Madam Pali was known in her area in Onitsha for being the number one beer seller. She was the last bus stop for most of the men that worked at the Julius Berger site day in day out. There was a common saying among the workers; “Madam Pali no get competition” and it was true at the time that Madam Pali indeed did not have any competition.
Sometimes, less occupied people accused her of using diabolic powers to charm her customers and boost her sales, and her response to that was always “If na so to do juju easy why you never do am help your own life nau“.
Madam Pali had a reputation for being a no nonsense woman who feared nothing and no one, not even the area boys that tried to shake her up every now and then. Madam Pali was to be feared instead because she was very unpredictable, especially when it came to her money. Those who knew her personally would say “Fear am o! She no dey use money play. You fit use mouth curse am but no touch her money, person no dey owe Madam Pali, dem no born you well to try am“.
She feared no one, until that day.
* * *
It was just another night for Madam Pali, except that it was busier than usual being a Saturday night. She was counting her money and preparing to close up her shop since she had already sold her beer target for the day when a huge fine looking middle aged man dressed in a striped dress shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of black palm slippers walked into her beer parlour with a broad smile on his face.
“Madam Pali, I know say you don dey close, but please give me one crate of beer to go. I’ll pay you triple the cost and I promise to bring back your crate“. He said.
That was all he needed to say to get Madam Pali’s attention. Triple the cost? Say no more. Madam Pali gave him a crate of beer and took his money with joy, squashing her internal misgivings and the questions that raged deep within her. She asked him where he was staying just in case he forgot to return the crate, so she could send someone, and he told her he was staying by the central hospital, not too far from her shop.
That was it; no name, no contact number, leaving her with only the location of where he was staying – near the central hospital – and some of his change which he told her he would take when he returned the crate.
* * *
Around 6pm on Sunday evening, the Chief Security Officer at the central hospital close to Madam Pali’s shop came walking with his usual swagger; wearing his faded black jeans and usual black shirt with a navy blue jacket. The chanting began as soon as the patrons of the bar spotted him with “Papa Lohloh!” and “Old papa youngie!” filling the air. He came to Madam Pali’s shop carrying the empty crate of beer she had sold to the fine middle aged man the previous night.
“Madam Pali wetin your crate of beer dey do for the door mouth of our hospital mortuary? Abi no be your name dey for this crate like this? You done dey share beer give my security men abi come forget their oga?” He asked with a patronizing smile, which faded as the confusion on her face persisted.
That was how they went on to discover less than thirty minutes later, after Madam Pali had described the man she sold the crate of beer to and the Chief security officer had argued in disbelief, that the only person who fit the description was a certain Mr Onwuka, a construction worker who had died a few weeks back and whose body had been brought to the mortuary. It was said that before his death, Mr Onwuka was extremely popular and was reputed to be able to drink down one crate of beer in one sitting and piss it out with ease.
Madam Pali, in shock, accompanied the Chief security officer back to the central hospital where they confirmed that there were empty bottles of beer around Mr Onwuka’s corpse, all her bottles. It would take another three hours before the hospital staff could find the courage to go back in, after fleeing from the scene.
That was how Madam Pali sold beer to a dead man, and never returned to her shop and her regular customers. On hearing what had transpired, Madam Pali’s husband advised her saying “Madam, even dead men drink o. Abeg go open shop at least one more time so the man go come collect him change go another place find drink. The same way person no dey owe you change na the same way dem no dey owe dead man change.“