CHARACTERS Jimmy male, 20s to 30s Tobe male, 20s to 30s Victor middle-aged man
A humble tailor’s shop. Two sewing machines and other equipment feature, some folded fabrics are hung. Present are the two tailors, Jimmy and Tobe, men in their 20s or 30s. Tobe is at a sewing machine, while Jimmy is with a third man, Victor. Victor is middle-aged, and exudes an affluence which contrasts with the pervasive drabness. As the scene begins, Jimmy is finishing taking Victor’s measurements. Conspicuous on a table or chair is a gorgeous folded material.
Victor (handing over the folded cloth to Jimmy, and also giving him a card) That’s where you can reach me.
Jimmy Ok sir. I’ll finish it in two days. It’s senator style I will sew for you.
Victor Take your time, Buddy. Just do it well.
Jimmy Ok Sir. Thanks Sir. (Victor exits. Tobe leaves his machine and comes downstage to stand with Jimmy, gazing outside at what the audience can’t see. Both men evince awe)
Tobe You’ve seen this kind motor before?
Jimmy Na Lexus jeep. (The sound of a car door shutting and the purr of the vehicle driving off)
Tobe As I see this jeep, na cool fifty million naira.
Jimmy I don’t doubt you.
Tobe All my life, I never hold fifty thousand in my hand.
Jimmy Fifty thousand? I never hold five before… ok, once I pay rent, even if I hold ten, e finish.
Tobe (He lifts and feels the fabric left by Victor, his expression and gestures showing that he is dazzled) This is the highest Italian cashmere.
Jimmy I think it is hundred percent raw silk. Maybe… (becoming brisk) Let’s work and enjoy what we can. This corona thing has started, who knows if there will be business for tailors.
Tobe Corona, ke? Na for overseas abeg. No spoil my day, abeg you o. E no go reach Naija. (He gazes at the card left by Victor) The man dey craze o!
Tobe You no see his position? Na him own that big Victory International Hotel. You see his jeep. And he come here come find tailor. People like him find the big esigners… why he come to this our nyama-nyama shed to find tailor?
Jimmy (joyous) Na the Lord do am. The Lord don find me better customer.
(His elation peaks and he kneels. Tobe watches, amazed, then amused) Lord, two things I begged of you in this my life. I pray, ‘let me not beg, and let me not thieve.’ Lord, you answer me well well. These my hands with this tailor business I learned, will always provide my needs. Amen.
A large and luxurious sitting room. Visible through an open door is a dining table. Victor is in popular men’s lounging garb – a caftan. Jimmy is seated. There are two glasses of wine and a partially empty bottle. Jimmy is sipping wine as the scene opens. He hands a bag to Victor. Victor brings out and appraises its contents – the ensemble that Jimmy made for him. He takes off his caftan and puts on the new attire, Jimmy helping him. It is a two piece outfit, called ‘senator style.’
Victor (pleased) My hunch was right. This is spot on. (He strides about, strikes poses. Jimmy is amused) My hunch was sooo right! (his phone rings. He expresses exasperation) Not now. (he takes the phone, sees the caller’s name, and is instantly joyful)
Ah, Nene. You bad babe… Why call me now? Three naked babes are here with me, and we’re just about to have an orgy… I’m serious, Nene. You called at a terribly inconvenient time…. Me, drunk? You don see me drunk before? A whole CEO of Victory International Hotels, drunk?… You’re defaming me. I’ll call my lawyer now… (he laughs heartily) Actually, Nene, I’m happy. I’ve been proved right. That material we got last week, I said I’d find a tailor in some out of the way place. Some of these big name tailors have only the name… I found this boy that’s sewing in a shack, and you should see the senator style he made me. Ok, come round tomorrow. Six pm. I’ll be in the hotel lobby. Bye sweetie. I’ll send you my photo now. (end of call. To Jimmy) Please get a good shot. (Jimmy photographs Victor) Thank you. (He sends the photograph to Nene).
Women! Always wanting attention. That my babe, Nene, she’s really nice. I love her to death. Problem is, she wants marriage. I tell her, ‘no.’ It’s one idea I’ll fight in this society of ours, the idea that if you’re not married, you’re irresponsible. Bollocks.
How much do I owe you?
Jimmy (hesitantly) Sir, anything… anything…
Victor Tell me the cost. I don’t want to cheat you.
Jimmy (tremulous) Is five ok? (Victor brings out his wallet, counts out ten notes, and hands the cash to Jimmy. Jimmy checks the sum, and is ecstatic)
Sir, hei! You don bless me today. I say five and you give me ten. Sir, you will go straight to heaven… (he kneels in adoration…)
Victor (making deterring gestures) No, no, no… I’m not ready to die yet.
(Victor makes a call on his phone and speaks) Akpa, that your lunch never ready? (pause) Put one extra plate. I have a guest. (to Jimmy) Let’s go and eat.
Jimmy (incredulous) Sir, me eat with you?
Victor Yes. (Jimmy rises, looking through the door at the dining room. He is nervous) Come, man, there are only chairs and a table in there? You think there’s a lion there? (Jimmy shrugs in amazement)
Where is your babe? Or you don’t have a babe?
Jimmy (in mild embarrassment) I get oh.
Victor Ok. On Saturday, bring your babe here to eat and drink. I’m serious. Four o’clock. You can stay till the following day. Come and enjoy, man.
We suffer, make money, make money… next moment, we die.
I don’t invite just anybody to my house, but I can tell your mother raised you well. (He leads the way into the dining room)
The tailor’s shop. It is bare, save for the machines and the basic furniture. There are no cloths waiting to be cut and sewn. In the corner is a pile of personal effects – battered suitcase, cassette player, electric fan – obviously belonging to someone who suddenly became homeless. Tobe is slumbering on a wooden bench. He stirs, rises.
Tobe (looking around) Jimmy. Jimmy… (to himself) Maybe the car-washing work don good for him today.
(Jimmy enters holding washing equipment for car windscreens. He is dejected)
Jimmy E no work at all. Just running in this sun, sun dey bite like fire… dodging cars… some drivers are crazy. I nearly die today… this bus, fiam (he mimes the speeding of a bus which bore down on him) I for die today. Na the Lord just say it’s not my time. After that, I decide to come back.
Tobe You no go die. The Lord forbids.
Jimmy This life now, what’s in it? (waving at the dreary shop) No customers, no work.
Tobe Money no dey for country now. People can’t even hustle to eat. How can they make new shirts and trousers? Even the city market is closed. I never see that kind thing before. Keke drivers, off the road. This kind starvation, I never see before in my life.
(he pauses, then speaks) E go better. Corona go end.
Jimmy When will it end? Three months don pass now. (he goes to gaze mournfully at his pile of personal effects in the corner)
Tobe You wan kill yourself because your landlord throw you out?
Jimmy That my landlord wicked, I swear. Four years I lived in his house, I no owe am one day. Now, because of corona, I just owe am two-month rent and he throws me out.
Tobe I know. Even landlords too need money.
Jimmy (rages) Shit. So now you support him… You support a man who make me to sleep in this shop, with all the mosquitoes wey dey harass me for night and…
Tobe You want to take your revenge on me. Na me be your landlord?
(Jimmy begins to calm down, then sits in forlornness)
That rich man you carry your girlfriend go him house… The man who owns Victory Hotels, why don’t you go to him?
Jimmy I passed his big hotel today when I was trying to wash car windscreens… the hotel was closed. I didn’t try to see him. I just passed.
Tobe Go to him.
Tobe Why? For help. He’s a big man.
Jimmy When I begin sew, I pray that I will never beg or steal. Every time, the Lord answered my prayer. Anytime it’s like I no go eat, something comes to me.
Tobe This is corona. There’s no shame in asking somebody to help you. It’s called palliative. Even we who didn’t finish school know that word.
Serious, bro. Go to his house. Ask for help.
(Jimmy takes a long look at Tobe, obviously struggling with his thoughts. He suddenly goes to his suitcase, fishes out a shirt and changes into it, and spruces himself up. Tobe gives him encouraging looks and gestures. Jimmy exits. Tobe looks reflective for a moment, then suddenly appears resolute, picking his phone and dialing a number)
Tobe Mummy, Good afternoon, Ma. Ma, it’s Tobe, the man who make school uniform for your son… Yes, Mummy… (pause) Mummy, I get problem o! This Covid, corona… I no see food chop, Mummy. I no go lie. No work. Customers don vamoose…
(suddenly elated) Thank you, Mummy. I dey come now now… thank you… (he is almost breathless at the end and rushes to leave)
The shop. Scene begins as Tobe enters from outside, carrying a large food bowl (a cooler), and another bag which is seen to contain raw food and drinks. He opens and appraises the cooked food, begins to wolf it down, then pauses to bring out and gape at the other food items and cans or bottles of drinks. He again eats hurriedly, then springs up to raise his hands in rapturous adoration. ‘Lord, you are good, Lord, you are good… Bless that Mummy, bless that good Mummy that give me all this.’ He resumes eating, and after a while stops, dances and again raises his hands in adoration. ‘Lord, you are good, Lord, you are good…’ Jimmy enters, miserable.
Jimmy It will not be well with them. It will not be well with Victor. His generations will be cursed. Na people like him thief Nigeria naked… He no go die well. The Bible says, the rich cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Victor and his people no go see heaven lai lai… Dem go…
Tobe Jimmy, you don craze? Wetin? What? Tell me now now. Wetin happen?
Jimmy That man, Victor. That rich man of Victory Hotels. His money is shit money. I went to knock on his gate, said I want to see him. His gateman remember me. The gateman said, ‘no be you carry one fat girl come here? That girl nyarsh na wa o!’ Then the gateman told me, ‘visitor no dey enter here since Covid.’ I said, ‘make I just stand outside talk to oga, abeg, I dey die… Then I saw oga Victor come out on the veranda upstairs. I shouted, ‘good afternoon sir. Please, your boy is dying… no work. Covid has finished me.’ You know what he did?
(Now Victor’s words might be a voice-over, or recited and performed by Jimmy. In a sophisticated production, there could now be a change of lights, with Victor appearing on a balcony in lounging attire, and raging)
‘Go away. Just vanish. You’re not going to infect me with Covid. I haven’t lived enough. I haven’t been outside my gates in three months. Don’t you know everyone should stay at home? I haven’t even seen any of my girlfriends in three months. At my level in life, I am reduced to having wet dreams. Terrible.’ (Return to the present)
Jimmy He don stay home for three months. People like him can be home for a whole year. They don’t know there are those who have to hustle every day, just to put garri in their mouths. (he becomes tearful)
Tobe This big man Victor is not your god. Whatever the Lord wants to give you, he will let you have it somehow. See food. Your share is here. See everything. Na one madam I sew for her son, na she give me all this. Even money. Stop crying and eat.
(He strives to cheer Jimmy. Jimmy might respond after a while. Suddenly comes the sound of a car making a swift stop. Tobe glances outside)
Tobe Who carry this kind car come here? Jimmy, maybe we don get customer. (Jimmy is listless. He hisses. Tobe moves outside. Jimmy begins halfheartedly to eat. Suddenly, Tobe enters with heavy bags and packages of food and cooking ingredients, including live chickens if available. The quantity far exceeds what he brought in earlier)
Jimmy, what your problem? Person bring all this for you. Come help me. (Jimmy appears bemused. Then Victor walks in carrying more packages. He is wearing a facemask, and only when he shifts it to speak is he fully recognized)
Victor (to Jimmy) Ah, there you are. Your coming to mind showed me I’d become a prisoner in my house. Your juju has worked on me.
Jimmy (reality dawns on him. He throws himself at Victor) Sir, thank you, thank you, all this you bring for me.
Victor No, no, no physical contact. Covid protocols, young man.
(Victor brings out a wad of notes which he hands to Jimmy) Palliative, my boy. Good days will come
Jimmy Sir, Sir, you will go to heaven. That gate will be wide open for you.
Victor Not yet. I’ve many more years to spend on earth.
©R.C. Ofodile, 2020
GLOSSARY ke really/truly/indeed/as if? abeg I beg/please Naija popular term for Nigeria nyama-nyama substandard/decrepit/an apology hei Expression of surprise or dismay Keke popular, three-wheel conveyance lai-lai ever, never nyarsh na wa buttocks are amazing oga boss/master garri grainy food made into edible mas
Reginald Chiedu Ofodile is an award-winning author and international actor. Ofodile has been a very prolific and versatile writer, producing three novels, two books of plays, two poetry collections and a collection of short fiction, as well as essays and criticism. His awards include the Warehouse Theatre International Award in 1997, the BBC African Performance Award, the World Students’ Drama Trust’s Awards and the 2015 ANA/Abubakar Gimba award for a short story collection. He has also appeared across nations on stage and screen in many productions and coached actors.