By Ifedayo Babalola
It is difficult getting the bar server’s attention this evening. Shorty wonders why the young man has chosen today to be unworthy of his nickname.
The Flash finally ambles to their corner. He pulls out the order card from his pocket, but fumbles around his neat-pressed uniform for a pen.
‘What can I get you sirs?’
‘Two plates of goat meat pepper-soup.’
’49 million dollars sir.’
Shorty and Lanky wide-eye each other for three long seconds. Words take time to come together. Lanky angles his face to meet the barman’s.
‘Haven’t you been watching too much TV, my young man?’
Shorty bangs the table with a clenched fist. ‘You just quoted 49 million US Dollars for two plates of pepper-soup. That’s why?’
‘I’m sorry sir. Must be a slip of tongue. Sorry sir. Eight hundred Naira sir. Per plate.’
‘Some slip! How much is that in dollars then, eh?’
‘Give us two plates, and four usuals.’ Lanky moves to defuse the forex war between the two.
‘Ok sir. Sorry sir.’ The Flash moves in the direction of the bar.
‘These young people,’ Shorty grumbles after a while. ‘Totally spoilt. What would a guy like him do with 49M USD?’
‘Take it easy with the lad, mate. Come to think of it. It was only a quotation. Ok…A little inflated, but such is not strange in these climes. Learn to negotiate, right?
Shorty relaxes as the drinks are served. ‘You are very right, pad. At least we would have gotten some soup for the money….. More value than Covert Operations.’
The Flash returns with two plates of goat pepper-soup.
‘Here you go sirs,’ He curtsies in an exaggerated manner. ‘Enjoy.’
Shorty falls for The Bitter-leaf Aroma Effect. He is in a better mood.
‘Young man,’ He taps the barman. ‘What were you thinking?…You know… That 49 millions USD thing.’
‘I lost my wallet on the way here earlier today sir. I was not thinking straight.’
‘Sorry about that,’ says Lanky.
‘Did you by any chance pass through Osborne Road? I understand a wallet was found there. You might wanna check if it’s yours as no one has claimed it.’
‘That one is a very big wallet sir. Mine is not that big.’
‘Hmmm…You are right. Osborne gives the flat-wallet a whole new meaning.’
They laugh. Even the barman manages a chuckle as he walks to another table.
‘He is probably a graduate of something,’ Lanky says.
They do not laugh.
They drink in silence for quite a while. Uncharacteristically.
It’s drizzling outside. Lanky drains the soup but doesn’t pass the meat to Shorty. A budding vegetarian must be allowed his occasional indecisive moments.
Shorty soon reveals his mind’s workings. ‘It’s time we got in on the bandwagon.’
‘We are already on the Nigerian badwagon.’
‘Not that one….. I mean the whistle-blower bandwagon of course. That’s the best job in town at the moment.’
‘Where do you apply for that?’
‘You don’t. You are your own employer, I think.’
‘I mean you need to have been close to someone who cornered that kind of money…… Maybe employ you as a driver, a mule, a grave digger….’
‘A wife, you might wanna say.’
‘Well. I didn’t realize you’d want to take it that far.’
I won’t. So, relax, friend….. The husband or appendage options crossed my mind though, but such women won’t even look at me twice….. I’m not giving up though. One just needs to be creative.’
They sip. The cups are not emptying fast enough today, thanks to the drizzle.
‘Now I get it!’ Exclaims Lanky. ‘How about becoming an illusionist?! Lead The EFCC to a stadium full of Dollars? Insist that your reward be paid to a foreign account before they touch the money.’
‘You are having a laugh!…. You can’t trick The Master. Government is the biggest illusionist in town!’
They laugh and chew.
‘Take for example, how much is the Osborne Flat money?’ Shorty asks.
‘I’m asking you how much it is today, not when it was first found.’
‘Since then, the money has grown in leaps. 43m to 47m to 49m. The latest I read is that it is 50m. Maybe government should leave it in the flat for a while. In six months, you can imagine by how much it would have grown. The way things are going, the owner might turn around to say he kept just a thousand USD in the flat two years ago, but somehow, the thing kept multiplying.’
‘You think it’s just an illusion then?’
‘Oh! The good old days. Imagination…. Remember?’
‘Do I remember my name?! Hahahahah!’
They both tap on the table and sing,
“Could it be that it’s just an illusion now?
‘Putting me back in all this confusion?
‘Could it be that?
‘Could it be that?”
‘It’s just an illusion.’
Heads turn their way. They stop abruptly.
‘It’s not funny, you know.’
‘But some good might come out of all this. Osborne is a good location for The CBN offices now. Dollars grow there.’
‘The CBN relocate its offices to Osborne?’
‘All forex problems solved. QED.’
‘I think we should go.’ Shorty pours the last bit into his cup.
‘But we haven’t gotten you on the whistling ladder yet.’
‘Any more ideas? Cos I gotta run. My wife has been engaged in some covert operations lately.’
Lanky is focused. ‘How about necromancy? Remember the graveyard might be the richest place right now.’
‘Always has been. That is talking about wasted destinies, talents bla bla….’
‘Can’t you see? Money for Education, Health, and workers’ salaries buried. ‘Can’t you see whoever came up with that aphorism had Nigeria in mind?’
Shorty drained his cup short of the parting gulp. ‘How does this help my ambition? How…’
‘Give me a minute to explain,’ Lanky rushes his words. ‘The dead, my friend. The dead and buried have such information that only necromancers can access. Cemetery ghosts know which graves are inhabited by money rather than dead men’s bones. If you could only learn the trade….’
‘Stop! Stop right there!’ Shorty gets up, his full frame only a little taller than his seated pal. ‘You think this is a joke, don’t you, eh?’
Lanky looks intently into his friend’s eyes, unmoving. ‘You are taking this very seriously, aren’t you?’
‘I am serious about this, mate. I am dead serious, not just for my benefit, but for the nation’s. And you know what? I already know what to do. I am starting from your street!’
‘You are going to blow the whistle on me?’
‘You make me laugh! ‘Fcourse not. Your all is not even worth my whistle.’
‘How does my street come in then?’
‘Listen,’ Shorty sits down and drops his voice. ‘You know that Level 14 officer on your street?… The one with the twelve bedroom house with a swimming pool?’
‘Yes? The one with three shopping centers, an hotel, and a range of state-of-the-art cars’
‘How does he come into this?’
‘I’m going to blow the whistle on him.’
It’s Lanky’s turn to spring to his feet. ‘You dare not! That guy is my neighbour! His children play with my children! My wife and his wife are friends. He is….’
‘Shhhhhh! You see yourself? How come you’ve always wondered how he got that rich? Hypocrisy!’
‘No no no! I was only thinking aloud….’
‘Well…You thought a little too loud, matey.’
‘This is sour grapes! And I’m having non of it!’
‘It’s just about to turn veeery sweet, baby. And the tree is on your street…..Wanna climb with me?’
Ifedayo Babalola, writer and satirist, writes from Ibadan.