Friday, August 21, 2015

A Cynic's Guide to Taking Chances

Long before I go in I know it’s going to hurt. But I go in anyway, because on my New Year Resolutions list it’s right there, number four: take more chances. I am taking a gamble on my heart.

But I will never tell you this. It’s not your problem, not really. Just like it’s not the doctor’s business how long and hard I psych myself up before every visit. His business is to treat me. So treat me, however you will. I am taking chances this year. 

But in my head I will live out the worst possible outcomes. I will give you everything I have to give and I will come up short. You will become ingrained, build a house under my skin, and then one day you will move out and there will be just air where you used to live. You will love me but you will leave me. It will hurt but I will not stop myself now. I don’t want to.

So today, while it is still early days, I am nursing my broken heart. I am living my future in my present, taking today’s pills for tomorrow’s aches. I am building up the pain, living in it, dying in it. Say what you will, but I know what I am doing. I have lived this before. The trick is, when you anticipate so much pain and live in it, nurse it and let it break you, it never hurts as bad when the real thing comes.

And the real thing always comes. This is the part some people refuse to learn.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Theatre Review: Batonga

Presented by Seeing through the Arts (I love this name!), Batonga tells the story of a 14-year-old girl who becomes a victim of child trafficking. Abike has a simple life in the village. The oldest child of her widowed father, she works hard to help him and her younger ones, and even other villagers, as much as she can. Abike is loved by her father Olu and many in the village, but her family is poor. They struggle to get by and even regular meals are a luxury. One day Olu is approached by Rachel, a ‘posh’ woman from their village who has managed to make something of herself in Lagos. Unbeknownst to Olu, her income is mostly derived from her child trafficking business. Olu, somewhat reluctantly, hands an excited Abike over to Rachel after she promises that Abike will be give employment, as well as an education, in Lagos. Taken in by the promise of a better life, Abike makes her way to Lagos. But she soon learns that things are not always as they seem.

I thought Batonga was... okay. Not great, just okay. The thing that I enjoyed the most about the play was the dancing. And there was lots of it. I loved the vibrancy and energy of it all, the dancers cartwheeling and somersaulting over each other. The acting was pretty good, but the outstanding actor for me was Bola Atotiyebi who plays Auntie.

Some things I wasn’t crazy about, like the narrator sometimes giving us unnecessary exposition. The narrator served the purpose of summarising bits of the story that couldn’t be dramatized in the play’s 75-minute running time, and this she did well. But there was no need for her to tell us something like ‘Abike was scared, humiliated!’ when Abike was on stage showing us just that, and better than any words could describe. Also, while I like musicals, I prefer ones where the actors do the singing. With Batonga it was mostly songs we know being played through speakers. This probably wasn’t a problem for most people though, and it would certainly have worked better if the breaks between music, the narrator’s exposition and the actors’ dialogue were better coordinated. These three constantly clashing into each other was not very pleasant. 

Also, certain story elements bothered me. Like why does Rachel have to, quite suddenly, fall for Olu at some point? I found this unnecessary, and all the more so because it goes absolutely nowhere. Maybe the idea is that her ‘falling in love’ is what gets her to confess the truth about Abike’s situation to him. But surely this could have been achieved some other way without needing such an obvious plot device.  

On a more positive note, one thing that this play does have going for it is that it packs an emotional punch. The story is built around an important subject (I think this is one of those stories where subject overshadows delivery though) and a sympathetic protagonist, and we are fully with Abike, rooting for her every step of the way.

Batonga shows every Sunday in August at Terra Kulture, 3pm and 6pm.

Friday, August 7, 2015

50 Minutes

It’s ironic to die on your way to a funeral. I hope God isn’t a fan of irony.

I’m in my seat on the plane watching people settle in around me. I take a shaky breath. Fifty minutes defying gravity doesn't sound so bad. But 50 minutes is more than enough time to die; enough time for one thing or many things to go wrong.

It’s my first time flying this airline. Why does the upholstery on the seats look so worn, the carpet faded? How old is this plane? What corners have the airline cut this month, this week? The kind that could kill me?

I remember to not give voice to my fear. God is with me. My life is in His hands. His plans for me are good (not death by plane). I wonder about others who have fallen from the sky, wonder what plans He had for them.

I survey the other passengers. Some are falling asleep. A few are reading. One woman is spanking her child. I stretch my neck to look out the window across from me. The sky is overcast but the ground is dry. Grey sky above, grey ground below. Grey is the colour of impending death, not black. Black is solid, final. Definite. You know where you stand with black. But grey, grey has just the right amount of ambiguous. Grey lets you hope. Grey should know better.

A flight attendant gives the safety announcement. She points out emergency exits; the closest to me is five rows away. But what’s an emergency exit when there’s nowhere to exit to? The flight attendant is dark skinned, with a weave that looks expensive. I’m sure expensive hair burns just as good as cheap.

I wonder about flight attendants. Do they, somewhere between their 2nd and 41st flight, develop immunity to the stomach knots that form in those moments when the engines quiet down after taxiing, just before they rev up again for take-off? The flight attendant is gesturing to the floor lights that should come on in case of an emergency. They do not come on now; aren’t they supposed to on cue? What else will fail to work like it’s supposed to? The wheels? The engines? Or something completely out of anyone’s hands, like the weather? Panic floods my chest and I clench my hands into fists.

A woman seated across from me, two rows ahead, catches my eye. She is putting on makeup. Her hand moves in sure strokes, painting black onto her eyebrows, red on her lips. She wipes a smudge from the corner of her mouth with a bold finger.

Calm settles upon me, slow and barely discernible. Like dew. This woman is going somewhere, meeting someone: the boyfriend of many years who just bought a ring? The prospective client who is about to give in? The secret lover? The interview panel that will decide whether she gets to relocate?

The deftness, the certainty in her fingers, is proof that she will get to where she needs to be. She will take me with her. We will land safely. And because she knows this I suddenly know it too.