Ninety Minutes of Peace.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
I stole another look at my wrist watch. It was the tenth time I was doing that in the last two minutes. The time was 7.47pm. It was the same when I last checked. In few seconds, my eye would be straying in that direction again. My right leg went in front of the left with greater force. I wish I could widen my stride. I needed to cover more grounds in a shorter time. I was already two minutes late.
The hall was parked full. It was 7.50pm when I got there. The heat hit me like stench from an uncovered pit latrine as I stepped in. where was I going to find a seat? I wondered. Few seconds later I was seated. One of the female waiters had motioned me to a vacant chair. I was a popular face at the place and deserved such special treat. The treat meant I was going to buy at least a bottle of drink. I settled into the plastic white chair, a table in front of me. I didn't exchange pleasantries with the two others who were already seated. They didn't even seem to have noticed me. My eyes soon joined theirs. The screen was bright and green.
On the screen; lush green grass and a sea of chanting spectators. Twenty two men chasing about a round leather ball. A man in black runs along, a whistle in his mouth. Two other men, in black too run along the lines, bearing flags. I can hear the commentator rattling away. The spectators are cheering.
In the hall; close to hundred able bodied men (and women) scream at the twenty two (plus three) in the screen. Instructions, insults and commendation are rendered to people who are so many miles away in England as though they were standing some feet away. Shoot that ballÔÇŽ.pass your ball nowÔÇŽ.man on youÔÇŽ. Just look at what Berbatov is doing?...this guy is a foolÔÇŽ Anderson is not controlling that midfield wellÔÇŽRef dey f*ck upÔÇŽ
And then one of the twenty two does something good, saves a goal or displays a new skill and a section of the hall rise up in applause.
The analysis goes on. Heated arguments prevail. Glasses are emptying as fast as they are refilled. The waiters' mill around taking and delivering orders. My order arrives. I feel the usual irritation of paying more than the normal price for it. The owner of the guest house gets richer by the second. The extra cost he claims is to pay DSTV for the subscription.
A goal is scored. The scream is deafening. Some are standing and bouncing about. Some have their chairs on their heads. Some one kisses the television screen. Drinks spill from glasses. A bottle tips, rolls down the table and shatters. Palms clap. Eyes strain to watch the play-back on the screen. Some others not happy about the goal are seated, cursing silently. Na offside some one grunts.
The jubilation elapses. Some one shouts "United", which sounds more of "You knighted", the response of "For life" is thunderous. I feel like I am in a church, with the usual "Praise the Lord" and "Alleluia" thing. New rounds are ordered. The goal needed to be washed down with liquor. Plates of nkwobi, isiewu and pepper soup begin to emerge. I salivate. I wished unemployment benefits were paid in Nigeria. The waiters' mill around. The twenty two men (plus three) run around in the screen. The argument continues in the hall. The bank account of the owner increases.
Some thing else maintained a strong presence in the hall; smoke. It is so thick you can almost hold it. Burning cigarette sticks stick out of many mouths. New ones are being lighted. Initially, I am disgusted by the offending odour. What happened to the "FCT no smoking in public places rule?" I wonder. Soon my nose begins to feel at home. I drain the last of my malt. My eyes are on the screen.
Phone calls are made. Some receive. Yes, yes, we dey winÔÇŽshebi you dey watch the match?...i dey for summer Guest HouseÔÇŽ.light don come for yard?. A generator labours outside the hall, its humming sound drowned by the noise inside. I remember a friend who had boasted on facebook that my team would lose the match. I taunt him by flashing him. I smile at my mischief.
I wish I was listening to Brila fm. I imagine all the crazy things listeners would be calling in to say. There was this particular caller who excited me a lot. He usually gave his address as somewhere "Opposite Old Trafford, near the European capital of trophies". Can you beat that? Some had taken up new surnames; the names of their favorite players.
I note something else. There was happiness in the hall. For that moment, the world was at peace for us all. No talks of unpaid salaries due to the new government e-payment scheme. No talks of the global economic melt down. No talks of Yar'Adua and his Do Nothing Team. I wasn't thinking of where next to submit my CV. it was ninety minutes of peace. Palpable peace.
The match ends. I stand up to leave. Some others sit back to watch a re-play of the goals. A few others order more drinks, for the road. My team won. I am satisfied. Now we are through to the next stage. Did I say "we"?, well, actually I mean, eleven of the men on the screen. I had my own battles to fight. It was reality again. As I walk away, I think of dinner.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo