Jumoke Giwa’s Graveyard Shift got me reeling in laughter and also reminded me of my days of youth. I have this cousin, Emeka (not his real name) who was already in secondary school when I was still a primary pupil. To us then, Emeka was what we used to call a ‘big guy’, meaning a guy that knows what time it is, or rather a ‘happening guy’ who could pull the ladies effortlessly, dresses in fancy clothes and gets invited to parties. He used to spend his vacations with us, and will fill our young minds with stories of secondary school life, and his many escapades with women, disco jamborees etc. He represented the ultimate Dude or Mr Cool, a rebel if you wish and we wanted just to be like him. Back then I remember praying to God to let me grow up fast so that I could also experience my cousin’s many thrills, to hasten the process we did try applying dabs of local gin (ogogoro) on our chins to induce and hasten the beards.
My mum at the time had what we call a provision store in front of our family house, and I would take turns with my brothers in manning the store, and so each time Emeka narrates one of his many never ending tales, he was always assured of ample supply of provisions (Nido, Bournvita, Cabin biscuits, Geisha etc) acquired illegally from us for his return journey back to school. However, as we grew up and began to interact with our other cousins, uncles and aunts who also came on visits, Emeka’s importance began to wane. Not that we didn’t believe in him anymore but we felt more comfortable with the others who did seem to have more to offer (presents, money gifts etc) than Emeka’s usual moonlight tales.
Trust Emeka, he did not quite appreciate his decreasing influence as that threatened his supply chain, the same way Americans are currently missing heartbeats over China’s growing influence in Africa. Emeka’s first strategy to reclaim his status and influence as the original bad boy (apologies Daniel Wilson) was to ‘bad mouth’ the others by calling them ‘Jew men’. ‘Okoko’ or ‘mgbeke’, all descriptions for people who don’t know what time it is. When that failed, Emeka stepped up the gear, he started letting us have a peak into his many porn magazines bought from those Aba motor park vendors, this always got us all excited. My other cousin (Obi) was to later get addicted to pornography as a result in his later years and this eventually cost him his place at the prestigious All Hallows Seminary in Onitsha as he was caught and expelled, and thus ended his dreams of becoming an ordained Catholic Reverend father.
Having finally gotten us fixated on him again, Emeka now went for the kill, previously we had been just satisfied watching him take a drag of his favourite cigarette (Benson & Hedges), watching him create the smoke ring which for some reasons ended up whirling around his head thus portraying him as somewhat a super being was awesome, such that one of my first acts when I began to smoke heavily in my teenage years was to perfect the smoke ring trick to the envy of my peers, this was to continue until I hung up my boot and quit smoking in 1997.
Gradually Emeka started to let us take small drags, he was finally ‘empowering’ us; and has finally accepted us also as ‘big guys’ we thought. My first drag at the back of the house when my parents had gone out seemed more like a university fraternity (call it cult if you wish) initiation rather than a simple introduction to cigarette smoking lesson. Emeka started with the dos and don’ts (as if there was any), and we all had to swear an oath of secrecy (and allegiance too). Finally, the moment came; I took the ciggie and proudly held it in my hands like some kind of prized diamond before plucking it to my lips. It stayed there for a while before I realised that I was actually supposed to be sucking air in through the filter, when I did, I coughed so badly for a couple of minutes before calming down again.
And so Emeka reinstated himself rightly in his former position before our eyes and life went on, until the marijuana or igbo incident. We had always known that Emeka smoked it, but only Emeka knows why he felt we should also be initiated into it. Was it a final faith accompli, or was he still securing his supply? We never found out. I could still remember the lashes from my dad’s famous koboko, after I had recovered from the effects of the igbo that I smoked courtesy of Emeka. I remember fainting after just one drag, in my dazed condition I could still hear all the faint whisperings and screams around me and frantic efforts being made to revive me with concoctions of coconut and Peak milk, by the time i came to, Emeka was already gone and that ended his regular visits.
My next bitter encounter with igbo was when Ben, a friend of mine tried to set me up with some girl back in the university. Ben’s story is something else but I will save it for later. I remember going to visit Emem (the chic in question) on a particular evening only to find her in the company of another girlfriend of hers. With Guinness small stout in one hand and a big mould or wrap of burning igbo on the other, she welcomed me into her bunk and offered me a drag. What do you do? Here was my chance to score double as evil thoughts filled my mind under the illicit conditions since the two friends were in elated and ecstatic states, courtesy of alcohol and igbo. Stupidly I accepted the offer and settled in nicely. With music blaring in the background to some tune that must have been hot at the time, we started smoking igbo. When I attempted to stand up to accept an invitation for a dance and buckled under my feet, I knew that wahala had landed. Emem and Oge (her friend) quickly rushed to my aid enquiring if I was alright to which I answered in the positive maintaining the personae of a ‘hard man’, but deep inside me, I knew that I wasn’t. My head was just about exploding and I was seeing stars. The last thing I remembered was slipping into a big slumber until the next morning when Emem and Oge woke me up claiming that they were about to lock their room to go to their 9 AM lesson. I hurriedly left with my shame and embarrassment.
When Ben saw me later at plaza, the students centre, he burst out laughing and narrated the whole incident as told him by Emem before everybody, this did generate some sort of ‘scandal’ for me amongst friends.
Ben’s gist is something else, he had been after this chic for a long time, and had been investing all his pocket money taking her to eat at both Mr Vees and Esma restaurants (our top campus restaurants then), he had also been investing small fortunes at Ariaria market in Aba buying her plenty, but he would end up at New market (Ahia Ohuru) for his own okirika (second hand) clothes. Anyway, Ben had gone about 2 semesters on this rhythm with Ngozi but she still remained unfazed by his many overtures.
She usually met him in public places and refused to visit him in his bunk, until one day, when she agreed to pay him a visit. This may have been out of pity or guilt and so Ben began the preparations for Ngozi’s visit. He stocked his mini fridge with packets of 5 Alive drinks, Mcvites shortbread
and other goodies. He also borrowed a cassette player from me, and a standing fan from another friend of ours to complete the rich man’s son image.
Ngozi was supposed to arrive by 7 pm in time for dinner with Ben, and from 6 pm, Ben had already started feeling restless, and would peep through his window at the sound of every passing or stopping okada motorcycle (the popular means of transport at Uyo then), in anticipation of her royal highness. Ben had over-chewed or overdosed on a local root popularly known as magani burantashi sourced from a mallam whose kiosk was near the campus. The medicine allegedly works better than Viagra and has magical powers, it can increase men’s libido by over 100%. Ben’s plan was to ‘deal’ with Ngozi for all her shakara and sme sme.
Come 8, 9, and 10 pm and still there was no Ngozi, being that there was no GSM mobile phone at the time to use to chase Ngozi up, the poor Ben could only lie on his bed and wait. When we came later to hear the gist of the escapade, we met our friend in a dishevelled and psychotic state. His speech had become a little incoherent and he was packing the biggest hard-on I have ever seen. All the veins on his arms, and face were all standing up; I almost freaked out and called for help.
After due consultations, we all escorted Ben to a hotel in Uyo where we all contributed money, including tips for Ben to free himself from the clutches of the medicine. One of our friends had expressed sympathy for the girl that will ‘suffer’ or bear Ben’s many frustrations. Ben decided instead for an overnight service and took one of the hotel girls (ashawo) home.
The next day, I lay in wait for Ben at the students’ canteen alongside a patient audience all eager to hear Ben’s story which had become the story of the semester. Amongst the audience was Tony (not his real name), another character who almost caused pandemonium in a communication class I took with him.
One of the course requirements was that students will present a 5 minute speech to entertain the whole class. The way Tony strolled to the podium with a wicked smirk told me that he was up to something mischievous. He told the audience the reason why he times his entrance to class after Idorenyi (not her real name). According to him, he normally positions himself at the ground floor staircase so as to peep under Idorenye’s skirts as she clambers up the stairs to the 2nd floor venue of the lecture, he even told the audience the colours of the underwear she was wearing that day. Idorenye is a mammal-like female with mountains of flesh on her backside; she walks with a gait and surely is not the type of woman you would want to mess with. Tony didn’t even finish his narrative before Idorenye pounced on him like a molue bus pouncing on a Marwa kekere 3- legged tricycle. It was laughter galore for all including the professor who after the melee had died down confessed that he was at a dilemma, because Tony’s story was the most hilarious he had ever heard since he started teaching the course, but at the same time was a bit worried about the moral implications.
Tony did go on to pass the course and is now a popular broadcast personality in Nigeria.