Today is my 10th day of sobriety.
A post script to my ‘bar stories’ in yesterday’s blog.
I returned to my regular pub, quite late last night for a bite to eat. Lek – the lesbian – who had puked her guts out the night before and whose new boyfriend had departed in deep sorrow, was now back behind the bar, fully recovered and looking very pretty.
The boyfriend was also back and the two of them were playing ‘lovey-dovey ‘with each other across the bar. Presumably the troubles of the previous evening had been resolved.
I was too far away from them to overhear what was being said, but suddenly, after half an hour the boyfriend angrily asked for his bill and shouted he was leaving and would never, ever return. Lek leaned across the bar, held his hands and tried to placate him. He duly paid the bill, but by this time Lek had seemingly succeeded in calming him down and he ordered another beer.
It wasn’t to last long. Whatever the argument was about, it exploded again and the boyfriend started shouting at Lek who walked away. I didn’t know what the argument was about but I could hear him accusing her of lying. Surprise surpise!
He ordered more beers and then started talking to Lek’s friends who also worked behind the bar, and he was obviously expressing his anger and I could hear him accusing them of “knowing” and of Lek lying to him.
The result of all this was that Lek bought herself a bottle of beer and started drinking in earnest. Then she actually smiled and spoke to me, Mobi for the first time since we had fallen out. Then she smiled at some of the other men at the bar and within a few minutes was sitting on the other side of the bar next to a customer who was plying her with drinks.
The boy friend was drowning his sorrows at the other end of the bar.
It was time for me to leave. I wonder what it was all about?
I could guess.
AZZY – MY LOVE (Part 2)
In moments of extreme danger, it is amazing how the adrenalin kicks in and fear seems to vanish. I suppose it’s the brain’s self preservation mechanism that goes into overdrive when your life is threatened.
On this particular occasion I don’t recall being terrified or ‘shitting myself’, even though at any moment I was half expecting a bullet in the back of my head.
In fact I think I remained quite calm while I tried to assess the chances of making a run for it. The dense jungle was only a few yards away, and I could hear the soldiers and the taxi driver shouting at each other.
I speculated whether the unseen mob behind me was more interested in arguing than watching what I was up to, but before I could come to a decision, I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder and was whisked around to face them.
It was the taxi driver. He said:
“Mister, you got any pounds?”
“I wanna pounds. Dey need de dash!” he said, pointing at the soldiers a few feet away.
I was to learn later that “dash’ was Nigerian slang for a bribe but even though I didn’t understand the word, I realised he was asking for money and took my wallet out from my back pocket and started to remove some crisp English five pound notes.
“No! No! Nigerian Pounds.”
He grabbed my wallet and started rifling through it when one of the soldiers came up behind him flourishing his rifle and took the wallet from his hands. They started arguing and I thought there was going to be a fight when, what I assumed to be an officer, approached the squabbling pair.
He shouted at the two men and the wallet once more changed hands. He rifled through my English money to see how much was there, before dropping the wallet into his tunic pocket.
Then he shouted at the men and they scrambled around, throwing my belongings back into my bags and loading them back into the boot of the jalopy. The taxi driver beckoned for me to get back into the vehicle and I wasted no time in accepting his invitation.
A few minutes later I was on my way once again towards downtown Lagos. I was fifty pounds the lighter, which was a lot of money in those far off days, but I didn’t care; I was miraculously still in one piece.
We hit the main city an hour later. The traffic was manic, the roads were a mass of potholes and the sidewalks were seething with the local populace dressed in all manner of colourful traditional African garb, women with food and other produce piled high on their heads , impoverished sidewalk vendors and so on, all going about their daily business.
The most noticeable thing of all though was the music. The sound of drums and West African popular music was everywhere – blasting out from everywhere; from tiny transistor radios, from rusty speakers in shop doorways and from God knows what else. There was even the odd live musician, banging away on colourful local, bongo-style drums.
During my three years in Nigeria, I never came across a single place where there wasn’t music playing, people smiling and frequently dancing. You could never be free of it – music permeated the very fabric of society. Music and rhythm is truly the lifeblood of the African.
I had put my total confidence in this taxi to deliver me to the correct destination. Had I been in Nigeria even a few days I would have been horrified at putting such a trust in someone I had never met and who operated an ‘illegal’ taxi service from Lagos airport.
However, as the saying goes, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” and my foolish trust held good, for at long last we drew up at a tall office building in the centre of Bangkok.
The driver alighted and had a verbal exchange with a man sitting outside the building, and then the two of them unloaded my bags and the driver herded me and my bags into the lift. The driver, the guy downstairs and me with all my bags squeezed into the lift and up we went to the sixth floor.
Although I didn’t know it quite yet, there to unexpectedly greet me was the general manager of my company – my big boss. He had been waiting for the lift and was about to get in when the driver mentioned my company’s name to him.
He turned to me.
“Yes”, I replied with a fleeting smile.
“My God! How did you get here? Where’s Steve?” he asked, referring to my immediate new boss – the expatriate financial controller.
“By the way, I’m Gerry Robins.”
I hadn’t met either Gerry or Steve before, but breathed a small sigh of relief that I had finally made contact and at long last had arrived in one piece at my new place of work.
“I don’t know where Steve is. He wasn’t at the airport to meet me so this guy drove me here in his taxi.”
“Jeez! You were lucky he didn’t take you into the jungle and rob and kill you. Come in and take a seat.”
He escorted me to his office where a beautiful, statuesque lady dressed in exquisite local African dress was already seated. She rose.
“This is Miss Femi our personnel manager,” Gerry said.
Femi was absolutely stunning and her traditional costume was draped around her slim body in the most sensuous manner. I was almost too overwhelmed and shy to say anything, but I stuttered a ‘hello’ and Femi graciously gave me a lovely welcoming smile in return.
Gerry told Miss Femi to deal with the taxi driver and sat down opposite me to officially welcome me to the Nigerian operations.
We had been chatting for a few minutes and I was relating my experiences at the road block and the loss of my wallet when the door burst open and a large western man strode in, looking extremely flustered.
It was Steve.
“Mobi! Mobi! It’s you! You are here?”
“Yes, Steve, Mobi is here,” said Gerry, “Where the hell were you? Mobi could have been robbed and killed.”
“But he was due in at ten o’clock. I was there in plenty of time but there was no sign of him, so I came back to the office to find out if he had been delayed in London.”
I had arrived at seven that morning and told him so.
There had clearly been some confusion about my arrival times, and Steve, like Gerry before him, told me how lucky I was to have arrived at the office in one piece.
Although my employer had a long established residence in Nigeria, the general public would have had little knowledge of the company or where it was located. It was a minor miracle that not only was my taxi driver basically honest, but that he knew where to take me.
My arrival in Lagos and thence to the downtown office became legend amongst the expats in the smoky bars of Lagos.
Later that day, Steve drove me to The Federal Palace Hotel, located on a nearby residential suburb of Lagos, and which was to be my home for several months.
The Federal Palace Hotel was the only hotel for tse with money to stay at. Built during the later stages of the British colonial era, it was luxurious and palatial, with large spacious gardens, leading down to the nearby lagoon, and which also hosted a popular, outdoor bar.
It was a Friday and I had the weekend to settle into my new life in Nigeria. Steve picked me up again that evening to take me to his nearby home where his wife had prepared a ‘welcome’ dinner for me.
I was twenty three years old, an although I had already had a few adventures in New York and Canada, I was still pretty ‘green under the gills’ as far as expatriate life was concerned in a ‘third world’, tropical country.
In those early days, I was all alone, and I well recall my first weekend in Nigeria.
On Saturday night, I found myself in the main reception/lounge area to have a few beers. When I first sat down it was early and the place was almost deserted, but before long the Nigerian Police band arrived to set up their instruments and entertain us. Within a short while local dignitaries gathered for an evening out to wine, dine and dance the night away.
It was a typical, immediately-post colonial social occasion. Class barriers no longer existed and there was an interesting and diverse cross section of Nigerian society who assembled at the Federal Palace for that and every Saturday night. There were ageing colonial expats in their best bib and tuckers, younger guys in safaris suits and more casual clothes; wealthy Nigerians in either stuffy western attire or traditional African dress; and last but not least a small collection of beautiful, apparently single girls who sauntered in during the evening wearing figure hugging, revealing outfits, and took their place at the long bar.
I had no idea that they were prostitutes. I had never come across any before so how could I know? I just sat alone at my table and stared at them. I was fascinated and lustful. My hormones were raging, but I would be terrified to go within ten feet of any of them.
The police band struck up. It was part excruciating and part intoxicating. They were all a little out of tune, and slightly out of step with each other, but there was a raw, exciting ‘African-ness’ about their musicianship that seemed to rise above their individual musical shortcomings.
By the time the assembled diners had consumed a few large bottles of local beer, the music was sounding better and better and they started to trip out onto the dance floor and make merry.
There were a few late arrivals; young western men in khakis who made their way to the bar and sat down next to the girls.
In my naivety, I assumed the girls had been waiting for their dates, but something about the way they behaved and danced made me wonder. When I noticed that at least two of the girls had changed partners since the men had arrived, the penny started to drop and I realised that they must be ‘ladies of the night.’ My excitement increased.
I wasn’t a virgin – but not far off, and I was certainly a virgin as far as prostitutes were concerned.
I was far too shy to go anywhere near the bar, and later when the beer had done it’s work I called it a night and went back to my hotel room all alone and somewhat titillated about what I had seen that night.
The next day was Sunday, and I was yet to discover the drunken fellowship that awaited me at the outside, garden bar.
I spent the day alone, and in the evening, as there seemed to be nothing much happening in the main bar, I explored some other areas of the hotel and came across the casino complex.
It was quite late, but the casino was in full swing. I wasn’t a gambler, and knew nothing about gambling or roulette wheels, but watched the action for a while, before retiring to the casino bar which was empty.
I noticed that there were a couple of well dressed, lovely ladies sitting with customers, and after a while, one of them got up from the man she was sitting with and came to bar and sat down next to me.
She wasn’t a youngster but she had a beautiful face and a generous, well rounded figure and was wearing a tight fitting, expensive looking evening dress.
She kept looking me over and after a few minutes she smiled and started speaking to me.
I was terrified, but she was an accomplished lady and it wasn’t long before she put me at my ease and I started chatting freely to her. Her name was Bisi.
I told Bisi that I had only just arrived in Lagos and worked for an oil company.
That seemed to be enough for her, and within a short while she was asking me to take her to my room.
My timidity returned and I began to sweat telling her that it wouldn’t be convenient as I had to get up early; but she would have none of it, and my shyness once again dissolved as pure lust replaced it.
I was acutely embarrassed when we had to go to the lobby and sign my lady in for the night. The receptionist informed me that my company bill would be charged for a ‘double’ fee for the night and I was alarmed at what my new boss would think when he saw the bill.
Once in my room the shyness returned, but Bisi turned out to be a consummate professional, and she led me tenderly and expertly through the excitement of a very enjoyable sexual experience.
She stayed the night and in the morning I paid for my first ever prostitute, the first of hundreds, quite possibly thousands, over the next forty years.
Before she left she asked me what company I worked for. I told her and she asked:
“Oh, so you must know Gerry?”
“Gerry? Gerry Robbins, the general Manger?” I said.
“Yes, Gerry – so do you know him?”
“Gerry is my boyfriend. I usually see him every night, but yesterday he couldn’t come so I decided to go with you. So you are one of Gerry’s boys. How interesting!”