There were ten boys in the shop when Chike walked in that evening. He mumbled a word of greeting to Eric and found himself a sit. While he quickly assessed each client to ascertain those who came to have a haircut and those who were there for business, he felt his pockets again to assure himself that he had left his new Samsung phone at home. He knew those who were always there for business. With their signature hard faces, clean-shaven smooth heads, full beards and dark lips, they carried an air of notoriety. There was an awkward aura that greeted their presence each time they walked the streets or sat in Eric’s shop listening to rap music and arguing about Tupac’s lyrics, Bob Marley’s weeds and dreadlocks, or Hollywood movies which always showed in the shop. Eric looked like them too. There was hardly a single strand of hair on his head. His own shined more than the others and singled him out each time they walked the streets together, or were seen drinking at Kosako Bar down the street. In a few years, Eric’s barber’s shop had gained recognition as the best shop on Gondola Street. He barbed with the precision and skill of a master. Although there were a few other barbers on the street who were not as good as him, he had fewer clients due to his reputation and acquaintance with his lookalike fellows.
One evening, surprisingly, Eric’s TV was showing a Nollywood home movie. It was Chike’s first time in four years, to walk into Eric’s shop and not see a Hollywood movie or rap music on the screen. While the waiting clients busied themselves with the TV and laughed at a young male character that was making fun of a timid lady, Eric’s fellows were uneasy. Chike wondered what must have gone wrong. He too had developed fondness for Hollywood movies as a result of his frequent visit to Eric’s shop against his father’s constant rebuke. But he dared not ask Eric why he had made a different choice that day. After several encounters, the first time he had managed to ask Eric who those fellows who usually visited him were and what they normally came to do, he met a stern look. Although he went home that day defeated, he showed up the next day to question Eric again whereupon he told him that those fellows always visited him for business. He asked what kind of business and Eric simply replied him: business. One of the six boys called Pablo stood up in exasperation and left the shop. Nobody stopped him or asked where he was heading to. The shop was calm, save for the voices of actors from the TV screen. After about half an hour, Pablo walked into the shop with Edna and both were welcomed with suggestive stares. Pablo’s face beamed with smiles as Edna rested her head, fully braided, on his shoulders. It was an awkward sight for Chike who wondered what it was about Edna that made Pablo smile. He remembered Edna. She was one of the girls on Gondola Street who were always seen drinking with boys at Kosako Bar. She smoked too. Street kids loved to poke fun at her for nearly losing her sanity the first day she smoked marijuana. One day, she caught one of the boys and gave him a severe beating that made his nose bleed. Afterwards, street kids who first saw her coming at a distance quickly took another route.
Chike beamed with a smile as the look on Edna’s face reminded him of a memorable incident. He was on his way to Baba Kunle’s provision shop one evening when he saw a small crowd around Kosako Bar, watching what looked like a live stage drama. Edna was drinking and smoking with the boys when his father barged into the shop to accuse her of stealing his money. A tall huge man, he spoke with the firmness of an army commander. While Edna and the boys tried vainly to calm him, to Pablo’s consternation, a strange elderly man walked into the bar, pointed at Edna and called her a prostitute and thief who made away with his money. The bar was thrown into chaos that continued till midnight. The man refused to be calmed down. Edna’s father raged with fury, and Edna herself was visibly in shock. Pablo walked to another end of the bar and sat quietly with the heaviness of a man who had thievery and prostitution as burdens.
But there in Eric’s shop, they sat with the ease of new lovebirds and exchanged glances every second. After the third boy had left the barber’s seat, it was Chike’s turn and he sat facing the mirror, waiting for Eric to commence.
“O boy, you go wait small” Eric said, loosening his apron and turning off the clipper. Chike sat there, not sure of what to do. That was not the first time he had had to wait for Eric and his fellows to do their business at the back of the building. What he did not understand was why Eric always chose to go for his business each time it was his turn to get a haircut. Because he was always left in the company of a movie or rap music, he had never complained. On some days, he would ask him to wait behind after getting a haircut while he went out with his fellows. Eric quickly reached for the TV remote and changed the channel to a Nigerian pop music channel. He unlocked his cupboard, retrieved a black bag and signaled his fellows. He opened the rear door and they followed him. After a few minutes, the smell of marijuana filtered into the room and Chike inhaled and inhaled while nodding to a rap song. Chike knew that Eric and his fellows smoked cigarettes and marijuana. But he was not sure if that was the only business they did. Once, he had narrowly escaped a police raid at Eric’s bar. That day, the police arrived a few minutes after he had left and swooped in on Eric and his fellows. They were arrested, detained for three days and granted bail afterwards. There were rumors that Eric and his fellows were caught with marijuana and dangerous weapons while some refuted the story, arguing that they would not have been granted bail had they been caught with any weapons. Since then, Gondola Street became a second home to policemen who would always raid the street, searching for crime evidence.
The door opened suddenly and Pablo walked into the bar talking to someone on the phone, Edna walked swiftly behind him, stretching her rumpled black skirt. His eyes were red as he walked to the entrance door, peeped outside and walked back to call his fellows. In less than ten seconds, they all walked into the shop and Eric locked the back door.
“Chike, abeg wait here small. Make we see person for street. We go come back now now” Eric said as he quickly put the black bag back into the cupboard and locked it. Chike paid little attention to what Eric was saying. He was more engrossed by a new release which had rap lines in Igbo. The song was becoming popular on the street and he needed to learn and master his lines so as to beat his mates in their usual rap contest which sometimes turned to a fight. He waved an awkward goodbye and turned to face the TV. As he sang along, a police van quickly pulled up at the entrance and four armed policemen ran into the bar to Chike’s utter shock. He sprang to his feet and raised his hands.
“Where dem dey?” One of the policemen asked.
“Dem just comot now now” Chike said.
“Comot go where?”
“I know no, sir.”
“Oh, you no know? Okay, you go know today.” One of the policemen said as he reached for his handcuffs.
“Sir, believe me abeg. I no know where dem dey” He pleaded, his eyes clouding with tears.
“Very good. Since you no know you go come with us today” the policeman said and handcuffed him. They led him outside, threw him into the van and sped off, leaving behind a rather unlikely quiet street, and a rapper saying something about women’s butts on Eric’s TV.
Image: Ryan Mannie via Flickr (modified)