I sit to settle myself. I’ll be in a room full of people I do not know. I mustn’t spill out like a leaky faucet. All of me must be contained within me. The last time I had a house party, I had a friend explode on me. You could blame it on the party wine I provided or you could blame it on his youth. Only the young in experience do not know when to stop. That day he didn’t keep anything for himself. His grandfather’s death, his out of wedlock beginnings, his strained relationships with his mother and his father, and his elusive aspirations erupted out of him like they would during a session with a therapist. I never looked at him the same way again. Such excess is contagious. Since that night, I’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that I don’t provide the sequel to his performance. Those displays of grief and yearning are best reserved for friends who’ll follow you to the end of everything.
I grab the bottle from the freezer, and drive like I mean it. I’ve got a hunger for life and a fine anger that’s best tempered with shots. The march from my car to the apartment is neither fast nor slow. I’m aware of stares followed by silent appraisals. This is what you get when you show up when a party is in full swing. Snap judgements are made and questions are raised. “Who is he? Why is he here? Who does he know?” I’m unbothered by all of this. The alcohol table is in sight and there’s a bottle of vodka that's in need of finishing. I don’t mix it with anything. Things are neater that way. I stop after the fifth shot. It’s not that I couldn’t do more but I fear the hangover that more will bring.
Obi’s at the centre of things. I’m not sure what he’s doing but I shoot a smile with a hint of a laugh his way. Hobbit, my other friend in attendance, is calling for a few rounds of concentration. I won’t be playing. In concentration someone lists a category and everyone names something that belongs to that category. If you repeat someone’s answer you drink. If your answer takes too long, you drink. If you can’t answer, you drink. I go over to the balcony instead.
It’s Anu. A girl I met during my three week stay at the National Youth Service Corp Camp in Edo State.
“Anu! I swear we’ve got to stop meeting like this.”
“You’re stalking me aren’t you.”
She says that with a genuine laugh. I notice too late that there’s someone next to her. He’s looking at me like the best thing I could do for him would be to throw myself off the balcony. Guys don’t like it when the girls they’re talking to seem so thrilled at the prospect of being stalked by another guy.
“You’d like it if I did wouldn’t you?” I say.
If he weren’t black he’d turn red. If he were a cartoon there’d be steam pouring from his ears. I grab my phone and slam it to my ear. It’s important that you know when to make your exit.
“Ah Shit! I’ve got to get this”
I take my leave snickering at my ingenuity. Inside, Hobbit’s still trying to get the game started and Obi’s talking to Iyabo. I walk over to them to make idle chatter, but my small talk turns into a picture request. I oblige. It’s his birthday. It won’t do to say no. With that, I walk outside, where the music isn’t so loud as to make conversation impossible. My buzz is wearing off and I like this. I’ll be great to drive soon.
My phone rings. It’s Hobbit. He wants to know where I’ve run off to.
It’s times like these that I’m grateful for friends. It’s good to be looked for. He walks out of the apartment with a girl in tow.
“This is Yemi. We literally grew up together.”
“Is that all you did?”
I watch them intently but they don’t give anything away.
“Yeah that’s all we did.” He says with a smirk.
I laugh and tune out as they reconnect. I contribute here and there, but my mind is occupied with a question I’ve been trying to answer. The question is, “what happens when the music stops?” I’ve been feeling like I’m caught up in a cycle that needs breaking. There’s more to being young than tales of drunken foolery and stories of nights spent at clubs. It’s alcohol logic. I can’t introduce it to the conversation because nobody needs to be told that we need to be making the most of our freedom, and that what we’re doing now isn’t it. The turn up isn’t the right foundation on which to build a life.
My thoughts are interrupted when we’re joined by a poor sod who looks like he’s spent the better part of the day in a minibar. He’s swaying like a palm tree in the wind, and he’s slurring his words. He doesn’t pay any attention to Hobbit or me. He’s hellbent on Yemi. I watch with a smile. When he starts reading Yemi his poetry, I decide that enough is enough. Nobody needs that. Being force fed bad poetry is similar to being force fed acid. I drag him back to the party to force water down his throat fully aware that the thanks I’ll get will be his blank memory in the morning. I get the water but he’s gone. I suspect that he passed out somewhere.
It’s 1:30am and we decide that it’s time to leave. I don’t have enough petrol for the meanderings of the Lagos night so I get in Hobbit’s car. We haven’t driven 400 metres when we see it. A car’s slammed into the roundabout and flipped. We park and get out, hoping that it isn’t someone from the party. Obi’s already there.
“It’s the poetry guy. He’s dead.”
I’m struck dumb. I feel my throat closing up. Hobbit’s head droops and I hear a sniffle. My arm goes around his shoulders. We’re just standing there looking on when we see signs of movement. He crawls out of a window. He’s fine. He looks fine. We shake out of our stupors of grief. Someone takes him to a hospital. He calls his mother. I’m standing there in a daze, thankful. Then the cycle of blame starts.
“You should have done more.”
“You should have asked him for his keys.”
I’m shaken out of the blame cycle by his screaming mother.
“Where is my son!”
“Where have they taken my son?!”
It is then that I realise that youth, however intoxicating, is not immortality. We are not infinite.