With a little duff in my pocket

I had been given a contract to write a script for a medical drama that was to be shown in hospital waiting rooms and the money was good. I had only been paid half down but I was already labeled a billionaire. Generally artists are a starving lot and any money coming their way generates a lot of drama. I was keeping a low profile for my own selfish reasons. I was to hire a computer to write the script and it would have been a lot to easier to negotiate if the owner had no knowledge of the advance payment. I am not very good at clowning for favors, but pretending to be paying for the computer from my miserable salary would have seen the scale tilting my side. That fateful afternoon, I lied to my immediate boss that I had a splitting headache. I was released just before 2pm. My aim was to go around town spoiling myself. I wanted to spend an hour of aimless shopping, go for a movie at three and then close the day with dinner at some state of the art artists’ hideout. It is a wise thing to show your face now and then, and if your pocket is okay, buy a drink for one or two prominent faces. I was busy examining a fancy camera when some little boy from my ‘hood walked in trailed by two’ actors by force’. I remember meeting this boy for the first time at the bus stop and then we had started chatting. He had wondered if I was an artist because he had seen me talking to prominent faces in the industry. Happy to have someone recognizing me for what I have always wanted to be I warmed up to him and we became friends in a way. He had then expressed his desire to be an actor and wondered if I could introduce him to ‘people’. I took him along and in no time he knew his way around. I could handle him but his two companions were a big problem. They were by nature gossipers, shoe-lickers and clowns. You know, with artists if you get money you should share it with the others or spend it quick and rejoin your mates. I had no plan of doing anything like that. For the first time I had clinched a good deal and I was not going to loose my head over it. After spoiling myself for the afternoon I was going to sit down and really plan on what to do with my money. Like I expected, they quickly launched into my newfound fortune. I tried to shrug them off but they clung on. I knew where these two goofs would take the news and how they would narrate it. So as a damage control mechanism, I then decided to admit it. I then went to town and back with this story about buying a car. Obviously I was to use every cent. I wish now I had kept my mouth shut. I can’t say it has never crossed my mind that I should buy a car but there were so many things I needed to do before I could do that. Things like finding somewhere better to stay, rent a whole house maybe. Acquire things that would make the idea of parking a car in front the house reasonable. The moment I mentioned the car, the two goofs and the little boy got really excited. There was a car on sale somewhere in the low-density suburbs and the owner was willing to take in anything because he was on his way out of the country. I tried to wriggle out but they insisted on me seeing the car first. By the time we got to the fancy house I was already hooked. The plan was perfect, I was not ready to buy a car fine, but if I could just use my money to buy this one then I could sell it for a higher prize in no time. We got there and the car was perfect. The owner was not there but the gardener has been assigned to show it to anyone who came to see. Unfortunately the owner had forgotten to leave the keys but even from outside I could see the car was good. I was already salivating and I was no longer thinking of reselling but I was to buy it for keeps. The money required was slightly above what I had. I tried to bring the prize down but the gardener said no, his boss was not going to go lower than that. My friends convinced me it was a give away so I phoned my cousin who is always loaded. He turned me down flat, I understood. It was no news to members of my family that I was paid pittance. So asking for money to buy a car from any one of them was a real mistake. Realizing that I wouldn’t be able to secure this money in time, I decided to back out but my friends wouldn’t let me. I had made the mistake of telling them earlier that I was still to get some more money after finishing the script. Then the little boy again made some suggestion. He knew someone in our ‘hood who could lend any amount without demanding anything from the borrower. Such people were common but the usual pattern was for you to submit something that could be sold in case you absconded. The interest was hundred percent for thirty days but without collateral that was a piece of cake. The gardener insisted that I leave whatever I had at the moment to secure the car. We signed some papers of course, with the maid as the witness. I took their National Identity cards with me. I was just trying to close all the loopholes. We then went to see the moneylender. The house was ‘neat’, ghetto standards. It had a perfect durawall and a lockable gate but the grounds were dump, sewage of course. We got into the house and my friend announced that we were business people. It was six in the evening. The wife took us to the ‘office’. It was a tiny room at the back. At first I couldn’t see anything when she opened the door. The light was red and dim. After a few seconds I could make out the figure of a man sitting in one corner and then a range of dolls lined up the entire length of the wall. They were painted in all sorts of loud colours and had ropes of beads around their necks and arms. There was no chair, no furniture of any sort. The carpet was red and there were two leopard skins on the floor. Without saying anything the man indicated that we sit on the skins. I did more out of fear than wanting to impress my soon to be creditor. My friend went on to explain how much we needed and for how long. This seemed to be a very familiar territory to my friend. The man did not ask us why we needed the money. He opened a wooden box and he started counting out the cash. I was not following anything because my heart was like in my mouth and I was drenched in sweat. He placed the money in the outstretched hand of one of the dolls. He knelt and then did some little chant before addressing the dolls. “Eh my forefathers, you gave me this money to use for my family but a traveler needs it. The traveler promises to bring it back before we see the next moon. I am going to bank on what the traveler says and if anything happens, you have seen them and you know what to do.” Again he did the chant that sounded like a child singing and the language made me think of ghosts and evil spirits. He then turned back and indicated that I should pick the money from the doll. No papers. My legs were like locked, for some seconds I could not move. My friend cleared his throat and that got me started. I shot up and ran out of the room. When I got home, my landlady was waiting. It was the last day of the month I had completely forgotten. All the money I had, I had left it with the gardener. I ignored her locking myself up. She screamed herself hoarse threatening to call the police. As I drifted off to sleep I was thinking about ancestors, the gods and why things always happen to me.

May 2006
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