The Bar

I sit at the bar but I am also
the sole barman in this tavern I own.
The scenery is in a black and white
Monochrome like it’s a vintage movie.
The walls are constructed from my little
Intellectual knowledge. A proper
Study of the walls will reveal fine grains
Of scribbled words and numbers arranged in
An incoherent manner. Whoever
Has time enough to decrypt the unknown
Code will see it pan out as my very
Own autobiography, a code I
Cannot fully remember by myself.

Although, some areas have words that have
Been weathered down to smears and there are some
Patches of nothing. Blank and forgotten.
Here and there are memories painted out
As living murals. A few picture frames
Hang on the walls. If you walk close enough,
You’ll feel waves of emotions wash over
You. My tavern is beastifully made.
here my angels and demons come to drink
amongst other social indulgences.

Business is good with some regulars and
Karaoke. Today, Lust waltzes with
Pornography, dancing a masterful
Pirouette as Vanity and Envy
Sing A lovely duet. Shame decides to
Grace us with his dour presence. He’s always
Interested whenever those two dance while
I walk around polishing tables and
Cleaning mugs, preparing for a busy
Day. The bell rings as the door opens and
In comes a glowing version of myself.

He’s white; not Caucasian white nor the white
Of chalk but that of purity. Unspoiled.
Vanity and Envy falter but I
Spur them on, what’s a good pub without good
Music? I know, today, my angels will
Come knocking. Literally. Everyone
Else just walks in. Mr White grabs a seat
At a table right in the centre of
The room and orders a mug of distilled
Water and tells me to keep it coming.
He hints that he’ll be hosting a friend here.

Soon, other customers walk in and my
Business is now running in full flow and
I am making my rounds, serving drinks and
Receiving orders. There’s surprisingly
Much to drink considering that there’s no
Bottle of alcohol on the shelves, just
Elixirs and potions, Water from the
Fountain of youth, Liquid adrenaline.

Valour arm-wrestles with Malice and I
Cannot tell who the winner will be. I
Deliver another plate of food to
Gluttony as Anorexia cheers him
On, himself not ordering anything,
Ironic. Melancholy stares into
His empty glass cup. I ask if he wants
A refill. He looks up and I see the
Pain in his eyes, his tears unshed. There is
A brief moment of intimacy and
We connect as he starts to reply me.

He’s suddenly crowded by a pair of
Twins, Suffering and Smiling, who start an
Incessant chatter, Melancholy laughs
At something said. I fill his glass, saying
That one’s on the house. Misery does love
Company. As I walk back to the bar,
I wonder why those two are twins. I mean,
We all share the same negro complexion
And have the same foundation of self, yet
Everyone in the room is different.

Piety over there is a shrivelled
Old man but he’s the same age as every
One else. I think he is just atrophied.
Lust has a habit of licking his lips
And there’s always something sly in his eyes.
Mr White is an enigma, unknown.
Pornography walks around with a bulge.
Shame is bald-headed and never looks you
In the eye. Gluttony’s too fat to move.
I wonder how he gets in. Malice has
A voice like gravel and scars everywhere.

Individual perks might be subtler still
Like Melancholy using mascara.
Suffering is always with a smile while
Smiling never smiles but if you look in
Their brown eyes you can tell their true natures.
Envy and Vanity are the best of
Friends who will do almost anything for
Attention. Valour’s only equal in
Strength is Malice but Piety still keeps
Him in check. It is worth mentioning that
He is the only one with a grown beard.

Knowing who’s who is no big deal for me,
Being so familiar with everyone
But it could be taxing for someone new.
However, they all have their names on their
Persons: tattoos, name tags or shirt designs.
All you have to do is look, that is if
You can read and understand my language.

Shame later comes to clear his tab and says
There’s little room for him anymore with
The increased patronage but he’s sorry
He has to leave. He says his goodbyes and
Hurries to the door. As he opens the
Door, a female figure is lurking at
The doorway. Mr White is up from his seat,
proper and gentlemanly, he welcomes
Her in. She shouts “What’s up, Bitches?” while we
all stop and stare, startled and stupefied.

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The Outcast Is Alone

“I would have thought there to be worse fates than this, but now I know there are none. Man is no island. We need those who love us. We need those who hate us. We need others to tether us to life, to give us a reason to live, to feel. All I have is the darkness.”
– Darrow in Morning Star by Pierce Brown.

*******

I find myself in a forgotten corner in a forgotten street lined with forgotten houses as I wonder if my legs have led me astray. This wouldn’t be the first time. After a certain amount of time living in The Streets you’ll realise that it never is deserted, come rain, come shine, come dawn or come dusk. The Streets always holds a certain promise. The kiss of counting money. The glint of cold steel. Always a certain promise. I wonder again if I’m in somewhere else entirely. I see old houses and kiosks well supplied. I hear electricity. I hear pipes leak and the creak of rusty hinges turning in the wind. What I do not hear is man and the noise of his [her] existence. Everything here feels haunted. By ghosts? By me? My appearance here shatters the illusion of life going on in a lost civilisation.

Have you ever paid for sex? [pardon the non-sequitur] Not to courtesans or escorts, no, nothing that expensive. Not even with girls you pick up by the road side, you can’t afford a car. Sex with alley whores [for lack of a better word] and ashawos*. Sex in a duplex where some of the girls are related to the matron. After negotiation and the awkwardness of unbuckling your belt [you pay for one round, cannot afford the whole night], the sight of her can barely stoke your lust. You settle for her hurried automatic mechanical strokes [her mind is on the next customer already]. Finally, when she has her clammy thighs around you, your eyes close. Drift off into your own world of fantasies where the androgynous female under you is replaced by a lover.

Your thrusts become energetic. You do not imagine different positions, that does not come with the package and, thus, will be problematic. She [the lover] starts resonating to your rhythm. You imagine moan and screams with a look of pure ecstasy. You begin having a not-so-bad time [with your eyes closed]. It is silent for a while and you have stopped imagining the pleasure. Then you hear the knock on the door which you duly ignore. Knocks again, loud and insistent, you can hear the matron’s voice leaking through the doorframe. Previously muted sensations come crashing down: the smell of unwashed bodies, the heat, the unreceptive female. The next customer screams through the door, telling you to “do your one round sharp-sharp”. Your eyes open and you look at the girl’s empty eyes. She has probably overdosed on alabukun*. Yeah, it feels somehow like that.

I think this is the first time I am truly alone. Well, the first time I can remember being alone anyway. Alone enough that I can’t hear the noisy drone of humanity in the background. Just a spectator to its cruelties and its wonders. The first time I can stop and admire humanised nature: the buildings like rocks and concrete trees; shacks and kiosks are anthills; fading paint, moss and epiphytes; and rusty aluminium roof sheets, the red leaves of autumn. I feel If I listen close enough I would hear parents fucking [love is not made in the streets] wildly in this humid heat not minding that their children in the other room [barely a demarcation but call it a room we shall]; I would hear children sharing experiences and made-up stories, laughing loudly not minding their parents in the other room; I would hear arguments teetering on the precipice of becoming fights; fights a step away from bloodshed; I would hear life in its human form. I’m scared of what I may hear, so I don’t listen close enough. Instead I hear mosquitoes buzzing with wings beating at 300 hertz; I hear the wind keening through broken windows, a lament for what is and what was lost. Solemn music for my ears.

My feet fail me and I crumble to the ground. Meanwhile, The Lantern blazes on, an open invitation, a welcome post. At first I find peace in being alone. I find order to apply to the chaos of life and the aloneness becomes another sane thing in the world. Like me. Then it gets corrupted by humanity. By existing outside of humanity. It transforms, metamorphoses into loneliness and I begin to crave that which despises me. That which I despise for corrupting peace. Time passes and I ache for contact. Just when it begins to physically hurt me, I hear footsteps approaching.

*Ashawos – Prostitutes [derogatory]
Alabukun – Drug? Contraceptive? Analgesic? a Powder with numerous uses.

The Outcast and The Lantern

Although the destination be unknown,
Although the night be dark and sky empty,
A sphere of light walks by my lonely side.

Although the way be far and dangerous,
Although the light be gone from the tunnel’s end,
I stole the darkest cloud’s silver lining.

Although I wonder how long these flames burn,
Although I wander these streets endlessly,
I will never let go your metal hand.

* * *

It’s dark. Living in a city without power, it’s always going to be dark. Whenever it gets this dark, the heroes retire and the villains have to save the day, or night as the case may be. I’m one such villain even if people say I’m the one who needs saving. The only illumination around comes from a lantern half-filled with kerosene that I pick up to light my way and this begins my routine nightly walk ‘round the neighbourhood, but tonight i whisper, “let there be light.”

I feel like the lantern is the first bridge to my island of sanity and also the welcome sign. Tonight, like every night before this night, the only thing I attract are these insects but unlike every other night they seem more interested in my new bridge.

I live in a part of the city whose actual name I don’t really know. I’m sure it has a name, I’m sure the city has a name too… I also know I once had a name. Everybody calls the neighbourhood “The Streets” so I call it The Streets too. Trying to be different is dangerous business. People die around here for things as little as calling petrol kerosene especially if the seller says it is petrol. Even if it smells like kero, looks like kero and even tastes like kero. You might just get burnt by the kero/petrol too.

As bad as The Streets can be, there’s a harsh beauty to it. A beauty not idyllic but no less captivating. The dirt roads, dark streets and dank alleys. Ashawos on the prowl, shouting obscene statements and promises of sweet release spoken in not-so-poetic ways. There are the gamblers and the stoners, both addicted to sister demons. The preachers and foretellers of personal doom. The rapper-wannabes ready to sell their souls. The graffiti artists preaching resistance. The not-so-blind beggars with not-so-missing limbs. The babalawos selling wash-put as get-rich-quick potions. Then there’s me, the only island of sanity, marvelling at how insane my world can be. A platform where beauty mingles with ugliness unabashed.

Touchdown

Deep in my own thoughts I could feel my dreams finally come to fruition. How long I’d waited for even a glance, a glimpse, a kiss… At this very moment I know the wait will soon end.

Throughout my childhood and teenage days, “days” because I only felt like a kid on certain occasions, my parents rarely saw the good in me. I was always too slow or not smart enough, my friends always had two heads. Oh, I’d learned to deal with it, their scathing sarcasm and scorching remarks. I thickened my skin, I strengthened and straitened my back bone. This is my life not theirs and not yours, mine to live the way I want. I can be anything, I can be everything.

I have so many dreams, I want to explore the world, to dance, to fall in love, to find my calling. I had always dreamed about hosting shows, about basking in the crowd’s adulation, about graceful speech but, sadly, I was the only one who saw the depth of my potential and as I dreamt, I learnt to care less and to believe in nothing else but myself.

I felt the aeroplane’s tire skid on the runway, waking up from my reverie, time definitely flies faster than the craft. I had been in my own world all through the flight. Now I am so eager to get my feet on the ground, to feel the wind blow through my hair, to be free. I am brimming full with confidence, the wait is finally over. There is no time better than now.