by Onuchukwu Joseph Chimezie
You must hate me after reading this. But you must forgive me too. You see I am only human, Jumoke. Friendship for us was mornings of fetching water from the stream. It was just how we caught our fun each time we visit our village because boys would hang around; near trees, on top of strong branches, sit on their flip-flops while some even lay on the sand watching us. Friendship for was the eager screaming of our names each time the “33”Export Lager Beer advert came up on our televisions. We both loved it. You had said you loved how smart the wife was to know her husband was with his friends, drinking in a bar where they circled a table of “33” Export Lager Beers and you prayed for that kind of husband who cheats with a worthy beer, in fact we both prayed. At first you called it thirty-three Lager beer, something that always threw your dad into fit of hiccupping laughter. But as we watched on, fervently, you started pronouncing it well. Its real name; “33” Export Lager Beer. Three, three Lager Beer. I really didn’t care about the name until I met a man who looked out of sorts, as if from another continent, sitting awkwardly with roving eyes. It was at that time I tried pronouncing it.
‘Sir, drink tiri, tiri beer. You’ll look fresh,’ I had said as if picking up on an old conversation, hands clasped behind me like an old woman giving an advice to a child. He had looked at me, bewildered.
‘It is as if you read my mind. I was actually looking for where to buy a drink. Do you know where they sell this tiri, tiri beer around here?’ he said, making sure the name of the beer sound as childish as I had said it. I pointed to a shop because that was where your brother ran to every time your father wanted beer. It was your father’s favorite, this “33” Export Lager Beer. This beer that gave us incredible belief in friendship, that made a woman smile in a text message to a lying husband. This beer should be a religion, your father had said. Before the man left, he tousled my hair and told me I was special. I think this, Jumoke, was where our trouble started. Or my trouble started. I was special, someone had said. I was a champion, I believed. But it didn’t reflect.
If you noticed, as I am sure you did, you’d know that in our visits to the village or in our walks to school or in our stays at home, people were always drawn to you. It was always you, as if I was a leper. You see, Jumoke, it is easy to quench something that burns with fire. But something that burns with jealousy is something that burns till it is no more, it is unquenchable.
I cannot tell you when, precisely, the idea took hold but I know it was after I had come to the realization that you were far prettier than me. Your eyes always shone like the sun resided beneath them, according to your father. I remember always flashing a cold, close-lipped smile but don’t blame me, he always said it repeatedly until it became irritating to me, and to you too if you will be truthful. Jumoke, the way boys came at you in hordes, as if you were hoarding their destinies, was soul wrecking. It robbed me of hope. Although feeling inferior to your beauty, I was still thrilled to be seen with you; sharing in close-skinned attention as a weed would, lapping up water meant for lily upstream. To cut my story short Jumoke, it is important I tell you that Tochukwu was innocent. I’d suggest you sit back against a wall now, and empty your chest of a sigh.
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If you hadn’t answered his call that night at the bar where he was cooling off with a cold glass of “33” Export Lager Beer, things would have been different. But you smiled back, waved back and he came. Sat with us. Discussed. He dropped us off at our gate but asked for only your number. You see, he would have sensibly asked for our numbers even if he was interested in just you. The guy fuck up. When you told me, a month or two later, that he had asked you to be his girlfriend, I wasn’t truly happy, I only jerked my face into what I wanted to be a smile whenever you craned your neck toward my face. I remember the evening of my act, it was raining. Those kind of galling rain that drew frogs out to croak. I had invited him over to my place. My street lacked peace and tranquil. I remember telling him you were sick. Of course I knew your phone had been stolen the previous day. I forced him to stay when he saw you weren’t at my place but he refused. I am sorry but I couldn’t allow him leave like that. I stood up too, forced his hands on my breasts so that he held them like parentheses. He pushed me away. I threatened to accuse him of rape if he tried it again but he did. I screamed. My scream broke through my latched door, opened into my neighbor’s, into another neighbor’s. Room to room, like that. I cannot tell you how they dragged him outside and tortured him because you read it in the newspapers. But what I can tell you is that he was almost set ablaze. Although he still died before he was rushed to a nearby hospital, I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if he had died by fire.
I hear you’re in the hospital as a result of shock. When you read this later, do forgive me because I, too, have known pain. We both prayed for a “33” Export Lager Beer man, how could you have found yours before me? Or is God too also drawn to you?
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