15 minutes to 2 AM…
Michael knew no peace. He could not sleep. The weary young man got up to get water to drink. He was shocked to find the barrel empty.
“Did the ghosts of his parents come for the little water he had too?” – he thought.
He went back to sit on his mattress – the same mattress he used in the university five years ago. He cast his eyes round his room. It was as empty as always. The stool which served as his center table stood right there in the middle of the room. A polythene rubber sheltered his clothing and it hung behind the door. The half-broken barrel that kept his water stood akimbo in the corner of his room. His mattress lay at the left side of the room, close to the wall and next to the barrel.
“Destitution… Destitution… Destitution…” – the room spoke to him.
Michael lost his mother to cancer when he was still too small to remember. Being his only child, Mr. Osei, Michael’s father, dedicated his life to taking care of him and made life comfortable for him. Mr. Osei was a teacher. He took extra teaching jobs to support himself and fund Michael’s education. Unfortunately, he too passed away when Michael in his last year in the university. He had a heart attack and died before they arrived at the hospital.
Michael was left alone. His other family members deserted him. He had to find means to survive and graduate from school. After his national service, his landlord kicked him out of the apartment he used to share with his father because he could not pay the rent that had accrued.
Michael moved from one job interview to the other ever since he completed his national service. No company was interested in his nice curriculum vitae as he got the same feedback from the companies which interviewed him. Even the hotel he applied to, to be a receptionist refused to employ him because he was too qualified for the job of a receptionist. If anyone had told him finding a job would be difficult for him he would’ve doubted it. He was the best graduating student in his class; what could be the reason for his inability to get a job? Life was just unfair.
15 minutes past 8 AM…
Michael didn’t remember when or how he fell asleep. He only remembered being too depressed to do anything – not even pray.
“What was the point anyway?” – he asked himself. “The Prince of Persia in my life must be really powerful”
He did not bathe since he had no water to use. He slipped into his faded sea blue shirt and put on his crumpled and faded trousers that hang above his ankles. He couldn’t bear the pain of combing his kinky afro hair so he just covered it with a stonewashed black cap; put on his old-looking sandals and stepped out to find something to eat.
The restaurant was full. Yes, he went to a restaurant. He too could not believe it. All the while he sat there, he asked himself why he would spend the last money he had on an expensive meal. He got no answer but it felt right.
“No peace here too?” – he asked himself, shaking his head in disbelieve. The last time he came there – actually, the first and only time he had been there thanks to an old classmate he bumped into –, the place was quiet and serene. That was the more reason he went back there. To have a peaceful meal and think about his wretched life.
He looked around at the busy tables. Next to him was an old couple eating side by side, one glass of wine each, studiously bent over their meals. “Money swine!” – he thought.
In the corner of the room, diagonal from where he sat, there was a group of young women in their thirties collapsing with helpless giggles as a stern woman dining alone nearby looked on and frowned. “Women!” – Michael’s mind again
At another table was a team of businessmen in their suits looking over a pile of documents while sipping coffee from small Chinese mugs. Sigh! “Goals, merhn. Goals”.
Then, there was a Caucasian man who looked intently into the menu like he was trying to decipher it. That forced a chuckle from Michael. Finally, the noisiest table – a family and their teenage children. Before he could spare a thought for them, the waiter distracted him.
“Sir, please, excuse me”, indicating that Michael move his elbow from the table to make way for the former to set the plate of food on the table.
Sighting the food, Michael swallowed saliva. He heard a gulping sound as the mixture of water, electrolytes, mucus, antibacterial compounds and enzymes went down this esophagus. He looked around to see if anyone heard it too but no one was bothered by a shabbily dressed young man sitting in a cozy restaurant with a plate of banku and tilapia set before him. Not even one of a pair of eyes was staring at him
Michael salivated again and swallowed the content of his mouth. However, this time, the salivation was not for the meal he could not wait to relish. It was for the state of his pocket. All he had on him was a fifty Ghana Cedi note he got from a recent proofreading gig. He decided to spoil himself. After all, we only live once.
He checked the menu again to be sure of the cost of banku and grilled tilapia – it was thirty-five cedis. He noticed that tilapia had been spelt wrongly in the book. They wrote “Talapia” instead. On a normal day, it would have been funny but not today. His conscience prompted him to draw the manager’s attention to the spelling mistake. “…but this would not make them take five Ghana Cedis off my bill”, he rationalized and brushed the suggestion aside.
With two hands stretched over the meal, Michael prayed over the food. After moving his lips a few times and saying nothing really, he opened his eyes and took another scan of the room to see if anyone had seen him struggling with his prayers.
15 minutes after 9 AM
Half of the ball of banku on Michael’s plate was gone. For the tilapia, he had barely touched it. He wanted to eat it last and savour the taste in his mouth for only God knew when next he would get a meal like this.
He lifted his head and his eyes caught the couple taking pictures outside. He could tell they were pre-wedding pictures from the matching white tops, blue jeans and scarlet All Stars sneakers. He shook his head and refused the temptation of judging them on being wasteful on the marriage ceremony when the journey of marriage itself lay before them.
Having finished his meal, Michael paid like a boss, took his changed like the unemployed graduate that he was and walked out of the restaurant like Nicodemus.
15 minutes to 10 AM
The couple taking the pre-wedding photographs were still there. They had changed into nice African print dresses. They were really having fun. Michael could not take his eyes of time. Now, instead of judging them, he envied them.
Michael turned. An articulated truck was coming at him. He senses froze keeping him glued to the spot.
“Hooooooooooooooooooooooonk!”, the speeding vehicle blared again. It was edging closer and closer. Michael’s feet were still stuck to the ground. He could hear onlookers screaming at him! He could see some of them, albeit blurry, hurling instructions at him to move out of the way of the truck.
Finally, he took a step. Then another followed.
“Hoooooooooooooooooooooooonk!” came from the truck again.
Michael turned to take another look at the gigantic rig that was barely hundred meters from him. His heart skipped a beat. His missed a step and fell.
5 minutes after 15 minutes to 10 AM
Everything went black. Some peace at last