Friday, December 07, 2007

Naked Dancers

I had boasted to my friends about my royal background in order to acquire for myself some measure of respectability on campus. To buttress my claim to royalty, I would show them a photo album of my parents’ marriage anniversary, which supposedly attracted very huge crowd. Almost every member of the community was at that party. That was during the boring war years in Biafra.
People had grown weary of having to spend most of their time hiding from air bombardments. Some couple had taken advantage of this forced isolation of an entire community, and been trying to overcome the effects of malnutrition that was so widespread among the populace. They had resorted to having chicken served at almost every of their meals. Not that they had a poultry farm of their own, neither could they afford to buy even a single chicken; yet they shared a whole chicken between them every day.
People in the neighbourhood had been unable to untangle the wrangle of endless disappearance of one-chick-a-day from families. More mystifying was the fact that almost every one in the community, except this couple, looked half-well-fed or half-malnourished on account of the global hunger imposed by the war.
Cat was let out of the bag one moonlit night. A man who had eaten half-cooked cassava for lunch had developed a runny stomach that kept him awake all night. The food poisoning had ballooned up his stomach to the size of a triplet pregnancy. His wife whose fault it was to have fed him with half-cooked cassava had offered to play the midnight midwife in order to save herself from the wrath of the villagers should anything worse happen to her husband. She had posited that she could not collect enough firewood to have the food properly cooked, owing to prevalent desertification.
As she was escorting her husband to one of the bout of visitations to the public latrine some metres away from the living enclave, they had accosted another couple in the cold lonely night. At first they thought it was another victim of runny stomach that had gone to answer the call of nature. They halted to exchange commiserations. The pregnant man was impatient to halt for such distractions that would impede the urgency that lay behind his heels. He had to incline his feeble frame on his wife’s shoulder. This other nocturnal couple tried to copy their example, but could not immediately decide who was to lean on the other’s shoulder.
In the faintly lighted night, it could be detected that this other woman had a larger stomach size than she used to be. She was neither pregnant nor had eaten raw cassava during the course of the day.
The cause of her artificial pregnancy came to the open when the object behind her wrapper tried to struggle for breath? It had let out some embarrassing shriek of a cry as the woman tried unsuccessfully to snuff out its life. The hidden object turned out to be a cock they had just stolen from another unsuspecting family in the neighbourhood
“What!” queried the sick man. This was quickly followed by a high-pitched alarm raised by his one-night midwife. “E-wo-o,” A-lu-o,” echoed the couple in unison as they ran back to the village centre, leaving a trail of watery human faeces apparently dropping from the bewildered sick man. Such embarrassing display did not matter anymore in the face of the overbearing discovery. This alarm startled people from their sleep. Men emerged from their huts armed with machetes; not very sure what was the matter. Women came out, clutching their children protectively as if that was the only object they cherished. Vigilante groups quickly mounted post at the various entrances to the village to hold back any intrusion. With this type of barricade, the thieves knew that it would be fatal to attempt to escape. They simply had to present themselves at the court of the traditional Prime Minister. Bad news spreads fast. Rumour spreads even faster. Soon it was peddled even across to the neighbouring villages that a couple had been caught with a pack of chickens. Some other versions claimed that it was a goat. Some later related how they thought that enemy soldiers had invaded the village.
People could not wait for the break of day before thronging to the residence of the Prime Minister to catch a glimpse of the thieving couple;
As tradition demanded, the thieves would dance naked round the village starting from the Prime Minister'’ court-yard and terminating at the village square from where a verdict of banishment would be pronounced on them. It was in the hall adjoining the village square that my parents’ marriage anniversary was being held.
The youths angered by the fact of having to mount unnecessary guard at the boundaries at unholy hours of the night, had opted to lead the carnival. They had also adorned the couple in all manner of fetish-like objects, with the stolen chicken dangling just above the lady’s groin. The lady seemed to feel comfortable on her newly acquired outfit, which allowed her some forward inclination so that the dangling chicken would cover her confusion most of the time.
By virtue of the restrictions imposed by the war, it was not often that people were treated to some fun like this. Some ban had been placed on various traditional ceremonies such as the annual New Yam festival, which usually attracted a gathering of all sons and daughters of the land from home and abroad. But this incident bordered on morality, which the people held in religious esteem. Besides, it is not often that one sees a naked adult in full view. So, both curiosity and the call for justice and respect of moral values had prompted the large crowd from within and abroad that accompanied the train.
The duo danced frenzily to the drumbeat rendered by the angry youths who had just been deprived of a good night’s sleep. As for the youths, this dance was more of a vendetta than the usual carnival we all had missed for so long.
It was generally acknowledged that the woman had danced more hysterically judging by the flexibility of her bulky stature, and the way she resonated rhythmically to the deafening rattlers, cymbals and every manner of noise-producing object that constituted the orchestra. It did not really matter whether a culprit danced well or not. Afteral, this was supposed to be a parting token, indeed the last dance that would in no way turn the course of events around. Getting rid of a criminal was like avoiding an epidemic. There was no going back.
The camera-man that covered my parents’ marriage anniversary had inadvertently captured most part of this intruding carnival, which portrayed the mammoth crowd as being part of the marriage anniversary thereby infusing some air of importance to it.
It was this feeling of greatness that I had sought to impress on my college mates at the campus. And it almost worked, except that I was in a dilemma with having to explain the presence of those naked couple garbed in tatters and some dead chicken.
Could I have said that they were mad guests that had wandered into the crowd uninvited, or that it was part of side attractions that attended the culture of my people?

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