It felt like a dozen sumo wrestlers were doing a quick march in Kacchi’s head. His head throbbed painfully and his thoughts ran wildly in a hundred different directions, yet he drove on, hoping to escape the spreading violence.
He was a man on the run, a haunted creature in violent times, a man caught in the middle.
He had always been like that; annoyingly neutral, much to the irritation of his friends. He never took sides, not even in his school days; from the kindergarten playground to the numerous inter-house sports competitions. He played his part when drafted into a team, but he did it without any sense of belonging, or victory if his side won.
It was no different after he left school; in politics, religion, or sports; those seemingly important topics that generally occupied the conversations of grown men, he was the same. He listened, but never ventured an opinion. He didn’t have a preferred color, favorite meal, or most shockingly, a favorite football club.
It was his nature. Kacchi was quite good at straddling the fence.
But the disadvantage of not being on any side was that you had no side to turn to when things got rough.
Kacchi smiled grimly at the bag of football jerseys on the seat beside him; things had certainly gotten rough this time. In 24 hours he had gone from not supporting any club, to supporting every club.
It had all started at a bar near his house in Surulere. Sitting in a corner of the bar, Kacchi savored his beer and pepper soup while casually observing the reactions of the enraptured audience to the ongoing premier league finals. He saw the fight coming from a mile away. At the blowing of the final whistle, there was a burst of applause and the celebrations began. In a fit of elation, a man’s hand knocked over his glass of beer into another man’s lap. The rest followed very quickly….
The man was a Manchester United fan; his team had just won the league, the other was a Chelsea fan; his team had just lost. Mr Chelsea was pissed already, and now his jeans were wet. He quickly demanded an apology, and when it was slow in coming, he promptly delivered a crippling blow to the other man’s jaw. Mr Man United’s friends jumped to his defense, and it quickly escalated into a free for all, as such things tend to do. Things went downhill very rapidly from there. In the fray, a knife found its way into someone’s throat, resulting in instant death, and all hell broke loose.
In the ensuing uproar two more men were brutally dispatched to the afterlife. Then the fighting spilled out into the surrounding community and the battle lines were drawn. Kacchi managed to slip out of the bar, jump in his car and drive to his house three streets away. He went to bed confused and bewildered that night, he was seriously disturbed by the sudden death he had just experienced; surely there were more important things When he looked out of his window the next morning, Kacchi couldn’t believe what he saw. It seemed like the whole community had joined in the madness.Bodies littered the streets and every man in sight was sporting a football jersey, declaring his allegiance to his club. And there he was, on the fence, alone.
His survival instincts quickly kicked in, he left the house immediately. Jumping in his car, he located the nearest ‘bend down select’ shop and purchased available jerseys of every football club he knew. Then Kacchi headed south, knowing his only chance for survival was to get out of the city. He looked around him as he drove; the city resembled a war zone; splashes of red, blue, yellow, and black paint defaced walls and buildings. Wherever he looked, slogans were scrawled on bridges, on buildings, on cars…‘ Liverpool Forever’, ’Still united’, ‘Go Gunners, ‘Blues for life’,
The strong smell of burning rubber reached his nose announcing the roadblock before he saw it. From this distance he could just make out the letters MAN UTD on the big red banner. Kacchi pulled up on the side of the road and rummaged frantically in the bag beside him, pulling out a Manchester united jersey and quickly pulling it on. He stashed the rest of the jerseys underneath the passenger seat and drove on, slowing down as he approached the roadblock…
“Man u for life!” he was hailed a soon as his attire was spotted. “Still united!” he called back with a big grin on his face. Reaching into the backseat he pulled out a few cans of Heineken lager and handed them out the window. Then he drove on, starting to breathe a little easier. If things continued to go as well, he might actually get out of the madness alive. But try as he might, Kacchi could not dismiss the lingering reminder at the back of his mind that he was leaving something very important behind, he didn’t know what it was, but it was there, somewhere behind, and receding with every kilometer he drove.
He hadn’t driven for up to ten minutes before he spotted another roadblock in the distance. The banners were blue this time. He slowed down and struggled into another jersey, and then he approached; “Chelsea united!” he shouted, almost biting his tongue as he realized belatedly that no self respecting Chelsea fan would say that. “Blues for life” was their usual rallying call.
He tried to mask his nervousness by reaching into the back seat for more beer, but it was too late, they motioned for him to disembark from the car.
“You sure say you be correct fan?” The beefy one who looked to be in charge said, as he leaned into Kacchi’s face, assaulting him with the kind of vicious body odor that brought to mind rotten eggs and sewage.
“Yes now, Blues for life” hailed Kacchi. He reached out his hand to shake the man, but got no response. He started to sweat as they crowded in eagerly. Recent events of the past twenty four hours had left them with a new found taste for violence which they relished.
“You must first pass the test” said the tall skinny one, his wide grin emphasizing the jagged scar that marked his face from brow to chin; “Who is the Chelsea keeper?”, “Cech” Kacchi answered easily, he had heard the name mentioned enough times by his housemates.
“And na who be the coach?” a wiry looking woman called out from the sea of violence, her hair was matted with blood and her blue jersey appeared to be more red than blue. This is too easy, Kacchi thought. “Jose Mourinho”, He called back, even daring to grin.
“Abeg free am”, someone called out from the crowd, and they parted to let him go. Kacchi started to walk back to his car, trying hard not look at the bodies scattered around him. As he grabbed the car door, he heard someone ask “who is the owner of the club?” He pretended not to hear as he slid into the driver’s seat, but they gathered close again, eager to hear his final answer.
Kacchi glanced from face to face, trying to find an ally, just one friendly face, but all he saw was death grinning somberly back at him. Suddenly he lost his nerve. He spun away from the car and ran as he had never run before. With hoots of pleasure, they took off after him, glad for some sport.
Kacchi ran as he had never run before. When he felt as though his legs couldn’t carry him any longer, he dodged into a deserted side street, hoping for a chance to catch his breath. But there was another group camped there, the crudely drawn cannon logo on their banner proclaimed them to be Arsenal fans. On spotting Kacchi in his blue jersey, they abandoned what was left of their poor victim, and joined the chase.
He felt the wet warmth running down his jean clad legs as he ran, He didn’t want to die like this, he didn’t want to have his life extinguished suddenly and brutally like those poor fools in the bar. He wanted to live so badly; For his widowed mother in back in Owerri, for cold beer, for pepper soup, for his dream of working in an oil company, and most importantly, for Esther; his woman. The special woman he was going to marry, even if she didn’t know it yet. He thought about Esther and ran even faster, he didn’t know why he had waited this long to ask her. He was leaving a large gap between himself and his pursuers, but still they came, dogged in their thirst for blood.
He realized his flight had come full circle when he saw the bar looming up ahead;. Without thinking, he dived in. To his surprise, everything seemed calm inside, it was business as usual. Confused, he ducked back outside but his pursuers were all gone. Kacchi walked unsteadily to a seat and placed his usual order with a hovering waitress. As he sat there savoring his beer, he was tempted to dismiss the whole ghastly affair as a nightmarish product of his stressed and overworked brain, but the wetness in his jeans was real enough, and so was the sweat soaked Chelsea jersey he had on. So he just sat there, nursing his drink, and questioning his sanity.
Suddenly there was a loud cheer as the match ended. Instinctively Kacchi turned to his left, knowing what was going to happen. As he looked on, the ecstatic fan lifted up his hands to cheer, quickly he stood up, intending to avert the disaster, but he was too late, the hand came down, knocking over the drink into the other man’s lap. As the violence began to unfold, Kacchi knew what he must do.
He spun and ran out of the bar.
His car was parked outside, where he had parked it earlier in the evening. Kacchi stopped to stare at it for a second, he could feel his sanity slipping away fast but he refused to give in to his confusion. He jumped into the car, and drove furiously till he got to his destination,
Getting there, He Jumped out, raced to the door and rang the bell; And there she was.
Marry me, Kacchi said.
He could hear the fighting in the distance as they drove away, or could he? Perhaps it was just the sound of happy fans celebrating. Perhaps he had imagined it all. But why was he wearing a Chelsea jersey? He who had never supported any club all his life?
Did it really matter? Kacchi looked at her and smiled; now he was sure he wasn’t leaving anything behind.
He picked up his phone and dialed as he drove; it was answered on the first ring. “Mama there’s someone I want you to meet”, Kacchi said…