Ivy is a slender, chocolate complexion looking girl in her early twenties. Her eyes get covered all the time with her NOSCO glasses. Her sense of humour is comparable to the lights from the sun.
“I hate men that take alcohol, you don’t know when their brains get fucked and they become predators,” she says one of the days we are at the balcony talking randomly on issues that necessarily do not concern us. We are like that. Outside our lodge, people see us as people who hate talking, but when we are together, we burn the house down from the foundation with talks. Little talks. Big and big and bigger talks. We let ourselves loose and laughter rolls.
I take alcohol.
I start drinking as a way of escape – I don’t know what, but I think reality hurts me like the thought of hell. From a bottle of beer to two, three and to five, or six occasionally. I feel at ease. I don’t talk when I am drunk. I walk gently to my room. Lock it. And sleep off. Life is easy that way.
I drink because things are getting worse in my life. I suddenly lose my humour, my sense of belongingness, and my soul. I try to find them but my pocket leaks and things get falling out.
These are what I did before drinking full-time: I see friends in a bar, out of sheer politeness, I take a bottle of any available beer. I have no brand. To me, beers are beers. Same alcoholic percentage, I think. I get invited to a ball or birthday party – I take a bottle or two and dance my soul out. I get high on alcohol but I never purchase with my money. Only on offers. So, I don’t get to consume it always.
In Nigeria, the majority of the men consume alcoholic drinks – boys below eighteen are not left out. They are the real consumers even when the bottle stipulates age. But who gets to monitor who buys what? A seller must sell to make profits. It doesn’t matter whether a four year old or a ghost comes buying – the results are the same – something is sold and profit is made.
An average Nigerian man on a meagre income consumes spirit – alcohol: schnapps, whiskey, and the rest like his life depends on it. This is a way to escape from reality also. He drinks himself to stupor and leaves behind his nagging wife, crying hungry children or raging landlord. He escapes from these and mostly in the morning, finds himself in the gutter or a dumpsite, or a bus terminal. He escapes to be found in places too odd to swallow a saliva. Too odd to shit. Too odd to write or be put in a narrative.
Though, others consume alcohol as a way of escape, others consume it as a way of living or belonging – to a society that has already made rules for certain genders and the others – do these and become a “real” man, do that and be a well groomed “lady”.
I am in a graduation party. A senior colleague’s graduation party. I am invited and I am hell drunk.
“You look sick,” Ivy questions as she meets me outside in the morning.
“Yeah, I am. Been vomiting all night,” I say and avoid eye contact.
“Christ, all night? You weren’t home – I should have known.” She drops the bowl she’s been holding since. She is out to dispose water used in washing beans. “Yes, I wasn’t – I slept in my friend’s lodge. Couldn’t make it home.” Her eyes are seriously into mine, perhaps, looking for elements of truth hidden there.
“You have a bad breath,” she concludes, and walks away.
Last night, at the graduation party, I took mixed bottles of alcohol – alcohol of all brands and types. I wanted to get crazy – aroused by my own stupidity. I wanted to get stupid and I was. I was told that I asked almost all the girl there out. Got contacts and exchanged kisses with strange women.
Festus, my friend rode me to his place when he saw my madness taking hold of me. Dealt with my vomits all through the night. No place to get me groundnut that night – it was already late at night. Midnight kind of night.
I sprawled and brawled like a dog. Stupid wise creature – so I thought.
Ivy walks away and I switch on my phone and messages start flying in. Strange messages. Odd messages – the girls from the previous night. All messages are trooping in with their acceptance and refusal with reasons. I am sweating. How do I go about all these women?
Festus calls. He wants to know how I feel this morning. I feel like there’s a snake snaking inside me. The world is dancing. The hangover is still singing.
“I told you I hate men that drink,” Ivy shouts. “We can’t work out – no, us both can’t work out,” she starts leaving.
Ivy is the girl next door that I have a crush on. I propose to date her, but she has many rules which are conflicting with mine. But what? I still love her and want her dearly. She’s complained almost about many things – like my usual “absence” from the world, my drinking habit, my this and my that.
“I’ll stop them, all these? Definitely, I’ll stop them,” these words are always said. She knows that and is not ready to be fooled anymore. She runs and I am left asking myself questions. Just about now, a call comes in – one of the girls from last night, she wants to pay me a visit. I hang up.
“Bae complains of my drinking habit,” I raise the issue in between the usual bar talks of football, sex and politics. “Haha, same thing here – girls can never cease being girls,” a small man in our midst says.
“You rather take my breath than this pint,” another says and laughter dances in the bar.
“Try Ace® root, man. It doesn’t have any scent,” Ken, my lodge mate advises.
I start taking this brand and keep appearing before Ivy as a changed man. She doesn’t know about this. I am a changed me – she thinks. A kiss, another kiss and at night, sex and sex talks. Things are back to normal – we talk more and laugh more and go out more and shop more. We are always seen together.
At night, as usual, I leave for a bar, or any mini club nearby. I come home looking like nothing happened.
I slump in school while sitting for my computer examination. In the hospital, the doctor talks about my heart in a scary way. He talks about the heart like something that will soon die. He presents it like an object without life that will soon be consumed by fire. Oh, my liver? He has another story to tell and I am looking at his mouth without listening to him – I am imagining all the lips I have kissed and the one yet to be kissed.
Before the doctor’s long talks. I wake on the hospital’s bed in pains. My heart and tummy hurt. My nose has an oxygen chord attached to it. Ivy is by the side weeping and I am shaken.
A night before, I had consumed bottles of whiskey and other strong alcoholic drinks. I came back late at night to avoid running into Ivy. I slept to wake rushing to the examination’s hall. No food. Just the drink and the meats I ate at night.
Dizzy. I remember I was dizzy before the fall. I complained briskly to the person next to me about my heart. “I feel like my heart is failing, please can you lead me out,” I say swiftly and she looks at me, like, what the fuck, we’re in the exam hall. I drag myself out, keep the answer sheet and… the world is dark.
“Stop certain lifestyles and live to old age, the last pint to grab may take you beyond,” the kind doctor says. Doctor Agha. Her mouth moves gently like that of Ivy and I see everything from nights before replaying before me. I look at myself. I see a casket – I see death, I smell death and I see more bottles to grab. I shake my head and wait to recover.