Fiction: The Things That Happen In Lagos

January 11, 2018 Fiction , Literature , POETRY / FICTION

CEB photo

 

By

Onawale Femi Simeon

 

 

It was night time in downtown Lagos. My car shot past artistic neon lights that beamed and made the roadsides and corners a disney sight. I branched off at the end of the block and pulled into a spot in the open parking space of Mega plaza. It was a modern building, curvedly-built and architecturally solid and expansive, filled with several smart shops and business enterprises. I parked and trotted towards the building. The last dreg of daylight had diminished but for red traffic lights and headlights from the road. The place I was headed to, “Kimono Sushi Bar”, an overhead neon sign blinked, was just at the right side of the building. The Sushi-bar name was just some elaborate coverup to make the club less alluring to hungry cops. Moreso, the things that went inside that place were as illicit as a whoredom. I went past a smoking fat man who posed as the bar’s bouncer. It was not just nicotine that the man was smoking, I perceived some far more nauseating stench as I went past him. His face was challenging – a facial coverup for the substance his body lacked. I gave him a nod and continued straight into the bead lined curtain at the entrance of the bar.

I was immediately welcomed by naija dancehalls blaring from the speakers and the pleasant air freshener combined with various colognes worn by customers seated around tables. In twosomes and threesomes mostly, but for few exceeding. Also faintly, cigarette stench.

The disco light showers rainbowed all over. I adjusted my belt and checked my thin tie before I continued and walked past tables of fiber-glass carried by curved metallic rods. Smartly dressed waiters and waitresses attended to customers and carried drinks, sushis, shawarmas, italianated spaghetti, chasseurs, pepper-soup bowls and meatballs in fancy plastic trays. Cigarette butts and empty beer bottles littered the floor. Puffs of smokes that rose from some tables made some part of the bar hazier than others.

Groups of young men argued over soccer earnestly with tables laden with beer bottles. A heavily made-up lady in tank polo laughed at some silly joke of the guy directly facing her. Three ladies talked earnestly about their relationship and some petty gossip. A tee-hee and a chortle interjected here and there from the tables. Everyone was caught in the spirit of the night time outdoor excitement. They nodded, moving slowly to the beat, but it was still early evening and so the partying had not fully began. I had not come for that though but needed it as a pleasant distraction.

 

I strolled to the end session- the counter. The bar attendant was a boy of eighteen-nineteen years, his curly jet black hair plastered across his forehead. The handwork of a combo of relaxer and black dye. He flashed a toothed grin, uncovering two grey incisors which made his grinning less pleasant. They forgot to tell you to brush, I chuckled inwardly.

Give me something strong” placing two arms on the smooth counter to survey for a quiet corner I could occupy. He eagerly began an ostentatious display of jingling and mixing different wine glasses in a metal cup.

I let myself nod to the dancehall sounds and surveyed. The bar was shaped in a “T”, the entrance starting from the longer hand leading to the counter, where two small corners branched off – left and right. I slowly glanced at the left inward corner where a perm-haired fair lady was gesticulating at the flat-top hair guy sitting before him and then my eyes caught a badly-bleached guy giving a stealth kiss to an innocent-looking likely under-age girl, his left arm upon her shoulders. The girl froze when she caught my eyes on her and guessed what I saw.

“Get the hell out of here” I muttered. My words were silence, only the lips moving. Not exactly getting the way my lips moved, her face twisted at me. I gave it to her again with the look of an angry big uncle from my past. She froze, hesitated a while before she jumped out of her seat and ran out of the door, leaving the badly-bleached guy who had brought her with a look of dismay. Confoundedness rooted him to the spot and he stared emptily for answers. But then he shrugged, grabbed a beer bottle before strolling out. The girlish innocence written all over the girl’s face was what I took advantage of, to play such a mind game. Some poor girl that needed some change to get new clothes but her mother was probably some roadside trader that couldn’t provide and had met with the mischievous guy who promised to give to her in exchange for a little favor. Here in lagos, it happens all the time. But this one was not yet tough and perhaps felt guilt biting at her combined with the thought of how painful it would be to her mother, otherwise she would not have easily heeded to me.

 

I got my small tray- wine and minced meat and strolled to the vacant seat the badly beached guy and girl vacated.

I glanced down at my wristwatch- 8:06 pm. I intended to booze for a good while and needed to drown the worry that was puddlng into some emotional well inside of me. I wouldn’t be the first to lose a job after all. But then that had been several weeks ago and was dawning upon me it might take several more weeks before I would be able to get a new one. By then, I reckoned I would be utterly destitute and would have to find one of those care-giving churches to get by.

As time dragged on, a proactive waiter kept giving me a refill. And I must have gotten slightly intoxicated as to become less aware of how the scene of the bar place had drastically changed. Because it had suddenly dawned on me that the music blaring from the speaker had become indescribably vulgar and pounding of flesh flashes despite the dimmed light.

I decided to shut myself out when a slight noise raising above the music reached my ears. Three drunk guys roughly pushed at each other’s chesst and I soon realized it was to get the attention of a pretty girl who sat mindless and concentrating on her drink and iPhone between them. It took me no time to notice the girl was not only pretty but had a sweet innocence that further graced her astonishing beauty. And the pack of wolves has easily fished her out as a susceptible target to feast on. I felt a tug to rise to her aid, but resisted and continue to watch.

After a while, like the animalistic fight to mate, a hair-chested bully had successfully warded off the other rivals and now went for the girl. Not waiting further, he slipped a mischievous hand beneath the pretty girl’s gown, onto her thigh. The girl gave his hand a slap from reflex and flashed a face mighty with thunder against the nasty intruder, who maintained a foolish smile nevertheless. And for the few seconds the girl fixed the intruder a terrible glare, I saw how anger accentuated that pretty face of hers. The rim of her eyes shone red with indignation, circling a pearly contact eye that seemed to belong to some barbie animation. Her nostrils were tiny and her pout mouth arched like Da-Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

This time I didn’t give a second thought but rose to her aid.

“Come over ma’am,” I offered her a hand.

She directed the terrible glare at me and I noticed the distant tinge of sadness lurking behind the film of her eyes. No doubt, it was depression that made a girl like her visit such a place as this. That makes two of us, I reckoned. For a few seconds more she fixed the stare at me until a familiar fire sparked as our eyes lurked. She would coincide and not walk out. I saw that now. Well, she did.

We moved to the last table at the corner-giving more distance between the hair-chested man. She simply brought out her phone and consciously ignored my presence. I ordered more drinks and two plates of minced meat. I glanced over at her by my side. She wore a blue silk gown that hung down her frame by a pair of golden loops at her shoulders, while the same time a shiny embroidery tightened the gown to her belly before falling off to her thigh. A very good sense of fashion but nothing outlandish. She might as well pose off as some Greek Queen in Vogue magazine.

“You look familiar,” I brought my lips over her ears.

“I can’t hear you,” she pulled a face. She sure heard me.

“Come on, seriously,” I smiled confidently, “I think I have seen your face somewhere.”

You are the third to say that to me tonight, rounding up a total of about two hundred in my lifetime so far,” she smirked.

“Well,” I readjusted my seat and glanced about the bar. The erotic dancing by a small crowd at the center, the disco light picked glints of sweat, grinning and glossy hair.

“But am damn serious, I had seen you somewhere, you ought to ask me where.” I put an amusing tinge in my eyes, desperately trying to hide my annoyance at my soiled attempt thereby feeling terribly dimwitted and commonplace. I felt there was an assurance of truth in what I said anyway.

She didn’t reply. I am losing face, I thought.

The bar man served the drinks and minced meat. I pushed a plate and drink to her side.

“Sparkling wine, it’s soft yet better than soda,” I smiled cheerfully. “You should try the meat while it’s still hot.”

I carefully picked one with a toothpick.

“Peperish.” I grabbed a chilled beer and sent a flood of it down my throat. The spicy and meaty delight rolling around, met with a pool of chilled alcohol inside my mouth and my eyes bulged in delight.

“Hmmm.” When I glanced over, I noticed she was smiling at me. She picked one for herself and soon discovered I was not exaggerating one bit.

“Hmmm,” she replied smiling. I noticed a black ring on her forefinger as she reached for another minced meat.

“What was a girl like you doing in a place like this?”

The smile on her face paused a second then she reached for a chilled bottle as well. She dropped her iPhone and readjusted to face me squarely. We were sitted on high stools.

“You don’t seem the usual sort-of-girl here.”

“Nor do you seem to belong here,” she replied sharply, looking straight into my eyes. Her hair was smartly cropped and made her face further smallish but very pretty. I felt a powerful tug of attraction. I was surprised at her reply, maybe impressed.

“I needed to drink away my worries,” I half-smiled. I took another gulp from the bottle. By the time I brought my head down, her eyes were set intent on me.

“Same goes for me.” She didn’t look away.

 

We simply stared at each other for what seemed like hours. Not saying another word. Maybe because our eyes were communicating. Something in her eyes was searching deep into mine and it was when they found it- the woman in her found the authentic man in me. Vice-versa. An unspoken connection.

“I lost my job some weeks past, have combed half the city of Lagos. Nothing fruitful so far. Plus have got personal issues piling with the bills have got to pay,” I spat out recklessly, circling the base of the bottle playfully on the fibre-glass table with two fingers at its neck.

Her face stiffened a bit and she puffed her cheek as if uncertain of her words.

“My mother died about two months ago. It was in the middle of a hectic period of my career life. I could not afford to let it put me out, though it threatened to. I didn’t allow myself much crying. Most of the time I was rushing to catch a flight, ordering a huge stock of items for an extended fashion runway, suddenly got myself to model a UK brand in some Caribbean island with two other white models. Despite working for the model company I wrote fashion content for and serve as the top Nigerian ambassador- with a team of five other subordinates. My life spun out of control.” She gripped her hands in empathy.

I poured her a small quantity of brandy from my bottle and it finally dawned on me why her face looked so familiar. She was the pretty girl with the sparkling white teeth edged by sweet red lips on the mega billboard design on the bridge at “Berger” An advert for a toothpaste company. I remember mentioning “That is the most pretty face have ever seen.”

“I needed the work to drown me nevertheless,” she continued. “The death was so great a shock. My mother was an inseperable part of my life that I couldn’t imagine was ever going to slip from me. I mean I was even more surprised that I could not reach her and ask her a thing. We had spoken in the morning of her death, although it was night there in Nigeria as I was in Dallas. She was a fashionista that had not gone into the fashion world. I got my beauty from her, I got my fashion sense and other talents from her.” Her voice began to tremble slightly at this point. I passed her another glass and she took it gratefully.

“I didn’t get a thing of me from my father, I got practically everything from her. She was as my twin sister. She doesn’t look her forty-three. I just wasn’t sure if I had the nerve to stand among family and friends of mourners and live through such a terrible event as seeing my loving and very beautiful mother laid to the earth, six-feet and forever. No it cannot be my own mother.

I gave big excuses to aunts and uncles that called and asked why I couldn’t make it to my own mother’s funeral. Although on the day scheduled for the funeral, I suddenly wanted to come. I suddenly wanted to see her face one last time. I waited hours at the airport in Johannesburg. A fashion week was still ongoing in Cape Town as well as Johannesburg and as a Lagos wear representative of my brand I ought not to miss it. Nevertheless, I waited at the airport lobby hoping for some sudden miracle flight to Nigeria. Crying there around the airport terminal, my mother’s image haunted me and I soaked up my hanky with hot tears.” She placed a palm over her mouth to smother the cry in her throat.

I drew her near with a free hand. She didn’t resist the embrace, rather she poured more tears onto my shoulders. Her heart pounding against mine in tight embrace. I couldn’t enjoy it, pangs of pain burning my insides.

“Am sorry,” she yanked herself from the embrace then wiped out the residual tears in her eyes with the tip of her fingers. “Am very sorry.”

“Come on, I should be the one saying that.” I patted her shoulders.

“My dad,” she closed her eyes, blinking back tears “He was devastated by my absence. Not only that, I was their first child. But I was my mother’s favorite. He couldn’t believe I could be as cruel as not to turn up for my mother’s funeral. Knowing how much she loved and adored me above her husband and my younger brother. My dad sent me a message explaining in some cold apt manner of his, how he wished I had rather missed his own funeral and not my mother’s. How he never could recover from the unbelievable fact that I could betray my own mother and all my love for her while she lived was hypocritical and false. He said he has seen this from the people of the outside world. Where you love the people you can find and pretty don’t care much when they are gone. He never expected it could play in such our loving, small and independent family.

Yeah we are just four, and pretty much closed up against extended family and external people. We loved each other and were very happy. It is just so terrible that death could be so cruel as to come for something so wonderful as our family.”

I passed her the last quantity and signalled to a waitress for more.

“My dad’s words at the time after the funeral procession was over didn’t mean much to me. I decided to believe it was just his own way of mourning his wife. Well, I was silently mourning her myself. But lately, the realization finally came heavily to me – that I’ll never again see the face of my mother and that she may as well not be happy with me. It’s this last thought that makes me feel like killing myself. I just cannot imagine having my mother forever having such an opinion like that. An opinion that I do not love her.” Her eyes grew intense and she put her hand to her forehead.

“That must feel terrible, am so sorry.” I felt deeply touched.

She glanced over at me, her eyes bypassing the facade of my eyes and gazed into my soul as if searching the content thereof. To ascertain the kind of man in there. A sudden tinge of mildness suffused her watery eyes and I realized it meant she had found it. She smiled and squeezed my fingers. I began to feel relieved.

 

We spoke for several minutes more. This time like we had known each other all our lives. When our sweet talk led us down the melodies of nostalgia, we couldn’t resist but to join in hearty laughter. Slowly tooth-picking the minced meats, we chewed, drank and became further cheerful. I offered to feed her, she hesitated and seemed to feel it was nothing so she agreed. I played with her cropped hair and she had her hands on the pocket of my shirt and trouser. I was hardly conscious of it.

Paradoxically, we spoke lower this time despite the noise in the bar. But it was more of our soul and heart that had bridged and so communicated freely, without our doing. Three times over, our lips met slightly and she pulled back from it. Resisting the urge was hard to do. After what seemed like a great time, she picked her phone and said she had to take her leave. She volunteered to pay the bill but I refused and later realized it was foolhardy after the waiter passed me a huge accumulation of our bills.

I escorted her outside of the bar, begging her that I may drop her off but said she parked her car not far away. I noted the pathetic tinge of unhappiness that clouded her eyes. She said I should show her my car, after which she I asked for her contact. Tonight seems to be the beginning of something beautiful, let’s not stop here, I thought. She said her business card was contained in her handbag and begged me to get it. She had left it on our table. I strolled back inside and searched but couldn’t remember seeing her come in with a handbag so I abandoned the search and came back.

I reached outside just in time to see the rear of what seemed like my car as it branched off into the road speedily. I hurried to where I parked and found the slot empty. I tapped my breast pocket for my car keys and felt nothing. My head went blank and I felt my insides drop into a vacuum. My eyes became blurry and I felt dazed. I stood there in the dark and tried to recollect what the hell was happening?

I began to piece things back from my head. Now I can remember her touching my pockets, sending me on a fool’s errand for a handbag she had not brought. Then exiting the bar to see the rear of my vehicle. My head went red hot and my temperature skyrocketed. The girl was a scammer. What? Such a great looking girl. Was all that story about her mother and crying just a Hollywood-make-believe. It couldn’t be! Could my car have become invisible?

I had come here to drown and forget my worries. Not to aggravate my predicament. My car and wallet, all gone. I felt a tap on my shoulder and saw the tooth grinning young lad that had served me my first drink at the counter. Beside him was the fat bouncer. He didn’t seem fat anymore. I could now see real muscles throbbing beneath his large chest. How do I pay with my wallet gone? Here in Lagos, there’s no rock bottom. But you can go bottomless. Reality is the harshest here, if it happens to hit you.

Catch me if you can. I bolted after my car and they spontaneously leapt to my heels.

 

 

 

 

 

onawale-femi-simeon

Onawale Femi Simeon

Onawale Femi Simeon is a Nigerian writer from Ibadan, a student of statistics and a rapper. He has an unquenchable passion for writing short stories and poems. He is also an animal activist and loves dogs especially.

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