Here’s to Less Mimbo, No?

Ngansop A. Roy

Nwebya calls me names. He will call me out in class come Monday should I not honour his invitation to a club tonight. Everyone will laugh, because if you’ve not started drinking mimbo by late adolescence, you are a failure or you don’t know how to have fun with your peers at all. I will bury my head in a book that I will be reading. Prof P, our lecturer, will not be outraged. He will let it all slide, as usual. It’s just banter. It won’t bother him that teenagers dabble in mimbo like kids in a mosquito-infested swamp.

Before Nwebya enrolled with us, I was good at standing my ground. Whenever classmates invited me, I typed convincing alibis into our group chat and vanished only a few hours to the agreed meeting time.

Guys, the rain here just won’t stop. Shit!

Stranded! Crazy traffic, bros. Taxi drivers are turning around.

Everyone knew how regularly Bonaberi’s weather veered from that of the Douala neighbourhoods across the Wouri River, and how quickly the lone and narrow bridge got clogged. No one resented a bookworm for choosing a nearby library over faraway mimbo parties. No one commented. Until a month ago, when Nwebya called these excuses lame.

Book club this, Bonaberi that, Mr Antisocial. Come where things happen. He suggested I move in with someone, anyone on the other bank of the river, closer to our university campus, closer to the township. When I argued that my only relative there doesn’t ever want to see me, another mate insisted that I move. 

It was Tatah, our friend who only transferred from the University of Bamenda midterm last year but is already acclaimed for his knowledge of the best drinking spots in Douala. He chipped in his opinion that no conflict should be beyond settlement while the parties were alive, let alone family conflict. I went offline. Explaining myself was a mistake. Bailing on them had always been most effective when brief.

*

The sun will soon set. I am on the roadside, topping up my airtime at a callbox and regurgitating the reason why I won’t leave my neighbourhood tonight. Two benskins tilt their handlebars; they drive by, stunting as though in a contest, almost jostling me off the road. While I choke on the fetid mimbo smell from these mad riders, the call box attendant waves a customer-friendly “hello” to them and apologises to me. “Sorry, that boy them ever like for play so after they done drink small thing,” she says, organising sachets of light brown mimbo atop the bitter kola nuts on her display pallet. Such a complaisant way of saying it. Play. Small thing. 

I count the mimbo suggestions on her ambulant stall. The umbrella tightly fitted to her pallet table flaunts the logo of a brewery company alongside a tombola announcement. The plastic cover, bearing a list of beer brands alongside dubious energising powers, is fixed onto her table by the variety of metal bottle caps hammered into the sides. How successful is her campaign, these mimbo proposals that reach adults and minors alike, growing into public acceptance and then into normalcy? A few metres ahead, one of her mimbo customers is loading passengers onto his benskin: a slender lady with two sacks-and-motto bags, a brawny gentleman, and a toddler. Four lives on a tattered and squeaking two-wheeler. They spread their legs, balance their loads, and squeeze into a seated queue. The toddler sits ahead, on the fuel cap, and grabs the rider’s wrists – petit chauffeur, a promise of juvenile thrill. The elders grab the rider’s waist from behind, and he takes off. He’ll sway between cars where there is traffic and race with his colleagues where the road is clear. Those passengers must have smelled the mimbo on his breath, no? Did they, too, shrug it off as a small thing? 

When I call Nwebya to excuse myself, I say that taxis are scarce in my neighbourhood tonight, that I never take benskin, he says he’ll come pick me up. Not that he bothers asking me. He informs me that he has a car with a full tank of fuel and he will be at my door in the next hour, then he drops my call.

This guy must think himself a lord amongst us, no? He walks and talks so, and none of our peers ever says no to him. They quote his ways and thoughts like verses of a holy book. And when their faith in him withers, he revives it with banknotes and mimbo. Guys, we SHOULD go clubbing regularly. I’ll buy more rounds than you can count. DECIDED! Guys, drink mimbo, I’ll pay. Don’t say it’s bitter whereas you’re just poor. DECIDED! If your problem is transport, I have enough fuel blah blah blah… He stands atop the pedestal that comes with opulence and flings his opinions into our lives, unsparingly so. Why should he who deters everyone from merely commenting on his family’s embezzlement scandals always have a say on our own doings? Two weeks ago, after I had confessed the reason for my abstinence from mimbo, he sent me pictures of green bottles poking out of ice-full buckets with the caption: Youth life is passing you by just like childhood did. 

His words hooked question marks behind decisions I had cast in stone. Could the experiences lived solely within the safety of novels (albeit as good as they come) make up for my forgone real-life adventures? As a child, I read books and watched from behind our window while the neighbours’ kids played football in the swampy lawns between our houses. And when they bragged about the yoghurts and care they received while sweating out their malaria, they made it seem as though playing around mosquitoes was worth the try. As though malaria itself was innocuous, temporary. Like the mud they knew would come off their feet once they stepped under the tap.

*

Once upon a time, a little boy would have traded anything to have only a few drops of mimbo wet his tongue. I moved to Douala every summer to spend the holidays with my elder cousin, Muma, at my auntie’s. One block away from her compound, she owned and ran a retail shop with a wide terrace. I spent most of the first holidays indoors, alone, a condition I resented since the reason for leaving our house in Bonaberi was specifically to hang around humans who didn’t work every hour of the day, every day of the year. Subsequently, perhaps because I grew up to Muma’s elbow and so my toil qualified as chores and not child labour, he and I visited the shop every day. We mopped the floor and set white plastic chairs and tables on the terrace whenever Auntie opened, and we stacked them back into the house when she closed. The space was bound by balusters with a single one-metre-wide opening that served as the entrance. Watching from there every morning, the floor was a map of multi-coloured continents and whitish-yellowish oceans of vomit and other slippery substances, all drying in breaking sunlight. It always stank. On Saturdays and Sundays, there were these sticky rubbers that I collected from corners and washed and kept in our room to later blow into balloons. Until Muma threw them all away and said they were condoms. I dreaded the wake of football matches the most; there could be a lot of broken glass, broken chairs, and sometimes blood too. Thick blood! The first time, I was alarmed. But Muma’s unconcern reassured me. He swept and gathered those nasty things into the trash can without saying anything, as though they were as obvious to him as baby screams to a maternity warden, or foul smell to an animal farmer. Every morning was a hideous variant of the previous, but Muma never crinkled his nose. He sprinkled Auntie’s magic powder refresher, I scrubbed the cement floor with a wet rag and flushed everything into the surrounding gutters until he found it clean to Auntie’s standards.

We had breakfast behind the counter of the shop. There were freshly delivered, crispy and hot baguettes, mayonnaise, sausage, and sometimes, boiled eggs and pepper from the previous day. There was enough variety to make up for the morning’s disgust. And so, I strived to wake up early, and whenever I failed, I didn’t complain if Muma shook me forcefully from sleep. Every other morning, while we ate breakfast, Muma disappeared into a dark corner of the shop and emerged with two bottles. The small one – usually a Sprite or a Fanta – was for me, and the big one for him. His drink was foamier than mine, and he had to suck and lick the foam first, or tilt and lift the bottle very high for the liquid to flow into his mouth. After the first sip, he often heaved a sigh and sucked his tongue or just paused and smiled as though someone had assured him a seat in heaven. When I said I wanted the foamy drink too, he chewed the top of my bottle into a crescent and dropped it in my drink. But mine never foamed as much as his. I didn’t like that he always urged me to drink fast and return home, but I obeyed because he said this drink was from his generosity. Auntie had not asked him to give it to me. While I collected the broom and rags behind the door to leave, I peeped into the shop again and noticed how he tore sachets of light brown mimbo and sucked on his tongue with squinting eyes, or plucked out another bottle and drank faster and belched loudly, and the sweetness of my juice seemed plain beside his mimbo experience. The day he uncorked a bottle and found the logo of a Nanfang motorcycle in its bottle top, I wanted to steal a crate, open and sip from all the bottles, check their bottle tops and close them again. 

I never helped with stacking up the chairs when Auntie closed. Even when she said I could come, Muma didn’t take me along. He said packing was not a big deal. But it wasn’t the packing I longed for. He always returned later than Auntie; he plucked bottles from the shop at night too. Night after night, I begged him to take me along. But he refused. And then, one Friday, he brought the morning stench of the shop into our blanket in the middle of the night and said a lot of rubbish in his sleep. And the next Friday, and Sunday, and every day. The night he tottered in and peed in a drawer full of textbooks, I feared he had gone mad. But when I summoned Auntie to our room, she said, “Na loss sense, no be sick.” He was only drunk; he would be fine. 

For as long as I visited Muma, which should span about eight years, he was an undergraduate student at the University of Douala. Before I started coming over for summer, we had heard his name on the radio and celebrated his success at the Baccalaureat, and my mother had made it a habit to remind me of her smart nephew whenever my Maths results didn’t add up in her head. And so, I believed Muma every morning after breakfast when he said he couldn’t return home with me because he had courses to attend. I thought of him as someone who could state all my complex high-school theorems offhand although I had neither witnessed him count anything other than bottles nor write in any other book than Auntie’s sales ledger. Once he presented his winning bottle top and collected his prize – a brand new benskin – from the brewery company, it seemed like his curriculum had been doubled. He left the house with a thick jacket and a bandoulière bag, spent most of his awake time outside, and returned home with an ever so weightless bag, noisy pockets, dusty hair, and the aura of someone who had mistaken clinical spirit for a deodorant. University seemed, to me, a strange kind of school then.

On his good days, he woke up early enough to ride me to the shop before heading to university. Whenever he took off and the inertia made me lean back and gasp, he asked me to grab his waist and keep my eyes on his neck. I enjoyed the triple rumble of his engine, and the rush of air that caressed my face, especially on those days when he let me sit in front as a petit chauffeur. It was me, piercing through the air first, and him having my back. He swayed in a corner and rushed on the empty street, and in those moments, I forgave him for all the times he had refused me mimbo, and for smelling terrible at night; and I hated that Auntie’s shop was so close to her house.

I was at the shop the day Auntie called Muma a failure. He had started living as though mimbo was a balanced diet or a food nutrient whose deficiency could be detrimental. He stacked sachets of light brown mimbo in his jacket every morning and showed up for breakfast at odd hours every so often. He had long stopped cleaning with me, although he never compromised on his daily dose of bottles. After ranting and scolding in vain for a month or two, Auntie had opened fire and called him a liability in the presence of customers. In response, he dropped coins in the coffers for every bottle he hence took from the shop and asked me to jot it in the ledger. Also, around midday when Auntie needed small change to reimburse her clients, he appeared at the terrace with lots of coins and banknotes in an envelope labelled Liability. And the day I followed him to the stop to hand his bandoulière bag, I figured he had been working benskin during university hours, if at all there had ever been a university in the picture.

The day Muma decided it was my last summer at Auntie’s, I wished I had never done anything for him, and never come to their house at all. He said it on a Friday. That night, unlike the others where he had returned and locked himself in the bathroom to puke, he moved straight to bed without any smell. After turning off the lights, there were sobs, and I turned but said nothing. What could a little boy say to an adult crying on his pillow? 

“You need better company,” he said, and I wished he had been drunk. I wished it was another piece of rubbish he would soon deny he had said.

Every day, he dropped me off at the shop, moved people around town, ran errands in the neighbourhood, and made money. Of course, he was no burden. How did I have to say it? Were my daily thank yous – for dropping me, for the juice, for the coins – not enough proof that, if no one else did, I found him obliging? And his nauseous smell. It only lasted the night. Only a few days earlier, stark discomfort had awoken me around four. My arms had smelt like I was rotting and felt like I was swimming in a pool of jelly. I had followed the puddles from our bed and found him asleep, leaning open-mouthed on the edge of the bathtub. He looked thin with a pale face. Even his big toes had appeared abnormally twisted. And although I had wondered how the intake of something supposedly pleasing could take him so far, I had been grateful, as always, that a few hours of rest could bring him completely back to normal. By dawn, I had cleaned everything in the room. He had tooth-brushed away his breath, showered, worn his perfume, and as usual, everything had been as though he had never tasted mimbo. 

Now, here is my recompense. He knew I had no company back in Bonaberi, he did. I turned away and lay still. Crickets chirped a brief interlude, and there was the familiar sequence: the whining door of his bedside cabinet, his bandoulièreʼs zip, coins dropping on wood, colliding glass, the fizz sound of an opening bottle, prominent gulps, unrestrained belches, and then silence. The next day when he, teetering towards his benskin, ordered me to hurry up so he could drop me at the shop, he appeared to me like a child experimenting with the authority of adulthood. I stood at the door and watched, wondering if it was his decision or Auntie’s and wishing her little mimbo suggestions had not defined him. He mounted his two-wheeled horse with lazy exasperation, it rattled away, and I waved goodbye to the gate. 

He passed away two summers later. He and I had spoken regularly on the phone. He had been to the hospital a few times, but never for anything worrisome: fatigue, he worked all week, and swollen legs, the pedals all day, I thought. He had promised to rest. That day, Auntie called home crying. My parents ignored my calls, so I took a taxi to meet Auntie myself. A few blocks from her shop, two men were fanning the centre of a semi-circular crowd, one with his shirt, the other with a banana leaf. There was Muma, in the middle, holding onto his handlebar like it was a drifting lover. 

“Na that Motocross benskineur them,” an onlooker said when I enquired. But the woman seated beside Muma with her right kneecap as bright as a pomegranate said they had been riding slowly. “He hands them just start make-make like say he want sleep.” They had ridden off the road and collapsed on the pavement. 

I rushed to his side, smelled his face, and was appeased. He would be fine. It was just another episode. He would soon vomit and stand and teeter back home. To Auntie, who was screaming near his feet that he was not breathing, I said what made her not want to see me ever again. I said he had just lost sense, and I stood. Later she told my parents that it was sarcastic. But I had not meant it so. I said this because I believed it; that the effects of mimbo only lasted a moment of sleep. I said this before the men lifted him into the notoriously unpunctual ambulance and left a red patch on the cold pavement. But Auntie told my parents that I had insulted and even blamed her. And my father made me write a long apology letter to which she never replied. I was remorseful at first, at least until my mother confessed that Muma had been suffering from cirrhosis. And then I was angry. It appeared everyone had deceived us. Or had Muma known there was such a thing? Had he known, on those mornings when he smiled at me from the mirror, that those bottles and sachets of mimbo pitted and scarred his liver lobes?

*

I have only gone out with Nwebya and Tatah once. It was a Saturday. It was a disaster. I had set out that night deliberately, deluded by my sobriety and self-control, confident that I was the one good apple that could save the rotting ones, the prophet who could redress his straying hometown with words. I would even take a few sips if it was the price to pay to discuss responsible drinking with Nwebya and Tatah. I had read that the best place for first timers to discover their tolerance was at a decent event, with experienced people who drank slowly and selectively, people who could tell when you reached your boundary. This was a wedding. Two seniors at the university were tying the knot. I started preaching as we sat around a table at the hall.

There was a tall bottle of champagne, two of whisky, three French wines, and half a dozen bottles of beer for only eight seats. There was too much mimbo on the table, and a lot more sweat in my palms. Halfway through my cautionary tale, Tatah was aloof. He nodded to me a few times but mostly let his eyes trail the steward who placed bottles on the tables around. Nwebya leaned forward and asked me to relax and enjoy the little pleasures of life. He had shown up in a tuxedo and said Pierre Cardin so casually you would have thought the man was his uncle. Tatah had a tailored Versace jacket that emphasised his prominent, mimbo belly. I was wearing Mama Philomena, a skilled tailor too humble to tag her name on every one of her creations. If getting new clothes to come out and drink volumes is a little pleasure of life, what are the big ones? 

“We are quite overdressed for this little pleasure, no? We’re not even invited,” I said.

Tatah bounced his palm near my mouth, like you do to warn a toddler against voicing family truths in the hearing of strangers. “That was the whole point, man,” he said, “A sapeur’s outfit is his invitation. The stewards almost stopped you at the door.”

Nwebya eyed my waistcoat as though it was a sackcloth. He said my trousers didn’t look stylish enough. It bothered them that my pressing was the laundry bay in my father’s backyard: a rugged cement floor for proper hitting, and a steady supply of red palm soap bars. Nwebya began a lecture on my need to appear more refined at our next outing, as though that night was beyond doubt my introduction to a long life of mimbo drinking. Coming out to risk my liver was not enough, I now had to become a sapeur to share their space. Hah!

“Wuna no hush me. This drinking is not by force!” 

“Massa, you are really stuck in your comfort zone!” Nwebya said, his pitying tone suggesting that any comfort zone without mimbo was a desolate place deprived of comfort itself. 

Tatah beckoned to us. And I was almost proud that, at last, he wanted to take the right stand in a discussion that always ended in pejorative laughter. Instead, he suggested we move to a table with better bottles, then he gauged Nwebya’s face for approval.

An hour after the couple danced in, Nwebya and I had emptied our plates, and he and Tatah had sipped from most of the bottles. When I whispered that we had had enough free stuff and the time had come to leave, Tatah emptied the last wine bottle into my glass and tilted his chair to face the neighbouring table. He said he must “socialise with more peers from campus” and everyone laughed because his smuggling of an empty glass under the table was not even discreet. Amid the laughter, two table mates peeped at my idle glass and flattened their lips. Because if you are a grown-up at an outing and not drinking mimbo, you might as well be a balloon or a flower, chilling in the decor; you’re wasting a seat. I held the stem of my glass and squeezed my lips around the brim so much so that the mimbo barely met my tongue. And at every subsequent joke, I laughed wide, hoping they would notice and credit the red drops that stained my teeth.

Only a moment later, we were thrown out into the streets. We had been with other guests, circling the newlyweds, when a brawny steward closed in on us. I had long suggested we avoid all contact with those who drafted the guest list on which we were not, but Nwebya had followed a lady to the dancefloor and ordered everyone to move our bodies and shoot our shots. He was now ranting on the pavement, about the “cheap and insufficient bottles” and the “poor service.” “Which better mimbo did you even serve?” he asked, and the steward threatened to plug Nwebya’s mouth with a fist. 

Tatah teetered on the roadside. He brandished a bottle he had run out with, and he danced to the loud Makossa from the hall. Although a good dancer, his moves were over-creative already. Earlier that night, he had said he was fine. I had followed him into the restroom, noticing how he paraded in and out before every other glass of mimbo. I had forced open the toilet cubicle and found him dipping his index finger into his throat. And before I could stop him, he had doused the toilet pot. I’d grabbed him and supported his head. He had puked thrice and wiped his mouth. In an apologetic voice, he had said he was fine, ready to drink more. I had reminded him of the time Nwebya forsook him at a white mimbo bar, of how he found peace in a gutter, and of the following Monday when Nwebya had called him an amateur and they both laughed. As though drinking poorly distilled palm wine was just a game, one at which he, Tatah, was struggling to prove himself. There, in the cubicle, Tatah had shouted that I neither knew his life nor his struggles, that he and I were not friends like that. He had challenged me to return to our table and empty my glass of wine, then he would heed my advice on mimbo drinking. He used that same loud voice on the roadside to concur with Nwebya on the limitations of the wedding party. “We go continue for bar,” he said, “We are not beggars.”

Two other mates who had also wandered uninvited into the wedding party gathered around Nwebya. Of course. Decided! Their eyes were red and lazy already, but who could counter the one who settles the bills? Later, when Nwebya would narrate this experience in class, he would clamour that sharing bottles of mimbo kept peers united. He wouldn’t mention consent, he wouldn’t say that there was a volume beyond which several peers lost the ability to decide whether to sway right or left. 

I spoke up that night outside the wedding hall. But Tatah denied having teetered, he had only limped because his shoes were a little tight. And oh, the other guys’ eyes were just itchy, it wasn’t the mimbo. They said I was exaggerating. What nonsense! Nwebya said perhaps they had more fun when I bailed on them after all, and Tatah cackled and slapped his bottle as though he had heard a Dave Chapelle joke. 

I left. And when Nwebya said the usual insults in class, I told them the Muma story in detail. I told them about the damage they probably didn’t know they were doing to themselves. I told them that while they surrendered their nights to mimbo-centric experiences in the same township every weekend, I lived uncountable lives within the comfort of my father’s bookshelf. And that day, Nwebya in his omniscience texted to inform me that I was wasting my youth.

*

We are in Nwebya’s car, on our way to the club. Tatah is in the front passenger seat, giving Nwebya directions. I am in the backseat, wondering if tucking my shirt into my denim jeans will meet the standards of clubwear. They smell nice, Nwebya drives quite defensively, and I am comforted that they have not had any mimbo yet.

“Why did you start drinking?” I ask. 

“We were thirsty,” Nwebya says and laughs, but alone. 

“To forget,” Tatah mutters.

“Does it work? Do you even like it?” I ask.

“We drink because we can. What do you want to hear,” Nwebya interrupts again, “that we all draw our appetite for mimbo from a soul-wrecking experience? That we are all trying to cope with some terrible shit?” He pauses now, and I imagine a consortium of mimbo drinkers, on behalf of whom he speaks, giving him a standing ovation in his head. “I beg, we done reach.” He parks, beckons us out of the car, and throws me a stare that ends the interview. 

Tatah doesn’t reply anymore, but I can tell a bottle of mimbo didn’t mean the same to them both. The day I told the Muma story, Tatah had a moment. He didn’t see it as a yarn. He said he was sorry for my loss, and then he walked out of the conversation. Nwebya mocked him for believing. Nwebya said it was another of my lame excuses, that no such thing had ever happened to me. 

Yes, apart from workaholic parents, Muma’s little cousin and I have nothing in common. Yes, my parents were single kids, I have no aunt, not even one who resents me. I have no memory of a cousin to hold on to. Except when I’m seated at the desk beside my father’s bookshelf and buried in page 111 of The Little Cousin. And then I’m brave too. I become the lad who founded and runs the Muma Rehabilitation Center. I talk about my late cousin and addicts hear me out. They listen to the words of a boy who has never tasted mimbo. Is the story invalid from my own mouth because I didn’t wipe the vomit with my hands, didn’t lie beside Muma, didn’t ride on his bike, and didn’t weep on the bloody pavement myself? It is a true story. That’s what the cover of the novel says. It happened. Perhaps Tatah relates because he knows what Muma went through. 

At the club, they both head straight to the staircase, as though it was customary to get high in this place. The loud sound makes verbal conversation absurd, the dim and dancing lights corrupt sight, the congested first floor is a fertile ground for pickpocketing. The tables, seemingly emptied and replenished every now and then, are covered with bottles, hookahs, ice blocks, and poorly dressed dancers. This is scary, no? To think that this business has enough consumers to run round the clock. That every day of the year, these people spend money to dive into a potential loop of self-destruction.

“If you neither drink nor dance with these pretty ladies, the bouncers will kick us out to make space for real customers,” Tatah says when a waiter brings a bucket full of bottles to our table.

“Why? What if I don’t want to drink?” 

“You choose whether or not to come, but you don’t make the rules here.”

“Maybe that is the problem, no? Why would I deliberately lose so much control?” 

“You don’t go into a library and occupy a table to not read, do you?”

“But why would I open a book if I knew that closing the last page might not be possible?”

“You don’t know that until you open it. If you did, you would not have opened that your Muma book. You are stuck inside, Mr Mimbophobic.”

“I’m not.”

“Then shut up and drink!” 

The percentage on the bottle I pick is five. At what percentage does the liver start to get eroded? The day I advised Tatah to try something non-alcoholic since he won’t control drinking altogether, he said mimbo without alcohol is like candy without sugar, a sham. 

One two, sip… Three four five, sip… 

When the periodic odourless fog clouds the hall, I pick one of Tatah’s empty bottles and hide my mimbo beneath the table, abracadabra! He is already too drunk to notice anyway. And Nwebya… Where is Nwebya? He was here just now, entertaining one of the poorly dressed girls. Maybe he is in the toilet too, poking his throat to throw up the mimbo he claims to endure. Maybe it works for him. His eyes were clear, his movements well-coordinated. Maybe the clear liquid in his vodka bottle is just water. Or maybe he is there, behind the bottles he emptied. Oh… how do I tell if I’m… Shit! I count ten fingers, vividly, and the pain from the slaps on my jaws reassures me. 

“Woside Nwebya?” I scream at Tatah. 

He drinks, laughs in slow motion, and drinks some more. 

The car is not outside. Nwebyaʼs line is off. 

I shoulder Tatah out to the roadside and he obeys. I imagine his right liver lobe sinking into pits, one for each of the bottles he emptied tonight. I tell him that one of my father’s books says every friendship has a shepherd and a sheep. That, in healthy ones, parties occasionally exchange roles; but he is always the sheep, and Nwebya is neither. Nwebya is always a wolf.

He pulls his arm off my shoulder and struggles to stand upright. “Mr Shepherd, I only came out because you asked nicely,” he says and forms his arms into a Kalashnikov, “Otherwise I would have called those security men to SHOOT all your family in front of you pra pra pra…” 

We look at one another a while before I rush to grab him again. “What are you trying to forget, Tatah?” 

“Oh, I should tell you something I want to forget? Then what? You too must drink to forget?” He cackles. “Why won’t you just go home? Is there war in Bonaberi? Go!”

He retreats and sits on the stairs now. I watch him while he watches his shoes. And it makes sense that he didn’t travel back home during the long vacation, and that he walks out of every conversation surrounding the bloody Anglophone Crisis. 

“I’m really sorry.” 

“Please, go!”

The night is cold, the streets are unsafe. His red and sheeny eyes take me to Page 99, where Muma stares at his little cousin for the last time before riding away. They tell of a lack of words, and of the vanity in my attempts to fix what I don’t understand. 

There are no taxis at this hour, only benskins. I imagine myself riding home and drifting off the road with a drunk rider to kiss the pavement. Tatah turns down my offer to see him off to his studio. It’s not far, and he is fine, he says. How did Muma’s little cousin, on page 188, make a stranger give up on mimbo after 10 years of addiction? Why did Muma never stop? He must have known there was an obverse to eating his cake every night, no? Did he ever forget the word liability? Why did he drive his little cousin away? I pretend to stroll to the roadside. And when Tatah strolls back into the club, I follow him. Perhaps Muma had needed his little cousin to stay.

Ngansop A. Roy is a Cameroonian engineer and writer living in the UAE. He was longlisted for the Afritondo Short Story Prize 2021. His short fiction has appeared in Isele Magazine, The Shallow Tales Review, Kalahari Review, and the Afritondo 2021 anthology: The Hope, The Prayer, The Anthem. He is a Nairobi Writing Academy alumnus.

 

*Image by DiamondRehab Thailand on Unsplash

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