Remember House No. 352?
Well, sunset on yesterday’s chilly Monday evening found me nursing a lonely Fanta citrus at the balcony with a melange of sun birds around me charming the hood with their magic. The brilliant flashes of golden-winged, collared, bronze, variable and scarlet-chested sun birds is always enchanting.
But quite disenchanting was the sight of forks, a pan, plates, notebooks, boxers and even a water-heater’s coil flying out of House No. 352. Any non-pevert would pass that as the lengths humans would go in their quench for bedminton thrills. After all, the air of mystery around 352’s occupants; with their wild appearances and disappearances, was not a new thing. Topping on their list was their mboch who behaved like the prefect of all house-helps in the hood. She’d recently acquired the kind of kimbelembele that can only be matched by Miss Babes standing on top of KICC in her mitumba high heels. Then was the wife who never wanted me anywhere in the hacienda when the daughter was on summer holidays from university abroad. I don’t know where she wanted me to live. But Otis, the man of the kraal as he called himself, was my friend. Wondering how? One must choose friends as wisely and carefully as a bachelor goes about selecting a pair of socks in the morning.
Word was that Otis was in excruciating pain and was throwing missiles everywhere in his house. Then I saw that proverbial owl for the first time right there at the clothes’ lines. Curious humanity, like ants huddled round a sugared cookie, was suddenly milling into the premises.
You see, Otis was an alcohol aficionado who swore to stick to his tipple come what may. His many drunken award winning performances around Kile would give our Lupita Nyongo a run for her newly found money and celebrity status in Hollywood. He said, “One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you chose. But get drunk.” I do strive to live his mantra, though with words. He was always that friend who saw me as a great source of intel. I’d stick out a neck for him as his life-sworn enemy was AlcoBlow; which had cost him much in state fines and even community labour. He therefore tasked me with keeping up-to-date with the latest warfare tricks in the books of firewater fanatics.
One evening, just after getting into my ‘square’, he called me over to town at a fast food joint near ‘Odeon’. I ordered a whole chicken and two packets of chips on him; which I went ahead to demolish without half-time. Having hustled the day’s hours like a champ at the supermarket bagging groceries for customers, you’d be pretty sure I’d grown grumpy, tired, hungry and aggressively sore. Afterwards amid a full tummy, satisfied grin and belch, I’d surprise him with the magic a glass of antacid such as milk of magnesia, Actal or Eno has on an inebriated driver and he’d oil my palms with a few thousands. This is how I topped up for rent. I’m never sure the remedy worked or just succeeded in giving him that misguided sense of comfort and confidence. I actually later inferred that to him; to which he laughed off and blurted out how I looked like a genius whose cranial capabilities lie somewhere between the discovery of boiling water and the ability to dodge a stray bullet. That meant that he’d trusted my research and I could never fail. Such was our mutual relationship; our version of ‘friends with benefits’ minus the traditional meaning.
Otis’ overwhelming generosity made wenches and pests or parasites hover around him like Uhuru Park hawks on a Sunday afternoon. All seemingly wont to survive on his well deserved paunch.
I remember some time ago when I discovered the numerous online pages used by the tipple toppers to trace police checks. I excitedly called Otis and he commanded me to land in town centre immediately. That day I ate salami. I also dreamt and sleep-talked salami at night for a month. I’d not eaten something so delicious up to that point in time in my life. Otis patted my back and declared me an unsung hero; “in fact this country needs more like you to surge ahead”.
That earned me a raise. I had other roles too. Since he had this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the mobile phone, I’d forge a story to blend with the drunken story he’d narrated to the ‘person on the other end’ till it made sense. See? The creative writer dog’s plate was full.
That’s why I’ll miss Otis. I’m sure his wifey never discovered our numerous escapades through breathalyzer checkpoints, completely unscathed by the law. Mark you, Otis was rarely home. I’ll long for the inebriated attempts to sing some golden country music such as “country road, take me home” that Otis did at the wheel; having arrived at the gate in one piece at 1 a.m. Most times he’d visit my quarters at the top-most floor the following day-break before wifey got up and leave me with the remnant oranges, lemons, gum and other chewables that were myriads attempts to drown the smell of alcohol that she loathed. “Mrs. Otis didn’t entertain edible paraphernalia in the house unless brought by her,” Otis often claimed.
However if things were so bad, he’d call me to chauffeur him home and we’d waltz past those breathalyzers like a boss. If police-checks suddenly grew out of nowhere as happens on city roads quite often, he’d feign a heart attack, faint or suddenly go berserk and text me immediately of his whereabouts. Then, I’d play saviour. Don’t ask me about any guilt conscience. He’d promised me he’s on a rehab programme where they’re allowed to quit slowly and gradually up to the last drop. He even showed me the membership card thingy. So it was all fake, I’ve learned.
This is not the story of writer dog the hustler. Nope. This is a tribute to Otis; who once disclosed to me that he doesn’t fear death. In fact he longed for “that cavernous echoing space faraway where peeps like you will go back to writing in the sand and water will just be turned to wine by the master”. He wished to arrive there high in a stupor, with beer as a mission statement, ready to present his resume to the gate-man as he eyed the “position of filling the golden jars with different brands of strong liquor and get to perpetually taste them”. This is to Otis; whose alcohol-corroded liver, after precariously hanging like a stalactite from the roof of his chest cavity for many days prior, yesterday evening gave in to gravity and fell into his ‘spare tire’. But friends are like milk teeth; you lose one, and before you know it, another pops up. RIP Otis!