In his 2013 travel log, Vourlias wrote: “In free-wheeling Douala, young hedonists danced until the wee hours to the latest bikutsi club tracks.” Thirty years earlier, Douala had no less music and was no less hedonistic or free-wheeling.
After a day of high-speed logisticizing, our consulate group gathered at a portside bar to debrief. It was there that I came as close as I ever have to getting hit by a flying beer bottle. A certain lady of questionable character... okay, the place was full of hookers. A hooker expressed to me her interest in remuneration in trade for the pleasure of her company. I declined in my elementary French.
I may have said, “Mademoiselle, you are kind to offer, but I must respectfully decline your generosity.” On the other hand, I may have said “Take a hike, hog-jowls.” I’m not sure how it came out. My French is not good. Regardless, I am grateful for keen peripheral vision and the quick reflexes of my youth. That beer bottle was loud when it hit the wall next to my head.
A couple sailors from the Portland had joined our table, trading stories and lies and all of us buying each other drinks. One of our new-found friends (his name now lost to history) had met a particularly winsome young hooker and somehow convinced me to lend him the key to my room in Le Meridien Douala. A Starwood Hotel, but I don’t think I was accruing any reward points on this particular visit.
Against my better judgment... ahh, who am I kidding... in the ABSENCE of any judgment, I lent him my room key, because, you know, we’d been friends for all of an hour. I gave clear instructions to use the bed closest to the window, because I would be sleeping in the bed closest to the door. I don’t think he was paying attention. No more than half an hour, I said. I’m ready to hit the rack myself.
Half an hour came and went. Forty-five minutes. An hour. Fuck it. Ken, you ready to go? I’m gonna head back and kick that squid out of my room and get some shut-eye.
As we came down the hall, we could hear yelling. An angry female voice. My French was good enough to recognize the cuss words. A male voice. Defensive but indignant. We could hear something breaking. Maybe a lamp. We continued down the hall. Oh shit, that’s coming from MY room.
Ken on my flank, I pounded on the door. Lover boy opened up and I could see my room looking like the Rolling Stones had pre-gamed in there.
“What the fuck, dude?”
“Look. Listen,” sailor man said. “I was trying to get creative. I figured she didn’t understand English so I tried to show her. She kinda freaked out.” I queried him on the meaning of "get creative." He explained.
“Oh man,” I said. “These African chicks, they don’t DO that!”
By this time, somebody had called the gendarmes. A half-dozen Cameroonian cops were coming down the hallway. Ken said, “I’ll take care of it.” The girl was pulling on her clothes and glaring at all of us while Ken approached the cops in their olive-drab utilities.
Ken waved with two hands. “Eh, hey!” he called out, all friendly-like and with a big smile on his face. “Parlez vous anglais? Who’s in charge, huh? Who’s the chef? You? You?” he said, examining rank insignia and pointing to the likely candidates. One of the black gendarmes raised his hand. “Ahhhh, CHEF!” Ken greeted him like a long-lost brother, even threw an arm around his shoulder. Ken was an imposing figure and had maybe 5 inches and 60 pounds on the guy.
“Let’s me and you parlay for a minute,” he said. Ken steered the chief away from the other five cops and I could see him making an explanation for our situation. Gesturing toward my room, laughing, keeping it light, making a goofy “jack-off” motion with his right hand, keeping his left draped over the gendarme’s shoulder. Just two buddies.
Now he’s got the gendarme looking over toward the room and the guy’s got a smile on his face. The outlook is improving. I see Ken go into his pocket and pull out a roll of CFA francs. He peels off 10 or 15 bills and presses them into the chief’s hand. Then he sweeps his finger toward the other cops, says something, counts out another dozen or so bills, and hands those over to the chief. “D’accord? C’est bien?” Ken said.
The gendarme smiles, pockets the bills, and waves his men back down the hall toward the elevators.
Ken ambled back toward the three of us and lit up a Kool. To the hooker, he said, “Allez vous maintenant. Vite!” To the squid, he said, “Get the fuck outa here, asshole. Back to your boat.” To me, he said, “You owe me. Fuckin’ jarheads...”
(To be concluded...)
(To be concluded...)