Whiskey stirs Adrian’s unknown other
Adrian’s excitement was so delirious that by the time the game was over there were over 20 pictures to my WhatsApp account.
Many were more or less the same. Three were selfies at one of the gates of the Emirates stadium, some with his friends in various poses from the stands and one where he was holding a replica of the Barclays Premier League trophy.
It was freezing cold in London but he had braved the weather long enough to remove his jacket for shots in the red and white Arsenal traditional jersey.
From the smiles, he must have considered the expensive trip and the chill worth of his every penny.
I had declined to be part of the Gunners excursion and not entirely out of my loyalties to a traditional enemy. Save for the sheer thrill and thrall of seeing a goal being scored, I thought the choice of the game was cowardly.
Sunderland were going through a rough patch that hardly, in my opinion, made it a worthy opponent for any team with pretensions to being serious title challengers.
Besides, I also think the only encounter worth spending my money on at the Emirates is with Arsene Wenger, the long-suffering Arsenal manager. There is an admirable stoicism in a man who endures so many seasons as an almost-but-never-there manager. I would pay an attendance fee for a first-hand audience on the science of perseverance in the Arsenal cauldron of charred expectations.
I could bet from Adrian’s chatty mood that he was definitely not sober. Because when he is not high, it is difficult to prise a word out of him.
I have had an occasion to share a seat with him in a five-hour, return journey bus ride. We were going for an official function and seeing as the bus was half-full, I thought it polite to join him. So I gave up my window seat for the convenience of the company of an African brother.
But despite several attempts to initiate a conversation, the most I managed to extract from him was “he is mad” in reference to his Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, and “terrible” being his observation of the British weather.
Otherwise the rest of the 10 hours were spent in odd silence. So I found company in my book and my music. On his part, Adrian was content to stare vacuously through the mist-tinted window.
Seeing his strained gaze, it was tempting to imagine there was something peculiar that had caught his attention. Adrian is an engineer and members of his profession tend to be mesmerised by the architecture of a roach when the rest of us see only vermin. But when I tried to join him in staring out, the visibility was near zero.
Just to be sure I wasn’t missing something; I asked him what was occupying his eyes. He stretched out his palms, rolled out his eyes, and apparently finding words too much for him, drew a ’0’ on the misty window!
Adrian and I were not strangers. We had met at least twice on Monday evenings at a for-coffee gathering appropriately dubbed the Global Café. It was a forum where international students mingled amid wishy-washy coffee and black tea.
On the first day we met, he introduced himself in a heavy Zimbabwean accent and immediately stared at his plastic cup in a gesture announcing disengagement from further talk.
On another encounter, the only thing he spoke was the telephone number of his countryman that I had sought. That and a ‘see you’ at the end of sharing a bench for 20 long minutes! I concluded he had spent too much time talking to machines and construction materials to ever value human interaction.
But an incident two weeks later suggested I very wrong about him.
I stood outside the door waiting for it to be opened. From inside, I could hear loud voices rendering a bastardised version of a popular reggae song. My classmate and fellow Kenyan had been kind enough to host a double birthday party for another Kenyan and an Indian friend.
But perhaps ‘strategic’ would be a more accurate description of the inspiration. Playing hostess can be, on the balance of it, economically and socially rewarding. By invoking your student status and therefore implying commonsense limitations to cook, you can encourage guests to bring food and drinks.
You then throw the party on a Monday evening when the academic pressures of the following day naturally discourage heavy alcoholic indulgences. When the last guest leaves, you will have enough booze remaining to last you a semester. True, most of it is tough stuff that can only go down with a suicidal appetite. But besides praises for your magnanimity, you’ll likely have enough good drinks remaining to see you through winter.
It was a few minutes after nine. The invitation had timed the party at 6 but from experience, arriving on time is a folly best avoided. It always feels premature and idle and you end up eating all the wrong things like popcorns and crisps that can fill you up long before the real meals. And because appetizers can hardly cushion the tummy against a good drink, you risk being a blubbering drunk long before the party proper begins.
Inside the room, the party was in full swing. My ears had picked the right tune because a drunkards’ rendition of Bob Marley’s Africa Unite was on the air. I thought the song was inappropriate for the occasion. The whole world, after all, appeared well represented. There was even a lady from Laos. I initially thought she was a ‘Chinese’ Nigerian from Lagos attempting to sound posh.
It turned out that, like many who learnt of the existence of such a country for the first time that evening, I was wrong.
But there was a more immediate surprise. Looking at the soloist, I was sure my eyes were seeing an apparition. So I cut through and joined the circle of the dancers for a confirmation. And indeed there he was. His tall, slim figure now shortened by a squat, his legs pushed sideways and balanced on the tips of his shoes in a position that demanded agility and physical fitness. It was him who was giving the movement queues to the rest of the pack. His moves were slick and fluid.
Adrian’s voice was also the loudest in the group. I went back to the hostess in search for answers to the apparent metamorphosis. What had she possibly fed him? I had heard that students laced edibles in birthday parties with drugs to get everyone high. Had she put something on the food or drinks? Was this really the Adrian we all knew?
But besides being equally perplexed, she swore that apart from the whisky, there was nothing else she could think of. Adrian interrupted my quest for answers by asking for the music to be stopped. He had, he insisted, an important statement to make.
Did we know, he asked us, that he had political ambitions? Had it occurred to us that we were lucky to be sharing an evening with the Roads Minister in a post-Mugabe government? The few who could follow his accent exploded in laughter partly because Adrian stammered through pronouncing “minister.”
As the evening wore on, Adrian continued to dance himself boisterously lame. Save for the stammer, he had mutated into a chatterbox. He found the courage to recite a love poem to an Italian lady who had apparently smitten him. It was very unlikely though that she comprehended a word of it.