I have learnt many things in life and one of them is that you cannot run for your life in high heel shoes.
As I was running down the slope of Falomo Bridge, at some time past 4 am, I was actually praying for the heels of my Dorothy Perkins shoes to break because I did not dare to stop to take them off. I was no longer aware of Mama running behind me. I couldn’t hear her footsteps but I wasn’t stopping to check on her; it was well and truly an every-chick-for-herself kind of situation. And besides, we have always told her to lose weight. Maybe now, if we make it out of this alive, she would finally learn the folly of embracing her orobo title.
At the bottom of the bridge, on the Ikoyi side, I ran into the remnants of a police check point. The officers were drinking what I can only assume to be paraga, and counting the days take. If I was shocked to happen on them at four in the morning, they were equally startled to see a yellow girl in a cream low-cut chiffon dress running at them. They scattered away from my path and would have let me continue if at that point Mama had not called out to me and finally break my get-away.
The policemen regained their composure and immediately proceeded to arrest us, pointing their guns and shouting at us to tell them who we were.
I was out of breath, Mama even more so. The officers waited while their paraga woman opined that we must be ashewos and they agreed, without relenting their hold on their weapons.
As I was contemplating whether it was wise to tell them from what we had fled, Mama, ever the loud mouth, filled them in with every ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ of her thick Yoruba accent.
‘Ritual killer!’ she shouted.’He is there on the bridge. He stopped to piss, that is how we escaped. He didn’t know I speak Yoruba. He was telling his friend on the phone that he has found two girls for the ritual!’
Indeed, she was right. The boy had picked us up at the gate of Shoprite and taken us to his hotel room at the Four Points. He spoke funeh and ordered room service for us. Mama had asked for big Stout and assorted meat pepper soup, which the kitchen didn’t have, and I had accepted his offer to share a bottle of wine with him.
He had been gentle and nice, and he came across as every bit the mugun. Mama had been first to start touching him up but he had shyly reclined from her fat arms and in due course started talking to me instead.
He wanted to know what I did for a living. Somebody who had picked me off the road at past midnight wanted to know what I did for a living. I told him I was a student, which was not a lie, and he wanted to know why I had decided to study mass-com, which I wasn’t studying. He talked at length about his life in London and how he was only in Nigeria for a UN contract.
I chopped, Mama chopped. She even sent me a BB message when he was asking how many we were in my family. In her message she asked me to let the boy do without condom while she pretended to be asleep. She said that that would make the mugun fall in love. Mama’s over zealousness has rendered her advices and opinions irrelevant, so I wasn’t even upset at her stupidity.
No long thing, Mama soon covered her bulky body with the duvet and pretended to be asleep and the London boy finally approached me. He asked that I follow him into the bathroom and I, playing the part, asked him why.
We fucked right there on the bed – with a condom – and Mama did not once move even when I pinched her buttom.
I let him hold me as he fell asleep and I must have fallen asleep as well because his phone woke us up.
He took the call in the bathroom and Mama pretended to wake up. When he returned he looked upset. He explained that he had to fly to Abuja on the first flight out of Lagos and asked where we lived and if he could drop us off.
I sensed Mama about to ask him for money so I quickly told him he could get us a cab to Ikoyi. He refused to let us take a cab at that time of the morning; he was going to drop us so he could know where I stayed – so he could come see me when he returned later in the night. He then asked if I could come with him to Abuja. It was a business meeting, he said, it would take all of two hours then we would catch the last flight to Lagos. Flights cost around thirty k. If he was willing to pay that much just for me to follow him to Abuja and back, how much would I end up fleecing out of him?
It was on the way to Ikoyi that he called up his friend and started talking in near whispers in Yoruba. Both Mama and I speak fluent Yoruba; we grew up in Lagos, after all. When he pulled over on the deserted bridge and told us he had to pee, no one begged us to jump out of his car and run. I have never run so fast in my life.
The policemen listened to our story as told by Mama and asked us if we wanted to come to the station to make a statement.
‘He is on the bridge!’ Mama shouted at them.’You can still catch him!’ I was thinking the same.
One of the officers explained their position:’See ehn, just go and do thanksgiving that he did not succeed. By now he would have run away. How do we know where to catch him?’
Mama pointed out that we could take them to his hotel room but the same officer explained that’hotel people don’t like that kind of trouble. They won’t even let us see the man. Just go home and you too, stop doing ashara.’
We stayed with the policemen, partly out of having been placed under arrest and partly out of not wanting to be alone, and we listened to them tell stories of girls who had barely escaped ritual killers, just like we had. When they were ready to leave we realised we were also free to go. We begged them to drop us home and, surprisingly, they obliged.
When we got to the boys’ quarters on Peeple Road that we share with four other girls, there was no light. Clara, whose real name is Nkem, opened the door for us because they had locked the padlocks from inside.
‘From where you ashewos dey come from this night?’ she asked and thus unleashed Mama’s impatience to narrate our ordeal all over again.
Clara woke Toyin, Toyin woke Beatrice, Beatrice woke Antina who woke two other girls I didn’t know and who had taken my spot and Mama’s spot on the mattress.
Clara lit a kerosene lamp and the girls listened in silence as Mama embellished the story with magic rings and hidden charms. At the end of her tale the girls exchanged looks then burst out into laughter.
I was trying to see the humour when one of the strangers explained it to me.
It wasn’t a new thing; in fact, many sharp girls had fallen for the same trick. The boy wasn’t a ritual anything; he simply didn’t want to pay us and he tricked us into running away.
The girl, whose name turned out to be Kenny, assured us that if we went back to the hotel we would be told that the occupant had checked out, probably on his way to Abuja as he claimed.
To say I was pained is an understatement. But Mama preferred her own interpretation and hung on to the ritual story, no doubt, to be repeated to many a girl in the days to come. I only wished that she would leave my name out of it.
I was still smarting from being played so deftly when Kenny asked if we had checked our bags. Mama asked why, but I had clocked. I opened my bag up to the glow of the lantern and searched frantically. I emptied the contents of the bag onto the floor and searched the inner pockets. My money was gone.
That morning, as I lay on the crowded mattress, seething with anger and loathing the alarm that would soon go off to wake me up to get ready and go to school, I prayed to God to let me see that boy again. I didn’t tell God what I planned to do with him when I saw him.
My name is Amaka, by the way. But people call me Juliet.
Read the rest of the novella here