Conversations At The Post.
“You know, the truth doesn’t give a fuck” Kalu said, his teeth breaking the groundnuts he popped in his mouth at frightening speed. They were sitting on heavy wooden crates waiting for their shift to be over. Kalu had brought enough groundnuts to feed an entire camp of refugees and he sat cross legged, enjoying the crunching sound they made when they met his teeth.
“It doesn't care for your feelings or any bullshit like that. It’s just dose after dose of honesty. You know, like those boxing matches you see on television; where one guy is down, bleeding from the mouth and nose and ears and the crowd is screaming for more blood even though it looks like all he has is on the floor of the ring, while you are begging the referee to stop it, even if it's for a minute. Let him breathe, let him get some rest.”
Femi nodded, dipping his hand inside the bag and grabbing a handful himself. At times like this, when Kalu was on a roll, it was best not to interrupt him.
“Now, don't get me wrong; I am not saying truth is bad. On the contrary, truth is wonderful. It helps to put things in perspective if you know what I mean. You know what I mean, right?”
“Yeah I do. Without truth, we would be living in delusion; thinking that stuff that isn't true is and stuff that is isn't.”
“Ha!” Kalu shouted, part surprise, part amusement.
“You know Femo; you have a funny way of speaking. It is, what's that word again? Unconventional. Yeah, you always cut right to the bone. I love it.”
Femi nodded; the groundnuts entering his mouth slowly as he did so, a grave ritual of understanding and resignation. He had heard this a thousand times before and he was going to hear it a thousand times after.
“But I can't speak like that, you know? I am a man of many words. It's probably a funny way to describe a common watchman like me but it is what it is. I like to speak and make sure you get me. You understand that right?”
“Yeah. If everyone was curt in their speech, we would have to cut the dictionary in half. Words exist so we can use them.”
“Ha! There you go again! I love you, man. I really do” Kalu said, clapping; the husks of groundnut he was holding spilling.
“But where was I? Ah, yes. Truth. As you said, it sets things straight but people can’t handle it. Nobody likes to hear facts, except those that they deem ‘good’. But that’s not how it works, you can’t select what happens, you know? You have to accept whatever life throws at you because no matter what you wish was and wasn’t, the status quo is the status quo and you have to work with that. Motivational speakers think you can reject facts and recreate it or redefine it but that, Mon Ami, as my father used to say, is nshi ewu. Goat shit. Reality is reality and you can’t change what has happened. You can’t reject it either. I mean, what is the point? How can you reject something in front of you? It’s there!”
“But, what you fail to see, Kalu is that people need to cope. People need a system to deal with the truth. If ‘rejection’ helps them from falling into an abyss, can you really blame them?”
“We are weak. Despite our so-called advancements, at our core, we are scared animals; we still hide like rats when faced with difficult realities. I wish we were stronger; strong enough to shake things off and go on but, no. We are cursed with feelings; weakness in a beautiful and complex package called biology.”
Femi laughed; a low scratchy sound that seemed to come from his throat. “You are too cynical, Kalu. Too much for your own good.”
“I have heard that before. Titi used to say it a lot. Remember Titi? The one with the…”
He gestured with his hands, making a curved shape in the air. Femi nodded even though he could not remember. There had been so many of them over the past months and they all had the same shape; Kalu had a type. The figures on the LED screen told him that they had a few minutes left. He cleared his throat.
“The honest-to-god truth is that we only want beautiful, Kalu. Beautiful cars, beautiful spouses, beautiful children, beautiful art hanging on the beautiful walls of our beautiful houses. But art can be ugly sometimes; it should be ugly sometimes. You know why? It’s because of everything we have discussed here, Kalu: Truth. The truth is ugly and cold and uncompromising. The truth is like our lives, like life. Life is not easy, Kalu. You are the boxer on the floor of the ring, bleeding from your mouth and nose and life is the boxer standing above you, delivering punch after punch to your gut, life is the crowd; screaming, pleading for blood, life is the viewer at home, unable to press that big red button on his remote because he’s rooting for you; hoping for a miracle or an intervention from the referee to stop the carnage. And life- life is the referee too; allowing the fight to go on because despite the blood and pain and anguish, he knows you’re a fighter; he knows you’re built to take it. He knows that after the bell sounds and your opponent’s hand is lifted in victory and you are carried from the ring quietly, you’d rest for a day or two, then go back; running, punching, fighting. Yeah,you are right; we are weak and sometimes it seems like we can’t go on but we fight back. That’s what we do, Kalu; fight the hell back, because it’s not going to be easy and different challenges are going to come our way like punches wrapped in gloves and sometimes, we dodge and get that beautiful child or wife and sometimes it hits us square in the nose and the beautiful painting turns horrid and scary. But we get up to fight another day Kalu; we’re built to take it.”
For a few minutes, they sat in silence; each man going over the conversation in his head. Then a low, scratching sound reached their ears and they looked up as they heard it. It was a sound they recognized; the sound of boots kissing gravel, the sound of footsteps. From around a corner, Pius and Yaro materialized, ready to swap places for a few hours. Kalu got up, his cramped joints popping in relief and Femi followed suit, dusting the groundnut husks off his trousers. They shook hands with the substitutes and walked off, leaving the new men to deal with mosquitoes and the burden of conversation.