What exactly had I gotten myself into? Now the hot spotlights of the Altima Studio blazed upon my face while the powerful air conditioning made the back of my neck cold. I was sitting opposite Femi, the Who Wants to Be A Millionaire Show presenter. This man had done a good job of hiding how short he was. But with my legs reaching the floor while his balanced halfway down his stool, I seemed to be revealing the less flattering aspects of his larger-than-life persona.
Aliyu had caused all this. I would never have put my money into dialing that number if he hadn’t done it for me. Week in, week out, I had boasted that I could do better than everyone I had seen on the show and lamented about the sorry state of the Nigerian educational system. One day his patience ran out and he challenged me to put my money where my mouth was. I bluntly refused, remembering my childhood disappointments with all the 7UP crown cork promos. Somehow I never won anything at lotteries and lucky dips and thus had come to the conclusion that someone somewhere was manipulating the system to work against me, or that I was never going to be lucky at games of chance. (I hated Poker, Snakes and Ladders, and Monopoly for the same reason). Anyway, Aliyu had snatched my phone and sent the text without my permission saying he was going to put back the credit himself. Weirdly enough my number was dialed and after the identity questions, I found myself in Lagos, with Aliyu as my companion of course. Getting to the hot seat from amongst the 8 contestants was such a blur I hadn’t even realized what buttons I was pressing until the answers were being reviewed by Femi, the game show host.
My strategy was simple. Mummy and Daddy were out of the question. My brother had watched more movies than I had. Alonira, my girlfriend was the champion of Nollywood and local television. And my politically conscious uncle would provide me with any obscure facts on Geography and Nigerian History. Those three had to stay behind as my family and friends lifeline. What I brought to the table was a photographic memory of almost everything my voracious mind had devoured over the years.
Femi started with the usual jibes at my person and my plans for the prize money. I tried to appear humble so as to invoke his sympathy in later stages of the game if it happened I would be about to give a final answer that was wrong. It seemed to be working. But then, Femi warmed up to just about anyone anyway so I let him be.
The theme music finally queued and all the lights in the studio went dim. Obviously no clues from the faces of the audience could be passed across now. The lights would alternate on and off between answers and applause, creating the uncanny effect of making me feel like I was waking up from a nightmare and going back to resume where I had left off. My heart began to race. I laughed silently as I felt the beating in my chest. No questions yet and here I was swallowing hard. On the surface I looked calm but if only everybody knew that I was not as sure of myself as I looked.
The bombshell was dropped at the 2nd question. I was asked the name of the traditional ruler of the Oyo empire. The Alaafin, the Ooni and the Oba were reeled out along with another title I cannot remember now. What was all this?! So early in the game I was being thrown a curveball?! How was I, a reformed militant from the creeks of the Niger-Delta, expected to know who some obscure ruler of the Oyo empire was? When last was he in the news?! What was his relevance to my life right now?! Yet as I ranted silently I knew I would have to ask the audience. This was starting to look like a bad day at the office. I was sure Aliyu was all cracked up in his seat watching my bewildered face, while I used my first lifeline. The fact that over 90% of the audience knew who the Alaafin of Oyo was did not help my reputation either. Femi asked if I would go with the audience. I glared at him with wounded pride. Of course, I’ll go with the audience! I screamed inwardly. Outwardly, I smiled and waved to the crowd for preventing me from leaving the studio empty-handed. Why I was angry with them also I had no idea. There was this “11 months” pregnant woman applauding vigorously as though I had made a pact with her to sponsor her unborn baby’s education through to the university level with the money I would win here. Gan rest at home and get ready for the labour room jor! I spat out at her in my mind once more. There were some young men talking heatedly amongst themselves in the audience also, no doubt raving about how I had wasted my lifeline on such a silly question and therefore was not likely to go far. My rage increased until I remembered how I had thought the same way while watching from my comfortable sofa at home, remote control in hand. Suddenly I lost interest in the whole stupid gameshow.
But my “Voyage of Sinbad” had only begun. Femi was already talking to me again and asking me the next question.
To Be Continued