It’s said – even if in hushed tone – that you haven’t really experienced Lagos night life if you haven’t experienced its decadent but, admittedly, burgeoning culture – strip clubs. Well, last week saw me plodding along Joel Ogunnaike Street, Ikeja, towards The Cave, perhaps the best known among the lot, and wondering what my poor wife would say if she got a hint of where I was headed that night. LANRE ODUKOYA recounts an interesting encounter with a stripper.
We had met on a Friday, a typically busy day at clubs, and there were dozens of men in the bar. She’s no green horn, you could tell from the manner she would seamlessly recognise every face even in the blinding disco lights that hovered. We schemed to exchange contacts, absence of a will is absence of a way. And our next meeting was on a Monday, for them (strippers), a work-free day over bottles of Orijin and Star lager beer. Nana doesn’t do spirits, her bravado stops at smoking marijuana. Her story was fairly straightforward (it seemed well-rehearsed though) and read like a book of slim volume. She’s 21 from a Malian father while her mom hails from Benue State. Nana has been stripping at The Cave for a year and two months and she believes there can’t be a better bar for the trade she plies. “I was introduced to The Cave by one of my friends who is no longer here.”
I asked why her friend no longer worked there. “This place is good, but there’s so much discipline. You must adhere to the rules or you leave. My friend was becoming too headstrong. I even placated her many times, I reminded her where we were coming from but she wouldn‘t listen.” Her friend brought her to The Cave from De Javu (a club on Victoria Island, Lagos) where she stripped for several months but “the reason she brought me here was because the place was called ‘Island’ for fun; the guys coming there don’t spend as much except on a few lucky days. And most of those days, the management shortchanged us.”
So, they don’t do the same here? “You know this is GRA, some big boys stay around here and others who even come to pick roadside babes have heard about this place, so they come to explore and once they do, they never want to go elsewhere again.” But what’s at The Cave they won’t find anywhere else? “I beg, no dey wind me (don’t patronise me, please). If other places better, wetin you sef dey find here?,” she queried, switching from well spoken English to pidgin. “Honestly, who wants to leave the sight of over twenty beautiful strippers just on the stage while over ten of us are busy giving you lap dance? You go fear na. We’re clean babes, most of us go school even if we no finish.”
I was curious to know how they were paid. “You know we all have our rooms inside this complex, so that takes away accommodation problem. When you work hard (strip hard) and the men appreciate you with money after the N5, 000 gate takings o, there are staff who pick the money on your behalf and they count how much you are able to make, so it’s from that they give you a percentage I don’t want to tell you after the show. And if you like any of us and want a quickie, you would pay N20, 000. You’ll pay to the manager and he’d give us our share. But if you want to take any of us out, you will arrange with the management and it’s between N40, 000 to N60, 000 a day.” I told her she’s a beautiful and smart lady, and asked if she has any romantic feelings. “Na long thing be that and na talk for another day.”
I prodded her, reminding her that my intentions may be genuine. That seemed to relax her. “Ok, do you know I have a four-year-old daughter? When I was 17, a guy I was dating got me pregnant and my mother insisted that I should marry him. I wanted to abort but my mother said ‘no way’. Ok, I was living with the guy with my pregnancy, he behaved well for a little time, but later he started beating and starving me. I knew I was going to just have the baby and leave him. And that was what happened?” Where were you living then? “My family raised me in Sura area. Do you know Isale Eko very well?” I nodded in affirmation. “That’s where my family is.” So if the man comes here and sees you, how will you feel? “He cannot see me.” What if he does? “I’m a chameleon, even if he comes here when I’m working, he can never recognise me. You should know na.” “I know most you if not all of you don’t answer your real names; what’s your real name? I must first start relating with you as my best friend from now, so I must at least know my friend.” She took a long hard look at me as if sizing me up.
“I have never spoken to a stranger about myself the way I have spoken to you. What else do you want? Should the management know I’m speaking to you like this, I will be fired.” But I’m looking at our lives beyond this place, we can be better people, friends and if you promise to change, maybe I will give you more than you ever expect from a stranger. “I will never tell you my real name until I’m sure I can trust you.” On the average, how much do you make in a week? “It depends, maybe N30, 000, N20,000, it’s not really stable.”
But what do you do with that money? How much savings do you have? “We spend most of what we earn to look good and take care of ourselves. I can’t really tell you that this is how much savings I have.” If you find someone who really wants to date you, will you quit stripping? “I don’t know o, but I think I will change if I can trust the person.” I asked about her educational background and she didn’t seem to like that. “Do I sound like an illiterate?” “No, I didn’t mean to insult you. I was just wondering what we can get with your certificate,” I replied. “I was 17 when I got pregnant and I was in SS3. I was ashamed and couldn’t finish.” At this point, I could glimpse she felt a sense of disappointment about her past and really wanted to discontinue the chat. Then we drifted away to talk showbiz, her favourite games and in no time, she got her groove back. “But what kind of job would you like to do?” “I like hair styling. All of us cannot be in banks.” Which area of Lagos would you like to open your salon? “I like Egbeda area, the place is busy and as busy as it is, they hardly report criminal cases there.”
At The Cave, a big bottle of Orijin sells for N600, likewise Star lager beer and in almost two hours, the bill swelled to N5, 400. Now, Nana, the paranoid stripper is letting loose and building up streaks of trust gradually. She would later do her own probing. “I think I like you, even when we were working, I noticed you just paid and said ‘it’s okay’ when I wanted to give you a dance. Are you married?” I’m happy you asked, but this is the most important area of my life that I would love to share with you the next time we see. “No, I want to know now”, she insisted, a hint of disappointment in her eyes. I would be coming back to see her, I promised. “It’s a long story and you know I have to drive back home, the traffic is building up already.” She hopped out of her seat in a huff and as I made to call her name, she looked back again, pensive, returned to the table but refused to sit. She muttered, “are you for real?” I told her, I was. I hit the road not long afterwards, wondering how often she hears such patronising comments. And, of course, hoping that my wife wouldn’t read this!