Mr. Frank Ozioko
Mrs. Julia Ozioko
(An old couple’s bedroom; it has a wardrobe, a table and its chair, a long mirror hung on the wall and a bed big enough for only two. A man is seen packing his clothes from the wardrobe into a travelling bag situated on the bed. Afterwards, a woman in traditional wear enters the bedroom.)
woman: Breakfast is ready, dear.
(She sees him fold a pair of white boxer shorts into the bag. Quickly, she takes it away from there and inspects it.)
woman: You cannot wear these under-shorts, Frank. They’re torn! (throws them on the bed)
FRANK: (takes them) But it is not going to be that formal, Julia.
JULIA: (takes them away from him) Look, I cannot put up with that hole in your head, but you are not leaving here with a hole in your shorts. (returns it to the wardrobe and takes over packing)
FRANK: (watches her) You are still mad at me because I am still undergoing this trip, aren’t you?
JULIA: Yes, I am mad because you prefer going to some fantastic piece of rubbish instead of staying here with me.
FRANK: Rubbish? You call one of the finest hotels in Nairobi rubbish? (fishes out a pamphlet from one of his back-pockets) Look at this!! See the zoo! See the swimming pools! See the tennis-courts!
JULIA: (looks closer) Where?
FRANK: That area where it says ‘Artist’s Conception’.
JULIA: Oh I see. (pauses) There is a big difference between conception and birth, you know. (continues packing)
FRANK: You know, the one thing about you is that you are afraid of taking any risks. You don’t have any guts.
JULIA: I married you, didn’t I?
FRANK: (sighs heavily) I just want to go out there to make more money for us.
JULIA: I know you. You are going for the free plane flight and the free entertainment.
FRANK: This is just an assignment, Julia. My very first ever. Four of us will go. Mr. Ulu is among. (short pause) And besides, I need the travelling allowance. I’ll look for somewhere else to stay instead of there.
JULIA: And where in the devil’s name will you be staying in Nairobi?
FRANK: I’m still a handsome man, you know.
JULIA: Don’t even try it!!
FRANK: (laughs) Don’t you worry. I’m nobody’s fool. (zips up the bag)
JULIA: Oh yes, you are. You’re mine. All mine. (pats his jaw affectionately)
FRANK: I was thinking: I married you for better or worse. When is it going to get better?
(Julia charges at him but he backs off and laughs.)
FRANK: (looks at his wristwatch) I’m hungry. Let’s go eat breakfast.
(They exit with Julia carrying the travelling bag.)
(A dining room. The dining table is large consisting of ten chairs and a vase of artificial flowers kept right at the centre. Frank enters with his travelling bag and sits down. After a while, AISHATU, a girl in her late teens, struts in dressed in a pair of blue “Patra”-shorts, a beautifully multicoloured shirt exposing her abdomen and white platform shoes.)
AISHATU: Good morning, father.
(Frank waves at her in greeting, visibly bewildered at her appearance. She carries a small black leather rucksack with her. She brings out a small, portable makeup kit and begins to do her face and tidy her weave-on hair. While doing that, she calls out.)
AISHATU: Hurry up, Grace! Quit being gracious! I do not have all day!!
(GRACE enters. She is in her mid-teens, but appears older in an outfit of a black leather short body-hugging gown that never reached the knees with leather gloves to match, and black high-heeled shoes. She has the “Foxy-Brown” figure. She catwalks to the dining table.)
GRACE: Good morning, father.
(Frank obviously stares in great astonishment at her.)
FRANK: (aside) What have my daughters turned into?
(Grace sits beside Aishatu.)
AISHATU: Is everything ready?
GRACE: Most certainly, sister.
AISHATU: Good. But just before we go, let us make sure we have taken the things we need, after breakfast.
(Frank slowly shakes his head. Afterwards, HAMZA, a boy of ten, enters, dressed in a school uniform. He sits beside Grace. She fondly pats his head.)
GRACE: Are you ready and set to go?
HAMZA: Yes, sister. Good morning, father.
FRANK: (still in shock) Eh, good morning.
(Afterwards, CHOBA and ANONG walk into the dining room. The former is in the same age group with Aishatu, dressed in an “American yuppish” style: a white-almost-brown, long untucked T-shirt and a black-grey waistcoat with solid, black trousers, a mighty pair of NIKE snickers, a black New York face-cap worn backwards, clipped silver earrings, a big golden necklace, black mirrored sunglasses and a 24-hour digital wristwatch; while the latter is almost in the same age-group with Grace dressed in a normal white shirt tucked in dull grey trousers and black shoes, and a silver clock wristwatch. The contrast between them is quite visible. Choba and Anong speak earnestly but inaudibly to themselves. They sit opposite Grace and Aishatu.)
CHOBA: Morning, Dad.
ANONG: Gooding morn, daddy.
GRACE: Not ‘Gooding morn’, you stupid! It is ‘Good morning’.
CHOBA: My gracious Grace, you sure look graciously graced today, o!! Take am easy sha!!
GRACE: (adjusts herself importantly) Thank you for your compliment.
CHOBA: (jokingly) I find you very attractive. Will you go to bed with me?
AISHATU: Will you shut up your mouth there!!! Is she not your sister?
CHOBA: (in American English) Hey, cool it, woman. I’m just telling her what she will expect from guys like me.
AISHATU: (hisses) Indeed! Is it not her body?
CHOBA: Haba mana, Aishatu!
(Aishatu throws something at him but he dodges it. Just then, NKECHI rushes in. She is a young adult in her mid-twenties, dressed in an attractive corporate wear. Frank silently sighs in relief.)
FRANK: (aside) At least, this is more of a human being.
NKECHI: (sits beside Anong and looks at her wristwatch) Thank God I came here on time. I thought I was late for breakfast. I cannot afford to miss this season of the day. Daddy, good morning.
FRANK: (affectionately) Good morning, my dear.
ANONG: Nkechi, we are not in Russia for you to start rushing in like that.
(Everyone laughs except Frank.)
NKECHI: What has Choba been teaching you this time, eh?
ANONG: (smiling) Emesiere, anwan eyen-eka.
AISHATU: Don’t mind him. Since this morning, he has been speaking in Latin.
NKECHI: I see. (hisses)
HAMZA: (innocently) What is Russia?
(Everyone hisses loudly and turns away from him, except Frank. Afterwards, MADUKA, a handsome man who has reached his prime in age, saunters in, hot in a cellular phone conversation. He is dressed in a grey three-piece suit, carrying a small briefcase. Then afterwards, Julia comes in from the kitchen, carrying two big glass bowls of hot steaming food in a tray. Maduka hangs up the phone after speaking and keeps it in one of his blazer pockets.)
MADUKA: And now, I say good morning to all the Homo sapiens and Homo erectus and living creatures in this dining room. How was the night?
(Frank buries his face in his hands and shakes his head.)
ALL (except Frank and Maduka): Good morning, Mother.
MADUKA: Where is the priest? He is supposed to be here, dedicating this meal of gargantuan succulence to the Infinite.
CHOBA: (in American English) Better wait, man. He’s probably conversing with the Holy One.
AISHATU: Ah-Ah! Which kind English-speaking competition be dis one sef?
ANONG: I no no for dem, O!
MADUKA: Choba, you dare to challenge me with near the same intonation that I utter?
(PRIEST appears and watches them in amusement. He is a middle-aged man of big potbelly, dressed in priestly robes.)
MADUKA: You have no respect.
CHOBA: (feigns surprise) Ah! Na who tell you say I get red skirt before? Okpari!! Na who? Abeg, Maduka. Make you tell me. I no understand dis kind wahala, O!
(General laughter. Maduka, obviously irritated, sits down beside Nkechi.)
MADUKA: (coolly) Father, why is it that I have a far better job than you?
(Suddenly, the laughter stops. All eyes on Maduka. Then, everyone freezes.)
PRIEST: (comes out, laughs and faces the audience) What a question! If you were Frank, would you answer it? There is Maduka, always trying to appear to be the Milosevic among them. He is a complex character, someone I personally cannot decipher. Next to him is Nkechi. Yes, Nkechi, trying to be a darling even against her very own wish. Then, there is Anong and Choba. Well, you’ve seen their characters for yourselves. After that, we come to Aishatu and Grace, the inseparable sisters. Well, something will happen that’ll make them a bit separable. Then finally, there is little Hamza. He is what every child normally is: stubborn, naughty, troublesome, inquisitive, a child though he is about ten. All of them are a bunch of adopted children from different orphanages. Hm. And now, the loving old couple. This is Frank Ozioko, who is highly uxorious for my liking. And this is his wife, Julia, who is less loving than he is but more frank than him. And I am a priest who is still waiting endlessly for five years, or thereabouts, for St. Catherine’s Catholic Church to build me a house for me to live in. (shakes his head) Frank is frankly an ordinary, level-eleven civil servant with other things up his sleeve, who is taking his very first assignment abroad. To AIDS-filled Kenya, by Nigerian popular opinion. Why should the Foreign Affairs people be that unfair to him? (shrugs his shoulders) Well, I am just an ordinary, pot-bellied priest. Just look at me! The Ozioko family have housed me and fed me to surfeit. I wonder if I am an inconvenience to them. If not for them, I would not have continued to spread the Gospel. (pauses) My God! I could remember when my bishop sent me on an assignment to go from house to house and talk on this Gospel, this Good News, as if I was a Protestant or Jehovah-witness. Kai!! I knew this one was a great demotion in my career. I didn’t say anything. I took it as a cross that I will always carry. I wasn’t happy at all, to tell you the truth. He told me before I left that after all, the disciples and apostles did it. Well, I did it and I was rewarded: to conduct morning masses and listen to daily confessions. (laughs) What a reward! (sees the food on the table) I had better see to that food. I am famished!! You know, I was there when Frank and Julia decided to adopt these children, and I wish to God who made me that they weren’t sterile for them to make such a decision.
(He goes to the dining table and bangs his palms thrice on it. They all unfreeze, as if awoken from a trance.)
PRIEST: Please, let us pray.
(All eyes close with hands together. He does the Sign of the Cross.)
PRIEST: In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Lord Jesus, rid this food of any poison that it may have. (Hamza stops praying and looks at him, baffled.) May it circulate in our body systems. May it energize us. May it nourish us spiritually and physically. May it help add more to our days here on earth. For this we ask through you, O Lord. Bless us O Lord, and these your gifts, which we are about to receive from your bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Everyone does the Sign of the Cross, and Priest sits down.)
JULIA: Hamza, you were not praying. Why?
HAMZA: Well, I … em … I’m sorry, mother. It won’t happen again.
(Julia dishes out the food and everyone eats in silence, for a while though.)
PRIEST: Em, Mr. Ozioko, my church is having a sort of night vigil today. I’m afraid I won’t be staying here tonight.
FRANK: (nods) Alright, dear priest. I understand.
MADUKA: Father, I intend to stay overnight at Bola’s place. You know Bola, my partner. I introduced him to you last Sunday when he came here and it was seriously raining. Em, we’ve gotten a deal, and I’ve just finished speaking with him over the phone.
FRANK: (solemnly) OK.
CHOBA: (in American English) Hey, dad! Me and Anong, you know, we’ve got ourselves a hot gig tonight, you know, and we wanna stay over at Patrick’s place. You know Patrick, don’t ya, dad? His parents spent Christmas with us just two years ago, you know, and they were even begging me to stay just a night or two with them. You know, dad, don’t you?
FRANK: (solemnly) Alright.
AISHATU: Father, Grace and I want to stay over at Aunty Nkiru’s mansion. You’ve seen her before, daddy. She’s that rich childless widow that owns that big white mansion at Ikeja. Remember when we spent our last Easter holiday there? Well, she has invited us along with Hamza to her house again.
FRANK: (the same) OK.
NKECHI: Daddy, I want to …
FRANK: (angrily) It is ok! It is alright! It is ok! Do whatever you like! Leave this house deserted and your mother all alone! But at least, let there be peace in this house. (looks at his wristwatch and gets up and pecks Julia) I have to go, sweetheart. I have a plane to catch.
JULIA: Safe journey, dear. (Frank exits)
MADUKA: Safe journey? What voyage is daddy embarking on, mother?
NKECHI: What is happening?
JULIA: Frank is leaving me. (Everyone talks at once.) HOLD IT!! He is only going on an assignment overnight at Nairobi. (Some sighs of relief.) So, I’ll be as free as a bird, to go wherever I want, to do whatever I please.
NKECHI: Oh really? So, what do you plan to do?
JULIA: I plan to be terrified.
JULIA: (worried) Oh Nkechi, I hate being alone. It scares me to death. I jump at every little noise.
NKECHI: Then, why don’t you invite a friend to stay overnight with you?
JULIA: (shyly) Well, I wouldn’t want to impose.
NKECHI: That is no imposition. A real friend would be glad to do that.
JULIA: (gets up, goes to her and hugs her) Oh thank you so very much, Nkechi! I accept!!!
JULIA: You are a real friend.
NKECHI: But … (quickly gets up)
JULIA: Oh, I am so excited!! Just imagine! Tonight, I’ll have someone to talk to. (goes to the kitchen)
PRIEST: (gets up) May God preserve your father’s soul during his journey. (Nobody is listening to him. Hamza is already laughing.) Well, I had better go for my morning mass and night vigil. (Exits)
ANONG: (jeeringly) It was very nice of you, Nkechi, to volunteer like that. (General laughter ensues. Nkechi gives him a wicked, angry look.) Don’t look at me like that. We all already know where we are going to, for the night.
CHOBA: (in American English) Yo, my sister!! Yo-ho, you weren’t just quick enough.
MADUKA: (gets up and confronts her) Honestly speaking, Nkechi, do you need lessons on how to be smart?
AISHATU: (gets up) Abeg make I go before Mummy change mind. (exits)
(Grace and Hamza follow her, hand-in-hand.)
CHOBA: (gets up as well) I beg to take my leave. Men, I really do need a smoke!
(Anong gets up as well and together, they exit.)
MADUKA: (pats her shoulder) Take care of yourself. I would have stayed with you to share your burden, but this is official business. (exits)
JULIA: (calls from the kitchen) Please, Nkechi!! Help me clear the table.
(Grudgingly, with great reluctance, Nkechi does so.)