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BN Prose: Beards & Coffee-Rum by Howard Maximus

They say I look depressed. I tell them not to be silly. I am a man. Men don’t get depressed over a woman leaving them at the altar. Men don’t get depressed at all.

Howard Maximus

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They say I am losing my mind. That something like this should never befall a man. Around me, they walk on their toes; their words are mild breezes meant to fly above my head, straight into each other’s ears. But I hear them. I tell them the scruff on my face is not a sign of mourning, the bush beneath it is a fashion statement; my abstemiousness is not starvation, these days everyone is a snake shedding their own skin, everyone is emerging into something new. Mine is the perfect age for a midlife crisis. They say I look depressed. I tell them not to be silly. I am a man. Men don’t get depressed over a woman leaving them at the altar. Men don’t get depressed at all.

I have started to like the taste of coffee. I mix it with rum, for effect, and call it coffee-rum. Quintus asks me if I’m okay after every sip, and I want to punch him. I repeat that men don’t get depressed over women leaving them.

“But this is not just any woman,” he tells me. A declaration, like the woman in question was hypothetical, a casual what if, like it was someone else’s story he was trying to get my opinion on, “This is the love of your life. Has been the love of your life for what, eighteen, nineteen years now? That is as long as having an adult child. All of us were looking up to you two, you know. So that’s why I want to know how you’re doing. If you know where she went, why she went. You keep saying you’re fine but, bro, we all can see you are not.”

I empty my glass in one gulp, rub my nose against the rim and inhale; the lingering smell of the coffee and spirit is divine. Quintus is still looking at me when I look up. “Q,” I tell him, “I’m fine.”

I have started talking to someone I met on social media. You flirt with strangers these days and they transform into psychotherapists. My social media shrink says I should write down my worst regrets about the wedding that did not happen. I am looking at myself in the mirror and loving my new look. If I had known that a wild beard would look this good on me, I would have kept it for the wedding, would not have cared what Kena thought about facial hair and the discomfort of kissing, or her mother’s opinion on beards and their inverse relationship to responsibility.

I write in the journal I have started to keep (the one Q thinks is ridiculous, me keeping) that what I regret most about that wedding day is that when all that attention was on me, a shocked, jilted groom, and twitteratis were pulling out their phones for evidence, that I looked, in my white and silver suit, like a mere boy, shaven and smooth like a spoon.

***

The night brings thoughts of Quintus scribbling his Best Man speech with a pencil, wearing his favourite sweatpants, shooting rubber tchotchkes at anyone who attempts to come close to reading it before it was ready. The day I told him Kena said yes, I had told him too that brothers don’t become best men at their brother’s wedding; he had laughed and then joked about the wedding falling apart if he wasn’t the best man. A statement he finds himself apologising too many times for now, unnecessarily.

***

Memories are nocturnal beings that only visit at night. It is sitting beside me and I am watching it like a performance — the time we first met as teenagers attending the same evening school: Kena trying to take the O’ Levels in Form 4 against her mother’s wish (and purse), and I, a bike rider attempting the exams for the third time. Our first kiss, behind the wooden classroom was the signature of unspoken contracts, one that saw all my money toward her education. But wouldn’t every gardener happily water a flower that blooms so brilliantly? Money spent on Kena was never wasted; her results were always something to keep mouths agape, in both wonder and admiration. The only thing that tasted better than her food were her kisses.

The first time she took out our seed (without my prior knowledge), I held her tight, both of us shivering, scared and thankful that she was fine. The last time she took out our seed (without my prior knowledge), I held her tight, but this time, to stop myself from strangling her, for we were both adults with jobs and resources and I deserved to know, for I had asked her to marry me, for I had already started to name the twin daughters the echography had gossiped would soon be mine.

***

Nineteen years, three abortions, and a lot of millions later, Kena is in a wedding dress I bought. She’s carrying a bouquet of red roses and my brother Quintus’ baby. I have not been able to feel since the first time I caught them in his bed. I have helped them hide his underwear under my pillow when I find it in my room, toss it amongst his other dirty laundry when no one was around, tucked pills and hospital reports in their drawers, left the house for them when I sense tension. I have listened in on phone calls and read messages without tearing the entire house down.

I am standing at the altar, a groom so groomed there is not a single hair strand on my face. A note comes in her handwriting, apologizing for leaving me like this, saying I shouldn’t wait for her for I will never see her again. I hold my breath, pass it to Q, who almost passes out. He passes it to someone, who passes it to someone and then someone else until Saint Vincent chapel is suddenly a beehive, buzzing. I call the boys later to congratulate them on their mastery of penman-forgery; they could have fooled even me. I send them their balance and they assure me Kena is history, dust, nocturnal memories that’ll crawl only at night.

I have lost count of days. When the memories leave, I stay awake filling pages of my journal with my single regret: I had no beard at that wedding; the pictures of me that went viral are one of a boy in a shiny suit. Quintus is visiting tonight and we’ll talk and laugh and laugh. Two bearded men. Brothers. He’ll ask me how I am and I’ll tell him I am fine. There is poison in my fridge and a knife under my pillow where his boxers used to hide. For weeks, I have not been sure what exactly to use.

“You look good today, bro. How are you?”

I nod. We hug and I show him to a bed he has used for more than just sitting. We pour our first shots, clink glasses and gulp it at once, and then we both tear into laughter as if there was a joke in the drink.

“I’m sorry she left you, bro,” he says when we are calm, and I look at him.

“Me too,” I say. Lately, I have been drinking too much coffee-rum, without the coffee.

Howard Maximus has published works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry in literary magazines as well as anthologies such as The Vanguard Book of Love Stories, Love Stories from Africa, and so on. He also likes writing about food.

13 Comments

  1. meroline ntacheh

    July 30, 2019 at 11:55 am

    Waoo!! That’s amazing, more grace n equally waiting to read more. Thanks

    1
  2. Teey

    July 30, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    Wait he killed her? I didn’t see that coming!

  3. joy

    July 30, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    brilliant write up

  4. Sumbai Ekane

    July 30, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    His single regret….? he had no beard at the wedding. Quintus, how do I use what’s in the fridge or under the pillow where I hid ur boxers??

  5. Ayuk

    July 30, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    Great story!! Didn’t see that coming.

  6. Erwin Ayota

    July 30, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    The twists in the story…you just never see them coming. Feels like watching a thriller movie in a single written piece.

  7. Saywhatnow

    July 31, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Howard Maximus…bottoms up..yu da Man..this is Nice..

    1
  8. Christian Fonkeng

    July 31, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    Wow… I’m speechless

  9. Herminn

    July 31, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    How do u do it? I ws drawn into every line! Like i cld feel his pain n smell rum in his breath!the twist is epic? and oh! My heart is still racing lol

    1
  10. Liz

    August 1, 2019 at 8:16 pm

    The twists! Simple written but awe-stucking twists. This is brilliant.

  11. Marie

    August 18, 2019 at 10:48 pm

    Great one. But what I feel I can’t explain ??‍♀️??‍♀️??‍♀️

    • Dsaint Livingston

      September 2, 2019 at 8:10 pm

      Wow amazing… love the story, so it’s someone I know well, looking forward for more.

  12. Glory

    October 19, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    Quintus oh! See what yoy have done!

    Amazing as always, Howie! P.S. I support the poison in the fridge.

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