‘Kachifo,’ the old man said to him in greeting.
It was indeed a good night, Esosa thought. He smiled back at the old man and nodded his head to return the pleasantries. Esosa held his breath as the old man walked past him and left the shop. The bell hanging over the door sounded as it closed after the man. Esosa could breathe again now that the old man had left. He knew him – his name was Uncle Big. (Esosa became uncomfortable as he pondered how the man got that name.)
It took all of his strength of mind to stop him from chasing after the old man and beating his brains out.
He watched Uncle Big through the glass window. The old man was limping a little and stopped to scratch his leg. Then he turned momentarily and spied Esosa watching him. He looked enquiringly at Esosa, with a puzzled expression. That was when Esosa became aware that he was frowning. Esosa turned his dark face away. (Not yet. His time will come, soon.)
The bell sounded again. Esosa moved his head toward the shop entrance, and saw that Uncle Big was now standing in front of him. He felt like holding his breath again, but knew he had already done enough to antagonise the old man. (Your time will come. But not yet.)
‘Have I done anything to offend you, son?’ Uncle Big asked him in Igbo.
Esosa shook his head. His Igbo was still good and he had always maintained his accent. ‘No, sir,’ he said. Again the urge to hold his breath. ‘I was just thinking of something. I lost my job recently.’
‘Oh, I am sorry to hear that,’ Uncle Big said. ‘You know, we have a prayer meeting in church. You should come over tomorrow.’
‘Thank you,’ Esosa said. ‘Is it the Fellowship of Angels and Saints?’
Uncle Big pulled his head back and looked with renewed suspicion at Esosa.
(Don’t blow it now. I’ve planned for too long to mess this up.)
‘It’s just that I’ve heard good things about that church,’ Esosa said. ‘I hear there are many signs and wonders shown by the overseer.’
‘I left that place a long time ago.’
(I’m sure you did.)
‘Are you sure you have not been sent to threaten me into going back, because I can tell you right now that I will not go back to that place?’ Uncle Big shook as he delivered his speech.
(He really is afraid of these people.) ‘I am sorry if I upset you, sir,’ Esosa said. ‘I did not mean to.’
Uncle Big looked intently at him. Then he hissed and stormed off.
(No, no, no…)
Esosa resisted the urge to chase after him. He would have his day yet. He knew it. The old man would come back. And Esosa would be waiting when he did.
‘It’s going on nine,’ the shopkeeper said. ‘I allow you to hang out here, but…’
Esosa nodded. ‘I’m going,’ he said.
The shopkeeper cleared his throat noisily, and Esosa turned back. ‘Thanks for reminding me.’ He shoved a wad of Naira bills into the shopkeeper’s hand.
‘I don’t know what you’re doing with your life, young man,’ the shopkeeper said – it was a little patronising of this man to address him as “young man”, seeing as he was only a little older than Esosa. ‘As long as you’re here, you can work for me.’
‘Right. I’ll pay you to work for you.’
The shopkeeper shrugged.
‘Let’s just keep things as they are,’ Esosa said with a sneer. ‘And remember, there’s a lot more where that came from. If you continue to keep your mouth shut and allow me to hang out here, then you’ll get more.’
‘Hey, just as long as no one gets hurt, I’m happy. You won’t hurt anyone, will you?’ The question was asked with some uncertainty.
Esosa knew his type. He just needed some assurance to assuage his conscience. ‘I won’t,’ Esosa said. He was lying.
He left the shop and walked to where he had parked his bicycle. In keeping with his image, he hadn’t chosen anything expensive. His whole appearance had been made to blend in. He was just another nameless man in what was a fairly large town. The billboard in the town square said the population was ten thousand.
But he had been here a long time. He was, after all, a city boy – maybe it didn’t start this way, but for the last decade of his life, at least, he had lived in big cities: first in Lagos, and then in London, where he obtained his Master’s degree – and he tired of the smallness of everything around him. His heart craved a big screen TV, apple pie; wine that didn’t come served in a calabash, and access to eSpirit.
He rode his bicycle purposefully around the town. It was dark and most people would be indoors now, except for the club – some wannabe bringing a taste of city life to the town with a pretentious attempt to encourage nightlife.
He needed to be seen by people, keep up his profile. To the club he went, parked his bike; gave the doorman a reason to let him in, even though he was not on the list, with a generous tip. The man was huge, and he was breathing heavily, as if every step he took required a huge effort. Esosa wondered how he would stand up against an agile person with a really violent streak who would not be intimidated by size. The doorman took a look at the large denomination of each bill that had been shoved into his hand. The smile that came told Esosa that he was in.
@ Uzor Chinukwue 2011