21 June 2012

Straw Dogs by Bolaji Olatunde (Book Excerpt)

New York City, May 18, 1998.

I ran blindly down the dark alley. I heard fast-falling footsteps following dangerously close behind me. I came to a dead end with high brick walls. I looked left and right but there was nowhere else left to run. Then they came into view yet again. They were so many that I couldn’t count them. They held AK-47's in their hands. They descended on me like a pack of unruly English fans attacking a fan of a rival club side. Kicks that did terrible damage rained heavily on me as I fell to the ground, damage which was exacerbated by the jackboots they wore. They kicked mercilessly and wordlessly but they panted noisily until they were exhausted. They stopped kicking, huffing and puffing. When they stopped their kicking, I stared helplessly, half dead, at them. They aimed their guns at me. I tried to beg them but no sound came out of my bleeding mouth. They let off an endless volley of shots. I felt the sting of the bullets as they hit me. Then I blacked out.

I grasped at the empty air as I woke up with a start and in a cold sweat.

I had been having that same nightmare about murderous soldiers yet again. It haunted me ever since I left Nigeria late in March. With my pulse still racing, I sat up. When I was calmer, I lay back on the bed to compose my thoughts and blot the dream out of my mind, hoping fervently that it was not in any way portentous of things to come. I threw the blankets off my body when I remembered that I had to go to work as a waiter at a restaurant.

After Dad’s death, the businesses he left behind began to wobble. This was no reflection of Akin’s capabilities but it was the result of the earthquake that was rocking the Nigerian economic landscape at the time. Many companies collapsed and many business vultures hovered around the debris searching for scrapings, one of which was an oil concession in one of the companies that Daddy had a stake in. The company’s oil mining lease on a property in the Niger-Delta was revoked easily by the Federal Government now that he was no more and all his friends who could have helped out, those who owed him favours from decades back turned their backs on us in obedience to the rule of self-preservation first – none of them wanted to leave the world the way he had done. After a few weeks in New York, I found myself cascading fast down the social ladder because the cost of living was comparatively higher than that of living in Lagos; money that would have bought me luxury in Lagos didn’t go very far there in the Big Apple. My cash flow from Lagos began to dwindle rather too fast for my liking. I have never liked complaining to anyone, and I did not want to make Akin feel any more pinch than he was already going through trying to run a complex operation that was spinning out of his control. It was inevitable that I had to get a job anyway; I needed a reason for waking up in the morning every day. I doubt if in all my life I have ever felt as lonely as I did sitting in that apartment or roaming aimlessly about New York City streets before I got that job as a waiter.

I had applied for a job at a few accounting firms but I was turned down several times for no apparent reason until a friendly interviewer told me something quite revealing. In her words “Nigerian qualifications always have a shadow of doubt over them with companies here in

America.” No doubt, stories of the corrupt practices of some of our professors had crossed over America’s borders.

In the last week of April, Gerald, my Jamaican neighbour in the house on West Forty-Fifth Street where I rented a two-room apartment helped me get an interview and a job as a waiter at a high-class restaurant called “The Magenta” where he worked. He was a botanist from a humble Jamaican family who obtained the famous Green Card through the American Visa lottery programme. He had secured an admission to Harvard Medical School and was saving up to go to college to study medicine.

The Magenta was located somewhere on Fifth Avenue and its immediate neighbours were two fancy boutiques whose names I have junked somewhere. It was co-owned by an eccentric middle-aged Frenchman named Pierre Mauroy and his equally old Italian-American wife Barbara. Pierre was a celebrity chef, if being well known by only famous people qualifies one to be called a celebrity whatever. I must admit that he had very well-heeled customers. Aside from his renowned culinary skills, Pierre’s other claim to fame was his alleged ancestry. He was quick to tell anyone who would listen that his mother was the illegitimate daughter of the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso. Pierre’s grandmother – so went the chef’s story – met the famous painter in Montrouge, France shortly after the beginning of the First World War and after the death of his wife Eve. Pierre was as short and stocky as his alleged ancestor but that was where any resemblance between them ended. The photographs that I have seen of Picasso bear no facial resemblance whatsoever to Pierre Mauroy.

Like I said before, The Magenta catered for the gastronomic needs of rather wealthy clientele and many a well-heeled gourmet came there from time to time. There were six waiters in all – Gerald, Poul who was Danish, Yongmin and Wenli were dignified Chinese men, the former we fondly called ‘Youngman’, Laurent was French and he was inevitably the maitre d’ – I completed the number. The kitchen crew consisted of Pierre himself, his Italian-American wife and her two sisters.

After I got the job, I discovered that it was Pierre’s personal policy that all waiters had to be non-British – he was rabidly and unabashedly Anglophobic; they had to be non-Americans and individuals who spoke the English language with an “exotic accent.” Only he knew the type of “exotic accent” he wanted because he alone conducted the interviews and decided who was hired as a waiter or not. He was one with a sort of exotic accent of his own because he spoke English with one of the thickest French accents I had ever heard before or after I met him. I guess it takes one to know one. Laurent had that French accent too but his was not so thick. Only Barbara and her sisters spoke English the American way, having been born and raised in the USA. I remember a famous customer – I think it was Lauryn Hill – asking him why he had no American waiters.

“Simple reason…in the words of famous writer Langston Hughes…when we cease to be exotic, we do not sell well,” replied Pierre with a smug smile. Whoever he quoted it for had seemed to be quite impressed. I am sure it was Lauryn Hill.

The job was not an easy daily ride but it was a consolation of some sort that I was earning my own keep for the first time in my life. Needless to say, I was disappointed that my first degree from a university hadn’t secured me a better job. The pay was okay but I couldn’t afford to eat in ‘The Magenta’ on the wages that he paid us, for Pierre was a stingy son of a bitch whose food was very expensive. He never offered his staff free meals or as he told us in his raspy, heavily accented English whenever the issue was raised.

“Pierre not cook for bottom rung of society! I don’t cook cheap! Non! Non!” The cheapest meal there would have had his employees in debt for a while. The French word egalitre probably did not exist in his lexicon.

I had a chequered “career” at The Magenta. Pierre and Laurent had a way of upbraiding me that drove me to homicidal fringes. To say the least, they were quite rude to all their workers.

Remarkable things happened in the six weeks that I spent working at The Magenta. An example – three suicides took place just outside the door of the restaurant on three different occasions. The restaurant was located on the ground floor of a high-rise building and all three suicidal persons seemed to have singled out the front door of The Magenta as a special place to end it all because they all plunged from varying heights only to land right in front of the restaurant’s revolving doors. I could not really blame them for taking their lives – New York back then was a pretty depressing place to live in; everyone so much in a hurry to get to nowhere, trying to outwit everyone but in the end only outwitting themselves out of their humanity.

The first suicide subject chose the odd morning hours to depart this sinful world and so had not disrupted business – one or two a.m. which was only a few hours after we closed. The second was not so considerate because he chose to leave in the peak afternoon hours. Mayor Giuliani’s men from the NY Police Department promptly cordoned off the scene, invaded The Magenta and interviewed customers if they had any “observations.” Trouble wary customers, like the rich around the world always are, kept away while the NYPD were outside, thus holding back business for quite some time.

I was handing out menus to a young couple six days later when I heard the ominous thud and splintering of glass that announced the third suicide. A once famous dipsomaniac Broadway actress who had completely faded away from the limelight had just brought down the curtain on her life by leaping from an eighth-floor window, crashing on and ruining the new Mercedes car the couple came in. I almost felt sympathy for Pierre when he emerged from the kitchen, stared out of the windows and covered his face in despair. The NYPD returned and business was held up again, for a while. It was a welcome diversion for me because the afternoon had been very, very busy. I retreated to one of the large food stores in the back to steal a short rest for my aching legs but I ended up snoozing off for about thirty minutes. I was rudely awakened by Pierre’s shoves and he gave me, I admit it, much deserved bollocking.

Unbeknownst to me, the police left the place about fifteen minutes earlier. Bleary-eyed and feeling more than a little disgruntled, I returned to work.

A short while later, two classy dressed ladies walked in. One of them was young, thin, red haired with clear ivory skin. She looked like she could be an actress or a model. Aside from her clothes, the other was a buxom blonde who was quite nondescript in her looks, but she was what anyone would consider a ‘cougar’ – a woman who was much older than her companion but dressed just almost as sexily, showing off as much cleavage as she could decently and legally get away with. Ms. “Model or Actress” seemed rather edgy. She grumpily complained aloud when I gave them the menu – the menu was in her opinion “crap and fucked up,” this said aloud without much effort at discretion. The other customers looked at her like she had just brought the plague into the restaurant. All was quiet before she came in. She queried her friend for bringing her to ‘this lousy joint.’ This again attracted uneasy glances from the other customers.

“Relax Cam, you’re gonna love it,” her friend reassured her. On my way to the kitchen I almost collided with Poul who was staring transfixed at the pair, or more accurately, at “Cam”

“That’s Camilla Woods, the film star,” he told me.

“Never heard of her,” I replied.

“What! When did you arrive from Mars, my friend? Isn’t she beautiful?” he asked, obviously swept off his feet by what he was looking at. I nodded noncommittally. “I heard she was some kind of a nut but I did not know she was so bitchy,” Poul told me shaking his head with some weariness at the world and then he moved on to continue with other tasks. A short while later I wheeled their meal to their table. There was a look of disgust on Cam’s face when she saw the food. I served her first. I was serving her friend when I heard the thunderous crash of plates on the floor – Cam had yanked her food off the table angrily. The broken china and food was now an unsightly mess on the floor.

“What’s wrong with you, you crazy woman?!” I heard myself shout angrily before I could stop the words from coming out of my mouth. It was the first time I ever lost my temper with a customer, and boy, did we always have a steady stream of indulgent customers from time to time. Losing our tempers was something Pierre had warned all his waiters fervently against because the “customer is roi, you know…that means king in French…you won’t have job without the king!”

Suddenly, without any warning, Cam stood up in a flash and with lightning speed she slapped my face. It was a surprisingly weak slap, considering all the energy that she seemed to have put into it. I laughed at the puniness of her effort; she burst into tears. Pierre and Laurent came rushing to the rescue.

“Madame, please don’t be upset at our waiter. He lose his mind unfortunately,” Pierre comforted her as he flashed me a withering reproachful glance like it was entirely my fault. “Please you may sit now,” he told her gently and soothingly. She obeyed him like a child. Her friend watched the proceedings without a word. Yongmin took over serving them. Pierre ordered me back to the kitchen. He was predictably flaming mad when we got there.

“How many times I tell you don’t shout at customers, ha? You are fired! Dismissed!” he howled angrily at me.

Barbara looked up from her cooking. She sprang to my defence.

“The bitch ruined our fucking floor and slapped the poor guy! Who does she think she is, that stuck up bitch? What did you expect him to do, Pierre, kiss her feet?” She turned to me. “Shola, you’re not fired! You did good! You’ll stay! Don’t listen to him now! That’s how he is when he’s mad at people. He doesn’t look at the bigger picture.”

“He’s fired I say!” shouted her husband.

“He’s not!” she replied angrily.

“He is!”

Barbara’s sisters looked from one to the other as the shouting match went back and forth. I watched the pair with detached amusement. Barbara stopped first – she had no other choice; one had to be an argument expert to outdo Pierre in a shouting match.

“Shola, you go home…get you some rest. I’ll talk some sense into him when he’s calm,” she told me.

I went to the rest room where I took off my uniform. Unaccustomed to leaving work so early, I decided to spend the rest of the day with Sheila.

Where does one begin with a girl like Sheila? Sheila Douglas was one of the most unusual people I ever met. Our destinies crossed paths at a nightclub called “The Centrofly” while I was on a night out with Gerald; this was just about a week or so before I got the job at The Magenta.
I remember that day clearly. When we entered the club, Gerald and I headed straight for the bar, the vantage point for seeing the goings-on in the house. Loud hip-hop filled the air; couples on the dance floor gyrated and whirled energetically to the rhythm. We sat side by side on two of the stools at the bar and watched the scene. Gerald ogled a black girl with a rather large bosom that stood out well on her slim frame. She was dancing rather too closely with a thickset young man.

“What do you think of the pair on that one?” he asked me with a lustful voice and a whoosh. “Those things look so heavy it’s a wonder her back hasn’t given up on her!”

“What can I say? I could do with some of that tonight. Oh, come to me all of ye who are heavy laden and I shall give you rest,” I replied with an equally lustful voice of my own.

“What?” exclaimed Gerald. “Sacrilege, my boy, sacrilege! I’m quite sure the Good Book didn’t mean it that way” he said with mock solemnity. “I sure envy the fool she’s with!”

“Envy?” I said incredulously. “She may smother the guy with those things if he’s not more careful.” Both of us laughed aloud.

Gerald ordered a Budweiser, I asked for a Coke. It was at that very moment someone sitting on a stool very close to us turned to look me full in the face. She was sitting beside me with her back turned to us and I hadn’t even noticed her. A smile danced around her lips, her clear white eyes radiated undiluted mischief.

“I heard your little exchange, you two…what you said about the heavy-laden and all that followed. I have the mind to go tell that young woman exactly what you just said,” she said. She beckoned to the girl our remarks had been about. Gerald and I exchanged looks of discomfort and panic.

“Please don’t. I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” I said before I could stop myself. The sight of the heavy-set, muscular guy she was dancing with may have catalyzed the quick utterance of that statement, looking back on it now.

“I can’t now, girl! I’m having fun!” Miss Heavy-laden replied as she continued to move her stuff on the dance floor. The looks of outright panic on our faces made our tormentor burst out laughing long and hard.

“I was only kidding! That’s Dana. She’s my classmate at school. That’s her boyfriend, Lionel. He’s a law student and a gentle soul, wouldn’t even hit you if he wanted to. Those muscles are just for show off,” she said in between laughs. Gerald and I heaved sighs of relief.

“A coke, huh? That’s an unusual choice around here. Are you a Jehovah’s Witness or a Muslim?” she asked me with a husky-sexy voice.

“If I was either one of those, I wouldn’t be in this house of sin in the first place,” I replied, relaxing considerably.

She chuckled. It was a charming, infectious chuckle. She had cropped hair at the time. There was a half-full bottle of beer in front of her. Although she was a light-skinned black girl, she was not an extremely beautiful girl as many who are that complexion are perceived to be by most black males. I will confess that she was midway between average looks and being beautiful – perhaps some men wouldn’t look at her twice. She wore a black miniskirt and a blue tank top.

“You sound African. Where are you from?” she asked me.

“Nigeria,” I replied. She rolled her eyes delightfully.

“Uh-oh, Abacha’s country, the land of thieves and scoundrels!” she said with that drawling inflection that is peculiar to black Americans. Gerald laughed in a way that I considered to be rather unwarranted for the situation. The way it came out from her mouth was not in any way offensive, although I am sure that had it come out from most other people’s mouths, it would have sounded very rude. It surprised me that she even knew there was someone named Abacha – most of the young Americans I met at the time could not name the senator or the congressman representing them, let alone a foreign head of state. All they seemed to care about was who the hottest rapper was, the latest film stars and the new scandals that trailed them – the celebrity culture thing.

“That is untrue. Just like everywhere else, there are good and bad people in Nigeria. That’s rather harsh, coming from one whose country gave the English Language the terms Watergate and Monicagate,” I said, springing fast to the defence of my country. She laughed. Gerald cheered artificially; then he cleared his throat noisily. He nudged me.

“Do you have a name?” he said to me in a stage whisper, deliberately loud enough for her to hear. We all laughed.

“I’m Shola, this is my Jamaican friend, Gerald.”

“I’m Sheila Douglas. You guys have got last names, don’t you? Only pimps and drug dealers don’t. I feel like I know people better when I know their surnames. I have this intuition that every day, I meet at least one person who will go on to be famous someday. I would like to be able to boast truthfully that I knew them before they hit the big time…when they hit the big time. Hey, for all y’all know, I may become very famous someday!”

Gerald and I smiled – this was a whole new dimension to the introduction game between the sexes, I thought.

“Mine’s Sinclair,” Gerald told her

“Mine’s Dina.”

“Dina?” she said with some amusement. “Can I have you?” she asked me looking in my eyes flirtatiously and laughing, obviously having delicious fun mocking my name. I guessed correctly as time would prove that she was a very witty chick. Gerald excused himself. He left Sheila and I to chat for a while.

She was an economics major at the New York State University. She had a mother and a kid brother. Her father, a postman was killed in a drive-by shooting when she was ten.

“What a pleasant coincidence,” I said with some sarcasm and mock cheerfulness. “We not only share initials, you know…S.D…we have both lost our fathers, looks to me like we were destined to meet someday and who knows...” I said with a meaningful shrug; I did not complete the thought. The bit about our initials was not entirely true – my Shola is short for the full name Adeshola.

“Are you hitting on me, dear sir?” she asked flirtatiously yet again with raised eyebrows.
“Did it seem like I was?” I looked at the ceiling mock contemplatively. Then I looked in her eyes. “To be frank, I would like to think I was.”

“Keep trying, but I think I should inform you that you won’t get anywhere with your pathetic, corny style,”

“It’s that bad?” I asked with feigned sullenness.

“Terrible,” she replied. “But keep trying. I am, in spite of myself, impressed so far. I think it must be something about your voice…There’s something pleasant about it. I just love its sound.” We laughed. A week later, Pierre would be equally captivated by my “voice”.

I told her things about myself that I wanted her to hear, things that would be largely flattering to whatever image she had built of me in her mind so far during our brief interaction. Then I told her about the difficulty I was having getting an accounting job because of the country where I had my degree.

“Double tragedy! You are also black…in America!” she exclaimed. She reasonably suggested I try to undergo postgraduate course to improve my chances. I told her truthfully that I had been giving it some serious thought. She told me about how tough college was for her, how she had to be very careful with her income and expenditure. Our discussion went back and forth in this honest, open way, or so I thought, while the noise around us continued. After chatting for a while, she suggested that we dance. We left our seats and went to the dance floor.

As we danced, our bodies rubbed against each another now and again. A delicate ‘enfant terrible’ somewhere below my navel rose to the occasion, angrily struggling against its sartorial incarceration. Unable to bear the pressure any longer and with honourable intentions far from my mind, I suggested that we go out to the club’s car park to talk a little more. When we came out of the club, we walked a few metres away from the entrance while I did a quick scan for a private place, or some place that had some semblance of quietude. She stopped walking abruptly and burst out laughing quite unexpectedly I must say, if not disconcertingly for me.

“You desperately want to fuck me, don’t you?” she asked me without her any diminution in the intensity of the gleefulness of her laugh. I was speechless because I was unaccustomed at the time to women using that most descriptive expletive so openly in real life – one saw it in the movies from time to time but seeing and experiencing it in real life was a whole new experience for me up until that point. The girls I knew back home in Nigeria did not use the word, or if they did, not in the presence of men, and especially not in the presence of men they wanted to keep a favourable impression going with, like I presumed Sheila to be doing. I shook my head insincerely in denial.

“There’s solid evidence to the contrary,” she said, pointing at the visible bulge in my trouser in the area of the zipper. So carried away was I that I had forgotten to take precautionary measures to conceal my dick’s agitation. Shamefaced, I discreetly turned away from her and adjusted it accordingly – this caused her to laugh even harder. I felt like a total fool.

“You men are so, so weak! You have bodies that are more than easy to manipulate,” she said with a smile when she was through with laughing at my expense. “Come, let’s sit here and enjoy the sight.” I looked at the entrance of the club, thinking that it would perhaps be better if we went back in to save me from the embarrassing situation I had walked into. There were people moving in and out of the club. We found a neat, raised platform some metres away from the entrance; we sat there watching the car and human traffic go past us.

“What makes you say that men are weak?” I asked her when we had settled down.

“It comes from doing porn movies. Just a little touch in the right places and you fellows are rearing to go,” she said with a snort.

“Porn movies? You noticed it from watching porn movies?” I asked her curiously.

“No, I noticed it from being in porn movies. Yeah, I’ve been in ten so far. If you recall well enough, I told you it was difficult scraping a dime here and there. Doing it has helped to pay some of my tuition, my boarding and that over there.” I was genuinely stumped about how to react to her now, after her admission that she was a porn actress. She pointed at an old but sturdy looking Toyota Corolla. Here was someone complaining about how life was tough for her financially and here she was showing me her car – there and then, I got the confirmation that America’s poor are the richest poor in the world.

“You…are a porn actress?” I asked her with obvious incredulity, shock and I must say some disgust.

“Why? You got something against that?” she asked in a challenging tone. I knew I was on quick sand there. I quickly tried to gloss over the disgust part of my reaction.

“No…not much anyway. You…just don’t look the…type, that’s all,” I stammered.

“What’s your idea of the…TYPE? One who walks around town butt naked? There’s lots of decent, law-abiding people in the adult entertainment industry here in America…people who earn a living, pay their taxes to the government, responsible family people who are successfully raising responsible kids. I know it may seem decadent to someone of your cultural background and all…y’all Africans with all y’all prudish attitudes! Yeah, I meet a lot of your kind back in school every day,” she said rather peevishly. “Listen stud, I’m no slut! If you also care to know, I don’t give it up so easy in my private life…I don’t have sex within minutes of meeting every stranger I meet at a club. I’ve got to know a man very well first before we start dating. What does he like? What’s his favourite movie? Who does he hang out with? If he checks out, then we may, a big may, move on to sex! I’m paid to be wanton in my professional life but I just can’t afford that with my heart. I need to know you’ll not just up and leave when you feel like it. I need stability…or some semblance of stability in my personal relationships,” she replied.

I was in no mood to counter this weird logic; where, I wondered, in being a porn actor did one draw the line between one’s private and non-private life, or better still and to be more direct, private and non-private sex?

She asked me if I was interested in knowing where she lived. How could I not be? This, to the best of my knowledge, was the first porn actress I ever met. I followed her home anyway, motivated more by curiosity than anything else. Her apartment was another revelation of this odd girl.

She lived alone in her single room apartment which was in a house owned by an elderly black woman out on East Twenty-Seven Street. The house was some distance from New York University. When we walked into her apartment, a large Siamese cat ran to her from under a small couch and rubbed itself against her feet with great affection.

“Oh Maynard, baby! Missed me, huh? I missed you too, baby!” she cooed fondly. I looked around half expecting to see nude sculptures or photos but I was surprised to see only those of her family. Nothing of the adult entertainment persuasion was evident to me as far as I could see.

“Maynard? That’s a strange name for a cat. I never heard of any cat named Maynard,” I said.

“I named him after John Maynard Keynes, the economist. I read in high school that legend has it that he used to lie in bed for half the day and make investments in stocks right from his bed, investments that netted him millions of pounds. I see my beloved cat everyday and I’m reminded of that dream. Boy, would I like to live like that some day!”

“So would I but I strongly suspect that may never happen for anyone,” I said rather tactlessly, I think; one should never suggest to anyone that their dreams may not come true. She took it with good grace anyway.

“I know,” she mused. “Maynard is a walking reminder of that dream though. I’ve had him for two years now. Every time I see him, he reminds me of where I’m going to, where I wanna be someday…the top of the game, whatever that game may turn out to be.”

She had a bookshelf that held large volumes of books written by authors I had either not heard about or had not the intellectual patience to read – Fredrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Winston Churchill, J.M. Keynes, of course, and an English translation of ‘Mein Kempf’ by Adolph Hitler. I asked her about it.

“I got it at a flea market somewhere. When I saw it, I thought to myself that it was something one just had to have to get into the man’s head, to seek explanations for what happened and why it happened in pre-Second World War Germany. A misguided but gifted man was Hitler. Had he and Churchill changed places and ideologies, the allied forces would perhaps have won the war in half the time that they did,” she said. “That remark never leaves this room, Shola,” she added with a chuckle. “I could be crucified for saying that.”

Being “vastly unknowledgeable” about Hitler, pre-Second World War Germany, I remained quiet with a smile on my face. I riffled through the other books of hers. Not surprisingly, she had quite a large number of romance novels.

“A girl’s sustenance,” she said with a smile when she saw me looking at the titles as she handed me a glass of lemonade. Her collection of music CDs was equally unusual. She had albums of Miles Davies, Louis Armstrong, the Temptations, Santana, the Beach Boys. Who else was there? There were some African recordings from the sixties and seventies – Fela Kuti (my compatriot), Hugh Masekela, General Franco and many more I had never heard of or even remember now for that matter. I wondered what old African music was doing in her collection and asked her what she liked about them.

“Oh, my father was a Black Panther in his youth. He was captivated by the idea of all black people in this country someday going back home to the motherland. He used to collect those records on vinyl when he was dating my mother before they got married…helped him keep in touch with the motherland, he used to say. How he did that, I have no idea because he couldn’t understand a word of most of the records. I grew up listening to those sounds, I love them and I always will.”

“I notice you have no rap or hip-hop,” I said.

“I don’t need no cheap, no good hoodlum or ex-convict yelling ‘ho’ at me with every other breath. I already got that stupid little voice in my head complaining about the porn…I think it comes from the way I was raised…you never completely throw away things like that. I don’t have to deal with the jumbled many ‘ho’s that could come from my stereo,” she said. I seized the moment.

“If you have scruples of conscience, then why do you do…what you do?” I mumbled, afraid that I would upset her.

“Doing a regular job takes time. What I do now gives me more time for my studies. Two, my Momma used to say beauty is temporary but stupid is forever. I’m just securing the future with the little beauty I have now.”

“You have more than a little beauty and you know it. It’s my theory that women say what you just did when they desire a compliment such as the one which I have just given you which I think you deserve by the way.” She offered me a very bright but shy smile that is often elicited when people receive compliments that they know are not a completely true reflection of the real situation of things. “What does your mum say about it?”

“She doesn’t know about it…it’d kill her if she did. She’s a nice Christian woman who worked two jobs at a time most times to raise us right and proper. She’s suffered because she had only a little education and her folks were poor. I couldn’t rely alone on the little she used to chip in now and again to keep me in college. I have to do what I have to do. I can’t let her life happen to me, no way! I’m not beyond redemption though...I’ll quit the porn scene when the circumstances permit. It’s not like most of those who do it want to keep at it, you know. I’ve been there, so I know. I don’t like the name ‘Cherry Chestnut’ very much either.”

“Cherry Chestnut?” I asked her quizzically.
“That’s my name in the game,” she said with a merry laugh. “No one really goes by their real name, for obvious reasons.”

“You could get a scholarship,” I said after a short silence.

“Nah, I tried but failed to get one either because I’m not brainy enough or I’m just unlucky.”

“You sound brainy enough to me.”

“Stop playing,” she said shyly. I deciphered immediately that she was a girl who did not like compliments very much. Compliments are, more often than not, false and fake things people say to get something from you, she would declare to me in due course but that did not deter me from saying them to her intermittently anyway – it always rubs people the right way. “I’m just a girl of average intelligence. My determination and guts have brought me this far.”

I left her apartment after a while. We started seeing each another often and much to my surprise, I fell in love with her. When it was pretty obvious that we were going to end up being more than friends, I told her it would make me feel very uncomfortable if she did any more porn, if we became “an item”.

“How am I supposed to support myself?” she asked me.

I promised to make up for it in any way I could. She could devote herself completely to her studies while I supported her financially, or if she really felt the need to work, get a regular job that did not task her too much. She abided by my wish after much persuasion; I think she wanted to remain independent. I was genuinely in love with her and she must have seen it to know that it was quite real. True to my words, I did chip in cash now and again to help her out when she needed it, taking extra care to ensure I gave it to her before she asked for it. At about the same time, she applied for a work-study job on campus that did not offer as much financial reward as porn seemed to do, but at least she was back on that road of redemption that she talked about.

She did not keep any of her porn recordings in her house; I doubt that I would have had the forbearance to watch something like that which involved someone I was supposed to be in love with.

Sheila was in when I got to her house. She was sympathetic, and optimistic that I would have my job back by morning. To brighten my sullen mood, she offered to cook me something special, a meal that she had never prepared for me before. She prepared some Ratatouille and Linguine. With Maynard hanging around, I helped out in her small kitchen and as I did, my spirits brightened somewhat. I knew I could get along without the job, but it just smarted that I lost my job unjustly.

It was wonderful spending all that time with Sheila, watching her as she chopped the tomatoes and minced the garlic that she used. The cooking did not take as much time as I thought with all of the preparation that we had put into it. When she was done about twenty-five minutes later, we sat on her rug and consumed the food. She put on soft, gentle music on her hi-fi.

After the food had disappeared, she put on a CD she bought a few days before; it was a record of the Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell whose music I was unfamiliar with. She sat with me on the couch and gave me the CD pack.

“He’s a pioneer of the Bossa Nova genre of music, one of the most beautiful music forms ever invented. I still wonder how come I’ve never got any of his records before now,” she told me gleefully. It was genuinely heady music. A few tracks played until it got to track six. I looked at its title – ‘Samba de Bencao’. The song carried me away.

“Great music to make love to,” she said, her voice huskier than ever. I looked in her eyes and saw the challenge there. There was no further need for words, only deeds. We abandoned our food, closing up on one another faster than Formula One race cars. We began slowly to disrobe one another languidly and began to make love slowly. I have never been in a trance before but it felt like it then. My consciousness seemed to be dead and alive at the same time – in short, I had never felt that way when I made love in the past. I could not differentiate between the sensations that she actually triggered off and those that I thought she did but I was intoxicated by both anyway. Then came the gleeful discharge of my ‘stormy waters,’ what else could it be with two or more million spermatozoa raging against one another to get ahead? Then all became calm again when we were through.

We lay still and quiet on the floor in one another’s arms for a very long while listening to some more Bossa Nova.

“Why do we…people, make the sounds that they do when they make love?” she asked quietly. I guessed she was tired of listening only to Powell’s guitar.

“I didn’t make any sounds,” I replied absentmindedly.

“Yeah, right,” she said with a slight chuckle.

“If you were listening to sounds, then I think I must not have been doing something right,” I said.

“I didn’t mean it that way. You did everything right, champ!” she said tugging playfully at ‘Shola Jr.’.

“It’s the pleasure of the thing…I think…that causes the sounds you speak of.”

“Only pleasure? There’s got to be something more than that to it! Would you say eating gives you pleasure?”

“Well, eating good food does, just like that which I’ve just eaten.”

“Then why don’t you make those sounds when you eat?” she asked. I smiled and shook my head. “I can just imagine an event…maybe a state dinner or banquet with presidents and diplomats moaning and whimpering and calling the name of the food that they are eating while they eat it, just like we all do when we are doing it, it in bold quotation marks, with their wives, lovers, mistresses, whatever!” We both laughed long and hard at the absurd imagery that she had just painted. “I think all that noise comes from the fact that we are transported to dimensions beyond which our ordinary senses can understand or fathom. It’s a spiritual thing no one has ever bothered to unravel. Instead we got scientists carrying out research in labs on human sexuality instead of approaching the matter from the mystic angle.”

Maynard purred contentedly on his perch in the chair opposite the couch where he reclined peacefully, staring at us. It was only then that I remembered the cat’s presence. I threw a cushion at him, an action that sent him leaping out of the chair; the voyeuristic imp probably watched everything we had done.

“Leave the poor guy alone. Why are you mad at him? These mad scientists I was talking about set up cameras so we can watch animals do it all the time, let him watch us for a change,” she said as she punched my shoulder playfully.

“That cat gives me the creeps sometimes, and this is one of those times. It looks like a kid watching the parents make love. Not good.”

“He shouldn’t scare you in anyway. He’s just a harmless little pet. You’re just jealous and threatened that he gets more love from me than you get is what it is. Afraid he will snatch me back from you? You know what? I think he’s a lot better behaved, gentler than you are…and nowhere near as naughty as you are.”

“You mean you’ve actually made love to this cat?” I asked her with mock intensity. She punched my shoulder again.

“You very well know that’s not what I meant. I meant that strictly in terms of affection. Shola Dina, you are the first man I have developed the deepest, truest affection for since Eddie.”
“Do you really mean that?” I asked her with a very good feeling stirring in me; it made me feel good that she thought me deserving of her love. “But you just said I was naughtier than Maynard.”

“I did.”

“Would you still love me if I were naughtier because I really could be?”

“Talk, my dear, they say is cheap, prove it, then we’ll see if you could be so loved.”

I pinched her bum playfully. She yelped. Laughing, we began again to embark on that journey that ends with the entanglement of the loins, blissfully unaware of the surprise that tomorrow was cooking up for me.

Straw Dogs was written by Bolaji Olatunde, and published by AuthorHouse (April, 2011).

Copyright © Bolaji Olatunde 2011.

Bolaji OlatundeBolaji Olatunde is a Nigerian writer, playwright & international affairs enthusiast, living in Abuja. His first novel Straw Dogs was published in the United Kingdom in April 2011 (click book cover above to buy). Kirkus Reviews commended the novel, stating that “Olatunde’s lively imagination and wicked sense of humour maintain suspense and keep the plotline from tiring in this international, supernatural, semi-farcical thriller.”


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