My latest idea was a local campus magazine.
A magazine that would feature the hottest student accommodation on campus and be sold at 400 bucks to 4000 students within a month.
That was why I had summoned some of my friends to my self-contained room in Nnedioranma hostel, few minutes past 5pm, this Tuesday. Not so much to contribute constructively to my idea as to applaud at my brilliancy though. And perhaps – most likely – lend financial weight as the occasion demanded.
I liked to think of them as my master mind group. Even though what we often did was argue about whose girlfriend or boyfriend that person was, talk about how Amina got that Toyota RAV4 or the wallop Real Madrid served Arsenal last night… Whose okpa was the nicest with hot Milo on a cold Saturday morning? But we got around to weightier issues at times – the occasional business idea, plans after school, and – surprise surprise – purpose…
“Sounds like a good idea.” Seun was the first to speak up, stifling a huge yawn, after I’d laid out the idea to him and Caleb, the first persons to arrive.
I noticed he hadn’t been so drowsy when he and his companion literally inhaled the hot yam porridge I’d dished out for them minutes ago.
Seun was like our personal Yoruba version of ‘Klint the drunk’, with his often disheveled appearance and accented drawl. Seun who said he would get a current photo of Kola– and brought a plain sheet with a single broomstick glued in the centre.
Of course that was stupid, as most of his jokes were – no HIV victim or malnourished Somali refugee kid even got that thin. But it wasn’t what he said, but how it was said. Humor usually trumps logic and one cracks hard, spraying spittle and bits of food every which way as ill suppressed laughter got the best of one.
Still this crazy Seun who said an undergraduate in his final year – referring to me – that was yet to design even ‘plank resting on block’ hadn’t really studied architecture but technical drawing.
The dark, lanky chap yawned and struggled with sleep the entire meeting; he claimed he was up till 3am and still had to get ready for Mr. Tola’s 7 o’ clock lectures before 5:30am.
He had issues sleeping off in the midst of people for some inexplicable fear that he might let fly a fart while dozing.
At some point the door opened to admit a tall, dark, skinny lady in electric blue tights & small t-shirt.
“Debbie!” I smiled.
“You don slim o!”Caleb’s eyes seemed to gleam with some kind of diabolical satisfaction.
She had, a bit. Probably the results of a poor diet and maybe overwork, I thought.
Debbie was a workaholic, you see. Of the variety who couldn’t recognize just where work ended & rest, play time started.
“Nnewi boy” she said to Caleb, without missing a beat. “Since we’ve stopped eating your spare parts’ money, we’re dying.”
Everyone laughed, Caleb smiling a small embarrassed smile behind a cupped fist.
What hadn’t Caleb done between second and third year to impress this lady into his arms? Once he’d bought meals at Chuckies restaurant for every friend or classmate that had walked in when he took her out for lunch. Some he had even asked to retrieve their meal money if they’d already paid. I’m not a wizard in interpreting female body language but Debbie had appeared a trifle miffed about the whole business. I mean, no one likes a dolt- with general exceptions of course.
“That’s why you should marry me. If I put in one there, you’ll add weight overnight.”
That was Toks.
If you liked your jokes raw, tasteless, with a helping of obscenities, Toks was your man. But give it to him, Toks’ was the first image Google showed if you typed ‘business man’ in the search engine. Literally. This guy was like the Midas of ideas. Even his girl Chika knew who the real madam was.
He’d once made N25, 000 from a 100 naira investment, & one hundred kay in a month from selling music lyrics’ books on campus-although we heard about the bitter fallout he had with the supplier because it seemed he’d pocketed more than a fair share of the nairas. None put it past him, the roguish bent; the dude could owe you five kay for three weeks & buy Turkish suits twice a month, while giving the same excuse of barely having enough to eat two square meals; he would sell you a CD deck & sell the power cable separately.
Ah, but then, you could trust Toks to give you the raw, brazen facts; he was brutally honest in his opinions. If you were scarred badly by the scathing, hard words dripping with ridicule, you could find some solace in the fact he was almost always dead-on in his assessment. You wanted to run all of your ideas by him, even if you came across as hare-brained every time you did.
That was why he was sitting with us right then in the first place.
I had just given him a run of my idea before Debbie came in.
“Sounds nice” the corners of his mouth dipped in a meditative frown.
I waited, breath stifled.
“But is dumbly unrealistic.” He finished.
You see this dude?
“I mean,” his voice seemed to teeter on the edge of sarcasm. “How do you intend to sell magazines at N400 to 4000 mostly broke campus students, combined with your lectures & all, within a month?”
The silence hung heavy like a soaking wet rug on a clothes line.
I dared not utter a suggestion to defend my highly brilliant-so-it-blinds idea which seemed already in its death throes, in this guy’s grasp.
“That’s why you’re here” I tried a smile I imagined confident. “Tell us.”
He smiled, shook his head. “Mags don’t sell in Unizik.
“We started a magazine two years ago, a year before you entered school, and it was a colossal flop. Enugu might be a better buy if you have the contacts there to help you push it.
A pause, then: “Why don’t you invest in okpa? Okpa sales trumps the sales of all these your ajebo things, in the long run. The market is really good.”
“So why are you not selling okpa?” Debbie raised a sardonic brow at him.
“What do you think, Deb?” I said. “A mag showing the hottest student accommodations on campus.”
She appeared thoughtful for a moment. “Nice one. But that shouldn’t be all the main attraction in the mag. You want to consider if that alone can hold its own for a couple more editions. I mean, it’s not like students upgrade their rooms or something every fortnight-”
“We could feature like a top ten for every edition” Caleb interjected. “Even if we discover like forty rooms around, we don’t put them all out in one edition.”
“Still goes back to the fact, like Debbie points out” Toks said. “That you can’t hold sway for long going on just student accommodations.
“Besides, your average Unizik student would just borrow the mag from his neighbor. In that way you would have like twenty students to one mag.”
It was good when friends hunkered around your brain child & shred it analytically into ribbons; you could savor the notion you’d birthed something people could earnestly break their heads and tear their shirts about. But when, 10, 20 minutes later the argument had meandered into ubiquitous topics involving NFA, stock listings & academic results, you welcomed the queasy feeling this hadn’t really been about your idea from the onset. Show me your hands, if your friends visit not because of you but for the environment your place furnished for them to pull out peckers and compare. Know what I mean?
The rest of my evening kind of plummeted from there; Toks polished off the rest of my yam porridge – which I intended would be my dinner – and bade farewell; Debbie soon gave some vague excuse about being some place, some time that evening, evaporated.
When Caleb and Seun rose to leave, I blocked them at the doorway. “You two are clowns.” I wagged my head depreciatively. “So what is the conclusion on the idea I called us here for?”
Both stared back uneasily, olodos on a hot seat.
“We’ll think about it and get back to you.” Caleb said. “It’s a good idea, it is.”
Seun kept bobbing his head like a metronome gone berserk. “Yes, it is good.” He chimed in.
I shook my head again at them. “I’ll have my shoes for lunch if any of you gets back to me on this idea.”
Their laughter rang in unison as they strode off.
I had depression for dinner, mentally splaying five fingers at the whole bunch all evening for bringing this on me. I swore I would never let them in on another idea. They would see my magazines churning out in their hundreds of thousands, the cash raining insanely, the stolid indifference on my face when they asked hesitantly if they could join my editorial team, the TV interviews, the ride, the…
I slunk into a dreamless sleep on a bed of fantasies and woke refreshed, grievances shucked aside.
I clasped hands and snapped fingers with Caleb and Seun when I met them after lectures and even bought lunch for Debbie later in the day. I didn’t bring up my idea for discussion again with them though. Not with myself either – except to wonder wistfully at what the outcome of such an idea could be and tell myself that soon I would act on it.
About a month later, someone bangs loudly, impatiently at my door while I’m having siesta.
“O boy, open up quick quick!” I hear a muffled but clearly excited voice. It’s Caleb.
I let him in and he shoves a magazine in my grasp, wordlessly.
“What’s this?” I glare at magazine, at his face, back at the magazine.
My mind is still kind of befuddled from sleep – but not too foggy to note the words ‘hottest’ and ‘student accommodation’ on the glossy front cover.
The name at the bottom of the magazine, the editor in chief, is Toks Abali.