The Lagos dweller is a ‘Lagosian’, that is settled precedent. But who is the Abuja resident – an ‘Abujan’ or an ‘Abujite’?
Well, there I was in Maitama, Abuja, 6.30pm on Thursday evening for Infusion 20, and there were ten or twenty Abujans – or Abujites – inside the ambient JB Grill. Half of them were well-tailored waiters, the other half were seated at the very rear of the room. I was decidedly uneasy. From my fuzzy memory of my school days I know enough to fear that rebellious clique that gravitates to the rear of the class. How many times had they reduced my soft-spoken, diminutive Sri Lankan (as she then was) teacher to tears with their anonymous cat-calls, and parallel conversations? This is afterall, Abuja, the uneasy capital of boko haram and we were two uncomfortable days away from Independence day. Read about Love, I tell myself; Chuma, read them tales about Love.
‘I told her so,’ worries Molara Wood, trying to soften me up for her questions.’ Too little promotion. Too short a notice. We’ll be lucky to get a dozen here tonight.’
But what do we know? Molara and I are Infusion virgins, attending for the very first time, but she was standing in for Dapo Oyewole and was due to interview me when the reading finally took off. She had a point too: Lola Shoneyin had signed me up only a couple of days earlier when the really famous author stood her up. A snap storm had exploded suddenly over Maitama amusement park and although Molara had borrowed an umbrella, I am not sure if I would brave a thunderstorm to hear me read. It was looking like a washed-out evening all right. Only slightly better than the London reading in which I and my good friend who was billed to read with me (who shall remain nameless to save his blushes) had out-numbered our audience of 1.
Then Nwakaego and Aisha come in, the one before the rain, the other rather, wet but still smiling, and they preferred to stand until their regular front seats were set up. From them I gathered that regular Infusers have their ‘regular’ seats. The back-benchers are not rebels… they are merely comfort-hogs, prefering the plusher cushions at the rear of the restuarant.
7ish and the rain gives up. Lola Shoneyin calls the house to order. It is standing room only and even the bar stools are taken – Ken Wiwa and Prof Soji holding down two for the night. Lola runs a tight house. You either relax and flow with her or you are flushed out. We might as well be rascally children in her classroom. Except that her hand cracks the whip of supple innuendos that would send a minor crying to Mama. My first reading is on love. Kind of. Married Statements is a short from my forthcoming collection, The Ghost of Sani Abacha. It gets its first airing at Infusion and my audience is flattering with their applause. I think we will get on well together. The night proceeds from story to story. I read a couple of diary entries from Diaries. Calamity’s catastrophe gets another airing. I rebel against Lola and toss in a poem. It does not send my audience to sleep, but I do not push my luck. Molara asks the most flattering questions. Her audience takes the cue. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am having a good time. Obemata’s question gives me another excuse to whip out a second poem. My African Lungfish broods aloud. Smooth, Chuma, smooth. I am successfully disguising the poet’s penchant to bore every available ear with his poetry.
Now and again Lola wrests the microphone from us to hard-sell Diaries of a Dead African. These poor Abujites – or Abujans – have paid N500 for the privilege of hearing me read the book, but it buys them no reprieve from her disarming sales-pitch. Yakubu comes at the end of the reading, and he buys the last two copies. We are sold out. With 60 books sold, everyone in the room has probably bought a book (or two). Lola should be working in Sales. (Among other places)
The secret of a reading is that it is NOT about the reading. The reader can read a writer’s work more effectively in private. More cheaply too. The secret of a good reading is in the magic that is activated by the interaction of the writer and his audience. The canny writer will read his audience’s mood before he reads from his tome. His tone must be more alive than his pages. He must listen to the questions. He may have heard them 60 times before, but the reader in the audience is asking it for the first and only time. He must answer from the heart, and when there is no more blood in the heart, he must retire from the reading circuit. There is a mystery in the unpredictability of this magic, for the magic can produce gunpowder or chloroform… and nothing disheartens the reading writer as the sight of a dozing listener. There was plenty of gunpowder in JB Grill last night, thankfully not of the boko haram variety. I put a few more faces to my internet friends… Felix A. Obi…
My reading ends, and it turns out that this great audience may not have come to see me after all. Lola calls up Age, a guitar wielding singer who can still make a living as a male model if he loses his voice. Show-off impromptu composer too. ‘Tell me anything,’ he challenges his audience, ‘and I’ll make a song of it.’ So they do. And he does. He is not done, and he barges into the audience seducing other men’s girlfriends to their feet and dancing with them with only a guitar between them. Great, innocent, abujasque fun.
The Ghost of Sani Abacha will take a more substantial form very soon and Unu’s grill – which attracts the coolest Abujans – or Abujites – on the last Thursday of every month – is certainly one of the places it will haunt.
Note to Self: sign up Age for a finale.