Book Excerpt: This Side of the Dead by Isaac Attah Ogezi

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PART ONE: SCENE ELEVEN

 

[CHIEF DR. DON’s ultra-modern mansion. We are shown into the very large sitting room. It is extravagantly furnished and rug-carpeted. A flight of stairs at the extreme end of the wall facing us disappears upstairs. CHIEF DR. DON and his daughter SUSAN are comfortably seated, waiting. A third, rather unobtrusive party sits at a respectable distance away from father and daughter. It is the matronly, grey-haired house-maid in her late fifties, befittingly attired. Her presence is little felt, rather inconspicuous. She may as well not be there as far as they are concerned. We can almost feel the all-pervasive air of expectancy that is holding father and daughter captive. Now and then, the former casts an angry glance at his gold Rolex]

 

CHIEF DR. DON: [Cannot hold himself any longer; doubtfully] Are you sure you told him that I wanted to see him?

SUSAN:               Yes, papa.

CHIEF DR. DON: I see. It’s almost 5 pm and he’s not yet here. [Suddenly] And what was his response? I mean, how did he react to my invitation?

SUSAN:               He said “well …”

CHIEF DR. DON: [Shocked] What, Suzie? And don’t tell me you took his non-committal “well” for an answer?

SUSAN:               [Shame-facedly] Yes, papa. [Appeasingly] Papa, please let’s wait for a little while. We’ve done enough as it is. If he doesn’t come, say, in thirty minutes’ time, then we may consider we’ve waited enough.

CHIEF DR. DON: Never mind, my dear. [Throws his arm lovingly on her shoulders] For you my only daughter, I’m ready to sacrifice anything even my life. What is there in mere waiting? Why, I’m ready to wait for an eternity where you’re concerned. Now let me see you smile, Suzie. C’mon, bless your dear father with a smile that can disarm a whole battalion of soldiers!

SUSAN:               [Smiles shyly] Thank you, papa.

CHIEF DR. DON: It’s all right. Wait for him, we must. It makes no difference provided … [He is interrupted by the sudden beep of a cell phone. To SUSAN] Just a moment, please. [Fishes out the cell phone from his pocket; into the phone] Yes …yes. Just the very person we’re expecting. Yes, let him in right away. [He returns the phone to his pocket]

SUSAN:               [Stammeringly] Was … was he the one, eh papa?

CHIEF DR. DON: Yes, our gentleman caller! [Notices her discomfiture; admonishingly] Now, pull yourself together, Suzie!

[A pause and then there comes a knock on the door. SUSAN smiles, visibly embarrassed, while her father keeps an expressionless face. Another knock]

SUSAN:               [Springs to her feet] Let me usher him in, papa.

CHIEF DR. DON: [Commandingly] Come back here, Suzie! Leave that for Maria. What is she here for, anyway?

[At the mention of her name, MARIA is jolted awake from her stupor. She rises to her feet rather too quickly for a woman of her age and walks mechanically to the door.]

CHIEF DR. DON: [To SUSAN] And you, Suzie, oya go back to your room and play!

SUSAN:               But papa …

CHIEF DR. DON: [Interruptedly] To your room, Suzie! Don’t you ever argue with your dear father. Do as I’ve told you. Go back to your room.

[SUSAN sullenly slouches off. We can feel her disappointment the way she climbs the stairs and exits upstairs. Meanwhile, MARIA lets in MICHAEL]

MICHAEL:           Good evening, sir.

CHIEF DR. DON: Evening. You’re welcome. [Waves to a seat opposite his] Do have a seat. Feel at home, eh. [To MARIA] Get him some cool drinks, Maria. [After a pause; to MICHAEL] I can see you really took your time in honouring my invitation.

MICHAEL:           I’m afraid that wasn’t deliberate, sir. I was held up by the heavy traffic on my way here. I never meant to slight you in any way.

CHIEF DR. DON: It’s all right. [He notices MARIA still hovering around uncertainly. Barks angrily] Ehen, what are you still doing here, Maria? I thought I sent you to get him some cool drinks or have you suddenly gone deaf? [MARIA makes to talk but is interrupted as an idea suddenly dawns on him. To MICHAEL] What do you care to take, young man?

MICHAEL:           [As if he drinks it everyday] Maltina, please.

CHIEF DR. DON: [To MARIA] He says Maltina!

[MARIA slinks off to get the drink. Meanwhile, CHIEF DR. DON fixes his searching gaze on MICHAEL, sizing him up; appraising him]

CHIEF DR. DON: [Condescendingly] I understand you are the store-keeper’s younger brother, right?

MICHAEL:           That’s correct, sir.

CHIEF DR. DON: I see.

[Re-enter MARIA with a small tray of one Maltina and a glass. She sets the tray on a low stool before MICHAEL and uncorks the bottle with an opener]

CHIEF DR. DON: [To MARIA] You may excuse us if you’re through. I shall call you whenever I need you.

MARIA:               Yes, sah. [Exit]

[MICHAEL fills the glass from which he sips now and then as the following conversation ensues]

CHIEF DR. DON: [As if to himself] At last we’re in a democracy, the long-awaited democracy that Nigerians said they wanted. What do you think of our young democracy, young man?

MICHAEL:           Are you asking my candid opinion?

CHIEF DR. DON: Oh, sure. Feel free to air your opinion. Don’t let my being in the Cabinet influence your judgment. We’re in a democracy where dissent or opposition should not only be accepted in good faith but tolerated.

MICHAEL:           As a matter of fact, sir, I’m afraid what I’m going to say is not going to please you.

CHIEF DR. DON: No, no, no! I say feel free and say whatever you want to say. Isn’t that the beauty of democracy? Besides, as a Cabinet Minister, I’m closer to the government of the day and your criticism could help a long way to salvage our nascent democracy.

MICHAEL:           Personally speaking, sir, I don’t think our style of democracy in this country is anything to write home about. [Getting worked up] The only dividend our fledgling democracy has yielded so far, if anything, is the freedom of speech we enjoy. Apart from that, it is a total failure. I mean, Nigerians never bargained for these countless ethno-religious crises springing up here and there like Boko Haram, OPC, Bakassi Boys, Niger Delta militancy and not to mention the ceaseless power tussle between the executive and the legislature. Be that as it may, I still agree with all those who maintain that the worst civilian regime is better than the best military regime.

CHIEF DR.DON: [Expressionlessly] I see. I’m quite surprised to hear that from somebody who claimed a while ago that he saw nothing good in the present civilian dispensation. To use your expression, “it’s a total failure.” Well, as I said earlier on, you’re entitled to your opinion. [Pause; digressing] That’s by the way. Back to the object of my invitation. I want to let you know that my dear daughter Susan told me so much about you. One cannot help but sympathize with you over the travails you’ve gone through.

MICHAEL:           Thank you, sir.

CHIEF DR. DON: To be quite honest with you, even as a Cabinet Minister, my hands are practically tied. [Pause] But, well … em, what am I about to say again? [Calling] Maria! M-a-r-i-a!

[Enter MARIA hurriedly at a run]

MARIA:               Sah!

CHIEF DR. DON: Go to my room. You’ll see one small black briefcase on my bed. Bring it here for me quick. Be careful how you touch the other important documents on the bed, right?

MARIA:               [Rushing off] Okay, sah. [Exit]

CHIEF DR. DON: As I was saying, I want you to understand that your problem is quite beyond me otherwise I wondn’t have hesitated to wade into it for you. You see, I love my daughter and anything she wants is hers just for the asking. All the same, I believe no religion forbids charity. [Re-enter MARIA with a briefcase which she hands it to CHIEF DR. DON]

CHIEF DR. DON: Thank you. You may now go. When I need you, I shall let you know. [Exit MARIA. CHIEF DR. DON flicks the briefcase open. It is stuffed with bundles of crisp bank-notes neatly arranged. He pushes it towards MICHAEL] This is five hundred thousand naira. Point five million naira in raw cash. All for you!

MICHAEL:           [Thunderstruck] You mean all this …!

CHIEF DR. DON: [Smiles benevolently] All yours!

MICHAEL:           I’m simply overwhelmed, sir. I cannot thank you enough.

CHIEF DR. DON: Don’t mention it. [As MICHAEL makes to close the briefcase …] One more thing though. [MICHAEL’s hands stop in mid-air, inquiringly] Yes, this is not without some strings attached as they say. And I want you to listen to me carefully. Leave my daughter Susan alone now that it’s safe before any scandal breaks out. I won’t be happy with you if I ever hear that you were seen together with her again. Lay off, young man. For your own good, I say lay off. Do I make myself clear to you?

MICHAEL:           [Coolly] Are you trying to buy my love for your daughter, sir?

CHIEF DR. DON: Well, if we may put it rather crudely that way! I repeat: [pronouncing each word menacingly] Leave my daughter alone if you love yourself! Lay off. I don’t want to warn you of this again.

MICHAEL:           Is this how much you rate your daughter’s love then, sir? [Disdainfully] Just five hundred thousand naira only. I’m not going to accept these peanuts if that’s the case.

CHIEF DR. DON: [Amazed rather than shocked] You want more? Tell me. Are you not satisfied with this offer? [Laughs shortly] I know your type. Ha, ha. Gold-diggers! That’s just what you are like the rest of them. Always on the look-out for rich men’s innocent daughters that you’ll milk dry in the name of love! Thank God that I’ve spotted you out on time before you proceed to ruin my daughter’s life. You want more, is that not so? [Laughs shortly again] What is another five hundred thousand naira to my dear daughter’s precious life? I shall let you have it. But I warn you: leave my daughter alone if you love your life. [He brings out his cheque-book, scribbles quickly and signs.] Here, this is a cheque of another five hundred thousand naira, making it one million naira. Do you still say this one is too small for a church mouse like you? [Forcing the cheque into MICHAEL’s hand] Take … take … take it but leave my daughter alone. Get out of her life. And there’s the door. Beat it!

MICHAEL:           Just see what I think of you and your five hundred thousand naira. [Tears the cheque into pieces and flings them on CHIEF’s face. Meanwhile, we see SUSAN and MARIA at the staircase, obviously attracted by the rumpus, watching silently the unfolding drama]

CHIEF DR. DON: [Chokingly] How … how dare you tear my cheque? [Brings his hand to slap MICHAEL who catches it expertly in mid-air]

MICHAEL:           Save your itchy hand for a more profitable venture. I too know how to throw a punch. If you’re so much aggrieved about anything at all, you can go ahead and sue me before a court of law. Your civilized class has not failed to provide a better means of seeking for redress than crude force. [Releases CHIEF DR. DON’s hand]

CHIEF DR. DON: [Horrified] Jesus Christ of Nazareth! Are you also threatening me in my own house, eh you small fry?

MICHAEL:           So you say. You erroneously think that everything in life is for sale even love. But that’s where you’re mistaken in my own case. I won’t leave your daughter alone so long as she loves me. And I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do about it, because I know that you can’t do more than a toothless bulldog!

CHIEF DR. DON: The cheek of it! Look here, young man, if you’re wise as I think you are, you’ll quietly accept your lot in life, go away with what I’m offering you and leave my daughter alone. You can always find a poor girl of your class to gratify your lust. [Threatening] But I warn you. Don’t you ever force me to cut you down in your prime! [Soberly] Where do I even have the time to fight an insignificant beggar like you? [Points to the door] That’s the door. Beat it. Scram before I get you arrested for a far worse offence.

MICHAEL:           I’ll be going in a jiffy, sir. You don’t have to get hot by the collar on that account. Do you mind if I see your daughter Susan before I go?

CHIEF DR. DON: [To himself, resignedly; tapping his forehead] Why, the boy is simply mad. As mad as a hatter. [To MICHAEL] All right, I mind. Now o-u-t!

MICHAEL:           It has been a pleasure ….

CHIEF DR. DON: [Barks] I say out!

MICHAEL:           So long, sir. [Going]

SUSAN:               [Suddenly calls out with a lot of emotion; bounding down, two steps at a time] Mike! Mike! Wait for me, Mike. [MICHAEL stops in his tracks and turns. SUSAN runs into his outstretched arms, kissing him hungrily.]

SUSAN:               [Passionately] Mike! Mike! Mike! I love you, Mike.

MICHAEL:           My Susan.

SUSAN:               [Breathlessly] Let’s go together. Take me along with you, Mike. I’ll come with you!

CHIEF DR. DON: [Maddened; coming to from his stupefaction] Suzie!

SUSAN:               [Urging MICHAEL to the door] Papa, I want to see him off.

CHIEF DR. DON: [Commandingly] I say come back here, Suzie!

SUSAN:               [Pleadingly] I won’t be long, papa. Just up to the gates and I’ll be right back.

CHIEF DR. DON: [With an edge to his voice] I heard you the first time, all right. That’s why I ask you to come back here, Suzie.

SUSAN:               [Looks at her father challengingly, defiantly and daringly; turns determinedly to MICHAEL] I’ll come with you, Mike. Let’s get out of here.

MICHAEL:           Listen to your dear father, Susan, and go back. [Admonishingly] I won’t have you disobey your father in my presence. He knows better what’s good for you. [Sarcastically] What’s more, parents are always right. [Disengages her hands gently] Listen to me, Susan, and go back to your father. If we’re destined to be together, no force on earth can stop us. Not even your father. Take good care of yourself for me. ’Bye. [He opens the door and exits, closing it gingerly after him. Silence. SUSAN remains rooted to the ground, shamefaced. Slowly she makes for the staircase]

CHIEF DR. DON: Suzie! [No response. Enraged] Suzie!

SUSAN:               [She pauses and gives him a rather condescending, from-head-to-toe murderous look] Jupiter! [Runs upstairs, sobbing]

CHIEF DR. DON: [Paces up and down like a caged lion] Girls can be such funny creatures. Hmm. [Bitterly] After eighteen years with her father, she suddenly meets a boy for a day, just a day and suddenly her father now means nothing to her. He’s as good as dead to her. She’s even ready to elope with this ghetto boy who dared raise his hand against her father. What childishness! Hmm. [Resumes his pacing] That I should live to witness this belittling scene orchestrated by my own daughter before my very eyes. [Pause] What did she even call me again? Ju-wetin? Jupiter! [Laughs] Girls? Hmm. Her doting father has now become a Jupiter who’ll put asunder in the way of her love. How do they even say it again? [Laughs a sad laugh] Hmm. [Determinedly] We shall see. Yes, we shall soon see who’ll have the last laugh.

 

[Sudden blackout]

 

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[End of Excerpt]

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