with murder and claiming torture. You both get talking, but you don’t know when your hands keep unconsciously pointing to your pocket in the course of your catch-up discussion. She eventually greases your palm with ‘’something for lunch’’ which you accept thankfully, but which you feel should have been more, given her number of years in the game.

The judge eventually rises for the day one hour later. Besides the age factor, his other reason is that his book of record on which he writes has exceeded the day’s allotted space, and you are tempted to ask why electronic means of recording court proceedings cannot be allowed in this 2nd decade of the 21st century. He soon calls you externs into his chambers, and asks you all what you gathered from the day’s proceedings. He notices that you are all visibly tired, and is seconds away from bidding the day’s goodbye when one of you ruins the moment by asking a long question. Yes, it is that overzealous extern, the very one who chose to ask a ‘’jurisprudential’’ question on your first day here when you were all touring the court premises, and right now his face looks ever ripe for a punch as it did on that day. You all eventually leave the judge’s chambers, and while Miss Future Crush gets a lift home (her gender gives her that edge), you have to walk a few metres to the junction.

The blazing sun and the terrible traffic act in concert to ensure that you get home totally exhausted. And yes, you put your swag aside and take a bus home this time. You give muffled responses to your father’s inquiry on how your day was, and you don’t even get to change clothes before pouncing on supper. You eventually retire to Dreamland, too tired even to take a shower, but not before some mental stock-taking and pondering on whether all the trouble to bag the title ‘’Barrister’’ is actually worth it in the end.

The Paper Doll Musings

So here I am, looking through the window of a hotel room located somewhere in the most ‘’southerly’’ state of the country. I have no academic endeavours to worry about, I’ve gone way past the level of being at the mercy of disgruntled uncompromising academicians, I don’t have to deal with the pressure of being on a reality TV show, and if Love was looking for me, she wouldn’t think of finding me here.

The walls and the view from the window provide me with something different from the thoughts of brawling legislators and terrible traffic. Sure, a little company along the bedsheets wont be out of place, but the prevailing solitude allows me to think, and the drizzling outside helps for a perfect atmosphere.  My thoughts set off in flight motion, and they eventually arrive on somewhere they’ve been visiting for a couple of days. No, not on ghosts of past writers, but the idea of a certain type of lady, the kind of girl i would like to call ‘’The Paper Doll’’. I use this label because it is the mildest way of aptly describing this kind of girl. The Paper Doll type of girl is one-dimensional like paper, with little to offer beyond the surface, and can hardly survive a serious test of character. Good to look at, play with and ‘use’ to an extent, but ultimately serves you up with nothing beyond the face value, with only as much worth as a coin.

The Paper Doll can be found in every corner of the active population, from the office to the shopping mall to the lecture hall to the conference centres and even the church choirs. What sets her apart is her seeming sense of class on the surface level, which makes you want to stare more times than one. Easy on the eye, and well aware of that fact, she inspires all kinds of ideas in previously idle heads, and could ultimately influence your actions for that prevailing passage of time. But a doll can only interest us for so long, and with time you wish you could get back the minutes (or weeks) of your life spent ogling and thinking (if you are not shallow, that is). Nurture her, add colour to her life, shape her up, and in the end you will find out that there’s not much you can do for a lady whose personality and character can be likened to a lifeless doll.

The Paper Doll is usually of the opinion that all there is to being a lady is hair, lip gloss, a firm bust, and a well-shaped ‘’gluteus maximus’’. Spending over half her life in narcisisstic adoration, she sets up mirrors in every angle of her visual scope and grimaces when one strand of a weavon goes out of position. She fails to appreciate the fine line between compliments and flattery, and lives for being the focus of all eyes within radius. Having no one to thank but herself for her assets, she takes selfies at all sorts of locations ranging from ATM stands to toilets, and is not scared to rub it in the face of those who are not as eye-warming.

With little to offer in terms of ideas, she can be compared to a moving plastic, floating about in high-heeled shoes and a handbag. Indeed when you look closely, there is not much that exists to distinguish her from a life-size doll. Excitement caused by what your eyes behold soon develops into disappointment when your ears meet what her mouth spews out. You discover that so much attention has been paid to her outer shell that the intellectual aspect of her being has suffered great neglect. Her basic communication skills, application of not-so-common sense to simple situations and understanding of expressions leave much to be desired. She can’t contribute meaningfully to conversations since her level of mental development wont provide for that. What can you expect from a girl whose only sources of knowledge are MTV Base, Africa Magic and The Style Network? A detailed survey of wherever she is found (from hospitals to corporate establishments) would show that she only serves as eye candy, since she can offer little more. For her, it’s matter over mind.

It has never really been a crime to flaunt what you got, but even she finds it difficult to go about this in a respectable way. She chooses to join the bandwagon of the prevailing fashion trend, with little regard to her body structure or even her comfort, and she ends up being a fashion victim. Her quest to remain in centre stage causes her to create an odd combination of colours which when assessed alongside her complexion, gets us staring, but in derision rather than admiration. The Paper Doll is the kind who has problems knowing what to wear to where, yea, attending a dinner while clad in a dress which gets her searching for newspapers to place over her thighs, or getting on a bus in a loose pair of trousers knowing she stepped out of her house devoid of underpants. She lives this way, failing to realize that she will never be seen for anything beyond eye shadows, legs and (possible) implants.

She hardly ever knows what she wants, but is nonetheless insatiable in her misguided cravings. It’s all about the spotlight for Miss Paper Doll, and since money is what shines up the plastic frame, she goes to any length to keep her account balance healthy, and doesn’t mind having to digest two joysticks at the same time. She cant recognize true friendship when she sees it, brushing aside anyone who wont assist her in staying ‘’classy’’ (which translates to trashy when you dare move beyond the surface). Armed with a myopic perspective of life, she mostly surrounds herself with other dolls, and such a circle is found to be familiar with lots of gossip and jealousy. She ordinarily wont attract those in search for true value, and even when you accidentally get shot by Cupid (confusing her spiteful attitude with coyness), you get to realize soon enough that what you loved was not her, but actually the thought of her.

There are those who bring up the argument of whether you would want to choose Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala over Kim Kardashian, and while I fail to understand why anyone would pick sex tapes and needless drama over international summits, I would love to add that true beauty radiates from within. For the ladies out there who have chosen books over silicon, I don’t think I’m the only one who finds intelligence really sexy. To the semi-nerds out there, be proud of your goggles and dull nail polish, be yourself, be sure that you’ll only get people with an eye for true worth around you, and let no Paper Doll kill your vibe.

Ghosts Of Writers Past

I will never know how i got there, but there was just something alluringly weird about this antiquated mansion where I found myself. Clad in an indigenously Fulani dashiki I couldn’t remember buying, I groped my way around this place which was well beyond all electronic maps and intelligence radars. Something about the thick darkness egged me on, as I supported myself with the walls of the hallway.

It must have been fifty minutes or so later when I bumped my head against what turned out to be a door. With what was left of my fatigued frame, I gave it a push and predictably I fell to the floor as it gave way. I was however reinvigorated by the sight that greeted my eyes. It was a large hall beautifully lit by flame torches, and in the middle of it stood the widest table I had ever seen. The table was surrounded with chairs of all shapes and designs, from wooden tripods to straw stools. There was something incredibly solemn about the hall, an air of greatness impossible to ignore. No one was seated at table however, so I chose to probe further and survey the hall.

In twenty decades I couldn’t have imagined what next I saw. At a corner of the hall were Aristotle and Plato playing what looked like a B.C. version of Chess, with Cicero watching closely, impatiently eager to take on whoever won. ”I’ll be lucky to play today, their last game lasted for two days”, Cicero said to me. Besides cracking 2nd century B.C jokes and teasing one another’s hairstyle, this game was all they were about. They had probably accepted the fact that the ideals expressed in their works were now mere Utopian concepts.

Awestruck but even more curious, I moved further. Not too far off sat the Greek poet Homer. Watching him engage in deep soliloquy, I doubted that he would ever know how much power lay in his poems Troy and Odyssey. I wondered how so much life could be invoked on paper that it had been subjected to several re-creations, of which Brad Pitt (Achilles) and Armand Assante (Odysseus), for all their acting prowess, could only muster a faint reflection of Homer’s imagery. The stool occupied by Homer had only minutes before been occupied by William Shakespeare. That was a man who in his time redefined the art of writing and indeed the English language. Transcending cultures, he had invented a number of words used today, including the term ”swagger”, which was the only way to describe the manner with which he now moved towards The Table. I wanted to ask why he didn’t try to simplify the language employed in his works, but then I was afraid of being the object of the aggression which he still harboured from being unable to eat his Easter eggs on the day he was last seen alive in 1616.

There had to be more, I mused. As i probed further with my eyes and feet, I would find Jonathan Swift, Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain engaged in a fierce argument about whose novel provided more adventure in its day. Swift stoutly defended ”Gulliver’s Travels”, R. L. Stevenson made a case for ”Treasure Island” and Twain felt ”Tom Sawyer” was more superior. They were eventually hushed by a shrill voice, that of Charles Dickens. There I was, face to face with a man who did a great job at penning down the socio-economic situation of his time, aptly expressed in ”Oliver Twist” and ”A Christmas Carol”. He asked me how London fared, and showed no emotion at my response.

My first reaction to finding Niccolo Machiavelli seated on a pentagram-shaped mat was to stare at him in hateful admiration. I wondered where he derived the principles highlighted in ”The Prince”, principles which had been applied by tyrants centuries after its publication, and had wreaked havoc on generations. As if he could read my thoughts, he muttered, ”The Prince? Oh well it was necessary for Italy at the time.” I still itched to interrogate him when I felt a firm hand on my right shoulder. The hand was that of H. Rider Haggard, the mind responsible for ”King’s Solomon’s Mines” and ”Allan Quatermain”, pioneer works of the Lost World literary genre which dwelt on the (then) unexplored regions of Africa. Rider Haggard was in a matter of seconds called away. it was his turn to guide John Milton to The Table, since the latter had mysteriously lost the bronze walking stick which aided his movement. I took a deep breath as I looked in admiration at Milton, who didn’t let his impaired vision stand in the way of ”Paradise Lost” and other offshoots of his poetry.

The sight of Christopher Marlowe and Oscar Wilde chatting away did much to fuel the atmosphere. They had been comparing their respective works ”Doctor Faustus” and ”The Picture Of Dorian Gray”, which had both centred on characters trading their souls for temporary bliss. Marlowe, still bearing the scar from the mortal wound sustained to his head in 1593, laughed when I told him how England presently looked like, screaming, ”and they called me a heretic!” Wilde, ever eager to give lectures on hedonism and fun-seeking, grinned when I told him of his words ”The love of oneself is a lifelong romance” being one of my favourite quotes.

A few steps further, and I was soon amusing myself watching George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway try to serenade Mary Ann Evans (known in books as George Eliot.) I marvelled at the imagery employed by Orwell in ”Animal Farm” (actually a political satire) and he sighed when he found that the world was now full of so much government propaganda and media control which he illustrated in ”1984”. Hemingway still bore the scar of his shotgun wound self-inflicted in 1961, and I had half a mind to ask why he gave up on himself, when ironically ”The Old Man And The Sea” centred on the themes of hope and resilience. I could understand why Evans chose to adopt the pen name George; the life of an Englishwoman between the 17th and 19th century was rather hard and there was no way ”Silas Marner” would have gone as far as it did if the cover print had bore Mary Anne. The mood was soon ruined by A. E. Housman’s morbid musings. Typical Housman, who in his time avoided love and preached about early death in poems like ”To An Athlete Dying Young.”

A debate was brewing among Richard Wright, Christopher Okigbo, Peter Abrahams and Cyprian Ekwensi at the farthest left corner of the hall. The quartet had found one another most comfortable to relate with since their arrival at the mansion, and in all their verbal spars, agreed that a lot had changed for Cush’s descendants. Abrahams couldnt believe that the South Africa illustrated in ”Mine Boy” was now controlled by people of his complexion, and Richard Wright had to laugh when I told him that the U.S.A was presently ruled by an African-American, a feat that could never have been envisaged when ”Black Boy” was published. Okigbo was mad at the fact that the Biafran dream, for which he abandoned his poetry for rifles and earned himself a room in the mansion, had since faded away. Ekwensi on the other hand couldnt believe the violent mess which Northern Nigeria, the scene for ”Burning Grass” and ”The Passport Of Mallam Ilia”, had been reduced to. From time to time they beckoned on newcomer Chinua Achebe to join them, but he declined, preferring to sit alone on his wheelchair with a permanent scowl on his face, brooding about what his country and his people had become. Never had there been a book which sealed a nation’s mood and spelt out its underlying socio-political divide like ”There Was A Country” did.

Thirty minutes or so later, and The Table got surrounded with all these heroes occupying every chair, ready for supper. I had been hesitant to join, feeling most unworthy, but Dickens reassured me with the words ”get your backside some comfort, lad, and pamper that belly of yours”.

”Yes, you may sit here until someone new shows up, maybe Wole (Soyinka) or (Ngugi) Wa Thiongo”, Achebe joined in. ”Those two should know that their time there isnt exactly in abundant figures.”

My mind was a perfect combination of excitement and nervousness as I threw questions to each of these great writers past, from their source of inspiration, to their love lives, to their struggles with society. I mentioned J.K. Rawlings’ ”Harry Potter”, met with a collective sneer except from William Butler Yeats, known for his interest in astrology and occultism which reflected in his poems. When I talked about how many sales had been generated by E.L’s ”Fifty Shades Of Grey”, an air of disappointment could be felt all around the table. They could not understand why ideas were now so lacking in Literature that Sex had to become the major theme of an entire piece.

Supper that day was roast beef and soup, the kind of soup described in ”Oliver Twist” as strong enough for two hundred and fifty persons if enough water was added. It had been prepared by Charles and Mary Lamb, best known for transliterating Shakespeare’s works into simple prosaic form. Getting my mud chair in positions, I got my hands on the beef and reached for a bite…..

If my pillow were a living thing, it would have screamed from having my teeth sunk so deep into it. No, this was no hall, this was my bedroom located somewhere in one of Nigeria’s southern states. ”Did I really have to wake up from that?”, I repeatedly asked myself. All at once I yearned to be in that mansion, that table, seated next to Achebe. I didnt want to wait a decade longer. Questions began to seep into my mind, from my ability to live a solitary life, to the ability to withstand societal opposition and ridicule, to the possibility of health risks. Then my eyes darted around the room, meeting with a dark suit, a Manchester United jersey and a video game console as they went along. After minutes of dwelling on future plans and deciding that I was not yet ready for that mud chair, I heaved a deep sigh and shut my eyes as Sleep locked me once again in her warm embrace.