“Brother Wolf” reserves pleasant surprises to those who know how to wait for the right moment. That is how I met Lupe, who was to hang around with me for several months, and we have remained good friends. She is even talking of coming up to meet me in Paris one of these days. Do I want her here? I don't know, but meet her first.
Yesterday evening, I went to “Brother Wolf”. Whenever I feel boredom giggling victoriously down the empty corridors of my mind, I know it’s time to go out for a walk or for a drink. So when attempts to gag a few words on paper failed, I unhooked my leather jacket from the wardrobe, put it over my sweater and slammed the door behind me. The wind grunted noisily as I stepped out of the house onto the pavement. It was a surprisingly warm and friendly wind for this time of the year.
I stopped for a few seconds, took a cigarette out of a battered packet of Ducados, stuck it between my lips, struck a match, cupped its flame with my hand and brought it up to the cigarette. I pulled the smoke up into my lungs and waved the match stick in the air a couple of times to put out the flame that was already threatening to burn my fingers.
It was only then that I looked up and down the crowded street to see if there was a face I could pin a name on. There was none. Good Lord! How can one feel so lonely in such a crowded city? I wondered sadly. I decided to go and shake the boredom off my shoulders in “Brother Wolf”. There I would at least feel the pulse of familiar territory.
As usual, a joyous crowd was on the dancing floor, swinging to the latest Motown sounds from the States. Boys and girls barely out of their teens, some still well into it -- rebels fleeing parental restrictions -- clapping their hands to the rhythm of the thrilling sounds. The drummer seemed to have lodged himself right under my rib cage as the heavy drum beats almost literally lifted me off my feet. The good thing is that no one really cares how well or how poorly you dance. The important thing is to feel that pulsating rhythm, let it weave you in its loom of heavy drumbeats, screeching guitar sounds, sensual piano notes and sexy voices.
If you take the time to look closely, as I do sometimes when I just want to watch the dancing on the floor, you’ll notice that many of those boys and girls dance completely out of tune with the music. What seems important to them is to shake their shoulders, scream when the music fondles their minds and then turn their faces towards the ceiling where multi-coloured bulbs gyrate like excited maniacs.
That was perhaps why I was surprised when Lupe suddenly said to me: “Oh, how well you dance! How you wiggle your waist with such ease. I wish I could do that too!” Out of breath, I managed to say: “Thanks, but you dance well too!” which she seemed to appreciate even though it was obvious that she was somewhat stiff around the waist. I saw that she was trying hard to imitate every move I made.
I’ve never really thought of myself as a particularly good dancer but to many of those boys and girls, all blacks are good dancers. It doesn’t matter how poorly you may dance, they all believe it must be the latest style from Harlem, Soweto or any other black ghetto around the world, and they all want to dance like you do.
Now that I mention black men and dancing, I remember running into one clown from Senegal, or did he say he was from Mali?, in a night club in Valencia some months ago. He was trying to impress one heavy-chested Greek girl with some sexually-explicit and demeaning contortions he claimed were the native dance of the Zulus of South Africa! When he saw that I was likely to give him away, he came up to me, smiling and exposing kolanut-stained teeth, begging me “in the name of African solidarity”, not to let him down, but rather to pretend that what he was saying was true. “Cher ami,” he said, trying to place his hand on my shoulders, but I wouldn’t let him, “on est tous des africains, non? Il faut donc rester solidaire!”. I walked out without a word, waves of disgust hitting me in succession.
“Does it take long to learn to dance the way you do?”, Lupe asked as we gave ourselves up to the crazy music. I knew what she wanted to hear, of course; that to us blacks dancing comes as naturally as day following night since every black person is said to be a born dancer. What with Senghor and his Negritude apostles telling the world that a black man only feels his way around the world on the wings of emotion, dancing his head off like a zombie, while some kind white man – the custodian of reason – does his thinking for him!
“Look, if you dance often enough, you come to develop the skill for it. Everything is practice, you know”. I then mentioned rather casually that if she was keen on the idea, I could always give her dance lessons, and that I was a really good teacher.
“Oh, would you really have time for that?” Her excitement caught me a little off guard.
“Yes, tonight even, if you can spare a minute,” I said, gripping my rising excitement firmly with both hands. I mustn’t let her see how eager I was to have her to myself somewhere far away from this noisy din.
“Oh, you must be kidding! Where do you want us to go?”
“My place or yours,” I said as nonchalantly as I could.
“Where do you live,” she asked, still scanning my face with a little suspicion.
“Moncloa, but if that sounds far, we can very well go over to your place or to a less crowded night club,” I suggested, praying all the time for it to be either her place or mine.
“I live at Carrabanchel, that’s in the opposite direction from you,” she said with a chuckle.
“Either way is no problem really,” I said. “There’s always el metro that runs across the city and getting home shouldn’t be a problem, should it?”
“Yes, but I came with a friend of mine,” she said pointing to one corner where a couple had been locked in a kiss almost the whole evening long. “Can I ask her to come with us?”
“Let her be my guest,” I answered with a shrug of the shoulders. Inwardly, however, I was ardently praying for her friend to turn down my invitation. And that’s what happened for Lupe soon came back to say that her friend, who had been running away from a former boy friend, had unexpectedly met him tonight and, from every indication, they had managed to patch up their crumbling relationship and their love for each other had grown more intense than ever before.
“So we can go!”, I said, half a question, half a statement. She thought it over for a few seconds, looked at her watch, ran her long fingers through her shoulder-length slightly blond hair – I wished those were my fingers – picked up her bag and said: íVale, vamonos! I nearly screamed: Hallelujah! as we walked out the door.
“Oh, how rude of me, I didn’t even introduce myself. Leinteng is the name. Leinteng Basha”, I said as we sat at the back of the bus for Moncloa. She thought I had a beautiful name. She repeated it a number of times over to herself and thought it was really lovely. Probably the loveliest name she has ever heard. Did I have any objection to her giving her son that name one day, if she ever had one? I said no, not at all and that I would, in fact, be very flattered to know that there was a white kid running around somewhere out in the world bearing my name. What would you call that? Reverse colonisation? I wondered out loud. She giggled for a while at the thought and then stretched out a small, soft, long-fingered hand.
“Guadelupe Muñoz. But call me Lupe, that’s much simpler”, she said, switching on a warm smile. I noticed her bright teeth – a rare thing in a society in which every imaginable brand of chocolate and sweets seems to wreak untold havoc on nearly everyone’s teeth. She had lips so thin as to be almost non-existent, and a slightly aquiline nose. Her deep blue eyes reminded me of the blue infinity of the summer skies.
“And where are you from?” she asked.
“From Cameroon”, I answered.
“Es una ciudad o qué?”
“What? A city! oh, no, guapa, it’s a country in Africa.” I didn’t even care to locate it on the map of Africa for she would surely not have known which part was west, which east, or which central. She apologized and I saw her face turning a little reddish and I knew I might have spoken to her in my usual brisk and rather impatient manner. Have my friends not always warned me against my brisk and rather rude impatience with anyone I think is ignorant of certain things I thought are fairly obvious?
I smiled and told her that she wasn’t the only one to mistake my country for a town, saying I hear it so often that I have come to live with it. That seemed to make her feel better as she smiled and told me she knew more about Latin America than about Africa. To make things even better for her, I lied that when it came to Latin America, I knew just as little as she did about Africa. That seemed to work well as a smile rushed back to her radiant face.
That reminds me of a similar incident involving my compatriot, Jules Mbarga, in Paris some three years earlier. He told me how he had been waiting for a bus at a frosty bus station somewhere along Avenue Kléber, minding his own business; and did an old inquisitive hag not come up to him, smiling and exposing chocolate-stained teeth, and asking if in his country the weather could ever get so cold. Jules had looked at her, wondering whether to answer or not but had decided to answer to shut her up. He told her no, that the weather in his country is mercifully much warmer. She had then asked him where he was from.
“From Cameroon”, said Jules.
“Ah oui, Cameroon. I know where that is, that is a region of Senegal, n’est-ce pas, cher Monsieur?” Jules said he had been so angry that he hadn’t even cared to listen to the old woman’s apologies when another onlooker, who had been following their conversation and pretending not to, stepped in to loudly correct the old woman so as to impress Jules with his knowledge of the geography of Africa. The old woman kept up her litany of an apology as they got on the bus.
“Veuillez m’excuser, cher Monsieur, and to think that I know how you Cameroonians are very much unlike other foreigners here. “Oui, des gens vachement sympas!”
Jules said he decided to drop at the next bus stop. Had he remained onboard, he said, he might have been forced to do something foolish, like landing a well-aimed slap to her wrinkled jaw, before waiting calmly, among the astonished panicky crowd, for the sirens of French justice to speed up to him.
When I pointed our to Jules that the woman might have heard Casamance, a region of Senegal, not Cameroon, he said if the woman had a hearing problem, why couldn’t she stay at home instead of going around annoying people? Ah, how very taut our nerves do sometimes become in these alien lands, especially when intestines are churning on an empty stomach and your pockets seem to have suddenly developed holes, with not a single cent in them!
My own reaction to Lupe’s equally irritating ignorance was simple. I just didn’t make an issue of it at all and we soon forgot the whole thing. The dance lessons went smoothly. Biscuits were generously washed down with much beer. Smoke coiled off lazily from our cigarettes as they smouldered away on the ash-tray as we danced before going back to them. Oh, what a wonderful candlelit evening below blue skies! Sigh-wrapped tongues yielding to giggles in a world devoid of worries. On foaming seas, we rode on waves that rushed for the seashores of the mind. Ah, those eyes that reminded one so strongly of the infinity of a blue summer noon! The turbulence of desires beaten to submission, blending so exquisitely into a world of sleep wrapped in peace. Outside, Madrid groaned and hummed into the early hours of a romantic morning.
In Chapter 8, Bassey, Jesus Ndongo and yours truly meet for an afternoon of relaxation against the backdrop of good, pulsating Jazz music.