The Whispering Jinni says to his human master, “Black President, your traitor friend is in the audience tonight; the snitching journalist!”
The master wears yellow-and-red floral print pantaloons with no top. His forehead was flat and broad, like a threshing stone. Sweating, it bears a thick and short vertical line at its centre, drawn with white chalk. His cheeks bear similar chalk lines.
He is the leader of the musical band that plays Afrobeat rhythms on the light-flooded stage of The Shrine. He dances to the rhythm of the music playing. He plays adlib on a keyboard.
“He is accompanied by his untouched bride,” the Whispering Jinni giggles. “Now tell me Mr President, when last did you give your loyal citizens that special treat for which they love you? You ought to know what they will all rather see you perform than this mere singing and dancing! Come on and reward their faithfulness. If I know you well, you can do with the fun of it – what with the twenty-seven wives and the thousand other black and white women that you galloped on over the past years. It’s no crime – don’t get me wrong! Except if you fail them tonight. Come on and go for her as a randy cock would go for a flirty hen.”
“Oh no,” demurred the Black President, still playing his keyboard, but with precision only mechanical. “You know that I am not what I used to be. My strength is failing. You are yet to do a lasting thing about it. It is an unbearable exertion these days…”
“That’s why every jinni is here to help you carry on,” argues the Whispering Jinni. “The whole crew is present tonight, if you must be reassured; especially the Playboy that you need in order to make it as good as it got. Come on Mr President. This is revenge; and it is legitimate in our kingdom. Why, it is the same journalist who wrote those truths on your health in the newspaper!”
The bride, which the Whispering Jinni referred to, is my charge, so to speak. She has been so for over a year – the fairest of all mortals. Sarah is her name. Her hourglass shape is what bewitched her husband, the very journalist and subject of the Whispering Jinni’s conversation with his master. Sarah’s shape bewitches every other mortal – and jinni. Yet her husband’s interest peaked to frenzy as the hurdles against his chances of having her became intractable: grey hairs in their dozens; an obvious overbite; drinking and smoking habits; gossiping. To overcome these drawbacks, he sought help from The Kingdom. Abaddon, our supreme commander, approved his requests. The task of persuading Sarah into accepting to be his wife became mine. I, Junior Whispering Jinni, was to whisper Sarah into blindness to those screaming defects in the mortal.
Being righteous, Sarah has been beyond undue influence. That made my assignment unduly lengthy and wearisome.
I took an initial direct approach, whispering to her about the good qualities of the journalist, which he never really had. But her stern guardian angels would cancel every progress I made with their own version – even the truth! They would scotch me with heavenly fire when I stayed on her for long.
I got wiser and took the indirect approach – whispering to her relatives, pastor and her friends, who are easier preys from sinfulness. In the end, I succeeded – almost. They put my words across to Sarah. Today Sarah has exchanged rings and vows with the journalist to become his wife in the parlance of mortals.
I would have fully accomplished my task if there was consummation of the union. But Sarah hedged when he made the move. She was in no mood that evening, not after the bald-faced suicide of her defeated suitor at her wedding reception venue. The bridegroom, who wants a quick mending of his wife’s frame of mind, suggests to her an evening out. His adorable, dirty little mind has hoped for a stain on Sarah’s mind that was white so she may move into the honeymoon gear. He can barely stand yet another night of disquiet, not after she has become his wife.
I hear him sounding crestfallen while on the phone earlier in the evening, as he hides inside the toilet of the hotel suite he has rented for the threatened honeymoon.
“Mts!” he hisses into the telephone. “Oboy, no show yet from my woman o. Dat kolo boy wey kill hisseff, na im cause all de wahala… Ah, ah, wetin? I say dem swear for dat fowl, I swear. Okay, now dem win pesson for woman love, so na die? No, I swear I no for do like dat if na me loss Sarah… True I like am pass everybody, but I no for do like dat…. She day disorganize right now, I no fit go close to ram, seff… Haba, dat tin fit scatter any woman…”
He then paused to listen into the telephone for a short while as his friend in Victoria Island gave him some information.
‘“Ah! True talk?” he said suddenly with some verve. “E don tay wen even me I see Baba perform o… No, I gree… But make I no go waste my time, trowey my money for nothing o… No, no, I go carry Sarah go… I no go tell am seff… If I tell am she no go gree go. You know say na Mother Teresa I marry… Eeehn! She no go gree go, I swear… But I know say she go like am if true true say Presido go perform dis night… Eehn! She no be wood, now…”
Sarah welcomed the idea of an evening out.
She quarrelled with her husband when she discovered herself at The Shrine on Gbemisola Street in Western Ikeja, Lagos. She loves some of the Black President’s songs. But The Shrine is no place for the righteous to set a foot.
Sarah is very green. She knows not how to make her way back to the distant Sheraton Hotel on her own. She cannot even bear to be alone in the hotel suite, the child that she still is truly at heart. She has lived a sheltered life, knowing nowhere else outside the schoolyard and the churchyard.
Therefore, she stays to watch the Black President’s late night show with her husband, whose delight is matchless, seeing that the Black President has indeed shown up on stage after quite a long time.
It has been a while since he arrived at The Shrine with Sarah; and nothing yet has happened on the stage to qualify for the stain meant for Sarah’s sparkling mind, for which reason he has paid some good money.
The Black President himself was born into a righteous home. But he rebelled against righteousness early in life. He became an envoy of Abaddon among the foremost of those whose master has given the grace to marry the World. He became a crown prince, with a retinue to scale him over the hurdles of life and to plant him at the peak in his chosen vocation. Everything he does – on the stage, is by powers from The Kingdom.
* * *
The Drum Jinni, the Xylophone Jinni and the Song Jinni are waiting at the head of a jinn queue. They await their turn to take possession of the Black President and lead him to re-enact the eye-trapping performance that earned him fame among Nigerian youths and the rebellious-at-heart.
In the meantime, the Keyboard Jinni took possession of the Black President, causing his fingers lithe navigation from one key to the other, from one end of the keyboard to the other. The fountains of light above douse the keys in floodlights. There is a racy four-beat rhythm on offer, which mortars out from the busy percussions behind the Black President, as he and his band boys deftly garnish the musical trellis with florid notes and chords.
The supernatural aid that possessed the Black President is unseen to the audience, as the rest in queue. Visible, however, are the black, wooden loudspeaker boxes that amplify the music on stage far beyond the gallery and the street outside, despite the dark masks shrouding them in the corners of The Shrine. They enable the music to vibrate the captive insects in the spiders’ meshes, the lizards’ hanging tails and the robust ribcage of The Shrine’s wooden rafters. From the roof, the music splinters on the floor like a bomb, its shrapnel bounce off to the gates, the walls and even to the skins of souls in the audience, through the miniscule holes in their textiles, shaking their entrails and nesting, beyond their bones, inside their souls.
This is the summit of pleasure for the audience. Brains have found the winds with which to hover above melodies, motions and the hard realities of living; and they glide on the wraithlike wings lent to them by the burning wraps of marijuana.
The frequency of The Shrine’s late night rituals has dwindled in the recent past. Like a toy, it has crawled on in a most fitful fashion, unwinding gradually in step with the decline in the Black President’s health. Sarah’s bridegroom has once kindled the Black President’s ire by drawing the public’s attention to the bandleader’s state of health. Sarah’s bridegroom did this against the Black President’s personal warning to the journalist that he was merely going through underground spiritual experience, after which he would emerge beyond death.
When Sarah’s bridegroom wrote in the weekly magazine for which he reported, he opined that the clustered vesicles on the Black President’s skin were the result of the Black President’s unprotected sexual escapades; and they pointed to a progressive walk down Rock Hudson’s path – slow and painful death.
Some human conditions depart when long ignored, but not the serial killer responsible for the consistent cancellation of the Black President’s late night shows at The Shrine. Only on rare occasions, like tonight, does the carnivore eating the Black President lie down to chew its bites. The Black President’s fanatical audience will then have their idol on stage for the performance they cherish beyond words.
However, even his queuing band of jinn knows that the show will not last for long before the final stop. The delicate and vibrant equilibrium of the human cells that makes up the Black President’s basic defence line against diseases is in a total upset. Saboteurs have infiltrated the balance preserved between the human and others, between safety and danger and they have sacked the human centre for disease control. They have fomented chaos and biological madness within him.
The Black President looks fifteen years older. His neck has become a mere shoestring in a threadbare condition. Grey wisps of hair cover his scalp. His shoulder bones jut out from beneath his skin, which has wrinkled like a used foil paper, as if the ends of the bones were violin necks pushing out from beneath a damp cotton sack.
* * *
The Black President has lost faith in his own strength. He has also forgotten the sin of Sarah’s bridegroom about his health. The recent reminder and wheedling by the Whispering Jinni however, changed everything. The Black President abandons the keyboard and dashes to the standing microphone at the centre of the stage. He seizes it by the throat and begins to sing: If you call am woman/African woman no go gree!
The band boasts of twelve female dancers. Each of them is dressed in a mini brazier on top of a mini wrapper and several strings of jigida around a jiggling waist.
The dancers’ faces, arms and legs, exhibit multiple lines and spots of white chalk. Their hairs stand exposed in high furrows and long, straight cables, as if they were a dead and swollen beast’s legs stretched heavenward.
These female dancers automatically answer the Black President’s call to change of number with a melodious chorus, saying: She go s-ay/She go say ah be lady!
The fast-pace rhythm on the stage automatically synchronises with the mid-tempo of the new song.
“Play small small,” the Black President directs the band, gesturing the desired tempo with his extended hands. His baritone is about the only dyke of resistance in his body against the general erosions washing him away. “I wan make everybody stand up make we recognise my big man friend wey today finally, finally gree carry woman for better for worse. Everybody stand up. I wan my good friend Raymond Omodion, the reigning Columnist of the Year and im iyawo make dem join me up here for stage. Raymond Omodion, abeg. Today na your day. Abi tonight na your night. Make ah show you say ah be your best friend true true. Call am for dance…!”
There is a stir as the band carries on with the new song. Raymond Omodion and Sarah are sitting at the back of the hall. As they file forward, the bodies thronging the aisle make way for their easy passage to the stage.
In the meantime, the Keyboard Jinni releases the Black President to make room for the Playboy who zooms his way over from the tail of the queue to assume duty.
I sense trouble: My first assignment is in great jeopardy. Failure shall be a disaster for me.
I must act against it. I should do so with utmost speed!
I zoom my way over to Sarah, as she walks beside her man on the aisle. “Sarah,” I begin to whisper to her, “do not climb on that stage. You must resist Raymond’s pull of your hand otherwise you’ll be dead meat in the next few seconds!”
But, as it was in the beginning, Sarah’s guardian angels scotch me with fire. They kick me off for getting too close to her!
Sarah and Raymond are already on the stage when I sneak back to The Shrine.
Resolved not to fail, I inch my way closer to Raymond Omodion, who has no angels on guard.
“Raymond,” I begin to shout above the music while he and Sarah dance together with the Black President. “Raymond, you fool…!”
Raymond Omodion does not seem to hear, or understand me! The music intoxicates even the Black President’s critics, how much more an ardent disciple?
Sarah’s angels withdraw from her suddenly: The Shrine is no Basilica! The marijuana, which they detest, is the only incense burnt in this unholiest of unholy places.
The angels’ withdrawal has made way for the Whispering Jinni to take possession of Sarah. He whispers her into believing that dancing with the Black President is an act of honour to any African woman.
There is a raucous laughter from the jinn queue. My elders are amused by my baptism of fire!
I know all hope is lost when the Black President invites his bodyguards over to the stage.
They pour out in their number and join in the dance. In a matter of seconds, they separate Raymond Omodion from Sarah by shepherding him away with their sweaty, brawny bodies as the music flows in unceasing currents.
Still the rhythm goes on. The Black President has more than a half of the stage to only himself and Sarah, who is already sweating as she dances under dark influence. The Black President slowly slides his pantaloons down until he dances naked, exposing the sum total of his septic skin and skeletal frame. He dances even closer to Sarah and then begins to unclothe her in the skilled manner he has done a number of times before.
And Sarah… she still dances!
Raymond Omodion wakes up finally to the audience clapping in rhythm to the mid-tempo rhythm.
It is too late. Raymond’s attempt to push through the muscles and reconnect to Sarah is blocked. He can see her only in part as she loses her clothing with every line of the African Woman song.
Raymond is frustrated, scared and desperate. He sweats. He tries yet again to force his way through the impervious muscles. The bodyguards lift him off the stage and then take him back to his seat in the gallery. They pin him down all through the entire proceedings on the stage.
All the other jinn present join in the clapping when the Black President finally takes Sarah – slowly, as if she is a hot bed of rice in his plate.
His spoon is long! And the blood flows, of the innocent.
Sarah’s pains are visible on her face. But she has no resistance; her mind is totally lost to many a puff of marijuana into her nostrils.
The great Abaddon joins in the audience. He sits on the edge of his golden stool and laughed his heart out from joy, as the Black President changed positions.
There may be death yet for Sarah tonight. For me there is a hundred-year term inside a sealed bottle dropped to the bottom of the sea.
© AHMED MAIWADA