A short story
By Tikum Mbah Azonga
Pa Shimoon, for that was what we grew up knowing him to be called, was an extraordinary man. When I First heard of the name of the former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimoon Peres - and that was in primary school - it reminded me of Pa Shimoon’s name. I sometimes wondered if the name Shimoon was not really a corruption of Simon, but my father said it was not.
“His father named him Shimoon. I don’t know why, but that’s the name his father gave him at birth. If you want the whole story, his full names are Shimoon Atanga Ngu, the last name being his father’s.”, my father would say, and then go on to recall that Pa Shimoon’s father ran into problems with the parish priest who stopped the local priest from baptizing Pa Shimoon, unless he was given a “proper” Christian name, whatever he meant by “proper”.
“We can’t put that name on our church records. It’s not a Christian name. It must be a pagan creation”, Fr. Anthony said, in the coolness typical of Mill Hill missionaries. He was born in Southampton but grew up in Bedfordshire and Yorkshire. However, since Pa Shimoon’s father would not agree to an alternative name and the parish priest would not yield an inch either, a rift soon developed between the two men. The result was that Pa Shimoon’s father withdrew his entire family from the Catholic Church and they became Presbyterians. Of course, my father could afford to be so authoritative about Pa Shimoon. Both men were from Njini Menam village. They were age mates and had grown up together in the village. They were classmates in the village catholic Mission Primary School. When Pa Shimoon’s father moved them out of the Catholic Church, he accordingly enrolled at the village Presbyterian school. Meanwhile my father stayed on at the St. Andrew Catholic School. When both boys completed primary school they entered the big and famous Basel Mission College. (B M C) that was the only one for boys in that part of the country. After their studies, they both won British scholarships to study in England. My father went to the famous Milroe College where he took an honours in tropical agriculture. His friend and brother went to Silverpool for and honours in mechanical engineering. That was then. Today, because of the closeness of my father and Pa Shimoon, all of us my father’s eight children (from his only wife, my mother, mama Benedicta) called Pa Shimoon, just Shimoon,’ not uncle Shimoon ‘. The latter, on the other hand, had two wives. Mama Beatrice had five children while the second wife, Mama Angela, had three. If you ask me, I would say Pa Shimoon had difficulties handling his polygamous home because there were frequent fights between the wives. Sometimes they even they fought.
Even so, what I or I guess any other child with whom I grew up in the neighbourhood remember most about Pa Shimoon was his indulgence in alcohol. It seemed to me that he was always drunk.
For many years he and my father worked in Ndokoban, the headquarters of Kana administrative Division in the Plateau Province. My father was the divisional delegate for Agriculture while Pa Shimoon was Divisional Chief of service for Agricultural Statistics. My father was his boss because according to the organisational chart, the Divisional Delegate of Agriculture Controlled the Divisional Chief of services for Administration and Finance, the Divisional Chief of Community Development, the Divisional Chief of Rural Engineering, the Divisional Chief of Agriculture Production.
My father always spoke disconsolately about his “brother Shimoon” at home. “What haven’t I said to him? I have warned him repeatedly about drinking. I have told him it will ruin his career and even his life. But will my brother listen to me? That places me in an awkward situation because if I were to apply the rules on him and send a nasty report to hierarchy, he might lose his job. But does my brother understand that?”
Sometimes, I felt sorry for Pa Shimoon because even his physical looks were already wearing him down. He, from what I could see was born handsome. He had the fair complexion, which most people dream of. Unfortunately he made himself a slave to alcohol. Perhaps he could even have been a delegate like my father. Let’s not talk about smoking because they both smoked, and in all fairness to Pa Shimoon, they smoked sparingly. Pa Shimoon’s greatest sin was alcohol abuse and drunkenness, not smoking.
One morning when my father sent me to Pa Shimoon’s place to get something for himI found Pa Shimoon lying in bed, drinking whisky straight from the bottle as if it was water. The room stank of alcohol.
Surprisingly, his first wife, Mama Beatrice, as she prepared her husband for work, and the children for school, repeatedly entered the room but showed no sign of surprise or disgust. I suppose the poor woman was, after these many years of marriage to an ever drunk husband, simply braved things out. Otherwise, what could she do about it? Pa Shimoon would not listen. However, perhaps the poor man too was now too addicted to alcohol to come out of the situation. So after I stepped into his bedroom and found him drinking his whisky, I stood respectfully, waiting for him to finish. Good morning Pa” I said.
“ Good morning, my child”, he replied turning round with difficulty and groaning about pains all over his body. But he made sure he held very tightly to his half drunk bottle of whisky. He looked worn out, tired and sleepy. Surely, he must have been drinking in one of the off license or bars in the town the previous night. “ In such a state, how will he go to the office today?” I wondered to myself. Of course, I would never dream of putting such a question to him. I knew he would beat me, report me to my father who would again beat me without giving me the slightest chance in the world to defend myself.
Pa Shimoon finally managed to sit up in bed, and I had no choice than to put up with that very strong and offensive smell of alcohol.
“Is it…Is it..Arrr…. rrr! You. …Captain?”
“Yes Pa.” I replied. He always addressed me as “captain “, because as he said, he was sure I would grow up to join the national armed forces and eventually become a captain. Time was to prove him right because after my degree in law, I passed the entrance ewamination into the National Military School and later became a captain. Using my law degree, I trained at the national administration and magistracy school and became a military magistrate. I retired a couple of years ago as a colonel. So on that one, pa Shimoon got things right.
Back in his smelling room he asked why I had come. “Pa asked me to get the leave requisition file from you”.
“Oh yeah? Is that all? Your father didn’t send me anything?”
“Why not? He didn’t send me any whisky? Or even a beer, for my breakfast?”
Here, there was no way I could hold back:
“Alcohol for breakfast, Pa?”
“Yes, of course, captain. Why not? By the way, what class are you in?”
“Class seven, Pa”
“So you are due secondary school this year? And you don’t know that alcohol is good for breakfast? What do your teachers teach you these days? I don’t …”
Here, he raised his bottle and gulped down a mouthful rather absent-mindedly.
“Yes, this makes me feel good!” he said, making grimaces because of the drink. I noticed he was still in his pajamas and had not had a bath. If he was as time-conscious as my father, he should be in the office in exactly an hour. The time by his old clock was 7 o’clock. But knowing him well, I was sure he would get to the office after his boss.
He had struggled to his feet, still clutching his bottle.
“That bloody file! Where is it? Where did I put it.”
For once, he put his bottle on the table, fetched his black brief case, and placed it on the table and after about five minutes of figuring out how to open it, the brief case flung open. He ransacked it. All this while I ran towards him several times because he was staggering and I felt he might fall.
“No! No! No!, captain… I’ll be all right. Do you now see why your father should have sent me a bottle?, he mumbled.
“Yes, Pa” I acquired, most reluctantly, for although I was only a little boy, I never liked sacrificing my principles. I felt I was betraying myself. How on earth could Pa Shimoon prescribe alcohol for breakfast? I had never heard or read about that anywhere and to be frank with you, I did not believe there was any teacher who could make such a claim.
After searching in vain for the file, he mumbled something to the effect that I should tell my father he would give him the document in the office. Before I left, Pa Shimoon had crashed back in bed, his bottle beside him. He started snoring like and old cow.
When I got home and gave my father the message, his reaction, which was, of course, addressed to himself, was:
“I knew it. How could he find it?”
From what we occasionally overheard our father telling our mothers at home, Pa Shimoon was equally a disaster at work. He knew his job well. Remember he was a mechanical engineer, appointed to the post of agricultural statistics chief. So, from any perspective, he was a square peg in a square hole. In fact, not only had he always been good at mathematics, but also at the Advanced level, he scored distinctions in mathematics with statistics, applied mathematics, statistics (as a whole subject), Physics and Chemistry. So, when he applied himself to his job, he did it well. The problem unfortunately was that since he was often drunk, his job was often poorly done.
At such times, he would arrive for work late and no sooner had he settled down than he would disappear from the office, leaving his door open, consciously or unconsciously. People waiting to see him would grow impatient and leave with their files untreated. Once his boss, my father, sent for him. When the messenger returned to my father and reported that the door was open but the chief was absent, my father ordered the Chief of Service for Administration and Finance to lock the door, get some men and comb all the drinking places in the town and bring him to the office. Pa Shimoon was found in an off license, drinking with the left hand and sighing documents of waiting service users with the right hand. While doing so, he talked about things that had no bearing on the work he was doing. He was completely off topic. When the men reported back to the Divisional Delegate, he thanked them and asked them to leave him alone with Pa Shimoon. Turning to Pa Shimoon, he said,
“Sit down, please.”
My father was making a big effort to control himself and sound courteous. Even so, Pa Shimoon spoilt it all because in the process of sitting, as he was staggering, he missed the seat by sitting too far away from it. As he struggled to regain his balance, he grabbed my father’s table and accidentally scattered some of the effects on it on the floor.
“What nonsense is this? I pull you out of an off license during working hours, and as if that is not enough, you scatter my table? Look at how you tremble like a leaf and fall like a child! What is all this slavery to alcohol, Shimoon? “
“Sorry… I’m sorry, boss … I …”
“Well, that won’t help, neither you nor me. My God how you stink of alcohol!”
Then my father continued in our mother tongue, Ngam Njini Menam (literally, the language of Njini Menam).
“Shimoon, you are a disgrace to me. The whole of this town knows you and talks about you very negatively. Alcohol will ruin you! Are you happy to have earned yourself a notorious nickname like, Cup Man?”
“ I … I … “
At that point he had still not managed to get up from where he had fallen. So my father went round the table, gave him a hand and helped him up.
“Look at how you have soiled your clothes! How will you walk in the streets?”
My father sent for his driver and asked him to take Pa Shimoon home. Before he left, my father told him:
“Shimoon, I’ve just been told Beatrice and Angela have quarreled at home and are fighting. Go and see what you can do.”
“ Yes your wives.”
Pa Shimoon was helped into the vehicle, a Toyota Four Wheel Drive. As they drove past, occasionally, people would point at him and say,
“Look! There goes Cup Man!”
One day, the Senior Divisional Officer paid a surprise visit to the Divisional Delegation of Agriculture. When the Delegate did roll call, everyone was present apart from Yours Faithfully,
“ Where is Shimoon?” he asked the Chief of General Affairs and Finance.
“ I haven’t seen him all morning, Delegate.”
“Okay, check first at his home, then in the drinking places. Bring him discreetly when you find him. I’ll make sure the Senior Divisional Officer visits all the other services first to give him enough time to get back. Let’s hope he is sick or just tired, not drunk. For God’s sake, not drunk again!”
He was found in an off license, drunk and insulting the people drinking with him. He created a scene because first, he refused to pay for the six large bottles of Castle he had drunk, on the grounds that he had drunk only three and was being “fraudulently” made to pay for six. His colleagues asked him to pay for the three he recognized. Then they contributed money and paid for the other three. However, there was still trouble because he now insisted he must leave with the unfinished bottle. In vain his colleagues explained that the Divisional Officer was visiting. In vain the bar saleswoman tried to explain to him that if he must go with the bottle he must first pay a refundable deposit on it. His refusal was categorical.
“You are an old, dirty and stinking prostitute!” he told the woman.
“Look here, Cup Man. If I didn’t know exactly who you were, I would be annoyed. Now that I know you, I can only feel sorry for your wives and children.”
Thereupon, Pa Shimoon flew into a rage. “My family! How dare you insult my family? Leave me alone, , , . Let me . . . Let me teach this swine a…. lesson!”
His companions now decided the only option was force. So, they grabbed the bottle from him, returned it to the woman, and bundled him away kicking and cursing. He was forced into the vehicle. The men decided that since the situation was much worse than they had anticipated, they must find some way of advising the Delegate not to reveal him to the Senior Divisional Officer in that state.
Unfortunately, just as they were getting him out of the vehicle, the Senior Divisional Officer emerged from the building accompanied by the Divisional Delegate and the Senior Divisional Officer’s entourage. The Administrator stopped abruptly on seeing and hearing Pa Shimoon who was speaking hysterically and insolently about the bar woman. The words the Senior Divisional Officer heard distinctly were: “That prostitute! She took my unfinished bottle of beer! I will teach her a lesson!”
“Who is that man, Delegate? You know I haven’t been long in this Division to know all your collaborators. Is he one of them?”
Yes, Monsieur le Préfet. That is Mr. Shimoon Atanga Ngu. He is our Divisional Chief of Service for Agricultural Statistics.”
“Is he always like this, Delegate?”
“No, Monsieur le Préfet. Not always. Sometimes. Not always.”
The Senior Divisional Officer went nearer.
What trouble are you having gentleman?”
“Trouble? You ask me about trouble? Where is my beer? You….”
“Mr. Ngu, don’t talk like that to the Prefect!” barked my father.
“Prefect? What Prefect? I have no Community Development with any Prefect. I keep statistics, agricultural statistics. I…”
Mr. Ngu!” snapped my father.
“That’s okay, Delegate. Within the hour I will have to issue you a query. That will be for inability to control your staff. My visit is over. Thank you for the reception.”
And he left at once. By this time, Pa Shimoon had been left alone. He was staggering towards his office. When he got there and found it had been locked, he could not find his keys. So, he started kicking the door saying very incongruous things such as,
“I know you are in there stealing my food, Platoon Soldier. Come out, you starving nincompoop!”
Platoon Soldier was his dog at home. He was also saying,
“Hey you bar woman! What are you doing with my drink? Do you want to urinate in it before you give me? You fool! Has a woman ever urinated in a bottle? Ha! Ha! Ha!”
Thereupon he slumped against the door and went down like a sack of corn. Almost immediately, he started snoring. When the Divisional Delegate was informed, he came to see for himself.
“God Almighty! Have I not had enough of my share of troubles for the day?”
He instructed his driver and two other men to take Pa Shimoon home. The time was 11.10., fifteen minutes after the Senior Divisional Officer stormed off. At exactly 11.50, a messenger from the Senior Divisional Officer brought the query my father had been threatened with by the Senior Divisional Officer. Within an hour, my father too had addressed his own query to Pa Shimoon. His intention was to attach Pa Shimoon’s reply to his before taking it to the Senior Divisional Officer. That was what he did.
In the end, although the Prefect understood that the fault was really that of Pa Shimoon and gave him a poor end of year mark, the fact remained that Pa Shimoon had not gone down alone. He had brought my father down with him because the query to my father and its reply was still placed in my father’s file. In other words, my father’s file had a stain.. Pa Shimoon’s disgrace with alcohol did not end there. Many were the times he got home very late at night, sometimes after falling and rolling in mud several times. There were times when he had to be taken home by “Good Samaritans” who found him asleep on a chair in an off licence after everyone else had left and the barmaid was cursing. Worse happened for he was once found sleeping in a gutter one early morning after failing to return home. He was smelling of urine and excreta.
Hearing this, one may wonder whether no medical person ever warned him about the dangers of alcohol to his health. Of course, they did! Doctors and even nurses, but he wouldn’t listen.
Once his situation became so serious that the doctors after examining him said he had early signs of cancer of the throat. He was admitted in hospital. After a week, his condition started improving. Then Pa Shimoon who had all along been moaning about being “killed slowly by being deprived of drink” which he called his food, came up with a plan. He bribed someone to buy whisky and sometimes beer, and put it in a tea flask and deliver it to him in hospital as if it was tea. When he was a lone and found that no one was noticing, he would quickly have a drink, close the flask and stand it back on his bedside hospital cupboard. One day, nurse Naomi surprised him with a flask in bed. When asked, he said he was feeling cold and needed to warm himself up with the flask. It’s just that at that juncture the usually alert nurse was distracted by another patient, otherwise the thought would have crossed her mind that the outer part of a flask is not warm since all the heat is inside. Although the doctor, nurses and ward servants sometimes smelled alcohol in Pa Shimoon’s space, they never accused him, for want of evidence. So, the patient continued “cheating”. His situation got worse until it got to a point where he was weak. Still, he managed to get his innocent six-year old son who happened to be with him, to open the flask and give him. For some strange reason, perhaps because his time had come, he drank too much whisky and died in his sleep. The uncorked whisky got spilled all over the bed, beneath the blanket and stank from afar. When Nurse Naomi found him in that state, she exclaimed:
“Oh My God! So this is what it was all about?”.
In less than no time, the entire town had known that Cup Man was no more. He died the way he lived. By the cup.