Laos Street

He had stopped to take notice, maybe if he hadn’t glimpsed of the small miracle that day, his life may have gone on unchanged, he could have gone on to become whatever, be whoever, but he found one of these infinite possibilities, he stopped on the long winding road and decided to pause.

The settling was done on a cold night in Laos street, under the shaky orange glow of street lights. Chuka could feel everything ten times as intense, the orange glow had red and yellow in it, the music was loud, electrifying, the music had a taste in his mouth, a thump in his chest, there was a woman dancing at the middle of the plastic chairs, a beer in hand, taking drags of her cigarette, waist in rhythm, sweat pouring, clinging to her breasts

“For today, it’s free”

The strange man giving out heaven for free had a scar across his right eye that shrunk its size until it was barely open. He went by the name of one eyed killer. Chuka did not remind the him that he had paid fifteen thousand for protection. He did not even ask what he needed protecting from, one eyed killer found a man on his street in expensive shoes past midnight and they both understood without much bargaining that this was reason enough.

Reason was not one of his strongest pursuits, his new protector walked over to dancer woman, he whispered something in her ear then whispered in Chuka’s. Five thousand naira later, they were on a corridor, blue lights flickering above, pants down as she worked her way. She was as good as advertised, he had his back on the wall, head raised, he could feel the blood going through him, through his groin, the warmth of her mouth, the night breeze on his skin, all building up to something, he was there and not really there.

She handed him a tissue when she was finished, wiped her hands with a handkerchief and walked out silently, till then, he hadn’t realized that he had no idea what she sounded like.

He found his protector with a group of men outside

“Big boi” was the name bequeathed to him for the night

He offered to pay for a round of drinks, it was accepted with loud cheers.

He slumped into one of the chairs, his feet had begun to feel sore,

One eyed killer handed him another pill

“My brother, you need another ride”

He replied with a question “Why not?”

More cheers from the other men on the table, Samo being the loudest, Samo looked maybe 19, but with large eyes that gave away hunger, not just for food, the look that told you he was desperate for a respite he would die for.

There were many boys like Samo around, stuck on the pill, they had taken odd jobs and were controlled by one eyed killer.

Tee was shouting at dancer woman, shaking his head violently to the loud music, smelling of sweat mixed with beer. Dancer woman just kept on dancing. Tee had lost his last job from passing out too many times on site. The owners called him an unnecessary liability and let him go without a salary.

One eyed killer was talking too loud, battling the music, battling the urge to close his eyes, his hands toward Chuka

“You are not the first person coming here like this, looking for a taste of our life. Wanting some sort of rush,”

He let his eyes close, a swig of beer, a drag of nicotine, silence

“but the truth is that your experience is incomplete”

Another pause, he’s staring around, more women have joined dancer woman. There’s a light skinned woman, her weave falling down her back, her skirt transparent so you can tell exactly where her underwear stops and laps curve out, her large breasts tilting downward. Tee is staring and leaning towards Samo, saying something, laughing.

One eyed killer occasionally picks up where he left off

“There’s something missing that makes all the difference, the inability to escape is the experience. The desperation.”

Silence

“Look at us all here, my father was nothing, I will die as nothing. Many like you come here, they return to their lives tomorrow. They can’t understand what it means to float, to understand what it means to be truly reckless, because they have control over something, they can imagine tomorrow, they know what to expect”

Another pause

“Here God saves us, god-willing, there will be food tomorrow, God-willing my son will make it out of here, wear shoes like you”

He hands Chuka the cigarette. Chuka sees the blood on the staircase, the body at the end of the staircase, he takes a drag, feels it in his chest, relaxing him.

He dwells on the word escape, how it is everything he wants, he imagines himself floating.

“God-willing” he repeats as crushes the cigarette on his ID card.

Alone

You often wonder what people will think while scrolling down your tweets, the words that remain on the screen after your suicide. Will they feel pity? Sadness? Will they be irritated that you chose the football season? Will they pretend to know what you wanted or comment on how they just passed you by the market a year ago?

You think about these things. You try not to.

I try to forget the truth. I’d never leave this place alive.

Life happens when we don’t realize it, the days pass as we remain ignorant of what time steals from us, every second, every minute dragging our souls deeper into debt. A debt death always collects. I’ve seen death come around before, unannounced but focused. She’s always in our stories, gossip, the papers, and her weakness for the spotlight possesses her. The headlines. The news. The drama.

Shola says you think of death too much. How do you ignore someone so loud?

You think of you elder brother, who started shrinking, not like granma whose back curved as she celebrated her 80th year but in a way a teenage boy shouldn’t. Fat cheeks gave way to jaw lines. You grew tired of the endless days by his bedside. The thick smell of disinfectant, the white tiles, the nurses you knew by name who offered church pamphlets and unsolicited prayers. You just wanted to be free. Didn’t you? You wanted to leave that place. You loved him though, like no one else. The guilt.

The guilt will never leave you. Even when you pack a black bag and move 10,000 miles, it remains like smoke on your hair, the dark on your skin. The dirt on the coffin. Thick sand and the only reason you didn’t want to leave is so he wouldn’t be alone.

So you wouldn’t be alone.

Asiko

It’s best to know when you’ve crossed the finish line. Although recognizing defeat is considered necessary for survival it has eluded generations. For mama Biola it was her sixth daughter, she could have stopped at two. She heard the whispers, knew it too well.

“A womb barren of sons”,

“Mama Biola’s poor poor husband. Who would carry on his legacy?”

The gossips omit that his legacy consisted of a dingy bungalow and millions in debt.

Mama Biola went on her knees every night for vindication. Mercy from god, for a fertile womb. Strong sons.

The third she named Asikooluwaloju; the ‘Timing of God is best’, her name a prayer. A useless prayer which meant thank you but this isn’t enough. A plea for more.

Asiko grew filled with bile, suckled on her mother’s disappointment and grew into puberty like an unfulfilled promise. Drawn to weary men who could never satisfy her.

Undeterred by gossip

“Asiko Ashawo”

“Asiko never keeps her legs closed”

“Asiko who sleeps around like a man”

Asiko, unsatisfied as they come, Asiko searching for the right moment. Asiko who never stays.

Ronke (Part 1)

People obsess over things like justice or morality. I don’t have that luxury. What is right has always been about survival. So many fools try to sugar coat it, try to make us think there’s more, but in the end it is what it is.
I started this job maybe 5 years ago, it was an accidental employment. Maybe not that accidental; my father used to say a liar is also a thief. My point is that some professions are separated by blurred lines.

Akin liked to grope at my butt even when I wasn’t on duty. I mean it, the bastard would take trips to Ikorodu when he needed his fix. The motherfucker didn’t even pay much for the long sweaty nights he spent on top of me, his hands around my neck as he shook violently. I’d learned to stay put just as he liked. He was a bastard and I’d put a hole in him again if I have to.

Mother says bad things happen to wayward women. After my WAEC examination as if to help me cast my doubts the many E8s assured me I had peaked in education. I never had the head for school. My mother always prayed to God for first positions, I sometimes wonder why she didn’t pray for average. The excesses in her requests, for riches instead of food on the table, for dead enemies instead of apologies. It’s useless thinking about that now.
I have always followed my mother to the market for as long as I can remember, we own a big umbrella, a plastic chair and stool. It was my job to go about beckoning women to come fix their hair, which went full time after WAEC.
“Aunty please come, I fit braid well”
I stared at all the “aunties” passing by, trying their best not to meet my eyes as they ignored me. The haughtiness on their faces reminded me of how insignificant I must be to their worlds, no one remembers the market girl hungry for work.
It was in that same market I met Mr. Falade, it was already time for the market to close and I was going to return the bottle for coke I bought from Iyabeji. He was seating in his benz and honked as I passed by. I knew better than to answer so I kept walking till he stuck his head out and shouted
“You with the bottle please come”
I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t used to hearing please or maybe he looked like he had the type of money I could only dream of, either way I went to meet him. He asked for my name and where I was going, he spoke in a thick Yoruba accent, not pronouncing the H’s and switching between Yoruba and English. I knew what he wanted the way he looked at me, like he could see through my clothes, then straight in the eyes like it didn’t matter what I thought anyway.
I got into his car the same day, lucky mother wasn’t in the market. He took me home and made me wash in his bathroom before shoving his fat penis in my mouth. That was our formal agreement. No words and I left with thirty thousand naira afterwards.
I went home and tied the money in an old under pant. Tucking it in my wardrobe as mother brought down God’s wrath on me for coming home so late.
“USELESS GIRL. YOU WANT TO BECOME AN ASAHWO IN THIS HOUSE!”

I continued to make hair at the market then see Mr. Falade afterwards, each day he did something different, some days he just wanted me to touch myself as he watched, other days he would pound me senseless from my butt.
He didn’t talk much so after a while I started working out by myself what it all meant.
The large family portrait meant, he was happily married with two sons.
The fact that he was fucking me in his house meant that his family was abroad. I know some rich men do that.
After a while he got me a nokia phone and would text me the address of where to meet him; Maybe his wife was back visiting.

I began to stay out later and mother got restless, she began to hit me again, slapping sense into me. I didn’t mind all the beatings until she began looking through my things, then the time she found 50 thousand naira in my wardrobe and gave it to the church.

That was the last straw for me. I couldn’t stand this woman, I didn’t care she was my mother, we didn’t agree much on anything. Without really thinking it through, I packed a small bag and walked out on a Sunday morning.

Maybe Mr. Falade will help me, maybe not.

I had my dreams and I refused be contained…

Comfort

Itunu was born an escapist. Three dead siblings, the third made it to four. Itunu arrived quietly on a rainy Sunday night along with rumbling thunder and her mother’s scream of pain. A midwife gently tapped under the newborn’s feet, one after the other, willing her to cry.

Her mother who swore God was present at her last child’s funeral named this one Itunuoluwa: ‘Comfort of God’, but she would grow to escape God too. Her father couldn’t stop staring at the quiet newborn, her eyes as large as her mother’s, another fragile thing. When Itunu gets home they would pray for many more sons, a daughter was enough.

Two years after their  “Amen” had been said, Motunrayo came to stay, her name a fulfilling prophecy.

Motunrayo was nurturing and kind from a tender age but Itunu always demanded greater attention. Escaped childhood at thirteen, stubborn as a man, ill-mannered and talkative. She refused to be quieted by her teacher’s chastisement and often got in trouble for skipping mass.

The final straw was when she started to ask the nuns who created the nothing God transformed into earth, she went on for weeks searching for answers. Unsatisfied she grew curious, drilling holes and picking inconsistencies from sacred teachings.

Two suspensions later Itunu was sent to military school where she first felt lust, she often thought of Kanayo the boy 3 levels above who had started growing a beard and liked the warm feeling it gave her between her legs. Months later she would kiss him underneath the staircase, his breath heavy and arms wrapped around her waist, she moaning without guilt.

Years later she meets Laura, a sophist with a head full of red hair and shelves full of books, but when they kiss it’s something different. Laura fills all the holes inside of her and drills new ones.

Itunu calls her mother by 6 pm every Friday, she never tells her she’s in love.

Noise

“The problem with men is that they do not listen”

Chinazom is holding out her phone to the woman weaving her hair. Mama Tope smiles at the picture, four girls with their mothers light skin and a dark boy, his arms over his mother’s shoulder.

“Your family is very beautiful”

Chinazom smiles “I wish men would just listen to their wives”

Omada who is slowly picking the attachment agrees, “Them no know say women sabi see certain things”. She shakes her head violently and makes clucking sounds from her throat

“When something bad wan happen I dey feel am”

Omada talks about her dream of packing her father’s things a week before he died

“For the dream I just dey help am”

She looks to the sky in the open market

“I remember him favorite agbada

I ask am “Papa you dey take this one? And he just say make I fold am well”

Mama Tope sighs and says something in Yoruba, her mouth turned down the sides, her hands still working, weaving

“The doctor dey treat him for malaria but na hypertension kill am”

Chinazom is still smiling at her phone, now holding it for Omada to see

Omada smiles “Ehen! See how the girls resemble their mama. Bride price go plenty”

“My husband died when my son was 12” Chinazom was still looking through her pictures, scrolling, her voice plain and void of emotion

“I told him to go to the hospital, he didn’t listen.

I told him to go for weeks”

She heaved a sigh, a hint of resignation in her voice

“He convulsed the day before. There was no light when he died, I remember it well. It was almost 1am”

“Ahh! Why you no force am go hospital?” Omada’s face is contorted, she makes the clucking sound again

“Big man like that? How will I carry him?”

Omada falls silent, there is only the buzz of the market

Fragile Truths

Her nude dress gave off a brilliant glow under the bright lights. Lights that seemed to highlight ever curve on her body. Large hips on a petite size frame. Full breasts. Dark beads glittering on her neckline. She stood directly under the large chandelier which dropped low like glass rain drops. Her skin. So dark. Something writers would describe as native, exotic, – depending on where they were writing from- dark chocolate, black coffee. Her dark spotless face was so expressionless it would take your breathe away. Strange.
She would reek of cigarettes if you went close enough. Like she sprayed on dark smoke. Bright eyes twinkling. It might have been the chandelier.
The crowd fell silent as she held the microphone. Ronke. Second child of the Aregbesola family. 25. Probably soon to be married. Managing director in her father’s enterprise. Highly intelligent.
No one had ever seen her suitor. Strange waste of beauty.
“Good evening” her smile seemed to make the noise in the hall drop a pitch. Her smile. Her pearly white teeth.
“I hope everyone isn’t too drunk yet, to listen to my speech” she turned her head to the direction of her family table “especially my great father”. A wink.
She looked round the grand hall, right through the large pictures of her father erected at all the exits, he wasn’t smiling. He had a severe expression. Strong as men should be. On the projector to her left, a different picture. You would swear he was a different man. His wide smile. Wrinkled eyes. A genuine smile. Me Aregbesola. Tall dark man. Swollen belly. The projector behind her had the words “Daddy is 60” in bold gold italics. The chair covers and table clothes laid in white and wrapped with gold. The cold, bright hall shone like the expert it was in hosting extravagant occasions and bourgeoisie meetings.
When she started to speak, she didn’t take her eyes off the projector.

“It’s hard to even string sentences together during emotional festivity. Many have spoken before me and made toasts to our great Daddy. I feel I have no words to rival those of my predecessors so I’ve decided to give fragile truths” the silence at the family table became uneasy.

Ronke was the family expert at fragile truths, the time she told father off about his mistress still floated around their subconscious. One of the family events no one ever recalled. One of those secrets never acknowledged. There was physical violence. Ronke in the ER.

“I’m the second child of the Aregbesola family, and I’ve been away in the corner all through the occasion as you all know daddy is a busy man. So I’ve thought to my self why not take this opportunity to get across to him” she paused, shook her head and then continued.

“Forgive my erratic composure, giving this speech isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world for me. How do you speak of a man you do not know so well, ” Bimpe, her older sister chucked loudly, her husband followed suit, the crowd chuckled too. Uneasily.
Ronke gave an exasperated laugh

“Bimpe spoke about a great father 40 minutes ago. I thrown into confusion by how easily Bimpe lied. A good father tough on the outside, really soft in the inside.” Another pause

“Like cocoa” she chuckled

“You weren’t a good father. You shouldn’t live your life comfortably thinking you’ve done right. You could have done everything better.” There was a stillness in her eyes “you don’t know your own family. We’re all strangers. You’ve grown too old to be surrounded by flatterers. I came to give the honest alcohol induced truth, because I would treasure the same when I’m sixty”. Bimpe stood up from her table, Her husband held her back to sit.

“I honestly wouldn’t say I have a father”

The silence in the hall was broken by shuffling feet. Uneasy guests making their way to the exits. Loud murmurs. Confusion.
The elderly man on the table behind her, Dr Godwin, her fathers close friend stared at her with utter disdain. Minister Bukola walked out, later that night while turned to the left side of his mahogany king sized bed. Away from his wife. While texting his mistress, he would exclaim “our children’s generation has degenerated! They no longer value respect”.

“Happy Birthday Daddy” Ronke’s voice was loud as thunder. She raised her glass and drank alone.

God had other plans

Aunty stormed into the kitchen attempting some shaky form of catwalk, maybe she saw it on TV, these women were full of filth, she pushes me aside to get to the pot, almost slipping on her five inch heels, “I wish she fell, what type of prostitute couldn’t walk on heels?” Madam was away again, God help her, she had been sick for some time. Last year after she began requesting I make her rice without salt and fry eggs without oil, I knew something was wrong, then one cold harmattan in November, she filled large black boxes with her grief and clothes, she left for India before the day was bright. Dialysis or something, at least she knows that no one could be cured in this country. My mother died from having faith in Nigerian healthcare, no, it was probably from poverty, Madam had great faith too but she also wanted answers they had those answers in white men’s lands. I can’t be sure what sort of answers or sicknesses, I wasn’t important; no one told me these things.
There is a new aunty this weekend, her skin is pale and tinged with sickness “Does Oga not see it? What potential STD’s she could be harboring?” I wonder if madam knows her husband is now a chief, he’s now surrounded with his own creative stories, a wealthy man with many concubines, his titles accrue the longer she’s away. Oga loves to live; he always fills his stomach with good things. Oga is away for most of the time and he eventually returns accompanied by different aunties, ranging in sizes and skin colors “women will be his downfall.”
With so many aunties and Madam, I should be confused, but I know better, my loyalty was to the lifeless house, madams come and go the house remained. I had served this house for sixteen years now; I’d been in it through the smell of baby poo to the aroma of the 20th anniversary celebration cake. I could tell you who went in and out. I knew all the basic truths hidden in these walls, starting with the most obvious, ignored truth: Oga is a terribly wicked man. Years ago when madam became sick she stayed up every night praying for peace, she prayed from midnight till day break asking God to send down fire on the devil possessed prostitutes. I may be stupid but at least I know Oga is God, his word in this house is what creates, he gives money and bread appears, he is however not interested in raining fire on those prostitutes, God had other plans.