LIVING ON THE EDGE (SHORT STORY)
Bijun was unhappy with his night caller. He was worn out and just wished to turn in early. He wanted to have sufficient rest before his phone alarm would wake him by 5 a.m. to prepare for the next day’s grind. Working at a bank wasn’t his life’s dream but it paid the bills and took care of family and on and off friends like the sallow-faced fellow before him.
“Jogbe,” Bijun addressed the guy, “where in the world have you been?”
“My brother, the story is too long. Don’t mind me o, how are you?” Jogbe asked, as if he cared.
Without listening to Bijun’s reply, he started using his right forefinger to write in the dust on the coffee table. “When did you clean this place last?”
“The harmattan no reach your side. I know you didn’t come here to do health inspection for me.”
Jogbe ignored the sarcastic remark and went to the corridor off the living room, picked a napkin and started dusting away the film of dust on the table. “I will not leave until I have thoroughly cleaned this flat,” he vowed, clearing his throat in the process.
“My friend, drop that thing and tell me why you’re here!” Bijun demanded. “In short, what can I do for you?”
“Ah, ah, why are you so harsh to me? Is this the first time I have cleaned your house?”
Bijun completely lost his temper.
“You think I’m a fool or what? Do you ever come here except you need some help or some money? Do you even know how to clean a house? After you muddle up everything, I’ll be forced to spend the time I don’t have cleaning the place or hire someone to do it. Spare me the trouble and tell me exactly what you want this time.”
Jogbe was torn between protesting the charge of insincerity and presenting his request. He settled for the latter, all the while struggling to quell the nasty cough that had been disturbing him in the past few weeks.
Bijun was right. He was in a fix. The rent for his room in the run-down compound where he put up in Bariga when things were slow had been due for months and now the landlord was threatening to throw him out.
As if he read his thoughts, Bijun asked, “How much do you need?”
“I’m even too ashamed to ask. You’ve been too kind to me.”
“You’re out of your mind. You’ve forgotten that I paid your rent last year and you told me sometime ago you were thanking God your landlord hasn’t increased it. I’ll transfer sixty thousand to you.”
Jogbe couldn’t believe his good fortune. Although he didn’t succeed in scrounging extra cash from Bijun, getting his rent was good enough. He braced himself for the counselling he knew would precede the fund transfer.
“Jogbe, listen to me and listen good! You need to get your act together. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. In a few months, I’ll be getting married and supporting you like this will be out of the question.
“Settle down and focus on one thing. All the jobs you complained and left, people are doing them and making ends meet with them.
“Stop chasing shadows and looking for easy money. All these your network this, network that, ‘this platform is paying out huge’ nonsense cannot help you.
“Find work somewhere, go back and complete your degree, start an honest trade, just do something, rather than coming to clean my house when you’re in money trouble.”
Jogbe had heard those lines many times before, but he was not perturbed. Bijun had been his classmate in school, he had always been the stable and diligent one. But his life was so boring, Jogbe thought, because he didn’t have the liver to take risks. He spent all day counting money and at the end came home to sleep in his dusty flat in Surulere.
Whereas he, Jogbe, was connected to the movers and shakers in society. He laundered money for some powerful people, something Bijun would be too scared to do. He didn’t really blame Chinese, as he called Bijun, because of his Oriental looks- average height, slim body and narrow eyes- he’d never seen him when he was rolling in it.
Sometimes, his businesses which, in his view, Bijun ignorantly called “network this, network that” paid out tens of millions. He had spent months living in five-star hotels, had dated the kind of babes Bijun couldn’t even approach in his dreams and rode a Lamborghini at some point, among other luxury cars.
Life is like the sea, sometimes calm, sometimes boisterous. That is what makes it exciting, he told himself. He just loved living on the edge.
Money was not his problem, he assured himself, amidst some hacking that made Bijun to throw him a look of concern. He knew that he could always make loads of it because he was full of ideas. You win some, you lose some. Hack, hack, that cough again!
“You need to get that cough checked out,“ Bijun advised. “The network is bad, that’s why the transfer hasn’t gone through.”
“Man, you need me to take you to the doctor?”
“No, you need to rest yourself,” Jogbe croaked. Bijun was surprised at what might be the first thoughtful remark from his friend in years.
“You’re right. But I’ll keep trying until the transfer goes through. We can’t have you without shelter in this cold and dusty harmattan.” Jogbe nodded. Chinese was a man of his words.
As he stood to leave, Bijun stood too and reached into his trouser pocket.
“I have a few notes here. Take five thousand Naira, get yourself something to eat. And have that cough checked out.”
As he extended the notes, he asked, “Promise?”
“Promise,” Jogbe replied, although the only attention he planned for that cough and his stomach that night was a few stiff drinks. Local gin would serve until his luck shined again and he could get back to his favourite cognac, Remy Martin, and White Russian.
Eight months later, Bijun ran into an old school friend, Daryl, in front of a supermarket in Surulere where he normally picked his groceries on weekends. He knew he hung out with Jogbe sometimes- they were birds of a feather. Even though he was put off by Daryl’s makeup, skimpy shorts and bared midriff, he decided to ask after his old friend.
Although he was relieved Jogbe had stayed away since the last night he paid his rent, he did miss the rascal. He had just assumed that Jogbe had heard of his marriage and decided to respect himself in view of his repeated warning he could no longer bail him out after his wedding. However, nothing prepared him for the tragic news Daryl dropped.
“That poor bastard, at least now he can rest.”
Bijun didn’t need further explanation. Those words knocked the wind out of him.
“So sorry, I had no idea you didn’t know.”
When Bijun had gathered himself a little, Daryl continued: “He had this nagging cough. You know he was a tough cookie. He didn’t think much of it. But he finally had to see a doctor who diagnosed he had pneumonia. The problem was it kept coming back after treatment. The thing just dried him up till he gave up two months ago.”
“Poor Jogbe,” Bijun whispered, “poor, poor guy!”
Daryl stared at Bijun in his grief and whispered back conspiratorially, “If you ask me, I think he had the big one!”
Bijun’s eyes widened in disbelief, not that he couldn’t believe Jogbe had come down with AIDS. After all, he lived dangerously. But his incredulity was that Daryl, who himself was a known male hooker, was the one sharing this morsel of gossip.
“He was such a fine male specimen if you know what I mean,” Daryl added, winking at Bijun, who shuddered at the obvious implication that the two madcaps had been sexually intimate.
Daryl then lit a cigarette as he posed for a potential client. He stretched out one of his long, shaved and oiled legs and flicked an imaginary speck of dust from his knee.
Bijun shook his head and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. But before he drove up to a hundred metres, he found tears streaming from his eyes. He felt so bad about Jogbe and wondered if he had done enough for him.
He had given him money often and some moral instruction, but he had never shared the most important thing he had with him- his faith in Christ. True, he didn’t know if that would have made a difference, but it pained him that Jogbe was no longer around for him to even try.
But a thought suddenly came to him. It came with such clarity that he knew exactly what he must do. And with that, he looked for a suitable spot to reverse his car.
Jogbe was gone, but Daryl was still there. He would befriend him and share the gospel with him. He might laugh him to scorn. He might be hostile. He might even try to coax him into some devilry. But he was willing to take the risk. And he would not give up easily.
That was the kind of living on the edge he yearned for- doing whatever it takes to talk people committed to destroying their lives like Jogbe had and Daryl was in the process of, off the ledge.
That would be infinitely more fulfilling than his current day job, he thought. But it would need loads of prayer and divine guidance to pursue, he reminded himself. He would just start in his leisure time and see how the Lord led him.
As he backed into a mechanic workshop to reverse and drive back to the supermarket where he met Daryl, he prayed that he would still be there and continued his prayer in tongues.
Ⓒ Edith Ugochi Ohaja 2021
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