The one thing in the world that will reduce the world’s stateliest royal to the ranks of the most abject of its hoi polloi, more than bankruptcy or a reversal of fortunes, is a runny stomach. Diarrhoea. All sense of comportment and etiquette vanish with that urgent, almost panicked, longing of your body to relieve itself. Feyi learnt this in the most practical way that one learns things in life – through personal experience.
Feyi graduated with a degree in law from the University of Lagos in 2001. As the system of legal training in Nigeria requires, he enrolled in the Nigerian Law School the following year and was called to the Bar in 2003. From the very beginning of his journey as a law student till the day he was presented with his certificate of call to the Bar, his teachers had reinforced over and again that the legal profession was the noblest of all professions. He had taken an elective in Classics in his third or fourth undergraduate year and had learnt that there were only 3 ‘noble’ professions. Apparently, in the classical era, you were among the most privileged and noble of society if you were a clergyman, a medical doctor or a lawyer. He surmised that all other professions, going by the thinking at this time, were merely decent.
His law teachers were unshakable in their belief in the nobility of the profession. “Do not speak so imprecisely, you’re training to be a lawyer.” “Do not dress as students in other faculties do. Don’t you understand that at the end of their training they will merely become educated; you will become learned?” And so on. One of his lecturers even went so far as to say that the legal profession was traditionally the preserve of the wealthy. At the time, Feyi thought the statement excessively arrogant but later in life came to see some justification in it.
Students from other faculties and departments also fuelled the superior air that law students carried. If there was ever an argument between a law student and, say, a student of psychology, bystanders were usually more inclined to side with the law student and, on occasion, would accuse the other person of being foolish in thinking he could take on a ‘legal mind’. At the national youth service camp, where there was already a good-natured divide between university graduates and those from polytechnics, it was common to hear such phrases as “De Law, why are you bothering with this fellow? Don’t you know he didn’t even go to a university?”
It therefore was quite commonplace for new lawyers to be filled with pomp and a sense of a glorious destiny when starting their first jobs. Life usually separates the wheat from the chaff but all new lawyers plunge in with great expectations.
Feyi’s first job was as a ‘Youth Corper’ with the Ministry of Justice in Calabar, Cross River state. Most corpers spend their mandatory year of national service as teachers or administrative staff so it suited Feyi quite well that he would spend his working in a professional capacity. It was with great pride that he had packed his brand new Ede & Ravenscroft wig and gown with the rest of his belongings.
The most frequently asked question amongst ‘new wigs’ is whether or not they had appeared in court and, if so, whether they had ‘flown solo’. Feyi had appeared in court several times with his boss, the Director of Public Prosecutions, a very pleasant gentleman. The DPP had four corpers assigned to his office but appeared to be most comfortable with Feyi as his assistant. This was the reason why, when a meeting of Department Heads was suddenly called by the Attorney-General, the DPP asked Feyi to handle his out-of-town trials for the day.
The trials were scheduled for the high court in Akampa, about twenty minutes from Calabar by car. Usually, Feyi would ride along with the DPP in his car. Today’s turn events meant that Feyi had to travel to Akampa by public transportation. He knew he was in the good books of the DPP but borrowing the car would have been totally out of the question. So he made his way to the motor park.
When he got to the park, he caught his reflection in the window of one the cars parked nearby. He smiled what he hoped was an inward smile as he admired his stiff collar, the starched bib and the important-looking case file. He was also wearing his favourite cuff-links, given to him as a graduation present by an old lady neighbour whose husband used to be a judge at the court of appeal. He felt it was probably a little infra dig that he was travelling by public transportation but quickly filed it in the recesses of his mind under ‘paying your dues’. He felt a little more discomfited when he realised that cars going to Akampa did not care for the legal limit of occupants in their vehicles. The saloon car in which he was travelling took four passengers at the back and three in front, one sharing the driver’s seat with the driver.
As the car began its short journey, Feyi felt that feeling of intestinal contortions in the pit of his stomach. At first he thought it was as a result of the combination of him having to squeeze his long legs into the back of the car with three other passengers and the rancid body (or was it mouth) odour from the person beside him. He took a few deep breaths and the churning stopped. Then, at the same time that Mr. Mouth Odour started to ask whether Feyi was really a lawyer the driver swerved, trying to avoid a pothole. Three of the vehicles tyres missed the pothole but the right rear tyre, where Feyi was seated went straight in, very hard. Typically, any semblance of shock absorbers or a suspension had left the car a very long time ago. The cocktail of halitosis and the thumping of the vehicle set Feyi’s churning stomach off again. This time, he knew he was in trouble.
The trip to Akampa could not end quickly enough. He was physically contorted, having crammed himself into the back of the car. Metabolically, to prevent the biggest embarrassment of his life from occurring, Feyi was clenching all the muscles in his buttocks with everything he had. This, of course, meant he was sweating.
Luckily, the court was only a few meters off the highway when the journey eventually came to an end. Feyi looked at his watch and figured he had at least twenty minutes before the judge arrived. Very measuredly, he walked into the courtroom and checked that the two matters he came for were put on the cause list. He put his wig, gown and case file down on a chair and, again at a very measured pace, being extremely careful not to tip the balance of his internal equilibrium, went back outside the court and asked the two policemen standing nearby where the toilet was.
“Ehn?” one questioned back. Feyi was slightly embarrassed to have asked the initial question. Making him repeat himself was traumatic.
“Oga Police,” he said, “Please, could you tell me where the toilets are?”
“Barrister”, the second one said, “no toilet here o. We ‘ave latrine at the back towards the bush there.”
Under normal circumstances even public water closet toilets were repulsive to Feyi but he was unperturbed as he made for the latrine with his still measured but by now much more brisk walk. Twenty metres from the latrines, the stench of putrefaction hit him in the face. It was almost as if he was walking through a wall of heat and odours. He paused to reconsider the options before him but quickly had his mind made up for him by the twanging in his belly. He could not think what of all that he had eaten the previous day put him in this predicament, but it did not matter.
It was one of Feyi’s most enduring beliefs from childhood that the human organs of excretion had ‘bathroom sonar’ – they seemed to know when their owners were within the vicinity of toilets. The bladder, though letting you know that it is full and ready to be emptied, will comfortably restrain itself until the moment it sets its eyes on a WC. When Feyi’s rectum set its eyes on the latrine, the churner in his stomach shifted gears.
Quickly, he took of his jacket and hung it on the jagged remnant of a door. There really was no door in the traditional sense of a partition that either shuts one in or out of a room. In fact, for some reason, the architects of the outhouse had designed it such that it faced the highway. Thankfully, a cassava farm shielded what was left of Feyi’s modesty. His belt and trousers had come off too and were hanging on the same jagged edge. Hurry, his body said to him.
He undid one cufflink and put it in the pocket of his trousers. His body sensed though that the clothing barrier had been removed and, like a woman crowning towards the end of labour, his body started to act on its own. Still, Feyi would not go with his shirt on and fought furiously to undo the second cufflink. To his dismay, not only did the cufflink come undone, it flew in an arc away from his sleeve and its trajectory carried it straight into the pit of human waste. It did not register yet though that Feyi’s beloved pair of cufflinks was no more as he bestrode the hole in the ground and gave in to his body.
Relief surged through his body and for a brief moment blocked the foulness of his surroundings. The moment passed, though, and he suddenly knew the difference between good and evil again. What was worse, he realised that he had not given any consideration to how he would clean up his posterior after he was done. Again, he considered his options. Cassava Leaves? There was no way of telling how his body would react to that. What he needed was something white and soft and reminiscent of tissue paper. Then he glanced down at his singlet and without a moment’s hesitation quickly took it off.
Upon returning to the courtroom, sans singlet and with one of his cuffs hanging freely in spite of his attempts to tuck it into his jacket sleeve, Feyi looked himself over again. The judge had arrived but the court was not yet in session. The police had brought the suspects into the courtroom and Feyi wondered whether the suspects looking at him were doing so in a silent appeal for help or because they knew where he was coming from and what he had just done.
He smiled as he remembered what his thoughts were as he used his singlet for the very last time. If any of my teachers could see me now, he had thought, they would say Don’t wipe your ass with your singlet! You’re a lawyer!!