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The Day Grammar Failed Soyinka



Prof Wole Soyinka

By Tunde Odesola

Act 1: Scene 1

Fire and Thunder never sleep together in the Armstrong family. They’re incompatible. Tonight, both combustible family members stand toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball, unblinking. Thunder steps back, raises up his muscled hands, fingers wide apart, sizing up his opponent, hoping for an arms-lock to test for strength. Moving slowly in a circle, Fire cautiously thrusts his head forward, makes a fast grab at Thunder’s leg, and gb-o-o-s-s-s-a-a-a!!!, everything explodes! Tongues of molten balls of flames leap up, burning the past, consuming the present and wrecking the future.

Seen by the family of his son, Jonah, as being overly conscientious, Grandpa Armstrong hardly comes visiting them at Sun City. But presently, there’s fire on the mountain, hence Grandpa hurriedly leaves his country house to have a hard talk with Jonah and his family in the city.

“Grandpa, leave Junior alone!” Jonah yelled at his father, his wife and son standing behind him in the living room. “Grandpa, you’re old fashioned and going senile. Junior is an adult,” Lucy, Jonah’s wife said. “Sharraap!! You Lucifer!,” Grandpa thundered, “If your husband is still wandering aimlessly in the belly of a fish all these years, I don’t expect the sun to have melted away your own brain. With all your education, sophistication and materialism, I never knew you both can’t raise a child. Your son has become a societal misfit, yet you didn’t realize this, you idiots! How can your son tell an 84-year-old man to get up from a seat despite all entreaties? And you both don’t see anything wrong in that? In my days, we gladly stood up for the elderly to seat in buses and trains despite paying for the seat.”

Jonah: That man is no saint; he introduced cultism into Nigerian universities.

Grandpa: No, he never did. I should know better because I was in the university then. Pyrates Confraternity was the envy of all in those days because of the discipline of its members. Seadogs, as they were called in those days, were involved in lofty deeds. They even participated in the nation’s Independence celebration. I’m not a member, though. But I know. That man banned the Pyrates Confraternity from all tertiary institutions when strange elements established rival confraternities.

Jonah: But Soyinka as a young man wouldn’t have vacated his seat for any elder!

Grandpa: You’re wrong again. The Four Compass Points of Pyrates are: For Humanistic Ideals; For Comradeship and Chivalry; Against Moribund Conventions; Against Ethnicity and Tribalism. A man who has made the fight for humanistic ideals his credo from youth would gladly give up his seat for an adult.

Lucy: But the man has come out to say he didn’t feel bad about what Junior did.

Grandpa: He never said he didn’t feel bad. He only said he didn’t set out to wrongly usurp Junior’s seat, and that he didn’t stay a second longer on the seat when his error was pointed out to him. I personally taught you the 10 Commandments, Jonah. Did you ever teach Junior to honor the elderly as contained in the 4th Commandment? Soyinka was arrested and jailed for two years for whipping up international attention for Biafra during the Civil War, he deserves some respect.

Junior: I’m not gonna stay here and watch a fossil preach morality. I’m out of here, guys!

Lucy: We’re sorry, Junior; everything will be alright. Are you going to see Prince, your girlfriend? You guys should keep safe.

Junior storms out into the garage, cranks a convertible whose vroom couldn’t be muffled by the rainy night.

Grandpa: Did you say Junior is going to see Prince, his girlfriend? Don’t tell me Junior is gay?! Oh my God! Now I see why your son could snub the rare opportunity of sitting beside a Nobel laureate and tapping from his knowledge.
(Grandpa runs his fingers through his silvery hair, slowly picks his bag and walks out of the house in a huff)

Act 1: Scene 2

Junior picks up Prince, who lives with his parents in the slum of Sun City. Both feel the gushing wind on their faces as the convertible blazes down the expressway with the car stereo blasting Nigerian hip-hop music that preaches only sex and money. Prince is busy chatting on social media while Junior nods his head to the booming meaningless music. They’re going to the classy Moon Nightclub on Alan Avenue.

Junior: Grandpa arrived this evening, Prince, and all hell was let loose.

Prince: Didn’t I tell you he would come? What did he say?

Junior: He was preaching as if today is Sunday.

Prince: Abeg, forget that old man. Let’s enjoy this weather for two.

Junior: I don’t know why this society won’t let the youths be. As in, I was going to ginger my swagger by posting my sensational action on the plane online and gain followers, but everybody is warning me not to. As in, I don’t get it.

Prince: I say forget all these old men and their stress. It’s like you don’t want to listen to me. When you said I should change my name to Princess, didn’t I listen to you? Is this how you won’t be listening to me when we eventually marry?

Junior: Oh my gosh! You’re taking it too far, Sugar. Please, Call DJ Nonsense, Empty Skull, Sexy Devil, Wicked Angel, Lying Senator, Dollar Judge and DJ Satan to join us at the club. I’m gonna soak everybody in the building tonight!

Act 1: Scene 3

Grandpa sits at the dining table. His wife serves him a dinner of ‘ofada’ rice, snail, stew, vegetable and water.

Grandma: Did you check your BP today?

Grandpa: It’s 190/100.

Grandma: Ha, 190/100!? Do you want to make me a widow? I said you should take this issue off your chest! Let me go and bring your medicines!

Grandpa: Thanks, dear. Today is the saddest day of my life.

Grandma: Just take it easy. I just watched a video clip by a British-American author, Simon Sinek, which shows that the anti-social behaviors of the youths of today are due to poor parenting, technology, impatience and environment.

Grandpa: How do you mean?

Grandma: I’ll explain it one by one. In poor parenting, children are told they can have anything in life without really working hard for it. Many parents bribe so their children could pass exams. When such kids get employment and can’t cope, they turn to drugs or suicide.

Grandpa: How does technology affect the youths?

Grandma: By technology, social media makes our youths engage in fake idealism. On their phones, they see a perfect world where everything is figured out, where you can ‘like’ and ‘unfriend’ thousands of people who are distant and fake. The video quotes a 2012 Harvard research which says engagement with social media and our cell phones activates an addictive feel-good chemical called dopamine in the brain. But this chemical fades away when real-life challenges occur. The video also says that there should be age restrictions to social media and cell phone use. When confronted with life’s challenges, our youths have nobody to turn to; hence they turn to their phones and social media because they neither have true friends nor the coping mechanism to deal with stress.

Grandpa: What about impatience and environment?

Grandma: Social media and the phone make our youths demand instant gratification and feel there’s a shortcut to learning life’s coping mechanisms which allow room for errors. Thus our youth now believe that anything they want, they can get by swiping or clicking. On environment; our youths are thrust into the world without equipping them the skills of cooperation, the joy of hard work and resilience.

Grandpa: To make matters worse, these youths aren’t taught Nigerian history nor allowed to learn in their mother tongue. May God rescue our youths.


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