Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Patronising good traders, slaves to fashion and the freedom of the miracle mystic

Hello, there. I, Atala Wala Wala will once more be pleased to act as your eyes and ears (and nose, if necessary) to the world of Pangolo Junction, where it seems that at least one of our protagonists is in a relatively good mood...

(Zack walks into the bar smiling and heads for the table where Max and Nat are already seated.)

Max: Well, you're looking pleased today, Zachariah! What happened?

Zack: At last... I've finally got my car back from the mechanic's!

Nat: Well that is definitely good news. No more having to battle it out for a space on a rickety bus. But how come your car was at the mechanic's for so long?

Zack: Okolo said that there were multiple problems with it... as soon as he'd fixed one problem, that would reveal another problem which up till then had remained hidden.

Max: How could that have happened? Don't you take your car in for regular servicing? I thought you believed in planning ahead.

Zack: Yes I know – but servicing cars is very expensive. Okolo is a thorough mechanic – but he's charges a lot.

Nat: So pay him, then! This is the problem with Nigeria – we don't encourage people who do good work by paying them what they deserve.

Max: I disagree! Who said business was about encouraging people? Why should I pay someone N500 for something when I can get him to sell it to me for N400?

Nat: Well, you'll get yourself a good deal – but the man will go out of business, and the only people left will be charlatans and quacks selling cheap poor quality goods. Are those the kind of people you want to deal with?

Max: No – you're wrong. You make it look like there are only traders who sell expensive good quality stuff and cheap poor quality stuff. What about those who sell cheap good quality stuff? They'll still be in business!

But you know what's worse about pushing this 'Good Stuff Needs To Be Expensive' idea? It gives those traders who sell expensive poor quality stuff the chance to rip people off! You go to this person's shop to buy a pair of shoes, and he tells you "Well, this is the latest fashion from Italy... so I can't sell it to you for less than N20,000." And you say... "hmm... if it's that expensive, it's got to be good", so you buy the shoe from him like the sucker you are!

Zack: Come on, Max. You're talking like people can't recognise what good quality stuff is. If people see that your shoe isn't solid and durable, they won't buy it, no matter how much you try and sell it as a must-have item.

Max: If it's a utility item, perhaps. But if it's a fashion item, then that kind of logic just flies out of the window! For example, there was this venture that I went into with Jean-Baptiste a while back, where we found ourselves with a massive quantity of shirts of rather inferior quality that we'd got cheaply and needed to get rid of quickly.

We decided that we were going to start a mini-craze for these shirts. We did all that advertising and modelling campaign stuff, as you'd expect. But crucially – we set the price ridiculously high and hinted in our advertising that 'these shirts were only persons of distinction, and the riff-raff need not bother'. You can imagine the effect amongst Nigerians – like putting a juicy piece of meat in front of a starving dog! People were killing themselves to get the shirts – everyone wanted to regarded a 'person of distinction'.

It didn't even matter that they didn't last long and tore to pieces quickly. In fact, people seemed quite proud to advertise the fact that they tore – "a sign of the genuine article", I heard a satisfied customer say. The higher we set the price, the more people rushed for the shirts. That was one of the fastest clear-out operations I've ever carried out.

Zack: I think you're telling another of your tall tales again. You might be able to pull such a stunt in richer countries where people have more money than sense, but in Nigeria people have their feet too firmly on the ground to fall for that nonsense.

Max (protesting): It's not nonsense! The problem is that you're assuming that I was just selling them a shirt. It was more than that – I was selling them a sense of well being, a feeling of superiority and distinction, an aura of excellence...

Zack (snorting with contempt): Please don’t make me laugh! Aura of excellence? In a shirt? Are you sure that's just kunu you're drinking?

Nat: Actually, I see Max's point. When it comes to the basics like food and water, we are careful about choosing things based on hard questions like "Will it fill us up or not? Is it tasty or not? Is it nutritious or not? But when it comes to things like fashion, I don't think we ask the same kind of questions.

Zack: Speak for yourself, Nat! When I buy a shirt, I do ask myself the same hard questions: Will this shirt tear easily? Will it be comfortable to wear?

Max: Is that so, Zack?

Zack: Of course!

Max: OK. One moment, please. (He goes outside for a while.)

Nat: I don't believe you ask all those questions. I thought you let Lizzy pick your shirts for you.

Zack: Eh, she does, but when I buy my shirts, those are the things that I would consider.

Nat: So you're not worried that she might pick a shirt that will fall to pieces the moment you look at it?

Zack: Not at aAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRGHH! (While Zack is speaking, Max returns with a bedsheet which he throws over Zack.)

Nat (shocked): What was that for?

Zack (struggling from within the folds of the sheet): Max, I'm going to strangle you when I get out of this!

Max (in an injured tone): What? When I was trying to do my duty as a friend and get you the perfect shirt? I'm offended.

Nat (puzzled): Shirt? That's a bedsheet.

Max: Ah, but it does everything that Zachariah wants! It's made of pretty tough material, so it won't tear – in fact, there are no seams for it to tear from! And it's very very comfortable indeed. All Zack needs to do is to use his bull-head to punch a hole through the middle so he can wear it like a poncho as they do in South America.

Zack (finally freeing himself from the bedsheet and flinging it to one side in disgust): Are you insane, Max? How can I wear this to work? Or to church?

Max: Aha! It's all coming out now! I thought that you only cared about durability and comfort? It seems that the approval of your co-workers and fellow worshippers matter more to you! O vain, vain person that you are, Zachariah!

Nat (admiringly, looking at the bedsheet on the floor): It is a rather beautiful looking bedsheet though. Where did you get it from, Max?

Max: Oh, it's mine - I was going to drop it off at the laundryman's.

Zack (kicking the sheet on the floor): No wonder! The stench was unbearable!

Nat: Actually, I think it would suit you very well, Zack.

Zack: Oh you do, do you? Well, If you like it so much, you can wear it yourself! (Picks up the bedsheet and flings it at Nat, who ducks.)

Max (retrieving his sheet): So you see, Zachariah. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all looking for much more than body coverings when we go looking for things to wear. As long as we care about how people see us, we will always be slaves to fashion. Hooray!

Zack (grumbling): Well, you can call yourself a slave if you want, but count me out. I'm not one of those fashion-crazed types who must compulsively follow and adopt every single change in fashion.

Nat: But you're still a slave because you don't have the freedom to dress as you want – you have to conform to certain modes of dress at work. (Sighs) And before you answer back, yes I agree – I'm a slave as well. (With determination) But I'm fighting back! For example, two days ago, I went into work with my tie slightly loosened, and nobody dared challenge me.

Max: That's the spirit! If you keep it up, by the end of the year you will have extended your rebellion to wearing slightly unironed shirts. But your bank must really be crazy! Why do they think that wearing a tie will make customers deposit more money?

Nat (sighing again): They feel it presents a professional image, and that customers will take them seriously.

Zack: That makes sense – I would wonder whether my money was in safe hands if I walked into my bank and I saw the staff wearing blankets over their heads.

Max (exasperatedly): But you don't even face the customers in your line of work!

Nat: I know – that's why you're really lucky. You don't have anyone telling you what to wear, since you're your own boss. You can do whatever you like!

Max: If only! In fact, I have even less freedom to dress as I want than both of you.

Nat: How?

Max: I have to dress to look good for my customers, I have to dress to look good for my suppliers, I have to dress to look good at parties where I might meet potential business contacts, I even have to dress to look good for the government parasites who come to disturb my life every now and then! (Smiling) The only thing that makes this bearable is that I actually enjoy dressing to look good, so I don't know... can you call a slave a slave if he wants to be enslaved?

Nat: I think the only person I know who is truly free from these restrictions is...

Max: My main man, Charlie!

Zack (in annoyance): I knew you were going to bring that charlatan's name up.

Max: But seriously Zack, the guy is a genius. When he told me he was abandoning a promising career as a petroleum engineer to take up a career in prophesying and miracle healing, I thought he was crazy, like you do. But for just once in my life, I've been proved wrong – the guy is rolling in currency!

Nat: More to the point, he can dress as outrageously as he likes because his clients come to see him for his powers and don't care whether he's wearing a cooking pot on his head and a discarded rice sack as a shirt.

Zack (in disgust): Which he does from time to time, the lunatic.

Nat: Well, you can disapprove of him as much as you like, but it's Charlie that is laughing all the way to the bank.

Max: And in case your car breaks down again, I hear that he even now has a line in miracle car repairs. He has this anointed engine oil that you sprinkle on your bonnet, and whatever ailment was afflicting your car will disappear.

Zack (rolling his eyes): Anointed engine oil! Oh spare me – please don't tell me that people are falling for that!

Nat: You better believe it... I think I even saw Okolo at his place a few days ago!

And as Max and Nat dissolve in laughter at the outrage on Zack's face, I think it is time to draw the curtains on another outing at the Junction. But drop in again some time – perhaps we might even get to meet Charlie, the mysterious miracle man.