The studio went dim, and then there was that sound that has
become the trademark of the game show. Then it was all silent. I felt my grip
on the arms of the black swivel chair popularly known as the hot seat, tighten.
“The
next question is for one million” the moderator said, his eyes on the screen in
front of him.
My
eyes too stared eagerly at the flat screen in front of me. I could make out a
million tiny particles dancing along the lines of white rays from the screen.
They seemed like the bubbles in a chilled glass of beer. A million golden
bubbles which I always took time to admire when I was at the bar. I was playing
for a million Naira. That was my mark. I could see the cheque with the six
zeros being handed over to me.  I wanted to reach out and grab it. An army
was marching in the area where my heart used to be.
“On what date was Murtala Mohammed killed…?” the moderators voice jolted me back to
reality. The question echoed in my head even as I read it again on the screen
before me. I wasn’t seeing a million tiny particles anymore. All I saw was a
question and a set of four options. After reading the question and the option
for the third time in a minute, I knew I did not know the answer. The boot
soles banging against the left part of my chest grew in threshold.
“Do you have any idea Mr. Ben Okafor?” There was a grin on the face of the
moderator. He alone could see the confusion written all over my face. I made a
sound in my throat which neither said ‘yes’ nor ‘no’. It was the best I could
mutter at the moment. My eyes were going from one option to the other,
searching for the slightest clue.
“First of all, do you know who Murtala
Mohammed is?”
The moderator was a
very witty fellow. His question sounded more like asking a primary six pupil
what the name of his school was. I could hear the audience giggle. I didn’t
think I needed to answer that, so I just giggled too.
Of
course I knew who Murtala Mohammed was. He was that ominous head on the twenty
naira note. The airport in Lagos was named after him. The long bridge in Lokoja
also bore his name. I knew his middle name was Ramat. As a child, my school
once went on an excursion to the museum in Lagos and we had been shown the
Peugeot car he was being driven in on the day the bullet of a lone shooter took
life out of him. I knew that the name of this shooter was Dimka. I knew that
after his death, Obasanjo took over power. I knew he took the first step
towards moving the Federal Capital to Abuja. I knew he died in 1976. All the
options before me bore 1976. But I did not know the exact day he died.
“Any idea?”
I
ran my left hand through my hair, scratching at nothing in particular at the
base of my skull. That was my way of saying “No idea”
“Well, you still have a lifeline. Don’t you
think you should use it or would you prefer to simply walk away?”
I
looked from the screen to the moderator. He was young and handsome. For years I
had watched this show from the comfort of my uncle’s sitting room admiring not
just the wit with which he had transformed the show to the most popular in the
country, but also his well tailored designer suits which held on to him like a
spoon against another. They were those kinds of suits that had price tags that
ran like telephone numbers in city boutiques. I had always longed to wear those
kinds of suits. With one million, I could now afford them. I was going to take
all my chances.
“Phone a friend” I replied.
“Ok. Mr. Ben has chosen to use his last
lifeline” the moderator thundered. “Which of your friends do you want to call?”
“Ben” I replied
“O, your namesake. I see. So let’s call Ben
and see if he can save his fellow Ben who is on the hot seat.”
There was a brief lull, as the computer dialed the number. I
took the opportunity to say a Hail Mary. First, I
did the sign of the cross, before mumbling the lines of the prayer I had not
said in a long while. As a child, I always said it when I was in trouble and
about to be whipped. I would mumble the lines of the prayer, seeking a miracle.
I always got whipped anyway.
“…your friend Ben is on the hot seat and needs
you to help him answer a question to win a sum of one million naira.” There was
a note of excitement in the moderator’s voice. “The next voice you will hear
will be Ben’s voice. You have only twenty seconds to furnish him with the
answer. Your time starts now.”
I
read out the question trying to be as clear as possible. From the episodes I
had watched from home, I had noticed that the time was never enough for the
contestants to sufficiently repeat the options to their helper’s hearing. More
so, the options were in themselves a source of confusion. The trick I had
concluded was to read out just the question and if the helper really knew the
answer, he would just say it. That was what I did.
13th March 1976” Came the smart reply
just as I finished reading out the question the first time. It was the option
“C” on the screen.
With
some time left on my hands, I took the liberty of asking how sure he was. He
affirmed that he was certain. There was a bold smile on my face by the time the
call ended. I could now see my one million Naira clearly.  The marching in
my chest reduced in wavelength.
“How…well…do…you…know this Ben?” The moderator crossed and uncrossed his leg,
dragging the words as he spoke. His hands were folded against his chest.
“I know him very well” I replied, nodding and smiling.
“How long have you known him?”
For about seven years.”
“Seven years! Hmmm…”
“I met him in the University” I added.
“O, I see. You must trust him very much then?”
If there was anybody I trusted to get the answer to such a
question right, it was Ben.  We met at a football pitch one morning during
my freshman years. He had come around with leather boots in hand looking for a
game. As the pro tem captain of the day, he
approached me to ask if he could join us. After the game he came to say thanks
and to introduce himself. We had played on the same side and our combination
had gelled well in the defense for our side.
After
finding out that we were namesakes, he requested for my GSM number. I asked him
if he had a pen.
“I don’t need one” he replied. “I will remember it”.
Knowing
that had his name not been “Ben” too, I would have forgotten it shortly after
our handshake, I was certain he would forget the number before he got
home. 
To
my amazement, later that evening he called me. That was the first of his memory
feats that I would experience. I would get to know he was the best student in
the History Department and that there was hardly any date of any historically
relevant event he couldn’t give off with ease. He was yet to disappoint me and
even on this day, he had given an answer without asking what the options were.
I trusted him very much.
“So you are going with this your Ben friend?
Remember, if you fail this, you will be crashing back to two hundred and fifty
thousand naira. But you have the option of walking away with your five hundred
thousand Naira.”
The Moderator sounded
so concerned. I could make out that trademark mischievous smile of his with
which he toyed with the sensibilities of contestants. Sometimes, it was a wise
caution.  Other times it led astray. I was certain it was not a wise caution
this time.
I
nodded. My eyes scanned the options again. The drumming in my chest was
resumed. To push any emerging doubt away, I nodded again.
“Alright, so your final answer is C then?” The Moderator asked sitting up.
A
million thoughts sped through my mind. I suddenly wished to use the toilet. I
wished we went on a commercial break. I wished I had paid more attention to my
Nigerian History class. I wished I had another lifeline to use. The million
particles from the screen blinded my view.
Just
as I stepped out of the studio and had the opportunity of switching my phone
back on, I immediately received an SMS from Ben. It was an apology. The date of
Murtala Mohammed’s assassination was actually 13th February 1976. It had
occurred to him just after the call ended. He hoped he had not cost so much
damage.
I
smiled as I returned the phone into my pocket. My cheque of five hundred
thousand Naira was safe in my wallet.  He really didn’t do any damage. I
had been wise enough to walk away at the last minute.

Credit:  Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

*********************************************************************************
 Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is
a 2007 graduate of Veterinary Medicine, UNN. He won the Short Story prize in
the Abuja Writers’ Forum Literary contest (2009) and 2nd Prize in the ASUU
National Undergraduates Short Story Competition in 2006. Spectrum Books
published his novella, Whispering Aloud in 2007. He contributes to many online
forums and dailies.

*********************************************************************************
Are you a writer? Interested in sharing your short stories on this platform? Be our guest on our Short Story Fridays segment.