“I’ll make sure I make you win,” Vidi said. “Just make sure you sell enough tickets.”
Vidi was the go-to guy for the Mr. Man male pageant.
I’d always had the desire of participating in the Mr. Man competition. The glamour and affluence the contestants wielded, the way their social media following skyrocketed, and the tons of opportunities that opened up for them – these all made me very hyped to compete.
One of the previous year’s contestants, who did not win but emerged as one of the finalists, gave me Vidi’s number. He told me Vidi tended to be uncouth, so I’d need to be careful in dealing with him.
I called Vidi the next day and asked him to give me the rundown of all that was required to be part of the Mr. Man competition. He told me that it all depended on my ticket sales and business acumen.
I wondered what a competition judging the looks of well-built men had to do with ticket sales. However, I didn’t give voice to my reservations. Our call ended and I called back the friend who connected me to Vidi, to ask him what the sale of tickets had to do with the competition.
“You know your country,” he said. “It’s always a question of rub my back and I’ll rub yours.”
The next day, I chatted Vidi up on WhatsApp. This time, he sounded a lot friendlier than he did the previous day.
“Are you the one on your profile pic?” he enquired of my WhatsApp display picture.
I answered in the affirmative.
“You’re very sexy,” he typed.
“Thank you,” I replied.
“You know I can help you win, if you play your cards right,” he typed.
“I don’t understand,” I responded, genuinely bemused. The competition had not even begun and he was already talking about helping me win.
“You’re not a child,” he texted, along with a kiss and smiley emojis. “The boss, Mr. Tiwi, likes you. He said you have every tool to be the winner. You’ll just need to be nice to him.”
I remembered the previous year, another friend of mine competed and he’d told me the exact same thing. That the boss had told him he had the stance of a winner, suggesting that they work together to get him the crown. I never got around to asking him if he slept with this boss, because he didn’t even make the Top Five. But knowing how easily I usually get him out of his pants, I was sure what his answer would be, had I asked.
“This ticket sales you’re talking about, around how much would serve as a guarantee?” I asked.
“People get up to 600K, or more or less,” he responded.
My jaw dropped. Here I was, looking for about 100K to replace my iPhone and someone was telling me to sell a ticket of 600K for a competition I didn’t even know if I had any chance of winning.
But then my competitive spirit was charged. I had once hidden my cousin’s notebook in secondary school because I didn’t want her to snatch the first position from me. (She was yet to forget that treachery of mine; even with three kids and a husband, she always brought it up.)
Vidi asked me to meet him. I was in Lagos at the time and I agreed to seeing him. Better to meet face to face than to carry on chatting online.
We met at an ice cream joint. Vidi was the very definition of the words “bleached out.” His hair was heavily jerry-curled, and even then, looked unkempt, with the oil sparging all over his forehead, making his uneven skin tone even more uneven. For someone who was a wheeler and dealer for a male beauty pageant, he didn’t look like he’d ever be considered to walk the catwalk.
It was all I could do not to let my revulsion show. I maintained a pleasant demeanour for our meeting.
We shook hands and made our way to one of the booths. I bought two cups of ice cream and handed both of them to him.
“You’re not eating?” he asked.
“Nah, I’ve had enough calories for the day.”
He didn’t need much persuasion as he began to scoop greedily from the first cup, while I observed him the way a scientist observes a new breed of virus-carrying insect.
“So, how do I go about this competition?” I began. “How are contestants able to come up with such insane amounts of money for the tickets. What kinds of things do they have to do?”
He laughed, and his big brown teeth showed, adding even more to his general unattractiveness.
“You just have to find someone that will buy your tickets,” he said. “You’re a fine boy. I’m sure you’ll find someone.” He said this with a wink.
You’re a fine boy… You’ll find someone…
The words reverberated in my head as I scanned my memory for the people I knew who could further my purpose of being a Mr. Man competition winner.
Our meeting was winding down to an end, when Vidi said, “You know, my house is not far from here. Don’t you want to see it, know where it is in case…” He smiled.
If I’d had the ice cream, I was sure right then that I would barfed it all over the man. I put up a smile and said no as nicely as possible, promising him that there would be another time. if this man was going to be in charge of my Mr. Man future, then I didn’t want to start now to offend him.
I was going through my contacts, looking for who would help me out. My contacts were however were mostly friends who were a lot more cash-starved than I was, and the ones who wouldn’t piss on me if I were on fire.
The Mr. Man competition was already underway at this time. There was first an audition, which is usually a sham, because many guys still got into the competition without it. I’d purchased the form of 5 thousand naira. We were at the social media awareness stage, where you would take your best muscle-bound picture and upload on your Instagram account, which would then be reposted by the pageant’s account. And then, the people with the most likes – and ticket sales – above a stipulated level, would proceed to the next round.
Working on my friend’s direction, I’d mentioned most of everyone I knew to like my photo and to get the people they knew to do the same. I’d also spent some money on buying bots for likes.
I was going broke, and the thought of what to do about ticket sales was still on my mind.
Then a name crossed my mind.
I grew up calling him “uncle”, but Chief Okpo was no uncle of mine. He was in fact a close friend to my father’s elder brother, who had somehow transitioned to family friend. Growing up, his home had always been a favorite for holidays. The days my siblings and I spent vacationing at his house, while usually luxuriously, were mostly uneventful.
But something interesting happened once. I was a teenager then. Chief Okpo had asked me to wash one his cars. His kids were around my age but were all based outside the country and returned occasionally during holiday seasons. For the assignment, I was clad in just my tiny boxers, which got wet from my efforts to clean the Pathfinder jeep. When I was done and coming up the stairs wearing those wet boxers, I met Chief Okpo as he was descending the stairs.
“Are you done washing the car?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Nice,” he said as his eyes roamed all over me.
I’d started having sex then, so I knew the look. And it compounded my suspicions that the man was a homosexual. I mean, his wife was late and for years, he had no female lover that I knew of.
Anyway, subsequently, adulthood happened and we grew apart.
But here I was at Chief Okpo’s office almost a decade later, and he was giving me a hug. He looked very pleased to see me.
“Higwe, where have you been?” he said with a beam. “You totally forgot about me, eh?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” I said. “It was just school.”
“Have you graduated?”
“Did you serve?”
“I’m not interested in a white-collar job.”
“So, what are you doing now?”
“I see.” He chuckled.
“I really need your help, sir,” I said to him, before going on to tell him everything about the Mr. Man competition and the tickets and all the requirements.
He listened, waiting until I was done before asking how I was sure I would win even after spending so much, and what the uptakes of winning were. I told him winning could open up my brand for more lucrative ventures and give me more visibility.
“So, it’s like Big Brother?” he asked.
“Not exactly, but it has its own audience.”
“Why then is so much money involved if it is not even up to that level?”
I had to think about that.
“Listen,” he said, apparently coming to a decision, “I’ll give you some money, but I don’t just trust this competition of yours.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, meaning my gratitude.
I also had other designs. “Can I go back to your house with you?” I asked. “I’ve been stuck in a hotel since I came to Lagos and I’m running out of funds.”
“Why even ask? My house is yours.”
TO BE CONTINUED
Written by Higwe