Alcohol has never been my forte. This does not stem from a cause for piety or instruction from the parson. I do not like the taste or particularly enjoy a hangover. So I stay clear of the bottle whenever I can. But when you’re out with the guys, I mean…
“Let’s have another” Kola said.
“This is the fifth bottle” I replied. “There’ll be hell to pay in the morning I laughed.
Kola and I (Chukwuma) were on our youth service corps program. After the civil war the Nigerian army (who of course, were in power then) came up with a brilliant idea to foster correlation between all tribes in the nation. After a university degree a one year mandatory service to the nation was required. The army sent you to the very ends of Nigeria to serve and impact whichever community you be posted to. The way it usually worked was, depending on where you hailed from and the part of the country your university sat; you’d be posted as far away from these places to engage in community service. If you were lucky you would find a good school with appropriate accommodation where feeding would be provided, or a ministry job. If you had “connections” you’d settle down in a nice bank or international organization nearby. If neither lady luck nor “long legs” knew you, you’d get the ends of the earth and a real chance to mix with the locals. Kola and I fell under the last category. We got posted to a place (whose name I can’t pronounce nor care to) at the very border with Cameroun. With the recent seceding of some part of that area to Cameroun the locals were not sure whether they were in or out. Neither were we.
“This place is part of Nigeria, abi?” I asked Kola on getting there.
“Of course, if it wasn’t we wouldn’t get the posting would we?”
Soon after, I left the place for as close to two months to engage in more enterprising ventures in Lagos. I asked Kola to cover for me with promises to fulfill his every wish when I returned. I came back after two month with a pocket full of money and an ego the size of a very large mammal. Lagos was good, with promises to be better. I had been involved in consultancy to a budding fish farm which overlooked my being very green in the area of work experience. To my benefit every practice I put in place to make the farm efficient worked superlatively. I became a god in their eyes, nothing short of a genius, and was pampered as such. When I told them I had to leave to round up my youth service corps they were close to tears. “I’ll be back in a month just follow every guideline I’ve shown and everything would be cool” I told them as they I left for my town on the edge of Nigeria. Kola and I studied veterinary medicine, He; at the University of Jos, and I; at the University of Ibadan.
On getting back to our place of posting I met Kola looking quite stressed out, but real robust indeed.
“Guy, you really put on weight, what have you been eating?” I asked alarmed.
“They treat you like a king here” he said smiling.
The smile didn’t get to his eyes which had several rings under them.
“You didn’t say that like you meant it” I chuckled. With a severe deadpan he replied
“We have to get out of here Chukwuma, there something wrong with this place. I can’t sleep at night except when I have had a lot to drink”
“Kola you don’t need to give me excuses to drink. You and I know beer to you is like fins to a fish”
Kola smiled again and this time the smile got to his eyes.
“Don’t worry, I have employment waiting for us in Lagos and as for this town, right here, right now; ask and it shall be given unto you” I said flailing my arms with grandeur. What do you want?” I asked
“Beer” he replied
We both burst out laughing.
Beer was hard to come by, the locals had liquor they brewed themselves and you could get that for free. In fact, if you dug anywhere for as close as thirty centimeters; it would come rushing up in geysers.
They brewed it from fermenting plantain and added enough herbs to colour it brown and make it taste like it smelt – roasted nuts. It was rather pleasant; for someone who didn’t like alcohol, that’s giving it a lot of credit. Kola had had enough of it and it had begun to make him sick.
“Chukwuma, buy me star lager, please”. He said eyes beseeching.
“Okay” I said. “After we are done with work,what is it we do around here anyway?”
“You’ll see” he said smiling impishly.
We walked away from Kola’s quarters; where the locals had put him up. The quarters were very clean and his every need was tended to. My quarters had been made ready and my things were being moved (talk about service, you could have your bank job for all I care). We walked from Kola’s house (which was very close to the lodging of the villagers) toward the farms. My lodgings, Kola told me were a bit off. I would to stay near the chief’s house. The chief wanted me handy to take care of his animals. Kingly privileges you’d say. Kola had begged for the locals to put me up with him. “No” they said, the chief wanted someone close.
“Don’t tell you are still having problems sleeping” I chastised Kola.
“You would not understand” he replied.
I didn’t, I slept like a log from exhaustion after my trip from Lagos.
We finally arrived at of port of call. Somewhere in their farms the locals had pens where they reared goats and this was the greatest gathering of goats I had ever seen in my life. The pens stretched as far as the eyes could see. The goats were huge, no doubt well taken care of. Kola laughed at me through his sleepy eyes. He was much shorter than I was and had to look up to take in my facial expression - mouth wide open and all for his amusement. I looked down at him; mouth still open. He had told me the morning after our night together that it was the first time he had had a goodnight’s sleep (he had lost one or two rings) since he came to that town and that’s probably why he begged for us to stay together.
“That’s what we do around here” Kola said emphatically pointing at the goats.
It was really queer. I had been to villages all over Nigeria and it was common to find rams sprinkled with goats and occasional cattle but these people dealt with goats only; as many as king Solomon had wives and concubines. I mean… couldn’t these guys do with a couple. I guess not, if King Solomon couldn’t do with one. Kola was really laughing now. It was good to see him laugh.
“These children” he said throwing his hand over the hairy mass “are just as important to the state government as they are to the people. Meat processing is coming to town and these are the raw materials, show love” he concluded as he beckoned me to follow him to a shed where our supplies were kept. On opening the shed he handed me a stack of disposable rubber gloves.
“For you, sir” he said laughing. I still had not been able to get the morose off my face as I looked at the gazillion goats. Bracing up I slipped on a pair of gloves.
“What are we looking at?” I inquired sounding tough.
“Foot and mouth disease” Kola replied. “Let’s hope they done get something more severe before the service year is over. If they do let it come towards the end of the service year and let the next set of unfortunate corpers handle it. Separate, the severe cases and put them in the pen over there for an increased dosage, the easy ones; administer immediately. We start over at that pen. As you can see while you were doing “big man” in Lagos I have been busy working. With you here we might be done in a month.” Kola said laughing heartily
“It better be a month, so we can have the last month to ourselves as we round up the service year” I said joining in though I didn’t find a damn thing funny.
After that came cajoling, wrestling and slapping the animals to get injected, Kola laughed at my intolerance.
“I’m glad you are here” Kola said watching me fumble with the animals.
“I’m not” I replied and we burst out laughing again
The villagers joined us at dusk to help out. They came from their farms as they retired for the day. They wouldn’t go to bed without seeing their precious animals. They also came to help out; their animals being precious and all. As darkness approached the locals produced battery lit lamps, they intended for us to keep working. But I wasn’t having that.
“Is that how you’ve been working I asked Kola”
“That’s why you haven’t been sleeping”
“Someone tell these guys were going home” I yelled at the top of voice and dragged Kola home leaving the locals to translate.
Like I said beer was difficult to come by. There was only one “watering hole” where you could get star lager beer. It was a wooden shed run by the wife of the headmaster of the town secondary school. A fat woman who laughed infectiously and made you spend more. This place was frequented by out-of-towners on business or those passing through. Some locals also came around but only for the camaraderie. They practically loved their brew and drank nothing else. The headmaster’s wife sold some of it to the out-of-towners who had developed a taste for it as added enterprise. The locals brought theirs in massive jars. We were on our fourth bottle of Kola’s beloved star lager when Kola asked for another bottle. Hanging around Kola in the past few weeks had developed my taste for alcohol, that and my plan to spite my girlfriend Anita.
I have known Anita since my days in the university. I met her through a mutual friend at a party and since then she has waited on my every breath. Thing is, she always puts up this ‘I don’t care’ wall any time she’s around me and to break that wall has been my raison d’être. I found that I make chinks in that wall whenever I upset her. She doesn’t exactly cry but emotions begin swimming all over her face and anything I ask for after that is given to me speedily. So it is for these reasons I have taken up the bottle. Anita hates my drinking. She was all full of feeling and ecstatic when I told her that I didn’t drink. That awe wore off the longer we knew each other, and I want those emotions and I intend to shock them out of her. My goal is to push my intake to six bottles before she comes to see me next week. When she comes round I intend act all nice tell her of my achievements in Lagos, take her to see the goats (which Kola and I are almost through with) play the superhero… then go drinking, making her tag along so I’ll show her how easy I can handle six bottles.
This evening Kola asked for a fifth bottle and I obliged. If I can do five I can do six. As we tore into our fifth bottles, I looked down at the ground and tried to count all the beer corks that littered the floor forming a collage of colours. The corks had been pressed permanently into the soft ground by the feet of thirsty men searching for companions at the bottom of the bottles or at the bottom or calabashes as this is what the locals drank their brew with. The corks made a good finish for an otherwise bare floor. The headmaster’s wife must have been pleased at this cost effective flooring for her little establishment.
“Corper” she called out in cajolery. “Number six?” She inquired.
“Yes” Kola screamed out absolutely inebriated.
She laughed “You nko Chukwuma?”
“I want some of that” I said pointing at the local brew.
“Okay I give you that one for free” she said and went off to fetch some.
Once she had left Kola drew close with ardent candour;
“You are not to mix your drinks it could turn out very bad”
He breathed into my face and that made me retch. I pushed him away still looking at the beautifully decorated floor
“Shift, I’m buying so I get to make the rules” I said. “Riddle me this” I continued “How do the villagers handle predators, don’t the goats get preyed on out there in the bush?”
“They don’t” Kola replied with hurt in his tone. “They said Opkotobogo takes care of the animals”
“Opkotobogo” I said very comically staring sidelong at Kola. I had upset him and was trying to make him laugh. It worked; we both burst out laughing without reserve, drawing annoyed stares from the locals. We dared to laugh at their beliefs.
“My turn to ask a question” Kola said. “How would Anita be able to get here?”
“Easy, I’ve given her appropriate directions and I’m sure once she gets to town she will be shown to my quarters. Everyone here knows who we are, remember here we are gods” I said opening my arms to the heavens, face up, with near hysteria in my eyes. Kola laughed and I joined in. By the time I came back down to earth my local brew was before me along with a much smaller calabash filled with salt. Kola tore off the cork of his lager with his teeth and took one huge gulp.
“Madam” I asked “What it the salt for?”
“Corper, it would make the drink sweeter”
“I don drink am before” I said in Pidgin English. “It tastes great like that”
“Eh for this one time drink am with salt”
“Better do it, Kola said with fear in his eyes the villagers gather on some nights and drink the brew with salt. It is superstition, they say Opkotobogo demands it.”
“I do not believe in superstition and I know not Opkotobogo” I said with a growl, finished the calabash of brew with one gulp, flung the calabash and slammed enough money for five bottles of star. “Drink your fill and bring the change for me if there’s any I chuckled”
“No, no, no, take salt” one of the locals called after me as I proceeded to leave. “Opkotobogo will not like it” he appealed. I knew him; he worked with the local government and was the one who always supplied us with drugs for the animals. He had the most offensive beer belly. It was so large it shone. It contested for skin with his rib cage and for space with his undersize French coat. I had reason to believe he hoarded some of the drugs allocated to us so he could sell them off to other farmers in another town. I looked at him with disdain. I had something to say about his belly but only laughed. Kola was in the same state of drunkenness so he laughed too. I bounded off into the darkness walking on air.
When I got home my front door was open. I looked off to the side to the chief’s house which was all was quiet. “I’ll check his animals tomorrow” I thought. Back to the issue at hand; why was my door open, I wasn’t the only one with a key to the door but the villagers never left it open after cleaning. Then it dawned on my alcohol fuzzy mind; Anita was supposed to arrive today not next week as I had thought. I put my right hand to my face and my left to the ajar door laughing. That was the reason why my door was open. The locals must have let her in. True enough her white slippers were right there on the floor to my right. I was going to make Anita watch me down six bottles of beer. This would spoil the fun. Then again… maybe not, for her to see me in this stupor might have more effect. Something else could be seen to my right; a goat walked by on two legs and began to take a piss on the wall; just like a man would. I laughed hard. The goat laughed back. I was really plastered; these hallucinations would make for an excellent exhibition for Anita. With that I pushed open my door with left hand and sauntered in.
Anita! Anita! I yelled as I got in. the house had two rooms, one kitchen and one bathroom. Anita wasn’t in either of the rooms. I checked the bathroom and she wasn’t there either. I heard some noise in the kitchen and went in. “Sure enough she’d be here” I thought but she wasn’t either. The window had been left open and swinging. I bolted it. Anita must have left it open when she came around. Where did she go? And where was she now. I proceeded to go and lock the front door. I would make her knock for ages when she came back. I made for the front door to be accosted by Opokotobogo, the goatman. He looked very much like a goat. Very much like the one which had taken a piss outside my front door. He was as real as the door…and the walls… and the punch he gave me. He jumped up yanked me by the throat pulling me down to his three feet with his right hand and whacked me dead in the face with his left. The night had been lighted by a half moon but was real quiet. I had left the only life the town possessed at the drinking shack. There electricity was produced by a little generator and life by the camaraderie. Everywhere else had gone to sleep. The punch Opokotobogo gave me shot some electric into my world. It was a thing of wonder at how his hand fit nicely around my neck. One would think his deficiency in height would make his hands real small. Opokotobogo switched his right hand with his left and spat in my ear;
“We are the reason why Kola can’t sleep”.
“What?” was all I could get in. Opokotobogo smacked me with his right hand which had added effect. The punch made me want Jesus. My head started swimming and my stomach turned upside down. I would have thrown up if Opokotobogo hadn’t hit me again. “What do you mean we” was what I had intended to ask before Opokotobogo hit me the second time. Opokotobogo were really two goat men; ying and yang, two halves of a whole. “Yang” had run out through the kitchen window when I walked in earlier on. He came back as his brother held unto my throat and smacked me hard. This time I saw tomorrow…and it was very sunny.
“We’ve been watching you” he said. “You university boys come here, hit the animals, disrespect tradition and slight the people. When in Rome, learn its ways” he ended. I had so many questions to ask. Questions like; why didn’t anyone tell me Opokotobogo meant two? How come Kola knew about them and didn’t tell me and how come they spoke fluent English. I was only put clear on one of the issues that bothered my mind. Yang went on;
“Kola was the same way you are when he first came here. Arrogant and uncaring, we soon had him tempered. After tonight you will be too. He proceeded to hit me again and that’s when I noticed there was someone else in the room. “Three of them” I thought, “I’m done for.” I tried to raise my head to see what else had walked into the room but the twins were on me beating me down. By now I had thrown up on myself and was feeling half dead. Like anyone in a drunken state my vision was impaired and my senses dull. Anyone watching would have immediately noticed that. I could not call out for help. The goatmen exercised some other type of force on me that stole away my spirit. All I could to was lie there and take it. I tried many times to stand up but fell again. I threw up a couple more times and prayed Kola would walk in. Maybe he had found out a way to reason with these guys. Eventually I struggled to raise my head to see who the other person in the room was and there stood Anita in the doorway.
“She can’t see us” one of the goatmen whispered in my ear. “Just the same way you couldn’t see us in Kola’s house when you slept over. To her your movements are those of someone who is very drunk” he said, at which they beat me some more. “Was she real?” I wondered, maybe the goatmen were playing tricks on me. I wrestled my head up to look at Anita’s face as one of the goatmen tried to pin me down.
“Anita, never again” I managed to get out as they pulled my head back down. Meanwhile my eyes caught her feet as I passed out to awake in the morning with a nasty hangover.
Anita was real alright and she had been here all day today. I knew this because she stood next to her white pair of slippers at the doorway - in her favourite black pair.