Fiction

One Star for the General: A Short Story by Amatoritsero Ede

Chief  Judge of the Supreme Court, Chukudi Amadiora, was a  brilliant student in his days. He drank with a vengeance, staggered through Law School and promptly arrived at The Bar in quite a state, his ears wet with beer. Actually, he was called to The Bar by a retired army General, who had set up a beer-bar as a political watering-hole. General Sulaimon Babayaro  foresaw huge profit in him. Babiavelli –  as the General was fondly hailed at The Bar for his ruthless machiavellian politics, missed the brute excesses of soldier-power, the glory of the green-cloth, the envy and naked hatred in the eyes of those on whom he necessarily wrecked his power. General Babayaro hoped to shoot himself back into the seat of a political influence -receding now like the hair on his head – through this ‘mop’ of a lawyer.

Amadiora did not however see himself as a mop. He had always suspected this condescending opinion of himself in the General’s superior drinking airs, which sat on him arrogantly like the army-issue cap he could not bring himself to stop wearing – even in sleep. Presently Babiavelli pulled at the flap of the cap with growing irritation, thrusting his face into a deeper shadow in the dimly lit room, shaking an unusually large head from side to side in disapproval. With each new bottle of beer, it seemed, the head got more water-logged and expanded a bit.

“Why don’t you drink like a man, Chucks? You are ‘chewing’ your beer!“ And slapping open palms against his big beer-belly,  “ abi you tink sey na kolanut?“. Unconsciously the other men in the room reached for their beer bottles. As a rule no one drank out of a glass. It was taboo at The Bar. Sometimes Babiavelli broke this rule. But it went without comment from the others. “Drink like a man!“ Babiavelli ordered. What does he think I am – a recruit soldier to be bullied around – the imbecile! Amadiora said nothing.

How, he never ceased to wonder, could his very drinking stomach, notorious in the case-history of The Bar, for weighing down heavily upon both plaintiff and defendant alike, be so maliciously dragged across the floor alongside a sodden mop? It was true, according to the department of statistics, the army consumed more beer – especially in idle peace-time, than the entire population of the country during a forty-day long burial ceremony of his royal highness, who himself probably died of a most royal high. But that was not enough reason for the General to kick at the judicial tankard with both feet. Amadiora saw himself as an honest drinking man, who took in his bitters without any bitterness. But Babiavelli’s whole bearing seemed to shout ‘my beer-belly is bigger than yours’. To correct this slight upon the reputation of his learned friends across the country on his own account and as a matter of honour to the judiciary, he picked up his bottle, raised it to his angry lips, drained the golden precious froths  without effort and gave a supreme hiccup.

A hush fell on the room. All background conversation ceased. The music from a hi-fi standing by The Bar became unusually loud. They had been at it the whole night and nobody expected such a singly deft-handed execution like this. Especially not when  each member of The Bar knew he had to perform the ‘salute’ at the end of the night anyway and, surreptitiously reserved such a feat for the exit like any good soldier.

“oh, my bottle!“, Babiavelli exclaimed. Very goot, goo’. Babiavelli was tipsy already Amadiora noted from the unclear words. But he had not yet gone near the dangerous edge. Then he demurred and revealed the philosopher in himself, the ghosts of  Thomas Hobbes and of Ogun in his drunk-destroyer aspect sitting on his left and right shoulders respectively.

They were assembled in that section of his home on the fifth floor, which Babiavelli liked to refer to as the ‘reception area’ of a fifty-room mansion. The reception area was a home within a home in itself, with a cluster of guest-rooms forming a half-circle on each side of a main sitting room, around which five men were now seated. Each guest-room was installed with all manner of modern convenience, from  water-beds to huge high-definition television screens on the walls, where the guest could enjoy pornographic films whenever it suited him.

Babiavelli loved the army colour green and the sitting-room was rugged in a muted green in agreement with leave-coloured walls. Couches in various shades of green were arranged on the perimeters of the floor to form a rectangle, with smaller rectangles – glass-topped  low tables of burnished silver for drinks – in front of them. At tangents to the seated men, in the usual dinning area, stood The Bar itself.  Here the floor was much higher, such that the huge structure of smoked transparent glass – shaped like a palm-wine keg – dwarfed the men in the room. The ceiling, wood-panelled and  high-arched as in a cathedral swung up away from them as if a giant’s hand had angrily flung it skywards, dropping the men in the room into a Lilliputian depression, which made of them insignificant little bundles of straw. The Bar rose up from a round base to balloon out and sheer inwards again, narrowing into its thin and long  upper stem. It terminated in a small rim topped out by a sculptured longing arm, with its glass fingers caressing the outer bulge of the rim, missing actually grasping the object. Inside the hollow of the arm a neon sign in calligraphic green spelled  out, ‘The Fountain of Wisdom’.  The whole thing was symbolic,  Babiavelli liked to explain whenever roused from the depths of his inebriation by any careless look in that direction.

 His voice usually trembled with emotion at such moments, the veins stood in his neck and his muscle-bound arms grabbed the arm rest of his seat as he expounded The Vapour Theory. “Power is a vapour“. It was the voice of an oracle and no one dared contradict it. “Just as the palm-wine keg preserves the essence of  burukutu from escaping, those who wield power must preserve it by  being worthy receptacles for this rage which takes hold of us like the virulence of  strong juju. You must be able to contain your drink without letting it go to your head“. Amadiora never failed to note that the drinks did climb up to the head. He would usually wait till late in the drinking session to corroborate this fact because at such points in time even Babiavelli’s speech would become slurred, his sentences and thoughts disconnected and truncated. Amadiora knew for example that a bee buzzed in his own head for days afterwards and his pronouncements at the court were never entirely his own, only a staccato response to the antics of the bees in his head. And suddenly throwing his head forward as if in telepathic response to Amadiora’s disagreement or as if aiming at an enemy position during the civil war, Babiavelli would continue, “and why do you think the brandy was named after Napoleon; drink, gentlemen!“

Inside the bar a young man of about twenty-five presided over the thin glass shelves, which held row upon row of makes of beer from every brewery in the country. A battleship of a refrigerator stood in a corner. It was always three-quarters filled with star-beer. This was Babiavelli’s favourite brand and by  tacit agreement, only he drank them. The bar-man could be seen bustling with empty activity behind his glass prison.

He had to overwhelm his powerful clientele with his efficiency. Jobs were hard to come by, degree or no degree. All his years at the university ended here. He did not mind. He was paid well. And sometimes Lady Macbeth – that was the General’s wife –  even threw him a coquettish smile whenever she came down late in the night to serve the men a round or two of pepper-soup or  passed by early in the day in those thin see-through house-wears. Little wonder. The General could not be much use to her after these heavy nightly binges. But he was careful. He pretended not to note.  From time to time he observed the men and gauged the mood in the air. But right now he could not decide how far gone they really were. He could never rely on the General. That one was as hard a drinker as the bottles in which the beer came. His prodigious belly attested to his prowess. Besides he could not see clearly through the gloom. Their faces were permanently in a shadow just as their lives – for him – were permanently in a shadow. He knew nothing about them except their names, their iron public profiles, and the fact that a dangerous plot was been hatched here.

The room was lit only by a faint low-wattage lamp standing in a corner and by the neon glow from the bar, such that the figures reclining on the couches appeared like human ghouls just arisen from the floor in a mist of colours. Somewhere in the background, an air-conditioner hummed. The air was one of hushed conspiracy, with Babiavelli’s voice riding it lightly.

“Now, about this sorry business at the high court…“  Babiavelli paused. Amadiora smiled. Here he was on sure ground. He knew his law books too well, knew them so well he could read them upside-down when it suited his purposes. And this was what the General asked him to do from time to time.

A young man, an undergraduate, murders another in a gang war on one of the university campuses. The university senate begins to investigate. The blood trails leads to his rooms where the insignia of The black Axe is found, apart from two guns and a sword skilfully fashioned to look like a harmless umbrella. He is rusticated and handed over to the police. At the courts, where Amadiora presides it is clear that he would get the death sentence or life in jail. He is a northerner and moreover a cousin to the sultanate. The Sultan himself personally summons Babiavelli and has a secret night rendezvous with him to avoid the prying eyes of the press. A week before the pronouncement of judgement Babiavelli  summons Amadiora to The Bar  and orders him to reverse the case and set the man free.

“It is all in order. I ‘ll set him free of course”. Amadiora watched Babiavelli closely. The other men leaned forward with interest. They all knew about the muscle-fights between Babiavelli and the Sultan. Babiavelli’s political fate depended somehow on the support of the Northern Mafia, at the head of which was the towering bearded image of the sultan himself.  And their own fates were in turn allied to that of the General. If he lost in his campaign for the highest office in the country they would all be out of  their jobs.

“No, you don’t do anything of the sort. Danburauba!“ Amadiora’s instincts were right. He smiled and bided his time.  The General had changed his mind.  The boy had to die – if only to prove to the sultanate that he still had his fingers on the pulse of things in the country.

“But my hands are tied…“

“Untie them, untie them!“ Babiavelli  picked up a Havana cigar from a box on the table, lit it with trembling fingers, dragged on it and blew rich smoke at Amadiora as if in challenge. “So how are you going to do it, eh? Just do it, kai!“

Amadiora paused wistfully and picked up his bottle. As if that were a cue of some sort, all eyes beamed on him. His reaction was equally important to the others. The keen eyes in the gloom of the room  had that strange wild translucence  of a cat’s irises dilating in the dark. The crazed glaze induced by alcohol only aided the feeling that he was amongst enemies. He turned around to look at the bar-man. The same weird look was in his eyes. He turned once more to the gathering. Chief Nebucadnezza  Adejo was directly opposite him, a journalist and a liar, sly as a serpent and as quick and dangerous with the pen, his gross corrupt weight notwithstanding. He was in charge of propaganda. And rightly so; his sworn motto was, the pen is mightier than the people. He liked to keep a low marxist profile and was dressed in the usual T-shirt, jeans and rubber sandals. On either side of him were a state security chief and  a police commissioner – the ear and mouth-piece of his boss, the Inspector-General. Both were in their forties – thin rake-like figures, predictable in off-duty safari suits.

 Seyi Alajobi – that was the police-man’s name – had once broken the morale of a proud student union leader by snuffing his nose with tear-gas powder, forcing him to sniff in deeply while gassing his eyes directly with the canister variety at the same time. The naive and idealistic young man quickly confessed that the police was indeed a friend of the people. He had had the effrontery to write an article titled the police as an enemy of the people in a major daily newspaper. Salliyu Gokobiri, the secret service man read political history at the university and had since been a devoted student of the Nazi officers of the Jewish holocaust. He never smiled. This was in keeping with  his reputation  as the dreaded  head of a Gestapo-style terror squad, murdering journalist, erring newspaper editors, trade union leaders and any  open critic of Babiavelli’s campaign. Under his iron rule the threat of sudden death gripped the land like a fever.

Amadiora’s eyes sought relief in the other empty seats and without looking directly at Babiavelli, who was seated away from him on the same couch, said  “Well, General – as I said before… You know the case has reached the judgement stage…“  His eyes roved and settled at a point on the high ceiling. The air was charged. Babiavelli picked up his bottle of star slowly and took a long pull, eyes thoughtful. He returned the bottle unto the table, dipped a hand into his flowing babanriga and began to caress his paunch like a pregnant woman responding to the stirrings of life inside her. He did not seem to have heard Amadiora; he simply stared at him. Amadiora felt hot in the air-conditioned room. Gokobiri regarded him with stony eyes. He recognised the danger and quickly made a detour.

“Bar-man“, he raised his voice sharply at his chosen route of diversion, “one star for the General!“  The tension was diffused. They all burst out laughing for no clear reason, except for Attilu and Babiavelli, who seemed unimpressed. The Bar-man trotted over with a cold bottle of star, opened and placed it before the General and retreated quietly to his post. Relaxed in the prevailing atmosphere of restored camaraderie, Amadiora leaned back and sighed, “Yes! Well the boy was arrested without a warrant in the first place…”

“So?,“ Babiavelli interrupted. Amadiora smiled knowingly.

“So we can use that small technical detail to throw the case out and start all over again.“ Babiavelli hit the armrest of the couch in excitement. Gokobiri frowned and asked:

“Why wasn’t the issue of a lack of warrant raised by the defendant’s lawyer during the trial?

“He did“, Amadiora chuckled, “that was why we could twist the case in the boy’s favour in the first place.

“Nice! So the press cannot fault any sudden turns on the lack of a good defence“….

“The press is here,“ Nebucadnezzar interjected, “we are with you all the way.“

“We simply have a re-trial“, continued Amadiora, “and find him guilty after admitting the police’ sworn evidence of a wrong warrant or no warrant at all“.

Alajobi warmed up to this opportunity of proving his own usefulness in the scheme of things. “I’ll personally brief those of my men involved,“ he said. Babiavelli chuckled and whispered to himself. He was now at that stage of alcoholic nirvana possible for him alone. With his brain swathed in the fumes of wisdom, he rode on charged electric airs, which made of his large eye-balls  lightening conductors for self-illumination. Of course they were blood-shot by this time and glowed like live coals. He chuckled once more and spoke loudly into the gloom, “What an Oliver Twist of a case!“ Amadiora could not see the relevance of the comparison and expected much worse. The bees were at work in his own head already. Nebucadnezza, his expression puzzled asked, “has your excellency read that great classic?“ Babiavelli did not seem to have heard the question. He began to ramble.

“You know I was going to -hic- make you – hic – Minister …

“ …for Justice,“ Amadiora completed, in an effort to take Babiavelli off the subject, knowing that he was been referred to.

“Mini – star. For – hic – INJUSTICE,“ Babiavelli roared and diminished into the couch in chuckles. “And Anthony General… Yes a General even if you nefer fight war – for your yeye civilian life before… That boy gets the death sentence!“ Amadiora looked sharply in the direction of the bar-man. In his anxiety he kept forgetting that only by really raising the voice to the roofs could any sound penetrate those glass barriers. He was reassured by the glass bar. It was lightly sound-proved ‘for security reasons’ – on the insistence of Gokobiri.

He realised that the General was at that point of inspired drunkenness when he spoke a little too freely – even for this gathering. He surveyed the room furtively. But the others were hard at the serious business of drinking. He really should not bother, he decided, because they were all bound by a common greed. And the General picked carefully. You had to be a hard drinker to get in – that was apart from having that kind of political ambition likely to break your neck at the end of the day if you failed. Gokobiri noted Amadiora’s discomfiture and tried to come to his aid.

“Are you all right, General?“ He was the only one who dared talk to Babiavelli with such freedom. Babiavelli’s mood swung dangerously.

“Shut your rubber! Danbarauba. Are you. Suggesting that I – that… Drunk?“ In his inarticulacy he waxed lyrical. “What’s your corn with my beer? Somebody should clean out their rotten mouth with a dash of sea water – what’ your corn with my beer?” He repeated for emphasis. Gokobiri only picked up his bottle of Harp and drank…

One never really knew how far gone the General was, Amadiora thought. Just when you assumed he had burnt out his fuse, he confounded the company with the renewed vigour of his drinking. He seemed to have a circuit-breaker in his head; so that he functioned in fits and starts because when he spoke again he rambled, his speech was broken and slurred.

“….They ‘ll  nefer un’erstand…You know, the vapour – the fapour – of power. You ‘ve tu – to haf a s’rong head tu hol’ it – to be able to hold it. Like that thing there…” At which point he stood up. All of his muscled six feet was ram-rod. He circled the centre-table littered with cigarette ash and filled with empty beer-bottles, took the three flight of steps up to the bar level and walked up to The Fountain of Wisdom. Amadiora knew they would once more have to seat through a lecture on The Vapour Theory. Babiavelli reached out a steady hand and caressed the glass structure. It was about his height and he had to bend in sliding his fingers down the stem.

“This reminds me of the waist of one of my mistresses – Aisha.“ He straightened himself again, reaching up to touch the neon arm. And tha’s de hand grabbing for pow’r. But as you can see, it’s missed. The fumes ‘re escaping… Can you see it. Tha’ hand shu’ld really hol’ – hold de glass ‘ere“. And he grasped the concave bulge just above the stem. And this reminds me of her breasts. You hol’ the glass an’ drink in the fumes. It gives strength – pow’r … because then – no senti – sentiments. He turned towards the seated men, and catching his foot in his flowing babanriga, lurched. His cap fell  unto the floor. It was the bar-man’s job to pick it up whenever this happened. He regained his balance and strolled towards the men, continuing his monologue without a break. “We are the receptacles of power…Must keep the fumes inside.“ He dropped into his seat and his head fell forward in a sudden doze.

The bar-man left his glass cage and retrieved Babiavelli’s cap from the floor. He moved forward with caution as if the seated men embodied  one dangerous and unpredictable animal likely to attack him without warning. Amadiora received the cap as Babiavelli was still slouched, eyes closed. He put the cap beside him and asked the bar-man to replenish the table, unnecessarily reminding him to include a star for the General. In a few minutes Babiavelli’s eyes flew open. The bar man brought five sweaty bottles on a tray. He began to whistle as he set the drinks on the table.

“What makes you so happy whistling like a canary? “ It was Babiavelli in a querulous mood.

“Let him alone, General.“ Alcohol loosened Gokobiri’s tongue. “Why shouldn’t he whistle. If being a canary lessens his boredom… In fact, bar-man have a beer on the house.“

“Which house? My own abi  your own?“ And to the bar-man, “If  I by mistake smell even water  for your mouth… No salary. Six months. Se you dey hear me so?“ Suggestively Babiavelli pulled at his own right ear-lobe with a think thumb and index finger, opening the bar-man’s ears to words of wisdom. The bar-man hemmed and hawed and left hurriedly while Gokobiri protested the unfairness of it and Amadiora tried to calm Babiavelli, who insisted it was the bar-man’s fault for being a bar-man and not a colonel in the army. Was this the type of job he should be doing. And for the next few days whenever Babiavelli was in the mood the bar-man became canary or the whistler.

Babiavelli picked up the  fresh bottle of star between thumb and index finger. It was a trick with him. Pausing  and looking meaningfully at his lieutenants he  took a long pull from the bottle. The others followed suit. This was  called a half salute – half because they were still in their seats. It was useful in re-invigorating the company and at the same time wishing the General a long healthy drink throughout his life. The spirit of competition was abroad and Amadiora simply drained his bottle before putting it back empty on the table. He belched richly and gave a supreme hiccup. Babiavelli nodded at him in satisfaction.

“That was a pleasant surprise, Chucks. Than’ you for de honour. I only hope. Hope  you can still take the salute b’fore we leave. To answer your question Nebu, no – have not read Oliver twist… No such civilian past-time.“ He turned once more to Amadiora. “So the boy dies, yes?“

“yes!“

“It’s a pity“, Gokobiri put in , “we had to pay off the deceased’s family so much for nothing.“

“Perhaps it was a good thing, we can make jounalistic capital out of it“, Nebucadnezzar quipped.

“And how.“ This was Alajobi.

“We hushed it up at the time; we could publicise it now and give credit to the Gen. for caring  about the misfortune of Nigerians. In fact I would suggest, General, that you call a press conference protesting the possible judgement of ‘not guilty’, insisting that justice be carried out. We would then make sure the fact that you gave financial compensation to the family of the deceased is insinuated in the newspaper story.“  Babiavelli chuckled.

“Exce – llent! Brilliant idea.“ 

“I am not so sure,“ Amadiora contributed. “There is no time for such a rigmarole. The judgement will be passed tomorrow.“ Babiavelli  glared at him with blood-shot eyes.

“Are you with me or against?“

“That is not the point…“

Gokobiri turned to Amadiora in irritation. “Can’t you stall! Adjourn the case for a few days!“ A light dawned suddenly on Babiavelli. Swaying slightly from side to side in his seat, he looked levelly at Amadiora.

“Okay, say it Chucks, out wid it. Wetin be de wahalla?“ Amadiora hesitated. He had not meant to be so obvious. “Don’t worry, talk my frien’.“

“Well…“ Amadiora stopped and shifted in his seat. Alajobi and Nebucadnezzar began to laugh at him. It was a dry, drunken cackle and it pained Amadiora. Gokobiri got impatient and took control of the situation.

“General, if I know these lawyers well, I think Chucks wants some Kola.“

“So what’s de problem then, eh , Lawyer…sege!“

“Yes”, Amadiora was forced to admit, “the prosecution might contest the adjournment.“ 

“But dat one na small thing! Come, how much… Okay. I ‘ll give you one million naira; if you need more let me know; God punish Naira,” he swore for emphasis, Danburauba!“ 

 “No, no; quite enough!“ Amadiora frowned. In the gloom no one noticed. Deep inside his alcoholic torpor, some nebulous thought swirled darkly. Babiavelli dropped off again. Still possessed by his grand journalistic vision, Nebucadnezzar  saw reel upon reel of newspaper editorials extolling the General’s magnanimity rolling off the printing machine, softening the hearts of a disillusioned citizenry,  appealing to the goodwill of a large section of the country – peasant, professional or intellectual.

“Wasn’t it a trade union leader’s son that got killed,“ he said more to himself, “the working class should be happy  with the way this case ends.“

“Yes,“ answered Gokobiri, “and a trouble-shooting union leader at that.“ In the lassitude of the moment he betrayed a secret between himself and Babiavelli. “We had to cool him down a bit; he was causing labour unrest in one the General’s manufacturing plants.“

The clouds in Amadiora’s head cleared. He started, opened his mouth to say something but simply fell back into his seat. He suddenly understood what had bothered him. Babiavelli had taken it upon himself to pay off the bereaved family – which meant he had been privy to the boy’s death before it happened. It was conscience money. He realised he did not know as much as he thought he did. He stared at Gokobiri.

“How much did the family receive?“

Gokobiri’s mind was already somewhere else. “What family,“ he answered, yawning. “oh – you mean… Well, half a million naira, I think. He yawned again. “Why?“

“Oh, it’s okay”, Amadiora reassured hurriedly “I just wondered.“

Babiavelli’s eyes flew open suddenly. “Where is my cap?,“ he barked.

“Here, General!“ Amadiora picked it up from the couch and handed it to him.

“The fumes, the vapour was escaping through mai skull.“

They all looked at him in incomprehension. Babiavelli watched their blank faces and was annoyed. “Nobody saw it? Nobody! A True member of – who ‘d been tru’ly called. To The Bar woul’ have. Seen it!“ There was silence. Amadiora looked at the General’s bare balding head.

“I saw it!,“ he exclaimed, surprised at his own shrill voice. He looked at Babiavelli’s head again. In the diffused lighting it was suddenly fringed by a band of thin yellow light only so barely perceptible. It palpitated and moved in a whorl towards the crown of the head, thinning up leisurely towards the ceiling. It was the aura around the head of a sage or a Brahman. One saw it in Michealangelo’s paintings of Jesus Christ. Amadiora was overwhelmed by a rush of fanaticism. His voice rose a notch higher  in a  disciple’s fervour.  “I see it!“ The others exchanged bleary-eyed glances and shrugged it all off as a joke.

“I know you are truly called, Chucks.“ Babiavelli felt gratified. “A true member. Of The Bar – in many ways.“ Amadiora was dumb-stricken like Moses before the burning bush . He raised his face and looked starry-eyed at the other men with a certain feeling of triumph. Then his doting acolyte’s eyes fell on Babiavelli’s bottle. It was empty. Amadiora signalled the ever watchful Bar-man, raising his voice high.

“one star for the General!“

“At this rate,“ Babiavelli chuckled,  “ I should soon be a Field-Marshal.“ He put on his cap meaningfully. “…This was why I dozed; I was depressed by the vaporisation.“ He took a long pull from the freshly supplied bottle and began to caress his paunch with slow circular movements of the open palm. Babiavelli was going to suggest that they take the salute and  call it a day when Lady Macbeth came in , trailed by an  eighteen year-old woman-servant bearing a large tray of fish pepper-soup served in the traditional black earthenware-pots, the size of large tea-saucers. Babiavelli paused, looked with drunken irritation  at his wife. He frowned and said, “You can trust a woman to come in at the wrong moment.“

Lady Macbeth berthed just outside the circle of men and switched on her most charming smile, her lips smeared with blood. She noted that the men where at various stages of drunkenness. The air reeked of alcohol and cigarette smoke. Her smile became a painful red wound.  Playing the magnanimous host, she greeted them warmly, not without some exaggeration and urged the woman-servant, who waited all the time in the wings, to begin serving the pepper-soup. While she served them the pepper-soup, Babiavelli commented loudly on the roundness of her buttocks. As if moving to a cue Lady Macbeth swept up away to The Bar, her ankle length satin dress trailing the rich rug. Gokobiri argued that it might just be padded up for their benefit.  Alajobi suggested that they put it to the test and Babiavelli responded automatically. The woman-servant, who had put down this sexual banter to drunkenness, was not fast enough to escape Babiavelli’s gorilla paw. He had the roundness of her buttocks imprisoned in his huge palm. Too shocked to move, she looked pleadingly towards Lady Macbeth – who was busy flirting with the helpless bar-man – while he squeezed, patted and bounced her bottom in his cupped palm. Lady Macbeth seemed oblivious to the goings-on. Releasing her Babiavelli announced, again loudly, that hers’ was as real as the best of them. His blood-shot eyes lighted on the young woman’s  pliant body, on the contours of her breast and he imagined his hands caressing them instead of the Fountain of Wisdom a while ago. Like a he-goat smelling the female he became randy. Must touch her wound again sometime again where it hurts between the legs. Hot. Hot pepper-soup. Who touches my wife’s? She looks so saintly. Could bite it to death. Though.

The woman stood far away on the fringes of the men arguing over the hot bowls of pepper-soup. Lady Macbeth swept back to the men, her voice preceding her , asking if they enjoyed the special fish  caught by the best fisher-man on the river Ethiope in Delta State and flown in fresh to Lagos from Sapele, the moment it was landed. Drunkenly Amadiora reminded her there was no Airport in Sapele. Nebucadnezzar retorted that it did not matter if they were flown in or if the fishes  swam straight from the ocean right into the soup pot. Babiavelli felt hurt in his family pride and insisted that they were indeed flown in. “Where are the fishes, anyway,“ exclaimed Gokobiri, looking into his empty soup pot. Lady Macbeth, already distraught at this testing of her generosity, replied tartly, “They are all in the sea, “ and swept angrily away from the garrulous men, her woman servant hot on her heels, grateful to get away from the hypnotic eyes of the General.

In the wake of the women’s sudden heated exit Babiavelli stood up slowly touched by the insult, and by alcohol. Enraged by the women and beer-befuddled, he found it hard to maintain his balance but somehow managed to keep on his feet. He turned to the bar and nodded at the bar-man. The table rose in a  body.

“Let’s take the salute, gentlemen.“ Fresh bottles of beer were supplied by the bar-man. Each man had one brand or the other. The General was entitled to a star – especially for the salute. With each Member of The Bar clutching a sweaty bottle at the ready, Babiavelli looked around the circle of faces. In various stages of alcoholic exhaustion they looked as prepared as they ever would be.

“Attention!“, Babiavelli called. Feet wobbled, staggered and dragged themselves together in a mock drill, with week knees trembling to keep old men straight and their chicken chests upright. “Fire!“ And all the guns in the Nigerian armoury crackled, aimed at the strong-holds of all manner of enemies as the bottles cracked  burst open and sent liquid shots gurgling down the throats of those who wanted to die as kings. Head thrown back like a maniac laughing and Adam apple working up and down rapidly like a piston Babiavelli proved his legend and emptied his bottle in the time it would take to cork an AK 47 or uncork a bottle. In one crack flat! He belched loudly and stood back to watch the others, patting his stomach. Amadiora brought down his hand, clutching a half-full bottle. He left it on the table, looking unhappy. Like him Nebucadnezza and Alajobi did not quite succeed. Only Gokobiri equalled Babiavelli’s performance. In disapproval  Babiavelli slowly shook his large head from side to side.

“I hope it is not that you can’t contain the fumes, gentlemen.“ He looked around the faces and shook his head once more. “’kay, let’s see if we can all. Cross the bar without fallin’…“ He was referring to the Power Walk, with which the night was usually concluded. Babiavelli started the walk.  It would take him  from one end of the room to the other. Following a narrow strip of cloth running straight across the length of the rug, which he tried not to step upon – in conforming to the rules of the Power walk – he would roll and sway like a boat, pulled and tugged along by  the cloth-strip of his own intoxication. But somehow he managed to step on a strip of his intestine and  slipped upon a gallon of star beer. The sea heaved inside him, smashing a bucketful of beer through his mouth against the far wall in a jet as he stepped drunkenly over a regulation wooden bar resting delicately on tripods at the end of his walk. He stepped back breathing as if he had just done a hundred meter dash, waving his hands to urge on the others.

Amadiora started out like a ballet dancer, following the cloth-strip with a studied concentration. Suddenly the bees buzzed wildly in his head and stung him behind the eyes. Propelled by the force of his smart, he staggered the rest of the way with his feet caught in the cloth-strip and was shoved sideways by an energy he could not comprehend. Trying to straighten his wayward body and regain his balance, he only zigzagged around, careered down the remaining way and knocked down the bar from its rest on the tripod, collapsing against the General. They both went down in a bear-hug, rolling in Babaivelli’s vomit. Enraged, Babiavelli struggled up, using the wall for support. Amadiora lay there panting for breath while Babiavelli rained abuses on his ancestors. Gokobiri moved forward, straightened the cloth-strip once more and replaced the wooden bar on the tripod. He moved back to the other end of the room and began his walk. He moved deliberately, almost taunting, with a roll and a bounce, exuding the self-confidence of a man accustomed to difficult situations. He stepped over the wooden bar lightly and stood back, folding his arms against his barrel chest. He looked down at Amadiora, who was finally pulling himself up. Amadiora eyed him balefully. Well executed  – like a true killer, he thought. One after the other Alajobi  and Nebucadnezzar managed the walk without much incidence. Amadiora tried once more and succeeded. To fail twice would have meant having to take the salute, alone,  before another try. Sometimes the bar-man had to be summoned to act as referee if there was a general disagreement. At such times someone invariably pointed out that their collective judgement was ‘externally’ influenced during the walk and was undemocratic. There were no complaints now and they began to leave one after the other. Babiavelli suggested that anyone who felt too tired could take one of the guest rooms. Amadiora was quick in refusing, suspecting that the idea was meant especially to denigrate him. It was two o clock in the morning and the others decided to relieve their chauffeurs the risk of having to race against armed-robbers’ cars prowling the streets of Lagos at night in search of victims. Amadiora left.

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