It was a hot, very hot and breezeless November noon. The great African sun hung in the cloudless sky as though in great anger. Its needlelike rays cut through the atmosphere with effortless ease to sear my skin. It was hot, very hot. I perspired intensely. The air was balmy; there was no breeze - the leaves were stilled as though in great mourning. It was one of those hot, windless afternoons when the heavens seem prepared to choke lives out of terrestrial mortals.
I sat at my usual spot, nursing a cold larger. By this time of the day, the No 1 Spot at Osu is just waking up to life. Clientele were coming and going in ones and twos. A well-graffittied bus disgorged a horde of European tourists. They must have traveled long distances for they were dirty, unkempt, shaggy and waggy. The seats of their trousers, mostly jeans, were browned from grime from far and wide. The men wore week-old beards and the women among them were disheveled, their hair hung on them without style. They giggled loudly, animatedly as though sharing a great joke.
The blue car raced up to the parking lot, Accra dust following in its wake. It screeched to a dramatic stop, millimeters away from the plank barriers. The driver was either showing-off or s\he knew his\her onions well. The door flew open, and a tall, bony lady scrambled out and melodramatically kicked the door shut. She raced to the bar, her populous hair, made up in the style of Whitney Houston when drug has not ravaged her life, flying. From the bar, she collected a glass of what looked like, from where I was sitting, Campari or Mandigo and a bottle of Soda. She made straight for the empty seat beside mine, the hard soles of her shoes abrading the dry ground. The scent of her expensive perfume wafted into my nostril - it had the fragrance of cherries.
"Can I take the seat?" She purred, looking at my face directly while pointing to the empty chair.
“You may." I replied, meeting her very steady gaze.
"Thank you." She crooned. She sat down, taking time to brush the seats of her dress. She mixed her drinks and took a long draught. Placing the glass down, she breathed very deeply, Yoga-style, and apparently felt better. She swept her populous hair back in a deliberate, almost sensuous movement. Although, she cannot exactly be described as crunchingly beautiful, she's nice looking and looked well polished. In the parlance of the fashion-industry, I think she'll be called a sophisticate. She has a slender, almost delicate physique, very flat buttocks, and a long face. Her small breasts were straining against the tight, chic dress she wore.
“Feeling better?” I asked, trying to strike up a conversation.
“Wow!” She intoned. “I had a thirst that would kill a donkey. Sorry, that phrase is overused, but I cannot come up with a better one.” She pouted her mouth, eye-lashes flashing. She was really over-made-up. Her face was like a rainbow - painted in different colors and shades. And I will be damned if she’s wasn’t flirting very openly.
“Nice wagon.” I said pointing to the car.
She smiled shyly, “Thank you. It’s a prize.” She added as an afterthought.
My interest in the lady was re-kindled. I gaped at her anew. I beckoned to a passing waiter pointing to my empty glass. He gave me a chauvinistic stare and went to an Arab, beefy and hairy like a pig. I ignored the slight.
“A Prize?” I wondered.
She smiled another of her airline-hostess smiles. “Miss Ghana.” She proclaimed watching my face for the inevitable shock.
I kept my face straight, “To what do I owe the privilege of hosting the most beautiful woman in Ghana?”
If she wasn’t so over-processed, the smile would have been Epicurean. “Point of correction, or of order as they say, you’re not hosting me. I paid for my own drink,” She accused, “Secondly, I do not believe in throwing my weight around.” She found herself witty and laughed.
The 007 driving style. The false smiles. The make-up that will fill the faces of many street-walkers, and she doesn’t believe in throwing her weight around. I decided to aggravate her.
“How does it feel to be the most beautiful damsel in Ghana?”
Another skittish smile. A dab at her psychedelic face. “By HIS grace, it is now handleable (sic). It was difficult to cope at the beginning. What with all the attentions! The press, the journalists, the TV lights, the dinner parties, the charity balls, the various visits to this and that do, the family pressures, the peer jealousies, the bad-wishers, the hanger-ons, the loafers who would like to take to take advantage. Not to mention the uncountable Valentines. The beginning was really, really difficult. Thank God, it is now copeable (sic). I can go on, but I will only bore you. I guess you’ve better things to do than listen to the wailing of a Beauty Queen. ”
“Try me.” I urged her on.
She called a passing waitress. My companion was either not well-known or not a regular, the service girl gave an insolent look before ambling to our table. Her tray held in front of her, she hovered over us like an Ijesa debt-collector. She ordered Campari and Soda. The steward was still engaged with the Arab. I asked the service-girl to bring a drink for me. I offered to pay, my table-mate refused, “Let’s go Dutch: You pay yours, I pay mine.”
“How did you get into the Beauty business?”
She laughed. “You made it sound so, how should I put it, lewd?”
“I’m sorry, but my English vocabulary is rather limited. Were you a professional model?”
“My God, no! I was, sorry, I am a student.”
“A student!” I was genuinely shocked.
“You may it sounds so awful. Yes, I was a student. Pedagogy and Child-Psychology. I came into the, I guess I’ve to borrow your expression, ‘Beauty Business’ by accident. I just entered for the fun of it. Imagine my astonishment when I was selected. The biggest trouble now is how to go back to the campus and become an ordinary student again. My term is almost over.”
“Are you regretting it?”
“Hell, no. Sorry, I guess that it is rather un-lady, rude thing to say. No, I don’t regret it one bit. I am having great fun. It has been a tremendous pleasure.” She took her drink from the waitress, mixed and took a sip.
“Pleasure, “ I repeated. ‘Are you happy? There is a big difference between happiness and pleasure.”
“And I thought I was the pedagogue, or should I say the Pedantic.” She found humor in her sarcasm.”
“Beauty doesn’t last forever; knowledge is eternal.”
“You are a nut case.” She seemed genuinely horror-stricken by my presence.
“Most men would be dreaming about how to jump into bed with me, here you are philosophizing about my future. Your concern for my welfare is appreciated, really. You don’t imagine I get to where I am without been able to take care of myself, do you?”
She’s a good actress. No one watching us would imagine her volcanic eruptions. She kept her voice low, her arms swaying as though emphasizing important points.
“There’s more to life than horizontal jogging, aka sex. No, I am not imagining anything. I am just wondering why an intelligent woman will throw away a chance to get a good education for the transient pleasure of pretending to be the most beautiful girl in Ghana.”
She looked as though I’d slapped her. “Pretending.” She cried. “I am not pretending. I won it fair and square.”
“May I ask you a question?”
“I won’t cry.”
“Do you honestly believe yourself to be the most beautiful girl in Ghana. Pretense aside.”
“Pretense,“ she howled like an affronted Imam. “Why do you think that I am pretending? There was a contest and the experts say that I am the most beautiful girl. What have you got against that?”
“The experts,” I sneered. “What makes them the experts?”
“You seemed to be a supreme cynic. If they are not experts, how do they get into conducting the show. How do they get on TV and the newspapers. God, I won the contest fair and square. How dare you?”
“Getting on the TV or into the papers does not an expert make. What qualifies your experts to judge beauty - a most subjective thing in the world? What conceited egos moved your experts to declaring themselves the Solomons of Beauty Contests?”
“Why are you trying to aggravate me? If you are a woman, I’d say that you’re jealous.”
“Aggravating you is not what is on my mind. The whole system stinks, that’s what is getting my goat. See,” I bellowed, shaking with Yoruba emotions. “What’s exacerbating me is the whole gamut called Miss Ghana Show. Don’t take it personal, my dear. I have nothing against you personally. I am grinding an ax against those stupid jackets-and-ties with their moribund colonial mentality. Those who are perpetually under the tutelage of the Aryan Masters. Those who will sell their souls for dollars. Those dirty old men who runs the show are the people vexing me. Dirty old men who should be in bed with their wives staying up night to watch, admire and pass judgments on the legs and buttocks of girls young enough to be their grand-daughters. They and those cultural imperialists, those grinning Aryan bastards whose White Supremacists heads are filled with the notion that any stupid European idea should be universalized. Those colonial tricksters hell-bent on polluting the world with Euro-junks. I blame you not, my dear. You are just a victim, like the rest of us.
“Look,” I cried. Of course, she was looking. “It is not enough for the European to mis-educate us, he has to tell us who our gods are. He has taken it upon himself to lecture us on what political, economic and social systems are good for us. He now has taken over the function of determining for us what our notion of beauty should be. As in everything, the clever Aryan has chosen an image that best approximate himself. Our Jesus must be white. Our socio-political system must be Western. Look at you, the whiteman has decreed that our Beauty Queens must be those who look anything but Africans. You have bleached your skin, your figure is skeletal, you’ve got no backyard - to use our street expression. In fact, were you a fossil, no archaeologist will classify you a Black woman. And on your head has been placed the crown of our Beauty Queen. And your head is swelling with vain-pride. Instead of staying with your studies, you abandoned it to turn yourself into a whore. Whoring with the high and the mighty. What future do you see for yourself, ask those who had gone before you? Of course, they have to justify themselves, the rogues. They have to justify the gigantic fraud they call Miss Ghana Show. They threw you a car, made you attend endless parties, get you into radio stations, put you on the TV, made you smile like a cheap whore and your head is swaying with vanity. Why don’t you look around you? When it comes to beauty, I mean real beauty, however biased our opinions might be, do you think that you can hold a candle to the waitress over there?“ I asked, pointing to the girl who served us drink. The service girl saw us looking at her, said something silently and looked down.
Miss Ghana was astounded. Her face burned with fury. “Perhaps, your daughter or your girl-friend lost the contest. That’s the only thing that could explain your unbridled antagonism. I thought I was with a gentleman. Fancy the put-downs. I didn’t sit down with you in order to allow myself to be insulted like some street-walker. I am not a trollop.”
I was undaunted. My Yoruba blood, incensed by the burning heat and the haughty Beauty Queen, was boiling with rage. I met her gaze with gaze, matched her anger with anger. I was angered by her supercilious manners and was determined to provoke her further. “Me, jealous” I cried. The waitress cut the drift that things were not all jolly with us and ambled closer. She needed some gist to make the gossip circuits. I said nothing to discourage her. “I cherish intelligence far above good looks. I will not be caught dead with a woman stupid enough to participate in that vapid pageant. I will not have a daughter who feels herself justified by some dirty old men. No daughter of mine will expose herself to such public ridicule for the sake of being declared a Beauty by some lubricious, moronic old-men, however long their ties. No daughter of mine will dress up in those filthy, flimsy rags and sauntered up and down, shaking her ass like a low-priced quean to be admire by some mindless, unprincipled, amoral, wanton, coarse, unconscionable sugar-daddies who has lost all claims to human decency. No daughter of mine will have a need for the stamp of approval from some low-keyed, depraved, immoral parent who have time for such debauched, decadent affairs. No offspring of mine will have time for ancient sexual-perverts. I will not sire a daughter who will choose prostitution over a good education. I will have no daughter who will have such low-opinion of herself that what some morally-bankrupt and spiritually-decadent old men think will count for anything with her. I’d like to be the proud father of a daughter who knows that what is in her head is worth more than good looks. You know what is getting my goat?” I asked Miss Ghana.
She gave me a withering look, threw a dirty look at the waitress who ambulated away quietly. “I thought you were never going to stop your insults.”
“What’s is irksome is that otherwise intelligent ladies like yourself, on whom parents and society has expended so much energies, financial and otherwise, should allow themselves to be bamboozled by cheap vain-glories and all the show-biz glitters to abandon their studies. Once again, the whiteman has succeeded in turning Africans into a caricature of himself. Have you read ‘Soul on Ice?’
Miss Ghana pouted her mouth, “No. Why?”
“I was just reminded of what Eldridge Cleaver wrote about the white man and his woman. The white man is launching an assault to turn our women into what he’s made of his own woman.”
“And that is?”
“According to Cleaver, ‘The white man has turned the white woman into a weak-minded, weak-bodied, delicate freak, a sex pot and place her on a pedestal.’”