Tony33 and Forever by Ebuka Ezenduka
A 33pendownforfriendship writing competition entry
Some friends become brothers, some become more of a son to your mother than you could ever hope to be, some make you an unwilling, shy but important member of their family and some rare ones fall into all three categories. Tony was one of those rare ones.
Now that I think about it, it’s weird that we had only been friends for fifteen years. I honestly can’t remember most of my life before I met Tony. Secondary school was a blur I had to endure for years and the years before that only remind me of the cold dread I felt each morning I had to dress up for primary school.
I met Tony the day I turned eighteen. I was suddenly old enough to drink so I decided to spend my birthday getting really drunk.
The problem however was that I had never drank alcohol before and all my older male relatives were teetotallers so I didn’t know which beer brand was good. Of course I wasn’t willing to share that information with the bartenders so I just walked into the air-conditioned bar and sat down.
Madam Tornado’s bar was a relatively small bar. It had about eight tables covered in black, waterproof tablecloths with three chairs each, spread out in a rectangular room. The entrance was at the right part of the rectangle and the waiters stood behind a long counter that occupied a huge part of the left side of the room, angle to angle. I sat as close to the door as possible and stared at the huge banner that covered half the shop advertising 33 Export Lager beer. The green bottle looked good and I decided there and then that if the bartender asked, I would go with 33 Export Lager. I had nothing to lose after all.
I was still waiting for the bartender to come when the only other patron in the bar spoke up from the table adjacent to me.
“You should go ahead and order a bottle of 33.”
He had a half empty bottle of ice-cold 33 Export Lager beer sweating on his table and an empty glass. He was probably my age, darker than midnight and in my estimation, roughly six feet (I would find out much later that he was six feet, two inches tall). He had that thin body most teenagers, including me, had and a face that didn’t spell trouble.
“Why?” I asked.
He poured the rest of his beer into his empty glass as he responded, “This na the only beer wey no be fake for this area.”
“How you take know?”
He took a sip as he looked at me like I was an alien. “You no hear say e get people wey de do fake beer for Mgbidi?“
Mgbidi was a few villages away from my school, Anambra State University in Uli and that was the first time I was hearing about a brewery that produced fake beer.
“I no been hear sha. Why you feel say dem no go fake 33 Export Lager join?”
He took another sip. “The company wey dey make 33 dey Awo-Omamma and e no too far from here so Madam Tornado de waka go buy direct from the company.”
“Ok. Make sense,” I replied.
The bartender came, took my order and he asked for another bottle.
While we waited for the bottles to arrive, he added that 33 Export Lager was approved by heaven.
“How?” I asked
“How old Jesus dey when him die?”
It took a second to dawn on me and as soon as it did, we shared our first laughter and minutes later, our first bottles of 33 Export Lager beer together.
Tony was knowledgeable about a wide range of things and since I knew a few things as well, there was a lot to talk about. He had just turned 18 that day too and the bottle I met him drinking was his very first. He had however done his beer research as he called it before coming to Madam Tornado’s. As we grew closer, I would learn to expect that level of diligence in everything he did.
I don’t remember most of what we discussed that day but as we sat in that bar drinking and laughing for over three hours, a beautiful friendship, like all great friendships, was born right there on a table filled with empty bottles of 33 Export Lager beer.
Tony and I became great friends after that day. We frequented each other’s faculty (I was in Law and he was in Engineering) and visited each other’s homes in Kano and Lagos together so many times that on the rare occasions when we failed to come home together, even my taciturn father would ask after Tony.
Our friendship was also very beneficial. Tony’s father got me a job at a high paying law firm in Lagos after my law school programme and my father secured a job for Tony at a small construction company that cleared sites after roads had been built. The company looked small and acted small but Tony’s entry level salary was three times my own.
We were young, single and comfortable enough to drink as many bottles of 33 Export Lager beer as we wanted, so we did.
We had a great run. We spent our twenties working hard and drinking harder. We became known in most bars as Tony 33 and Emma Lager, the 33 Brothers.
Tony got married on our thirtieth birthday and I joined him roughly a year later. We were best men to each other on our wedding days. He became a father four months after my wedding and I joined the club eight months after. We were godfathers to our children… It was the perfect friendship.
On his way back home from work last night, just a week away from our 33rd birthdays, a truck fell on his car and killed a part of me.