Madness as a refuge from the world

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Irunya folded his hands and leaned against the earthen wall in anticipation of Rege’s humorous mimicry of the British reporter. Illustration/John Nyagah

Irunya folded his hands and leaned against the earthen wall in anticipation of Rege’s humorous mimicry of the British reporter. Illustration/John Nyagah 


Posted  Friday, June 6   2014 at  13:26

He should have turned a deaf ear to Rege’s outrageous plan. Now there was no turning back. The wind howled incessantly and the dark clouds gathered.

The old man’s misgivings rang loudly in Irunya’s ear: “This trip won’t end well; the spirits are in a foul mood.” Rege had dismissed him —old men’s tales, he said.

Rege’s flippant ways had always enthralled Irunya for Irunya, himself had a serious outlook on life. He believed in education; believed it to be the key to success. Thus it was no wonder that he was the first in Shagala village to go all the way to the university; a feat that earned him a seat among the elders; a position that made the girls in the village take notice.

Even though he had every intention of marrying his long time fiancé, he had not the money to finance a wedding. He put off such ambitions in the hope that in due time he would land that plump job. This never came. He was turned down on many occasions. Overqualified, they said. Besides, most employers preferred diploma holders as they could pay them less and were perceived to hang around longer.

Hence, two years after graduating, Irunya was still jobless. On the other hand, Rege, his high school buddy, lived up to the appellation of the village drunkard. He could be seen staggering around the shopping centre singing patriotic songs or when he felt pious, old spirituals that his grandmother taught him when he was young. The girls loved him, as did their mothers.

A minute spent with Rege made one forget the myriad problems of Shagala village. Rege’s philosophy was simple: Drink hard, laugh loud. Life is hard enough as it is, why make it harder by being sullen? He seemed to hold it all together. But men spoke ill of him.

It wasn’t right for a man of 30 to be still living on his parents homestead. Rege could care less. He was assured of a hot meal after his drinking sprees. That was all that mattered.

Irunya lived a life of quiet desperation, Rege one of open dissipation. Alcohol became the medium through which they drowned their sorrows.

Mama Pima opened early on that insipid Sunday morning. Inside her thatched hut, strands of soot dangled freely; a solitary window faced away from the rising sun and smoke hung heavily in the air.

Irunya and Rege sat contemplating two tumblers filled halfway with a clear liquid, then quickly knocked back the contents and asked that they be refilled. An old radio on an old cupboard belted out an old sleazy song. Perhaps because it was the Lord’s Day, Rege changed the station to BBC.

Sometimes, Rege liked to view himself as the village intellectual hence once in a while he listened to international news. He also kept a map of the world in his back pocket. This he would fish out to explain certain phenomena about far flung countries to persons who had never stepped outside Shagala village. It was the top of the hour and the day’s news was read in a plummy British accent.

“This is BBC news. Dozens of African migrants are feared to have drowned after a boat they were sailing in capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, 100 kilometres south of the island of Lampedusa, off the Italian coast. The Italian Coast Guard said that around 200 people had been rescued by two commercial vessels operating in the area, but with many other people still missing, there were fears that the death toll “would rise significantly...”

Irunya folded his hands and leaned against the earthen wall in anticipation of Rege’s humorous mimicry of the British reporter.

Instead, all he got was silence. Rege’s eyes were watery and before he could help it, a tear streamed down his left cheek. Irunya was taken aback. He had never seen this pensive side of Rege before. He thought of putting his arm around his shoulder but stopped himself. The look on Rege’s face said it all. He had seen it before. He saw it every morning in his cracked mirror. It was the look of a man whose failures had caught up with him.

Somehow, news of illegal immigrants seeking a fresh start in Europe had removed the blinkers that veiled Rege’s eyes from the harsh realities of life. In that very moment he viewed himself as the village men did — the dregs of Shagala. Nonetheless, this moment of despair was short-lived. In a sudden rush of energy, Rege got down on his knees, fished out his old world map and spread it on the damp earthen floor.

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