Suleiman Abubakar, Sule for short, was a Nigerian, from the northern state of Sokoto. This much detail Sule’s buzzing customers knew and flaunted, but it wasn’t the much he said. Only that other pronunciations of his L.G and hometown were never arrived at with correct shaping of the mouth and twisting of the tongue. Nigeria was as large as the earth for greener pastures and adventure, taking Sokoto to be somewhere in the north, he sloped down towards the south then drifted to ply his trade in the East. Sule, jovial as he was, and as every indication pointed he should be, burnt his way through the heart of the Easterners roasting skewered beef, alias suya.
Joviality could earn a name, and it walked up Sule to be addressed as Aboki. It may have well been imagined as derogatory at first sound because of how queer it was pronounced, but Sule would tell it only was a mark of friendship, denoted in words. Clearly now, the name belonged to a language, thankfully Sule understood as well.
The business of roasting skewered beef, making suya, was quite professional with Sule, a road side enterprise. Staged in an open air space where one could see from start to finish, what it was like to make the spicy meat recipe. From the morning through early in the evening was always boring around Sule’s stand, only the heap of cinder and perhaps an irritating steel gauze lanced over the metal fireplace. Of high sensibility, the gauze could be disgusting as flies come around to patronize Sule in absentia, and inform you that Sule only used fresh and tempered beef. His fireplace would be a brazier, elevated on a platform, locally crafted, and now an oval piece of rolled steel that just fitted its purpose, it was installed circumscribing his fireplace. With the brazier combustion enabling, firewood was the mainstay of energy.
Always, around the oval fireplace was Sule’s gigantic rain forest hard wood table, softened from occasional splashing of the oil, much of the heat and rainfall that happened between the two seasons. Between the square legs of his hard wood table was this bowl that contained another half of meat and ingredients, then rumpled over it was a trampoline plastic for covering. The donkey years, say twenty to twenty four, he had maintained his Nigerian version of barbecue stand, alias suya stand had turned the wood rickety. He didn’t know how customers leaned on it, he thought, if at all it were, since it was in the axis of the fireplace along the roadside. The thought could not be helped.
Kai, kai! He seemed to begin each business day. Once he had come to work, it was lowering his software of kilogram weight of drooped beef into a bowl for a courtesy washing. As at now, the fire cockpit was in high spirits, warming, doing a drag of a faint, long smoke. This early riser of a smoke eluded Sule’s sophisticated dark complexion. In a later moment, when the beef is roasted or warmed as requested, the smokes made a routine out of badging, scented his stripe dirty apron, yes apron, and the clothes within, and kissed him bye. He would wince because they choked his eyes, then they joined in the ominous charade of dust cloud or the atomic debris that could only be seen with vehicle headlamps flashing. As Sule’s spot was close to a junction, there were much of those barging lights.
Telling about city night life in the east would look awkward and inconclusive without suya stands. Their businesslike and bustling areas could be likened with the euphoria of few petrol stations that sold in scarcity.
Slicing the meat comes with a bit of dexterity. Far from chopping, he would place a palm over a particular lump and with the meat trademark looped sharp knife, ran through it. It was the kind of sharp knife you would imagine a life lama writhing to death, or if worse came to worst, you could imagine the historic Dan Fodio doing his thing with that kind of hell sharp knife. The slices of meat cut were shady brown missed with colour of blood, it never turned translucent and it gave his customers the impression that they still consumed meat and not an aftermath of meat. This is because the dotty spices also acted as a corrode to thicken the layers of beef and it will turn out to be some kind of spice consumption.
One could know that a perfect suya was in the making when Sule had skewered the sliced meat, making it look like the worst shrinked kite. Then sprinkled with oil, maybe the oil was a toned version of the King’s or the Power’s or the Laziz oil or mere groundnut oil that always had congealed sediments, because he would always empty any of such oil into his own plastic jute of a bottle. A thin perforation in the cap did the magic of sprinkling. Then the skewered beef was beat in a heap of spice all right round. It was like another layer covering. The steel gauze will turn heavy with stick lanced beef, conveniently placed for Sule to grab the empty tail end of the sticks and make a turn, for wholesome roasting.
The night would have been inaugurated when customers swamped around, with the background set with his Yamaha radio singing a piece of stringed sound accompanying a solo alto pitch or telling news, all in Hausa. For a cosmopolitan settlement as where Sule stayed to sell suya, an electric, sky high street light shone a moon coloured hue. For the light, it was enough not to make Sule look insistently on a five hundred naira note, or a thousand naira note, looking for some proof to show it wasn’t a counter. Notwithstanding, Sule was part of the mainstay of a Nigerian tradition that felt disappointed and concomitantly betrayed with the given of electricity. He had his rechargeable lamp tied to a stake so that it shines over his enterprise- just like an enterprising suya vendor in a rural town without a token of Sule’s orange coloured street light.
Sule’s suya was coming in a bit of variety, he had added chicken, to make chicken suya. Customers still expected their regular hometown bush games to suit the road side culinary delight. To Sule what mattered was just a regular source and the rest was story, finish! Gaskia! Ogushaala! He still murdered Igbo, he would attend.
The chicken was always the first to be gunned down. With a rich palate of suya recipe tempered with sprayed pepper, slices of onion, cabbage, a times with tomatoes, Sule disentangled the skewered meat to retrieve his swift sticks for another round and wrapped his red coloured chunks of delicatessen with newspapers.
The Sun, Punch, Guardian, Pilot were regular newspapers, he rolled his suya in them before finding a black plastic bag around for takeaway. It didn’t matter whose face; of the crème de la crème of the Nigerian society that was posted on the papers, all of the face would turn translucent at Sule’s touch. Magical, and savoury to scrap their faces off the papers. Service was engrained in his system, and not some quota or fanatic attitude anyone could expect, in the least that much was observed.
The times without Sule around were gross, and would sparsely come in the periods Sule took unavoidable breaks by doing home service, the cross road junction where he copied a space by the roadside and kept the night awake felt dejected. Or was it the annual Ramadan or other Islamic festivals in the category of the Eid-El’s that translocated him to Sokoto. Sule was much of a hometown breed, the homeboy tinge, uncorrupted by the cosmopolitan space he dwelt in, in the East.
Until yet, life could not be imagined without Sule or his signature grilled meat for suya. With the times he was out, if one had noticed the daily skyrocketing demand for his alternate source of protein- call it junk, call it food, call it snack, it was well fitted- it seemed the population would run epileptic, and then comatose if no one supplied them suya. It was no point for anti-consumerist, but a point of a culture inhabiting a city.
The road side, a few metres away to the road intersection called junction would look bugged and out of business for vendors with more than two suya stands.
The suya loving population had not prepared for life without Sule, and if they had had to be forced into it, they would settle for intangible memory to reminisce when the rank and file of the society who wore casual to strolling to Sule’s stand made it their end point. As proper in deciding their fate by forging nomenclature for public utilities, for the titular, stale in name bus stop- that bus stop, the next bus stop, after the junction, Here!- Suya Bus Stop would be nothing short of grand even if there had to be no suya ever roasted.