I usually take a deep breath at the double-doors that open into the rowdiest, most raucous club in old London, bearing the air of one whom, but for the sake of obligation, would rather be away from here; ensconced, perhaps, in an overpriced couch with a copy of my favourite book. But not today, no. Today, I lavished no buccal energy on the big men that stood sentinel at the doors (the black one, I think, is Marcus; a rather jovial chap for whom I had a soft spot until I discovered his ungodly choice of sexuality); a stunt I had decided upon as soon as I set out for the club tonight. Today, also, I didn’t steal into the area like some detested leper, laelae; I made my way to the barman at the counter in a slow, grandiose stride, for the first time not worrying that the obnoxious locals might take notice of me. In fact, I dared them, for the love of God or Hayden or whatever they served, to cross my path; I was prepared to give them a piece of my mind.
The barman, Barry, is a living piece of perfectly bundled, well-packed fat. Well, to be a bit nicer, let’s just say Barry doesn’t exactly know how to manage his fat. I like Barry; he simply is the most relatable of the lot, smiling indulgently as he fills your flute with Remy Martin or Bordeaux, or Johnny Walker. He doesn’t drink (which is quite funny considering his sort of job); he is a deeply religious person, although I like to argue this with him. Other ‘deeply religious’ people I know don’t serve champagne over the counter. But he always has some silly excuse about his mother suffering from cancer, or his sister divorced without alimony. My sick friend Barry; there’s always something to be said about everything. Which is why, as I prance towards the counter, lips formed into a sort of smirk, I look forward to having a good chat with him.
No sooner am I settled in the stool than he struts over, a similar smirk on his face, wiping his hands on a napkin whose fate is soon to run over the counter. It’s always good to see him, Barry.
“Feeling good today, innit, mate?”
“Haha! It’s that obvious?”
“You bet. I can sense it from decades away. It’s all the better, if you ask me. No more sullen, godforsaken you; at least not for today.”
“You mean to say…” I can’t say I’m surprised by this statement; that’s exactly the sort to be expected of our St. Barry. “Very funny. I should to concur a bit, though. No, no more sullen, godforsaken ole me; and you better get used to it.”
“Ha, you ass-jabbing bastard,” is Barry’s humorous reply. “Tell me, what’s the good news? Come on, now.”
“Ass-jabbing, Barry? That’s a new one. Tell me, what’s it mean?” I doubt he has the faintest clue, but it’s fun to ask. It feels good to see blood rush into his chubby cheeks.
“Frankly,” yes, my good pal likes to go frankly sometimes, “I have no idea. Old Chinese chap came around yesterday and all the English he could say was ‘ass jabber’. Quite the funny one, if you ask me.”
“And you didn’t try and look it up in the lexicon?”
“Not got plenty of that lying around. You know, not like I enough to splurge on some silly book.”
“Well,” I begin with a patronising smile. “I suppose by ass-jabber, you mean homosexual man. A pansy.”
“Oh, like Marcus out there?”
“Yes, like our Marcus out there.”
Some man has by now taken a seat beside me. Black man, obviously Nigerian. Well, I suppose he could be Kenyan or Gambian or Ghanaian; there are a quite bunch of them crawling about around here (all citizens of British colonies)but something about his air, the way looks, the way he carries himself, even though sitting, just suggests to me that he is undoubtedly Nigerian. I find it phenomenal, the ability to recognize your kinsmen in a land far away from home. Barry goes over and takes his orders, and then busies himself with pouring our Nigerian friend his preferred drink.
“You know, I find it interesting,” I welcome Barry with. “How you no longer think of me as a customer you have to satisfy. I mean, I’ve been sitting here for say ten minutes, and not once did it occur to you to ask what I’d like.”
“I know what you like, mate.” Barry smiled. “You like to talk.” And he goes on to attend to some other man, a grubby local. I have to agree with him, which is why, I am soon bored sitting all by myself. Then it occurs to me to say hi to our Nigerian friend.
“Congratulations, brother.” I lean over a bit, still feeling dare-devil.
Nigerian man turns to me, puzzled. “Brother?”
“You’re Nigerian, aren’t you? Surely you’ve heard the Independence news.”
He smiles now, a very warm smile. “What gave me away?”
“Nothing, really. I can just tell. I should confess, however, that I became unsure when you spoke. The accent is quite confusing.”
“I struggle with it. Which is why I admire you. I really can’t help it; been here since I was seven.”
“Tough luck.” I said, and meant it. “I’m Sukanmi. Olasukanmi. I’d stretch my hand for a shake, but it’s much too Western for my comfort.”
“Interesting man,” he says. “I’m Abdullah Mustapha.”
“Ha! Hausa. Now that’s curious. I would have wagered Ibo or Edo.”
“Mixed, actually. Mother is Ibibio. People say I look like her.”
“I see,” nodding my head.
Barry struts over, drops the flute in his hand before me and struts away again. I take a sip. The wine is strong; Bordeaux, I think.
“How long have you been here?”
“Say five, six years? Came to the University here. Not been back to Nigeria ever since. You know, the regular.”
“Yes. I’m very much familiar with that. I’ve got a lot of friends with similar stories. Never returned, myself. I’ve got no memory of Nigeria. ” Abdullah is obviously not excited about this.
“Sad. Terribly. Any plans to return any time soon?”
“Well, I’m not sure. You know, work and all. But I guess I’ll try and think something up now that we’ve been given independence. It’s a very happy thing, you know? Finally.”
I want to remark that it’s rather ironic for him to say this, considering the fact that we would have been independent earlier had his Northern kinsmen not opposed Mr. Enahoro’s motion for ‘self-rule’, saying that their region, and generally, the nation wasn’t ready. But I decide it is unnecessary, rude, and abjectly chauvinistic.
“How about you?” Abdullah asks. “Any plans to return soon?”
“Most certainly. I booked my flight for next week. Got a lot of things to round off around here.”
“Oh, really. Doesn’t sound like you’ll be back here in a really long time.”
“I doubt I will. There’s a nation to build at home.”
Abdullah has downed the last of his drink, and is ready to leave. He flattens the bill on the table, a single pound note, and uses his glass as paperweight. Standing up, he reaches into his trouser pocket and out comes a pen and small notebook with which he writes his phone number. “Well, ring me up when you land in Nigeria and perhaps I will contact you when I’m finally able to take a few weeks off work.” He hands me the paper.
“Certainly. Nice to meet you.” I say; he nods and walks away, smiling.