Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Bingo! There's madness in the method

A Touch Of Nokoko by Kofi Akumanyi

I gave up crying at the age of seven and ever since I simply could not shed any tears no matter what happened. It is not that there is anything wrong with my lachrymal glands. Left to the little sacs under my eyes they could have competed very favourably with others owned by children in the same age group.

It was really a question of maintaining a manly disposition against all odds. I learnt early in life that crying is a sissy affair and any boy worth his first football would rigidly fight back the tears welled up behind the eyelids when the local bully seizes it.

To prove the point I quite recently sat through the famous weepy movie, "The Champ" and wondered why everybody around kept sniffing and dabbing the corners of their eyes with dainty handkerchiefs. In fact, I don't know what could make me cry now, except perhaps, if I got up one morning to find my beloved jalopy re-possessed by the finance company for failing to deliver on the monthly instalment. Or worse still, if AIDS the homosexuals' disease should spread to us heterosexuals.

But last week, the dam collapsed and I uncharacteristically wailed and gnashed my teeth openly and unabashedly, not caring two hoots who saw or heard me. The reason for this, my dear reader, was the subject of an Independent Television's "TV Eye" programme of January 31, 1985 in which the newspaper numbers game, bingo was de-mystified in an exposé appropriately entitled "BINGO - THE GAME IS UP!"

In a detailed investigation of the game which has seized the imagination of British newspaper readers in recent times, the programme revealed that the various proprietors have taken all of us for a long, long ride. Papers like 'The Sun', 'The Daily Mirror', 'The Daily Mail' all promised to make their readers instant millionaires last year. While everybody recognised the high pressure sales tactics underlying the bingo blitz in the media (even the prestigious Times of London joined the band wagon), the increase in the circulation of some of the papers was an adequate testimony to the fact that in the midst of unemployment, there were quite a few people like me who were dreaming of becoming instant bingo millionaires.

Someone told me not quite long ago that gambling (for that is what Bingo boils down to) has nothing to do with intelligence. It is a compulsive habit I had been playing the game faithfully ever since the media launched the instant millionaire bingo game, because like millions of us simple folks, we sincerely believed that we would be the lucky ones to join the Bingo millionaires. Mind you, I wasn’t going to be greedy, I was even prepare to accept a £50,000 prize or a £5,000 prize or any prize at all

The pain in my heart at learning from the TV programme that I had been living in a fool’s paradise was too much for me. I even seriously contemplated suing the newspaper I read but my solicitor told me to forget it because I could not afford his fee. The disappointment was overwhelming.

It all came back to me as if it happened only yesterday - the day my friend Steve thought he had won a million cedis in Ghana’s Weekly Lotto/ The winning numbers which are announced over Radio Ghana at 5pm every Saturday have the highest audience in the country.

That fateful saturday evening Steve who over a period of time had spent a small fortune on the game and ran debts all over the town rushed over to my place to talk things over.

“Our problems are over”, he gushed. “ from today onward, we can kiss goodbye to poverty”

“Take it easy, Steve, What’s gone into you?” he looked like a man possessed.

“I’m possessed. Oh yes. I’m possessed - . I’ve won Lotto! I’ve won C50,000 cedis”, he shouted

“You sure about that?” I asked immediate making a point to remember to ask for a loan for a project I had shelved for a long time for lack of funds.

"Of course, I am. I got the calculation right, just right this time and I could have won a million if I had the money to stake. Put on your dancing shoes and get the girls; we're going to paint the town red," he said.

"Steve, why don't you pipe down a second and sit down to reflect on this your newfound wealth? It's a big responsibility you've got now," I said remembering the fate of the drunken tractor driver a few years back who on realising that he had won a huge amount of money on the Lotto, jumped on his machine, drove around the town and promptly fell and got killed under the machine.

"You don't have to worry about a thing. I've got everything worked out. You have no idea how I have been waiting for this day."

"What are you going to do with all that money?" I asked him.

“Things that I’ve always wanted to do but couldn't. For a start I'll buy a car, build a house, marry a woman, go on a long-awaited holiday in Hawaii .. oh, there are a thousand and one things I want to do."

"And where, if I may ask, do I fit into your scheme of things?" I wanted to know. "You're my best friend. We've been through thick and thin together. So we're also in this together. You'll be my financial manager."

"Aren't you forgetting something? I thought you should first and foremost settle your outstanding debts so that in case you fall back into hard times again you can return to the same source with your head up.'

"Hard times again? You must be joking. Anyway, that's why you're going to be my financial manager."

Good sense prevailed, fortunately. Good thing that it did because after Steve's flight of fancy (which was what the whole thing turned out to be), he took the "winning" numbers to the National Lotteries head office on the next Monday to register the ticket and collect his fortune only to be told that there had been a terrible mix-up somewhere. He had not won any money.

For weeks he would not speak to anybody. He locked himself up in his bed-sitter trying to purge himself of the richman's mentality that he had developed over the weekend. I could have cried for him, but I couldn't - until last week. But then, as they say, in the numbers game, one has to decipher the method in the madness ... or is it madness in the method?

talking drums 1985-02-11 open letter to rawlings