Friday, 28 November 2008

On......death and the Nigerian policeman




The average Nigerian is terrified of death. Well, who isn’t right? But Nigerians are especially scared about the prospect of packing their bags and jetting off to the land of their demise. Take the police for example.

I was covering a bank robbery in Lekki a few days ago and the Mobile police force atypically made it to the crime scene before the robbers had completely scarpered with the loot. However, when they did arrive, they were so reticent in exchanging gunfire that all but one of them took cover in a nearby uncompleted building. Only one aged, dedicated cop had the balls to engage in a shootout with three of the armed robbers. His pleas to his cowardly colleagues, audible in spite of the staccato pummelling of the gunshots, were the saddest footnote in on overall distasteful affair. “Assist me,” he cried. “We fit take them, we plenty pass them”. The valiant enforcers of the law, protectors of the civil populace, cowered in their hiding place until the gunshots had died down and the armed gang had comfortably escaped.

I waited and waited but no ambulance came to treat the injured and pronounce the dead dead. The latter was obvious enough though; the lack of movement in a lifeless body, horrible in its stillness, is a dead giveaway. I saw no ballistics experts recovering bullets that had embedded themselves in the road, the cars and the perimeter fence that had surrounded the gunfight. There were no CCTV cameras to capture the faces of the brazen crooks who thought it impractical to bother wearing any sort of mask. The police interviewed no witnesses and dusted for no fingerprints. Blood was allowed to congeal and no samples were rushed to a forensics lab. There were no helicopters combing the area. I saw a few guys trying hard to look inquisitive and serious. They were either detectives or constipation sufferers. The only thing the police did of any note was to look exceptionally befuddled by the whole thing.

You should see the vigour with which our policemen hound commercial vehicles. If one tenth of that enthusiasm was reserved for confronting criminals then our society would be virtually crime free. Instead of nurturing their talents, they nurture their potbellies. They fear death like zombies fear life. Look to the west and think of the countless law enforcers that sacrifice their lives each day in the name of the fundamental ethos of their profession: to protect and to serve. In Nigeria, they have an ethos too - to pickpocket and to steal. A motto which they are quite prepared to die for.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

On...... Lagosisms, LASTMA and laid back sloths

Life is nature’s hangover; the splitting headache that it can never quite shake off after a drunken binge. Life is a long hiccup; one that I do not particularly want to cure because death awaits at its end. Lagos life is inconveniently simple and orderly. You kinda know where you stand.

You know that people will not wait for you. You know that they will attempt to fleece you at every turn. You know that bus drivers are worshippers of Beelzebub and are in a hurry to donate their souls to him. You know that the rains will bring with them chaos and excess flooding. You know that you will find excruciating hardships and acute comfort, quite often as intimate strangers. On any given day, there will be at least one unloved, unclaimed and very dead body on the Apapa-Oshodi expressway. Bomb craters will occasionally masquerade themselves as state roads. The unending thrust and momentum of Okada drivers will make the Energiser bunny look like a cannabis smoking sloth. The water hyacinth will be a perennial eyesore and you will wonder where it all comes from and where it all goes. LASTMA will harass the law abiding drivers and turn a blind eye to the reckless ones. You will be the daily recipient of verbal and possibly even physical abuse. Ten minute journeys become one hour excursions. You will begin to suffer from dirt blindness: an affliction that prevents the sufferer from seeing trash and garbage, no matter how vast the quantity. You will hear the words Balende, CMS and Anthony at least fifty times a day.

There is a certain inconvenient order and simplicity to all of that. And I kinda like that.

Friday, 5 September 2008

On......a light hearted matter

There is never light. The ribcage of my laptop is now visible. The poor thing has been starved of electrical current for so long. My shaver has such little strength that it can barely walk (abi na work?). The small generator at the back mocks them with a horrible vibrating laugh. It has become stocky and robust through overuse and cruelly sneers at the skeletal frames of the other domestic appliances.

Electricity in Nigeria comes in splutters like the dying gasps of a cancerous old man. You begin to grow suspicious on the few occasions that NEPA actually do their jobs and provide sustainable electricity. The other week, we had an almost uninterrupted power supply for 48 hours. I felt a bit like a call girl who had been given one million naira by a punter. On the surface you are happy, but deep down you are deeply mistrustful of what you will have to do for this ostentatious good fortune. Following the recent awoof of light, I am beginning to fear that they are planning a three month power blackout. Nationwide. This is how wary they have made me.

I was trying to open a bank account the other day and the customer service assistant asked me for a NEPA bill as proof of my address. I was immediately gripped by overwhelming hysteria and had to be escorted out of the bank premises before I managed to stop laughing. NEPA bill ke? Do these things actually exist? What exactly is one billed for? I investigated further and I actually came across one of these so called NEPA bills. They even measure electricity in real units of measure; kilowatts. I suggest that they start billing people in kilonoughts of nonentricity used. It would save them a lot of paper work if nothing else.

Dear Mr Adekunle,
You have consumed 1 million kilonoughts of nonentricity this month. Please pay your balance of zilch before 9/9/9999 and you will be assured of continued lack of electricity.
Regards
Mr Pana-Pana
Management


Nobody seems sure of when this sustainable power supply is to be achieved. Is it 2011or is it 2020? What are people’s thoughts? Can we really have sustainable power in this country? I fear that there are too many personal agendas for this to be a foreseeable reality. What happens to the generator sellers and distributors if there is regular electricity? What happens to the diesel sellers? What happens to big oil? What happens to Femi Otedola and co? Are we to reasonably expect all these people to quietly sail off into the night and never be heard of again? The fact is that it is still in the interest of far too many people – powerful people at that – for there to be an irregular and unreliable power supply. These people are so powerful that they helped your local government chairman win his election. And your Senator. And your Governor. And yes, even your President.

I cannot imagine that there are many more countries in the world that consume more diesel per year than we do in Nigeria. In most other countries, diesel pumps have become desolate figures on the forecourts of filling stations. In Nigeria, the stuff is at such a premium that it costs us twice the price of unleaded petrol. This diesel lust is fed by the need to power our generators because NEPA (now rejigged to PHCN) apparently generates less than 3000MW of electricity a day. The goal of the present government is to quintiple this meagre total by 2010. In the increasingly unlikely event that this is achieved, it would still not be in line with most other developing nations.

Darkness has enveloped our land at night and also the thinking and ambitions of those that rule our country. Provision of sustainable electricity should be the most pressing issue on the agenda of all our rulers. It appears that it is not. NEPA, and all its incarnations, has become a byword for ineptitude and poor performance. It is a national joke. It is hard to accept the current standards when indigenes of smaller, weaker economies are basking in the dull glow of their evening light bulbs whilst millions of Nigerians continue to eat enforced candle-lit dinners. It is a sham and I can confidently proclaim that steady electrical supply would eradicate one third of Nigeria’s problems today (a half decent road network would solve another third). Let us bring sustainable electrical power back to the forefront of the national consciousness. It is no longer enough to merely fold our arms when they deprive us of electricity only to yell “UP NEPA” when it is returned to us.

On a slightly different note, we had any number of witty acronyms for NEPA - my favourite being Never Expect Power Always. Can anyone suggest an equally apt one for PHCN?

Thursday, 7 August 2008

On......a return to the organized bedlam of Lagos

The first thing is always the humidity. Dense and sultry. Lagos-by-the-sea. Where no breeze dare ride freely for fear of being hit by an okada driver. Baggage collection is much improved with two separate halls divided by a Pyrex screen. Another flight has just landed but at no point do we have to go and check the conveyor belt in the other hall for misplaced baggage.

The long journey home. I am bracing myself to confront the traffic. The smallest things provide the greatest details. There is a small goat tottering across the motorway that leads from the airport. I wonder what it aims to do when it reaches the other side. If its entrails have not mingled with the motorway by then. The biggest road problem remains the bikers and okadas. Mechanical bees. They swarm around your car, coming from all directions, threatening to sting at the slightest provocation. There appears to be no law about what an okada can and cannot carry. I intend to set up a photo log displaying the varied passengers I have seen on the back of an okada. Today there is one carrying two passengers. Hardly noteworthy, aside from the fact that the second passenger is one half of a dead cow.

Businesses continue to thrive. Everywhere one looks there is the ubiquitous florescent green banner that proudly advertises some business or the other. Whoever creates those banners must be making a killing. One such sign for a charity bemuses me. Motherless babies. I wonder if there isn’t a good chance that the babies are not also fatherless babies. And if not why don’t they just call the thing an orphanage. It is only a euphemism of course but motherless babies always sounded a bit too cruel somehow. A bit too Dickensian.

Governor Fashola is doing a good job. Ask any one on the street and he will tell you. For the first time as far as I can remember, there are discernible changes in the way Lagosians are living. Actually, strike that. For the first time, there is a discernible positive change in the way Lagosians are living. The Molues are gone. There are proper bus stops. People are queuing. I am amazed. Many overhead bridges and walkways are now protected against the elements. I hope this will mean fewer deaths from breakneck pedestrians trying to cross a motorway when an overhead bridge is one foot away.

The mechanised tentacles of construction and redevelopment are spread right across the city but still too concentrated on Lagos Island. The mainland is still far and away it’s poorer cousin. Urban improvement is less visible in Yaba and Surulere than it is in Victoria Island and Ikoyi. It is still a tale of two cities. I know Islanders who do not venture into the Mainland unless they are going into the airport. If one thinks this is a class thing then consider that there are just as many Mainlanders who would rather prostrate naked on a bed of scorpions than live on the Island.

As we enter the island I notice the traffic in the other lane. It is the same traffic that I have been noticing since the Third Mainland Bridge. I wonder what time those at the tail end of the traffic will reach their loved ones. And what time they will need to set off again in the morning. I fear the effects of the partial closure of the Third Mainland Bridge. It will be two months of great difficulty.

Asda and Walmart killed the trader. We stop at the Palms and Shoprite is fantastic. You can find anything and everything at reasonable prices. There is a suya man there buying huge quantities of meat. I ask him in Hausa why he does not buy his meat in the market. He says that whilst the meat is still slightly cheaper in market, the cost of transportation there and back removes any actual savings. How long before there is a Shoprite in every corner of town? How long before they start squeezing prices and forcing small traders and middle men out of the equation? The cost of a carton of juice is twenty naira cheaper in the market than in Shoprite.

I am so happy to be back. It has been fourteen years now since I have lived here, disregarding holidays in between. Fourteen years. More than enough time to spend in any one place I reckon. These days you get less than that for murder. I will give myself ten years here then let us see what happens. America perhaps would be the next great adventure. Gosh, I will be 40 then. Where does the time go? I aim to have fun. I left Jand because I stopped having fun. There will be disappointments strewn across the road in front of me. Tragedy even. But I will hurdle each one and continue running. Let us meet at the end.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

On......the story of Ashewos Anonymous

With varying degrees of disharmony, the six women sat down in a semi-circle in a small conference room at the Eko Le Meridien Hotel. They were assembled for the fourth meeting of Ashewos Anonymous, a support group designed to ‘cure’ nymphomaniacs and other women who were addicted to sex. Since its inaugural meeting, numbers had dropped significantly, with the deserters finding the AA’s twelve step program either too demanding or not demanding enough. For their needs.

Alhaja Silikat, for example, had to stop coming after her husband and erstwhile pimp, Alhaji Mushin, had discovered the existence of these meetings. Alhaji had gone into semi retirement many years ago after becoming partially deaf. He still sold gas cylinders for a living but this was not enough to support a growing family of seven children. It was unfortunate also that his wife’s full time job of selling boli contributed very little to the overall family income. He decided one day that it would be more beneficial for him to become his wife’s agent and began to advertise her sexual services. He charged roughly about 2000 Naira per hour per person. In a good week, Alhaja’s big yansh would bring in about 60000 Naira for the family. It was hardly the kind of income that Alhaji was going to jeopardise and he was livid on hearing of her visits to Ashewos Anonymous. He warned her that she was never to socialise with those harlots, those midnight walkers, those damsels of the night. Alhaja, meek and always subservient, had listened to her husband and put a halt to her AA meetings.

Of the six women that remained, each had a different motive for their continued attendance:

Hepritta Okolie, was the worst kind of ashewo, the unrepentant kind. In truth she only attended these meetings because of the free poff poff and minerals. If there was anything that Hepritta liked more than a big strong John Thomas, it was poff poff. She had recently secured a very lucrative patch on Sanusi Fafunwa and clients were steady. However, even after taking care of rent and tuition fees, buying food was a problem. Yes, she thought, when all these stupid ashewos finished talking opata she was just going to stuff as many poff poffs as she could into her bag before hitting the street. Tchhhhhw. Idiots.

Godwina Iriambong was not really an ashewo at all. She only came for these meetings in a secret bid to learn more about the art of being a successful ashewo in the hope that she too could improve her sex appeal. Sadly for Godwina, God was not in a winning mood on the day that he moulded her. Her teeth were small and sharp like that of a grasscutter and to compound matters she suffered from an inability to close her mouth for longer than one second which meant that her gnashers were always in full view. Her weight had always been a source of great distress. She had recently tried the award winning Akin’s diet which prescribed eating nothing but Banga soup day and night. Poor Godwina was usually so ravenous at night that she had once devoured about 3 kilos of Banga in one sitting. This was not quite what Dr. Akin had in mind. Her facial features may have been acceptable if she had a basic understanding of make-up arrangement. As it was, she had skin the colour of night yet insisted on a lipstick shade that was as red as uncontaminated blood. In addition to her unnecessary rouge and purple eye shadow, this gave her a rather freakish look which was responsible for at least two accidents and one small riot on the Lagos-Ikorodu expressway. Godwina would sit at the meeting nodding furiously at all that was being said, making copious notes along the way. For Godwina, therefore, ashewoism was not a malaise but an aspiration.

Funke Okunrinoletemilorun, founder of this society, was a young lady with genuine sexual neuroses. At the last count she had slept with no less than 127 men, not including the okada driver that would drop her later that evening. She came from a solid background and her parents were of considerable reputation. By the time she was 18 she had slept with all the male members of her household including the washaman that came once a week. At 21 she no longer felt any sensation during sex yet felt the compulsion to continuously seek new partners. At 25, she acknowledged that she had a problem and needed to proactively deal with it. She formed this organisation with the belief that there were other women who shared her predicament and that together they could help each other.

The fourth lady needed little introduction. I am referring of course to Chief (Mrs) Oladunjoye Akinpelu nee Harrison-Thomas, the socialite, the bon vivant, the collector of men, the lover of all things fiscal, and without much doubt the greatest fornicator of all time. She was now on her sixth husband and had amassed a personal wealth of some 1.2 billion Naira through various enterprises and divorce settlements. Her primary source of income remained her very successful brothel franchise which had started out as a modest concern in her boys-quarters in Ilupeju. Over the years it had grown into a national franchise and now boasted no less than 49 depots across the country. There were only four states in Nigeria that she did not have at least one brothel and development plans were already at an advanced stage. She had once bragged that if Mr.Biggs was the biggest franchise in Nigeria, then her brothels were a close second. Chief (Mrs) Akinpelu nee Harrison-Thomas was attending the meeting to make sure that none of her girls were attending. She had personally interviewed each of the 448 ashewos that were under her direct employ and she ran a tight ship. She was nothing if not thorough and did not want any of them to start getting ideas above their station by attending new fangled concepts like Ashewos Anonymous.

Mama Ikpamosa, septuagenarian, wrinkled, toothless and recently widowed was a peculiar attendee. Since Papa Ikpamosa’s death her life was of very little meaning and she had attempted suicide several times. At the fifth attempt she had doused herself in diesel but forgot that she had bought no matches that week and therefore had to curtail that particular effort. As she slept that night, smelling like a Mobil filling station, she had something of an epiphany in which some celestial voice advised her to seek comfort in the company of other women. She decided the next day that she would stop trying to kill herself and try and make some friends instead. Ashewos Anonymous was one of ten groups that encouraged female solidarity in which Mama Ikpamosa had become a card carrying member. Her darling husband, in his infinite wisdom, had always discouraged her from keeping female company, believing women to be the product of Satan and only good for their superior culinary ability and reproductive organs. For the first time in her life she was interacting regularly with other women and loving every second.

The last woman in this motley crew was Doorshima Mbanengen, the poor unfortunate who was the victim of a generational curse that compelled her to have sex with any man who asked her. Her grandmother had once angered the Mammy water by boasting that she was of the very strong conviction that she was the most beautiful woman in all of Tiv land. The Mammy water had overheard her and placed a curse on Doorshima’s grandmother and all her future offspring. The curse was, for a woman, the worst of all curses - constant consent. She and her future generation were unable to say no to any advances made by a male. Doorshima’s own mother had died in childbirth and was not able to advise her daughter of the terrible hex that was to walk with her for all her living days. Doorshima had grown up unaware of this curse until she began secondary school and word got around that she was a “girl of loose morals and even looser pant”. Her compulsion disgusted her and she tried everything to rid herself of it, including joining The Sacred Church of Indigo and Lavender in the belief that hers was a spiritual problem. She left the church after the priest discovered her little problem and used it to his advantage, repeatedly. She sought out this group as a means to purge herself and try and understand more about her inabilities to turn men down.

The six women would talk of their exploits, real and imagined, with a candour and openness that would embarrass a market woman. Over time, they all started to look forward to these meetings and although numbers fluctuated, the six remained constant attendees. They did not really socialise outside of the sessions but a great affinity developed between the six of them, and it was truly remarkable to see them helping and encouraging one another, reclaiming the word ashewo in the process to become a term of endearment.

In a country where instances of female solidarity are as rare as blue gold, it was Ashewos Anonymous that brought these women together with a (dis)united purpose. It makes it incredibly sad that Funke, the founder and chairwoman, died less than a year after the inaugural meeting from an AIDS related illness. The women still met once a year in her honour and today, in Onikan, there is even a small memorial stone with the inscription – Remembering Funke, the greatest ashewo that ever lived.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

On......the fable of the gap-toothed snake, the benevolent boar and the troglodyte



There is a popular misconception, one that seems to have been universally upheld, that the Lion is the King of the Jungle. This view is, in fact, inaccurate. Whilst it is true that across the various animal kingdoms, lions form a majority of the ruling class, there are small pockets of sovereignties, scattered here and there, in which other animals enjoy governance.

Take the Jungle Republic of Lacunia, for example, where Gadon Machiji, a gap-toothed snake, once ruled for some 8 years. The fact that a snake ruled was not in itself the surprising thing -other snakes had been in the hot seat before- it was that ruling alongside this sect of serpents there sat a reptilian-like, cave dwelling creature known as a troglodyte. Now, no one liked or trusted these troglodytes with their humanoid shapes and long serpentine tails. They rarely came out during the day and even when they did, they would wear dark protective eyewear so that one never saw their eyes. They were highly disruptive creatures and the only attribute they possessed in great abundance was evil. Even more surprising was the gap-toothed snake’s very public friendship with a benevolent boar called Waitandsee. Some animals even believe, to this day, that it was the resources of the very wealthy Waitandsee that sponsored the coup that allowed Machiji to seize power from his draconian but dithering predecessor.

After Machiji took power, things started to go wrong almost immediately. Firstly, decrees 23 and 42 were scrapped. These decrees had been introduced by the outgoing regime and had forbidden all animals from defecating or urinating in places that were not clearly designated shitholes.

Further, there had been murmurings amongst the animals that Machiji was the secret head of a cabal that imported the coca plant from his cousins in the Amazon rainforest. Everyone knows of the euphoric but dilapidating effect of the coca plant on animals. Under the old regime all convicted coca smugglers were brutally murdered as punishment. None of the animals dared accuse Machiji of being a smuggler for fear of the repercussions. A highly respected goat, and head of the Jungle Journal, had been bold enough to compile a series of missives suggesting that the gap-toothed snake was behind much of the coca influx. One day the goat received a package containing compressed porcupine quills which exploded when opened, killing the goat instantly. The murder remains unsolved but whispers permeated through the Republic that it was Machiji’s handiwork.

Economic policy also suffered greatly under Machiji particularly with the introduction of the Seasonal Appropriation Program. The program made little sense to anyone other than the Republic’s creditors and whilst foreign investment increased, there followed a period of great famine and austerity. During this period Machiji and his cohorts got fatter whilst the good citizens of the Jungle Republic, from the marauding elephant to the industrious soldier ant, got leaner and leaner. Machiji’s government implemented a myriad of other failed programs, which only helped to divert attention and fritter scarce national resources. Some of the programs include the Animal’sBank, Directorate of Food, Streams and Jungle Infrastructure (DFSJI) and Better Life for Reptilian Women. All these programs are dead today.

The Republic was very good at producing palm oil but unfortunately did not really know what to do with it. You see, palm oil on its own is pretty worthless and has to be refined in order to be of any benefit. So whilst the good citizens were slavishly producing record amounts of palm oil, they had to export it and buy it back at extortionate rates. Also the Lacunian animals were not very good at hunting for themselves. Almost everything they ate they had to import from other lands. This was not helped by Machiji’s failure to provide them with the tools needed to sharpen their claws, grind their teeth and improve their ability to hunt.

It was not long, therefore, that the animals began to grow restless and started to rebel against Machiji’s poor leadership. Machiji responded with force and hundreds of animals lost their lives as they protested about the poor conditions. Even some of Machiji’s brothers in green were unhappy and staged yet another coup to dethrone the increasingly unpopular king. Unfortunately, over the years, Machiji had become extremely deft at the skills of evasion and managed to escape to a place called Gongo Rock which he christened as the new seat of power. All 27 of his brothers in green were caught and assassinated after a trial in a kangaroo court. Nobody was quite sure where the kangaroos had come from.

All the while, Waitandsee, the benevolent boar, was secretly harbouring fantasies of succeeding Machiji. After all, had Machiji not promised to relinquish power to the other animals after five years of rule? And who better to pick up the baton than his dear friend, Waitandsee, who had assisted in putting him into power in the first place? So the stage was set for an election. Unease had been growing and this would surely keep the animals happy. The election itself was a success but what happened subsequently was a disgrace. All the animals, including Waitandsee himself, had underestimated Machiji’s lust for power and desire to prolong his own rule.

He set up an ‘interim’ committee of his own choosing to replace him which consisted of various ostriches, giraffes and other animals of no consequence. This set the scene perfectly for yet another takeover, this time by the troglodyte which was to have very dire consequences on the whole Jungle Republic of Lacunia. One of the troglodyte’s first acts was to imprison Waitandsee and thereafter followed a series of animal rights catastrophes which are too terrifying to mention in great detail. Suffice to say that those were very dark days for the Republic with assassinations and kidnappings the order of the day. Hyenas and jackals moved freely among the animal populace under the veil of fear and intimidation. Under his rule, the molluscs with the hard shells pillaged the land for more and more palm oil. When a bold and fearless lion rose proudly and roared in disapproval, the troglodyte sent his hyenas to hang him.

His reign, fortunately, was not to last for much longer. The rest of the animal world took notice and whether by accident or whether by design, the troglodyte met his end mid-coitus, in the company of two specially imported Indian pythons. Coincidentally, exactly a month later, Waitandsee also met his fate in equally suspicious circumstances. It was the very day that he was set to be released from incarceration. Some say that the American bald headed eagle -self proclaimed guardian of the animal kingdom- was behind their deaths but there is nothing really to substantiate this claim. The Indian pythons were never seen or heard of again.

What of Machiji? Did he live happily ever after? I wish I could tell you that he did not and that a hunter caught him one day and cut off his head. I wish I could tell you that but I would be lying. Machiji is still alive today and still slithers in the same venomous, reptilian company that he always kept. Would you believe that he recently even tried to be King of Lacunia again? A snake sheds its skin every year but even the Lacunians recognised that underneath this new skin was still the very same gap-toothed snake that had plunged the Republic into chaos so many years ago. He still talks out of both sides of his mouth. Recently, he crawled out of his lopgpile house and attended the ten year memorial of his dear friend, the troglodyte. He tried to tell us that the troglodyte was not really a troglodyte at all. He said that the troglodyte did not stash those cowries in Gongo rock all those years ago. He assured us that the billions of cowries that were sent to Helvetia, and have since been repatriated, had nothing at all to do with his dear friend and was some kind of administrative error. Snakes do not blink so he said all this with an entirely straight face and without a sense of irony. It is only after all these years that it has become very clear. Machiji, for once, was telling the truth. The troglodyte had not really been a troglodyte at all. He had merely been a serpent in human skin. The grimace and the dark eyewear had fooled all the animals into thinking they were different creatures when, in fact, they were one and the same.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

On.....the corner of 14th street and Serenity





Starting Monday 26th May. See here for more information.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

On......the price of fear


I wasn’t quite sure how to approach her as she stood there in her red dress. I am rarely prone to overwhelming lust but at that minute I wished to tear her clothes off and fuck her. Repeatedly. However my nerve failed me as it often does in these situations. You see I do not know how to approach women, never have done. All my female associations have been purely through mutual introductions or in ‘safe’ settings like educational establishments, workplaces, etc. The fear of rejection always weighed heavier than the potential euphoria of a girl's promise. Thus, I have never chatted up a woman. Sure the signs are usually obvious enough. A woman will do any one of a half dozen things to indicate that she has earmarked you as a potential suitor. She will give you a further half dozen signs to suggest that she wants you to come over. I can read all the signs but like an illiterate I fail to comprehend a single one of them. Actually I do comprehend but then in the process of the brain registering signal and transmitting instructions to my feet to start the walk, something breaks down. I freeze.


So once again I stood, or rather leaned, in that familiar position by the bar, eyeing a girl I liked yet powerless to do a damn thing to build up the courage to just go and talk to her. I wanted to know so much about her and it hurt me that I lacked the guts to just get her name.


How was I ever to discover that her name was Mandy for example? Or that she liked Art and was currently working in a dead-end job but was hoping to open up a gallery someday? How could I possibly know that after our second date she would invite me up for coffee and that we would kiss the night away never once wishing to spoil our innocent caress with anticlimactic sex? I would be forever ignorant that when we did eventually have sex, I would dream of the tightness and moisture of her pussy all day long. How was I to ever know that one evening, after eight months of indecision, I would propose in Venice where we are attending the film festival? Would I ever be able to reciprocate the joy and pride I felt after her immediate acceptance? Or the jubilation that followed when she ultimately introduced three beautiful baby girls into our lives? Or the fact that for every setback I faced in my early career it was her that cajoled, supported and encouraged me to keep persevering? Would I ever reach the heights that her mere presence propelled me to? Would she ever have quit that dead-end job and pursued her dreams?


I guess not. For here we were at 2.53, with the club closing at 3, remaining at the same level of acquaintance that we were an hour ago and damned to remain at for eternity. We will remain two soul mates drifting apart into oblivious anonymity without the even the grace of knowing what we never knew. For want of some courage a lifetime was lost.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

On......the bizarre incarceration of Ra'id Tajudeen Hussain


I awoke blind to the stench of urine and sweat, not knowing where I was or how I came to arrive there. I tried to move but my enclosure was miniscule and my legs, cramped as they were, bounced off the walls of my cell.


I was in a crouching position and movement of any kind was a remarkable effort.


I called out but no sound was distinguishable to my ears. I was either deaf or mute. Or both. I knew then that I was under incarceration and this small, dark, humid place was to be my cell. I had been deprived of all my senses. But wait.....no.......I had my hearing still. I could just about make out, from some great distance, a ticking sound, thumping, rhythmic. Like a bomb. The ticking was at times loud, more urgent, closer, imminent. At others it was faint, steady, distant, but ever present.


I feared for my safety, for my survival, my base instincts wishing to thrive and continue existence despite my desolate environs. I could do nothing for now but sleep.........


I awoke to loud noises from outside the cell. Again I cried out but again my voice died on utterance. I tried to discern the noises, to give them meaning, to understand who my captors were and what they wanted with me. All attempts to understand were futile. The language they spoke was foreign to me. Again tiredness overwhelmed and sweet sleep embraced me.


As I grew stronger I began to grow more aware of my surroundings. The cell was largely dark and devoid of any discernible doors or windows. On occasion, the cell would be partly illuminated with a faint, dull glow, like a great light from beyond was trying desperately to force its way in. The walls seemed soft, padded and worryingly seemed to move occasionally in constrictions, as they had a life of their own.


I was kept alive intravenously. A long tube was attached to me and the other end extended somewhere beyond the walls of my confines. Many times I would lie awake to try and hear a sound to see how this tube was replenished with food and nutrients. Each time I would sleep and fail in any attempt to make contact with my captors. Perhaps the nutrients that came through the tube also contained overpowering sedatives. In any case the tube was my only means of sustenance and I was reluctant to tamper with it.


I was left largely in silence and for many months the only consultation I had was with my own thoughts and memories. I had somehow grown accustomed to this place. I was getting stronger each day and I knew that I was being kept alive for a reason. The voices I heard outside the prison assured me that there was some sort of life out there in spite of my solitary confinement. Through my own imagination or perhaps even in reality, I felt that the voices would sometimes address me, speaking calmly, gently, and even lovingly. At other times the voices would be a series of loud yelps and exclamations. I felt that I had a friend on the other side, perhaps they were even fellow prisoners. There was one voice in particular which I began to find pleasurable. Despite the babble it would always be there. It was the voice of a female. There were times when I would go into great distress and kick and flail wildly in desperation and discomfort. Even at those times of anguish, I could hear the voice and it would return me to the placid, dormant state that had become a predominant sentiment in my institutionalised solace. So many times I wished I could regain my vocals and master her tongue so that we could communicate. I desperately wanted to meet this voice that had become a companion these past few months.

The cell reduced in size each day. Little daemons would come at night to silently remove small blocks that would constrict the space. I knew this for each time I slept I would feel movements within the cell and yet there were no physical presence when I awoke.

It is true that those in captivity will, over a period of time, begin to feel a certain attachment to the prison that holds them. After a while I thought less of my previous life, its incandescent lights and perpetual joys. The truth is I even forgot altogether what it felt like to be free. All I had now was darkness and voices and I had begun to cherish these two nebulous things. Even the movements and vibrations within my cell no longer frightened me. They were now a part of me. I felt safe and comfortable, no longer caring who my captors were

It is one of life’s injustices that at the apogee of comfort, there shortly arrives discomfort. The vibrations (were they earthquakes?) grew more uncomfortable and more periodic. Each time those lifelike walls would tighten and close and squeeze. I felt that I must surely be the subject of some cruel experiment but wait........there was a light in the distance. Not a faint hum of a thing but a distinct glimmer. There it was, it grew brighter and it drew me closer. Suddenly, and without warning, the light revealed a door. There had always been a door! But it had been sealed shut. It was now opening to whom? To what? A paralysing fear gripped me and I did not want to leave my cell but those vibrations were getting worse; they were expelling me from my dungeon and into the light. Gloved hands grabbed me around my head and pulled me roughly towards the great light. A great blade shimmered above my stomach and cut away at the intravenous tube that had been my saviour. I wished to return to my prison. This world was too cold, too exposed, too...........light.

I opened my lungs and I spoke for the first time in 9 months. I asked for food and for water. I complained about the cold. I begged for return to the darkness as the light hurt my eyes. My voice had returned and therefore I screamed and screamed. And then I was placed into a shawl and ignobly carried and placed into the arms of one of the captors. The captor spoke and it was her. The voice that soothes. My eyes still refused to focus properly in this new light but I could just about make out her figure and she was looking at me and smiling. I stopped my complaints and suddenly I felt very safe again. This was my mother, Halima Hussein, and she was to name me Ra’id Tajudeen.



The Bizarre Incarceration of Ra’id Tajudeen Hussein

Monday, 21 April 2008

On......my penance to past loves

To Hauwa:

With the unique embellishment of nostalgia, the Samco orange drink that you shared with me that break time, retains, to this moment, the immortal sweetness of ambrosia. That feeling of victory, attained in spite of a clutch of suitors, was as gratifying a moment as any significant landmark I have achieved since. I remember how you used to watch me playing football – from a distance. With little tactical acumen and with even less consideration of my teammates, I would seek to impress you by picking the ball and dribbling as many players as I could. Scoring a goal was merely an incidental bonus. I would often beat no more than five players before being rugby tackled by Obiajulu who I could never get past. On the one occasion I shimmied left and feinted right, sending him sprawling to the ground and tackling air, you had already returned to the classroom.

I apologise now for the lack of manifestation of my heart’s true intentions. The eight year old boy is poorly acquainted with grandiose displays of affection. In the event, you left school convinced that I hated you. I remember one incident where in a fit of overflowing, uncontrollable love, I threw a blackboard duster at you. Even as I knelt down outside as punishment for my transgression, I swear that I have never been more sure of my love for another person. If only I loved you older, my love would surely have exhibited itself as love and not cloaked itself in explicit abhorrence.

To Jackie:

Remember Ikoyi Club 1938? Men we haunted those grounds like the spirits of old lovers. I still remember that first wet, awkward kiss in the rotunda that tasted like suya and onions. You giigled and ran off to tell your girls. You had a secret nickname for me – MJ. You said I looked like a pre-pubescent, pre-cosmetically altered, pre-white Michael Jackson. In the 1980s, MJ was the epitome of fineness so it is a nickname I cherished. Remember Friday night movie club? Our wet kisses soon became the main feature.

Yours was the first love that hurt. It is a most traumatic day when you learn that love is bittersweet. In retrospect I should have spotted the signs. You were the older woman. You were at least a head taller than me. You already wore a bra. Those two small mounds on your chest sparked a carnal curiosity in me but it was one which I never dared to explore. Perhaps a sneaky hand during a rerun of Herbie goes bananas would have cemented our union.

I remember the day I saw you with Basil. At Ikoyi Club. In the Rotunda. On a Friday. My haunted soul fled from purgatory and descended into hell. It would be a while before I glimpsed heaven again.

To Farida:

The entirety of our love was spent in non communication. It was a crush of gargantuan proportions and I repressed it, coward that I was. My crush actually preceded our initial acquaintance by at least three years. The affair began on celluloid when you starred in that Ogbanje film I used to tease you about. What was it called again? Ah yes.....The Reign of Abiku. I think your name was Motara in it. That NTA Channel 5 production scared the bejesus out of me and I spent the majority of the time watching it from behind the couch, emerging only when you appeared on the screen. Years later I confessed this to you and my proclamation sent you in to alluring, melodic hysterics. By that time our relationship was firmly in the realms of Plato and I had long since crossed the dreaded threshold of “Too friendly to be a boyfriend”.

Even as you complained about the quality of boyfriends in the periods of plenty and lamented about a lack of them in the times of drought, I would playfully entertain thoughts of a time when I could call you my girl. It is not true what they say about lasting friendships not budding from early romance. You remain one of my best friends to this day.

To Tinuke:

My bow legged Lou. My queen of indescribable perfection. Our love was never meant to be. My best friend and blood brother was crazy about you and it is the unwritten code between men that “Thou shall not cock block thy best friend”. To further complicate matters, you had dated my other good friend and therein lay another rule in the code of men.

But we could not help the way we felt could we? I saw those covetous glances during Thursday lunchtime. I perceived the stolen looks as we passed each other in the hallways on the way to Chemistry. I ignored all these pleasing portents until that dream. It was not a wet dream o. No, it was far more innocent than that. We merely held hands and it was as if the cumulative tension of repressed desire congregated in such a simple act. I awoke from slumber in love with you.
But how could I betray my friend? It soon became obvious that your interests lay with me and not he but I could not jeopardise my friendship. We had our moments though. Remember after school that day when we made out behind the SS3 boys’ toilet? You allowed me to squeeze your breasts as we kissed and your hand explored some parts of my body. I have never had such a guilty erection in my life.

My emotional maturity had begun to develop and I eventually had to explain to you that because of the ongoing attentions of my friend, no good could ever come out of our feelings. I made the audacious offer of quietly cutting shows on the side without the ceremony of an open relationship. We called it UnderG in those days. You were a lady of honour and rejected such an arrangement.

To Monica:

My sister yellow with your skin like paw-paw in the wet season. I ignored your overtures for three years barely even throwing a careless word in your direction. And then one summer, school resumed and you had bloomed. It was too late, boys started taking notice, no longer were you the quiet hibiscus that resides in the corner of the garden; you had blossomed into the bold bougainvillea that sprawls with undeniable beauty beyond its limited confines. Even boys from Kings College, ISL and St Gregs were alerted to your beauty. They would travel from far and wide to gaze and to toast. However in spite of the newfound attention, you still retained some residue of emotion for a blind fool and I capitalised in those moments we had together sitting private SSCE.

Our love did not last because of my jealousy. I grew wary of the unwelcome gifts and the unsolicited telephone calls. I felt inferior because some of these toasters were richer and more attractive than me. My behaviour towards you became despicable and I grew aloof. You implored all my friends for an insight into the genesis of my mood change. I felt I was letting myself down easily for the inevitable moment when your head would be turned by some governor’s son. I should have had greater faith in your unwavering love.

Our love was tragically brief but was one that endured and I am grateful that we managed an encore performance in subsequent years. However distance intervened and served to fizzle out the promise of a lasting romance.

To Evie:

My Waffy girl. My amazon. Why was I so unfair to you when all you ever did was care about me? Was it because of Monica? Was I still getting over her? I was selfish and un-gentlemanly to you many times and yet you persevered. How many times did I call you? It is not that I did not care about you Evie. It was just that my heart had not yet been completely returned to me and the part that had was capable only of yielding a diminished output.

We had potential with your big brains and my big ideas. We worked so well together and your Waffy blood ensured that sexual relations were always very charged. I wasted too many years dithering and holding you back. By the time you ended it I had become a bitter person. I respectably befriended you on more favourable terms and I am pleased to call you a friend once more.

My darling Scholastica:

My brother has recently written you a very public note. And I will always remain sworn to secrecy. After all as they say - what happens in Warri stays in Warri. Let us leave it at that...........

Yours


Atutu

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

On......NY inspirations, California frolicking and the Water theory




New York was merely a two day stopover and it was my intention to use the time to recover and save some money for the west coast jaunt that lay ahead. That was the objective until the moment Kollington, my party loving friend, arrived on the scene and said we had to rock on Friday. I dragged myself out of bed and cursed my easily susceptible self. We ended up at the Hudson and the night itself was a non-event and the only noteworthy episode involved my foolish dalliance with champagne – the one alcoholic drink that induces a hangover in me.
I did not need to wait long to regret my foolishness because I had to rouse myself at about 8am in order to return the rental car ahead of time. A word of warning – DO NOT EVER ATTEMPT TO USE A GPS NAVIGATION SYSTEM IN NEW YORK CITY. I attempted to plot what should be a 20 minute drive from Central Park West to 22nd street and it took me damn near an hour. The bloody GPS kept attempting to take me down one way streets and send me hurtling to my doom. The rental assistant had her hand on a stopwatch as I managed to drive the car in one minute before the deadline. There was an unmistakable look of disgust on her face for not being able to impose a late penalty charge plus one day rental cover plus taxes. I managed to walk back to the hotel – a journey which took me ten minutes -and there was Kollington’s grinning face waiting for me. He is one of those medical marvels who are somehow able to consume copious amounts of alcohol in one night and yet somehow retain the presence of mind to wake up in the morning with an unblemished clarity of thought. He and his brother were going for some gym training and did I want to come along? What the hell I thought. It turned out to be one of those boot camp type of things where the instructor physically abuses you for one hour. After the session I felt violated with my heart beating at a rate that it had not reached in many a year.

In the evening I somehow found the strength to meet up with an old friend who works as an actress in the city. She was late so we skipped dinner and headed towards Chelsea and a book reading by one time blogger Teju Cole (a pseudonym). He has recently published his first book Every Day is for the Thief which is a very promising debut. I was a huge fan of his as a blogger and I sense that there are great things to come from this author. A further rallying cry to you literally inclined bloggers out there – STOP SLEEPING. In less than 18 months Teju (picture below) has gone from updating his admittedly brilliant travel blog to becoming a fully fledged author. Make una wake up o!




The morning belonged to San Francisco and California dreaming. It is a city that I fell in love from the moment plane tyre touched tarmac. It is hard to describe this bay side city in words so feast your eyes a bit on the pictures above










California was unarguably the finest state I visited on this trip and has a strong claim to be regarded as a country in its own right. You will never savour a finer driving experience than the eight hours (broken up in chunks) that I spent on the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Dana Point. I enjoyed it so much that I got clocked doing 104mph by the local sheriff in Salinas. He took one look at my license, decided that it was probably not worth prosecuting a foreigner and let me go after and making me promise to “ease up on the ol’ gas pedal”

LA was the endpoint of my California trip and in many ways it was an anti-climax to the preceding days of the serene, unspoilt beauty witnessed in Carmel-by-theSea, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. In terms of adventure, however, LA was unrivalled. It is a city that reminded me greatly of Lagos, at once basking in the opulence of palm tree lined boulevards coupled with the very immediate squalor and hardships of so many tramps and layabouts. It is also the only other city I know where “shakara” and “effizy” are the order of the day, more important than any other thing of substance. Big shots and high rollers do not even look you in the eye when they address you. They are constantly looking past you, beyond you, trying to check out other people checking them out.


At the Sky bar on Sunset Boulevard, one Yahooze guy decided he was going to buy everyone drinks. I am not talking one sachet of pure water each o! This guy was popping champagne like say tomorrow no go come. I shack tire that day and even made friends with the guy sef. He said his name was Chad and that he was some producer or something. I lied that I was a screenwriter (everybody in LA na screenwriter). At the end of the night he invited me and the friends I was with back to his place. He said that there was going to be an after party with ample babes and that he had bountiful amounts of “Bolivian cocaine”. Which one be Bolivian cocaine again? Is that somehow different from your garden variety, buy-off-the street cocaine? He lived on Mulholland Drive and we promised to meet him there. We actually did roll there in the hope of witnessing a fully fledged LA orgy but when we reached, the place was looking kinda spooky with its long winding drive and unlit gates. We carefully reversed our car and sped away. No be me they go use do ritual!

LA was a trip and in the end I felt sad to leave but I was convinced that Vegas would provide even more delightful hedonism. I was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the self-indulgence is very much in place but it is of the manufactured kind. Everything is ingloriously over the top in Vegas – the buildings, the food, the clubs, the women. It is also full of bloody foreigners and you cannot move without hearing a hotchpotch of various accents and languages. Not a bad place but you could literally be anywhere in the world (there is even a mini New York and Paris for crissakes). It was just a little too touristy for my liking and in retrospect I would have knocked it off my list of destinations for this particular trip. The dusty drive through the old Route 66 was a great treat though but avoid doing it at night. I was a bit frazzled cos we spent a bit too long taking pictures and nightfall caught us on that old road with no streetlights.

I was not sad to leave Vegas a few days later and the early morning flight to Miami could not come soon enough. It was my first time in Miami and the first thing that you notice is the women. Even the women notice the women in sheer appreciation. They are of every hue, body size, ethnicity, inclination and sexual persuasion under the sun. I am not an ashewo but I am a lover of beautiful women and to my mind, Miami has a greater concentration of beautiful women per square foot than any other worldly place I know - apart from my village in Benue state of course where even the mammy water hides her face in shame anytime a female child is born. There is perhaps a link there – water. Are riverine men and women the finest? Think about the finest people you know. I bet they grew up near water. Or perhaps even just a very well dug-borehole. I will accept that. IS there something about the water that makes them very fresh? Surely worth further investigation no?
We spent most of our days in Miami in South Beach between Washington Avenue (clubs), Collins Avenue (shops) Lincoln Road (restaurants) and Ocean Drive (beach and people). Was sick of clubbing by the time we get to Miami and even sicker of the small-minded staff that inhabit the realm of their doorways. However I must give a big up to Opium on Collins Avenue. This was quite simple the best joint I went to on this trip. It is an open air concept that could only ever work in a temperate climate.

On the fourth day the skies opened and they wept. The trip was over and inside I joined in the celestial downpour. It was time to leave and I was satisfied that I had achieved many of the things I sought out to accomplish. I was well rested. I had made good headway on the story I was working on. I had met some fantastic characters. I had dined at some very fine establishments. Life was good.

Many thanks to my travel companion, Bournvi, who at various points of this trip reminded me of the true meaning of friendship. Many thanks to the DC cops who harassed me – e no go better for you. Much love to the understanding sheriff who took pity on me. Thank you to Sierra – you taught me a lot. Thank you Aloha – you saved me cheddar. Many thanks to all American ATMs that will never give you ten dollars when all you need is ten dollars. I will be back soon, perhaps, not wiser, but undoubtedly older.

Monday, 31 March 2008

On.....the back bay, DC and the law

The flight to Boston was via a Grayhound coach ride to Buffalo (a city I had vowed never to return to after I visited last year). We got to the airport in very good time but during check-in my duffel bag weighed the size of a crudely severed body and I had to painfully part with $20 in excess baggage charges. Interestingly as I went through security, the lady who checked my passport advised me that I had been selected by my airline to go through an additional screening.

It is my experience that where one has nothing to hide, the best way to deal with such situations is to grin and do exactly as you are told. Even your grin has to be gauged at just the right width so as not to appear too cocky. Don’t grin at all and you look like a moody terrorist. Anyway, I wondered casually why my airline had awarded me with such a dubious accolade. Is it because I is black? Who cares? One can never be too careful these days and it gave me a paradoxical comfort to know that dodgy looking people like me were being screened thoroughly. My shaggy, slightly dreadlocked, beard could perhaps do with a trim I thought as the TSA official frisked me doggedly. I suppose that it was also very reckless of me to still be donning the hotel towel that I had wrapped around my head that morning after my shower. You would have thought that someone would have pointed it out to me during the three hour trip from Toronto. I dunno. I suppose the declaration “Sir you have a damp towel wrapped around your head” could be construed as an overtly racist statement these days.

Boston itself was beautiful. I stayed at a charming hotel called The Colonnade which is in the Back Bay area of Boston. There is a neighbourhood feel to the city and walking down the wide, lamposted streets you get the impression that everybody knows your name. As a matter of fact someone should write a sitcom to highlight this neighbourhood aspect of Boston as the backdrop. They could use, I dunno, a bar or pub as the central setting and just have a bunch of people yammering all day about anything and everything. I tell you that sitcom would be a smash hit. What’s that you say? Cheers for the suggestion? Most welcome.

Boston and Washington are separated by some 450 miles of road. The drive is one that takes about eight hours on most days. It is a trip that falls very neatly into two halves. The first four hours allows you to navigate through the lush redness of New England foliage. The journey takes you through Connecticut and you end up in New York. The second half is in sharp contrast to the first as it is all industrial concrete from New York to New Jersey to Pennsylvania to DC.
D.C is a weird little place and I do mean little. It is divided into four quadrants and measures merely about ten miles in radius from north to south, east to west. I was hosted and dined by my dear friend Kulutempa who also acted as an unwilling tour guide. I found it strange that some of the more historic buildings are merely yards away from low income housing projects and ghettoes. It is also a city which appears to have a surfeit of crack-heads in its population. I lost track of the number of times that I was approached for a dollar. A dollar to a crack-head is that magical amount that will get him one step closer to his fix.

The high of my DC experience was immediately followed by a low. The high was my brief nocturnal meeting with a fellow blogger which I had hoped would be for longer. When I say that she has a feline strut then I am sure you will know who I mean. She is as witty and delightfully sardonic as she appears on her page not to mention sexy as hell. The one and a half hours we spent enjoying a drink before being kicked out was certainly a paean of rapturous note. On the way back I encountered a distasteful incident with DC’s finest when I was pulled over for no apparent reason. Unclear of my legal rights in this country (and having watched one too many movies) I suddenly became very meek and did not dare to ask why I had been stopped. They spotted my uncertainty and used this to nourish their nightly enjoyment. I was grilled for a further half an hour as they seemed to find the idea of a guy on a road trip a bit too incredulous. As they continued their questioning I relaxed and realised I had nothing to hide. I was not an illegal, I had a valid license and I was not inebriated. Surely the basic human rights that I was entitled to in England were equally applicable in Washington D.C (or indeed anywhere else in the free world). They sensed the slow transformation in me from rabbit to eagle and let me go with apologies.

In California now and heading to the Nevada desert. There is so much to report on the intervening trip (including another run in with the cops) that I will dedicate another post to that.

Monday, 17 March 2008

On......the beginnings of the road trip and getting a year older

Here I am teetering on the edge of the age gap, wondering what adventures the other side of the great chasm will afford me. Let us just say that I am celebrating a “noteworthy” birthday this year and that I had decided that I would celebrate it by dissecting North America in a Ford Mustang. However my journey was to start in Toronto, Canada, a city which I had always planned to visit and which had always held a certain mystical allure. So here I am, teetering on that age gap, reflecting on the past tri-decade and feeling distinctly underwhelmed.

I should have known better really. I mean, what did I expect? I have lived in London now for approximately half of my adult life and once you’ve lived in one big city, you’ve lived in them all. I can therefore say categorically that I have visited Tokyo, Munich, Paris, Sydney, New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, Chicago and Seoul. The stamps in my passport are irrelevant. I have lived in a city therefore I have lived in all cities. Toronto is no different. Although I must say there is something particularly soulless about this great city. Yes I know what you are thinking. The city is artifice, it is constructed, manmade. But no, there is something that found spookily bland about Toronto. It is a city that appears to live in the shadow of another great city. It is the younger sibling that strives to find its own identity yet labours under the personality of the more dominant offspring. It is America-lite or Yank Zero if you like.

I had come to Toronto hoping to find my own private slice of Canadia. I wanted to discover the distinctions that provided Canadians with justified umbrage every time one mistook them for Americans. I hoped to understand the culture of the people and to see what it meant to be Canadian and not American. I wished to become fluent in the Canadian tongue and understand the distinctions that existed between the Canadian accent and its American cousin. So how did I achieve this? I went to Toronto, and stayed at the Sheraton. Beat that for immersing yourself in Canadian culture. It is like the man who travels to Abuja for the first time, spends two nights at the Hilton and feels qualified enough to deliver a three hour sermon on the ills of the entire Nigerian nation, simultaneously offering remedies for its improved economic performance. I felt like a fraud and I had to get my hands dirty.

On the Friday I landed I was Toronto bourgeoisie, sipping Patron and dining a la carte. On Saturday I devolved to the middle-class. By Sunday I was a plebeian. The irony is that I endured the greatest joys as a plebeian. On that day I explored parts of Toronto that I doubt any respectable tour company would include on its itinerary. I went to Chinatown and ate Indian. I went to College Street, stood on a soapbox and orated. I talked of my wanderlust. I spoke of human passion and its unvarying ability to surprise. My audience was small but captive. I visited Yonge Street and listened, nay vibed, to Soular. I marvelled, as I always do, at artists who swear by their passion. They were not famous. They were not rich. The words were often not theirs, but for the sake of a free meal at the establishment that provided platform, they sang and they performed like gods. An extraterrestrial visitor would have witnessed their performance and compared it with the MTV radio signals they received in Delcrum 9. They would have struggled to identify who was the more talented, Soular or Beyonce or Rihanna or whoever. At last my hands were grubby and I realised that this was the fragment of the city that I most loved – its heart. For even amongst the mechanical and the logical aspects of every city - its imposing skyscrapers and dirty, overcrowded public transport systems, you will always find a small but thriving organ that allows for the rest of its adjuncts to thrive independently and function harmoniously.

On now to Boston for St Patrick’s Day. The colour of my money and my underwear are both green so I suspect that I will fit right in. The rest of my four week sojourn will involve a variety of accommodation from the opulent rooms of Las Vegas to the cockroach infested motels that are strewn across Route 66. Each moment will be an adventure and I promise that there will be images, plenty of images. For all my American dwelling friends I may be coming soon to a town near you. I am hopefully meeting with at least two fellow blog-villains. If you holler at me then lunch is on me. If not then look out for the cherry-red Ford Mustang. You will recognise me I think. I will be the black guy getting stopped by the Police in every State for doing 100mph.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

On......a very intriguing opportunity for all writers

Newspaper Man: A Collection of Short Stories

Newspaper Man is the brainchild of a young and prolific writer seeking to understand the role of the media in shaping modern-day ideals and standards of human behavior. It is a writing project based on a simple premise, one that will compile the most profound, exploratory works of creative short story writers who wish to explore the notion of media mind-control, and question a society's capacity to withstand it.

All authors involved in this project will be willing and able to answer such questions as: do the actions of man determine what appears in our media forms; or does the mainstream dictate our reactions to what we read/see/observe?

Through this collection of short stories, we - the writers - reclaim the power of the written word, using the force of our combined creativity to show that neither we nor our thoughts will be controlled by the contorted reality of sensationalist journalism. Likewise, we will imaginatively describe the possibilities that exist for people who cannot escape this social mire.

We invite and encourage all interested writers to put pen to paper and engage in this process with us. Use whichever literary voice suits you best - satire, macabre, noir/thriller, science fiction...whatever. We recognize the negative effects that accompany restrictions on personal creativity. The pride of this collection is the opportunity we have provided to let the writer's voice shine through his/her work, unrestricted by genre limitation, so that you can speak to your audience the best way you know how.

The endpoint of this project is publication. Once we compile the submissions that speak most closely to our directive, the editors will seek to have our stories published, and we hope to do so before the end of this year. All entries must be submitted to newspaperman2008@gmail.com by April 15. No entries will be considered that are submitted after that date. Stories should be 2500 - 3500 words.

Look for our group on Facebook if you've got an account. Once you join, please check back often and share your news and ideas with the rest of the group - no input is without value. Feel free to email me, though; I'll do my best to keep you abreast of all group discussions. Thank you for our interest and participation in this project. We look forward to working with you!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

On……the way home last night (or On prejudice and prejudgment)

They were pubescent and perhaps a tad immature the two girls on that train. At that age the thrill is in rebellion and non-conformity. The irony, of course, is that non-conformity is itself the ultimate form of conformity. There is not a single fad under the sun, nor ideology, nor fashion sense that does not find company in the minds of a significant number of others. I give you the Goths as an example; they rebel by piercing various parts of their bodies, dyeing their hair, using eye shadow liberally and slapping their faces with paint and powder. And yet are they really different from the half a billion other Goths you see around? They are so different in fact that they outnumber the so-called clean cut kids one sees in any given school these days. But here I am again, doing what I do best, digressing. We must return to the tale of those two girls on the train.

So there they sat, nattering and tattling, those two girls on the train, observing, yet disregarding, their fellow commuters on the southbound District line. It must have been sometime between 6 and 6.30 pm, for the carriage was only three quarters full, and most of its occupants had at least one seat available, except those that elected to stand. The girls possessed, to a magnified degree, that ugly quality that we humans hold, to identify the physical imperfections in another, and to scrutinise, and to ridicule and to quietly rejoice that we are free of that flaw.

This was a trip that the two girls made routinely and they would whittle away the minutes by indulging in their favourite pastime – prejudice and prejudgment. As I have said, it is a game that we all play in one form or the other. Most people have the good grace to jettison the malicious thoughts the moment they enter our minds, others will go one step further and whisper between themselves, children will point, our girls spoke out loud. You see they had a secret weapon in their armoury – a foreign language. Though they had adopted the mannerisms and dress sense of the young British afro-carribean, they still spoke Yoruba with a verve and fluency that did not allow for easy interpretation by the idle eavesdropper. Theirs was not the corrupted Yoruba of the Lagosian, infused with lazy slang and Westernisms, no theirs was conc Yoruba. It was the Yoruba of the natives, the kind that Oduduwa himself would have spoken even as he laid his head to rest all those many years ago.

And so it was that their target today was a middle aged, white man who sat directly opposite them on the train – a most un-Yoruba looking of gentlemen. He was of unspectacular appearance but one of the girls had decided to take offence at the existence of his blotchy, bulbous nose, his parched skin and his old, slightly tatty , clothes. The other girl had gladly joined in the verbal beatdown – conformity abides.

Oh! How that poor man's appearance was corroded with those tongues of acid. They abused him from Earls Court to Parsons Green. Parsons Green to Fulham Broadway. Even at Putney Bridge there was no let up to their vitriolic comments and laughter. The gentleman sat down concentrating on his newspaper, occasionally putting it down to check the name of the station, oblivious to the insults that were raining on his head.

As the train approached Southfields station he folded his newspaper neatly and parked it into his old leather briefcase and rose from his seat. He was an ungainly man and his rise was far from graceful, yet when he stood at full height and ambled towards the door there was something faintly magnificent and noble about his gait. Before reaching the door he turned and looked at the girls, who were still playing their game, regarding them properly for the first time. He looked at the girls square in the face and said to them "Thank you for your very kind words. May your future children live good lives and may they bear no resemblance to their witch-mothers" He spoke in flawless Yoruba.

The train slowed to a halt and the doors parted. He strode unto the platform and he would not have seen the look of inimitable shock registered on the girl’s faces, nor would he have witnessed as they sat there, mouths agape, remaining speechless, for the rest of their journey and for evermore. He would not have seen any of that, the most un-Yoruba looking of gentlemen.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

On......an evening with Norah


I picked her up about seven from the Grosvenor hotel on Park lane. As soon as I stepped in it was as if I had been transported back to 1897. The hotel was so Victorian that a portrait of the monarch who lent her name to that era adorned the walls as you walked in. The hotel lobby was a marriage of oak and leather with the furnishings, subtle and homely. I announced my name to the butler (not a concierge) and picked a discreet seat in the corner to wait for Miss Jones. My wait was a surprisingly short one as I had barely begun twiddling my thumbs when the butler ushered her in my direction. I momentarily forgot my manners and remained attached to my seat. She was a vision. She wore a black and white polka dot dress with a black sash across the middle. Her lips were bright red to complement the ruby slippers that decorated her feet. She reminded me of Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz. As she smiled and extended her hand towards me, the analogy became the realer as I instantly lost my brain, my heart and my courage. I mumbled out some words that bore some resemblance to my name and an introduction. Her coy smile indicated that perhaps the words had not manifested themselves in quite the order that I had rehearsed them.

The walk to the car is an awkward affair, punctuated only by perfunctory questions that I already knew the answers to. The autumnal leaves swirled around us in earnest and brought with them a melancholy sort of surrender .The car allowed for the silence to be broken. The husky vibes of Tom Waits filled the air upon ignition. We are now on terra firma. We spoke of the sterling job she had done in updating the Waits Classic “The Long Way home”. She speaks of him in revered terms and it is clear that his music has been a major influence.

She is a meatarian and I rejoice at this fact. There is therefore only one place in London to take her to. London can be quite magical in the fall and it was a day that was, thankfully, without seasonal rain. I suggest that we drive halfway to the restaurant and walk the remainder of the journey. I regret the suggestion on utterance but, surprisingly, she agrees, apparently oblivious or immune to the possibility of autograph hunters. This is London she says. No-one troubles you. Well, not unless you are David Beckham she says. I laugh.

I had the foresight to provisionally book a table at the Gaucho but unfortunately lacked the wisdom to say that I was myself a celebrity. We waited as our table was prepared by the unhurried Argentine waiters. We are seated at a quiet table near the entrance to the kitchen and presented with the menus. We share a plate of ham and cheese empanadas for starters. As the main course I select the Gran Parrillada which is a glorious ensemble of grilled lamb chops, bife de cuadril, chorizo pinchos, Morcilla, sweetbreads and marinated chicken dressed with chimichurri. Norah orders a cheeseburger. She is a cheap date. We submerge the victuals with one and three quarter bottles of Ch√Ęteau Beychevelle which is, to my mind, the greatest red wine God ever made. I find that it also serves as the bedrock for the most humorous and agreeable of conversations. We remained in the Gaucho until closing time, laughing, smiling and joking, with the ease of a couple who had been in pleasant acquaintance for many years.

We both wanted the evening to continue so we returned to her hotel room, beyond the paternal gaze of the butler and her security staff. We tumbled into Room 314 and I immediately spotted a Spanish Guitar in the corner. A little alcohol stirs in me the restless spirit of a failed musician and I found myself grabbing the guitar, strumming a few chords and singing a song I had written long ago. She sat on the edge of the bed gazing intently into my eyes as I stood there, strummimng, swaying and singing. I was unsure if the intoxicated look in her eyes was more to do with the good Monsieur Beychevelle or as a result of my warbling. I did not care. She rose from the bed and glided towards me. The effortlessness of her movement made me conclude that she actually found my singing agreeable. She put one finger to my lips and the very touch murdered rationality. Suddenly we were back in Oz again. No brain. No heart. No courage. She drove and I became passenger. She carefully slid the guitar over my stiff, rigid shoulders, holding my eyes all the time with hazel tinged intensity. The ensuing embrace is a moment that froze time. The gaze remains. It is intense and describes desires that a tome of a million words could not. Her hand is on my waist and I feel it’s softness as it creeps under my shirt and works it’s way up my back………


to

the



real world. 2007

My reverie is rudely interrupted by my friend who pokes me in the ribs. After all the warm up acts, Norah is finally on stage. The soothing chords of “Sunrise Sunrise” fill the auditorium and I begin to love her all over again.


Friday, 4 January 2008

On......the aftermath of the accident

He thumped the car brakes. The action was a token one. The impact was to be full and comprehensive. Metal, glass and acrylic fused with skin and bone, forcefully and finally. The horrific union was interrupted only by the perforation of human organs. Wounds shortly gave way to the lamentation and gushing of blood. The thick viscous liquid disregarded the amalgam of metal and flesh, flowing freely and disdainfully in various directions, relentlessly seeking all available avenues in its escape. The pain, as is often the case, was the last thing to come. It arrived, like a corrupt dictator, with an unnecessary entourage and staggered ceremony. It had neither the courtesy nor the consideration to fixate itself in the areas of direct impact. It raced through his entire body with the speed of a bush fire in the harmattan months. The accident was complete save for the immovable, irrefutable shock that transfixes its victim. The kind of shock that causes temporary paralysis and tricks the mind into believing, for a split second, that your injuries are not severe.


This was not yet the time for remorse or for reflection. This was not the time to mentally recreate the events that led to the accident, to question what manoeuvres could have been executed differently to avoid the pedestrian and the traffic light.

This was not the time for pity and penance. It was not yet time to question the madness of drinking the cocktails of vodka, tequila, gin and that obscure punch drink yet still insisting that you had the wherewithal to drive home. This was not the time to curse the friends who should have wrestled you to the ground and ordered you a taxi.

This was not the time for regret or repentance. This was no time to start thinking about loss and the overwhelming baggage that it brings with it. It was not time to think about the two seconds it took you to partially overtake the car in front of you. Two seconds for a lifetime of guilt. A poor trade.

All those emotions are for another day as you lay in the hospital bed recovering from your wounds, praying that God give you the strength to one day recover from the mental anguish of stealing the lives of two people.

This was the time to feel scared, helpless and mortal as you remain attached to the dashboard, with the lifeless body of your best friend by your side and the other hapless victim somewhere between the car, the road and the leaning traffic light.

This was the time for realisation and revoked responsibility.