Leke passed the several bars that lined Square Lane, the road which led to the village square. He did not go into any of them because they were crowded, he kept walking till he came across Monkey Tail Bar. It was empty except for a sinewy bar-man who stood behind the counter. It was just the kind of place he was looking for, where he could be alone with a bottle of kai kai.
He chose the darkest corner of the bar to sit in and ordered a bottle of the vile drink, kai kai, which most of the village men favoured. His solitude was not meant to last, the bar’s door loudly swung open and a scraggy man staggered into the bar. He stood in the middle of the room and studied Leke, then he finally staggered over to Leke’s table.
Leke stared at the man, then looked around the room and wondered whether the man did not see the other tables.
“Agbo my man,” the man slurred to the bar-man. “Agbo, give me pami.” Pami is a local wine extracted from the sap of the palm tree.
Leke watched as the man swallowed a deep draught of pami from a gourd. He stared at the man’s abnormally large adam’s apple which bobbed up and down as he swallowed. The man wiped his hand across his mouth, then belched loudly. Leke shifted in his chair and eyed him with irritation. The man stared back sleepily. He wore an old pair of khaki trousers and an old t-shirt that must have been red or pink, it was hard to tell from how faded it looked. He seemed to be in his fifties, but he must not have been that old. Most of the elderly men in the village were younger than they looked, this was only one of the scars from the war that ended a decade ago, and of course the drinking too. He let out another loud belch.
The man took one sleepy glance at Leke, then studied the whitish liquid in his gourd before gulping down the whole thing. Belch.
He started to croak a song. It was a war song that was popular among the old soldiers. Leke must have known it.
“I followed you,” the man said when he stopped to sing. “You passed the other joints where there are people, lots of drink and music and fine fine girls. Why?” Leke did not answer.
“You were walking like a zombie that is tired of living.” He laughed at his own joke till he started to cough, then he ordered another gourd of pami when he stopped coughing.
Leke only looked at him, the man stared back with half closed eyes. He brought out a broken cigarette and started to smoke.
“Agbo, this one does not talk?” he asked the bar-man.
“Maybe you should go back to the music and fine fine girls. The man does not want your company, let him be”
“Hmm, you don’t talk?” the old man asked. “Well I have a lot to talk about. In fact, a story to tell. You see, everyone has got tired of hearing my stories. Even Agbo, that skinny goat.” The bar-man only laughed.
“But you my young friend, you seem like you’ll be here for a while.” The old man said, eyeing Leke’s half full bottle of kai kai. “So story time it is.
“Where should I start?” he asked with his eyes now gleaming. “Oh, yes. Would you believe me if I told you I was once on my way to being a priest? A Catholic priest, yes, a Father. I even left my girlfriend for priesthood.” He shook his head and smiled. “She was lovely and my mother liked her. She cried herself to sleep in my mother’s room the day I told her I wanted to become a priest, her crying almost made me change my mind. My mother tried to talk me out of it but my mind was made up, she didn’t talk to me for months afterwards. You see, I was her only child and she thought I would give her grandchildren someday. My father had several other children from his many wives, so one son going to the seminary didn’t bother him. In fact, he said I was the family’s gateway to heaven.
“My mother gave up trying to change my mind after I had spent two years at the seminary, she said she couldn’t fight God, that she shouldn’t have christened me Samuel, maybe I would have been different. And she brought my girlfriend with her the first few times.
“See, it was the white Father in our parish, Father Rudolph that first put the thought in my head. I was a teacher in the mission school and he was our headmaster. I was fresh out from the Teachers’ Training College. He saw me teaching one day and asked me to see him in his office after school. I went to see him and he told me how brilliant I was, and that a young and brilliant man like me would be a good priest. He said the ‘Church’ was in need of native priests and he saw a perfect one in me. He said a lot of things that had me hooked, like I might become the first native Bishop around these parts and that he would take care of my needs, I wouldn’t have to worry and a bunch of other things. He made me believe it was God talking to me, calling me. So my poor mother and my crying girlfriend couldn’t change my mind.”
Samuel paused to light another cigarette. “Agbo, this one is still sitting here, he’s liking my story.”
“I bet you Sammy, he’ll be back tomorrow for another story.” Agbo said, laughing.
“I was a good seminarian.” Samuel continued. “That’s what everybody said. They even said I looked immaculate in my cassock, I looked priestlier than our white Father. I felt like the Holy Father, the Pope.
“My ordination was months away, I had already bought new vestments for it. Then gboom!” he slapped the table. “Just like that, the killings in the North started and before we knew what was happening the country was thrown into a civil war. It was a terrible mess, it was. People stopped coming to church because they were afraid they would get bombed, anything that looked like a large gathering of people was bombed by enemy planes. Father Rudolph left when all missionaries were asked to leave the country, I bet you he was happy to leave.” He motioned to Agbo to give him another gourd.
“Three of my brothers joined the army, no one has heard from them since. They are probably manure for some tree in the forest. When the army was no longer getting recruits, they started conscripting young men and boys. Ah! Those were evil days.
“One morning, a group of soldiers stormed the church, my door was knocked down from its hinges and a group of boy soldiers, the oldest not more than seventeen, dragged me outside. Their leader, they called him ‘Commander’, stood outside with a revolver on his belt, he was a large man with a bald head and beady eyes. Some of the boys carried rifles while the rest wielded machetes and long knives. They dumped me on the ground before their Commander. He asked me why I was still sleeping, he asked if I didn’t know the country was at war. He said an able bodied man like me was meant to be at the front. I told him I was a deacon, on my way to priesthood, I was not going to be part of the fighting. He said if I was not for them I was against them, and his army of boys shouted in agreement. They threatened to cut off my prick if I wouldn’t go with them, “priests don’t need pricks after all,” he said. They also took what was left of the wafer used during communion and of course, the wine. “The Blood of Christ, we shall drink of it and live forever, boys,” Commander said as they pushed me ahead. They took me with them and my life as a soldier began.
“The things I saw within my fifteen months as a soldier, the things Commander and his boys did, the things they made me do turned God’s face from this country, I am sure. They were devils set loose on this country. To be honest I didn’t need persuasion to do some of those things, I just did them. They made me shoot and kill an old man who would not let them take his son. I had to strangle the boy in his sleep after a few days because I didn’t like the way he eyed me. I was sure he would have cut my throat with that little knife he was allowed to carry. Just think of the worst things the worst kind of criminals do, I’ve done them all. I’m not proud of any of it, so I’m leaving out the details.
“The war finally ended, we lost. There was nothing to fight for anymore. Tens of thousands of people had died, some reports said over a million, this was on our side alone. More would have died. Those who were supposed to lead us had all fled. We were told to go back to our homes, like there were any homes to return to, look for our families and start new lives. I went back to my father’s compound, I couldn’t return to the church, not with the guilt of all that I had done heavily on mind. The compound was nothing like the last time I saw it. Most of the walls had fallen in and bushes had grown in the rooms. I even came across human bones in the kitchen. Something told me they were my mother’s bones, because I never saw her again after I was conscripted. I buried the bones in the backyard. Then I went to my girlfriend’s house, I don’t know why I went there but I just did. She was sitting on the veranda and two children that were more bones than flesh were playing in the yard. They reminded me of the bones I had just buried. I stood at the entrance to the compound and watched them. The children did not see me but she saw me as soon as I came into view of the compound. I know this because she stopped rocking her head and she was looking in my direction. I don’t know how long we stared at each other, but it was dark before I finally left the compound. She was no longer sitting on the veranda and the children were not playing in the yard…”
Leke pushed his bottle of kai kai across the table to Samuel and smiled at him, then he walked to the counter and left some coins on it. He waved Agbo goodbye and walked out into night. Samuel only stared at him, his jaw hanging the whole time.
Samuel staggered over to the counter, “Agbo, that man has no manners. I didn’t even finish my story and he just left like that. He didn’t even say a word to me, hmm.”
“Manners indeed,” Agbo replied. “At least he left you some kai kai.”
“That thing gives me headaches, he should have got me pami. He just sat there like one deaf and dumb goat.” Samuel hissed.
Agbo started to laugh. “He is deaf,” he said when he stopped laughing.
“His name is Leke, he was an army officer during the war. I heard he was caught in a bomb blast and got his ears blown out, he’s been deaf since. He comes here every once in a while, especially when it’s less crowded”
“The story I just told, he didn’t hear any of it? I just told my best story to a deaf man? And you were there the whole time? Wait, he is deaf?”
“Are you deaf too?” Agbo asked him.
Samuel glowered across the counter at him, then grabbed the bottle of kai kai and staggered out of Monkey Tail Bar, croaking an old war tune. Agbo ran after him shouting for his money.