Sins of the father

Outside, the wind howled and the rain came down in torrents. Save for flashes of lightning and the attendant thunder which lent credence to this storm of epic proportions, the night was pitch black as soot.

Inside the room, a different kind of storm was brewing. A spark that turned into a flame the moment flesh met flesh. The mind kept a compendium of moving pictures within its labyrinth which served as fodder for this soon-to-be roaring conflagration. Against its will, the serpentine form began its ascent as fleshy digits encircled it in a rhythmic dance of fire and ice.

My back arched against the bed as a soft moan escaped my lips. A tremor of pleasure coursed through my body, making its escape through my toes. I was riding the crest of a rushing wave which in a matter of seconds would crash against the sands.

A vicious stab of pain, the byproduct of excessive friction, heralded the indescribable sensation that engulfed my whole being as the point-of-no-return had been crossed but I was past caring. Nothing a dose of medication and generous lubrication wouldn’t solve in the days to come.

Seconds later, I made my way to the bathroom to dispose of the result of my clandestine activity. As I turned on the spigot to empty the contents into the wash bowl, a flash of lightning streaked through the house. I glanced at the mirror and shuddered at the image that stared back at me; hollow eyes that seemed to house a life time of pain, hate and scorn.

I tried to silently ease myself back into bed, careful not to rouse the figure sleeping on the other side. The instant my head hit the pillow, the bulk shifted a hundred and eighty degrees and even in the darkness, I knew she had been silently crying.

‘Dare, so this is what you have reduced our marriage to? You cannot rein in your proclivity for self-pleasure and commit to the marriage vows you took! I have observed you for some time and it’s evident that I’m just some piece of enamel ware on the mantelpiece for you’.

Her cries were louder by this time and I was thankful for the claps of thunder which masked them. I didn’t want her sounds to wake our son in his room.

‘Am I not beautiful enough for you? I have indulged you in every sickening behavior you have come up with since we met but no, you are never content. This path you thread has nothing but self-destruction for you!’

Josephine rage was evident in the way she slammed the door as she exited the room. I knew she would be heading to the guest room and made no efforts to go after her even though it was the right thing to do. Yet I thought, how long before we had another episode like this one, and were back to where we started from?

 

*****

 

The call from the school came around midday. In fact I had missed the call several times. I could detect a tone I could not really place in the voice of the Proprietress, Mrs. Shotunde.

‘It is important we see you immediately. This has to do with Benjamin’. She apparently was not in the mood for courtesies.

‘Is he hurt? Did something happen?’ I was caught up in a series of issues for the day and wondered why the school had not bothered to talk to Josephine.

‘Ben is fine. By the way, your wife is on her way to the school. We would appreciate it if you could join us so we can adequately address this matter.’

Thirty minutes later we were seated in the school office and I knew the issue could not be good when we were joined by an angry-looking couple.

‘Good afternoon.’ I offered by way of making some form of conversation.

‘Nothing is good about this afternoon!’ The other woman shot back. Her eyes were red from crying and it was apparent she had been at it for some time.

Mrs. Shotunde proceeded to tell us why we had been summoned.

 

*****

 

The drive back home was unusually long. Josephine and I had cancelled our engagements for the day. We felt the need to be away from prying eyes to allow the information we had just received to settle in.

I stopped at a red light and loosened my tie. The damned thing was choking the life out of me.

‘Mama…I want tea….Mama…I want tea…’

It was Benjamin, our four year old son, and he had developed quite an addiction for consuming tea. He consumed it as many times as it was offered and even preferred it to water.

‘Shut up your mouth! You tiny pervert!’ I eyed him through the rear mirror and he immediately launched into one of his tantrums; hitting his head against the glass. Josephine sprung to his defence.

‘Please Dare, don’t take out your frustration on my son. He is just a child and will outgrow this behavior. Besides you can always Google and read about it you know. Convince yourself that this is nothing to worry about’

‘Nothing to worry about? I turned up my nose at her. ‘Nothing to worry about you say? This is the fourth time its happening this term. You heard Mrs. Shotunde say that the other parents considered our son a risk to their children. God! How did we end up with him?’

Josephine raged at me. ‘Dare leave my son alone. You would be one to throw stones.’ She eyed me maliciously before muttering under her breath, ‘Pot calling the kettle black’.

I smashed my foot on the brake pedal and pulled to the side curb. I had murder in my eyes as I fumed at her.

‘What did you just say?’

The rest of the journey was made in silence.

 

*****

 

We were advised to withdraw Benjamin and get him some medical help. He had developed a penchant for exposing himself to his class mates at the slightest provocation; having been caught on four occasions touching or exposing those of his female classmates. The latest episode had involved him dragging a two-year-old to a part of the school play area, and performing an oral act on her.

Suddenly I was young again. It all came rushing back to me. I also had derived pleasure in exploring my nether regions and played regular ‘mommy and daddy’ games with Sola; a six-year old girl whose parents were our neighbours, whenever our folks were not around.

The ‘games’ didn’t seem so innocent anymore when I grabbed Mojisola, my younger sister in a bid to play ‘mommy and daddy’ after Sola and her parents had moved away from our neighbourhood. The scars from the hiding I received from my parents that day would stay with me for a lifetime.

The latent seeds of deviant sexual behaviour blossomed in secondary school, and by the time I graduated from the University, I was addicted to the concept of self-pleasure with a repertoire of adult content as visual aids. Marrying Josephine didn’t help my plight either. Ours was a union to fulfil some biblical obligation as well as convince my parents that I was not averse to women.

 

*****

 

Josephine was still not speaking to me by the time we got home. The happenings of the day had left me angry and flustered and I could only think of one way to reduce my ‘stress’. I plugged in my laptop computer on the living room rug and made a beeline for the guest toilet. I was pretty certain that the hand wash would be more than sufficient for what I had in mind

Seconds later, with trousers around my ankles, I was in familiar straits of pleasure when a stinging slap brought be back to reality. I stared into Josephine’s face and it was a mask of thunder.

‘Really Dare?! In front of the kid? And yet you question where his behavior stems from?’ She was bawling by now as she ran to the guest room.

It was not her retreating figure that got to me. It was the fact that in my quest for ephemeral pleasure, I had left the door open. Benjamin was naked in all his glory, having somehow managed to wriggle out of his pants, with that cheeky grin of mischief on his face; his hand vigorously working his penis. It was a case of what you do, I can surely do better.

 

*****

 

I hit him. Again and again.

I wanted to exorcise whatever demons had managed to escape from my loins and ingrain themselves into him during the process of procreation. It felt like every blow was meant to fend off the waves of emotion that threatened to breach the levees of my sanity.

Fear. Anger. Shame. Love. Helplessness.

My stomach was tied in knots and I shuddered to think what poetic justice or sick game it was that fate was playing with me. Why could I not be cursed alone? I had read that children would outgrow this phase with age but I clearly could not handle my paranoia.

Benjamin screamed at me repeatedly until I let him go, and made a dash into the living room where he proceeded to exercise his right to throwing tantrums by annihilating my laptop with his school boots. The equipment had almost all my life’s work with no back-up in place.

Minutes later, belt in hand and restrained to the ground by the neighbours, I watched as paramedics wheeled out the bleeding, unconscious body of my son, with his mother in tow, screaming blue murder at me.

Some weeks later, the divorce papers were delivered to the prison facility by my lawyer. I was in no hurry to sign them. Josephine had made known, in clear terms, during the murder trial that we were through and impressed it upon the judge that I was a menace to myself and society at large.

Given the facts of the matter, the judge didn’t hesitate to give his judgement. According to him, I would be hung by the neck till I was dead.

 

*****

 

The exchange between Santos and myself is swift and barely noticed by the other inmates. I palm the tube and slide it into my pocket while waiting for the wardens to finish their rounds. In a matter of minutes it will be time for prison activity and I relish in a million ways, the pleasure I can realise with a slab of Vaseline.

My date with the hangman is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Warden Sule acquiesced to my request for a few minutes of prison activity. His last act of kindness for a man about to die.

The world might be going to hell but I sure won’t depart it without an earth-shattering high.

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Death in the Pot…

‘Happy birthday Daddy!’ Jennifer squealed as she gave me a bear hug. I tossed her upwards and she erupted in peals of laughter. I had rushed in from my night shift to pick her up from Sunday school and as I ushered her into the car, she handed me a piece of paper.

‘Here’s your birthday present. No! Don’t open it yet. When we get home to mummy.’ Her face furrowed and she gave me her chastising look.

‘Daddy you missed Sunday school today. Why? Because you are always working. Night and Day!’

This was vintage Jenny. Asking the questions and providing answers at the same time.

‘Anyway’, she continued, fastening her seat belt, ‘Today‘s topic was interesting. Our teacher told us a bible story. I liked the part where he said. ‘O man of God, there is death in the pot!’’

She cocked her head to one side and made an inquisitive face for full effect.

‘Daddy, how can there be death in a pot?’

 

*****

 

Beads of perspiration had already formed on my forehead as I grasped the steering wheel and moved the car out of the parking lot thinking how best to answer my little girl and about events at another time and place.

I remembered my father clutching his chest on the hospital bed as he gasped his final breath. He had motioned for me to come closer in an attempt to mouth the words.

‘J..Jo..Joseph…Beware! Th..There is d.de..death…in the p..po..pot…’

‘Papa’, I had cried, ‘How can that be possible?’

The cold, lifeless eyes had no answers for me. Years later my uncle Thomas in a show of supremacy confessed to lacing his drink with a lethal potion.

 

*****

 

I loosened my tie as I adjusted the air conditioning vent. I caught my daughter’s eye in the mirror and she giggled.

‘Daddy, this your potbelly is growing bigger every day. Are you sure you can eat the potatoes mummy will cook for us in her big pot when we get home?’

My daughter had in a single paragraph uttered words containing ‘pot’ more times than I had been afraid to consider since Papa died. I had since created enough synonyms for the word to last me a lifetime. Surely this was a sign, even for one who didn’t take matters of faith seriously.

 

*****

 

The van ahead braked suddenly and I swerved to avoid smashing into it, ploughing into a dangerous looking pothole and losing my front tyre in the process.

We alighted and I surveyed the damage while eyeing the crater suspiciously. My stomach voiced its displeasure at being delayed for its birthday feast. I figured Papa’s warning, the potbelly, potatoes, pot and pothole and whatever omen they portended could wait while I changed tyres.

‘Not to worry dear, let’s get some stones to steady the car’.

We had barely collected the stones when a container-laden trailer at top speed happened on the exact spot and in trying to maneuver itself tipped over, disgorging its contents to impact on the very spot we had been standing on.

Jennifer shrieked and clutched onto me in fright and I felt goosebumps in the sweltering heat. The car was a write-off and we were lucky to be alive. Had we delayed by seconds it would have been a different tale.

It could not have been more surprising that the truck had been conveying potables.

 

*****

 

Later that night as I tucked her into bed, she handed me the paper which had fallen from my pocket earlier. Apparently she had gone to great lengths to create an artistic impression depicting our family.

‘Happy birthday again Daddy. What do you think we should say to the death that lives in a pothole?’

I smiled as I flicked the light switch,

‘Not today dear. Not today’.

 

Dead men tell no tales

‘Next!’ I shouted without looking up from my workstation. It was only a matter of routine as whosoever’s turn it was would step up to be served.

‘Good morning Francis’. I could tell the voice even in my sleep.

Mrs. Adebanjo was amongst the group we referred to as jolly good fellows; quick to dish out crisp naira notes to any front desk teller whose lot it was to handle their transaction for that moment.

‘Good morning Ma. How was your night? I trust that you slept well?’

I beamed my brightest smile at her while thanking my luck as I really needed the cash she would offer afterwards. My hand was still outstretched to collect her withdrawal slip when I noticed the figure approach my side of the counter.

She had entered through the electronic doors and upon observing the queue of waiting customers, made a beeline for the customer service desk. Standing there for barely five seconds in which nobody noticed her, she finally stepped towards my cubicle as I handed Mrs. Adebanjo her cash. The nice old lady reciprocated in kind by stuffing some money into my hands. I offered my thanks and proceeded to call my next customer.

‘I’d like to make a withdrawal. It’s a matter of life and death.’ She spoke with an accent I found hard to place.

I looked at her closely. She was what you would call ‘your regular face in the crowd’; someone you almost immediately forgot you saw. She was over five feet tall and had ponytail hair sticking out from her baseball cap. Her eyes were hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses. The only striking feature was the skull and bones tattoo which she unsuccessfully tried to conceal with the turtleneck sweater she had on.

I faked a smile in spite of her rudeness and explained that there was a queue and I could not break protocol.

‘Young woman you have to join the queue!’

This time it was the heavily-bearded Mallam Sani who addressed her as he placed his stack of cash in front of me to be counted.

‘We are not all fools’, he continued, ‘We have been waiting for a while now and we all have things to do’.

There were several murmurs of agreement from the queue.

‘No mind them. Na so dem go dress like ashewo finish think say na to shake yansh na im matter’.

This comment came from a middle-aged woman who looked like she was experiencing a mid-life crisis and had an axe to grind with young ladies.

I collected the cheque she had and looked at it, eliciting grunts of disapproval. She wanted to make a third-party withdrawal.

‘Let me see if it’s something I can handle. Do you have an identity card or Bank Verification Number?’ I asked.

‘Hey mister! Don’t waste my time! It’s either you’ll be considerate or let me be!’ She spat the words at me.

Taken aback I examined the cheque again. It was made out in favour of Melissa James. The name sounded corny and despite myself, I smirked.

‘Madam you don’t have to be rude. I’m clearly trying to help you out here but obviously you seem to have some measure of insolence in your DNA’.

This seemed a cue for customers to unleash their pent up feelings of rage and frustration.

‘Francis or whatever they call you, Attend to us! Your colleagues are working and you are busy chasing woman’.

‘Even if your mother is dying, you have to join the queue and wait! Awon omo won onibaje yii.’

‘Only God knows if she stole the cheque sef! These girls of nowadays one can never tell.’ A young man in his thirties chimed in. He was busy chatting on his phone and chewing gum.

‘Melissa’ turned towards the queue and seemed to take in everything coolly. I returned the cheque and noticed, as she collected it with her left hand, another tattoo on her middle finger. It was minutely done and only at close quarters could one make out the words:

ALWAYS SHUT THE FUCK UP!

I envisioned dark clouds forming behind the glasses as she cleared her throat and asked.

‘Is your Head of Operations around? Branch Head?’

Presuming she wanted to lodge her complaint to higher authorities, I pointed her in the direction of the staircase.

 

* * * * * * *

 

She was back in the banking hall in an instant. She seemed to be observing proceedings. I felt uneasy and called the attention of Joseph, the head of security, to escort her out of the banking hall. She noticed my action and just as the electronic door was closing in on her, she lifted her sunglasses and gave me a wink.

I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I would see her again…and soon too.

 

* * * * * * *

 

The gunshots rang out just as I handed Mallam Sani his deposit slip copies. At the same instant, the electronic doors were blown inwards. The sheer force took out the two mobile policemen stationed to screen customers.

It was pure bedlam as pandemonium broke out. Front desk tellers took cover in their cubicles as customers, shrieking and screaming, made for the staircase and bulk note counting room.

The masked figures numbering about eight were armed to the teeth. Joseph was shot in the thigh as he attempted to sound the hidden security alarm.

‘Let’s have all the cash on the slab! Don’t make me come in there to get them or you’ll all be sorry’. The voice I took to be their commander ordered.

We complied amidst the sounds of gunshots coming from outside and upstairs as well. I placed all the cash in my cubicle on the slab, raising my head just in time to see my Head of Operations and Branch head being escorted towards the vault area with sub-machine guns trained on their backs.

In a corner of the banking hall, the customers were all huddled together amidst shouting and supplications.

‘Holy ghost fire…take control. Holy ghost fire…take control’. One voice kept muttering

‘Jesus…Jesus…Jesus…Jesus…’ Another shrill voice whimpered.

‘Bismillahi rahmani Raheem…’ It was Mallam Sani who had been thrown against the slab by the force of the explosion.

‘Shut up all of you!’ One of the bandits ordered before letting fly a volley of shots into the ceiling for good measure.

This achieved the desired effect.

 

* * * * * * *

 

As the robbers were moving out their loot, I observed from the damaged slab that one of them whom I had not noticed before came in from outside. This bandit was wearing a bulky windbreaker and had an AK-47 rifle which he exchanged with another for a pistol.

He approached the customers and selected four amongst them, random as it seemed. He then proceeded to do a most bizarre thing. Standing face to face with each customer, he made a gesture with his left finger in their faces before shooting them at point blank range; splattering their brains all over the white walls.

When the robber made his way towards Mallam Sani who was bleeding profusely, alarm bells went off in my head. I figured this could not be random. I barely had time to process this as Mallam Sani was shot in the back of the head. I crawled deeper into my cubicle, wishing I could somehow melt into the wall.

‘Viper! That’s enough!’ The leader growled angrily. ‘This is a robbery operation and not a massacre.’

‘Just one more Scorpion’. The voice said.

That voice! I had encountered it just once and it had registered in the labyrinths of my memory.

I felt hot urine snake down my legs.

 

* * * * * * *

 

Papa always said that death had a particular smell; a feral pheromone that you could not miss when you encountered it. It was akin to a stench that clung to you try as you might to wash it off.

As I stared into the barrel, it felt like looking down a black hole. My throat was parched and the tears ran down my eyes, blurring my vision.

‘Please…I was only trying to do my job’

Cold metal kissed my forehead; cradled in the left hands of a cold-blooded, psychotic killer whom I knew would never forgive. Her eyes revealed that much.

My eyes took in once again, those unmistakable words on the middle finger as the gun barked.

Announcement!

Dear Family,

I hope your Easter celebrations have been great so far? Based on popular demand, FATED – A collection of short stories, has been published online on OKADABOOKS.

The address is- https://www.okadabooks.com/book/about/fated/13750.

Kindly share, visit and download. It costs N200.

Thank you and God bless you all.

 

Ohaegbulam Fortune

Industrial Training

I heaved my frame unto the bus, glad that I was the first to board and only too happy to be rid of the cold which the air-conditioning unit in the terminal lobby was hell-bent on enforcing upon me. It had rained all through the night, was still raining now, and all entreaties for my dad to give me a ride to the bus park had been greeted with curt excuses. Who could blame him? The poor, old man had every reason to. I bet he could not wait to be rid of me. I had endured one harrowing month being called ‘…stupid, ungrateful…’ and other unprintable names my dad could conjure.

The warmth of the bus interior washed over me as I strode over to locate my seat, having pleaded with the lady at the counter to situate me where I could stare out a window and she had obliged. Probably because I was looking disheveled from the severe thrashing from the rain or my looks had somehow managed to retain its charm. People said I was a looker. I guess the magic must have worked this time. A flicker of a smile crossed my face.

I settled into my seat and adjusted the window blinds to blot out the view, half-wishing it could erase the scenes of the past month as well. The bus had started to fill with passengers and I could not wait for the pre-departure proceedings to be completed. My heart had left Abuja a long time ago. One hell of an Industrial training experience, I thought as, against my will, scenes of the past month began to playback in my mind.

 

**********

 

I was doing the dirty dishes along the corridor when I heard my father call my name.

‘Osinachi….Osinachi….’

‘I’m coming sir…I want to dry my hands’ I yelled out in response.

It was my first time in Abuja at the behest of Papa who felt the time had come to showcase his first son to his friends, colleagues and neighbours. Papa had relocated from Lagos about a year ago when he had landed a job offer he could not say no to. His visits, though regular at first, had become few and far between. I could understand mama’s prompting for me to accede when the request was made. Moreover, I had to undergo my second-year industrial training exercise which Papa had assured me that he had a place ready for me.

‘Osinachi nwam, please go and see the work that threatens to steal your father from us’.

Mama had complained. Papa kept sending regular allowances and mama had her foodstuff business to tend to. Still, there were matters of the heart that money could not address. My decision was made when I stumbled on mama’s unsent letters to him indicating her yearnings. I was shocked that she still had cravings at her age.

‘Yes papa…’ I said as I stepped into the parlour, wiping my hands on a piece of towel. Papa was seated watching television with his bowl of pounded yam and white soup set in front of him. Obiageli was just settling her behind into the chair beside him after extracting a bottle of orange juice from the refrigerator.

Two things had come to light as a result of my visit. I had met Obiageli; my father’s mistress, who had assumed the role of soul provider for papa in all ramifications and I had also turned official yam-pounder for papa. I pounded till my joints ached.

I tried as best as I could to sound casual to mama during one of our routine calls after I’d discovered the cause of papa’s irregular visits. I reassured her that Papa still loved her and had her interests at heart. I was just a naïve boy who wanted to live up to his billing as a first son. God forbid that I destroy my family with my own hands.

Papa had tried to sound casual about Obiageli.

‘She’s just my friend who helped me settle in…’ He had said, trying hard to sound convincing.

‘…and is still helping you settle down’. I’d wanted to conclude although I knew the comment would have earned me a slap for good measure. Papa was not one to be readily trifled with.

Obiageli was a tall, buxom woman who ran a restaurant in the heart of Abuja. I could see the attributes which had attracted Papa to her. He liked good food and appreciated his women big and round. She did good to stay out of my way as she saw I posed no threat to her and must have inferred I was just there to tickle my father’s fancy. She had three children of her own from a failed marriage.

My father’s voice cracked like a whip, bringing me back to the present.

“Osinachi, what is this?’

My blood froze as I looked at the object in his hand. Obiageli’s smirk was screaming the unspoken words ‘like father like son’ at me. I felt I had been sucker-punched in the gut

‘It’s mine papa….’ I blurted out, sweat pouring in rivulets down my face and palms.

‘I know it’s yours young man. Tell me what you are doing with it before Amadioha strikes your tongue’ He thundered.

I cursed myself for being careless as the sight of the pack of condoms nestled in my father’s palms unsettled me. I had gotten them based on Ulunma’s prompting and had it stored in a black polythene bag which was identical papa’s medication bag for his recurrent pains due to an accident years back.

‘I’m sorry sir…’ was all I could mutter.

 

**********

 

Ulunma….Hmmm….How do I start this one?

Her family stayed in the same house as my father’s and communication was instant and easy because they were of Ibo extraction. Ulunma was awaiting admission to the University and had taken to coming around my doorway in the evenings when I returned from my duty post. Thanks to Papa’s friend I had secured a placement with NAFDAC. Papa usually kept late nights at Obiageli’s place claiming the ambience helped soothe his nerves. Of course I knew better.

What started as an innocent affiliation stepped up a hundred notches when, on my way to the bathroom one afternoon, Ulunma accosted me.

‘Ossy…Ossy…Fine boy….How was work today?’

I dropped the bucket of water and explained that I had things to do and had obtained permission to stay at home. The compound was deserted around this time.

‘You are selfish o! You want to take your bath and you didn’t invite me’. I was shocked and unsettled as I could see her eyes hungrily traverse the length and breadth of my frame. Ulunma and I had always swapped stories, sharing some moments of filial hugs and I had known she was into me since I arrived.

‘My apologies.’ I said jokingly. ‘All right, you can come’ as I made my way to the bathroom. I had just dropped my soap case on the window sill and made to secure the door when a foot blocked the door. Ulunma stood in front of me. I pulled her in and locked the door hoping no one had seen her.

‘Are you crazy? What do you think you are doing?’ I shrieked

‘Aah aah…Why are you talking like this? You are talking like a small boy. Please let’s do what we have to do. There’s no time.’

She had removed her wrapper by this time, revealing bare, supple flesh which quickened my heartbeat and caused the blood in my brains to relocate to my loins. I took her there and then. A moment of madness as I look back regrettably.

I had bought the condom as a precaution that I would not be caught unawares again. It didn’t matter as Ulunma seemed to have forgotten me and channeled her interests elsewhere.

 

*********

 

The first signs that trouble was brewing was the presence of my father at home early that evening. I had stopped to get my test results from the doctor who confirmed I had contracted syphilis. I had noticed some sore-like symptoms and various self-help medications offered no reprieve. I recall the look of pure distaste the doctor had given me as he wrote out my prescription. I noticed a portrait of his family on the mantelpiece; two teenage boys and a girl. ‘Better him than my kids,’ He must have been thinking.

My father had charged at me. If looks could kill, I would have dropped dead the minute I stepped into the room. His face was a mask of anger and hate.

‘Osinachi, you had this all planned and carried it out. Now you must bear the consequences’.

Ulunma’s sister, Ada (A parrot of a sister if you’d ask me) was the one who let me know that she had missed her period. I figured Ulunma must have dropped my name, amongst her many boyfriends, as the culprit and her overzealous sister had done the honors of being village town-crier. I was pained because I had no one to believe my side of the story.

My pain was even magnified as I remembered my mum who had taken time to admonish me to be on my best behaviour before I departed for Abuja.

 

********

 

The rest of the period passed in a blur. My dad was exercising his rights to silence. An abortion procedure fraught with complications. A sexually transmitted disease I was battling to conquer. An Industrial training logbook I could not lay my hands on (I suspected Catherine, the kitchen assistant, who had flung her breasts at me in the office and I had calmly declined. She had threatened to deal with me for the refusal).

My mother was still recovering from the shock. I don’t know if it was my sin or my father’s. I had resorted to telling her to even the scores although this just served to fuel my father’s rage. Obiageli had resorted to calling me names, sniggering behind my back and advising her daughters whenever they came around to be wary of men who looked and talked like me.

 

********

 

My reverie was broken as a passenger took the seat next to me. Outside, the rain had stopped and a sliver of sunlight had broken through the clouds. It reminded me of Hillary Duff’s song ‘Come clean’. I smiled faintly. If only Hollywood became ‘Real-life wood’

I only hoped that time would heal my wounds, physical and emotional. Papa had threatened to stop my schooling commenting sarcastically that I could earn a living impregnating women. I had managed to eke out my transport fare back to Nsukka, preferring to lick my wounds in school rather than face mama in Lagos. I prayed fervently that Papa would have a rethink about the school fees issue. I desperately needed something positive to happen to me…and real soon too.

I felt a tap on my arm and I turned to face my companion.

‘Hi, my name is Emily and I’ve been watching you since you stepped into the terminal. You seem a cute fellow and I wouldn’t mind getting acquainted with you…’ She rambled on. I managed a smile, turned towards the window and exhaled.

One man’s meat… If only she knew.

 

***********

 

The bus sped through the city gate leaving a trail of broken dreams and an Industrial training experience for which I had all manner of testimonials to show for it.

When love happens…again

My legs seemed to have developed a mind of their own. They had been shaking uncontrollably for the last five minutes. I am thankful that the table cloth is available to hide this spectacle. The wait is killing and my excitement seems to have gotten the better of me as I cock my ears at every sound around me in a bid to know when my ‘mystery date’ would arrive. I turn my face to address Margaret who is seated beside me, her perfume giving me companionship even in her silence.

‘When will he be here? I don’t want to get stood up! Lord knows you were the one who suggested this. You know I don’t fancy dating anymore not to mention blind dates, no pun intended’. I give her my cutest smile yet.

My throat feels parched. I reach for the glass of water and miscalculate the distance. Apparently the glass tips over and set off a chain reaction. Margaret shrieks and in a bid to escape the spill, bumps into an oncoming waiter bearing glasses of wine. Yours truly who had given up drinking a long time ago suddenly finds herself bathed in it. This particular brand threatens to unearth memories I have tried so hard to keep buried.

‘Sorry Ma’am…so sorry…’ The waiter is trembling all over.

I wipe my glasses and put them back on. It was not getting drenched that hurt so much as it was the kind of wine that clung to my body. It seemed like fate had not finished with me yet.

‘I have to go to…’ the words dried in my mouth as I addressed Margaret. I could not bring myself to say them. Were those not the same words I had uttered months ago that had altered my life forever?

‘Do you need help?’ Her voice is hoarse.

‘No!’ I said stiffly. This was supposed to be a merry occasion and not some pity-party.

I addressed her again as I pushed my chair back and stood up. ‘Whoever we are expecting had better be here when I come out or the only place I am going to be is in my bed’.

My heartbeat faster than normal. I cannot shake off this strong feeling of déjà vu. Same occasion. Same place. Same wine. Same words. I feel afraid at what more this night has in store for me. I guess this was what one got for breaking a vow.

I had sworn never to celebrate another Valentine’s day after that black night.

 

********************

 

My exasperation had grown with each moment I glanced at my wristwatch. I had given up trying to reach Wale as his phone was no longer reachable. I stared at the unopened bottles of Madeira wine and candle-lit dinner and wondered why my husband would choose tonight of all nights to disappoint me. We had put so much into planning our wedding anniversary for this year and settled for Valentine’s day as the perfect date.

As if to ease my fears,  the life growing within me heaved. I sighed and patted my stomach.

‘Sshhh…well now my love…rest easy. Daddy and I love you very much and we cannot wait to see your cute face.’

I looked around the hotel terrace and took in the ambience. Wale and I had come here often to relax and enjoy the serenity its environment provided us. I suddenly felt the urge to relieve myself. I beckoned to one of the waiters whom I was familiar with.

‘Excuse me please, I have to go to the restroom. Could you help keep an eye on my items? Also let Mr. Akinwumi know my whereabouts when he comes in’.

 

********************

 

The convenience had that inviting call that made you want to lose yourself in its embrace. Tonight it was empty save for the cleaning lady, Bisola, who was doing her evening rounds. I entered into one of the cubicles and proceeded to do my business.

Lost in thought at how much weight I had gained and the energy I had to exert to pee a little, it suddenly occurred to me that I had company. My hairs stood on end when I realized that some of the voices belonged to men. Perhaps they had lost their way and were just looking to carry out their business too.

‘You think say you smart abi?’ One of them said with a drawl apparently referring to a third party who had not said anything since they came in.

‘No mind am Razor!’ Another equally drunken voice intoned. ‘She think say she smart. She just sabi to collect money dey post us. Na today she go vomit wetin she don dey chop since’.

The slap echoed off the walls and made me jump in fright. The person being harassed obviously was also in a defiant mood.

‘See…if you touch me again. I swear I will shout at the top of my voi…’

I eased open the door to get a better view of the drama unfolding before me; wondering why the voice had suddenly gone quiet. I had recognized the voice as that of the cleaning lady. The glistening knife had put the fear of God into her.

‘Oya you go off cloth make me and Stamina confirm all our investment for your body’.

I watched in horror as the stuff of movies was being played out before my eyes. Her initial resistance was met with blows and her clothes torn to shreds. Stamina undid his zipper and proceeded to mount her from behind when suddenly the lights went off and all hell broke loose.

I reckon Bisola seized the chance to lash out, catching Stamina in the groin and he doubled over, grunting like a pig. I grabbed the air freshener spray can and made a mad dash out of the cubicle. I knew my way around the convenience and had my finger depressed on the nozzle as I powered towards the exit. My appearance must have caught Razor by surprise as I figure he caught a blast of the spray in his eyes and I shoved my elbow against his jaw. He smashed his bulk into the mirror.

‘Arghh! My eyes…My eyes…’

My foot kicked something which turned out to be the knife the other assailant was wielding moments ago. I went down on all fours in the dark, found it and proceeded to play superhero for all womenfolk on earth.

I went in the direction of Stamina and slashed wildly. He let out a blood curdling wail and cursed wildly. I needed no further prompting as I made for the door. The lights came on just as my hands closed around the knob. It was locked.

 

*********************

 

Memories of that night still haunt me to this day. I remember being slapped repeatedly across the face. I remember being dragged across the floor. I remember being punched in the stomach. I remember my clothes being ripped from my shoulders. I remember my baby protesting violently. I remember my water breaking. I remember the hand grabbing my hair and hoisting me up. I remember  staring into the mirror, cracked in a million ways, and seeing that mask of hate reflected back at me. I remember the pain that shot through my thighs as I was bent over and violated. I remember the blackness that descended over me as my face was smashed repeatedly into the mirror.

 

*********************

 

My assailants were never apprehended. I suffered multiple lacerations across my face and shards of glass were retrieved from my eye sockets as the doctors pronounced me blind. I stayed in a coma for eight months during which I missed Wale’s funeral.

Margaret told me that information gathered from eye witness reports showed that he had been in such a hurry to meet up with me at Eclipse Hotel on that fateful Valentine’s day that he had over-estimated the car he was in. Moments later, the rear tyre burst and he lost control of the vehicle ultimately ramming into an oncoming petrol tanker. They never recovered his charred remains.

I had loved Wale with my life. Losing him felt like my heart had been ripped from my being. More painful was the fact that no one could explain what had happened to my baby. I felt exposed and naked. Darkness had come at noon and my life had been cut short in my prime. Needless to say I was continually treated for depression and permanently placed on the suicide watch list.

It is exactly two years today that my world came crashing down. Thrust into darkness I have come to see the fickleness of human nature. Here today and gone the next. I am forever thankful for the welfare charity for giving me a new lease of life.

Margaret suggested during my rehabilitation that I get out more, appreciate the world which has a lot of good to offer despite my ill-luck and most importantly find love again. Margaret can be old-school most times. Who on earth would love someone like me? And at Eclipse hotel of all places?

I gather myself together, wash my face and adjust my glasses. I smile despite myself as I do not know if I have placed them properly on my face. I reach for my cane and head for the door.

 

*************************

 

I shuffle towards the direction I perceive we were seated earlier. I hear a chair being pulled back as Margaret teases me.

‘There you are. I was beginning to think you had decided to sleep there’. There was that singsong, teasing voice that always calmed my frayed nerves.

‘Can we leave now?’ I asked. ‘Seeing as my date has refused to show up’.

‘That’s no way to treat your guest, young woman. She has been waiting for you’. Margaret’s voice is laden with emotion.

I am halfway into my chair when I jerk upright like I have been pricked by a pin.

‘She?! My face is contorted in shock. Surely Margaret didn’t include unholy liaisons with members of the same sex under appropriate dating behavior.

I stretch out my hand cautiously and introduce myself, getting silence in response.

‘Oh great!’ I sneer, retaking my seat. ‘I have been gifted a deaf companion for a lesbian lover’.

I hear the sob come from Margaret’s throat as a pair of soft fingers close around my hands. My date had approached my side and covered me in a warm embrace before proceeding to melt my heat with an angelic voice.

‘Ha…Happy… Valentine’s da..dayy…dayyyyy Mum….Mummmyyyy. I love you’

My whole being was racked with sobs. As the tears rolled through my hollow sockets, I could see her clearly now. One didn’t need eyes to see or experience this kind of love. God bless you Margaret. That which was lost had been found.

I grabbed her in my arms and buried my face in her soft hair. Tears I thought had been long exhausted sprung forth. I just kept muttering to myself.

‘I love you Wale. I can’t stop loving you. Thank you for this second chance’

 

**********************

 

On the way back to the welfare centre, I took in everything with a new vista, clinging tightly to my little miss Valentine and the words of Lionel Richie ringing in my ears

‘Oh love! What a blessed thing!’

Air Force One

The cool, morning breeze caressed his buttocks as he undid his trousers and squatted at the location he thought best suited his purpose, well out of sight from prying eyes but a vantage position where he could keep an eye on his truck, ‘AIR FORCE ONE’, his co-workers had nicknamed it. A parody of the real thing. It suited him though and catered to his many needs.

Osaze took the time out for major bowel activity to gather his thoughts. The time was 4.30am. A restless night he had experienced. He suspected it was the vegetable soup he had eaten that had upset his stomach coupled with his two-month old daughter’s bawling and the renewed hostilities between occupants of House 15, Adeyemi close. He had not been able to identify the combatants involved. Indeed, sleep had scoffed at him.

He grimaced at the stench of the material his stomach had disgorged. Thankfully, the part of the dumpsite he had chosen was deserted, facing the prestigious HOTEL ROYALE; a popular three-star hotel in Igando. It was a study in irony. He grinned sickly. On one side you had money being spent wantonly and on the other you had the dregs of society battling it out at the bottom of the food chain.

He shifted his weight to ease the blood flow to his legs and also to dislodge mosquitoes that seemed to have developed an affinity for his behind. He silently prayed that the stomach upheaval would not be a harbinger of worse things to come for the day. Somewhere afar off came the rumbling sound of thunder.

 

*********

 

‘Papa Adesuwa, This child is running temperature o!’ His wife called out to him as he made for the only chair in the room. He paused and mumbled incoherently, twiddling the buttons of his coverall and sat down.

‘I want to take her to the local government clinic tomorrow. Also…’ She continued, oblivious to the fact that he had barely responded. ‘…Baba landlord called for his rent. He says we are three months due. Not to mention that NEPA people and neighborhood security watch have been here to see you…’ Monica reeled on and on. Osaze closed his eyes, fatigued from a hard day’s work and let out a stream of air. It came out as a sigh.

‘No problem. God will provide. We shall take these issues one by one’.

He knew it was no use trying to be spiritual with her. She dreamt of the good life…always had. Yet he could afford none. They lived in a one-room apartment, sharing basic facilities with twelve other tenants. He had met Monica at her mother’s bukateria. It had been for sexual pleasures until she missed her period. Her mother had promptly bundled her bags and dropped her at his doorstep.

He told his parents back at the village that he was into iron business, which was not entirely untrue. He worked as a scavenger at the TI OLUWA NI ILE dumpsite in Igando, collecting scrap metal which was then sold to processing companies for recycling. The pay was not much but it guaranteed him food and shelter; better than the nights he had spent in Lagos when he first arrived from his village, Igbuzor, in Delta state. After so many menial jobs, he had settled for this one.

Mr. Sanjay, the production supervisor of AG manufacturing, the major buyers of his scrap metal had promised to facilitate work for him as a factory hand and had explained how the recycling process worked. He hoped he would be able to save enough to fend for his family and folks in the village and also realize his dream of becoming a technologist by enrolling at the Institute of Science and Technology, Yaba.

He sighed. If only wishes were horses. It was hard enough to dream but even crueler to wake up to the stark reality of seeming hopelessness.

 

*********

 

Life at the dumpsite was without a dull moment. Osaze had been an instant hit due to his truck, AIR FORCE ONE, which he had designed specially for the purpose. Whenever he was asked about the truck he always said that a man’s work tool should be his passport to the good life. Various graffiti adorned parts of the truck namely; ‘Who knows tomorrow?’ ‘No food for lazy man’ but the one he loved most was the one his friend, Kevwe, had painted on the front panel, ‘If you see me drive by…Holler at your boy!’. It was a catch phrase from a popular hip-hop song and it endeared him to fellow scavengers who milled around the site, searching for the elusive pot of gold.

 

*********

 

The thunder rumbled again, closer this time. He hoped it would not rain. It was always bad for business when it did. He cleaned himself, covering the mess he had made. He was about to rise when he heard a loud bang. Someone had crashed into his truck. The man was up in an instant, out of breath. Apparently he had not seen the truck in his rush. He looked around, presumably saw no one and dumped a polythene bag into the truck. He ran off.

Osaze could see that the man had come from the direction of the hotel and barely had time to think when a motorcycle zoomed past in pursuit of the man. He made out two occupants and ducked as almost immediately, he heard the sound of gunshots. He flattened himself to the ground as he realised seconds later, to his horror that the motorcycle was coming back in the direction of his truck. He heard one of the men say…

‘The package was not on him. He must have left it in the car or thrown it away as he ran. Pity he won’t be able to tell any more tales.’

The men spent some minutes around the site, searching frantically for the ‘package’. It must have been desperation that caused them to abandon their search as they knew that every minute spent would increase the risk of being caught.

‘Let’s go. You can drive the car and I’ll follow behind. The car’s still worth something’

They sped off in the direction of the hotel. Osaze was thoroughly bathed in sweat when he emerged minutes later. He checked his watch. 5a.m. The episode had taken a few minutes. He knew he had to leave the scene before the police arrived lest it become a case of mistaken identity. He wheeled his truck around and made for the general parking lot.

 

*******

 

The rain was pouring in torrents later. Thankfully the parking lot had been deserted as he retrieved the mysterious package from his truck and opened it. It was wrapped in black polythene nylon and his heart raced as he tore it. His eyes adjusted to the dim light and he made out dollar bills. Apparently, the man had hoped to escape his assailants and retrieve it later.

‘Twenty thousand dollars….Osanobua!’ He exclaimed as he stuffed the contents into his coverall….looking around to be sure he was still alone; his emotion a mixture of excitement and dread. It was a pity the man was dead. He shivered as a million thoughts raced through his head. He thought of the Police, ghosts, robbers, retribution, the Good Samaritan, the good life, honesty, poverty, Eldorado. The thoughts would not stop.

Minutes later, he stepped into the rain and was immediately soaked. He didn’t mind at all as the contents of his coverall gave him all the warmth he needed. As he splashed through the muddy waters, he unconsciously began to whistle a tune.

‘If you see me drive by…’

Senior David

Mum must have felt a change in my composure because my hand had tightened around hers on instinct and, being the ever vigilant one, she turned and gave me that look.

‘Hey honey, what’s the matter?’

I ran my tongue over my lips which seemed to have dried up in an instant. That didn’t help either. My palms had gone moist and clammy.

‘N…no…nothing mum.’ I stammered. ‘Maybe I’m just nervous at having to get my results for my promotional exams’.

We were headed towards the row of classes adjacent to the administrative block. There were students and parents everywhere; saying their goodbyes and moving their luggage about. It was the start of the holidays and everyone seemed eager to be on the move.

The object of my discomfort was descending down the stairs of the administrative building and headed towards us. He had spotted us first and smiled as he approached.

‘Good morning ma, you must be Joseph’s mum’, he managed a bow. ‘My name is David’. He spoke in that sing-song voice that endeared him to many.

Mum took to him in an instant. Who wouldn’t? David had the looks to die for. He was always impeccably dressed and was a striker on the school football team. He doubled as the assistant food prefect which made him quite popular among the junior students.

‘Hello young man, very nice to meet you. How are you doing?’

‘Hello Senior David’, I managed a murmur in greeting. Thankfully, mum didn’t notice.

‘Have you collected your results yet?’ mum asked David. He smiled, revealing a set of white teeth and ran adjusted his glasses.

‘I’ll do that in a bit ma. I had to see the vice-principal to run an errand for him.’

‘It’s alright. Please ensure I see you before we leave. I like to appreciate anyone who has made Joseph’s first year in secondary school quite interesting.’

Clouds formed on my face and I was sure in an instant lightning and thunder would follow. I tugged on my mum’s hand.

‘Mum, we had better get going. We don’t want to be left out now…do we?’

I caught David as he winked at me. My blood curdled.

Interesting indeed! If only my mum knew the half of it.

********************

The slap roused me in an instant. I had fallen asleep in my chair and at night prep class too! This was considered an abomination among the students as the punishment to be meted out would depend on the mood of the class prefect.

The stress of having to stare at equations which seemed like Greek must have taken its toll on me coupled with the wraps of fufu I had consumed earlier before heading for class. Still, I could not the bothered as I would rather face punishment than endure another session with algebra. I ran my hand over my face to wipe away the trace of spittle which had started to dribble down my face

‘Joseph the dreamer’ the class prefect intoned and the whole class burst into laughter.

I was made to do a couple of frog-jumps outside the class for about ten minutes when I heard his voice

‘What sins have your committed? Surely you don’t strike me like the troublesome type’. David smiled at me.

‘I’m sorry senior David. I slept off in class.’

‘Well well…you know what they say. He pays the piper who calls the tune.’ David nodded at Soji, my class prefect, and a look of understanding seemed to pass between them. He thrust his books at me.

‘You’ll take my things to the prefect quarters. You know where it is? My room is number 4.

I could not believe my ears! Had I heard correctly? This was my punishment? I collected his books and made to leave but not before catching the looks of envy on my classmates faces. The privilege of visiting the prefects’ quarters didn’t come easy.

I made my way to the quarters and located David’s room with ease. His was the last in the block. I dropped the books and took time to study the layout of the room; pausing to admire the wall posters of the Real Madrid team, briefly running my hands over the faces of Ronaldo and Benzema.

‘Aaah! A fellow Madrid fan I see!’ David must have tip-toed into the room as I barely heard him sneak up on me. Perhaps his sneakers gave the added effect.

‘Sorry to snoop around sir. I must be heading back to class.’

‘It’s no bother. I’m sure you won’t be missed. Come and have a drink on me. At least I can show you my Madrid collections’.

I collected the half-empty can of fruit juice and helped myself to a cup. What an evening this was turning out to be.

**************************

It took a while before my eyes could adjust to the dimness of the room. The feel of the mattress on bare skin and the dampness on the room gave the indication that I didn’t have my clothes on. I tried to move my hands and legs and the tautness in my muscles and joints dawned on me. I was lying spread-eagled on my stomach!

My brain tried to process information as to how I got to be in this position but my sensory receptors had taken a holiday. I suspected that somehow I had been given a drug in my drink to induce that effect. I tried to shout for help but the rag stuffed in my mouth made a mockery of my efforts. I had to stop as I was starting to gag.

I tilted my head sideways to get a clearer view of the room. One thing was certain. I was still within the school grounds as I could hear the sound of bells. From the intensity it sounded like the last warning call for lights out. I struggled harder with my restraints.

The spring bed I was on was different from the bunk beds we had in the student dorm. It could only mean that I was still in the prefect’s quarters. It was a section of the student community we all looked forward to being in. it was a pity I was there in this state.

I felt hands grope me before I could see the face. I struggled harder but the restraints didn’t yield. The strong whiff of Vaseline hit me before I felt it being slapped all over my rectum.

‘Finally he stirs’. I heard the words come out in a slur.

I turned in the direction of the voice and in the dimness could make out David; naked as a new-born babe. What terrified me was the size of his member as he strode towards me. The way a cat would a cornered mouse.

‘Senior David please….please just let me go. I promise I won’t tell anyone.’ The words were eaten up by the rags.

White-hot pain shot through my buttocks straight to my brain as he slammed into me. Visons of my father on the pulpit condemning homosexuality heralded me as the blackness closed in on me.

************************

I waved my result for anyone in the face of anyone who bothered to notice. Mum had fulfilled her promise of buying me the jumbo-sized ice-cream cone if I came first in my class. We were headed for where our car was parked when my mum shrieked.

‘Look who we have here. David! Have you seen your results?’

David cut a picture of a sheep which had lost its wool. His shoulders drooped and he had this pain in his eyes I had never seen before.

‘I failed my exams ma. My dad has threatened that I’ll have to repeat the school year here. I don’t think I can handle such disgrace. I’ll have to seek transfer to another school.’ He had this faraway look in his eyes; a lost puppy.

My mum could not help but pat him on the back.

‘Aww…so sorry to hear that. I’m sure it’s all for the best’.

She dipped her hand in her bag and extracted crisp naira notes and stuffed them in David’s hands. My eyes blazed fire.

*******************

Our car joined the line of cars waiting to be checked at the school exit gate. I was already looking forward to the holidays and could barely wait to begin.

‘There’s your friend, David. Such a pity. A fine fellow too. Wave goodbye to him…will you?’

I looked towards the solitary figure. The burden of the secret I carried and all the hate that had been buried underneath the scars I bore rose to the surface and I managed a grin.

‘I pray I never see you again’

It was best for both of us.