Our young neighbor, Topi, has become a friend. Raised in London, she lived her childhood years in Lagos, Nigeria. Fela Kuti, I whispered. Oh, yes, she said, and we shared a laugh over the wild, Aids-ridden saxophonist and band leader known for producing some of the wildest and most exuberant shows on the planet. In order to protect the youngest girls, the women near Fela’s compound constructed a fort that successfully drove off the men who lusted after them, no small victory.
You gaze at the photo of Topi, her slender profile, regal bearing, and her proper British accent, and it could seem that you have her figured out. But when I pushed her a bit, she gazed off into infinity and let loose a laugh that she quickly swallowed, because she knew that I would never understand it. I could imagine her then, gyrating to Fela’s pounding beat, sweat pouring from her glistening skin, and descending into the heart of some primeval African darkness that slides directly over the top of my old, balding head.