Upstaged

“Stop talking.”

“What?”

“I said stop talking.”

“Excuse me?”

“Gyae kasa! Anaa Twi nso wo nte ase?”

“I understand, but…why should I stop talking?”

“Because, quite obviously, nobody cares.”

They were sitting in the lavishly furnished living room of one Kwasi-Mensah’s good friends, Victor, enjoying a drink or two each, as well as some light snacks. Wine, soda, plantain chips and peanuts were placed in various positions, on side tables and in the hands of the guests. There were about ten of them in total, the host inclusive. He had invited them over for a drink and a chat after Kwasi-Mensah’s major production at the theatre earlier that day. The gathering was as much of a socialization session as a celebration of the success of Kwasi-Mensah’s artistic efforts.

Five years ago, if you had said that Kwasi-Mensah would be staging his plays in the biggest theatre in the capital city, nobody would have believed you; not even Kwasi-Mensah himself, who had honestly never expected the fame to come so fast. Nevertheless, there were now thousands of people who came to fit themselves into the theatre to watch his productions. He was working hard, being appreciated, and earning his living, in a much better way than his colleagues who had hit “success” before him. And after this particular production, there had been congratulations all around. But, admittedly, they had been here at Victor’s a while, and certainly, some people were beginning to get a little tipsy.

“I am afraid,” said Kwasi-Mensah cautiously, as though he were walking on broken glass, “You still haven’t made yourself quite clear enough.”

“Oh, for hell’s sake, I’m being as blunt as possible! I said, stop talking, because nobody cares! Not about you, not about your life, not about your hustle! People like and enjoy your plays! But nobody gives a cow’s fart about you. Or am I still not making enough sense?”

His unfocused eyes roved about the room, daring anyone at all to challenge him. But it seemed an invisible, silent cat had come in, and now held each of their tongues for ransom.

“Look here.” His words were starting to slur as he gulped more of the wine he was holding. “How many people attended your show? Three thousand? Four thousand? And how many people sought you afterwards? Seven? Fifteen? Massa, they came to watch your thing and go home. Nobody really wants to see you. Your identity as a person has now been upstaged by your identity as a playwright.

“Your name may be circulated because people are writing reviews. But they don’t need to know you before they do that, do they? And when you go months without a word, people will complain about how you haven’t released in so long – but they won’t give a damn about what is going on in your life to make you so slow. Do you understand? Nobody cares about you, because you are not the product; your art is. And you’re not even tortured, to add a little excitement to it kraa mpo.

“You’re not a celebrity. Nobody will recognize you on the streets and ask for your autograph. Nobody will remember what it took for you to get here. You are not a figure, you’re a name. The person you were inside will only be considered when you’re in your goddamn grave!”

All eyes in the room were on him, but he had no eyes for Kwasi-Mensah. It was an unforeseen explosion of resentment that nobody, not even Victor, had been prepared enough to know how to react to.

Little kids did not lie, Kwasi-Mensah knew, because they did not know how to. But upon growing up, careful dishonesty seemed to be an adult’s master craft. It was said that there were only four types of people who only ever told the truth: Jesus, babies, people on their deathbeds and drunk-ass people. For drunk people did not truly say what they did not mean; they only said things that sobriety would not allow. Firewater was a tongue loosener, fashioned to throw people straight into a cruel court of assessment.

But the man was not yet done.

“So go on and write your little dramas. But don’t expect us to care about any irrelevant details of your life, just because you’re an artist. My goodness, I can’t stand you people! Have a good night, I’m going home.”

And with that, he set his glass down and marched out of the room, swaying remarkably little, considering how intoxicated he really was. The wine in his glass continued to swish sickeningly, like thick blood, churning up in the pit of Kwasi-Mensah’s stomach, making him feel sick to the core. Not for the first time since his work had begun to gain recognition, Kwasi-Mensah felt irrelevant.

-Akotowaa

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8 thoughts on “Upstaged

  1. Now I don’t know how to react to this. it’s a story but I sense real fears(?) in there…

    It feels so much like “that clown behind the glass” sometimes, you know…even now that I am nobody. Mere blogging makes me feel that sometimes…irrelevant. People troop in and oooh and aaah at a “brilliant piece of writing” while you sit behind the computer smarting with whatever emotions that drove you to write what you wrote. It is the art they came in to see…not you…

    sheesh, there is so much I want to say!

  2. This cuts. Really deep, coz it’s really true. People usually care more about the person’s art than the artist him/herself. Hmmm…..

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