When our eyes met briefly, I thought I recognised him as the lead soloist of the in-house band at the local pub. But I couldn’t be so sure. The local singer tends to wear screaming colours, the type beloved of Congolese Lingala musicians.
His clothes, however, tend to be older than his songs and suggest they were purchased while he possessed a fuller body judging by their fade and oversize fit.
By contrast, the guy in front of me was in primary colours.
I had more doubts because the singer’s two dogs were missing. I know them because he is always inviting revellers to adjudicate on their never-ending dispute. Whenever he comes back from the stage to his beer, the dogs fight to rest their paws on his skinny laps. He complains the big one is too rough; that it ruffles his clothes. I think his real complaint is with its weight.
We were in the washroom at the bus station. He was standing next to a closed toilet door while jumping up and down, his mouth grunting like a man struggling with hot pepper. His right hand was on his groin, his left on his bottoms. He was clearly pressed but judging by his frantic gestures, I could not tell whether his pressure was of short or long call nature.
When he started to plead with the guy inside the toilet to hurry up, those of us doing our business at the urinal laughed. He was half-whispering, half-shouting. The contents of his protests were funny.
“I promise you mate its gonna be smelly here, I swear. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Can’t hold no more buddy… There I go: 10, 9, 8, 7…” I didn’t wait for the countdown and what happened or did not happen at the end.
I had only ended up here because I was lost and pressed. I had been looking for a specific bar for nearly two hours because I needed a long walk and to see someone. But the Google map was leading me to anywhere but where I hoped to go. The city map didn’t have the building I was looking for. And my contact’s phone was understandably off!
My plan for this venture was planted on the evening of Ben’s first day from work. He had brought home two different beers and placed them on the table and like a master brewer, lunged into an elaborate explanation of their production processes. He talked of the uniqueness of the taste of each, their differing froth and other dissimilarities before inviting me to pick either.
Ben speaks with a heavy Welsh accent. That can make his conversation sound incoherent unless you hang on his lips. I was only half-listening and, therefore, I would not have recalled if either had milk or poison as an ingredient. Besides, I’m not a particular fan of beer. I profusely thanked him for his generosity but politely explained that I don’t take alcohol during Easter.
He was in a good mood. I can tell whenever my neighbour is in his element by his restlessness and small talk. Then, he will, for the umpteenth time, ask me what is the capital of Kenya and how far it is from Cape Town. He will also remind me of his offer to me to visit Wales. As he puts it, it would be “freaking awful” not to taste his grandfather’s home-brewed beer.
Ben had just secured a part-time job as a waiter in a city bar that specialises in brewing and selling German beers. He had been excited about it beginning with the interview. On the eve of the latter, he bought a giant pizza for his flat-mates and implored us to form a mock interview panel.
He had also visited the barber. The only other times I had seen him do that is on the two occasions his huge girlfriend has come visiting. Remembering this, I asked him if he had told her about the interview. He mumbled about her being unhappy as getting the job meant cancelling their Easter holiday plans.
By then, I had not read about the woman who was only interested in the details of the secret bank account of her husband caught in the Egyptian plane hijacking drama. But I nevertheless consoled Ben with the universality of the selfishness of girlfriends/wives. He said he planned to indulge her with his first pay. I was tempted to weigh in that it would not be enough because it’s never enough.
They sent him an email a day after the interview notifying him of his success. But Ben was unusually restrained in sharing the good news that evening. He is normally a reticent guy who springs to life with good news. Judging by his excitement at the interview, a confirmation that he had nailed it should have left him on the moon.
A good test for knowing if all is well with Ben is to invite him for food. Suffice it to say, he has a good appetite. But on this day, he politely declined my fish, which is a rare delicacy. When I heard him talking unusually loud and quoting me as agreeing with him “that you are being selfish,” I had no doubt what was troubling him.
I thought I could cheer him up by turning up and taking a few drinks at his workplace bar now that Easter was over. I would also buy him a drink hoping to help him impress his boss that he was not just a pair of hands but also a clients-attracter.
It turned out Ben’s bar is not very far from the bus station. It is located in a rather anonymous building which is an injustice to its alluring ambience and tasty decor. And it is obviously a busy bar judging by the numbers patronising it on a Wednesday evening.
I noticed Ben the minute I walked in. Because I wanted to see him at work without him noticing me, I sat at the counter. It may have been his first week at the bar but he was going about his job like a seasoned waiter.
Two hours or so into the bar, I was going to the washroom when I encountered Ben in a heated argument with the same pressed guy I had seen at the bus station’s toilet. I had never known Ben to shout or lose his cool. But here he was ranting at the visitor. The only words I could pick from him were expletives.
Ben handed the visitor a bucket of water, a mop and a huge roll of toilet paper. It gave me an idea what the fuss was all about. By then, a small crowd had gathered around him. Amid shouts of “Shame!” and “Grow up, man!” someone advised the visitor to try diapers. From the crowds’ twitching of noses and screwing of faces, there was no doubt it was a very smelly affair!
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