What good things come out of the visa office? The smell of immigrant lust lingers above the warm plastic chairs; the sweaty shuffle between tiny meaningless bureaucratic indignities. The perfect place to find a date! Of course not, but I was eighteen and virulently Christian and marvellously naïve.
Jojo was not a particularly attractive man, dressed in a large red basketball t-shirt and baggy jeans. “Old, thick-lips,” Iago said of Othello. His name was Jojo. He had bling, and sunglasses he wore inside the waiting room. There were only two other people that morning – a nervous young man with his documents in a scratched plastic sleeve fidgeting distractedly so the security guard had to tell him everything twice, and an older woman with a simple weave who had achieved the unstated authority of African womanhood.
I read in public places. I glance up with small encouraging smiles every few pages to show I am not aloof. Jojo started a conversation with the older woman.
“Is this your first French visa?” It is consulate standard small talk.
“No, but this is my first time applying in Ghana. The process is so slow here.”
“Whereya from?” Jojo had an American gangster drawl.
“Cameroon.” She was polite, but not engaging.
“And you?” Jojo directed at the nervous man who had been skittishly eavesdropping.
“Konongo.” It looked like his first visa.
Since everyone else had spoken, Jojo turned his drawl to me.
I grew up in various quiet corners of Southern Africa in ways that were both sheltered and expansive, but I am firmly a Ghanaian citizen. Halfway into my second year of college in America, I was in Ghana to strike at independence and get over sixteen months of anger I had built up at Americans who questioned my English and tried to show me how to use the microwave. I also didn’t have a boyfriend I met during orientation week, something I had fully expected going in because my biological clock was ticking and my experience was limited in matters of the heart. The lack of coy romance and the microwaves were my biggest disappointments when I took a term off to do an internship with a microfinance organisation in Accra.
Ghana was lonely. I had no friends; I knew no family. Independence in a place strange with its detached familiarity – my passport country I had never lived in – was tough. So I slipped my bookmark between pages and entertained Jojo’s conversation.
He worked at Disneyland Paris. “Oh, a lil bit of security and stuff like that. U been to Disneyland?” He had a red BMW. “I sent my brother money from Paris. He bought it in New York. The armed robbery is tough in Ghana, but I keep it safe.” He was in Ghana for a few weeks. Did I want to meet up? “Maybe get a lil tipsy?” We exchanged numbers. The Cameroonian woman looked on with distaste. Jojo licked his lips with self-congratulation. I felt pleased with myself for picking up a man.
I was staying at an uncle’s house, in his bookish daughter’s room. He travelled frequently, so there was often no one in the cavernous home. The African Cup of Nations football tournament was taking place in Ghana at that time. I got home from my internship at about six-thirty each evening. If it was a match day, I watched the game until nine o’clock, then read until I fell asleep, latest ten-thirty. Jojo called during half time of an inconsequential game.
“Aight, so you wanna get a lil tipsy?” As a rule, I hate relaxed pronunciation. But I was going on a date. The pleasant orotundity of a fully formed want and to could wait.
We agreed on the following Tuesday.
I wore my favourite Long and Lean jeans from the Gap, giving ample bottoms and stocky thighs the promise of elongated denim elegance, fitted at the hips with a slight bootcut flare. I felt like a mermaid.
We agreed to meet at the filling station of Atomic junction. This was the internship where I leanrt how to take Ghanaian public transport. From the back of a shaky trotro I called, “Mate, Atomic first. Bus stop!” The trotro let me down. I waited awkwardly next to a petrol pump and texted Jojo. He showed up shortly in his red BMW, as promised but never requested. He got out of the car to hug me hello. He came into the hug opportunistically, pelvis first. I remembered the Cameroonian woman’s distaste because I felt some of it then.
The movie place we went to was actually a dark house and we entered through the kitchen door to a bar where Jojo ordered two Smirnoff Ices. The woman behind the counter gave him a key and a DVD. We went to a room with a bed and a large flat screen TV from the time they were still hi-tech. In highschool, my friends and I had watched Paris Hilton’s sex tape and squeamishly clicked through scenes of the famous big budget porn movie that one of our friends had accidentally left on a USB stick.
On the high-tech flat screen, there were suddenly people cavorting. I sipped my Smirnoff and dangled my feet awkwardly off the edge of the bed.
“Whatyu think of the movie?”
“Uh. It is fine, I guess. It looks interesting.” My mother taught me to be relentlessly polite, without envisioning this outcome.
Jojo said he was giving me a massage. His hands were clumsy. I heard his laboured breath leaning closer and closer. He was not following the script. Judy Blume wrote the script. A sixteen year-old boy in the American suburbs pulled up in his car outside a girl’s house. Her parents met him in the kitchen and made small talk over an offer of cookies. The girl is running late because she is changing the top she bought during a gossipy session at the mall with her best friend. She comes down the stairs and rolls her eyes and says, “Mo-o-om”, while she grabs the boy’s hand and they go to his car, where he will drive them to a movie and they will share a milkshake.
Then he pounced. Jojo was a pouncer. At this point I laughed, which was not very polite, but this was ridiculous. I pulled away.
“What are you doing?”
“Don’t you wanna get a lil tipsy? How will people know you are my gurl if we haven’t done that?”
I thought, what sort of doofus did I bring on my first date?
I said, “I am not going to have sex with you.” Other times I would say that teasingly, resignedly, hesitantly. Here, for the first time, it was only a matter of fact.
Jojo understood that but was mightily upset. Apparently I added insult to injury by suggesting that I wouldn’t finish the drink. “I paid for it. At least finish your drink and we’ll go home.” He was petulant. Only later did I realise how dangerous it all could have been, behind the locked door and only the somnolent woman tending the bar. But my sense of the ridiculous is sharper than my reaction to danger. In my head, I cracked up as Jojo adjusted the superfluous belt on his sagging jeans and I tipped back the end of my Smirnoff.
On the ride, he complained about how this was a dangerous part of town for his convertible. “Do you know how many thieves live around here?” He said if I had known I was not going to do that then why did I come? I wanted to point out that we had the very same premise – if I had known. Where was my milkshake?
He stopped at Atomic. He didn’t bother to offer to drive me home. He leaned across the passenger seat to open the door, practically tipping me out of the side of the convertible. I heard him still grumbling about the price of wasted petrol as it revved away.
I was already a little less naïve after wiping the trail of his lips off my face with the back of my hand. With naiveté went my Christianity. Little did I know that Jojo would set a precedent. My visions of gently undulating romance turn to sexual encounters of the ridiculous kind.