This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
‘Azzy’ is short for Azima, a beautiful, Nigerian woman who became my first wife.
I have related in MOBI’S STORY, (Part 1 ‘The early years’), how in 1969, I had just started a new life in Montreal, Canada, after being given the ‘heave-ho’ by my New York girl friend, when I received a call from my ex-employer, offering me a new job in Nigeria.
I actually did a ‘moonlight flit’ from my newly leased apartment in downtown Montreal and fled to the airport, and thence a flight back over the ‘pond’ to my parent’s home in east London.
Upon reporting back to my employers offices at Berkeley Square in the West End of London I soon discovered why they had called me all the way back from Canada to fill the position.
The late sixties were a time of relative boom in England and unemployment was low. The ‘swinging sixties’ were in full swing, and the world came to London.
Foreign holidays and working overseas were virtually unheard of in those days as everyone was quite content to stay at home and enjoy life in the UK. We had finally become sexually liberated, we were leading the world in music and fashion and life was fun, after the long, drab, cash- strapped post war years.
I well remember to this day a young colleague coming into the London office every day and recounting his experiences on his morning underground journey, where he would ogle all the countless women in their micro mini- skirts and mini dresses, most of which left nothing to the imagination. He used to claim he had an orgasm just looking at them.
So who in their right minds would want to leave all this behind to go and work in steamy, disease ridden, far off West Africa, in a third world country that was struggling to come to terms with the post colonial area and crucially, in the midst of a bloody civil war?
Mobi, of course. Who else?
Once I had signed the contract for a two year spell, I had to go through the ‘processing’ procedures, (visa, vaccinations, anti malarial medication and so on), which would take several weeks and in the meantime I was assigned to work back in the London office.
It was during this time that I was shown photographs that had just been received from the company’s General Manager in Lagos, which showed details of the damage that had been inflicted on the company’s property and equipment in Port Harcourt, east Nigeria.
Port Harcourt was in the heart of secessionist territory and been subject to some bloody fighting at the outbreak of the civil war, before the government troops were obliged to retreat. So now all the property in the eastern region was in the hands of the rebels.
As well as the photographs, the report from Lagos had provided details of he company’s Nigerian employees who had been killed or severely wounded in the fighting, and there even some gruesome photos of dead and mutilated bodies as supporting evidence – taken by an employee who was a member of the rebel, Ibo tribe and then smuggled out of Port Harcourt.
I started to realise what I was letting myself in for.
But I didn’t really care. It just sounded a whole lot more exciting than staying in London, for despite the fun and enjoyment going on around me, I still felt very lonely and shy in that huge city.
In the event, my departure was held up for a couple of months or so as the management in Lagos were unsure if the capital city would remain safe from attacks, so in the meantime I was sent on a temporary assignment to Abu Dhabi, of which, more will be written in a separate vignette.
Following completion of this assignment, I returned to London in August 1969, the flight was duly booked and on 12 August, I boarded a British Caledonian VC10 for the nonstop flight to Lagos.
Although I had already had a rude awakening when I had flown into Abu Dhabi airport a couple of months earlier, (a tin shack in the middle of the desert with temperatures hovering at forty degrees centigrade and the humidity so high that the minute you walked down the steps from the plane your whole body was drenched in sweat), nothing could have prepared me for the mad, filthy, stinking chaos that was Lagos International airport in those far off days.
The ramshackle, non air conditioned airport building was full of a mad sprawling mass of humanity. I was brought up in a predominantly white community in east London and had never seen so many black faces in one place in my entire life.
The place was full of Nigerians shouting at each other in unintelligible, ‘pidgin’ English, or in one the myriad tribal dialects, and the place was swarming with heavily armed, Nigerian military.
I looked around in vain for a representative of my company who should have been around somewhere to meet me, but then realised that I would have to go through immigration and baggage check before emerging into a public area where someone would undoubtedly be waiting.
It was like ‘running the gauntlet’. Along with my fellow passengers, I was pushed and hustled from desk to desk and at each place I was interrogated in barely intelligible English, was required to show my passport and other papers that I carried with me, before being ordered to move along to the next officer.
At length my passport was stamped and I went to the baggage collection area. I had a lot of baggage with me as I had planned for a two year stay. My numerous and motley collection of bags finally emerged. Then came the customs inspection, which if anything, was worse than the immigration process.
I was required to open every single bag and package and all were examined and turned over with a fine tooth comb. Quite what they were looking for I had no idea –but the country was at war (with itself) and maybe they were looking for enemy agents carrying secret weapons into the country.
It would have taken a massive stretch of the imagination to believe that a skinny, pimply faced, very white skinned, bespectacled, shy twenty three year old English man could be an agent for the brutal Ibo rebels.
The searching finally came to an end, the bags were repacked and my passport was stamped to show I had been through customs inspection and at long last I was in the public area, which once again was a mass of humanity, all shouting and screaming at each other.
I looked desperately for anyone who may be my company representative.
I looked and I waited, but no one came to greet me out of the crowd. An hour went by and still no sign of my ‘welcomer’ to Nigeria. I didn’t know what to do – I was stranded. Foolishly, I didn’t even have a contact phone number, or the address of the office.
I had total trust in the company’s standing for efficiency and their good reputation for looking after their staff. Everything had proceeded without a hitch when I had flown into Abu Dhabi a few months ago, where I was met and taken care of in fine style.
Just when I was starting to feel quite desperate a young Nigerian man approached me and asked me in pretty good English, where I was going. He seemed very friendly, so I told him I waiting to be picked up but that my greeters hadn’t arrived yet.
He said he could help me get a taxi and wanted to know where I wanted to go. I told him I didn’t have the address but told the name of my employer. He went over to where a number of men were standing and asked if anyone had heard of my company. One guy said he knew where my offices were located, and after some deliberation, it was agreed that he would drive me downtown to my company’s offices.
At this time I didn’t have any Nigerian currency and worried whether they would require some payment up front, but they didn’t even quote a price as they loaded all my stuff into the boot and on the back seat of a very ancient automobile. It didn’t occur to me for one moment that these guys may be criminals and that they may take me down the road, rob and even kill me. In those far of days I was still very naïve.
We set off and we hadn’t driven more than half a mile down a potholed, single track road, when we came to a military road block. The car was immediately surrounded by screaming soldiers carrying rifles who demanded that I get out.
They proceeded to body search me, took my passport, and instructed the driver to unload all my bags which were then opened up and the contents emptied all over the road.
I tried to tell them that my bags had already been searched thoroughly at the airport and I had the stamp in my passport to prove it, but they ignored my pleas, one of them escorting me to an area just off the road, where I was ordered to stand, with my back to the road.
Oh my God! Was this to be the shortest overseas assignment in the history of expatriate service?
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!”
That morning, when Bisi calmly informed me that she was my General Manager’s regular girl friend, a chill went down my spine. I was so naïve that I dreaded what may happen to me if he ever found out – if she told him – that I had slept with her. I might even lose my job!
As it turned out, several months later, it wasn’t me that needed to be concerned about the situation, (yes, I had spent a few more ‘nights’ with Bisi during in the intervening period), but Gerry Robbins himself.
Gerry was married, and his wife was living in Lagos with him, and out of the blue, one day in the office, Gerry called me to one side and said:
“Mobi, I know I can rely on you to be discreet about my relationship with Bisi?”
I was completely taken aback. What had Bisi told him? But I soon regained my composure, and assured Gerry that I would be the epitome of discretion and he need have no concerns on that front.
The subject was never brought up again.
I started to settle in to life in Lagos.
Initially my boss, Steve, used to pick me up from the hotel and take me to the office with him, dropping me back at the hotel at night, but after a few weeks, I was allowed to use one of the company pool cars and started driving myself. This gave me much more freedom to get out and about and explore Lagos.
After a week or so, I ‘discovered’ my hotel’s outdoor bar, where many expats would gather after work and on weekends.
I soon fell in with the drinking crowd, who started to educate me in the ways of Lagos, and in particular the women of Lagos.
In the evenings apart from the odd expat escorting his ‘live-in’ lady to the bar, it was pretty much an all male domain. However, Sunday afternoons were party time. In addition to the single expat men at the bar, many expat families gathered in the hotel garden which surrounded the bar and enjoyed an afternoon of eating and drinking, to the accompaniment of the Police band who would set up on the garden stage. Even the expats who had children would bring them along to the garden and let them run around and play.
On my first Sunday there, I was also surprised to notice a fair sprinkling of ‘single Nigerian girls’ who also came along to enjoy the afternoon’s festivities, and theye would seat themselves at separate tables, a little apart from the rest of the diners.
Occasionally one of the girls would walk over the perimeter of the bar and greet one of the drinking men who would be sitting and drinking there with his friends.
As dusk fell, the families would slowly depart back to their homes and some of single men would move away from the bar and make their way to the tables where the girls were drinking. Then a few of the girls would come and sit at the bar. Everyone seemed to know each other and I felt a bit out of it.
One of my new found drinking friends, a young Englishman a few years senior to myself – Ian by name – called out to several of the girls by name, and they returned the compliment.
Addressing him, they shouted back: “Ee-yan, hello Ee-yan!”
“How come you know all these girls?” I asked Ian.
“Oh they are all the regulars from the clubs across town”. It doesn’t take long to get to know most of them.
This was a new revelation to me. I had no idea that there were clubs across town where ladies like this could be found.
“So where exactly are these clubs?” I asked.
“You mean to tell me that you haven’t been out yet?”
“No- not really. Only to my boss’s house for dinner. Most of the time I’ve been either at the office or the hotel.”
“Well, we’ll have to do something about that. Tell you what, how about meeting me at the lobby tomorrow night, around seven p.m. and I’ll take you on a tour of the night spots.”
I agreed, with burgeoning enthusiasm.
And so began my new adventure with the bars, clubs and whores of Nigeria.
I duly met Ian the following evening, and we started off in the place that was become my ‘second home’. It was a well known, popular club, owned and run by a very portly Lebanese man by the name of Tiger and was situated in the heart of downtown Lagos, about twenty minutes drive from my hotel. This was The Tavern.
The Tavern buzzed seven days a week, and it was easy to see why. It was a large, well decorated place that had a wall to wall bar, a large dining area, a stage for live musicians and a decent sized dance floor. Music was played by a very lively band very night, the Lebanese-managed restaurant served excellent food, and last but not least, it had by far the largest selection of beautiful, nubile, young Nigerian ladies who thronged to the bar every night in search of customers.
It was a life that I was to immerse myself in for the entire time I stayed in Nigeria. I loved the happy-go- lucky atmosphere; I loved the wonderful rhythmic, uninhibited music – a mixture of soul, juju, ‘Highlife ‘and Afro-Pop, Most of all I loved and lusted after the gorgeous women.
On that first night, Ian took me to a number of other night clubs, most of them further afield than the Cavern, and not as well patronised.
One club, which I was later to regards as my ‘third home’ was a little way out of the downtown area, and was called ‘Cabana Bamboo’ – for that was what it was, a very large Cabana, made of bamboo. It had a small complement of young ladies, the music was more subdued than the music dished out at the Tavern, and there was a scattering of western patrons.
However I liked the ambience of the place, and I quite liked the cut of the girls there, even though although they were less of them than at Then Tavern.
It was while we were having a beer at the bar that a couple – a local lady with an expat escort – walked in and sat at a nearby table. My attention was immediately drawn to the woman; she was the most striking lady I had seen since my arrival in the country. She had a classical African face and in my humble opinion she would have had no problem being employed as a fashion model. Her figure was perfect and she was showing it off to wonderful effect in tight fitting trousers with bell bottoms that were the fashion inn those days, and a low cut top.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
“Who is she, Ian? Do you know her?”
“I have met her once or twice, her name is Taiwo”
“That guy she is with – is that her boyfriend?”
“Yes, Mobi, I’m afraid so. They’ve been together for quite a while now.”
I had trouble hiding my disappointment. She looked so incredibly lovely, but I guess that would be one lady who passed me by.
Over the next few months, I slipped into a regular schedule and lifestyle.
Work was not particular demanding as there wasn’t too much going on in the oil front. The Company’s main operations in the eastern region were out of action due to the ongoing civil war, and there was just a dribble of production out of Warri in the mid west region of the country. So I put in my required hours in the office and devoted all my main energies to enjoying myself when off work.
Early evenings would be spent at either the inside bar or the garden bar at the Federal Palace, and at some point of an evening, a few of us would grab a cab and go downtown to The cavern, and sometimes travel further afield to clubs like the Cabana Bamboo in search of new pleasures and new women.
I had finally moved out of the hotel and into an apartment that my company had leased for me downtown. I also had pretty much unlimited use of a company car.
My first ‘girl friend’; i.e. one who I dated most nights, and on many weekends would go and stay with her at her room in the suburbs, was a lively young lady named Julie. She was pert and very pretty. We had a lot of fun together, and she taught me a great deal about sexual pleasures.
But I wasn’t in love with Julie, and after a while my eyes started to wander to pastures new, and I resolved to dump her. It wasn’t as easy as I had anticipated and there was a fair amount of ‘palaver’ on the dance floor at The Cavern on the night that I broke the news to her, but in the end she got the message and that was that.
It was soon after I dumped Julie that I made my first journey out into the bush.
I had to travel to the company’s field offices at Warri in the mid west to sort out a few financial issues. The only way there was by road – very bad, potholed roads, and the journey had to be completed within the hours of daylight. There was a nation- wide night curfew outside of Lagos, and roadblocks were set up around each town so that no-one could come or go, once dusk had fallen.
If there was a serious hold up en route – an accident blocking the road, or a vehicle break down and so on – sometimes the oilfield workers never made it, and were forced to spend an uncomfortable and dangerous night in the jungle, where even in the Midwest, there was the possibility of rebel soldiers, or maverick, marauding gangs of government soldiers who would think little of robbing and killing white westerners stuck in a stationery vehicle in the jungle at night.
I set off at the crack of dawn, as soon as the daytime road blocks had been lifted, with my Nigerian clerk as a guide, and it was a mad-capped ride at break neck speed along the rutted bush roads to make it to Warri before sunset.
I never really considered the potential dangers involved, and upon reflection, neither my employers. That was simply the way it was in those days in the hard cut and thrust of exploring for oil in not so hospitable, far flung corners of the world.
We lived ‘on the edge’, and indeed some of us died on the edge; there had been a recent incident when two expatriates working for another Oil Company, who had been shot and killed at an army road block by drunken soldiers after the passengers had tried to complain about being stopped and searched.
For me it was an adventure, and I enjoyed driving the big old American station wagon, and merely regarded it as a challenge to drive to Warri and to make it to my journey’s end before the road barriers came down.
One of the keys to a successful journey was to make sure we had plenty of “dash” and cigarettes to give to the soldiers at the road blocks en route to ensure we weren’t held up too long – something our colleagues from the other oil company had failed to do, and paid with their lives.
So we made it with a good hour to spare and found our way to the company’s offices.
Warri was not too far away, across the delta from the secessionist Eastern region, and at that time it was pretty much a ‘wild west’ sort of a town. The power supply was intermittent at best and every major operation, hotels and expat housing had their own generators.
Most of the roads were pitted, mud tracks and crime was rife – especially after dark.
We met the local field manager who escorted us to our hotel – a roughly made, single storey construction with a dozen basic rooms at the back, and a large bar and reception area at the front.
Compared to the relative luxury of the Federal Palace in Lagos, this place was a huge let down. It was dirty, smelly, hot and humid. There was no air-conditioning, and only about half of the rusty fans seemed to work at all.
The staff were badly dressed and pretty surly.When one of them showed me my room, I complained about the filthy state of the bed sheet and pillows – but he just looked at me and walked away.
Back at the bar / restaurant area I homed in on the collection of unlikely looking females who were sitting around at tables at the far end of the building.
They were dressed appallingly and didn’t look very comely. I remember to this day that one of them was in a very advanced sate of pregnancy, but was still plying her trade with any hotel guests who might be interested in something a bit different.
I resolved to avoid any intimate contact with these very poor specimens of African womanhood and after a few beers, mercifully crashed alone on my unclean bed.
The next evening, my hormones were starting to rage again, and what I had written off as the most unattractive bunch of prostitutes I had ever seen on the previous evening, were now starting to take on a more tempting appearance. In particular, there was one lady who I spotted who I hadn’t seen on the previous night. Although no beauty, she was a decided cut above the others, in both dress and looks.
I went after her and bedded her. I repeated this on the following two nights.
On my fourth night in Warri I was in a blind panic. I was experiencing sharp pains when urinating, and I had detected a discharge. I knew little about venereal disease in those far off days, and although I realised that I had indeed contracted some form of VD, I had no idea what to do about it.
I was beside myself and highly embarrassed. Eventually I screwed up the courage to ask one of the oilfield hands – a Dutch ‘tool pusher’ who had been very friendly to me – for advice.
He was highly amused at my plight and wasted no time in laughing at me and telling all and sundry that Mobi had the clap!!
I was dismayed at this betrayal of confidence, but after a few beers started to see the funny side of it and ended up laughing with everyone else.
Some antibiotics were obtained from a local chemist and I was put on a heavy dosage, which resulted in me being clean and free of the disease by the time we made the hazardous return journey to Lagos, some ten days later.
I resolved never to take a girl from any of our more ‘remote’ locations, in the future.
I was back in Lagos for two days when I noticed that I was experiencing increased itchiness from my crotch area. That evening I took a bath and examined what was ‘going on’ down there.
I nearly jumped out of my skin. There were tiny little black creatures crawling around in my ‘nether regions”. I was disgusted and horrified. I had no idea what had happened or what these creature were. I tried to wash them out but it proved impossible.
It was a weekend, so I decided to drive over to the federal Palace and see if I could track down my friend Ian and ask him for advice.
Thankfully he was at the outdoor bar with a few of our mutual friends and I took him to one side and told him what I had found living in my body and that at that very moment, was itching like mad.
Like the tool pusher before him, Ian burst out in a peal of loud laughter and again wasted no time in announcing to the assembled group that Mobi had caught a crab!
Again I was upset and humiliated, but what could I do about it?
I asked the drinking group how I could get of these ‘crabs’ as they were driving me to distraction.
It seemed no one had a ready cure for crabs, but one guy did say that he had heard that mosquito spray should work.
A short while later I drove home, stopping on the way to buy a can of mosquito spray.
I sat on the bath edge and sprayed the delicate area of my skin.
Yes – I know – I wasn’t thinking too well. I nearly jumped through the roof, such was the pain I experienced. I was in agony and hopped around the bathroom for ten minutes until the pain started to subside, cursing the man who had told me to use the spray. I decided that he had been ‘winding me up’.
I took a look at the still tender area, and to my delight and surprise I discovered that the ‘crabs’ were falling out of the folds in my skin. They were indeed dead. I washed thoroughly and let out a huge sigh of relief when I determined that they had all been killed by the spray. I was now free of them.
I will never know if the guy was ‘winding me up’. The spray did indeed work, but in ‘taking the cure’ I had experienced one of the most painful ten minutes of my life.
It was a salutary lesson. I had contracted the ‘clap’ and ‘crabs’, both probably caught from my Warri lady. Up to that point I had been sleeping indiscriminately with all and sundry and I realised that I would have to clean up my act (literally), if I was to avoid future problems of a similar nature.
Maybe it was time to settle down, once again, with a regular girl friend.
But who and where would I find such a person?
A short time after my first embarrassing and alarming encounter with STD’s I drove down to The Cabana Bamboo one evening and while seated at the bar, giving the girls the the ‘once over” , who should walk in but the beautiful girl who I had seen a month or so back with her expat boyfriend. This time she was alone.
I tried to recall her name, and eventually it came to me – Taiwo.
I smiled at her and she came came over and sat down next to me at the bar. Although I already knew her name, I asked her to tell me, and to my surprise, she didn’t say “Taiwo” but “Azima”.
“Azima?” I was told your name is Taiwo?”
She smiled at me. “Who told you that? I am Azima, but sometimes I use a different name – for fun. But you can call me Azzy.”
“Where is your boyfriend, Azzy?”
“I don’t have one”
“But I saw you with a man a few weeks ago, and my friend told me you were living with him”
“Oh you mean Mike. I don’t stay with him anymore. We had a big fight and we split up”.
My heart raced. “So you are a single lady?”
“Why you want to know?”
“Why do you think?”
One thing led to another and that night Azzy came to stay with me at my apartment. This was the start of my first, long term, ‘live-in’ relationship with a woman.
As mentioned earlier, Azzy was a very beautiful lady. She could have easily passed as a model; she was slim but with a lovely, curvy figure, and her face was truly statuesque. She also had a great dress sense, and always dressed ‘to kill’ and would turn the heads of every man when she entered a room.
We hit if off on the romantic front from day one and I believe she genuinely enjoyed being with me, although it wasn’t long before what was to become the ‘familiar’ side of all my women started to come to the fore. She became ever louder and ‘bossier’ and within a short while she had me completely under her proverbial thumb.
Azzi’s parents lived in Lagos and she often took me with her when she visited them. Her mother was a Christian and her father was a muslin but in those days there was no Muslim fundamentalism, and the people from the two faiths lived happily and in harmony with one another.
Azzy was from the Yuroba tribe, the predominant tribe in Lagos, and she was even related to Yoruba royalty, some of whom we went to visit from time to time.
But although beautiful, Azzy could be big trouble. Like so many Africans, she was very hot-blooded and had a violent temper.
We would have frequent fights over totally inconsequential matters – often Azzy would be jealous when I so much as looked at another woman – and she would storm out of the apartment and go back to her parents’ house.
I was totally besotted with her, and I would follow her to her parents’ home where I would solicit Azzi’s Mum and Dad’s help in persuading her to come back with me. On occasion I would have to beg and plead virtually all night before she would finally relent and agree to return with me.
This sort of behaviour wasn’t exactly conducive to me performing my work properly at the office after emotional and sleepless nights.
When Azzi wasn’t fighting me, she was fighting anyone who she perceived had insulted her in some way. She would think nothing about getting into physical confrontations with other women, and even men. I was forever trying to drag her away from potentially violent situations.
I had been in Nigeria for about six months when a “Cease Fire” was signed between the rebels and the Federal forces, and the civil war came to an end.
The rebels had had been starved into surrender. The secessionist region known as Biafra, had been cut off from the rest of Nigeria and the rebel population had ran out of food and fuel and other essential supplies.
The kids were badly malnourished and many were dying on the streets so the Ibos reluctantly called time on their desperate fight for independence.
One day, soon after peace had come to the country, I was called into my boss’s office and was told that I had to make a trip down to Port Harcourt, by road. Port Harcourt was the major town in the heart of former Biafra, where all the oil companies were located. I was to take a car-load of supplies and files for the Port Harcourt office in my battered old station wagon, and I would be accompanied by one of the company’s senior Nigerian employees.
He was Daniel Ito, an Ibo who had managed to escape to Lagos during the civil war, and was now returning to the ex rebel area to help get our oil operation up and running once again.
I was due to spend a month or so in Port Harcourt, before returning to Lagos, and with some misgivings I broke the news to Azi that we would have to be apart for a while. At that time,when I considered our ever worsening stormy relationship, it seemed that it wasn’t such a bad idea for us to be apart for a while.
Azzi was none too impressed and accused me of deliberately leaving her behind because I had a new girl friend I would be taking with me. It was nonsense, and there was no way she could go with me, but she continued to provoke fights with me until the day I left with Daniel Ito.
My journey by road from Lagos to Port Harcourt, a distance of over 350 miles over horrendously pot holed roads which were also littered with huge bomb craters, is a trip that is indelibly etched in my memory.
In addition to having to drive along virtually unnavigable roads, we also had to face the challenging prospect of crossing the huge Niger River, as the road bridge had been blown up by Federal forces, several months earlier.
It was an adventure indeed.
The journey from Lagos to Port Harcourt, in the company of Daniel Ito, an Ibo, in a battered old station wagon loaded with files and supplies, was one that I will never forget.
Secession of hostilities in a bloody and brutal civil war, had only taken place a few weeks previously which meant that conditions in the secessionist, war-ravaged. Eastern region were pretty diabolical.
At first, it seemed like any other journey I had made out of Lagos, usually to our outpost in Warri in the mid west: numerous road blocks, pot-holed ,badly maintained single track roads, and so on. But once we had left Lagos behind and started to approach what until quite recently, had been a ‘war zone’, we were unprepared for what lay ahead.
The roads were littered with huge bomb craters and bombed out, burnt military vehicles. Along the the sides of the roads were endless columns of refugees, dressed in tatters, going who knows where in search of sustenance; there a very high military presence everywhere, with drunken, menacing looking soldiers waving guns at the refugee columns and even at the few vehicles that were attempting to traverse the obstacle course of a road.
Progress was very slow, and if it hadn’t been for Daniel, I suspect we would never have made it. We were stopped continuously by marauding soldiers, but on each occasion Daniel would talk to them in their native language – usually Yuruba – and whatever he told them must have persuaded them to let us proceed, unmolested. I dread to think what may have happened if any of these soldiers were to find out that Daniel was an Ibo – one of the hated enemy.
It must have been late afternoon by the time we finally made it to the banks of the Niger River,where the huge bridge that had once spanned the waterway had been blown up up and was unusable.
Daniel told me to drive down a rough, mud track which led down very steep incline to the water’s edge itself
There, on the western bank of the Niger river was a sight indeed. There must have been thousands of desperate Nigerians in threadbare garments, milling around amongst the military who were pushing at them and screaming abuse and insults. Lined up alongside the crowd was a rag tag collection of dozens of dilapidated vehicles, all inching towards the river’s edge, where a a motorised, military landing craft was moored.
We joined the back of what seemed to be a semblance of a vehicle queue, and I grimly realised that it would be hours, if not days before we reached the front of the queue, as the precarious craft looked as though it could only accommodate about four vehicles at a time.
Daniel alighted from our car and disappeared into the swarming, screaming crowd. I sat alone for what what seemed like an eternity. It was extremely hot and humid, the vehicle had no air conditioning, and the sun was blazing down unremittingly. To top it all I suddenly I developed a terrible migraine.
I was seriously considering the distinct possibility that some ‘accident’ had befallen Daniel, and wondering what the hell I was going to do without him, when mercifully he re-appeared, together with two high ranking military gentlemen.
Daniel gave me no time to cross examine him on his long absence, and told me to start the car, while in the meantime the two officers started barking orders at the vehicles in front of me in an effort to clear the way to let me through.
It took quite a while,and a lot of screaming and cajoling before I eventually made my way through to the front of the queue, the entire multitude was forlornly waiting to cross the river, courtesy of the army.
The landing craft already had several vehicles on board, and I thought that there was no more room, but the officers beckoned me to drive up the steep, wooden planks that traversed the craft and the bank.
I was terrified. The planks looked very flimsy and the gap between them looked dangerous. If I mis-navigated by only a few inches the me and my car could quite easily end up in the murky, swirling torrent, several meters below.
The officers kept screaming at me, so I had no choice but to proceed. I gingerly throttled the car up the planks, trying desperately to keep the vehicle in a straight line. I was over-revving the engine and nervously feathering the clutch in my panic, when suddenly, true calamity struck.
A burning smell was emanating from the floor of the vehicle, and I slammed on the foot brake as the car ceased it’s progress forward and the engine revved out of control. I was half way up the rickety ramp to the craft and I had burnt out the clutch. The car wouldn’t move. I was stranded!
The soldiers on the pontoon and those on the bank were shouting louder than ever, screaming at me to finish my journey up the ramp and onto the landing craft. Daniel scrambled up the planks and asked me why I had stopped. I told him.
He went back down to the bank and shouted at a group of civilians who were watching the proceedings. They then ran up the ramp to the back of my car and started pushing. I slowly released the hand brake, terrified that I would go backwards and send the assembled gang into the brink, but there so many of them that they succeeded in inching me forward, and eventually onto the deck of the pontoon.
Daniel joined me on board, and I asked him what we were going to do when we reached the other side? He looked at me, and for once, he seemed at a loss for words.
We duly made the slow trip across the mighty Niger on what was a very precarious craft and as we neared the far bank, I could see an even larger crowd than that we had encountered on the western shore. There seemed to be thousands milling around.
There were indeed many more people – mainly starving refugees, desperate to get out of the war ravaged region and travel to other parts of the country, mainly Lagos, where they may have friends or relatives who could help them. But there was this massive bottle neck at the Niger river, and the only way across was by courtesy of the army, and of course a fee would have to be paid, and many days wait.
When we arrived and the rickety planks were once more thrown down to form the ramp to the river’s edge, I saw to my horror that on the far side of the river bank there was a very steep and very long track that presumably led up to the road beyond. How on earth would I ever be able to get the car up to the road? There was no way on God’s earth that any amount of manual labour would be able to push the heavily laden car up such a long and incredibly steep slope.
I was wrong. Once more Daniel went to work, and with a generous supply of Nigerian coins, he assembled a huge gang of “pushers’. I Have no idea how many there were, but it was certainly several dozen – possible fifty or more.
To start with, a few of them came on board and gently pushed the vehicle, with Mobi at the wheel, off the pontoon and onto the shore.
Then the whole gang surrounded the car and they started to push me up the hill. Progress was slow, and I am not sure if the gang put more energy into shouting at each other or pushing the car. At one point, the car started to slide backwards, and I feared the worst, but with an even shriller timbre of screeching, they managed to arrest the slide, and slowly but surely we progressed onwards and upwards to the top of the slope, and eventually to the road itself.
It was surely a miracle, but we had made it to the road in one piece.
Now what to do? We were still a very long way from our destination.
Once again Daniel performed his disappearing trick, and I was left guarding the car, surrounded by hundreds of starving refugees, who could have attacked me at any moment.
Thankfully I remained unmolested when Daniel eventually returned, sitting in the front cab of a very battered, ancient truck.
The driver and his mate also jumped out and proceeded to apply a tow rope to the front of my car.
Daniel told me that he had negotiated with the driver to tow me to Enugu, the capital of the former Biafra, but would not be able to make the remainder of the journey to Port Harcourt, as he feared marauding, blood thirsty soldiers and locals on the final leg of the journey.
So I asked Daniel what were we to do when we arrived at Enugu, as there would still be well over a hundred miles to go to our destination.
He then informed me that he would not be going with me to Enugu, and that I would be travelling alone. He said that he would take alternative, faster transport directly to Port Harcourt and see if he could find a tow truck there that could come back out to Enugu and tow me on the final leg. He said that the driver had been instructed to find somewhere for me to sleep overnight in Enugu, and that Daniel would make contact with me on the following day.
I protested that I wouldn’t be safe travelling alone, but Daniel was adamant that his plan was the best way forward. He said that we were now in former rebel territory, and the entire local population consisted of the hated Ibos. He informed me that no Ibo would dare travel to Port Harcourt, as the rebels had formerly controlled the town and had ruled it with an iron fist.
The threat of retribution from the indigenous population, who had suffered at the hands of the Ibos, was very real
I was still very young and naïve so I wasn’t particularly bothered about travelling alone in an almost lawless area that had just come out of losing a bloody civil war, and where most of the local population was starving and extremely impoverished. They had after all been starved into defeat, and as yet few supplies had reached the region to alleviate their hunger. It all seemed like a great adventure.
Also, at that time it never occurred to me how brave Daniel was. He was an Ibo and was totally loyal to the company.
When the war was at it’s height he had stayed in Port Harcourt and done his best to protect the company’s property from the worst excesses of the rebels when they started robbing and looting thousands of houses and other properties which had been abandoned at the start of the war.
Later, when Port Harcourt fell to government forces and the rebels retreated, Daniel managed to keep clear of the military and escaped to Lagos with dozens of vital company documents, having previously made arrangements to protect company’s property by employing a squad of private security guards.
Now Daniel was back in the east, unafraid to negotiate with Ibo hating federal soldiers, and about to make the journey back to Port Harcourt, where anyone from the Ibo tribe was liable to be lynched, if identified as such.
And here was innocent, naïve Mobi, about to embark on a highly dangerous journey; much of which would be undertaken at night, into the heart of the ex rebel area, all by himself, save for two local truck drivers, both of whom must have resorted to many acts of violence during the past few years just to remain alive.
The next leg of my journey, from the banks of the Niger River, to Enugu, the former capital of secessionist Biafra, was quite memorable, to say the least.
My battered old station wagon was being towed by an even more battered and ancient truck, which rattled along the bomb- scarred road, belching out thick, black smoke from an engine that sounded as though it would give up the ghost at any moment.
Progress was painfully slow – I doubt if we ever exceeded a speed of around twenty miles an hour, and for much of the time we travelled considerably slower, stopping frequently; either at road blocks or to remove obstacles that were littering the road and impeding our progress.
As we neared our destination, the physical appearance of the local populace we saw along the road became forever worse. Skeletal figures, often with large distended stomachs were either sitting forlornly by the roadside or walking slowly along in an aimless fashion, presumably in search of sustenance. It was a shocking and depressing sight – so many starving people, many of whom would undoubtedly die before help reached them.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I also started to see an increasing number of corpses – some of them on the road itself, but mostly they were in the road-side ditches, presumably having been dumped there to clear the roads for vehicular traffic.
Some of the dead were plainly the result of starvation, as I discerned that many of the bodies were in an extremely emaciated condition, with virtually just “kin and bones” holding them together, while others were evidently war victims, with gruesome injuries, missing limbs and so forth.
The ‘fog of war’ was becoming a startling reality for young Mobi, fresh from so-called civilized London.
It was dark by the time we finally rolled into war-ravaged Enugu. Many of the buildings were in a state of semi collapse; the roads were strewn with starving people, some looking more dead than alive, and an air of misery, and despair seemed to pervade the whole town.
We ground to a stop outside a small building, just off the main road, and my two drivers proceeded to disengage their tow rope from the front of my car. I got out and asked them where I was supposed to stay for the night and they pointed to the building next my car.
Upon closer inspection, I realised that the building was a small guest house and bar, but it looked empty, abandoned. I asked them if it was open and they nodded to the affirmative, so I went over to the front door and walked inside.
There was a very primitive bar inside where I saw a few Nigerian soldiers sitting, imbibing the local beer. I also observed a few extremely thin girls sitting around at dirty, ramshackle tables. I assumed the guest rooms were at the back, behind the bar.
I retraced my steps to the car to get my bag and see what my drivers were planning to do for the night. To my dismay, I was just in time to see the truck driving away. I yelled out to them. They probably didn’t hear me but if they did, took no notice and they disappeared from sight in the black Enugu night.
I was all alone in a lawless town, full of drunken, federal soldiers and a desperate, frightened, starving local population.
My lifetime motto must be “fools rush in…”.
All I could think of was having a drink, so I returned to the bar with my bag and ordered a beer, and asked them if they had a room. They did indeed but it was a sorry affair. It was a tiny, dirty, smelly, windowless room with a disgusting looking, wafer-thin mattress laid out on the concrete floor.
It was more akin to a prison cell than a hotel room, but it was all they had, so I had little choice – either sleep in the car, where I would get eaten alive by mosquitoes and maybe robbed or even killed; or take the room, which hopefully would offer me some protection from both the insects of the night, and potential criminals.
Back at the bar, I downed a few beers and ate some dreadful Nigerian food which I had great trouble in keeping down. The soldiers were wsere becoming very tipsy, and after a short while one of them came over, clapped me on the shoulders and insisted that I join them. Fearful, I had little choice but to accede to his request.
I then became the paymaster, buying a series of rounds as we all became very merry. I was probably fortunate that after a couple of hours my ‘drinking buddies’ decided it was time to return to barracks, and I was finally left alone – with the exception of a couple of girls who had fallen asleep at a nearby table.
I suddenly realised I was totally exhausted and stumbled to my ‘cell’, anticipating a trouble free sleep after my drinking bout. But it was not to be. Within minutes of lying down on the filthy, lumpy mattress, I was attacked from all sides by malaria-ridden mosquitoes. I was being bitten on every part of my exposed skin.
Although there were no obvious areas of the room exposed to the night, I assumed the room was not properly protected, and the insects had gained entrance through cracks in the walls and ceiling.
It was impossible to sleep, so I arose and returned to the bar. The two sleeping girls were still there, but the manager/bar tender had disappeared – presumably for the night. What could I do?
I wandered over to the table where the girls were sleeping and asked them if the manger was still around. One of them woke up. She was very thin, but quite pretty, and she asked me if I wanted to sleep with her. I said I was looking for the manager, but she shook her head, and then repeated her request.
It was beginning to sound like a good idea. If the mosquitoes kept me awake, at least I would have some ‘comfort’ with which to while away an otherwise unpleasant night so I took her hand and led her back to my room.
She took one look at my room, removed her hand from my grasp and disappeared back out into the corridor.
Well, that was that, I thought, even a starving, Biafran whore wasn’t prepared to sleep in such a grubby little room.
I grimly lay down again, awaiting a renewed mosquito attack, when the girl suddenly reappeared, bearing of all things – a mosquito net. She had obviously been there before and knew that we would need protection.
She expertly set up the net over the mattress, tying the net off onto rusty hooks attached to the floor and ceiling, and as soon as she finished she lay down on the mattress and beckoned me to join her. I’m not sure who was the most exhausted, but almost as soon as we embraced, we both fell soundly asleep.
“No sex please I’m British.”
I was awoken by a loud banging on the door.
“Hey Mobi! What the Goddamn hell’re yer doin’ asleep at this time a day?”
It was a loud Texan drawl, and as I became conscious, I thought I recognized it, but couldn’t quite place it.
The banging became ever louder.
“All right All right. I’m awake! Who’s there?”
“It’s Bill – Bill Wright”
Bill Wright? I pondered, who the h…? Then I remembered. Bill Wright was a huge, very rotund Texan motor mechanic who worked for my company and was based in Warri, in the Mid West.
“What the hell are you doing here? How did you get here? How did you find me?”
“Never mind all that, just get dressed and come out, We’re all waiting to take you to Port Harcourt”.
I didn’t need a second bidding, quickly gathered my things together and looked at the still sleeping girl lying on the mattress. I pulled out some money and put it her hand and kissed her on the cheek. She still didn’t wake and I left her sleeping like a baby.
Waiting outside the guest house were Bill, Daniel, a group of Nigerians in company work clothes, and parked next to my car was a large oilfield truck with a hoist on the back, and a Land Rover.
How did they all get here so early?
I looked at my watch – it was midday. I had slept all morning.
The plan was for me to travel in the Land Rover with Daniel and a driver, while Bill and his crew would hoist up the car and follow later in the truck.
As we drove off Daniel explained what had happened. A few days ago, the Nigerian army had re-opened port Harcourt airport for private planes, and my company had flown in a number of expats as well as Nigerians from the Mid -West into Port Harcourt to start work on getting the premises and equipment back up and running.
When Daniel had arrived in Port Harcourt the previous evening, he tracked down Bill and arranged for him and a crew to travel back to Enugu with him that morning.
“But how did you find me?” I asked.
“I managed to track down the truck driver who had towed you to Unugu, and he told me where you were staying. Did you have a good night’s sleep?
“In that mosquito infested hovel? You must be joking!”
“Well Bill told me you were fast asleep when we arrived, so you must have managed at least some sleep.”
I didn’t tell Daniel about my special ‘night comforter”, and remained silent. Daniel looked at me quizzically and changed the subject.
When we arrived in Port Harcourt in the late afternoon, it seemed to me that Port Harcourt was in even more of a mess than Enugu. The roads were in a very bad state of disrepair, and most of town had been abandoned by its residents as it had been the scene of some of the bloodiest battles of the civil war.
The city had changed hands several times the course of the conflict. It was the very heart of the Nigerian oil industry and was a crucial prize for both sides who were equally desperate win it and to hang on to it.
Oil production in the Eastern region which accounted for more than ninety percent of Nigeria’s output, had ceased since the start of the war, and the government, along with all the committed foreign oil companies were frantically trying to get things up and running.
But at least there were no dead bodies littering the roads, and the people who were wandering around looked a little better fed than their fellow countrymen in Enugu.
We drove to the only hotel in town that was open, and checked in. It seemed that every expatriate who had managed to make it into Port Harcourt was billeted there, and certainly all my fellow company workers, about a dozen all told were staying there.
The town had no electricity or water supplies, and the hotel was powered by a series of large, external, very noisy generators, which would break down frequently, leaving us in the dark and sweating as the air conditioners and fans would consequently cease to function.
Bill arrived back with my car a couple of hours later, and all of us, minus Bill, assembled in the lounge for dinner and some refreshment.
When everyone was settled at the bar with beer, the huge figure of Bill suddenly appeared in the lounge doorway and he shouted across the bar to me.
“Hey, you Goddamn limey- Mobi, you left something behind at Enugu.”
“Did I?” I rejoined, trying to think what on earth it could be.
“No problems, we brought it along with us in the back of the truck”.
“Oh, what is it. I can’t think of anything I left there.
“Hey Dan”, Bill shouted to Daniel, who was sitting next to me, “Mobi says he didn’t leave anything behind.”
Daniel looked at me and smirked.
“What are you talking about? What did I forget? Where is it Bill?”
“Not where is it, Mobi. Where is she?”
“She? She? What are you talking about”, I asked, starting to fear the worst.
Bill and Daniel burst out laughing.
“You didn’t think you were going to hide that little jungle bunny you had in your bed last night from us did you?”
I blushed a crimson hue and was very embarrassed.
“She was in right state after you left – complained you hadn’t paid her”, Bill told me with a huge grin on his face.
“So we decided to bring her down to Port Harcourt with us so you could do the decent thing.
“But…but I did pay her….”
By this time all those assembled at the bar were having a huge laugh at poor Mobi’s expense.
Bill hadn’t finished. “And right now she’s waiting in the lobby to continue the relationship and to collect what you owe her”.
I was sweating and highly embarrassed. I never expected to see her again.
By now, the assembled group were all exhorting me to go out to the lobby and take care of my business, so I reluctantly got down from the bar stool and timorously made my way out to the lobby. I looked around, but there was no sign of her. Then I turned around, back towards the lounge, and there was Bill, Daniel and the whole gang standing by the lounge door, laughing their heads off.
They had been having me on. The girl was not there, thank God.
We all returned to the bar, became uproariously drunk, and I had very good night’s sleep to celebrate the end of my very first day in Port Harcourt and the conclusion of my momentous journey from Lagos.
I was originally supposed to stay in Port Harcourt for just a couple of weeks, before returning to my job in Lagos, but in the event, I stayed a lot longer.
I was there principally to examine the stock situation and try to assess the extent of stolen stock so that replacements could be ordered. But ‘management’ was extremely thin on the ground, and my duties quickly expanded to encompass a whole range of administrative responsibilities that no one else had either the time or wherewithal to take care of.
The company’s premises were located on the edge of town and consisted of a large sprawling warehouse, a yard full of oilfield equipment and an extensive office complex. Although Daniel had performed a sterling and heroic task in protecting everything from the worst excesses of marauding military of both sides, there was still a mass of clearing up and other work to do.
The war ravaged city had no electricity, water, or telephone services. Banks were yet to re-open so cash was king, all of which had to be transported down the dangerous road from Lagos, as did most of our food and other essential supplies.
After a week or so, my employer opened up a guesthouse to which most of the company workers were transferred, but I remained in the hotel, which suited me fine as by this time I had befriended a number of the local ladies who helped me while away my nights.
Azzy was becoming a distant memory.
I had been there about three weeks when Nigerian Airways resumed their long defunct, daily service from Lagos. They provided twice-daily flights in disturbingly dilapidated, turbo prop Fokker Friendships. These flights opened the floodgates for the return of workers, Nigerian and expatriate alike. There soon became a log jam of people desperate to fly into Port Harcourt to resurrect their businesses and help get the town back on its feet.
Our only communication was by ’single side band’ radio with which we had daily conversations with our Head Office in Lagos. It was by this means that I was informed of new employees who were being sent down to us on the daily flights.
I became the self-appointed driver cum ‘welcomer’, driving to the airport twice daily to greet new arrivals and transport them to our offices, which fortunately were situated quite close to the airport.
I had been performing this daily service for a week or so when one afternoon my eyes nearly popped out of my head as I perused the passengers as they climbed down the steps from the airplane and walked across the tarmac to the primitive airport arrivals building.
There, as large as life, looking amazingly sexy and beautiful was my girlfriend – Azzy.
When she reappeared from customs she looked straight at me and demanded to know why I had not been in contact with her.
I was flabbergasted that not only hadn’t she decided to fly to Port Harcourt on spec, but that I was at the airport to meet her. It must have been fate.
I wasn’t unhappy to see her as the local ladies did not come close to matching her alluring beauty, and she immediately awakened feelings that had remained dormant since I had left her in Lagos.
Azzy came to stay with me in the hotel, and she would spend the days lounging around there or wandering around the town centre while I was at the office.
A couple of weeks after her arrival, I was informed by my boss that I was being transferred permanently to Port Harcourt to set up the accounts office there.
This would entail a trip back to Lagos to pack up my things and to make arrangements with my boss for the permanent transfer of files, accounting records and so on.
So three weeks after Azzy’s arrival, we both took the flight back to Lagos. I was scheduled to spend two weeks there, and I had no idea what I was going to do with Azzy, as upon my return to Port Harcourt I would be billeted at the company’s guest house, and it would be impossible for Azzy to stay there with me.
I braced myself to break the news to her that we would have to put an end to our relationship.
However, when I tried to explain the situation to Azzy, she had other ideas. She wasn’t about to let her ‘prized young man’ go that easily. She was a wily young thing and in those days of post colonial Nigeria, she was aware that foreigners had to be careful not to show any prejudice as far as Nigerians were concerned.
Azzy had met a number of my work colleagues, who were in Nigeria on “married status’ contracts – the company paid for their wives to live with them in Nigeria and provided appropriate accommodation for them.
Azzy reasoned that if we were married, my employer would have no choice but to treat me as a ‘married status’ employee and provide us with suitable accommodation when I returned to Port Harcourt.
It sounded like a plan, so that is exactly what we did.
A few days after we had returned to Lagos, Azzy took me down to the Lagos registry office, and before I knew what was happening, I had embarked upon my serial marrying career.
I recall having a very drunken wedding reception at one of Azzy’s friend’s houses in the outskirts of Lagos, and to this day I remember the terrible migraine I developed, (I used to suffer badly from migraines in those days), and how I had to lay down in a bedroom, my head in my hands, while the noisy party raged outside. I also vaguely remember wondering what the hell I had got myself into. Maybe that was what had brought on the migraine.
I also recall being taken to task by my boss, as I had skipped off the previous t afternoon to get married, and the following morning I turned up very late, very hung over, unshaven, and still in the crumpled clothes I had worn on the previous day. I hadn’t been home yet to get showered and changed.
I didn’t dare tell him that I had got married, suffered the ‘dressing down’ in silence, and apologised.
In spite of Azzy’s grand plan, I had no intention of telling my bosses what had happened, and I was becoming increasingly concerned as to what I was going to do with my new wife when I returned to Port Harcourt, a few days hence.
Miss Femi, the beautiful female employee who I had met on the day I first arrived in Lagos, came to see to me the following day in my office and calmly informed me that she knew that I had got married. I asked her how she had found out, but she just gave me an enigmatic smile. She knew everything that happened in Lagos, she told me. That was why she was such a valuable employee. I asked her if she had told anyone, and she said “Yes”. She had told Gerry Robbins, my big boss – the General Manager.
I was horrified, but in the event I needn’t have worried. Gerry was a good guy, and of course I happened to share a little secret with him, so when he came over later to offer his congratulations, I was immediately put at ease by his friendly demeanour.
He seemed to find nothing particularly strange about what had transpired, and simply asked me what I intended to do with my new wife when I returned to Port Harcourt.
I wasn’t sure, I told him, being far too timid to suggest the company should change my contract status from single to married.
As it transpired, he saved me the bother of having to ask. He informed me that just in case I was wondering, the company would not agree to change the status of my contract. I had signed up as a single man and it would remain that way.
He told me that this wasn’t the first time that an expat had married a local girl and it was up to me to take care of my wife in whatever way I was able. He told me that there would be no hindrance to me taking my wife with me back to Port Harcourt, but that I would have to find my own accommodation, and take care of her out of my own pocket.
So that was that.
Azzy’s plan hadn’t worked, and I assumed that when I broke the news to her, she would decide to stay in Lagos, as how on earth would I be able to find liveable accommodation in that war damaged, wreck of a town?
She didn’t change her mind. She still insisted in accompanying me when I was scheduled to return to Port Harcourt a few days hence.
So my new wife and I returned together, and took up residence at the hotel that I had stayed at before my trip to Lagos, but this time it was at my expense.
Azzy was pretty much confined to the hotel and it’s immediate area during the day, and I didn’t even have unfettered use of a car, as I had to use pool vehicles which were frequently required for other company business after collecting me in the morning and dropping me back to the hotel at night.
Top priority was to buy my own transport, and a close second was finding somewhere more economical to stay, as the price of the hotel was eating up my salary in leaps and bounds.
Within a few weeks, two events occurred which helped me to solve both of these problems.
The first was the opening of a Ford dealership; an enterprising Lagos based company had quickly decided to cash in on the severe shortage of private transport in the Port Harcourt region, and had re-opened their defunct dealership. They had a fast growing order-book. I didn’t really want to buy a new car, but if Azzy and I were to have any kind of life together, then I had little choice. Delivery was only a couple of weeks hence as the company had them already stacked up in their Lagos yards.
So having solved my transport problem, I turned my attention to somewhere for us to live. This is where the second notable event came to my rescue.
At that time, there literally thousands of empty houses scattered around the lanes and byways of Port Harcourt, whose owners had abandoned them when civil war had broken out. The Rivers State administration had set up an ‘Abandoned Property Bureau’ where anyone could go and obtain permission to occupy a property which had been abandoned.
The process took a while. Firstly a suitable property had to be located. Then an official had to inspect it and satisfy himself that it had indeed been abandoned. There were no local authority records remaining, and as most of the decent properties had been owned by foreigners or foreign companies, it was assumed that most would never be reclaimed as the owners had long since departed the country.
Azzy and I found a large house, with a sizable garden, in a leafy lane, just off the main Port Harcourt Road. I was about fifteen minutes drive from my office, which was situated on the outskirts of town, and was within easy distance of shops and other places of recreation, such as the hotels and bars.
All things considered, the house was in a fair state of repair, but it still needed a lot of work, to say nothing of completely fitting it out with new furniture, a new kitchen and so on, all of which had been ransacked and destroyed by the military during the war.
After getting the necessary paper work approved by the Abandoned Property Bureau, and a small rental rate set, we faced the herculean task of making the house habitable, which would undoubtedly cost a lot of money.
One thing in my favour was the widespread black market in Nigerian currency that was operating at the time. Many of the businesses in Port Harcourt were owned and run by Lebanese, who had been doing business throughout Nigeria for generations.
The Nigerian Pound was subject to heavy exchange control regulations, so it proved extremely difficult for these Lebanese entrepreneurs to send their hard earned profits back to Lebanon.
So for expatriates, such as myself, who were paid in foreign currency, local life became much cheaper when we exchanged our UK Pounds or US Dollars in the black market for local currency.
All we had to do was write out a personal cheque, and we would be given a brown paper bag full of Nigerian Pounds.
Even so, I was starting to spend all my hard earned money on buying the car and setting up home in a Port Harcourt suburb. If I had been living as a single man in the guesthouse, it would have cost me nothing as transportation, food and accommodation would have been provided free of charge, but thanks to Azzy, it was becoming a bit of a nightmare.
Once we had made one bedroom semi-habitable, we moved in and started the long, expensive task of decorating, repairing , fitting up and furnishing the rest of the house.
Azzy acquired staff like most of us acquire clothes.
Before we had been in Port Harcourt a month, we had a driver (essential so that I could be transported to and from work, while Azzy had use of the car during the rest of the day), a cook, two maids and a gardener, all of whom lived with us in the house.
True their salaries were pitifully small, but I still had to feed them and generally take care of them.
Azzy was always having trouble with her staff who she hired and fired at will. She was a tough lady, and loved nothing better than a good bit of Nigerian ‘palaver’; shouting and screaming and finding fault and making trouble – whether with her own staff or anyone else who happened to cross her path, including yours truly; poor old brow-beaten Mobi.
I was starting to despair of ever getting out from under my mountain of expenditure and debt when a stroke of luck occurred.
My employer had decided that the main accounts function for the company’s Nigerian operations would be transferred to Port Harcourt, which meant a considerable upgrading of the office and staff and also involved the appointment of a new Chief Accountant who would be brought in from The USA to take overall charge of the Port Harcourt Office.
His name was Tim, and he was a very gentle, quiet, ‘green’ American on his very first overseas posting. As if it wasn’t hard enough for a single man who had never been outside California to settle in and adjust to a totally alien culture, the situation was made even more tenuous when he decided to bring his wife and two young children with him. They were housed in the recently re-opened “married status” housing complex which was situated very close to the office.
Tim was a good, competent accountant but he struggled mightily to adjust to this very alien environment, and he needed a lot of support in the early days when dealing with the daily staff and management issues with the local employees, who were always a voluble handful.
But he was a good man and I grew to like him a lot. He tried to bring his American values to a third world country and he was horrified and outraged when he discovered the manner in which I had been obliged to live with my Nigerian wife, and the money I had been spending, just to live day by day.
He went into ‘bat’ for me with the head office management and a few weeks later, he was delighted to tell me that although the company were not prepared to re- house me in the company compound, they had agreed to reimburse the expenses I had incurred to fit out my house, and that they would supply company furniture, company air conditioners (which I didn’t have), and would generally take over the maintenance and decoration of my house.
I was to be put on a “married status” contract, and would reap further benefits in terms of additional expense allowances, and a generous ‘living allowance. In return, my contract was extended from one year to two.
Azzy became an accepted member of the Port Harcourt married community, and Tim made sure that we were integrated into social functions, and were invited to dinner and barbeques and all the other activities that went on in those far off days.
We made particular friends with Tim and his family and another young UK accounting colleague who had also been posted to Port Harcourt with his wife.
We all became firm friends, and even entertained them at our own ‘abandoned property’ house, once it’s transformation into a civilised, liveable home was complete.
So life was good for a short while.
But Azzy was the first in my long line of controlling, trouble-making wives with a strong liking for alcohol, which only served to embellish her already disruptive behaviour.
She loved to go out at night and we became regulars at the best hotel in town, the luxurious and palatial Presidential Hotel, which had now been re-opened following refurbishment and war damage repair.
The Presidential had a night club where foreign artists would perform a nightly cabaret.
We were there nearly every night, both of us getting quite drunk and the drunker Azzy became the more difficult she would become, and we would invariably start fighting either in the nightclub itself, (Azzy would suddenly accuse me of looking at a another girl and started shouting at me), on the way home, or after we reached our house.
On one unforgettable occasion, we were already drunk and fighting each other on the way back to our house, when we were stopped by the military at a road block.
We were ordered out of the car, and Azzy decided to take issue with the armed soldiers. She started shouting at them and abusing them and they didn’t like it. After a few minutes of nonstop tirades from Azzy, the soldiers had had enough and they manhandled both of us very roughly and threw us into the back of a Land Rover which was parked nearby.
Azzy continued to shout at them and they decided to put the boot in – on me and Azzy.
We were transported to the local military jail and dragged out the vehicle and thrown onto the floor of a dirty, smelly concrete cell. My clothes were torn and ruined, and I was a mass of cuts and bruises, but otherwise still in one piece – more or less.
Azzy seed to be in a similar state, but by now had finally calmed down a little. The experienced had chastened her, but she was still mumbling under her breath about how she would report the soldiers concerned and get her own back.
We stayed there all night, (or what was left of the night), bitten alive by mosquitoes, feeling very uncomfortable, very thirsty and quite exhausted. In the morning we were released, and had to find our own way back to our car, and thence to our home.
I hadn’t slept all night, but after a quick shower and change of clothes I was driven to the office, where, not for the last time in my working life, I attracted much interest due to my severely battered and bloody state.
Dear Tim was outraged and when I related the story of what had happened. He was all for going down to the military command and demanding that the offending soldiers to be punished, but I managed to prevail, insisting that it would be better just to forget about it. After all, if Azzy hadn’t reacted in such an abusive fashion, the incident would never have occurred.
Later we were to befriend a young Nigerian officer, who was a friend of one of Azzy’s relatives. He would take us to visit his friends in the Officers’ Mess, often stop by my office for coffee and inevitably we would go out eating drinking with him and his brother officers at night.
Now we had ‘protection’ it was unlikely that there would ever be a repeat of what had happened that night.
So we settled into a ‘way of life’ in Port Harcourt. I worked a five and a half day week, and the rest of the time I was with Azzy, at home or out drinking or taking weekend trips around the country.
Azzy’s behaviour was becoming increasingly volatile and there was rarely a day when she wouldn’t be having one of her temper tantrums with either me, one of her countless staff or some other unsuspecting member of the public. Alcohol also fuelled the level of her intolerable behaviour.
It must have been around June 1970 when Azzy announced out of the blue that she was pregnant. I had mixed feelings about this turn of events, as by this time Azzy was making me very unhappy with her unacceptable behaviour, and I was starting to wonder if there was a future in this marriage. I was feeling thrilled to be a father for the first time, but what future would the little mite have in such an unstable home.
It was inevitable that as the pregnancy drew on, Azzy’s behaviour became ever more extreme. She refused to stop drinking, and her shouting and fighting were getting out of hand. She became violent and would threaten me and others with knives and on one occasion even locked me in my bedroom for the whole weekend.
Right up to the day when I rushed her into hospital to deliver the baby, she never let up in her drinking, fighting and trouble making. It was almost as though she wasn’t pregnant as it didn’t seem to slow her down or sap her energy in the slightest.
The delivery took place on 27th January, 1971 and took several hours, but within an hour of my baby son being born, Azzy was on her feet and demanding to be taken home.
My son was named Andy and was a lovely baby. He was pretty well behaved considering the lack of proper care from Azzy and a succession of Baby nurses.
Azzy seemed to regard Andy as an ‘accessory’ when out and about and became a useful focal point to make her the centre of attention at social gatherings.
When at home, she showed virtually no interest in the baby’s welfare, (except to shout at the nurse to do something when Andy wouldn’t stop crying), and for the most part she left him entirely in the hands of a baby nurse.
But when we attended company social occasions she would wheel baby along in a shiny new pram, and play the ever- loving mother. The hypocrisy of it all was galling.
My life grew increasingly unpleasant, and Azzy became ever more violent. Many was the day I would turn up for work with a black eye or cuts and scratches all over my face from Azzy’s ‘ministrations’, and I would have to make up all kind of excuses to explain my condition as I had no desire to let anyone know that I was effectively a “battered husband”.
This was increasingly so because I was living in Nigeria – Azzy’s home territory. There was virtually nothing I could do to legally put a brake on Azzy’s behaviour. There was no one to complain to, and if I tried report her to the police, then Azzy would have gone ballistic and may well have caused me even more physical harm. She certainly threatened as much on many occasions.
My two year contract was up in August 1971, and I realised that this might provide me with an opportunity to deal with some of Azzy’s more outlandish behaviour. An idea was germinating in my mind that once I got back to ‘civilization’ I would find a way to somehow curb her excesses.
I would receive two round trips air tickets to the UK for a thirty day holiday, and I planned to take Azzy and Andy with me to stay at my parents’ place in East London.
I thought that Azzy might “meet her match” if she started her violent tantrums when my father was around. I was almost looking forward to seeing him ‘deal with her”
As I counted the days remaining before we embarked on our trip, I could never have imagined just how far reaching events were to become, back home, in ‘Blighty’.
Andy was just seven months old when the three of us flew to England in August 1971 for my well deserved break, and also for my ‘golden opportunity’ to try and do something about Azzy, my almost ‘out of control’ wife.
My mother and father still lived in their large, three bedroom council flat in East London, and we were initially welcomed into the “bosom of my family”. My mother and father were both delighted with their very first grandson, and drooled over him like a couple of proud new parents.
I was especially surprised at my father’s behavior, who seemed to be mellowing with age, and played with the baby in a manner that was totally alien to me and my still bitter memories of his ‘normal’ behaviour.
But the idyllic family reunion was short lived.
It didn’t take many days for my parents to cotton onto the fact that Azzy had little interest in looking after the baby, and that she expected me, and her parents-in law to do a lion’s share of the work.
At first, my parents, especially my mother, took care of the chores as a pleasure, but relations started to become stained when it became apparent that Azzy wanted to spend all her time shopping for ever more clothes in the local high street shops, coming back each day dressed in all the latest skimpy, summer fashions – hot pants, mini-skirts and the like.
Although it hadn’t been that long since she had delivered her baby, her figure was slim and firm, and she looked every bit a fashion model, especially when done up to the nines in figure flattering clothes.
When she wasn’t out shopping, she stayed in her bedroom, indulging her second passion – drinking. She tried to keep this activity a secret from my family, but it wasn’t long before they realised what she was up to.
Things continued with an uneasy peace, as even my father seemed to making a particular effort not to turn this visit into a major fracas.
Then Andy became ill. He developed a very nasty cold and fever and he wouldn’t’ stop crying. When his cold symptoms first appeared, I popped down the local pharmacy and bought him some medicine, but after a couple of days, it became clear that Andy’s condition was getting worse.
My father became very concerned and told me to go and get the baby and go with him to the local doctor’s surgery.
I started to do his bidding, but my beloved wife had other ideas. Hearing my father order me around and making decisions about the care of her baby without consulting her was like red rag to a bull. She didn’t appreciate my father trying to take charge of things and told me in no uncertain terms not to move our baby from the bedroom. I started to argue with her and insist that Andy needed to see a doctor, but she wouldn’t have it.
My father heard us arguing and stormed into the bedroom and started shouting at her, raising the decibels with every word he uttered, demanding that she hand the baby over to him.
Most people’s reaction to this kind of extraordinarily intimidating behaviour from my father is to immediately back away and to become cowered into timid submission.
But my little Azzy was made of sterner stuff.
No one in this world was going to tell her what to do, and she picked up the baby and shouted back at him, giving as good as she got.
My father became ever more enraged, and as Azzy started to put Andy back in his cot, my father caught her unawares and grabbed the baby from her loosened grasp and stormed out of the bedroom, shouting at me to follow him.
Azzy was having none of it. She followed my father into the passage and grabbed hold of the baby, screaming and shouting at him. There ensued a minor tug of war, but thankfully my father quickly let go to avoid harming the baby.
She returned to the bedroom and locked the door and screamed at all of us to go away.
Things turned ever more dire.
My father was now in one of his fully fledged rages and he banged on the door so loud it must have been heard on the other side of the street. Azzy continued screaming obscenities at him from inside the room, and my mother burst into tears.
Undaunted, my father launched himself at the door which was followed by the cracking sound of spitting wood and the door suddenly flung wide open.
Azzy was sitting on the bed, Andy in her arms, and in her right hand was a kitchen knife. I had no idea where she had obtained it from but I had no doubt that she had secreted it for just such an eventuality.
She screamed at my father not to touch her or the baby, or she would put the knife in the child. I didn’t believe her. She might be a wild, self absorbed, slightly psychotic control freak from darkest Africa, but I didn’t imagine for one moment that she could be capable of such an action. It was all bluff.
My father told my mother to call the police.
Azzy responded by telling us that if we called the police she would cut herself and tell the police that my father had attacked her, at which point she ran the knife down her forearm and produced blood.
At least she seemed to have stopped threatening to harm the baby, and my father – maybe the first time in his life – decided to back off, and he retreated to the lounge from where he called me for discussion.
He informed me that he wasn’t concerned with her threats and was prepared to call the police and have the baby removed from her. He said it was up to me. If I agreed he would call the police, have them take the baby into care and then throw Azzy out, but I was welcome to stay.
Or, if I wished, I could leave today with Azzy and the baby and then the decision on the welfare of the baby would be down to me, but he warned me that Andy was becoming increasingly sick, and that Azzy was a very bad person and and an even worse mother, both of which I already knew.
I asked what would happen to Azzy if he threw her out and I left her. He said he couldn’t give a f..ck what happened to her!
I went to speak to Azzy, who had also calmed down a little by this time, and we agreed to pack our things and leave.
We called a cab, and drove around looking for a suitable guest house to spend the next few days, until we decided what we were going to do for the rest of my holiday.
We located a clean place a couple of miles away from my parents flat and moved in with Andy.
The poor little mite was still very poorly and by now had a very high fever. I was very concerned, but Azzy still refused to let me take him to a doctor. But that night Andy was becoming so ill that he wouldn’t stop crying, so I prevailed on Azzy to let me call the emergency doctor.
The doctor finally arrived late that night and immediately gave Andy an injection and provided us with a range of medications with which to treat his fever and related ailments. He told me that Andy should respond to treatment within twenty four hours, but that if there was any worsening of his condition, then I should take him straight to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.
At long last Andy stopped crying, and fell into a deep, and no doubt exhausted sleep. I felt his forehead an hour later, and was relieved to find that the fever had already started to abate.
In the middle of all this, Azzy had absented herself for an hour to go out and locate an off license where she bought herself a stock of beer.
Upon her return, she happily supped her beer, told me what a terrible man my father was, how stupid he was and laughed about how she had ‘bested’ him by threatening to harm the baby, and also herself. I kept my own counsel.
Later, she calmly informed me that she couldn’t stay in the room all day and all night, and that tomorrow she would go out alone, go shopping, go to the cinema, and leave me at home to take care of Andy. The fact that Andy was still seriously ill seemed not to have crossed her mind.
She fell into a deep, drunken sleep, and I lay beside her thinking and planning what I was going to do the next day, if she kept her “promise” to go out all day.
Azzy was true to her word, and after breakfast the following morning, she confirmed her plans to go out all day, and leave me to take care of the ailing Andy.
I gave her a wad of money to make sure she wouldn’t run out half way through the day, and as soon I was sure she was really gone, I immediately started packing up my things.
It didn’t take long, and then I went downstairs to call a taxi. I advised the landlord that Andy and I were going away for a couple of days, but that my wife would be remaining in the room and would await my return.
I told the driver to take us back to my parents’ flat, where I would plan my next move. I couldn’t stay there long, for it was more than possible that Azzy would be able to find her way there and confront me.
Knowing her capacity for making trouble and violent confrontation, anything could happen. I didn’t want my parents – in particular my mother – and of course Andy, subjected to any more mayhem and mental trauma.
I decided to rent a car, and after calling my brother who lived the other side of the river Thames in Kent, I drove there with Andy to stay a few nights, and see what transpired with Azzy.
The illness and all the emotional upsets of the last few days had taken their toll on Andy’s equilibrium. He was barely eight months old, but I am sure that even at that age babies are susceptible to outside influences, especially negative ones, and by the time I arrived at my brothers’ house, Andy was screaming the place down, and the only way I could pacify him was to hold him permanently in my arms. The minute I put him down, he started to scream again.
It was very difficult for me, and also for my brother and his wife. They were as yet childless and were not used to caring for such young babies, especially one who was stressed and wouldn’t stop screaming.
Andy had to sleep next to me in the bed, as it was the only way I could settle him and get him to sleep. I was terrified that I might smother him, but I really had little choice.
The following day my brother and sister-in-law tried to help me in sharing the burden of looking after Andy, but it wasn’t to be. In fact when my poor sister-in-law found that that she was unable to help, she became so distressed that she burst into tears at her own helplessness. She wanted to help, but she couldn’t, and as a result of what happened, it was a number of years before she finally managed to put that early experience of babies out of her mind and have one of her own.
So once again I was ‘between a rock and a hard place’. I couldn’t stay with Azzy, I couldn’t stay with my parents or my brother, and I couldn’t extricate myself from my disturbed baby for more than a few minutes at a time.
I spent the afternoon and evening ‘holed up’ in the spare bedroom with Andy, and I became very worried and very depressed.
I spent a second, very troubled night at my brother’s house, and when I finally emerged the following morning, my brother had some news for me – some bad and some good.
He had been speaking to my mother. As I had feared, Azzy did indeed mange to retrace her steps to my parent’s home the previous evening. I learned from him, and from later accounts, what had transpired on that fateful evening.
She had pounded on the door and demanded to see me and her baby. My father had insisted that I wasn’t there but she didn’t believe him.
Her pounding became ever louder and she started screaming and shouting obscenities at my parents through the letter box. When she grew tired of this, she would go outside and scream up the the flat which was located on the second floor, from the communal garden area, throwing anything she could find up at the windows. Then, after a while, she would returned to once again bang on the door and continue her foul mouthed screaming.
Inevitably, many of the neighbours’ doors opened and a crowd assembled in the garden, watching and listening to her antics with increasing dismay. Then tempers began to fray and they started to make their own contributions to the row. They shouted at her to shut up and go away and made menacing gestures
Azzy was having none of this, and she attacked a couple of men who approached her, and such was the vehemence of her attacks that the crowd retreated with some trepidation.
Inevitably, someone called the police, and after half an hour or so, the boys in blue turned up to sort out what was becoming an increasingly violent, domestic incident.
It didn’t take long for the police to identify the focal point of the trouble, and when they approached her, she redirected her abusive behaviour at the police, complaining to them that my father and son had kidnapped my baby.
By this time my father had decided that enough was enough and he emerged from the flat, approaching Azzy in an extremely menacing manner.
The police quickly came between the two antagonists and a police sergeant escorted my father back into his flat where he explained to them what had happened.
Whatever my father may or may not have been, he was a highly intelligent man, and when it suited him, he knew exactly how to behave in such circumstances and how to talk to the police.
He told them of his daughter-in- law’s selfish and reckless behaviour towards her baby, including her refusal to let him see a doctor, and of the ‘tug of war’ that had occurred when he had tried to take the baby to get medical treatment.
Looking at the volatile behaviour of the young woman outside, (for by now she was becoming increasingly hostile to the police who were trying to restrain her), it wasn’t difficult to accept all that my father had said to them, especially as my gentle, quiet spoken mother was on hand to confirm every aspect of the events.
At length, one of the police who had been trying to calm Azzy, came upstairs to consult with his sergeant, the result of which was that the police asked my father for permission to search the flat to ensure that I wasn’t hiding there with the baby.
My father immediately agreed to this, and a few minutes later, both policemen went back outside to tell Azzy that I was definitely not in the flat.
Azzy became even more enraged, and when they told her that she had to stop causing a disturbance and leave the area, she managed to pull herself free and aimed a well aimed punch on the nose of one of her police ‘minders’.
All hell broke loose. She was immediately wrestled to the ground by three, burly, six foot cops, handcuffed and dragged unceremoniously to the nearby police car, all the while screaming and accusing them of lying to her.
That was the last anyone saw of her that evening and my mother assumed that Azzy would have remained in custody. After all she had assaulted a police officer.
That was the bad news.
The good news was that one of my brother’s colleagues who worked with him in the local council offices had expressed an interest in helping out on the baby front, when my brother had recounted the story of what had been happening and the distressed state of his nephew.
The colleague’s name was John and he was a respected figure in a local Christian group. John and his family had fostered a number of children over the years on a short term basis, and he offered his services to take care of Andy in order to free me up to take care of my business.
This sounded like an offer I couldn’t refuse, as I was anxious to get back to London and see what was going on with my wife, for in spite of everything I still felt responsible for her, (after all I did bring her to England),and I had to plan what was going to happen as regards my job and my future was concerned. I was due to return to Nigeria with my family in less than two weeks.
I could certainly do very little as long as I was taking care of my baby, twenty-four/seven, but whether or not Andy would agree to be left with John and his family remained to be seen.
My brother took me over to see John and his family that evening. John was in his thirties and already had two children of his own – a son and daughter.
Coming from an unhappy family, and growing up in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, I was immediately bowled over by the happy, kind and loving atmosphere I found there. Everyone was so kind, and they couldn’t do enough for us. They were indeed a lovely family, and Andy immediately took to them, actually grinning for the first time in weeks.
There is no doubt in my mind that even the youngest babies feel emotional vibrations from those around them, and as much as he reacted badly from the negative ‘vibes’ when he was with living with his scrapping parents, he clearly responded to the obvious love and affection that pervaded John’s family home.
We agreed that Andy would stay there for a week or so, until I had sorted out my future and what was going to happen with Andy. So the next day I drove back to London to find out what had happened to Azzy, and to consult with my employers.
My father had been making some enquiries on my behalf, and he established that Azzy was being held a few miles away in a cell at a local Police station, so I took off to go and see her.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that so far she had not been charged with any offence, but was being held in custody for her own protection.
After waiting alone at the police station for quite a while, I was introduced to a social worker, who said she wanted to talk to me about Azzy.
It was then that I learned that following her arrest, Azzy had behaved in an increasingly bizarre and psychotic manner and that they were now becoming concerned about her mental state.
Apparently she had refused to eat, shouted abuse at anyone who came near her, and when alone continually talked to herself in her Yuruba dialect. The social worker told me that she had managed to have a brief conversation with her and Azzy had complained that there were evil ‘spirits’ in the cell with her and that they were trying to kill her.
I recounted Azzy’s extreme behaviour, both since we arrived in England and also when we were home in Nigeria. The social worker made copious notes, and after a while she asked me if I thought that Azzy was ‘psychotic’. I thought about this for a long while and answered in the affirmative.
She told me that she was arranging to have Azzy examined by a psychiatrist, and if he concurred, she would arrange to have Azzy ‘sectioned’ – locked up in a secure mental institution for while and undergo treatment.
She told me that it would be better if I did not see Azzy at this point. She said I could visit her later, once she had been admitted to hospital.
I left it at that, and drove into central London to see my employers, where I explained what had happened and asked them if it would be possible to postpone my return to Nigeria. They were extremely sympathetic, and said that they would inform my boss in Lagos that I would be delayed for a few weeks on compassionate grounds.
I will be brief on the conclusion of this ‘Vignette’ which seems to have grown into a saga.
One thing led to another and my son Andy remained with John, who adored him like his own son and some years later, with my permission, legally adopted him.
It broke my heart, but I realized that I was in no condition to become a single parent – especially in those days when there was no governmental support, and John had come on the scene – as if from heaven. John and his family could give Andy a stable, loving home life and raise him in a manner far better than I could ever aspire to.
For me, at barely twenty-five years old, it was a ‘no-brainer’. Whether it was the correct decision, and whether I was just being plain selfish, is anyone’s guess, but that’s what happened, and although we have never been close, we did keep in touch, and Andy grew up to be a fine, highly moral and lovely young man.
Azzy was ‘sectioned’ and I went to see her a few times. She was obviously sedated, but whatever the reason she seemed to have lost a lot of her hostility and was very friendly towards me. I think they had treated her very well in the hospital, and she had responded positively.
When she was released, the social services tracked down a community of Nigerians who lived in another part of London and she went to live with them. Her new found countrymen helped to get on her on her feet and to settle into a new life in England. She had no desire to return to Nigeria.
I eventually returned to Nigeria, where I had to face the wrath of Azzy’s parents who demanded to know what had happened to her. I tried to explain but I doubt they ever really understood, and for years probably harbored suspicions that I had somehow ‘done away’ with her.
Several months later I went to visit Abby in her new London environment, and she had settled in remarkably well. I was introduced to the people she lived with, and many more Nigerian friends besides, and she took me to the West End where she frequented Nigerian-run, late night clip joints. I wasn’t sure if she was actually back on the game, but she certainly existed in that ‘twilight zone’ where the community she lived with indulged in activities which at best could be described as barely legal.
An uncontested divorce followed after a couple of years.
Many years later, I forget how many, I ran into her completely by accident in Shepherds Bush underground station, in West London.
It was during one of my very brief periods back home, and I had rented a flat in the area. It transpired that Abby was also living locally and was actually within walking distance of my flat.
It was Azzy who recognized me when I was queuing up for a train ticket, for I would never in a million years have recognized her.
To say she had put on weight was an understatement. She used to have a very slender, curvy figure, with beautifully slim, perfectly proportioned, sexy legs, but the woman who was standing next to me was extremely large. She still had that classic African face with exquisitely chiseled features, but her body was thing of the past. Her stomach had become swollenout of all proportion, her backside stuck out a mile and her extremely fleshy legs literally wobbled as she walked.
It wasn’t until she identified herself that I realised that she was Azzy, my ex- wife.
It must have been genetically ordained, for I suddenly realised she was the spitting image of her mother.
I saw her several times during the few weeks that followed, before I went back overseas again. In spite of her unflattering body size, she was now a fully fledged prostitute, and had built up a thriving trade at her flat. She entertained me in between visits by her regular punters who all seemed to delight in her large, fleshy appearance.
We got on surprisingly well. There were no recriminations for the past and we had some happy, fun-filled evenings together.
I saw her the night before I was due to fly back to Bangkok. We promised to keep in touch, although deep down we knew that it would never happen.
We kissed – not as lovers – more like old friends from a long time ago.
I never saw Azzy – my first real love – again.