Our first port of call, after meeting up with my business partner was one of her holdings at Woji, not much of a big place as such but I liked the model she employed in paying staff because of the incentive nature incorporated within. Her staff earns a basic, then ten percent of the business they bring in, the sort you’d find with marketing jobs, only that this wasn’t one. I met very well motivated staff with whom she had good rapport, listening with rapt attention to their suggestions, not just for listening sakes but with the intention of implementing mutually agreed decisions to the latter. In the less than an hour I spent observing events there, I’d gathered so much that I could also put to much good use. This self made business owner impressed me so much, considering that she embodied what I’ve always preached, in working the nine to five, yet running businesses on the side.
We soon left for Rumuomasi, to Madam Uche’s restaurant (an improvement from the canteen I had visited earlier in the day for an unforgettable peppersoup dish) for an early dinner. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have what in local parlance is called “swallow”, because of my sensitive stomach which reacts violently to ingredients in soups it’s not familiar with. Rice and stew does it really for me because the ingredients in the stew is universal to some extent, with very little changes that my stomach can deal with, though I’d skip jollof rice because I consider it a lazy way of cooking rice, especially when I have to pay for food. Interestingly, the kind of food I needed to douse the alcohol-induced hunger I was feeling couldn’t be rice, so I settled for the “swallow” which came in the form of wheat flour made into a dough, with “draw” (okro and “ogbono” with Ugu leaves) soup for its gelatinous nature, garnished with lotsa meat and smoked fish.
There was also periwinkle and crayfish, which as a Jew I wasn’t supposed to taste, talk more eat, but seeing that I was in a position where I couldn’t have been able to control what to eat, I let it pass. It would’ve been hypocritical to pick them off the soup, after they might have contributed to the taste of the soup immensely. While in Bonny across the waters, years back before I started doing my cooking and had to go out to eat, picking the periwinkle, crayfish and other “unholy” condiments was part of eating at the “bukas” I frequented.
Periwinkle is not only a delicacy in the Niger Delta region, but the shell is also used as coarse aggregate in concrete works for building, so you’d find it as friction on floors, decorations on walls, also as fillers for sandy or muddy ground that gets unsightly after rainfall, and the likes including finding use for ornamental purposes. Children make some money besieging the many beaches in Bonny to gather these periwinkle, though I doubt that it’s the little I see them pack into small plastic paint buckets that form the bulk of what goes into soups and building materials there. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it one of my objectives to find the source of periwinkle in commercial quantities that takes care of the huge demand throughout the months I spent in Bonny years back.
One “big” man that had come into the restaurant with his valet, assistant or whatever you call a subordinate that was doing his best to please his master (to the point of laughing to dry jokes, even bowing while responding to the boss’ inquiries, that were made atop a loud voice, like he’d swallowed a live mic before entering the restaurant), looked like he was trying to impress my host by the way he looked at her while talking. He also appeared to be trying to attract the attention of the Madam Uche who’d withdrawn to the back of the restaurant as he noticed him come in. For as much as he tried to get us into conversation from his table just adjacent to ours, I refused to be drawn in, and my host simply smiled. I pitied him, because people like him could get themselves killed just for mentioning the huge amounts he was bandying about just to score cheap points with chics, only to get kidnapped and be found unable to meet the ransom demands of abductors.
I felt heavy after the meal, and begged my host to see a bit of Port Harcourt before we both retired for the night. I had noticed some footwear on the floor earlier in the day and I asked her to take me back to the place I described to her. It turned out to be 1st Artillery area of Port Harcourt, only that this time around it was busier, not only with human and vehicular traffic, but it had turned to a red light district. In fact, the building next to where I’d seen shoes and sneakers earlier in the day, had turned to a whore house. It was different from any I’d seen elsewhere, because this appeared to be managed by the prostitutes themselves, with a fair pulchritudinous lady sitting just a few steps from the entrance with what seemed like tickets. The whole building had red shimmering lights allover it with music from huge loudspeakers booming out onto the road. It was such that if you ever wanted to explain to a child what a red like district is, you can simply point to the red lights there alone, and s/he’d understand. I ended up not been able to haggle or buy any footwear there because of advances from the heavily endowed buxom women, who cared less that I had my wedding band on, than that I had a female companion with me, whose unease was quite visible, even before she tapped me, for what seemed an end to our excursion for the night. Though I had no intention of picking any of them up for the night, I was disappointed that we had to leave. These ones were fairer, more beautiful, curvy and trimmer compared to their counterparts in Lagos, in places like Allen and Obalende, who couldn’t care less about their shape, so much so that some have burgeoning bellies like pregnant women.
In the tricycle we boarded to take me to the hotel I was to stay the night, she berated me for drooling after those women of the night, which though I didn’t feel I did, I didn’t doubt seeing that my members don’t always follow my orders in such situations all the time. Besides, these women have a special place in my heart, not because I have ever paid for sex but because of the help they once rendered to me in one of my gravest time of need. Some time ago, when I was in my teens I had been angered at home as we were preparing to go to church on a Saturday, and I decided to trek to the “Assembly” branch at Amukoko in Lagos from our home in Akoka, a distance of about nine kilometers (I was a “Tuareg” back in the day). By the time I got to Ijora Badia, with about a kilometer left to my destination and more than an hour burnt trekking, I knew I couldn’t walk any further, not because I was tired but because I was hard pressed to empty my bowels. At this time I simply walked away from the main road to the adjoining streets, where I moved from one house to the other, asking if they had a toilet I could use, but surprisingly they said “NO” even when at some point, I had to wait a while to allow my faecal load rise before I could continue my journey to the next house.
It was difficult for me to tell if they actually didn’t have toilets (which wasn’t impossible considering that the area remains one of the ghettoes in Lagos, where proper sanitary infrastructure is a luxury) or they were wary of strangers like me begging to use their toilets. Eventually, it was at a whore house, that I’d initially passed because I couldn’t imagine myself going there, that I found relief at last. Once I told the women (who were relaxing from what was apparently an eventful night, in front of the bungalow that housed their place of business) my intention, they hurriedly cleaned their “toilet” up, asked me which of either toilet roll or water in a bowl I’d love to do my business with. I opted for both, which one of them left to get, while another ushered me to the door, that opened into a three-stair compartment with a circular hole at the top, on which I could squat to do my thing. The urgency of the matter at hand didn’t permit me to wait for the toilet paper and water, as I quickly climbed the rostrum to some peace and relief after the first installment was dispatched. I’ve always found it amusing how one tends to be able to “hold it down” till one sets eyes on the door of the toilet, or the toilet itself, and to find all of a sudden, that “the center cannot hold” any longer. I am yet to feel anything that equates to the feeling of relief that follows defaecation, especially after been pressed for a while.
In all, those beautiful women saved me that morning, and for that I have remained ever grateful by not looking at them again with the scornful eyes I used to look at them, sometimes even thinking them brave, and more victims of their circumstances than people who chose the easy way out. I was friends with a few in Bonny, not for patronizing them though. I even offered some of them who couldn’t afford my services free of charge back then. These weren’t the kinda thing I could share with my business partner, so I simply drew her attention to the terrible Port Harcourt traffic which I considered not so different from Lagos’ and a minus for me as a place I could consider relocating to seeing that it will be akin to jumping from frying pan to fire. It was some minutes past nine when we arrived at the hotel in Rumuogba district of Port Harcourt.