Have you read 1ST AUGUST?
8am. Abacha kicked my door open and two thugs jumped in and began to throw my things outside. I didn’t argue with them, I simply stood outside waiting for them to finish so that I could pack books in my Ghana Must Go bag and start my journey of the magi, a journey of how to become a street millionaire in one week.
The co-tenants were going about their businesses as though my evacuation was happening in Togo or inside their inherited black and white TV set. B.I.G stood in the latrine corner shaving the forest under his armpit. Mama Bege was bathing her son in front of her room and making nose in the name of singing. Her voice was so bad I shut my ear with my mind’s fingers. Martins must have died in his room. That chicken thief Jamaica didn’t even bother peeping, but his scent of marijuana represented him in the hostile atmosphere. Chicken thief kawai.
Abacha was through and was locking my door—my ex-door—with a brand new padlock when Jennifer came out. She was leaning on her door with eyes that still wanted sleep. She wore a white spotless single and what this did to her bosom was distracting, but thankfully I had immunity against temptation, I didn’t look at her figure more than twice.
‘What is going on here?’ Jennifer asked, her small voice the colour of honey.
‘Evacuation,’ Abacha said and turned to go, his two gorillas on his heels.
‘Wait,’ Jennifer’s mouth was tight with smooth impatience. ‘You can’t evacuate HIM just like that, it is inhuman.’
Abacha looked at her with black rage. He began talking without unclenching his teeth. ‘He hasn’t paid and his one month grace is over!’
Jennifer wasn’t impressed. ‘Even the Federal Government owes. Can someone go to Aso Rock and throw the president’s things out because FG owes.’
‘Don’t Jennifer me. Unlock the door and return his things.’ Jennifer spoke. Calmly, confidently, like a four star general. Who was this Jennifer? Who could talk this way to almighty Abacha and have him listen? My heart began to beat with hope.
‘Who is going to pay his rent?’ Abacha bellowed.
‘There is enough time to discuss that. Unlock the fucking door.’
The way Abacha’s body was shaking with frustration if you passed with a lighter it would set his body ablaze. Then he turned and gave me an evil look that would kill a young cat. But he dropped the key and shot out of the compound like a cock of a champagne bottle.
Jennifer winked at me and I almost hugged her.
# # #
9am. I knocked on Jennifer’s door. I hadn’t thanked her for saving me from the gutter and that I was here to do. Jennifer wasn’t my friend and we couldn’t call ourselves good neighbours so I wasn’t excited coming to say thank you. It was a cold thanksgiving. I was a little ashamed. A WHOLE me, going to thank a girl for saving me from the streets. Chai, this world cares very little about my self-esteems. At this stage, even one cartoon of detergent cannot wash the shame off my garment, for a generation.
Jennifer opened the door and I nearly ran away. But (shame is a shameless thing) I stood my ground, somehow. It was too early in the day to run, and it was too late anyway. Jennifer beamed her milk-white teeth at me.
‘Hello,’ I said but my voice was so far away, inside my belly, for Jennifer to hear. I cleared my throat. ‘Come inside,’ she said, ‘I am about to have breakfast.’
I swear I wanted to say no but as a gentleman I knew it was bad behaviour to say no to a lady. And didn’t she mention breakfast? Who cared about breakfast? I was a gentleman and I would never say no to a lady, although I hadn’t eaten since 4am yesterday. I went in.
What I saw in her room made me realise how shabby I was; compared to this I was living in a rat hole. The rug on my feet felt like mattress. The walls were covered with velvet drapes. There was the giant plasma TV set, the home theatre system, the fridge, a real standing fan (not my wall leaning type) took one plush corner. A queen sized bed took a lion share of the rug. One third of the room was partitioned off with curtains. Her wardrobe and food stuff must be hidden there. Her air-freshener filled my belly with angry happiness. I couldn’t believe my room was sharing wall with this chalet. It was like a Nollywood shrine sharing walls with Obama’s White House. Inferiority complex began to make my head sway.
‘Sit down,’ Jennifer’s voice cut through my thoughts. Have I told you that Jennifer was tall? She was tall, too tall, like a basketballer. And she loved wearing high-heeled shoes, so that when she walked she could easily kiss the sky. Well, it was a good height, for someone who had only male visitors (alias course mates) it was a good thing to be high and looking down on cement-strong bald heads and weedy moustaches.
I sat down on the mattress, it was so soft I refused to allow all my strength enter my buttocks. I just sat like a dry leaf about to fall off the stem. Jennifer made for the stool-table with a tray, with a giant bread, a steaming kettle and tea cups.
‘How did you get Abacha off my back?’ I asked.
Jennifer laughed a jaunty laugh. She placed a steaming cup of tea between my legs on the rug.
‘Abacha is an evil man, how did you get to humble him?’ I asked after I took a sip from the rich tea. This must be the kind of tea Queen Elizabeth drank when she visited Nigeria, except that this one didn’t cost 8 billion naira.
In response to my question, Jennifer laughed a jauntier laugh. I took a bite on a slice. ‘I wonder how long Abacha will stay off my neck.’
Jennifer only laughed. I froze. I looked at Jennifer with a new eye. Could it be that breeze had entered her head or some nut in her medulla oblongata was getting rusty? Why all this laughter, like a freshly mad? If she were a personal friend I would have advised her to get to a mechanic and have her head opened and pour engine oil on rusty nuts. But what was my concern?
Jennifer came and sat beside me. The speedometer of my heart-beat increased slightly. Her hair smelt sweet. Her weave-on was the air-freshener my room was in dire need of!
‘Why are you poor?’
The question hit me like a blow in the mouth in pitch darkness. It was unexpected. To say it was a stupid question is like saying that a spoilt orange is rotten; it could have been messed with, crushed, poisoned but not necessarily rotten. It was a Jamb question but not really a Jamb question. In Jamb questions, you can at least always do ‘Computer, take away two incorrect options leaving horse with one incorrect option and one wrong option’. You pick the wrong option and you fail Jamb woefully, honourably. There was no honour in Jennifer’s question…
‘Are you offended by the question?’
She laughed loud and long. I decided to it was time to leave this mad girl alone.
This handshake had gone beyond the elbow and was making for my neck.
‘…I don’t just see why you should be poor,’ Jennifer was saying. ‘I mean no harm, just wondering aloud. You have no right to be poor: you are a graduate, confident, intelligent, good English, good looking…’
I was already on the door. ‘Thanks for saving me from Abacha and thanks for the tea.’ I reached for the door handle.
‘Are you ready to earn money in a manner that is not entirely honest but not entirely dishonest?’
My hand was held tight on the knob like magnet. I turned and faced Jennifer, my face beaming with so much righteousness that if rapture happened now, I would make heaven on face value, transported first class. ‘I am sorry,’ I said with the voice of a bishop, ‘but I don’t do things that are not entirely honest.’ I could feel my nose enlarging, like balloon filled with proud air. I added, ‘I may be poor but I am a true Christian.’
Jennifer’s face was crippled with amazement.
I opened the door. As soon as my leg touched outside her voice split into my ears.
‘Eating stolen chicken in the middle of the night is entirely honest, Mr Christian!’ I slammed the door but even inside my room I could hear the ring of her laughter inside the crust of my ears, witch.
# # #
8pm. Have I told you that I am a writer? Well, I write this diary, I am a writer. If you Google my name you will see a link to my dusty twitter handle, you won’t find me in Wikipedia with a list of my published works; but I do have a list—a list of rejection slips from major publishers in the west if that is what you want. But I am a writer whatever; I write short insufferable poems that don’t appeal to anyone except my depressed state of being. Since that witch Jennifer mentioned stolen chicken I had been locked in my room writing one poem and another, rejecting them all.
Jennifer was a witch, a super-witch, she had to be to have such power over Abacha, and to know about Jamaica’s stolen chicken. Now, all my poems have crude chicken imagery: ‘Fowl play’, ‘chicken pause’, ‘Jamaican import’, ‘animal farm’, ‘bird flew’, ‘cock and bull verse’… stupid, I tore everything up.
A knock sounded on the door.
‘Who is that?’
‘It is me.’ Jamaica.
I yanked the door open. ‘What do you want?’ I shouted at the chicken thief. The smell of marijuana tried my patience like a mad fly at siesta.
‘Please… erm…er…you fit borrow me five thousand naira?’ Jamaica said.
Can you believe that! Me, borrow who what, for why, how? Weed has entered somebody’s head but I can cure it. I clenched my hand into an angry fist and gave Jamaica a Samuel Peters in the centre of his weedful stomach. He just folded like an old newspaper with pain. ‘What ar-re y-you d-doing?’
‘I am giving you five thousand.’ I weaved my fist over my head three times like a dibia then smashed Jamaica’s face with another sledgehammer blow. Jamaica just collapsed like my standing fan when you shift it from the wall.
I shut my door. When he woke up tomorrow I would give him the remaining three thousand. Ewu like him!
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