- Akosua Biraa
That is Not the Question
MMM: Ms. Modest Moderates ‘Me’-ness
BBB: Ms. Bold Begets Brilliant
WWW: Ms. Worry Wills Worst (missing in action)
We set eyes open MMM sitting upright in a straight back chair. She is alone, perched gracefully in her seat with her hands clasped in front of her in a patient manner. She sits at a plain but polished wooden table. She is simply dressed, as if determined not to draw attention to herself. Yet there is a spotlight shining upon her stoic but beautiful face. She does not smile, aside from deep within that shows in the brilliance of her eyes.
Before I answer your question, let me say thank you for inviting me to be part of this interview series of yours, although I don’t see why you would be interested in someone like little old me. Surely there are far more illustrious candidates waiting for you out there.
So, you would like to know whether I think I have led a successful life.
That is quite a loaded question, in today’s purpose obsessed world—where if it is not money that drives you, then, it is accolades. Neither of which means anything for happiness.
Still, to answer your question: I am quite happy, content even, especially with the blessings that I have; the ability to wake up each morning with the choice of a smile, all limbs and sanity intact. I also have food to eat; somewhere to call home; friends and family that I can count on; and the odd life challenge that lets me know I am very much alive, with all my senses and wits still about me.
What more can one ask for?
The spotlight fades to black.
The spotlight is switched back on again, rather abruptly. We see MMM throw a bold colored scarf about her neck with flair. She also pulls out some colored lip shine and applies it in an exaggerated manner, using a fancy hand-held mirror. We can see from her mannerism that she is now a different persona. She has become BBB, who tends to gesticulate wildly as she speaks.
BBB goes about her beautification, saying:
Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute [she speaks at a fast pace]. I beg to differ! We haven’t even begun to show the world what we are capable of. I mean the sky’s the limit. Yet we still insist on rolling at the level of mud—with all its so-called lotus making.
I have my side kick – Ms. Modest Moderates ‘Me’-ness – to thank for all this living plenty below standard. But at least, she’s way better than Ms. Worry Wills Worst. Glad she got weeded out ages ago.
I do miss her heightened emotion though [pauses]. She had some pep, unlike Ms. ‘Me’-ness. She also had a deep angst, a sadness even. Now —that created so much drag.
But even now, without her, we’re on go slow. Ms. ‘Me’-ness is way too often in the driving seat—if you ask me. In fact, I’d say we’ve been running on idle. Or bloody hell, simply standing still in stationary, with all her “do nothing” malarkey.
Whoever thought that non-action makes sense in a moving world needs to be shot for misdirection. It’s false advertising. It means that nobody, just about nobody, gets to know our name.
It's been like this forever. Listen. Let me tell you my first story of woe.
[LONG PAUSE, for dramatic effect, but then BBB gets distracted]
Hold that thought. I think I’ve just spotted an interesting idea flash past that I have been meaning to follow up on, from time. I’ll be right with you.
Spotlight fades to black.
The spotlight flashes back on again. We are now back to MMM sitting patiently and demurely at the table. The scarf is no longer in sight. The same goes for the lipstick.
My apologies for Ms. Bold Begets Brilliant. She means well, but as you can see—she is a tad exuberant. She is also often in need of a dial down, as opposed to the dial up that Ms. Worst demanded. It was a bit of a mess back when she was around. Pure Jekyll and Hyde, Jekyllina and Hydia if gender and race matters to you.
But there’s no point dwelling in the suffering of the past—totally pointless exercise that. All we have, which is real, is the now—our presence. So why miss it, in pursuit of bygone days—that search for answers to old narratives? Or even for that matter, a focus on future quests. Myth and delusion, all of it.
What we can all do with more of is, opportunity to practice level headedness. You know, the opportunity to learn how to be more in balance; how to maintain an equilibrium between the hard and the easy, or the good and the bad of existence.
In other words, we need to practice equanimity daily.
And we are proof of it. We are now totally done with Ms. Worst. She serves no purpose anymore, in our effortless quest for equilibrium.
Fade to black.
Spotlight flashes on to BBB, back in place but now with a flamboyant summer hat on her head—alongside the scarf and lipstick. She speaks with her whole body in tow, as if she needs to let her limbs loose.
I’m back. And just in time to save you from boredom, a fate worse than death. Now where was I?
Ah yes, my tale of woe…. Where to begin? Hmm.
[ANOTHER PAUSE, while she looks upwards—eyes and eyebrows rolling from side to side, as if computing the order in which to tell a very long tale]
Ah yes, that one [she gesticulates for emphasis]. We’re about age 10, in Convent School and tasked with selling tickets for the screening of Dr. Zhivago. A rather tragic and sad tale.
Now why the nuns would have kids selling tickets to such a show is beyond me [pauses]. But then I digress.
We were tasked with selling tickets for a screening at the local drive-in cinema. You know—we were 70s kids living in Nairobi [gives a go-figure shrug].
And we did sell all of ours, mostly to parents.
Now the cool thing was that whoever sold the most tickets was to win a prize.
Lucky for us, Mum worked at the bank. Mum also knew just about everybody worth knowing. Mum also helped us sell many of our tickets, which is to be expected. We’re 10, and the movie was Dr. Zhivago, not Snow White—plus it’s the adults who have the money anyways.
So, sell we did, for a couple of weeks, all done by the day on which they announced the winner.
I remember it well, after morning prayers on what was a brilliantly sunny day; the crisp weather, and we little ones in our blue pinafore dresses and red cardigans, all lined up outdoors, and the nuns in their pristine habits, up on the stairs in front of us.
Ms. W. and I towards the back. And imagine this: a hush and then, to my delight, they called our name. They called our name! We won! We sold the most tickets! Yes!!
But did we collect our prize? Nope. Because Ms. W. was reserved. Shy! I ask you. Or more like simply timid. Urgh!!! Just why she had to be in charge at such a critical moment, I don’t know.
We didn’t know Ms. M. back then, but I doubt she would’ve acted any differently. Her motivation would be different, moderation vs. timidity, but it still would have been the very same bullshit: me held back from the call of that oh so magnificent limelight.
[PAUSE…. As we see her so visibly delight in a raw imagining of the glow of said limelight. But then she’s distracted again]
Oh, here comes another good idea, got to go. Love you and leave you!
Spotlight begins to dim, and we see BBB get up as if to leave. But the lights suddenly become bright again. BBB turns, sits back down, looks directly at the audience as if into a camera, saying:
This is MY life!
And even if, nowadays, half the time, I get to live a life of my choosing—I still wish she’d let me take the reins more. Full reign [Makes a grand gesture, as if placing a crown upon her head]. But you know, mtchew, equilibrium.
Now who needs equilibrium in an ever-expanding universe!
[PAUSE…., spotlight fades to black]
Spotlight comes back on, and we see MMM sitting with her eyes closed as if in meditation. Her hands are together in a prayerful gesture. She sits in silence for few minutes, much to the audiences’ potential discomfort. She has the hat and scarf lying on the table in front of her. After five minutes she opens her eyes, looks at the audience, smiles—it reaches her lips, as she says:
And there you have it: the ego’s continued persistence for agency. Ms. Brilliant’s flights of fancy need grounding, so I oblige.
Won’t be too long and all attachment to exuberance will also fall to the wayside. In that way, we get to live a life of our choosing, without being fixated on choice.
We had to stop the search. Do nothing. This puts an end to all the constant oscillation between highs and lows.
Light fades to black, finally.