by Crispin Oduobuk
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You've answered the question before. Any uncertainties over the issue? No one will know from your tone. "I don't see anything wrong with it." Level delivery, complementing the urbane ease with which you unlock the doors of your Honda Accord by merely depressing a button--a man-about-town secure in your ways.
Getting in on the front passenger's side, Tamuno, a Youth Corps member serving with the radio station where you work, says, "It just doesn't feel right to me."
In the driver's seat, arrange your bad left leg in a comfortable position. Engage the auto-transmission and then make a carefree dismissive gesture as you hit the road. "I pay for food, drinks, clothes, utilities. I pay rent. There's nothing wrong with paying for pleasure."
Tamuno doesn't say anything.
Soon to be forty, you'd have liked a follow-up question, an opportunity not only to shut out the silence but also to expand this logic that you'd first proposed to the younger man earlier in the day. At the time, Tamuno had looked shocked, but later asked if it would be okay to tag along and observe. So, now this silence which, like solitude, is a companion you know well is something you're not comfortable with.
Drive. Think about the matter at hand. Are you just making an excuse to justify debauchery? Prostitution is reputed to be the oldest human trade. Patrons of prostitutes can't always have been frowned upon, or the practice would have died out long ago. There must have been a period when going to a prostitute was just like going to a fishmonger. Besides, there's something to be said for the convenience of buying sex as easily as buying fish, or bread. After all, like food, sex is a basic need. So, you're not some depraved person whose existence is centred on licentiousness. Smile and step on the accel- erator. This night should be fun.
Yet, the moment you get on Maiduguri Road there's that tightening in your stomach that you've associated with immoral deeds since your pre-teen days. The cramp warps your intestines and quickens your heartbeat like you're about to do something terribly wrong. In a way you don't mind, because it's a reaction specific to Maiduguri Road. Appropriate, even. Because anybody who knows anything about Kaduna knows that Maiduguri Road, especially at night, the end of Constitution Road becomes a plaza of licentiousness, no place for angels, despite the fact that the street has more mosques and churches than just about any other.
So, find a spot to park your car. Then another to park your butt. Factor in the left leg. Factor in the view. You're here for a reason. Keep resisting the stomach cramp. You know the pain is a signifier: You're out and about again, on Maiduguri Road, ready to 'federate,' and it's still here, unlike Abuja's Zone 4 where that bulldozer-loving minister has levelled two red-light city blocks. One more reason why you're glad to be back in KD for good.
Moreover, these flutters in the stomach will probably be gone in a few minutes, especially now that you and your guest are comfortably seated in wobbly plastic seats waiting for the waitress in a provocative dress. On the other hand, the pain may persist, may even force you to abandon all airs of refinement and go squat over the open gutter to get some relief. And while you're doing your nasty business in the open air, achaba, the intrepid motorcycle-taxis, will be roaring past at a speed that makes it hard to believe they are not bent on suicide. Simply put, this agitation in your abdomen is a non-thing, having no long-term effect. Indeed, given that the disturbance often portends a night of sexual bliss, you're hardened to it and drink the cold bitter beer as if in defiance.
Tamuno, just out of school, has yet to tire of free beer and matches you bottle for bottle. You're both red-eyed and sharing ribald jokes. He's sitting lopsided, laughing but barely able to keep one eye open.
A fat man approaches your table. You and Tamuno peer up at him in alcoholic delight.
Tamuno staggers to his feet. "Uncle Yaks!"
"What are you doing here? Okay, okay, you don't have to explain. You're an adult. Have fun, but be careful."
"Okay, Uncle, I hear you-o!" Tamuno says as Uncle Yaks backs away.
"Tam-Tam, what did that guy call you?"
Tamuno laughs. "Idiok Udo. 'Bad second son.' You know my mother is from Akwa Ibom. My relatives on that side--like Uncle Yaks, which is short for Yaknoabasi--call me 'Udo.' Among the Ibibio, Udo means 'second son.' Funny thing is, second sons are supposed to be bad guys, but I'm a saint compared to my elder brother."
Eyes sparkling with glee, slap a thigh. "Man! I'm a second son too, but I'm the tamest of all the males in my family!"
"General Joesky! It's a lie!"
"True! My younger brother is stranded in Beirut right now because of woman palaver. He had a good job with an American oil company in Riyadh. But the idiot got some sheikh's daughter pregnant and was almost beheaded if it weren't for his friends who smuggled him to Amman. He found his way to Beirut and has been calling me ever since to send him money to come home. Can you imagine? Petroleum engineer who was supposed to make the family proud!"
"Are you serious?"
"And my silly elder brother, a policeman, got himself deported from some peace-keeping operation in some country or other because he got three women there pregnant at the same time!"
"But you patronise prostitutes. Don't you think that is bad?"
Familiar territory. Roll with it. Sip the cold beer. "I don't see anything wrong." Perfect pitch, as if you've not had a drop to drink--a true radio pro of the old school.
"But why don't you get married?"
"Who told you I'm not married?"
"You are married?"
"Well, I used to be." The kid's fully awake now. Curiosity is a wonder drug. "My brother, it was the devil. The devil came and scattered my marriage . My wife and my daughter are in Abuja."
"See, my wife Emem--incidentally she's also from Akwa Ibom--had this childhood friend, Imaobong. The girl came to KD for youth service, just like you. We were always looking for reliable people to help us look after our daughter, because she was still very small and we were both working.
"So, we invited Imaobong to come and stay with us. Everything went fine, until one day I came home to pick up something and, well, to cut a long story, me and Imaobong…you know. We were still at it when Emem came home and caught us."
"What a pity! But, Joesky, it's your own fault. You shouldn't have done it with your wife's friend."
"Tamunotonye! Watch your tongue-o! Don't forget I'm your senior-o! Because the two of us come from Rivers doesn't mean you can insult me-o! I said it's the devil that caused it!"
"Well, General Joesky, don't be annoyed. I just think it has more to do with personal discipline than the devil."
"So? Tell me this! Is it not the devil that causes personal discipline to fail? Or do you want to tell me that you have never done it with who you weren't supposed to do it with?"
Tamuno makes a hissing sound, his eyes fiery with disdain. "Don't try to tar me with your devil's brush."
Shocked into soberness, you stare at the kid. Where did he get the nerve? Familiarity, a precursor of contempt, demystifies. And then it rubbishes. Now you remember why you don't really miss your wife and daughter. Solitude is your best friend. It has never offended you nor been offended by you.
Pay the bill quietly. Get on with your mission. Alone. As should have been the case from the beginning. Tamuno follows you, making placating noises.
Stop. Squint down at him "Do you know why I limp?" Now you're truly General Joesky--commander of a one-man army. Note with grim satisfaction how Tamuno senses the change. He shakes his head in awe. "A colonel shot me here in Kaduna over a girl. Go and ask at the office what happened to the colonel. Then ask why they call me 'General.' Now listen to me carefully, Tamunotonye: Stay away from me."
Watch as the message sinks in and Tamuno turns away without a word. Good riddance. Who's he to teach you about life? Some twenty-four-year-old kid?
Now saunter down the Maiduguri Road--a shopper checking out the wares on display. Slowly. Careful steps conceal your limp.
Big-assed Sandy with the ever-present smile would be best because there won't be a need to bargain. But she's nowhere in sight. Diminutive Aisha who's a wonder in the things she can do in bed is already talking to a potbellied fellow in a Toyota Landcruiser with an FG number. Too bad you quarrelled with pretty Mimi last time over the definition of 'short-time.' So, even though she's looking pointedly at you from another beer joint, don't bite that bait, because she may be angling for some kind of revenge. Jane, another big-assed girl, sashays up. But you've never liked her fast-talking ways. So, after some banal pleasantries, walk on.
"Hello," you say to a slim one: over-long braids, skimpy blouse, tight jeans and blood-red mid-range heels--Miss Underworld of the Universe on the roadside.
"Hi," she says, showing good clean teeth.
"God! Just like that?" No act, this. She's clearly appalled by your directness. "Am I meat?"
Yeah, okay. Maybe you're losing your touch. Maybe that Tamuno kid put you in too bad a mood to 'federate' tonight. But you didn't come here for chitchat. You get enough of that from girls at work. Moreover, what you're buying is 'meat' in a certain not very polite sense. Since you're paying good money, you shouldn't have to be bothered about niceties.
"Okay. Sorry. What's your name?"
Angie. Angela. Angelina. Whatever she wants it to be, you both know she's no angel. Indeed you're counting on it. An angel would try to 'save' you, frustrate your plans to 'federate.' If any angels show up on Maiduguri Road, you'll invite the bulldozers in yourself.
So, dig the cute face. Not bad figure, especially the round bottom that juts out just so when she turns to the side. Breasts look firm, though it could be a Wonderbra. And she's got a smile you can live with.
"Can you go with me?"
It doesn't really matter. If the price is right, she'll go to just about anywhere in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Which is fitting, because this part of Maiduguri Road is known to those who have cause to know as 'Federal.' And what you're intending to do with this non-angel, in that same restricted parlance, is 'federating.'
The only thing that can put off your impending federation is the one thing that is notoriously at the root of every evil deed.
She says, "Four thousand."
Smile at that. Four thousand naira. Is she crazy? "Is it made of gold?"
She laughs. Nice breath. Okay, now you're really feeling her.
"Make it three."
You do this back and forth as passing cars light up the over-made-up faces and scantily covered bodies around you. Even with her skimpy top, this non-angel is fairly everyday. She'll blend in and not embarrass you with your neighbours. But just make sure.
"I know. That's why I say you should give me two thousand."
Smile and tell her you like the way she talks, because you really do. Sweet- talk her some more because in her case it's easy--she's good-looking and well-turned-out. You know some fellows who insist it's a waste of time. But you know it's not. She wants to get out of the cold. She wants to lie down and get some rest. None of that is going to happen until she 'edges.' You're just helping her make the decision.
"Okay, one thousand five. Because I like you," she says.
"I like you too." It may be true though it's more likely to be a true lie. Either way, what does it matter?
"I've got just one thousand."
"Don't look at it that way. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?"
Hopefully nothing more dramatic than permanent goodbyes. Well, not really. There's a fifty-fifty chance you might federate with her again. That's how much you like the outward her. The rest depends on her performance where it matters most.
"Add two hundred for transport. You know about this fuel price increase…"
"I can only add a hundred."
And that's only because you're tired of standing in the glare of passing headlights. Well, plus you really do like her.
"Okay, let's go."
Open the doors to your Honda Accord. This '86 model set you back half a million naira because it's 'clean.' Some pople say you're foolish, because your mates have upgraded to the '90 model, popularly called 'Halla.' But you can't be bothered with what they think. You don't live by the world's opinions.
Leaving Maiduguri Road, you remember Tamuno's accusing words. You make a dismissive gesture to be rid of them. Yet, in the silence of the car your mind swells with guilt because of what he said even as Angie smiles sweetly at you. Reach over. Turn on the car radio. Kill the silence. And that's when you realize the cramp in your stomach has gone away….
(Crispin Oduobuk lives in Abuja,
Nigeria . He's been published in BBC Focus on Africa, Genevieve,
some other journals and a few anthologies. Online his work has been published
by 42 Opus, Gowanus , Eclectica, Ken*Again, East of the Web, Spoiled
Ink and others. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)