A Bread and Butter Life


Oladipo Agboluaje



                                            
Damola woke up at the usual time. And as usual thoughts imported from all 
over his past lined up like a Greek chorus, chiming one after the other 
the chronicles of a dull and concept driven life. Lying in bed he wondered 
if today would be any better than yesterday. He would have to get up to find 
out, he reminded himself as he struggled out of the duvet and made his way 
into the bathroom. He had an evening class. As his mirror reflection brushed 
his teeth he began to plan for the day: bath, Guardian, toast and tea, a.m. 
television, turn on pc, email, delete porn site junk mail, view a few web 
sites of interest, prepare lecture notes, go down to the campus, get a coffee 
and doughnut, make way down to lecture hall by the same route, give lecture, 
return home. This was the life he lived for but it seemed it was not what he 
imagined it would be. He had paid too little attention to Kipling’s ‘If’, and 
had made himself slave to thoughts and dreams. But then, who hadn’t?

As he poured water over his body he began to think up a team list to replace 
the present Arsenal team who had once again given Manchester United a premature 
title triumph without a whimper of resistance. If the resistance movements of 
the world had capitulated in the same manner reggae artists would still be 
singing ‘Free Mandela’ and Malawi would still be referred to as Nyasaland. And 
he would not be at the University of Northwest London teaching postcolonial 
studies for a part-time living. He would not be thinking of how he was going 
to get out of the rut he was experiencing trying to complete a PhD in postcolonial 
identities in African literature. All he could say to that was, ‘fuck’.

Fowler and Yorke would replace Henry and Wiltord. He would sell them for a combined 
total of forty-five million pounds, irrespective of the new transfer system. When 
it took effect, he would modify his fantasy accordingly. Fringe players like Grimandi 
and Vivas would have to go, as their predecessors before them (Marshall, Selley, Dickov,
McGowan, etc). Vieira needed a better partner in midfield than Edu. The Dutch gladiator, 
Davids would do just fine.  To replace Adams, Keown and Dixon, he would get Taribo West, 
Sol Campbell and Thuram. Good. Next season, Arsenal would do the treble.

He picked up the Guardian and a loaf of bread from the local discount store. When he 
returned to his flat the post had arrived. As he sat down to breakfast he skimmed 
through the headlines. Foot and mouth, foot and mouth, foot and Fuck. The bread was 
near unpalatable. If given a choice a dog would rather eat its own shit. And there 
was still the matter of his overdraft and the threatening letters from the bank he’d 
have to respond to. Damola never felt the need to think twice about such matters. He 
would send an envelope with a neatly folded blank sheet inside. That was his standard 
reply to letters of such malevolence. What was made of it he never knew. He cared, and 
wished he could assume spirit form, like his late father and observe their reaction. 
Would they shower expletives after unfolding the paper and finding not a dot of ink on 
it? Or would they casually dump it in the wastepaper basket without so much as breaking 
into a curious thought? He’d given too much thought to it and had to start preparing for class. 

The Northern Line trains seemed to be untypical in their regularity and lack of delay. That 
he made it on time to King’s Cross without hitch left him in a daze. Throughout the journey 
his head had been stooped in The Beautiful Ones are not yet Born. Taking the elevator up to 
the Piccadilly Line platform he was careful not to put his hand on the railing. Shit happens. 
As he waited on the platform a tune started playing in his head and he wondered if it would be
the one to make him money. He had a good voice. But he was too old to be in a boy band and his 
tunes were distinctly A1. 

He got out at Holloway Road and went straight to the Library to confirm a few references. ‘I.D. 
please,’ asked the guard at the entrance, always as if she were seeing him for the first time. 
It was her job. If they weren’t thorough they’d be accused of complacency. Bounding up the 
stairs to the second floor, passing some very attractive students, he was soon immersed in 
Soyinka, Achebe, Fanon and Ngugi. Finishing up with Towards the Decolonisation of African
Literature, he smiled self-satisfaction. A mobile phone with a Simpson’s tune went off loudly, 
the owner engaging in an even louder conversation. Someone told him to take his cunt elsewhere 
and an argument ensued, probably over the use of appropriate gender-specific swear words. The 
office would be a better place to complete the work.

It was cold. Spring had arrived and the clocks had gone back, but the grip of winter was 
proving uneasy to shake off. He would have to go to the caretaker’s and remind them that 
he was not South African and therefore had no previous experience of minus zero weather 
conditions. He was thinking of moving quickly before Craig walked in when Craig walked in. 
‘Hi! You’re in early. Thought you’d still be at home.’

‘Hi Craig. No. I decided to try and finish off my work here.’ It was hard to sound enthusiastic 
by his presence. Yes, they shared the office, but Craig was a good companion only when you had 
no work to do and wanted to know what was ‘going down’ in the department. He was a specialist 
in Hardy and nineteenth century fiction. He was nice in the non-pejorative context of the word 
but there were days you hoped he would not be around. 

‘Guess what. Your mate Bill was seen with that Sudanese girl you fancy up at the Harbour last 
night. Eddy and Sheila saw them having a snog by the window seat.’

‘Great.’

‘Great? Is that all you have to say? Great? I thought you’d be bonkers.’

‘Why? I don’t own her, and besides she’s my student, and Bill’s too. He’s playing with his job.’

‘So, you going to report them?’

‘On your hearsay? No thank you. Haven’t you got a class to prepare for?’ That was all he needed. 
She’d be in the class this evening. It would be hard for Damola to control his self-consciousness 
with this news rolling around inside him. Thankfully Craig realised he was not as prepared as he 
thought and remained quiet at his desk, the pc making the only sounds from his side of the room. 
Damola’s head began to ache. She was a beauty, this student, a cross between Helen of Troy and 
Oluronbi. What did she see in Bill anyway? Was she having difficulty in his course and was seeking
favours from him in return for a lay? Or did she really think that the nutty professor look was in? 
Or did Craig’s informants see two different people. He had no reason to doubt Craig, he was the 
faculty equivalent of a web ferret. He thought he should be the one cosying up to her in a trendy 
pub. Underneath fuliginous lighting, in between quotes of Fanon and Ayi Kwei Armah, he would caress 
her hands in his while her foot nestled in his crotch. If this were The Lion and the Jewel, he would
be the Lakunle to her Sidi. She would choose the old dog, Baroka, over him. It was hard to think of
another scene from another work of fiction, so he ended his daydream there in favour of finishing his
lecture notes. He brought out a current copy of New Statesman from his desk drawer to see if he could 
add some topicality to the discourse of mimicry and its effects on fictional characters in South African 
protest literature. There were a few articles on foot and mouth, and one on why we should fear a clown 
at the seat of power in the United States. He laughed silently at one of the cartoons, concerning two 
dogs in a veterinary waiting room. 

It was time for the class. He made his way down the corridor. It seemed darker than usual and he 
wondered if he was going blind. It would be an excuse not to take the class. Someone had 
accidentally tripped the light switch. It came back on like a revelation, blinding in its 
consequences. This was no time to fall into dreamland. He had to pretend as if he was his usual
self . That would be hard. He began to recognise the faces of passing students the nearer he reached
the door. He saw her before he entered, sitting in a central position where she would always be within 
in his field of vision unless he kept his face to the writing board. She was radiant, slightly dulled 
around the edges by his sense of suspected betrayal. But how could someone you never revealed yourself, 
yourself, to, betray you? He had to clear his mind or else.

‘Good evening’ he stammered. A slight tension in his chest reverberated through his voice. He was 
finished. She looked as if she was going to.

The fire alarm went off. A member of the security staff popped his head through the door and asked
everyone to evacuate the building. Tears of joy nearly fell from his eyes. That would give him 
enough time to compose himself. They were always false alarms. Within twenty minutes they would be 
back in class. He would have daydreamed his way through every conceivable worst-case scenario and a 
cathartic sigh of release would escape with his fear into the atmosphere. 

As he lay in bed that night, watercolouring the day’s events, he felt there was no reason to think 
tomorrow would be any better than the dreams he would conjure up.  


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