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CHAPTER ONE ‘I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again.’ This John Denver song kept buzzing around in my head. I had mixed feelings about leaving and it was as though the words were forcing me to question my motives. It had started out well and there had been some good times, but when the relationship hit bottom it was hell. It was love-hate that was well into hate. I so wanted to return to the peace and tranquillity of my own country, where I could walk the paths through the bracken on the hills with the wind blowing in off the sea and the clouds skittering silently across a blue canvas sky. The farm would be green now with the fresh paint of spring grass and yellow with the early arrival of daffodils growing in the verges at the side of the lane. In my mind I had a living picture of peace and harmony away from the madness of a concrete world at the end of a tarmac runway to nowhere. When I was back home I would walk through the fields of my valley and let the dew form wet blisters on the polish of my black boots. There would be black cows enjoying a fresh snack after early morning milking and black crows scavenging for slugs and worms that were too late to hide from the early morning raiders. And when the sun climbed high enough to warm the soil, I would potter about in the walled garden, doing nothing in particular, but achieving a contented mind and healing the mental scars from the torments of life in virtual exile. It wouldn’t be long now. Fifteen hours with a bit of luck. Clear customs; taxi to the station; train to Carmarthen. Ruth


would be there to meet me. Then I would be home and away from the place forever. As the Boeing taxied to take off, I had a vivid recollection of the incidents that convinced me it was time to get out. My turbid love affair with Nigeria had started years before in nineteen seventy eight when I was there as a young civil engineer flushed with the challenges of building roads and dams, and it was to her welcoming embrace I returned when, during a frustrating period of my life, I needed a change of scene in order to maintain my sanity. You will be forgiven for thinking that I must have already been insane to even consider going to Nigeria in the first place; and I have to admit that there have been occasions when I have regretted giving up a well paid and secure job for a life of adventure. But such moments of doubt about the life I chose have been brief and fleeting. My frustrations came when I was a senior lecturer with the University of Wales. I was an Englishman with an Irish name teaching engineering management at a Welsh University. I suppose I was something of an anomaly really, but I’d been living in Wales for ten years and was slowly becoming accepted, even though my ability to speak Welsh was very limited. Playing rugby had helped, but I’d had to give that up when I tore a ligament in my knee. I could still enjoy walking though and there was the singing too. I belonged to a fantastic choir and singing helped me get my tongue phonetically around those difficult words. One thing I was certain of: life in the valley was so peaceful. It was too peaceful sometimes. My farm in the valley! My own wild and wonderful valley next to the sea! It could be wet and stormy in winter, but it became my little bit of heaven when the summer sun warmed the heather and I could climb the paths and tread where many had trod before me. This land had been the same for thousands of years, the furrowed footpaths testimony to iron-age ancients who had breathed in the same clean air that I breathed, cool and fresh and salty from the sea. 2


I had enjoyed teaching at the University, but the politically correct brigade had infiltrated the education system and started the rot. Free-thinking and innovative individuals like me were being swamped with forms to fill and statistics to fiddle in order to justify courses. It had become a farcical game of bums on seats and I’d had as much as I could stomach. Suddenly the fun had gone out of the job and I remember driving to work early, one wet and dreary Monday morning thinking, ‘what the hell am I doing with my life?’ I had been working for twenty-five years and I had another twenty years to go to retirement. Apart from three or four years when I was working towards getting qualified I had not experienced any real hairraising excitement in my job as a university lecturer. It was a secure, dull existence. No life or death decisions. Nothing! A void where there could have been adventure. A dullness where there could have been a real story to tell. I had to do something to sort out my life. Did I want security to retirement or did I want to be able to tell my grandchildren real-life adventure stories? What I didn’t know was that fate had been working out a plan without telling me. It is now almost two years ago to the day when the head of department had called me into his office. ‘What’s wrong, Dan?’ he asked, ‘you didn’t seem your usual self in the staff meeting.’ ‘To be frank, Bob, I think these meetings are getting to be a complete farce. You’re an experienced construction manager and so am I. In that room were thirty-odd members of staff sitting on their backsides for three hours, chewing the fat about what? They said bugger-all of any importance. Those two hours must have cost a grand if it cost a penny. A thousand pounds, Bob, and nothing to show for it at the end. It really does my head in.’ Bob James was a construction engineer from the old school; he was in his late fifties with a wealth of experience from the real world. He was about fifteen years older than me and we had joined the construction department at the same time. He was a Cambridge man and a Fellow of the Institution of Civil 3


Engineers. I considered he had a much more able brain on him than the rest of the department put together; with the exception of me I have to add! I didn’t include myself in the department. They all thought I was too much of a rebel to be an academic. Within four years Bob had taken over as department head but being more of a practical engineer than a theorist, he was struggling with the mindset of academics. I had started out in the construction industry too, but as a lad of seventeen and worked my way up the system from chain boy to engineer. Construction had been my life until I caught yellow fever on one of my overseas trips. That had been in Nigeria too. I had been lucky to survive. It was in the middle of 1978 and when I returned from Africa jobs in construction in Britain were thin on the ground. I had a wife and young family to support and one way or another I had to keep the money coming in. Having recently recovered from the fever, I didn’t want to risk going abroad again so it was a relief to land the job at the university. By the way my name is Dan Walsh. It is spelt without an ‘e’. With an ’e’ is the Irish way of spelling the name the Irish gave to Welsh mercenaries who couldn’t speak the Gaelic. Mercenaries who went with Strongbow of Pembroke to help their Celtic brothers across the water fight off the Viking invaders and then they stayed on and became more Irish than the Irish themselves. So I suspect that with Walsh as a family name, my ancestors went to Ireland from Wales and landed back in Liverpool on a famine ship. And here was I from the north of England, completing the round trip back again to Wales. I’m a Civil Engineer with a Masters degree in management from Surrey University. I don’t have a first degree in civil engineering; I learned that the hard way. It was the Masters I took in my early thirties that got me the job in education. I had just turned thirty-eight when I was appointed to the post of Senior Lecturer in construction management and it meant moving house. Again! Five homes in fourteen years, but that’s life in the construction industry. Soon after landing the job, Ruth 4


and I found a dilapidated farm with sixty acres of land in the valley with the river which fed the sea on the west coast of Wales. It is a tiny river, but it does have a name. It’s a tributary of the Afon Beillen and it flows out to sea near Cei-bach, just to the east of New Quay. After selling our small house in London where my employers were based we had enough money to buy a flat near the university as well. The journey to work took me two hours. I didn’t mind the driving but the flat was there in case the weather turned too nasty or if I was giving an evening lecture. I have to confess that at first I really did enjoy the job. Lecturing was the next best thing to being self-employed but without the hassle. I spent my time reading books and papers on construction management, writing and giving lectures and playing about with bits of research. There was plenty of free time so the job allowed me to keep up with trends in construction by doing consultancy work. I gave the job my all and the years rolled by without me realizing it. Then one day the devil on my shoulder started asking me questions. ‘What do you know about construction management, Walsh? Where do you get all that garbage from that you are feeding to the students?’ I am the typical self-critical Virgo and to be honest with you the devil on my shoulder did have a point. I was getting most of my lecture material from text books and papers written by other academics who probably knew less about construction management than I did. I suppose if I had carried on like that I would have become unemployable in the real world outside education. I would have become another educated illiterate in an intellectual desert. It was time to move on. ‘I fully understand your frustrations, Dan,’ Bob had said in response to my ranting, ‘but you know as well as I do that this is the way things are done in education. Chewing the fat gives everybody a chance to air their views.’ ‘That’s not my point, Bob, and you know it. We have these bloody staff meetings every month and achieve sod all. We’re all 5


expected to attend whether we want to or not and for me it’s a complete waste of time. I could be getting on with some research or consultancy. At the very least I could be doing something useful. Even catching up on my sleep would be better than listening to that performance every month.’ ‘Steady on, Dan. You’re gong a bit too far now. You’re letting the job get to you.’ ‘I think your right. It’s time I got away from this bloody place and had a change of scenery for a while. Otherwise I’ll go nuts.’ ‘What will you do?’ asked Bob. He had been a good mentor and was genuinely concerned at my frustration. ‘I’m sorry, Bob. I didn’t mean to go on like that, but I seriously think I need a break. Something will turn up and when it does you will be the first to know. I promise you that. I could have left it at that and let the incident blow over and if I hadn’t believed that there was a large chunk of truth in what I had said to Bob I might just have gone home, had a beer and returned to work the following day as though nothing had happened and kept my nose clean for another twenty or so years until it was time to draw my pension. But I am not made like that and was concerned about my feelings of anger and frustration at the system. I didn’t want to end up regretting not doing something about it. At the very least I would see what was on offer in the world outside the slow strangulation of academia. * After six weeks of scouring the market I was interviewed for a job with a British company that had a branch based in Nigeria. The incumbent director of the Nigerian operation had let the company drift into a state of limbo and the chairman wanted the problem sorted out. Basically, the story was that after seven years the local chap had had enough of the uphill struggle that was necessary to keep the company going and he wanted out of Nigeria. Seven years! 6


He’d gone bush. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to get out of Nigeria after seven years? More to the point, what was I doing even thinking about a job in a country that was lurching from crisis to crisis? The answer was simple. It sounded just the sort of challenge I had been looking for. And if the truth were to be told I wanted to make enough money to allow me to finish off the farm house and give me a better lifestyle in Wales. So when Nigeria cooed and flashed her long eyelashes, I fell into her arms and snuggled up to her large, warm bosom tempted by the promises of making a fortune. But dreams and reality can be poles apart and I feel you might be interested in what happened to me. Who knows, you might go to Nigeria yourself one day, so my story might help you prepare for your adventure. Let me get back to my story. The parent company I was interested in had its head office in Oxford. It designed, manufactured and built communications masts and towers and the big antennae used in broadcasting. The Post Office Tower in London and most of the television masts up and down the country were on its long list of achievements in Britain. Overseas, the company had acquired an even more impressive record of completed projects with masts a third of a mile high and free standing towers not much shorter. It was specialist work, but nothing that I couldn’t cope with. It would certainly be different to building roads and dams, and a world away from academic life. But the main point was that the job would give me that step back into industry that I so desperately needed to take. My main anxiety about getting involved in building masts and towers was that I may have to go up one. I suffer from vertigo you see. A strange thing is vertigo; although flying didn’t bother me in the least little bit, even in fast jets skimming the treetops, just to stand on a box or look at a picture of a factory chimney gives me vertigo. To me it’s like having diarrhoea and passing shirt buttons. It must be something to do with static balance, but I get a strange sensation in my back end. 7


I need not have worried. The requirement to climb towers didn’t seem to be a problem. The job was management and I wouldn’t need to worry about constructing towers because there were some very good local engineers who took care of that side of the business. At the interview, the chairman of the company said ‘I will be quite candid with you, Mister Walsh, I think you are over qualified for the job, but you do have experience of working in Nigeria and the job is yours if you accept my terms.’ ‘What are they, Mister Kidd?’ Arthur Kidd - AK - was a diminutive Scotsman, and like many other vertically challenged people in history, he had the push to get where the average person doesn’t bother to strive for. It seemed ironic that such a little fellow as he was went in for building some of the tallest structures in the world. He had built up his company from scratch and was now an international operator. ‘AK for short’ was a phrase I came to hear quite a lot, but not within his earshot, because he had a vicious tongue, too. ‘I’ll give you the salary you want and I’ll throw in free accommodation, a car, adequate living expenses and return tickets for you and your wife. But, and it’s a big but, there’s a sting in the tail that you will have to consider very seriously. I’ll give you just three months to get the company out of the mess that it’s in. It’s costing me money to keep it afloat and I can’t afford to let it drift for much longer. Turn the company round, get it back into profit in three months, and I’ll pay you a decent bonus and make you managing director in the process.’ Three months! That was some challenge. Instantly thinking that I could persuade Bob James to let me have the time off as a sabbatical, I said ‘I’ll take the job.’ I think I took Arthur Kidd by surprise. I didn’t even ask him for time to think about it and when he recovered from my quick agreement to take the job he said, ‘When can you leave for Lagos then Dan?’ It was ‘Dan’ now. The wee man had dropped the Mister Walsh bit and as I thought we were now on first name terms I responded in the same vein. 8


‘I’ll go just as soon as you give me a contract and can arrange tickets and a visa, Arthur.’ * Bob was fantastic when I told him about it. He was more than that, he was magnanimous. He agreed to three months unpaid leave and if the job went pear-shaped, I could have my job back at the University, but there were still the ‘what if’ aspects of the job to consider. ‘What if I turn the company round and want to stay longer?’ ‘Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. The worst scenario is that you just don’t bother coming back. It won’t look too good on your records, but what the hell; I’ve done the same myself in the past. There’s nothing the University can do.’ * When I got home from college that evening I discussed the options with Ruth. Our situation at the time was that two of our sons were away from home; the eldest son was at university in Sussex and the middle son was in the army. The youngest was fourteen and was a diamond lad; never any trouble and very close to his mum. The sensible thing to do was for Ruth to keep her job at the hospital in Carmarthen and to see how I made out. There was no point in us burning all our boats at once. She would come out for a holiday at some point during the three months which meant that at worst we would only be apart for a few weeks. After that, if it did all work out well, I could work a rotation of six weeks in Nigeria and two weeks in the UK. Alternatively, Ruth could visit me instead. We agreed that it was the sort of challenge I needed and as the risk had been minimised by Bob giving me a lifeline, it was a risk worth taking. Bob James! What a diamond he was. 9


No sooner had the decisions been made to take the job than the doubts began to worm their way into my head. The devil was having a field day. ‘What a stupid fool you are abandoning your wife and kids like that. You’ll be living the life of Riley and they will have to cope on their own back home.’ As it was nearly the end of term, Bob agreed that as long as I left everything in order I could take my leave as soon as the students had gone home. The next week and a bit flew by and I was soon waving goodbye to Ruth at the airport. The devil was really having a go at me now; and it was not all without justification. ‘You’ll be sorry you ever decided to do this. You’ll want to come back before very long, believe me!’ I have to admit that I was having last minute panic attacks at the prospects of what lay ahead, but it was too late for doubts. I needed a challenge and I had got one. It was my life. I did not want to spend the rest of my working life counting the days to retirement with a modest pension. I wanted to get away from the frustrating life in academia and achieve something. I did not want to count the days; I wanted the days to count.

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CHAPTER TWO I had bought a book from W H Smiths at the airport to read while I was on the plane. It was Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach in which he writes ‘There’s no such place as far away.’ How appropriate. I flew by British Airways in a Boeing 747 from Gatwick. The wee Scot had seen fit to pay only for an economy class seat, but I was not prepared to sit with my knees under my chin for six hours so I paid for an upgrade to business class and managed to get a seat on the upper deck. I love the upper deck. It’s the best spot in the aircraft as far as I’m concerned. The seats are in pairs either side of the cabin. There is plenty of leg room and the window seats have a cubby box between the seat and the cabin wall so that for someone like me who has wider than average shoulders and longer than average legs, I have room to spread out a bit. I often wonder how cabin crews are chosen. I get the impression that the men are inclined towards being gay so that they don’t spend their time trying to get off with the women hostesses. However they are chosen, gay or not, they do a sound job. In fact all the British Airways crews are fantastic in my opinion and there is usually a good selection of pretty females on hand, second perhaps only to the Oriental far eastern beauties on the Singapore airlines. I always find the food served on BA flights to be excellent too and on the top deck it gets served with a bit of panache. 11


A couple of glasses of wine with the meal make me want to sleep no matter what time of day or night I fly and that flight to Nigeria was no exception. I could have watched the film, but I felt that I might need a reserve of energy at the other end so I chose to sleep. I woke up once to go for a pee. The next thing I knew was the senior stewardess asking all passengers to ‘put your seats in the upright position and fasten your seatbelts ready for landing’. I had got up at five in time to catch a morning flight so the alcohol induced sleep recharged my batteries. I wiped my hands and face with the moisturizing pad provided with the in-flight meal and I felt refreshed as the aircraft landed at Murtalla Mohamed Airport in the afternoon. As soon as I stepped off the aeroplane and the hot air hit me, the situation rapidly changed. I had a feeling of unease in the pit of my stomach. The crap had started. * As anyone who has been to Nigeria will tell you, going through immigration and passport control is always high in drama. The trauma of negotiating the snakes and ladders at Murtalla Mohamed Airport, which has to be suffered to be believed, can best be described as a nightmare. It was the same when I was there before and it hadn’t improved any this time round. Even though the temperature in arrivals was now reaching the low nineties, as I stood in one of the queues at the passport checking desk I felt a chill of fear; lost, alone and intimidated by the sea of sinister looking uniformed officers. ‘Mister Dan’, a uniformed voice shouted, and it took me several seconds to realise he meant me. ‘Yes, that’s me’, I replied, and made my way towards the counter of an immigration booth. ‘How long do you intend to stay in Nigeria?’ he asked, his hard eyes staring at me from a thin face. ‘Two months.’ I was ready with the lie. I had a three months visa, but that’s what I had been told to say. 12


‘Are you here for work?’ If I had answered him honestly, I would have been refused entry. ‘No.’ I felt a trickle of perspiration run down my spine. ‘Where will you be staying?’ I could have given the name of any of the hotels but they would have checked up to see if there was a reservation. Instead I produced the letter of invitation from the managing director of the company and passed it under the dirty glass screen that separated me from my interrogator. ‘With these people in Ikeja’, I answered, confident that it was a truth in the sea of lies so far told. ‘Are you really telling me that these people have invited you to stay?’ He looked up from reading the letter written on headed paper from a Nigerian company. ‘What will you really be doing in Nigeria for two months, Mister Dan?’ ‘I shall be visiting a few friends and going to the Oil Conference in Lagos.’ It was the third lie but it was a plausible story. There really was going to be a conference in Lagos later that month. I thought I was losing the battle when my interrogator stamped my passport, wrote something in it and slid it back through to me under the screen. ‘The mean bastard,’ I muttered under my breath when I read he had given me only a one month permit to stay. I would have to get that sorted as a matter of priority. However, I was through the first hurdle unscathed. It was down the steps next and into baggage reclamation. Baggage reclamation was an angry sea of black bodies. The carousel had broken down and cases were being thrown in a heap like pieces of meat into a cage of wild animals. For a split second I caught a glimpse of my one and only case flying through the air only to be buried under a cascade of others that quickly followed. Fat rumps and arms; stick legs; shaved heads; plaited hair pieces; ladies and girls in gaudy dresses; men and boys in plainer attire. The sweating scrum of writhing bodies fought like fury to get at their possessions. And what possessions they were. Cases the size of coffins; poorly wrapped cardboard 13


boxes with the contents bought in London spilling from them in Lagos. A stream of gaudy hold alls, about twenty of them with the same tartan pattern were being thrown into one heap and no labels to distinguish one owner from another. No problem, there was only one owner for them all. I could only wait patiently on the fringe of that heaving mass until the scrum gradually shrunk. There was my own lonesome case, a little the worse for wear, but still apparently intact, surrounded by a handful of other cases now in a single layer. I strolled towards the remains of the carnage. It was like seeing dead chickens after a fox has found its way into a cage and mindlessly killed for all its worth. Not for pleasure; not for excitement; but because instinct told it to. I was nearing my target when a bony hand grabbed the handle of my case and lifted it clear of its dead mates. ‘Hoi you!’ I shouted. ‘Get your hands off that case.’ The bony hand was attached to an equally bony arm which extended all the way up to a scraggy neck and eventually to a sweating, shaven head. ‘Mister Dan,’ he began. ‘The carousel is about to start, so I rescued your case.’ How did he know my name? That was my first lesson from the big book of Nigerian stories about how smart these people are. In a flash he had guessed that the last remaining white man in baggage reclamation and the case with an expatriate name on the label were connected. ‘I will carry your case.’ ‘No, you won’t’ I shot back at him ‘but you can go and see if anybody is waiting for me outside and tell them I’m on my way through. I will soon be out.’ ‘I hope you will,’ he grinned and was off towards the exit. Giving a high five to one of the officers at the barrier, he stooped under the gate and was lost in the crowd. It was the last I saw of him, so he was obviously up to no good. 14


I carried my case towards a manned counter which formed a barrier between baggage collection and a wall with holes but no doors. Heaving my case onto the counter I fumbled for my baggage receipt and my ticket. A white cross was chalked on my case by a huge chap in a green uniform with lots of important looking stripes and medals. The black beret made him look sinister. I was fascinated by his Wellington boots that were so out of keeping with his dress code above the knees and had difficulties taking my eyes of them. Then I glanced back at the white cross. Was this some kind of rejection? Had I failed at the last hurdle? My face must have shown utter disappointment as I put my question to him in a hoarse half whisper. ‘What do I do now?’ ‘Do now? Do now?’ His voice was rising towards G above middle C and I expected steam to squirt out of his ears at any time. ‘You pick de bag and go.’ He must have thought me some kind of lunatic. ‘Dat’s what you do now. You pick de bag an go troo de door der.’ I followed his sausage index finger towards a sign marked exit. Then I grabbed the whole bunch of sausages that made up his hand and pumped them. Picking up my case with the white cross, the cross which actually was a sign of acceptance and not rejection, I made a dash for the opening without a door but with a sign marked exit. I had successfully completed my introduction back into Nigeria. The evening air hit my nostrils. It was warm and damp with a faint scent of freshly dug earth. Once experienced, it is a balm that is not easily forgotten. To me that smell held a small pocket in my past that was tinged with sadness. It was a scent that brought back memories from years before. Then I was a novice traveler and trusted people to be honest and helpful. It was a sad lesson back then to learn that Nigeria was in a depressing slide towards becoming a dog-eat-dog country in a 15


violent world, in which drunken white expatriates cared little for their fellow countrymen and even less for their black hosts. Those were the days when a colleague, a tough ex-soldier, was allowed to get sick because his bosses didn’t care. Those were the days when my best mate went down with symptoms that couldn’t be diagnosed. Those were the days when I, as a novice traveler in Nigeria had to ride roughshod over a bunch of drunken white expatriate company directors and get my mates home to give them some chance of survival. Those were the days when I acted too late to save them and when I caught the same illness. They died. I survived. I remembered all this in a flash because of the warm, damp, balmy air that to me will be forever Africa. ‘Dan.’ A voice boomed out over the hubbub of the waiting crowd of touts and taxi drivers, bringing me back from my reverie. ‘Dan Walsh?’ It was a question now and the questioner was a tall white man with a thick black thatch of hair and a pale face, strange in this land of darkly tanned skins. He stood out above the crowd, his six-feet-six tall frame easily distinguishable. He had dressed for the heat in a loose-fitting white shirt and casual trousers. ‘Yes, that’s me,’ I shouted back. ‘Are you Tom?’ ‘Yes. Go down that way.’ He pointed to his right to where the crowd was thinnest. ‘We’ll meet you over there.’ The ‘we’ included his Nigerian driver who I later learned was called Kamal. He too was tall and well-built but his dress code was something more in keeping with the colourful characters that are most Nigerian people. He wore a faded pink shirt and pale green trousers from which protruded an enormous pair of dust-caked, sandaled feet. He was carrying a card with what looked like a Russian word written on it. Then the penny dropped. It was my name but the card was upside down and it took me a second or two to register what it said. I turned to my left, their right, dragging my suitcase on its little plastic wheels that complained about the roughness of the 16


macadam pavement. The whole of the crowd of taxi drivers and touts moved as one body in the same direction then suddenly stopped as Kamal shouted something to them in his native tongue. Whatever it was they clearly had got the message. ‘Don’t hassle the white man!’ We shook hands; first the white Tom and then the black Kamal. They were two welcoming friendly faces in a hostile sea of aggressive opportunists. Then I knew I was safe. ‘Good journey?’ ‘Not bad at all.’ ‘We’ll go straight to the house then we can talk in peace. For now just relax.’ I wondered if the ‘for now’ was some kind of omen that later I wouldn’t be able to relax. It seemed to take for ever to shake off the sound and scenes of the airport and get moving along the roads. We were driving on the right like they do in Continental Europe but there a daunting lack of discipline in the traffic and I dreaded the thought of having to take the wheel myself. ‘Kamal is a good driver and will be yours when I leave. He once saved my life in a car accident.’ Tom continued to boom, as Kamal drove with a concentrated dedication through the milling throng of bread sellers, water sellers, peanut and cassava sellers, proud to hear that his master praised him. ‘I always sit in the back on the right hand side so that I can talk into his ear. Best if you keep to that side while I’m here.’ ‘No problem with me’ I replied, and I wondered if Tom’s voice was always switched on to boom mode. The house was in Ogunsoji Street off Allen Avenue in Ikeja. The steel panelled gates, painted red with white lettering, proclaimed AKC for Arthur Kidd and Company while the drawing of a communications tower told the whole of the people in that little back street in Ikeja, Nigeria, that this was the office of the British company who built mass communications systems. What it didn’t tell the people in the street was that it was also the 17


home of its managing director who occasionally needed a bit of peace and quiet. There was a reception committee. Pius the accountant who gave off a pungent smell something like a rancid dog, Sunday the clerk-typist smartly dressed in a shirt and tie and a little man with tribal scars on his cheeks and dressed in ragged shorts and an old check shirt who was introduced as Matthias, Tom’s steward. ‘Welcome, sah’ they chorused. ‘Welcome to Nigeria.’ And with that the little man with the tribal scars whipped away my case, ushered me into a cool and comfortably furnished lounge and brought beer and salted peanuts to keep me going while the evening meal was prepared. I took the opportunity to tell Tom about the passport saga and the problems that a one month permit would create. ‘I’ll get Joshua Hassan to fix it for you when we see him, so don’t worry about it’ ‘Who’s Joshua Hassan?’ I asked, thinking that he might be some bigwig in immigration. ‘He’s one of the broadcasting station managers and he’s got contacts on the other side, if you get my drift.’ I had no idea who this Joshua chap was, but I had to trust Tom’s judgment, so I put the problem to the back of mind for the moment and concentrated on the beer and nuts. ‘Matthias,’ boomed Tom and the little man with the tribal scars sprung from the kitchen. ‘Yes, sah?’ ‘What’s for chop, Matthias?’ ‘It’s Tuesday, sah. That’s when I make meat loaf and vegetables.’ He turned to me as if to seek my approval. ‘It sounds good to me,’ and I nodded to seal my approval of his proposed dish of the day. ‘That’s good. You will like Matthias’s meat loaf Dan. It’s a mixture of beef, pork and herbs, wrapped in bacon and covered with a home made tomato sauce.’ Tom said this as though he was a connoisseur himself. And indeed he was, as I later found out, because although Matthias had come to work for him with 18


the highest references and good cooking skills, Tom had patiently taught the little man the finer arts and crafts of food preparation for some exotic dishes. By now my mouth was watering and I wondered if it would taste as good as Tom made it sound. I couldn’t quite believe that the little man in the ragged shorts was a gourmet chef. ‘He’s a good cook then?’ ‘Good cook; he can cook anything! He’s the best in Nigeria. Whatever you like, he will be able to cook it. And he’ll do it better than any woman I know.’ The evening meal came and the meat loaf was everything as good as Tom had promised it would be. The rice pudding that followed was also out of this world. Fresh milk is not something that the expatriate in Africa should drink or use in cooking because of the danger of catching something from the cows which invariably have brucellosis and Matthias knew this, so he had used tinned milk. It had given the pudding a rich, creamy flavour and the aroma of the nutmeg he had grated on top had added that touch of spice that is right with rice. I was absolutely stuffed after the second helping of pudding and needed a short walk to help with the digestion. Tom agreed to a quick walk round the block, but I could tell he was uncomfortable walking the streets after dark. In that part of Africa, daylight lasts for twelve to fourteen hours and the nights are longer than back home. * The air was humid after a shower of rain late in the afternoon. The tall Hausa magardi with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders stood guard just inside the entrance of the gate, his machete hanging from a rope belt around his skinny waist. ‘Masta,’ he muttered as Tom appeared, and unlocked the chain that held the two gates together securing the compound against the outside world. 19


‘Going for trek,’ Tom said and the night guard’s eyes widened, the whites glaring in the blackness of his face reflecting the light from the security light, as if to warn against the evils of the night. Outside the gate, pools of water filled potholes in the road and across the road from the office compound the lights of the Goat Head Restaurant were blinking into life in readiness for evening trade. ‘It’s a shit hole,’ said Tom nodding in the direction of the exotic diner, ‘but the beer’s not bad.’ ‘What’s wrong with the food then?’ I asked, missing the obvious answer. ‘Just as it says on the sign; goat head. It’s done as a stew. Eyes, ears, teeth, skull, brains, tongue; the lot; smashed with a hammer and boiled into a slop with hot pepper sauce to disguise the disgusting taste. Take my advice and don’t touch it.’ From the way he described it I wouldn’t need much persuading. Turning left and keeping to what passed for a paved sidewalk we strode out to do an anticlockwise circuit of the block. It took us a minute to the first corner and on to a short link to the main road in the area. In less than another minute we were there and turned left again. Allen Avenue, known locally as Drug Alley, and it was soon apparent why. The road was well lit but there were shadows in recessed doorways and these provided the ideal hidey holes for drug traders pushing screwed paper packets and highly scented nightfighters lurking, ready to pounce on unsuspecting prey. ‘Ssss.’ A hiss came out of one of these doorways to attract our attention to a dark, leggy, scantily dressed lady of the night, touting for business. ‘Keep walking, Dan,’ said Tom in a loud whisper, and to the lady in question, in a much louder voice, he said ‘no do business tonight.’ ‘Mister Tom; is that you? It’s me, Patience.’ Tom stopped in his tracks, turned and walked over to the shadowy figure. 20


‘Go home, Patience, you don’t need to do this. Or have you not been paid again?’ ‘I haven’t been paid for three months, Mister Tom. I need to eat. What else am I to do?’ Tom pulled a small wad of notes from his pocket, peeled of half a dozen sheets and pressed them into an eager hand. ‘Go home, I said, and come and see me tomorrow.’ ‘It’s diabolical, Dan. That girl is a teacher and a good one at that. I know all the family. They’re decent hard-working people but the government’s strapped for cash so she has to walk the streets to make ends meet.’ We walked on in silence, both of us deep in our own private thoughts. Back at the apartment I chose an early night instead of sitting up drinking and talking. * Over the next few days I learned that Matthias was a genius when it came to food so I decided to make a list of all the dishes Tom mentioned. On Saturday afternoons, Tom Price took a nap to charge his batteries in readiness for the night ahead so I took the opportunity to have a talk with Matthias about housekeeping matters and about his culinary skills. Sitting on the arm of the old sofa he told me that he had been trained by Irish missionaries in keeping house for expatriates and in basic cooking. Tom Price had built on those skills to the point where Matthias was a match for any chef. As Matthias told me about his cooking abilities I filled two sides of foolscap paper with dishes that the little cook could prepare. When I had first visited Nigeria I had experienced some indifferent cooking and some awful slop. I had eaten donkey and camel meet as though it was the normal thing to do but Matthias seemed completely different to those earlier stewards. He was a real find and it was great to know that he came with the job. One thing was certain; I would certainly not go hungry. 21


22


CHAPTER THREE Doing business in Nigeria is probably like it was in England in Dickensian times, but obviously in a twentieth century context, and probably the best training any budding manager could have is to watch the musical ‘Oliver’. I smiled as I thought of the song about the young thieves working for Fagin. In this life, one thing counts, in the bank, large amounts, I’m afraid these don’t grow on trees, you gotta pick a pocket or two boys, you gotta pick a pocket or two. Tom Price had been in the country for seven years during which time the Nigerian economy had been fairly buoyant. Oil exports had provided money for big projects and schemes that would not have seen the light of day during leaner times sprouted across the land. During those good times politicians wanted a voice and the people wanted what those in the developed countries had, so radio and television had benefited enormously and AKC, Arthur Kidd and Company (Nigeria) had made big profits. Tom Price had made his pile too. It’s easy to make money when there is lots of it sloshing around, but during the late eighties life had become difficult for Nigerians and they had to tighten their belts and look to other ways to earn a crust. Spending money on broadcasting was no longer a priority and AKC (Nigeria) was feeling the pinch. Tom Price was not stupid. He had seen the writing on the wall and wanted to get out before the ship sank. So what had I let myself in for? There was only one way to find out. I would have to follow Tom around and pick his brains clean of all that he knew before he left for home. 23


* The next week was taken up with me trailing around the country after Tom, visiting first one hard up broadcasting company and then another, each located in a large town. We traveled to Jos, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, Katsina and Yola, the climate varying from one extreme to the other. The lush vegetation in the south of the country turned to arid, almost semi-desert conditions in the north. At most of the broadcasting stations it was more or less the same story. Tightening budgets, lack of spare parts, frequent interruptions to power supplies. Some of the stations were so hard up that all they could transmit were pictures of glossy postcards fixed to studio walls with drawing pins and pirated video recordings of television programmes in England, adverts and all. It seemed that only those stations with big advertisers like the soft drinks and washing powder manufacturers could give the public anything that could loosely be described as entertainment. Yola station was one of those in the latter category. At the Yola broadcasting station Tom introduced me to Joshua Hassan, a likeable man with broad views on the way the broadcasting industry should develop. He was on top of his job and proud to show us round his little empire. He had set up the radio station ten years earlier and was now playing with the embryo of a television station. According to Joshua funds were not a matter of concern; the main problem was getting spare parts in quickly when things went wrong. Tom had given Joshua a good service over the years and there was clearly a great deal of respect and trust between them. ‘Give your passport to Joshua, Dan, and he’ll sort out an extension until we can get your work permit processed.’ I was a bit uneasy about parting company with it but I had to trust Tom’s experience. ‘It will take me two days to get it sorted,’ added Joshua, ‘and I will need some cash. You got any on you Tom?’ 24


‘Always the same story Dan, you can get anything in Nigeria if you’re prepared to pay for it. How much is it going to cost me this time Josh?’ ‘Is four thousand alright?’ He said it with a straight face but I knew he was angling for something. ‘How much of that is for you, you old rouge? There’s always a twist, Dan. Watch this old bugger.’ ‘Tom!’ It was said in a drawn out exasperation. ‘You know I’ll have expenses. I’ll tell you what though; I’ll make sure I get it to your office by Thursday afternoon. I’ll get it to Matthias, is that OK?’ ‘That’ll be brilliant, Josh. Try and get at least two months extension, Dan’s going to need that time to get himself sorted out.’ * There was not the same enthusiasm at the other stations. As far as I could gather the broadcasting sector in Nigeria was a dead loss at that moment in time and to expect big contracts was pie in the sky. Fortunately AKC did have one major contract that was generating income but that was not in broadcasting. It was at the last stop on my round Nigeria tour with Tom Price that my optimism was given a boost. We arrived in Bauchi just as the imams were calling the troops of the faithful to the mosques for evening prayers. Unlike the other states I had passed through, Bauchi seemed to be alive. Market stalls creaked under their piles of fresh vegetables and meat. Flies buzzed around the meat. Motorbikes buzzed around the well-paved roads. Young and old alike walked with a spring in their steps. University students with armfuls of books had eager looks on their faces. The State Governor was a young military man and, like Joshua Hassan, was a Chrislam, playing to both houses of God, which gave him a distinct advantage over his counterparts in other states. He also had the ear of President Babangida, so what 25


little money could be spared, some of it found its way into projects in this new and progressive community. One of the Governor’s pet projects was sport and right in the middle of Bauchi Town he had promoted a new stadium for athletics and football. At one end of the stadium a massive floodlight towered over the stands with a bank of lights directed towards the track and pitch below. ‘That’s fantastic,’ I said to Tom as soon as I saw it. ‘Have your guys built it?’ ‘Yes. It looks good, doesn’t it? And there are three still to build so that will keep some cash coming in.’ ‘Who manufactured it?’ I was curious. ‘Not AKC that’s for sure. No, it’s a Philips project. They did the lighting and sublet the tower to a German company.’ ‘So how are we involved?’ I had said we. I realized that my reference to ‘your guys’ had changed to ‘we’. It was a sign that I was committed to the job I had taken on and I am sure Tom sensed that too, but he said nothing. The tower was standing proud and alert and could be seen from miles around. The days are hot and dry in that part of Nigeria so most sport is played in the cooler evenings, but of course it get dark early. As regular as anything the sun begins to set at around six. It was about that time now and a faint glimmer of light was beginning to radiate from the bank of lamps at the top of the tower, a halo around a massive rectangular head. ‘Come on,’ said Tom, ‘I’ll introduce you to Foster. He’s the site engineer.’ With a name like Foster I imagined another ex-pat but as we walked from the car towards the foot of the floodlight, a tall, handsome Nigerian waved to us. ‘That’s Foster.’ I was convinced by now that Tom couldn’t whisper even if his life depended on it. ‘Tom!’ greeted the young Nigerian, ‘and you must be Mister Walsh?’ 26


Foster. Apparently his first name which was a traditional name from his community, sounded a bit feminine so he didn’t use it. He was in his mid-twenties and I thought he was just a bit too young to be responsible for such a major project as this. He was handsome though, with a surprisingly light brown complexion. ‘Foster is from Rivers State in the South. In case you’re wondering, he is young, but he’s the best and brightest engineer in the business.’ I couldn’t detect a blush - even black people blush - but he gave one of the widest and whitest grins I’ve seen in years. ‘Pleased to meet you, Foster, and call me Dan.’ The construction crew was just finishing off for the day. They had started at six in the morning and had poured two hundred cubic meters of concrete, mixed on site and barrowed down planked ramps into a deep hole in the ground. It was the first of five layers of concrete to be placed around a heavy steel cage of reinforcement for the foundations of the second tower. ‘Give me a few more minutes,’ said Foster, ‘and I’ll be finished for the day. We can have a beer and some food at the club if you like. You know where it is, Tom? Go ahead and I’ll join you in half an hour. I want to have a shower first.’ Foster turned back to his crew and gave them instructions for the following day. It was to be a repeat performance; another two hundred cubic meters of concrete to be mixed and poured in two stages; from sun up until ten and then, after a break away from the heat, another grueling shift from two until sundown. They would need to refuel for the performance. A heavy meal of pounded yam washed down with beer. Tom found the sports club easily enough and seemed to be known even in this remote part of Africa. Ordering two cold beers from the bar steward, he led me to a table in the corner with four comfy armchairs chairs. The cold drinks followed in quick time. ‘Are you getting used to the Star?’ he asked, referring to the local beer, after we had eased ourselves into the deep cushions. 27


Star beer was a potent brew much stronger than any beer bottled in Britain. ‘I’m conditioning myself slowly,’ I said. ‘It says seven percent proof on the bottle and I’m sure I would be on my back if I drank more than three.’ ‘I reckon it takes the skin off your teeth so I stick with the imported stuff.’ True to his word, Foster joined us after half an hour. ‘What are we eating?’ His question was directed at Tom. ‘If you’re paying I’ll have chicken and chips in a basket.’ ‘I always end up bloody paying’ replied Tom ‘so have what you want. I recommend the club sandwich, Dan. It has the works and that comes with chips too.’ ‘It sounds good. I’ll follow your lead.’ ‘Funmi will be along later so can I order some food for her too?’ ‘You’re in for a treat, Dan. Funmi is one of Foster’ many girlfriends but she’s top of the league table in my book.’ ‘You’re only jealous, Tom; just because your girlfriend isn’t as attractive as mine.’ Tom coughed and spluttered over his beer and it was some seconds before he regained his composure. ‘You weren’t supposed to mention her,’ he growled at Foster, and there was a longer pause before Tom chose his words to reply. ‘It gets lonely sometimes, Dan. A little female company is nice now and again. But that’s all finished with. I’m going home to my wife and that’s an end to it.’ We had finished the first round of drinks and the immaculately dressed steward came over to us. ‘Any more drinks?’ ‘Is there any chance of a coffee?’ I asked him, ‘If it’s going to be a long night I think I’ll go easy on the Star for a while.’ ‘How do you take your coffee, sir?’ asked the steward. ‘Unfortunately we only have the powdered instant.’ Locally produced instant coffee is not very good, but it’s full of caffeine. Most Nigerians drink it lukewarm with tinned 28


milk and heaps of sugar to give them a boost of energy, but I find it too sickly like that. Instant coffee; instant energy. ‘I’d like it hot for a start,’ I replied, ‘and don’t bother with milk but I do take sugar.’ ‘Hot, black and sweet’ said the steward and Foster and Tom looked at each other then, turning to me, they grinned. At that very moment, as if it had been planned, in walked a stunningly beautiful young woman. A black goddess if ever there could be such a personification. ‘Is that the way you like your ladies too, sir?’ asked the steward, and his face cracked into a grin as he went to make up our order. ‘Don’t mind him,’ said Foster. ‘The joke’s really on me.’ As the girl walked towards us I was mesmerized by her beauty. She smiled at Foster. ‘Dan, this is my friend Funmi.’ When he pronounced her name it sounded like ‘Fummy’. I guessed her age to be about nineteen. I stood to shake her hand. It was small and soft and moist. She smiled at me then and gave a little curtsy. Her hair had been professionally styled, first by straightening the tight natural curls and then it had been elegantly and gently waved to frame the beauty of her face and crimson mouth. She wore a perfectly fitting pink silk dress that emphasized her slim waist and firm breasts; her protruding nipples hinting of tight excitement. No sign of straps; nor, apparently any seams. Under her dress she must have been naked. She was about my height and looked at me with a confident, if somewhat mischievous gaze out of her round ebony face. She was the most beautiful girl I had met in years. ‘I am honoured to meet you, Mister Dan,’ she purred in a husky voice. ‘I knew that someone was about to take over from Mister Tom and I am glad to have met you at last. Welcome to Nigeria.’ For a moment I was speechless and it took me a few seconds to stumble out ‘thanks, you are so kind.’ I really wanted 29


to say more, to grab her in my arms and . . . . . No, I mustn’t go down that road. I just gawped back at her like a love-struck loon. ‘Don’t worry Dan, Funmi has that effect on most men,’ said Tom, and he laughed at my clumsiness. Foster laughed too. Then Funmi giggled, her husky voice gone; a little girl now. It broke the strain and I had to laugh at myself too. ‘Are you lot going to stand up all night?’ asked Tom who had not bothered to stand up in the first place. ‘Er, no,’ I said, at which point we sank again into the cushions and waited for our meal. The coffee came along with the food and the second round of drinks. It was hot and black and sweet just as I had requested and the first sip made me break out in a sweat. ‘Was it the coffee’ I asked myself, or was it the presence of this exquisite beauty sitting just a few feet away from me with her legs crossed and displaying a tantalising amount of black silky thigh? Conversation was replaced with the sounds of culinary enjoyment but my mind was working overtime. Foster and Funmi left early. The back view of her was as fabulous as the front, the cut of her dress ending in a ‘v’ just above the divide of her pert buttocks which rolled and pushed at her dress as she walked towards the exit. As I gazed longingly after her, I noticed that Tom was eying her up too. ‘Funmi is the Governor’s sister,’ said Tom in a cautionary, unusually quiet tone. ‘I think Foster is playing with fire there.’ ‘Why?’ I asked, somewhat bemused. After all Foster seemed a decent enough young man and she seemed to be comfortable with him. ‘You remember earlier when I said that Funmi was one of Foster’s girlfriends?’ I nodded. ‘Well he’s a bit of a ram is young Foster. He’s got a girl in every state.’ ‘You can’t mean it, surely?’ ‘I do, and in case you’ve not worked it out that’s nineteen at the moment. God knows what he’ll do when the Government creates more states next year.’ 30


‘Nineteen girl friends? How does he find the time and the money? More to the point, how does he keep them all apart?’ ‘Smart lad is our Foster. He only picks girls who are students at college or university in their own home state. That way they don’t travel much and they usually live at home.’ ‘Has he taken her home now?’ Naively I thought that she probably had to be home by a certain time and he was seeing her safely home. ‘Don’t you believe it. Gone to play hide the sausage they have. Always bloody at it. If her brother finds out he’ll cut his sausage off and no mistake.’ * The rest of the evening was spent reviewing the trip. We had to catch an early flight back to Lagos the following morning so Tom sent for Kamal who was resting in the car, and told him to take us to Foster’s place where we could get a decent bed instead of staying in the local hotel. I would also be able to meet some of the other employees of AKC Nigeria. ‘Why are we flying back instead of taking the car?’ ‘It’s less risky than by road. And it’s less tiring too. If we get the nine o’clock flight we should be in Lagos by eleven and back in the office by mid day. Bit of a snack, a sleep in the afternoon, then later on I’ll introduce you to a friend of mine. I’ve told Kamal to get off as soon as we’re at Foster’ bungalow. That way he’ll be back by ten tomorrow night; just in time to take us out. We can get Foster to run us to the airport in the morning.’ It seemed a bit hard on Kamal to have to drive all the way back from Bauchi to Lagos and be there in time to take us out. Didn’t these people get any time to themselves? At the bungalow Tom stayed up talking with one of the engineers, but I went to bed and crashed into a deep sleep dreaming an erotic dream of pink silk sliding over bare black thighs. 31

A Turbid Affair  

A novel by David Barratt

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