One of the things about going back home as an adult is the way that you find yourself time-warped back into a state of childhood (which can work out to be simultaneously comforting and humiliating).
I’m back at the family house at Aba tonight and I have to admit that I’m just a teensy bit relieved to be able to step away from the production pressure pit for a day or two. Actually, the issue of me coming here in the first place was quite controversial; if I left town, production would grind to a halt for the duration of my absence, and we really can’t afford that, considering the fact that we are already, what? Ummm… Like two weeks behind schedule?
We already pretty much lost our crew yesterday… After all, they were originally contracted for 15 days of work and paid a pittance for that period to begin with. Yet for some reason, they’ve stuck around this long… I’ve never been able to figure out exactly why. Could it be that they believe that much in the project? Or maybe they just like us personally (We have shared some pretty fun times and artistically affirming moments with them? More than likely their professional ethos just won’t allow them to leave a job unfinished. But alas, there comes a breaking point even there and it’s time for them to move on, back to their lives and other (almost certainly better-paying) gigs.
We’re losing our cast too, in a fashion. Our lead, Frank, has been such a trooper, putting up with all manner of hardship and bullshit just because he believes so damn much in TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN. Hell, he even missed an exam at his university because he agreed to stay in Calabar longer when we had to extend the shooting period..
But now we can feel his depression and homesickness weighing him down like a cannonball around his neck, so we have to send him home to Lagos for the sake of his sanity (plus, we need a little break from his hotel bills, truth be told).
Our second lead, Chinedu, is getting pretty antsy, too. He’s a minor celebrity around Africa, having featured in
a wildly popular reality show and so he’s always jetting off to one corner of the continent or the other, doing promotions and stuff. He flew in from South Africa to shoot with us and even agreed to come back again from an event in Abuja when we didn’t get to finish all his scenes the first time. Just because he believed so damn much in TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN.
As it is, he is being sorely underutilized… We’ve been unable to shoot most of his scenes due to various problems that I will get into a bit later. In the end, we decided it was best to just release him too... and hope that his faith in the production is strong enough to make him come to Calabar yet a third time.
In addition, we were breaking down physically: Denis looked like he was near-death with some kind of bronchial infection and I was down with malaria. So, yeah, we probably were not gonna get much shooting done in the next few days so we figured it was okay for me to go to Aba for a little bit of R&R.
…Aaah, who am I kidding? The only reason this trip was approved was because of the certain knowledge that if I go home, I’m gonna come back with money in my pocket. And, um, in case I haven’t mentioned it before, money is some shit we need. Like how a crackhead needs that pipe.
Asking your parents for money can be some majorly emasculating shit, though. Denis doesn’t agree, but me and Koko tell him it’s just because he’s in his early 20s. When you’re that age, you kinda view getting broken off by your folks as a God-given right… The natural order of the universe, in fact.
By the time you’re in your early 30s, though? It’s like a admission of complete failure in life. Your mates are buying luxury automobiles to thank Mom and Dad for putting in all that hard work of raising them right all those years and you’re standing there with your hat out, begging for coins to finish a movie. So-ooo… Where exactly did you go wrong, buddy?
What’s even more humiliating about having to crawl back to the ‘rents is the loss of control. When you’re a kid, you can’t wait to grow up, get a job, make your own money, get your own crib and live by your own rules. The moment you cede financial dependence back to Mommy and Daddy... Well, you might as well just go sit in the backseat, junior. Because you’re not holding the steering wheel of this car called Your Life anymore.
I had been wanting to come home for a few days for a long time now, largely because I’ve felt so guilty about the way I dashed off to Calabar as soon as my feet hit the Nigerian tarmac. My dad “strongly suggested” I come back at some point after I made my last blog entry. Now, I don’t think he reads my blog, so maybe someone who does told him that I sounded seriously depressed. Plus, the driver must have informed him that I was working myself ragged (mainly because he was pissed that I was making him work from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. too). So yes… This “strong suggestion” that I come back and rest for a few days.
“But dad!” I protest. “You don’t rest in the middle of a race! If I take a few days off now, all I’ve struggled for up until this point will be for naught!” (Yes, I really do talk like that)
“Okay,” Dad says. “Why don’t you just come back on Wednesday night, attend the prize-giving ceremony at our school on Thursday morning and then go back on Thursday night?”
“Okay… I can do that. Deal.”
Even then I knew I was in for a bait-and-switch.
You’ve heard that old joke about the Jewish father whose son asks him for sixty dollars and he quickly prattles, “SIXTY dollars? What do you need FIFTY dollars for? Wouldn’t FORTY do? Okay, I’ll give you THIRTY. Here’s TWENTY, give me back TEN.”
Soon as I get home, my father took one look at me with my bloodshot eyes and mangy beard and bags under my eyes so big and dark that Oprah Winfrey is like “Damn, you got some serious bags under your eyes, son!” and he says “So you’re staying till Sunday, right?”
“Ummm… No. We agreed that I’m going back tomorrow, remember?”
“Yes… But the prize-giving will go on until at least 5 or 6 and by then it will be a bit too late to leave to Calabar because the road is bad.”
(This is actually true. In fact, in some places the road is not just bad, it’s straight-up nonexistent. You have to detour through some village path along which gangs of local youth erect bamboo tollgates every ten feet or so and charge you 20 naira to pass through. You can expect to pay more than 200 naira by the time you get to the end of the road.)
“Okay then,” I say. “I’ll stay Thursday night. But I’m outta here first thing Friday morning before you go to Port Harcourt.”
He leaves. Comes back a little later.
“So… How much money do you need again?”
Ha! I ain’t gonna tell him that! “Whatever you can give.”
“Hmmm. Okay. But you know I need to go to the bank in Port Harcourt since I’ll be tied up with the prize-giving all Thursday, so you’ll have to come to Port to get the money.”
Curses! “Okay. I’ll come to Port Friday morning, get the money and leave Friday afternoon.”
“We’ll see,” he laughs. “By the way, do you think this is blackmail?”
“HELL YEAH I DO!”
But all in all, it’s not bad at all being back in Aba. A lot of people think that I really hate it here (and that I have issues with my Igbo-ness in general) but I really don’t. Sure, I sometimes speak contemptuously of the place, but it’s the site of some of my fondest memories. Back in the day, I used to spend every single weekend here, and those were good times indeed. My dissatisfaction with the city only goes back a few years – back to the last time I came back, in 2001 – and it’s mostly aesthetic. The crumbling, dust-coloured architecture and rugged, dusty roads that turn to muddy canals every time it rains… That shit depresses me.
And then there’s the filth… Aba is one of the dirtiest cities in the nation. Now bear in mind that I’m the kind of person who regularly picks up the litter of perfect strangers, who winces in pain when I see someone throw a candy wrapper on the ground instead of a trashcan. Imagine how traumatic it is for me to be in a city where it is not uncommon for 2/3 of a major thoroughfare to be clogged with huge ridges of solid rubbish? And then there’s people lining up with wheelbarrows of more garbage to dump in the street?
Compare that to Calabar, with its clean, paved streets and manicured sidewalks and functional streetlights and yellow “Keep Calabar Clean” wastebaskets every few metres. Is it any surprise I’d feel a bit more comfortable there?
But Aba is not looking too shabby right now, really… The streets are relatively clean (Did the president visit this week or something?) and it’s a cool night… This might not be such a bad trip, after all.
(Except that my dad “strongly suggested” that I shave and since I didn’t have my clippers with me, I had to use a razor… My face is lousy with bumps now)