Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lagos Cinema Show By BabaWilly

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Sitting with my fellow country men and women in darkness usually means we are being afflicted by one of the many descendants of ECN & NEPA. But this time it was different. We were not sitting in an examination hall awaiting the switching on of the stand by generators or doing the same at a wedding reception. This was Saturday night at the movies at Genesis Deluxe Cinema at The Palms Shopping Centre, Lekki and the packed house waited in keen anticipation to see that big MGM lion roar us into movie land.

I had a hot date and the film was not as important as the girl I was with, but that is another story. With our metaphorical seat belts fastened we munched on our popcorn and temporarily forgot the hassles in the great city that now seemed so many miles away from our air conditioned, wired for sound movie heaven. We had all come here to experience fantasy, escapism, danger and bloodshed from a safe vantage point.

Suddenly an auction started with my ultimate irritation as the main prize. Each bidder offered an irritation worse than last one. The beautiful ambience was spoilt for me. The first bidder simply took off his shoes unleashing chemical weapons of mass irritation. Gases too complex and too perplexing for even a chemistry professor to understand. Too dangerous for UN weapon inspectors. Whatever soap he washed his feet with needed an instant upgrade to Izal disinfectant or industrial strength bleach mixed with holy water. In four seconds two hundred mosquitoes and house flies died in the car park. Someone in the row in front commented that this was a radioactive smelly cloud but I did not believe him. I read Nelson and Parker for my O-level Physics and I was thus of the persuasion that radioactivity could not be smelt.

The movie started and like all things, the first cut was the deepest. We soon got used to the smell. A phone went off and the guy in front of me started a conversation.

I am in the office.
The noise? My TV is on.

What an irritating liar.

When he finished his call his date asked loudly as she chewed on her bubble gum, ‘Who was that?’
‘My third wife. Such a possessive woman. I never see dis kind wahala before’ he said as he resumed the inappropriate palpation of his lukewarm date.

I felt like emptying my popcorn on his head but why waste good snacks? We had peace for a while till another phone went off. She was a well groomed, well dressed, well-spoken and a well-fed beauty. She was the type of person who that MGM lion would pounce on for dinner as a matter of first choice if he were able to jump out of the screen hungry; such was her appetising freshness. I didn’t mind the distraction as I became nosey about her private life and strained to hear what she was saying even though she tried to whisper.

I put your passport in the top drawer.
No I would not be late. We do not fly out to New York till the morning. What is your own?
Have you eaten?
Eh? Why eba. I cooked rice for you now.
You asked Agnes to make eba? I thought I told you not to talk to that house girl.
Hope she is not shaking her waist all over the place.
As soon as we get back from New York she is going back to where she came from.

A few people did not like the distraction but no one wanted to tell a beautiful rich woman to shut up. I was not there strictly for the movie so I did not mind missing bits of the film. She however pushed it a bit too far and went on talking. A protest came from the head of the man next to me. It was dark and I couldn’t quite see his mouth moving. As my eyes adjusted to his dark hair I noticed it was one big member of his nation of head lice speaking loudly.

‘Madam shut up’ said the louse.

She turned and saw who was talking and flipped. ‘You pay to watch movie? Show me your ticket. Nonsense’ she spat out.

The louse was silenced for he was an illegal alien in movie land. The landlord had to apologize to the beautiful woman on behalf of his illegal tenant. I suppose he shared my beliefs that beautiful women should be forgiven their trespasses promptly.

‘Madam, no vex. All the lice for my head no get home training’

It fell silent again and I began to process what had just happened. The auction for my irritation went to the highest bidder; the man with the rotten socks.  Slowly I felt a sense of danger begin to creep up on me. I spoke into my date’s ear and told her she looked stunning.

‘In the dark?’ she said fishing for compliments.
‘You beauty shines through’.

After a few such exchanges I begged for us to change seats as I did not want a hair invasion from lice with no home training. She said no.

I told her that if I get colonised, so would she. Colonialism is after all contagious as is neo-colonialism.
She was out on the aisle in a flash. Her exact words were, ‘I am not having lice in this expensive weave. No weapon fashioned against me will prosper’.

Hmmmm. Scripture for weave again???  In our new seats we enjoyed a wonderful movie experience, well almost. A guy who sat four seats away kept on going outside. As he squeezed past saying his ‘excuse me, sorry,excuse me, sorry’ everyone he squeezed past flung their necks away like that 666 kid in the exorcist as if they were petrified that he might not make it to the toilets and discharge foul wind in their faces.

As he did his ‘excuse me’ routine past me, I held my breath and turned my neck ninety degrees in the direction of Agbor. That was not enough for comfort so I added some twisting of my back to make sure my face was now looking backwards in the direction of the Atlantic ocean. God forbid hot mess for persin face in the name of ‘excuse me’, abi dem tell you say mai name na Dizzy k?'  Na by force to watch film? Shuo! If diarrhoea catch you, stay home abeg .

On his return he looked contented and didn’t bother us again. I held hands with my date and told her the actresses on the screen looked ugly compared to her. (Father forgive me for I have sinned. I too dey lie- lie). I was suddenly in the zone. At one with myself and with my environment. I felt really happy and that was when it occurred. I took a mental flight.

Why? I believe I can fly. Why not? In a country with one trillion mosquitoes, one billion house flies and four hundred and nineteen thousand witches, if you cannot flight, you need deportation to the republic of Benin. A true son of the Naija soil must fly high, period. In my flight I travelled to the first film shown in Lagos (in fact in Nigeria for that matter) in August 1903 by the Balboa and Company invited by the Late Herbert Macaulay (which makes him the spiritual progenitor of Silverbird productions abi?). It was a silent movie that was projected on the screen that night at the Glover memorial Hall Lagos.

That would have been a movie for people who mattered. In those days no one tried their hands on impersonating God’s  Omniscience. Once you left home for Glover Hall, you had your mind on nowhere else but the movie and no one could reach you. Today my people seat in front of the screen in Lekki and are Facebooking, tweeting and texting on BB and Whatsapp with friends on every continent. A distracted people totally out of focus and trying to be everywhere all at once.

In Herbert Macaulay’s time, there would have been no smelly socks in the house. Just look at him. Na so men dey dress those days. He is to date the most debonair political heavyweight in the history of Naija. His trade mark bow tie and ‘girls follow me’ moustache set him apart (and the girls really followed for he had the consummate political support of Lagos market women). (If yu say I lie go look one Naira note nau). He could even play the violin and gave performances at his residence for acquaintances. Shame he couldn’t vie for political office on account of his two spells in prison (I know someone just fainted reading that a Politician was ever excluded from the election process after just two offences in Nigeria!).

In 1903 the drive home if you had a car would have been without traffic jams. One would guess that after returning home to a hero’s welcome, the film would have had to be re-told to those not fortunate to have attended the screening. For the first time in Lagos moving images of foreign lands and people could be viewed without boarding a ship. Oh, the excitement! Today nothing is exciting anymore. Everybody with a Smart phone is all knowing thanks to Google. Much knowledge and less wisdom is now common place in today’s world.

Like a Silver bird my mind glides to super cinema in Suru-Lere where I had my first argument in a Cinema theatre. A boy in my class said everybody on the giant screen was hiding behind there. I told him the images were projected and he was not convinced, so. No one had told me that the cinema was not the place for debates with olodos.

Flying further back in time to the 1950s when the colonial masters flooded Lagos via the Colonial Film Unit (CFU) with Empire propaganda movies, it was packed houses all round and no one came on Okada (Commercial motor cycle taxis). Then you really dressed to go out and a popular powder of the time was called Saturday Night. Following Nationalistic agitation, we got independence and the cinematic baton was passed onto the Federal Film Unit (FFU) after 1960 and they produced mainly documentaries extolling the beauty of the Black race as a counter to neo colonialism. I guess they did not succeed as the current crop of power politicians fly abroad when a finger nail breaks unexpectedly.

Where flight exists, air traffic control is always nearby bringing you to earth. I had to make an emergency landing from my flight of fancy in the airport of reality as my hot date turned cold by something she saw. ‘Excuse me, sorry’. We had to let Mr Lice make his way to an empty seat next to us. He must have read our minds for he said, ‘I had to move because Mr Smelly socks back there has taken off his socks. His feet below in Ikoyi cementery!’

My secondary school education consoled me at this point for remembered the first  time we were introduced to  Ngugi wa Thiong’o.  His first words came flooding in. Weep not child. Thus fortified, I too control of the tear glands and continued watching the movie. I was soon off in a mental rocket going to all the movie theatres packed with people of ages past. I am cruising like a Silver bird going where no man of my generation has gone before.  The Sheila, Odeon and Jebako, the Pen, Danjuma and the Casino.

Lamentations for poor Casino cinema, bombed during the Biafran war. I flew into the packed houses of people with no mobile phones, sat in darkness with a view to a thrill. Then I flew faster and mingled with my people. Like an eagle on anabolic steroids tainted with Ogogoro and rocket fuel I travelled.

Smiling happy people sat in the Regal, the Rainbow and the Roxy, hopeful lovely Nigerians munching on popcorn in the Oregie and the Cini-citi. My people endured India movies with no sub-titles. They watched Chinese films and called every cast member ‘Actor’. I was one with their dreams and hopes for the next generation. They watched films for distraction from ‘matters on ground’ but they had hopes burning in their hearts for a new Nigeria. Their dreams must not die. We must not fail them. Dead and gone at the hands of Nigeria’s low life expectancy, but they laughed through the trauma. Suffering and smilling. RIP! I soon ran out of rocket fuel and alas Agaracha must come home or at least land on tarmac.

The louse in his head spoke to me. ‘Wetin dis actor juss talk? I no dey hear dis yankee accent well well’.

My date was off running back to the seats from whence we came. It was our turn to do the ‘excuse me, sorry, excuse me, sorry’.

They all threw their faces away as we squeezed past.  Once seated, I spoke softly into my hot dates ear. ‘You looked beautiful from behind as you went up those steps’

‘See your head’ she replied. A hot wave of smell came our way. A cool air-conditioned smell it was. We were trapped with no windows at our disposal I said out loud ‘weep not child’.

My date said, ‘abi o. Smell is better than lice’.

The film proceeded to THE END.

Dolapo Bright/ Bimbo Okuyiga/ Debo Mabo

Dr Wilson Orhiunu

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