For a good friend, Henrie Chinoko, whose true life events gave inspiration to this story.
In college I learnt to use ‘f*ck’ with comfort. I can’t remember learning anything else. I studied on the high stools of Riverside Bar, whiskey in hand, and wrote every assignment and exam while drunk, even that when my studies eventuated and my degree was rudely slapped in my hands at graduation, it seemed I had been drunk for five years.
Riverside was a terrible bar. The acoustic music was awful and its owner Alejandro de Castro never stopped complaining about his wife. Each morning he burnt a strong incense that until noon a sickening smell hanged on the walls. Alejandro, a stickler for his convictions, insisted that his brand of incense opened up the lungs and amped up one’s alertness.
At Riverside I found a comfy nook or sat in the outdoor courtyard where I drank my castle and sipped whiskey. Alejandro let me drink on credit. He recorded in his khaki ledger. On a good day, these entries would be crossed out, torn off or forgiven by scribbling in the margin ‘paid.’
Riverside had no young girls talking dangerously close to your mouth nor had it over-powdered faces; fat behinds, raised boobs, tucked in dresses accentuating on all wrong places. The bar was not even inviting for freshman virgins carousing and itching for a first fuck and an illusion of commitment. Truly, the damp never lured anyone beautiful – except for Ayanda.
Ayanda was the kind of woman we drinkers love to call ‘Platinum.’ The kind who won’t bother you with expensive liquor but will drown herself in whatever cheap stuff you are enduring.
Some nights, she would go by the counter and instruct Alejandro to switch off his ‘noise.’ After an instant of hesitancy he would budge. There would be a loud silence as she sang. All would go motionless but her, a dull dancing figure. She never sang to the bar but to an audience inside her soul. There was a beauty in that moment of detachment with the world – a connection to a deeper and attentive universe. When I clapped she never honoured my admiration with a smile. Indolently, steadily and contented she would stroll to the bar, sigh and gulp a mouthful of beer. She never engaged with the world, primarily it appeared. She was nearly selfish. There was a loveliness to that demeanor.
Riverside felt like a bar relished by two. A heaven for Ayanda and me. The rest came, bought a beer, drank half-down; got disappointed and left. The only reason the bar never closed its doors is that it appeared to have an endless supply of new faces that would be let down by the end of the day only to be replaced by others the next day.
It was on one of such days of singing and clapping, as the evening wore on, that I first talked to Ayanda. I cannot remember the details, my memory of that evening is as chequered as everything in those five years. That night she got my number and texted, “Come see me in my room. Bring with you a condom.” No man can forget that.
The next day was a Sunday or Monday at Riverside. For fuck’s sake, it would have been any of the seven days. They all appear the same. Alejandro’s wife had done it again and her husband had spent the entire day grumpy.
“You know what they say when you go to a new place?” Alejandro asked. He wiped the smudges of beer on his counter and looked up just in time to catch me shaking my head.
“They say when you go to a new place,” he continued, “Try out their food, try out their beer and try out their women.”
“What have I?”
“…tried out a Malawian before?”
“Yes, one with big ass.” He giggled heavily. A silence lingered deeply before he added in a small composed voice, “I should have married one of those – not this wife who forced herself on me.” Everything stirred there, his wife this or that. Fool. Big fool.
Nights came effortless at Riverside and days easily sank into each other. I had just downed my third ‘double’ of gin and was furiously texting an old girlfriend when sundown approached. The list came with the darkness and three angry beeps on my phone. The title was as cutting as the list itself:
TEN MOST NOTORIOUS FUCKBOYS OF 2015
I scrolled down.
I was on number four. Honestly, I was innocent as a saint. A drinking saint. A drinking and having-sex-once-in-a-while eighteen-year-old saint.
I scrolled down further, then up. Then down and up again without reading a word. I asked Alejandro for a beer as if in it I would find the key to decipher the sense in the list. As soon as it was placed before me, the urge to drink escaped my throat. I jiggle with the bottle top at the mouth of the bottle and felt the beer lose its coldness. I sat and patiently waited for the quivering dread to settle in my bosom. It did not.
I located the list again. It was from Tino, a staunch friend. This time it was accompanied by a message:
You made it man. National male-whore list. Number four, not bad at all.
There was a laughing-to-tears emoji at the end. I should have laughed it off, perhaps even to tears like the emoji but I was overridden with confusion. For a second, I felt this was a tasteless joke. Tino had no bad jokes to share.
There are some friends who can smell sex on you even after you wash yourself in three showers. Friends that appear to know everything before everyone does. Tino was such a friend. It is for this reason that I momentarily found some comfort. Him being found with the list was not a guarantee that many had gotten hold of it. I labored to imagine how the list would brand me as a careless womanizer. The only thing I was truly careless about was my education and my alcohol level. That would have been known to Tino but not to everyone.
I went back to the list and read it carefully this time.
- Henny Chinook, dark and of medium height. He is a law student. He sleeps with every lady regardless of her age and beauty, or lack thereof. He has slept with an average of sixty girls (women included) as such he deserves every bit of this accolade as the fourth most popular man-whole of this year.
So the list declaim. It read like a rant of an insane awarder at a Grammy ceremony of equally mentally challenged attendees.
Where did you get this? I whatapped Tino, to which he replied, it’s all over, dude.
Soon my screen registered a caller. It was daddy calling. The instant I pressed the answer button and before I put the black device again my ear, I heard him barking from the speaker.
“This is what you do with my money, sleep with every donkey?” The line died. The world spun crazily. My head felt drunker that I actually was. I could imagine daddy sending my younger brother to buy talk time. Soon he would call again. Soon that small speaker of my phone would barely contain his anger. Knowing father, I needed to have answers before his next call.
Ayanda instantly walked through the door. There was a waver in her feet. She was walking as if bothered by a serious case of diarrhea. She was drunk. She too had gotten the list. Such news spreads faster than a flame consuming a lake of diesel. Uwemi, my younger brother called to confirm what Aunt Pauline got from her nurse friend that I had caught syphilis or gonorrhea. What happened with the Hippocratic Oath? I assured him that the only time I went to a clinic was to have my circumcision wound checked a year back. I told him that tales revolve, stupidly at time, to which he gave a flat okay.
Then they were the less serious one gave comments like: I’m told boss you have no choice for women. No worries man, the ugliest faces have the prettiest vaginas. Or, continue eyeing for the first position man.
When father called again, he erupted with the same fury that came with the first call. Mother called me again. She was crying. Mother and father usually reminded me of the weather. Father was a scorching sun and mother was a gentle rain. All necessary for the growth of vegetation and I was their rose to tender.
That night, was a busy night but all days are the same at Riverside. They all allowed a man to drink himself close to his insanity. This night alone, I needed my insanity to escape the reasoning that comes with sanity. Ayanda knew that too.
As the night darkened further and later started to regain the light welcoming another day, my eyelids got heavy and my feet numb. The liquor was getting the best of me. Ayanda lied on the counter.
Alejandro and I struggled to carry drunken Ayanda to her bed, later in the night. She had thrown up twice already. Beneath the sheets was the list – firstly written in black ink, then revised in blue ink. In it I was still at number four. This was the original, I knew.