“You are very surprised?” I could only look on. It was the most unexpected piece of information to be dumped on my lap that morning and I was finding it very hard to accept it. “I understand. My auntie told me two days ago that someone called asking questions about the Idi-Araba riots. If she told me before granting you an appointment, I would have found a way to dissuade her; maybe it is for the best she didn’t. Maybe not. I don’t know. However, in the course of listening to you and her talk, I have come to realize it is about time. There are answers I seek too. So, maybe you can help. Help me put to rest the ghost of my past.” Her eyes were intense. They burned. I averted my gaze. I was not strong enough yet to confront those eyes.
God! This young woman was Baraquat?! She was so different from the mental picture I have built for her. There she was sitting primly on the settee. I stole another glance at her. Her hair was long; at least it was from where I sat, and buffed at the back. It made her face stand out in sharp relief. She was wearing a simple chain around her neck, no pendant. It was a simple jewelry but you could tell by the way it shimmered that it was expensive. Her earrings were also of simple design, but encrusted with pearls. I however noticed that there were two more piercings on her ear. Though those had no rings, it hinted at a woman who had probably been into a different kind of adornment in a past life. A woman who had a different taste of fashion and adornment. My eyes traveled back to her eyes. They were still looking at me, with a trace of a smile emerging. It was a smile that strained at the edges of her eyes, like she was trying to keep them back.
I adjusted my sitting position, more to protect myself from the intensity of her eyes than for any other reason. I could feel the heat despite the full blast of the 2hp split A.C in the room. If I had placed a bet on the identity of this woman who now called herself Baraquat, I would have lost horribly. It was not what I had expected. No, not at all.
“See, I have a problem,” she continued. “A big problem placed on me by my conscience. The way I figure it, you need information- and I have loads of it, while I only need you to find someone,” she looked over at the old woman whose turn it was now to keep silent and watch us as we discussed. “All I ask is to be informed in return about someone, if you ever find him in the end. I know it is a long shot. However, I have borne the burden alone long enough. I don’t know if he is alive or not; but if he is I want to be able to reach him again. Find closure with him.”
I found to my surprise I have been hanging on to every word that had come out of her mouth. When she stopped speaking it was like a light had been put off and I was thrown into pitch darkness. She was waiting for me to respond to her proposal. They both were.
“Uhmmm, frankly I don’t know how I can help. But, I assure you if this person is connected to these events and I do find him. You will be the first to know. I have been…”
“He sure is involved,” she interrupted me. “In fact, I may say he is the reason for all of it. You know, like the small spark in the forest caused by a small boy who only wanted to roast nuts.” Her eyes glistened and her face was flushed.
I was about to say something, but she raised her hand to indicate I should not.
“I am sorry. That was not warranted.” She blushed and then smiled.
I didn’t know what it was, but the smile did something to me. I just found myself drifting away from the room. It took her voice and the next words she spoke to jerk me back into the here and now and the purpose of my being there.
“You see, that riot in February of 2002 had not being over religion or ethnicity. All of that came later.Much later.”
She stood and went over to the built in bar at the far end of the sitting room.
“You want anything to drink? Brandy, water or juice?”
“Water is fine, thank you.”
She poured me a glass of water and brought it with the rest in the bottle to the center table.
“Let me tell you the whole story. From the beginning.”
“Wait. Before you start let me change the tape.
I changed the tape, surprised to find that my hands trembled a bit. What is it with her that makes me go this numb? I managed to fix the tape without too much noticeable fumbling and pressed down the record button.
I motioned for her to go ahead. She took a deep breathe and began:
“I was a young girl. A very young girl. But I had my ideas about how I wanted my life to be. I have always dreamed, why my folks didn’t name me Josephine or something I don’t know,” she laughed. It was nice to see the natural laughter break out of her now. It was soothing. “Back in the village, when I was a small girl I dreamed of how I was going to build houses for my parents, buy them cars and change my entire community. Make it all better for everyone who came from there and who lived there. I will spend hours behind the small bungalow, in the house garden and dream. They were a little girl’s dreams.
Those times were tough for my parents. My dad could no longer farm because of his arthritis and bad cough. At the time, no one diagnosed bronchitis; we had no doctors at the village hospital you see? He would cough up blood for many days. It was horrible. We did what we could, myself and my mom. I was the only child.
But he died.
Looking back now, I guess he died from complications and possibly pneumonia. But we didn’t know any better back then. It was a big blow, for my mother especially. She took it hard and began to falter herself. It was then that auntie came.
She had readily agreed to let me go with auntie, even though I wasn’t so sure. But what choice does a six-year old have in the matter?
I had left for Lagos with a conviction I was going to come back to Oke Iho a big woman, to come back and to change a lot of things. I had to. Not many people from my village have the opportunity to come out to a big city. So, I saw it as a personal and collective challenge. It was also a chance to realize all my dreams. Make them come true.
So, I put all my heart into realizing the dream. I denied myself a lot of the pleasures some other guys delighted in. I also did all I could to save up all loose money I had. It wasn’t too tough because auntie really did well by me. She took good care of me.”
She stopped and looked lovingly over at the older woman. The two of them shared a bond that was almost like between a mother and a child. And yet they were not related. At least not by direct blood relationship.
“She did that and more. And it was well she did, because my mom died when I was in my form three,” again she paused briefly. Gathering her thoughts and her composure. “That one was a tough blow to take. The only other physical connection I had with the world had been severed by death. I lost my focus after that. It was like another person took over my body. All the things that never mattered before then began to matter. Boys, money, sex, jealousy…I found my mind started to dwell more on these things. In a way, I fought them and very hard too.
But, you know the life of a teenager….I always have to fight off the advances of boys. And at the time I was still very young. And life in the motor park was always what it was, rustic. I knew I had to get myself out of there and fast, but I had no means. Not until I finish my secondary school and get a proper job.- not one where I am selling oranges. But, still I was a girl and the death of my mom was tough on me. It was how I fell into my greatest mistake when my defenses were at the lowest. I let my guard down and here we are today talking about riots.
First I had known Adamu from my very first day in Lagos. He was charming and had a good sense of humour. He was however egoistic. It was understandable considering he was the son of the Hausa-Fulani clan head. But, our friendship had been strong, in a way. He protected me from the bullies during my whole two years in primary school. He dropped out of primary school and started moving with the wrong crowd. I had to cut him off. I did it as best as I could, without hurting his feelings. Or so I thought.
But, just about that time Ifreke came to the park. And that began the series of fights and disturbances witnessed at the park. Ifreke is jovial, level-headed and very humble. But, him and Adamu always seemed to get into fights. At first, I didn’t understand the reason why until Sukura told me.
There was nothing I could do. If the two idiots feel fighting is the way to settle their problems, it didn’t matter to me. I liked Adamu, and I also liked Ifreke. But, I never loved either of them.
Ifreke helped take my mind off the problems I had back then. Even though he was a mechanic, he was very hardworking and focused. He used to tell me all of the things he wanted to do with his life. I related with his dreams, being a dreamer myself. I also understood how it is easy for people to dismiss him as a “no-good” nonentity.
His physical appearance was not a problem for me. His shaggy hair, pierced ear and tattoed biceps didn’t reflect his inner soul. I knew he smoked weed, but I did not judge him. I blamed Adamu who made the weed available in the park. Compared to Adamu, Ifreke was a better friend. He also gave me a lot of money but never demanded anything from me. Just my friendship and the occasional tease. I needed all the money I could get, so I took them. Without a second thought. How wrong I was in my judgement I found out on that fateful day in February.
But those two made the entire park hot. Soon the tension spread to the entire community. There were pockets of fights and disturbances which no one paid much attention to. Not until it snowballed into a major fracas that caused plenty of deaths and so much blood.
Let me leave that for later.
I had problems of my own; my mom had died and I was all alone in the world. I was just about to start my senior secondary school and also have started having heightened awareness of my sexuality. And I was stuck with these two guys whom I didn’t love. I couldn’t love them.Not those two. All along they were only people to help me through my tough life. I never thought about love.
I had always thought I would escape love. But how wrong I was. I fell and very hard.
At that point I did not know what I had done. The sex….”
The click of the spool of the tape reaching its end was audible in the short silence after her last statement.
‘Oh My God!’ I thought to myself, and we were just getting to the real heart of the matter.
I looked at my watch. It was almost 2.30pm and I was feeling hungry now. The first bites of my innards just becoming noticeable to me. I have been enthralled by the tale. It was like someone pulling a long thread from a spool. I was captivated with the young woman sitting opposite me, beside the elderly one. She is now the center of attraction for me.
She had caught me looking at my watch and for a moment seemed undecided about something. She creased her brow and finally let out a short sigh.
“Let me cook lunch. I know you will be hungry. I am. We can continue after we have eaten.”
I nodded my head and leaned over to pick up the Sony walkman recorder. I removed the tape and put it and the recorder in my knapsack. All of this I did with a certain deliberateness, all the while keeping my eyes on Baraquat. She was looking back at me.
It was a searching look. It was a look that asked me a lot of questions. Many I couldn’t answer right there and then.
But I would be damned if I don’t try to find the answers.
I smiled at her and she smiled back.
IT CONTINUES WATCH THIS SPACE