My Beard Gang Story: Angels Are Among Us
There are angels amongst us. They go about clad in the same flesh us normal people are trapped in, and have the same fluid running in their veins. You can see them everywhere. They are at school with your kids, they are buying in the market and the market seller is handing over bills from them to you as change. Better believe that! That counts for contact, so keep that bill properly!
They are in the banking hall sandwiched between you and the fat lady who’s been chewing and smacking that bubble gum with so much vehemence she ought to do it in the next Olympics. But the angel in front of you who is taking all the impact from the smacking doesn’t seem to mind. No, not one little bit. But you, you are no angel. You are angry. She should stop all that smacking, this is a bank for screaming out loud!
Angels can come in different packages. Some are men. Others simply come complete with curves and bumps, fore and aft, and in biological terms referred to as —women. Yeah, you heard that right.
There are angels that come in smaller packages. They are called children. Small sized packets of a nuisance, adorable, witty and at abnormal times handy.
Angels are an amazing creation of nature. Normal people who aren’t angels are normal people created by nature. By now folks may wonder where all of this talk about angels is going. Well, it isn’t going anywhere far off. Let’s just say for future reference that angels are everywhere around us. Now that’s reiterating a well-emphasized fact. Yeah, seeing as those of us who aren’t angels forget things too quickly, such emphasis is well deserved and needed from time to time.
You find the first set of angels at ATM stands
So right there, on a queue that wound from the gallery inside of the fence to the back of the fence and there you are in the sun, on the curb, where anything wrong can happen to you. From being run over by a drunk driver who ought to be locked up, or being spat on by one of those Street pigeons who like to do flybys over people’s heads. A whole lot of things can happen to you right there on the curb, with traffic so nearby and what with all these northern boys riding bikes as if they want to ride off into tomorrow before everyone else. Ehn?
Now, this fellow walks up to the queue, he looks nondescript in a khaki shirt and shorts —that reminded you of one Nigerian labour activist who later became a governor – wearing a flip-flop that suggests that he doesn’t live very far off.
He asks you, “Are you the last person, Sir?”
“No.” you say. You point out a couple of people sitting about. There’s the young boy with his back to the wall under the shade cast by the roof of the gatehouse, his earphones around his neck and a bored and pained look to cap everything up. Another woman sits on the hot curb by a parked Corolla, her face hidden under her head covering, the sun scorching her exposed arms. And the others too.
“Chai!” he says. “…And I just want to check my balance o.”
You want to tell him: Well, dude, you are a liar and a fraud.
Because you have watched this movie a dozen times and the script always followed a pretty much predictable pattern. But you shut up your mouth. You look at the dude with his beard like a Sheik’s own. Black, well trimmed and fresh and your conscience further suggest to you that silence was a better option in the circumstances. But you keep watching the bearded guy.
He walks up the queue, towards the machine. The place is quiet and you hear that sweet whrrrrrrr sound of money being counted and piled in the machine and the final shuck when that opening in the machine vomits the bills. He puts a tentative leg on the pavement and watches people get on and off. By your estimate, you are probably the number 20something on the line. That makes Mr. Smart guy up there with his leg on the pavement like someone about to start a sprint number 20what? Maybe 30, who knows?
Then you see the next person in the queue to get up there and take their cash is an old man. So old he could be 200 years. White hair, bent back, worse knees, and the wrinkles, so you thought they could never be real. But they are real. What could possibly not be real is what is about to happen before your eyes.
The khaki wearing dude is assisting Methuselah up the pavement and your sixth sense is screaming at you, yelling in your eardrums that that dude is an angel, oh you should have known, Gad! How could you not have known? How?!
“My boy please help me do it.”
The old man hands his ATM card over. The guy joyfully snatches it. The old man gladly tells him his pin:1234. Seriously? 1234?
The guy punches the buttons.
“Is it a current account sir?”
“Ok.” He does more punching.
“How much do you want to collect sir?”
“Em. . . 10,000 naira.”
Wow. The guy punches the amount in. The woman who lives in the machine says he should wait while she processes the transaction. He waits. The old man is waiting too. The machine whines. Meanwhile, Van Damme is getting praises from people on the queue for being an exemplary citizen. Accolades. For helping an old man. It’s alright. You shake your head and watch what would follow.
The machine spits the money in 500s. The guy takes it and gives it to Papa.
Papa begins to pray for him. In fact, he takes out a 500 naira note and slips it into the dude’s hand for all his trouble. He takes it, oh he takes it. As this exchange is going on Van Damme other hand is slipping his ATM card in the slot. He quickly announces that he only wants to check how much he’s got in his account. The other people on the queue say, “haba, you are free abeg, withdraw sef.”
He smiles apologetically.
Your knees go weak. It is finished.
Seconds later the ATM machine is making that money sound, preparing to go sick in the guys hand as it vomits bills.
Ah. Can you see life?
Can everyone see life?
He thanks everyone and pockets his money. The old man is all but forgotten. The shuffling poor old man who had been taken advantage of. He was only a pun in the game. As the guy walked past you on his way off to wherever, you almost reach out to grab his neck, so that you can twist his head so far around that he would be able to watch himself when he shits. But you can’t because he is an angel.
People like this have a heart. They are brave, always in the minority and almost always there to help old men and women and the infirmed. And they get their reward, don’t they?
So you patiently wait your turn in the hot sun since there is no other Methuselah on the queue in need of helping.
Much later you find yourself still in the sun and you are further about to discover another angel in human form. All this time you were in the queue to get your money just like we queue to get everything in this country, there was another angel on the line.
She joins you on the curb by the main road. She is beautiful, you notice. Who wouldn’t notice a beautiful lady in a tee-shirt with the logo of a bearded guy sitting exquisitely in front of it? Is she a part of the beard gang? Is she bearded or maybe her man is?
Her tight blue denim that followed the beard gang round neck shirt will make someone momentarily lose consciousness of the events of the day before you quickly pinch yourself back to reality. What an angel?
Your hand goes up and flags a bike just seconds before hers. You know that bike is yours, you called it first, but because the other lady isn’t just a lady, but she most definitely is one of those people we are talking about —angels, the Hausa Okada rider stops right before her feet.
She tells the Okada guy where she’s headed – Bodija. Isn’t that where you going too? Oh yeah, but in your annoyance for being discriminated against by this Okada guy and the apparent indifference of the fine lady, you have forgotten that you are here, on planet earth, by the roadside. Well, she may not have realized what had happened, that your hands went up before hers but the Okada guys sin is inexcusable. He saw you. He saw it. He saw your hand first. Nonsense.
“How much?” she asks.
“Ok.” She hops on.
Okada guy asks you if you are going that way. You give him the evil eye. He returns it with a blank stare.
“Bodija.” You say.
He asks the lady to get down so you could get on first. You wait for her to get down from the bike. Because that’s the custom here in the country, no lady wants to sit sandwiched between two men. Do you know the implications? The implications are huge, my friend.
What if she’s seated there right in the middle and as the ride progresses the bike experiences the woes of the Nigerian roads, with every bump in the road her breasts are pressed against the back of the rider or when the bike hits a pothole and everyone is thrown up she lands on your lap, how can you prove in court that you didn’t rape her on the bike? How?
So in that split second when you receive the invitation to join the ride all this thoughts fleet through your mind.
“Can you come down so I can sit first?” You ask.
You begin to explain your predicament.
“Oh, I understand.” She says. “please get on, I don’t mind.”
“Yeah, don’t worry. Get on.”
So you pull up your trousers, your balls strain against the crotch as you raise your leg, you hope to God that she didn’t see the irresponsible thing. Seated behind her you are tempted to ask her if she is really serious and if she really knows what the heck she’s doing. But you don’t.
The ride commences. The Okada guy starts throttling like a madman. You love speed actually. You love the rush of the wind as it screeches past your ears. You love the way the street wheezes past like slides. It gives you the feeling that you are in flight. If it were night you would have stretched your hands out like an eagle and sing in your head,
“I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky. . .”
But this afternoon, you are going to behave yourself since there’s a lady hemmed between you and the mad rider. There will be no outstretched hands nor singing of any R.Kelly songs. Meanwhile, her butt is pressing against your crotch with every bump in the road and you are quite sure the Okada guy too is enjoying himself with compressed contact with boobs.
“Aboki, take it easy. There’s a lady here O.” you say.
But she shocks you again by saying: “Ah, no problem oh, I’m in a hurry sef.”
Seriously? Wow. Isn’t that something? Here’s a lady who is not irritated by the bodies of two men, front, and back. Here’s a woman who is comfortable with speed, who would probably spread her hands too and sing that she believes she can fly, and touch the sky, and soar.
Are we not blessed to have such a being walking amongst us?
The ride comes to a standstill at the traffic jam at Bodija, just before your stop and hers. She keeps glancing at her wristwatch. A gold imitation watch, you could not quite catch the name. But you know it is an imitation. Her phone rings in her pocket and she brings it to her left ear. Correct girl.
“Hello.” She says.
She listens for a bit and says again, “Ok, let’s have 300 shirts for the party. We start with that.”
She hangs up.
So she is also a business woman? Nice. Neyo’s Miss Independent begins to play in your head. The traffic begins to move. You spot a policewoman at the intersection where the problem of the world started. She is wagging her finger at a driver in a small brown and yellow taxi. The drivers mouth is twisting over tobacco stained teeth, probably cussing too. The policewoman finally waves the vehicles on your lane off. The okada guy throttles again and he is flying towards the Access Bank junction where you will get off.
You are checking for small bills to pay when the lady’s phone started crying once again.
“Where are you?” she inquires. She turns around and some dark skinned guy erupts from the crowd at the ATM place in the bank. As he walks towards you, you notice his enormous beard. And something else.
You know this dude.
He sees you too. He knows you, guy. Why, this is Tola, your guy from F.U.T.A days. He screams your name, your nickname that is.
And you scream his, “Tola!”
You both embrace and do the coded type of handshake that you did back in the days, you know, the fist bump and knuckle bump and then you repeat a second time before busting an imaginary firework in each other’s face. The beautiful lady all but forgotten in the encounter. But later you both come back to earth. He looks at the lady and at you, you do the same.
“Where did you meet her?” He asks you.
She asks both of you, “Whats happening, how did you both know each other?”
The troublesome side of you wants to tell him she is your new girlfriend but since you had just met her and didn’t think it was an appropriate joke in the circumstances you behave yourself again. She quickly summarizes the encounter that brought the three of you together.
“So what are you doing in Ibadan?” you ask.
He tells you it is business. You ask what he is doing with so much facial hair, reminding him that he used to be a clean-shaven geek in the university. He smiles and tells you it is still business. He turns to the beautiful lady and says, “I have the cash, we are good.”
You want to ask, good for what, but is it your business? No. Should you mind your business? Yes. So you take your own advice. But you are a Nigerian whose ingenuity at extracting information is matchless. You can pretend you do not want to know something, but say something that would put the other person under a moral obligation to fill you in. So you say.
“Me too, I want to do business oh, this one that you are cashing money upandan now.”
Your friend laughs and the beautiful girl joins in. She even has a dimple that shows every time her cheeks creases. Hm, she’s cute. You refuse to look too long so your friend would not think you have not changed your philandering ways. But God knows you have stopped all those rubbish, ever since you met your babe, Pat.
“Let’s go somewhere and talk now, hafa.” He finally says.
“Oya, I know a place not very far from here.” In fact, you can see the place from here you say. You point at a small restaurant just opposite the market. The three of you start walking and catching up. You are itching to ask him about the girl, is she your babe, what is this suspense about? Or she is a business partner?
What are you people selling by the way? That was when you notice he is also wearing the same Tee-shirt as the babe. The only difference is his own is dark brown. The lady’s shirt is white.
There’s a large ideogram on it of a man’s face, the beard very obvious. You wonder if the business had something to do with the ideogram. It better not, you tell yourself, are they selling beards or what, what sort of business had anything to do with beards? You tell yourself that you surely were not going to have anything to do with it. It wasn’t a serious business if it involved beards.
Beard Gang Or Not?
But something happens at the restaurant that sent your mind backtracking on your decision about beard. When you stepped into the restaurant, the place was crowded. There were fat bellied commuter drivers everywhere, their huge stomachs pushing against everyone around them. Too much red meat, you figure. There were bankers too. You could tell them from the other people, their soft skin, skin that has been conditioned by constant exposure to the cool air in the banks; neatly shaped beards and crisp too.
They always wore expensive shoes and wristwatches. They were there with their plates standing in front of the woman who served the amala. The cooler was billowing steam in front of her. There was a queue again. You are tired of queuing, for Gods sakes.
Can somebody not get anything in this country without queuing?
Now the amala seller is taking plates from people and serving them without paying attention to the queue. You take your plate, your friend and the lady presents theirs before the woman, all of you, plates outstretched, like those Holocaust victims from those world war two documentaries you have seen. But you don’t feel ashamed. After all, you are going to pay.
The Mama takes a look at your friend and collects his plate and begins to mold a mountain of amala in it. He moves off to where he would be served with soup. You point your plate in the woman’s face but it must be that she suddenly goes blind every time you do that because she looks at one of the banker guys, his beard a black sheen on his face and takes his plate to serve him.
What is going on here? You wonder.
You decide to wave your plate in her face, like, Madam look at me here O. But no, this other guy with a very long beard like the musician Phyno just happened to appear beside you from nowhere. He stretches his plate just a little and Mama amala takes it and administers a generous serving of amala into it. You want to cry. Your friend and the other girl are seated already, waiting for you, the two of them opening their teeth at each other. You ask yourself what is wrong with them too, can they not see what is happening to you over here?
You simply don’t get it. Is it that Mama Amala had more respect for this Beard Gang guy than you or what? Is it fear Or reverence?
Finally, after it seemed as though all the bearded people on the queue —that’s how you are seeing the whole thing now, a bearded people conspiracy – has been served. The woman suddenly realizes you are not just a lifeless lump in front of her but a human in need of food. You want to slap her, but she is somebody’s mother.
You drag yourself to the space that has been reserved for you. You quickly forget your unfortunate parley with the woman. You want to know why these two people are opening their teeth at each other like that, in this economy. But they stop the teeth fair as you take your seat. You begin to injure the amala.
Just then, a new thought occurs to you: come, who is going to pay for all this food? Chineke!
You begin to pray silently, and eat slowly. So that whoever finished first would pay. But your friend and the lady are not eating fast enough, they have spent most of the time opening their teeth at each other.
“So Tosco, let me tell you what I do.”
You shove your last piece of meat into your mouth and begin to chew slowly, not taking your eyes off your friends own. Thankfully, they have finished eating too. But the lady only kicked her meat around and left the rest. Big meat. And she is going to leave it? You hope you are not paying though, or else that meat must either end up in that flat stomach of hers or in a small nylon which you shall take home.
“Have you heard of Mybeardgang.com before?”
“No.” you say.
“Well, it is a community for both bearded people and any male person who is looking to start keeping his beard.”
Your mind quickly goes back to the scene at the Mama Amala. “Is it like a club?” you ask.
“No, it’s even bigger than that. Our vision is to make it global. So a club is too small a way to describe what it is. There’s a meetup in Ibadan here this weekend and we are blowing it up.”
“Wow.” You say. You want to ask about the money he told the lady he cashed. You hope he read your mind.
And he did because he says, “I just took delivery of shirts like this”. He points at their shirts.
“You are welcome to join the franchise. They are affordable.” He says.
He takes out his wallet and removes some wads from it, he calls over the young girl going about collecting money and gives it to her. You thank your God because, as you are seated there, there’s only 5k naira you withdrew from the bank in your wallet and about a dozen business cards from people you cannot remember anymore.
But this beard thing begins to appeal to you.
The lady looks at you and says, “I see you are clean-shaven.”
You smile and say, yes you are.
She says, “its okay to be clean-shaven. Times are changing though. I think beards would look good on you.”
“You think so?”
“Yes. You have the jawline that would support a marvelous looking beard. And your overall frame fits the profile too.”
You take a fresher look at the lady and you blurt out, “Tola, is this girl your personal somebody?”
Your friend laughs and the lady joins her, her mirth, unpretentious and from the depths of her chest.
“Yeah, actually. She’s my business partner and my Rente.”
You shake your head. “She’s not just beautiful, she got brains too, you know.”
“Well, she gets that complement a lot.”
“Sometimes I suffer from razor bumps.” You say.
“You might consider a lifestyle change. Start a beard today.” Says the lady.
You ask your friend what he hopes to achieve with the Mybeardgang.
“Ok, first, imagine a community of bearded men from all around the country, across the Atlantic; Europe, Asia, and all the other continent. I m talking all over the globe.”
“Can you imagine being friends with a South American, in say, Venezuela. . .”
“No.” you say, “Pick another country. Those Venezuelan are not serious.”
You all laugh over that. You notice the beautiful lady’s perfect teeth. But you tell yourself to be careful now.
“Okay, Okay, let’s say, a country as far off as Brazil. You have a group of men there who recognizes you, who feel a kindred spirit with you, why? Because you belong to a special community of bearded men.”
“Or imagine being able to share ideas and tips on products with men all around the world on care and treatment of skin and facial hair? That’s basically where we are going with this.”
“Is it reasonable to expect this to work?” He says.
“I was about to ask that question.”
He spreads his arm, “It is working!”
Rente, by the way, adds, “its why we are here in Ibadan. The movement is on.”
You think for a moment, then you breathe and say,
“But growing a beard is one thing, like, you remember when we were in school, I use to leave my beard for a while, of course, most times because we were too broke to visit a hair salon, but I find that when I leave it, it itches me a lot and it tangles, so I don’t know if this is for me.”
“Maintenance?” Funmi says.
“Yes, that’s what I mean. Look at your own beard. It looks so fresh, what kind of manure are you putting there?”
There’s laughter again. The lady tells your friend that you are so funny. You hug the compliment. You want to tell her that ladies say that to you a lot, but you know that this particular lady is not one of those superficial airbags that come to your inbox on twitter and facebook to have their vanities romanced. So you let it slide, just like a real adult male would.
“Alright, let me say we seek to be the go-to platform for reliable and affordable skin and beard care products. On the blog, we share information from time to time, about products for personal care and grooming for men, not just any kind of products but ones with unique scents and flavor, to draw attention to you anywhere you go.”
Wow, you think. Your mind swiftly replays all the events before now, right from that alien at the ATM who shunted the queue, then meeting your longtime friend, Tola, your tribulations while trying to buy your amala – the guys who kept getting served while you waved your plate in mama amala sellers face – all of them were bearded men and all had this distinct scent around them.
“As you can see, we have a clothing line specifically and specially designed to cater to members of the community of bearded men,” Tola continues.
“Our interest is to create clothes that will make bearded men stand out in a crowd.”
You look at the shirts and you can tell your friend is not playing around.
“These Beard Tee shirts have a price tag that doesn’t put a hole in your pocket. They are classy and they are affordable. They are also designed to accentuate your particular body shape and masculinity.” He says.
“When you say, affordable, can you be a little bit more specific?”
“Just 4k, my guy.” He says.
You look at his own shirt. The neck is round and the seam is just a little below his broad shoulder where it tapers off into a moderate flare.
The ladies own is equally as attractive. It hugs her bust, not too tightly, but just enough. It all works together, you suppose.
“So, the meetup you talked about, the one that’s happening in Ibadan here, what about it?” you ask him.
“We are actually trying to encourage people with beards and their admirers.” He puts his arm around his lady, “To tell you honestly, most ladies love bearded men.”
You lean towards them and whisper, “Not only young ladies.”
They both ask you what you mean.
“Did you guys not notice how long it took me to get served by the amala seller? It was almost as if I was just one of the plates. She was only seeing those bank boys with beards.”
They laugh again.
“I am not joking. I even waved my plate in her face, but no, she will just look at the face, if it has a beard, he is human, but if not, he is just another plate in the restaurant.” You finish. They laugh some more.
“So as I was saying, Tosco, the goal is to create a movement that supports the freedom and growth of the beard culture.”
“Do you know that folks in many European countries have a community of Elvis Presley groupies?” He asks you.
Yes, you say. You recall seeing something about it in a documentary they showed on Viasat live, on your GOTV. Hundreds of men with the Elvis hairstyle, the studded variants of tight fitting shirts with flared sleeves and sweeping bell-bottom slacks, all of them packed in a city square to commemorate the legend.
Sitting there in that Amala joint where people come and have their lunch, crisp looking bank staffs and their MD’s, big-bellied drivers, students and their girlfriends on low budget dates – all of them presenting their plates to be served Amala and lots of meat – you begin to believe that the world is really spinning fast on its toes and there’s almost nothing good and positive that cannot inspire a movement. (There can even be an amala movement, if there was someone crazy enough to push the idea.) Even something as ordinary and common place as beards.
You are not really sure that beards are common place anymore. Look at most of the music videos, the artists in the videos.
Phyno, Timaya, Jidenna and the others. Beards.
“But, keeping beards isn’t what defines a man, you know.”
“Of course.” The lady answers. “Masculinity encompasses more, it transcends facial hair. Love, kindness, grace, self sacrifice and more are what characterizes the true essence of a real man.”
“But if that man keeps and maintains a beard, then bro, he stands out. He is considered first, among equals.” She concludes.
You almost slap your hands together in applause. What a speech!
“Tola, please where did you find this lovely lady?” you beamed at your friend.
“Real recognize real, my brother.”
“Uhun, yeah, uhun.” You grin from ear to ear.
“So bro, would you love to join the Mybeardgang team? You know, share ideas and thoughts with us in the community?”
“Hell yeah!” You holler. “But I don’t have your number anymore.”
That’s not a problem he says and he raps out his cell phone number to you. You whip out your own and take it down.
“That’s, 0806748410 ending with the nine.”
“Yes.” He says.
Outside the three of you share warm hugs. Your day is finally ending well.
Soon as you step out of your bathroom at home and into fresh clothes, you call up your babe to hop a bike to your place for a nice evening walk.
She’s looking so dope in the new evening dress you both got for her recently and you are happy with how you are both turning out.
But there’s one slight thing, though.
She asks you what it is. You rub the three-day stubble on your chin. She looks up at you expectantly.
“I m thinking of keeping my beard.” You say.
“Really!” she beams at you.
“You’re cool with it?”
“Come on,” she wraps her palm around your face. “Let me see what you’d look like.”
She turns your face this way and that way. She smiles and says, “You’d look different.”
She takes her hands off and runs her sparkling dark eyes across your six-foot frame and declares, “By all means! Get a beard.”
Oh, it’s on. I say what, it is so on.