Among the memories I hold dearest to my heart are those I had with my father when I was still a child. Just a short while before this millennium rolled in. I was young and quite naïve in the ways of the world. I don’t think I even knew there existed a world beyond my family. The old man was a hotelier; managing this hotel, and then that. He would be in this town this year, then the next year he would be in that town. It’s like he always seemed to be moving away from something. Or someone.
I have come to suspect that he must have been suffering from some sort of personality disorder. But who does not have at least one disorder in this world? And because he was (still is) an accountant, he never seemed too interesting. Accountants are generally a boring people (and that’s so sad, because am also an accountant). But his boring profession and restlessness was not my concern at the time. My biggest joy in those days lay in the fun we had together with him. All those late nights when we would stagger home in the middle of the night, carrying a packet or two of chips, or chicken, or a chunk beef, for my sisters who stayed home with Mama. He would be drunk out of his mind, and I would be tired from supporting his weight as we staggered home in the dead of the night. Oh that four-hundred-meter stretch from his office to the house always seemed so long….
See, the first time I entered a discotheque I was seven years of age. It was the disco attached to the hotel that the Old Man managed. I loved it!!!! There were the dancing disco lights that made everything seem so magical… The fusion of purple, and yellow, and green, and blue that flashed overhead just made the world seem so beautiful. I also remember the bouncers… So burly and mean looking; smiling at me because I was the boss’ kid, and manhandling this patron, then high-fiving that other one… The purplish rubber stamp that was pressed on to the back of my palm to prove my admission (despite being all of 7 years old). It did not stick because I have skin the color of freshly tarmacked roads. Then there was the grill where the heavenly smell of Nyama choma claimed the air. I still associate nyama choma with dancing and sweating and drinking, and to an extent, bad manners.
Of course I was too young to be in the disco hall- but I was anyway. The Old Man left me in the care of some pretty lady who was manning the counter. She had a drink in her right hand – Castle Lager I think – and she wore those white-top-and-black-skirt uniforms that waitresses are fond of. You should have been there to see the motion of her lips as she effortlessly kissed the lucky bottle of beer at calculated intervals, slowly sipping the bitter drink (I tasted it when she wasn’t looking). To this day, I love girls who drink. If she can blow her smoke with a little class, I will love her even more.
Oh that waitress!!!
She would kiss me on the cheeks whenever I asked how much this bottle of beer, or that can of soda, or that packet of cigarettes, cost. Her smooth voice assured me that I would one day be old enough to buy my own drink. And her stares found a way of lingering on me one second too long…
Then there was something about the loud music. How it played into my eardrums and thudded with the beats of my heart. The deejay, puffing at a miserable cigarette, and blowing the smoke towards the direction of the patrons on the dancing floor.
It all seemed so surreal.
The Old Man kept moving from patron to patron – at the bar, or on the dance floor, or in the lounges – chatting them up very animatedly. A bottle of Pilsner in his left hand (…always Pilsner, always the left hand…). He would gesture in my direction from time to time, as a poor patron (forced to wave at his son) pretended to throw a smile in my direction. He was a pro at working the room – I wish I inherited his charms.
I still recall the excited faces of grown men gyrating and grinding on the eager females, and the smell of sweat and debauchery, accompanied by the looks of excitement, and hunger, and bad decisions on the faces of the patrons. I was hooked to the scene. I loved it. And for the longest time I wanted to own a club or discotheque. You know, to help people experience the kind of joy I saw on the faces of those patrons back before the new millennium.
That is also the time I realized that my Old Man was having an affair. I did not know it at the time – of course. There was this tall and awesome lady, who wore a skirt that must have been meant to be a belt. It was black, and there was something about the way it hugged her ample bottoms. She was in a light blue blouse that either missed the two topmost buttons, or she preferred to breathe better – you know, with a few top buttons undone. I could see the black straps of her bra, and the ‘beautiful contours’ that they cupped.
I remember the Old Man kissing her on the lips and pointing at me with his teeth out – probably flaunting his ‘only son’. Her smile was easy, and she walked like she was saving her strength for something better.
I must admit my Old Man had fine taste.
She was this beautiful being whose eye lashes flicked with a certain sensuality that I cannot describe using mere words alone. Her perfume was so intoxicating – and I have never encountered its scent anywhere since then. She had red lipstick on her full lips (the only thing I didn’t like about her – the lipstick, not the lips).
At some point in the night, she did buy me Chips and Kuku Quarter (which cost a whooping 35/- at the time). So she got my attention, and a bit of my affection. And I danced with her a little, to the beats of Koffi Olomide and Papa Wemba. Then she told me something about being my ‘other mum‘.
It was funny because at the time I still did not understand what ‘am your other mum’ meant. Later she asked me about going over to visit her sometime soon. I tried to laugh her off. But she was serious…
(Photo – Denele Campbell)