By Muyiwa Adetiba
I was just about two years on the Island, blissfully ignorant of the klieg lights and the throbbing night life which the Island represented and which was all around me when an old friend visited. It was a Friday night at about 10.30 pm. My wife and I—the only occupants in the apartment—were downstairs watching TV. And fiddling with our phones. It was a sedentary, homely setting.
We were as spiritually removed from the ‘madding crowd’ despite its being physically close to home, as possible. My friend, who had lived on the Island for quite a while, was meeting some people at an upscale night club close to my place. He remembered the way we were and felt it would be fun to ‘drag’ me out if I was home. He was surprised at my ignorance of the existence of the club which was actually a walking distance and even more surprised at my reluctance to ‘explore.’ We shared a bottle of good wine and peppered chicken while listening to old school music. My state of relaxed and contented being on the night caught him by surprise and influenced his decision to call it a night. By this time it was after one anyway. Our conversation convinced him that the old indeed has passed away and could only be resuscitated on rare occasions not on a whim as used to be.
To be sure my career revolved around the night life. I had an interview column in the 70s which necessitated my attending business cocktails and dinners. A reporter they say, is as good as his contacts. Later, I was saddled with a society page. This added parties and night clubbing to my beat. To make matters worse, the Directors of Punch were in their early 40s at the time. There was no month that at least one of them, Aboderin, Amuka, Akinwale and Foresythe, would not have a private party to which some of us ‘who had learnt to wash our hands’ were invited. It was a symbiotic relationship. We facilitated things and did small chores for them while filling our pages with news and social titbits and getting introduced to high society personalities. It is fair to say I found myself in the social bubble at an early age. Many of the business gurus that made headlines then were known to me. I even knew the softer side to some of them. An example was a time I almost messed things up at a private party which the Chairman of NITECO, Mr Awomolo had. A serving military governor whose mistress I knew very well was there. I greeted him and asked after the lady. There was an awkward pause. Then he turned aside and said, ‘Muyiwa meet Mrs … my wife.’ I later found out that the wife knew about the mistress anyway if that was any consolation to my ‘faux pas.’ Many of the top entertainers of the time—actors, musicians, comedians—were also known personally as were my colleagues on radio and television. My knowledge of the entertainment and social scene at the time probably helped in influencing my setting up ‘Prime People’ as a society magazine.
As any night crawler will tell you, there is little fear of the night. He will in fact, tell you that it is the safest time of the day barring ‘accidental discharges’ not so much from robbers but from the police. And that night crawling merely encourages more night crawling. There was no Third Mainland bridge in our time and yet no place was farther than a 30-minute drive away. Memories are made up of little things. One memory that stays with me was on the night Uncle Steve Rhodes and John Chukwu caught up with me at a function and forced me to pub crawl with them. I left them by pretending to ease myself at the third night club after being piled continuously with cognac. But it was normal for them. Par for the weekend course.
A couple of weeks ago, Ken Olumhense, the man we call ‘the guvnor’ called. It was a call that reminded me again, of the way we were. Ken’s ‘Nightshift’ was a favourite haunt for me in the past. A place I visited at least once, often twice in a week. A place where my production nights often ended. Nightshift has now become an events centre. But Ken has been sponsored by a leading brewery to turn a part of the building into a lounge. His call was to intimate me of the fact and put me on notice for the launch. I will always have Ken’s time and he knows it. But it is unlikely that I will be a regular user of the lounge. Time has moved me along.
Last Sunday, I was again reminded of the way we were at the gathering of a group of old friends called ‘Faithful Friends.’ It was its annual Easter Party, never mind that it is long past Easter. This was a group that was formed to help a friend—the late Oba Funso Adeolu, a foremost media personality and actor—at his coronation. The name later metamorphosed from ‘Friends of Funso’ to its present name. Drawn from the media, judiciary, military, arts and even academia, many of its members represented the social force of the 80s. They were among the people that made headlines and social events tick. They are now obviously not the same force they once were. Age and time had taken care of that. The live band was playing old highlife music that must have reminded them of the way they were. But as the compere joked, the last time some of them danced was the previous year’s Easter Party. Then a member whom I had known for years signalled to me that he needed my help to get up. I helped him up. ‘I can’t see well,’ he said meaning he needed my help further. He leaned heavily on my hand as he shuffled towards the exit. This man in his days was a boisterous, articulate and an engaging conversationalist with friends in high places. I have fond memories of him. In fact, my first squash racquet was a gift from him over 40 years ago. The descent of the stairs was slow and tortuous. It was hard to believe this was a man who won many laurels as a squash champion. At the foot of the stairs, he was gracious and grateful as he introduced me to the man who took over the baton of seeing him to the car. I turned to embrace him. What I felt was a mere frame where flesh should have padded. My eyes became wet and I sighed. I couldn’t help it.