MOBI’S AFRICAN ODYSSEY – THE FIRST 8 CHAPTERS

 

Mobi’s African Odyssey is a 128,000-word novel, of 576 pages, (based on the print version). It is written in three parts with a total of 68 easy to read, ‘bite-sized’ chapters to suit the busy lives of today’s modern readers.

Read below the first eight chapters of the novel.

 

PART ONE
1 Chaste Beginnings

It was the swinging sixties – the age of the miniskirt, the birth pill, and free love.

But the best of times for so many was still the worst of times for me.

This incredible decade of sexual liberation was passing me by. My overbearing and controlling father had made my teenage years lonely and utterly miserable. He had turned me into an introverted adolescent, totally lacking in self-esteem.

I was twenty-one, but I was on a different planet to the liberated generation with whom I lived and worked. I still hadn’t experienced a proper relationship with the opposite sex. In fact, I was convinced that women could sense – quite possibly smell – the fear on me. To my chagrin, I was still a virgin.

Then Mardie entered my life.

Everybody was wild about Mardie. Not only did she exude sex, but she also had a winning smile together with an outgoing, vivacious personality that seemed to cast a spell over all who met her.

No one was more mesmerized than me – Mobi. From the very first day that she walked into my office in London’s West End, her cute face, her olive-skinned complexion, her perfectly proportioned petite figure, and her alluring micro-skirted thighs sent shivers of lecherous desire through my pathetic, virginal body.

I had the biggest surprise of my sheltered life when it became clear that my very shyness was obviously a turn-on for the new ‘temp’ secretary from New Mexico, U.S. of A. For some crazy reason, she was totally charmed by my reserved English manners, and even better, my fellow-workers’ crude chat-up lines were treated with the disdain they deserved.

I was ecstatic and terrified in equal measure when, within a week of her arrival, she suggested the two of us go out for a drink after work.

It was the summer of 1968, and the unpredictable English weather smiled down on two chaste lovers. We went everywhere together – riverside pubs, West End shows, parties with friends, and even long weekends in the West Country and other parts of ‘Merrie England’. Mardie was my first real girlfriend and every time I set eyes on her, my heart raced and my hormones raged.

On the rare occasions when I wasn’t with her, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Her deep brown eyes, her perky little breasts, her flat stomach, her cute little backside and her gorgeous legs stayed with me, even in my dreams. My infatuation knew no bounds. We worked together and we spent most of our spare time together.

Mardie was the first girl I had ever kissed in a sexual manner. As soon as she touched the inside of my mouth with her tongue, she sent me into paroxysms of pleasure. Sometimes, when we were alone in her flat, she allowed me to fondle her breasts, and she would run her gentle fingers across my stomach and thighs.

But that was as far as it ever went. She was a practicing Catholic and although the birth control pill was widely available, she wanted no part of it.

“No, Mobi, I want to save myself for my husband.”

“But… Mardie… the world has changed… nobody stays a virgin till they get married anymore. We’re all sexually liberated.”

She looked at me with that slightly amused smile that I can still recall to this day.

“We are, are we? Well, I’m not. Why don’t you go and find one of those liberated girls, if you’re so desperate for sex?”

I felt cheated. An entire generation was having all the sex they wanted, and I was going out with the only woman in London who insisted on an unconsummated relationship.

Autumn arrived and the sun gave way to black clouds, rain and dark afternoons. My virtuous summer of romance came to an end when one day in early October, Mardie announced she was returning to New York. In one brief sentence, she shattered all my hopes and dreams. I wanted to curl up and die.

But I was determined not to give up on my first and only love. By January, I had saved enough money to buy an air ticket and I flew to New York to see her. It was an exciting experience for me – my first trip abroad and my first time on a jet plane. Mardie let me stay at her apartment in Queens; but I had to sleep on the floor of her tiny laundry room, which was squeezed between her bedroom and bathroom.

Sex was still a total no-no, and even our heavy kissing sessions that I had enjoyed so much in London, were severely curtailed. She shared the bedroom with her flatmate, Sally, who was also a Catholic – and another virgin. Sally’s all-pervading presence in the small flat was sheer torture.

Silly arguments that had plagued our last days together in London soon resurfaced and we were forever upsetting each other. Foolishly, I refused to see that my inability to behave in a mature manner was at the root of our problems. I reasoned that it was the long periods we were apart and my solution was to move to the USA.

Two months later, I was back in New York for good – to start a new life and to win Mardie as my bride.

It started to go wrong on the very first night when I flew into JFK and she didn’t come to meet me. We eventually met up later that night, and she told me that Sally, her flatmate, objected to me staying with them. Again, I wondered why in this age of free love, it was my bad luck to meet two women who were so determined to turn the sexual liberation clock back a decade or two.

Yet more problems lay ahead.  It soon became apparent that there wasn’t a chance in hell of me obtaining the elusive ‘green card’- so necessary for foreigners who wanted to live and work in America. The only way was to marry a US citizen.

I considered my options. Go back to England, work illegally in New York, or try my luck across the border in Canada.

Montreal was only a nine-hour bus ride away and if all went well, Mardie and I could spend weekends and holidays together. Later, she might move to Montreal and marry me. And then… we could move back to America…

But things continued to go against me. I was arrested at the Canadian border on suspicion of being a ‘draft dodger’, as I had little money, nowhere to live and no job. When that little confusion was finally cleared up, the Canadian immigration officer put a large red stamp in my passport which prohibited me from taking up employment.

My luck finally changed when quite by chance I met a human rights lawyer who appealed my immigrant status to the authorities. Two weeks later I was offered, and accepted, an accounting job in Montreal City.

It was time to set down roots. I signed a one-year lease on a nice little downtown studio apartment and tried to call Mardie to give her the good news. But she was never home. Every time I called – no matter how late – it was always Sally who answered the phone.

“Sorry, Mobi – Mardie’s not home right now,” was the usual response.

“Where is she?”

“Sorry… I don’t know…”

Was she out with another man? Thoughts like this were torturing me.

In desperation, I took the overnight bus to New York and went directly to her apartment in Queens to confront her. Sally was home, but there was no sign of Mardie.

“Where’s Mardie?”

“She’s gone away.”

“Where’s she gone? Can I call her? I have something important to tell her. I had a…er…terrible time…when I first went to Canada – I was arrested at the border …and …then immigration wouldn’t let me work. But I’ve sorted all that out now and everything’s good. I’ve got a home and a job – just like she told me to do. I must tell her!”

I was close to hysteria.

“Mobi, calm down; Mardie has gone away, but you can’t call her – I don’t have a contact number.”

“When’s she coming back?”

There was a long silence, and then finally:

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“Mardie’s not well, she’s gone away to relax and get better. She’s been under a lot of stress at work… and with all her personal problems… with…”

“Me?” I suggested.

“Yes, Mobi, with you.”

“But why? What problems has she had with me? What have I done to make her ill?”

“Listen to me, Mobi. Mardie likes you. She likes you a lot, and she thinks you are very nice, very clever and very kind.”

I remained silent, staring at the floor.

“But she doesn’t love you. She feels so bad that you came to New York to be with her. And then you moved to Canada – and had those problems with immigration. Mardie feels terrible. She thinks it’s all her fault and blames herself for not telling you the truth, months ago – that she doesn’t love you and not to come to America. She almost had a breakdown.”

“I’m so sorry… I didn’t know.”

“No, you didn’t know. You should have realized what was going on, but you are young… and very naïve…”

“So, what should I do now?”

“Do?”

“Yes, should I – can I – maybe …wait until she gets better and comes back to New York? And… if she is better, maybe I could call her…could I?”

“Mobi – you’re still not listening. Mardie doesn’t love you.”

“So…so… You mean Mardie doesn’t want to see me again – ever?” I croaked, barely able to get the words out.

“Yes, that is what I am telling you.”

“Never?”

“No! Never! Go back to Montreal and get on with your life. You’ll soon get over it and find a new girlfriend. You’re young, clever and ambitious – and you don’t look too bad,” she added as an after-thought. “Don’t worry, in a few months you will forget that Mardie ever existed.”

She was right – I did forget Mardie, but not in Montreal…

2 Baptism of Fire

August 1969

I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane. I was too excited. 

The flight had been smooth and uneventful, but concerns about my new job and constant distractions from the pretty stewardesses hurrying up and down the aisle in their short tartan skirts had kept me wide-awake throughout the journey. Although I was now a proud veteran of some eight flights, I still felt rather tense as the VC 10 made its final descent into Lagos. We bounced three times, and for a few nail-biting seconds, I wondered if the pilot would ever get the landed aircraft under control.

When we finally came to a stop, I quickly deplaned down a rusty gantry onto a wide expanse of oil-stained gray tarmac. The runway had clearly seen better days. There were nasty-looking pits and cracks in the concrete surface – obviously the reason for our bumpy landing. Considering there was a war going on, it was hardly surprising.

I trudged from the plane to the ramshackle airport building, some hundred yards away, and soon found more than a badly pitted runway to challenge my pampered sensibilities.

It was only a couple of months since I had experienced a similar shock to the system when I had flown into Abu Dhabi Airport. The Arab air terminal had been little more than a tin shack in the middle of the desert, with temperatures hovering at forty degrees in incredibly high humidity. My whole body had been drenched in sweat before I was half way down the steps from the plane.

But not even that sweat box could have prepared me for the wild, crazy, chaos that reigned inside Lagos International Airport terminal. The ramshackle building was teeming with a sprawling mass of unwashed humanity. I had never seen so many black people crowded together in one place in my entire life.

The hot, stinking terminal was full of people shouting at each other – in barely comprehensible ‘pidgin’ English or in one of their myriad tribal dialects. Adding to the general air of pandemonium were the dozens of khaki-clad Nigerian military, with rifles slung over their shoulders, and vicious looking handguns in their belts. The huge, sweating soldiers looked extremely menacing.

A whiff of panic enveloped me when I couldn’t spot any representatives of my employer on hand to meet me. Then I foolishly realized that I still had to go through immigration and baggage check. I was pushed and hustled from one military official to another, and at each desk, I was interrogated in barely intelligible English. It was like running the gauntlet.

“Passport!”

“Why you come to Nigeria?”

“How long you stay here?”

Each time, I had to show my passport and the other papers I was carrying with me, before being moved along to the next angry-looking officer.

At length, my passport was stamped and I passed through to the baggage collection area. I had come for a two-year stay and had a lot of luggage with me. After a long wait, my motley collection of suitcases and bags emerged on a trolley pulled by two half-naked youths who looked more like prisoners than workers. They unceremoniously spilled my worldly possessions out onto the concrete floor.

The customs inspection was even worse than the immigration process.

“Open de bag!”

“Which one?”

“All of dem!”

My bags were examined with rough fingers, feeling, pulling and stretching every item of clothing. Quite what they were looking for, I had no idea, but the country was at war with itself, so maybe they thought I was a spy trying to smuggle weapons into their country.

It would have taken a massive stretch of the imagination to believe that a skinny bespectacled, twenty-three-year-old English accountant could possibly be some kind of enemy agent; but I wasn’t about to argue with them.

The rummaging finally came to an end and my things were stuffed roughly back into my bags and my passport was stamped to show I had been through customs inspection. At long last, I was able to maneuver my bags into the public area, only to find yet another heaving multitude, all shouting and screaming at each other.

I looked around desperately for a friendly white face – I was told that my new boss, Steve, would be there to meet me. But there was no sign of anyone who might conceivably be from my company – black or white. An hour went by and still nobody.

When I had flown into Abu Dhabi a few months ago for a short assignment, everything had proceeded without a hitch. I had been met as soon as I emerged from customs by a friendly, English-speaking Arab, who had taken excellent care of me. As a consequence, I had placed my total trust in Santa Cruz’s reputation for efficiency – but now I was stranded, like a fool.

 What the fuck do I do now? I don’t even have a phone number.

I looked across at a young Nigerian man who had been standing near me in the arrivals area for quite a while. He looked back at me, so I smiled and he responded by walking over to talk to me.

“Excuse me, sir! You be waiting for someone?”

He had a friendly face and it seemed like he genuinely wanted help.

“Erm… yes… I was supposed to be met, but I don’t know what’s happened. I’ve been here over an hour, and I’m… I’m not sure if anyone’s coming. Maybe they’ve forgotten about me.”

“I help you get de taxi. Where you wanna go?”

“I’m… I’m not sure,” I said, foolishly.

“You no have address?”

“The name of the company is Santa Cruz Oil – have you heard of them?” I asked without much hope.

He looked at me blankly. I pulled out a paper that was tucked in my flight bag with my passport and handed it to him.

“Santa Cruz Oil, Yakubu Gowon Street, Lagos.” he read back to me.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Yakubu Gowon be very long street.”

He walked over to a group of men who were standing in a huddle.

“Any you boys know de company, Santa Cruz, on Yakubu Gowon?” he asked as he handed the paper around.

One of them looked towards me and nodded.

“You sure?” my new friend asked.

“Yeah – I know de Santa Cruz.”

My newfound friend brought the driver over to where I was standing with my bags.

“Okay, mister – he know Santa Cruz – he tek you dere.”

Things started to happen very quickly. I didn’t have a chance to ask them anything –like how much, or how long it would take? I didn’t have any Nigerian currency and was worried they would demand payment up front. But they didn’t even quote me a price as they hustled me outside the terminal building and hurriedly loaded my bags – some in the trunk and the remainder onto the back seat of an ancient black automobile.

As I was shown to the front passenger seat, it suddenly occurred to me that these rough-looking men might be criminals.

They might take me into the jungle, rob me… and… kill me!

A cold shiver of sweat broke out on my back.

We hadn’t driven more than half a mile along the potholed, single-track road when we came to a halt at a military roadblock, where we were immediately surrounded by armed soldiers.

“You! Oyinbo! Get out! Get out de car!” they screamed at me.

They body-searched me, took my passport, and then turned their attention to my driver.

“Tek out de bags,” they shouted at him.

The soldiers opened them and emptied the contents all over the road.

“But… but… I’ve already been searched at the airport!” I protested, “Look at the customs stamp in my passport.”

They ignored my pleas and one of them shouted at me: “You! Come wid me!”

He escorted me to an area just off the road, where he ordered me to stand with my back to the road.

Oh my God! Is this going to be the shortest overseas assignment in the history of expatriate service?

It would be easy to say that I remained remarkably calm when faced with the prospect of being shot in the back, but in truth, I was frozen to the spot in terror. Whatever I felt, I gave no outward signs of panic and even assessed my chances of making a run for it. I could hear the soldiers and the taxi driver arguing with each other – they sounded more interested in squabbling over my luggage than watching what I might be up to.

The jungle’s only a few yards away. This might be my one and only chance to make a run for it. Can I do it? Have I got the guts?

I didn’t come up with an answer as just then, I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. It was the taxi driver:

“Mister, you got any pounds?”

“What?”

“I wanna pounds. Sojas need de dash!”

I turned around to look at the soldiers a few feet away.

I had never heard the word ‘dash’ before, but it was obvious that they wanted money. I smiled, relieved that my life was being spared – for now anyway.  I pulled my wallet out from my back pocket and removed a few crisp English five-pound notes.

“No! No! Nigerian pounds.”

He grabbed my wallet and started rifling through it. One of the armed soldiers came up behind him and snatched the wallet out of his hands. They started arguing and it looked like another fight was brewing when an army officer approached the squabbling pair. The officer shouted something at the soldier and the wallet changed hands yet again. He rifled through my English money to see how much was there, and then calmly dropped the wallet into his tunic breast pocket.

That’s it; they’ve got my money, what next? Are they going to shoot me?

The officer shouted at his men and they rushed over to my belongings and stuffed all the clothes back inside the bags and put them back into the taxi. The driver beckoned furiously at me to get back in the vehicle.

I was on my way once again – fifty pounds the poorer but by some miracle, I was still in one piece.

Some forty minutes later we joined the main city highway. The two-lane road was full of potholes, some so large and deep they could swallow a child, and in places the road surface had completely disintegrated, leaving just earth and stones.

The traffic was horrendous. In either direction, there were vividly painted trucks, tumble down buses, and ancient cars – all maniacally fighting for road space. Some vehicles were even facing the wrong way and others were continually trying to cut into the slow moving lines from the sidewalks. It was a scene of utter mayhem.  

As my driver edged onto the main highway, we suddenly hit a huge pothole. The ancient boneshaker bounced so violently that I hit my head on the roof.

“Shit that was painful!” I shouted, but my driver just smiled. He continued to inch his way down the highway, forcing his way through the tangle of vehicles ahead, and playing deadly games with rickety trucks, ten times larger than his car.

Along the roadside, the unpaved sidewalks were teeming with locals dressed in a variety of colorful clothing. Women of all shapes and sizes had food produce piled high on their heads, and scrawny children with distended bellies sold their wares through open car windows. Other kids in were in school uniforms, with textbooks balanced on their heads. In amongst this roadside humanity was what looked like a mishmash of beggars, thieves, and vagabonds – all no doubt desperate to find money for their next meal.

I wondered how much of this overt poverty and disarray was the result of the civil war, or whether it was just the normal state of affairs in a third world country like Nigeria.

Many of the beggars were shouting, pushing and shoving each other in a desperate attempt to catch a driver’s attention. Every time we ground to a halt, a few desperate kids even tried to force their wares through my open window. When they jumped in between the accelerating vehicles, time and again I feared that one of the kids was a goner. Thankfully, at the last possible moment, the driver swerved to avoid certain death.

But above all, it was the music that left the greatest impression on my western senses on that very first day in Africa. The sound of African drums and African songs were everywhere – blasting out from every imaginable source. Transistor radios vied with record players, cassette players, and battered speakers in shop doorways. Music also blared out from vehicles stuck in the traffic jams, and there was even the odd street musician, singing and banging away on colorful bongos or congas. Sometimes the cacophony was so deafening that I had to put my hands over my ears to muffle the mind-numbing noise.

There was also the laughter – the uninhibited smiles and laughter. Many of the people we passed on the roadside, especially the children, were laughing and smiling, and a few were even dancing.

My first drive through traffic-infested downtown Lagos was truly a baptism of fire. After barely half a day in this fascinating country, I could see that music, dance, African rhythms and a sheer unrestrained joy of life permeated the very fabric of Nigerian society. It was a million miles away from my home in depressing, post-war east London.

I guessed we were finally entering the downtown area when we started passing a few high rise buildings. This was soon confirmed when we drew up outside a tall office building. The driver got out and chatted at length with a man sitting in a small hut outside the building.

He must have decided we were in the right place, as the two of them walked back to the car, unloaded my bags, and led me to the building entrance. We crossed the ground floor, into a waiting lift, and up to the sixth floor. The lift door opened and a large crowd of waiting passengers reluctantly moved to one side to allow my two escorts enough room to dump my luggage onto the lobby floor. 

Where the hell am I? Is this the right place?

The waiting passengers – all Africans – piled into the lift and the doors closed behind them. My two companions smiled at me, but there were no signs to reassure me that I was standing outside the offices of my new employer. In fact, I was all alone with two very large Nigerian gentlemen. A shudder of fear went through me and I broke out into yet another cold sweat.

Maybe they’ve led me into a trap…

3    The Federal Palace

I had allowed myself to be taken from Lagos airport by a dubious looking taxi driver, and taken to some nefarious den in the heart of the city. I was just starting to think I was the biggest idiot ever when a door opened opposite the lift, and a short, stocky white man entered the lobby. Rightly or wrongly I suddenly felt safer.

Hopefully, they guys won’t attempt anything a white stranger present.  

But my relief was short-lived as the man walked over and pressed the lift button to go down. Then he about turned, looked hard at me, then at my bags and finally at my two Nigerian escorts. Then back to me again whereupon he broke into a big smile.

“Mobi?”

“Yes”, I replied, with a brief, hesitant smile.

“My God! How did you get here? Where’s Steve?” he asked.

“I wish I knew. He wasn’t at the airport to meet me, so this guy drove me here in his taxi. Have we come to the right place? Who are you?”

“I’m Fred Robins,” he said, holding out his hand.

He was Santa Cruz’s General Manager. I could hardly believe it; against all the odds I had actually arrived at the correct destination.

“Jeez! Mobi, you’re damn lucky you weren’t taken into the jungle and robbed and killed,” he whispered, echoing my own thoughts of only a short while ago.” Come on in and take a seat.”

I followed Fred into his office, leaving the two Nigerians standing with my bags next to the lift. As I walked in, a tall majestic lady who was seated on the sofa rose to greet me.

“This is Miss Femi, our Personnel Manager,” Fred said, “give her your passport and she’ll take care of the immigration formalities.”

I did as I was told, and stared at the lovely creature standing in front of me. She was definitely a stunner. She was wearing a brightly colored traditional African costume that was wrapped snugly around her slim body, accentuating her svelte figure. I was too overawed and shy to say much, so I stuttered a ‘hello’ and Femi graciously gave me a warm smile in return. Fred sat opposite me and spoke to the lovely vision.

“Femi, could you deal with those two men outside and pay them off, please?”

My eyes remained glued to her as she left the office.

“Mobi, allow me to officially welcome you to Santa Cruz’s Nigerian operations,” Fred said, rather loudly.

I quickly turned back to face him. “What? Oh, yes, sorry Fred.”

“Now I’ve got your attention…I can’t imagine how you managed to arrive here in one piece, and I’m even more puzzled over what the heck’s happened to Steve. He was supposed to pick you up.”

“I can assure you he wasn’t there; I must have waited for more than an hour, right in the middle of the arrivals area.”

We chatted on for a few minutes and I related my adventures on the road.

“We were held up at a road block, just down the road from the airport. An army officer took my wallet with fifty pounds in it…”

Suddenly, the door burst open and a tall, well-built Caucasian man strode in, looking extremely flustered.

“Mobi! Mobi! It’s you.  You’re here!”

“Yes, Steve, Mobi is here,” said Fred, “Where the hell were you? Mobi could have been robbed and killed.”

“I was robbed…” I interjected.

“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’d been delayed in London.”

“The plane landed at seven forty-five. There seems to be some confusion about my arrival time.”

Steve looked a little embarrassed. “Yeah, I guess so. My God, Mobi, You don’t know how lucky you are to find a taxi driver who knew the way.”

“So Fred’s been telling me. But I thought Santa Cruz was a big company out here? Surely the taxi drivers would have heard of it?”

“We’ve been in Nigeria for quite a few years,” Steve said, “but not many people know us in Lagos. We work for the oil companies – Shell and Nigeria Petroleum, they’re the names that most people are familiar with. We’re pretty well-known in Port Harcourt and Warri – but here, in Lagos, we only have a small admin office.”

“So, let me get this straight. Finding a taxi driver who had not only heard of Santa Cruz but actually delivered me here in one piece is a minor miracle?”

“Yes, Mobi, you could certainly say that. Maybe it’s a good omen – you’re gonna need a few minor miracles to survive in this God forsaken place.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Steve got up. “You’ll soon find out. Come on, I’ll show you around, and then we’ll adjourn to my office and I’ll fill you in on this goddamned civil war.”

 

***

 

I had been briefed on the state of the Nigerian civil war when I first flew back to London from Montreal a couple of months ago. There were many times during those first days back when I wondered if I had done the right thing. I had abandoned my new life and job in Canada for a job in uncivilized, war-torn Africa. And when I discovered that the rebel Biafran forces had advanced to less than a hundred miles from Lagos before they were eventually pushed back, I wondered if I might have made a grave mistake.

My future life and career might have followed a totally different path if I had taken up that job in Montreal. Who knows, I might have met a pretty Canadian girl, got married, had kids and spent the rest of my life there.

But it was not to be. Soon after I returned to Montreal following my harrowing conversation with Sally in New York, I received an unexpected call from London. The American voice sounded familiar – but I couldn’t quite place him.

“Who’s that,” I had asked.

“Gee Mobi, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten me already – it’s Chuck – Chuck Ball from Santa Cruz, back in limey land.”

Chuck was the American boss of Santa Cruz’s London operations. I knew him quite well as he had taken me under his wing when I first started work.

“Hi Chuck, how are you? How did you get my phone number?”

“I got it from your pal Jim here – you wrote to him the other day.”

I recalled the ‘bare-all’ letter that I had hastily written to Jim while I was waiting at the Greyhound bus station in New York. At the time, although I had been in an emotional turmoil, I had obviously remembered to include my new Montreal phone number.

“Jim here’s been telling us about all the calamities that have been dogging you across the world. I wanna tell yer, Mobi, we’re all real sorry it didn’t work out with that little girl. Sounds like it’s been quite a bummer.”

“You can say that again. Thanks, Chuck, I really appreciate the call, but I’ve got a new job now so I’m hoping things will work out.”

“Listen, Mobi, the reason I called was to ask if you might be interested in coming back to work for us. Now you’ve … er…got no romantic entanglements, we wondered if there was anything keeping you over there – in Canuck-land?”

My heart jumped. “Are you offering me my job back in London?”

“Hell no! We’ve already replaced you. But we do have an overseas vacancy – out in Africa – Nigeria to be precise. Steve, our Financial Controller in Lagos is screaming out for a new assistant. You interested?”

“Nigeria?” I shouted excitedly. “Nigeria…  I’d love to…Chuck…. but….”

“But what, Mobi?”

“Isn’t Nigeria in the middle of a civil war?”

“There’s no fighting in Lagos – that’s where you’ll be based.”

“That’s a relief.”

The prospect of being mixed up in a war excited me, but then I suddenly realized that it wouldn’t be possible.

“There’s a few problems, Chuck,”

“What are they, Mobi?”

“It’s just that I’m committed to a new job in Montreal, and I’ve just signed a lease on an apartment here. It may be too late.”

“It’s never too late if you want the job.”

“But how can I break the lease? What about my new job? I can’t just up and leave – it wouldn’t be right.”

“Mobi – where there’s a will and all that. If you want the job in Nigeria, just go to Montreal airport and buy a one-way ticket to London – it’s as simple as that.”

“But I haven’t got enough money left to buy a ticket,” I protested.

There was a long silence and for a moment, I thought that he had rung off.

“Look, here’s what we’ll do. You give this job in Nigeria some serious thought; and if you decide you want it, call Susan, my secretary, and we’ll wire the cost of your plane ticket to the FedEx office in Montreal. You go pick up the money, buy the ticket and get your ass back to London – pronto. How you deal with your local commitments – new job, lease and all that jazz, is down to you. You always were a creative guy – think of a way. We’ll hold the job open for seventy-two hours.”

As soon as Chuck had made me that offer of a job in Nigeria I knew I was going to accept. Working in tropical, war-torn Africa suddenly seemed a lot more exciting than working in civilized Montreal. Anyway, I decided that the greater the distance I could put between myself and Mardie, the better.

I called Susan to accept Chuck’s offer and the die was cast. The next morning, I duly collected the promised funds from the downtown FedEx office and bought an air ticket that departed Montreal for London the following day. Then I wrote a letter of apology to my new prospective employer saying that I had changed my mind. I felt bad about it, but what could I do? I had to follow my heart – and it was pointing to Africa.

My biggest problem was my apartment. I had signed a year’s lease and there was no legal way out of it, but I didn’t feel too bad as they had three months of my money paid upfront as a deposit. My only option was to do a ‘moonlight flit’. The building janitor was rarely absent from his little room next to the lifts; so I crept out in the middle of the night, lugging all my possessions – terrified that at any moment he would jump out and stop me from leaving.

When I landed at Heathrow, I hurried directly to Santa Cruz’s London office, still jet-lagged from the overnight flight, only to find that there was a last-minute hitch in my posting to Lagos. In the meantime, would I mind going on a brief assignment to Zubbaya, a distant outpost in the Abu Dhabi desert?

I flew out to the Arabian Gulf the following week, and although it was a short-term assignment, it was one that nobody else wanted to do. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that any place on this planet could be so hot, so humid and so debilitating. I was reliably informed that the ground temperature in the Zubbaya region was around forty-five degrees in the shade; and out in the exposed desert, the midday temperatures could easily exceed fifty degrees.

When this unpleasant task was completed, I returned to the London office for a few weeks before being sent out to the Rotterdam dockyard for another short-term job. I was beginning wonder if my job in Nigeria was ever going to materialize when finally in early August, the green light came through to book my passage.

While I was stuck in London in between these various assignments, thoughts of Mardie were rarely far from my mind. Then, one day, Chuck called me into his office to show me some photographs that had been smuggled out from the war front. They showed details of the extensive damage to Santa Cruz’s equipment in Port Harcourt, along with gruesome images of dead and mutilated bodies. 

“Many of these victims are Santa Cruz’s own employees,” he said. “You sure you still want to go, Mobi. I won’t blame you if you back out – I’ve got plenty more assignments I can send you on.”

“Like that one to Zubbaya, you mean?”

I looked at the photographs again and then back at him. “Chuck, I told Susan back in Montreal that I accepted the assignment – and these pictures aren’t going to change my mind – besides, I’ll be in Lagos, won’t I?”

But the graphic images stayed with me for quite a while. They brought me to the stark realization that I would soon be thrown headlong into a bloody civil war. The only good thing about those horrifying photos was that they finally banished any lingering yearnings for a lost love.

 

***

 

Steve brought me back to the present.

“Port Harcourt was originally part of breakaway Biafra, but it was re-taken by the Federal troops in May last year after some particularly bloody fighting. The town is still close to the war zone, so there’s no way we can go there to check on our property or resume oil exploration.

“But the Mid-West has always remained in government hands,” he continued, “and our Warri operations are still open for business. You’ll be making trips to our base in Warri from time to time,” he added, with a smile.

“How far is Warri?”

“Oh, it’s just a day’s drive. I would have gone myself, but as I have a wife and kids, Fred thought that my new assistant should make these trips.”

Thanks, Fred.

I suppose I should have been alarmed by Steve’s news of journeys outside the safety of Lagos, but I was hardly listening. After a sleepless night on the plane and my recent adventures at the airport, I was suddenly overcome with fatigue. I could hardly keep my eyes open. Steve saw me nodding off and looked at his watch.

“You’re obviously too tired to take in what I’m saying; so I think the best thing is to drop you at your hotel and let you take a nap. Didn’t you sleep on the plane?”

I shook my head.

He gave me a cash advance in local currency and then drove me over to the Federal Palace Hotel on Victoria Island. The hotel was to be my home for the next few months. Built in the latter days of the British colonial era, it was an impressive looking building, and its extensive gardens spread right down to the shore of the Lagos Lagoon. I could just make out the lagoon washing up onto a stony beach as we turned into the hotel entrance.

“The gardens are a popular weekend venue for expats living in Lagos,” Steve told me. “It’s Friday, so you’ll have the whole weekend to settle in before you start work on Monday. You can sign for all your meals, laundry, and soft drinks; but any alcoholic beverages or other ‘extras’ that I find on your bill will be deducted from your salary. Have a good weekend, Mobi, and get some rest. I’ll come by at seven thirty on Monday morning to take you to work. Make sure you’re waiting in reception.”  

With that, he was off, and I was all alone in a strange new world, with two and half days to become acclimatized. I looked around me and realized that I was a rare white face in a sea of black. During my trips to New York, I had seen plenty of black Americans on the sidewalks, in the subways, coffee shops, and restaurants; but pale skins were always in the majority.

Here, in the heart of Africa, I would have to get used to the fact that white Europeans only made up a tiny percentage of the population. Most of the people I would encounter in Nigeria will be black.

I wasn’t a racist, but it still came as a bit of a culture shock and I started to understand what the minority blacks in London must feel like. Hitherto, I had spent my life in a white-dominated society. Would I be able to adapt to this new life so far from home?

4    Vision of Beauty

 

I slept for a couple of hours and woke up feeling ravenous, so I took the lift back down to the lobby to see what food I could find. All the restaurants were closed for the afternoon, so I wandered into the large hotel lobby and was relieved to see the guests being served sandwiches and snacks.

I sat down at an empty table and ordered a club sandwich and a large bottle of Star Beer. It was my first meal and my first beer since arriving in Africa. I looked around at the scattering of mainly white guests spread across the lobby seated at little tables with a veritable army of obsequious, flamboyantly dressed waiters at their beck and call. The staff must have outnumbered the guests by three to one.

I was halfway through my sandwich when a middle-aged Englishman walked over and sat down at my table. He looked very dapper in his razor-creased khaki slacks and a yellow silk shirt topped off with a brilliant blue bowtie. A large handlebar mustache indicated he was probably ex-military.

He beckoned a waiter and ordered a gin and tonic. “Hi, I’m Tom, haven’t seen you around here before. Been here long?”

I felt too embarrassed to admit that this was my first day in Africa. “Oh, I’ve been here a few days…. I don’t remember coming across you either.”

He told me he worked for Shell Oil. “I’m in security,” he said, “I’ve been here for five years.”

“I’m with Santa Cruz.”

“Santa Cruz, eh? I know them well.”

We exchanged pleasantries for a while and then suddenly out of the blue he asked me a strange and disturbing question.

“Mobi, how do you get along with the blacks?”

I looked at him, mystified.

“Do you like them?” he asked, in a soft, low tone.

I wasn’t too sure what to say. Not wishing to put my foot in it, I mumbled… “Well, they’re …all right I suppose; I haven’t been here long enough to have formed an opinion.”

“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough. Lazy bunch of liars and thieves – the lot of them! They’d sell their own grandmothers if they had half a chance.”

“That sounds rather harsh,” I retorted, “surely they can’t all be bad?”

“Can’t they then? Just you wait and see…How about the women? Have you fucked any of them yet?”

I looked at him in astonishment and I knew my face was reddening. “Fucked them? No! Of course I haven’t!”

“You will my friend. Every white man who comes here swears blind they will never touch any woman with a black skin; but before three months are up, they are all screwing the black bitches like proverbial rabbits. It’s disgusting!”

I stared at him, not knowing what to say. It all sounded totally preposterous.

“So if that’s the case, then you must be…er…screwing them yourself.”

“Me! Not a chance. I’m the exception that proves the rule. I would rather be dead than copulate with those ugly, foul-smelling nigger whores!” he said in a raised voice.

His filthy language alarmed me and I looked around to see if anyone at the nearby tables had heard his racist profanities.

“Don’t worry, my boy. Nobody heard me, and even if they did, I don’t give a fig. Now that the ignorant bastards have got independence, we ex-colonials have been told to be careful what we say. But I always say what I think. If they don’t like it, they can take a running jump, I really don’t care.”

I was embarrassed and annoyed by the presence of this vulgar, bigoted man at my table. The only way out of my dilemma was to pay the bill and go, but as I looked for a waiter, he saved me the bother.

“Waiter!” he shouted, “my bill.”

I looked at him in surprise.

“It’s okay; I won’t disturb you any longer. I can see my views aren’t going down very well. But just you wait. Let’s see what you say in six months’ time. Tell me if you still think the niggers’re all right. And don’t forget to keep count on how many whores you’ve screwed. You’ll probably be well into double figures by then….”

With that, he threw his bill and the exact price of his drink at a waiter and stomped off. I hoped I would never run into him again, but realized that I probably would – especially if he was staying in the hotel. Hopefully, there weren’t too many more like him around.

What an unpleasant man! I thought to myself, I don’t believe a word he said.

Every Nigerian I had met so far had been perfectly charming – if a trifle volatile.  Well… except for the soldiers… they were very volatile and not very charming…but I could hardly blame them, after all, they’re in the middle of a war.

I ordered another beer and continued my ‘people-watching’ as the tables in the lobby started to fill up. The sun was setting through the large windows and it wasn’t long before the sub-tropical night descended over Lagos. By this time, I had drunk four large bottles of beer and was feeling a little drunk.  My eyes drifted to the far end of the lobby where there was a dance floor. To the right of the floor was a long bar that ran along the lobby wall, with more than a dozen empty barstools. A solitary barman was polishing the glasses, waiting for his first customer.

It had just turned seven o’clock when a group of blue-shirted policemen arrived, carrying an assortment of musical instruments. Much coming and going followed as they plugged in their amplifiers and set up the instruments on a dais at the far end of the dance floor.

Great stuff! We’re about to be entertained.

The band was composed of an eclectic combination of electric guitars, brass and woodwind instruments, a western drum kit along with bongos and other African percussion instruments. A soon as everyone was in position, they struck up their first number. I was immediately hooked.

There was something raw and spontaneous about their playing that seemed to make the music rise above the individual shortcomings. What they lacked in musicianship, they more than made up for in their enthusiasm and sheer zest for the music. There was no denying the heavy African rhythms that filled the air, and despite the technical flaws, the music was captivating. At least, it was to the swelling crowd of lobby customers – many of whom were already tapping their feet.

The lobby was rapidly filling up. Race barriers no longer existed and a diverse cross section of Nigerian society was assembling at the Federal Palace for their Friday night entertainment. There were aging colonial expats in their best bib and tuckers, younger westerners in safaris suits or smart slacks with long-sleeved shirts; and also a good number of Nigerians, either in stuffy western suits or traditional African dress.

Then to my surprise, a few mixed couples sauntered in and took their place at the long bar. Young Nigerian girls arrived hand in hand with white, expatriate men of various ages. This was the first time in my life that I had seen a mixed race couple and I was totally enthralled. The overt sexuality of the women was electrifying. Some of them wore body-hugging, flared trousers which showed off their shapely legs and captivating derrieres and others wore tight-fitting mini dresses that immediately set my pulse racing.

I was struck by one girl in particular. She was in a sheer white mini-dress which accentuated her velvet-black skin. She was perched on a barstool, revealing one of the greatest pair of legs I had ever seen. Her white companion was a tall, very thin, average-looking man – probably in his mid-twenties.

How on earth can a man like that have such a gorgeous woman as his girlfriend? Is she his wife?

She was about five feet six inches tall, slim, with a great figure, and her face looked as though it had been sculpted by Michael Angelo himself. Her deeply chiseled features were classically African. She was truly an amazing sight to a virginal lad from East London.

The dance floor started to fill up with middle-aged African couples, all wiggling their broad hips to the hypnotic rhythms. It was absorbing enough to watch, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the girl at the bar. Then her partner led her onto the floor.

I had a ringside view. Everything I had imagined from a distance was more than confirmed when I saw her close up. Without a doubt, she was one of nature’s marvels and as she started moving her sensuous body to the music I just sat there and stared at her like a fool. It was only ten minutes since I had first set my eyes on her, but I was already totally mesmerized.

Her partner saw me leering at her and scowled, and I looked away quickly in embarrassment. When I tried to steal another glance, he was still looking angrily at me. The girl was also looking at me with an amused smile. As they danced, they continued to look in my direction and I could see them talking, possibly arguing.  There was little doubt that I was the subject of their conversation.

When the band stopped playing, the man half dragged the girl off the dance floor and escorted her back to the bar. He paid the bill and frog-marched her out of the hotel. As they approached the swing doors, she turned back in my direction and gave me a broad smile. Quite why she did it, I could only guess – and fantasize about, but in all probability, it was just to make her partner jealous.

Once my vision of beauty had left, I had little desire to stay any longer. I felt extremely drained, lonely and quite drunk. It was time to call it a night on my first day in Nigeria so I paid my bill and made my weary way up to my room.

Sleep took a long time to come. Everything that had happened since my arrival that morning ran through my mind. After only one day in Africa, Mardie had vanished from my mind; but now, instead of Mardie, my brain was being bombarded with visions of the girl in the bar. Did she really smile at me as she was being hustled away by her very average-looking boyfriend?

I wonder what her name is. Will I ever see her again?


 

5    Casino Winnings

 

Sunday

The late morning sun streaming in through the partially open curtains woke me up. With a start, I remembered that I wasn’t alone. Fast asleep, lying next to me on the bed was a naked woman. Her ponderous breasts were half covered by the bed sheets, but the rest of her naked black body was providing a feast for my bleary eyes. I lay there, marveling at the sumptuous sight and thought back to my adventures of the previous day.

 

***

 

Saturday night, Sunday morning

The last thing Steve had said when he dropped me off on Friday afternoon was to get a good rest over the weekend.

“There’s a lot of work waiting for you on Monday morning,” he had warned me.

But on Saturday night, my second night in Nigeria, I had no almost rest at all.

The day started quietly enough. Sheer exhaustion had finally taken hold on Friday night and I woke early the next morning, feeling hungry. I managed to get myself down to the breakfast room just before they closed. I remained at the table for quite a while, contemplating what to do for the rest of the day. My thoughts went back to the beautiful Nigerian girl I had seen the previous evening in the lobby bar, and I wondered yet again if I would ever see her again.

If there’s music in the lobby again tonight, maybe she’ll be back.

I enquired at reception and was delighted to learn that the police band would indeed be performing again that very evening. I knew the chances of her coming two nights in a row were pretty low, but I had to check it out. I didn’t pause to consider what I might do if I did see her again. I would be terrified to talk to her – especially if she turned up with the same man again.

Maybe I can grab hold of her, throw her across my shoulder, and carry her away to my room…  

I smiled at the very idea. All I wanted to do was gaze at her lovely body and admire her from a safe distance. It was only just past ten in the morning, so I decided to return to my room, finish unpacking and rest for a few more hours.

Things didn’t go quite according to plan. My afternoon nap lasted right through until six in the evening and by the time I made it back to the lobby, the place was nearly full. I was lucky to secure the last empty table next to the dance floor.

At around eight, the police band made their second appearance of the weekend, and the lobby was jam-packed with customers. I watched the bar like a hawk for any sign of my mystery beauty, but two hours went by and there was no sign of her – or her gawky boyfriend.

Another hour passed and I was berating myself for my foolish dreams when my heart skipped a beat. It wasn’t her, but I did recognize one of the other couples from the previous night, walking to the bar, hand in hand.

Well, if one couple can come here two days in a row, then why not another?

With renewed optimism, I kept up my lone vigil, drinking too many beers and clinging to a desperate hope that she might make a late night appearance. But it wasn’t to be, and when midnight came and went, I knew for sure she wasn’t coming. It was time to give up.

I was feeling hungry, but all the food outlets were closed. I knew the only way I was going to get some food was by ordering room service from my room, so I wandered across the lobby to the lifts. I was just about to get in when I caught sight of a small neon sign at the far end of the lift lobby. It read: Casino, with an arrow pointing down a narrow flight of stairs.

I hadn’t noticed the sign before and was unaware that there was a casino in the hotel. I walked down the short flight of stairs and found the door to the casino. A uniformed doorman saluted and opened it for me.

Inside the room, there was quite a crowd; well-to-do Nigerians in flamboyant, native costumes, along with a number of middle-aged expats – most of them in suits and ties. I must have looked out of place in my creased khaki trousers and short-sleeved open-necked shirt, but emboldened by alcohol, I had little hesitation in entering.

The casino was deceptively large. There were at least half a dozen gaming tables scattered around the room and in the center was a large rectangular bar. It was empty, except at the far end, where two Nigerian women and a European man were sitting together. The other customers were all crowded around the tables and I could hear the low murmurs of expectation and squeals of delight, peppered by the sounds of whizzing roulette wheels as the croupiers went about their tasks.  

I made my unsteady way to the bar and ordered a beer.

“Can I order some food here?”

“Yes, sir, from the room service menu. The waiter will bring it to the bar.”

 I ordered a club sandwich, and while I waited, my eyes strayed along the bar, where the two ladies and the white man were obviously having a good time. They kept ordering refills and laughing noisily at each other’s jokes.

One of them caught me looking at them and I shyly looked away. I stole another glance and a jolt of panic ran through my body. The woman was heading in my direction causing my stomach to churn.

Oh my God! I’m not ready for this! I have no idea what to say to her…

6    Virgin No More

 

I guessed she was in her late twenties, possibly older. She was larger than the delicate beauty I had drooled over the previous night in the Lobby Bar, but in her own way, she was quite a looker. Dressed in a pale blue loosely flared trouser suit, her body was partly visible beneath the flimsy opaque material. A low-cut top revealed ample breasts and there was a slash down one of her trouser legs which revealed a smooth, ample thigh. Her overall appearance was not at all disagreeable.

She spoke to me in a deep contralto voice. “Hello, I no see you here before. What your name?”

“I’m …Mobi.”

“I’m Bisi,” she said with a laugh, “don’ look so scared – I not eat you.”

I blushed, and she put her hand over mine to reassure me, but this only served to make me blush even more.

“Dear me, Mobi, you never been touched by de girl before? You are so shy, you silly boy.”

I stared at her, quite unable to speak.

“You no buy me drink?”

I found my voice. “A…drink? Of course,” I croaked, “what would you like?”

She barked an instruction at the barman and he returned with a huge glass containing an exotic cocktail.

“Cheers,” she said

“Cheers,” I replied, and she burst out laughing.

“Mobi, you so shy! Come here, I’ll blow away all dat shyness.”

Blow? What does she mean – blow?

She got down from her stool, put her hands around my neck and pulled me towards her. Then she delivered a long, passionate kiss smack on my lips. I was shocked, embarrassed and aroused – all at the same time. I looked around, but nobody seemed in the least bit interested – not even the bartender. I relaxed a little and she put her arms around me and gently led my hand to her exposed thigh.

“Good legs – yes?”

“Y…yes” I stammered, feeling more aroused by the second.

My food arrived and she broke away from her clinch to see what I had ordered, before barking another order at the barman.

“I order some food. Okay wid you?”

“Yes, of course.”

I was starting to get over my shyness and enjoy her company. Feeling more confident, I ordered another round of drinks and settled down to eat my supper. Bisi grabbed some pieces of my club sandwich and when her fried chicken arrived, we shared the two plates of food and washed it down with more drinks. Once we had eaten, she dragged her bar stool close to mine and put her exposed thigh across my lap. She was really stirring up my hormones.

“Mobi – you tek me to your room?”

“What? … er… how do you know I’m staying here?”

“Because I see de room number on your bill – Bisi not stupid.”

I wanted to take her, but I was terrified. After all, I had never had sex and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I wasn’t even sure if I could perform.

“Mobi, my dear, you not a virgin are you?”

“A virgin… n-no… of course not! I’ve been with girls before!”

“So what de problem? You not like me?”

“Like you? Of course I do.” I made a decision. “Okay Bisi, yes! I want you to come to my room!” I instantly regretted it, but it was too late.

“Dat’s good – now pay de bill, and we go.”

She shouted at the barman who presented the evening’s bill to me and I scrawled my signature on it. Then I remembered that Steve would see the bill, which included Bisi’s exotic cocktails. But by that time, I was too drunk to care.

We climbed the stairs from the basement and were just about to enter the lift when a security guard appeared. He placed his hand on the edge of the lift door to prevent it from closing.

“Why you dey give me wahala? u dey craz?” Bisi shouted at him.

“Sorry-o, you no can go,” The elderly guard replied.

There followed a long, heated exchange between Bisi and the security guard, of which I understood very little, even though most of it was in Pidgin English. She turned to me.

“He say you have to pay extra if I go to your room.”

“Why?”

“Because de room rate be for single man – not for two peoples. You have to pay for two peoples if I sleep wid you. I told him to send de bill to your room and you sign, but he not wanna do dat.”

I was bemused. “Why?”

“He says you can’t sign for lady to your room – you have to pay money – cash – to reception.”

Cash! I exclaimed, “That’s crazy. Of course I can sign for it – I sign for everything else!”

“Because de cash be for dem – not for de hotel.”

“This is outrageous,” I complained, as I walked back to reception with Bisi and handed over what seemed like a ridiculous sum of money.

At least Steve won’t see the ‘extra’ on my bill…

By the time we finally made it to my room it was almost two in the morning. Bisi went straight to the bathroom to take a shower and I sat on the bed, terrified of what lay ahead. Ten minutes later she emerged with a hotel towel draped around her.

“Mobi! Why you not tek off your clothes? Come on, tek a shower! It be late.”

Although I was scared beyond words, the sight of Bisi in a towel which barely covered her bottom succeeded in arousing me again. I hurried into the bathroom and undressed. I set the shower to cold and turned it on. A powerful stream of ice-cold water hit my body, and I was relieved to see it was having the desired effect on my arousal.

My relief was short lived. I was still adjusting the temperature of the water to make it a little more tolerable when the bathroom door opened. A stark naked Bisi walked in to find out what I was up to; and as soon as I saw her, I became excited all over again. She joined me in the shower, grabbed a bar of soap and before I could offer any protests, she started to wash me all over.

“You dirty boy,” she chided me, in mock disgust.

Unfortunately, or quite possibly, fortunately, Bisi’s gentle soaping had the effect of exciting me beyond self-control.

“Mobi!” she shouted, breaking out into a broad grin.

I looked at her sheepishly.

“Never mind, you silly boy, finish de shower.”

She climbed out of the shower and left me alone to finish my ablutions. When I returned to the bedroom, she was lying naked on her side – with her knees curled up to her ample bosoms. She looked to be asleep; so I lay down beside her and put my arms around her, pressing my body close to her. This was the first time I had ever been in bed with a woman and almost at once I found myself out of control again. She stirred and turned around to look at me.

“Mobi, I wanna sleep”…

She was facing me so I squeezed up against her warm body and kissed her on the lips. She broke away from my embrace and looked at me in annoyance. She wanted to sleep, but after staring at my arousal for a few seconds, she changed her mind. I could hardly believe it. At the grand old age of twenty-two, I was finally having my first real sexual experience with a woman. Bisi launched me into a world of unbelievable ecstasy that hitherto I had only dreamed about. I wanted it to go on and on, but she was such a skillful lover that within a short while it was over.

At first, I thought that she had enjoyed it as much as I had. But as soon as we finished, she broke away from our clinch and moved her body a few inches away in a manner that seemed to suggest otherwise. She lay inert on her back, her body covered in a fine sheen of perspiration. I sat staring at her for a minute before staggering into the bathroom for a quick shower.

When I returned, she was fast asleep, so I lay down on the bed and cuddled her, with my leg draped across her thighs. I still wasn’t sleepy. This was my first ever night with a woman and I wanted to savor it. Within minutes, I felt a stirring, but this time Bisi was out cold and no matter how much I fondled her body, there was no response. I wanted more, but Bisi was having none of it. She had done her duty – she had earned her keep – and now she needed her beauty sleep.

I must have dropped off as the next thing I knew I was in bed alone and I heard the sounds of Bisi in the bathroom. I looked at the wall clock – it was only seven o’clock. She emerged from the bathroom, all clean and gleaming. This time she had wrapped the towel around her midriff but was still naked from the waist up. Once again I was aroused.

“Mobi, I have to go home now.”

“Please Bisi, just another half an hour, please,” I begged.

She sat on the corner of the bed, smiling at me in amusement, and I jumped across and grabbed her, pulling her down next to me. She started to struggle and then relaxed and lay still on her back. I took this as my invitation and before she could think of moving away, I climbed on top of her. I was so inept that I could never have entered her without her active cooperation.  But she didn’t mind, and she gently assisted me. Within seconds, I had climaxed once again! She frowned at me with a bored expression, pushed me off and scampered back into the bathroom. I rolled over and closed my eyes.

 

***

 

I looked at my watch; it was eleven o’clock, the sun was streaming into my bedroom, there was an unpleasant buzzing in my head and Bisi was still lying naked beside me. She must have changed her mind about going early, but now it was me who wanted her gone. The sleep had sobered me up and I was feeling uncomfortable about my nocturnal activities. I was becoming worried that she was still in my room. I nudged her shoulders gently and she opened her eyes.

“I thought you had to go at seven this morning?”

“Yes, Mobi, I wanna go, but you sleep. I no can wake you! I need my money, so I sleep again – and wait for you!”

“Why? Why you have to wait for me?”

“You stupid man! I want money! I don’ come sleep with you for nothing.”

It had sort of realized that a single girl drinking in a casino at that time of night may not exactly be respectable, but I was so naïve that I didn’t have a clue how these things worked. What did an innocent young man from the middle-class suburbs of East London know about ladies of the night? I thought about it for a few seconds.

So my first ever fuck was with a prostitute!

It didn’t matter. I was happy to pay for it – that way, I reasoned, she had no hold over me. I peeled off some Nigerian bank notes from my wallet, and she smiled as she put the notes into her handbag. But she still sat there, staring at me.

“What’s the matter? Why don’t you leave?”

“I’m waiting for you. I no can go out de hotel alone – you go wid me or I have plenty palaver with security”.

I was becoming exasperated with all these stupid security scams and rules, but there was little I could do about it. I reluctantly got out of bed, showered and dressed.

We walked to the lift, and then through the crowded lobby, out to the car park. It seemed as though everyone we encountered on the way was staring at the two of us – a debauched young Englishman brazenly escorting a prostitute out of Nigeria’s most distinguished hotel.

Bisi appeared to be totally oblivious to the stares and when we reached the car park she hailed a taxi.

“Mobi – give me money for taxi.”

“But… I’ve already given you money…”

“You silly boy – that was for jig-a-jig. Now I need money for taxi.”

I didn’t want any more fuss, so I handed over some more bank notes.

God! This is getting expensive – what with the bribe to the security guards, Bisi’s fee for ‘services rendered’ and now her bloody taxi fare!

“Goodbye, Mobi, see you again soon.”

“What? Oh yes, I expect so…”

“Tonight I be back in de casino – see you there,” she shouted, as the taxi drove away.

I somehow doubted it as I wandered back inside the hotel. I suddenly felt starving so I found an empty table and was soon tucking into a hearty meal.

Tomorrow is my first day of work so I must relax, stay off the booze, and have an early night.

My well-intended resolutions didn’t go quite as planned.

7    Never on Sundays

 

I hungrily devoured my breakfast and sat at the table for another hour, sipping coffee and going over and over my first ever night of sex in my mind. It seemed barely credible that I had lost my virginity to a Nigerian prostitute. When I grew tired of daydreaming, I popped up to my room to collect a paperback before wandering outside to explore the hotel grounds. Steve had said that the hotel’s gardens were a popular Sunday venue for the expatriate families, so I looked for a shaded table near the Lagos lagoon. Who knows – I might make a friend or two.

It was a dry, sunny afternoon and the gardens already had a smattering of early picnickers. I strolled down towards the lagoon and when I reached the far end of the hotel gardens, a large, circular bar came into view.

The rustic roof of the bar had an overhang to shelter customers from both sun and rain, and a metal railing ran around the perimeter of the seating area. It was unclear to me whether the railing was there to protect drunks from falling over onto the grass, or to protect the picnicking families from the drunks at the bar.

Maybe I’ll find out later.

There were already a few early afternoon drinkers perched on the high bar stools and after a few moments of hesitation, I made a beeline for the nearest vacant barstool. I ordered a beer and pretended to be busy, flicking through my book to find my place. It didn’t take long to meet my first friend as within a couple of minutes,  a young man who was seated two stools to my right, got down from his stool and walked over.

“Hi – I haven’t seen you here before, I’m Ian,” he said, offering his hand.

I looked up from my book. He looked in his mid-twenties and judging from his flushed face and the beginnings of a beer belly, he was obviously a regular drinker. There was something about his appearance and manner that came across as friendly and agreeable, and he immediately put me at ease.

“Hello, Ian, I’m Mobi – pleased to meet you,” I replied, shaking his hand. “Are you English? You sound it.”

He smiled. “Yes, I am that – originally from Surrey but I lived for many years in East London, so as you can hear, I’ve got a slight cockney accent.”

“Really? I’m from East London as well.”

“I used to live in Manor Park, you know that area?

“Of course I do, it’s just down the road from my parent’s place. What a coincidence – the first person I meet in Nigeria is from the same part of London. You haven’t seen me before because I’ve only been in Lagos for two days and… I suppose… I’m still trying to find my feet.”

“Oh you poor fellow – you don’t know what you letting yourself in for,” he said in mock horror. “Don’t worry, my friend, let Uncle Ian take you in hand and show you all the delights that Lagos has to offer.”

We hit it off from the very start and I started to warm to this amiable, gregarious guy. He told me of the many sexual adventures he had experienced during his years in east London – so different from my own sheltered upbringing. He wasn’t boastful, he spoke in an understated, straightforward way that made his stories sound all the more believable.

“I’ve been in Lagos for a couple of years,” he told me, “I’m an engineer for Shell Oil. Before my posting here, I used to work in Great Yarmouth, Shell’s base for their North Sea oil operations. It wasn’t much fun there, I can tell you, especially in winter, so I managed to wangle a plum posting in fun-filled Lagos.”

We chatted away, and I found myself really relaxing for the first time since I had stepped off the plane. I was going to enjoy this fascinating, crazy place.

“What exactly is it about Lagos that makes it such a desirable place to live?” I asked him, “after all, there’s a war going on.”

“Don’t worry about the war, it doesn’t affect us here in Lagos,” he assured me. “As for what’s so special about Lagos – give it a few days, Mobi, you’ll soon find out.”

I thought I might have done that already, and was about to proudly relate my night of lust with Bisi when we were joined first by one, and then several more expats. All the newcomers knew Ian; he was clearly popular and the center of attention.

One by one, I was introduced to them. There was much amusement all round when they learned that apart from a couple of brief trips to North America, I hadn’t been out of England in my entire life. 

“Dear oh dear, you really are a lamb to the Lagos slaughter,” said one of them with a broad grin.

They came from all over Lagos for their Sunday afternoon drinking session. Some had homes on Victoria Island, where the hotel was located; others lived on nearby Ikoyi Island, and a few of them had flats on the mainland or in Apapa, near the docks. Wherever they lived, the Federal Palace garden bar on Sunday afternoons was the place to go.

Still more expats arrived and formed separate little drinking groups, but Ian’s gang was by far the largest. The whole bar was alive with shouting and joking, as round upon round of drinks were yelled across to the overworked barman and his two assistants.

Dominating the chatter was ribald gossip concerning the local girls. Who had slept with whom? Who had broken up with whom? Who were the latest ‘lovelies’ in town? – And where did they hang out? The conversations fascinated me and within a short while, I was left in little doubt as to why Lagos was such a desirable place for a single man to live. The girls under discussion were local prostitutes, but the names of the clubs and bars that were being bandied about meant nothing to me. Ian glanced at me with a sympathetic grin.

“Don’t worry, Mobi, all will become clear soon enough. You’ll soon be screwing the Nigerian whores like the rest of us. That’s why I wangled a job out here – there’s no comparison between the women back in Norfolk and the ladies out here. You haven’t lived until you’ve bedded one of these local beauties. Just you wait and see.”

This was greeted with laughs and lewd comments. The men at the bar were becoming increasingly noisy and vulgar and I began to see the sense in ring-fencing us from the nearby tables.

One of Ian’s drinking buddies sidled over to me.

“Mobi, do me a favor. After you’ve bedded your first whore, can you please give me a full report? It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten what it was like – those first few fucks – full of virginal lust.”

I looked at him and smiled.

“Agreed?” he insisted.

I didn’t say anything. Earlier on, I had been about to confide in Ian about my night with Bisi; but there was no way in the world I was going to admit to all these assembled drunks that my life of sexual depravity had already begun.

Some high-pitched shouts coming from a nearby table behind us brought the conversation to a temporary halt. We looked around and saw three young girls waving at us.

Ee-yan!” one of them shouted. She was wearing the tightest pair of bell-bottomed trousers I had ever seen and she looked as cute and sexy as hell.

“Hi, Lily!” Ian shouted back with a smile, “where’s Judy? I hope she’s not still angry.”

“Judy, she stay home,” Lily shouted back, “she still broken heart – you naughty boy!”

“Broken heart! I only went with her two times!” Ian protested. “She wasn’t my fucking girlfriend.”

“Yeah, I know dat, but Judy, she like you a lot, Ee-yan. She always talk about you.”

One of Ian’s friends joined in the conversation. “What’s all this about, Ian? – not breaking more hearts are you?”

“Gawd no!” he replied with a grin. “That stupid bitch’s got another think coming if she thinks she’s going to shack up with me. She’s not my type.”

“Oh, so what is your type?”

“Well…er… I don’t know… er…any type… I suppose… I love ’em all!” he shouted – loud enough for the people at the nearby tables to hear. Then he burst out laughing.

His good-natured laugh was infectious. We laughed along with him – partly at the sheer inanity of what he had just said, and partly because we were all getting nicely pissed.

“Lily? Judy? How come these girls have English names?” I asked.

“Oh, they’re not their real names. A lot of them use English nicknames as they are easier for us Oyinbos to remember. That’s how we know they are whores. Girls with English names are usually whores,” he said, and then added, “mind you, come to think of it, all the girls in Nigeria are probably whores.”

His outrageous statement was followed by more roars of laughter. We were so preoccupied in laughing at tasteless jokes that we were blissfully unaware that the ubiquitous Nigerian police band had been quietly setting up their instruments nearby. Suddenly, they struck up their first, strident number.

“God! That makes three days in a row; Friday and Saturday in the lobby, and now Sunday afternoon in the garden. Do they play here every day?” I asked in astonishment.

“No mate, just three days a week. That’s about all they do – rehearse all week at the barracks, and then play here at weekends. Unless they are called out for some big-wig’s private party, and then you won’t see them at all.”

The sun was setting and the garden was overflowing with guests. Newly arrived families, who had been spending the day on a nearby island, squeezed into the last remaining empty tables. More local girls arrived and joined those who had commandeered two tables close to the bar. They sipped their beers and shouted out greetings to men they knew. Some girls persuaded customers at the bar to buy them a beer and a few entered the bar area to chat to men they recognized.

It was a bizarre afternoon’s entertainment. The police band was blasting out raucous highlife music and the gardens were awash with expatriate families with their babies and kids running around and playing. At the bar were single men of all ages getting thoroughly drunk.

But strangest of all, and the most pleasing to my eye was the gathering of young black women near the bar – by all accounts, each and every one of them on the ‘game’.

Copious amounts of alcohol and the proximity of all those lovely young ladies was starting to play havoc with my libido. Feeling brave, I stood up and gave the nearby girls a close examination. They all looked highly desirable and I wondered whether one of them might be willing to go back to my room with me. Ian looked at me and guessed what was on my mind.

“Yes, Mobi, they look nice enough but hands-off. They come here under their own steam and they leave under their own steam. They’re not allowed to pick up customers. We can buy them a few beers, but we can’t take them home with us – or to a room. That’s the deal – no pickups. It wouldn’t be right with all these wives and kids around.”

“Who’s to stop us?”

“There’s hotel security everywhere – all the girls are frisked when they arrive and have to hand over their ID cards. If you tried to pick one up, you wouldn’t get as far as the lobby before you were stopped.”

“That sounds like a real warped piece of Nigerian logic,” I said.

One of Ian’s friends explained.

“Look Mobi, the Brits are no longer in charge. The locals do things their own way. Back in the colonial days, these girls wouldn’t be allowed in here at all. In any case, there’s no need to pick up girls from here. We know where they hang out and we can have one anytime we want. Even some of the married guys aren’t averse to picking up the odd bit of nookie from the clubs. You know…what the eye doesn’t see…” He added with a wink.

You might know where they hang out – but I certainly don’t,” I protested.

“Hey! Keep your knickers on, Mobi,” Ian said with a laugh. “You’ve only been in the country five minutes. Tell you what – you’ll probably have a heavy first day at work tomorrow; so why don’t we meet up in the lobby bar on Tuesday evening and I’ll take you to one of the local clubs.”

“That sounds like an idea, Ian, but why wait until Tuesday? How about making it sooner…”

I was about to suggest to Ian that Monday was preferable to Tuesday when I was suddenly distracted by a sight I thought I wouldn’t see again. The mysterious beauty who I had last seen in the hotel lobby two days ago, had just arrived with the same tall, ugly guy and sat down at a nearby table. I felt envious and frustrated.

When will find her alone? She seems to be permanently attached to that bloody man…


 

8    Bisi…Again

 

“Who’s that, Ian?” I asked, pointing in her direction.

There was little doubt that she was something special. Many of the men in the bar – and even some sitting at tables – were also looking in her direction. She was wearing a low-cut, sleeveless white top and a red micro mini-skirt. Sex oozed out of every pore of her lovely skin.

“You mean the girl in the red skirt?”

“Who else?”

“I don’t know her real name, but she’s known as ‘Taiwo’.”

“Taiwo?”

“That’s it. She’s often here, or in one of the downtown clubs, but she’s hardly ever alone. There’s always some poor unsuspecting mutt with her, paying the bills.”

“Hmm… I’m not so sure about poor and unsuspecting… So who’s that man she’s with now?”

“That’s Phil. I don’t know him very well – he has a house out on Ikoyi Island, about twenty minutes’ drive from here. I think he’s a civil engineer.”

“How long has she been with him?”

“Oh, about two months or so. I give it three months max and he’ll kick her out.”

“Why would he do that? She’s incredibly beautiful.”

“That she is, Mobi, but trust me – she’s bad news. I heard through the grapevine that they’ve been having a few slanging matches in public recently. Apparently, she clocked him one with a beer bottle a couple of weeks ago. He had to go to hospital to get stitched up.”

“I don’t get it – why would she do something like that?”

“Booze, Mobi – booze. She’s a violent drunk – and she’s also a bit crazy, so I hear.”

“But she’s so beautiful! I could really go for someone like that.”

“Listen, Mobi, Taiwo is not for you – or for anyone. Since I’ve been in Lagos she must have had at least three different boyfriends and it always ends in tears. There’s always a bust-up and the police are usually involved. I’m betting money that it won’t be long before the same thing happens with Phil. Why do you want to saddle yourself with someone like that? There’s loads of girls in town who are much less of a handful than crazy Taiwo over there.”

If Ian was to be believed, she sounded like my worst nightmare. With much regret, I resolved to put her out of my mind, but I couldn’t stop gazing at her.

We continued to drink and tell vulgar jokes, and the girls at the tables were also becoming rowdier. They shouted across to us to buy more beers for them, and some even tried to get the men sitting at tables with wives and kids to buy them a beer. This didn’t go down too well with the wives and eventually, a couple of hotel guards came over and told them to desist. We thought it was hilarious.

The band finished playing at ten p.m. and by this time, everyone at the tables, including the lovely Taiwo, had long since departed. Only the piss-heads at the bar, along with a few drunken girls remained.

Then something strange occurred. I don’t know who started it, but we broke out into song. We sang filthy rugby songs, patriotic songs, traditional songs and even the latest pop songs. For some reason, The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine was sung over and over, in between a very loud rendering of Jerusalem.

 

Our loud, raucous voices, fueled by hours of alcohol, rung out across the Lagos night with great gusto. The few girls who remained were unfazed by our singing and some even joined in. I guessed they had heard it all before.

It was almost midnight when we ran out of songs and our voices were so hoarse we couldn’t sing another note. The last of the drinkers, including my new friend Ian, staggered towards the car park to drive home.

“See you on Tuesday evening, around seven,” he shouted, as he left.

I had completely forgotten to ask him if he could change our night out to Monday, but it was too late – he was gone. I was pretty smashed but didn’t feel in the least bit sleepy. I was so excited by all the unexpected events of the day that I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to go out somewhere and continue drinking but had no idea where the Lagos nightclubs were located, or even if they were open on Sunday. Regrettably, I had no choice but to remain in the hotel.

Visions of Taiwo and all the other pretty girls were haunting me. My hormones were raging and I wanted a woman more than ever. Then I remembered Bisi – my lady of last night. She had told me that she would be in the casino again that evening. It was late, maybe she had already found a customer, but I had to try. If she wasn’t around, I might find another girl who I could take to my room.

 

***

 

When I first entered the casino I thought I was out of luck, and it wasn’t until I made my unsteady way to the empty bar that I spotted her. She was at one of the roulette tables – with her arms around a young man sitting next to her.

Shit! That’s it, I said to myself. I ordered a beer. Maybe it’s just as well. I should get some sleep and be up bright and early for my first day of work tomorrow.

I was just about to ask for the bill when Bisi looked in my direction. She instantly disengaged herself from the man she was cuddling and hurried over to see me.

“Mobi – you come see me, you lovely boy!” she shouted in delight, as she put her arms around me with a welcoming hug.

“Erm… yes… but what about that man you were with just now?”

“Oh, you no worry about him. He too stingy – and anyway, he not wanna sleep wid me – he go home to wife.”

“Oh… that’s all right then… is it?” I asked, feeling a little perplexed. I hadn’t quite got into the swing of this new wild lifestyle yet.

“Mobi! We go your room!”

“Now?”

“Yes – Now! I be horny!”

I didn’t need a second bidding. I paid the bill and escorted Bisi to reception where once again I handed over an exorbitant sum to the night receptionist. Then we hurried to the lift and up to my third-floor room.

I was drying off in the bathroom when she came in and jumped into the shower.

“Go wait for me in de bed.”

By the time she emerged, my impatience had started to show.

She took one look at me and exclaimed: “Mobi – you so funny!”

She walked over to the bed and dropped her towel on the floor.

“Come on, you lovely boy”

It was the invitation I craved. Bisi’s voluptuous and tantalizing bare flesh was all too much for me. I was uncontrollably aroused and within seconds I exploded.

“Mobi! Not again?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. You not be sorry,” she said with a grin as I gently eased myself off her body onto the bed beside her.

“But you said you were horny,”

“Yes, me horny,” she confirmed, in a less than enthusiastic tone, “but never mind.”

I looked down and saw with horror that my midriff was covered in blood.

“My God! Bisi! Look!”

I was terrified. What had I done to myself? Judging by the amount of blood on the bed I thought it was quite serious. But I didn’t feel any pain.

What’s happened to me? Will I need to go to hospital? What am I going to say to the doctors?

She looked down and smiled.

“Don’t you go vex yourself; dat be my period. Come to de bathroom, I’ll clean you up.”

“Period? I don’t understand.”

“Yes – period – don’t you know what period means?” she asked.

I knew and I relaxed and let her take me into the bathroom to wash off the blood.

“But why? Why did you have sex with me if you’re having your period?” I asked.

“I not know de period dun start,” she replied with a broad grin, “Mobi, give me money. I gotta to go now.”

“Go? Now?”

“Yes, I gotta go, I gotta see my boyfriend.”

“Your boyfriend? You have a boyfriend?”

“Yes. Why not?”

“Because you just had sex with me.”

“Mobi – you my customer. Not same boyfriend.”

I had much to learn about Nigeria – especially about Nigerian prostitutes. Then I realized with irritation that I would have to get dressed again and escort her out of the hotel, so I went back into the room and started to put on my shirt.

“What you do?”

“I’m getting dressed – to take you out of hotel.”

“No! You stay here. Bisi go alone.”

“What about the security guards? Won’t you have trouble?”

“I not leave de hotel – I go back to casino – to meet Freddie.”

“Freddie? So your boyfriend’s an expat?”

“That’s right, he be Oyinbo – white man. He American,” she explained proudly.

This was getting weirder and weirder, and I was about to ask her if she lived with this Freddie when she said: “Maybe you know him. What company you work for, Mobi?”

“Santa Cruz.”

Her eyes lit up. “Santa Cruz! Dat same company Freddie works for – you must know him.”

“Freddie, Freddie,” I drunkenly mumbled to myself. Then the penny dropped. Freddie! She means Fred – Fred Robbins the General Manager!

“You mean Fred Robbins?”

“Yes, you silly boy – Freddie Robins, dat be my boyfriend. He wait for me in casino. I have to go – quick-quick!”

“But…but… Fred is married and he has his family here!” I protested.

“Sure, Freddie married. But I’m his girl. He pay for my flat and give me pocket money.”

I was learning fast. Bisi was Fred’s mistress. What a to-do! Then panic set in. I had been screwing my boss’s mistress!

What if he finds out?

Bisi must have read my mind. “Don’ you worry about Freddie now – he don’t mind who I bang. He very cool.”

I was anxious for her to leave and counted out some bank notes. “Bisi, please don’t tell Fred…Freddie… about you and me,” I implored.

She grabbed the notes and opened the hotel door.

“Mobi – you no vex yourself now. Freddie – he okay, he not angry,” and with that, she was off down the corridor towards the lift. I watched her leave. My thoughts were in drunken disarray.

What a fucking mess! My bed sheets are covered in blood and I’m not at all convinced that Freddie – Fred – is going to take lightly to me screwing his mistress.

For the second time since I had arrived in this crazy country, I wondered whether I might be about to have the shortest expatriate assignment in the history of Santa Cruz.

 

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