ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Fourteen)
“You still have a couple of drops in your cup,” Obaseki observed, leaning over. He held his cup to his lips and drained the last drop. “Drink up, Brother Mo, and I’ll take you to my mother’s joint. The beer is always bone-dead cold, I assure you. And you will always get any brand you want. Together with pepper-soup.”
Personally, I was done. All I wanted to do was go home and sleep off my intoxication. But I was all so confused. Somehow I wanted to know more about Gina and Joshua, and the only way I could keep in close contact with them was through Obaseki.
Though the idea of a pepper-fish and beer wasn’t so much on my mind, I thought it was a good idea to sacrifice some time that evening with Obaseki. But he was not going to rush me. I was determined not to get tipsy, not even thinking of getting plastered or anything. I had to pace my drinking.
It was as if Obaseki was reading my mind. “Just take your time,” he said. “When we get to my mother’s joint, you will be able to pace your beer with high voltage.”
“Your mother owns HIGH VOLTAGE?”
“Yes,” Obaseki said. “But I don’t go to the High Society one at the Ring-road. I don’t even want go to
the Civil Servants one on Oselu. If you find me in any of the HIGH VOLTAGE clubs, you will find me at the People’s Club near Joromi TV here. That’s where all the great cats hang out.”
I could feel the heat of excitement rising in me. Rufus told me about the HIGH VOLTAGE clubs all over the city, but I was not interested. He said he was already negotiating with the management to shoot their evening jazz performances. “We’re going to show the world how to do it. Do you know Majek Fasek? And Black Rice? You’ll be meeting them soon,” Rufus had boasted.
And now, to think that Obaseki’s mother owned HIGH VOLTAGE—that was something I doubted Rufus knew.
“Have you been to any of them before?” Obaseki asked.
“Let’s go to my favorite one, The People’s Club,” Obaseki said. “The HIGH VOLTAGE idea is actually mine. But my mother, with her Royal connections, found the land and the capital to build them. She has also been running them right from the onset. She is always found at home. She is never inside any of joints. But her gals are highly organized and disciplined. They bring my mother the money every night.”
I drained my glass of beer. I could stand up on my feet, thank God, but I could use some prayer as I walked down to my beetle and sank behind the wheel.
“You know the JOROMI TV?” Obaseki asked. “That’s Victor Uwaifo’s place. The People’s Club is just the street behind JOROMI TV. It has no signboard. If you need the address, you’re not welcome. It’s only for those who are into the know.”
“And this is also your idea,” I asked Obaseki.
“Partially yes and partially no,” Obaseki responded. “I had a good idea, and before you know it, it was bigger than anything you ever imagined.”
“What was your big idea?” I asked as I drove out of the Ekenwan campus toward Joromi TV.
“My idea was simple.” Obaseki said. “I wanted to created an underground community where all sorts of people could operate on their own terms. I got that idea out of a radical newspaper when I was a student in Belgium. It was an underground movement devoted to the liberation of the people of Belgium from Soviet Communism. The idea was to build a radical club that promoted free-thinking, and held regular meetings where members would be free to express themselves with music and art.”
“What a wonderful idea,” I said.
“But the idea is now totally out of my hand,” Obaseki lamented. The underground people now run it. They have included drugs and sex.”
My ears were standing up as I drove. I was at that point of soberness where everything still held together, and you knew where the road signs were and easily told motorcyclists from other cars.
“And it is the new one that we are going to now?” I asked.
“I mean the corrupt one,” I wanted to be sure, “the one run by the underground?”
“Yes,” Obaseki said. “That’s the only one I visit these days. Most people don’t even know it is there. But it is the who-is-who in the whole of Bendel State. There is no night you won’t find a state commissioner or top contractor, or justice there. And of course, the top-top-top police officers. Even the governor sometimes appear there undercover.”
“And it’s not far from here?”
“You’d never look at the place twice,” Obaseki assured me. “It looks so totally ordinary from the outside. But the backyard is like a footfall field. Giant parking place of all kinds of luxurious cars. They would never have allowed in your beetle,” he rubbed it in with a wink, “but they can’t stop me from bringing in stray cats.”
The night was already falling, and I needed to turn on my car headlamps. I turned the switch, but nothing. All dark. “Shoot,” I swore, “I have no headlamps.”
“Good,” Obaseki said, “you can’t use your headlamps where we are going. Suppose your light shines on the Commissioner of Finance with his newest sweetheart, trying to ponder difficult state figures? Between the two of us, I think….” He stopped talking, suddenly.
“Between the two of us you think what?”
“Nothing,” Obaseki said, “just thinking aloud. Sometimes you start an idea, and before you know it, it is out of your hand.”
Night was already falling and with the high volume of alcohol inside me, I turned off the main Ekewan road into a side street. With no headlamp, I drove very slowly. There was nobody on the road, and Obaseki asked me to make a number of turns. I could never have found my way there by myself. And after a while, I noticed that all the vehicles were driving without light, crawling no more than five kilometers per hour. You used your ears to detect motion, and also followed the direction of dark-clad security officers, who carried rifles, batons, and searchlights to control the traffic.
Very early on, one of the security officers whispered “Crown Prince” into the internal voice communication device. The other end said, “Positive.” And they let us in without stopping my beetle even once. I noticed that nobody even delayed our vehicle to peer inside. I didn’t see the actual figures of the security offices with the torches. They all blended into the night. They used the light from their torches to lead us to a parking stop. They took my key from me and gave me a car tag.
A young woman came out of the building and said, “Taiwo is my name,” and I will be serving the prince and his guest tonight.”
She led us above the first level, and sat us down at the second level. From where we were seated we had a direct view of the center stage. “I know you prefer this level,” Taiwo said. “Please let me know if you don’t. I will let them know you are here so they may serve you.”
“Brother Mo,” Obaseki said, “this is a different world. Don’t say a word. Nobody talks here except they have to. Just drink and watch. Welcome to Bini. Not Benin City o.”
TO BE CONTINUED
Artist: Moyo Okediji
Title: The Swinging Ship
Acrylic on canvas, 2020
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