Issue 105, Winter 1987
Ajegunle Joe spent the evening reading the letters from the few subscribers he had left. Without a single exception they called him a fraud and demanded back their money. When he had finished reading he was very depressed. He went to a bar and got quite drunk, but that didn’t improve anything. So he went to his favourite hotel to look for a cheap prostitute. That didn’t help either. He kept hearing the subscribers in his head. In the end he paid the woman for her time and left more depressed than he had arrived. He got home, lit two mosquito coils, and climbed into bed. He forgot to lock the door. Soon he was snoring.
He dreamt about a woman with a rugged face and indifferent eyes. All through the dream he didn’t have an erection. When he woke up it was with the certainty that someone had been in the room while he was asleep. He saw the open door and soon found that large quantities of printing paper, his tubes of printing ink, his transistor radio, his pornographic magazines, and a book he much valued called The Ten Wonders of Africa, were missing
He sat on the bed. He stared at the almanacs of long-bearded mystics on the wall. Somewhere in him was the feeling that a pain he had lived with had suddenly edged towards the unbearable. He had the taste of tangerines in his mouth. He was two weeks into the month of August.
When July passed with its thunderous downpours, and when August advanced with its dry winds and browning elephant grass, Joe felt himself at the mercy of a cyclical helplessness. Two years earlier, around the same time, Joe lost a woman he had been planning to marry. They had met one day to discuss their future together. Joe had catarrh. He made the mistake of blowing his nose in her presence, the act of which produced a long and disgusting sound. She didn’t show her disapproval, but afterwards all talk of marriage was avoided. When later on he learnt that she had become engaged to another man, Joe was shattered. He went around in a daze. He no longer walked with his former arrogant swing. He became clumsy and unsure of himself. He lost his job. One night in a bar when he tried to sound like his former arrogant self, he got involved in a fight and had two of his front teeth knocked into his mouth. Then he took to strangling his laughter.
It was after the woman left his life, after his birthday in September, that he got another job in a small printing press. He took correspondence courses in psychology and salesmanship and earned himself two diplomas. He developed an unusual interest in the occult and in mysticism. His thoughts became too deep for him and his dreams became more mysterious. He gradually experienced himself being taken over by a new personality. He took to writing down his visions and dreams: then he began publishing them as cheap pamphlets. The first pamphlet was called Mysteries of Orumaka. Quite a few people bought it and he was encouraged by the modest sales. With the help of his boss he printed pamphlets like: How to Sleep Soundly, How to Have Powerful Dreams, How to Fight Witches and Wizards, and How to Banish Poverty from Your Life. The pamphlets achieved some limited popularity but they didn’t make him any money. Sometimes when there wasn’t much work at the printing press Ajegunle Joe would take bundles of his pamphlets to sell on the molue buses. It was in the Christmas of that year that it occurred to him to set up a correspondence course on how people could improve their lives. He discussed it with his boss and they agreed to split profits. Two adverts were placed in the newspapers and soon they had subscribers. The correspondence course was named: ‘Turn Life Into Money.’
And then came the following August. Tax inspectors took a sudden interest in him. His mother fell ill and he had to go home and see her. When he got back the landlord had taken it into his head to increase the rent. It was an August of elections, political fevers and riggings. Ajegunle Joe’s dreams became so violent that he wrote and printed a treasonable tract called: The Farce Which Will Become History. Nobody bought the tract and one night the printer’s shop was raided by soldiers, who carried away all existing copies. The police got hold of Joe the next day, and he was jailed for two weeks without any charges being brought against him. Then, suddenly, he was released. He wrote to all the newspapers about his arrest, but because no one knew him, and everyone was afraid, his letters were never published. What made matters worse was that his boss suddenly opted out of their joint venture, deducted half the losses from Joe’s salary, and then gave him the sack. But what saved Joe was that the new personality had taken him over completely. He spent the rest of the year selling his pamphlets in the day and occasionally working at the docks in the night.
This August was no better. Business had been worse than usual. Printing paper was scarce. And he felt stale. Nothing moved in him that morning. He found himself at the point where his faith in his own correspondence course had reached its lowest.
He got up from the bed and opened the window. He went to the toilet and then had a shower. Back in his room he lit a stick of incense. He fetched a tumbler of water, breathed deeply, and drank, facing the east. He sat in one of his chairs. He intoned some vowel sounds and then he meditated on an empty stomach. By the time he had finished meditating and sealing his morning prayers with occultic signs, he had begun to accept the reality of his losses. He made some food and ate. He was about to start cleaning his room when he heard someone calling to him from outside.
‘Is Jungle Joe in? Jungle Joe! Your friend is here.’
His friend, Cata-cata, knocked and came into the room. They called him by that name because he used to be a hardheaded generator of confusion. He had quieted down now; he was even thinking of marriage. He used to be a boxer, but after being knocked out in the first round of an unmemorable featherweight match, he seemed to settle for the anonymity of being a ladies man. He was tall and solemn; he had a wide nose and narrow eyes. He wore a Ghanian print shirt and khaki trousers. He worked regular night shifts at the docks. In the day time he fished. He smiled broadly at Joe when he came into the room. He had two mangoes in his hand. He had a Ghanian woman with him. She was robust, and her body was slow in its thick sweaty sensuality. She had fleshy lips, a kind face, and she smiled a lot. She carried an orange and two bottles of small stout.
‘How are you Joe?’ Cata-cata said, slapping his friend on the back.
‘Not too good.’
‘Why, what’s happened?’
‘Have you met my friend?’ Cata-cata said to the Ghanian woman. She was still smiling.
‘Well, this is Ajegunle Joe, occultist and dreamer. Joe, this is my girlfriend, Sarah.’
They greeted one another. The Ghanian woman avoided meeting Joe’s eyes. They were all still standing. Cata-cata offered Joe a mango.
‘No, thank you, my friend. Things are so bad I don’t have a mouth for fruits,’ Joe said.
‘That’s a shame.’
‘Cata-cata, I’ve just been robbed.’
‘When?’ Cata-cata said, taking a seat and indicating to Sarah that she do the same. She sat on the bed.
Today. When I was asleep.’
‘You mean they robbed you when you were asleep?’
‘Yes,’ said Joe, dryly.
‘What sort of sleep is that? You must have been drinking too much.’
Cata-cata laughed in the direction of the woman.
‘I think I left the door open,’ said Joe unsmilingly.
‘What did they take?’
‘Pamphlets. Clothes. They took the transistor radio and . . .’
‘That radio?’ interrupted Cata-cata, laughing again in the direction of the woman.
They must have been desperate. . .’
And worst of all,’ said Joe, ‘they took that book that I got. The Ten Wonders of Africa’
Tm sorry to hear that,’ said Cata-cata with laughter still on his face.
Ajegunle Joe nodded. He was feeling in bad humour. He sat on a stool and kept eyeing the woman. Looks very ripe, he thought. Then he felt bitter that for two years he had been without a regular woman.
‘I can’t offer you drinks,’ Joe said suddenly.
‘What is drinks between friends, eh? Besides, we brought our own.’
The Ghanian woman crossed her legs. Then she put the bottles of stout on the table. There was a long silence. There was some embarrassment in the air. Cata-cata kept trying to catch Joe’s eyes.
‘So how is the course doing?’
‘Bad,’ said Joe, staring grimly at his friend. Cata-cata made
signs for Joe to leave the room. Joe pretended not to notice.
He continued with what he was saying.
‘One of my subscribers ran into trouble,’ he said in an even
‘She followed my instructions and got sacked. She wants her
‘What instructions?’ Cata-cata said, gesticulating furiously.
‘In the first lesson I instructed them to look fearlessly at people in the eye and to speak up forcefully. Well, her boss didn’t like it when she did.’
Cata-cata laughed again. The Ghanian woman laughed as well. She looked very youthful when she laughed and her breasts rocked. Joe remained dour.
When the general laughter had subsided Cata-cata said, with more intentionality than was needed: Joe, aren’t you going out? It’s going to rain soon, you know’
‘It’s not supposed to rain in August.’
‘But it’s going to rain, anyway,’ Cata-cata said, glaring at Joe.
‘So why should I go out if it’s going to rain soon, eh?’
He knew Cata-cata was referring to their usual arrangement.
I’ve been robbed, Joe thought, and all my friend can think about is sex.
‘Because you can go out and come back before it rains, that’s why.’
‘I see,’ said Joe.
Cata-cata, surprised at his friend’s incomprehension, looked from Joe to the woman and back again.
‘You know what I mean,’ he said, with some desperation.
‘I don’t know,’ Joe replied, sweating in pretended ignorance. ‘How can I know when I’ve been robbed, eh? And all the subscribers want their money back. I don’t know anything, my friend.’
Joe was very serious. Look at all that is happening to me, he thought, and all he wants to do is make love to this woman in my room.
‘By the way,‘Joe said aloud, ‘what is wrong with your room, eh?’
Cata-cata was alarmed. He stammered. He had a regular girlfriend; she had a key to his room; and she made it a habit to turn up at the oddest hours. There was even talk of marriage between them. He wanted the Ghanian woman quickly, on the side. He couldn’t risk the use of his own room, and Joe knew this well. ‘I have a relative staying,’ Cata-cata said, almost pleadingly. Ajegunle Joe stared at him unsympathetically. Cata-cata suddenly stood up.Joe was very serious. Look at all that is happening to me, he thought, and all he wants to do is make love to this woman in my room. ‘By the way,‘Joe said aloud, ‘what is wrong with your room, eh?’ Cata-cata was alarmed. He stammered. He had a regular girlfriend; she had a key to his room; and she made it a habit to turn up at the oddest hours. There was even talk of marriage between them. He wanted the Ghanian woman quickly, on the side. He couldn’t risk the use of his own room, and Joe knew this well.
‘I have a relative staying,’ Cata-cata said, almost pleadingly.
Ajegunle Joe stared at him unsympathetically. Cata-cata suddenly stood up. ‘I want to talk to you outside,’ he said to Joe.
They both went out.
‘You’re a bastard!’ Cata-cata said, the moment they were outside.
‘Things are hard,’ Joe said.
‘What are you trying to do? Spoil my fun, eh?’
Things are bad.’
‘So what? Aren’t we friends? Look. Relax. We’ll go fishing later.’
‘What will that do for me?’
‘You might catch a fish. You’ve never caught a fish.’
‘A fish won’t pay my rent. A fish won’t get those thieves.’
‘You are mad.’
‘All of us are mad.’
They were silent for a moment. They could see the back of the Ghanian woman through the window. She fidgeted. She played with the orange.
‘You know she likes you.’
‘Sarah. I’ve done a build up of you. I can tell she likes you. Have her afterwards. She won’t mind.’
‘How do you know?’
‘What do you mean? She is a good, fun-loving woman.’
‘I don’t want her afterwards,’ Joe said, looking at her through the window.
‘What do you want then, eh?’
‘Lend me some money.’
‘More? You owe me ten already.’
‘Give me another ten.’
‘I am not a bank.’
‘Give me ten. I’ll sell some pamphlets today. I’ll pay you back when some subscriptions come in.’
‘And when will that be?’
‘Today, tomorrow, soon.’
‘You’ve been saying that for two years now’
‘Lend me ten.’
‘Things are hard.’
‘Things are always hard for you.’
They’ll get better.’
‘When do you want it?’
Cata-cata gave Joe the ten naira. They went back in without exchanging another word.
The Ghanian woman had started peeling the orange with her fingers when they both came in. Cata-cata sat down on the bed next to her. He put his arm round her.
Joe said, ‘I’m going to check my post office box before it rains. Do you want some stamps?’
Ajegunle Joe looked at the woman as she ate the orange. With her palm she wiped the juice that flowed down the sides of her mouth.
Struck by the fleshiness of her thighs, noticing the succulence of her lips, Joe said: ‘Have you read any of my pamphlets?’
‘No,’ said the woman.
‘You should. There are many powers in this world.’
‘Leave her alone,’ Cata-cata said, caressing her neck.
‘They call me the Dream-Vendor,‘Joe said, ‘because I am at the mercy of my dreams. I am the man who runs the Cosmic Power Correspondence Course. Have you ever heard of it?’
‘Leave her alone,’ Cata-cata said. ‘She can’t read and she doesn’t have any money to subscribe. Leave the poor girl alone.’
‘Yes, I have,’ the woman said.
Both men turned towards her.
‘My younger brother is taking your course. He thinks it’s all right. Every morning he looks into the mirror and says strange things. He drinks a glass of water, breathes deeply and starts making funny noises. He is always asking me the direction of the east. He is going to university in Ghana ways smells of bad incense.’
Ajegunle Joe was surprised. He beamed. He held up his head. He was so amazed that he didn’t say anything. His throat kept moving. His mood immediately improved and he wore his battered galoshes and the greatcoat he had bought cheaply from amongst the stolen goods at the docks. He bustled around the room. He moved with a forced swing that tossed the bulk of the coat one way and another. The swagger suited him fine.
He said: ‘People need advice. People need power. To see far is the only way to win the battles of this terrible life.’
The Ghanian woman said: ‘My brother takes several other courses. About five of them. Every night he does a different thing. Sometimes he mixes up all the instructions. He is too serious. I think he is going mad.’
She had finished eating the orange. Her eyes shone bril-liantly. She stopped smiling.