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20 Dec Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

'Indigo' at Salamander Café

The fate of early comers to an event is to wait. As we waited on Wednesday night at Salamander Café for Molara Wood’s reading to start, greetings exchanged, small talk in progress, a man walked into the room. He had the features of a venerable personality, some of which are a recognisable name and face; the name Bisi Ogunbadejo, which a knowing voice instantly called from across the room, and such agreeable visage that seems like a hybrid of genetic good fortune and a learned disposition.

Mr. Bisi Ogunbadejo is a renowned cartoonist. A journalist promptly began to pester him for an interview. He firmly turned down the request, saying he was disinclined to granting interviews. The journalist got help from an older colleague who joined in the appeal but he remained adamant, at first. Together, they hounded him into capitulation. They had resorted to blackmail. Grant this interview, they said, not for your sake, but for the art, if not for you, for the art and the younger generation of artists. They got him. I caught in his eyes the turning point from apathy to interest. His reluctance wavered, he was shifting position, he was forthcoming.

It was a long story, from the start of his career at West Africa magazine and a period of hiatus, to post graduate studies, teaching jobs, the continuation of his career at The Guardian, his experience as a cartoonist during the military era, his days in exile, and the conditions that led him to exile, his return...long story cut in to the present, at Thisday newspaper.

Soon after another venerable personality, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo, a writer and lecturer at Texas State University, walked in, and his presence was acknowledged, the reading commenced.

Ms. Wood, in long, collared, long-sleeved gown, read from her debut collection of stories, 'Indigo.' She took the first reading from the eponymous story, which happens to be the first story in the collection. 'Indigo' deals with the subject of infertility. It led to an impassioned discussion about the politics of childlessness in Nigeria.

The proceeding was occasionally interrupted by a boisterous group upstairs. It was a regular day at the café, with customers in for a drinks and whatever else people do here. Salamander Café is a small place suited to small events like book readings.

Ms. Wood read from 'Gani’s Fall' and 'Night Market,' and humorously described the latter as the story of how the Sango priest got his groove back. A question from a member of the audience sparked an extensive conversation. I had totally missed the point of the question, so I understood little of the answers that followed. But it is the nature of highbrow conversations to sound impressive even when not completely comprehensible.

As I was already lost, I wandered farther away during the vibrant responses, of which they were many. While the poll of opinion swelled and swirled over my head, I kept wondering if this line from 'Night Market' "No be you bring di madam to di night market?" wouldn’t read better as "No be you carry madam come night market."

The moderator urged us to carry on with the programme.

'Free Rice,' her final reading is as funny as it is sad. There is hardship, there is chaos, there is an accident, and what might pass as a suicide, and of course there is a free bag of rice.

During book signing there is more chit-chat. Time to meet friends from the online community of writers, Facebook critics, stalkers, acquaintances, friends, and mentors manifested in flesh and blood. This is precisely Dr. Ifowodo's third visit to the capital city and he is astonished by how expensive Abuja is. How do people survive in this city, he asked me.

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