It was on a rainy afternoon, there were just a couple of customers chatting over empty plates of sea food that held nibbled bones, leftovers of a hearty meal of sea foods, as they weren’t eager to venture into the foul weather. The other waitresses were idling in the back kitchen for lack of what to do, and as usual, Mr Wellington had succumbed to his sleeping spell in the back office. Three girls -the younger undergraduate kind- had scampered in through the doors of the restaurants, their little umbrellas dripping wet. They had taken a table directly close to one of the old air conditioners fastened low on the walls.
“Turn down the AC” a slender pale looking one had ordered Emeka when he came to take their orders. Emeka had fidgeted with the knobs on the AC, the wheezing machine had shuddered, and nothing of the expected results had happened.
“You could use any of the vacant tables away from the air conditioner”, Emeka advised in his most courteous manner
With her nose wrinkled in a show of disgust, she made a visual scan of the restaurant and shuddered, “whatever”. She looked like one who had had a very bad day and wore it with such relish like a badge upon her person.
“I will be having a plate of crabs and a bottle of Maltina” another of the trio said interrupting the arrogant mate.
“Cat-fish and Fanta. Make it quick I don’t have all day” yet another said
“If you have snail kebab, bring it” the arrogant one said, then added, “make sure it is peppery enough”
Emeka, had turned and walked briskly towards the back kitchen to get their orders. He knew the kind he was dealing with and he knew it was wise not to let them dampen his spirits even though he could well tell his spirit wasn’t too far away from getting drenched. Moments later, he had breezed into the restaurant lobby, a large tray bearing steaming plates of sea foods balanced expertly on the tips of his right fingers. He placed each person’s order before her except for the plate of catfish which he had placed in front of the arrogant one who had demanded for snail kebab.
“What sort of retards do they employ here that can’t work an air conditioner nor properly deliver on an order?” the arrogant girl questioned, turning to her colleagues with upturned palms.
Emeka was astonished and looked at her questioningly
“I asked for snail and you bring me these” she thundered, pushing away the plate of crab soup from her like it was a plate of excreta.
“I’m sorry, my mistake” Emeka stammered his apologized, nervous with embarrassment
“Shove your apology up your backward ass you misfit” she retorted in such manner, so despicable that one couldn’t help but feel the venom
At that moment, Emeka’s wall of decorum collapsed. He didn’t think like a man would, but reacted as impulsively as a man would when he stands cornered, grasping for the last straw of what makes him dignified, lord over his fate and what makes him a man. In a split second, his open palm flew swiftly, connecting with the side of her face in a flash of sound that made her let out a heart-rending scream and hell’s gate was thrown ajar.
The next morning, with head bowed, Emeka stood before an obese Mr Williams in his cramped office
“I understand how you felt. At times you are tempted to give in to the pressures, but we must always know that what qualifies a responsible man is his readiness to bear with brevity the consequences of his actions” he stopped to catch his breath. Maybe it was the fact that he wasn’t given to talking for too long or maybe it was the cigarettes having a toll on his lungs. “the best line of action will be to relieve you of your services, but then, every workman ought to be familiar with his tools, the blunt ones, the sharp ones, the faulty ones and all that. You are my sharp tool” he paused again and adjusted his weight in the seat that appeared a bit too small for his bulky frame “but then, the purpose of every business venture is to make profit. Now, profits and losses are interpreted in two columns, assets and liabilities. You were an asset until yesterday when you crossed over to the liability column of my book for as long as business image goes.” He paused again and heaved a sigh that threatened to burst his bosom. He was breathing a bit faster; he was really putting up an effort in giving Emeka the lecture.
“Like I said, you are my sharp tool I rely on your efficiency for a satisfactory job. From today, you work in the back kitchens. Since you have no cooking skills, you will run whatever errand the cook deems fit. I am doing you a great favour, so you owe me some gratitude. Don’t begrudge the reduced pay, that’s the much I can offer without running my business aground.
“Yes sir, how much will you pay me now?” Emeka asked, surprisingly boldly and not waiting for Mr Wellignton’s prompt
“Five thousand naira”, and so had begun the fall to a more strenuous life of much more little means.
Many years had come and gone but Emeka never forgot those days of his life. Due to the strain of finance, he had stayed longer than was necessary in school to get his degree. He graduated and couldn’t get any decent job and then he traveled to Lagos for a job interview which turned out to be scam as they tried to extract some money from the over one hundred job applicants present. Emeka remained in Lagos with Awulu one of his schoolmates he ran into on his way depressed from a botched job interview.
Awulu had become a big boy that was steadily creating a niche for himself in the importation business. He imported cheap mobile phone accessories from China into the country and in less than a week, all of his consignments would be exchanged for money because his products were a much sort after commodity, what with the fast growing community of mobile phone users. He taught Emeka the rudiments of the business and in a short while, Emeka sold off their ancestral land in the village and became Awulu’s partner. The money came rolling in after his second successful trip and he waved bye-bye to his childhood dreams of being a political activist willing to die for a cause necessary for the advancement of the human race. He reasoned that many of the famed heroes of the past were men that suffered some kind of psychic imbalance that they had denied themselves the very basic instinct of all living creatures; self preservation. It was very possible that his late father never understood the depth of his wisdom in warning him of not trusting the people to share the same zeal he had for a cause? He had tasted the world of money and the many possibilities it offered one in the society, so why risk everything to become a national hero, he reasoned, come to think of it, he was sane, a sane human that clutched tightly at his basic instincts, to survive, to self preserve for as long as possible, to respond negatively as well as positively to natural stimulus, to live and enjoy the many gifts of life to the truly living. He still found the time to read widely and his many business trips to the Asian continent brought him face to face with such education that couldn’t be gotten from the confines of a classroom. In his new world he found an exhilarating feeling at the unimaginable things money can buy, he felt happiness at not having to irk out a living, pining away at some insipid nine-to-five job in the business districts of the Lagos metropolis and commuting back home in the evenings to a cramped one room apartment in one of the Lagos slums. He felt regret at not having his parents to share in his good fortune, he felt a pang of guilt at having disappointed his father in abandoning his childhood dreams and at these moments did he feel guilty for being thankful that his father wasn’t alive, he felt like a man for having accomplished this much at so young an age and he harboured a deep feeling of resentment for those kind of girls, the kind of evil goddesses that changed his fate in the Mariner’s.
He looked out for those kinds of girls and spotted them at a first glance. He went after them and they proved to be too-easy a catch for him as they were too eager to jump into his car and upon his bed. He spent lavishly on them, taking them to fancy restaurants, buying them jewelries, bringing them fake designer products from Chinese stores on his many trips from China and making them believe in a world where paved with gold. They soon became used to their newly acquired status to the extent that they shunned all of their ‘less privileged’ friends and ex-boyfriends. Then at the height of their fantasies, he backed out of their lives, leaving them to drag themselves out of the hole of shame and misery they had plunged themselves into in their arrogance.
He enjoyed the erection he felt at watching them grovel at his feet, the proud Venus groveling at the feet of Zeus. He relished those moments of welding ultimate power over the destinies of these women he had made sworn foes.
They had later driven to his flat that night, Clarence clutching the Bulgari carrier bags closely as though in fear that they might vanish. They had showered and retired to bed, then Emeka had dropped the line in a most detached manner,
“I won’t want to see you again”
“Pardon?”Clarence had asked at a loss at to the clarity of the unexpected statement.
“Clarence, I will want to wake up and never to see nor remember meeting with you in my past. Take with you everything you feel you have gained from our bout of romance and forget everything you know or feel about me, as I have already forgotten about you as we speak” he had said unemotionally.
“Honey what have I done?”She asked in supplication, looking intently at his face looking for the slightest hint that this was a prank he was up to. Who would tell if in her heart she prayed that it was April Fools’ Day so that they would just have to laugh over it while she would playfully chide him for taking such a serious matter as their relationship for a joke. She would feign indignation, pout and fold her arms facing the wall and he would beg her. They would reconcile after he must have gone down on his knees or promised some irresistibly expensive gift, maybe a rare handbag or jewel in vogue and then she would smile for him, hug him and kiss him and then they would make fierce love like it was an assurance of their commitment to each other. It was far long April Fools’ Day and his countenance didn’t reveal any hint of joking, instead he watched her face gradually transform as the reality of his words hit her. Emeka got ready for that moment again when he felt like the god that bore the destinies of women in his hand and told himself that it would soon be time to go scouting for another victim.