Lights come up slowly on MONA, a middle-aged woman wearing her nightgown. In front of her, a laptop sits on the dining table, cursor blinking on an empty Word document. She puts her head in her hands. Footsteps break the silence. A 14-year-old child, GIRL 1, speeds down the stairs.
GIRL 1: What’s wrong, Mama? You look sad.
MONA sits up quickly.
MONA: I’m supposed to be writing about design but...
GIRL 1: But design isn’t your thing. Why not ask someone to help?
MONA: My column was due yesterday and I need to submit it now. Wait, can you help me?
GIRL 1 [shrugs]: Sure.
MONA: Is design important?
GIRL 1: Yes. When you walk into a room, people judge how you dress. If your clothes have threads hanging from them or your tee-shirt has a weird slogan, it will affect the way you’re treated.
MONA puts her hand up.
MONA: I’m not talking about fashion. I’m writing about all the other aspects of design. Don’t you know that we have a specific fashion and beauty issue each October? Wait, do you even read my magazine?
[A long pause.]
GIRL 1: Why don’t we start again?
MONA: Okay. Is design important?
GIRL 1: No, it’s not.
Do you want me to call my siblings? Maybe they can help.
GIRL 1 [shouting]: Siblings. Get down here right now!
[More footsteps on the stairs as GIRL 2, a 12-year-old, and BOY, a 10-year-old, race down.]
GIRL 1: Mama needs you to tell her about design because she’s got no design sense, no offense.
[GIRL 1 picks up a newspaper and starts reading it.]
MONA: None taken.
GIRL 2: 1000 Naira. That’s my price.
MONA [blinking]: You’re going to charge your own mother?
GIRL 2: You seem desperate so yes.
MONA: Can I pay you in rice and stew?
GIRL 2: Rice, stew and chicken and it’s a deal.
[MONA and GIRL 2 shake hands.]
GIRL 2: Interior design matters because it will affect the way you feel and the way others feel about you. Like if your office is shabby, customers might think you’re unsuccessful and won’t want to do business with you.
MONA: You’re right. In Lagos, people have style. If you let someone into your space, you would want it to be elegant. Son, do you think design matters?
BOY: Yes, if you have a house and it’s not designed properly, it will fall apart and you will get crushed and die.
MONA: Like that building in Lekki where the roof caved in? Then they abandoned it, half-built. If you don’t take the time to plan well, you cause yourself a lot of problems. But what do you do if design intimidates you?
[BOY hugs MONA.]
BOY: Don’t be scared, Mama. You should do whatever you’re comfortable doing.
GIRL 2: Just hire a designer. Like me, for example.
GIRL 1 [tosses aside her newspaper]: Ease into it. If you’re redecorating, find a design magazine to copy. You don’t need to get fabric swatches and go overboard. Start small by changing your chairs, for example. Then tackle bigger projects.
GIRL 2: If you have a true design phobia, you should hire a therapist. I charge an hourly rate.
BOY: If you’re anxious, assess the situation and see what you’re scared of. It will get less frightening over time.
MONA: I hope so. Next topic. What are your favourite designed spaces in Lagos?
GIRL 2: I like the ramp in Terra Kulture.
BOY: Me, too, and I like the way Terra Kulture is built with natural materials.
GIRL 1: I like that new restaurant, Harvest. It’s glassy and modern with wooden chairs and there’s a garden outside. It’s funky.
GIRL 2: I like Hard Rock Café. It’s like being at a concert with a stage and all the memorabilia on the walls. I also like South Social. You feel like you’re in New York.
MONA: Remember when we first moved to Lagos, we used to go to that one ugly restaurant that was the colour of a bandage and you had to walk by a bathroom with a bathtub in it to get to the toilets? The food was nice but the décor was so depressing, it took away from the experience.
BOY: There are still places in Lagos where the design needs work but it keeps improving.
MONA: Even a design-deficient person like me can see the change. [MONA smiles and types a few lines on her laptop.] I wish there was a way to thank you guys for helping me learn about design today.
GIRL 2 [eyes twinkling]: There is and it’s called 2000 Naira.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.
Follow her on Instagram @mopals5
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