By Jemimah Uchendu
That evening unfolded at a well known hang out, a bar actually, a small location bringing different souls, personalities and spirits together, actually it was a-whole-world-in-a-teacup kind of situation. I sat in a corner, sipping my icy cocktail, dripping cool vapours from my plastic cup, darting glances here and there and taking mental notes of everything happening around me.
A man, richly bearded, his hair streaked with gray lines that displayed a false sense of maturity for his face bore no marks of old age, but one could tell he was a newly wed for a wedding band beamed on his finger as he lifted his left hand to take another puff of his cigar, lips half-parted in a smile. His companion, a man of equal status taps his shoulder to bring him back on their previous subject of interest which is a hooker who sat carelessly on the other side of the bar gyrating slightly to the music blasting from the stereo on the DJ’s podium.
I wondered what this man’s wife might have done so that he would be finding solace in alcohol, cigarettes and strange feminine company away from home. His face laid bare a lot of emotions ranging from confusion, anger, regret and pain as his brows drew together in a scowl, his forehead crumpled with worry. His well wishing feel-good-jolly-fellow of a friend walked up to the young petite young lass who was sipping her Martini slowly and gyrating slightly, whispered into her ears and elicited giggles from the girl who also laughed coquettishly as she stood up, straightened her above-the-knee skirt and followed the man who led her to his grumpy newly married friend.
I watched the trio discuss amidst the din of the crowdy bar, due to youthful vigorous energy bubbling around, my focus did shift once in a while as I sat still, sipping my drink slowly, watching people troop in to get drinks, get chicken meals and edible fixer uppers. Young boys who fancy older chicks can be seen with saggy trousers and fake gold chains and pierced ears who strive to appear cool, standing with their red cups and puffing cigarette smokes in the air.
My eyes went back to the trio again, this time the girl with a satisfied smile on her heavily made up face, leapt to her previous sitting position and said a few words to another girl who I did not notice earlier because sat in the farthest and darkest side of the bar. As her friend left her to disappear into the night with her male companions, her steps springy, the other lass looked around forlornly, sipping her drink as if it was ‘agbo’ herbal medicine. I peered a little closer at the girl and saw that she was fair skinned, tall and bony-framed and beautiful at the same time. Her skin shone in the dark like neon lights, her nose aquiline, she could almost pass as oyibo girl as her eyes glittered and enhanced with extensions she fixed on her eyelids. Drumming her perfectly hawk-like manicured fingers on her table, she fights an inner battle; her eyelids batting rapidly, beady perspirations on her forehead and glazed eyes, yes right there! Those eyes were beautiful, and they mirrored the war within. Something was amiss. She turned down male advances towards her, stood up and walked outside in jumpy spastic steps, her cool arms brushed past me because I sat near the door. She found a seat outside, under the street lights, an extension of the bar sipping her seemingly unpleasant drink, cross legged intentionally displaying her long shapely legs. Her eyes can be seen clearer now, and that was when reality hit me like a lightening bolt. The angelic beauty in the dark became a wreck in the light.
I stared long and hard at her and then, her gaze caught mine, I saw through her, examined her facial outline, down to her seeming aquiline nose and I saw it was fractured with a little plaster atop to keep it together, her lips were swollen, not from physical abuse I daresay, but they had an unearthly colour, dark beet red, slightly blackish.
Her soulful eyes were suspended inside huge bags underneath with unhealthy dark circles under both of them like one who barely sleeps at night.
As she dropped her drink on a stool before her and dug her fingers into her purse, frantically searching for something she really needed to have, her eyes lit up as she found the desired item, a cigarette. I watched her take a lighter from the bar attendant, lighting up her cigarette and dragging on it deeply. When she threw her head back and exhaled huge balls of smoke upwards, almost immediately she became calm. Her dull eyes had substance abuse clearly written in them so that it cannot be denied that the young woman was going through a lot at the time.
I understood one thing at once about that hangout location; it was a place of temporal Nirvana for despairing souls who needed to be freed, caged by their own insecurities, hardships, emotional crisis, abuse and many tragedies.
Daily, humans live through different struggles; one might be too quick to judge the newly wedded man who sought solace in a strange woman’s arms, the young lady hooker whose profession appear to be immoral, or the lady drowning herself in substance. Even I, had had such tendencies but I learned one thing for sure, as a friend of mine had said, “struggle your own struggle, don’t struggle another person’s struggle, because if you do, you will end up struggling another person’s struggle and it means you aren’t struggling your struggle.”