Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

White woman

By Hassan Ali Ganda

"For starters you ain't got no ring on yer finger and for another you're only a baby... anyway, I can always tell married men. They come on strong like and they bloody well turn me right off".
On my first night in London I had a woman. She was white and she cost me fifteen pounds. I remember her well and I remember that afterwards as I dressed I felt sick. I tried to keep it down but I couldn't and the vomit poured out onto the already stained floor. I had to clean myself. I think that it may have been the room for if ever a place was seedy then that hotel room was it.

I fled from the croaking floorboards, down the rickety stairs and past the empty reception. It felt as if a thousand eyes were on me even though I was sure that no one else could have been in the building. I had not thought that it would be so and in a place such as this.

I had once chanced upon a magazine. The picture on the cover had attracted me. It was of a woman with slender legs and long golden hair. She was white but she looked tanned and her eyes were big, clear and blue. Apart from a bowtie, lace stockings and a pair of red high heel shoes she wore nothing else. I had bought the magazine even though it was almost two years old.

I permitted no one to know that I possessed such a thing and in time I came to know every little feature of the many women displayed in its pages. They were young, strong, fresh and fragrant women; women maintained by sweaty labour and free from blemish and roughness. I knew that in order to really live I had to hold and to feel women such as these. JOHNNIE Sometime later my colleague Johnnie returned from England. He had managed to fail his course at the Cambourne School of Mines but he seemed to have enjoyed himself nonetheless. He had always been a womanizer even before he left but while in England he seemed to have surpassed himself. He boasted about the number of women he had been with and how they had thought that he was the very best. He claimed that in one wild and drunken night he had seduced a mother and two of her three daughters.

With white women, he said, there were no taboos, no coyness, no beating about the bush. It was Johnnie who informed us that the best places for girls in all England were the pubs in Bayswater. "They are there plenty" he used to say.

Unfortunately, Konongo was neither Cambourne nor Bayswater and Johnnie was sacked soon after his return when he tried to jump the Chief Engineer's wife. The man and his wife were both expatriates. Afterwards Johnnie would claim that Mrs Aspinall had cried rape only because her husband had caught them in the act. In actual fact she had wanted it and had enjoyed it. THE PUB The next year I was sent off on the same course. I had only two days in London so I made for Bayswater at the first opportunity. I searched for a pub and found one on a road leading off the Queensway, I peered through its windows. It was crowded and even standing outside I could feel the throb of the music being played in it. I made my decision. This was it and it was now or never.

I took a deep breath and entered. It was hot and the smoke which hung heavily in the air stung my eyes. I put my hand in my pocket and assured myself that my wallet was with me and pressed my way to the bar. The barman was busy and he beckoned his assistant to serve me.

One was blonde and tall and her lips red. I felt as if my cover girl had come alive. I ordered a beer and trailed her with my eyes as she went to pour it. She must have noticed for she turned and looked back. I felt exposed and I smiled embarrassedly. She brought my beer and I paid for it. I sat by the bar unable to move away and as she served others my eyes again strayed after her. I felt like a prowler.

I imagined how she would look dressed as the cover girl. I had never been a good drinker and I only sipped the beer. After a while the bargirl came towards me. I was sure that this time she had seen through me and I wished I were somewhere else.

Fortunately, she only wanted to show me an empty table. It was in one of the darker corners of the pub and I thanked her, picked up my mug and gratefully slid away.

As I sat in that corner playing with the beer I thought of the picture pasted in my wallet. It was of the cover girl. I felt the need to look at her. I took it out and touched it. Her eyes were still bright, her hair lustrous and the red lips moist but though I was in Bayswater she was still as far away as ever she had been in Konongo. MELANIE "Who was that then?" It was a woman and as she spoke she drew the other chair and sat down. "It definitely ain't your missus and that's for sure". I did not think that she had actually seen the picture so I asked her how she could be sure.

"For starters you ain't got no ring on yer finger and for another you're only a baby... anyway, I can always tell married men. They come on strong like and they bloody well turn me right off". I didn't know what to do next. I asked her whether she would like a drink.

"I thought you'd never ask... gin and tonic if you please". When I brought the drink she asked me for a cigarette. I didn't smoke and I had none. I had to go and buy her a packet. I lit one for her. She took a deep draught and without exhaling spoke. "Where you from then?" I told her.

"That's Africa innit? . . . I had a couple from there the other day… strong buggers they were! Nothing fancy though" One was called Melanie and Fiona the bar girl was her friend "sort of".

Melanie downed four rounds of gin and tonic and yet was more sober than me. I watched her. She was certainly not my cover girl and she could have been a little tidier but she was white and youngish and she had the same sort of clear blue and innocent looking eyes. I remembered that Johnnie had said that with white women you could always tell by their eyes. They could never hide anything behind them. I looked at my watch. Time was short and it was almost closing time. I decided then and there that Melanie would have to do.

When time was called she took my hand, waved to Fiona and rushed me out. It was while we were walking down the litter strewn back streets that Melanie told me it would be fifteen pounds in cash and in advance" and if you want anything fancy then that'll be five quid extra".

I asked her about the drinks and the cigarettes. "That don't count . . . that was to get me going". I seemed to hesitate. My resources were limited. "Come off it," she shouted . . . its bloody cheap for the price!" The whole street must have heard her. She seemed about to lose her temper, if she had not already done so. I quickly paid her. She carefully counted the money before it disappeared somewhere underneath her clothes. It was then that she told me that "that fucking tit Fiona" had to be paid her share". and it's me that's doing all the heavy work". FREE The day after I rose early, showered, dressed and went out. As I walked on the pavements rustling with the dead leaves shed by the trees I felt as if unburdened. The sun was shining and I must have been looking cheerful for an old woman spoke to me. "Nice day isn't it?" "Yes... yes, very," I replied though taken by surprise.

I was not sure whether in fact we were talking about the same thing but as I looked up at the open blue skies and breathed in the freshness of the autumn air. I knew that in some way that night with Melanie, the creaking bed, the run-down hotel, the stained carpet, the sickly mess. . . They also had something to do with it. I took out my wallet. I looked at the cover girl and removed her. I tore the picture and threw the pieces to the wind.

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