The Anticipation of Our Area’s Brothel

Oshodi chronicles (9)

It’s been a long time coming but it’s all getting down now with Pakurumo Joint. In the suburbs of Oshodi, only a few places can boast of a spot more strategically placed — more overtly situated. Slightly elevated on a mild slope at the end of the street, Pakurumo looks down on the whole area like a mid-air gaze.

A couple of years now and counting, the area around the Joint has transformed into a hotbed of activities. We have a bank; a petrol station; a number of schools; a couple of motels and guest houses; sport betting outlets; many restaurants; a modern bar; a major bus stop; a host of churches; a mosque; and, of course, lines of shops selling varieties along the street leading to the express lanes. Not to mention the Suya stands, the Indomie, fried yam and akara spots, the spirit drink sellers who gather at a corner late at night till the early morning –all these places around or within walking distances to Pakurumo Joint. In fact, no more could be asked in terms of location for an emerging business of any kind.

But Pakurumo, located at the horn of the street, seems to perpetually differ from everything around it. The place seems to exist in isolation, like a little distressed island, cut off from the burgeoning in its proximity and existing in its own realm. One never sees more than a bottle of beer with two or three men dilly-dallying around a table at a time in the bar. The rest of the seats are always seen empty, void.

Ask anyone around, there are no logical reasons why Pakurumo should be that deserted, especially at night, from nine pm onward, when most of the other businesses are closing for the day, Pakurumo, as a beer parlour, should be opening for business. And it always opens — only not for business per say: A single bulb lights from the inside wall; a man or two or three at a plastic table caressing one bottle of drink or, at most, two; a bartender occasionally walking to and fro. The rest is dim and hidden, stretching beyond comprehension into corridors concealed in the dark. These scant activities stretch into midnight most times.

Pakurumo bar itself is a one-story building painted in dull green. It has a huge frame of Orijin drink hanging down the center of its façade. From the front view, it looks like a detached bungalow with a clerestory roof, but it actually has a flat upstairs, stretching into face-me-I-face-you apartments. On the first floor is a complete face-me-I-face-you opening into a frontage big enough to take three or four cars in it. This frontage is what is fenced to the waist with bricks and woodworked to a height of a standing man with his hands raised. Then a roof spreads from the main building to the woodwork, covering the entire yard. One can therefore only see fitfully what’s happening — or not happening — from the designs of the wood fittings while looking from the outside.

Recently, in what must have happened in a day, the up-to-the-waist walls are fell and the woodworks taken apart. What’s going on with Pakurumo? The lots of people who pass the street daily have this question at one time or the other either asked rhetorically in their minds or directed to another person or a group in a discussion. Most believed the plot carrying the house has been sold-out, and that the moneybag who bought it wants Pakurumo pulled down, just like old buildings are being taken over in the area lately. Old things shall pass away, they say, and the new shall come into being. The wealthy man — or woman, who just acquired Pakurumo, is not interested in a pseudo-bungalow, the unusual shape the building currently takes. Perhaps he wants a structure more modern for a hotel or a living residence or, better still, a guest house. Who knows?

One morning, in the very odd hours of the day, I accidentally get into the know — from unsuspected quarters — of what Pakurumo is to become. The plot has not been sold out as speculated; the owners still retain it. But the owner — or owners — has a new plan.

That early hour in the morning, I’m coming from a nightclub on the island, somewhere in Victoria Island, and as the Uber taking me home passes through Alago junction, where Pakurumo is located, I see a number of people sitting in a corner, talking and, of course, having drinks. It is nothing out of the ordinary; nothing elaborate; nothing unusual. The car turns into the junction and speeds past them. In no time, the car is at my street gate — it is a neighbourhood where there are gates to the streets — , but the guard is not there. After blowing his horn a number of times with no one in sight to take the gates apart, the driver asks what next to do. I decide to pay my bill, alight the car and walk to the gate myself. It is few minutes past four am. The moon is full and the night is almost as clear as day. I am tired and sleepy and floaty, having had more than enough to drink at the club. With dreamy eyes, I stand at the gate, resting my two hands on its bars like a prisoner wanting out. I desperately want in, in my room, in my bed. I need to sleep. The gateman is always there after a few bangs on the gate, but now, no bang, no matter how hard I try, no matter how resounding its echoes, seems not to be able to bring the guard along. What to do? I think of screaming, howl his name into the night like a lonely wolf, but I don’t know his name.

Wanting not to sleep off by the gate and risking being robbed, I gather myself to my feet and find my way back to Alogo junction. The idea: To stay with the people there for thirty minutes to one hour, when I can be sure to find the gate already open. Time then will be around five am. I need to stay awake throughout.

My strides are fast and steady — or so I think. Could mean that I only imagine time to double up. I get to the people and greet them in Yoruba. They are warm, welcoming me jovially as though they knew me from someplace. I ask if I can sit with them:

“My street gate is locked and the guard is nowhere to be found”, I say.

“Oh, sorry!” One says, as he makes a space for me on the bench where three of them are seated.

“What street is that?” The one sitting on a plastic chair all by himself asks.

He looks the oldest amongst them. He has no strand of air on his oily head. The light from the sky slams down on his dome and a permanent refection of the full moon is what results all through my stay with them.

“Alariwo Street,” I say, settling myself in the space I am given.

“Alariwo…Alariwo…Alariwo”, the Moonhead man repeats as though trying to pin down a lost memory.

“After Fakunbi Road…the street after Fakunbi road?” suddenly he caught something.

“Yes” I say. Even though I know not the road he talks about.

“Is that not Mufu’s gate?” he asks abruptly, addressing no one in particular.

Again, I don’t know.

“Ah! Mufu?” One of the men, sitting at the extreme end of the bench, suddenly exclaims. He is one of the two smoking cigarettes. “I saw him as I was coming down here,” he says, with his deep croaky voice.

“At Lisabi?” The one sitting in the middle asks

“Yes, Lisabi. How did you know that’s where I had seen him? …I saw him there some few minutes ago”, the croaky voice says.

“He’s been frequenting that place lately” the man sitting in the middle, the middleman, adds, “he seems to be camping a woman around that place”. The middleman is small in stature, with thin arms. He points his left hand down the street, gesturing where he had seen Mufu.

Moonhead sits forward and claps his hand thrice before shaking his head side to side, “see the guardian of a whole community”, he says and starts to laugh. Others, too, begin to laugh. I find myself laughing with them.

And then a woman materializes from a dark corner. She appears so sudden one would think it should raise an alarm. But the men are undisturbed, so I rest my nerves. She is adjusting her skirt as she makes her way to the gathering. She meets everyone laughing and asks what we are all laughing about.

“Mufu…” Moonhead says between laughs.

“Oh, that one!” the woman says, “that dog!”

“You know him?” The one sitting right next to me asks

“Everybody knows Mufu” the woman says.

“Well, I don’t him” the one sitting next to me says.

“That’s because you’re still pretty new around here,” the woman says, and thereafter asks Moonhead what Mufu has done this time.

“Mufu, who’s been asked to guard a community, has gone missing in the bosom of a woman”, Moonhead says, humorously, leading everyone to another round of laughter, including the woman…

After a short while, the woman recovers first and says they should forget about Mufu and continue what they were saying about Ganiu’s daughter before she left to pee.

“What’ll the mother do now?” the woman asks quizzically.

“We’ve been to the impregnator’s house” Moonhead says, “If you see the boy… I doubt if he’s any older than Latifat.”

“What did the boy say?” the woman, that is.

“He’ll, of course, say he’s not responsible. What do you want him to say?” the croaky voice says.

“He is just a schoolboy” says Moonhead, lifting a bottle of gin I had not seen sitting on his other side. He takes a little of the content, squeezes his face to down the spirit.

“You’ll know his father”, Moonhead continues, addressing the woman…”He rides Okada from Lagunwa to Alago here. They call him Baba Go Slow”.

“I know him” the middleman blurts.

“I know him, too,” Croaky says, with cigarette smoke escaping every word.

“Well, I don’t know him”, the one sitting next to me says.

“What do you ever know?” the woman smirks.

“You’ll know him”, Moonheads repeats, addressing the woman. “You just watch out for whoever they are hailing Baba Go Slow later today.

“mmmhhh…”the woman sighs, “these children of nowadays…”

A short silence fell after which the one next to me asks if he can have one more sachet, he calls it a name I can’t remember now, sounds like Gbelugi or something. And that is when I realize the two watercolor plastic buckets, filled with spirits of different brands in sachets, plastic bottles and glass bottles, arranged painstakingly in a way that they shoot out the rims of the buckets, filling it to a height. The two big buckets sit by the side of the woman. The woman guns for one of them and fetches a sachet.

Croaky wants one as well and says it. But the woman ignores him; he faces Moonhead instead,

“Talk to me jare!” she says.

“I say I want one sachet” Croaky repeats, his voice louder and croakier this time.

“He says you should give him a sachet” Moonhead reiterates.

“I heard him the first time” the woman says, changing her sitting position to completely backing Croaky …” tell him to pay for the four sachets he took yesterday. Four Alomo.

Middleman and the one sitting next to me start to giggle. They are talking into each other’s ears, Middleman dragging on his cigarette while the one next to me sips his gin from the sachet.

“But I gave you some money today,” Croaky says.

The woman threw a disgusting look at Croaky from head to toe in a way to say “see who is talking”, turns her back to him swiftly and faces Moonhead again.

“He says he gave you some money today”, Moonhead says.

“Ask him what he paid for!” the woman snaps. “…he only paid for the cigar he took yesterday…if you want more cigars, I’ll give you, as many as you think you can smoke to totally ruin your lungs…but my whisky, today, sorry, no drink; unless you pay up your debt.”

Moonhead makes a calm-down gesture to Croaky, plying his left palm over his own chest to pacify any bellicose instinct. Croaky obviously looks angered.

And then the woman starts to talk, more to herself now, but audibly enough that we all can hear: “When he leaves here now, he will go and be giving my money to all those small small girls in the garage…”

“Is it that one that is hurting you?” the middleman says, jokingly “…say it now and let everybody hear o.”

“It will pain me if he owes me money, but if he does not owe me, what’s my business? The woman asks rhetorically, her two palms slapping each other face up… “if he likes he should go ahead and fuck all the women in this Alago”

Moonhead, Middleman and the one sitting next to me starts another fit of laughter. When they are done, Middleman advises the woman:

“It is true o. You better collect all you can from him now before this Ashee Joint opens.”

“Which Ashewo Joint?” everyone seems to ask almost at the same time; everyone but me, who ask as well, but inaudibly, only in my mind: “Which Ashewo Joint?”

At first the middleman thinks we are all joking not to have known. And then when he is convinced none of us truly knows that Pakurumo is becoming a brothel, he laughs…

“This is not a joking matter” Moonhead says.

“I’m not joking” Middleman retorts…

“Pakurumo will soon be Ashee Joint, you wait and see.”

“I saw this coming” Croaky voice says…”I sincerely saw this coming”

“How will you not saw this coming?” the woman confronts Croaky — and that’s how she puts it: How. Will. You. Not. Saw. This. Coming. She is changing her sitting position now, facing Middleman, and partially facing Croaky. “People are seeing good things in this world. All you close your eyes to see is Ashee Joint.

“Why do you think the wall was pulled down?” Middleman cuts her, not directing his question to anyone in particular as he points his thin hand towards Pakurumo.

Pakurumo is sitting adjacent us, almost blackened out in the falling moon like a giant silhouette; its front wall pulled down and the woodwork dismantled. A large ditch is being dug by the side. It looks somewhat haunted, like a ghost house.

“But how do you know this piece of information?” The one sitting beside me asks as he threw an empty sachet to the ground after taking a long drag at it.

“The ditch you see there is for additional latrine for more restrooms. The walls will not be just walls of a bar anymore, they will go all the way up with ventilating windows built in them. The roof, too, stretching from the main building, will be hipped. If you go inside now, you’ll already find the rooms are demarcated into small compartments for workers. The walls will carry a new paint. The bar will remain. That’s why they’re not touching that other side.

“He is asking how you know all this you’re saying” Moonhead says, referring to the earlier question asked by the one sitting beside me.

“Well, I have a friend who is one of the guys working there. He is a carpenter.

“It’s been a long time coming; I know this will eventually happen…” says Croaky, as he stumps out his cigarette.

“The landlords are giving a lot of trouble though,” Middleman says… “and it is slowing down work tremendously. That church beside it, too. That Cherubim and Seraphim; they don’t want the brothel. Every other day they hold a vigil and pour holy water on the street in front of Pakurumo, saying the brothel will not see the light of day.

“What’s their own?” Croaky blurts…”can’t anybody do with their properties what they wish anymore? Anybody can do with his property what he wishes under the law. This is the only enterprise not available yet in this area. With an Ashee Joint, the home of the privileged and the endowed, the abode for glamour girls, all other businesses here will get a powerful surge”

There is enthusiasm in his voice. One would think he just won a Loto “everywhere will be bubbling till early morn. Even you…” he is addressing the woman now, “…you, will not have your trade petty anymore, moving around in buckets like a lone ranger, like a refugee from Libya, what you’ll need is a shop; you’ll have to open up a shop and fill it with exotic drinks. This place will open up day and night like the eye of a crab, like Allen Avenue in Ikeja. Oh, my! I saw this coming!”

Surprisingly, the woman does not counter Croaky this time, no one does. Perhaps everyone is now reflecting on what businesses to go into in readiness for the surge, the flood of demands presumedly coming their ways.

The honking of a danfo coming from Ikeja jolts me to checking my wristwatch. The danfo stops at the junction of the express lane, the conductor hollering “Oshodi! Oshodi!” into the empty streets. The time is ten past five am. I have stayed a little beyond schedule. I stand to leave and thank them for the stay. They all mumble a you-are-welcome and fall back into silence.

As I walk past Pakurumo, a gaze at its façade, which is now becoming visible in the morning light, I try to picture what it’ll look like in the coming days, the hive of activity that this place will become. I take a look into the ditch dug beside it. Having a brothel in an area is like disvirgining that area, like cutting a red ribbon loose to a flush of life. More of everything will come afterwards: crime, money, evil, saints, love, lust, all morphed into unforgettable experiences through unending nights. Time, in all its mystery, will start orbiting here.

Perhaps Pakurumo will be a nicer place to stay whenever I get locked out like this again…

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