The barman stared at him critically. “Another shot? Look at you…you are virtually stoned.”
Jerry slid his identity card on the table. “By the new law, this ID permits me to be served alcohol up until any limit as I am old enough to decide these things…Another shot!” he growled with some anger in his tone.
The barman had no choice than to pour him another glass…besides, he was going to collect his money in full from Jerry. He stared at his most frequent but not favourite customer as Jerry had grown leaner than when he came to this town two years ago.
Jerry had come into town two years ago and had instantly made friends with Tunji’s bar. He walked into the bar in the rain with his bags in his hand on a night when the Champions League final was being played. He had cursed his former boss for sending him off on that exact day as he felt he would miss the opportunity of watching Arsenal lift the Champions League for the first time in their history. He thanked the heavens as he made it in time to see the ‘gooners’ lift the famous UCL trophy. It was a remarkable day for every fan of the team and he was no exception. Like every other man at the bar, he turned to Tunji’s corner and ordered a drink. That was the beginning of their union at the bar. Tunji had helped him settle down with a room nearby before he got himself a proper home to live in. Tunji had grown fond of his customer who always came into the bar in the dead of the night and drank away his sorrows. Jerry always left the bar with a smile as he staggered into the night.
Tunji stared at the clock which showed 2:00 and turned towards Jerry. “It’s late. Man, you have to go.”
Jerry looked up at the signage near the door and drooled. “24/7 bar. Always open.”
Tunji hated himself for naming his bar 24/7 as an alias…nonetheless, he couldn’t care. Jerry had overstayed his welcome now and he needed to leave. The other customers had taken their leave and he was running on generator supply. Fuel was a scarce commodity these days and prices of drinks won’t just go up overnight because a man had refused to go to his house. He dragged Jerry by the collar as he pulled him up to his feet. Jerry struggled with leery eyes to see what was going around him.
“You have to go now.” Tunji said.
Jerry gathered his wallet from the table and tucked it into his jacket. “Fine…Fine…I’ll be gone and you’ll never see me again.” He retorted as he struggled to rise to his feet. “I mean it this time.”
Tunji smiled to himself. “Remind me to remind you of these words that you never live by.”
Jerry nodded. “See you tomorrow.” He called as he pushed the door open and walked out into the chilly nights.
He reached for his inner pockets and tried to find the cigarette pack that he had collected from Emeka back at work. He was tired of seeing Emeka smoke like a chimney just as Emeka thought he drank like a fish and so he seized the pack from him. In Emeka’s defence, he had said to Jerry that, “Cigarettes keep you warm at night.” Jerry needed to test that theory now. He was freezing cold and was needing to hide himself from the night. The cigarette pack was nowhere to be found. He hated himself. It was not a weird feeling for him to dislike himself…he had never liked who he was. He slid into a drainage slab as he grew tired of walking. He would sleep there until morning came. This was the life he lived.
“CODE BLUE!!!” Jerry’s pager buzzed him back to life. He had not slept for ten minutes. He hated this life. He dragged himself up and started the journey back to the hospital.
Toni loved her life. There were no worries. She knew what was going to happen and when it was going to happen…at least, that bit she was glad she knew. She swayed from left to right as she washed in the shower.
Nora was just in the room listening to her sister sing in the shower and she shrugged. Toni loved to be happy. She needed to be happy. This was her life. She loved every passing minute of it. Nora didn’t understand what was so new about a new day that made Toni surge with a lot of expectancy. Nothing was new! Toni was odd…weird…queer!
“Nora…” Toni called from the shower.
Nora hurried to the door. “What do you want?”
“Nothing…” she replied with a laugh.
Nora took a deep breath and returned to her seat. “It’s not funny, Toni and you know it.”
“I know.” Toni replied from the shower.
Nora was the big sister and always played the role of the babysitter to Toni. She couldn’t give up on that role now. Their parents had left Nora with the task of taking care of Toni right from their childhood and she had never failed for once…Toni never made it easy to take care of her. She was stubborn, strong-willed and full of life. Nora, on the other hand, was reserved, easy-going and always careful…afraid of almost every and anything. Toni was a direct opposite. She was as bold as her heart would let her be. She took control of her situations and tried to be in charge of everything around her. She was doing fine with that. Toni always rubbed off some of her goodness on everyone and this lit up the lives of people that she met. One would be blessed to know Toni. Nora knew that.
“You can leave the shower now… I have to go to work.” Nora said as she fixed her wristwatch.
Toni shut the bathroom door as she walked into the room. “You don’t have to babysit me…you know?”
“Yes, you always say that. But, I am not convinced of that.” Nora replied as she wore her jacket.
Toni adjusted her sister’s blazers. “Drive safely, sis. It is still very early. I wonder why you can’t wait till day breaks”
“I wait till daybreak and my boss will have my head on a plate for breakfast.” Nora said with a smile.
Toni chuckled. “The human-head-eating-boss, right?”
“True story. I have made your breakfast, lunch and dinner…just in case I am late from work. I have instructed the maids to have them warmed for you as you like it and you will be served in due time.” Nora said as she grabbed her bag.
“What about the juice?” Toni asked.
Nora smiled. “All freshly made.”
“Thank you, Mommy.” Toni replied with a smirk
Nora smiled and drew her sister close for a peck on the cheek. “Now you take care, darling, and don’t forget to call me if you need anything. I’ll be here for you.”
Toni nodded cynically. “Even when I want to use the toilet?”
“You idiot!” Nora replied and smiled at her. “Take care.” She added and left the room.
Toni drew the curtains back as she watched her sister step into her car and drive off. She adjusted the curtains and lay back on the bed as she resumed her sleep that was cut short because Nora needed to ensure she took a bath.
Nora drove as fast as she could. There were lots of hurdles to cross when moving across the city, traffic was one of them and pretty important too. Also was the danger of bumping into thugs who needed to make a few bucks off unsuspecting motorists. She had once been trapped by them and had to part away with some of her possessions. One would wonder what a lady was doing driving around town by two in the morning, but for Toni, there was almost nothing that Nora would not do. It wasn’t two AM today but she still needed to hurry up and make it to the office in good time.
She pressed her horn violently as she spotted a traffic forming ahead from two motorists who must have crashed into themselves. She wouldn’t be stopped by them. As she drove past, she realised it was only a scratch on the car of the man with the jeep but he had started screaming as though his car took a huge dent. She hissed at this and drove on.
“Hey, Nora! Good morning.”
She smiled back at her colleagues as she settled in her cubicle.
The tone was different. It was James. She turned her swivel chair in his direction with a smile. “Morning.”
“How are you doing?”
Nora shrugged. “Apart from the fact that I don’t like morning shifts. I am fine.”
“I hate night shifts.” James cooed with a smile. “Keep me away from you.” He added with a smile.
Nora turned her face away as she blushed faintly. She had a huge thing for James but he had no idea…or maybe he did? But he did flirt with her carelessly. (Flirt with words) She cherished every lazy word he said as it made her feel they might be true someday. Nora had a large heart. That heart was occupied by only two persons-Toni and James.
“So…” Nora started as she raised her head turning in James’ direction. She paused as what she saw was his blazer hanging off his back as he walked away. His shift was over. She took a deep breath as she turned on her computer.
Nora pushed her seat back for some relief from the last set of calls she had. Work as a customer care representative for a telecommunications outfit could be really frustrating, especially when you have to deal with piles of ‘I can’t browse’…some of the callers made her day less tedious when they didn’t shout but once they did…she got unnerved. This was her break time and she was going to escape to the kitchen for a quick snack.
“Nora!” A colleague called as she zipped her bag. “ Where you dey na? I don dey find you since morning. ” Ehis rolled in pidgin.
Nora leaned against the sink. “I am sorry. Been busy. So many calls to take.”
“ Me sef I get problem with my internet bundle .”
Nora eyeballed her. “Are you a complainant?”
“ Ehn nau…she I no dey use the network ?” Ehis retorted as she unzipped the bag. “ I have bought those hair extensions again oooo…These ones are Brazilian made. Correct type!”
“Where are the wigs? Nora asked as she started to look through the hair extensions. “I think I like this one…” she said as she lifted one of the products.
“ No o! Look at this one!” Ehis said as she handed her another product. “ Na Rhi Rhi style .”
Ehis smiled. “Rihanna.”
Nora took a deep breath. “Okay…I should take this one too.”
Ehis smiled delightfully as she packed the hair extensions. Nora was her best customer in the office. “ I hope you like the one wey I give you last month?” she asked, continuing the conversation.
Nora poured herself some water. “Yeah.”
“ Ehen! Coz I never see am for your head, I just dey wonder say maybe you no like am .”
Nora smiled. “I love it. Trust me.”
“Correct babe.” Ehis said as she gathered her bag. “ I wan reach downstairs and see if I fit to sell before my break go end.”
Nora watched Ehis leave the room and then she started to fix herself a sandwich.
Jerry ran some water across his forehead. “You can do this.” He said. He tapped his forehead. “Be motivated. Be you.” He added with a snide look and then poured more water on his face. His vision was still blurred. “D–n!” he said as he took a deep breath. He heard voices in a distance and immediately dashed behind the door. The door opened and Emeka walked in. Jerry sighed.
“Guy! What…what are you doing there?” Emeka asked in a fright
Jerry hissed and helped himself to a sink.
“The Director has been looking for you. Didn’t your pager beep?”
“Or you ran out of batteries again like the last time?”
“I am having a terrible headache. Can you not shout?” Jerry asked as he turned on the tap.
Emeka smiled. “You are drunk…again.”
“I am not drunk.”
Emeka shook his head. “I am still in control when I smoke. You had better hide before the Director sees you.”
“Will you cover for me?”
Emeka nodded. “Sure. Go home before anyone sees you like this and makes another report. I hope you do remember that you are walking on a thin rope here.”
Jerry nodded. “Thanks man.”
“But you will have my night shift.” Emeka added quickly. “I have a date.”
Jerry smiled. “Good.”
“Get a woman in your life, you will feel better.” Emeka added as he opened the door. He poked his head out slightly to view the corridor. “It’s empty. Hurry. Go through the fire exit.”
Jerry hurried out of the room immediately.
“There are no songs.” Toni said as she turned off the stereo as she prepared to sleep again. She had her breakfast and took the first nap. Lunch was over now and another nap was due to follow. She was not sleepy and so she decided to occupy herself till sleep came.
She pulled a novel from underneath the pillow and started to read. No sooner had she started than her phone rang. It could only be one person…Nora. She didn’t understand why her family still cared for her like when she was five. She was twenty-four.
Toni relaxed in the bed. “I have had breakfast and lunch. Not time for dinner yet.”
“I am glad you are eating well.”
Toni smiled. “You should take good care of yourself some more.”
There was silence at the other end of the line.
“How is James?” Toni asked with an eyebrow raised.
Nora smiled faintly. “He is fine. I saw him this morning before he left.”
“That’s great. So…when are you coming home?”
“I…err…erm…I am waiting for James to return for the night shift. I usually get five minutes with him before he starts work. He doesn’t come so early.”
“Man…your life is messed up.”
Nora smiled. “I know.”
“I don’t know why you can’t man up and allow a discussion happen between you and this dude. You like him.”
Nora looked around. “I don’t know what he feels for me. He is too lazy with words. It hurts.”
“Yeah…I guess.” Toni replied.
Nora adjusted her jacket. “My tea break is over. I have to return to my station. I’ll call you when I am about leaving the office.”
Nora hung up and leaned against the door.
Toni strolled out into the streets for her evening walk. She stopped by a side bench and allowed her thoughts to travel. It was a lonely journey for her. No one ever really understood how she felt inside. They thought she was as happy as she did portray. She was really afraid…there was a lot beneath the beautiful.
The clouds soon started to change. She looked up to the heavens and it was all coming down. She was far from home so she hurried to the nearby pub. She pulled off her jacket and allowed the water trickle from it as she closed the door of the pub. She walked over to the barman and took a seat. “Water.”
Tunji stared at her. “Water?”
She nodded. “Yeah…you have water here, don’t you?”
He nodded and turned away to get her some water.
“D–n it!” Jerry said as he took his seat beside Toni. “Tunji, pour me a whisky.”
Tunji turned at him with a smile. “You are here…again?”
“Of course.” Jerry replied.
Tunji dropped the water before Toni. “Here you go…ma’am.”
Jerry stared at her and cooed. “Why the deceit? You want a beer…you know you want it.”
Toni smiled faintly and focused on drinking her water.
“You shouldn’t ignore a gentleman at the bar, you know.” Jerry said.
She smiled as she drank on.
“Let the lady be…Jerry.” Tunji said as he set Jerry’s drink before him.
Jerry shot at Tunji coldly and then stared at Toni with a smile. “Want to go home with me? I…I have never really done this, but I don’t think I will have to pay too much. Would I?”
“Jerry…right?” Toni asked as she flipped her head in an instant.
Jerry nodded with a smile. “That’s the name, baby.”
Tunji started to chuckle.
“Get a life!” Toni replied with a smile. “While you are at it, you might want to drink more water.” She said as she passed her bottle to him.
Jerry smiled. “My name is Jerry.”
“Poor way to start a conversation.” She replied. “You came off wrong.”
“I am always wrong…I don’t know how to be right.” He replied.
She smiled as she folded her arms. “That’s an interesting deduction about yourself.”
“Man know thyself and be true to who you are.” Jerry replied with a grin. “Who said that?”
Toni shrugged. “You tell me.”
“My name is Jerry.”
“You have said that earlier.” She replied as she picked up her jacket.
Jerry smiled. “Don’t I get a name?”
“Not with a bad start. Some other day.” Toni replied as she slid some money on the table.
Jerry watched her as she approached the door. “Tomorrow never comes!” he shouted.
Toni turned back with a smile. “I’ll take my chances.”
“See you around.” Jerry said as he returned to the table.
Tunji stared at him curiously. “Who was that guy?”
“What guy? Are you so blind that you didn’t notice her gender?”
Tunji shrugged. “Never seen you act like that in all your entirety.”
“Never seen me do that too.” He replied as he took his seat.
Tunji smiled. “Good sign. What happened at work today?”
“Oh…nothing!” Jerry replied in an instant. “More.” He ordered as he dropped the glass
on the table.
“Hi, James.” Nora said as she clutched her handbag to her arm.
James stared at her with a smile. “Nora. Your shift was over thirty minutes ago… Why are you still here?”
She shrugged. “I like to take a few minutes to relax before I head out.”
“Interesting how those few minutes always coincide with my arrival here.”
Nora smiled. “You flatter yourself, James.”
“What can a man do?” he replied with a smile as he took a seat.
Nora took a few steps forward to leave. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“You…you want to go out with me sometime? Tomorrow night?” James asked as he turned in her direction. “It is my off day…was thinking you might want to hang out. You know…make this stalking a little more official.”
Nora smiled. “Stalking?”
“I am making a conversation.”
She shrugged. “Tomorrow night is fine.” She replied and turned away from him. Tomorrow night was not fine…but how could she say ‘No’ when she might never get another chance.
Nora battled with herself on why she was too quick to give an answer. She should have thought it over and well too…she drove home with lots of worries and thoughts in her head and mind.
Toni jumped out on her sister’s arrival. “Hey!”
“You should be in your room, you know?”
Toni rolled her eyes. “Why so serious? What’s up?”
“James asked me out.”
Toni smiled widely. “Wow! That’s so cool. You should be excited.”
“It’s tomorrow night.” She replied.
Toni rubbed her forehead. “Oh…that’s…that’s cool.”
“You? Home alone?”
“Are you home with me in the day?” Toni retorted as she grabbed the bag in the car. “You got me something?”
“Of course. The usual.”
Toni smiled. “I am thinking of the Amber style.”
“Amber?” Nora asked.
“She rocks it well…you know?”
Nora smiled as her sister walked into the house with a smile and with no worries as usual…she wondered how everything went wrong for them. It wasn’t meant to be this way…it never was. They all used to be happy.
“I gave a Code Blue! I needed all hands on deck! Where-were-you???”
Jerry stuttered as he stared in Emeka’s direction. “Sir…Sir, I was unavoidably absent.”
“Could it be because of your regular habits?”
Jerry shook his head in disagreement.
“You will have an alcohol test now, God help you if you fail it. I will ensure that your license to practise is taken away from you for as long as possible.” The Director shouted as he walked away angrily.
Jerry turned in Emeka’s direction. “What happened?”
“You have lost your second patient in a day.”