Two Bottles of Beer in Search of Grace

Chuks walked out of the firm and dragged his feet to Madam Ifok’s beer parlour. The room was empty save for an old man struggling with a chicken lap, seated before a skinny girl trying not to show her disgust. Chuks dropped his file on a chair and sat on it. ‘Big stout,’ he ordered. A dirty maid brought him the drink.

‘I can’t get the job,’ he muttered.

‘Huh,’ said the girl. ‘You talk to me?’

‘I don’t talk to lice,’ he said.

The girl quickly withdrew.

‘Hey, am I gonna uncork the bottle with my fucking teeth?’

The girl came and uncorked the drink with quaky hand.

‘And get me a glass, fool!’

Madam Ifok, a mass of stumbling flesh held together by ill-tailored blouse that revealed tired cleavage and a massive skirt that swayed to a secret rhythm, brought the glass herself. She put the glass before Chuks and placed a fleshy hand on his shoulder.

‘Take it easy bro. You are not the only one carrying Nigeria on the shoulder.’

Two bottles later, Chuks left, ready to meet his comrades. It was just four o’clock, no need to hurry. He crossed Herbert Macaulay Road, dodging beggars, hawkers and the busy idle. Just before the dirt road that led to his street, Chuks grimaced at the sight of over one hundred okada riders. Half of these commercial motorcyclists are graduates, Chuks thought. Now see where they were crouched on their motorcyclists, dry-lips, waiting for non-existent passengers; everyone now prefer to trek, no one has 50 naira to burn on a lift when one can boast of two k-legs.

A little sun can’t kill anyone, Chuks decided; in fact, a little sun is good for everyone—Vitamin K, something like that, he couldn’t remember. So people trek while these okada men starve. Shame, Chuks concluded.

At the alley that led directly to their compound, Chuks stopped to ease himself.

‘Dey no de piss for dia o,’ someone—an idiot child, of course—shouted at him.

Chuks ignored him and poured half a gallon of acid on the wall. He zipped up and began to make away. No one chastised him, talked to him even. No one who had a grain of sense would talk to a red-eyed leopard, no one.

Inside the compound, Chuks stopped dead. Ben, Peter and Ayo stood in the middle of the compound as thugs threw their things outside. He saw the righteous caretaker standing an honourable distance from the eviction party, one hand on his pocket, the other hand directing cigarette to and from black lips. He didn’t appear to see Chuks, in fact as far as he was concerned Chuks was dead and his ghost, invisible.

Some tenants peeped from their windows, helpless, half-entertained, half-warned.

‘What nonsense is this?’ Chuks stabbed the air. No one answered him. His file had suddenly became too heavy for his hands. Not finding a suitable place to drop it, he took fervid steps to the caretaker with the load. The man smelt like he had fallen on a heap of tobacco and refused to get up for two days. ‘Man, stop this. You are pushing us into deep quagmire!’ But he should have known that grammar wouldn’t solve the problem.

His stomach grumbled with undigested stout; it was his fault that this was happening. He had the rent a couple of days back, he had it! But he threw it into the lagoon. A graduate, how could he had let someone dupe him, at his age! Their drinking bucket of water landed on the centre of the compound and broke.

‘Stop that!’

Their only chair landed outside.

Just like grammar, shouting wouldn’t help. Chuks decided to try something, his last shot before the gutter. ‘Which of you have call credit?’ he asked his comrades. They ignored him; they didn’t look at him, but he knew their eyes accused him.

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‘Hey guys, I understand how you feel but I must make this call,’ he urged.

Ben, not bothering to turn, handed over his phone. ‘I only have thirty naira.’

‘It will do.’ Chuks walked to a discrete corner of the compound dialled James’ number.

‘You got the job?’ James asked him.

‘That is not important, Jimmy; we are been evicted from the room!’

‘What do you want me to do? I gave you the rent and you blew it! You blew it, didn’t you?’

‘This is no time for blame, Jim. Listen, the landlord’s wife is your tribal woman.’

‘So?’

‘Call her and plead with her to call her husband and plead with him to call the bloody caretaker and give us two weeks grace!’ It was a long shot even to Chuks.

James sighed.

‘Just do it, bro.’

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