The Literary Lion
What did the stewpot say to the fire?
See end for answer
A Season of Wole Soyinka is currently taking place at Terra Kulture on Tiamiyu Savage in Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria. This celebration is produced by laspapi in collaboration with the British Council/Nigeria and Terra Kulture and started on July 1, 2007 and is expected to continue every Sunday till the end of July. All plays will be at Terra Kulture, and there will be two shows every Sunday at 3pm and 6pm Already staged are – Who’s Afraid of Wole Soyinka?– written by Wole Oguntokun (July 1) and – The Lion and the Jewel– directed by Tunji Sotimirin (July 8)
Still to come –
Sunday July 15- Death and the King’s Horseman– directed by Segun Adefila
Sunday July 22- Camwood on the Leaves– directed by Lekan Balogun
Sunday July 29- The Jero Plays (Trials of Brother Jero and Jero’s Metamorphosis)
directed by Wole Oguntokun
While we were studying The Lion and the Jewel in secondary school, I was living with my parents and brothers in Lagos, Nigeria. My parents went out and left me in charge of my younger brothers. Later, one of them excitedly came to tell me that the man who wrote the book that I am always reading is outside our window. I thought it was another one of the numerous tricks that they were wont to play on me but was curious enough to look out of the window. And truly, there he was – Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka was having lunch alfresco with some friends in the compound next to us. From our position upstairs, we could see right into the compound and there was no mistake that it was him. My initial instinct was to grab my Lion and the Jewel, Brother Jero, Death and the King’s Horsemen plus my dad’s copy of The Man Died, run down the road, bang on the gate and ask for an autograph on each book. Alas, the voice of my mother was ringing in my ears. Strict instructions had been left that not only were we not to step out of the house (unless there was a fire, which she instantly rebuked), we were not supposed to open the door of the house for anyone except her or my dad. It took me a while to ponder this, especially since we had never met our neighbors where the literary icon was having lunch. Sad as it is for me to write this, I obeyed my mother and missed that opportunity to meet him. Fast forward to hours later that day and my brother was excitedly telling my parents who came for lunch next door and the first thing my mother said to me was – “Ah! Ah! Why did you not go now?” I am still looking forward to the day I get to meet him.
The Literary Lion was born on this day seventy-three years ago. In the clever and masterfully-written Aké, he shares his childhood memories and narrates the celebration of his birthday, following an episode where he had been hurt while playing with a friend and subsequently bed-ridden for a short period. The young boy who would grow up to be Nigeria’s foremost writer expected his parents to roll out the drums and the red carpet for his birthday. Here’s what happened –
All was ready on the thirteenth of July. I headed home from school with about a dozen of the favoured friends, led by Osiki. They all stacked their slates in the front room and took over the parlour. On the faces of the guests, everyone on his best behaviour, was a keen anticipation for food and drinks, and some music from the gramophone and games and excitement. Now that they were home, I became a little uncertain of my role as celebrant and host; still, I took my place among the others and awaited the parade of good things.
We had settled down for a while before I noticed the silence of the house. Essay was still at school, mother was obviously at her shop with Dipo who would probably be strapped to the back of Auntie Lawanle. But where were the others? Come to think of it I had expected mother to be home to welcome my friends even if she had to go to the shop to attend to her customers […]
My mother rushed in not long afterwards, Dipo strapped to her back, Auntie Lawanle and others following, carrying the usual assorted items which accompanied them to the shop every morning. This was impressive because it meant that the shop had been closed for the day and it was still early afternoon – obviously Birthday was really about to happen in earnest. But she came in shaking her head and casting up her eyes in a rather strange manner. She stopped in the parlour, took a long look at my friends, looked at me again, shook her head repeatedly and passed through to the kitchen where I heard her giving orders to the welcome ring of pots and pans and the creak of the kitchen door. I nodded with satisfaction to the guests and assured them.
‘The Birthday is beginning to come’
A moment later Tinu came in to say I was wanted by mother in the kitchen. I found her with her arms elbow deep in flour which she was kneading as if possessed. Without taking her eye off the dough she began
‘Now Wole, tell me, what have your friends come for?’
It was a strange question but I replied, ‘We’ve come to eat Birthday.’
‘You came to eat Birthday,’ she repeated. For some reason, Lawanle and the others had already burst out laughing. Mother continued, ‘Do you realize that you and your friends would still be sitting in that parlour, waiting to “eat your birthday” if Tinu hadn’t come and told me?’
‘But today is my birthday’ I pointed out to her
Patiently she explained, ‘No one is denying that. I had planned to cook something special tonight, but…look, you just don’t invite people home without letting us know. How was I to know you were bringing friends? Now look at us rushing around, your friends have been sitting there, nearly starving to death, and you say you’ve brought them to eat birthday. You see, you have to let people know…’
The Birthday proved to be all that was expected once it got over the one disappointing limitation – Birthday did not just happen but needed to be reminded to happen. That aspect of its character bothered me for a while, it was a shortcoming for which I tried to find excuses without success. The Birthday lost its stature for me after this , almost as if it had slid down from the raised end of that fateful see-saw to the lower end and landed in a heap, among other humdrum incidents in the parsonage.
Trivia question answer –
Have you no shame – at your age, licking my bottom
Lakunle to Sidi in the The Lion and the Jewel