By Azuka Onwuka
What type of friends do you have? Do you have friends who add value to your life or those who deduct value from your life? The course of the life of many people has been changed for the better or for the worse by the type of friends they keep. Therefore, the way you choose your friends matters.
When I was in my 20s and living alone, I met a guy in my neighbourhood one Saturday and we chatted for a while on sundry issues. He invited me that same evening to a bar in the neighbourhood for us to have more time to chat. He sounded nice.
As someone eager to meet new people and make friends, I accepted his invitation. We had not had enough time to chat when we met. Therefore, I felt the meeting in the evening would be an opportunity to know him better.
Shortly after I sat down, he ordered beers for us. We drank and chatted. I can’t remember what we talked about. But one trait I have is the ability to engage people of whatever age, education, gender, race or social status in a long discussion on sundry topics. If you like discussing music or parties or pets or books or movies or politics or business or religion or relationships, we can go on for hours. Whatever topic you switch to, I would be willing to discuss it with you. Even if I am not versed in it, I would be listening to you and asking you questions. I have learnt that people love to be listened to and asked questions.
When my drink ran low, he ordered another. I protested but he would not hear of any refusal. With an avuncular mien and air, he grabbed the opener and opened the drink for me. I had almost had my fill but I managed the second bottle after a period of chatting. When the second bottle was about to be exhausted, I told myself that was it for me. I would not take another bottle.
But lo and behold, he ordered another bottle and opened it before I could say much. We had spent about two hours at the bar. I felt it was time to go in. The guy would not hear of it. He asked if I had a baby at home to breastfeed or a wife to complain if I returned late. I had no weighty excuse except that I wanted to go home and sleep. He dismissed whatever I said and told me to sit down.
I thought about the situation for a while. If I insisted and left without taking that drink, he would feel offended. But I remembered Chinua Achebe’s sayings that the only medicine against alcohol is the power to say no and that it is the fear of causing offence that makes men swallow poison. I wondered if continuing with this guy would not create more problems for me. Knowing that the taste of beer is never appealing enough to make me get drunk, I sat down and he continued with his stories.
But a thought came to my mind. Was this guy’s mission to get me drunk and then boast later that he gave me so much drink that I didn’t know the way to my house? If that was his mission, it would not come to pass. I had never been drunk before then and never been drunk till today.
I remembered the proverb of my people: Eneke the bird said that since men have learnt how to shoot without missing, he has learnt to fly without perching. I also remembered the saying of my people that when the drumbeat changes, the dance step changes too. I told him in my mind: Two can play this game!
The bar was in an open compound with bare sandy floor. The floor was slightly slopy. I was seated on the lower part. The bar was getting deserted.
I would take the bottle to my mouth as if I was taking some draughts; then I would bring the bottle down beside me. While we chatted on, I would tip the bottle close to the floor while the music blared from the speakers, drowning the gurgling sound of the beer from the bottle. The drink would pour for a while on the sand and seep into the earth, offering the ancestors the opportunity to have their share. I would bring the bottle to my mouth for a while again and then return it to my side for the libation to the ancestors.
Soon the bottle would be empty and he would order another one. I stopped protesting to him and ensured that I was not stingy to the ancestors.
As the night wore on, every other person left the bar until only two of us were left in the bar. We continued with our game. It was by midnight when the owner of the bar was closing that my beer-generous host decided that it was time to leave.
I thanked him for his generosity. The street was deserted but home was about four houses, or 200 metres, away. We said goodbye and I walked home. I don’t know if he was looking at my footsteps and speech to ascertain if they were the same with what they were earlier in the evening.
That was the last time I had any dealing with the guy. Any time he saw me and asked that we meet at the bar, I told him I had an engagement. After a while, I stopped seeing him in the neighbourhood. He probably moved out or something happened to him. I knew nothing about his whereabouts and didn’t try to enquire. I wasn’t even sure I remembered his name. It was a short-lived relationship I didn’t miss.
I have made many wonderful friends in life. I have been lucky with the type of friends I make. Maybe that is because of how I choose my friends. As Benjamin Franklin advised, I try to be slow in choosing a friend and even slower in changing that friend. I avoid people who are eager to ruin their friends with drinks, cigarettes, hard drugs and call girls. That is not generosity. That is not friendship. That is enemy action
• Onwuka is a newspaper columnist and author.