A virtual slave

Discussion in 'Literature' started by Gertn, Nov 2, 2015.

  1. Gertn

    Gertn Active Member

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    I was happy to be back home with my wonderful partner, Geoff, and to be able to help him again with his theatre work. I had satisfied my desires to sing and was contented right now just to sing for my own pleasure, which usually meant in the shower or when cooking in the kitchen. This is when I would belt out show tunes or try out a song I had not sung before.

    It was when I was in the shower one day, singing the tunes from Hello Dolly, that the bathroom door was thrown open and Geoff, completely naked, jumped in beside me.

    “I know now what I have to do,” he said.

    I was hoping he meant something to do with me but that was not to be.

    “I have to audition every young actor and even some older ones in town and see if I can muster a group big enough to tackle a Shakespeare play.”

    As we scrubbed each others backs and finished our lovely showers, Geoff explained that he had been bitten by the classic bug and had determined that he would mount a fully professional production of one of Shakespeare’s Romances. He mentioned Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello.

    “My dear, you do realise they are all tragedies and not romances,“ I asked.

    “Oh yes, but romance is very often so tragic isn’t it? Except in our case,” he added rather hurriedly as he saw my hand raised ready to slap his bare butt.

    We dried and jumped into bed. We talked for hours it seemed about Geoff’s plans. He said he would wait until after all the auditions before deciding on which play to produce. Much would depend on the range of talent available. Eventually, I was too tired to even think any more and I snuggled into Geoff and fell asleep.

    When I woke, Geoff was already gone, but not too far. I could smell the delicious aroma of coffee and knew Geoff would be making me waffles with bananas and honey for breakfast. I was right.

    Over my scrumptious breakfast Geoff outlined his plan of attack. He had already drafted an ad for the newspapers and had sketched a poster to be printed and posted in prime spots around town. He had even scripted a radio commercial which he asked me to record and would then submit to local radio stations. TV advertising was really the best but also very expensive, so Geoff had to ignore that for the time being. Later I would get him some publicity on TV, using my charm and a little bribery. For now, we just went ahead with the advertising planned by Geoff.

    The response to the ads was overwhelming. Actors and actresses, who considered themselves serious contenders for Shakespearean roles contacted Geoff within days of the ads appearing. When the first audition was held, no less than 43 actors turned up to try their best. Since it had been announced that the auditions were for a Shakespearean play, they had all prepared extracts from Shakespeare plays. Of course, many tried to be too clever and presented famous soliloquies such as ‘To be or not to be’. Some recited sonnets and others chose lesser known extracts from the vast library of Shakespeare’s works. There were a few who just wanted to be on stage and get paid for it but they had no concept of the language required for a good Shakespeare presentation. Nevertheless, of the 43 who auditioned, Geoff made careful notes of 18 actors and actresses with whom he was suitably impressed. More auditions were to follow in three days.

    The second audition produced even fewer people in whom Geoff showed interest but there was one young lady who absolutely floored everyone watching with her reading of scenes from Othello, in which she portrayed the ill fated Desdemona. She had everyone’s heart breaking. Geoff whispered to me.

    “If I can find a decent Othello I believe I can make a very successful show with that lady as Desdemona,” he said.

    My mind raced, my heart thumped and I didn’t reply straight away. Then I don’t know why my voice rang out with one single word.”Agu”.

    “What did you say?” asked Geoff.

    “Look, I know he is a great singer with a great voice but when he sings he really feels the lyrics, he is completely transformed when he is on stage. I am sure he could act and this much I do know, his deep voice and his muscular physique would be perfect for The Moor.” Othello was often referred to as The Moor of Venice.

    “It certainly would be a wonderful idea to have a real black Othello and not one in stage make-up. Can you contact him and ask if he would be interested?” I knew that Geoff was interested not just in Agu as an actor but in meeting the man I had spoken so much about.

    I went straight to my computer and sent Agu a long email outlining the proposal and begging him to at least come and try, I told him that Geoff was an incredibly patient director and that he would be more than happy to mentor a newcomer to the acting arena.

    Agu phoned me and was full of doubts about his ability to undertake such a mammoth role but I persuaded him to bring his wife and come spend a weekend with Geoff and I so that we could all talk this thing through.

    He came, his wife was even more astonishingly beautiful in real life and we all had a relaxing lunch after their arrival and spoke only of the concert Agu and I had performed in. We remembered how we had become friends and Agu took my hand and reminded me that he had once said that we would hold hands again. Didi, Agu’s wife smiled and Geoff half smiled whilst looking at my hand enclosed in Agu’s string black palm. Was Geoff jealous, I hoped so.

    After lunch, I took Didi for a stroll around town whilst Geoff took Agu to the theatre. We had planned to meet in two hours back at the theatre.

    Didi and I arrived at the theatre a little before the two hours were up and we sneaked quietly into the auditorium as we could hear the booming voice of Agu coming from the stage.

    “Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,

    Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak

    Of one that loved not wisely but too well.”

    As Agu spoke the lines his eyes filled with tears and Didi rose wanting to go to him. I held her hand and whispered,” The tears are not his but those of Othello, a man who has just killed his wife. He is a natural born actor, that magnificent husband of yours.”

    Agu finished his speech and mimed stabbing himself to death. His stage death was not over done as many would have portrayed it but was simple and very moving. Didi and I both were teary eyed and I saw Geoff raise a hand to his eyes.

    Agu rose and looked towards Geoff. “ Was that OK?”
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  2. Gertn

    Gertn Active Member

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    “No, my friend that was not OK, that was almost perfect. I have seen and heard enough. I can make you into a very fine Othello but as usual I have to talk to Georgie and I am sure you want to discuss it with your wife.”

    Didi and I ran forward. “Yes, yes “ I cried out.” I knew he would be perfect.”

    “Almost perfect, “ Geoff reminded me.

    “I really felt your pain, my love,” Didi said as Agu crushed her in his arms.

    “Can I do it? We would have to stay here for some time, rehearsals and shows. What do you think, my Didi?”

    “I think you will be amazing and as long as I am with you, no matter where, I will be happy. I think it is a new venture for you and we always grew up running into new adventures and not away from them, didn’t we?” Didi was as wise as she was beautiful.

    Dinner that evening was just so grand. We all celebrated with Geoff insisting that we go to a local hotel which always had a wonderful Buffet Dinner. We ate, we drank wine and we talked about the play. Othello would be scheduled for September, still five months away. Agu and Didi would return home and come back to stay with Geoff and I in July. I planned to record all of Othello’s speeches and give tapes to Agu, mainly for the Shakespearean delivery of certain words and phrases. Geoff was already thinking about those who had auditioned, seeking wonderful supporting cast for the man Geoff had already promised would be his new star.

    The next day we said our farewells and no one, neither Geoff nor Didi, even flinched when Agu gave me a bone rushing hug and a big thank you before he left. I would see my big brother again soon.

    Soon came upon us like a storm and Agu and Didi arrived filled with excitement, though to tell the truth Didi did seem a little nervous. I asked why she seemed uneasy.

    “Agu will be working and I am just a little afraid of being alone so much in the hotel room. I do not know this place well so I will not go far by myself.” Didi was right.

    “Then you should come, watch rehearsals,” I suggested, “and maybe help me make coffee for the actors. Then you and I can always sit in the Green Room and gossip.”

    “What is a Green Room?” Didi asked.

    I explained that this room was for actors to relax in, meet friends and chat. I also said it was where Didi and I could go and gossip if we got bored watching Agu.

    “I do not think anyone could ever get bored watching Agu, do you?” She smiled at me and I could see she already knew my answer.

    It was settled, Didi would keep me company while Geoff put his cast through their hoops. Geoff had chosen a brilliant set of actors and it was obvious just from the first reading that this was going to be one of Geoff’s major triumphs. I would like to say that the entire cast were impressed with Agu as Othello but I must admit that after the first reading I believe every single actor was duly impressed with the whole ensemble. There was not a weak link in this chain.

    Didi confessed she found the dialogue very difficult to understand and so we quickly headed for the Green Room to sip coffee and chat. I loved Didi, she was a very gentle person but she had a great sense of humour and a really infectious laugh. When she smiled she warmed your heart. We became such good friends in a short time and wherever we went she held my hand. “It is not just for men, “ she teased.

    During one of the rehearsals everyone took a break to allow the wardrobe mistresses to sort out costumes. There were a lot and without anyone realising it Didi was up and helping pin here, tack there, fold here and drape there. She seemed to have a natural talent for making people look good in what they wore. I had a quick word with Geoff and he agreed, Didi was to be added to the payroll as an assistant wardrobe lady. Didi was delighted.

    For one scene the wardrobe ladies had copied a costume from a previous production of Othello, in which The Moor appears bare chested. Geoff remarked that the ladies in the audience would go wild with envy. Didi jumped up.

    “You think he looks so sexy like that? I will showy sexy.” She then took a simple white cloth from a table and without asking started to cut into it. Very quickly she draped what she had made across Agu’s chest. “Now that is sexy. Leave something to the imagination,” she said.

    The drape across Agu’s shoulders revealed enough of his chest to let you know it was strong and definitely seemed to invite people to want to see more. The one bare shoulder showed the power in this man’s muscles. Didi was right, this was sexy and imaginations would be working overtime. Mine had no need to, after all I had seen Agu quite bare. Geoff applauded Didi and said if she had any other ideas about costumes to please let him know and he added, “Preferably before you cut up another tablecloth.” We all laughed.

    The rehearsal schedule was heavy, for such a task as Othello it had to be. I started to take Didi for walks around the town when we had a break. I was so proud to be seen with her and if people thought I had an African lady lover I was delighted. I now had a sister and I loved her a lot. Some people had guessed she was the partner of the man who had been publicised as the actor playing Othello. They stopped now and then to say how much they were looking forward to the show. They really just wanted to talk to Didi, a beautiful African lady who was unique in this town. Women loved her and were forever complimenting her on her natural beauty. I stood aside and just enjoyed seeing my sister happy and admired.

    The rehearsals finished, a free show for invited guests was set up to try out the production. Didi and I sat in the back row and grasped each others hands whenever Agu appeared.
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  3. Gertn

    Gertn Active Member

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    Not just Agu but the whole cast were magnificent. When the final curtain fell the theatre audience sat in total silence. There was no reaction at all apart from a few sniffles from crying ladies. Then as if suddenly hit by an electric charge everyone was on their feet, applauding, cheering, whistling and showing just how wonderful they thought this experience had been. Didi and I just grabbed each other and let the tears fall. We were so moved by this show, later our tears would become tears of joy as we realised that Geoff had surpassed himself, he had directed a true master piece. Didi also realised that her beloved Agu was a star. The appreciation of the audience for him was even greater than he had experienced as a singer.

    Our publicity had been good but we knew once the press releases came out, and the invited audience spread the word, that we were in for a grand season.

    Every night was fully booked, Geoff had refused to even think of Matinees. He said that no actor should be asked to produce that kind of drama twice in one day. After consulting with management and rearranging of a few single night shows, mainly concerts, the Othello season did get an extra week.

    The acting bug had bitten Agu and he wanted to move into our town if Geoff could use him again in a play. He also suggested maybe a musical. Geoff promised nothing but said it would be great to have Agu around, just in case something cropped up. I knew this meant Geoff was already thinking about possible shows for Agu.

    When the season finally came to an end, the entire cast and crew had a party in the hotel dining room where Agu and Didi were staying. On our way through the hotel foyer we were mobbed, well not so much we as Agu. It seems everyone had seen the show and now they wanted to speak to, to touch and get autographs from The Moor. They had all appreciated the entire cast but, of course, Agu was the one instantly recognisable.

    At the party Geoff made his usual thank you speech to cast and crew and then he added,

    “Agu has suggested he come to live here and be in more plays but I have to admit that his talent needs very strong and very talented support. So, I ask if any more of you, who came in just for this show, would also like to join our company of players, especially my darling Desdemona, my incredible Emilia and that awfully good bad man, Iago. We could work miracles together.”

    There was thunderous applause and big hugs for Geoff from the four leading players. One agreed to move to town, the others said they would travel as often as necessary to be with this band of actors.

    The search was on next for a small home for Agu and Didi but Geoff told me we had other problems too.

    Geoff had spared no expense in making Othello a hit but it had been at great cost. We were not exactly in debt but we had little money to spare. Much of the expense was on costumes and once a show was finished there was little use for the costumes designed specifically for that show. They might be altered and adapted for some future production but that never brought in any money.

    I jumped on an idea given by Agu. He said we should try a musical. Now that would be even more expensive than a Shakespeare play but what about a musical evening? I spoke my thoughts aloud to Geoff and he agreed that we could plan an evening based on the two singers from a recent concert tour, Agu and Georgie, making an appearance in their home town. With Agu’s current popularity it could be a sell-out. It would have to be organised as quickly as possible before the people had forgotten Agu. This would not be too easy to do at the moment as he was approached every day by people congratulating him, asking for his autograph and those that knew, welcoming him and Didi as members of the local population. It was planned, Agu excitedly started to prepare songs and he and I collaborated to make sure we had a good selection and could also use each others props or scenery.

    Geoff, calling in favours from all of his friends, raised enough money to get the ball rolling.

    Musicians, who had owed their beginnings to Geoff, offered him free service and set designers offered sketches free of charge for Geoff to use.

    It was going to be fun putting this show together, even if we were pushed for time.

    A simple banner stated “Othello sings”. It was enough. Tickets were being ordered in great numbers. I did not mind that my name did not appear on the banner. In any case I was busy dealing with another problem. One that no one had foreseen and one that involved my new sister Didi. I was devoted to her and was determined that she would not face the future alone. Her desires became mine and I would do all I could to make her wishes come true.
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  4. ttop

    ttop New Member

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    Nice one bro....
  5. Oluomoadebayo

    Oluomoadebayo Moderator Staff Member

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    It's one of my favorite stories on here.
  6. ttop

    ttop New Member

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    Lol... You dont have a choice.. This piece is the No way below best..
  7. Gertn

    Gertn Active Member

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    Geoff had become totally absorbed with Agu and I realized, just as Geoff had done, that this handsome, talented man was a big attraction. In short his name on a poster sold tickets. Geoff and Agu spent many hours planning, discussing, organizing, arranging and then planning all over again to achieve the best possible outcome for the upcoming musical. I knew Geoff would look after my interests and, as usual, always seek my opinion and approval before making any final decisions.

    This was very convenient for me also as I was totally wrapped in my darling sister Didi. We had two big problems that required all of our attention. First, we were on the search for a home for Agu and Didi. Agu had suggested just renting a room, until they had managed to find work and have an income, but Didi had confessed to me that a room would not be a good idea for raising a child.

    Yes, my beautiful Didi was pregnant or at least she thought she was. I told her about tests we could buy from the chemist but she was very worried about this and told me stories of childbirths that had gone wrong in her home village because no one ever consulted a doctor, mainly because many of them could not afford one. I made an appointment for Didi to see my doctor and that was to be the following day. In the meantime Didi was worrying about whether she should tell Agu. I was amazed that she had not already done so but she explained that she did not want to disturb him with what just might be a maybe. Nothing was certain yet. She knew how much this new show would mean to him and she did not want to cloud his mind with thoughts of other things. I was a little upset that Didi had confided only in me. This sort of thing always, always should be shared first with the father. I understood Didi’s hesitation so I told her a story about a time when I tried to keep a secret from Geoff. How, when he found out, he was hurt by my not trusting him and how, when I saw his hurt, how I, myself, felt hurt and ashamed. The story was not true but it served the purpose I had intended. Didi promised that she would reveal all to Agu immediately after seeing the doctor, even if it was just to announce that she was not pregnant after all.

    It was a tense day, evening and morning as Didi and I held our secret close. The doctor’s appointment was for 2.30 and at 3.30 Didi and I were practically racing back to tell Agu that he was to be a father.

    I knew this news had to come from Didi and I was controlling my urge to blurt it out. I was more excited than Didi I think. On arriving at my home, where Geoff was in another meeting with Agu, Didi walked slowly forward and bowed low, touching her forehead to the ground in front of Agu. He took her by the hands and raised her up, his face a mixture of surprise and anguish.

    “What is it, my love? Why do you do this?” Agu asked.

    Didi stood tall, held both his hands and looking into Agu’s eyes, she said, “ I pay respect to the father of my child,”

    There was a momentary pause and once again I saw my hero Agu with tears in his eyes as he hugged and kissed his beloved Didi. Geoff rose, took me by the hand and led me out of the room. We were not needed there.

    A short while later the happy parents-to-be appeared and were all smiles. Geoff insisted on opening a bottle of wine and we all settled comfortably to talk of life, love, being pregnant and needing a home.

    As the second bottle wine was shared Agu told us a story of how this news would be celebrated back in their home village. He told us how Highlife, the music of his people, was such an important part of their lives. He said that many people seeing Africans dancing to their music would see it as being quite sexual. Agu went on to explain that although many of the moves did appear to be sexy, they also told a story. He told people how villagers would work hard all day and in the evening would relax with their music and dance. Yes, it was probably true that in the end couples would go home and make love but on the dance floor it was a dance of love being expressed, desires being revealed and pure love and joy replacing the work and worries of the day passed and the days that lie ahead.

    Agu also said that had they been in their village, Didi and he would just have danced and said nothing about her being pregnant. During the course of the dance one of Didi’s girlfriends would certainly have pointed at Didi and yelled the word Mama. It would have been obvious to the girlfriend from the dancing that something special was being celebrated. From that moment the entire dance floor would have been filled with men and women, dancing with whoever they wished, man or woman, celebrating the good news. It was clear that Agu missed this life style.

    “So, these dances, this Highlife is more than just a dance it is a story, right?” asked Geoff.

    “Yes, I guess so,” replied Agu.

    “Can you teach me Highlife? Can you teach other dancers” Geoff asked Agu.

    “Oh, you cannot teach Highlife, you just have to feel it,” responded Agu with a laugh.

    “ I have an idea for the show, a story told in dance, a story about Agu, Didi and their forthcoming child. A story of love and hope and joy shared by an entire village but in this case the villagers will be your fellow actors, dancers, singers and musicians. This entire company look on you as family, as part of their lives. Share your news and your joy with them on stage. Share it with the entire audience, many of whom already feel so attached to you Agu. You and Didi get some music and show me tomorrow this Highlife of yours, then teach me how to feel it.” Geoff was quite excited by his new idea.

    “I will show you but no one can teach you how to feel.” Agu promised to show us his own special music the next day.

    The next day we started the hunt for a home for a family of three. Agu smiled and said it would not be just three for very long. When I say we went home hunting I meant Didi and I. Agu was content to let Didi decide on the new home whilst he and Geoff concentrated on the show which was now just four days away.

    Since the show was being hailed as ‘Othello Sings’ Geoff decided the opening number had to be just that, Agu singing a solo. It had to be something familiar, Geoff said new numbers were a gamble, no one knew just who would like, who would love and who would hate a new number. It also had to be something that would show off Agu’s range and ability. It should be something that was expressive enough to require a little acting, it had to be Agu but with shades of Othello. I was over the moon when Geoff accepted with sheer delight my suggestion of ‘Old Man River’ from ‘Showboat’. I remembered how the audience had reacted to Agu’s rendition of this song previously. As it turned out we planned to use the showboat setting for three numbers. Agu would open with his solo, this was to be followed by a beautiful lady singing ‘Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine’. After two serious numbers it was time to push home some good old fashioned comedy. I am no great female impersonator, to tell the truth I do not look good in drag, dressed as a woman but for comedy, I am your man or in this case your woman. I dressed up and sang the fun show tune, ‘Life Upon the Wicked Stage’. Didi thought it would be the hit of the show but she was biased of course. Two lovely dancers sang and danced the lively tune “I Might Fall Back on You”. We squeezed as much use as we could out of the showboat setting and indeed every setting we used.

    Whilst all this was being planned and rehearsed Didi and I had looked at about 10 different houses for rent and finally decided on a very quaint dwelling at the rear of a large house. The dwelling, as I like to call it, was a converted stable but they had converted it beautifully. There were four stables all now joined as a four roomed home, two bedrooms, and far enough from the main building to allow Agu the freedom to practice his singing without disturbing anyone. It was ideal and more importantly, it was very reasonably priced. Agu was informed and when he saw the place he simply said it would be perfect for the Leopard and his new cubs. It was settled but first the show had to be staged.

    Rehearsals were going well and the full dress rehearsal the next day was to present many, many surprises. Geoff had invited the folks from an old people’s home to be our guinea pig audience. I honestly do not think Geoff had any other motive other than just being kind but as it turned out it was a great choice. Many of the older folks remembered the film ShowBoat, knew the songs and were utterly delighted to be transported back in time to the good old musical show days.

    The entire company was involved in the finale, which was the Highlife segment and it was clear that they had all learned how to feel. Their moves were exciting, flamboyant at times and definitely sexy. Geoff himself jumped on to the stage at the last minute and led the dancers down into the auditorium where the old folks stood, applauded and some of them joined in, they still had the moves. Geoff decided then and there that every show would end with the dancers mingling with the audience. Geoff often had crazy ideas when it came to staging but somehow he always managed to make them work. This was going to prove to be no exception.

    The tickets sales for the opening night were great but the two following nights did not look so good. Would we make money or just lose more? I used my charms and encouraged a TV reporter friend to film short snippets from the show, a few bars of Agu’s solo, a short extract of my comedy drag show and a taste of the highlife excerpt. It aired the next day, the day of our opening and lo and behold tickets sales went through the roof. We were saved.

    The show was a hit and more importantly a financial success. Now we could concentrate on setting up a new home for my brother, sister and godchild. Yes, I had already been chosen by Agu and Didi to be their first born child’s godfather. Geoff had also been chosen for this honour.

    The converted stable had already been decided upon and now was time to sign leases and with Geoff and I acting as guarantors the deal was done.

    It did not take a lot of persuasion to get the entire company on board with the tasks of cleaning, finding bits and pieces of furniture, decorating and so on. Within a few days this stable became a palace or rather a haven for the Leopard and his mate. Cubs would follow and it was clear that this would be a very happy den.

    Of course, there is always that terrible monster, Money, lurking in our backgrounds. Agu needed a job, Didi needed money for food, money was going to be needed to provide for the new baby. It has always amazed me how life has a way of turning up trumps just when you thought things were going so bad. An elderly lady, well known in theatre circles because of her past stage presence, had retired with her stage lover in a very large mansion just on the outskirts of town. She had not been to see any of our shows but word had reached her of the amazing new talent, a man from Africa. She invited Geoff to present this new talent to her at her home and invited Geoff to arrange a small concert evening for her pleasure. Geoff was delighted to do this and in return received a handsome fee, a fee he passed on to Agu and Didi. After the evening’s entertainment Fifi, the eccentric retired actress, talked of Agu and hearing of his plight asked Agu if he had any interest in gardening. Agu truly loved nature but admitted he knew little about gardening. Fifi said he would learn and offered him there and then a job as her personal gardener. He was also offered live-in accommodation but declined explaining that he and his wife had already chosen a place to have their first child. Fifi, said she would also love to have a personal maid, helping her with dressing, and personal care such as washing hair, manicures and so on. Could Agu’s wife do this, she asked. Agu presented his wife to Fifi and within minutes it was agreed, Agu was now a gardener and Didi was now a personal maid. Both employed and both to be quite well paid by this rich eccentric retired actress.

    Geoff pointed out that Miss Fifi would also be thinking of reliving some of her past glory by getting this new handsome man to sing with her. Agu said he would be happy to help f that made the lady happy.

    Things were going well. Geoff and I organized a house-warming party for Agu and Didi and the gifts people brought (all suggestions made by Geoff) ensured that the new home would have all the essentials.

    When things are going right something is sure to go wrong.

    Didi was still in the early days of her pregnancy, just 12 weeks now and she was happy helping Miss Fifi do all kinds of things, sometimes worthwhile things sometimes things Didi considered foolish but she did them anyway. Didi was often feeling uncomfortable though, not really sick but also not feeling well. Didi had seen people in her village lose babies during pregnancy and she was very worried. She never wanted to worry Agu so, as usual, her first concerns were expressed to me. My first response was once again to remind my little sister that her husband needed to be aware of everything that concerned his beautiful wife. Nevertheless, I once again arranged a doctor’s visit and was happy to go along and explain to Agu that his wife was vitamin deficient. I also asked him to forgive me for allowing myself to be persuaded by my sister to do things without him knowing. Gracious as ever he hugged me and said how glad he was that his Didi could rely on me and how happy he was knowing that I would eventually let him know all. He said Didi was not keeping secrets from him just delaying them. He was a true gentleman.

    Family life for us all was going ahead smoothly but when you live in the world of theatre you can never be sure of what the future holds. You can have weeks, months, maybe even a year of good fortune and then hit what is called a dry spell. No shows to appear in, no shows to direct, no musical shows or concerts to be performed. Geoff and I were in just such a dry spell. Geoff felt bad because of all the actors who were relying on him. One night we went to see a movie. A real tear jerker about a racist white man and a Jew. It all ends well with the racist and the Jew becoming good buddies. We were on the way home when I said I thought the whole idea would have delivered a much stronger message had the Jew been a black man. Geoff agreed but said little more. When we arrived home Geoff went to the den and started making notes.

    “What is so important?”I asked.

    “You are, probably the most important thing in my life. Your idea is perfect. I will write a story about a racist and a black man, you and Agu will be the main actors. I need to think of a new angle, a reason why you would be racist and then work the magic that lets you see the light and brings you and the black man to a strong binding friendship. I need to think of some small miracle that will turn your life around. Aha, that will be the title ‘A Small Miracle’. I have some ideas already and just want to make notes so I don't forget. Tomorrow I will step into the shoes of a writer and write my own show.” Geoff was more excited than I had seen him for a long time. I knew him and I knew that once he got an idea in his head he would see it through to completion.

    The next day, straight after breakfast, Geoff sat down at his computer and began work on “A Small Miracle”. I stayed out of his way, never wanting to be a distraction but always within earshot waiting for his call for coffee or water or lemonade. His three favorite drinks when he was working.

    I saw very little of Agu and Didi in the coming weeks. Geoff was busy working on his new play, Agu and Didi were spending their days catering to the needs of Miss Fifi. They always came home in the evenings feeling very tired. Agu told me the work was not that hard but when Miss Fifi wanted something you had to cater to her needs immediately. It was tiring. They had managed to arrange a day off on Saturdays. Could not be a Sunday as that was the day Miss Fifi would want to be prepared for her trip to church and she always wanted fresh flowers from her gardens. So on Saturdays we had a standing date, either we would go visit Agu and Didi or they would come visit Geoff and I. They were good days.

    Agu had mentioned to Miss Fifi that Geoff was working on a new play. Miss Fifi had seemed very interested and wanted to know more about it. Geoff suggested that Miss Fifi be invited to one of their Saturday evenings. Agu very much doubted that she would accept. It seems since she was no longer able to dance and sing Miss Fifi had become a recluse. Agu was surprised indeed when Miss Fifi accepted the invitation and turned up with her lover ( they had never married) to the next Saturday evening with Agu and Didi at our home.

    It was a great evening, with Miss Fifi seeming quite delighted to be in the company of ‘theatre folk’ again. We each talked about experiences on stage and to everyone's surprise Miss Fifi stood and entertained us with one of her short monologues and songs. It was clear to see why this lady had been a star. She was old but she still had style and her presentation made us all very appreciative of real talent.

    Afterwards as we sat and talked over some wine Geoff outlined his ideas for his play. He was still having problems trying to decide what the small miracle would be. Miss Fifi listened carefully to his ideas and then suggested a man who could not walk would consider it a small miracle indeed if someone helped him to walk. The flame was lit, Geoff outlined a few scenarios where this might happen. Everyone liked the idea of the man being racist because he had been shot by a black man which had left him unable to walk. The miracle was when another black man helped him overcome his physical and emotional barriers and walk again, albeit with the aid of the black man. The plot was riveting and Miss Fifi was so pressed by Geoff and his sheer enthusiasm for the project that she asked if she might help by giving Geoff added motivation.

    “Get this script ready for the re-opening of the newly furbished Playhouse and I will back your show all the way.” Miss Fifi wanted to be back in show business even if it was just as a financial backer.

    Geoff thought he could have it done in just a few weeks, which would then leave plenty of time for rehearsal and get the play ready for the Playhouse re-opening. With Miss Fifi as backer, and incidentally as Chairwoman of the Playhouse committee, they could certainly be sure of the theatre booking and with Agu as a star performer there was no reason to doubt that he would be allowed time off from his gardening duties to attend rehearsals.

    The eccentric Miss Fifi proved not to be so eccentric after all, she was just a star of the stage who had grown old and she missed the glamour and clamour of those days. Now she was back, in her own way she was in show business again.

    Geoff worked hard writing his script, I was there reading, offering suggestions and encouraging Geoff all the way. I have to admit I was modeling the role of Jason along the lines I saw myself in that part. Of course, Geoff was writing it for me too. The role of Tiger (no we could not use Leopard) was designed for Agu and it was a strong emotional role. Geoff was also considering playing the small but important part of the psychiatrist but I managed to talk him out of this, reminding him of the problems faced when an actor tries to direct himself. I also believed that the story was so strong that it needed a strong director to bring it to its full potential. It was also kind to consider some of the other actors who had stayed around to support Geoff in his endeavours and make an extra part available for one of them.

    Agu was absolutely moved by the segments of script he had been asked to read. He summed the play up perfectly, saying it was a love story but without romance. That was it in a nutshell. This was a story about the love of one man for a fellow human being, a man who had suffered a similar fate and who now shared his love in order to help a friend. The message was so powerful, showing how needs were met when people overlooked the less important aspects like race, color and creed. It was a powerful piece of writing and I knew there was a lot of personal feeling in Geoff’s writing. It seems that Geoff was forever making amendments but finally he said the script was ready for a working, by which he meant a gathering of actors to read the script aloud and determine if there were any weak spots. It would also be the first stage of casting as Geoff always used readings as a platform for casting certain roles. Everyone was politely informed that the roles of Jason and Tiger were already assigned to Agu and me.

    It was at this reading that one actor said he had heard Agu referred to as Ague, which in English means fever, and as A Goo, which means a sticky mess, and suggested that a good stage name be found for this very good actor. One easy to remember because it was clear he was going to be a stock character in many future productions. Agu liked the idea and referring to his role as Tiger suggested he use that name. No-one liked that idea at all but someone who knew about Agu’s background said he could be called Leopard. Leopard playing Tiger sounded even worse. Using the name Leopard did however present a reasonable solution and so from that day on Agu the wonderful man and brother of mine became Leo Pard, the actor.

    Notes were taken at the reading, Geoff offered parts to actors he thought worthy and apologized to and thanked the few who were not cast. Some observations by actors, observations that had been invited, were noted by Geoff and he went off with his notes to make minor amendments. He also had to make one major adjustment. It had been suggested that the play be seen in flashback and that the first scene should be me in a wheelchair confronted by the psychiatrist who would tell me I may not walk again. Geoff loved it, it was a dramatic opening to a play that everyone was convinced would be a major hit. It did however present me with a mammoth task of being wheeled on to the stage and within minutes having a major breakdown. This would need physical and emotional preparation. Geoff knew I could do it and, more importantly, I had faith in myself.

    Rehearsals started in just three days, all roles having now been cast and the first readings led us all to believe that Geoff had indeed written a masterpiece. The theatre had been booked, posters were already being printed and the photo on them was Leo Pard, bare chested and handsome as always, carrying an injured white guy in his arms. It was such a great photo and the look in Leo’s eyes was absolutely one of true compassion. Men would identify with this strong handsome man and girls would be so jealous of me. We had the makings of a sold out season.

    Didi was well into her fifth month of pregnancy but she was strong and Agu, sorry Leo, had no need to worry about her. In any case she would be there every performance taking care of wardrobe.

    Miss Fifi proved to be worth her weight in gold. Her contacts from the past flocked to interview her in her new role as a theatrical producer. Radio, TV and the press were all over her and she made the most of every opportunity to advertise “A Small Miracle”. One writer even used the words to describe Miss Fifi, saying that she looked as young and vibrant as she had so many years ago on stage. Didi may have been of help there giving Miss Fifi a very special make up before allowing her to meet the Press. The air among the company of players was one of real excitement, the atmosphere around town was astonishing, people who had known Miss Fifi in the past, people who still had fond memories of Geoff’s previous shows, people who still remembered with affection the incredible Othello. Box Office opened on the 24th and by its close at 5 that afternoon more than half the tickets for the entire season had been sold. The opening night, with its champagne supper to celebrate the Playhouse re-opening could have been sold twice over. The season was scheduled for a short 10 performance season. This was not going to be enough but Fifi with her experience, contacts and totally aggressive manner not only got the following production rescheduled, allowing us a further 5 shows, but had also tentatively booked a theatre in a nearby town and promised to take care of all the transport costs to get the company there. It is not what you know but who you know — such a true statement of fact in all walks of life, but especially true in the world theatre.

    Was it for the grand re-opening, was it for the company of players, was it for Miss Fifi? Who knows for sure but the opening night was a glittering affair with spotlights in the skies overhead signaling the start of something big. TV cameras recorded the arrival of special guests, newspaper reporters interviewed celebrities and Miss Fifi not only looked but acted like she was 20 years younger. She was a real star and on that opening night no one could have taken the spotlight from her, nor indeed would they want to.

    No one, not Geoff, not me, not Agu, not even Miss Fifi could have foreseen the reception we received after the world premiere of ‘A Small Miracle’. Women cried, men cried, Miss Fifi ruined her make up with tears and Didi was crying her heart out, all moved by the portrayal of a black man caring for and changing the attitude of his new white friend. Leo Pard was indeed a star and even though I myself received great praise from cast and my director, I knew that my performance was dependent on and in many ways attributed to the support I got from my handsome brother Leo. It was going to take me some time to get used to calling him that, he had been my Agu for so long now it seems.

    The champagne flowed freely in the green room and in the foyer for invited guests but most of us were already drunk on the wings of success. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this play would get rave reviews and we were not wrong.

    “Forget Hollywood, Forget the National Theatre, Forget all other forms of entertainment, go to the Playhouse and see real actors in what must surely be the most memorable of plays staged this decade. Miss Fifi comes out of retirement to present for us a brave new play by Geoffrey Mann. There is no outstanding performance because they were all outstanding. A love story that would melt the heart of the Tin Man. Go see, go be moved, go enjoy and then go home and think about this powerful new production. Written and directed by Geoffrey Mann and produced by the incredible Miss Fifi. Starring many great performers who each will carve a name for themselves in the history of live theatre.”

    That review alone would guarantee our box office.

    The season was indeed a sell out and reviews just seemed to get better and better. The season did go ahead in the neighboring town and when Miss Fifi heard that Didi was reluctant to travel now, she went and ordered a row of seats to be made into a bed and hired a trained nurse for the trip. Yes, it pays to be filthy rich but it helps if the filthy rich also have a great big heart and that Miss Fifi truly had, Of course, she was aware as we all were that Leo would have been distracted with worry about Didi had she been left alone. Nevertheless, Miss Fifi was very quickly becoming my theatre idol, the person I most wanted to grow up to be like.

    Once the second season was over we all returned to our homes and went through the actors menopause. Suddenly our lives were changing again, we had no superficial character to hide behind, we had no performances to look forward to, we were back in the real world. Most of us were quite happy to return to a life we loved with the one we loved but oh yes, we did miss the stage, the adrenaline rush and the audience reactions. We missed being famous, even if it was only for a night or two.

    The two seasons at two theaters in two different towns had proven to be a big success both artistically and financially. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was vary largely due to the influence of Miss Fifi. Geoff and I arrived at Miss Fifi’s home laden with a huge bouquet of flowers and a magnum of champagne, a thank you to this amazing lady.

    We drank tea and chatted about theatre, theatre now and theatre in the days gone by. Miss Fifi invited us to her ‘museum room’ as she called it. Oh boy, a room full of the most wonderful memorabilia, posters, programs, photo albums, costumes, props and some old film clips. We could have spent hours in there and Geoff said he wanted to do just that. He had an idea about presenting an evening as a tribute to Miss Fifi and asked her for permission to do so and to use some of her mementoes. She was delighted with the idea and told Geoff he could come visit her museum room any time. Geoff said then and now would be great. He asked for some paper and a pencil and started immediately to make notes. Geoff Mann was a writer again. Whilst he occupied himself making notes and giving birth to more creative ideas, Miss Fifi and I went back downstairs for more tea.

    “Your partner is a very talented and superbly creative man and you appear to be very happy together,” said Miss Fifi. “Beware of theatre folk though, they can get very jealous and often very flirty, Don’t ever confuse the love of actors with the love of a real person.”

    I assured Miss Fifi that the love between Geoff and I was strong enough to survive all temptations and she gave me a great big hug.

    Two hours later Geoff appeared with sheets of notes and apologized for taking so long. He then begged to be excused as he wanted to get back to his computer and start writing while ideas were still fresh in his mind. Miss Fifi understood and we said our goodbyes. Geoff did not say a word on the way home and I knew his head was swimming with ideas for the Miss Fifi tribute show.

    True to his word Geoff went straight to his computer and the writer was once more ‘not to be disturbed’. I wanted to go visit Agu and Didi but of course they were both at Miss Fifi’s doing their work. I thought it was quite strange that when we were there we never saw them. Both probably fully occupied doing something for Miss Fifi. So I decided to go for a walk down by the river. The peaceful setting and the soft sounds of river water running over rocks always helped me to relax and to think. My mind was trying to think of plays or films I had seen that would be another great vehicle for my brother Agu and me. I loved working with this man and his talent seemed to lift me up to a higher level. I thought of plays, I thought of musicals, I thought just of songs and tried to imagine what the next production might be starring Leo Pard and Georgie Mann. The next show, however, was not going to be about us it was going to be about Miss Fifi.

    Geoff spent all day in his den and did not surface until dinner time. He came into the kitchen declaring he was famished and sat down at the kitchen table. He spread an assortment of papers on the table and declared he had a show ready to go on, all he wanted was a theatre booking, a casting call, a wig and three saucepan lids. I had no idea what he was raving about but I knew better than to question the maestro when he was in creative mode.

    The next day Geoff called his band of actors and actresses together and outlined the show he had planned. Everyone was excited by the idea, especially the ladies, as there was very little in the show for the men. Musicians were called and Geoff promised to retrieve whatever sheet music he could from Miss Fifi’s museum room. Actresses were chosen for musical numbers, either as singers or dancers or both, and sent away to rehearse on their own. One big surprise was the fact that Geoff had uncovered a film clip that showed Miss Fifi as a Vaudeville stripper. The casting of this character was a secret known only to Geoff, he would not even reveal to me the actress he had chosen for this role.

    When Geoff sets his mind on a show he works tirelessly to bring it to fruition. He had this show ready for rehearsal in three days. Sets designed, costumes planned, musical numbers arranged, singers and dancers all prepared for a grand tribute to a great theatre lady. On the fourth day an evening was assigned and from that moment on it was full steam ahead. Miss Fifi had been told of the date and gratefully accepted the invitation to be Guest of Honour at a Tribute not just to Miss Fifi but to the good old days of Vaudeville.

    The big night came all too quickly but Geoff knew the show was ready. The company knew there was to be a striptease act but still no one knew who this was.They had been shown a short film clip which showed Miss Fifi dressed most glamorously and slowly stripping down to three saucepan lids, all carefully placed of course. It was sexy at first and then became totally hilarious. Miss Fifi was a born comedienne and many of her songs, dances and sketches revealed a fine comic timing.

    The theatre was packed, well almost packed because a long line of well-wishers were lined up on either side of the red carpet to welcome the special guest. Miss Fifi arrived looking absolutely stunning for a lady of her years and she clearly loved the attention she was getting from an admiring public. She knew in her heart she had missed this. As she entered the theatre the entire audience stood and applauded this magical entertainer from the past.

    All settled down, the lights dimmed and a voice over announced the first number. In each number that followed the girls had been presented as a little older, almost tracing Miss Fifi’s life on stage. It was almost interval time and the musicians started out with a real strip tease number, all bump and grind stuff. A dancer appeared on stage with a most outrageously over the top make up and wig, The strip began and already the audience were loving it and laughing heartily. When the final garment was discarded, revealing the three well-placed saucepan lids, the audience went wild with laughter and knew even before the wig had been removed that this impersonation of Miss Fifi the stripper was by none other than the director himself, Mr, Geoff Mann. He was so funny and I thought I would never see the day when my man appeared in drag but I am so glad I did, he was just so, so entertaining. The clown was back.

    After the interval, there were more sketches, songs and dances. Then the entire company came on stage and danced , sung or hummed the intro to one of Miss Fifi’s best numbers, “ Shine on Harvest Moon”. As the cast hummed and swayed to the tune, Geoff walked on stage and made the following announcement.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, everyone knows this song, old folks know it, young folks have heard it and listened to it, but those who really love this song also know it should be sung by the great lady herself, Miss Fifi. Now if you all promise to join in I am sure we can get this lovely lady here on stage to lead us all.”

    Needless say the audience demanded the presence of Miss Fifi on stage and there, surrounded by an admiring group of young performers, supported by a chorus of singers from the audience, Miss Fifi was once again a star. Her voice was not as strong as it used to be but she knew how to sell a song and with a wonderful array of back up singers and dancers Miss Fifi showed them all how to completely captivate an audience.

    It was a wonderful tribute and a truly great evening for entertainment and an evening filled with beautiful memories.

    So much was happening now. Geoff was bitten by the writing bug and was working on a new play. Didi was just weeks away from delivering her baby, which by now we all knew was going to be a boy. Daddy Agu was so proud but I remember him saying that he also wanted a girl, he had finished this by adding well maybe next time. Didi was going to give up working in two weeks and concentrate on keeping herself strong and healthy. She had too many bad memories of village women going through pregnancies under harsh conditions.

    I had not been involved in the tribute to Miss Fifi and I was eager to get back on stage doing something. I decided to take a leaf from Geoff’s book and try to write. Why not? Why shouldn’t I write something designed especially for me? I knew my talents, I knew my limitations so who better to write for me than me myself? My first attempt was a comedy about a young straight guy trying to convince everyone that he was gay. It seemed a funny idea but when committed to paper it lacked any sense of purpose. So then Geoff suggested why not write about a gay man trying to pretend he is straight. This is life, this is real and you know all the good and bad feelings associated with that scenario. Write about what you know. I tried and it was much better but still lacked the sincerity and the genuine emotions that were a special part of Geoff’s writing. I gave up and just looked for plays already written which had a good role for me to play.

    Time flies when you are having fun, so they say but it also flies when you are busy and with Geoff writing and me still looking for good plays, we were both so busy we had lost track of time. So it was with some sense of guilt and yet pleasant surprise that we received a call from Agu.

    “I think it’s time,” was all he said.

    We knew what he meant and we were in the car and off to pick up Agu and Didi. They were both quite relaxed although it was still possible to see the worry lines around Didi’s eyes. No one panicked, not like in the movies, we just got in the car and drove carefully and quietly to the hospital. Didi was taken into care and the rest of us settled down to wait, pace the floors, lookup every time a doctor or nurse appeared, all of this exactly like in the movies.

    Was it really only three hours? It seemed like seven or eight but a nurse arrived to say the mother was asking for the father. It was funny the way she looked at all three men seeking the father, but was not at all amused when all three stepped forward and said, “Me.” Then Agu put her mind at rest by saying very seriously that the child about to be born was his first son. He said it with such a strong hint of pride. The nurse led him away saying he would have to wear a gown and mask.

    Geoff and I settled down to wait once more. It was not so long this time. The same nurse appeared and invited us to visit the mother if we wished. It seems she had been asking for us.

    Now I always knew my little sister was strong but when I walked in and saw her nursing her son I could have wept with joy, I almost did. Didi looked as if she had just had a long cool drink instead of a baby. She was sitting up and smiling and holding her precious bundle in her arms. A moist eyed man was sitting beside her and holding her hand. He was smiling, holding back tears of joy as he introduced, “My son.”

    Didi kissed the baby’s forehead and said he tasted so sweet. Me and my humor asked, “ What flavour?” Now I did not mean anything by this it just slipped out. Geoff tried to save the day by joking with his “Double chocolate.” Didi, however, was looking very serious. I was sure I had offended her. Then she smiled and looked at Agu.

    “Flavour,” she said, “ remember my favorite singer? Flavour N’abania?”

    Then she turned to explain to Geoff and I about a Nigerian singer whose music Didi loved. His name was Flavour N’abania.

    “We have been talking about names for weeks,” Agu said. “In Nigeria we often choose names based on the day a child is born or some other circumstance, order in the family and so on. Now you come along and solve the problem with what you thought was just a silly remark.” He looked at Didi and said, “Flavour it is and let us hope he grows up to love music.”

    We were then all kindly asked to leave and let the mother rest. As I bent down to kiss Didi I took a swift glance my Godson’s face. Oh, he was indeed handsome and although he was called Flavour, I am sure we would all soon have our own pet names for him.

    Didi’s worries were over. The birth had gone well and she and baby were both in the best of health. Didi told me later that she had felt so good that she was disappointed that she was only having one, she felt she could have gone on and given an encore, a daughter.

    Miss Fifi sent a message to say that she did not expect to see Agu at work for a month but that he would still be paid. She said Didi could come back whenever she felt like it and bring the baby, if necessary. In the meantime since Miss Fifi had become used to the services of a young maid, I arranged for a young dancer, currently out of work to step in and help both Miss Fifi and herself.

    Didi was so amazing she was home very quickly with her new son. We let her settle down and then we decided to introduce her to the white man’s custom of a baby shower. No, no one was going to wash the new born child, it was a shower of gifts just for the baby. People would bring diapers, comforters, baby foods, toys, baby clothes and whatever entered their head as being something that could make the bay’s life comfortable and happy. Didi felt a little embarrassed but was easily convinced that this shower gave as much joy to the givers as it did to the baby’s mother and it gave everyone an excuse to see, gurgle over and hopefully hold the new arrival. It was settled, Sunday afternoon it would be. A day when most people were free, a time unlikely to interfere with baby’s regular bedtime and, if the wether was kind, a great time for snapshots.

    At 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon the first guests arrived, Geoff and I. Very soon afterwards other members of the company of players arrived bearing gifts. Such a wonderful surprise it was when Miss Fifi turned up with a massive wooden rocking horse. She had of course been invited but had not really accepted, saying she would come if she felt well enough. Clearly she was well enough as was evidenced by her carrying the great wooden horse. I rushed forward to help her and the room was full of oohs and aahs as Fifi insisted that she get at least one photo of her godson on his new horse. Oh yes, Fifi was officially invited and had accepted the role of godmother.

    Flavour was oblivious to it all as Fifi held him in her arms and gently rocked him on the back of the hobby horse. Snapshots were quickly taken and the adorable young chid handed back to his somewhat nervous mother. Miss Fifi declared the boy was going to be a natural horseman. Sheer foolishness of course at this stage but the look in Agu’s eyes said that he would not be disappointed if that prediction proved to be true. Agu had himself always loved horses.

    The story of the naming of Flavour was told and some people asked if Didi had any of the music of the Nigerian singer Flavour. She did not but one resourceful young man said he could probably find some on the internet on his iPad. Sure enough the music of Flavour N’abania was there on YouTube so we all got to listen. His music was electric, pure Highlife, totally sexy in all the videos. For me, once I had my first glimpse of this Nigerian singer, I knew exactly why Didi had fallen in love with Agu. Agu and Flavour, the singer, were made from the same mould. Both were tall, handsome muscular black men with a smile that would light up the darkest skies. Only one difference, Agu did not have long hair but in all other aspects he was almost a twin of the Nigerian singer. Of course, add to all this that Agu also had a magnificent voice and it was easy to see why Didi had fallen so madly in love. I could not help myself, I teased Didi saying that she had fallen for Agu as a substitute for the fantasy she was really in love with. Her response was perfect.

    “Flavour is handsome I agree, his music is wonderful, that is certain but music is his world. Agu once told me, and I believe him, that I am his world. That is just one reason I fell in love with him. I stay in love with him because now he, and Flavour Junior, are my world.”

    My little sister was a precious gem and her reply brought her the hug and kiss from Agu that she truly deserved.

    The music of Flavour was still playing and Agu handed his son to one of the dancers to hold while he took Didi by the hand and they danced. They danced as if the whole world of joy, hope, love and happiness was wrapped in that music. They swayed and gyrated and encouraged everyone to join in. Before long the entire room was filled with people trying to look as sexy as Agu and Didi while dancing. Some did all right, others just proved they were making moves but not feeling the music. In any case it was a wonderful time and I was so glad to see my big brother and little sister so happy.

    Love is so often hard to describe but easy to recognize. I knew the love that existed between Agu, Didi and me was something special. It was not the passionate love of lovers yet it was much more than just the love of family. Somewhere in between was a love that might best be described as the love that would exist between brothers who had been separated for years by some tragic circumstance and then suddenly reunited. It was a love that held on tightly for fear that you might be separated again, it was a love that was stronger than usual as if to make up for the lost years, it was a love that would outshine and outlive many other loves. That is how I felt about Agu and Didi.

    On the subject of love I need to tell you two short stories.

    The first involves Agu and me. Once, when Agu was dancing with a lovely African lady and I suggested he could take her back to our room, he told me he would never cheat on his wife. He also said, that same evening, as we lay down to sleep;

    “If ever I cheat on my wife it will only be with a sweet guy called Georgie, and that ain’t never gonna happen, so turn over and go to sleep little brother.”

    The second story is about Geoff and me. One night as we were curling up in each other’s arms and ready to sleep, Geoff asked me, “ Do you know what is missing from our love?”

    “No, “ I said, “what is missing?”

    “Nothing,” was his simple reply and with that he kissed me on the back of the neck and we drifted off into a sleep, a sleep in which love still warmed and protected us both.

    It seems that everything was grand but just when you think the world is safe, someone starts another war. Well, it wasn’t that bad but we, by we I mean Geoff and I, had realized an awful truth. Agu and Didi now had a son, a son who needed food and clothing, who would soon need an education and it was clear that Agu needed a full time job that brought in regular wages. His gardening work with Miss Fifi was fine and she paid him quite well but Agu was bored with gardening, he wanted a career, something that would help make the future for his son safe and secure.

    Didi had often hinted at the thought of having a daughter but in their present circumstances the idea of another child was not possible. I had realized that something was making my little sister less happy than usual and when I asked her what was wrong she told me all her thoughts about Agu, a career, a daughter.

    I am not a foolish man but I always seemed to take my problems to Geoff, and he always seemed to come up with a solution. I took my worries about Agu and Didi to Geoff and he said we should get together with Agu and talk these things over. Yes, good idea but would talking solve the problem? It did.

    Agu, Didi, Geoff and I got together to talk about the future and finance, and yes Flavour was there too but sleeping, Agu was a highly intelligent man, but when it came to looking for careers it had to be accepted that his education had been very basic and very limited. He was a village man, a farmer’s son. He knew only farming and horses. Yes, he knew about horses because his father had often taken him as a boy to a friend who owned two horses. Agu as a young boy had ridden them, fell in love with them and learned how to care for them. That was the springboard for Geoff’s next idea. Miss Fifi was a gambler, she loved horse racing and had many friends in the business. It took just one call to Miss Fifi and the very next day Agu was sent to the race track to be interviewed by a very well-known race horse owner.

    “Oh my, you are Othello, “ said the horse owner. “If you can groom as well as you act the job is yours.” The interview was over. Agu was introduced to Pasha and Sheikh, two of the most beautiful horses in the world according to Agu. He let them smell his hands, he rubbed their muzzles gently, stroked their necks and let them smell him as much as they wanted.

    “They like you,” said the horse owner, “ they have a good sense of who will be good for them. I think what they have just said is, yes, you can have the job.” They discussed hours, pay and the fact that sometimes when races were out of town Agu would need to travel with the horses and maybe be away from home for a few days at a time. Agu told me later that his first thought at that time was that Georgie would look after Didi if he had to go away. He was right of course. The only thing that made Agu a little unhappy was the fact that he had been told that only the jockeys were ever allowed to ride Pasha and Sheikh, for watering, grooming and exercises the groom only walked the horses. Agu accepted this but at the same time thought time would tell. His first task would be to build a trust between him and the horses, a trust that would eventually lead to love. Another kind of love and a very precious one.

    Didi was not content to let her husband work so hard and she had advertised in the local papers for work as a seamstress. She was good at sewing and was prepared to take on jobs mending clothes and even making clothes especially for babies. This is where the ‘family’ came in. Everybody knew someone who had clothes to mend or who had just had a baby or about to have one, so the team started touting for business for Didi. Now it was obvious the girls were all doing this to be in favor with Agu, their idol. Agu was well aware of their flirtations and their advances, he accepted all gracefully but never ever responded. He was a devoted husband and now a very proud and devoted father.

    Geoff and I bought our little sister a brand new sewing machine that did almost everything by itself. It had so many gadgets and programs on it that you would think you would just have to plug it in and tell it to go to work. I had fun teaching Didi how to use all the applications and she was a very quick learner. She said when she made enough money she would pay for the sewing machine. I agreed and then completely erased the idea from my mind. This was family.

    Agu got permission to take his wife and son to the stables one day to meet his two lovely horses, yes he now referred to these horses as his. The horses were a little nervous upon meeting Didi but for some reason both horses showed a great deal of interest in the bundle Didi carried. Pasha snorted very gently on to the bundle and Flavour wriggled and smiled. Agu lifted him high and gently placed him on Pasha’s back. Didi took a quick snapshot and remembered the time when Flavour was photographed sitting on a wooden horse. Sheikh must have been jealous because he pushed his head forward as if to say my turn. Flavour was snapped on Sheikh’s back and then Didi took her son and went home leaving Agu to spend time with the two new loves in his life.

    I sat one evening at home with Geoff and my mind was curling itself around so many things. It seems as though I was collecting memories and none of them really connected just random thoughts of random events in a life that had been one set of random acts after another. Then it hit me. I had been a groom those many years ago and now Agu was a groom, I had been an actor and singer, so had Agu. He and I had so much in common. Even the names of the horses were a magnificent coincidence. I had been in love with a horse named Pasha too.

    We had one other thing in common, Agu and I had both risen from slavery to become happy men living with and being loved by the one we loved. We had all it needed to be fulfilled as a human being. We had lives filled with love, laughter and the occasional crying baby. Our lives had Flavour.
  8. Oluomoadebayo

    Oluomoadebayo Moderator Staff Member

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    Boy's life has changed tremendously beyond expectation and I'm happy for Agu and Didi for their new child.

    Thank you @Gertn for the powerful update as always.
  9. Oluomoadebayo

    Oluomoadebayo Moderator Staff Member

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    Update is overdue here @Gertn
  10. Gertn

    Gertn Active Member

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    I'm working on it but you have to promote this story for me. The feedback is not impressive.
  11. Gertn

    Gertn Active Member

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    Here is a new update guys.
    This episode was harder than most to produce but in the end I think and I hope I have pleased you. I love writing this story very much.

    Agu continued to help Miss Fifi with her gardens but spent most of his time now around the horses he cared for. His desire to ride these magnificent beasts was very strong but he abided by the rules and merely walked them for minor exercises and , of course, to go for watering or washing. Agu was content just to be near these lovely horses.

    It was a great day indeed when a new horse arrived but it had not yet been broken for riding. The horse owner, aware of Agu’s devotion to his horses suggested that maybe Agu could be part of the breaking in process, which would most certainly mean occasional mounting of the horse. Agu was too dumbfounded to speak and simply conveyed his agreement with vigorous nodding of the head and a smile that threatened to split his face in two. There was great joy on Agu’s face even when he was thrown and his smile grew even wider as he approached the horse once more. It was as if Agu was telling the horse that he would have to do better than that to frighten off this particular man. It was as though the horse understood and when Agu mounted him again the horse was much less irritable. Agu’s charm clearly worked on horses as well as people. Didi and I stood transfixed as Agu turned a wild horse into what honestly seemed a friend.

    Didi was not at all surprised and told me the story of how Agu, when still quite young, had pacified a young wild elephant that had wandered into his village. Some people believed Agu was able to master even the wildest creatures but Didi said he did not try to master them, he just let them know he loved them.

    Agu was happy with his horses, Didi was happy with her young son, Geoff was happy because he had many ideas floating in his mind and many of them he was trying to capture on paper. I was happy because I was spending more time with my godson and looking forward to Geoff finishing a brand new masterpiece that would turn out to be a wonderful new stage experience for Agu and for me.

    With all this joy coursing through our veins we had temporary forgotten about Miss Fifi. It was , therefore, with much sadness and great shock that we learned that Miss Fifi had passed in he sleep at the grand age of 92. Oh there was a sadness in our hearts that could not be described, there was a misery in our house and the house of Agu and Didi that could not be fully understood. We had lost not just a friend but someone who had given us all hope for the future, who had shown us what true showmanship was and who had shown us just how much could be accomplished if the heart was in the right place.

    It is strange that I cried very little at the news of Miss Fifi’s passing but I cried whole rivers when we were informed of some of the inclusions in Miss Fifi’s will. First she had left a large sum of money to Geoff with the proviso that he carried on writing wonderful stage shows. No problem there. The biggest shock was the bequeathal of Miss Fifi’s magnificent home to Agu, to be held in trust for her godson, Flavour. Miss Fifi’s lover did not want to stay in the house and was very happy to see it go to Flavour. It is so hard to understand why someone would leave a really wonderful home to someone they had only recently met. Only after days of considering this did I realize the truth. Fifi knew that the small private theatre she had set up in her home would be used by Agu and that he in turn would offer the space for rehearsal to Geoff and I. She knew that her treasured memories would be maintained intact and not separated or sold. She knew that this house would inevitably be a memorial to herself and to the show business she loved so much. She was right.

    Fifi's funeral was a real celebration of her life, no dreadful dirges to remind us of what we had lost but music and hilarious anecdotes to remind us of what we had found in knowing and loving this lady.

    It has always surprised me that gatherings after a funeral are filled with smiles, chatter, memories shared of happier times and, above all, laughter. That is how it should be though, letting the ones that have passed know that you will carry on living with joy on your face even though a little sadness still dwelt in your heart.
    Only days after the funeral of Miss Fifi, Agu and Didi forfeited their lease on the stables and moved into their new home. It was not the joyous occasion one would normally experience in moving into a new home. There was an air of sadness seeing all the things that reminded us, yes I was helping with the move, of a truly great lady. These feelings passed in the coming weeks as we preserved what we could of Miss Fifi but at the same time transforming the home into one for Flavour to grow up in. This meant, as far as Agu and Didi were concerned, large posters of Africa, African wildlife and African village people in traditional costume and in many, many facets of their life, cooking, worshipping and, of course, dancing.

    Geoff was invited to give his views on how the private theatre could best be utilised. He came up with so many good ideas that Agu suggested the only fair thing to do was accept the lot. And so the company of actors, forever loyal, came to help upgrade, alter, re-align, adapt and generally convert the small private theatre into a larger theatre and by the careful reconstruction of some walls create a reasonable auditorium for the audiences. It was, after many suggestions and much debate, finally decided that the theatre should be simply called “Fifi’s Follies” in commemoration of the lady and her beginnings in Vaudeville.

    It took a few months to complete all the alterations but soon it was time to put on some kind of show and invite the public to the new little theatre in town, or rather just out of town. The night was advertised long before kit was really decided what was going to be presented. At short notice, it was only possible to put together some songs and sketches that had been used previously. And so it was that on March 25, the audience arrived to enjoy the first of what was to be many evenings at Fifi’s Follies.

    One great idea of Geoff’s was to allow audience members to the theatre to visit the “Fifi Room”. There was to be a small fee to help maintain the room and it was obvious from the first show we did there that Fifi’s Follies combined with a stroll down Memory Lane in the Fifi Room was a big hit. Visits to the room were to be fun, not a sad reminder of the lady we had lost, and so Geoff had taken a clip from an old film and enlarged it to a life size portrait of Fifi - the one in which she wore her three saucepan lids.

    Geoff quite naturally was thrilled with all of this but still wanted to get what he called a real show on the stage. He and I both set down to some serous writing. I tried my best to write a tale of how different people dealt with death and finished up writing a short but very moving piece called “Cry Baby” which ended with me crying at my own funeral. It was a dramatic piece and Geoff praised me highly and said it would definitely find a place in a future show. Geoff, however, had ideas that, as usual, went beyond the norm. He had learned of a friend suffering with Alzheimers and had decided to write a comedy, yes a comedy, about how family members each dealt with having a loved one coping with this affliction. He called it “Goodbye Grandpa, I Love You”. It really was a very funny play but one which left the reader moved by the plight of those whose memories were being erased. I say the readers because no date had yet been planned for the production of this new play.

    Was it luck, Fate or some other unknown force that brought to town a group of singers that would transform our lives for a short while and put Fifi’s Follies well and truly on the map as a centre for cultural diversity. I first saw the poster advertising a concert by the “Fans of Ladysmith” stuck on a wall in a local coffee shop. I looked several times at the picture on the poster before realizing that this was group of African singers who were honoring the incredible “Ladysmith Black Mambazo”. The world famous African Male Choir who had won many awards for their music and whose history was as exciting as any you could read, with the choir continuing through generations of the same family being included in their magnificent musical presentations.

    I went immediately to the box office and bought four tickets for the opening night of the “Fans of Ladysmith” show. I then raced home and told Geoff what I had done and was so excited by the thought of Agu and Didi enjoying this show and learning that there were other Africans who had settled in surrounding towns who were also in show business. Overcoming Geoff’s doubt that Didi would be able to go, seeing as how she was nursing a son, I went ahead and informed Agu of this date. He was absolutely overjoyed and said he thought Didi would agree as long as we could get a reliable baby sitter for the night. No problem there, half the ladies of the chorus and all the dancers were already smitten by Flavour.

    The evening came, Agu and Didi dressed in a representation of their traditional costume and looked as though they were ready to walk some red carpet somewhere. They were indeed a very handsome pair. Geoff and I wore tuxedos, tradition for opening nights, and as the four of us walked into the theatre foyer, people stopped and stared (mainly at Agu and Didi) realising that their very own Othello was so close by). There were a few young ladies who pressed Agu for an autograph but my hero was the wonderful man I had always known he was. He simply reminded these young ladies that he was just a visitor to the show and the real stars would be on stage and he was sure they would be ready to sign autographs after the show. We walked into the auditorium and found our seats. Didi was already close to tears. The stage backdrop was a massive scene of luscious, inviting, magnificent Africa.

    The entrance of these singers was as astonishing as anything I have ever seen. A solo voice from the back of the auditorium announced the beginning of the show with a single baritone note that seemed to hang on forever as other solo voices joined in from almost every direction in the auditorium. The singers walked, but that movement could hardly be called a walk, down the aisles and onto the stage. In traditional costumes this group of handsome black men could have, and probably did, steal many hearts. Their music was mesmerizing. They sang many of the hits of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and then in the second half of the show sang their own versions of many songs, some of African origins some from the modern world of American Pop. They were a very talented group of artists and, knowing how much it would mean to my brother and sister, Geoff had arranged a short visit backstage after the show. Unlike the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who are South African, this group of singers came from various parts of Africa and it was with sheer delight that Agu met the two from Nigeria. The shows were for three nights only and the group were delighted to accept an invitation from Agu to visit his home during the day. The mention of his private theatre was the true magnet.

    Fans of Ladysmith arrived on the afternoon of their final performance and loved the theatre, loved the Fifi memorabilia room and totally adored Flavour. It seems some of them had little flavours of their own and when on tour missed their children, naturally.

    It was the lead tenor of the group that suggested that they sing a song in the private theatre to test its acoustics. Having heard, from me of course, about the voice of Agu, he was invited to join them on stage and a number was chosen that Agu knew well. The effect of these singers in that small theatre was in a word thrilling. The group went into a huddle and then boldly announced they were going to delay their departure for a day and wanted to perform their entire concert in this theatre for the benefit of Agu, Didi and Flavour. Quite naturally, everyone went into a spin and the phones buzzed as invitations went out to all and sundry to attend a private concert by the Fans of Ladysmith.

    It is not surprising that the little private theatre was packed, mainly with singers and dancers from our own troupe, and the concert was a smash. Agu, once again, joined he choir on stage and at the end of the performance the leader of the Fans choir pointed to Didi and asked her to join them onstage. He said he wanted to dance with her and immediately the choir went into singing real Highlife. Didi could not resist and her body seemed to move automatically as soon as the first strains of the music were heard. Didi danced with each and every member of that group, actually in Highlife it is normal to wander around the floor with different dancers, and before long a few ladies of our own dancers were on stage too. It was a wonderful evening and one that had everyone talking about Fifi’s Follies and the great shows to be seen there. News spread wide and fast. It was now imperative that we get a real show on the boards as soon as possible.

  12. jenjut

    jenjut Active Member

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    Very deep and far from fiction. I always take my time before reading this piece, good job.
  13. Gertn

    Gertn Active Member

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    Here we go again.......

    Geoff had completed his comedy about a family’s reactions to Alzheimers and it was ready to go but many of us thought it was time to employ the singers and dancers again. Geoff agreed but said he had no idea what to do. An encore of a previous season was suggested but it was generally felt that the new theatre should present a new show, even a new kind of show. Minds went into overdrive and then Geoff came up with an idea that baffled us all but we knew t was going to end well. Geoff suggested we have an afternoon tea party with every actor, singer, dancer, director, choreographer we knew being invited. Whatever his plan was no one was against having a party with like minded people.

    The party was arranged and was to be held at Agu’s home so that anyone who had not seen the private theatre could do so. As each guest arrived they were escorted to the theatre and handed a sheet of paper. The paper read, “ What would YOU like to do on this stage?”. Guests were invited to answer the question and then place the paper in a box provided. When all guests had arrived and completed their paper Geoff announced that he would be looking at the papers in great detail and coming up with an idea that would, hopefully, satisfy everyone,

    The party was a lot of fun and no one was asked to perform, just eat, drink and enjoy the company. Heaven smiled on us that day too as the weather was perfect and the party became a garden party.

    The next day Geoff was definitely out of bounds. He was in his study but on the floor with all the papers spread around him. I took in his coffee and he seemed to be rearranging the papers on the floor into some sort of order. I was wise enough not to ask what he was doing. In the middle of the afternoon he emerged with the sheaf papers in his hand.

    “How would you like to go through my plan with a fine tooth comb and tell me what you think, honestly?” With Geoff his requests had an air of command about them but I was happy to oblige, of course, and with Geoff looking over my shoulder and adding comments as I read his notes I waded through the papers and was simply stunned. Geoff had arranged a program which included so many of the artist who had come to the party. Dancers had been arranged to back up singers, singers had been grouped to perform duets, trios and some chorus work. Actors had been used in very clever ways, one talented mime artist being used in a dance number. Geoff had arranged so many good shows in the past but his idea for this show was extraordinary. It was also going to be expensive to mount but Geoff was convinced it would be a success and so was I.

    It was necessary to throw anther garden party and reveal Geoff’s ideas to the entire group. Some artists could not be included in the show but were invited to the second party anyway. When Geoff outlined his plan the whole gang went crazy, because the idea was crazy. Crazy but so very, very original.

    The plan of the show was simple but the execution of it would present a few major headaches. The show was to be divided into two halves. In the first half of the evening’s entertainment actors, singers and dancers would be doing what they loved best. Each would be given a chance to show off their talents as best they knew how. There was definitely not enough time for everyone to perform solo but Geoff had come up with many ideas combining singers with dancers, actors with dancers and of course dancers with other dancers. It would be a real showcase of the very multi-talented group that had supported Geoff and I for a long time.

    The second half of the show was to prove that each talented artist had hidden talents, well maybe to prove that some had no other hidden talent. Geoff had organized a program in which actors would dance or sing, dancers would act or sing and singers would dance or act. Some were pretty good at changing their prime talent but for some this part of the program would prove to be embarrassing and a heck of a lot of fun. The highlight of the whole show would most certainly be Agu doing ballet. In keeping with tradition Agu accepted the role happily and said he would get his beloved Didi to help him.

    “My dear Agu, you are going to need all the help you can get.” In return for my smart remark I received a playful punch from my brother.

    As soon as the plan was revealed the entire group split into smaller groups to start discussing costumes, make-up, music, choreography, scripts and stage settings. Geoff intervened here and announced that he would be in charge of stage settings. Everyone knew straight away that this meant he was going to be devious and outstandingly inventive. He knew how to capture an audience and the whole troupe knew they were in good hands.

    Bringing everyone together he asked that they sit down and prepare a rigid rehearsal schedule as he wanted this show to be ready in just four weeks. He knew this was a tough undertaking but he knew his people and was sure they would meet the deadline. He knew this also because he had announced that the show would be a profit-sharing venture with each and every member of the company receiving a share of the profits. It might not be much but it showed Geoff’s absolute faith in all the artists he had assembled. On hearing of this gesture, the artists who, for whatever reason, had not been included in the show, volunteered to help out, backstage, front of house selling programmes, ushering people to their seats anything in fact to be a part of what they saw as an amazing show with truly great objectives — to show the company’s many talents to the local community.

    When we all settled down after the guests had all departed for their various homes to start preparing their acts, Geoff told me of his plan for stage settings. The whole show would be played against a backdrop of slides, carefully chosen to accentuate the performances. At least that would be so in the first half of the show. In the second half of the show, the backdropped slides would be selected to do anything but compliment the performers. The only one he had definitely settled on was the Agu ballet. For this item the backdrop would be a small herd of walking elephants. Geoff knew his actors, he knew his art and he knew exactly what would please an audience. Dare I say, he also knew exactly how to please me, I had me a man in a million.

    Preparations for the show were going to be tough. There were so any acts, so much rehearsal needed and only one rehearsal space. That is until Fifi’s lover returned for a visit and informed us that they had a huge two car garage and no car and yes they would love to let it be used for rehearsals as long as no one minded them being watched. Clearly someone was missing show business. So rehearsals went ahead and everyone, still unaware of Geoff’s plan for the backdrops, went ahead and showed just how good they were. This was for many of them a pure ego trip. Little did they know how their egos would be pricked by Geoff’s devilish backdrops in the second half of the show. Very few changes were made to the original plan, an occasional piece of music being replaced, and it all looked as though this show was going to be ready on time.

    It is said in the theatre world that a bad dress rehearsal often heralds a good show. If that is true then we were in for a great show. Everything that could go wrong went wrong at the dress rehearsal. It is true that most of the problems were technical but the cast could not hold themselves together when they finally saw the backdrops to the second half routines. The entire company was on the floor at one stage convulsed with laughter. Geoff tried to be firm and remind them that the audience would be more amused if the cast kept straight faces but even he was struggling not to giggle as he said it. Dress rehearsal finished and everyone collapsed on the stage, exhausted by their good routines, their crazy antics in the second half and still laughing about the backdrops. Agu was doubtful that he could keep a straight face knowing what was going on behind him. He was also just a wee bit shy about appearing on stage in tights. Frankly if I had what he had packed in those tights I would be far from shy but let’s keep our mind on the stage show.

    Publicity, had been handled extremely well and bookings for the show looked very encouraging. The opening night was fully booked, thanks again to padding, that is giving free seats to the media and sponsors. Yes, we had gleaned a few sponsors so financially we looked very comfortable. We had planned four evening shows and one afternoon matinee. The matinee was a charity thing, Geoff had sent invitations to all the local old people’s homes and we were promised a full house for that and the local government office had arranged and were paying for buses to bring the senior citizens to the show.

    The opening night was indeed a huge success. A few artists did lose control during their numbers and this made some of the audience laugh even more. All in all it was a great success.

    Remember when Agu was included in a show once before and his act was transferred to a closing act because of his popularity? Well, it happened again. The response to this great man trying to imitate a ballet dancer with a background of elephants had the audience almost begging for him to stop because they were aching from laughter. This put Agu in the prime spot again, this time closing the whole show. It had to be because the audience were just not capable of taking any more after that performance. His absolute look of concentration as he tried, and failed, ballet step after ballet step, was absolutely highlighted at the end as he took a bow and an elephant collapsed to the ground behind him. The timing was perfect, my brother was perfect, Geoff had struck a perfect note with his show,

    After the opening everybody waited anxiously for the next days reviews.

    “Forget The Zoo, go see a dancing elephant at Fifi’s Follies.”

    “You have never seen theatre quite like this before.”

    “Geoff Mann, Director at Fifi’s Follies is a genius.”

    “Turn off the TV, forget the cinema, go, go now and book to see ‘Stage Fright’ the new show at Fifi’s Follies.”

    Yes, the show was called Stage Fright, another great idea from the great Mann himself.

    It was clear within hours of the papers appearing on the streets and in people’s houses, that four shows would not be enough. The original season was from Wednesday to Saturday with the special Sunday afternoon matinee for pensioners. Geoff said we should all get plenty of rest on Monday and Tuesday and be prepared for another four shows the second week.

    There is no need to go into great detail here but the second week went into a third week and the third into a fourth. The profit sharing idea was going to pay off for everybody. So much so that when early figures were spread around, the cast sent a card to Geoff.

    “Please Mr Director, we are unanimous in our decision. The box office takings for the final week of our show is to be used for the theatre. We are all very satisfied and happy with the forecast payouts for cast and crew. With many thanks for a wonderful show”

    Signed simply, “The Geoff Mann Ensemble”.

    Geoff was so proud his company of artists and as you may guess I was proud to be a special part of that group.

    Geoff accepted the offer on behalf of the theatre but had to inform the company that week four would not be the final week. No less than two neighboring towns had heard of this show and requested it be shown at their theatre. Geoff informed the company and it was decided that both out of town offers be accepted. Again the company stepped up and suggested it not be a profit sharing this time. Geoff once again rose to the occasion and said that one week would be profit sharing and one week, whichever was the most profitable, would be for him. We all knew he was joking and by saying for him we all knew he meant for the theatre.

    All the shows were well received, everyone actually got paid (more than usual I might add) and the theatre had sufficient funds now to mount any production they wanted. It was a great time for it. It was a very special time for Agu and not just because he , along with the rest of us, had discovered he had a new talent, comedy. He had one other great talent obviously because Didi came home one afternoon and bowed low to Agu. We all knew what this meant. Agu could now practice his comedy bits for his son and for his … well at this stage no one knew. Agu and Didi both hoped it would be a daughter but time would tell. Whatever, the outcome that child was going to be born to two amazingly beautiful Nigerian parents but would also be automatically ‘adopted’ into a family larger and more diverse than any child could ever imagine. The children would never be short of baby sitters, never be short of admirers, never want for entertainment and be overburdened with love from an entire theatrical family, for that is what we were a family.

    From then on my amazingly beautiful sister, Didi, was treated like a queen. Before this she was just a Princess, just joking. Now she was treated as though she were a fragile piece of filigree glass that would shatter at the slightest touch. In other words, she was protected from anything and everything. Of course, she hated all this but she had to accept it just as we all did, it was the bidding of the Master, Agu, who wanted his wife and unborn child to be safe. Behind his back Didi would do things Agu had forbidden her to do, like laundry, lifting things, even light things, house cleaning and dancing. Even the great Agu could not prevent this adorable young woman from dancing and right now she felt like dancing a lot. Didi was happy, she was carefree knowing that the same doctor that helped deliver her son was on hand, knowing that an entire family were at her beck and call, should she need them, knowing, as only an expectant mother can know, that the child inside her was going to be just fine.

    There was a time to wait and this was it. We all waited for the day when Didi would return from a visit to the doctor and tell us all whether we were going to have another godson or a goddaughter. We all waited to see what miracle Geoff would come up with to present at Fifi’s Follies, a theatre now well-known and well-respected in our town. We all waited to see what was in store for us as individuals and as a company. That was Geoff’s major concern, the company. It was not easy to keep a whole band of players, singers and dancers continually and gainfully employed. Like all theatre companies, artists were employed, and therefore paid, for the duration of the show. This included payments for rehearsals but once the show folded, artists’ fees stopped.

    It was a chorus member who came to Geoff one day with an idea. She had been singing as a background to a TV commercial. In the studio she had seen people trying to act out a commercial according to the Director’s instruction and she said that most of them were plain pathetic. Geoff jumped on to the idea immediately. He gave the chorus girl a great big hug and a kiss, which she took the wrong way (surely she knew about Geoff and I) and then he called all the members of the company to a meeting. Meetings and rehearsals were often held now in the garage we had now come to occupy as ours completely, thanks to Fifi’s generous lover. Also we tried not to disturb Didi more than was necessary.

    At the meeting, which was just three days later, Geoff handed everybody a form. It was an application to audition for Television commercials and Radio commercials. He asked everybody to complete one and then return them to him together with three head shots ( a close up photo) as soon as possible. He said he would deliver them all to the powers that be, heads of TV stations, heads of Radio networks and Major Advertising companies. Then they could all just sit back and wait for calls, which Geoff was confident would be forthcoming very soon.

    The forms were completed, copied in triplicate and, accompanied by the photos of the individual artist concerned, delivered by Geoff as promised. For the next few days we all waited patiently, some less patiently than others, like me. I was really excited about getting back on to radio again.

    They say it never rains but it pours. Well, it certainly poured on us. In the week following delivery of the application forms, no less than 13 people received invitations to present themselves for an audition. Some in radio but most for TV. Agu had been invited for TV, clearly they were short of handsome African men, I had been called also by a musical director, I had emphasized my interest in music on my application and a really big surprise, Didi was called. We did not know that Geoff had encouraged her to submit a form but why not she was beautiful, she had a wonderful speaking voice and had shown acting capabilities when she danced her lovely traditional dances. Didi was still in the early stages of her pregnancy and was definitely a stunning looking lady. Agu, not wanting to be selfish, agreed with her application but only on condition that he went with her to the audition and would also accompany her to any callback she received either from radio or TV. Agu’s motive was clear, to protect his darling wife but it turned out to be a blessing. On no less than three occasions, when Didi was called, Agu, just by being there caught a director’s eye and the thought of two handsome Africans in a commercial was too much to overlook. This pair, this beautiful pair, my beautiful brother and sister, were becoming stars of TV commercials.

    It did not end there, no sir, it was just a beginning. Someone heard of Agu’s singing voice and things went from wild to mad to absolute crazy. First, he had a small singing role in a silly commercial about throat lozenges, then he sang background to a sad commercial about Funeral Insurance and, finally, he was asked to sing on a light entertainment musical show. After that offers for his appearance just kept rolling in. Speaking with his deep, and dare I say sexy, voice, singing with his amazing bass/baritone tones and eventually acting. It was clearly understood by all that the presence of a handsome black man was a rarity here and the fact that he was multi-talented was an obvious bonus. Yes, I said black man and I offer no apologies, anyone who knows me knows I would never use any words to offend my brother but sometimes that word is necessary to describe a beautiful African man or woman and I was truly blessed to have both in my heart and in my family.

    The members of the company were also doing well, especially a trio of dancers who, having appeared in a successful commercial for toilet paper, were often called back as a dancing trio from then on. In show business you re often asked to do strange things but if it pays you do it. I was asked to film a TV commercial about cigarettes. I do not smoke but it was a good offer and when I told the Director I did not smoke he said it was not a problem as long as I was happy enough to just hold a cigarette in my mouth until a pretty girl came along, took out the cigarette and then kissed me. I thought of asking the Director if the pretty girl could be replaced with a handsome man but I held my tongue. I completed the TV commercial in just 5 hours and received pay for a full day’s work. TV commercials are great money spinners and great earnings for those involved in the making.

    I filmed ads for cars, horses, cigarettes, batteries, hot water systems and health drinks. Geoff, the ever sensible one, pointed out that over exposure was a bad thing. If you appeared too often on TV some Directors were reluctant to use you as your face had become associated with certain products. These products may well be competition to the commercials now required by different companies. Geoff was right of course, so I became more selective when invited to take part in ads, whether on TV or radio. On radio, it was slightly different because you did not always have to use your own voice. On one commercial they needed the moo of a cow. I offered my own impression and they loved it. I was immediately removed from my original role and cast as the cow, a talking cow I might add.

    Things were going well, people were being employed, Geoff was buried once more in his study and writing, no one knew what, not even me and Didi was happy, healthy and strong and was now showing a slight bulge. She was still very beautiful.

    Agu came to me one day with a newspaper clipping and he was quite upset. He showed me the clip. I understood his being unhappy but assured him that this was nothing to do with us and miles away, He said he was sorry on behalf of his people and said he believed I knew that he and Didi did not feel this way. Of course I knew.

    What Agu had shown me was a report of the persecution and shooting of gays in Nigeria. One never knew the full extent of these reports. How much of it was true, how much the result of an over imaginative reporter, how much the devious workings of an editorial mind just trying to sell newspapers? Whatever, it was sad to read and even sadder that my beloved Agu thought he was in some small way to blame for his people’s attitude.

  14. Gertn

    Gertn Active Member

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    I have survived the scorns and the insults of many people over the years, especially when I was younger, but I survived and to this day I have never felt sorry for myself but just sorry for those who were just not wise enough to understand. To understand that love is love and will always be a stronger force than hate any day. I wondered just how Nigeria would be now. I remember Agu’s stories of how men would happily hold hands as they walked along, not gay, just brothers. Would this now stop? Would this traditional show of brotherly love disappear? Would ordinary, loving, caring men be afraid to show their affection in this way? Oh, dear Lord, I hope not.

    I could think of nothing to do except to ask Agu to walk with me, hand-in-hand along the street to a coffee shop. We did it, we walked with heads held high, not caring if someone misconstrued or misunderstood our behavior, we let love rule the day. I was not just proud to be seen holding my brother’s hand but mostly I was proud of the fact that Agu held my hand tightly and was completely unashamed. We were showing the world, or at least anyone that saw us, that love will conquer all and that there is no barrier to love, not age, not race, not colour nor creed. Love is the Universal medicine that if taken often will cure all the ills of the world. So keep filling your cup and drinking of the sweet nectar of Love.

    I was reminded of story of a friend of mine who went to study for a short time in China. He was at the same University as some Africans who were studying Agriculture. Among the Africans were some Nigerians and my friend, who had spent some time in Nigeria, became friends with them. After a meal one evening as the students walked back to the hotel where they were all being accommodated, quite naturally, and without any thought at all, one Nigerian and my friend, an English man, held hands. The Chinese police stopped them and told them it was not allowed. When asked why, the policeman simply said, because you are different races. It made no sense to my friend, it made no sense to me when I heard it, it still makes no sense. Would they have stopped an Englishman and a Chinese lady from holding hands? Would they have stopped an Englishman and an African lady? Was it really the races or the sexes that had this policeman feeling uncomfortable? Who knows? I know I never wanted to go to China.

    Time had flown and although we had mounted a few shows, mainly musicals, we had not really been satisfied with our efforts. It was time for a good drama and Geoff suggested we present his play about Alzheimers. Not strictly speaking a dramatic play but one with a serious message presented in a comedic fashion. Rather like the wonderful African show “ Wait a Minim”. A musical play all about racism but you just enjoyed the acting and singing and dancing while the show was on. After the show you thought about it and the messages about he stupidity of racism hit home. Geoff was hoping his play would have the same effect. So it was planned and it was cast. The play primarily dealt with a family and its approach to dealing with a progressively forgetful old grandfather. There was, however, the role of the visiting doctor and there was no reason why he could not be African. Once again Agu would be on stage with me. I was to play the grandson who initially was angry with his grandpa but eventually let his love shine though.

    During the rehearsals for this play we had another drama unfolding within our own family. Didi was going into labour and by now we all knew she was about to deliver a sister for her darling Flavour. It was not supposed be a dramatic episode, Didi had taken good care of herself, was as strong as an ox and the doctor foresaw no possible complications. It was the actor, Leo Pard, who made the whole thing so dramatic. It was not my handsome brother’s first experience of becoming a father but he was, no not nervous, not anxious, he was it seems simply terrified. We tried to laugh it off but to no avail. Agu was determined to be the anxious father so we let him enjoy the moment. The moment was in fact seven hours before we were finally informed that a baby girl had arrived safely. Didi had been through a hard labour and she looked exhausted. In spite of this she managed to smile and looked happy. Agu just sat by her side and cried and cried and cried. He was happy too.

    There were no smart remarks to prompt a name for the new arrival and there was no need for one. It seems Agu and Didi, once they had known they were having a daughter, had already decided on a name. It had been a wish and a prayer that the next child would be a girl and if they were so blessed they had decided she would be named Anike, which means prized possession. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this child would be prized and this scaled down model of Didi on entering our world would be prized by everyone. Didi was indeed a very beautiful lady and every single feature that made her beautiful had been recreated in miniature. Welcome Anike to the world of beautiful people.

    I asked Agu if I could possibly have a Nigerian name with a beautiful meaning. He said no matter what name I chose I would always be Georgie to him. He also reminded me that I already had another name anyway. When I was acting too fussy, especially with Geoff around, Agu liked to tease and call me Mrs Mann. I am not at all sure I liked it but from him I accepted it gracefully.

    With all the excitement of the arrival of a new family member over and done with, for a while, we concentrated on wth the theatre. Goodbye Grandpa, Geoff’s new play was well into rehearsal. It all seemed to be going so smoothly, thanks to Geoff’s writing and expert direction. The opening was planned, publicity had been good and ticket sales had been very encouraging. Fifi’s Follies was developing a steady flow of regulars, true supporters of theatre and of this company in particular.

    It was debated for a long time whether we should have a matinee for senior citizens, considering the content of the play, dealing as it did with disabilities that affect aged people but the invitations were sent out and various group organizers forewarned of the subject matter in this production. It was generally decided that older people needed to be aware of the problem and have some insight in to how they and their families would deal with it, if it should be their fate to go down that path of memory loss.

    Opening night was a wonder. All the laughs Geoff had planned for were there, the comedy had shone through. The audience were extremely receptive and the wonder of the night was tears. This had not been foreseen but some young woman who was dealing herself with an elderly grandfather with dementia found the play very moving and she said she was totally impressed by the acting. She said it seemed as though the writer had been looking over her shoulder in real life.

    Reviews were good, ticket sales improved and the theatre was doing well. Geoff now had contracts prepared and after consulting with me he proposed that all artists now be paid. Maybe not the full fees as outlined by Actor’s Equity but paid a reasonable sum for their efforts in helping to put shows together. He hesitated to say they should be paid for their talents as some were so talented as to never be paid enough.

    Didi knew about the play and its story and said she did not want to see the show because in the play Agu falls for a white widow. We laughed at her and told Agu. He went straight to his beloved, gently laid his daughter on the bed, picked Didi up and kissed her, long and hard.

  15. Gertn

    Gertn Active Member

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    “Now tell me, sweet angel of mine, do you think a man could kiss you like that if he had even the remotest thoughts of being with another woman?”

    Of course, I only heard of this story from my sister after had all taken place. She then said she would like to see the show and asked me to arrange the usual babysitting service. After the show, which Didi had seen, she had just one remark.

    “I wish my doctor was as handsome as that one on stage.”

    She was right of course. Agu was indeed handsome and acting as a kindly doctor he won many new hearts. A few audience members said they had hoped to hear Agu sing. They were joking about the play but serious about wanting to hear Agu again. Yes, it was remarks like these that set the mind of Mr. Mann senior into overdrive. It was time he said to think of another musical. Didi, on overhearing this remark from Geoff, quickly said she hoped it would be without an Agu ballet. When asked if she had not enjoyed the ballet she said, quite unashamedly,

    “I loved it, who wouldn’t see my husband in those tights and almost bare-chested. I was just so jealous of every other woman there who was watching him.”

    “And some men,” I suggested. She slapped me and the conversation reverted to serious business.

    Discussions covered whether we should write a new show, choose a musical that had stood the test of time, try to write a brand new musical of our own or prepare a musical evening allowing everyone to show off their talents. This time with no crazy second half. We all went to our beds with minds mulling over the suggestions.

    After much thought Geoff proposed that we choose a well-known musical production and make it our own. By that, he meant adding extra dance routines, possibly an additional song, but without interfering with the original story. I reminded Geoff that adding extra songs to a well-known musical would not be appropriate without the original author’s consent and would also confuse patrons who were fans of that particular show. Geoff agreed but said he thought we should try to include more dancers. He was always thinking of the company.

    We were both very well aware of the fact that our choices would be limited since we were also looking for a vehicle for Agu. Suggestions flowed in from all members of the troupe.

    “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

    “Hello, Dolly”

    “The King and I”



    “Irma La Douce”

    “South Pacific”

    The list went on until there were more than 50 suggestions. One by one the shows were rejected for various reasons, the main reason for most of them being overlooked was the lack of a strong male lead to be played by an African singer. In the end it was decided with a lighter make-up Agu could sing his way into the hearts of every theatre patron with just one song. Geoff said we should present “The King and I”. Everyone, including me, jumped in with our objections. Yes, Agu could act this with great presence, he could definitely be The King but where were the songs for him. Most of the musical numbers were dance numbers, or for the two ladies in the show, Anna, the teacher and the number one wife of the King, Lady Thiang. Geoff put his fingers to his lips to quiet us all down and simply said, “Trust me.”

    We would all trust Geoff but in this case we were mystified. How could even this great writer, director turn a non-musical role into a musical one? Apart from ”It’s a Puzzlement” there were no solo items for the King. This was either going to be an amazing smash hit for Geoff or a dismal failure.

    The company was called together and Geoff outlined his proposals for the next show. Dancers and singers were delighted. Smaller dancers were eager to transform into Siamese children, sopranos were falling over themselves to audition for the role of Anna, and the entire company delighted that Agu would be the King but at the same time confused about his lack of songs in the show. Geoff did not enlighten anyone at that stage of his intentions. Once again with the two words, trust me, he moved on to casting.

    Sopranos were invited to addition with a song from the show but I knew Geoff had already made up his mind who would play the leading lady. Allowing auditions was a courtesy extended by any good director and there is no doubt in my mind that Geoff was better than just a good director. I was still full of questions about his plans for Agu.

    Mezzo sopranos auditioned for the role of Lady Thiang and we were unanimous in our selection of a longtime member of the company for this beautiful role. Before actually offering the part, Geoff called the lady aside and spoke to her privately. She smiled, bowed graciously and returned to the group to hear Geoff confirm that the role of Lady Thiang was hers. We all wondered what the private conversation had been about but no one dared to ask. One brave young singer did ask the successful auditionee but received just an enigmatic smile in response.

    The choreographer was assigned the task of appointing dancers and was asked to include as many as possible. When reminded of the limitations of our stage at Fifi’s Follies, Geoff stunned us all, before he walked out, with this remark.

    “Fifi’s Follies? Oh no, we are going to stage this at the Theatre Royal.”

    The excitement among the troupe was electric, people laughed, people became teary-eyed, people hugged everyone around them and then it all stopped suddenly when Geoff returned.

    “Just one more thing, everyone involved in this production will receive full Actor’s Equity pay.” He left again.

    There was a moment of stunned silence before the room erupted into what can only be described as glorious chaos.

    The Theatre Royal was booked but it was three months ahead. We had so much time to prepare. Set designers liaised with Geoff and the Theatre Royal Stage Managers to come up with stunning designs. Of course converting stunning designs into stunning real live sets was not always easy.

    The choreographer had organized his dancers into groups, Siamese children, Siamese dancers, Siamese ladies of the court and they were all busy working on routines together.

    Actors were already learning roles, many of them non-speaking, servants of the King, bodyguards and so on.

    Geoff was still not forthcoming about his ‘surprise’ for Agu, and the rest of us. We had dire thoughts when Geoff confessed that on one of the final scenes he was utilizing a screen with a projected image. We naturally thought of a herd of elephants but even Geoff would not dare to do that in such a great Musical.

    Geoff asked me the next day if I would listen to his ‘surprise’ idea for Agu in the musical show.

    He said that he hated having secrets from me and in any case he valued my opinions above all others and wanted to know how I felt about this latest crazy notion of his. I was also sworn to total secrecy.

    I listened as Geoff outlined his plan. He had done it again, crossed lines no other director dared to cross. He had broken with so many traditions and his plan was no less than astonishing. I loved the whole idea and could see how Agu would now be a star of a show in which he really only sang one song. What a song that would be, a solo piece for a mezzo soprano now to be sung by a baritone bass. It would offend some stick-in-the-muds, it would upset traditionalists, it would shake the very core of musical theatre, it would cause havoc in the Press and very likely make Geoff a millionaire. Nothing makes better news than controversy, nothing gets people talking faster than controversy and what Geoff had planned was in every way controversial.

    Weeks of planning and weeks of rehearsal and it was finally time to let the entire company in on Geoff’s secret surprise.

    Towards the end of the show Lady Thiang sings the wonderful solo “Something Wonderful.” Geoff wanted to turn this into a duet with The King. He had rewritten some lyrics and since the King was sick in bed, Geoff proposed screening him laying on his bed and listening to his devoted Lady Thiang. He then joins in the song, transforms it into a solo for him and then reverts at the end to a duet with the woman he had loved and who had given birth to his son and heir.

    Lady Thiang has asked Anna to go to the King. Anna is reluctant, especially since the King has not sent for her. Both ladies are well aware that The King may be dying. Lady Thiang starts to talk, or rather sing, about the great qualities of her King.

    She starts.

    “This is a man who thinks with his heart

    His heart is not always wise.”

    The KIng hearing this adds his own words in song.

    “This is a man who stumbles and falls

    But this is a man who tries.”

    Lady Thiang continues.

    “This is a man you’ll forgive and forgive

    And help and protect as long as you live.”

    The King takes up the song solo.

    “ I will not always say what you would have me say

    But now and then I’ll say something wonderful.

    The thoughtless things I’ll do will hurt and worry you

    Then, all at once I’ll do something wonderful.

    I have a thousand dreams that won’t come true

    You know that I believe in them and that’s enough for you.

    You’ll always go along, defend me when I’m wrong

    And tell me when I’m strong, I am wonderful.

    I’ll always need your love and so I’ll get your love.”

    Lady Thiang and The King sing the iast line together.

    “A man who needs your love cab be wonderful.”

    The King sinks back into what we know will be his last breath.

    The scene changes and the children and ladies in waiting all come forward to pay their respects to their dead King.

    When Geoff finished explaining, everyone was totally silent. Geoff jumped in and said he would ask them to suspend judgement until they had rehearsed it for the first time. Then all hell broke loose. People were smothering Geoff with kisses and hugs. They could not stop telling him what a mad, crazy absolutely brilliant man he was. They could see the audiences now, shocked by the change and then crying at the drama of this new arrangement. Many of the young artists were already in tears just at the thought of this incredible scene.

    There were many tears during rehearsal and Geoff reminded everyone that they were artists and they had no right to cry on stage unless it was in character. Of course, for the children and some ladies it would be well in character. Geoff begged them to control what they could.

    Didi came to the dress rehearsal and brought the two young ones. She wanted them to see their father and hear him on the stage. They would not understand much of the show but it had already been planned to film it so they could look at it all again when they were older. Didi was in tears after the show but not for the same reason as everyone else. Yes, she had been moved by the story but she said she was crying with joy, the sheer joy she felt because everyone had done their best to make her husband, herself and her children so grateful that they had escaped a life of slavery and earned love and respect from so many people.

    Opening night and nerves were more tense than usual. After all we were going to give avid theatergoers a shock, a shot in the arm that would send them into a state of either boundless admiration or total disbelief and anger. This was a gamble but one Geoff said should pay off even if reviews were bad. People went to circuses, half hoping the trapeze artist would fall, people liked the idea of things going wrong and if this show was described as being so wrong people would flock to see for themselves.

    The first night audience was absolutely packed in. There had, of course, been some padding with Press invited but mostly these were musical theatre lovers who had been starved of a full scale Musical for a long time. This would be one show they definitely would not forget.

    The complete audience giving the cast a standing ovation was all we needed to let us know the twist in the play had succeeded. There were cat calls, whistles, cheers and applause that seemed to be endless.

    The lady playing Anna and Lady Thiang were applauded for such a long time and as for The KIng, we thought it would never end. But it did when the KIng raised the youngest Siamese child in his arms and introduced his son, Flavour to the audience.

    It remains only to say that reviews, whilst divided in their pinions about the twist in the plot nevertheless gave glowing reports of outstanding performances. The show sold out. We went on tour with it and it was filmed. Maybe one day you will be able to see the Nigerian King of Siam.


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