He had just walked into the centre in his hooded parker jacket and back pack. The hair on his face was a mass of tangled curls. His skin was light with a tinge of brown, like a drink made from warm milk with cinnamon and sprinkles of cocoa powder. His hair was brown too, with curly ringlets, it was a dirty brown as though bleached buy the sun.
He held his recorder (like the tin whistle) with his dirty hands. He was cold. That Christmas was cold. They had said on the news earlier that it was because of climate change and it was even going to get colder.
He walked up to me and the other volunteers and asked us where we were from. He was cheeky, funny and looked a bit mischievous too. His accent sounded like one of those Yoruba men in England trying to adopt an English accent. He reminded me of the Alaye boys in Lagos. His speech was slurred and he reeked of alcohol. I told him I was Nigerian then he steered at me with his lids wide open and his eye balls seemed as though they were about to exit its sockets. Then he said “shey oun shey work experience abi project lon shey. Sho gbo nko ti mon so”. I could sense the sarcasm in his tone. Then I replied “no it isn’t work experience, this is just something I wanted to do” He started praying for me. He said Nigerians don’t normally do things like this. Giving their Christmas up to look after addicts.
He told me his name was Drummer. He has slept in all the car parks in Sheppard’s Bush and had lived in London since 1980. He wouldn’t tell me his real name. “you look like a shap babe” he said. He said he missed Nigeria.
There was water in his eyes when he told me about his long lost Calabar girlfriend. She used to cook him Nkong and Afang, he has a strange fascination for periwinkles still in its shell. He described the pleasure and relished in the sucking technique to extract the creature from its haven. With a nostalgic expression on his face, he muttered “ile meen ile” home meen home.
Drummer said I looked like the Calabar girl he knew and it was a coincidence I was from those parts too. “you are wondering how I became like this abi”, I smiled. He told me he used to live in Surulere, he studied art and design at Yaba Tech. His father was Itshekiri and his mother was a mixture of different things that’s why his hair was curly and his skin that milky brown shade.
He admitted that drink has destroyed him and so no one wanted to have anything to do with him. His mother and siblings lived in Hays. His older sister was a big woman in Naija. He was a mess. They wanted nothing to do with him. In that Yoruba academician intonation, he said “im an alcoholic, who is going to want to have anything to do with a grown man that cannot help himself”… then he said in Yoruba “you know im not a small boy sha” then I smiled again “the best part of being in oyibo land is that you can get help sho mo” I replied “you only have to try, you can always start again”. As though he had just heard those words for the first time, he retreated into deep thought and said “its true sha its true”. You are a good person “olorun ma toju e” God will take care of you he said.
He grasped his recorder firmly with his two hands. He told me her name was Philomena and he never went anywhere without her. With water cascading down his face, he played me the hymn Amazing Grace. There I was searching for meaning. A bottle had taken over drummer and given his life a different meaning.
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