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Omotoso: The Ancient And Sacred Art Of Postponement


NEVER do today, insists Alaba — Special Assistant to Trouble — what you can do tomorrow is not a plan of action. Rather, you are saying you are putting off till tomorrow what you cannot do today. It is an escape. It is a way out. It is a way out of present responsibilities. And while you wait for tomorrow to come – and, in the nature of things, tomorrow never comes, what are you really waiting for? Anyone one who has spent time in Stand Still Station (or at gridlock Apapa or Abuja) knows that when you wait at Stand Still Station you are not waiting. You are trying to live doing other things. And while you are doing other things, larger more important and more certain to happen other things will relieve you of your postponed action. In this way everything is sorted.

  So, when we postpone an action, even with dates attached, we confess to others that we are unable to do what is needed, what needs to be done, what cries to be done. In the particular case of Stand Still Station, we need courage to unlock the gridlock that has us jammed. But we tell ourselves that yes we can do it, but it is just that there is not enough road for traffic to flow. We need more roads for traffic to flow. And how do we find more roads for traffic to flow? We send a delegation of two or three to countries that manufacture cars. We even send one delegation to ourselves also. And what are the duties of these delegations to the countries that manufacture cars including Stand Still Station?

  These delegations are to come to an understanding in which they accept responsibility for the gridlock in Stand Still Station. It is their responsibility that there are not enough roads for traffic to flow free. Once they have accepted their responsibility for our immobility, they must enter into a memorandum of understanding not to sell one vehicle to us without proof of road on which the vehicle would drive. No more vehicles to be sold to us unless we show a certificate of available road allocation to each vehicle in the country.

  With this MOU in hand, the delegates return home. But there was a little problem with the delegates sent to ourselves. In order to come to ourselves our delegates to ourselves had to go out first and then come to us. And in order to return to us, they have to go out again, if you get what Alaba is saying. But all delegations come back to the country including the delegation that should not have left in the first place. The vehicle dealers took one look at the MOU and pissed on it literally and used the paper on which it was signed to wipe their dirty hands and mouth and pronounced on the future of the rationale for the import of cars into Stand Still Station.

  Motor vehicle dealers said in their collective wisdom that the ancient and sacred art of postponement postulates/says rather that postponement is the art of solving one problem with another. In this particular case of gridlock we need a new think. Look at our housing problem with people sleeping twenty, fifty in a room built for two people. Is it not a shame? As if that was not bad enough, we sleep on the streets, we sleep under bridges. We must be crazy not to do new think. And new think begins when we accept that mobility might have been the original reason for inventing a motor engine. That original reason does not have to continue to drive (sorry that that is the only word that can work in this sentence) the continued manufacture of vehicles. So, vehicles are stationary. They lock up the little road we have. No problem, just solution. Use vehicles as houses for our people. New think victory at our fingertips!

  But there is still a different purpose to the ancient and sacred art of postponement. That is that while we postpone something else more important would occur to make our postponement irrelevant, even uncalled for, and simply null and void. What is it that can occur to make cancellation inevitable? This is Alaba’s story. He had been sent to the local market to go and buy fifty Naira worth of salt, a small sachet really. At the stall where the salt was being sold different sizes and colours of balloons were also being sold. You could win something if you bought the balloons and blew them up. What could you win? The seller did not say but Alaba’s friend salt messenger thought you would win money. Alaba being wiser than his parents knew you only won more balloons to blow up. Anyway money for salt bought balloons that were blown up to win more balloons to blow up until there were fewer and fewer balloons and then, no balloons. No money. No salt.

  Dundee, that’s Alaba’s friend, began the long journey home needing his own new think. If he reached home floggings await him for not bringing the salt he was sent to buy. And even greater flogging for using the salt money to buy Tom Tom sweets to eat and share with his friends. He protests to himself that he didn’t buy sweets with the money but Alaba tells him to shut up. All he did was to invest in blowing up balloons with the expectation of financial reward. Something bigger than buying fifty Naira sachet of salt must happen to make his postponement of buying salt null and void. Dundee prayed fervently, he prayed with tears of bitter self-disappointment, he prayed as he had never prayed. After that he left everything in the hands of God.

  As Dundee approached the house, he heard a hubbub, noise of indeterminate volume. He became curious. He walked faster. It was evening before darkness fell and there would be no electricity. What was happening in the house? Why were people milling in front and sides of the house? He got nearer and wormed his way until he stood in front of the main door of the house. 

His uncle was shouting, boasting in fact, bullying a little runt of a man, saying the man could not carry any of the various boxes that contained his clothes and the boxes that contained his shoes and the boxes that contained his caps, any of his boxes. And the runt of a man was pleading that he never said he could. He would never have dared to make such a threat even in his scariest nightmare! But Dundee’s uncle was unforgiving. He would now proceed to bring the boxes out and let the man try and lift them one by one.

  In the shadow of this larger occurrence, nobody remembered a fifty Naira salt. And postponement – what was that about?

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