See, this gaunt-legged guy is a fool.
Well that’s your opinion. And maybe you’re been unfair to him because you’re the one telling the story, his story.
Well of course it’s my opinion. Did you expect me to voice your – or anybody else’s – opinion before. And, yes, I’m the storyteller. If you’re not comfortable with that then tell your own story and call me a fool and be unfair to me and I wouldn’t care a bit. And do you know which story of me he’s telling now. And this is my story, too.
So like I said he’s a fool, yes! The kind of fool who moves to a new town without bathroom slippers (not as though he had in his former residential town, anyway. Well you can’t be sure.) and hopes other housemates would have so he could borrow; who always is sure he’s going to borrow – not just slippers now – and people would always lend him.
He’s not a fool, then; his likes abound.
Now does their abundance detract from their foolishness?
He actually was here before me – a day before me, like I gathered. I should have known what a fool he is, he has this friendly pretensions typical of his species of fools. Because he has to borrow, he has to be pretentiously friendly, see? One of the earlier beds once told him, in my hearing, that Manager and Madam had been asking after him.
Wide-eyed amazement. Of all the guys that came for the same thing all of you here now, save him, came for during his time, he’s the only one they asked after. Surely, this our gaunt-legged fool must be a good guy.
Well you’ve not learned, then, to distinguish, like Manager and Madam, between sociability, sometimes a mutant of pretentious friendliness, and being good.
So you see, he was not supposed to be here with the rest of us, really. All, but him, paid for this accommodation.
Thanks to his begging and borrowing prowess, then?
When I just came, wary of strangers and being the dweeb I am, Frye’s Symbolism in the Bible on my phone was my only companion. But our fool with his affected courtesies made ‘passes’ at me. So I opened my heart, though ajar. And he began to borrow: ‘Are you going to buy akara today? Please help me buy. Nzube, abeg I fit get 100 (atimes 50, 200) naira from you? Thanks. Your pure water remain? Abeg gi’ me. Abeg you get detergent? I wan use your vero board. I go just cut small. Make I collect small lead. You get cutter? . . .’
At first he paid back – of course only the money – promptly. Then he began to preach how good a guy he was and how he didn’t remind his debtors their debts and how he ‘doesn’t love money, but uses money.’
I replied: ‘Ah, I remind my debtors oo! People are bad and just feign forgetfulness when they want to eat your money. And, yes, I love money.’
He continued: ‘Haa! As I dey see you, you no go fit help pesin. Like me now, I dey give people, people wey I no even know, money. 5k, 30k.’
‘Well let it be I no fit help pesin. You don’t even know me.’ I wonder now why it didn’t occur to me to ask him whether I wasn’t helping him lending him whenever he asked.
‘And you can take bike every morning to buy akara. Take bike to banks, too. You can do it, it’s just for you to tell your mind you can and the money would come. You can’t be trekking that distance.’
‘Guy forget motivational talks. If you live above your means hunger go kill you. I can’t afford to enter okada every day, not now.’ And this is a fool who severally I caught red-handed ‘trekking’ to one or other bank, who can’t even afford to change his one pair of stinking, discoloured undies, can’t afford to buy a towel, borrows a mirror. . . . You see these species of fools, eh, they can embellish their vacuous, foolish insides with words.
He waited to be reminded to pay back when he borrowed, after that exchange. And of course I never tired of reminding him. Perhaps all those talks was a scheme to silence me so he could eat my money. Have I told you that this fool never bought any item for general use in this house? Not a broom, not a brush for the toilet. And he’s never been moved to refill the water tank. Rather, you’d see him early in the morning, when the tank tap now drools drizzle, scampering to fetch the last drops from the tank.
So, once upon a time, Manager complained to me how the BEDC people just came for electricity bill, three thousand naira; how we all had laptops to charge but never contributed a part of the monthly electricity bill since we came. He sounded really pained and was going to take an action if we didn’t lend some relieving head to his spine-splitting burden this time. He did say, too, he had talked to our fool about a previous bill, perhaps the past month’s, but he didn’t do anything about it, at least Manager saw no effect. So I promised him I was going to talk to the others about the bill.
I met this fool personally about the bill; his reply was reluctant, muted mumbles. I met M, too; he said yes, we would pay, we would pay, we would contribute half the money and give Manager. I was counting on him, M, to talk to the other guys about the bill, which he did. For two days later A came to give me 900, being for three. I added my 300 and waited patiently for Fool to be back and give me his. He came back and I told him everyone else had paid, it was just his left before I took the money to Manager.
‘Ah, you didn’t tell me when you’d be collecting it. I no hol’ money for hand now.’
I was still wondering whatever he meant by not telling him when I would be collecting the money – formal announcement?! – when he took me unawares: ‘Bring am. I go explain to Manager, ask am say make him pay for me, I go give am later.’
So I gave him the 1200 naira, unthinking. When he left I began to wonder what I had done, letting this fool take advantage of me, us all, again. I should have made sure he paid his 300 naira.
‘I don settle am,’ he jolted me out of my self-hate and regret, back from seeing Manager.
‘OK,’ I mumbled. I was sure he must have told Manager the one-two was our bill, never mentioning he didn’t pay. I must make sure I tell Manager we were to give him one-five, that this fool didn’t pay. I must scrounge this money from him, no matter what. I won’t let him fool us again, never.
But by next morning the smouldering embers of my self-hate had already been doused by the midnight dew. It was the Eid-el-Kabir celebrations so Manager didn’t go to work. So many times did I hear him answer calls, wishing his callers ‘Happy Salah’, and so many times did I want to go and meet him, but decided otherwise.
Four days later, he, Manager, saw me at the tank fetching water to brush my teeth.
‘Nnaa –’ he’s a fellow Igbo – ‘Messi got injured yesterday.’ And a fellow Barcelona fan. ‘Six to seven weeks. Let’s call it two months.’
‘Nnaa ee! But we’ll keep winning matches, only not with high number of goals again.’
‘Yes, we won yesterday. And Messi got injured in the ninth minute.’
‘Yes. It’s just for the others, Suarez and Neymar, to live up to expectations now.’
‘No, Suarez will do well. He scored the two goals yesterday naa.’
‘Nnaa, I saw your effort oo.’
I mustn’t let this opportunity slip by. ‘Yes, I told them. We were supposed to give you one-five, but Fool said he had no 300 handy, that’s why he was the one who brought you the money, so he could explain to you. I actually collected the money.’
‘He’s still with the money, I didn’t take it. He just told me that was you guys’ part of the bill, but I asked him to keep it for next month’s, that already I’ve settled those BEDC people. I might eat the money if I kept it. As we already have one thousand-something, we’ll only have to make it up next month.’
‘Yes, yes.’ I hesitated, stunned. ‘But he should have reported back to me. I’m the one who gave him the money.’
‘Well you don’t know his situation. Maybe he’s using it for his upkeep, till next month.’
‘Yes, yes.’ I have no talk with you.
I went towards the wall where I always brushed my teeth, marvelling at Fool’s incredible capabilities. I brushed my teeth and stomped to where he washed his clothes.
‘Fool, Manager was telling me you are still with the one thousand two hundred naira.’
He removed the headphones he had on. ‘Did he explain to you why?’
‘Yes, and that’s not enough reason for you to keep the money. I gave you the money. At least you should have told me before deciding to keep it.’
See, never mind my seamless flow now, I actually stumbled my way through those bumpy words, leapfrogging each bump with ‘eem’, an acute stammerer that I am.
‘See, I met Manager –’
‘I don’t want to hear that. I told you, Manager already told me everything. I collected that money from those guys. If anything happens now, they’d say I ate their money. You’re giving me that money!’
‘Go! I’ll give you!’
I left. ‘Good. That’s what I wanted to hear.’ I blew at the strings of my brush, hopeful that maybe having got him vexed, he’d just badge into the room after washing and rudely fling some one-two at me.
He came into the room moments later. ‘See, when you want to talk to peo–’
I was already calm. ‘Foooll, I don’t want to hear any of that. Can I have the money?’
But he still boiled. ‘I don’t have it now!’
‘So when are you giving me?’
‘When I have it!’
I was disappointed; his fury couldn’t even incite him to fling the money rudely at me. And I knew how miserable the guy was.
‘This is not the way to talk to people. You should have asked me what transpired between me and Manager, not shouting as if I ate your one-two. What is one-two?’
‘Actually, you should have told me what transpired. It’s not as though you didn’t meet me in the room that night when you came back. And I didn’t say you ate the one-two. All I’m after is my reputation, I don’t want to be called a thief in this town.’ But it was really my 300 naira I was after.
‘I don’t care about your reputation! You should know how to talk to people.’
Now I’d never seen him infuriated, so I wanted to apologize and tell him it was because I stammered, that was why it seemed I bawled at him. But, no! I wasn’t going to let him hold on still to the money by appeasing him. ‘My friend, admit you made a mistake by keeping the money.’
‘The point is not whether or not I made a mistake. The point is how you went about it.’
‘Nzube, Fool, what is it?’ Manager called from the window.
I reiterated to Manager what I already told him: how I was the one who collected the money, and how Fool didn’t pay and so had no right to keep the money. And how the rest would say I ate their money if they found out I didn’t pay and yet didn’t refund their money.
Meantime Fool was going to fetch water from the tank and was railing his explanation to Manager: whether they didn’t agree he should keep the money till next month, how come he told me what they discussed? How I was insinuating he wanted to eat the money, how one-two is paltry change to him.
Manager told him he only meant to commend my effort at getting us to pay. ‘Okee, it’s OK, it’s OK,’ he said to me in Igbo.
‘Of course I don’t have any problem with him. You can see he’s the one shouting. I’m very calm here.’ It was really a surprise to me, my calmness. I’m usually excited after I exchanged words with someone.
So what if he doesn’t pay you?
Eem . . . I’ve considered that, but I’ve not decided what to do. School will be resuming soon, so my days in this town are numbered. Maybe I’ll take his headphones – they’re precious to him – while leaving, he usually doesn’t go to Office with them. Or I’ll target where he keeps his money and take one-two. I doubt if I can find that amount, though; the guy is a wretched fool. But if it’s just 300 I find, I’ll take that and text the rest later that Fool has their 900 naira. Whatever I take, I must make sure I text him later so he know I was the one and why. But I’m not sure I’ll touch his money or belongings. I just hope he pays me. I may tell Engineer and these guys so they mount pressure on him.
And I really think he wanted to eat the money. Maybe he hoped Manager wouldn’t tell me he had the money so he could ask us to contribute again next month. And I’m marvelled at him now. I’m marvelled at how people do good just because of fear, not because they want to, have to; at how people can easily steal and commit other crimes when they’re sure they won’t be found out.
Yes, how we do good from fear.
And I sure have to be more careful with my money. This fool can steal my money. I just hope I get this one-two back. I’ll tell you when I do.
Auchi, 27 – 30/09/205