In university I studied stock market reports and fingered illegal chalk. I lived with two brothers and one friend of my own. We were funded by our parents, sometimes my friend’s rich uncle or by peddling illegal chalk. My friend, who we called Sly, was from Bayelsa state.
Sly gave us illegal chalk. Or rather, we paid for them by writing his essays. I was caught in a cycle of needing drugs to complete Sly’s essays and writing Sly’s essays to pay for the drugs. Sly did all right, but he wouldn’t make law school with the grades we were scoring him. He didn’t care. His rich uncle had a corporate gig lined up for him when we graduated.
One night I was battling a 50-page essay on corporate suits and hostile take-overs when I heard breaking glass. The time was about 3.am.
Sly burst into the hall waving a machete, the kind cultists used once and never used again. He was wearing boxers and a newly-torn singlet—the usual. Sly, who had two girls over, had been been rudely interrupted from one of his regular routines—naked pillow fight, having the girls paint his toe nails, make them take turns patting his dick or put on a show while he helped himself. He called it “the buffet.”
His girlfriend was lucky or not, depending on where you you’re seating. What’s wrong? What’s not?
“Who be that?” Sly was brave. And uncouth. But brave. The brothers came out of their rooms. Usman had the kitchen knife without a handle that we’d stopped using months ago. Mohammed had…well he had unusually large palms so I guess that served.
“You no go talk?” Sly advanced, turning on the living room light. The silhouette of an oak tree lit up, with unsearchable eyes, Pinocchio-worthy nostrils and burnt lips. His facial hair had a life of its own, almost tearing away from his face. He was squinting. Of course. Afin. Albino.
An albino had broken into our apartment. He knew we wouldn’t touch him. He probably knew what curses and gods to invoke if we did.
The albino in our living room looked marginally homeless, unstudious even. He couldn’t possibly be a student here. He reeked of burnt tires and little holes riddled his converse and his Arsenal jersey. His burnt lips were moving, but they weren’t making any sound. He dusted splintered glass off his body, oblivious to our presence.
“Chairman”, Usman volunteered.
The intruder snapped out of his daze. He grabbed the remote control on the couch, flipped on the television, calmly walked up to the wall, setup the console and sat himself down to a FIFA game. We were ghosts in our own eyes.
Manchester City versus Westbromwich Albion. He took Sly’s favorite pad. I’ve seen him box Usman’s ears for even asking permission to use it.
He had a corner. He played it short. Then he burst into tears.
“Well, I’ll be damned”, Mohammed said.
We were still surrounding the intruder, caught between watching the game and asking ourselves if we’d been hoodwinked. I’m sure nobody was thinking about grabbing another pad.
I didn’t have a weapon, but I realized I held the pen above my chest, like I might impale his face with it. Mohammed made his fist into a ball, then he swung it in front of himself to make sure it was ready to go. Usman returned the knife to his pocket. Sly moved the machete to his right hand, his stronger hand.
Mohammed sighed and flattened his fist. I stuck the pen in my breast pocket. Chairman was still crying. The girls, wearing Sly’s Weed whore T-shirts and pants, watched from across the hall.
I got the guy a glass of water. He took a long look at it, a long look at all of us, sniffed it and dropped the pad.
“Smell all right?” Usman asked.
The intruder nodded. He took a sip then decided he liked it and downed the entire glass. Then he cleared his throat.
“Cigar,” he said. We heard his voice for the first time. It sounded feminine and sad.
Sly got a cigarette, lit it, and handed it to the intruder. For a brief second their fingers touched.
The intruder took a deep drag as he eyed our apartment. The floor was covered in trash, phone batteries, wires and ties. A massive Snoop Dogg calendar hung above the television, next to Jesse Jag’s.
It was early April and cold at night. Outside it was raining. The wind carried rain in through the broken window.
The intruder was shivering. He took another long drag. “How about orijin?” he asked. His voice was still feminine, but no longer sad.
Usman grabbed two cans from the fridge. He tossed one over, opening the other for himself.
The intruder took a slug. He licked his lips, shut his lips and said, “Ahhh.”
I sat on the bean bag. Usman, Mohammed and Sly were on the couch. No one picked up the broken glass. We didn’t have a dust pan. The girls moved into the doorway, and the intruder took notice.
“Mama!” he called, trying to act suave.
Sly pointed a finger at the intruder. “Your father,” he said.
For a second we tensed. Sly looked at the machete. Then he laughed, hard. He clapped his knee.
Mohammed got himself a drink. Sly picked up another pad. He reset the game. He chose Madrid. The intruder tried to outplay him with Barcelona. 3-1 at halftime.
One of the girls pulled a bag from Sly’s pocket. She laid out chalk lines on the table, and the intruder perked up.
“You first,” Sly said. He handed the intruder a rolled up 500 naira note. The intruder looked skeptical. Then he snorted a line and handed the note back to Sly.
Next thing he got up, singing. Sly, Mohammed and Usman were, too. We were all laughing, even the girls.
The intruder leaned over and snorted another line. He came back in on the next song, accurately.
“Now e remain one more thing, my guys, make me scream, cry and beg.”
“Wait for it,” Sly said.
“For a touch on those legs!” he said.
The intruder winked at the girls and stuck out his tongue, shutting his eyes.
“Ew,” the short cute one said, walking away.
The big-breasted ugly one appeared to be game. “Close up, abeg” Sly said.
The intruder took another cigarette from the pack on the table.
“Bros, wetin dem dey call you?” Sly asked.
“You be woman?” Sly asked.
“I resembu woman?” Florence shot back.
“No vex. Bros, we no fit allow you vamoose our property.”
Florence looked out the window. I saw the rest of his night flash before him the same way it would when he came down, and we kicked him out. The rain seemed to be getting heavier.
“This couch is free for the night, though,” Sly said. “If you wan crash.”
Around this time, I was coming to terms with events in my life. One relationship per semester, needing money three weeks after resumption, having to deal with my friends’ girlfriends when they mess up—shrink for six.
At this time, I was also writing a web series for The Naked Convos. I sat in my room, writing while the others partied in the living room with Florence. I had the Bastille and Florence + The Machine albums alternating, Pepsi close. I was about the third episode, my main character was going to have a really close shave with death. I was feeling like an early murder, probably think about switching main characters later. A bad idea or good idea, as my famous author friend used to say. I wondered which one I was getting this time.
A knock on the door.
“Slide in,” I said.
Monica, Sly’s actual girlfriend, wore a thin linen dress belted high above her navel. She picked a book up off my desk, flicked the pages, put it down. She brought a cigarette with her, but she didn’t light it.
“New roommate seems interesting,” she said.
“That’s the word for him,” I said. “Interesting. The situation is, well, I no sabi explain this kain thing.”
“Well, Sylvester is certainly invested,” she said, using Sly’s given name.
“That’s Sly for you,” I said.
“Sly, Sly, Sly,” she said, and lay down on the bed, her precious ass asking me for mentorship. She smelled like shampoo and Antonio Banderas’ The Secret female, the one I got her last month.
I could’ve dropped on the bed behind her, throttle my head through her panties and sampled the heat emitted down there. She might not have kicked me.
“So he broke in,” she said, “and you let him move in with you.”
“Sly let him,” I said. “And he hasn’t moved in. Na just this night.”
If I told Monica about short-cute and ugly-breasts, it would only make things worse. She would probably tell me to sod off. She might even resent me. She’d definitely wait to cry until she was alone, knowing she would fall for whatever lies Sly concocted to make it right.
Usman worked at a provision store not far from us. Twice a week during his afternoon shift, Usman’s boss and his co-worker’s lunch hours coincided leaving Usman by himself in the store for 20 minutes. When the coast was clear, Usman would buzz us and scream, “Izz on, muthafugees” into the phone. We’d grab backpacks and go, cleaning out sections, stocking up on beverage.
Sly insisted that Florence come along.
“Guy,” Florence said. “E dey me one kain.”
“Abeg relax,” Sly said. “Chill.”
Sly pulled on one of those girly Halloween party masks. “Trust me, chairman,” he said.
“Oga, get sense na. Comot that thing abeg,” I said. “It’s not fucking 44 minutes.”
“E still dey me one kain,” Florence insisted. “E no join at all.”
We all trotted out to the store nonetheless.
We made the rounds of the superstore, adrenalized. I felt athletic. We grabbed Hennessey, Scottish cookies, chocolate bars. Florence was in and out in a matter of seconds with only a can of orijin to show for it.
“I no dey play,” he said when we were back home.
That night we had a feast. Sly bought a large pizza from Dominoes, and we cut it up nicely, supplementing with our stolen ice cream. We mixed vodka with Pepsi.
Florence drank very little. I never saw him take a bite. He was always waiting, eagle-eyed and waiting for Sly to give the commands.
Towards dawn we were untop of skyscrapers, looking over the mountainous heaps of our living room planet, slapping each other’s backs like members of a campaign team after final poll announcements.
Cute-short and ugly-breasts were restless. They’d stopped rubbing against Sly’s neck and shorts. They now lay 69 over each other, fascinated with watching the ceiling fan whirr faster than a Boeing.
Sly tried to pressure Florence to go out on the streets and find us chalk.
“Guy, no be now na, “Florence said. “Check time.”
“Chairman, Sly said, a hand on Florence’s shoulders. He spoke in a calm, low voice, like Don King coaxing Ali back in the ring for one last fight. “If you wan epp us, epp us.”
We all walked outside. Florence led the way. The sun lingered on the horizon, threatening to burst the black. The streets and lawns smelled like damp rags. We followed, trance-like, weaving through the cashew bread factory by the Science faculty—as the skyline approached. We’d been walking for an hour. I was sweating, half-asleep or maybe I was sleep-walking and the morning was a surreal dream.
Florence led us through the Agric faculty gates into the old boy scouts rendezvous. He told us to give him all our money.
For a second we hesitated. What was left of the camp was the only building in the area. It didn’t look empty. I looked back at Florence. His hands were in his pockets.
Sly took out his wallet, peeled off two fresh 1000 naira notes. The rest of us gave Florence 500 and 200 naira notes. Florence crumpled the money in his palm. Whatever we were getting, we were overpaying.
Florence said we couldn’t go in with him.
We lit cigarettes. We checked our watches. We stoned trees. Monica called.
When we got back to the house everything was gone; console, LEDtv, Sony stereo, all our laptops.
Florence must’ve had help, known a guy or two with a van. Our furniture was gone too – even Sly’s bean bag, the one he used for quickies. Gone.
“We don fuck up,” Sly said. “We don too fuck up.”
Post image by ∞GUV’NOR∞ via Flickr
Caleb Ajinomoh is a freelance print journalist, professional copyeditor, amateur screenwriter and dramatist. His short stories have been front page of Giant literary webzines as The Kalahari Review, Three penny review, One Throne magazine, Africanwriter.com, The Naked Convos.com et al. He has taken short courses in the craft of plot from Wesleyans University, Screenwriting from Michigan State, How Writers Write Fiction from the University of Iowa and was a finalist for the Book Doctors’ 2016 Pitchapalooza for his debut work of fiction. He is the editor-at-large for The Mustard Magazine, Africa’s leading hip hop conscious quarterly info-letter. He is the author, Job Seekers Do Stupid Things. Contributing for the Education Review desk of Nigeria’s foremost tabloid, The Sun Newspaper, he lives in Lagos Nigeria.