When she opened her mouth to speak, her voice was low and almost inaudible. It was like she didn’t want to say what she was about to say; yet she must. In her eyes was a certain kind of shine. It belied deep inner struggles with stuff which were crying to be let out.
“Would you like me to get you a drink or something before we continue?” She asked. It wasn’t what I expected to hear. It was a ploy to buy more time, gather more composure. I felt for her; what I was feeling for her I had no idea. But, I still felt for her. I released the record button.
“No, am fine for now,” I replied, “if this is difficult, I can always come back.” It was offered as a lifeline. But, instead of taking it and bailing out, her eyes took on a new character. The shine took on a brighter hue, a deeper substance to it. I could almost feel her steeling herself up for what was ahead.
Remarkable woman, I thought to myself.
“Okay, I am ready.” It was like a declaration for war. Or a statement declaring readiness for war.
I pressed the record button as I took another deep sigh; here we go…
“You see, there was a boy in my school. His name is…” She stopped and looked over at her auntie, who had stood up abruptly as she started to talk about this boy. She made her way to a door which apparently led to her room. She didn’t look back at either of us or said anything.
Now were alone. Just me and her.
Baraquat looked back at me and her resolve seemed doubly re-enforced.
“There was this boy, is or was, I am no longer sure. He has totally gone off the radar. It is why I need your help. His name is Tunji… Tunji Ifekoya. I said earlier that I didn’t love Adamu or Ifreke. I could not. I never did. I liked them. But it was Tunji who earned my love. No one knew about him, especially not my auntie or anyone else that I was close to at the time. Tunji was my crush since form one. It was only a crush and nothing more. Moreover, he always had a flock of girls around him. So, I stayed away and buried my crush in other activities of the academic kind. It worked pretty well for me. Until my parents died.
Tunji was one of those boys you can’t help but like, then fall in love with. He was tall and handsome, with fair skin. His voice… I think it was that voice that got me all mushy from the first day we met while registering for our form one class at the Headmaster’s office. It was melodious. Almost angelic, it thrilled me back then and every time I heard him speak afterwards. That voice made girls swoon, I know because girls talk. I mainly listened. He is a very brilliant student; he later became the school head boy. He had a lot going on for him, from a better and happier home. He lived a few streets away from mine, but we never saw outside of school.
We weren’t particularly close, but we always vied for top spot anytime we were thrown together in the same class. I ‘ crushed’ on him from afar. But, when I lost my mom in form three we became close friends. He was supportive, always trying to cheer me up in school. I didn’t have many friends then, you see… I was glad to have someone I could talk to apart from my auntie at home, or Adamu and Ifreke at the park. I hardly had a lot of friends. And even Adamu and Ifreke had limited ingress into my friendship circle.
During my last three years in secondary school, I and Tunji became tighter. In the confusion of my emotional weakness, I transmuted from just having a crush on him to falling in love with him. It was to be my greatest mistake. A mistake I committed because of love and naiveté. I fell into love recklessly. Tunji loved parties and was a show-off, I fell in tow behind him. He took me to parties at clubs. Parties I skipped extra-mural and summer school classes for. I let down my guards completely with him.
Sex with him was only a natural thing to do. But, it was one thing I strenuously denied him. I was scared. Pregnancy was not something I wanted to be burdened with. He said he loved me, and I loved him so much too. But no sex. That was not negotiable. So, I allowed him everything else….” she paused, flushing with embarrassment.
I shut off the recorder.
“Baraquat, I understand these are intimate details about your life. I also advice that you should not tell it to me, unless it has direct bearing on my research. I would also like to assure you that if eventually you do decide to tell me, whatever you tell me will be held in the strictest confidence. Your secret, your story is safe with me.”
“I know. Isn’t that strange?” She asked, her eye lashes fluttering rapidly in flushed embarrassment. She was saying something to me. Something my head received, but was finding difficult to fully comprehend.
I looked at her nonplussed, trying to figure out exactly what she meant by what she just said. To be sure I was not moving of in another tangent.
“I feel like I should tell you everything about my life. I feel safe talking to you. You don’t have any idea how I have bottled up all of this over the years. The pain, anguish and the damage it had done. I fought my way through. Escaped death in a violent communal clash just by a hair’s breath. Today, I saw a new light. Another phase to repair what had been damaged. I want to tell you this story. I want you to hear it, maybe then I can be free from the bondage of my past. I hope you can help me….” she trailed off. Her hands were clasped between her knees. Her eyes pleaded for understanding and non-judgment.
There was no room for words. I understood what she meant now. It was an unspoken communication between us since I started my interview with her. And in those few words and the depths of her eyes, the final confirmation had been passed.
I pressed the record button again and motioned for her to continue.
“I was raped!” She spat out the words with so much force I almost jumped out of my seat.
“What did you say?” I didn’t even notice that the recorder was still on. Such was my shock. My pain….the utter unexpectedness of what I just heard.
She was rocking on her seat now. Her tears flowing silently down her eyes, streaking her face. Mucus was trailing down her left nose, mixing with the tears. It made a messy glob at the base of her cleft chin. I felt like a spear had been plunged into my heart.
I shifted toward her on the seat, closing the space between us and wrapped my arms around her shoulders. She collapsed upon my chest and cried. Silent, rasping sobs which kept tearing at my heart, one piece at a time every time she a sob. I placed my hand on her hair, stroking and patting and making hushing sounds to calm her down. In minutes, with the front of my shirt thoroughly soaked, she gathered her composure.
I handed her my handkerchief. She cleaned herself up, and offered a wane smile.
“Please don’t say anything. I am not a baby. I have been around. My life used to be a mess. But, I know. And this is why I want to tell you these things I have never told anyone before. Leave you to make your decision after that.”
I stared. How did she know….? I nodded and kept mute.
“After our final WAEC paper, I and Tunji had gone for a party,” she continued when she had composed herself, “this time it was not the usual clubs we frequent. It was a house party hosted by another class mate.The house was not far from school. I changed my uniform in a side bush while Tunji stood watch. I got naughty that way with his help. When we got there, I was surprised to find that I was the only girl from my class. The other girls were strangers. None of them were from my school; it was difficult since no one was in uniform. But, I have never noticed the other girls before. They were not faces I recognized.
In all there were five of us and about eight boys. We danced and drank and made lots of noise, knowing no one would disturb us. The compound was big and no one was around. From what I gathered from Tunji, his friend’s parents had traveled for the weekend.
After a while, I noticed a pattern in the composition of the group. From time to time, I observed that the room would be less a couple or two at a time. After a few minutes, the missing couples would emerge from a room. Then a new couple would leave the floor for the same room or someplace else entirely.
I knew what was going on. I however didn’t show any alarm. It was a norm in the clubs we went. I and Tunji also left the dancing floors at clubs for the toilets, where he did all sorts of things to me and I same to him. No sex was involved, but everything else in between was explored. So, it was not strange to me what was happening, what I didn’t know however was what happened after I drank the coke Tunji had handed to me shortly after.
Next thing I knew was waking up on a bed, the sheets disheveled and the room smelling of sweat and the hideous smell of semen. Groggily, I was aware that my trouser pants had been removed and tossed into a corner. Alarm bells sounded in my head, it hurt my already shady focus. The room was dim, but after a while I was able to clear the fuzziness and gather some focus. With a sudden force of clarity, I understood I had been raped. I knew even before the squishy, wet feeling between my thighs confirmed it; even before my eyes got accustomed to the dimness and made out the sleeping figure of Tunji beside me. My head was reeling. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t speak. It was like the room was crowding in on me. The walls rushing towards me with such speed and force I was sure I was going to get crushed. The world, my world finally crashed around me when I stepped out of the bed and saw the naked sleeping figure of Tunji’s friend, the one who hosted the party, on the floor beside the bed. The remains of a used condom still stuck on his limp penis.
A noise went off in my head; it was like a hammer was smashed into it. I didn’t remember anything else until I tasted something moist and springy in my mouth. It was Tunji’s screams that brought me back to my senses. That and the thing in my mouth. I had bit him hard in the penis. Hard enough to draw blood and a piece of skin. I unclenched my teeth and spat it all in his face.
I was very composed after that. I calmly gathered my discarded trousers, put it on and strode out of the room and house. There was no one else around. I must have slept for hours. The other party guests long gone. I had been betrayed by the one person I thought I could trust. I realized with a sense of harsh self-judgement that I had put myself in the situation I found myself in. There was no point blaming it on anyone, even if they played their part in my tragedy.
It was then the tears streamed down my face.
I couldn’t tell anybody. No one knew what I had been doing or where I had been and with whom. Not my auntie, not Adamu nor Ifreke. So, I had to quickly put it out of my mind. No one can know. I went about my normal routine as best as I can. I decided to put my mind to work, so I started a trade selling oranges. A way of punishing myself, and also gathering some money, at least part, for my further studies in the university. It was a harsh lesson, a slap that brought me back to my senses. That night I decided I will never love again. And that I will never go into a man’s room ever again. Definitely not alone.
That afternoon was also the last time I ever saw Tunji.
I moved on with life as best as I could. Tried to push the incident out of my mind, and focus on more important things. But, a few weeks after, realized I was pregnant. I didn’t want to believe it at first; all the signs were there – the vomit, the fever, the throbbing feet. I couldn’t do without drinking water that was my greatest fear. I hid the vomiting session away from my auntie, Sukura and the other girls. But my craving for drinking water I couldn’t hide.
I knew I had a decision to make. Between carrying the pregnancy and having an abortion. I knew which one was the easier for me. I couldn’t carry a pregnancy, let alone one I didn’t know who the rightful father was. Tunji or his friend.
Having an abortion was the only way out.
I had to terminate the pregnancy, but I needed to get the money first. The money and the chemist, far away from home ready to do it for me. Sell me the right drugs.
But, I didn’t know further tragedy lied in wait.
One evening, on my way back from my orange selling rounds, I saw Adamu at the gate of the pack with a thick wad of notes in his hands. The notes; they beckoned to me. I needed money. A few thousands to complete the amount the chemist guy I had consulted demanded to carry out the abortion. I could get Adamu to give me some. But, I knew how his mind worked. He would want to push his way back into my life; my sphere of attention.
I greeted him as casually as I can and made a passing comment about the notes; as soon as I said it I knew it was a mistake. But, the pull of the notes, my own condition and my desperation to get it sorted out before it became even later than as late as the chemist guy had proclaimed, was a greater force against my sense of better judgment.
Adamu made some kind of promise. I cannot remember exactly what. I was surprised when I saw him waiting for me at the junction that evening. We got talking, he bought me a snack and somehow we talked and walked together home for the first time in four or five years.
I broke my own vow. I went with Adamu into his room. He had being talking about Ifreke, and I wanted to put his mind at rest that I don’t hate him. But, more importantly I thought this new period of renewed friendship could be taken advantage of. It was my hope that I could get him to borrow me some money.
So, when he insisted I had gone with him to his place.
Looking back, I regret it even more than what Tunji and his friend did to me.
Adamu showed himself a wilder brute. Unlike Tunji who didn’t have the boldness to take from me while I was conscious, Adamu forced me, against my will, to perform fellatio on him. He was rough, he was mean. He beat me up. Choking my scream for help every time I tried to. He had raped me. After ejaculating in my mouth and forcing me to swallow his semen.
I cried, I begged, I even promised I would be his girlfriend if he let me go. But, he was deaf to my please. He took me to the deepest depths of pain I ever experienced.
Once again, I was used. Used and thrown aside like a rag. I felt useless. Dead was more like it. I lay on his bed for almost thirty minutes after he had finished with me. He didn’t say anything. I didn’t cry, I didn’t accuse him. I just thought and tried to rationalize.
After a while, I told him. I told him everything. Even about my pregnancy. When I finished I laid a curse on him and Tunji; I dipped my finger in my vagina and touched it to my tongue and swore.
I swore at him that he has taken me and placed me in the hands of the devil, he will be taken by the devil; that he will not see the dusk of the next day. I also swore that the one who did it to me the first time would also never know peace.
I left his room, his laughter accompanying me as I softly shut the door.
I didn’t cry at all. Not even after I left Adamu’s place. While he was not looking I had stolen the money in his trouser pockets. All I could find. I hid it in my bra and headed for home. I would use the money to get rid of the pregnancy and buy myself my JAMB form.
On my way home, I met Ifreke, who obviously had also been scouting my street in wait for me. He does that sometimes, to give me money or snacks or just to say hello. It was when I saw him I decided to help my curse on Adamu along a bit. I decided to tell him all that happened. My face was all puffed anyway and I am sure he would not let me rest until he knew.
My greatest problem that night however was what to tell my auntie.
So, while I and Ifreke sat outside my house under the stars and a full moon up above in the skies, I told him all that had happened to me.
I was satisfied to see Ifreke’s eyes when he left. There was going to be a fight. That distraction can help me. My auntie might not notice my bruises until tomorrow. And then I could claim I got them while trying to separate Ifreke and Adamu. I was also confident Ifreke can help knock off a few of Adamu’s teeth or something. Get my own kind of revenge by proxy.
Fortunately, my auntie was asleep when I finally got home. So, I was temporarily safe for the night. What happened the next day however was not what I would have wished for.
No, not if I had foresight.
As usual, we were at the park by five a.m preparing the food and so on. It was not long after that I saw Ifreke approach the gate. It was unusual for him to be around that early but I understood why.
My avenging angel was in position.
He stood away from me, didn’t even acknowledge me and smoked. He was smoking weed. For the first time, he was smoking it openly and in my presence. That slightly worried me. It was out of character. I put it out of my mind and busied myself.
It was the shouts that alerted me of the commotion going on outside at the gate. It was around six or six thirty, and on coming out I saw Ifreke and Adamu struggling at the gate. Punches were being thrown. The park was still light and not enough men to separate them or call a truce.
According to plan, I made to approach them and separate the fight. Everything else happened fast, first I saw Adamu pull a knife from his pocket, the sight of the knife alarmed me. I made to warn Ifreke and to tell them to be careful; I stopped dead in my tracks. In Ifreke’s hand was a gun and he was pointing it at Adamu, shouting something about him messing with ‘ File’. I had never heard that name before or anyone call him that. Before I could gain my composure and tell them to stop, I heard the sharp report of the gun.
Everything else was pandemonium after that. With the last ounces of strength left, Adamu lunged at him and plunged the knife in his belly.
There was so much blood and people who were around ran to the two men after hearing the noise and the gun shot.
I must have collapsed because when I came to, I was on Sukura’s back and she was running. We were no longer at the park. I vaguely recognized the street.
I asked her what happened and where we were going. It was from her that I learned that Ifreke and Adamu were both dead and that the entire park had been torn apart by irate Fulani youths and the place set on fire.
My first thought was that my curse had come to pass.
Then I thought of Tunji and my heart sank.
When I woke up, we were in a bus. The rest of the story was told to me by my auntie. The killings, the house burning and so on.
I learned that they had had to move fast, as the youths had learned of my involvement in the whole matter and where making for our house.
We escaped narrowly, Sukura carrying me on her back. We moved to Ojo area of Lagos, to one of my auntie’s friends place. We were there for a few weeks. It was there that I pieced together the rest of the story. The wanton destruction that had occurred. The armed robbery gang that Ifreke was the ring leader of. It was all laid to bear. But, no one and none of the reports in the papers knew the real reasons for the violence. What sparked it or my role in it. Except only those few who were there when the fight started between Adamu and Ifreke.
In the intervening weeks, I sought out another chemist and had the abortion. But ….” Again she paused. She however did not let me stop her this time, “it was a failed abortion. My belly just kept growing and I ate ravenously. I had to tell my auntie before she confronted me. So, one night I woke her and told her everything. She had cried, but had not rebuked me at all. She only said she was sad I didn’t confide in her. It broke my heart. I had the baby, a cross worthy of the crimes I have committed against myself, my parents and my auntie. I have carried the cross stoically for the past six years, but I need to find Tunji. Know if he had turned out better than Adamu. I went to look for him, but their house was also affected in the crisis. No one knew what happened to him or his family. Or where he was.
I have looked almost everywhere I can think of; but no records of Ifekoya Olatunji Benard anywhere.
I need to see him again. He almost ruined my life… But, I have forgiven him. I need to show him his son, my cross for six years. To find closure with him, close the books so to speak. That was why I agreed to my auntie seeing you, and now it is why I need your help.”
The tears were in her eyes again as she finished her remarkable tale. Her lips trembled.
For a full minute I couldn’t speak. It was too incredible a story to take in all at once. Too much in so short a space of time.
I switched off the recorder and held her hands, rubbing them in mine.
“Baraquat, you are a remarkable woman. You went through all of this and still came out the way you came out?”
She cast her eyes down and just cried. I drew close into my arms, kissing her forehead and her tears. Somehow, our mouths met in a heated, passionate kiss. She tasted salty, all the tears from her eyes finding its way into our mouth; my mouth. But, I didn’t break off the kiss. We kissed till we were gasping for breath until she did.
I stroked her hair, while she rested her head on my chest. There was no need to say more. My heart had reached out to her and hers to mine. But something pricked at my mind. My inquisitive mind wouldn’t let it rest, until I find out the answer to the question. I had to ask.
“You know I admire you. There is more to the feeling than that, but I will not cheapen the essence of what I feel by putting it in words, any word. I am however stuck.”
She raised her head and looked into my eyes.
“Stuck? How do you mean?”
“When you talked about carrying a cross, is that in reference to giving birth to a son you d0n’t know who the father is? If that is the case, I really don’t mind and don’t care. I will help you to find him, but I can look after both of you without him.”
She buried her head into my chest sobbing, pounding my chest with clenched fists.
“Oh God, why didn’t I meet someone like you in the early years of my life? Why now? I don’t even know your name. Do you realize that? I don’t know your name and now this”
“But I told your auntie. It’s Shanu Afolami, and now that you have met me I am at your service. Let me help you, no, let us help ourselves build a happier life together.”
“Nice to meet you good sir. But, it is not that simple. Nothing in my life ever was simple….” She trailed off, stifling further sobs.
“Hush, just tell me. Like I said before. I am not a hard man to please. Why carry this cross alone. Why even look for this Tunji fellow?” I was trying to make her forget now; I opened this can, maybe I can stitch it back together again.
Baraquat stood up and held out her hand to me.
I followed her as she led me to the door that led into the room her auntie had entered earlier.
Inside the room was a bed, on the bed was a boy and sitting beside the boy on a chair by the bed was her auntie.
She looked at us as we came in, but my eyes were glued to the bed as I held Baraquat tighter, squeezing her shoulder.
“Baraquat, I am not going anywhere. This does not scare me. And we will try and locate Tunji, at least know what happened to him. But, I am going to always be here for you. I can say it now, I love you.”
I felt her inhale deeply and then exhale. In the exhalation seems to be the release of all that was ….in her life up to that point. She stood on her toes and kissed me full in the mouth.
Together, holding hands we approached the bed, which occupied the boy whose legs would never carry his weight.
* * *
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P.S: Thank you for following this series up to this point. You guys kept it going and some even gave my characters more verve and pep. Love you all. Shai.