CALABASH ON THE WALL (4TH AUGUST)

Previous Episode

7.22am. It was like world cup final the multitude that assembled on the construction site this morning. Thousands upon thousands of hungry men whose hope for a half-decent meal today rested upon the storey-building now in decking level. There was no way more than one per cent of this mob could work here today but they all remained jammed here, unshaking in their over-confidence, as though the foreman was from Nazareth.

Why didn’t I leave you wonder. Well, I was trapped. I was so trapped I couldn’t move one centimetre left, right or front or back. The man in front of me was not more than a boy but hardship had turned him into rock and he smelt like rotten fish. To have him give way I would have to talk to him—and he might talk to me and the smell would be like opening the city sewage system.

The chap in my right was a fat fellow with a belly as big as seven months pregnancy. If I asked him to make way for me, he might have a miscarriage.

By my left was someone I didn’t really see. I took one look at his hair and I became blind. His hair was so bad it made unkempt hairs look like Romeo. It was as if the hair had been barked with foul egg-water. A dandruff haven. If he had any sense, he would donate his head to the Department of the Study of Bacteria and Other Related Organism instead of looking for work.

The guy behind me was frustration in trousers—his starved mouth, criminal cheekbones and rebellious eyes humbled me. He was here with us but he wasn’t here with us. He had nothing to offer, he couldn’t even afford to pay attention. Life must have given up on him. I left him alone.

The foreman and the contractor were now standing on the scaffold. The contractor was talking into a mega phone. Genius! Public address system to talk to labourers!
‘There are so many of you and we only need eighty labourers,’ he was saying. 80! out of this republic was like taking a mouthful of water out of the Niger. But the contractor should better tread softly. The would-be rejected labourers could destroy the building in seconds. In fact, they can topple a government.

‘This is what we will do,’ the voice of the contractor cracked out. ‘If you know you don’t have a university degree, please leave us.’ Serious dissatisfaction broke out among the labourers. They were saying that this was an insult to labour, that degree-holders should go look for white collar jobs, and leave the field for them, the un-degreed. But they were leaving as they complained. My hope began to rise. Who knows, I could get labourer work courtesy of my degree certificate.

So many of the labourers left including all my neighbours except the dandruff chap. I wondered what university spat this vomit of a being. Or perhaps dandruff had invaded his eardrums and he didn’t hear that he should leave.

Now the remaining labourers were few, but large enough to constitute a national party convention. Too much for the ‘vacancies’. I sighed. The contractor was talking. ‘So many of you, mehn! Now, only master’s degree holders should stay—the rest go.’

Chinekem! Even my degree was insufficient to land me sand-and-cement job. Dismayed (and grateful to leave the dandruff guy) I began to walk away. At the highway I turned and saw about a thousand labourers before the scaffold and heard the employer saying something about Ph.D holders. I laughed in spite of me. You spend years researching and condoling abuses from professors to be called a doctor, then you end up carrying a pan full of liquidated cement on your bald-head to the sky. Hahaha. Soon the contractor might ask for professors. This country is a battle field.

# #
9.17am. There was a small crowd at the newspapers vendor’s. People were reading free newspapers and talking about the latest disease in town. Ebola. They said that the disease had killed thousands in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone and that it was one Liberian Patrick Soya (or Suya, I can’t remember) who brought the disease into Nigeria. They said the disease is so deadly that a mere handshake with a carrier will inflict you, not to talk of hugging or sleeping or eating together. I have now seen the elder brother of HIV Aids. I read some of the headlines:

Ebola Scare in Anambra.
Governor: There is no Ebola in my State.

Escaped Ebola Nurse Should be Shot at Sight—Chidi Mokeme.

Ebola: We are on Top of the Situation—Health Minister.
FG Postpones Schools Resumption Date Indefinitely.

They also said that bats, monkeys and bush meat republic should be avoided as they were Ebola carriers.

‘Please don’t lean on me,’ said a man in three-piece suit whose newspaper I was trying to glance into.

‘It is your father who has Ebola not me.’ I went away. There was this sharp restaurant opposite the vendor across the road. I began to order food even before I sat down. Although I was badly dressed, my confidence oozed with naira. I ordered egusi with eba and cow leg, then fried rice with I-surrender chicken; I ordered a bottle of wine to go with these. Hunger had done me shege and today I would show it that I was no match for it, labourer or no labourer’s job.

When I eat one spoon of rice and second the motion with a slice of chicken hip, I will swallow one ball of eba and tear through cow leg like chewing gum. People were just looking at me as though I was shitting on the table, but I didn’t care. I was having fun, sucking gladly at my fingers when I saw him and my heart stopped beating. He was the three-piece suit guy I had abused at the vendor’s.

‘What do you want?’ I demanded with three-quarter full mouth.

‘I know you took it,’ he said, ‘give it back to me.’

‘Took what? I don’t know what you are talking about!’

His smile didn’t reach his livid eyes. ‘Are you saying you didn’t take my wallet? Now for the last time, give it to me. Pass it to me under the table and I will let the matter die. If you refuse I will raise an alarm and people will gather and search you. I have my international passport and driver’s license in that wallet plus eleven thousand naira.’

People were now staring at us.

‘…If they find the wallet on you, they will lynch you. If you survive the mob, I will have you put in prison for the rest of your miserable life. Gimme the wallet!’

I passed the wallet to him with shaky hand. The smile reached his eyes. ‘You made the right decision.’ He patted my back and was gone.

I looked at the dishes on the table. Now, how would I pay for this mess?
# #

1.30pm. I should be in the Guiness Book of record for the longest breakfast ever eaten. Since that suit guy left with my appetite I had been struggling to eat, and had eaten just one-third of my notorious dish. What was the way out? I needed answers desperately. I didn’t want to close my eyes because this time around Genevieve might come with an AK99. Then I saw Jennifer enter the restaurant and I stamped to my feet with raw hope. ‘Sweet neighbour,’ I hailed.

She didn’t smile but she came and sat at my table.

‘You are a dull guy,’ she said.

I accepted. Whatever she called me, I wasn’t going to argue with my guardian witch. ‘Girl, I need your urgent favour. I need to pay for this.’

She hissed. ‘How long will you live this life? You are either starving or picking pockets to survive. How long will you sustain this?’

I shut my eyes. Witch, witch, witch, how did she know?

‘I have a job for you, bro.’

I opened my eye. ‘The same job that isn’t 100% honest?’

She nodded.

‘I am not interested.’

She shrugged and rose to her feet.

‘Wait. Erm…er… why don’t you pay for my meal then we go home and discuss the job.’

She smiled jeeringly. ‘Now you are talking like one with sense.’
Now I know my life will never remain the same.

Tweets to @Oke4chukwu

This is where the Diary of the Tin-Head takes a small break. Next month is the most important month in the recent history of Nigeria. Next month will make or mar us. I will be participating in the elections and so won’t have time for humour. If I publish in February it will be strictly political, in the spirit of the moment.

I wish to say thanks to you guys for the journey thus far; every single sentence ever typed in this blog I typed because you are interested. God bless.Please pray for dear country. If we survive the polls we have survived eternity. Then we will return the Tin-Head, a richer and funnier diary. Meanwhile I will like to read your feedbacks, most especially the ghost readers who never comment; do share with us your funniest part of this pitiless series so far. (Who knows, this could be our last post ever *winks*). Really wanna hear from you.

*Clicks champagne glasses* For Hard Voices. For Peace.

Advertisements

CALABASH ON THE WALL (3RD AUGUST)

In case you missed 1st August or 2nd August

10am. There is this curious habit I was afflicted with at the university. When we were broke we used to go out and stand beside someone then his wallet would fly from his pocket and enter our pocket. Just like that. It is magical realism. Some people call it pick-pocket but what do people know?—it is an ordinary transfer, foreign exchange.

You remember that abandoned bread/tea I ate/drank in Jennifer’s room? That was what I was still carrying more than twenty-four hours later. And you know that Jennifer is a card-carrying witch and her tea-bread was like Lucifer’s gift—he gives you shoes then take your bow-legs or gives you head-warmer then take your coconut head. So Senior Witch Jennifer gave me three sips of tea last morning and now I was STARVING.

The stop-watch of my starvation was ticking dangerously to my grave and I had to do something. So I dusted my old habit—and decided to take it out where the sun could shine on it.

Today was Sunday but I wasn’t going to church. I was going uptown. I know you would be saying ‘is this guy not a boy of God?’ Yes, yes, I am, I am. But you don’t know anything, foreign exchange is not an iniquity, it’s a play. Isn’t it interesting for somebody’s wallet to jump from his pocket into yours? And if you ain’t lucky it will be your wallet jumping into somebody’s pocket. You see, so don’t think I don’t have conscience, I have plenty con sciences and if my con science doesn’t condemn me, who are you? So I play… on Sunday—why not?

I put on my lesser faded jeans, and threw my ages-hence tee shirt on my carcass. I locked my door, no I jammed it. What was I locking it for? What was there to steal? Everything that could be of value to my neighbours was worthless to me and the only thing I value, my books, was worthless to my neighbours. Who could steal my books? It is easier to find a mosquito brushing his teeth than catch Mama Bege or Chicken Thief Jamaica or notorious B.I.G or deadwood Martins reading.If you want to hide something from these people, put it inside a book. An understatement. If you want to hide them, put them inside a book, they will never find themselves. These people see every paper as potential tissue paper. They would sooner use your certificate to tie akara or agidi than read it. Banza!

So I jammed my door. No one was in the compound except B.I.G shaving the bush between his upper thick lip and his wide nostrils. This guy is always shaving something or the other. One day he would shave off his brain. And when I see the damned thing lying about I would pick it up and throw it into the rubbish bin. Good riddance.

I grumbled to him. He grumbled back. I left.

#                                #

11.38am. I stood beside the junction where four busy roads meet. The place is a bedlam of activities and craziness, even on a Sunday. The way vehicles were speeding, you would think that there was an announcement on radio that the world would fold up tomorrow and people were in violent haste to tie-up their thousand loosed-ends before going to hell. And you need to see the people who sell bread, the way they are breaking Usain Bolt’s record in pursuit of customers inside speeding cars (the Olympic Committee should see this). But some people are wicked o. they would stop their car, buy bread but rather than pay, they would step on the accelerator and let the Usain Bolt bread-sellers pursue their car moving at 120km/hour. It is war.

I stood by the road watching this theatre of absurd.

‘You dey craze, you be thief…’

I turned sideways to see two hefty men beating one thin man. The poor thin was crying and bleeding through the nose but the two heartlesses wouldn’t stop beating him. People were just passing by as though it were lizards fighting. But I wouldn’t allow this. I am a human being. I rushed to separate them but one of the elephants gave me one shove and I landed my leg inside a black gutter. What nonsense! I stepped out of the gutter to challenge the man but discovered I had his wallet in my hand. How did this happen? Perhaps, it was my magical foreign exchange. Perhaps that was his penalty for pushing me into the gutter.

A respectful distance away, I unzipped the wallet and counted a dirty mixture of two hundred and one hundred naira notes which amounted to 3,200 naira. Chewing gum change.There was also a driver’s licence, a permanent voter’s card and a toothpick in the wallet. One mind told me to throw everything into the gutter, but as a boy of God I decided to return the wallet, minus the cash.

#                                #

1.30pm. I entered a barbing saloon. A barber’s shop you will say but barbing saloon was what they wrote on their sign board. Handsome Haircut Barbing Saloon. How was it my business that some people never use their English head? They called it a barbing saloon, so be it. So I entered the barbing saloon and it was a pretentious barbing saloon. There was the silent hum of air conditioning, rich sofas about and executive chair for the barbee. A plasma TV set stood overhead like a hawk ready to pounce.

The barber was the most handsome man I have seen this month. He was tall and possessed a face that resembled a toll gate. And his mouth was so long, like fishing hook.It is the kind of mouth you would never miss. A lucky chap. He could sit in his shop and stretch his mouth and kiss his wife in London, walahi. Intercontinental kiss.

And his eyes, computer eyes. They were the kind of eyes that were not in peace and harmony; while this eye was looking left the other one was looking south-south. As the guy was cutting my hair one eye was on my head and the other was watching AIT. Lucky chap. If you hire this guy to guard your house, you got to pay him double. This eye would be guarding against armed robbers and the other guarding against kidnapers. Double-edged eyes.

Then I saw the price-list, Adult haircut—1500 naira,and I had a mini heart attack. If I survive this, I swear, I will start keeping dada.

#                                #

3.15pm. As soon as I stepped into the restaurant, I realised I had made a mistake. The restaurant was pure VIP. The drapes in the windows, the flowers, the dim light, the silence all smelt naira. The tiled floor was so polished that I was sorry walking on it. The room was half-filed with diners who were looking at me like I was trespassing their father’s bedroom, so I quickly sat down on the nearest chair and hung my legs on air. I lifted the menu, pure suicide. The only thing I could really afford here was toothpick and I had over a thousand naira with me. If I ordered to my satisfaction I would certainly do their dishes to pay off. I sighed.

‘What can we offer you?’ a well-suited waiter asked me.

I looked at his fixed smile. ‘Not now, I am waiting for someone.’

He looked at my shabby clothing. ‘Someone special I guess.’

‘Yes, I am actually waiting for Genevieve.’

He smirked, nodded and left.

I looked at the menu. Liver sauce—700 naira, salad—800 naira, rice… I looked away. They should have just taken guns and go rob the highway.

I really wanted to leave, but the shame that would escort me out of this place wouldn’t let me stand up. I shut my eye, to think of a way out. It was then that I saw Genevieve. She was standing at the door in all her beauty and elegance, looking at me adoringly. I looked back, no one behind me. It was really me she was looking at! I rose to my feet. She opened her arms. I rushed into the warmest and softest hug of the year.

‘I love you so much,’ she said,‘and I miss you like crazy.’

I thought I was dreaming. I held her face in my hands and she closed her eyes. Her lips were inviting. Slowly I began to move my lips towards hers—

‘Hey, wake up!’

I opened my eyes. So it was all a dream. ‘We want to close,’ the waiter told me. It was indeed pitch dark outside.

Something sparked inside me. ‘Why didn’t you give me three minutes extra time? Why did you wake up me now?!’

‘Because…’

I lifted a chair and hurled. He dodged. I lifted another. He ran. I pursued. ‘Do you know what you interrupted?’ We were knocking chairs and tables out of the way as we ran. I hurled another chair, it missed him. I lifted up another.For snatching Genevieve from me he must pay with his life.

Tweets to @Oke4Chukwu