When the fourth bottle hit his teeth, his inner eyes flicked open and he saw the problems of Nigeria as clear as he saw the half-drunk beer in his shaky hand. He slammed the bottle on the table and let out a satisfactory belch. ‘Barman,’ he bellowed, wild-eyed, ‘get me pen and paper—quick!’
The barmaid ignored him and continued to attend to the endless sea of thirsty sharks on the tables.
‘Foolish man,’ he cursed the barmaid, ‘mortal fool.’ He whined his buttocks around to the couple drinking right at his right. The couple had pepper soup and stouts on their table and seemed happy. This couple reminded him of himself and Uche. He had come here with Uche a couple of years back. Before he married Uche, before they gave birth to Mark and Evelyn, before he lost his job, before the fights, before Uche packed out leaving him with kids between two and five years old. And more terrific, before the landlord’s atomic quit notice. But he wouldn’t think about these, his problems; he had a bigger thought, Nigerian problems. He needed pen and paper.
He lifted his hands up, threw them forward, meaning to land on the couple’s table but he had ostensibly misjudged the distance and landed on the floor like weak spittle. But he wasn’t un-gatherable. He sat on the floor.
‘Shit.’ He shot a pair of watery eyes pityingly on the couple. ‘Pen and paper’ as though begging for life and prosperity. Embarrassed, the man threw him his pen, ‘Get paper elsewhere’. The woman stuffed a liberal chunk of her tissue paper in his hand.
‘Haha,’ cheerfully. ‘Good citizens,’ he hailed, rose frailly to his feet, fought the air to remain on his feet then pushed his buttocks backward, seat-ward. He was few inches short, he crashed on the floor. ‘Bastards,’ he cursed no one, every one. He walked on his knees to his table, grabbed it and hurled himself up like a bucket of trash. He rested on the table for a moment then made for his seat. This time around his buttocks hit the eagle’s eye.
Seated, he discovered that he had dropped the tissue paper. He cursed in three languages as he contemplated the daunting task of going down to retrieve the paper; impossible, he concluded bitterly and spat empty phlegm on the air.
On the table the problems of Nigeria continued to stare at him.
He paused with his pen over the table like a dictator about to sign a death decree. But there was no paper; he wrote on the table, no ink appeared. For inspiration he grabbed the bottle and stopped, hey, where on earth would he take the drink to? Through his mouth or nostrils or eyes or ears, where? He needed inspiration, but the only way to get the inspiration on where to put the beer was to drink the beer. He gave up on the bottle. ‘Barman! Another bottle!’
Automatically, he began to remove the labels from the consumed bottles. He made a bad work of two bottles but got two labels three-quarterly intact. He belched and guffawed congratulations to his saturated wit. He began to write on one label. His turgid mind could only make a mess of the writing; his graph was so indecipherable, it could be Arabic, Korean or Chinese. But it was all right for him, since he mouthed his way through:
Lullaby for my their Country
Today, having finalised my assessment of the depth of the quagmire this country is bedevilled in, I certified it infantile; 100 years after Lugard’s girlfriend christened King George V’s latest territorial acquisition Nigeria, the land has gone from its embryonic knees to its belly, and gone from crawling to dire stagnation. It can as well go to sleep, the ragged baby, and cover its obtuse face in a blanket of shame. So, gathering what Achebe terms ‘brutal courage’ and smarting with Dostoevsky’s ‘positive hostility’ I begin to sing it its lethal lullaby.
The barmaid knocked on his table. Reluctantly, he lifted his head from his quintessence essay and gave her a sick, blank face. She dropped the fifth bottle on the table, ‘Pay’.
‘Pay for what, barman?’
‘Your drink,’ defiantly.
Drink? For a moment his head couldn’t solve the enigma of a drink, what was a drink?
‘Pay me,’ impatiently.
She shook the bottle and he half-remembered. He had been drinking something, it could be coke, zobo, water, anything; some time ago, it could be today, yesterday, two years ago, before independence. And who the hell was she, asking him to lose his money? Lugard’s girlfriend or his daughter?
‘You should pay me,’ she shook him.
He suddenly became extremely angry; hateful at the country, at Lugard, at Lugard’s girlfriend and at Lugard’s daughter standing before him. He slapped his breast pocket, no wallet there. He hissed and pinched this hip and that, no wallet. He slapped his breast again.
‘Check your back pocket.’
He nearly slapped her large mouth, the ‘barman’. But he knew he would never reach the distance of her face, and where would he find his hands, anyway? He reached for his back pocket, anyway. The ritual of unzipping the wallet couldn’t be done, his fingers couldn’t trap the slippery zip head and his mind couldn’t tell whether to draw the zip left or right, up or down.
The barmaid snatched the wallet and removed money for six bottles. She dropped the wallet on the table. If he called for a sixth bottle, it was already paid, if he didn’t she would have to give him his change. He…
He had resumed writing. He couldn’t remember the last thing he had written, in fact, he was writing on a fresh label paper, no heading, just writing.
…the other day four thousand job slots opened in the Nigerian Custom or was it the Nigerian Prison? Something like that. Seven million unemployed people applied for the jobs. Seven million divided by 4000? That is 1750 tigers fighting for one cat’s job. And the government stuffed these millions in stadiums sitting just five thousand people. Then they said, ‘on your marks, set’ and blew the whistle. Hundreds of thousands of applicants, a quarter of them pregnant women began struggling to get through one gate. Half of them were stamped on the ground until shit came out of their mouth. To compensate the death, government gave their families five job slots on the Custom, Tsk. While this was on,70 years old men were in the national conference, discussing the way forward for the country, sleeping most of the time but sure of one million naira per week…
He lifted his eyes from the essay and looked at the bottles on the table. He was thirsty but he couldn’t say which of the five bottles contained liquor. He stared at the bottles; they stared back at him like identical siblings. He picked one of the bottles up at random and pushed it to his mouth. He sucked for a full minute before he discovered it was empty. He let it fall on the floor. Miraculously, the bottle didn’t break. He grabbed the second bottle. Fifteen seconds of sucking nothing, he discovered it was empty. He dropped it on the floor. The bottle shattered.
‘Two hundred naira,’ the barmaid shouted.
‘Fuck you.’ He lifted another bottle. Half of the content poured on his shirt before he discovered it wasn’t empty, before it entered his nose, then his mouth. He quickly brought the bottle out as the strong drink rushed to his brain, burning his skull like hot asphalt. ‘Haaah,’ he bleated like a goat in labour. For a moment, he didn’t know where he was. If you told him he was in a church, he wouldn’t argue.
He became helpless as bitterness, regret and nullifications crawled from his stomach into his mouth as ill-digested alcohol. He tried to push them back but it was useless, easier to push back a lorry with a foot. He threw his head back but only succeeded in having the blackish green murky beer pouring on his chest, a small, steady tap. Now, he was sure he would be drowned by his own vomit. Didn’t they say the world wouldn’t be destroyed by water again? Did they exclude alcohol? They were right after all, he wasn’t drowned; the unwanted dam came to a stop after covering his chest like a liquid table cloth. Thankfully, he took a liberal gulf from the bottle.
He found his pen but couldn’t see any of his writing pads. He removed the label on this bottle and proceeded to write… what was he writing? He couldn’t tell. But it wasn’t about his impending homelessness, no; it was about some blurred bestiary of the mishits of Lugard’s beautiful creation, Nigeria. He resumed writing.
To be or not to be, that is not the question; to survive or not to survive, that is the question. Whether it isn’t cowardly to remain in the shores of this country during the elections, to burn or be maimed. Elections our sweet Achilles’ heels, 2015, perhaps the final straw.2015, the battle of the titans. Between the lucky one and the ordained rulers of Nigeria. Power is a powerful toxicant and the lucky one has taken a glass too much, it is now even criminal to let go. The ruling clan must regain their lost grandfather’s throne by all means and rescue it from the corruption of the aboriginal minority. It is not a manifesto dispute but a battle of rights, a battle of inheritance, a war of thrones. None is the winner but the perpetual loser is the common man whose worship place will be sacked, whose wretched hut will be razed, whose daughter will be raped and whose son will have a tire put around his neck, dolled ample petrol and sent to hell, 2015!
At this stage electricity was restored and the beer parlour shone with reluctant brightness, highlighting the shabbiness of the place. The lodgers were happy. ‘Up Nepa!’ they shouted with shameless gyration. Nepa was the former name of the electricity regulating agency, before they were sold, re-sold and re-sold again. No one knew their present name, so everyone referred to them with their ancient acronym.
‘Music, barmaid,’ the not so drunk lodgers called. They wanted to enjoy the ultimate utility of the light. They wouldn’t have seen electricity until it was dark and then there wouldn’t be music because the generating set couldn’t carry the amplifier and the speakers. Nepa could carry anything on earth, so they called on her.
The drunk man stopped writing, his pen suspended in mid-air like a frozen hawk held by supernatural powers over a platoon of chicken. He didn’t know what he was waiting for but as soon as the voice of Lucky Dube hit his ears he understood. He was waiting for inspiration.
So far so good we still living today
But we don’t know what tomorrow brings
In this crazy world
People dying like flies every day…
Half of the lodgers, some so drunk they had to lean on other drunks, filed out and crowded the tiny dance floor like wet ducks out to dry in the sun. The voice of Lucky Dube rose in cadence as he began to echo, ‘Living in, living in this crazy world’. The dancers intensified their waist shaking and buttocks whining.
A crazy world indeed, the drunk nodded his head. That would be the title of his paper, Crazy World. It must be a crazy world for a country that had just been declared the largest economy in Africa to pay its workers a meagre 3.80 dollars a day, 600 naira, as minimum wage; it must be crazy for 170 million people to share 3000 megawatts of electricity; crazy for a master’s degree holder to be without a job, to be abandoned by his wife and turned into a baby-sitter; crazy, crazy world, affirmed the drunk as he rose to his feet and began a feeble journey to the dance hall, a bottle in his armpit while his hand held his trousers from falling. The convivial atmosphere not only suited his amused cynicism but gave him fake effervescence.
There was no space for the drunk at the dance floor and already his waist was too heavy with liquor to obey his will to whine, so he just stood with his shoulder squat, dancing with only his concrete head.
…Little boy went down on his knees
And he said:
“Oh Lord Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
And if I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
These words struck him, breaking his heart. Oh Lucky, oh Lucky, he bit his lip. Lucky Dube knew all the answers. And they killed him…
An enormous lady dancing in an ugly circle with her rake-thin partner knocked the drunk man down with her mountainous backside. He was about to hurl abuses on her when she stepped on his groin. He groaned with pain instead. Then he understood—she killed Lucky Dube, this evil woman; Prophet Dube sang about Nigeria and she killed him. Evil woman, Lugard’s girlfriend!
He began to weep like a child, whimpering with giant tears falling from enormous red eyes; crying for his lost bride, for his poor kids, for his eminent homelessness, for the country’s poverty, for the country’s trials and errors, and for the murder of Lucky Dube by Fat Mrs Lugard. As he wept the fat woman continued to push her buttocks around like a driverless tractor, knocking down every human obstacle on the way.