The bar was almost full when I walked in. There was a man in the corner, with an enormous voice, recycling old jokes and laughing loudly. Every explodent send a shower of spittle in the direction of his audience, who did not seem to mind. Only one table was free. I walked to it, sat down and told my favourite waitress to bring me the usual, signed by Charles Glass. I do not know if he did it out of pride for his brewing prowess or to convince the imbiber that this is the best brew in town...or maybe, both! I will not tell anyone why she is my favourite.
The day had been lousy to say the least. First, I could not withdraw my money from the bank. Somebody set a maximum withdrawal limit, and the bank did not even have those nuts. She brought the beer and handed it to me before going to the next table. Second, I had tried to write the next chapter in my book but I ended up abandoning the project altogether. As a consequence of the first source of irritation I suffered serious writer's block. I took a sip from the can, set it down and stared at the signature. Third, I tried to be the scientist I am by trying to develop a proposal for this fantastic (in my mind) research project but in view of the first, and second incidents I could not think coherently. I do not think I would have convinced the assessors anything if I kept on writing. I rotated the can so that I see the logo on the other side, then took a sip. Fourth, I called my wife, who gave me a long list of things I should either do or buy. I have to mention that I wanted to do what she said but in view of numbers 1, 2 and 3 above I was in no mood of doing. I also wanted to buy but hey, read 1 above... no extensive buying under the circumstances. I have to stop narrating this, the self widening spiral of events will drive me crazy one day. But it all begins with 1 above!
Raucous laughter in the corner. I raised my head in time to witness a fine mist dispersing from his mouth towards his audience. The loud talk, in a bar which is already loud, irritates you at the beginning but like all big but harmless stimuli that are overly repeated you tend to shut them out. I wanted to read, something, anything, but I could not bring myself to borrow the Herald from the guys seated at the next table. First, the guys did not seem friendly. Body language. Second, the Herald is not friendly. Language!
I took a sip from the Glass, sorry I mean, can and looked at the ceiling fan. I just wanted to look at something at least. To help me think. I had three tasks that had been postponed due to foreseen circumstances. There must be a means of carrying out all three, once I settle down and get things going. What irks me the most is the recycled (and nauseating) mantra, 'We cannot satisfy our customers demand for cash ... blah, blah, blah ... all inconvenience caused is sincerely regretted.' They mean all inconvenience caused was intentional.
Raucous laughter in the corner. I did not turn to look this time around. I only imagined the consequences of the laughter to the audience. I think somebody should bring a raincoat next time. The ceiling fan...
'Is this chair taken?' I stopped looking at the ceiling fan and looked at him.
I took in the matted hair, the locks tied in some kind of ponytail. The tee-shirt; a mosaic picture of HIM Haile Selassie, Che Guevara, Obama!, Bob Marley, Castro and a face I couldn't assign a name to. Strange bedfellows, I decided. His imperial majesty next to a revolutionary who found no majesty in empires of any sorts. Castro and O. Bob Marley and the other guy. The jeans; once blue, now a shade of gray, torn on one knee, loose-fitting. The shoes; used to be nice in some forgotten past but now so-so. He was thin, with a goatee and a nose that seemed half a size too big for his face. The eyes; sunken in their sockets and slightly bloodshot. Raucous laughter in the corner. He inclined his head to remind me of the question.
'No, uh, it's not. You can have it.'
It's impolite to stare, a corner of my mind was saying. To cover my embarrassment, I took a swig from the can and set it down. I could see rings on the table. I counted five, so, barring any exact alignments, I had lifted my can five times. Not a bad rate given the circumstances. He pulled back the chair and sat, slumped into it, I mean. He held his head and a ordered a beer. Not my favourite lager, though. I wondered why he was not drinking a proper beer but dropped that string of thought, instead concentrated on the ceiling fan ... raucous laughter in the corner.
'This country is in trouble, I tell you,' he said.
An understatement if there ever was one. I nodded. That should have been discouraging, for others, but not my new found friend. No strangers in the bar, remember, just friends you are meeting for the first time. I couldn't remember where I got that one from, possibly in an Irish bar somewhere. Please do not dare accuse me of originality.
'80 % unemployment rate, the 20 % who are supposedly employed are busy stealing from their employers,' he continued.
Interesting statistics, somebody dreamt them up one day and everyone is recycling them. Nobody really knows the unemployment statistics of a country that has long since given up on keeping statistics...of any kind!
'Sometimes, just sometimes, I think that Gono and Mugabe will turn around this economy. But then, I suspect that God, despite being so used to miracles, will faint at the news of such a dramatic miracle.' I thought that sounded a wee bit blasphemous, but my naughty mind could not resist the temptation of imagining God swooning upon hearing the said miracle, Mary Magdalene rushing over for a mouth to mouth resuscitation before being shooed off by Jesus. Then God recovering, a bit embarrassed by His reaction, before taking a notebook to write notes(furiously, I must add) on the newly introduced subject of How-To-Turn-Around-A-Mess 101!
'The problem with Africa is,' he paused, as if he was going to tell me something really important, or confidential, or novel, or dramatic, or all of the above, 'that we do not have an identity. What we had was overwritten, palimpsest, by various other cultures, identities and outlooks. We were also traumatised, by the processes of colonisation, decolonisation and the failures of the newly independent state that all we see is the floccinaucinihilipilification of our character.' What did you say? I wanted to ask. But then, if he wanted to talk to me he would have talked to me in simple terms. As it stood, he was talking to himself including addressing himself with this thinga-longwordsomethingortheother-majiggy. I thought of cutting his head off, putting it a blender so that I cut all his words to manageable, if not rational, proportions. 'We hear of "An African solution to an African problem", but how many of the problems have we solved? You can't solve a problem if you are the problem. That demands very serious introspection and self conquest, something we do not have both the intention and the capacity of doing.'
Raucous laughter in the corner, as if he was laughing at him.
I was not listening to him that much. I was trying to classify his words, to create a taxonomy of his words. A simple dichotomy. The simple ones would all fall in one genus while the long ones would fall into the other. The simple ones were not worth naming. I took a sip. Raucous laughter in the corner. The long ones invariably, will end up being named Longwordasus obfuscatus, a species of long words, found in long sentences, in loooong paragraphs and even longer speeches and writings designed to obscure meaning. The 8 o'clock TV news came on. Manyika, who had passed away in accident over the weekend was being buried.
My table mate, whom I had taken to calling Revolutionary, looked at the TV just once and looked at me conspiratorially.
'Word of advice,' so said the Revolution, 'do not join ZANU PF. But, if you do, try not to be it's political commissar.'
Where was this going?
'But if you have the ambition and end up being one, do not restructure the party. If you do all three,' he said, 'restructure the party from the safety of your home.' I still did not get it.
I called the waitress, my favourite, and she handed me another can. A smile. I opened it and took a sip.
'Maybe, that way, you will avoid the fates of Mahachi, Gezi and Manyika, in that order.'
Oh, that one. I hadn't noticed. Interesting conspiracy theory. I took a sip.
Raucous laughter in the corner.
'Is this chair taken.' Same question, different voice. I looked at her.
She did not wait for anyone to answer. She just sat down, as if the question was designed merely to announce her presence and therefore did not demand an answer. I took a sip and looked at her. Face; heavily, and badly I must add, made up with poor colour coordination making both age and shape difficult to determine. May be that was the intention. Blouse; a shade of green, apple green I mean. Skirt; red (I mean it!). Shoes; green, quite nice, actually. Hair; sorry, no hair, a smooth, clean-shaven head. She gave me a quick appraisal before looking at the Rev, who avoided eye contact. She noticed that. I looked at her, trying to evaluate her. She noticed that too! The Rev seems all revolutionary and ready for change at the same time he came across as the most conservative person around. Such is my experience with revolutionaries, you can't honestly describe them without running into contradictions, oxymorons and apologia. Try creating a coherent outlook from the t-shirt, for example.
She ordered a cider. I noticed. Probably to avoid the bitter taste of hops in the lagers I and the Rev were taking. Raucous laughter in the corner.
'You see, it's like a theatre of the demented where all sorts of grotesque thinking is acceptable and no level of calumny is excluded. It's the innocents that suffer,' he paused to take a swig from his can.
'Look at Rwanda, the cholera we are exporting to our neighbours.'
He must have noticed by now that I had not really engaged him in a conversation, he was largely talking at me while I was wondering what it was like to be a reserve bank governor. Instead of governing banks and money, I pictured myself governing words.
Stage 1. The words are all normal, then suddenly there is a shortage of words. I panic, arrest a few people, and abracadabra the words are back in circulation. Then, they beginning disappearing again, so I feed more words into the system. Unfortunately, the more words I add, the more the number of OOOs that crop up unbidden in the system.
'It is my wish that these heroes of the struggle leave the stage now instead of embarrassing themselves by blaming the British for everything from cholera to the opposition.'
Raucous laughter in the corner. I raised my head to see the spreading spittle. I cringe in my chair.
'Darling!' She said.
I am not darling. The Rev is definitely not darling. Given that there were three of us at the table and she had casually tossed the word so that it falls between the Rev and I, more to my side that to the Rev's; I surmised that I had been christened Darling and proceeded to order beers. For all three.
Stage 2. The OOOs have prooooliferated toooo a pooooint where noooormal cooooonversatiooooon has becooooome cumbersooooome, soooo I loooope them ooooooff in a drammatic sunrise!
She brought the beers. Castle for me, Savanna for her, Carlsberg for him.
Raucous laughter inn the corner.
Stage 3. I feel s happy with myself. Everyne has an adequate supply f wrds t use fr everyday transactins. This may lk abnrml t all fr yu bkish English peple, but I have t assure yu that this is nt the time fr bkish English. A set f OOOs sneak int the cnversatn.
'I consider myself to have three parents, one father and two mothers. You see, my mother did really take care of me,' she was saying, 'my aunt raised me since I was a toddler.'
Three parents, I noted.
'That's why I do not want to be sitting in bars like this. Stale cigarette smoke covers you like a miasmic drape,' he was saying.
I realised that I was the target of both conversations, or comments.
Raucous laughter. By now you know where.
Stage 4. Anoooother set oooooof OOOs enters the scene. I encoooooourage peoooooople to use sign language and any ooooooooooother means oooooooooooof coooooooooommunicatioooooooooooon available. Eventually, I tell everyoooooooooooooooone that they can get their supply oooooooooooooof woooooooooooooooooords ooooooooooooooooooooooooonce a week.
Raucous laughter. 'Darling!'
Darling reached into my pocket, using my hand and extracted some money for the next round. I was getting bit mellow. Her make up was goooood! And the Rev was a companionable fellow.
'I am an admirer of Che Guevara myself. I mean, him and Jesus, and Bob Marley, and Mandela, and Elijah the prophet, and Charles Glass! Revolutionaries, all of them. But Che is in a class of his own.' I heard myself say. I was floating just slightly above myself and was thoroughly bemused by new found eloquence, and er, camaraderie.
I extended my left hand to embrace her.
Raucous laughter in the corner.
I looked at the 'miasmic drape' being dragged by the moving fan.
Stage 5. I looooooooooooooooope ooooooooooooooooooff soooooooooooooooooome OOOs in sunrise 2. And the next sentence lks nice and neat. I tell everyne that the OOOs will never cme back but a set sneaks intoooo the sentence even befoooooore I finish it.
'Darling.' Did we finish our previous order? Never mind, Darling reached into my pocket and took money for the next round. I was trying to tell Darling that I did not get my money from the bank, meaning I will be broke tomorrow. But, I realised that I was now 20 % percent me and 80 % darling. In any case, I knew darling would simply rig the vote in his favour if it ever came to that.
To be continued....