FICTION - I walked slowly, dragging my legs. This was some monster weekend hangover. The taste of beer still hung on the inner roof of my mouth.
My tongue stroked it with my saliva and then I swallowed the residue down my throat.
I felt I didn’t have enough strength to go to work but pushed myself anyway.
It was a lazy Monday morning. As I walked the path towards the office, I passed a table market mama selling betel nut at two kina a nut.
I fished in my pocket for a leftover two-kina note. Nothing.
“Oh, my,” I whispered.
I checked my wallet and it filled with receipts for beer and some other items.
“Ah,” I sighed, and rolled up my eyes.
With no money and this hangover, I felt I could not concentrate on my work today.
The table mama looked at me and gave a smile. She reached out and pick up a nut, some mustard and lime and handed them to me.
“John, drunkard, I know you wasted money on beer. Come here. Have this betel nut, later you pay.” She smiled.
“Oh, goodness gracious, thank you,” I responded.
I took the betel nut, peeled off the skin and, adding mustard and lime, munched the inner bean.
As I munched, I chilled and my hangover lifted. The beer taste also dissolved as the betel nut gradually turned from orange to red.
Then I glimpsed the front page of a newspaper a bystander was holding. The front page headline read, ‘CLUB 66 BURNT TO ASHES’.
“What!” I yelled, my eyes wide open.
I had been there last night. My friends had driven me home and returned to the club.
“Eh, that devil’s house, let it burn,” giggled the owner of the newspaper.
“I was there last night. I left at two, I was drunk,” I mumbled, as I struggled to read the first paragraph of the story.
I strained me eyes. ‘Commonly known as the most famous club in Lae, Club 66 was razed to ashes during the early hours of the morning. The cause of the fire is unknown.”
Then the next line
‘Two hours before the fire started it was reported there was a commotion between club bouncers and three men from Tari.’
My eyes refused to read further. I tried to recall what might have happened but my mind lacked clarity.
I reached for my phone in my left pocket. It wasn’t there. The bystander was still reading his newspaper.
“Excuse me, what’s the time? I asked.
“Ten minutes to eight,” he replied, turning back to his newspaper.
I spat out a small red piece of betel nut and walked the short distance to my office.
The chill of the nut had dissolved my hangover a bit but I still could not recall what had happened at Club 66 that might have caused it to be burnt down.
As I pushed open the office door and walked inside, I saw three police officers sitting with my boss.
The shock forced me to swallow what was left of the betel nut as I rushed to the men’s room, brushed my teeth and splashed my face with water.
Something was not right. Where were my friends? Do the police want to question us about the Club 66? What if my friends did it? By now the hangover was totally replaced by anxiety.
I wiped my face and walked out of the rest room. I stared down on the floor but peeped sideways into my boss’s office and saw the police were gone.
I walked to my desk and turned on my computer where a pile of emails and other documents awaited me. A couple of hours work there, I thought.
I was about to start when someone tapped on my shoulder. I hoped it wasn’t the police.
With relief, I found out it was my assistant, Julie.
“Senior, good morning,” she greeted me, smiling.
“Hi, good morning, junior,” I said, giving her a wink.
“Did you hear the news? Your favourite club was ravaged by fire this morning.”
I gave a dull smile. As I was about to speak, my boss, Ricky, came to my desk.
He was a tall, flamboyant German in his early forties.
“What the chat?” he asked.
“Just the morning headline news,” I replied.
He looked at us and started talking about our weekly tasks with the computation work.
After he finished, I looked at Julie and asked, “What were the police here for?”
This time Julie didn’t smile.
“The boss told us it’s confidential. I have no idea,” she said, and walked back to her desk.
Her words struck a note of fear in me. In my tired mind I felt I was under investigation. Again I tried to recall back to Club 66.
I seemed to remembered that a club bouncer had pushed me outside the door. And my friends calmed me down and took me home.
That was it, all I could remember. I walked to Julie’s desk.
“Julz, I need a favour,” I said quietly.
“Sure,” she replied.
“I can’t work with this hangover. Will you cover for me?”
My weak eyes implored her.
“I can do that. You advise Ricky and I’ll cover for you, but just for today.”
Feeling relieved, I wrote a note and left it on Ricky’s desk, then packed my things, signed off and walked out of the office.
The hangover had returned and my mind was shrieking with thoughts about the burning of Club 66, the whereabouts of my friends and the mysterious police visit.
This day was wasted. I hoped it was the only thing wasted.