Of Dingy Pubs and Labour Day


I have never celebrated Labor Day before. This year was different. I woke up earlier than I normally would on a holiday. Party was calling. A few days before this day, eleven people sat around a bar table and planned a massive chicken eating party on Labor Day. It started as a joke. Thirty minutes later, we had raised enough money to buy twelve chickens. Most of my friends are old-school folk. When it comes to eating chicken, everything is edible according to them. I was in for a ton of surprises. I couldn’t wait to see someone eat a chicken’s head. Besides, I’ve never seen a bunch of hung-over men cook a meaningful meal before. This was going to be awesome.

I showed up at the venue at some minutes past noon. The venue was a small pub in the neighborhood. When I say small, I’m literal in all senses of the word. Two unevenly sized tables had been put close together in the middle of a random array of plastic chairs and wooden benches. The place reeked of chicken blood and broken eggs. I was glad I wasn’t there when the bloody slaughtering mess was happening. The two tables were filled with keg beer glasses and bottles of the native palm wine. House flies were all over the place. There was a woman. Her left breast was hanging out of her top. One of my friends was holding an infant in his arms as he staggered to the rhythm of a Jamaican song in the background. I stifled an urge to throw up as I greeted the crowd. I escaped to a corner close to the window and lifted the curtain. The curtain was filthy. Someone had used it as a hand towel. I smiled.

Ronnie was chopping onions into a large sufuria as Peter poured capfuls of cooking oil over the onions. I could see a half-covered plastic basin filled with chicken pieces. The charcoal stove was red hot when Maich placed the sufuria on it. Ronnie poured all the chicken meat, potatoes, tomatoes and a handful of salt into the sufuria at the same time. I held my breath as the tiny stove wobbled because of the weight that had been placed on it. Ten minutes later, everything was calm. I could hear the food sizzling under the lid. It seemed like they knew what they were doing after all. Kim gave the infant back to its mother and sat down to drink with the rest of us. Kim had spent the previous night in a bar just like the one we were in at that moment. He hadn’t slept a wink. His speech was slurry and meaningless. His endurance was quite wanting for an ex-military officer. No wonder he quit.

After downing three pints of beer, I became a part of the drunkenness. I couldn’t stand the fact that the stinky meat smell had miraculously turned into an alluring whiff. I was getting hungry now. I kept stirring the stew. The meat was cooked, but the potatoes had a long way to go. I even borrowed Kim’s motorbike to go fetch some more charcoal. I made it to the vendor and back in a few minutes. The stew was almost ready. After rekindling the fire in the stove, I knew everything would be ready soon. Arthur was in charge of any gatecrashers at the venue. He was so hungry but he still managed to yell at strange gatecrashers who approached the table. By the time the stew was cooked, Jones and I had decided to cook the ugali together.

Cooking ugali for eleven hungry and drunk people is not as laid back as it seems. Drunkards are choosy and proud. Everything had to be done perfectly. I placed the cold water on the stove shortly after I topped up the charcoal in it. I grabbed the newspaper and tossed it over to Arthur as I sipped on another glass of beer. We were quiet for a while. We waited. Kim was busy trying to explain how to efficiently slaughter chicken. He was too late.

When the water started boiling, Jones stood and walked confidently to the sufuria and reached for a two-kilogram pack of maize flour. He was good at it. He blamed his cooking proficiency on his lengthy bachelorhood as he vigorously stirred the huge lump, although I sensed his strict wife had something to do with his ugali cooking skills. She hated drunkards. I wonder how many times he had to cook for her just to get back in her good graces, but I know better than to openly tell a drunk man that he was a henpecked husband especially when this close to a pot of boiling water. I gave him a hand once or twice when he took a break to sip on his beer. At some point, he declared that we only needed five more minutes before the ugali was ready to eat. I was doubtful so I asked him how that was possible. He reached out and grabbed two used packs of maize flour and tore them open. Jones then spread one pack cover over his right palm and arm as he used the other pack cover to tilt the ugali sufuria towards him. His intention was to flip the cake of flour and water. What happened next was hilarious. As Jones flipped the ugali, it slipped and slapped the floor of the bar. I couldn’t hold my laughter. Everyone was on their feet staring at the white lump on the floor. Jones grabbed the huge lid covering the meat and used it to meticulously scoop the ugali from the floor in one scoop. We all agreed that the bottom part of the ugali was out of bounds… I don’t remember much after that. I needed to be severely shitfaced before I ate ugali that had seen the floor of a dingy pub.


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