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The Luncheon

by Dele Campbell 

Posted: 19 July 2006
Word Count: 1922
Summary: A Political satire on Nigerian societal inequites

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Our friends the Jambos were immensely wealthy. They were a youngish couple, in their late thirties, very lucky in business around the time of the oil boom, extremely clever with investments more recently, and the time I’m talking about he was reputed to be worth several million in any international currency. I had gone to school with Jaiye his wife, we’d been the closest friends, and although my husband and hers had only met more recently, all four of us seemed like old friends. There was a spate of family lunches they invited us to, ostensibly for the men to get to know each other better. They had actually met through some business connection, then after a couple of meetings discovered the old school friendship of the wives. Hence the closeness.
After a few meetings I was impressed by them, not only by their wealth, but also with their honest unassuming lifestyle which seemed quite enviable. Nigeria has so much ostentation; this couple didn’t bother with gold plates and cutlery, or gilded furniture and huge china dogs. Their taste was not cheap, but it was subdued, subtle touches like original oil-paintings, real antiques, names on house-hold items like Rosenthal, Orfervres, Coalport and Christophle. Names we’d never heard of before.
They lived in several beautiful homes all over the world, each decorated in the studied expensive elegance. Their home in Nigeria had every stick of furniture, every knick-knack, exported direct from Italy, the brain-child of some exotic Italian decorator. Going in there was like walking into the pages a glossy magazine, like Harpers or Vogue or House and Garden, lots of carved real wood, and white real-leather sofas, and real-wool white carpets every where.

They had forty acres of grounds in which to cavort, and a huge pack of watchdogs kept kennelled during the day, and released at night to roam the compound. They also had a fleet of cars, and a platoon of servants; driver’s cooks, nannies and watchmen helping to care for all the lovely expensive exquisite possessions. A lifestyle to envy indeed.
All this surrounded a classic nuclear family, a couple devoted to each other, and devoted to each of their small children, obviously close and tender, loving, caring and touching. I saw him actually play with those children, talk to them, joke with them. But once he said to me above their heads, “You know, I hate all this, I hate kids, I hope she won’t have anymore…..” Dogmatic, and aggressive, he seemed to be the out-right boss in the household; however, if he was not even in control of his own fertility, then perhaps a lot of his personal decisions were actually joint.
They gave the appearance of moderate people. They both belonged to a secular philosophy of life that gave them added mystery, an aloofness. Perhaps because I liked them, I had an interest in their sect; a curiosity as to whether adopting their way of thinking would solve any of my personal problems.
But then I had my dream. I would call it an end point, the dream. Something had been worrying me. There was a bit of business to do with some mines, my husband was initially involved. Were the deal to take off, we would be blessed with the untold wealth beyond our wildest imaginings, the type of riches they possessed. Mr Jambo was very matter-of-fact about it all, but then he already was an arms dealer. Selling mines to the Navy was simply a good money spinner to him. For some reason the entire business nagged and nagged at me.

My husband was most enthusiastic. Every evening he would discuss this big money we would make. Fur coats, Rolls-Royces, building our own huge mansion in the country far from the hubbub of the city; all these enticements would roll off his tongue. Word pictures hanging in the air between us. But every time I closed my eyes I saw boats exploding as the wicked mines detected them from any depth, and fire burning people’s son’s and husbands, and heard screaming as the flaming bodies fell into a foaming scalding sea.
Did I want a Rolls Royce bought with the blood of others? That was my dilemma, but I said nothing, until I had my vision.
We had been invited, as usual, for a special meal with the family. That day, however, something was different. The entire household was in a state of excitement, apparently because of this luncheon. The children were especially excited, as shiny eyed as children are at Christmas; boundlessly so. The whole family bade us welcome most enthusiastically, everyone looking forward very much to the special feast being prepared in our honour.
The house seemed bigger than in my vision, formal as usual, but with untidy signs of living in the long corridors and ante-rooms. Sleeping mats, toys, books, magazines, old broken easy chairs, faded Hausa poufs, a litter of soiled plates and discarded half-eaten bits and pieces; even a television somewhere. Not in any of the main rooms, only in the corridors. They didn’t want to scuff their white leather or soil their white carpets, so all the real living, the relaxing, the untidy stuff of plain existence was carried out in the corridors. I wondered idly why they bought the grand mansion if they really ate, played, lived only in its periphery.

Eventually, after walking through the endless littered corridor, we arrived at a table to sit for luncheon. The children ate in the kitchen, we could see through the dining hatch between the dining room and kitchen they were already seated at the kitchen table. I was most curious to see what it was that made the whole family so exhilarated. My husband and I sat opposite one another, each of us either side of our host, who sat at the head of the table. Our hostess, Jaiye, was not yet at the table, perhaps she was busy with something some where in that massive house.
Once we were seated, our host began a lengthy exhortation as to the uniqueness of the meal we were about to consume. He spoke of power and wealth, of dignity and purity, history and tradition, and of passion and truth. Lengthy explanations as to the meals specialness and how privileged we were to partake this dish with them; how it was one of the most delectable foods on earth; very few individuals had ever had the prerogative of very tasting such divine food. How it was a dish once tasted, made one long to taste it again, hence the excitement of the whole household in anticipation; but because of the rarity of the speciality, and the paucity of supply, especially suitable supply, not damaged or injured in any way, and many other reasons, it was impossible to get enough of it. He warned us that we might feel some prejudice when we first saw the dish, but that would vanish at first taste because it really was the finest food on earth.
He waxed loquacious. We sat, and listened, twirling our crystal wine goblets.
The housekeeper wheeled in a trolley, on it a huge silver platter with a high domed cover. With considerable aplomb, she placed the dish on the table and whipped away the cover. Inside the food stuff looked blackish, but my hosts eyes gleamed like a cat seeing cream (a snake seeing eggs), and his teeth caught the light as he smiled at us in his Machiavellian way. I looked again into the deep silver dish. My host’s smile grew wider and shinier.
Inside the dish lay the body of a small black child. It had been decapitated; the torso lay in the dish with the legs folded back like a chickens in such a flat unnatural position it was obvious they were broken, or dislocated at hip and knee joint. The way the limp black body had been so neatly folded in the dish was not all that held my fascination; the most bizarre feature was the feet. The long cooking of the cartilage and spongy tissues of the feet caused them to swell and curl like a cooked cow’s heel. They seemed to almost burst out of the black stick legs, and curl upwards whitely, totally distorted, not like feet at all, but like white spongy horns. My gaze was riveted by those feet.
I felt an encompassing sadness for the child; for its mother, for my own children, for all humanity… So this was the most distinguished dish, the most special food on earth, the gastronomic zenith of mankind? This was the food for kings among men, somebody’s once laughing, once playing, once singing child! How could I eat it?
My host helped himself, eyes and teeth agleam; he served my husband and he served me, but I couldn’t look at my plate and knew I must excuse my self from the table before my distress became apparent. I made some excuse or other; it didn’t matter, the men were busy; and left the table. I wondered round the house attempting to restore my shattered equilibrium, to find some sanity somewhere.
I peeped into the kitchen for an instant. The children (theirs) were tucking in with evident enjoyment, and the servants were squabbling over their left-overs. The meal was surprisingly a great favourite with the house-hold staff too. I looked with new eyes at those children. Was it this kind of meal that made their complexions so rosy, their bones and teeth so strong? And those servants, so plump and healthy, was this the secret ingredient to their well-being?
Peered briefly into the dining room; my hostess was still not at the table. I thought of her with sympathy. What horror she had to put up with! What ghoulish eccentricity of diet she had to bear, in order to stay with her millionaire husband!
I felt no envy for her situation anymore, only pity, and when I found her suckling her infant son at the end of a messy corridor beside some stairs I felt a deep sorrow for her. She seemed quite placid and happy; I thought of how much her stomach must churn at the thought of the days meal, how that serene exterior must belie the turmoil, the revulsion she must feel. No wonder she had not appeared at the table. Could monetary reward induce anyone to partake of such vile meat?
I looked her up and down. Diamonds glinted on her neck, wrists and ears as she moved softly feeding her infant, rings sparkling as she cooed at him and gently stroked his cheek. They both looked so content; how difficult it must be for her to hide her repugnance at the abomination in the dining room. I felt glad I was not in her place.
She looked up at me with a smile and asked if I had finished eating. I mumbled something in reply, still too shocked to attempt coherence. She said some soothing words, about how it was always a shock the first time, and how she herself had been physically sick.
Then she turned and looked towards the direction of the dining room. She handed me the baby, and stood up to re-arrange her clothes.
“Let’s go in and join the men” she said softly smiling in that shy way of hers, as she reclaimed her infant from my arms. She didn’t meet my gaze.
“You know….”she went on lightly, “what I like most are the feet….”

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