Whenever Fifties and Rong met up, it always turned out to be a promising event for ethanol use. Bottles of whiskey evaporated without a trace, but the water contents of bottles of beer were traceable to the sewers found in any town they met up, courtesy of their tipples. However, both guys were in denial of the edification they got drinking together. They never met up for trivial or leisure purposes, but ended up using alcohol creatively under the precept of the ‘rule of one’ in both rational and self-deceiving ways.
The ‘rule of one’ had started at their very first drinking meeting five years ago in a bar in St Albans. Rong had suggested they have ‘one’ drink each, one-one. It was one can of Heineken export (0.5 litres) each, a lovely drink that evening. As the time rolled on, both men sought ways to defy the rule of one, one-one. The attempt to use the maths square and cube of one failed; the result was one.
Fifties had suggested a second can would make “one” litre of Heineken, each. Rong eagerly agreed. The second one was excellent. Rong came up with an approximation solution to enable more drinking; he had deduced 1.49 was approximately 1.0 regarding one significant figure, thus permitting the third can. By the fourth to eighth cans, they both pretended to be too drunk to have remembered obeying the rule of ‘one-one’, yet they played Scrabble till dawn after. Since, Rong and Fifties became close friends, but never met up over three times a year. This day was their only meeting in Lagos.
The two men walked into Bar Enclave for drinks. It was late, and the joint was no longer serving food or drink. Enclavio, the owner, dressed in a fine suit, attempted with diplomacy to handle the new entrants. Rong recognised him from his prolific and influential Twitter handle. He had the good looks and confidence expected of a middle to high-level bar owner. The bar man a short dark guy with furtive eyes and packed all his movements with energy, did not notice them.
“Sorry, gentlemen, we are closed for the night,” Enclavio said with a warm smile.
“I hear you have a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label on display. How much do you sell it?” Rong asked.
“N25,000, but we are closed,” said Enclavio.
“Okay. I will pay you N30,000 to drink it now within one hour. I may even have other drinks. Please, I’m not offering a bribe. I’m auctioning,” Rong said.
All four men in the bar started laughing at Rong’s wit and audacity, even if it was not considerable.
“My name is Rong Buefe of the @Rong handle on Twitter,” Rong said.
“Ah!!! You are the troublemaker in England. Were you not arrested by security agents at the airport?” Enclavio asked.
“No, I came into Nigeria as an approved British journalist.”
“You are lucky. Welcome to Lagos and Bar Enclavio.”
Enclavio took the bottle of whisky from the shelf and placed it before us.
Earlier in the day, both men had met up look at multi-agent systems model Fifties was designing and it was a productive event despite the noise and distraction bubbling inside the Mama Cass restaurant they met. However, now in Bar Enclave, Fifties wore his indignation like a trademark. Fifties was angry about some comments Rong and others had made on Twitter that supported his conclusions but not his approach to a political problem he espoused. Fifties was reluctant to drink until a debate came to a resolution, after which he would guzzle his whole share of alcohol in minutes. His reputation for walking away from drinks and debates never faltered. Rong was on his second double shot of whisky with a Heineken chaser; Fifties had not touched his first whisky.
Fifties argument was about the reluctance of the government and its clients to use big data for informing the politics, policy, and the economy in Nigeria.
“Nigerian politicians never use data and indices to plan issues or drive debates during the election or non-election season. Thus, Nigeria’s democracy would always be intellectually empty,” Fifties said.
“Will you not agree with Deirdre McCloskey when she says empirical measures are just as good as statistical ones?” Rong asked.
“If Nigeria wants to advance its society, it will have to calibrate a lot of it functions with big data and all political arguments should spring from such premises. Nigerian politicians do not even campaign. They share rice, beans, buns, bread, kerosene, and N500 notes to the electorate to win votes,” Fifties said.
“What is your point?” Rong asked.
Fifties swivelling eye movement and movement of his torso backwards was his body response to Rong’s tone of questioning.
“Any social measure that is credible is useful in governance, at least as excellent guides. So why are you using McCloskey as an excuse to dismiss the value of statistical data in the political economy?” Fifties asked.
Fifties was a tall slim guy in his early 30s with a goatee and deep-set eyes that shone bright enough to induce caution in others. He got his nickname from his stinginess with cigarettes; half a cigarette he had smoked was the best he could give. Fifties was generous with alcohol, but not cigarettes. A disruptive casualness masked his very sharp and pragmatic mind. He was a spoilt child from a privileged background, but acted like a radical from the shantytowns who became respectable. He was an engineering graduate with interests in statistics and research. Fifties sometimes disliked Rong because he would say anything and adequately defend it but he also admired his deceptively reckless attitude to everything in life; he always knew what he was doing. They were kindred spirits.
Rong liked Fifties for his honesty, fortitude and daring mind. He was perhaps a fifty-year-old and a widower. A bright chap with doctorates in physics and political science; he was once an all-welcoming soul. Tall, muscular, and charismatic, losing his wife turned him into a mild misanthrope and worsening. Rong’s Tara had died with his baby male child shortly after the birth; he had witnessed it all, the ecstasy, then the despair.
He met Tara while they were both research students at SOAS. She was a plump but exquisite lady of great intelligence and a big trust fund. Tara’s death saw Rong going from sharing a one-bedroom flat with her in London and living on a research fellow’s salary to being worth close to £2 million. He gave up his job, trying enterprise and somehow doubled the fortune.
Rong’s phone rang, interrupting Fifties’ tirade. He retrieved the phone from his inner jacket pocket.
“That must be Roisin,” he said and answered the call.
Rong’s flamboyant aura switched abruptly into sterile coldness. Fifties and Enclavio’s sudden furrowed eye-brows showed they knew it had to be bad news. Throughout the three-minute phone conversation, Rong uttered two words and a phrase, “What?”, “Really?”, “Can I call you back?” The call ended. Rong’s fine-tuned rationality failed him, this time giving way to ravaging emotions; he was weeping with a universal moan witnessed when one lost something of irreplaceable value and no hope of restoration.
“My sweetheart is dead. She…” he muttered and continued his mournful weeping.
The moan in his weeping did not take long to change into heavy sobbing. Enclavio was behind the bar and Fifties sitting on a high stool beside him. Fifties and Enclavio attempted to show concern and offer consolation to Rong, but intuition warned them off, saying nothing was best. Fifties ignored his intuition and put his arm around Rong’s shoulder and in a most soothing manner.
“May God give you the strength to…” Fifties said.
Rong responded by throwing his empty glass at the toilet door and standing up like the sudden release of an underwater buoy to the surface.
“Don’t bring God into this and don’t make me blaspheme,” Rong said.
Rong had a deep indignation with God over the loss of Tara but always remained a keen believer when major misfortune struck him. Such had happened several times in his lifetime. Rong’s father had recently told him he deserved a Job’s Medal from God for remaining faithful to God, misfortune after misfortune. But as strong as Rong’s faith was, he was not a rule-following Christian; Rong did not like rules.
Rong sat down, got up in an uncertain, fighting manner and went straight to the toilet, crunching his broken glass under his shoes, and traversed the door. He washed his hands and face first. Rong inspected the big clear mirror above the sink. What he saw he did not like. He had wrinkles on his face, creams could banish, a very low haircut that hid his greying and balding head and discoloured bloodshot eyes. His vanity told him he was no longer that cute, handsome man he used to be.
As Rong regarded his mirror image, looking back at him, they became locked in a deep, silent conversation with each other.
His mirror image told him something bluntly.
“You are a man hiding from so much,” the mirror image said.
With great skill, Rong hid from many things with justifications that could easily pass the Popper’s falsifiability test. Responsibility, God, friends, and family never had much engagement from him in recent times.
“I concede. Despite my prodigious blessings, the ‘logic of one’ would always fail me. I am alone as one,” Rong said.
Tara, who he with affection called BB (short for Bright Beauty) had inspired him to be responsible and strong in every sense. Her overweight beauty was a constant amazement to him that even in death did not cease. When he had the time, he would stroke and admire her naked body with adulation. He also appreciated her for her good nature and for putting up with his crazy ways. Her death had broken him. He did not see Tara in the mirror, but wished he could.
He could not find Roisin in the mirror, either. He befriended Roisin, who he called RMA (Roisin my Amazon) because she had filled the gap and eased his pain of losing Tara. Roisin was a typical ENTJ personality, in control and leading the vanguard. She too had a body Rong adored. Rong considered his knowing Roisin as the true Zeitgeist in his life and it was true. He even admitted to his friends he felt safe with Roisin, who thought he was ultra-macho. Now she was dead.
“I would never seek a female romantic partner in his life ever again,” Rong said to the mirror.
Rong was only eight years old when he left for prep boarding school. It tore him away from his mother, who had weaned him to adore her. One of two black boys in his English boarding school, he had used selfish fierce competitiveness to cope with being a tear away from his mother. Conquests, though sweet as Rong achieved them often against all odd, could never fill the gap of his separation from his mother till he met Tara who cured him, then Roisin who continued the work.
Every other important woman in his life, tutor, professor, lover, wife, mother, and lawyer, were now all dead. Rong coped with each loss, excelling in some competitive sphere of activity. The riskier the better. Looking into the mirror, he knew he had spent his recovery competitiveness. His image had told him to
“Turn away from proving you are not lonely by engendering the remorseless spirit of conquest. Loving your higher self is the true solution to your miseries.,” the mirror image said.
“Alone did I come to this world and alone shall I leave?” Rong said.
He stood there waiting for his image in the mirror to reply, almost unsure of his words and his image would bother.
“That is the way it is. Find your higher self and you shall lack nothing in creation. The logic of One is the unity of the Self and the Ego, learn how to do it,” his mirror image said.
The response was perfect and whether it was real or imagined was not important. It was self-reassurance alone that kept Rong from the doldrums of loneliness, but he sorted it through conquest. Now reassurance was coming from the mirror that he had a higher self-within. He must find it.
Rong exited the toilet and returned to his seat. Fifties and Enclavio were waiting for him and resisted many decisive temptations to knock on the toilet door to ask how he was doing; he spent fifteen minutes in there. He took a seat by Fifties who poured him a double shot and Rong drank it without uttering a word. His phone then rang again, and he answered. His only three words during the one-minute-long conversation were “Hello”, “Okay” and “Thank you.”
Rong, at the end of the call, burst into sudden laughter. Wild laughter but not excessive enough to suggest he was now spitting on God, insane. The laughter only ancestors in their invisible ceremonies could permit a living descendant. He was now ready to tell Fifties and Enclavio the reasons behind his tears and laughter.
“The first phone call had been from Clodagh, my woman, Roisin’s sister. To inform me that Roisin had died that night in an airport bus accident in Brazil. The second phone call was from Aoife, Roisin’s mother. There were two Rosin Murphys on the bus and hers had survived uninjured. Clodagh, who sounded like a faulty simulation during the first call, was too nervous to handle the second call to me despite the good news,” Rong said.
“I can feel Clodagh. Sometimes good news is not sufficient compensation after bad news,” Enclavio said.
“True,” Rong said.
“This reminds me of the story of King Hezekiah, who God sent Elijah to tell him he was going to die and Hezekiah called on God and said Father check my CV and end of year reports. Where did I go wrong? And God granted Hezekiah another fifteen years’ lease of life, before Elijah could leave the palace compound,” Fifties said.
“I never knew you were so biblical,” Rong said.
“I thought you would ask what is you point?” Fifties responded.
“What is your point?” Rong asked.
“Did you present your CV and annual reports to God in the toilet?”
The unexpected humour was irresistible and produced a combination of giggles and screams and coughing. And their ribs hurt afterwards.
It had been a ‘rock bottom to high heavens’ event for Rong. The circumstance of feeling crushing sadness, then elating happiness in just twenty minutes, was quite a baptism. Rong’s baptism into the ‘knowledge of one’ was definitive; never again would he depend on another for happiness and reassurance and he finds the Logic of One within. Nevertheless, he was overjoyed that his companionship with Roisin would endure, perhaps forever.
Rong had twenty minutes to drink with Fifties till Enclavio closed the doors for the night, enough time for them to leave the empty with honours. He also intended to visit the mirror in the toilet one more time. Maybe it would offer him a chance to learn more about himself as one.
Be good, Not lucky
Please take a look at my other short story, One-Time Train Encounter. Cheers