Doubt tickled her belly like a giant spider,reminding her why this was a bad idea . She shouldn’t be here, in GRA Phase 2, walking up a drive to show a stranger her work. She should be at home, in her peach coloured one-bedroom flat listening to Asa and Triple J Plus and Malik. And painting.
But when she saw the call for ‘extra-ordinary art telling stories of courage and passion from Port Harcourt city’ she knew she had to respond.
Her phone rang. It was Dibaal, her half brother calling to say Mama was running out of drugs in a week. Her mother had battled breast cancer for twenty years. Despite the double mastectomy, the tissue in her left breast had grown again. When she was paying the bills for a third mastectomy, she was laugh-crying.
“But how is she?” Nma asked.
“Fine.” Dibaal replied
“Is the wound healing?”
“Yes. And her appetite is returning.”
“Thank God. I will send you something tomorrow. Greet her for me.”
“Thank you, Sister.”
“We thank God.”
She slipped the phone into her jeans. Life was a strange place. Her mother had abandoned her with nuns at age two. Gone off to be a rich man’s second wife. Only Life would necessitate that she depend on that same child for her chemotherapy. Yeah, Life was crazy like that.
She knocked at the door while voices argued in her head.
“Nma, don’t do this.”
“Why not? We only live once.”
“This is just stupid.”
“Who says? Shut up.”
“What if this doesn’t work?”
“What if it does?”
“What if this is just another wild rat chase?
“What if it is not?”
“Let’s Go Home!”
She raised her hand to rap on the door once more, when the door flew open.
“Hello,” said a slender Caucasian man in brown jean shorts and a blue T-shirt.
“You must be Nma. Come in.”
He stepped back and she followed him into the house. A cream ante-room led to a spacious parlour with plush seats in real leather.
“Have a seat,” he said, “I am Jimmy Newton. Can I offer you something? Juice? Water?”
“No. I am fine.” Nma said. ” Pleased to meet you, Mr Newton.”
“Please. Call me Jim.” He said.”Tola tells me you paint. Can I see?”
“Of course.” She handed him her camera and took a deep breath.
He studied the pictures with a frown, toggling between a few, shaking his head and squinting. The spider died and left ice in its place. Her fingers drew circles on the leather. The well known sting of failure crept up her spine. She wanted to be home more than anything.
She braced herself for what was coming. She had been in the business for long enough to know the signs. Some would try to make up with flatter “…Your work is amazing! Not what we are looking for now but a true delight.” Others would try to belittle her “…I like what you are doing. Honestly, have you ever thought of going to an art school? There is a great one in New York where Emma Idoma is. I am sure you could get a sponsor.” It always struck her how people who found it difficult to pay for art found it easy to think scholarships for it were falling from the sky like rain. The ice thawed and began to boil. She had to leave this place. If she was fast enough she could still finish Chief Mrs Ikpoki’s portrait. If not, she would at least know that she tried. Nothing could be worse that sitting here, watching someone who couldn’t draw a leaf to save his life, search for the best dump lines. No, she wasn’t having anymore of this.
She rose and forced a clipped smile on her face.
“These are amazing! Wow! I love your work! Fabulous! Jeez! This is simply lovely!”
Her legs melted and she sat down again. Hope was a bubble dancing in her chest. With firm strokes she brushed away tears of relief. It was going to be okay. She was going to be okay. Jim was saying something:
“These are simply amazing! Oh my god! Where did you train? Did you study art in school? I love this. I really do.” Jim said. “I’d like to have a few copies so I could show them to my partners. Do you mind?”
Of course she didn’t mind. How could she? This was the big break she had been working towards, praying for, and now it was here.
“At all.” She answered. “That would be nice.”
“Lovely! So how soon can we get the paintings? We need about 20 for the exhibition, I want at least 5 of yours. The picture of the lovers on a canoe, has to be one and the one with the sleeping taxi man. Amazing. That’s what your art is. I can’t believe my luck.”
“Thank you Jim. I am so happy you like my work. The paintings will be ready by tomorrow. Once you make a deposit into my account. Or would you rather pay cash?”
A pinched silence hung between them for a minute.
“You want me to pay for the paintings? That’s ridiculous! What kind of con is that? Where is the love of beauty in this? Where is the passion? Can’t you Nigerian’s do anything without looking for money? This is crazy!” Jim said, shaking his head faster than ever and running his hands through his mouse-brown hair.
“Everything about Nigerians is transactional. If you want help pushing your car–its a transaction. If you need directions to the night club–its a transaction. I don’t understand it. It has to be the petro-dollars–”
Nma picked her camera and slung her bag back on her shoulder. “Thank you for your time Jim. I misunderstood your call for work. I thought you were trying to create opportunity for people. I didn’t know it was just another poaching attempt. Forgive my naivete!”
She stomped to the door but Jim got there before her. “Hey, don’t take it that way. I am sorry about the way I sounded. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just that I don’t have a budget for paying contributing artists. I really like your work. It is fresh and full of life. Please, let me use if for the exhibition. You will gain exposure and an audience. Fans. Most great artists started with free exhibitions. You need to give it time. To build your brand. ”
Nma clenched her hands by her sides and ground her teeth. “Excuse me, Jim, you are in my way. It took five weeks of my time to create those paintings. Eating once day, working ten to twelve hours, praying the muse would keep guiding my hands and eyes; you don’t know what you are talking about. You think this is a scam? You think I should starve myself and work myself to the bone just because you want to have an ‘exhibition? Your Wikipeadia page says you read philosophy but I think you need a refresher course. Now if you’ll excuse me–”
“Nma, wait.” Jim said, “I said I was sorry, I had no idea the work cost so that much. I was hoping to get freewill donations. I am sorry Nma.” He said flicking one hand through his hair while the other was wedged at his side.
To be continued.