Stranger In The Club
© Copyright 2019 by Luqman Morrison
Runner-Up--2019 Biographical Nonfiction
This is a story about a time in my life when I sold cigarettes in a nightclub.
I will tell you about him. I always remember him, sometimes with wet eyes and some smiles.
There used to be times when the city of Warri would sleep during the day to wake up at night. It is true that Warri used to be a nocturnal city.
There were nightclubs where boys and girls would go to set their bodies on fire and burn nights away. Beats from loud speakers and cigarettes and hemps and gins and many other liquids in fine bottles were the fuel.
There used to be Owode, Mathildas, (if I can remember that name correctly) and many other nightclubs around Awor waterside. There used to be many clubs that turned night into day. Enerhen Junction used to be the headquarters of the nocturnal life, of brothel and nightclub, of sin. And then there was Papa Sugar.
Papa Sugar, a wild club just by the roadside at Deco Junction. A club so wild that at the time the police could only do little to tame it. Drunk angry boys would smash bottles on tables, on pavements, and on one another, disappearing at the sight of a police van, only to reappear again the moment the van had driven off. It wasn’t rare to find a body laying drunk by the roadside, or to be discovered lifeless later in the gutter. The sound of gunfire was as normal as the beats from loudspeakers.
It was in Papa Sugar I spent many nights selling gins and candies and liquors and cigarettes under the bright yellow streetlights that illuminated the famous Warri-Sapele Road. I was eleven or twelve, and this was not unusual in a third world country like Nigeria. Little boys and girls roam traffic during the day, running after busses and cars, selling sachet water, snacks, and soft drinks. At night they go to clubs to sell cigarettes. All for their survival.
Sometimes the Papa Sugar club would be sleepy, say days like Mondays through to Thursdays. And other times it would go wild, say Sundays, birthdays, New Year’s days and UEFA Champions League final nights.
It was during those sleepy nights he would come. Always driving a neat Peugeot 504, donning a white long-sleeved shirt, a long tie that curved around his pot belly and a black pair of trousers. He'd always wear an old-school haircut on his beardless face except for a moustache that made him look like a black Indian. I used to think he was a banker. I still do.
He would park his car a few yards away from the club and walk to me to buy a packet of cigarette. I think it was White London he smoked. He would beckon the bar man and ask for a bottle of Fayrouz. He would sit relaxed on his chair, alone with just the Fayrouz and the packet of White London on a table before him, while he looked around, from the cars passing by to the night sky and back to the cars. His head was always bobbing to the songs.
I liked the way he smoked. I would watch him as he dragged the stick, pulled it out from his lips and blew out rings from lips shaped as if he was whistling. Sometimes the smoke would issue from his nose, and I could have sworn, eyes and ears. He would then tap the ash away with his fingers, as if tapping his worries away. I would watch as he then drank from his Fayrouz and place it back on the table, sometimes our eyes would meet and he'd wink and smile, and I'd smile too, shyly. I would watch him as if he was an interesting movie, and he entertained me during many cold nights with his perfected art of smoking.
I liked him, but I started loving him one night when he ordered me a bottle of Fayrouz. I was surprised and thankful and excited, all at once. The night was cold and the drink was cold, too. But I drank and I felt warm. It then became a routine, every night he came he would order me a bottle. And before he would leave he would press a note upon my small thankful hands saying, “Take this one for school tomorrow ehn, no go look for trouble oh.” Sometimes it would be fifty naira, and other times a hundred naira, with which I bought snack the next day in school.
I would watch him as he entered his car and drove deep into the dark, silent Deco Road until he was out of sight. Sometimes I wished I could go home with him, go away from the club, away from the cold and the misery, and never come back. He was a lone star in my moonless nights, and I loved him the way a boy would love his uncle, because it was at a time when I was voided of fatherly love that he walked into my life.
This man, if ever we meet again sometime in the future, it is sad that I will not know him and he probably will not know me too, because his face has been washed away from my memory, and he never got to know my name. But I want to see him. I want to tell him he owns a good portion of my heart forever. I want to tell him, this is me, Luqman, that little boy from Papa Sugar, that boy who would bring his school books to read under the glow of streetlights while he sold you cigarettes to survive. And maybe we can sit and talk about everything, the way a boy would hold jovial talks with his father, talks about sunrise and sunsets and nights and money and women and why he preferred White London to all other cigarettes. And maybe he will smoke again so I can watch a master performing his art one last time. And even though I may never see him again, I will always pray for him. Everyday.
Luqman Morrison is an emerging voice in the contemporary African literary space. He lives and dreams in a sleepy town, Warri, in the southern part of Delta state, Nigeria. He is a Web-developer by day and a writer by night. You can connect with him on Facebook via facebook.com/luqqqy.