The tragicomedies of living in Sports Hall still haunt me. The male Sports Hall, sited at the very gates of the Sports complex, was originally home to the Defense Academy’s sportsmen. It had however degenerated into a den of the worst blackguards to be found anywhere in the city of Kaduna; blackguards who gave new interpretations to all laws pertaining to survival. It was in this sad state of affairs that my friend Zang thrived.
Zang was what is called in literature, a proper caution; one that looked narrowly upon any laws not created by himself and sometimes, depending on convenience, even upon his own. I still wonder how Zang, the last person you would consider given to sportsmanship ever, came to roost in Sports Hall, but that is another story.
Zang was known by the colorful appellation ‘Jesus of Sports Hall’, but as he was neither skilled in the intricacies of religion nor did he wear a halo, even the least curious mind would have been tempted to find out the origin of this nickname. And I used to be a curious mind in my youth. In Matthew’s gospel, verses fifteen through to twenty-one of the fourteenth chapter, the Lord Jesus fed five thousand men, women, and children with five loaves and two fishes; a miracle Zang was destined to re-enact.
On this fateful day, as is customary for the purse of a cadet without the advantage of wealthy parents, he was down to his last fifty kobo note. Fifty kobo was, in those days before the oil doom, approximately equal to fifty cents, and all hopes of replenishment in a week were, to say the obvious, altogether improbable. Zang called upon his five roommates, who were in the same state of financial lack, and bade them accompany him to the buttery; the home of heavenly, stomach-stirring scents. He had a plan.
“What can you buy with a measly fifty kobo?” one of them, an unbeliever asked.
“Follow me, O you of little faith,” Zang replied mysteriously, preaching a gospel of a full stomach to his mixed multitude, who risked no original remarks.
Of the nine or so butteries on campus, the Sports Hall buttery was a phenomenon unequalled. It was a kiosk with a high counter, behind which a vendor, usually a girl from the suburbs, sat. Before her on the counter were loaves of bread, fried fish, moi-moi and other delicacies, while behind her on the shelves were the more expensive items; canned milk, sugar cubes, canned sardines and the like. Apparently, Zang had kept an eye on the goings-on at the buttery and had noticed a change in its administration.
A few minutes later Zang confronted the new salesgirl, a naïve and trusting soul clearly unschooled in the intricate rules governing conventional conduct in Sports Hall. He looked sincere, with all the airs of a serious prospective customer.
“How much is that?” he asked, pointing to a shelf.
Following his finger, the salesgirl looked behind her, shifting her attention from the high counter. With the speed of a cheetah, he picked two loaves off the counter and dropped them to his feet. His aides-de-camp swung into action, careful enough to be discreet.
“The big bottle of orange juice?” she asked, oblivious.
“No, the packet of cabin biscuits.” Three wraps of moi-moi were translocated.
“I can get it for three in Angola buttery.” Two pieces of fried fish disappeared.
“Pay three fifty,” she said, her back still to him.
“How about the macaroni? How much is that?”
“Why are your items so dear? Is your uncle planning to buy a new car?”
The poor girl did not notice all the subversive activity going on behind her back while she craned her neck to call out the prices. Finally, disgusted with him for carrying on and on, she turned abruptly to find Zang in the process of lifting a packet of cigarettes. Smoothly, before she could comment, he removed two sticks, paid for them and carried on to join his accomplices. With a fifty kobo note, Zang did feed six adults; thus his name and regrettably, his reputation.
So, imagine my consternation when a few weeks ago, twenty years after I last saw Zang, he was named among our new supposedly incorruptible ministers. I hear they still call him Jesus.