It’s Friday morning. The alarm goes off in chorus with the muezzin’s call to prayer from the mosque down the street adjacent the one I live. For a moment I wished I could wish the sleep in my eyes away or wish time to a stop, so I can have some more moments of sleep. The heat of Thursday night was at its worst. I had to sleep on the marble floor for most of the night to enjoy its stony coldness. It is April; the heat is crazy at this time of the year.
Abeokuta is a rebel out of the many towns in western Nigeria. The rebellion in her blood stream is prehistoric and traceable to her founding fathers in their days while occupying the old Ibadan before the Yoruba civil wars broke out. Abeokuta acts like a teenage girl who just discovered the pleasure spot in between her legs and was told by her elders not to explore the joys further because it would make her seem like a whore.
So on days when nature has agreed on the uniformity of a phenomenon in a particular geographical location—a solar eclipse perhaps or a meteorologically predicted rain or thunderstorm—the town revolts. She must do as she likes. When the sun is in full blast in other cities, the sun would take a break in Abeokuta and allow the skies to flush out its excess waters instead.
There is an endless debate about the ultimate south western town in Nigeria, Abeokuta is in the running, she likes to wag her brittle tongue against her richer and bigger cousins—Lagos and Ibadan. The Olumo rock, an unusual spectacle on its own, stands at a distance, proudly overlooking the town from afar like a watcher—an angel also referred to as the Nephilim in the ancient books—dreaming of the day when it would cease to protect the fleeing Egba citizens from the civil wars with the Oyo slavers and how it would descend to crush the self-righteous men who live under it with an avalanche of stones and rocks.
At 5:30am the little town under the famous Olumo rock is still asleep. She sleeps longer hours than any other town I know. By 8pm she’s already asleep and sleeps till 7am in the morning like a jobless graduate. The taxis and okadas would disappear into the night. The whistles of the night owl like a snoring man would deafen the restless emptiness of the town. Perhaps one would hear the rustle of winds against the tides of trees, but nothing would move—except spirits or night crawlers returning from various beer joints.
It is a good time to jog. I took up jogging because my stomach was getting out of shape like an overflowing bucket of water and was slowly assuming the belly title. I could not easily fit it inside my shirts. Whenever I tucked my shirts in to my trousers, the excess fat bulged down my belt space and made it seem as though I was pregnant. My stomach was not always this big. It became this way in between my late night snacks and bottles upon bottles of beer. But what can a man do, late night snacks were made for men like me—when else would one eat in this economy—and beer is the best friend of any sensible man of my age anyway.
The belly fat won’t disappear without a good work out. However, patronizing a gym may not be in my best interest for now. My meagre salary can’t cover my feeding throughout the month. Why should I invest the rest in a gym?
My old sneaker is still in a good condition. Though the sole is almost out of order, it has been in the family for over a dozen years now. Divorcing it has not been easy; too much history shared. My elder brother only passed it down to me some four years back and I have rocked it well before it became a jogging buddy. It accompanied me to the end of the year party back in the university where I earned my first kiss. Before my brother used it, father had had his turn too being the original owner. He said he wore it during most of his years at the university. A tradition we continued. Though I can confidently say the sneaker has reached an end. My jogging made sure of it.
The early morning breeze is subtle, feels cold, but it deceives. The air is arid as I swing my legs forward to shake off the usual dawn weariness. I feel the heat pangs again, more generously than my room had been the previous night. I realise I am not wearing a short-nick, something which would have eased the way I swung my legs. Instead I’m wearing a long sportswear whose length competes with a trouser hence the heat pangs. Usually when I emerge from my room early in the morning I do not take note of what I wear despite my efforts to make mental notes to correct this.
The road from my house to the main road is tar-less and uneven, so walking it is sometimes tedious especially when I am going to work, because of the potholes and the steep terrain. But since I am jogging, it is easier because I may not notice at all. The solar powered street lights that line up the street are sleepy like candle lights in a dark tunnel. Visibility is fuzzy but it doesn’t stop me.
As I begin the jog, I make sure my movement is well timed and synchronised to ensure the maximum result—because without deliberate precise movements, jogging could be a waste of time. I see an old woman twisting the ears of a little boy of not more than seven. The boy’s face is construed as though he is going to say something to defend himself for the punishment he is receiving but he doesn’t; instead he looks at me as if he wanted me to tell the old woman to stop violating his ear.
Like me, the boy is trying to come to terms with having to wake up so early, I assume. Visibility is still poor. The realities of Abeokuta mornings in Quarry road are slowly dawning on me. There’s little light reflecting from a little roadside motel. The boy and the old woman were standing beside its droning generator. I wondered what transpired between them. Since I can hardly make out the conversation between them, I run past them.
I check the time. My body is covered with sweat already. It is time to return home. The Agbeloba brick house stands proudly afar, a remnant of the Operation Feed the Nation program of the first Obasanjo regime. Chief Obasanjo—former military head of state and civilian president of Nigeria—lives in this town. His investments are spread across the township of Abeokuta like bastard children with different mistresses here and there. On Quarry Road, the tall Agbeloba building resembles a first born among many siblings. Its height and the brick-redness stand it apart from the rest. As I enter my one room apartment back, I hear a noise—like a cheer. I can guess what happened. Up NEPA. Electricity is back.
The lighting in my room is a colourless hue, powered by energy saving bulbs. It is useful whenever I want to indulge in the only good habit I have—reading. 6:45am. Dawn is breaking forth like a sleeping flower waking from a deep slumber. The day is opening up. Mothers are bathing their children. Fathers have their transistor radios at hand awaiting the beginning of the morning news. Okada riders and impatient cab drivers are trading their ritualistic early morning curses. School children are out. The town is alive and bright. Horns are blaring and work calls in a sonorously boring voice.
I am a civil servant. I work for the state government. At my workplace, we are supposed to dress in a suit, shirt and tie, but fellow civil servants garb themselves in sack-like dark coats, whitewashed ties and oversized shirts. To them, it is a sign of looking good; they would sometimes hail each other with thumbs up cheering ‘Looking Good brother’. This sort of greeting often irritates me. Many times I have felt like stripping some of them naked or begging them to return home to wear something better. Whenever they dress like this, it gives civil servants a reputation, and when people see you, an evident wretchedness is expected of you because you dare call yourself a civil servant.
I like to think I am different, telling myself I am not one of them, but I am just like all of them in my own little extremities; my shirt—though neatly ironed and starched—hangs on my frame and hugs my protruding tummy. The suits I wear—usually tagged as Ibo-made because of their dubious origin—are knock-offs of the suits made by British designer, Paul Smith, because it is the cheapest you can get in the market.
I take extra care in the way I look. My hair cut must be made to definite precisions, and the friction must be in tandem with the pressing iron creases of my shirt and trousers. Often I am mistaken for a business mogul, but I tell myself it is good for business. Nobody dares hail me; it is as if I am too good for their ‘looking good brother’ crack.
It is almost 9am and work has started. I share my office with my immediate superior—a man in his late forties—who forgets he is greying. He fancies himself a funny person like a clown. For the sake of my job security, I wear a mask of pretence. This morning, the presidential media chat which was held the previous Thursday night is our topic for discussion. Our president, Goodluck Jonathan, said Stealing is not Corruption. I don’t have any love for him and this statement credited to him could be the final nail to his political coffin in my books. But my superior, an ardent People’s Democratic Party supporter though we as civil servants are not supposed to be engaged in partisan politics, tries to help rationalise the stupid statement made by our president.
I ask him if he can define corruption this way to his seven-year-old son. His face changes and he says he does not want to talk politics anymore. I shake my head and retreat to my workstation. My table is filled with files, letters to be written, appeals to be treated, memos to be raised, and no time to breathe. I ring for the office messenger to help me prepare coffee and settle down to work. When next I raise my head from my table, the long hand of the wall clock which faces my workstation is on the number six and the shorter hand is on four.
The humid temperature of the office makes everyone forget where they come from or where they are going. I stretch and yawn. Weariness makes my muscles tense. I dial my friend Jimi’s phone number. This is a good day to hang out with Jimi. He loves beer more than he loves himself. A few bottles should open my eyes again. Jimi—one of my best buddies, a serial drinker and a serial womanizer—is always the best company on Friday evenings or any other evening. He picks his phone after three rings and three rounds of belching later he says I should meet him at Sky Pavilion bar in Oke-Ilewo. Oke-Ilewo is the centre of the Abeokuta business district, hub of most of the commercial activities of the town, the Allen Avenue equivalent of Lagos, where call girls waltz casually around at the close of business.
By some minutes past five, I am already on my second bottle of Orijin beer. I have not had beer in a long time. My mouth welcomes the sweet bitterness as the liquid caresses the insides of my oesophagus. I haven’t gotten my usual high—I usually don’t take more than a couple of bottles before I feel the tingle in my face and the heaviness on my eyelids—these are signs which accompany high-ness for me. Jimi is in front of me smoking what I assume to be his third pack of Benson & Edges cigarette. He looks a bit worn and edgy; work has been brutal today he says. He works at one of the banks down the road as a marketer.
His eyes are shifting here and there as though he is waiting for something or perhaps running away from someone. He is a runner. He offends people a lot and claims it was the nature of his work to be an ass. One time, he marketed one of his bank products to a customer. The return on investment for the product was supposed to be five percent but Jimi led the customer to believe it was fifteen percent because of the bonus accruable to him in the event of selling the product to the customer.
He convinced the customer to invest five million naira in the facility and when it was time to yield profits upon investments, the customer incurred losses instead. The customer blamed Jimi for sweet talking him into the deal and hired thugs to beat Jimi up in random locations—especially beer joints since that was where Jimi frequented the most—to teach him a lesson. For over three months, Jimi frequented beer joints less and whenever he did, he never spent too long a time there. So that he would not be caught.
Not long after I finish my beer, Jimi says we should proceed to the stadium; there will be more girls available there, he says. There is something about drinking and having a girl or two around. It is like their presence makes the alcohol numb you slower; like it distracts you from getting drunk on time because of the possibilities of what the girl may or may not allow you to do with her. That was the gospel according to Jimi, but I know better.
The Oke-Ilewo girls have dulled today were his words as we drove through the traffic to the Kuto Stadium, whose unused grounds also serve as what many people have described as a sin city. Halmod bar—located inside the Kuto stadium—is always the preferred destination if you are looking for distractions while you are sipping your beer. Distractions are many, from hookers—usually referred to as Olosho—to waitresses wearing beer branded shirts advertising not just the booze they are peddling but also their curvy bodies. Something is certain about the Human Resource manager for Halmod, he likes curvy girls, or perhaps a survey was conducted and he found out majority of the men patronising the bar preferred curvy girls. We take our seats at the middle of the bar and order our drinks.
The bar is rowdy by the time we get there; music is blasting from the different speakers located at different points of the compound which houses the bar. Boys and girls dance to the rhythm of Olamide’s hit song Story for the gods. The thing about Olamide’s brand of music is in the universality of its acceptance. You would find yourself nodding your head and joining in the dance moves before you can stop yourself even if you don’t understand any of the words he is singing.
The bar has an extended compound. The compound, by my estimation, can be assumed to be three plots of land combined, with each plot housing four sheds which has about five iron tables with five plastic chairs surrounding it. There are branded freezers and coolers by different beer makers standing at the corner of each shed, manned by a waitress. In the middle of the compound is where the music is coming from with a DJ dressed in a big black V-neck shirt and a hip hugging pant with his turntable, scratching at the cyclical stereos with his fingers.
The evening breeze washes through the compound and I silently appreciate God for the gift of natural breeze, having been stuck inside the conditioned air of my office for the better part of the day. Not long after we start drinking, Jimi stands up and goes to meet one of the girls who were shaking their bums to the music in a hope to catch his attention on the other side of the bar. Apparently since our arrival, he had been exchanging glances with the girl before she eventually beckoned him to come over.
Jimi disappears with the lady for a little over fifteen minutes and when he returns, he is a little less edgy and more relaxed. Beads of sweat lurk across his face despite his repeated attempt to wipe them off with his handkerchief. He adjusts his zip twice before sitting down. The girl follows him and sits down. She doesn’t even acknowledge my presence. I raise my glass to Jimi to salute him. Twelve minutes of meaningless sex with a random girl, and perhaps the girl wasn’t random at all, perhaps Jimi always knew her. I hope he used a condom.
As I fiddled with my bottle, as the beer nears its crescendo, wondering if to take another bottle, a girl waltzes to my side and starts dancing. She is very curvy. She wears a yellow tank top and a cream skirt. She is the type of girl I would usually go after on a good day. I have a fetish for girls like her, curvy and fair complexioned. She faces me and comes closer and whispers into my ears, ‘I want you inside me.’ My brain goes dead for about three half seconds and my heartbeat doubles its count and starts racing against my chest as though it wants to escape the prison it is in—my chest. I turn my face to look at Jimi where he is seated; he looks at me smiling and raises his glass in salutation.
She stares long at me and says she wants to dance with me and tries to pull me off the chair but I resist. I tell her I don’t know how to dance. She smiles; her smile reveals a perfect set of teeth. My eyes leave her face and settle on her breasts, luscious and delicious looking mounds. A thought crawls into my head about how I could be satisfied of all the hunger and thirst I felt with just a suck.
She looks at me, laughs cheekily and says; you want to touch don’t you? My dead brain shows its first sign of recovery, because despite the loud music in the background, her taunting voice was clear. What is your name? I ask her trying to change the topic. She says Linda and tells me she’s from Liberia. Liberia? Perhaps she’s one of the girls from the refugee camp in town. I have heard about girls from the Liberian refugee camp doing all sorts of things to survive here in Nigeria but I had never imagined meeting any of them; at least not in this circumstance. I had once visited the camp and witnessed the inhumane conditions which most of the refugees lived in. The refugee camp was located on the outskirts of town. I had been part of a team sent by my agency to assess the living conditions of the refugees but our report never saw the light of day.
I am Nicholas. My friends call me Nick, I tell her and I stretch out my hand for a handshake. She hesitates for a second or two before she takes it. Her hands are soft and also have a wetness that makes me stiff with anticipation. The intensity of the music playing in the background increases and she begins to give me what I can only assume is a lap dance, her breasts are in my face and she takes my hands and plasters them on her vibrating bum.
The music stops. Linda looks around and grabs a chair to sit beside me. I ask the waitress serving me to serve her too. She makes a face as though she has some sort of moral high ground which forbids her from eating with strangers and says she does not want anything but to go home with me and make me feel good. At what cost? I wondered but I dare not ask her lest she gets up and leave. Even if I eventually decide not to take her home, it does not mean I do not like the company. I allow my eyes to do a survey of her body again. She can’t be free of charge and neither can she claim she is doing this because she likes me. She looks up after some seconds of fiddling with her phone and asks ‘Do you have a wife’.
I pause and ponder the question for a while; do I have a wife? I have never had to answer this type of question. No random girl has ever liked me enough to ask me such questions; neither has any of them considered me worthy of a night stand in the first place. I have always been the dweeb among my friends where girls were concerned. Every girl I have ever dated or been with had made me work my ass off for it. And were I to be a serial womanizer; was this the kind of question they were subjected to on a regular basis?
She looks me in the eyes and repeats the question, this time with a tiny trace of seriousness in her voice and I stuttered the reply “Yes…I have a wife.” Then she looks around, I couldn’t guess if she was angry or jealous. But the next time she faces me, it was the palm of her hand that met with my cheeks. Slap? The soft music playing in the background came to an end in my face. It seemed as if she forgot her palms on my face. I felt dazed as though I had been run over by a moving train. I did not know why I lied but I know my night was definitely over.
Jimi was on his feet already. He had taken the empty bottle of Orijin in front of him and broken the container end of it in smithereens, armed with the upper part—which was a sharp equivalent of a knife with many edges—he was battle ready. Linda was going to get the beating of her life and probably end up in the hospital with a few stitches too. I have seen Jimi deal with women before and despite myself I could not bring myself to allow Jimi do the same to this girl.
I move to forestall whatever is about to happen, holding Jimi’s chest and begging him to calm down. The other folks at the bar had paused their drinking and dancing in anticipation of what they assumed was going to happen next. Linda doesn’t look sorry; in fact she seemed defiant, as though she was waiting for me to do something, like beat her up or allow Jimi to deal with her. Then maybe from the dark corners of the bar, her pimps would arrive and do a number on me and probably relieve me of my phone and perhaps my money. Maybe this was her end game from the beginning. I knew better. Besides, the alcohol was already kicking in. I ask Jimi to take me home.