Been awhile since I was, bitten, possessed, with the insane desire that makes me race for the nearest laptop, tongue hanging out in glee, foamy spittle flying out my mouth, to put down words in a story. Been writing boring stuff for work though. But yesterday as I heard the strings from Victor Uwaifo while bumping down a, well, bumpy road in a rickety rickshaw keke that had long outlived its shock absorber, I was stung. Make of it what you will, but this is a story about music, and it’s power.
Now playing: Guitar boy – Sir Victor Uwaifo
Benin City, Old Bendel State
November 23, 1972
“Guitar boy! Guitar boy
If you see mammywata, never, never run away eeeh ehh..”
His slim fingers raced down the strings as if of their own accord, they were long and thin, those fingers, as if starved of the very life with which they coursed along the neck of the guitar, weaving magic. The nails were cut short, just before the hard pads, which thumped down on the frets, moving from key to key as he strummed the six stringed acoustic. As his fingers slid down the guitar, punctuating the rhythm, it seemed as though, almost imperceptibly, that smoke curled from the strings, a mere shadow perhaps, but tendrils wafting out from beneath the bowed head of the player, and on to the audience.
The dance bar was filled. Small round tables of wood, overlaid in formica dotted the area closest to the raised stage. These tables were crowded with chairs, behind which many of the patrons stood and swayed to the music. Along the walls of the bar, small booths with cushioned leather chairs able to sit four at a time, two abreast, were filled with other patrons of the less boisterous mien, many content to merely nod their heads in time with the tempo as they mulled over drinks, amber bottles of beer and palm wine and the rare clear glass bottle of scotch or whiskey. At one such booth, three men sat, and one was talking, his voice only slightly slurred.
“The situation may worsen but remains the same, one cannot help but hope it would change while abandoning all hope that it would, which is the case clearly, as you can see, but nevertheless, I tell you to have faith because though it may not seem like, but surely against all appearances, it would come to, despite the odds always being in the favour of the opposite which might be true this time but is not likely”.
He had been going on like this for the better part of an hour, but his companions did nothing to stop him. He was wont to ramble and they barely listened anyway. With the music from the guitar and the guitar boy streaming across the room, mixed with the liberating activity of their current imbibing, ignoring him wasn’t truly a difficult task. And besides they each had other problems to consider.
Beside the speaker, who was a popular writer and self-proclaimed thought leader in the region; his political and philosophical treatises, poems and short stories always guaranteed a spot in the Arts and Philosophies column of the Observer safely tucked away in the corner rarely visited by the uninitiated, was a dour man. His face soft and pudgy, characterized by an especially large nose and rheumy eyes, like an elephant or some other large nosed creature would look after a constant dose of alcohol. His name was Igbinokhan and he was having a bad day, which for him was the usual. Igbinokhan was a driver at the University and he hated his job, just as much as he hated almost everything in his life, from the wife who he knew hated him, his mother-in-law who hated him, all the way to his large nose which was a curse to him. On loquacious evenings, which were rare, thank goodness, Igbinokhan would constantly berate his large nose which he blamed for his many misfortunes, a series of mayhaps beyond his control which had begun from his birth as he was stuck in his mother’s nethers, until the midwife in a fit of anger yanked him out by his nose, a situation which in some mysterious way resulted in his mother’s untimely demise, earned him the eventual hatred of his father and future step mother, the occlusion from gaining a formal education and the poverty which had dogged him since.
Igbinokhan took a swig of his beer, straight from the bottle, his fourth in the past hour, the decanted versions already carted away by the waitress, a yellow-skined waif who was already eyeing him in what he was sure was anticipation or disgust from across the bar. He grunted as he took another swig and wondered what was so ugly about his nose that the waitress had to stare so. The bottle sucked noisily against his fat lips as it emptied. His companion across the table glanced at him and waved at the waitress.
“Guitar boy! Guitar boy!
If you see mammywater oh, never, never you run away
Never run away…
Sing that song of love, sweet melody”
Agnes raced forwards to the booth, passing on her way a couple in one of the darker sections of the dimly lit bar. The girl was dressed in a silver sequined dress, which set off nicely against her dark skin, the disco lights playing washing over her swaying body and the hands of the man who caressed her even as she danced against him. She would be dead before the night was done, those same hands that caressed her so languidly, kneading softly at her waist and then running teasingly down the inside of her thighs, would be wrapped around her neck, crushing her throat in a vice grip of death, her eyeballs swelling out of their sockets as she succumbed to asphyxiation, helped along by the smoky air exhaled by her killer as he puffed excitedly on a stick of Rothmans. For now however, the cigarette rested between his thin lips, his eyes glittering as he warmed up, hard and stiff behind the girl writhing in his arms.
If you see mammywater oh!
Never, never you run away
The guitar boy drummed his feet in time with the music as he played and sang. A pair of eyes watched from the shadows in the entrance, searching in the gloom. Suddenly the eyes came alert and then angry as they alighted on a particular figure who however was turned away from the entrance, sloshed in a booth. Disgust and anger fought themselves in the expression. It was a hard face in that gloomy doorway, one used to hardship and sorrow one might say, a face that one guessed hardly ever cracked in smiles or pleasure, but yet one would swear that it would be exceeding beautiful were it so animated. Suddenly recognition flitted across the features, alarm and fear crisscrossing at the same time.
On the stage, the guitar boy lifted his gaze from the guitar, his eyes still hooded beneath a panama hat and seemed to gaze into the gloom past the stage. The fingers ceased their gentle strumming and kicking back the high stool, the guitar boy leapt up in a frenetic skid of fingers and feet tapping moves as he went into the guitar solo, the guitar bucking now as if with a life of its own, the music loud in the bar, fevered frenzies erupting among the dancers.
A couple among the dancers walked towards the door in a hurry, hand in hand, the girl giggling. The man paused in the doorway to light a stick of Rothmans, the match flare lighting up the figure of the woman in the doorway, for an instant. An instant enough for her to make a decision. She turned in the doorway and made her way back into the street, but not to her house. Not to wait for her husband either.
“It is definite how indefinite-ism becomes the most assured characterization in which the lack of specificity in character among the incongruous leadership of the country remains in assured confidence despite their unelected positioning above an unsolicited populace”
Igbinokhan took another swig from a fresh bottle and glanced at the professor, for he was indeed a professor, the very same professor who he drove at the university, he seemed surprised the man was still talking. He took another swallow from his bottle and wondered why beer bottles were so small in Nigeria or perhaps he was somehow managing to breathe in the beer through his large nostrils and drain the bottle even faster. Good thing he was not paying, but what if he was? Would he in this way drain all he had without it even passing his lips?
Agnes walked back to the bar with the empty bottles. Just a little longer tonight and she would be able to go. She needed to stop working here she thought to herself. Her white blouse was damp with sweat and her nipples were stiff and hard with trepidation underneath. She did not wear a bra as was the policy but she was not bothered about groping patrons, her breasts were too small to be worthy any attention anyway. Well not always. She could remember Gabriel that night, groping and tearing with an animal hunger or anger, or both. Unplanned, unsolicited, just one drunk man and a very foolish waitress who was supposed to be swapping beer cartons at the back. She doubted he remembered.
“Just look at that fool trying to drink beer with his nose, while his wife fucks someone right under it,” said Onwuli in flawless Yoruba.
His companion seated across the formica table looked at him questioningly. Onwuli, realizing how the comment must have sounded in Yoruba repeated himself in English and wondered again why it was that idioms only tended to make sense if delivered in the language for which they were intended. Well, it was not his first language anyway.
His companion faced the guitar boy on the stage again. The musician was leaning into the audience with his moves as his hands blazed across the guitar, he seemed ready to leap down into them at any moment. Or to devour them perhaps, which was amusing.
“This boy good,” he said in Yoruba accented pidgn English.
“Yes he is, but this is not pure music. I tell you, this boy has gone to do winsh for this his technique,” replied Onwuli. “He has sold his soul to the devil of the seas I tell you,” he finished in Yoruba.
Akinbode glanced at hum and went back to listening to the music, a glass of Chelsea Dry Gin his hand. He swished it in the glass and swallowed in one gulp. It was not that he did not believe Onwuli, the man had an uncanny knack for sniffing out everyone’s secrets, except his of course, but that was of no matter and the boy did not have to know. He actually did not just want to bother. They had business to do after all. It was enough to confirm that Prof. was here at the bar as usual and not at his house, freeing it up for the operation. He was risking enough being this close even, who knew who could see him at the moment.
He stood up and Onwuli followed. As they walked to the door, the latter murmured “I hope you did not take that comment too personal”
About my sister? “No,” replied Akinbode.
Eyes tracked both men as they left.
“Do you want another drink?” The man motioned for the waitress.
Agnes came over with another cold beer. Igbinokhan grunted his thanks.
The Prof was still talking, “This is what I say Gabriel, the needs of society, numerous they may be, never exceed a basic few, some of which remain ambiguous but can be explained clearly enough if one cared to look, which is unlikely, in the looking, not in the explanation, which is possible, if hardly concise, but close enough to find meaning, arbitrary though it may seem but unambiguous nevertheless and specific in all it entails, as unclear as those borders may seem to be”.
Igbinokhan took another swig, his mind blocking out the Professor’s words and loosened his belt. This music is good.
“Guitar boy! Guitar boy!
If you see mammywata oh,
if you see mammy wata oh
never, never you run away ehh ehh ehhhh
never run away, Victor Uwaifo
if you see mammywata oh
if you see mammy wata oh
never, never you run away ehh ehh ehhhh
sing a song of love, sweet melody”
Later that night, the darkness slowly giving way as the skies paled in anticipation of morning, Guitar boy dropped off a bus heading out of town. Stepping to the side of the Mission road where there was an old bridge, he walked to the edge, ostensibly to make water. The boy, guitar strapped to his back stepped off the side of the bridge, the wind flapping the collar of his shirt as he plunged towards the deep and into the water, vanishing right in without as much as a splash or even a gurgle.
Till tomorrow night.
- Na fiction abeg. This post is best reread while listening to the actual song. Yeah, I know, free adverts again.
- I love the music of Sir Victor Uwaifo and I do not seek to malign his good name in anyway
- Sir Victor Uwaifo actually claims till this day that the lyrics of the song came directly from a mermaid he met while lounging at the Bar Beach sometime in the 60s. Basically, the song is a direct quote of the mermaid with stringed accompaniment or the product of the addling nature of marijuana smoke and salty air
- See Disclaimer 1
- Listen to good music people, the kind that edifies and doesn’t enthrall you to evil
GOD bless Nigerians