In the round table where he sat, laughter reigned, jokes were cracked, banters and pleasantries were exchanged There was a constant stream of folks to this table to pay obeisance to one man. This man was full of smiles and cheer, regardless of his situation. He infected everybody with his robust cheerfulness. His friend, Sule an old ally stayed by his left side and they conversed. His wife, Surita sat next to his immediate right and some of his wife’s friends, sat on the other curved side of the table. Surita was decked in a gold coloured apparel – Buba and Iro*. She tied a purple head gear, in a local style. It had taken about two hours for the headgear to be tied and her face to be made up. The make-up artist was booked one month in advance for this event. It was the celebration of the exit of Pa. Montegro. The last stock of the returnee slaves who came with the Liberty ship to Freetown. His great great great grandfather was Mr. Montegro who schooled in the famous Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone and returned to Nigeria as an eminent historian scholar par excellence.
The man himself Mr. Kunle Montegro, was simplicity personified. Though money was never a problem for the kunle’s, they lived knowing the value of money. When it came to party times, the Kunle’s sure did know how to reconfigure themselves to make the moment count. Surita was the type who loved dancing. She would dance and dance till the musicians would run out of praise singing for her. The culture in the Yoruba land of Nigeria was, when it was dance time during an event, the celebrants would go to the centre stage and dance. Family and friends of the celebrant would join them in the centre stage and dance along with them. It is during this epic moment that monies are sprayed. Different denominations of naira and dollars are sprayed. The musicians would praise sing the sprayers because they also benefit from the flow of the largesse. Surita was bending down and digging it in, the crowd cheered. Beads of perspiration turned to rivulets. The drums talked non-stop.
Kunle bent his head over to Sule and whispered “I hear the drums calling me”.
Sule laughed and slapped Kunle on his back.
The drums talked on. The konga drums were handled by drummers who understood the drum. It awakened something in Kunle. Kunle nodded and oscillated his head to the right, to the left, swung his shoulders and began to sing along. The tune playing now was ‘Miracle miracle’. It was a very popular tune but what made the difference was that the talking drums were handled by trio of Olawale, Adesina, and Akeem. These konga drum specialists were from drummers’ families. They have a history with drums, they have a connection with drums, drumming is encrypted in their DNA.
Looking over to the platform at the drummers reminded one of the synchronized movement during Olympics swimming. Their shoulders vibrated at the same time. Their knees buckled at the same time, their waists twisted at the same time. It was synchronized. Ayinde, the singer had moved from the song ‘miracle miracle’ to eulogizing Surita who was spraying wads of naira notes. Friends and family members followed suit in the spraying. The centre stage seemed like, it was possessed. The spirit of the drumming had seized the drummers and they gave different renditions of waltzes and dances. The audience chuckled. People laughed and lauded the dancers. Phones were videoing and taking photos. Photographers made brisk business. They took unauthorized photos of folks and quickly printed them off in different sizes of paper and sold the photos to the individuals. Some paid for the photos, some didn’t. Some just grabbed their copies. A woman was overheard shouting at a photographer, “who asked you to take photos of me eh?”
People ate tons. The ones who ate the most were the uninvited guests. They called the food servers the most, ordering for different items on the menu. They ordered for drinks incessantly.
Surita’s name was being heard over the loudspeakers. The one who cannot see poor people and ignore. The one who is as beautiful as pearl. The one who is unparalleled in beauty. The one who is 60 and looks 16. The one who holds the title of sweet sixteen. The tempo of the drumming changed and the drummers were seized and warped in perspiration. Their hands received extra surge of energy. They beat the drums harder. Ayinde stepped away from his microphone and the atmosphere received extra charge.
The photographers were busy showing photos to Kunle. They had captured him in moments he didn’t realise. Kunle loved photos that were not prepared for. This was his weakness. He was inundated with choices. All of a sudden, he flung the photos on the floor, engaged the reverse gear of his motorized wheel chair. And rode out of the table.
“Where are you going?” Sule asked.
“The drums call me” he replied.
He rode in royalty to the floor. People parted ways for him bringing to mind the scenario of the parting of the red sea. He rode straight to the centre stage. He undulated his right and left shoulders, moved his neck in and out and spun his wheel chair around. People cheered. Surita moved over to her husband. “Honey are you okay?”
“Do I seem not okay?”
The drummers were in a frenzy now.
Ayinde switched his eulogies to Kunle.
The one that even the chair could not stop.
The one who hails from the city of the big rock.
The one whose bravery and acclaim is known far and wide.
The one whom the gods even recognize as the wise one.
The one who recognizes that the drummers are from the ancestral lineage.
The drums switched the notes. Ayinde stopped eulogizing. The drums were now talking.
Kunle took his right hand and grabbed his dead right leg. Took his left hand and gave an extra support to his right leg. He propped his right leg on the floor.
“Honey what are you doing? You are going to hurt yourself”
He did the same thing for his left leg.
Sule bent over his friend, “What are you doing Kunle?”
“What does it seem like I am doing?” Kunle replied.
With all his strength, Kunle grabbed Sule’s neck and clung to it, almost toppling Kunle over. He propped himself up and buckled. Everybody rushed to support him. He shooed them away from himself. He used his two hands and clasped Sule as if in a tight embrace. Then, he steadied himself. He began to stabilize. A new surge of energy flowed to his legs. He let go of his clasp. He swayed a little. The crowd rushed to support him again.
“Stop”, he yelled.
Ayinde grabbed the microphone.
My father told me how good a dancer you were.
You could do the acrobat.
You could do the somersault.
You the fearless one that even the non-functionality of your leg could not stop.
The one who danced and won laurels.
The drummers changed the beat, it became authentic. The drums spoke in a language Kunle alone understood.
“The drums call me. I hear them loud and clear” Kunle said to himself.
He put one leg forward, then another and yet another.
The hall was agog now. He swirled around, grabbed Surita and began the talking drum dance.
*Buba and iro is a type of traditional outfit in Yorubaland, Nigeria, worn by the ladies.