I paused for a moment, realising that Babu was staring at me, his mouth open. I thought he was either in a state of shock or he was very thirsty. Our glasses had been empty for a while, and I signaled to the barman, who had been standing close by, listening to the Malaika tale, to fetch more beer immediately.
We were seated on high stools by the bar at the Nairobi Police Club. Earlier, Babu had asked me if I fancied a drink and a bite in a posh restaurant, so here we were. I studied the various drinks bottles perched on the shelves at the back of the bar. On the top shelf were the cups and trophies that the club team had won over the years in sports as diverse as snooker, darts, shooting and football. I waited patiently as the bar man popped open my cold Pilsner. Holding my fresh glass at an angle, I poured the amber fluid smoothly without unnecessary froth. Babu was drinking Guiness today. The head at the top of his glass contrasted sharply with the dark viscous liquid beneath and Babu looked at it with genuine appreciation. With a gleam in his eye, he took a long sip and allowed it to trickle down his throat which he now cleared saying, “ OK. Carry on, Woolie! What a dreadful experience for poor John. What happened next?”
“Yes,” I said. “The car sailed off the cliff like an aeroplane. There’s one thing I forgot to tell you, John told me that when the car took over control, the radio cassette player had switched itself on and was playing the Fadhili William’s song Malaika, at full volume. Also, he’d noticed that the doors had locked themselves, Hahahahahaha!”
A few drinkers had gathered around us now and were listening to the tale and shaking their heads. Most people had read in the newspapers of the car that fell off a cliff at the top of Dead man’s hill, and how, by the greatest of fortunes it had landed on a small copse of cypress trees, several hundred feet below. These were the only trees to be found for miles around in our arid district. They had also read how the quarry men had rushed to free the driver, fearing the worst, and they had learned how the lucky man had cheated death, escaping with only a black eye, a sore back and some bruising.
Babu was looking out of the large windows when he said to me, “Quick, let’s find a table!” I followed his gaze and saw the cause for his concern. Commander Ruby, was making her way across the car-park towards the bar. Ha! Babu and his dodgy plans. Why had he invited her here, of all places?
“Commander….” Babu said graciously as Ruby offered him her cheek. She barely acknowledged me but I was going to rise above bad manners. I cleared my throat and said, “Good evening Ruby, how are you doing. What will you have?
“Ah, sit, Mbuzi” She said, with a smile that did not reach her eyes. “The waiter will come. I don’t think I could trust you to get me the right drink, anyway. Mscheeeeeew!”
Babu smiled like a fool and I prayed for the ceiling to fall crashing down onto this arrogant woman. She clearly hated me. I was going to make sure that Babu saw this for himself, tonight. Why had he invited her? Nkt! I gulped down my beer quicker than I should have and hastily ordered another round.
“Babu,” I ventured, “I bet you didn’t know how Ruby is still mad at me for that little mix up before the wedding.”
“Please leave me out of it”, said Babu, uncomfortably.
Ruby scoffed. “Little mix up, he says, Ha! Who in their right mind would mix up Welding supplies and Wedding supplies, hmmm? Tell me that, wise guy!”
The waiter brought our drinks and told us that our table was ready. As Babu glanced at his watch, Rubina walked through the door, accompanied by my good friend Blue and his partner Carla. A beaming Rubina said “Look who I found lurking by the entrance, hahahahahaha.”
Babu laughed when he saw the look on my face. Blue said to all of us, “ I have never willingly walked into a place with so many police cars parked outside. It felt really strange, until Rubina came along.”
Shortly after we were all seated round a table in a sort of private function room on the first floor. Good food arrived continuously at the table and the wine flowed well with the conversation. I asked Blue how he had come to be here and he explained that Babu had mentioned that young Rubina here had a rather special announcement that she was going to make, so he had organised a simple dinner for her and her close friends. “Aah I see, I told him, nodding.” I seemed to be the only one who was unaware of these plans.
I looked around the table to see everyone in lively, cheery conversations with one another and got the feeling that I somehow did not belong here. What was I saying? I was amongst some of my best friends….and yet I had never felt more alone. I wished they would hurry up and make their announcements then we could all go home. I had a good mind to go to the bar and get a proper whiskey. This bubbly stuff did nothing for me, to be honest. I needed a Man’s Drink.
I could hear the Commander’s voice now, she was speaking to the other ladies….I knew exactly what it was about when I heard her say….”It’s soooo easy to mix them up, The junction of Corner Road and the corner of Junction Road, I’ve done it myself, Hahahahahahah!”
I lost it. The sparkling wine must have got to me. I stood up and said, “Very funny Commander. Yesh, tell them all how shtupid I am. How I ruined your precious friendsh wedding because aaall the bridesmaids wore welding gloves….Tell them that’s what I do I ruin weddings for a living, hic I’m sho shorry Rubina. Hic. Oops” I took a gulp from a glass of red wine, not knowing or caring to whom it belonged.
“Sit down Woolie and calm down.” said the Commander. I sat back down, feeling thoroughly embarrassed and outraged that she had got to me. She turned to give Babu a knowing look.
Babu cleared his throat quickly and said a few words explaining why we were gathered here. He then invited Rubina to stand and make her announcement. As I listened the large chandelier in the centre of the room began to sway. Next the room was moving, all on its own. Swaying, rising, falling. It was like we were having dinner on board the Titanic. I felt a great upheaval inside me and knew that I was in real trouble. My fellow diners were completely engrossed in what Rubina was saying. They did not notice my manic stare as I stood up, saying I was going to open the window to let in some fresh air. By now the whole room was spinning like a fighter-jet in some weird aerobatic display. I got as far as the window and pushed it open. I was hit by a blast of cigarette smoke from the smokers in the garden down below. This was the tipping point. I heaved and choked with increasingly terrifying violence. Suddenly, the dinner and drinks escaped from inside me to be deposited on the poor smokers down below. My humiliation almost complete, I left the restaurant unsteadily, tripped over a step and went headlong into a flower-bed where I slept it off until dawn.