“Anu the musician”, “Anu the soupastar” and on and on with the self-flattery, as she came up with amazing adjectives to describe herself, each more lofty than the last.
My ears have been filled with Anu’s budding dreams and aspirations to fame for the last few evenings. First she’d start off as a musician, next she’d conquer the screen and in the end, become a world renowned singer, actress and model. Don’t ask me about the last; I have no idea what inspired it although I have to admit she does have the stature for it. That said, seeing her prance about, whipping from left to right like a horse tail, made the idea of Anu on a catwalk simply too hilarious for words.
Only too soon, it was time for another music class and Anu was keen to show her world, which we all know to be very small, her freshly polished vocal prowess. Rehearsals continued for the planned musical to celebrate the school’s anniversary. We were performing a slightly tweaked version of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver! The Musical’. Truth be told, we were all very excited about it; I had a minor role as one of the pickpockets Oliver later falls in with, but I was also helping with the set design. Everyone was involved in one way or the other; from painting the sets, to printing and distributing flyers. Of course, the boys did all the heavy lifting, with us girls standing around ogling the biceps on display. The rehearsals were held in the school hall with everyone in a big group, coming forward in turns to take part on the relevant scene they featured in.
As we started, Anu stood beside the lead, Tiwa who was picked to play Oliver and proceeded to drown her out rather spectacularly in the much-loved first scene where Oliver asks for more food. I cast a quick look around and was only mildly comforted by the fact that I wasn’t the only one with my jaw on the floor. Yes, Anu was good but there was clearly no room for anyone else on her stage. The problem is, this was neither a competition nor an audition. Mrs. Jiboye called Anu aside discreetly and gave her the lines for “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” to practice as Remi/Fagin was ill with malaria. We continued in relative order with Anu managing to hold herself back till her turn and though she wasn’t a great success because she hadn’t mastered Remi’s lines yet, all in all, it wasn’t a bad session.
That evening, dad had guests over, having invited his boss to dinner. I’d overheard mum and dad talking about a new guy that had been hired. In spite of management’s seeming confidence in his skills, he was in fact doing serious damage to the business because he lacked the technical competence for his role. Dad wanted to broach the topic socially before formal complaints were made to HR. The house was in a tizzy as mum fussed endlessly over the cooker and the table arrangements, querying dad repeatedly about his boss, Mr Owen’s taste in food. It was way too late to change much as everything was in place and either about to go in, or already in the oven, or on the kitchen counter. She was making fried rice and smoked chicken, with some funky salad. She also baked a scrumptious chocolate cake for desert, which Anu was eyeing hungrily. All our best plates and cutlery were arranged to show off the flower designs on the edges, the colours matching the napkins and contrasting quite nicely with the table-cloth. The kids were banned from the kitchen to prevent any ‘accidents’. We had an early meal, staying back to welcome Mr Owen and his wife when they arrived and then went into our rooms. Mum looked fabulous with her freshly-done hair and nails, in a simple knee-length dress, and Dad looked like, well, Dad – smashing as always. I snuggled into bed with a novel whilst Anu sat in her bed, still dressed, styling her hair.
Suddenly, Anu got up and stepped out of the room. I called out to caution and remind her that we were to stay out of sight but she was gone in a flash. Clearly, she had forgotten we were meant to out of the way of the grown-ups tonight. Conversation downstairs stopped – ominous – next thing I hear is Anu singing one of the pieces from the musical. WHAT?? I opened the door slightly so I could eavesdrop but she went quiet after some moments. Not surprising. I didn’t suppose it would have taken her very long to notice the disapproving looks I’m sure mum was giving her. Undoubtedly, Anu was going to get into trouble.
“What on earth are you doing Anu?” asked dad.
“I am singing for your oga, as him is VIP”, replied Anu, murdering grammar in her fear. “If he hears my sing, he fit help me wax album. Abi his name is Mr Orin? (Orin – Yoruba word for song), so I want him to hear my own”, she explained.
“Anu, his name is not Mr Orin, it’s Owen”, said dad, placing emphasis on the ‘wen’ part of the name so that Anu could hear the difference.
Mr Owen for his part was in hysterics, his British sense of humour set off by Anu’s latest antic. His Brazilian wife Gabriela or Gabby as she prefers to be called was no doubt gathering fresh fodder for the repertoire of life stories she’s known for. From the tinkling laughter coming from her that I could hear all the way from where I was crouched, I suspected that this story is right up there with the best of them.
“Ah, Anu is it? I’m not in the music business but tell you what? If you find someone who is, you’ll definitely be snapped up in the blink of an eye, once he or she hears your amazing voice” chuckled Mr Owen. I could definitely imagine Anu’s Cheshire grin at his words, (I sighed) as he unwittingly stoked her ego and definitely washed out any disappointment that may have flowed from her not having found her gateway to fame just yet.
“Owen I am so sorry about this” apologized mum. “Anu, off to bed this minute, we will talk about this in the morning”, she added in a very stern voice. Anu came back upstairs and for a long time after, we could still hear Mr Owen guffawing away. I think it suffices to say Anu received the scolding of her life at breakfast the next morning.
A few weeks later, London was hosting the Olympic Games. At home, we were all excited, including Anu who had been somewhat mellow since the dinner incident. Dad and Kunle were sport buffs – so I knew the TV was on lockdown for the duration of the Games. Even mum softened somewhat, allowing us stay up late to watch the opening ceremony. We all cheered Team Nigeria in any event they featured in, sadly not many, and their repeated losses did absolutely nothing to dampen the atmosphere.
After Team Nigeria’s devastating loss to the USA in their basketball fixture, the evidently still superstitious Anu decided their abysmal performance was a result of our lack of patriotism and refusal to sacrifice a chicken for their cause. She took to wearing only green and white clothes and accessories – her still beloved uniform being the only exception to the rule – till the Games ended. I suspect she was a bit frustrated and disappointed that we all refused to join her. The idea of dad going to work in a green or white suit cracks me up.
Every weekend, Anu and I went to the hair salon. As thrilling as the Games were, I was glad to be out of the house. There’s something about the smell of hot combs and hair products that just reeks of femininity. Anu got her hair done first; cornrow style with green and white beads put in at the tips. She then disappeared into the makeup section. I largely ignored her. I mean, how much trouble could she be? I couldn’t keep an eye on her anyway as the braiding of my hair required that I hold my head still.
I made my way to the cash-register when it was finished, to pay for the services. As I scanned the receipt, I noticed that the bill was higher than usual due to a strange entry. I turned to the cashier and explained that there must have been a mix-up as we only got our hair braided. “Ah, that’s for your sister” she politely explained – pointing in the direction of the waiting room where Anu was sitting. Thankfully, I had enough money on my person to settle the bill and was grateful to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to pay. Furious at Anu, I stormed into the waiting room to demand an explanation from her but before I could say a word, an excited Anu showed me her arms; she’d gotten an intricately patterned henna tattoo of the map of Nigeria on the inside of her left wrist.
In that moment, it seemed that the world spun and then went black. Mum will kill me, I thought. No, perhaps Anu first, then me. No, definitely me first, then Anu. I even imagined her pulling a combo – taking both of us down at the same time. There was absolutely no way mum would believe I was unaware of Anu’s lapse in reasoning. Yes, I know that henna is temporary, but still, in one hour, Anu had managed to guarantee I would get a royal tongue-lashing. The henna was already dry and crusty, so I couldn’t even clean it off. Gloomily, we headed back home. It felt as if my shoes were filled with cement, my feet dragging slowly with every step. To my great surprise and relief, mum just laughed, gave Anu a brief lecture on asking first and that was the end of it. She must have had a really, really good day.
As the weeks rolled by, Anu gradually began to make friends in school, especially with the guys and girls in the musical. I suppose there’s something to be said for her outspoken nature and apparently infectious charm. Even more surprisingly, the henna map caught on and a few girls had similar ones tattooed. Finally the school authorities clamped down and spoke out against it. Big mistake! Of course, that made it all the rage, as the rebels and not a few undecideds had to get theirs too. Just like that, Anu had started a fashion trend in our school. U-N-B-E-L-I-E-V-A-B-L-E