A doctor always came from the city.
Same man, unchanging attitude, he always arrived the same way- an old jalopy would appear from afar and crawl towards their huts, after jerking to a stop on the same spot, it’d spit out a lanky man in white coat. Without stopping to greet, he’d saunter to the village sickbay; to the waiting patients and their auxiliary nurse. When leaving, he’d transport some of the patients to the city. Those who didn’t return to the village themselves always arrived in a truck, dead.
He was emotionless, he was a harbinger of doom. One evening, after running his hand over ‘Banke Onidiri, he’d pronounced she would be dead in days. ‘Banke died ten days later. Sometimes he brought good news too, like when he announced Iya Alagbo had given birth to three babies in the city, after 20 years of barrenness.
For every good news he brought, there were two sad ones.
The white coat stepped in, and Ayinde jumped from beside the inert body on a mat. He rushed forward.
“please, see my friend first. He is not eating.”
The doctor’s pale eyes shifted from the boy tugging at his coat to the one on the mat, deciding how best to deal with the situation. Moments later, he stepped before the mat. He figured the boys were actually closer to the entrance.
Lowering himself, he began to examine and ask slow questions which got fast answers.
“What is his name? How old is he?”
“Ogundele sir. He was born a year after me. He is eighteen.”
“Where are his parents?”
“They too died from the outbreak last year.”
“I see. When did you start noticing this?”
“Two days ago sir.”
“Did he vomit and stool?”
The doctor touched Ogundele’s bare chest with his stethoscope and sighed. When he started on his distended belly, he was met by painful gasps. Many questions and maneuvers later, he faced Ayinde,
“Your friend will die in days if he doesn’t get a surgery.”
“No! What is wrong? Please don’t let him die. Please…”
“Young man, your friend needs money, it’s a lot. Don’t you have any family?”
“How much sir? I have money from my fishing.”
“Hundred thousand naira. I’ll come for him and the money in five days.”
Ayinde couldn’t stop the tears. He’d never seen that kind of money before.
He sprinted to his room that evening and dragged out the box that contained rumpled naira notes he’d been saving from fishing. He began to straighten and count them. When he finished, he burst into fresh tears. A year after his father went missing, he’d successfully saved eleven thousand and fifty naira. Was this how he’d lose his best friend? That doctor was always correct, when he said someone would die, they would.
Ogundele was all he had left, they both were all they had. A friendship of many years was about to end. The thought of this made him cold where he sat, still staring at the notes. Then, an idea hit him. He suddenly knew where to go.
The Village Joint was where many came to spend. Everyone spent according to their pockets. While the little pockets had palm-wine and rabbit, the big men took “33” Export Lager beer and antelope soup.
“Please, help my friend. The doctor said he would die if we don’t get hundred thousand naira.”
After reciting this to everyone who came to drink, including those sent to buy, he made 350 naira. It was true; unless they were buying you a drink, beer drinkers wouldn’t part with their money.
Ayinde was about giving up when he heard two men discussing something that changed everything.
He got back beside Ogundele that night, and began thinking of what to do with what he’d just heard. A Drinking Contest would take place at the Joint in five days. The last man standing would win 250 thousand naira. A huge sum for something he would never take. But the more he looked at his friend and the pain written all over him, the surer he got about giving an attempt. There was no other way.
Ayinde spent the days getting ready.
At dawn, before their owners arrived, he’d sneak into farms, climb palm trees, and pour for himself generous amounts of palm-wine. Then at night, he would sit to drink as much as he could, till he passed out. Every night, he drank more and lasted longer than the previous nights.
The last night before the contest, he rounded off his training with two bottles of “33” Export Lager.
Thirty men began the contest. Two bottles each later, twenty staggered away. To everyone’s surprise, Ayinde remained.
Three bottles. Four bottles. Five. Six.
Some just dropped. But the more Ayinde pictured his friend, the faster he gulped.
After eight bottles, he stopped seeing the spectators, and began seeing Ogundele calling onto him,
He lost track of everything and drank without pausing.
Soon, he began hearing the thunderous claps. He halted with a mouthful. What was happening? Had someone won? He was no longer sure of reality. Then he glimpsed a man walk towards him.
Next, the man tucked an envelope in between his armpit.
Ayinde found himself laughing as he wobbled away, ignoring the voices calling out to him to “rest a little!”
The envelope tightened under his arm. He couldn’t place what was so important about the envelope, but knew he’d to get it to sickbay.
Instead of the usual five minutes, Ayinde, now donned in mud and grass, lurched into the sickbay forty minutes later. He saw the white coat at door and instantly knew the envelope must be for him. He staggered towards it,
“ta..ta..ke it. Take everything.”
He then went down.
All effort to stabilize him availed to nothing. Ayinde didn’t stop vomiting until he passed out.
Days later, he and Ogundele got up.