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JUNE

Copyright © 2019 KUFRE NICHOLAS


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To my sisters,
Diana Nicholas and Iniubong Udoka.

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THE GOLD IN YOUR HANDS 9

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JULY 2005

VICTORIA 
My head suddenly starts spinning. A heavy reek of kerosene
and metal fills my nostrils and crawls hotly into my brain. Hard
airless coughs fall off my throat. I’m choking in my sleep.

I cannot move. I’m drifting away. In my dream, I’m trying to run,


but my legs are stuck. I’m struggling to move, struggling to breathe. 

Then swiftly, I am lifted off my sleeping mat. Shouts fill everywhere


as my eyes fly open. In a mini-second, I am in my Mummy’s arms.

Her rasp cries sting in my ears and her breathless scream drags my
older brothers and baby sister awake.

Daddy flings my baby sister onto his shirtless chest and starts to run. 

“Breathe, Sarah, breathe. Please breathe my daughter,” he stops mo-


mentarily at the door; struggling to pull it open.

He fiddles with the knob, jerking it forcefully - Sarah in one hand,


he bangs the door with the other -his fists rapping on it like heavy
stones landing on the roof, but the door remains stubbornly glued
like Sarah’s lips when she has had enough of her warm golden morn.

I can hear our neighbours’ voices outside, the sound of water falling
on the house like midnight rain and the rattling sound of metal on
the steel door that threatens to deafen what’s left of my hearing.

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I hide my ears between Mummy’s wet breasts; her body is hot-sweaty-
sticky. 

“God, save my children. God, save my children. God, forgive our


sins. Father, have mercy,” she says at intervals as if she had crammed
the words for an exam. 

My brothers are also banging the door. I want to hit the door too,
but my fatigued eyes are sliding closed.

I now hear Mummy’s voice as though from a distant village.

I know I have to do something to save the situation; so, I muster all


my strength, stretch my eyes open and struggle off Mommy’s arms,
falling to the ground with a thud.

When I can feel my legs, the door finally falls open.

I turn to drag my mommy out through the door, but I cannot find
her. Hot air drifts past my face and forces my eyes to close.

I don’t know where my mummy is.

The door has fallen on her. I know because her painful screams tear
into the humid air.

“Victoria! Victoria! God, where is my daughter? Victoria, run. Please


run outside.” 

I try to speak to her, but smoke rushes violently through my gullet,


emitting deep dry coughs that cause my eyes to water.

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I want to drag her from under the door, but it is too dark and hot.  

“Everybody, run outside.

Run outside!” daddy yells. My baby sister is crying very loud now.
Maybe she also fell from Daddy’s arms to help with the door. 

“Everybody, run outside now!” 

I want to find my sister. I want to drag my Mommy out from under


the door, but I don’t want to disobey Mummy and Daddy. If I don’t
run outside now, tomorrow, Daddy will flog me with his long skinny
cane.

So, I run.
 
My brother is shouting: “My leg. My leg.” My mother is saying: “Je-
sus, forgive our sins; Jesus, help us.” My daddy is shouting: “Run,
run, run…” and my baby sister is screaming. 

I keep running, feeling my way through the darkness. I run until my


legs wobble. I run until I can feel the breeze on my face.

My head bursts open. My lips shiver violently. Heat ripples through


my skin.  

I run and run and run.

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UYAI
A 10-YEAR-OLD GIRL ESCAPES HOUSEHOLD
FIRE ACCIDENT THAT CONSUMES HER
ENTIRE FAMILY

I stare frightfully at the picture of the girl, her head covered


with a bandage and her eyes filled with horror. I want to read the
newspaper. I want to see the girl.

I feel very sad for her. If I lose mum and dad and Junior in a fire
accident, I have no idea what I’ll do. I’d probably just die too. 

Dad is driving me to school. He has stopped at the traffic light to


buy apples. I am hoping that he would buy the newspaper.

As he winds down, a flurry of people run to the car, displaying


a myriad of wares: toothbrush, shaving stick, fruits, handkerchiefs,
and many other things.

Dad takes five apples and gives the vendor one thousand naira. As
the vendor shuffles through his bag to fetch his balance, Dad picks
up the newspaper.

I know that what attracts him is not the news of the lone girl; it is
the news about politics that makes him pay for the paper. He nods
at the headlines and gives a weak smile. 

I stare out through the window as we drive past children in check-


ered school uniforms and bland sandals with the hopeless look only
found on the faces of children that attend public schools.

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I allow my thoughts to wander back to the girl in the news. I will
write about her in my English class today.

I wonder how she’ll survive in this world all by herself; I also imagine
what she’ll do with her freedom from parental control.

My thoughts linger on this as daddy pulls over in front of my school


and throws the apples in my bag. 

As I carry my lunchbox to jump off his black Hilux, I pause and look
up at him, “Dad, please can I go with the newspaper you bought?”

“What for?” he grimaces.

“I want to write an essay about the girl in my English class.”

“If this will make you study hard and pass your exams, then, why
not? I don’t need the piece of scrap anyway.”

I expect him to ask about the girl, but he doesn’t. He shoves the
newspaper to me, and I put it in my school bag.

“Bye Dad,” I say.

“Bye Uyai,” he says without looking.

As I run to school, I think about how much I love my dad, how


hard it is to sleep when mum is not around and how my big brother
protects me in school.
Then, I think about the girl in the news. I feel really sad for her. I run
to the restroom and stand in front of the mirror.

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She is 10 years old, just about my age.

How does she feel now? I pour water on my face to wash the tears
away. 

I am crying hard now.


 

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JUNE
I don’t understand the way I feel. I want to be close to Dave,
but I don’t get why I’m always so shy when he is around. Peace, my
bestie likes to make fun of me.

Yesterday, she posed as the matchmaker. I was almost physically


shaking when she made me say ‘hi’ to him.

Dave is really cute. I like his big round eyes and pink lips. His com-
plexion is smoothly dark, and his hair is really curly.

He’s been acting like he doesn’t notice me. Sometimes, I raise my


hands to answer questions just so he’ll see how smart I am, and I
make sure I don’t break any rules. He’s the class prefect and the
brightest boy in class. 

When Peace called him yesterday during break so I could talk to him
- it was a total disaster - I could barely even say anything.

I only managed to ask for his maths text-book, so I don’t seem so


dumb. Peace just kept making fun of me after that.

I can’t even imagine it. How do I handle this? What the hell am I
supposed to say? Peace said I could tell him I like him.

Hell No! I can’t even think about it. Now, what do I do with his
book? I’d better return it soon. Somehow, I must find a way to let
him know I like him. I don’t have an idea what I’ll do.
The school bus hoots and drives slowly into school. The bus really

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seems too slow. I am eager to see Dave today.

His Mom usually drops him in school very early because he is the
time-keeper as well. I shuffle past other children chattering away,
excited for a new day.

“Hey June, you got new shoes? So cool.”

“Oh! Thanks, Debbie. Are you seeing them for the first time?”

“Kinda. You don’t expect me to check you out every day like a
policeman.”

Debbie is Dave’s sister. Everyone says she is really nice, but I find
that I am uncomfortable with her. She seems very proud. Peace never
agrees with me on this. Peace suggests I get close to

Debbie because she would make it easier to be close to Dave.

“So, June, how would you like me to tell you a story?” “What story?”

“Well, my last holiday in California. I mean, we actually went to


Disneyland. It was so wow! Dave and I went down the rabbit hole of
Alice in Wonderland.

Mehn! They’ve got the best hot dogs ever. I couldn’t have enough of
their fried chicken and Dave had just too much ice cream…”

Wait, Dave loves ice cream. Dave loves ice cream. Dave loves ice
cream. I can get Dave ice cream.

“June, are you listening? Gosh, y’all are really boring over here,” she

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mutters.

“I’m sorry. Ice cream… I mean, Dave… sorry, Debbie…”

“What’s wrong with you?” she looks genuinely disgusted.

I can’t bear the scorn in her eyes. I actually feel like an idiot. Debbie
knows just how to make herself feel like the most important thing
in the world.

“I also had a nice holiday, even though I didn’t go to Disneyland.”

“Yeah right, but mine was more awesome. We got a truckload of


chocolates and candies back home.

And new shoes too, look…”

“Alright Deb, I’m right in front of my class now, I have to go in and


get ready for the day,” I roll my eyes.

She gives a cheeky grin. Her white teeth actually look like the Milky
Way, whatever that means.

If I didn’t have a long hair myself, I’d feel so bad about hers.

I admit she is really pretty, but can she at least not put her perfect life
all in my face? Anyway, if she didn’t, how else would I have known
about Dave and ice cream?

“It was great talking to you, Deb.” “Yaw, bye,” she whizzes off.

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UYAI
Dad has been arguing with mum all morning. I woke up to
their persistently tiring muffled voices.

They seem to argue about everything, and it always ends in Mom


either grudgingly agreeing with dad or she’d start crying.

“Peter, does everything always have to go your way, do you think


the whole world revolves around you? This is our daughter we are
talking about here.

Our daughter, not just a puppet whose life you have all laid out in
your palms”.

“Sisi, you dare not challenge my authority in this house. I am the


man of this house, the head.

And yes, I have the right to decide what I do with my daughter. I


provide everything in this house, so you are all answerable to me.

Do you understand?” Dad said with authority.

“She is our daughter! I also have a say in her life.” Mum argued.

“If you keep up with this argument, I will put you in your place and
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.”

Dad fired back.


There is silence for so long. I fear what dad will do to mum. What

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does he mean by putting her in her place, did she move from her
side of the bed? I thought.

I always hate it when they argue. Sometimes, it gets so heated that


they start to fight. Or, I think what happens is, dad starts to beat
mum. 

“My daughter is brilliant enough to start secondary school from


primary four. I never completed that silly primary six myself. It’s of
no use, just a waste of time.”

“And where are we hurrying to?”

“Don’t you get it? My companies are waiting to be managed by her.


She needs to get done soon enough to take over so I can move on to
something else.”

“You talk like you have it all figured out. What if that’s not what she
wants? What if Uyai does not want to be an Engineer?”

“Then she’d better go to hell.

No one flouts my order in this house. Don’t you understand?” They


continued to exchange words.

“How could you be so cruel? She should be allowed free will to


decide what she wants to do with her life.

She is not a puppet. She is very intelligent, Peter.” Mum said without
mincing words.

“Well, I did not ask for your opinion. All the free will you’ve had in

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your life, tell me, what have you done with it?”

“I don’t care what you say to me. I don’t care what you do to me.
But my daughter deserves a better future. She should finish her time
in school.

She won’t have to miss out on so much.”

Oh God! I don’t want to leave primary school yet. I’m going to miss
my friends and I won’t even have the chance to attend my gradua-
tion.

This is a nightmare. Speak up Mom, convince him. I said amidst


pleas.

“Forget it, Sisi. My girl is smart enough to catch up in secondary


school. This is all thought out already.

I didn’t even need your opinion. I’m in charge here. After all, I drive
my daughter to school myself and I’ve never asked for your help.”

“Oh God, this is so suffocating. Why do you have to be like this with
me, Peter? I am your wife. I’m not just a piece of furniture.

If we have a home together, I should be a part of the decisions


especially when it has to do with the welfare of my children. This is
so tiring.

You treat me like a rag. You beat me as you like.


What have I done to deserve this?”

“Well Sisi, as far as I am concerned, this conversation is over. So

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please, get my breakfast ready and give me some peace.”

“Why do I have to go through this?”

Inevitably, Mom starts to cry I hate it when mum cries. I don’t know
why dad treats her so unfairly.

I don’t want to leave school yet. There’s so much to learn in primary


five and six. 

I drag my duvet up my head, it gets very warm inside and I imagine


what it felt for the girl in the fire.

I close my eyes and it feels like I’m in the fire with her, trying to save
her, trying to save her family.

I run out of bed and turn on the shower. Despite the cold from the
AC, I shower with cold water.

I allow the chill to seep through my body and exhume a river of


goose bumps on my skin. I wish I had a more peaceful home.

I wish I had a little freedom.

I hug myself tight. I want to forget the girl but it’s so hard. 

It’s so hard.

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VICTORIA
I am a bit relieved that I’m finally going home after spending
weeks in the hospital.

I’m not hurting so much but some nights, the pains come at me like
a hurricane and I feel as though there is fire in my head. 

I’m on Uncle Uwem’s bike, sitting tautly in front and gripping the
bike handles tight while Uncle Uwem is behind me, zooming rapidly.

The chilly breeze blows hard on my face, drawing tears from my eyes
to the back of my head and gluing it to my skin. 

I can’t wait to see my mummy and daddy, maybe they are home
already. Uncle Uwem is not driving home; He drives into a road I
cannot recognise.

I want to ask him where we are going but maybe I’ll wait until we
arrive already.

The bike stops in front of a house painted yellow with white


protectors, about my height in front of it. It reminds me of the
protectors back home.

I used to stand in front of them with a long cane, teaching them to


sing the national anthem and flogging them. Maybe I’ll become a
teacher like my daddy when I grow up.

Daddy already bought us a black board in the house for our extra

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lessons. “Victoria, come inside,” he says.

I don’t want to go inside the house, but I don’t want to upset him,
so I open the small protector and climb onto the veranda.

The house is more sophisticated than our house.

There is music playing from the TV, the fan does not make noise
like ours.

Back home, our TV had stopped working a long time ago and daddy
said he did not have money to waste on the TV, when there are more
pressing issues to sort out in the house.

My big brothers and I used to go to Uncle Uwem’s house to watch


TV with his children. We would sit on the floor and laugh at Osofia’s
jokes.

My big brother would hold a book and pen to write down Sam
Loco’s words, and then, he would tell us to kneel down when we
cannot pronounce a word correctly.

That’s how I knew how to pronounce the word, “sophisticated”.

I had to kneel down and raise my hands, and my brother had me


repeat the word several times until I got it right.

I want to ask Uncle Uwem why we are here, where my parents and
siblings are, but as I look up, a huge man with big eyes that cannot
look straight comes out from the house.

With a faded wrapper tied around his waist, protruding a big knot

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in front, the bare-chested man who smells of Maggi and Jollof rice
spreads his wide mouth in a generous smile.

Uncle Uwem bends his head down and shakes the man’s right hand
with his two hands. When the man looks at uncle Uwem, his cross
eyes are as though he is looking at me.

“Good morning, my brother. How’s the family?” He greeted. “They


are all fine, sir. How about yours, sir?”

“The big boys are running around. My first son is about to finish
university. You see, I’m a proud father,” he rests his arms on his
chair and stretches his legs in front of him, looking genuinely happy.

“Congratulations, sir. Well done.” “Thank you, my brother. Please,


what do I offer you? “No, nothing. I’m fine.”

“You are not serious. How will you come to my house and not take
anything? Let’s give you something small at least.”

“It’s not like that, sir. It’s just that it’s too early to take anything,”
Uncle Uwem said, not looking so bright.

“If you say so. So, what brings you this early?” The man asked. “There
is a very serious matter on ground, sir and I believe it is something
you can handle.” Uncle Uwem responded.

The smile on the man’s face disappears. He leans forward on his seat
and looks at Uncle Uwem frankly in the face.

“What is the matter?” he asks. The man’s eyes bulge wider and it
scares me. I’m seated on a small stool at the opposite side of the

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leather chair they sit on.

I don’t want to get his chair dirty. I remembered that whenever we


went to Uncle Uwem’s house to watch TV, he always asks we, the
children, to sit on the carpet so that we don’t get his chairs dirty.

So, I am sitting on a stool and plaiting the ropes on my gown. 

Uncle Uwem shifts closer to the man and whispers to his ears. The
man nods and looks like he’s having a headache.

He squeezes his face, shaking his head slowly. He starts to hit his legs
fast on the floor and his body trembles.

“Sai! Mbom, mbom o! sese eyen. Uduk, nsuto mkpo?”

He is saying, “Sorrow, sorrow, look at the child, pity, what kind of


thing?” now I know they are talking about me.

Uncle Uwem is also shaking his head, looking teary. 

The fan rolls slowly to a halt. The house quietens as the music on the
TV stops playing.

I wish it was like this when Uncle Uwem was talking so I could hear
what he said. Now he is done talking; they are both exclaiming and
shaking their heads.

“I saw it in the news, my brother. I couldn’t hold myself. Sai! All of


them?” the man says and shakes his head again. “No problem my
brother, we will try our best.

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You mean, The Post newspaper carried the news and up until now,
none of these politicians have shown interest in the case, nobody
wants to do anything about this?

These people are worthless.

We pay our taxes every day and they squander it. All they know is
to build houses in their villages. These people are just worthless,” he
puts his head down as if he is praying.

“Uwem, don’t worry. I’ll keep the child until we can find out what
else to do. I’m really torn by this. I’ll inform my wife. Let’s see what
we can do,” he snaps his fingers.

“I really appreciate this, sir. The whole thing has been on my head.

I’ve been struggling to pay the hospital bills and I have 5 mouths to
feed.” Uncle Uwem said. “So how long will I have to keep her?” he
asks.

“I’m trying to reach Daniel’s brother. He has visited them once


or twice, but I don’t know where exactly he lives. I’ll find him, I
promise. I’ll find him soon enough.

We really have to help her. She has missed school for weeks now
and I hear they will start exams soon.” The man nods his head and
remains quiet.

Uncle Uwem continues as if talking to himself. “Daniel was a good


neighbour and friend to me. He was like a brother.

I know that if this had happened to me, he would have done the

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same to help me. I believe God knows why this happened. He was a
good man. Only God knows why.”

“It’s a very sad thing, my brother. So, fire service did not even show
up?”

“Nobody came, sir. But I heard the police came around after we had
rushed some of them to the hospital.

This was around 1 am. I think something blew because they just
brought light at that time. Luckily, I was not asleep yet.

In fact, I was just preparing to go to bed when it happened. By the


time I rushed over, the door was already stuck, and we spent almost
30 minutes trying to break it open.

By the time the door was open, it was late. Some of them survived
to the hospital and…” Uncle Uwem stops talking as if his mouth
suddenly got stuck.

He tilts his head to one side, and I can see tears in his eyes. He covers
his face with his palm and speaks through it, “It was a very terrible
sight.”

I feel like crying too. Maybe it was our fridge that blew, or maybe the
iron was on. I wish I did not sleep so early.

I feel my head hang lightly above me like a detached bottle cover,


making me nauseous. I want to ease myself. I want to sleep.

I can hear the man saying, “God has a reason for everything that
happens,” the same thing daddy used to say.

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Now, I don’t have time to think about that. I am very pressed, but I
cannot move. I’m trying to hold it, shutting my legs very tight and
sitting still.

The light returns, spinning the fan frantically, causing my head to


spin with it. I feel as though the fan is my head and my head is the
fan. Look, I have three heads. I am spinning.

I am spinning very fast. I cannot sit still. I am falling off the stool.
Uncle Uwem is running towards me.

He is saying, “Please don’t faint again. I don’t have money for


hospital bills, oh God!” he is holding my head in his hand.

Cold water splashes over my head, spilling on my dress. There is a


fire in my head. I am under a hot door with my mother, shouting
for Jesus to forgive our sins.

I am shivering. My head is burning. Everything is happening fast


like a trance, and I can see myself in the ugly scene again.

I feel urine glide gently between my legs, flowing hotly down my


thighs onto the dusty red carpet.

The water is starting to cool my head. The curtain is closing, and


everything is becoming black. The huge man is saying, “She’ll be
fine. Let her sleep...” 

His voice drifts past as though I am in a deep ocean. Everything goes


black.
 
 

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JUNE
At the early hours of today, I asked daddy to drop me in
school by himself. My Daddy is a very busy man.

He goes to work very early in the morning every week-day and comes
back late at night.

Some nights, I have to stay up until 10 pm when he gets back. He


works in an oil company in Eket local government. 

I am trying very hard to convince him, so I make that baby face that
makes him laugh. 

I promise to finish reading the book he got me. I neatly empty


my plate of fried plantain and egg sauce and then I show him my
homework.

I think that’s where he agrees because he looks into my book, nods


his head, shifts his tie in place once again and says, “Okay, let’s go.”

The first stage of my mission today is accomplished. My tiny arms


go round his neck in a hug.

He giggles and calls me “little Pimpim”. I laugh too, carry my bag


and lunch box and run to the car.

I cannot reach the car door, so I wait for him to hurl me inside his
squeaky, clean, white Hilux.

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When daddy carries me, I feel like I will reach heaven because daddy
is very tall. He closes the door and gets into the front seat. His driver
jumps in too and drives gently out the gate.

I am so excited right now. Daddy has no idea why I insisted that he


drops me in school today and this makes me smile inside.

I know that daddy will do anything to make me happy, especially


when it has to do with school.

I think today is going to be a good day. I’m feeling excited already,


and a little nervous. I move close to Daddy’s seat, close to his ears.
He is on his phone.

I think he is on Facebook or reading a book. I can’t see clearly from


my seat.

I whispered close to his ears, “Daddy,” but he did not hear me, so
I touched his white shirt gently and he jerked swiftly and turned to
me.

“Baby girl, how far?” he asked and turned back to his phone. I did
not answer. “I hope you are happy now.

Daddy is dropping you in school today. Daddy is a good man,” he


said, smiling at me.

Daddy’s face looks like chocolate and I feel like eating him. He has
bright white eyes and cute dimples when he smiles.

When he looks at me, a knot forms in my stomach and my heart


flows like a river.

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I want to smile back at him, but I have to keep a straight face in
order to accomplish the task I have already started.

I try hard to twist my face. “Pimpim, you are doing inyanga for
Daddy. What is it now? I’ll drop you in school. Okay, I’ll carry you
to your class and I’ll sing Bob Marley to your friends,” he laughed.

Oh, Daddy has got me. He knows how to make me laugh. It is so


hard to hold this smile.

Daddy knows I like Bob Marley’s songs. I can imagine him gathering
my friends in class around him and shaking his head, singing to
them. I know it’s something he can do.

Only if he wasn’t rushing off to work. I try hard to twist my face


again.

“I know you are just looking for Daddy’s trouble, because you know
daddy will lose his job as a daddy if you continue to keep your face
like that,” he moves his face closer to mine and holds up my chin,
looking into my eyes. “What is it, baby?”

“I want ice cream,” I muttered. Daddy starts to laugh. He giggles as


if I have just said the silliest thing. I don’t know how to keep my face
straight now.

“Oh Daddy, stop laughing,” I say, touching my tiny fingers on his


face in feigned anger.

“Is that what your teacher asked you to bring to school today?” he
asks amidst smiles.

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“No, I just want ice cream now. Look, we can just stop and get it
before we get to school.”

“So, my baby is now a trickster. You are just smart like your Daddy.
So, you refused to join your school bus today because you want
daddy to buy you ice cream.

You cajoled me into taking you to school,” he laughs. “You got this
all planned out, girl, haven’t you?” he looks impishly at me.

I give back the impish look as though I have no idea what he is


talking about. But well, he’s right.

“Pilot, please pull over somewhere let’s get my baby ice cream. So,
when you get to school, you’ll show it to your friends and tell them
your daddy bought you ice cream,” he looks at me in the corner of
his eye and smiles. I smile back.

“You are happy now, ehn fine girl? We’ll buy you ice cream. Just be
sure daddy is not late for work today. If daddy gets late, he’ll resign
and become a student in your school.

He’ll wear your school uniform and become a primary 6 baby like
you.”

“My school uniform cannot size you,” I said. “Let’s try it now,
remove it, let’s see if it’s my size or not.” “Okay daddy. Even if it’s
your size, you are too big to be in primary 6.

If you come to my school, you’ll have to be my English teacher


because you’ll make a better English teacher.

29
I don’t like my English teacher. He tries to fake the American accent,
so he says ‘kanna’ and ‘wanna’ ‘yunktion.”

“He’s an oil city man, forgive him. And he probably didn’t have the
kind of education you have now.”

“But you are also from here and you don’t have a bad accent.”

He turns back and raises his arms dramatically, “Daddy is a


superman.”

“Superman Daddy,” I say as we stop to get the ice cream.

“We have to hurry, baby,” he says, lifting me out of the car. I walk
proudly, holding my daddy’s hand and laughing at his jokes.

Daddy gets me vanilla ice cream and Snickers chocolates. I’m really
happy right now, almost skipping as I walk.

“Be careful not to spill the ice cream. Here, hold it well.” Daddy
arranges the ice cream straight in the bag, lifts me into the car and
we zoom off.

By the time I got to school, it was almost assembly time. Fridays are
almost always free for us in school.

We usually have only two classes, then after break, we are off to
our different talent clubs. There’s music, dance, press, taekwondo,
gymnastics, soccer and others.

I’m in the music club and I’m the president. I love singing. I can play
the piano and I’m still on my violin classes now. Dave is in the dance

30
club, and he’s a superb dancer.

I wish we were in the same club. But, isn’t it dumb that we aren’t?
Music and dance should go together and should be one club. 

I sigh to myself. As I’m about to drop my bag, I hear the bells ring,
and everyone starts to rush out of the classrooms.

I have to rush out too, so I put the ice cream and chocolates in my
school bag and run off.

We say our prayers, sing the national anthem, school anthem and it’s
time for the news.

Debbie comes on with Josh. They are both in press club and get to
read the news most of the time. They look like a couple and speak
very spectacular English.

There’s news about the last debate competition the school participated
in. Our school has been declared the winner and the participants
would be given prizes.

I wish I was part of the debate competition though. Daddy would


have been so proud of me.

The assembly is taking too long already. I can’t wait to go back to


complete my ice cream task.

I move close to Peace and whisper into her ears about the ice cream.
She chuckles in excitement, almost laughing out loud.

Debbie concludes the news with details of our graduation which is

31
in 2 weeks. 

We finally get back in class, singing, “Oh my home, oh my home,


when shall I see my home?

When shall I see my native land? I will never forget my home.” 


Now, I have to finish what I started. I rush to my seat to get the pre-
cious gift, while Peace tries to talk to Dave.

When I bring out the ice cream, a startling cut slides across my heart
like the sharp knife used to cut afang leaves.

The ice cream had melted, spreading a sweet pink mess in my bag. 
 
And look, oh my God! The Maths text-book. It’s Dave’s. I’m so shat-
tered right now. Oh June! How could you let this silly thing happen?
What will I do now? 

I drag the book from the bag and try to wipe it off with my handker-
chief, grateful I didn’t forget to carry the white scrap today.

Before I can make the spill go away, the matchmaker arrives with the
‘Prince Charming’. It’s too soon Peace; I have to deal with this first.
My, it’s too late already.

“Hi June,” they say in unison. My cheeks start to flutter and red wine
flows from the left side of my heart down to my stomach, feeding
the butterflies in there like the sweetest nectar.

Now, I can’t control them anymore. I don’t know whether to look


up or keep trying to clean the book. I drop the book, shoving it out
of sight.

32
“Hi… Dave,” I stutter.
“Peace said you want to talk to me.”

“In fact, she has something special for you,” Peace chips in, nudging
me and winking slyly.

“No, never mind. It’s a joke,” I say, looking like a wet chicken.
“That’s not funny.

Don’t be a fish,” Peace says and turns to Dave “Don’t mind her,
Dave. I’m going to my seat now, bye,” she looks at me, giggles and
runs off.

Now, I’m left face to face with Dave and I can’t wish for anything
more than to disappear.

I remember daddy always says to me, “You will be afraid of many


things, girl, but you’ve got to face your fears.” Okay, Daddy. That is
so easy to say.

“Hi June,” he repeats, more to break the awkward silence than a


pleasantry – because he puts up a grin and a handshake like we are
about to begin a business chat.

My, I didn’t know this was going to be this difficult. I take his hand
gingerly and drop them as fast as I could, like his hand was the fur-
nace where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into.

“What’s up?” he says shabbily.

I just stand there and stare for what seems like 3 years. My father says

33
I am a very brave child but right now, I think that’s a big lie.

Since Daddy is not capable of committing such atrocity as a lie, I


have to live up to it. I need to brave up now.

So, I start. “Okay, Dave. Let’s say, it’s not as serious as Peace put it,”
I say before I even think about what I just said.

“What are you talking about?” he keeps a stern look, or am I just


imagining it? He moves his weight to his right leg and strokes his
chin for an invisible beard.

This is more difficult than I thought, really. I breathe in and out


gently. Now, that helps.

I learnt that trick from Daddy when I had some Bible recitations
in church. He taught me that breathing in and out is a therapy for
nervousness, and it most often works.

“Well, I have good news, and a bad one. Which one should I say
first?”

“June, we don’t have all the time. I have to get the board and mark-
ers ready for the first class,” he glances at his G-shock wrist-watch,
and then looks back straight in my face. I’m afraid I am about to
crumble. 

There is something really cool about Dave, something classy, some-


thing excellent, something exceptional, something you may refer to
as finishing touches.

His uniform is always so crisp that you could use the ironed lines

34
to cut onions. And his black shoes stay polished all day, his socks
white as snow.
“Okay, the bad news first, then the good news, then I can go,” he
flings his hands in the air. 

This coldness is the reason I feel like saying “never mind” right now.
But I have already soiled the book, I have to own up and apologise.

I bring out the textbook slowly and hold it in front of me like I’m
about to present an award.

“I’m sorry, Dave. The bad news is I soiled your maths text-book. I’m
so sorry. I was already trying to clean it up. I’m really sorry.”

His coolness disappears immediately, and he snatches the book from


me, stares at it in despair, his mouth wide open and his palm on his
forehead as though to check his temperature.

“You mean you messed with my maths text-book?”

He stresses the “maths” as though it would have been a lighter sin if


I’d messed with his English or any other text-book.

I wince and close my eyes. When I open them, he looks a little sober.

“I’m sorry, Dave,” I say, truly sorry from my heart.

“Okay, the good news?” he waves me on, still staring at his precious
textbook. I have no idea why I got this book from him in the first
place.

I didn’t even need it. He looks up, impatiently. Okay, I have to speak

35
now.

I muster courage and then begin. “Well, I got you ice cream,” I didn’t
expect to be so direct, but the words just flew out. I don’t want to
waste his time anymore.

It’s no good. I’ll never be able to be close to him. I’ve messed up


already.

“I got ice cream,” I repeat. “I wanted to give it to you. I dropped it


in my school bag, and it soiled everywhere.

I’m sorry, Dave. I wasn’t thinking.” I don’t mind if I have to say ‘I’m
sorry’ a thousand times for this ‘cup’ to be taken away from me.

He starts to chuckle. I never expected that at all. Now, I feel like


laughing alongside him only that I have to find out why first.

He has the cutest laugh ever - well, right after my dad’s. He moves
slowly like he wants to dance, continues to laugh, covering his mouth
with his palm as though in a bid not to alert others in the class.

If he continues like this, I’m afraid I’m going to burst open like a
balloon. I’d expected him to let all hell loose, anything but become
a cute jackal.

“That’s so dumb, June,” he says in muffled laughter. “Well, I don’t


mean that you are dumb, okay.

I just mean that it’s very unwise to put ice cream in your school bag
alongside books, or anything at all. Everyone knows ice cream melts
when left in room temperature.”

36
He looks up at me. He probably notices that I’m beaten dead now.
If I were a dog, my tail would certainly have been between my legs.

“Okay, I’m sorry for laughing. It’s actually cool that you got me ice
cream. I mean, thanks.

That’s very thoughtful of you. I actually love ice cream a lot. But
anyway, it’s cool my book had the ice cream on my behalf. Thanks
June, for the kindness,” he puts up a smirk and walks away. 

He makes a smooth U-turn, tilting his head to one side and looking
humble.

“Okay, now. I shouldn’t sound like that, neither should I walk out
on you, but I really have to get ready for the class.

It wasn’t your fault that the ice cream spilled, okay?” he walks away
and turns back again.

“Thanks for the ice cream, June.”

He looks on for a reply. I’m too stunned to say anything. I only


manage a nod and a tiny smile.

I think this was not so bad after all. Dave is not such a scarecrow.
He’s actually really nice.

My heart is doing a marathon right now. I think that’s a good feel-


ing.

Awwwwwwwwn! 

37
 
 

VICTORIA
 
I am sitting on the veranda, on a small bench, the colour of
mud. The hinges are very weak, but it can carry me because I have
become very lean. 

It has been 5 days since Uncle Uwem brought me here. Aunt Bessie,
Barrister’s wife has been nice to me.

She stuffs my plate with food all the time, but my tummy can barely
hold down anything.

I don’t know where my family is. I have never been away from them
for this long. I don’t know if they ran out of the fire, if they are still
in the house. I don’t know anything. 

I miss my baby sister, Sarah. She was my best friend. She could not
speak properly but she loved it when I read My Book of Bible Stories
to her.

She would sit still as if she understood everything I said. I was just
waiting for her to grow up so we could play in the rain together. 

It’s raining now. It has been raining heavily for days. It is as if the
sky is shedding tears on my behalf.

The rain sends morose splatters on the white protector and tiny

38
drops fall on my face.

I put out my tongue to let the cold water splash on it as I close my


eyes.

It is becoming dark outside. I can hear the sky roar authoritatively,


as sparkling light slices through it. 

If I were home with my family, I would have gone out to bathe in the
rain. All the children in my compound would have been out playing.

We would play hide and seek or ekpe ino ebod mmi, where we’ll
form a circle around one person who plays the goat while another,
the lion stays outside trying to get in the circle to eat him.

It is always so much fun.

When it gets dark like this, we would be afraid that rapture is about
to happen, and Jesus will come back. But it never happens.

Maybe it will happen today – now that my family is not here. 

It’s getting very cold outside. I should go inside. But I don’t want to
go inside. I want to sit here by myself. I want to be alone.  

“Jesus loves me;


This I know;
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to him belong;
They are weak but he is strong;
Yes, Jesus loves me;
Yes, Jesus loves me;

39
Yes, Jesus loves me; The Bible tells me so”.
I keep singing this song over and over. It’s the song we sing every
morning when Daddy wakes us up for morning prayers.

He wakes us very early and most times, I am still sleepy.

When I start to doze off, daddy would call my name and ask me to
come up with a song and I get very dumbfounded.

One day, I was so sleepy I started to sing 2face’s ‘African Queen’


instead of a Christian song.

My brothers laughed at me and I had to stand on my feet through-


out the prayers. I kept swaying and almost fell down. 

Daddy always taught us about God from the Bible. He tells us many
stories.

I remember the story of the ten virgins. Five of them went with extra
oil while the other five did not, and they missed the feast.

Jesus died for our sins, so, God has forgiven our sins. If God truly
forgives sins, then I don’t understand why he had to kill Ananias
and Saphira when they lied. 

Maybe God is punishing me for my sins. I don’t know what I did


wrong. But sometimes, we sin unknowingly.

Maybe I sinned unknowingly, and God is punishing me for it. May-


be it’s the will of God for my family to leave me.

Daddy says that everything that happens is the will of God. He says

40
that no hair falls off our heads that God does not know about.
If God loves me, then how can it be His will that my family should
all leave me? What have I done wrong? God, please forgive my sins.

Please, bring back my family and help me to pass all my exams.

NEPA has taken light.

Barrister’s son is shouting “NEPA!” in so much despair as if his life


depended on the light. I wish I had no troubles.

I wish I only had NEPA to worry about right now. I cannot even
watch TV, it reminds me too much of my brothers.

“Ah! Victoria, you are not asleep?” Barrister asks yawning loudly and
stretching. “Why are you sitting here alone, now? Are you not feeling
this cold? It’s as if this rain will never stop.

I should have started work on that land I bought but this govern-
ment work will not even give me time for myself,” he turns to me.

“Are you okay?” “Yes sir, I’m okay,” I respond.

He rubs his hand on his bare stomach, “Udo, bring a seat for me.

Let me sit here and enjoy this fresh air since the owners of the light
have decided that we should not finish that funny movie.”

Udo brings a chair for Barrister and himself.

I move my seat closer to the wall to make enough room for them.

41
Udo moves his chair close to mine and sits down.
“What class are you?” he asks. “Primary six.” “Chai! You are too
small to be in primary 6.

I am also in primary 6 and I am bigger than you. How old are you
sef?”

He stands up to his full height and places his palm a little above his
head. “Look, I’m taller than you. You are just too tiny.”

“Udo, keep quiet and sit down!” his father shouts at him.

“But Daddy, I’m bigger than her…”

“I said keep quiet. Go inside and bring me the radio let me hear
what Margret Essiet has to say today. That woman, she never gets
tired.”

Udo pinches my leg before running inside. It’s very painful.

I rub my finger where he’d pinched me, and it is sticky. 

God, I want to go home.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

42
 
 
 
 
 

UYAI
I have been on Chinua Achebe’s books all week. Things Fall
Apart, Anthills of the Savannah, Arrow of God, No Longer at Ease
and back to Things Fall Apart now.

Mommy bought them for me. I had asked her to. I prefer to read
African novels. They remind me of myself and I like the familiar
culture.

It’s all real, these things. They could have happened to any one of
us. 

Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye is very brave. He is able to stand up to his


father, to his religion, to tradition.

That is a lot of strong will. But I don’t see anything wrong with the
African religion though. We still pray to God.

And best of all, we are humane and that’s what religion should be
after all. It should bring out the humanity in us.

I don’t blame Okonkwo for standing up for it, giving his life for it.

Those traditions are his life. Well, we all have different minds, dif-

43
ferent choices, different things that mean greatness to us. 

But somehow, Ikemefuna’s death haunts me. It must have taken so


much courage for Okonkwo to kill his son. Well, not really his son,
but the boy calls him father.

If he had the courage to kill himself in the end, then killing Ikeme-
funa may not have been that difficult for him, anyway.

I’m thinking if people still love anything these days to be able to


stand up for it, even with the willingness to die. I’m thinking now,
what will I be willing to die for?

“I’m telling you, you will die now if you don’t go to bed. What are
you still doing up by this time?”

I stop short and wince. Here’s where I realize I have been thinking
out loud. I didn’t even notice its past 11pm now, two hours past
my bedtime.

“Can somebody answer my question, what are you doing up at


almost midnight?” he asks, walking towards my reading table.

“I was… I am reading, Daddy,” I stutter.

“What says your time?” he gets to the table as I try to push the
novel under my English textbook.

Maybe reading my English textbook will be a more understandable


reason to flout sleeping rules.

He lifts the book up and digs out the novel, holding it out like a

44
burnt offering to be offered to the gods, spreading his hands out
to demonstrate how inconsequential my sitting up to read stories
is to me, and most especially, to his life.

“What’s the meaning of this nonsense? Are these recommended


texts in school?” “Yes… no Daddy,” I’d better not lie.

“You dare lie to me? Is something amiss in your brain?” he thun-


ders, shaking the book in my face.

“I’m not lying, Daddy. I mean, I’m sorry. It’s not recommended. I
just love to read them.”

“Now listen. And I will say this for the last time. The only books
allowed in this house are books that have to do with school.

Your maths text books, English textbook, and…

I mean you have common entrance in a couple of days, and you


are here messing around with rubbish.

Are you going to write this garbage stories in your exams?” “No
Dad.”

“Good. Now, that is one. Two: when it’s bedtime, you get your sor-
ry ass in bed. If it is very important that you stay up for any reason,
you have to take permission from me, stating your reason.

Do you understand?” he says holding his ears. “Yes, Daddy.”

“Do you understand!” he stresses, bulging his eyes this time.


“I understand, Dad.”

45
“Now, put off the lights and get into bed, silly.”

I move to put off the light, but he wags his finger towards the bed,
I detour and nuzzle in my duvet as he starts to the door. “Daddy,
please the book…” I say. “You say?” he turns his huge frame to me.

“The book, Daddy.”

“What book, this scrap?” he holds the book by the ear as though
it really is scrap. “You want me to give it back, so you spend your
whole life on worthless stories, meaningless nonsense?”

Well, if he calls Things Fall Apart meaningless nonsense, then I


don’t know what else makes sense in this life.

I remain silent. I just want him to leave my room already.

Daddy is turning into the mercenaries of the Nigerian civil war.


Since the day I told him I wouldn’t like to leave school in primary
four, he has been a raging lion.

He says I question his wisdom and flout his orders. The thing is
there’s just too many orders to live by. Some of them even contra-
dict themselves.

You cannot skip siesta, but you have to wash your school uniform
yourself, so you don’t get lazy. It’s so exhausting. I don’t know his
plans, but he is sure grooming me into something.

“Look here girl, you have to be perfect. Forget that crap that no one
is perfect. You can be perfect.

46
You can get it all right, and it all starts now,” he mutters more cool-
ly as though he had been in my thoughts. I nod and close my eyes.

He reduces the velocity of the fan and puts off the lights. As he
slams the door shut, I hear the sound of my brother’s PS3 from
his room.

Did Daddy not check on him, or is he off the sleeping rules? This
is unfair. If there are rules in this house, Junior should not be ex-
empted.

I want to get out of bed and do something else. How am I supposed


to sleep at night when I have a long siesta?

I think I want the secondary school idea already and I hope I’d go
to a boarding school. 

I sink into my soft bed, savouring the baby fragrance filtering from
the air freshener and letting the cold from the AC seep through
me. 

Yet, I toss in bed all night.

47
 

VICTORIA
I toss in bed all night. A scourge of mosquitoes have been
poured into the room I share with Barrister’s children.

I’m lying on a tiny construction – a mat with a flat foam laid on


it – on the floor. The older children sleep on the large spring bed
while I share the floor with Udo. 

It is very cold as the rain hits angrily on the roof. A mischievous


mosquito hums in my ear, moving in a circle as though celebrating
a conquest.

I try to wave it away, but it has become defiant, so I give up the


pursuit and lie still.

I feel very tired because I spent all day studying for my exams and
running errands for Bessie. Uncle Uwem had made a copy of his
son’s books for me to read since we are in the same class.

A rattling sound from the window startles me. It is like an animal


struggling with a sack bag. It must be a rat or a snake.

I can’t tell if the noise is from outside or inside, but I can feel my

48
heart beating really fast. I squint, looking towards the window but
I can’t see a thing.

It’s still very dark. My heart falls to the pit of my stomach and
jumps back up. I feel my teeth quiver. What if the snake crawls
towards me, what if it bites me? I’m shaking physically now. I am
pressed but I cannot get up. 

I want it to be morning already. Yet, I don’t like mornings because


of my chore which is washing all the dirty plates.

All through the day, everyone drops their dirty plates in the kitch-
en and the next morning, the one who has to handle all that filth
and flies, happens to be me.

It is even more annoying when I am bullied by Udo to take up his


chores too.

Not like I cannot beat Udo or stand up to him, it’s just I don’t
want to offend Barrister in any way. Besides, I’ll be leaving soon so
I don’t have to go through the trouble. 

I pull the thin wrapper over my tiny shoulders and leave my head
uncovered. I want my eyes to be wide open so that when the snake
comes, I can see it first and run away.

There is a thick smell of urine coming from the toilet. Maybe the
water had finished.

We usually have to fetch water from our neighbour’s compound


every morning.

49
When there is little water in the house, everyone has to take turns
using the toilet before we finally flush it all off so that we don’t
waste water.

Now, it forms a heavy stench that hovers through the room en-
closed to keep away mosquitoes that inevitably find their way in.

I close my eyes and try to sleep. Udo starts to move. He shifts close
to me and wraps his hand around my waist.

I keep still, almost holding my breath. He slides under my wrapper


and drags it up his head.

I can feel his breath hot on my arm. I can’t tell if he is asleep or


awake. Maybe he is cold and cannot find his own wrapper. I relax
and try to find sleep. 

He starts to move again, breathing heavily this time. I feel his cold
fingers on my lap, moving gently, up my thighs, between my legs.
I lie motionless, cold.

It’s as though he is sleep-moving, no other part of his body moves,


only his hand and fast breath.

I am not wearing any pants. I had washed it last night. I have only
one pant. I wash it every night and wear it back the next day. 

His fingers are now stroking me gently. A tide of disgust gushes


through me.

Fear races up my belly and grabs fiercely my neck, hitting at my


chest thunderously.

50
I don’t understand the way I feel. My body runs hot and cold at
the same time, feeling good and bad all at once. I don’t know what
is happening to me.
My head is splitting in two. The noise outside starts to quieten.
Light creaks slowly into the house.

Udo is now shifting slowly towards me, his hand moving up my


shirt, his nose so close as though he is sniffing my body.

I push his hand away gently and turn to face the wall. I move closer
to the wall, away from him, squeezing my legs and eyes shut. 

Slowly, in the cool morning breeze, I drift into a laborious sleep.

A cock crows faintly from the backyard and a car horn hoots out-
side.

I am very pressed but my whole body refuses to respond. 

My head is becoming empty. Thank God I can finally sleep.

51
 
 
 

JUNE
Daddy superman has decided that I stay in his study with
him and try to finish the second season of the Harry Potter series
as bait for going to dinner with him tonight right after shopping
in the afternoon.

This is very exciting for me and if I have to finish reading all the
books in the world for it to happen, I wouldn’t mind.

Well, I would have preferred to go swimming instead, but for the


rains. This is one thing about July, the rain is unbearable.

I have been trying to finish this book for two weeks now.

I don’t like to read, but Daddy makes me read many books. He says
it improves my vocabulary and helps me learn new things.

So, he has me write down new words and their meanings, and, also,
give him a summary of each book I read with occasional rewards
such as today’s outing. 

I flip through the book. I have 10 pages left. It usually takes me


almost an hour to finish a page while struggling through sleep and

52
a strong urge to drop it and do something else.

Daddy is typing away on his computer and looking all serious.

I stare hard into the book, biting my lips to keep from dozing.
Daddy’s study is the quietest place in the world.

It is so cold and calm. It is almost all white except the dark blue rug
and the black chair he sits on.

His apple computer is white, as well as the shutters and the shelves.
It has a very serene and fresh ambience.

The shelves at the corner to my right are stacked up with large en-
gineering books, encyclopaedias, as well as law books.

Daddy says he loves the legal profession.

He’d always wanted to be a lawyer, but his father thought he’ll be


a more successful engineer, working for the only oil company in
the state.

If I’ve been trying to keep myself from sleeping, I’m certainly doing
a bad job at it. Or, how else did I not notice that Daddy had joined
me on the couch?

“Look at this reader girl,” he says.

“I’m almost done, Dad, I promise. I wasn’t sleeping,” he gives me


an impish look. “I was only thinking,” I try to convince myself.

He laughs. “Okay, if you say so.”

53
“But, it’s so difficult to read in this quiet study. How do you man-
age?”

“Well, Daddy is a superman.”

“Superman Daddy, superman Daddy,” I sing, shaking my head and


watching him giggle like a child.

“But really dad, your work seems really difficult and stressful. You
know, I was just thinking about it. Do you really love your job?”

“I’m naturally a hardworking man. You are hardworking too. You


play your piano so well. You’d be a great music producer if that’s
what makes you happy.”

“But I’m talking about you. Does your work make you happy?”

“Well, a man’s got to work hard to take care of his family, especially
when he’s got a little angel for a daughter.”

I try not to look amused, but I can feel heat rush to my cheeks.

Daddy knows how to dodge questions he does not want to answer.


He should really have been a lawyer.

I look in his eyes, trying to see if he really is happy. But I can’t find
anything, just plain white eyes and black pupil. “Are you?” I ask.

“Well baby, you make me happy. And that’s enough. The work
doesn’t matter that much, as far as it can afford you the life that
you deserve, a good life.

54
You should not lack anything, even if I have to clean toilets to
make sure of that.”

“Ewwww! I won’t let you touch me if you clean toilets.”

“When I get back from the toilet job, I’ll just run up and hold you
like this,” he leaps up swiftly and holds my waist, startling me and
laughing, he lifts me up and then lands me on his lap, fixing his
face in my neck and shaking his head.

I try to shuffle out of his grip, laughing as he tickles me. I laugh so


hard I’m afraid my ribs will shatter.

“So, will you let me touch you?” he stops tickling me monetarily. 

“No,” I say.

He fixes his face back in my neck and blows air into it. I laugh so
hard until my eyes water. “Yes… yes… yes,” I say amidst laughter.

“Yes what?” he says.

“I’ll let you touch me,” I keep laughing.

He lets go of me and keeps a calm face again. God, I can’t stop


laughing.

“Now Daddy, you are playing with me. How will I finish reading
this book?”

“You have to finish it o,” he bulges his eyes and feigns seriousness.

55
“Else we won’t go shopping and have dinner tonight?” I ask.

“Who the heck wants to miss dinner with a pretty chick like you?
I mean, any man that can bear skipping a time out with you is not
fit to be alive.”
“Awww! You flatter me, dad. Not everyone thinks I’m such a fairy.”

“Well, I do.”
“But Dave doesn’t,” oops! That got out before I had time to think
about it. 

“Who’s Dave?” he asks, looking genuinely interested.


“Never mind, Dad.”
“Tell me, who is he, some guy in your school?”
“Aww! Dad, you’re being nosy. Leave it alone.”
“You know you can talk to me about anything.” 
“Well, I know.”
“Everything.”
“Yeah right.”
“This thing.”
“Oh, leave it alone Dad.”
“Okay, if you say so.”

He keeps quiet and starts to fiddle with his phone. I wonder if he


is angry. I can’t bear this silence with him. 

“All right, I’ll tell you,” I say.

He drops his phone immediately and stares at me as though his

56
favourite TV show just came on.

“I’m listening,” he says.

“Not so fast,” I say, raising my pinkie up and touching it on his


lips. “You have to make me a promise.”
“I promise.”
“You promise what?”
“I promise,” he smiles.
“It’s not funny.”
“Okay fine. What?”
“You have to promise you won’t get mad at me.”
“Is there something to be mad about?”
“Well, not exactly. Except you choose to be.”
“Okay I promise. Go ahead now.”
“Okay,” now I’m stuck. How the hell did I get here? 
“Okay what?” he brings me back to the arduous task of talking
about Dave.

“You are being very impatient,” I sigh. “Fine, you remember that
day?”

“Yes, I do”
“What day?” I stare at him. 

“Any of the days you want me to remember,” he laughs. I want to


sulk, but I start to laugh too.

As we both laugh, I feel very at ease. Okay, I think my daddy is so


cool. I feel like rising into the heavens right now.

57
I really don’t have to be afraid of anything, do I?

“Okay, that day when you dropped me at school, when you got me
ice cream. You remember?” I start.

“You mean when you tricked me, when you showed me that double
my wisdom cannot equal yours?”

“Awww! I didn’t mean to make you feel that way.”

“It’s a good feeling, trust me. Who doesn’t want a genius for a
daughter?”

“Alright. So breaking news: the ice cream wasn’t for me. I had other
plans.”

I pause, waiting for him to show surprise, anger or any kind of


disapproval but none is visible.

He is just sitting here, calm and attentive. I don’t want the silence
to linger too long so, I keep talking.

“Well, I didn’t achieve my plans anyway. The ice cream poured in


my bag, and on Dave’s text-book.

And he had to re-echo it on my already remorse self that it was


dumb to put ice cream in my school bag.

But it was already time for assembly when I got to school so I just
threw it in the bag without thinking. I was so sorry.”

58
“So wait, his text book was in your bag?”

“Yes, I had gotten it from him. Okay, don’t ask me why because I
have no idea. I have my own text book. It’s just, I wanted to talk to
him but by the time he got close,

I was short of words, so I just asked for his book.”


“Smart girl you are, aren’t you?” he smiles and looks in my face.
My fair cheeks must be burning red right now.

I can’t believe I’m telling my dad this. And he is here, listening like
everything is okay.

“Okay, I’m jealous,” he says. “My little girl is getting ice cream for
Dave. Am I losing you to him, baby?”

“Of course not! It’s just, he’s the smartest guy in class, he can
dance, and he looks really cool.”

“Good qualities, if you ask me. So, did he cut your head off for
spilling his ice cream on his book?”

“Well, not really. He was upset though. But he thanked me for


letting his book have the ice cream in his stead.”

My Dad opens his mouth wide in raucous laughter. He throws his


head up and spreads his arms, savouring the pleasure of whatever
amuses him.

“That’s not funny, Dad,” I squirm.

“No…no, it’s not,” He says, almost choking. “It’s just… this Dave,

59
he’s got some humour too, you know?”

“Maybe that’s another reason I like him,” I say pensively.

His laughter ceases immediately. He looks me frankly in the face.


“You… you do?”

Now, his ability to switch his moods perfectly is a special talent, if


you ask me.

“I don’t know…” I stutter.

“That’s serious, girl.”

I look up at him, not knowing what to expect. But his face is blank;
the face he makes when he has dismissed a particular conversation.

The silence lingers a little while, and then he asks: “How are you
preparing for your grad party?”

“Oh my, it’s so awesome. I’m confused on whether to play the pi-
ano or the violin during the orchestra presentation. I’m so excited
about it. I really can’t wait.”

“I can’t wait myself.”

I pause and shoot him a stunned glance. “You’ll be there?”


“Don’t I have a reason to?” he responds wryly.

I jump to my feet and start to do a lame dance. This life is just so


perfect, with a perfect Daddy.

60
Having my dad in my grad party is the best thing ever. I stop danc-
ing and turn to him. “Wait, how about work?”

“That can wait. I’ll take a day off for you, Pimpim.”
I give him what we call baby hug. I hold him tight by the neck,
standing while he, sitting, holds my waist.

I kiss his forehead and look in his eyes. My daddy is the best thing
on earth. I kiss his lips lightly and I can feel a river rumbling in
my chest.

“What time is dinner? My tummy is grumbling already,” he says,


resting his head on my tummy.

“We have to go shopping first, remember?” 


“Tell Mommy to fix my coffee, and fix you the most beautiful
dress in the world.”

“Okay, superman daddy.”

“Yes, my super baby.”

I cling unto my dad and it is the safest place to be. My love for him
is large enough to fill the whole earth like the glory of God.

And in my heart, I’m singing: “Superman daddy, superman daddy.”

With my eyes closed, I stay fixed in his arms. 

I never want to be anywhere else.

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VICTORIA 
I have written my last exam today. At this time in school, it
is usually fun. We would be allowed to play, go anywhere in school
and a lot of time to catch up with friends.

But now, it is all different for me. Not knowing where my family
is, and having to put up with Udo’s troubles is too much load to
let me feel good about anything.

I have been thinking of ways to find my family. Since my father


is a teacher and my brothers are students in the secondary school
section of my school, I think it’s a good idea to find them there.

When I see them, I’ll ask them why they have not come to look for
me. My heart leaps at the thought of this.

If they haven’t come to look for me, maybe it’s because they don’t
want to see me again.

And if they don’t want to see me, then why should I bother going
to find them? Well, I miss them a lot.

I only have to sneak out of school and go across the road to the

62
secondary school section. It’s a little far, but I’ll walk.

I don’t mind the distance. Today, I have to find my family and


know what’s going on. I will find them, and my heart will finally
be at rest.

It’s easy to go past the gate. The gate is a little distance from the
class blocks and close to the snack shops.

So, if you are seen walking to the direction of the gate, they would
think you want to buy something and nobody would mind.

I think it’s also because we are done with exams and everyone is
walking about and playing freely. I slip between happy, laughing
children and my heart sinks. I have not been happy for weeks now. 

I don’t know what my daddy will do to me if he finds out that I


sneaked out of school.

But I don’t care. I’d rather he punishes me than continue to stay


in Barrister’s house.

The gate is not locked and somehow, there is no security now. May-
be he is asleep or simply wandered about school.

I shift the bolt slowly and slide it back from outside, standing on
my toes to be able to slip my hand through the spaces between the
gate bars.

I sigh, silently celebrating my little accomplishment of leaving


school unnoticed.

63
The air outside seems to be different from the one in school: cool-
er, freer. 

The sun sticks out its head slowly as if it expects a welcome cere-
mony after going on exile for days on end and letting the rain have
its time.

The road outside my school is muddy with pools of water; the co-
lour of coffee in generous clusters.

By the fence, there are tiny flowers thrusting out as though in defi-
ance to the sturdy earth.

I watch them sway angrily to the gentle breeze as I walk briskly past.

The road is empty safe for a number of vehicles that trickle past
intermittently, gently avoiding the bumps and inevitably having
their tires submerged in the dirty water.

I walk fast, holding the fence with one hand and looking down
both in order to avoid the water and to avoid being noticed. 

On getting to the secondary school, I walk gingerly across the road


to the gate.

I climb the tiny rock by the fence from where I can unbolt the gate
from inside and walk in. I look around, my heart beating really
fast. 

Unlike the primary school, the secondary section is quite more


organised. There are no swings and no merry-go-rounds.

64
The class block is a storey building to the left side, close to the
fence.

On the right side is the administrative block, followed by the staff


room and directly in front of the gate to a far distance is a large
malnourished field which has carpet grass scattered in unhealthy
clusters. 

A wave of trepidation flushes through me. I’m afraid that someone


would see me, and I may be punished for sneaking out of school.

I’m even afraid that I may find my family. I don’t understand this
dread.

I’m supposed to be happy that I’m so close to finding them now,


but somehow, there is a gnawing in my stomach that brings a cer-
tain heaviness I cannot explain.

I sneak to the side of the admin block and squat behind large Ixora
flowers. I’m praying silently that nobody finds me here.

I would not be able to explain why I’m here; that I want to find my
family, that they left me to myself for weeks without coming for
me, that I walked all the way here to follow my daddy home.

Now, I have to think of what to do and I have to think fast.  From


where I’m hiding, I can hear a quiet hum of voices.

It’s the sound you hear in an exam hall when people are not sup-
posed to be talking, you know, but mouths will be anonymously
moving, making sounds impossible to tell the direction.

65
My brothers are still writing their exams. Now I feel stupid. How
did I think I could get to them during school hours? How did I
expect that I’d just walk in here and be widely welcomed?
Now that they have exams, there is no possible way of getting into
the class, or seeing them at all.
Well, if I cannot see my brothers now, at least, I can go to the staff
room and find my father. 

But what if he is not in the staff room? I would have to give many
explanations and may even get embarrassed by one of the teachers.

I really have to think and make a fast decision right now. I need to
go out there and find my family.

I have to be bold. I love my family so much and I can take any risk
for them. I don’t care who finds me or what they say to me as far
as I can find them.

I heave through the flowers, dust off my clothes and walk towards
the staff room. The block is somewhat deserted. The students are all
in class for exams and the teachers are invigilators.

I feel grateful for the non-interference while hoping that my father


is not one of the invigilators so I can easily find him in the staff
room.

As I look ahead, I see a notice board on the wall. I don’t have any
business with notice boards in the secondary school, but this one
catches my attention. 

This one gets my attention because it has my dad’s picture on it.


I start to smile, maybe my dad has been awarded the best teacher

66
again or maybe he’s been made the Principal of the school.

That would be so great. And I know my dad deserves it. He deserves


it because he is very hardworking and dedicated. I get to the notice
board almost smiling.

Under my Dad’s name, I see, March 1959 – July 2005. 

I look up, squinting and standing on my toes so I can see clearly.

I see the word “Obituary” written in bold letters at the top of the
notice.

I don’t know what the word means so I make a mental note of the
spelling so I can look it up in the dictionary as soon as I get back
to my class.

I can’t see the other details of the notice clearly because the fonts
are small and I’m not even tall enough to reach it closely. 

I relax back on my feet and for some reasons, there’s a lump rising
up my chest as though in a ferocious effort to choke me.

Sorrow engulfs me and my heart starts to race, causing my feet to


weaken.  As I look up, I see a man walk up to me. I greet him si-
lently and make to walk past.

“Good morning, little girl,” he bellows. “What are you doing here
in primary school uniform? Why are you not in class?” I start to
stutter. “Nothing, sir.” 

I want to say I’m looking for my daddy, but I don’t want him to

67
ask more questions, so I just look down on his shiny black shoes
that have started to peel tiredly on the sides.

He is very dark-skinned, wearing a white shirt that looks over worn,


like the colour of tea with too much milk.

“So, what is your problem? I hear you people in the primary school-
have finished your exams. Is that why you think you can walk
about as you like? Come on, go back to school!” he says swinging
his arm towards the gate. 

I want to tell him I’m not done with what I came to do here. I want
to cry loud and tell him to leave me alone. But slowly, I find my
legs walking towards the gate.

I turn from a distance to see if he’s gone but he stands there, mo-
tionless, looking sternly at me and I’m sure he’ll be in that position
until he is certain that I’m out of the gate. I open the gate gently
and pour myself to the road. 

There is a strong urge to run but I’d better not fall into this mud.
The sun goes down as if to hide its face from me, turning the
weather damp and humid.  

When I get into my class, I grab my dictionary immediately and


slide my fingers down the “o” section and stop when I find the
word “obituary”.

I read it out silently: “A brief notice of a person’s death, published


in a newspaper or any medium of public notice.” I move my finger
down for other definitions but find none, that’s it. 
This has got to be a mistake. My heart starts to thunder. Hot tears

68
burn the corners of my eyes and thoughts muddle up in incom-
prehensible distortions. I cannot feel my head. It is light, formless,
swirling in all directions.
If obituary is a notice of a person’s death and I have not seen my
father, neither has he come to find me since the fire accident, then
that means my father is dead. 

Everything starts to make painful sense to me. The thoughts drop


heavy on my chest, cutting through my heart like a sniper, creating
deep holes of grief. My blood stops flowing and for a moment,
everything is moving in slow motion.

A sharp laughter cracks from one of my classmates, another talks


in a loud voice and the noise drags me into a whirling dizziness.
 
My mother is asking Jesus to forgive our sins, my father is ordering
me to run outside, my brother is shouting for his leg, my sister is
screaming.

The noise tumbles up my head rapidly as I slam the dictionary on


the desk, swing off my seat and in one swift motion, run through
chattering students, weave past desks and chairs, past all the pain,
away from the hurt.

I cannot feel my legs beneath me but I’m moving very fast. The
breeze hits hard on my face, sending chills down my body and
making a flapping sound with my skirt behind me.

My energy is sapping out but I’m still running. I open the gate
briskly and run through the muddy road. Nausea rushes up my
throat and my stomach twists in agony.

69
I want to cry. I want to scream out loud, but I cannot move my lips.
I’m running fast, far away, away from myself, into nothingness.

 
 

JUNE 
I am going to be the lead pianist in the orchestra at our
graduation party. Not only that, I’m going to do a solo violin pre-
sentation.

As the president of the music club, I’m assigning who’s going to


play the drums, violin, guitar, saxophone, and the piano. I’m so
excited about the grad party already.

I’ve been rehearsing over and over. Daddy is going to be there, so


everything just has to go perfectly.

It’s Saturday evening. Daddy is in his study and Mommy is making


rice and stew with goat meat. Daddy likes his stew with goat meat,
and I like it that way too.

The party is just a few days away so I’m rehearsing on my piano in


my room. I hear the door open slowly. I know its mummy.

My room is really big. It doubles as a study and mini studio. I ar-


ranged it in such a way that I can sit at my piano and see through
my open window.

It’s a big inspiration watching the sunrise, sunset, and the stars. My

70
window is open now and the breeze is blowing gently on my face.

The moon is waning, and the stars are almost invisible. Some luck
evenings, I catch a shooting star flying across the sky. It reminds
me to make a wish. And almost always, I make a wish for my dad.
I wish that he will always be happy and live forever. 

“I don’t mean to interrupt dear, but dinner is ready. You should


have something to eat. You have been rehearsing all day,” she says,
standing by the door.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” I say, my fingers glued to the keys.

“How’s the rehearsal going?” “Could be better if you didn’t have


to interrupt so often.”

“I’m sorry, but you’ve got to have dinner. Daddy’s waiting at the
table.” She disappears by the time I turn to look at her. I love my
mum.

Mom is a quiet woman. She is very dutiful and hard working. She
makes sure everything in the house is perfect.

She makes the meals, does laundry and all the chores. When she is
not busy in the house, she would watch TV or crochet scarves for
herself – just for the fun of it.

Mommy makes sure we eat healthy. She has us eat a lot of fruits
and vegetables and whatever makes a balanced diet to her.

She cooks the rice with carrots and green peas with canned corn
seasoning. And the stew is seasoned with ginger and large chunks

71
of meat.

One spoon into mummy’s food and you realize you have been so
hungry you could swallow a whole crocodile.

Daddy is eating quietly tonight. This is unusual. When daddy is


around, we barely have quiet times except when he is studying.

He normally would have started a joke while cautioning me not to


laugh while eating. I always have to remind him that the rule says
not to talk at all.

Today, he is chewing his food gently, quietly, pensively, almost so-


berly. I can barely keep still when he is like this. I pour fruit juice
into my glass and fill his glass as well.

He looks up tersely. “Thank you, Pimpim,” he keeps mute again.


I’d hoped to chatter all night about my grad party, about my re-
hearsals.

I’d hoped that he’d ask. But he keeps a straight face and barely even
looks my way.

“Superman Daddy,” I whisper, looking at him. He looks up and


gives a weak smile. The smile is so tiny his dimples are not even
visible.

He says, “Super baby,” almost inaudibly.


“You are not happy.” 
“I’ll be fine, baby.”
“Mind sharing?” 

72
Dad turns and looks at Mom as though to point to the source of
his plight. When I look at him in the face, I see lines of unhappi-
ness.
It’s a little like anger, or disdain. Daddy always acts very plain with
mom; almost courteous and very polite.

He does not laugh with her or make jokes. Sometimes, he talks to


her as if on duress.

It’s hard to notice since he is barely at home; studying all Saturdays


and sleeping on Sundays seem like a reasonable excuse for the si-
lence between them. 

When daddy is home from work, mummy would remain curled up


on the couch in the sitting room, watching ‘Keeping up with the
Kardashians’.

They’d grunt at each other and daddy would march straight to his
room, have a shower and help himself with his dinner which had
been set on the table.

Some nights, he’d ignore the dinner on the table and get himself
some cereal or fruits or he’d not even come out of the room at all.

The silence has never been a problem.

It’s been there since last, I can remember. Sometimes, it’s as if they
actually make conscious efforts not to speak to each other.

Mommy would write a list of the things needed in the house and
drop on the table.

73
Daddy would pick it up in the morning, peruse it curtly and throw
some money on the table. Sometimes, he’d drop the money without
looking at the list. 
It’s common to find notes that read: “I’ll not be home tonight,” or
“I’m travelling first thing in the morning,” in various corners of
mummy’s room. Mummy stays home all day except when she’s off
to the market, to church, to the gym, or to make her hair.

I’m usually too engulfed in daddy’s love, in his humour, in his


presence to notice the silence between them.

But now that Daddy is quiet, the silence roars violently at me, caus-
ing the food to settle improperly in my stomach.

Mommy murmurs a silent “excuse me”, drags her seat back, carries
her plates and heads for the kitchen.

As she stretches, I see thick lines of loneliness and pain drawn


down her long face. She has a sharp pointed nose and deep hollow
eyes surrounded by smooth black skin that almost glows.

She is a beautiful woman. She would have made a good specimen


for the “Black is Beautiful” movement. Her thin waist wiggles as
she drifts with calm, as though it’s the air oozing from the AC that
moves her.

I’m jabbing aimlessly into my food. Daddy has almost finished his.
He looks up at me. “Eat up, Pimpim. You have rehearsals to do,”
he lifts his arm and peers at his wrist-watch.

“Or you’ll probably have to go to bed now. It’s past 9 already.”


He gulps his juice furiously and hits the empty cup gently on the

74
table.

“Do you want more?” I ask.


“No dear, it’s fine. Finish your food,” he pushes his plates and
leans back in his chair, waiting for me. Daddy never leaves the table
until I’m done eating. If he’s done first, he’d wait for me, and if I’m
done first, I’d so same. I gaggle my juice and swallow fast.
 
“I’m done,” I say and move my seat back.
“You okay?” 
“Yes Daddy.” 
He gets up and holds my hand, walking me to my room.
“So, you are doing well with your rehearsals, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, it’s good.”

He sits on my bed and clasps his hands on his knees, staring at the
floor.

“Is it about Mommy?” I ask, sitting beside him with my elbow on


his lap, peering into his gloomy face.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll tell you someday. But I hope you can
forgive Daddy. You see, Daddy is human. I have a heart, I have
emotions too. Sometimes, I make mistakes.

Some of them can be changed and some cannot. We all should


learn to accept our mistakes, change the ones we can and let be the
ones we can’t,” he goes on as though talking to himself.

“You have many things to learn about life. I hope I’m around long
enough to teach you. You certainly will understand soon,” he stops

75
talking and sways his head gently from side to side.

“Superman Daddy,” I chime silently for want of what to say.


“Super baby,” he responds, the same way, placing his head lightly
on mine.

His fragrance - like vanilla mixed with something else; something


strong, something soothing, something I don’t have a name for
in my vocabulary - fills everywhere, flows to my heart and filters
through my whole being.

“Since you came through, I’ve done every single thing with you in
mind. I think about you every heck of the time.

The moment I saw you, that moment when I saw you lying in that
cot, my whole life changed. I saw something real, something heav-
enly, so pure, so beautiful.

I knew there was no going back. I didn’t care if there was a plan or
not, if things were right or not.

I wanted you to be here with me, safe. Every decision after that
has depended on that one thing,” he heaves a deep sigh, his weight
sinking deeper in the bed.

“You are my world, Pimpim,” he whispers.


“So, why are you sad?” 
“I’m not sad. I just wish things were different,” he stares blankly at
my bookshelves. “How’s Dave?” he asks.
“He’s… okay…” I stutter. 

76
“You know, I’d like to meet him. We should meet. The three of us,
you know. What do you think? I’d like to get to know him,” he says
with a half-smile.
My eyes widen. How am I supposed to be in the same space with
Dave, talking? The thought is already sending chills down my spine.

I want to talk to him, yeah. But I can’t bring myself to be normal


when he is around. 

“I don’t want anything to go wrong,” he says, still looking away.

“You know, these feelings, they are like a flowing river, and your
mind is the dam.

Your heart may make the wrong choices based on what it feels, but
your mind would always know what’s right.

It feels good to follow your heart, but in the end, you will find that
your mind was right all the time. Your emotions, they have to be
bridled.

They are capable of bringing you joy, and they can also cause so
much pain. They can make you come alive and they can kill you.

They can help you stay sane and they can make you go crazy,” he
turns glum eyes to me as though he regrets the words he just ut-
tered.

My mind races back and forth, trying to think of a river, a dam,


feelings, joy, life, sanity.

He touches my cheek lightly. “You’ll let me guide you through this,

77
baby, won’t you? You’ll let me take this ride with you.

Promise you’ll tell me about your feelings. Promise you’ll tell me


everything. I want to be there; all the time.

It’s a hard road out there, girl. You’ll be confused most of the time,
you’ll make mistakes. I want to be there through it all.”

I want to ask him about my feelings for Dave, but I don’t know
how to put it into words. I want to ask him if mummy makes him
come alive or kills him.

I want to promise to tell him everything.

I want to ask him why he’s saying all these, but I sit still and let the
moment sink into me, listening to his breath blow softly on my
face, feeling his wide chest rise, and fall. 

The door opens slowly. It’s Mommy. I lift my head to look at her.
I know it is bedtime already.

She comes in at exactly the same time to put me to bed except when
I sleep off in Daddy’s study and he gets me to bed himself, or when
I sleep in his room with him.

By the time I lift my face, the door closes gently. It’s almost as if
it’s difficult for them to coexist in the same space for more than a
certain period of time.

“You should go to bed now,” Daddy says.


“I’m not really sleepy,” I say, more because I want to stay on with
dad.

78
“We’ve got church tomorrow, you know. You should rest.” 

His chest heaves as he stretches his heavy arms and his muscles
crack. He yawns, sways slightly and flashes his eyes – the colour of
twilight.

“Up up,” he says. “Go have a shower, brush your teeth, change into
your nightie and have some beauty sleep.”

“Yes daddy,” I get up and stretch too.


“Goodnight, baby.”
“Nighty daddy.”

He walks to the door and turns to look at me. I laugh softly and
run into his arms in a big hug. My hands can only go round his
waist. 

“Baby hug,” he says and bends down.

I hold him by the neck, and he holds my waist. He kisses me on the


head and says: “I love you, baby.”

“I love you too, daddy.”

As he closes the door behind him, I know I’m going to spend most
of the night thinking about all the things Daddy said, wondering
what my feelings for Dave would do to me; if it is capable of mak-
ing me happy, sad, come alive; if it can kill me or make me go
crazy.
  
I know I’ll dream about the date with Daddy and Dave and me;

79
how dreadful it would be. Or how magical.
 
 
 
 
 

UYAI
Sundays are almost always the freest days in my house.
Mummy and Daddy would either be watching TV, sleeping or re-
ceiving visitors.

When we have visitors, there is always too much work to do. We


have to cook so much food, serve the visitors and do the clean-up
after. It’s usually very exhausting. 

Some evenings, the visitors would hole up in the sitting room with
daddy, talking in low tones.

Sometimes, they are in an ecstatic mood, celebrating some victory


which would usually have them break into a native song, singing
loudly and making sharp comments.

Other times, they are pensive and calculative or grieving.

Daddy spends so much money sponsoring candidates in various


positions.

They usually would come to the house with a drink, looking vision-
ary and determined, or beggarly and defeated.

80
Daddy would give them money and sometimes hold meetings on
their behalf. He often would give money to opposing sides so he
would own the victory of either of the sides that gets to win.
He is a mentor to many political leaders from student politicians,
to local government officials and even in the state. 

We never go to church, not even for events. I wonder if my father


has problems with church or a secret beef with God.

I don’t mind, anyway. I’m fine the way I am. If I needed God at
all, I’d only ask that he makes daddy to let me read my novels and
not be so strict.

Apart from that, I have no problems. So what’s the point of going


to church?

The door opens swiftly and Junior sticks his head inside, calling
my name sharply.

“What is it?” I turn to him, feigning anger. We had made rules to


always knock before entering each other’s rooms but Junior never
adheres to it. 

He giggles. “Okay, madam, don’t be angry. I’ll knock,” he hits the


door with his knuckles, still standing with one part of his body in
and the other out.

“I say, what is it now? You won’t go and play your games and leave
me alone?” 

“Why are you here all by yourself, anyway? You this girl, you think
too much,” he leaves the door and moves to my table.

81
“Where are all those your boring books? You are so boring mehn,”
he laughs.
“Leave me alone. You want me to stay up all day playing games and
watching Nickelodeon.”

“And when was that a crime? Don’t you watch Nickelodeon too?”
“I do, but not all the time.”

“Come and watch now. This room is too boring. How do you cope
sef? Sha, you can come to my room whenever you like. Okay if you
don’t want to watch TV, we can play whot or ludo.”

“So, you are bored ehn, that’s why you came to my ‘boring’ room,”

I say, giggling. “I even came to tell you that daddy’s calling you.”

He holds the door-knob with one hand and turns to me. “When
you finish with daddy, come to my room, you hear?”

I laugh and walk towards the door. “Bored boy,” I say. “Better go
and play your games alone.”

“Oh, will you come? Okay, I can teach you how to play the game
if you want.”

I make to push past him. “Where is he?” 

“He is in the parlour. Tell me now, will you come?”

“Oh, let me pass. Okay, I’ll come. And we’re playing ludo.”

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“Okay madam,” he makes a mock salute and makes way for me to
pass. As I walk past him, he hits my hand slightly. As I make to hit
him back, he runs into his room.
I would have gone after him, but I have to answer to daddy’s call
so I make a mental note to hit him later.

Daddy sits pensively in the sitting room, staring blankly at the


news channel on TV, unmoving, strong, stern.

There is something about my father, something that makes you


quiver, that makes you want to apologise even when you have no
idea what your error is. 

He has a stocky frame, heavy shoulders, rounded arms and a bulgy


chest on a miniature body.

When he stands upright, it’s as if his body is too chunky for his
legs to carry; as if the Creator started fixing him from top and by
the time he got past his waist, the equipment got exhausted, so he
had to make do with the little left to make the legs.

Yet, he exudes strength both physically and emotionally. 

I tiptoe to the side of his seat. His head is slightly bent, revealing
a horizontal scar on the left side of his cheek; that must have been
gotten from his childhood, the construction company, or a fight.

The scar makes that part of his face somewhat squeezed. So, daddy
always wears a frightening frown.

“Uyai, how are you?” he says without looking my way.

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“I’m fine, daddy. Daddy good morning,” I respond, startled at his
calm demeanour, not knowing what to expect and feeling my heart
race, my mind searching if I’d done something wrong. 
He points to the couch adjacent him. “Sit down,” he says, still hav-
ing his eyes fixed ahead.

I perch on the edge of the seat, looking at him expectantly, posi-


tioned far enough so his arms cannot reach me, perhaps he would
want to swing them my direction and I am not relaxed in case I
might have cause to run.

He makes a short-lived smile at me and looks away again. “Con-


gratulations. You passed all your common entrance exams.”
 
My mind relaxes slowly and I allow myself to bask in his admira-
tion. Right now, I feel like a real genius.

My father is a very emotionless man. It’s almost as if the slightest


of emotions is a show of weakness.

The only emotion he makes physically obvious is anger. When you


do something right, it almost always goes unnoticed but when you
go wrong, you will surely get a recompense for it.

If not immediately, then it will come at a least expected time. 

“Thank you, Daddy,” I smile.

He nods calmly. “You see, I told you to focus and now it has paid
off. You are the one enjoying the glory now, not me.

Because when you give a child an instruction, they turn around to

84
make you feel like they are doing you a favour by complying,” he
shrugs. 

“It’s not me. It’s not Peter. Whether you do good or bad, you are
doing yourself. But none of my children will bring disgrace to me
in this house.

If you do anything contrary to my rules, just don’t bother coming


back to my house.

I will not condone any rubbish from any child, because that is how
my late father trained me.

I am who I am today because of that man, bless his soul. So, I will
not tolerate nonsense,” he pauses as though giving me time to di-
gest his words. The silence lingers.

He bends his head as though waiting for a reply, but I know better
than interrupting him – not even his silence.

“You are no longer a little child now,” he continues as though


talking to the TV. “You are going to secondary school and that is a
serious place. I need you to experience discipline.

You need to be in an environment where you can focus and come


out with flying colours. I don’t want you to go to any uncultured
school filled with overfed-with-milk children.” 

In our dialect, this would be rightly said as ‘Ndito mmong eba’. I


smile to myself at the thought of children choking with milk-full
mouths and actually looking overfed. 

85
“I want a school that will drill the right values in you. I don’t want
any of my children to turn out uncultured.

So, you will be going to the Government Girls’ School, Ikot Abasi.
I know the principal there and he is a very strict man. I’ll ask him
to keep a close eye on you.”

My smile disappears immediately. That school is a nightmare. I


have heard so many awful stories about it.

I have heard about ‘Miss Koikoi’ – a certain lady that walks around
in sharp-heeled shoes that makes a sound which is onomatopoeia
for her name and would harm anyone that is unfortunate enough
to be awake when she happens to make her patrol in the middle of
the night.

I have even heard of school uniforms that start to dance in their


hangers and cats that cry like babies in the night.

The thought of this frightens me. The worst of all is the treatment
from senior students.

The wicked ones would have you undergo very terrible punish-
ments. I’m almost in tears as I ponder, not realizing that daddy
had kept talking.

Now, he is looking at me, awaiting a certain reply, so I shake my


head ignorantly.

“No, what?” he says sharply.


 “Nothing, daddy,” I keep my face down to hide my discomfort.
“I said do you understand me?” “Yes daddy.” 

86
“You must read your books and obey all the rules. I have told you
time and again, you can be a perfect.
Yes of course, you can be. So, that’s all. Just prepare your mind to
start school by September. I will get your prospectus and make sure
you have all you need.

That is my job as your father. And as you can see, I’m doing my
part. I have not failed in my duties so, you must not fail in yours.

Do you understand?” “Yes daddy.” 

“And mind the company you keep in that school. They say, ‘show
me your friend and I will tell you who you are’.

So, you must have the right friends and if I were you, I would
not even have friends at all. I did not send you to school to keep
friends. You are there to study and then leave. That’s it.”

He relaxes on the couch as though he is resting after a tiring job.


“I’m done with you except you have anything to say,” he utters in
a noncommittal manner. 

I shake my head.

“Well, you don’t look happy,” he says betraying a tinge of guilt in


his eyes.

“But when you grow older, you will understand that everything I
do is to your best interest.
Since you don’t have anything to say, you can go.”

87
I get up glumly and head for my room. Almost running, I bump
into Junior in the hallway.

“What is it?” I ask him furiously.

“Shhhh I was listening. Mehn that school is so bad. Dah, I hear the
seniors there are so wicked,” he says as though to rub salt in the
injury. I push him out of the way and slam the door.

He sticks his head by the door and stares at me. “Eiya sorry now.
You know how Daddy is, he won’t change his mind.

Sorry, you hear? Don’t worry, I’ll be coming for your visiting days,
even if I have to scale the fence to come.”

He walks up to the bed. “Uyai, I won’t leave you alone, you hear?” 
I muffle a weak “Leave me alone” into my pillow as I sob.

“I won’t leave you. If you don’t want to come to my room, I’ll


bring the ludo here. Stop crying now, sorry,” he rests one knee on
the ground and whispers to my ear.

“Sorry, Uyai. It’s not so bad. You’ll be fine. Stop crying, you hear?”
he strokes my hair gently.

As much as I relish the affection of my brother and the connection


we share, I can’t help feeling very awful. I let him slide his fingers
through my braids, causing a slithering sensation through my body
while speaking to me softly as I sob until I sleep off.

88
JUNE
 

I wake up in high spirits and as if to greet me, the sun shines


straight into my room.

The rays hit my face softly, nuzzle and tickle my face vivaciously.
I smile awake and rush up to dust my keyboard for the umpteenth
time. 

Daddy bumps into the room with boxes in his hands. He walks
gingerly, empties them on the bed and looks around for me.

“Good morning dad,” I smile at him. “Morning Pimpim. How


far, you are awake? It’s your happy day. I leap excitedly. “Yup! And
what are in these boxes?

“Guess,” he says folding his hands suggestively. I jump on the bed


and throw the boxes open hurriedly. I drag out a lovely pink gown.

It is the most beautiful gown I’ve seen. “Awwww! This is so beau-


tiful.”

I throw open the second box and it’s a pair of silver heeled sandals.
The third box has in it a pink brooch with silver jewellery. I stare
up at my dad, dazzled.

My mouth opens several times, but words have picked a marathon. 


“You can try them on.”  

“They are mine?” I ask for want of what else to say. “Oh, my God…”

89
I whisper as I slip into the dress gently and run to the mirror.

It is a light, pink, off-shoulder dress with short hands that drape


fluffily on my upper arms. It is impeccably curvy, aptly empha-
sizing my plump voluptuous figure; the vanilla pink of the gown
contrasts with my fair skin which is creamy-bright-yellow.

The ‘v’ neck rests proudly on my blooming breasts, leaving a large


space of my soft round neck for a necklace to rest on.

The gown flows all the way to the ground in congruent waves,
tapered with silver embroidery on the waist, largely plaited and
sparkling. I gaze, stunned at my full frame in the mirror.

“You are beautiful!” Daddy says, looking adoringly at the mirror


- his hands tenderly grazing my shoulders - with his face sticking
through the right side of my neck.

He helps me push my feet gently into the silver shoe and my height
shoots up somewhere close to his chest. He laughs as I try to level
up to his height.

“You are so pretty, Pimpim,” he emphasizes. My cheeks colour as I


smile until my lips almost crack. 

“That’s for the house party later. You are going to really look like
a fairy princess.

But that’s not a problem, you are my princess,” he smiles. I hold


my cheeks in my palms to keep them from exploding in glee.

I feel like the best thing on earth right now. I hug him very close,

90
whimpering uncontrollably. 

“Oh! Look at this pretty big baby,” he says holding me steady in


his arms. “It’s okay babe, daddy loves you so much, you know that
right? You are leaving primary school today.

That’s a great achievement. You have many more bridges to cross


and I know for sure that you will scale them effortlessly.

You have greatness in you. Never forget that. I’m so proud of you,
girl!” he rests his head slightly on mine and I can feel his warm
breath reaching soothingly my scalp. “I love you, girl.”

“I love you too, daddy,” I say, sniffling softly. When I look up at


him, he starts to laugh and make funny faces. I jab him playfully
in the chest and laugh as he grimaces.

In this moment, I feel love.  I feel a strong emotion that will remain
in my heart forever. I feel that this joy would never end, that this
bliss will dwell with me for the rest of my life.

I inhale slowly and hold my breath, holding onto this feeling, let-
ting it cling to my chest and clutch my stomach, and rave all over
me.

“There is one more box yet to be opened,” Daddy’s voice bounces


in my thoughts. I rush to the bed.

The box left is a phone case. I unwrap it hurriedly. It’s an Android


phone. I can’t wait to download all the music in the world and lie
in my bed with the headphones stuck in my ears.
“Thank you so much, Dad,” I exclaim and plant a long kiss on his

91
cheek. 

“You are priceless. Never forget that.”

He sighs satisfactorily and heaves off the bed. “So dear, you have
all morning to get ready.

I’ll ask Pilot to fix your instruments in the car.” He swings loving-
ly, facing me. His eyes are tender in a way that would remind you
of the dove that rested on Jesus’ shoulders on his baptism. “Do
you need anything else?” 

I shake my head. “You are more than enough, daddy.” 

He smiles, plants a kiss on my lips and heads out of the room.

I get ready in my dark suit, looking like I just landed a job as a


bank manager. The suit lies tightly on my skin with black heels to
go with. 

I shamble into the kitchen where mommy is cooking and setting


up the house for the party. “Good morning, Mom.”

“Morning dear,” she says. “You are dressed already? I’m sure you
couldn’t wait for the day to begin,” she smiles. She catches my eyes
saunter to a bowl of fried chicken on the kitchen table and asks,
“Do you want some?”

I nod and pick a piece of chicken and start to chew. My mother


looks admiringly at me. “This suit looks good on you.

I was wondering if it was your size when I bought it. So, I know

92
your perfect size then. Have you brushed your hair?” she asks.

“No mum, I guess I should do that now.” I swing around and head
towards my room.

“Bring the brush and your hair cream let me help you,” I hear her
from my room and do exactly as she says.

She sits me on a stool in the sitting room and works the cream
gently on my hair, then brushes it all in. She’d taken me to a salon
the previous day to have my hair weaved all to the back.

She goes into her room and reappears with her brown powder. She
dabs the round foam full with the dust-like substance and smooths
it on my face.

I feel proud of myself to have finally come of age to be allowed to


wear makeup. She spreads her red lipstick lightly on my lips and
smacks her lips in a gesture for me to follow suit.

The lipstick is almost invisible. I know because as I smack my lips,


it is somewhat dry.

She looks at me fondly, her black lips rounded in a half smile, her
face filling up in satisfaction. “Big madam,” she says.

“Thank you, Mom.” 

“It’s your big day. I hope you have fun. I’ll be home getting the
house ready for the party.”

I nod as though I did not have that fact already. I don’t really mind

93
her absence. The presence of my daddy covers for it. 

She disappears into her room with her makeup tools and gets back
out with a little box. I start to grin expectantly.

She opens it and retrieves elegant wrist jewellery. It’s gold with
lovely red stones on it. I bubble in excitement as she puts it on my
wrist.

“Mommy, thank you.” “You are welcomed, darling.” 

I sit on the couch, watching SpongeBob Square Pants and waiting


impatiently for time to tick fast.

Daddy pops out of his room, bubbly in his dark suit, white shirt
and a polka dot tie. He looks like a groom, a perfectly stunning
groom. “Daddy, you are so fine,” I bubble.

“Oh! Thanks babe. I don’t have a choice. I don’t want your friends
to think I’m just your escort. I can’t level up to your beauty but at
least, I can wear a nice suit and smile,” he forces his cheeks apart
in a mock smile. 

I giggle. “Oh! Dad, you are really handsome, I’m serious.”

He chuckles and comes round to sit on the couch with me, strug-
gling to pull his shoes up his long feet.

Mommy shuffles into the dinning with a tray of food, deliberately


making a sound with the plates so she won’t have to make a verbal
announcement but when Daddy remains motionless, she moves
closer and says: “Jay, your food is ready.”

94
Daddy turns to me while waving slightly to indicate that he’s heard
her. “Pimpim, go and eat something. You have a long day ahead.”

“How about you, Dad?” 

He shakes his head glumly. “I’m fine. You go ahead.”

I shake my head too. “I’m okay. I’m not hungry,” actually, I am too
overjoyed to worry about food at the moment.

Mom sighs. She stands there for what could have been the whole
day, looking deserted, breathing heavily.

She says under her breath, very quietly, almost inaudibly: “God
knows I’m doing my best,” she moves away, fuming, her lips move
heavily as though she wants to say more but strains to hold the
words from pouring like running water.

Daddy looks up at her innocently. He is quiet for a while as though


thinking of what to say. Then, he shakes his head.

“It’s no big deal if the food is not eaten now. We have a party lat-
er and we’ll most definitely want to have something,” he remains
quiet, fixing his eyes on the TV, a smouldering frown adorning his
harmless face.

I hold my breath. The moment is so awkward – Mom staring fu-


riously at dad, and dad looking defiantly at the TV and I, sitting
there, feeling guilty for reasons I have no idea of.

The silence creeps into the room and spreads around the entire
building so that SpongeBob’s voice seems to sound inside my head.

95
It feels as if the slightest sound from me will escalate the situation.
I feel responsible for the problem – whatever it is.

From the way mom is glaring at dad, it is obvious that the food
is not really the reason for her fury.

Daddy must have done something really bad to her. But my daddy
is incapable of doing anything that can make anyone angry.

Mum swings round and like lightning, disappears into her room.
She starts to sob loudly, in a thunderous and heart wrenching man-
ner. My heart is beating very fast as I stay glued to the seat.

Daddy stares at the clock sharply. “It’s almost time. We should


go. We can have a little sightseeing for an hour before we get to
school.”

I nod, unsure if my head moved at all. He grabs my hand in one


swift motion and before I can speak, he raises me up and lands me
in the back seat of his car.

He looks around for Pilot who is nowhere in sight. “Wait here,” he


says. “I’ll be back in a second.”

In no longer than a second, Daddy’s voice roars in the house,


sharp, angry, fierce. “What is wrong with you, Alice? I’m tired of
you acting like a wimp all the time. Today is Pimpim’s graduation
and all you want to do is ruin it.”

“Jacob, for crying out loud, all I have done since I met you is love
you. I have done my best to keep us together. I have loved you, God
knows I have tried to do everything right,” Mom sobs.

96
“What the hell are you talking about?” “Who is she, Jay. Who is
she?”

“You went through my phone again, Alice? All right, whatever it


is you were searching for, you have found it. Now, let me have my
peace.

I don’t even get why you should be going through my stuff. What’s
wrong with you?”

“What is wrong with me? That’s all you’ve got to say? You are
wrong with me, Jay…” her voice breaks, she speaks up more softly
this time. “I don’t deserve this.

I don’t, Jay. God in heaven knows I don’t. God knows I would


never hurt you this way. What about all the promises, everything
we shared. What happened, Jay, what happened?”

“Those promises, that was a long time ago. Now, things are dif-
ferent. You have to understand this. I have the right to make my
choices.”

“So why don’t you get a divorce…” that hit me hard on my chest. I
sit still, unable to move, to think.

I don’t want to think that these words are from my loving mom
and dad. I’d rather imagine that they are from a movie on Africa
Magic. “Why don’t you end this misery?” she continues.

A stiff silence lingers, then Daddy speaks coolly. “Is that what you
want? That’s it. You would get it soon enough.

97
For all I care, you are still here because of my daughter. She de-
serves a normal home. That’s the only reason I’m going through
this stress with you.” 

“Please, Jay. I love you with all my heart. I’m begging you in God’s
name. This is killing me. This is sucking the life out of me. It is
torturing me to death. Please, Jay,” she sobs. 

“Look, I have to go now. Clean up this mess, okay! Today is not a


day to go over this again. I have more important things to think
about, trust me. I can’t afford to ruin today for this nonsense.”

Mom continues to sob as dad walks gently out of the house, cool
as though he is incapable of raising his voice at all.

I stare at him through the windshield, unable to match the voice


I’d just heard with such a harmless demeanour.

As though on cue, Pilot emerges from behind the house and runs
to the car. “Good morning, sir,” he says light-heartedly.

“Pilot, how far?” Daddy responds, still calm as the sea.

“Fine sir,” he smiles and jumps in the car.

Daddy is quiet and somewhat discomfited as though he is nursing


an injury in some untouchable part of his body.

“Did you put the instruments in the car?” he asks Pilot.


“Yes sir. They are inside.” Daddy nods.

98
When we get to school, whatever happened in the house gets per-
fectly behind me as I get in the task of greeting people, introducing
those who care to listen to my father and receiving comments on
how young and handsome he is.

I savour the astonishment on their faces when I say he’s my dad.


They usually go like: ‘Oh! Really, are you serious? He is so young!’
some people even display plain disbelief and I’d smile proudly.

Daddy takes a seat alongside other parents on the graduation


grounds while I leap up the stairs to the classes where other stu-
dents stand in pairs and clusters, saying their goodbyes and even
crying.

Peace runs up and clings to me in an affectionate hug.

“Oh! June, I’m going to miss you.”  “I’ll miss you too,” I say hold-
ing her tight.

She entangles and looks at me, exasperated. “I wish we could go to


the same high school.

But we’ll be moving to our hometown, Enugu. My father says that


business here is very stifling because the state is basically a civil
service state and the government is not doing much to support
businesses.

So, I’m going to high school in Enugu,” she looks glum. “Are you
serious? But you can go to a boarding school here and go there for
holidays.”
“Well, I don’t know. Who am I to make suggestions to my Dad? If
he asks me to go to school in Kafanchan, I’ll pack my bags imme-

99
diately.” 

I laugh heartily, but Peace remains unmoving. She never laughs at


her jokes. She would say something with a very straight face while
others are almost coughing out their intestines in laughter. 

When we walk into the class, she leaps on her desk. “Why are peo-
ple even crying as if today is a funeral? It’s just high school.

We can still meet again if we want to. This world is actually a very
small place. Yes, that reminds me…” she shuffles through her desk
for scraps of papers, tears off an ear from one of them and scribbles
numbers.

“This is my mother’s phone number. Just call and say you want to
speak with Adaugo. Don’t call once its past 6 o. my mother will
say that it is night call and will start preaching to you,” she hands
me the paper.

“Yes ma,” I fold it into my suit pocket. “Shey you are coming to my
house party this evening?” 

“Oh! Your house party, oh my God! I’m going to miss it, I’m so
sorry.”

“You of all people! Did you forget?”

“It’s not like I forgot, I’m going straight to Enugu after grad. My
dad’s driver dropped me this morning and is coming back to get
me. I really wish I could come.
At least, I would have met your father.”

100
I lighten up at the mention of my dad. “Oh! You can meet him
now, he’s here. You won’t believe it.

My dad got a day off work just to be in my grad party today. I wish
you could come to the house party. I’ll really miss you.”

“Where is your daddy?” she bolts outside and stands on her toes,
straining to look downstairs and bubbling like boiling water.

“You sef! You won’t even say you’ll miss me too. How do you ex-
pect to see him from here?”

“My, is that him?” she exclaims excitedly, pointing at my dad.


“Yes! How did you know?”

“He looks just like you. Oh my God! He’s so cute. I see why you
are so in love with him.”

“My dear, you have no idea. The way he treats me, you’d think I
fell straight from heaven.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m telling you. If you were coming for the house party, you’d see
the lovely pink dress he bought for me and the shoes and jewellery.

And that’s not all oh, he even bought me a phone.”

Peace’s eyes widen. “Seriously! Where is the phone?”

“Oh! I forgot to bring it sef.” I say damply, wishing I’d brought


the phone so I could show it off and take pictures. I shrug it off as

101
Peace continues to talk excitedly.

“Your own is good oh. Me, no phone until after secondary school.

My father says that if I have a phone, chewing-gum-boys would be


calling me all the time and I’ll become a bad girl. I swear, your dad
is so cool.”

I laugh curtly at the thought of ‘chewing-gum-boys’ which is a


derogatory term for boys that are not old enough to take care of a
girl. “Your father is really nice.”

If I didn’t know you well, I would have thought he’s not from Ni-
geria, like maybe from America or Britain. And he’s actually really
cute.”

“I know right. If he weren’t my dad, I’d have just married him,” I


say, as a matter of fact.

Peace laughs hard, trying to cover her mouth with her palm but the
laughter spills out like oil from a broken pipe.

“Why is this one laughing?” I blush.

“How can you say you’d marry your father?” she says amidst muf-
fled laughter. “You are not serious oh, so what will you do with
Dave?”

“Leave me alone jare. Dave is even coming to my party. I really


don’t know what I’ll do, I swear.”
“Really? That’s nice oh. My, I wish I could be there.”

102
“Really, I wish you were. My dad wants to meet him.”

“Wait oh!” she exclaims. “You told your dad about Dave?”

“Yes now, what?”

“And he wants to meet him?”

“Yeah. That’s one of the reasons we are even having the party.”

“I swear, your dad is so cool. That man is not from this planet. Let
my father even hear that you looked at a boy two times or a boy
even looks at you at all, your own is finished.”

“Why now, what’s there? My dad says these feelings are normal.”
“Normal ke? You are really enjoying oh. Me, I wish I had such a
sweet dad like yours.”

I laugh at Peace’s bluntness and humour, feeling proud and fortu-


nate to have a sweet father. 

“That’s how we’ll stand here, gisting until the next thing, boom!
Graduation is over.”

We run downstairs in time to watch Dave’s choreography team


perform. I gaze reverently at his smooth moves, his chest heaving
suavely, his whole body beating to the rhythm of the music, his
curly black hair glimmering and his sweat sparkling on the stage
lights. 

My heart twitches as I catch my dad watching with apt attention,


his head moving to the beat. I wonder if he knows that the star

103
shining up there is my Dave. I flinch at the thought of him as my
Dave.

When I get on stage to lead the orchestra, a strong wave of ner-


vousness grips me despite the fact that I’ve performed many times
before. I try to do the breathing trick but my body trembles. 

I sit gingerly with my eyes closed, letting my fingers caress the keys
and my heart wander. The other instruments join in, forming a
melody that lifts me to high heavens.

I allow myself sink into the pleasant sound and in no time, the
nervousness gives way to thrill, then to an enthralling overwhelm.

My eyes stray through the crowd, comforted by the nods and cheers.
It locks in my dad’s, he winks, and my heart starts a happy dance. 

I feel a surging high as the applause thunders all over me at the end
of the presentation.

I hold on to this moment, to this crowd, to this applause. This is


where I want to be all my life – in this spotlight. My dad smiles at
me through the crowd.

He remains on his feet after everyone takes their sit, bubbling over
with pride. 

I smile back. Gush! I’m going to explode.


 
 
 
 

104
VICTORIA
 
On my graduation day, I wear an old oversized suit which
Barrister’s wife had gotten from her metal box and made a half-haz-
ard attempt to shape to my size.

I have had my scanty hair combed all to the back and held with a
yellow rubber band.

Barrister drops me in school in his Peugeot 504. Since the day I ran
off, I have been banned from stepping out of the house by myself.

I’m not even allowed to go across the street or play with the kids in
the compound for fear that I’d run away again. 

Barrister drives slowly into my school, packed with brilliant dec-


orations, children in colourful dresses and snack vendors trailing
vibrant trucks. 

He leans forward in his seat. “I’m coming back to pick you by 2


O’clock. Don’t go anywhere. Have you heard?”

“Yes sir,” I nod.

He dips his hand into his pocket and produces wads of dirty notes,
flips through them until he finds a worn out hundred naira note
and stretches it to me. “Take this for biscuit.” 

“Thank you, Sir,” I grab the money with both my hands.

105
He holds his ear with his fingers. “Don’t disappear o.

I don’t have the energy to look for someone’s child. Remember,


your uncle is coming for you today. So, once it’s 2 o’clock, come
and stand here so I can take you back home. You hear?”

“Yes sir.” “Okay oh. Bye, bye.”

I get out of the car and shamble clumsily in my oversized suit.


Sifon walks up to me, gleaming. 

“Victoria. How are you? I thought you’d not come for the grad o.
You’ve not been okay.

“I’m fine,” I say. “And you?” She shrugs. “I’m okay. I’ve been wor-
ried about you.”

I give a weak smile.

“You should cheer up, you know. I heard you are going to be the
best graduating student,” she winks.

“Who told you?” I utter. “It’s a lie, it’s not me.”

She laughs lightly. “You’ll see now. You should even be used to
being the best by now. We are even tired of you sef.”

“Yeah, but now it’s different.” My mind wanders to the nights my


father used to ensure that we observed night prep at home and
would ask us questions from the notes we read. Sifon’s loud whistle
reaches into my thoughts. A bright red ice-cream truck stops by us. 

106
“Do you want ice-cream?” she asks. I shake my head. 

She narrows her eyes. “In this hot sun, you are saying no to ice-
cream?” she hisses and grabs two sachets from the truck, pushes
one to me and hands the vendor 50 naira, collects 10 naira balance,
and shoves it into her purse.

I murmur a thank you and suck in the sweet substance, savouring


the cold sensation as it slides down my throat all the way to my
stomach in one swift movement.

Sifon and I have been best friends since we started school. We com-
pete for almost everything; when she comes first in class, I come
second and when I’m first, she’s second.

We also fight boys together. Especially when she writes one of


the notorious boys’ names in the noise makers’ list and has him
flogged, he’d come to beat her after school and the two of us would
team up, tussle him to the ground and throw sand in his eyes. 

We have our seats to watch the cultural dance performance.

The dancers are dressed in the Efik traditional attire with brown
beads on their legs, wrists and waist, embellished with white chalk
drawn on their faces.

I watch as the girls wiggle their waist to the vibrant beat of the
drums and the boys leap over each other and summersault.
 
When names are being called for prizes, Sifon receives her prize
as the most outspoken student amidst cheers from other students
who rise to their feet, clapping and hailing her. 

107
My mind drifts momentarily, jolted back by expectant stares. Sifon
hits my hand forcefully as though to wake me from a deep sleep.
“Shey I told you!” she exclaims.

I cringe at the worn-out black slippers on my feet which Barrister’s


wife had given me, trying to pull the clumsy suit closer to my thin
skin.

As though she notices, Sifon quickly unbuckles her sandals and


shoves it on my feet. I put on the second leg, sighing softly in
gratitude.
 
Sifon almost shoves me in excitement as I walk stiffly to the front
like a lone fish that just strayed into its bait.

It feels as though the whole world has stood still, waiting for me,
starring in disdain.

The principal shakes my hand tightly. I don’t know if I smile when


the pictures are taken.

This prize means nothing to me when I have no family to celebrate


with. I don’t care that the school thinks I’m the best student.

Deep inside, there is a steaming hate; a feeling that I am not good


enough, that I cannot be good at all. 

I feel worthless as I walk back to my seat with no cheers, fall into


the arms of Sifon and weep my eyes sore.

108
JUNE
My classmates are in my house for the party with their par-
ents. There is so much to eat, lots of chocolates, candies, cookies
and drinks.

The parents sit back in the living room, sharing jokes and sipping
form their glasses of wine, while the children form clusters, show-
ing off prizes and new items bought for the grad party and playing
scrabble, chess and other games.

Richie suggests we do a drinking competition which is widely


agreed so each of us picks a bottle of coke and start to gulp as fast
as possible, hoping to be the first to finish.

Richie emerges the winner, taking the last gulp right before Dave.
However, Dave disagrees with the very obvious result of the com-
petition. When we stand on Richie’s side, he gets angry and starts
to sulk the whole time. 

I don’t understand Dave’s attitude. He was awarded the best gradu-


ating student at the grad today, so I don’t get why he is so worked
up about some drinking competition. 

It is a relief when mummy announces that it’s time to eat. Every-


one takes a seat at the table as she stretches out, carefully serving
the delicious Jollof rice and chicken in our plates.

Dave’s mum gets up gracefully and touches my mom lightly on


her shoulder. “Let me help you, dear.”

109
“Oh! Thanks,” Mom smiles.

Dave’s mum is elegantly slender. Her thin neck is gorgeously


adorned with a large pearl necklace which leaves an open flesh be-
tween her neck and her slim breasts.

She is in a handless black chiffon gown that lies peacefully on her


glowing black skin, a shade darker than my mom’s. 

When she flexes her arm, it’s as if it is going to pull apart.

In her deliberate pettiness, she carries a subtle sternness; something


very powerful, something that makes you want to quiver.

When she smiles, it looks half-baked as though there is a silent


anger which she does not want exposed.

Her smile only flashes for seconds before her face folds back into
the cold unsmiling pursed lips that are beautifully tiny.

If the normal size for lips were the size of an orange, hers was an
udara size.

I stare in an uncertain admiration as she dishes out the food and


passes to the children. She glances round quickly to be sure of a job
well-done before having her seat.

“Congratulations ma’am,” Daddy says to her, breaking the com-


fortable silence.

She looks up at him and makes a face to indicate that she either did
not hear him clearly or did not understand.

110
“I mean, your son is the best graduating student and a great dancer
too. Congratulations Mrs Edem,” he explains.

“Regina,” she narrows her stern eyes. “Or just Gina,” she adds, flip-
ping her fingers in the air, revealing her bright red nail polish and
I think, to indicate that she has no ring on her fingers.

“Oh! Alright, Gina,” Daddy says.

She nods. “Your girl is great with the violin too. That was a nice
one. Only that it was too sullen.

I hate it when things get too emotional,” she looks up at me, point-
ing a slender finger and rolling her eyes.

“You have to check that, girl,” she adds, rolling the ‘r’ in the last
word so long you can barely hear the other sounds. 

I can’t tell whether to reply or remain silent, so I cram a spoonful


of rice into my mouth as an excuse not to say anything.

“So, Alice, you were not at the grad party?”

Mom stammers slightly, deliberately avoiding daddy’s eyes.

“Oh… I was... getting the house ready for the party,” she parts her
smooth cheeks in a forced smile.

Gina looks on as though expecting her to say more. When nothing


else comes, she blinks, displaying her heavy dark blue eye makeup.
“Sounds uninteresting to me.

111
I mean, forgive the stereotypes of womanhood, but I’d rather have
someone keep the house while I go hustling.”

I think mom wants to reply because she starts to say something


but dad cuts in delightedly. “Not everyone is a hot-headed banker
like you.”

Gina lifts a finger. “And a feminist too.”

Richie’s father, a round man with an overbearing pot belly and


large eyes laughs scornfully. “This feminist thing... For me, I think
it’s just a matter of grievances.

When a woman is wronged by one or two men, they go throwing


tantrums about how wicked all men are.” 

“Feminism is a lot more than that, if it is at all,” Daddy cuts in. “I


think it’s a noble course.

You know, like the anti-racist movement or any other quest for
liberation. I think it’s just women standing up for their rights.”

“So, who took their right from them? Tell me, who is holding
the right?” Richie’s father says in a bid to be humorous, but Gina
speaks up, ignoring him.

“And you see, the liberation must first start in the mind, in the way
we think, in the way we raise our children.

There are some dysfunctional social stereotypes and irrelevant


rules that we inculcate in them.

112
I mean, my mother raised me to be subservient; she told me to
cook and clean in preparation for marriage.

In fact, when I told my parents I wanted to be a banker, you can’t


believe it, they fought me tooth and nail.

Why, because a woman is not supposed to have high ambitions so


as not to intimidate a man. That is rubbish. If I am going to raise
my daughter to be a good wife, I should raise my son to be a good
husband too.

I mean, who even made all these rules?” Gina almost raises her
voice.

Daddy chuckles as though to allay the heat. “Well, the problem


is that we stick to traditions even when they are inimical to our
wellbeing.

Every human being has the right to aspire to whatever height in


any sphere, no matter the gender. I support feminism because it’s
a liberating course.

Even for us men. It frees us. This is not about me, but not every
man relishes the pressure of providing for the house alone.

And I think that having the feminine personality in the work- space
creates a variety of thoughts and ideas.

Women are very creative; they have very special talents that should
definitely not end in the house.”

113
“If you ask me,” Mr Okorie says, holding up a drum- stick and
speaking between mouthfuls.

“Anything that brings us freedom from any kind of bondage is


worth the fight.

But you see that kind that will make a woman talk back at her
husband, mba, I will not tolerate that one,” he stresses the word
‘tolerate’ and continues jabbing his teeth into the chicken noisily.

“A woman must assert herself, even if it means standing up to the


man,” Gina says loudly, putting a piece of chicken courteously into
her mouth with her fork in her left hand.

She chews silently as though fuming. “That’s the thing, the world
wants us to be quiet and accept whatever is thrown at us. That’s
not possible.”

Mr Okorie’s wife is feeding their baby with tiny chunks of chicken


and slapping his cheek with her finger when he throws the chicken
out of his mouth defiantly.

She does this proudly as though someone on the table is getting


ready to hand her an award.

Daddy looks around with glittering eyes. “Hey kids, I hope you are
having a swell time.

Don’t worry, we adults are not planning to steal your day from
you,” he glances sharply at Dave, a very quick look, you would
barely notice. I notice because my gaze has been moving from Dave
to Dad, back and forth. Dave winces. Maybe he still feels bad about

114
having to lose the competition.

 “How’s it going, man,” Daddy says, looking at him. My heart miss-


es a beat as though the question is directed to me.

It’s as if the whole day has been paving the way for this moment;
the moment when dad would have a conversation with Dave.

“Going good,” he says and continues with his fork and knife like
his mother and sister.

“Congratulations again. You are the best in the whole school.


That’s really great.”

“Thanks,” Dave replies shabbily. “I don’t know who could have


been better,” he adds.

Daddy grimaces at the unexpected haughtiness and in my heart, I


feel sorry on his behalf. 

“So, you are going to make a career from dancing?” Daddy contin-
ues with effort.

“Not really, I love dancing though. But what I really want is to be


an astrologist.”

“Oh!” Gina opens her eyes wide.

“I never knew that part. I thought you were going to be a surgeon.” 

“Well, stay out of this, Mom. That question was for me.` he mut-
ters.

115
“But that’s what you said, the last time we discussed this,” she
cringes.

“And if I changed my mind, I had to come running to report my-


self?”

Gina bites her lip and gapes at Dave in furrowed eyes as though
thinking of the best punishment for his insolence.

The atmosphere is solid, and the AC seems to be emitting more


cold than usual. There is a shock on Mrs Okorie’s face. She holds
her baby close to her breast as though protecting him from Dave’s
arrogance.

Mr Okorie laughs tautly. “The thing about allowing your children


to choose whatever career they want is that they always make wrong
choices.

Giving them free will is just putting them in unnecessary confu-


sion,” he clears the last grain of rice in his plate and points to his
overweight daughter.

“My daughter here, she says she wants to be an actress and I say,
tufiakwa!” he makes as though he wants to spit but nothing comes
out of his mouth. “My daughter, you will be a nurse.”

“So, what’s wrong if she wants to be an actress?” Gina asks as though


nursing a furious argument.

“Those ones that parade themselves half-naked on Tele? Mba! not


my daughter.”

116
Daddy speaks amusedly. “So why did you choose nurse, why not a
lawyer?”

“No! all lawyers are liars. My daughter cannot be a lawyer. Besides,


that one is only for men. She is a woman. She cannot handle such
profession.”

Dad shakes his head, exasperated.


 
Richie’s father sighs at his cracked chicken bones. “Thank you so
much for the diner my brother.

You have done well. My sister…” he turns to my mom who looks


up for the first time, her food only half eaten and her chicken un-
touched.

“Thank you so much. This is the kind of thing that should be


encouraged in our society; eating together as brothers and sisters.”
 
Mr Okorie nods. “I agree with you my brother. We should do this
often. And next time, madam, please prepare that you people’s
soup, what is it called?”

“Edikan ikong soup,” Mummy says.

“Yes, that’s it. We are getting bored with this overnight chicken.
And in fact, next time, we should have this gathering in my house.
I will show you what good life is.

We will eat Nkwobi and Isiewu,” Mr Okorie says.

117
Richard’s father laughs. “Igbo man. My mouth is already getting
watery oh. We really should do this again.

There is no point in building high walls and shielding away in tint-


ed glasses. This is how life was in those days,” he pokes a toothpick
in his teeth.

“When people visited each other freely, sharing and were of help
to one another where necessary.”

“But here is where colonization has left us’’. Everyone is too busy
packing up riches for themselves, rather than think about our life
as a communal people.

The evils of colonization will plague us in this country for a long


time, if ever we will get over it,” Okorie empties his glass.

“Chiamaka!” Okorie’s wife exclaims, blinking and winking at her


daughter who had finished her food and picked a piece of chicken
from Debbie’s plate.

“Oh! you can have more, dear,” Mom reaches for her plate.

Chiamaka looks at her mom and shakes her head. You can tell that
the answer is coerced by the harsh look on her mother’s face.

“She is okay, my dear. Don’t mind her. Nne thank you very much,”
she says to my mom.

I can imagine her back home, wringing Chiamaka’s ears and warn-
ing her to be of good conduct.

118
When we all rise and people start to leave, I find Daddy exchanging
wild laughter with Gina, looking at her endearingly.

My heart twitches at the sight of him giving the slightest attention


to another person. 

Debbie walks up to me and whispers. “Your gown is lovely.”


“Thank you,” I say.

“Well, I hope to be in the same secondary school with you. I’m


going to miss talking to you.”

I stare at her, shocked by her sudden humility. “I’d like to be in the


same school with you too,” I say, making a mental note to discuss
this with my dad.

Dad is now talking with Dave. Or rather, listening, because Dave


looks up at him, talking as though he is explaining a scientific dis-
covery to a critical audience.

Dad nods slowly, hands in pocket. Gina walks up to them and


holds Dave’s hand affectionately, smiling at Dad. She calls out to
Debbie. “It’s time to go girrrrrrrrl.”

She smiles up at dad, says something in a whisper and they both


break into a raucous laughter as they step out towards her red Mer-
cedes Benz.

Mom has been at the dining table all the while, staring at the dis-
tance and resting her head heavily on both her arms with her el-
bows on the table. Like a rush of the wind, her sunken eyes sweep
a sudden wave of sadness over me.

119
Daddy comes back inside bubbling with wide smiles and sparkling
eyes. “Congratulations, my love,” he says.

“Thank you, Dad,” I feel my heart melt. His cologne fills my nos-
trils and flows through my whole being, creating ripples all over
my skin. 

He draws me into an affectionate hug, kissing my forehead. “I’m so


proud of you, Pimpim.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

120
VICTORIA
When I get home with my prize, nobody celebrates me. Bar-
rister’s wife reminds me for the umpteenth time not to forget any-
thing.

“Have you carried your toothbrush?”


“Yes aunty.”
“What about the clothes you dried outside?”
“I’ve carried them.”
“Your pant from the bathroom?”
“Yes aunty.”

“Okay o. You know this is a long journey, so there is nothing like,


‘if I forget something, they will bring it for me.”

Uncle Benson has come to take me to Lagos. The little I know


about Lagos are from movies and stories from people who have
been there.

One of our neighbours’ sons lives in Lagos. He comes back every


Christmas with lots of clothes and shoes for his family and tells us
how rowdy Lagos is. I also know that there are many tall buildings
and big cars there. 

Uncle Benson is dressed in a sparkling white shirt. Three buttons


down his shirt are undone so you can have a glimpse of his smooth
dark chest.
His grey skinny trousers glue to his long legs so that when he sits
upright, it is drawn up to reveal his bright red, pink and blue

121
striped socks that elegantly disappear into shiny black shoes.

He looks smoothly foreign with a subtle sharpness that reminds


you of the man that advertises First Bank on TV. 

When I greet him, he sizes me up with his large consuming eyes


and nods sultrily, his long eyelashes moist as though he’d been
crying. 

Bessie calls me into the kitchen where she brings down a large black
pot – that was once white – from the kerosene stove.

I stand at the door, watching as her heavy black arms heave tautly
with every effortful movement.

Sweat glimmers on her skin, toughened by daily hard-work to keep


a family of five hefty boys and one big-bellied man well fed. 

She is a civil servant and an ardent politician in the local govern-


ment council.

She would usually sit on the veranda with other women, discussing
and arguing loudly about NULGEE and some campaign where she
as the woman leader is to share some money to others.

Other days, she is dressed in a uniform with the state governor’s


face drawn all-over and heading for some political rally.

On those days, she would come back with lots of money and we
would have more meat in our soup.
Even though her strength and hard-work inspires me, the part that
leaves me frightened is when I think that one day, I might have

122
to get married, have children and have to go through the stress of
embarking on large cooking every day, and sometimes on the local-
ly constructed firewood stove which leaves you sweating profusely
and burning out your skin until you gradually turn as black as
charcoal which you cook with. 

Bessie manages this so well you would think it is some jolly ride.
She is very outspoken in the compound, in church and everywhere.

If she is not a part of something, then that thing is not complete.

She is active when anything communal is organized, giving loud


overbearing input and always fearlessly speaking her mind.

She is called Mma Barrister, a title accorded her for being married
to a Barrister or maybe because she is so vocal, sometimes in a way
that makes her husband seem invisible.

She raises her head, rests her arms on her waist and exhales deeply.
Her eyes meet with mine.

“Victoria, I was calling you. How are you?” she says, going back
swiftly to her work.

Today, I am exempted from all the kitchen work because after I got
back from school, I had to prepare for Lagos.

Either that, or the prospect of leaving has somehow accorded me


the freedom which I am desperately grateful for.

She silently counts the plates lined up beside the large pot as she
pours scoops of palm oil rice – a combination of palm oil, fresh

123
pepper and pumpkin leaves in the stead of groundnut oil and to-
matoes which make jollof rice. 

As I respond to the question which she asked with some incompre-


hensible mutter that sounds like ‘I’m fine’, she nods inattentively,
dragging a smaller pot which contains tiny pieces of fish and starts
to place them in each plate, counting under her breath.

When she is satisfied with her work, she looks up at me. “Call them
to come and carry their food.”

I hurry outside where the boys are kicking a piece of old tattered
football determinedly to themselves.

Soon as I make the announcement, they scamper excitedly into the


house and straight to the kitchen as I trail behind them.

“Victoria, come here,” Bessie calls out as I carry my plate of rice


and make to leave the kitchen.

I stop short and stare blankly at the tired lines drawn on her face,
which betray the seeming satisfaction she cowers in.

“Come and sit here,” she points to a little wooden chair. I sit up-
right, balancing the food on my lap, with my legs put together
tightly, to avoid the premonition: “Sit like a girl!”

She wipes sweat off her forehead with her forefinger, cupping it
from one side to the other and shaking it off on the concrete floor.

“How are you?” she says. “I’m fine, aunty.” 

124
“I hope you are ready to go to Lagos,” she asks rhetorically but I
nod all the same.

“I know it hasn’t been easy for you. But you know, that is how life
is. We all go through hard times, but we just have to keep being
alive,” she shrugs and looks away, staring blankly at the floor as
though in deep thought.

“My life has not been any easier. I grew up with a tough father and
a step- mother, who would barely allow you to drink water without
raining hell loose.

Some nights, I had to sleep outside, hungry. Because, she just


decided that the house would not contain the both of us.

I went through hell, but look at me now,” she pauses as though


giving me enough time to look at her. My eyes are fixed on the
ground.

“You are not a child anymore,” she continues. “At your age, my
elder sister was already being negotiated for marriage.

I was just lucky to have been educated because I was a stubborn


child. I used to fight with my step- mother, so to have me disci-
plined, my father sent me off to live with the principal in our com-
munity and that is how I happened to go to school.

At that time, I thought it was a disaster. I thought my parents hated


me. But today, I am reaping the benefits of education. So, you see
your education, hold it with both of your hands.
Don’t let anything make you say, ‘I’m not going to school’. You
see me, I paid my school fees in the university by myself. Don’t let

125
anything hinder you.

Even though I had a father, it was as good as not having one at all,
because of that ekpo esid-isong he called his wife.”

She speaks with so much hatred in her eyes that you would think
that if she could see her step- mother now, she would strangle her
to death.

Calling her a ghost from the underworld is as good as smouldering


her.

“There are many things you won’t understand now, but you are
still growing, and life is getting clearer.

One thing I’ll tell you, be careful of men. You see men, avoid them
like this…” she makes a snake-like movement with her hand. 

“Men are very cunning,” she continues. “You have to be very smart
to deal with them, if not, you will be very miserable.

They are like parasites. Some of them, all they want is here…” she
hits her wrapper on the position of her private parts with both her
hands, protruding her eyes and bending her head in a funny way.

I feel a little embarrassed at her briskness. “That is just all they


want. When they are after you, they would act as if they are angel
Michael and angel Gabriel, but once they get what they want, fiam!
they are gone.”

What amuses me about her speech is the way she demonstrates each
word, and her facial expressions. This could have easily passed for

126
a TV show.

“And by the time they leave, you start getting attached to them,
calling and killing yourself, but zoom! they are off to the next
target.

I am telling you this because I want you to be very careful. Lagos is


a city full of these men who are like vipers. They suck you dry and
leave you. Be very careful, have you heard me?”

She drags her ear ferociously as though the harder she drags the ear,
the better my understanding of her premonition. I nod.

“Keep yourself until marriage. When you see a man that is ready to
marry you, you will know because he will respect you.

You will see the love clearly. But if you must do, remember to pro-
tect yourself, have you heard me? Use protection.

Shine your eyes. Don’t let anybody do you anyhow. Don’t be doing
as if you are weak.

You are a fine girl, men will come for you. Don’t worry yourself
with big cars and fine houses, stay with a man that respects you.

Run away from any man that raises his hands to beat you, run far
away.

You hear? Go to school o, study very hard, but remember that book
is not everything; common sense will pay you better,” she says this
pointing and shaking her head from side to side.

127
“Be a good girl to your uncle. Don’t give him any wahala. Cook,
clean and help him in the house.

So that by the time you get married, you will already be used to
doing these things and you can take care of your home. You hear?”

I nod again as I feel my rice turning cold on my lap. As though she


notices this too, she makes to conclude.

“You have to be very sharp. In order to survive, be very sharp. Use


your head, shine your eyes.

If you are going to forget everything I said, remember this; life is


not a bed of roses, it is not even a bed. If you need roses, go out
and plant them yourself!”

As I nod my head, she nods hers too as though taking her own
advice, satisfied to have imparted such great knowledge.

“Go and bring my handbag. It is on the table in my room,” she


says, clasping her hands between her legs.
 
I drop my food on the kitchen table and rush off. Her room which
is also Barrister’s is opposite the sitting room.

So, as I pass, I catch a glimpse of Uncle Benson handing wads of


clean notes to Barrister.

He does this bending respectfully and holding the money out to


Barrister as burnt offering. I carry the bag and hurry back to the
kitchen. 

128
Bessie searches through her worn out notebooks, Bible, lipsticks,
tube cream and produces fatigued 500 naira notes that are neatly
arranged inside a notebook, counts 6 notes and hands them to me.

“I don’t have much on me right now,” she says. “Just manage this.”
I get the money with both my hands, curtseying as I thank her.

She brings out her glasses from the bag, puts them on, squinting as
she tears off a piece of paper from one of the notes, scribbles her
phone number and hands it to me, then replaces her glasses in its
case and back in the bag.

I thank her again and take the bag to journey back to her room but
stop short as Barrister approaches the kitchen.

“Mma mmi, is food not ready yet? I’ve perceived the food so long
now it seems that the aroma is all I’ll have for dinner today.”

“I’m bringing it oh my dear. I said let me share to the children


first. Sorry.” She gestures towards the ceramic plates on the kitchen
cabinet reserved for Barrister.

“Oh Mma! I thought I had done something wrong to deserve star-


vation in my own house,” he says boisterously.

“It’s like you will hold on small. Victoria’s uncle wants to say hello
to you before leaving.”

“Ahn ahn, he is leaving already, I thought he will leave tomorrow


morning. Won’t he at least eat something?”

129
“He says he has an important meeting tomorrow, so he has to drive
all night so he can get to Lagos by morning.”

“Eiya! That must really be tough for him, all that driving,” Bessie
says, breathing hard as she carries herself up the three steps that
ascend to the corridor from the kitchen. She turns to me. “Go and
carry your bag to the car.” 

I’m torn between going to drop her bag in her room first and going
to take my bag to the car.

Bessie is good at confounding a person like this. She would send


you on a particular errand, and before you turn to go, she would
send you on another, leaving you to decide which to attend to first.

Sometimes, while you are on one, she would ask you to leave it for
another. She would often call you from wherever you are, to carry
something that is only an arm’s distance from her.

This would have been very burdensome, only that she is very
easy-going.

She engages me in long conversations – while cooking together in


the kitchen – which usually turn out to be monologues because I
would say nothing from the beginning to the end.

I only have to say ‘yes aunty’ or ‘okay aunty’ where necessary.

I decide to drop her bag first before I head for my bag in the room.

I slip the money and paper Bessie gave me into the side of my bag
as I say a hurried ‘bye’ to Udo who seems to have been waiting

130
in the room to have a last word with me. His older brothers had
hurried out to continue in their tattered game, leaving their dirty
plates for him.

“Will you come back?” he asks gloomily, a look that is rather un-
becoming of him, which would make a person who does not know
him think how kind he is.

“I don’t know,” I make to keep moving.

“Wait!” he rises from the bed and walks to me. “Please come back,
you hear?” his sullenness somehow breaks my heart. 

“I will,” I say, determined to keep the promise. “Thank you.”

He grabs me in an uncomfortable hug, moving solemnly from side


to side.

As soon as his body touches mine, I want to push him away but as
he grips longer, I wrap my arms around his neck and feel his hold
tighten.

He lifts his head and looks me in the face and as though a last ritu-
al, presses his lips tightly against mine, releasing a surge of wetness
on my upper lip with his tongue.

At this point, I push him away and wipe my lips with the back of
my palm, nauseated by the feel of his saliva.

“I’ll miss you,” he grabs my bag. “Let me help you,” he starts to-
wards the door.

131
I trail behind him as he takes the bag to the veranda while we wait
for Uncle Benson to round off his conversations with Barrister,
which is reaching climax already.

I seize the opportunity to run back to the kitchen for my food.

The rice is completely cold now, so I grab the fish from the top of
the mound and run off as I hear the sound of Uncle Ben’s car. 

I don’t have to worry about the food. There will be enough food
in Lagos.

132
DECEMBER 2005

JUNE 
“What’s up, girl?” he winks.

I look up and Mr handsome is ready to walk me to the


school bus.

He takes it as a duty to walk me downstairs and makes sure I sit on


the bus before he leaves to wait for his driver to pick him up. This
makes me feel like a princess.

Dave has been an angel since after the party. We talk on the phone
almost every day, he writes me poems which I use as lyrics for my
songs and we are so connected.  

His smartness has become a comfortable escape from my maths


assignments.

He tries to explain them to me, but I only end up dozing off or


staring blankly at his cute lips. I don’t understand why I should
bother with calculating circumference of circles and area of trian-
gles.

Maths just gives me headache. It is especially the worst subject to


be taught at the end of the day, when the sun is like a fiery furnace.

As soon as the maths teacher finishes scribbling the assignment on


the board, I throw my books in my school bag. 

133
“Hey Dave, I hope you had a nice day,” I pull the zip on my bag
closed. “Was great.” I respond.

I throw my bag on my shoulders, walking beside him, my heart ris-


ing as dough and my face glimmering with a genuine glow, thrilled
at how close Dave and I have become.

While we wait for other students to shuffle into the bus, Dave
hands me a notebook.

“Were you going to forget this with me?” he says wryly. 

I smile at him. It’s my notebook. I’d probably left it on his desk


when we were studying together.

The look on his face seems fishy, as though he is stifling a smile, or


some kind- of- secret delight.

“What?” I say, flustered. “Well, maybe you should open the book.”

I roll my eyes and flip through the book. On the back page, there it
is, his careful, cursive, and vibrant handwriting: “I love you, June,”
elegantly written with today’s date under it and a bulgy heart shape
thickened with blue ink. 

There is a bleeding undefined joy creating a steady flow round my


heart, my heartbeat crawling fast and jabbing noisily.

There is a new specialness to Dave, a screaming perfectness that is


smooth like a wood, scrubbed with a sandpaper leaf.
“I mean it,” he winks, his eyes adorably thick and alluring.

134
I believe him. I believe him because I want to, because I don’t want
to believe something else.

I believe him in the way you believe something without even think-
ing about it; the way you believe everything you are told in your
Sunday school class.

I want to tell him that I believe him, that I feel the same way about
him. Before I can utter a word, the bus hoots and rages to a start,
so, I say a hurried “bye Dave” instead, and I run to the bus. 

When I see him tomorrow, I will tell him I love him too. I will.
 
 
 
 
 

135
VICTORIA
Uncle Benson lives in a plush estate on Lagos Island. His
house feels like heaven. It is really huge, painted all white with a
sullen neatness that makes me feel that my presence may dent it.

From the gate, you have to drive about five minutes before you get
to the main building. The distance is covered with nicely prawned
lawn, large gmelina trees and bright coloured flowers.

For the first time in my life, I have a whole room to myself. I am


oddly thrilled at this much freedom.

There are only very little chores to do. I only have to wake up early
to make tea for Uncle Ben.

Some mornings, he’d make his tea himself before I get to the kitch-
en and he’d wash his cup himself after taking his tea.

This feels very awkward because adults never do their dishes when
there is a younger person around. 

One morning, he offered to make tea for me. I told him I wasn’t
hungry even when my tommy was rumbling.

How can I allow my uncle make food for me? It’s supposed to be
the other way round. Well, maybe Lagos just has a way of breaking
rules. 

It’s Saturday morning. I step out of my room to make tea for Uncle
Benson and as usual, I find him already in the kitchen, steering his

136
tea and looking out the window.

His white shirt glimmers in the early morning sun beneath his
skinny black joggers.

The shirt glues to his skin so that you can count six stiff layers
of his flat abdomen, the smooth curves of his upper arm and the
slight bulge of his chest. It is screamingly appealing.

His bright black curly hair settles calmly on his head like an embel-
lishment. He stands there, still, calm as the morning.

The sight of him brings a sordid flash of my mother. She also had
short curly hair – I guess it’s a family thing. 

“Good morning, Uncle Benson,” I say before I regret having to


startle him from whatever thought held him so bound. He turns
and gives a smile that vanishes as soon as it appears.

“Good morning, Aunty Victoria,” he says. “I have told you, you


can call me Ben. What’s all the stress for?” he turns around, look-
ing outside again.

He holds the mug in one hand, while the other is tucked in his
pocket. “I hope you slept well.”

“Yes Uncle. Yes Ben.”

He smiles warmly. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it,” he sighs.


“I made myself tea. It’s a free day today, so, I’ll probably spend it
sitting by the pool. What are you having for breakfast?”

137
I am tongue-tied, bothered by the way he talks to me as though I
were an old friend. I shake my head slowly, not knowing what that
might mean. 

He shrugs. “Well, you can eat anything you want. I’ve already
showed you around. So, madam, get yourself well fed.”

I nod shyly and move my weight from my left leg, leaning on the
tiled kitchen cabinet.

I have never been in a position to choose what I would like to eat.


Back home, if a particular food was made and you didn’t like it,
you would go hungry until the next meal that you might like.

I never had any food preference. I ate everything. 

Ben strolls to the table, picks up a magazine with Dangote’s face on


the cover and wiggles his flat backside towards the back door. As he
slides the door open, he calls after me. “If you need anything, you
let me know. I’ll be at the pool.”

I pick up the kettle and pour hot water into a white mug. Back
home, the quantity of beverage you put in your tea was monitored.

You could only have a spoonful of milk and milo – and sometimes
half spoon – then you throw in only two cubes of sugar and some-
times no sugar at all.

But here I am, with a whole tin of milk to decide what quantity I
want. I take the first spoon, then the second, and then the third.
I do same with the milo, and then I throw in 4 cubes of sugar. I
wince at the sudden gush of hot sweetness on my tongue.

138
As I stand starring out the window where Ben had stood, I feel a
tumultuous peace.

Then a wave of guilt hits me. I haven’t mourned my family enough.


I haven’t really been able to cry since I came to Lagos. And until
now, I do not feel like crying. 

The guilt spreads through my chest. I feel that there’s something


I could have done to make my family stay alive. It is my fault,
everything that happened.

Now here I am, celebrating the freedom to have as much beverage


as I want in my tea, enjoying this snug house and being at peace
while my family rots away somewhere I have no idea of.

Well, maybe they are in heaven, or maybe hell. No, heaven. I can’t
even think of them being in hell. 

I don’t deserve to be alive. I should have died with them in that


fire.

I don’t deserve to be happy about anything at all. I don’t deserve


to be alive. 

This thought clings to my neck and threatens to suffocate me. My


skin evokes ripples of goose bumps and I start to sweat profusely.

I pour the tea down the stainless sink, rinse the cup swiftly and bolt
up the stairs, into my room.
Then I sink my head into my pillow, hoping that I would cry. But
tears have refused to come.

139
I bury my head deeper in the pillow and send out muffled screams.

I scream until my throat gets sour. I scream until I start to doze off.

I wish I had died in that fire. 

I don’t deserve to be alive. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
140
JUNE
The house is ominously quiet today. If a pin drops to the
ground, you could hear the sound clearly.

Daddy has gone to Abuja for a conference. He’ll be back at noon


today. When I spoke to him last night, he sounded suspiciously
overexcited.

I love to hear that ring in his voice when he’s happy. 

I throw in a few spoons of corn flakes, say a hurried ‘Good morn-


ing’ to mum and rush off as the bus hoots outside as though the
driver had an early morning tussle with his wife.

I have done a whole term in secondary school so fast. Today, we


are having rehearsals for our Christmas party, so we’d have classes
in the morning and then disperse after break to the different clubs.

Before I could catch up with Dave after break, he was already off
for his dance rehearsals. 

A sinking feeling rushes through me as I play the keyboard during


the music rehearsals.

It’s a feeling of sadness, of dread, of trepidation. I try to shake it


off and continue playing, but it sweeps a persistent fever over me
furiously.

My body runs hot and cold at the same time, then it passes like a
wave as I manage to finish the rehearsals.

141
When I try to get up, I sway slightly and steady myself, resting my
arms on my knees, gasping and trembling.

“Are you okay?” Kenneth walks towards me.

I try to respond but my breath comes rasped in pieces.

He walks up and holds me by the waist while helping me stand


straight.

“I’m fine,” I mutter unsteadily.

He puts his palm on my neck and then on my forehead. “You’re


hot. You have a fever. You need to rest.”

I nod, not being able to have a grip of myself. As I make to walk, I


sway again and fall in his arms.

Voices come to me muffled like a cloud: “What’s wrong with June…


is she okay... take her to the clinic… take her to class… she’ll be
fine… let her sit down…” my head spins and pounds thunderously.

Ken holds me gingerly as we walk to the class and lays me gently on


my desk. I lie still for a while, trying to calm myself.

I think I must have dozed off because I am jerked up by the clang-


ing of the bells and a loud noise. I park my bag, wondering why
Dave has still not come to talk to me.

On my way out of the class, I spot him walking out, so I run up,
calling out to him. “What’s going on, Dave?” 

142
“I should be asking you that,” he thunders.

“What are you talking about?” I ask, confused. “You haven’t even
spoken to me the whole day. What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me? No, what’s wrong with you? I was waiting
to talk to you after rehearsals only for some guy to hold you by the
waist into the class and you didn’t even say anything to me.

What’s that droll holding you by the waist for?”

I am unable to speak for a mini-second. When I start to say some-


thing, he flips around and walks off.

I feel my heart ripple and sting torturously, dragging hot tears


down my face. Goose bumps rise hard and cold on my skin and I
start to shiver again.

My head thumps as though a carpenter is at work with his hammer


inside. I try to steady myself as I walk slowly to the school bus.

My eyes get blurry. I know that I am trying to climb onto the bus.

I know because that is the last thing I can remember. 

That, and this gnawing terrible feeling.

143
UYAI
 
On the day my father first dropped me in boarding school,
I was surrounded by huge seniors in the hostel who demanded for
my money and provisions.

They told me to kneel,, raise my hands and close my eyes. At first, I


resisted, because I could not understand such injustice. I told them

I was not going to kneel or give them anything.

Immediately, one of the seniors dragged me to the middle of the


room and another slapped me on the cheek.

When I started to scream, other junior students gathered, whisper-


ing that I should beg them. I didn’t understand why I had to beg
when I had done nothing wrong.

However, I was forced to comply. By the time I opened my eyes


after they left, they’d carted away some of my provisions and half
of my money.

My nights are almost always unbearable with senior AK as a bunk-


mate. She calls me cockroach, nonentity, or any other awful name
that crosses her mind.

Climbing the bunk is always so difficult because the metal bunks


don’t have a ladder. You either have to jump, or step on the bed
below, which is a taboo.
If you step on senior AK’s bed, she would make you wash her bed
sheet that night or give you any other punishment she so pleases. 

144
I hold the bunk by the side with both hands and try to jump to
my bed, then my hand slips and my legs drop on senior AK’s bed.

She gets off her bed, shouting furiously, calling me ‘rubbish from
the rubbish bin’.

I start to beg her and cry. She asks me to kneel and raise my hands
which I do hurriedly, so she’d be pacified soon enough to let me
sleep. 

She gets back on her bed, ignoring my pleas. When I doze off after
a while, she picks up her slippers and hits my hands, forcing them
up, then she shoves me under her bed and warns that if any mos-
quito bites her, I’ll pay for it. 

I sob silently, unable to sleep as cold seeps hungrily through my


ribs.

There is no way I would climb up my bed without waking her up,


so I lie still, folding my body in the best possible position. 

In the thick darkness, I hear a sound in the distance. “Koi… koi…


koi…” it approaches me. Everywhere goes quiet for a while. Then
again, I hear the sound, “Koi… koi… koi...” 

A shiver ripples through my skin as I dread that she would harm


me for staying awake until now? Hard balls of goose bumps tighten
my skin, either from fear or the cold.

A bird hoots in the distance, crickets chatter, one of the beds in the
room squeaks aggressively.

145
The darkness is so thick that I can barely see my hand when I lift it
to wipe sweat off my face. My body is cold and numb. 

Closer now, the sound continues. “Koi… koi… koi…”

 
 
 

146
JUNE 
I startle awake, frightened as sweat pours down my face pro-
fusely. In my dream, I was having an ice cream with my dad, Dave,
and a strange fair woman.

We were all laughing heartily, then daddy started to fly in the sky.
We smiled up at him, asking where he was going. He smiled back
oddly and disappeared into the clouds. 

My head hangs heavily, a dull pain oscillating it in a slow motion.


I close my eyes, trying to steady my mind. The sound of the door
drags my eyes open.

Mummy walks towards my bed, her cheeks damp with tears.

A man trails behind her, dressed in a blue shirt and a faded jean
with a stethoscope around his neck. He places a hand on my mum’s
shoulder and turns his dark brown eyes to me. “How are you doing
today, dear?” 

I stare blankly, my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth. He plac-


es thin fingers on my forehead, the stethoscope on my chest while
the other part is fixed loosely in his ears. 

Then, he nods and turns to my Mom. “She’s better today. You


know, it’s just malaria and a high level of typhoid.

She’s had it for a while, that’s why it got to that critical level. She’d
have to stay for today and complete the medication while we mon-

147
itor the progress.

Go home. Get her something to eat, with lots of fruits.”

Mum folds her hands, sobbing louder now. My heart sinks to the
base of my stomach. Something has gone wrong. Think June, think.

What’s wrong with you?

Yes! No, wait. Where is daddy in all of these? There is just no way
I’d be in the hospital and daddy is not by this bed the whole time.

How long have I been here? Daddy was supposed to be back on


Thursday. What day is this? 

The doctor is now holding Mummy’s shoulder with both his hands,
whispering. “Everything will be fine.”

My thoughts muddle up as I leap to the edge of the bed, startling


them both. Then, I think better of it and lie back.

They peer at me as though I have gone crazy. I’m quiet for a while,
then I speak animatedly. “What day is this?”

They don’t hear me at first, so I repeat, louder this time. “What day
is today?”

The doctor sighs. “Today is Friday.”

“That means, yesterday was Thursday,” I sit up again, drawing my


knees to my face and wrapping them with my arms. “Is daddy back
from Abuja?”

148
Mum sniffles. Her gaze saunters unsteadily from my face to the
doctor’s and my heart starts a frantic race. “Where is daddy?”

“I have to tell her. She deserves to know. How do I tell her this,
Doc? This would kill her.

This would hurt my baby so bad. God why, God why? I have to tell
her…” the other things she says get lost in the sobs.

Fear slides aggressively up my chest. It starts from my belly, creates


ripples of trepidation that run fast and slow at the same time, grip-
ping tightly my veins, causing me to shiver, making me feel hungry
and the same time, nauseous.

Mum looks me in the face, her eyes bloodshot. The smooth black
beautifulness has disappeared from her curvy cheeks.

“Daddy had passed on…”  

She drops the words one at a time as though they were heavy. My
mind wanders perplexedly. Passed on… passed on to where?

I look out the window. It is late morning, the sun sticks out its
head gloomily as faded flowers cower in the brilliant heat. Daddy
has passed on.

When people pass on, it means that they have died. I was taught
that in literature class.

That figure of speech is called euphemism, putting something grave


in a lighter tone.

149
My heart rocks in surprisingly calm successions. I imagine my
daddy floating in the skies.

I try to picture his infectious smile, his alluring cuteness, his over-
whelming love.

A stiff enveloping silence crawls slowly to me like a venomous


snake, startling me, covering me up, swinging my head around.

No, it’s not silence, it is darkness.

“Where is he now?”

“We can’t even find his body.

He was blown up in the Sosoliso plane crash. He was on his way


back from Abuja yesterday.

The plane crashed in Port Harcourt airport. He died. They all died.
Jay is gone. Jay is gone. My jay is gone.

He was going to be back yesterday but now he’s gone. He’s never
coming back. Oh my God! Jay is gone…”

My head whirls thunderously, my heart pounding as though Mum’s


words were heavy stones, hitting me in the chest, piercing me with
every dawn of understanding.

I am slipping away.
There is a terrible blackness hovering around me as my eyes fall
closed. I’m dying.

150
I want to die with my daddy. In the blankness of my mind, I hear
myself say, “Superman daddy… superman daddy…”
 

 
 

151
VICTORIA 
I’m not sure what exactly I like about Lagos. Is it the rush of
people moving in one direction every morning, and the opposite
direction every evening, or the tall buildings and crisscrossing wide
boulevards?

Maybe it is the calmness of the river beneath the third mainland


bridge.
 
It certainly has to be the water. Watching sunlight spill beams on
it every morning and the streetlight sparkle into it in the evenings
must be the one thing that has stuck to my heart, that has meant
to me something; a feeling close to love.

The thought of watching the water ripple and tweak, of watching


people inside their cars as they move one inch at a time – the man
driving while the woman would collapse her seat to a comfortable
sleeping position; the thought of staying 2 hours in an air condi-
tioned bus, watching life move slowly past is the reason I wake up
excited most mornings.

Today, the traffic has eased up, so the bus is moving a little faster.

On the radio, a plain male voice is talking about a plane crash so


dispassionately you’d think the plane had carried bags of garri.

I feel sad for the people that’d boarded that plane and for their
loved ones too. I imagine that a whole family was in there.
They’d all be dead. Maybe like me, a lone girl would survive.  

152
When the road is clear like this, we would get to school too early.

Instead of resting on our desks to make up for the lost sleep, we’d
run around, catching up with friends and watching the boys quiver
as they try to talk to the girls they like.

Last week, Ola had passed me a letter. I was mad because the words
were not even spelt correctly.

He said he would be “exited” if I “agrid” to his “offer”. Firstly, I’m


sure he really wanted to be “excited” if I “agree” to his… how the
hell is that an offer?

By calling it an offer, it sounds like something I should be grateful


for.

First of all, Ola is too overweight and is always sweating – even


when it’s raining. And to think that he cannot even compose a
simple letter, hell no! 

Today is one of those days we get into the class early and start the
routine of play, chatter and whatever else constitutes fun.

When the bell tolls, we rush out for the assembly and in the next
couple of minutes, we are back in class.

When Miss Bola, the maths teacher walks into the class – her heels
clicking elegantly on the linoleum floor – there is a reverential
noiselessness that flows through the class.

It’s something in the svelte aura she carries, in the pureness of her
white shirt, in the sharpness of her pointed heels , or maybe the

153
smoothness of her blond ponytail weave-on. 

She’d usually give us a sweet smile, ask how the weekend was and
make a joke about the boys that like to cower at the back seats,
before she starts her maths lecture.

But today, she gets in with a kind of edginess.

“Why is this class looking like this?” she asks, ignoring our chorus
greeting.

The class goes dead. She looks around, disgust smearing her cute
face. That’s when we realize that the class has not been swept for
the day.

“Can somebody answer me, why does this place look like a pig
hole? So, you all can come in and sit in this kind of dung, expect-
ing Bolaji to come and teach. Stand up, all of you, up!”

We drag ourselves off our seats. Miss Bola is one of the kindest
teachers in the school, but when she gets infuriated like this, she
can be very unpredictable.

The best you can do is to try to pacify her, especially by responding


honestly and respectfully to her.

“Who is the class prefect of this class?” she asks.

We all turn and look around. Nobody says a word. We just look
from one face to the other and back to hers.
“Are you all deaf? I say, who the prefect here is?” she roars.

154
“Nobody ma,” we chorus.

“You mean nobody has been appointed class prefect?”

“No ma.”

“That’s because you all are bunch of idiots! You don’t know any-
thing. You feel comfortable to sit in a dirty class like goats without
appointing someone to ensure that this class is well kept.”

Now she really is angry. It feels very awkward for her fragile tiny
self to rage like this, she looks like she might break apart at any
moment.

Really, we’ve not thought about having any class prefect since we
resumed. We just manage to run the class without any leader, and
we’ve had things going good until this slip today.

“Now, we are going to choose a class prefect. And the next time
something goes wrong in this class, he would be held responsible.

Do you understand me? So, you all better make your choice now.
Who would be the class prefect of this class?”

Soon as she says this, the class is in uproar. Names are mentioned
from different corners. Somehow, the two names that echo louder
are John and Agnes.

Just when the noise starts to die out, I hear Ola’s voice from behind
shouting my name.
Miss Bola looks around the class. “Who is John? Get up. Agnes, get
up, and Victoria. The three of you should stand.” 

155
It didn’t occur to me at any slight instance that I could be consid-
ered for this kind of position at all. I’m sure Ola must have men-
tioned my name in order to spite me.

I could have gotten angry, but then, being a class prefect is not
a bad idea at all. Who doesn’t like some ounce of power? I smile
inwardly but try to look uninterested.

“So, how many of you want John as class prefect? Raise up your
hands,” Miss Bola continues.

She starts to count the hands. They make a total of 13, such a good
number. Well, maybe John would be the prefect after all.

He’s the most intelligent, neat and quiet person in class. He assists
people with their assignments and smiles with everyone. Not a bad
choice at all.

“How many for Agnes? Raise up your hands.”

Agnes gets 5 hands. The 5 girls happen to be her clique of friends


– the ones that would gang up to beat up a guy who gets in their
way, the ones that wear big earrings and short skirts, the happening
girls in school.

I don’t get why she didn’t have all the hands after all. She has prob-
ably garnered for herself, sufficient enemies, with her sauciness.

“And you, what’s your name again?” she points her slender finger
at me. Ola shouts: “Victoria, ma,” from behind.

156
“Ehn… so how many for Victoria?” she starts to count.

I refuse to look back at the hands. If Agnes with all her popularity
could get only 5 hands, then my quiet minding-my-business self
would probably get 2.

One would be Ola, and the other, someone else who doesn’t want
me to feel bad.

Miss Bola continues to count, to my surprise. “11… 12… 13… 14…


15…” she shouts at someone.

“You there, are you raising your hand or not? Keep your hand
above your head if you are raising it ojare,” she adds finally, “16
and 17. Okay, drop your hands now.”

I have no idea where all those hands came from. So, am I really
going to be the class prefect? That is exciting!

“So, you got 17 hands. Ehn… but a girl cannot be the class prefect
now. A boy will be the class prefect and the girl will be the assistant.

So, you, John, oya! you are the class prefect. Ehn… Victoria, you are
the assistant. If John is not around, you will carry out his duties
and assist him to do the work. Have you heard me? Oya, the three
of you, sit down.”

I fume inwardly as the injustice threatens to suffocate me. What


exactly does the prefect do?

Write names of noise makers, get the chalk for the class, assign the
sweeping rooster, and respond to teachers on behalf of the class.

157
Which of those things am I unable to do whether I’m a girl or not?

I look at Miss Bola as she continues her maths class and I feel like
slamming her head on the wall.

However, despite my dislike for Ola, I can’t resist the smile that
smears my face when he passes me a note that reads: “Don’t wori
ma dear, as far as I am consain, you are my class prevect.

Don’t matter what anybodi sayd.”

Maybe someday, I’ll understand why John was chosen over me, I’ll
understand if it is something wrong with me or with the world or
just with Miss Bola.

But right now, I allow myself to laugh at Ola’s

ridiculously spelt words, and be consoled by its essence.

I turn back to look at him. He winks at me, and I smile.

 
 

158
JUNE
I watch life move past in a dull dizzy dryness as my mother
drives through the serene, lifeless estate.

There is a huge lump in my chest that chokes my breath. There is


this troubling silence, a caressing fear, an indescribable rage.

I’d been in the hospital for 5 weeks, the doctor unable to diagnose
exactly what was wrong with me.

I’ve been afraid of being alive, to go home to an empty house, to


a life without love, without laughter. In my heart, I’m talking to
God silently. I’m begging God to raise my father the way he raised
Lazarus. 

I guess this would be more difficult for God, because Lazarus had
his corpse in a tomb, but my father, he is all shattered in pieces.

The thought of this nauseates me.

I hold the puke down. Immediately Mum’s car pulls into our ga-
rage. I run to the bathroom and empty my stomach in the sink.

When I crawl into my bed, I lie still, listening to the silence, hoping
that it was all a lie, a big joke, a prank. Waiting for my daddy to
run into my room, laugh and say “caught ya!”

I would laugh until tears trail the corners of my eyes. I’d ask why
he had to go so far with that kind of joke. I’d jab him on the chest

159
and watch him make a feigned grimace.

I listen for so long and there are no light footfalls in the hallway,
no strawberry fragrance of his cologne, nothing. I listen harder and
still, nothing.

Mummy sneaks in and asks if I’d like to eat something. When I


turn and face the wall, she sniffles, begging me to eat, saying that
my silence tortures her.

I keep my face to the wall until I doze off.

When I wake up, Mummy is sitting on the floor with her head on
the side of the bed, dozing. When she jerks off her sleep, I agree to
have only tea with toast bread.

I sit at the dinning, nibbling glumly at the bread. There are no


loud jokes, no laughter, no premonition not to talk while eating,
no random conversations, no joy.

I pour the tea tastelessly down my throat and allow it to burn my


intestines. I savour the momentary physical pain. This feels a lot
better than what I feel in my heart right now.

When I get back in my room, I find my phone lying on the table.


I plug it to its charger by the wall and switch it on.

I have to wait a while for the notifications to pour in. I have 20


messages from Dave, 2 from Kenneth, and many others from un-
known numbers.
What could Dave have been saying in those 20 messages? The last
thing I remember is him walking out on me.

160
I’m going to sit back and read all the messages. I want to know
what he said. I want to know if he really meant it when he wrote
those words at the back of my book.

I want to be mad at him, to blame him for all that has happened.  

“I’m very sorry, June. I’m sorry for how I treated you. I need to
know if you are okay. I miss you,” the first message reads.

A flood of confused rage pours in my heart. What a time for him


to have treated me that way.

What a time for Dave to have been so selfish. Now he thinks he can
wipe it all away with just “I’m sorry!” I wish I could have my father
back with “I’m sorry.” I wish it were that easy.

As I jab at the delete button, wiping off all the messages, I start to
scream. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Daddy I’m sorry!”

My voice echoes through the house and calls back at me. “I’m sor-
ry!” The more I shout, the louder it returns to me.

Oh my God, I’m going crazy. I’m so sorry!

 
 

161
VICTORIA
 

Today is one of the Saturdays that Ben’s friends, Femi, Ram-


sey-Kuti, and his girlfriend, Simi are over the house to play basket-
ball.

It seems as though, he went somewhere to handpick his friends; all


tall, brawny and good-looking.

It’s always a glorious thing to watch their husky shoulders heave


when they jump at the ball or the gleaming alluringness of their
sweaty skin.  

But there is something incomprehensibly artificial about Simi.

She wears a bulky weave-on that falls to her face, covering her eyes
so that she has to occasionally flip it back with her fingers in a way
that is excruciatingly overbearing.

Her lips are painted bright pink with thick blue eye shadows, a
light brown face – in dissonance with the colour of the other parts
of her body – and embellishments which lie unsettling on her tiny
frame.

She is very thin and unlike Ben, does not make-up for the weight
with her height.

She has this sonorous voice so that when she speaks, it sounds like
the Igbo songs Aunty Bessie loved to listen to by a woman called
Chioma Jesus.  

162
Ramsey-Kuti is here with his girlfriend, Kelechi, while Femi came
alone as usual.

Ben and his friends would always scorn Femi for not having a
girlfriend.

They would say that it’s because he is too gentle, that girls do not
like a gentleman; then they would start to sing Fela Kuti’s I no be
gentleman at all… and wiggle their waists. 

The one always missing out on the fun is Ikechukwu, the poet. He
only comes around when they just want to have a drink with goat
meat pepper soup and loud arguments about politics.

He doesn’t like basketball. And they also scorn him for this, saying
that it’s because of his deficiency in height.

He would nod his head to this and say that what he did not have
in height, he made up for in his brains.

Ben is the quietest person in the group. He always plays the host,
making sure everyone is comfortable and listening pensively to the
arguments.

He is also a mediator when the arguments get overly heated. When


he speaks – which he seldom does – the trio always pays rapt atten-
tion, with Femi churning up a loud reply.

Femi anchors a political program every morning on the Nigeria


Television Authority.
He is supposed to be non-partisan as a media person’, but he ar-
dently expresses opposing personal views about the government.

163
He says he’s just there to garner enough money so he can build
his own media company that would broadcast the truth about the
country.

He is angry about the fact that Nigeria is said to have transited


from military rule, but went ahead to elect an ex-military ruler as
president and still expects a difference between his first tenure and
the second. 

“He singlehandedly commanded the army that brought down


Port-Harcourt and weakened the forces of Biafra.

That man has so much experience and love for this country. I
would vote him for third term, if possible,” Ramsey-Kuti speaks
vehemently.

Whenever Biafra is mentioned, it seems as though a spark has been


lighted in Ike’s head.

He would start by mourning Christopher Okigbo. He would say


that Nigeria can never be at peace with the blood of the so many
innocent people that had been killed, especially the Biafrans.

“The Biafrans fought a worthy cause!” he would say at the top of


his voice.

He would stand as though making a presentation in order to gain


audience of the trio. “Biafrans have been immensely marginalized
in this country.
Now, take a look at the major positions in the public sector, how
many Biafrans have you seen there? My brother Ben here, he is just

164
lucky to be working in the private sector where your ethnicity does
not matter as much as your qualifications.

Let him come out to apply as a civil servant, and you would see the
hatred and nepotism that rocks this country…”

“You know, my own case is worse, this thing about majority and
minority groups pushes us to the rear.

And it would have been worse with Biafra. If ever there was a thing
like Biafra, they’ll probably be no tribe like Ibibio or Efik.

Our Igbo brothers would have swallowed us all up. Okay, they said
Biafra was for southerners, so how many non-Igbos did you see in
the struggle? It was just…” Ben speaks with an intelligent pensive-
ness.

This would infuriate Ike who had called out Ben, expecting him to
be on his side but got a shocker from the unpredictable Ben.

He would rage and rave and speak glowing Shakespearian English


to make his point sound more learned.

One of those torrid days, he’d gotten angry and stormed out of
the house, only to reappear the next weekend like nothing had
happened. 

Today, none of those is happening. When they play basketball,


they don’t allow politics or anything else to interfere.

They are all friends at that point, all happy, all wanting to win the
game and have bragging right over the rest.

165
When they get in the court, they divide into two teams; Kelechi,
Ramsey-Kuti and Ben in one team while Simi is left with Femi in
the other.

When they notice the imbalance, Femi looks at me and shouts.


“Get in the court, madam. You too dey sidon dey look, today you’ll
be in my team.”

Ben laughs and looks at me. “Get in and try. Don’t worry, it’s
nothing serious. Just enjoy yourself. You guys, take it easy on her.”

I am always dressed in my white shirt, pink shorts and white canvas


whenever they want to play. Some evenings after school, I would
get in the court and try to shoot the ball through the hoop.

I’m excited to finally be allowed to play with them. It’s as though


I’ve been doing all those self-rehearsals in preparation for today. 

Simi can barely even play. She just keeps jumping around the court
and shouting for the ball to be passed to her.

And when it does get to her, she would throw it to Femi or would
bounce it in one place until an opponent gets the ball.

It is because of her that Ben’s team wins with 7 points while we get
only 2 points from just one goal. Amazingly, the one goal happens
to be by me. 

When the game is over, Femi gives me a handshake and strokes


the back of my palm affectionately. “You did amazingly out there.
Was that really your first time?”

166
“No sir, I mean, yes,” I mutter.

He smiles at me. “Who you dey call sir, you think say I be this your
over-serious uncle? Call me Femi jare.”

There is a slight Americanness in the way he speaks. His voice rings


out like music that sticks to the back of your head and jumps at
you at unexpected moments.

When he speaks, it is as if a seamless humour is hiding somewhere


in his cheeks. He has bright eyes that almost glue to your skin with
keen indulgence.

“Okay, Femi.” “You didn’t say thank you. I’m taking back my
compliment.

Well, actually, you just need some polishing and you’d be a great
baller. Would you like to take it up professionally?”

I’ve never thought of what I would like to take up professionally


except a distant dream of becoming a teacher which had faded with
the death of my role model, my father. I shrug.

“Well, you could think about it. You have the legs for it.” 

I feel his eyes beaming on my legs. It is pleasantly uncomfortable


to be gawked at like this.

Maybe he senses the discomfort. He laughs tautly. “You know, I’m


now old, I cannot even consider taking up a new career.

167
I had to hustle hard when I got back to realize that Nigeria was no
longer as good as we left it.

But you, you still have a lot of time to decide on a career that
you are passionate about. And you can be just about anything you
want.”

I start to draw lines on the ground with my shoe. We are seated on


a rock, near the court.

It’s getting dark and the sky has started to produce different bril-
liant colours.

The breeze sways past, caressing my face and hardening the cold
sweat on my skin. I want to go inside.

But I like sitting here with him. I like the way he makes me to feel
so powerful.

In a swift motion, his palm lands painfully on my upper arm


and opens slowly, revealing a smear of blood and a smashed little
bloodsucker.

I sigh gratefully, looking down as I feel his eyes glue to my face.


“Vic, you are very beautiful. I want you to know that. Don’t let
anyone make you feel otherwise.

You are a really great person, and you deserve the best of everything
life can offer.”

I allow the silence to linger, causing my heart to race. The hairs


on my skin are upright, either from the cold or from the sensual

168
distress.

He reaches out in the now almost-darkness and holds my hand,


and I allow my palm to lay limp in his, a sizzling bliss crawling
gently over me.

My heart saunters, trying to place a knowing on this feeling.

Then, Kelechi storms out through the back door. “Femi, where you
dey? We don ball o.”

“Ah! una dey go now now? I dey come,” he tightens his grip. “Let’s
go inside.” 

A silent incomprehensible trepidation rises in my belly and spins


my head when I hurdle into my bed, Femi’s cologne whiffing past,
too fast to grasp.

It enters into my being and causes a soothing-ness that ensconces


me to sleep.

The thought of him springs up a fleeting sense of gaiety, so ephem-


eral I’m afraid I’ll lose it by tomorrow.

Oh God, I don’t know if this is fear, or joy, or love.    

169
170
JULY 2010
JUNE
I feel him coming up behind me. He wraps his palms on my
eyes, waiting for me to guess who it is.

But his fragrance has betrayed him. I could feel him from miles
away. That, and the fact that he does this almost all the time.

So, I laugh and grip his hands tight on my eyes. 

“Errm is that my love?”

He laughs and wraps his arms around my neck. He kisses my fore-


head and sits beside me. I gaze into his cute eyes, the most perfect
thing in the world. I

t is amazing how one person can so fill up your life, bringing a


basket filled with joy and sweetness.

The rains had taken over most of the day, grudgingly drizzling to a
stop a while before I threw on my sweater and stepped out gingerly
through the back door.

Now, the cold seeps into my clothes, furiously biting at my skin as


though to reprimand me.

“So, how was your day?” he asks. “Amazing with you in it,” I smile
at him.
He has an alluring diastema at the top of his bright white teeth.

171
And this is perfected by deep dimples when he smiles.

“So, have you completed the physics assignment?” he asks.


“No, I haven’t. It’s too difficult.”
“Why, it’s not. I already showed you how to calculate the distance.
You can just use the same formula for time.”
“We’ll do it together in school tomorrow.”
“Will I get to do your assignments for you all the time?”
“Are you complaining?”
“Well, no. Not at all. But you know I won’t be there during exams.
And I won’t be a doctor for you.”

He always has a way to burst my fantasies, talking about serious


things. If he’s not giving a long lecture about something, he’s ask-
ing about what I’d like to be after school or about assignments. 

“Alright, that’s fine. We’ll do the assignment tomorrow. But this


time, you have to pay attention so you can do it yourself next
time.”

“Yes sir,” I say, rolling my eyes.

He laughs. “I’m not sir. I’m just your boy. You know I want the
best for you, right?”

He takes my hands in his and stares as though they were expensive


jewelleries from India. “My baby,” he whispers.

I open my mouth to say something, but then I forget what I was


going to say. I forget because swiftly, he touches my face lightly and
moves it closer to his. Instinctively, my eyes fall shut. 

172
The consuming wetness on my lips send sparks up my head. Like
an electric shock, the desire floods my brain, drains down my spine.

I wrap my arms around him and feel his grip tighten. He locks his
lips in mine, moving fiercely, spreading minty strawberry, sucking
me in as though I were a freshly plucked soft apple.

There is a flood in my chest. There is a river in my face. There is a


spark in my head.

My body trembles when his lips move to my neck. I swing deeper,


sinking into his wide chest.

I am wrapped in wild honey; sprinkled with pure wine. I’m going


to explode! 

Like a sound from a distance, I hear myself whisper: “I love you


Dave. I love you so much Dave.

Please never leave me.

I never want you to leave me. Please, Dave I’m so scared. Please,
don’t you ever hurt me. I love you, please.”

When he heaves heavily and rests his head on mine, I wonder if he


heard me, I wonder what he’s thinking.

“I love you so much, June. But we never know. We never know


what the future holds…” he says, as though talking to someone else.
I gawk in his eyes for some kind of certainty, tortured by the vac-
uum in his voice.

173
“You have to go home now. It’s getting really late. Here, you
should have this.” He dips his hand in his pocket and produces a
wristlet. And affectionately, he wraps it round my wrist.

A crippling fear grips my heart. The fear that lurks around in wait,
then shows its ugly face when I start to feel some kind of bliss.

Dread that when something starts to feel too good, it would go


away at some point; a feeling that there’s something I have to do to
hold onto this, to keep it from leaving. 

Rage. Pain. And now, fear. 

When something is all perfect, something bad is going to happen.


Something bad might just happen.

Something bad will happen. Something will take this away from
me. Something is going to blow away my joy like it did my father.

I long for him to say he would never leave me. I long for him to
say this would last forever. I long for him to make me a promise.

And as the silence lingers, it floods fear round all the places where
love had dwelled. I hold him close, as though the closer I hold, the
more certain we would be.

But we never know. We never know what the future holds…

174
VICTORIA
 

Femi is leaving for the US next week. He resigned from the


Nigeria Television Authority and is headed for California to start
his media firm. 

Ben, Femi, Ramsey-Kuti, and Ikechukwu are in the siting room,


drinking palm wine and talking loudly.

They tease Femi for wanting to run away from the country. Femi
argues about how the system has become like a dilapidated build-
ing, how the government is filled with corrupt old men that are
so insensitive to the plight of the people, and how the media is
covering up all their menace. 

“A true nationalist is one that places the welfare of the country


over his personal interest.

All those that claim to be nationalists in this country are just a


joke. They don’t care about anybody’s welfare, just their big bel-
lies,”Femi says.

“I’m just troubled about the death of the president and how the
media had to delay so much before letting the public know.

That man was not such a bad idea if you ask me. The vision 2020 is
a very promising agenda that this country should look forward to.

But now, we don’t know if his vice will take it up and execute it
appropriately,” Ramsey-Kuti says.

175
“To hell with vision 2020, that thing is a scam. Tell me which pres-
ident has not had visions upon visions.

They all end up embezzling funds and messing up this country.


It’s all rubbish!” Femi retorts hotly.

“No, not Yar’adua. That man is obviously different. If you notice,


he was taking very visionary and futuristic steps.

Now, look at the Abuja-Kaduna rail route he had started to build.


Imagine how much transportation will improve in that region after
it is completed and how economy will improve as well.

People want to move goods from Kaduna, but the transport system
has posed a big problem. That man was a thinking president.

He has also completed 13 major highway works that his predeces-


sor could not move from point A to B, imagine the initiative.

What are you telling me about embezzlement? This is the first ever
president to declare his assets.

I’m telling you, Nigeria has lost so much by the death of that
man,” Ramsey Kuti says.

“So, if he has built roads and a railway, we should now clap for
him.

Who was supposed to build the roads before, is it my grandfather?

You see, the problem with us is that we congratulate a president


for doing just half of what he was supposed to be doing in the first

176
place,” Femi says.

“But others, have they done anything? Shouldn’t we at least be


grateful for a sane person after suffering with buffoons?

Shouldn’t we clap for him, or na you we suppose clap for before?


See Femi, if you wan commot for this country, carry your bag go.

Nothing wey we go say for here fit change your mind. Carry your
bag go. If you like, no even come back,” Ramsey-Kuti says.

“Ahh na fight?” Ben laughs. “Sha me I no de go anywiah. This naija


go beta. Na we suppose dey here save we contri.

No anybody from anywiah go fit come do anytin give us. If na so


we go take commot, who go come dey fight for we contri?

No be like so we suppose give up on ourselves na,” he adds, his


head swinging slightly from too much palm wine.

“My own is that, I’m just happy that a southerner has finally gotten
a chance to rule this country.

My own brother is now the president. Call it luck or chance or


whatever, but just give him 3 months and you’ll see the difference;
3 months!

That is not to say that I’m celebrating the death of the president,
but some things just have to happen for us to get things right in
this country.
You see all those corrupt people that is how they’ll die one by one,
all of them. You’ll see,” Ike says.

177
“Na you go kill them?” Ben says, empties his glass and sways to his
feet. “Ahn ahn! These women have been in the kitchen since. Na
wa o. Are they cooking a person’s head?”

When he starts to the kitchen, I leave the door where I’d stood to
listen to them and run upstairs.

After a while, I hear a knock on the door. When I open, I find Femi
smiling at me.

“May I come in, madam?” he says. I smile back, flustered. 

“So, everyone is busy partying and you’re here locked up like a


prisoner. What’s up?” “Nothing.”

“Is somebody going to miss Femi?” he sits beside me on the bed


and clasps his hands on his slender legs.

“I’d come back at some point though,” he says. “You know, we


have a responsibility to make things right in this country.

We do. I’d be back to make things right. I won’t depend on any-


body, not the government, not even my parents.

You know, you are fortunate because you are free, you can make
decisions for your life. But when you have overbearing parents like
mine who want to monitor your every move, life is a nightmare.

They want to determine when you sleep, when you wake up, and
what you do after that.

178
My father sent me to study in University of California, then got me
the job at NTA when I got back. My mother has found me a wife
and wants me to have 5 children!”

He chuckles. “I’m not gambling my happiness for the satisfaction


of my parents.”

He takes my hand in his and warmth glides through my body,


sending goose bombs all over me.

“This is what I want you to do for me,” he continues. “Take your


life in your own hands. It doesn’t matter what has happened to
you.

You see, life happens, but what you choose to do with it is what will
determine your happiness.

You have to learn to make decisions for yourself, and if you make a
mistake, you will soon find out and make amends for it and move
on. What’s important is your happiness.

Do you understand me?” 

I nod gently as he brings his face close and whispers to my trem-


bling lips. “Vic, I want you to be happy.

I care deeply about you. I don’t know why, but why doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you put a smile on this pretty face.”

He tickles my cheeks softly, then gets up and produces a case from


his back pocket. “This was supposed to be a surprise,” he grins.

179
“Are you surprised?”
“Thank you,” I shriek.

He chuckles. “That’s so that you don’t miss Femi too much. You
can call me 24/7 and I’ll be there, closer than your breath.

He stretches up and walks to the door, then turns around. “Are you
going to stay in here and sulk the whole day? Come downstairs,
jare.”

I get off the bed and stand in front of him. “Thank you for the
phone,” I say. “Come on girl, you deserve more,” he wraps his arms
around me.

Electric current shoot through my bones and creates jitters in my


chest.

My nipples harden, spreading tickles as a subtle wetness forms be-


tween my legs and releases warmth to my nape.

An uncontrollable urge pushes me into his chest, digs my face in


his neck and sends my fingers into his bushy afro.

He raises my face with his palm softly and looks me in the eye.
“You are beautiful,” he whispers.

His lips touch mine lightly, his fast breath falls on my yearning
lips and I feel him tremble, his groin forming a hard ball on my
lower abdomen.
His hand caresses my hips lightly, then jerks off swiftly as though
a consuming fire had sprung up at him. “Shit, I’m not supposed to

180
do that. I shouldn’t do this,” he exhales heavily.

My heart rocks violently in my chest, causing my thoughts to tum-


ble-over in perplexed distortions as the door slams behind him.

A slight shiver crawl over me. 

God, what does this mean?

181
UYAI

Joy is tall like a palm tree, she has the smile of a butterfly
and weaves her long hair all to the back like Kanu Nwankwo.

She never tucks in her shirt, and most evenings, she likes to tie a
bandana on her head. She loves to sing M.I’s songs, the rap flowing
seamlessly through her chocolate-brown lips.

We argue all the time, analysing the novels we read and taking long
walks in the field. 

She makes writing so much fun because every morning, she would
turn and ask me: “Babe how far, you get tori today?”

I’d smile and hand her my note. She is also my biggest critic. She
says that my stories are too feministic; that I give female characters
better roles.

When I try to argue, she’d say that it has to be balanced. Men have
their flaws, but women have theirs too and if a book needs to por-
tray reality as literature is supposed to, it must capture the good
and bad parts in both genders.

She teases me about being quiet. When I tell her: “I’m not quiet,
I’m reserved,” she’d call me: “Mrs reserved,” and chime her butter-
fly laugh.
When I try to sulk, she’d drag me into a deep succulent kiss.
The first time I kissed a girl was 3 years ago. She was my school

182
mother.

She protected me from other seniors and helped me escape duties


and punishments. She gave me money and shared her provisions
with me. She cared for me like a mother. 

It happened in the afternoon when everyone had gone out for grass
clearing and general labour.

Seniors were exempted, so by staying in with her, I was exempted


too. She made me cornflakes with 3 spoons of milk and 5 cubes of
sugar.

After eating, she slid under the hot duvet and whispered in my
ears. Then she bit me lightly on my neck and wrapped her legs over
mine.

The kisses came in torrents, shooting a sting of pleasure under my


skin.

Many times after that, I snuggled in her bed most afternoons when
we skipped afternoon prep or labour, and at nights when we lay
on each other’s bodies, moving gently to keep the metal bed from
squeaking too loudly.

I allowed her to touch me anywhere she wanted. Soon, I learnt how


to touch her too. 

I am in love with a girl. And it is absolutely perfect!

183
VICTORIA 
Simi looks all blue today, jerking at every slight movement
and shooting furtive eyes over her shoulders.

When she came to the house at noon, Ben was asleep in his room.
She paced from the sitting room to the kitchen and back, asking:

“Where is Ben?” over a million times and each time, I reminded


her that he was upstairs, sleeping. 

“I’m going to get a few things from the market,” she says, almost
stumbling over a stool.

Ben looks up from his phone. “Are you alright?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine. I’m alright. Maybe just a little headache but
I’m okay,” she stutters.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go have some rest? Victoria can go
to the market.”

“No, don’t worry, I’m alright.”

“But you don’t look alright, you’ve been like this all day.” 

She glares at him. “Ben, it’s my body and I can tell if I’m fine or
not. I know you are such a sweetheart.
But I’m just going to get a few things and I’ll be back soon.”

184
He shrugs. “Fine. But if you need me to, I can drop you at the
market.”

“No, never mind,” she walks to the door, then turns back and
plants a stiff kiss on his cheek.

**************************
A ferocious knock tears across the house. The bang continues until
I run downstairs and yank it open.

Kelechi pushes in. “Where is that bastard, that wicked witch?

Where is that Joy killer? Oh, Jehovah God knows I will squeeze her
with my bare hands. I will kill her. Benson, where is that Yoruba
witch?”

Ben strolls down the stairs, calm as the sea as always, hands in
pocket. 

“What is the meaning of this, why are you shouting? If there is a


problem, you should come inside and talk to me calmly. What’s
going on?”

“Benson, don’t ask me to talk calmly. I will kill somebody here. I


will skin her alive.”

“What are you talking about?” he sits and looks up at her. “Sit
down, Kele. What is going on?”

Silence hammers through the breezy evening as she takes a seat


opposite Ben and wraps her arms around her chest as though hit
by a hurricane.

185
Ben fixes his gaze on Kelechi. Kelechi stares at the floor.

“Are you okay?” he says. “That girl is a bastard,” she whispers in


clenched teeth.

Ben silently probes her with his eyes.

“I have no idea why she would do such nonsense. She knows. The
witch knows we are getting married in a few weeks.

She is just blunt wicked. She knows Ramsey is my man. I’ve been
with him like forever. He’s not that kind of guy, I know him.

What was she doing in his house? What the hoot did she want in
my man’s house?” she shakes as though overcome by a violent fe-
ver, spitting profanity.

“What rubbish are you talking about, woman. If you have come to
say something, you’d better state it clearly.

I can’t even wrap my head around this nonsense,” Ben rages.

“Ram dropped me off at home last night. When I got home, I real-
ized he’d left his second phone with me, so I got in this stupid mad
traffic all the way to Lekki.

Just in the sitting room, on my Italian white couch, that your idiot
girlfriend was…” she puts her head on her lap and sobs like a child.
“He did not even respect me. He didn’t take her somewhere else.
He had her in his house, just some hours after he dropped me off.

186
What rubbish? Then he got up and started begging. Begging for
what? If someone had told me that nonsense, I would never believe.

I would never believe Ram would do that to me,” she utters in a


muffled voice.

“Wait, I don’t understand,” Ben says. “Are you talking about my


Simi?

When did this happen? Simi is at work every weekday and doesn’t
get home till 9pm. And most weekends, she’s here. When did this
happen?” he spits a four-letter word.

“She works until 9pm, where? The idiot says she doesn’t have a job.

Where does she even live sef? Because today she is in Ikeja, tomor-
row she is in Ajah. Oh! God knows I will kill the idiot.”

Ben gets up and starts to pace from one side of the sitting room to
the other, getting to the wall before he turns around.

Then, he jabs his fist into the sofa and the leather tears apart, re-
vealing slices of brown flesh of the bright turquoise seat. 

“This is total rubbish. This cannot be happening. I’ve been with


Simi for 5 years.

She cannot keep up lies for that long,” he laughs hysterically. “No-
body can keep up lies for that long.

I trust her,” he says as though to convince himself.

187
Kelechi sniffles, resting on the sofa and staring at her fingers, her
ring spraying a dull glitter on the glass table.

“Ram has been calling nonstop since yesterday. I don’t even know
what to do with him. I’m so broken right now, Ben. But what can
I do? I’ll just have to put myself together and think.”

Ben remains silent as Kelechi speaks, staring unblinkingly at the


TV. He is fixed in one position until Kelechi stops talking.

When she gets up to leave, he shoots her a quick glance and stares
back at the TV. 

I watch as he walks to the bar and retrieves a bottle of Jack Dan-


iels. He pours in glass after glass of the drink, gulping hastily and
speaking to the bottle.

“I will ask her. She will tell me it’s not true. Right Simi, right baby
you’ll tell me it’s all a lie.

You are a good girl. I’m going to propose to you at Ram’s wed-
ding,” he grins. “I can see the smile on your face, baby.

Smile for me, baby. It’s a lie. You didn’t do it, not with Ram, not
with anybody.” 

The door heaves slowly, revealing Simi’s petit figure. She rushes to
him when her eyes land on the half-empty bottle.

“Babe, what’s going on?”


“I should be asking you that,” he belches.
“You are drunk?”

188
“Where were you yesterday?” 
“I was at work.” 
“Are you lying to me? Where the heck were you yesterday?”
“You have had too much to drink. Let me leave you. When you
get back to your senses, your dinner will be ready,” she takes some
steps towards the kitchen.

Ben drags her by the hair, and she shrieks.

“You are a liar. And if you don’t tell me the truth right now, I will
kill you.”

“Ben please, you are hurting me. Please let go of my hair. You are
pulling my head off.”

“I freaking bought you this rubbish you have on your head. I gave
you everything. If you don’t tell me who you have been messing
around with, I will pull this hair off. I will...”

“Ben, I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“You are a slutty liar,” he raises his hand to hit her, but stops half-
way, then walks back to the couch.

“Fine, since you don’t want to tell me, let me tell you. You have
been sleeping with my friend. You were with him last night,” he
speaks in measured coolness.

“I don’t know what you are talking about, Ben,” she quivers. “I
need to go inside and rest. It’s been a rough day at the market and
I’m tired.”

189
“Go to rest where?” Ben rushes to her. “You lied to me about your
job, your family, everything,” he starts to pace again.

Simi falls to her knees. “I’m sorry Ben,” she whimpers. “I… I didn’t
mean to hurt you.

You are all I’ve got. My parents died when I was a child and I’ve
gone from one abuse to the other.

I didn’t want you to know that about me. I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’m
not the kind of woman you need.”

“That has got nothing to do with sleeping with my friend, whose


wedding you are helping to plan.”

“I didn’t mean to. He just saw me on the road and decided to give
me a lift, then he asked me to go with him to his house.

I must have had too much to drink. I really don’t know what hap-
pened.”

“You know what happened, because that was not the first time;
because you were supposed to be at work on Friday evening.”

“I lost my job 2 years ago, Ben. I could not tell you that my boss
had been sleeping with me and when I wanted to stop, he said he
would fire me, so I stopped going to work.

How could I possibly tell you that?”


“You are a bastard!” he roars.

190
“You are right. I never knew who my father was. And just when I
was getting to know my mother, she died.

I have been abused so many times and you are the only man that
has been good to me.

Ben, I swear that I love you with all my heart.” 

“So, your father is not a politician and your mother is not a civil
servant. Like, they don’t even exist. You’ve not been working for 2
years now. You’ve been sleeping with your boss.

You’ve been sleeping with my friend. What’s left for you to do? Slit
a knife across my throat?” 

“I’m so sorry,” she sobs louder now.

“Look, I lost my parents too; they died when I was 12. I had to take
care of myself and my family.

Now, I have a job and I’m not sleeping around.”

Ben downs more glasses hurriedly, grimacing as he swallows.

“You know what? Just get out, okay. Get out!” he cusses under his
breath and staggers up. “Victoria!” he screams.

I don’t answer the first time. When he calls again, I appear from
the dinning.

His bloodshot eyes glare fiercely at me. “Get me something to eat!”


he thunders.

191
My heart flips when I watch him stumble into the sofa and drag
himself up unsteadily.

“What are you still doing here? Get the heck out of my house,
woman. I don’t even know you,” he spits profanity at the stairs as
he shambles up, Simi running up to him and whimpering.

When I disappear into the kitchen to fetch him something to eat,


I hear him thunder a deafening: “Leave me alone!”

In a split second, a wild scream fills the house, followed by a thud.


And then silence.
 
Fear travels up my spine as I rush back to a blood smeared banister,
and a motionless Simi on the stairs.

I open my mouth to let out a scream, but my voice picks a mara-


thon. I squeeze my eyes shut. Simi’s lifeless face stuck to the back
of my brain. Ben descends stealthily, cussing frightfully. 

“I pushed her. No, I didn’t push her,” he glares at me. “What the
heck are you doing standing there? Wake her up!” he bends over
the warm stiffness of Simi’s pained face.

“Wake up!” he shoves her violently. “Get the hell up. What’s wrong
with you? I didn’t do anything. Get the hell up,” he lands repeated
slaps across her cheeks.

I disappear into the kitchen, my head thumping loudly. Then I


grab a bowl, fill it with water and empty it on Simi’s body. No
movement still. More water. More slaps. More cussing. Nothing. 

192
An icy shiver slithers through me, shooting up all my senses.

Ben trembles. We stand there, gawking at each other wordlessly.


Then he saunters into the kitchen and back.

Takes another bottle of drink and downs half the bottle before it
falls off his hands in a startling shatter.

As though a last ritual, he bends over his lifeless girlfriend and lets
out a heart wrenching roar. 

I cannot feel my hands as we carry her to the back of the house.

I don’t feel the sting of the mosquitoes perched on my stiff arms.

The sky growls, sending a sharp spark across the basketball court as
he digs the ground hurriedly.

Fireflies wiggle a solemn dance in the distance. Dread crawl over


me like an ominous spider. Ben throws her into the ground and
covers it hastily with sand.

Ben’s sniffles call out to me. A cold silence lingers between us. It
stretches out like a barrier, like a knowing, like a pact.

It connects us yet separates us. We are partners now, sharing a se-


cret no one would ever know, sharing the pain of loss, sharing a
deep hurt we both can never fathom.

Ben falls on my shoulders, sobbing like a child.

193
I place my arms on his back tenderly, my mind drifting into a
horrible pit.

There is something that will never be the same again.

There is a hurt that can never be repaired. 

This is how it all ends.

 
 
 
 
 

194
JUNE
 

Mum rests on her reclining chair at the veranda, sunlight


spraying bright colours on her damp face.

Motionless, her blank eyes stare fixedly into nothing. Her cheek-
bones fold into a thin frown and her brown lips become bags of
emptiness. 

I pour my cornflakes into the sink as I look at her, instantly bereft


of appetite. My mother has lost herself.

She has become consumingly lean. Her eyes have lost their pains-
taking glow and the greyness of her hair hangs dryly on her bony
shoulders, packed with a weak brown rubber band.

A pinch of guilt glides through my chest. I have been too con-


sumed in my grief to notice the vacuum my mother has gradually
sunken into. She no longer goes to church.

She no longer goes to the gym. She doesn’t go to make her hair and
she doesn’t crochet anymore. 

When I step onto the veranda to greet her, she responds with a tiny
hum, her dry skin heaving tautly to the dusty breeze.

“How are you?” I utter, the sound of it startling us both.

She nods with a silent knowing of the awkwardness of the question.


I have never asked my Mum that. Not that I don’t care. But she ex-
udes so much strength that it is almost unthinkable that she could

195
crumple under any pressure.

 “I’m getting ready for school,” I whisper, realizing how much gap
the countless hours with my father had created between Mum and
me.

She nods.

An incongruous pile of papers beside her seat call at me as I make


to walk inside. I bend, rapidly flipping through them.

Capital Housing Real Estate Company. Notice for payment of 6


years outstanding rent.

I look up at my mother as the figures jump at me, threatening to


wring my neck, flowing through my lips wordlessly: “6.5 million
Naira…” and then the last words on the paper: “You are advised to
vacate the property in two months…”

My heart falls into the base of my stomach and then picks a race.
“Do we have any other property or money somewhere?” I ask.

A sad smile adorns her calm face. She shakes her head, slowly un-
wrapping a paper squeezed thin in her palm.

My hands jitter as I squint through the divorce papers signed by


my dad. “Why?” I whisper, wiping a ball of tear with the back of
my palm.

That smile is still on her face when she says:


“He was in love with another woman.” 

196
My brain falls into a deep pit and the distant fierceness of my
parents’ arguments close in on me, dragging me deeper into a cold
empty place.

A vague image of my father’s smile swings across my face, my moth-


er’s silence reaches out and grabs me like the fangs of a venomous
snake. 

“You should go to school,” she says, as the loud horn of my school


bus jerks me back to the cold dusty dead morning.

My legs lend a mind of their own, lifting me weightlessly. My arms


flip over the back of my skirt in a lame attempt to wipe the dust
off.

When I amble to the kitchen door, she calls back at me silently.


“Jay wanted the best for you.”

I sigh as though I needed the comfort of those words. She faces the
sun again. “We’ve been living on his savings for your education.

It was 5.3 Million Naira at the time he died,” she exhales heavily
and shoots me a sharp glance. “We are running out.” 

I hold my breath, bereft of words. Her stainless eyes travel my face.


“Jay loved you. And I’d bet he still does.” 

She says: “None of these is your fault,” then stops short as she
opens her mouth to say something else, her chest heaving violently.

Her eyes bulge, her mouth spreads open and she kicks forcefully,
her arms flying in the air.

197
A sharp scream escapes my throat as I rush to her, then her breath
suddenly returns in sharp rasps.

She looks up at me – her eyes tiringly haggard – and exhales labori-


ously. “I’m fine,” she whispers.

My feet glue to the ground as the school bus growls again. I ignore
the horn, willing for the pit to open and swallow me, hoping for
a truck to run over me, wishing that my mother had aborted me
when she thought about it. 

My world is falling apart. Everything that has ever made sense to


me is slipping away. The world is lifeless.

Life is meaningless.

Meaning is nothing.
 
 
 
 
 

198
VICTORIA
His rasp breath falls hotly on my skin, caressing my neck,
biting my lips. “Stop,” I whisper. “Please stop.”

He groans, emptying on my trembling cheeks the heavy stench


of alcohol. He digs his head into my shirt and rapidly slides his
tongue up my belly, travelling stealthily to my hardening breasts.

I whimper and swing my hand over his head, gripping tightly as a


slithering sweetness swims between my legs.

“Please Ben,” I breathe. “Please stop.”

My pant flies off my legs violently, replaced by his soft fingers. A


moan escapes my throat and my fingers drive in a tickling vibra-
tion over his thick skin.

The thrusts punch gently, emitting a painful spark in my brain that


rocks me into a soothing bliss. 

In this moment, I cease to be Victoria. I stop trying to make sense


of anything. I refuse to think of what’s right or wrong.

I have relinquished the right to stop this agony; for fear that going
against the tides may bring worse consequences. So, I lie here and
allow it to happen.

Like it happened yesterday. Like it will happen tomorrow.

199
I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe because that
is what my father used to say. I believe because believing anything
other than that would make no sense at all. 

I would not be able to explain what is going on with Ben. I cannot


even say that I understand how he feels.

I cannot claim to know. Ben has become someone else. He has lost
his vibrant handsomeness. He is now a shadow. 

They say that grieve has no friends. I think grieve actually chases
friends away, because Ramsey-Kuti was here weeks after his wed-
ding with Kelechi.

He was downstairs, knocking on the door, calling out to Ben. He


came here every day for a week, knocking, calling, pleading.

Ben would sit in the living room, listening pensively to Ramsey’s


beckon.

I would sit still too, all the time wanting to throw open the door
for him, wishing Ben would forgive him, wishing they would play
basketball together and be friends again.

Ben would remain glued to the seat, downing countless bottles of


Jack Daniels. 

Ramsey-Kuti slept at the door on one of the days. When Ben was
going out the next morning, he walked right past him as though
Ram was a ghost.
Ram ran to him, begging and trying to hold him. Ben got in his car
and zoomed off. That was the last I saw of Ram. When Ike knocked

200
some days later, Ben did not open. Ike left and never came back. 

Ben has stopped going to work. He does not speak to anyone. He


does not watch NatGeoWild. No basketball.

No goat meat pepper soup. Only hot tea and Jack Daniels and
weed. 

I wish I could separate myself from this pain. I wish I could step
aside and just be Victoria – not the girl who lost her family in a
fire, not the girl who witnessed homicide, not the girl who is being
sexually abused, not the girl with this trauma – just Victoria.

I want to step out of this pain. I want to step out of my skin. 

I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe, because


this is the only way it all can make sense. 

201
JUNE

“Are you alright?” a calm sonorous voice chimes behind me,


stiffening the breeze of the cold evening. I try to ignore him as my
phone beeps.

I give it a quick glance. “I’m sorry for not being on time. I had
some things to fix in the house. Be with you shortly.” 

Dave has never kept me waiting for this long. This is another sign
that something has gone wrong.

I have asked to see him today at the park. We really need to talk.

He’s got to tell me what is happening with him. He has to tell me


what I did wrong. Whatever it is, I’m sorry.

I would apologise to him whether I’m wrong or not. I would tell


him my life is hell without him.

I need to talk with him about what is going on with my mom,


about the house, about everything. 

I look up from my phone. “I’m fine,” I mutter. The guy with the
sonorous voice points to the space beside me.

His brown eyes fall on my face, spraying tints of bright red on my


cheeks. “May I?” 
I nod, unable to avoid the soft calmness of his exotic smile. He
balances himself lightly on the stone bench, a faraway look in his

202
eyes reflecting the rays of the setting sun. 

“You look white,” he blinks at my shivering skin, half covered by


the short red dress I had worn in a bid to entice Dave.

I glide my palm over my upper arm, my eyes fixed on my bright


yellow legs, my heart fluttering in consonance with a distant but-
terfly.

“Sorry for the bluntness. It’s probably not my business,” he throws


his head towards the sky, savouring the calmness of the approach-
ing night as the sun heads home, spraying rays of orange, pink and
blue.

The trees cast their shadows on couples entangled on the green


grass, toddlers staggering away from their fathers’ grip in glee and
flowers glimmering with hope. 

“So, I can talk to you for a while before he gets here?” he peeks at
me.

“You don’t want him to meet you here,” I mutter, enamoured by


his presence, hoping he would stay a little longer. 

 “And who says I’m afraid of trouble? Do you know how special
you are? You are worth nations fighting a civil war.

You are capable of causing a feud that can last decades. You are
precious enough to die for.”

My heart ripples. An uncontrollable affection starts a silent mime


to the resonance of his voice.

203
His words caress the corners of my mind, sinking into unreachable
depths.

“My name is Ray,” he says. What is your name?” “June.” 

“That’s really nice; starts with the same letter as Jesus. So, can I call
you June Jesus?”

“June Jacob,” I say, rolling my eyes. “Oh! I know what this is all
about. You have come here to preach to me.

No, thank you. I already know the lines. I was the best in Sunday
school, I used to sing in the choir, and I acted Mary Magdalene at
Christmas.

I know the lines. Jesus came and died on the cross for reasons best
known to him.

Now, we have to serve him whether we are happy or not, even when
he cannot keep a man from dying.

Look, it’s time for you to go now.

Thank you,” I blurt before thinking about it. I’m amazed at the
way these words pour out of me, cold as though they were stored
up in a wooden water pot.

“I’m glad you know all these. But you missed something,” he says
coolly.
“I don’t care. Just leave.” “Okay.” 

204
He is quiet for a while, then he says: “You are looking for some-
thing, June. There is something you are seeking.

You will not find it in all the places you are looking. It’s absolutely
normal. It is something every human needs.

But you are not going to find it, until you pay attention.”

He rises, stretching into his full height. “But you know yourself,
June. You know you will not pay attention.

You know you are holding unto so much. You know you should
let go,” he pauses and looks away. “You will find it at some point.

It might take really long, it may be sooner. But you will.” “What
the hell are you talking about?” 

A gentle glow adorns his face, emboldening his aggressive cuteness.


He pushes his hands into the pocket of his grey hoodie and flashes
me a stunning smile.

“You are searching in the wrong places. I only wish you could pay
attention.”

“What am I seeking and where have I been looking? Where has


Jesus been all these times, I have had to hurt so bad?

Why couldn’t Jesus answer my prayers? How could Jesus be so


heartless? He was there when that plane crashed, yet he did nothing
about it.
He allowed all those people die, including those that had served
him, including my devoted father.”

205
He looks straight ahead, his dark brown cheeks soft like overripe
mango. “I hope to see you around. Be safe,” he trots off and disap-
pears into the vast greenness of the almost empty park.

My eyes fall closed, the cold gluing to my skin. A sudden calmness


envelops me, then gently whiffs away, giving way to a tumultuous
chaos. 

“I see you had company.”

My eyes fling open and fall on Dave’s sullen cheeks. “I don’t have
a problem with that anymore.

What can I help anyway? You need all the company you can get,”
he takes the same spot Randy left off.

My heart flips. “What are you talking about?”

He looks me over with a tiny smirk plastered on his morose face.

“Who’s having a party?” his eyes run from my neatly packed blonde
ponytail to my glimmering red lipstick, down to my voluptuous
orange size breasts, and resting hungrily on my smooth laps. 

“Oh hell! You are so unbelievable,” I squirm. “It doesn’t even mat-
ter to you that I had to wait here like forever.

What is really going on with you, Dave? You have changed so


much. What did I do wrong?”
“Oh, I have?” he shrugs. “Never mind, June. How are you?”

206
“How would you say, never mind? You barely even talk to me. We
barely even do the things we used to do.”

“That’s because I’ve lost interest in all those things.” 

“Lost interest in what, in talking to me? What did I do wrong?


What…”

“Everything doesn’t always have to be about you, Miss!” he roars.

A freezing silence rolls past.

“Look, we have to leave in a bit. It’s already getting late,” he gives


his wristwatch a long, condensed stare.

“You just got here some seconds ago. You are so unbelievable. Is
everything alright?”

“Now, good question. All the while, it was all about you. You see?
Now that you have asked if everything is alright, I will tell you.

Everything is not alright, June. You are not the only one that goes
through stuff. Other people have issues too.”

“What is this all about?” 

“My mum wants me to leave the country. We’ve talked about this
over and over, and she can’t just let me make my decisions.

She acts like she is God, everything she says, stands. We’ve had
many arguments for weeks now. But no, I won’t tell you about any
of that, because it’s always about you.

207
When we talk, it’s about you, your assignments, your mom, your
dad, your life.” 

The darkness has started to thicken, and fireflies have formed an


eerie ball around the lights.

“I was quiet all the while, and you didn’t think if I was okay. All
you keep asking is if you have done anything wrong. Yes, you have,
because I have to leave you.

I have to be miles apart from you. Only God knows if we will still
talk, if we can keep this going for 5 long years.

How am I supposed to park my life to another country when you


are here? But you don’t think about that. Just an hour to wait for
me and some guy was sitting here.”

He seems to nurse the last words like a deep injury on his tongue.
I want to argue with him. I want to tell him I know nothing about
the mysterious guy that he saw sitting here. At the same time, I
want to apologise for everything.
 
“I’ve gotten a scholarship to the University of Aberdeen. If my
mother has her way, I’d be leaving in September,” he whispers
toughly.

When something starts to feel good, it always goes away. You can-
not hold unto any good thing. It has to slip away.

When something is all perfect, something bad will happen. Some-


thing bad has just got to happen.

208
Dave wraps his arms around me. “Look June, this is so hard for
me,” he pauses pensively. “I want us to be together. If I have to
leave the country, I want you to go with me.”

Tears run defiantly down my cheeks, causing my body to tremble


uncontrollably. A large boulder has been rolled over my head. My
heart has been ripped off my chest. My world is falling apart.

“Stop crying, baby. We will talk every day, I promise. I will call you
all the time; video calls, Whatsapp, Skype, Facebook, everything.

We will stay connected. Distance is nothing, okay? We can go


through this together. We can, baby.”

When we start to kiss, it feels as though we should stick like this


forever. It is different from other kisses.

It is more passionate, more intense, more heart wrenching. Dave


says that even if he goes to another world, he would never be apart
from me; our hearts will always be glued together.

He says he is not capable of loving another person. He says he will


always be there for me. 

And I believe him. I believe him the way you believed the folk tales
you shared at childhood, the way you believe in the existence of
Spider Man and dinosaurs.

I allow myself to cling unto his every word.


He walks me to my house, the full moon spraying luminous rays
on the lonely street.

209
When I get in my bed, I want to say a prayer. I want to pray that
Dave and I will be together forever; that even though he leaves the
country, our hearts would never be apart. But I fix my face in my
pillow and weep. 

What’s the point in praying, when you know the prayers will not
be answered? Why do I need prayers, if God will still do whatever
he wants? God always does what he wants.

It doesn’t matter to him how we feel. What kind of God allows a


person’s father to die and takes her lover far away? 

The alarm on my phone goes off. It’s bedtime. And for the first
time, the door does not creek gently. My mother does not peep in
to put me to bed.

A terrible fright gnaws at my chest, a rising dampness I cannot


fathom. But I’m too tired to think today. Tomorrow, I’ll check if
my mother is alright.

210
VICTORIA
I rummage through Ben’s dirty clothes, heaped on his dis-
figured bed.

A poignant stench of unwashed underwear oozes from a ruffled


pile in a dark corner.

In the semi-darkness – stumbling over squeezed cans of beer,


mashed between scattered shoes – I trot towards his cupboards,
flinging them open frightfully; a pile of papers in the first one, a
packet of an old phone in the second, and documents in the third.

I shamble to his wardrobe, sliding my fingers swiftly into the suit


pockets, the trouser pockets, and the shoe rack.

My eyes run over his reading table, settling on the chair where
worn trousers hang incongruously.

There is nothing in the first trouser pocket, nothing in the second,


and rizlas in the third. I almost give up the search when I feel a
bulge in the pocket of his black joggers.

I let out a breath of relief as I gingerly retrieve a bunch of mint


notes. I count thirty thousand naira, and I stick the rest back hast-
ily as I hear a faint sound downstairs.

Then, I tiptoe to the door, my heart thumping up in a rapid race.


 
I have struggled with this decision for several weeks and as time
closes in on me, I know that I have no other option.

211
I have no idea where I’ll go, but I have to leave. I’m running far
away from this trauma. I’m letting it all go.

I have run out of ideas on how to help Ben. He never listens to


me. He barely even looks me in the eyes, but every night, I let him
have me.

I’d thought that was going to help him get better. But it is killing
me instead.

I am taking my life in my own hands, because tomorrow can never


take care of itself. I alone can take care of my tomorrow.

212
SEPTEMBER 2010

JUNE
The soothing fragrance of incense drifts past me as I sit at
the back pew, peering doubtfully at the altar.

My heart twitches at the agony drawn on the face of Jesus, hanging


pitifully on a molten cross, his mother sorrowfully bent beneath
him. Many things here don’t make sense to me anymore.

Maybe I would never understand why God allowed my father to


die. Maybe I would never be able to fathom the concept of a loving
God who allows us to go through so much pain.

It’s easy to get mad at God. But the hard part is that there is no real
alternative. He is God.

Whether he hurts you or not, whether you hate him or not, he still
is God. Maybe that’s why he does these things to us.

That is why he allows us to get hurt, because he knows that we will


still come to him. Maybe that is his strategy to get us glued to him. 

My mother has lived with pulmonary hypertension for 3 years.


Now, she is in a coma. And even if she gets herself back, she would
have to live with the disease all her life. 

Dave is in Aberdeen. We only talk on weekends when he can carve


2 hours from his busy schedule.

213
Sometimes, there’s nothing to say. The silence always starts ham-
mering after I ask: “How are you?” and he says: “Fine,” returning
the same question, and getting a damp reply. 

The preacher glistens in his sparkling white robe, embellished with


shiny gold embroidery.

He shimmers with a satiric vibrancy that throws the congregation


into an occasional comic uproar and an ardent nod of affirmation.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” he thunders.


“You must demonstrate your commitment to God in service.

You must give to God your time and your money,” his face twists
in emphasis of the last word. 

I roll my eyes as the sermon drifts to a heralding end. Even if we


cut our legs and drop at the altar, God would still do to us whatev-
er he wants. I am here because of curiosity.

I want to understand why God could be good and cruel at the same
time.

But as we kneel, asking Mary to pray for us, I know that I will
leave with my questions unanswered. So, I refuse to join the queue
to have the body and blood of Christ as my belief in these things
slowly washes away. 

I weave through the crowd ghostly and empty myself on the road,
hoping to go unnoticed. It is impossible to hide. I still have to flash
fake smiles at friends and answer the nagging question: “How are

214
you?” and “Where have you been?” asked only as routine.

I murmur incomprehensible replies. I could have easily said: “I


went to visit my grandmother in the village,” and nobody would
remember that my both grand parents died years ago.  

“June! Where have you been?” I turn cold startled eyes to a bubbly
Sunny, my father’s estranged step-brother.

A stiff mystery hovers around the reasons for their feud. My father
would never be caught exchanging pleasantries with Sunny. He
refers to him as a wayward, Godless politician.

But now that he smiles at me, I can barely see anything wayward in
his glimmering cheeks and wide eyes, so I smile back.

I have run out of replies for the question he asked. So, I cover it up
with an outstretched “Good afternoon Uncle Sunny.”

“How are you my dear?”  “I’m fine.” 

“You know, you have been so scarce since my brother died. What
has been going on with you, how is your mother?”

“My mother… she’s fine,” I stammer. The question: “How are you?”
always precedes a default: “I’m fine,” no matter how befuddled you
are.

So, by reflex, I say that my mother is fine. But then, if I need help,
wouldn’t I have to talk about my problems?
“Well, she is in the hospital,” I utter, grabbing tightly at my clutch.

215
“She is sick.”

Sunny makes a seemingly feigned horrifying exclamation, standing


akimbo. “What happened to her? Oh, poor child, you must be go-
ing through a lot. Are you in school, now?”

I don’t know which of the questions to answer first, but I guess the
last one is quite easier to explain. So, I say: “I’m starting university
by January next year.”

He nods gently and holds me by the shoulder, comfortingly.


“Everything will be fine, my dear. Just be strong. I understand how
you feel.”

I’m quite sure he doesn’t have the slightest idea. But I give a weak
smile and say: “Thank you.”

He jerks his hands off my shoulder and places it rapidly on his lips,
a gesture which suggests that he is deep in thought. Then he points
at me dramatically and says: “You know what, see me during the
week. You hear? I live in the estate.

My house is not very far from yours. In fact, call me on Tuesday,


no Wednesday, and I’ll direct you to my house. Have you heard?
Don’t fail to call me.” 

He climbs into his dark blue Honda and zooms off, as a tinge of
uncertain hope slides back and forth my aching chest.

216
VICTORIA
Sometimes, I feel the pain. It crawls stealthily and dampens
me. It pulls me all the way down, wrapping me over like thick cob-
webs.

Many times, a strong urge to jump in a bus and run back to Lagos
washes over me.
 
But I am here now, taking the hard blows of life and drifting along
with it.

Studying law in the University and running a Non-Governmental


Organisation could be challenging, but the workload hides you
from your trauma, and the hurdles set you free. 

I am passionate about charity, so I started a foundation that would


help less privileged girls.

It breaks my heart when I see them ignored by a society that was


meant to protect them, judged by the same people that abuse them
and left to wander helplessly through life.

I am determined to find them in streets, visit them in orphanages,


and save them from violent claws.

I know I would never be able to change the world, but I can always
do something.
It’s really challenging financing this passion, but I do my best to
have people donate.

217
It’s crazy how people make demands on you in order to support
something beneficial to the society they live in.

Most days, I am kept waiting in offices the whole day, proposals in


hand. I have learnt to do only the best I can.

Life will never be rosy, even when you are trying to plant the roses
yourself. 

I’m walking through a lonely street in the estate where most of the
government officials live. Uyo is a small city.

There are no large, yellow buses, no throngs of people milling


about, and it oozes a certain kind of chocking neatness. 

As I walk past the neatly lined high walled homes, I catch myself
wishing I had a home here by myself or with someone. A husband?

I don’t think so. By myself most likely. I would have a swimming


pool at the back of my house like Ben, and a basketball court. I’d
plant large palm trees and I’d have it painted black and white – It
goes with the profession.

A faint smile forms as I nurse this thought, then slowly squeezes


into a thick frown. I can’t place the audacity to have such dreams.

I don’t have an idea how I will pay my fees for next semester, or
how I’ll survive the coming months that stretch out, gloomy like a
just tarred highway.
What audacity do I have to dream, to start a foundation, to pretend
to be sane after all that has happened to me? 

218
Yet, I silently refuse to question it. I have come this far, and what-
ever it is that allowed me to get to this point, it will definitely take
me to the next point, and the next one after that.

This thought blows peace over my face like a soft breeze. 

I pass by a deserted unpainted bungalow – with no doors, and a


tiny square for a window, covered partly with hungry green grass
and scraps of tattered sheets – and there is a fierce impulse to look
back, followed by a mind-tugging debate.

Unable to fight the impulse, I gently fix a steady gaze that makes
my head hang lightly on my shivering body. 

There she is, waving at me, an uncertain smile plastered on her face.

The grasses form a ludicrous cover for her half-naked black skin.

I recognise the familiar trauma shimmering in her hopeful eyes. I


could have been her and she could have been me.

What makes the difference is that she lives in an uncompleted


building, totally helpless, while I still have a sane roof over my
head.

With a home and an education, she’d be no different from me.

She looks on, her smile slowly widening, and then she lifts her
hand in a stiff wave.
My heart flows out of my chest and caresses the hurt in her eyes be-
fore my legs start to trot to her. I want to squeeze her hand, and tell

219
her she will be okay. I want to tell her that I understand everything.

I know the pain, I feel it too. I’m dressed insane clothes, but I feel
the hurt of this uncompleted building too.

Tears roll down my eyes defiantly as I hold her hand, trembling.

I want this pain to go away, to go away from me, to go away from


every girl that is hurting.

I want to rip this pain apart and throw it to the darkest abyss.

220
JUNE
I’m in Sunny’s living room, my heart in my throat, thump-
ing hard at every hungry breath. I’ve been sitting here like forever,
glued to the spotless white leather seat.

Sunny’s house is plush in a gigantic way. There is a touch of exag-


gerated splendour to everything.

It’s the kind of extravagance that you exude when you want to
make a point; when you want to demand a forceful sort of respect.

Sunny’s demeanour is filled with the do-you-know-who-I-am atti-


tude.

When I called him several times yesterday, he did not take my calls.

He finally answered today, offering no apologies, as though he


expected me to understand whatever it is that kept him from re-
sponding.

He’d sent a huge black Jeep that had its seat still covered with the
transparent waterproof of newness to hurl me to his den-like edi-
fice, covered with heavy, spiky trees and ominous-looking, brown
dogs.

His living room feels like something that should be preserved in


a museum. The walls are draped with damply coloured artworks
and sunken sculptured faces that remind me of Nok terracotta. It’s
difficult to guess the kind of man Sunny is.

221
His bright affectionateness when you meet him physically, contrasts
with the arrogance exuded by every other thing that represents him.

He finally appears in baggy white shorts and a drape-like grey sin-


glet, his tommy shooting out flabbily like a teddy bear, his puffed-
up legs fitted into slim exotic flip flops.

He throws his heavy legs in an authoritative bounce, smiling wide-


ly, so wide I want to smile too, just so I don’t disappoint such
cheerfulness. 

“Fine girl, how are you?” he blurts through his wide teeth.

“I’m fine, uncle,” I say, willing myself to smile back.

“It’s good to see you my dear. Ah, they did not offer you anything?
What rubbish…” his smile disappears.

He lets out a startling yell, calling out to someone to get me a drink


and the drink appears immediately: a box of chi exotic fruit juice –
the big one – along with a glass, the shape of a woman.

His cheery smile returns. “My dear, I heard everything that has
happened, and I feel so sad.”

I nod.

“But you see, that is how life is. Life is full of ups and downs. We
only have to thank God that we are still alive. You know, your fa-
ther is my only brother, even though he allowed pride of working
in an oil company to push him away from his roots.

222
You see, that is the thing about being too educated. Education
comes with its own challenges.

How can a man just think he can go against the will of his family,
and stay all his life by himself? Imagine, you have never been to
your village, you don’t know anyone in the family.

Now that something has happened to him, where does he expect


you to run to?” he pauses and lets out a long sigh.

“How is your mother, which hospital is she in?” he asks.

“She is fine… I mean, she’s in a coma now. She is in Lifeline hospital.

There is no money for her bills, but they have allowed her to stay
on oxygen, and the bills keep piling up. I don’t know what to do.”

He shakes his head. “That is so sad, my dear. That is so sad. How


much is the bill?”

“It’s five hundred thousand naira, uncle”

“Five hundred thousand naira,” he mouths dramatically. “What


did they say is wrong with her, does she have cancer?”

“No uncle, it’s not cancer. It is pulmonary hypertension.”

He says “pulmonary hypertension” silently, his big lips moving


absentmindedly.

“That is a very serious issue,” he shrugs. “That is very serious. See

223
what Jacob has done to that woman.

We told him not to marry a woman just because she had a child for
him, but he would not listen to anybody.

Unlike most families, we did not force him to marry her, we told
him we would collectively take care of the child if we had to, but
he would not listen.

He never listens. He thinks everything is about reading books and


locking yourself in your house all your life. Pulmonary hyperten-
sion…” he shakes his head.

My heart turns numb, unable to process what he’s saying. My eyes


rise defiantly, wandering through the living room and the ominous
looking artworks glare back at me.

There are no framed pictures on the walls, and no trace of another


person’s existence other than securities and aids.

His phone starts to sing a dull symphony. He shoots it a furious


stare. When the phone wails nonstop, he grudgingly picks it up,
mumbling about how busy he is, and then flings it back on the
table. 

“So, my dear,” he fixes his eyes beneath my head, stealthily. “This


your case is a serious case, but it’s not an impossible one. Money is
not really the problem.” 

My heart leaps, nursing a secret gay dance as he says this. A smile


forms on my face as I take a full gulp of the orange juice in clan-
destine celebration.

224
“But you see, there is nobody in this house,” he continues. “All my
children are abroad with their mother, so you are free to come here
anytime. You can take this house as your house.”  

He licks his lower lip. “You know you are a beautiful girl, growing
into a very attractive woman,” he coughs, a covert smile forming
on his thick black cheeks. “So… you see, you are not a child; I
should not be explaining everything to you now. I should not. You
should understand what a man wants.”

His eyes fly about like a thief in the market. He licks his lip again,
sucking at it like a child savouring an udara fruit. My heart starts a
subtle race, pulling my mind behind it.

I’m trying desperately to understand what he’s saying. And as the


knowing sets in, I’m hoping silently that he means something else.

Fear grips at my neck, threatening to twist it the way you wring


water off your washed clothes.  

He gets up and walks heavily to his window, parts the curtain gen-
tly and looks outside, then barks at his security, asking if his car
is ready for the meeting which he has with the youths later in the
evening.

An eager voice calls fawningly back at him from outside, then he


walks back and drops his flabby body beside me. 

I shift slightly, willing myself to shrink, to become so tiny that he


cannot see me. I want to disappear into his wide tommy and rip
off his intestines.

225
“Don’t be afraid,” he chuckles. “It won’t hurt. I know how to han-
dle a woman.

You will like it,” he moves his fingers gently over my cheeks and a
tide of disgust glides through me like nausea stuck in my throat,
getting ready to pour out on his buffalo-like face. A violent yell
rises from my tommy, but refuses to escape my mouth as his hands
move on my lap. 

“Fine girl,” he whispers, his eyes half-closed. “Come,” he says.


“Come and sit on my legs. No, it’s nothing.

I just want you to sit. Oh, look how pretty you are. You are burst-
ing my head. See your waist, so rounded. What do you even eat?
Come, sit on my legs. I’ll give you money.

I’ll give you everything you need. Will 5 million be okay? I’ll ask
my aid to transfer it to you this night. Please, just make me feel
okay. I promise, I’ll give you money. I’ll take care of you…”

My heart fills up with detest too full I can barely move. There is a
nagging urge to spit in his face and walk away, but my mother’s life
is at stake, now, I have to do something.

“Uncle, please I don’t want to do this. I just want money for my


mother’s bills, I’m begging you.” 

“I have told you, money is not a problem. You don’t believe me?
I’ll give you money. Just touch me small. It won’t take long. I’ll be
fine in a few minutes.

226
Okay, if you don’t want to do anything, just touch me. Just touch
me…” he takes my hand, sliding it under his singlet, from his warm
tommy and up his chest, to his bulgy nipples.

I jerk my hand off and fly to my heels, fuming. Hot tears hang on
my chest as I glare wordlessly at him.

He gets up and shrugs. “Well, I’m trying to make things easy for
you, and you are acting up. That is your own cup of tea. You are
no longer a child. These things are normal.

Girls always know how to get what they want. So, when you are
ready, you let me know.”

“I don’t want to,” I utter in clenched teeth. “I will not touch you,
uncle. I need money to take care of my mother, but I will not do
it.”

“If you say so. I can’t see why you are acting like this. It’s like you
want your mother to die like your father died. Your father has al-
ways been stubborn, so I’m not surprised.

I’m dangling gold in front of you, and you are behaving like some-
one that cannot think.

There is nothing there. Sunny will be here waiting. Whenever you


can think straight, you come and collect money for anything you
want.”
His words pierce my heart and tug violently at my neck, suffocat-
ing me. My mom would die like my father died.

227
My head empties into the abyss, floating dangerously above the
fierce flames, descending into the terrible pit, and my eyes turn
into jars of hot water. 

I do not cry; the tears hold up like a lump in my chest. It tightens


my breasts and causes me to shake.

The tears start coming after his driver drops me in front of my


house and hands me wads of clean one thousand-naira notes. The
tears come when I’m alone in the house.

The tears burst from my belly, hurting my chest as I cry, threaten-


ing to rip off my heart. The tears solidify into rage and a deep-root-
ed repugnance.

The tears stop eventually, leaving me sore and dry. 

It is hard to sleep. It is harder to lie awake. But that is what I do


for several days as I sink deeper into my bed, willing myself to be
washed away by a river, wishing to close my eyes and never open
them again.

I want to close my eyes and never open them again.


 
 
 
 
 
 

228
VICTORIA

When I get to her, she retreats and sits back on the floor.
For a moment, I’m lost for what to do, but I’m unable to leave her.

I cannot guess what is going through her mind but as I look into
her helpless eyes, I feel a connection with her. I feel that I could be
her and she could be me.

I know that like me, she has a future, and with some love and care,
she is not different from me. 

I cringe as I take measured steps to her – amidst pieces of stinking


rags – crouching, terror and pain glued to her stale face, then I
glance at her protruded tommy.  

A faraway sting ripples my heart as I sit with her. From indistinct


babbles, I gather that her father had died, and she’d been chased
out of the house.

The pain in my chest grows wider, and I know I cannot bear it for
too long, so I start to leave.

She looks up at me sadly, her eyes begging me to stay. I tell her I


would be back and rush to the road. On a second thought, I return
with a plate of rice with stew, biscuits and water. 

When I make to step into the building, I stop short as a rough


looking petit old man glares at me, asking what I want.

When I stare back at him, motionless, he starts to pace restlessly,

229
guile blaring in his eyes. I want to pounce on him, spit in his face,
and have hefty men beat him up, or call the police.

But I’m too stunned to move. I just watch him, hovering, saying
something to the girl, and then he walks away. 

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

I lie in my bed, filled with terror, thinking about Idy. I wonder if


she’s sleeping, if she is able to close her eyes, if she is wiggling in
pain, or worse – the thought clutching at my throat – if there is
a man on her, pushing himself forcefully into her, ignoring her
wails, if she is screaming and nobody can hear her. I can almost
hear her screams.

I can hear her calling out, her loud voice disappearing into the cold
damp empty air.

I want to ball a fist and hit somebody. But where will I start from?
I would give the world a knock on the head for letting all these
things happen? I know that if only I could get her out, fix her in a
home, get her to deliver safely, go to school, get some help. If only
I could do something.

I want so much to do something that I have started making calls to


everyone I know. I have called every foundation I can reach. I have
called pastors, politicians, and friends.

They all come up with excuses. They either refer me to someone


else, say they are not available, that they cannot help or just bluntly
not take the calls. I am helpless.

230
We are helpless, Idy and I.

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

I sit at a distance and stare hopelessly at her, my eyes sunken with


insomnia. She stares back at me, with dampened longing in her
eyes.

Then I start making the calls over again until it gets dark. I leave,
unable to look Idy in the face. I feel worthless, incapable of helping
her.  

When I get to the ministry of women affairs early the next morn-
ing, I am told that I have to write to the police.

They are convinced that it is the case of one of these children who
run away from home and whom the parents may even be searching
for.

The person I speak with takes it so lightly I want to scream at him.

I want to let him know that Idy isn’t just any other child, that
there is something that connects me with her, there is something
that has drawn me to wanting to help her; but they would never
understand.

So, I leave. Maybe I’m mad too, just like Idy. I shamble aimlessly
on the road, tossed about by shame and guilt, thinking of what else
I could do.
Then my phone rings and relief flows through my veins like a wave
of a yellowish- brown stream.

231
“Hello, my name is Morgan from Helpmeet foundation. I under-
stand that you have a situation you need assistance with.

Well, our foundation is for boys, we pick homeless boys from the
street, provide shelter and education for them.

But since this is a very dire situation, we will take her in. Please,
send me her location and we will pick her up immediately.”

For a second, relief covers my face like the morning mist at harmat-
tan season. At least I have done something.

Maybe by saving another girl, I can save myself too.

Maybe by giving another peace, I can find peace too. 

232
JUNE
 

I stumble into things even at bright noon, shooting furtive


eyes over my shoulders as though something is coming at me.

I’m convinced that something is threatening to swallow me up.

When I try to sleep, I jerk awake, trembling and sometimes sweat-


ing profusely from a hard run in my dreams. 

I’m going insane. The nights are more excruciating, the generator
has gone bad, and when there is no electricity, everywhere is thick
black.

I just lie here, taking in the sounds of insects and the eeriness of
the night.

I’m better off dead than in this situation. I can’t go on like this.

I should call Dave, but I can’t. I don’t know what to say to him.

I don’t know what we could talk about. Maybe I’m just scared that
the passion that used to glisten in his voice is gone. I just feel un-
explainably paranoid.  

“It’s like you want your mother to die like your father died”. These
words wiggle around in my head, chocking me. I don’t want my
mother to die. No, June.
I need to go out and take a walk. I would explode if I don’t. My
head will blow open like Christmas balloon.

233
I grab some money – some of the clean notes – and walk off. The
coolness of the fresh evening air hits my face and leaves me clueless.

Maybe I should walk over to the park. No, that will be too much
torture, too much reminiscing of Dave. I don’t need that right now.

Instead, I walk over to the shops by the road, not knowing what
exactly I want to buy. Maybe I would feel less hazy if I could talk
to someone.

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

I know I should not be drinking alcohol. I know because I’ve been


told that in church. But then I know that when people drink, it
takes away their sorrow.

I don’t remember how I know this, but it sounds sane to me. I


would get drunk. Maybe I’ll be able to sleep better then.

First, I take Stout, gulp it way too fast. I cringe and drop the bottle
by the bed as the bitterness hits me.

Maybe I should try the other drinks I bought. I snap open the next
can and take a light gulp.

It’s unbearable. I decide to try the last one before I give up. I flip
open the can of Power Horse and a tiny lump of fuzzy sweetness
forms at the back of my tongue. 

I take more hurried gulps. I want it to happen fast. I want it to hit


me. I want to lie back in my bed and not be able to feel anything.
I don’t want to think about anything. 

234
It starts to hit me. It hits me on the second can. My head feels
light and I am floating. I’m kinda smiling, but I can’t tell what’s
amusing.

I know it hits me because I’m drifting. My head is heavy. I feel


excited, fearless. This is the feeling I wanted, isn’t it? I don’t feel
drunk, I feel sane.

It’s like my head is hanging limp on my neck. I lift my hand to


touch my head, to be sure that it’s there. I’m not sure if it’s my
head I touch because my hand is swaying. I smile. Where is your
head, June?

I am laughing. I don’t know where my head is. That does not make
sense.

Your head has crashed. It crashed in a plane: Sosoliso. The name


comes so clear to me.

How can I forget, how can I forget where my head is? My piano is
calling me. It’s calling me from my studio by the window.

I start to smile at it. Where have you been, little baby? You’ve been
flying about haven’t you, haven’t you, superman? 

Superman daddy. No, that feels very wrong as it floats through my


lips. I haven’t said that in so long, it feels so unreal.

It used to feel real. It used to feel real that my father is a superman.


Superman never dies. It’s all a lie. It’s a lie, isn’t it? Superman never
dies. My father didn’t die. He flew right out of the plane.

235
He saved the lives of everyone in it. I can see it now. The image is
vague, but I can see him, flying out, with helpless children in his
arms. Then, puff! He explodes.

Damn! My father has exploded, and I cannot help him. I’m not
super baby. I’m not super because I’m worthless. I’m useless and
helpless. 

My piano is calling me. I touch it but it doesn’t say anything. I


fiddle with the keys, but they don’t respond. Oh! Silly me, it’s dead.
It’s dead too.

I’m dead. My mother will die like my father died. I’m going to die
too. I’m crying. I’m shaking uncontrollably. I feel cold. God, I’m
going to die.

I want to play my piano. I want people to clap hard. I can hear the
applause, thunderous in my ears.

Dave is smiling at me. Is that Dave? Or, Ra… what’s his name? I
know him, but I don’t remember his name. He is tall and graceful,
smiling at me from the sunset. I’m smiling back. Then, puff! He
explodes.

I pick my phone and smile at it. I need to call someone. No, not
Dave. I want to call my father. No, he’s dead. But I want to call
him.

I throw myself on the bed and pour another can of Power Horse
down my throat. I feel hazy. 

236
I search for his number. I do not dial it, I send a message. Could
you pick me up at my house, please? I want to see you.

I’m smiling so wide now. Yes, I am ‘super baby’. I will save my


mother. I will let it happen and I’ll save her.

I’m floating in the air. I’m outside. I’m inside a car. I know, because
the cool AC is blowing gently on my face, coaxing me to sleep, but
I cannot feel my head.

God, please hold me, I’m drifting away. Please hold me or I’d fall.

Please hold me and keep my head from crashing.

237
VICTORIA 
On the day Idy died, there was a thunderstorm. It did not
rain, and nobody expects rain in September.

But the storm whirled and whirled, picking things up and throw-
ing them about. Trees falling, sand swirling, and people cowering
in their houses.

I was in the hostel and I could feel it. I don’t know how, but I could
tell that something bad had happened.

I lay in my bed, shivering, both from the cold and from the fear
that something bad had happened.

At first, I thought something happened to Ben, so I dialled his


number twice, and he did not take it.

I lay still, willing for the storm to stop, so I could go out, half ex-
pecting my phone to ring.

My mind wandered restlessly; my heart sank into the pit of my


tommy. I could not place it, but I could feel it in my bones.

Then I dismissed it, accusing the bad weather and tried to get back
to sleep.

And then my phone rang, jolting me ferociously. His voice was


soft, almost apologetic, but firm and plain. “I’m sorry, Vic. Idy
died.”

238
He said it straight, blank, no mincing of words, no trying to put it
in a nice way. “We could not find the money soon enough for her
hospital bills.”

I paused for so long before I asked: “How about the baby?”

“We lost the baby too. We lost them both. I’m so sorry, Vic.”

I ended the call. I ended it so fast because I did not want to hear.

The fear hardened into anger and cemented into thick fury. It’s my
fault. I am to blame.

Maybe she would have been fine if I’d left her where she was. I
ruined her life.

I was trying to help, but I did it all wrong. I did it all wrong. I did
not do enough.

I just took her to Morgan, and I left her there. I should have gone
to see her every day. And when she needed money for her bills, I
should have done more.

Morgan had told me he didn’t have enough to pay her hospital


bills. We’d made a post on facebook asking people to donate.

Only a few turned in, so we used that for the first bills. She was in
the hospital for 3 weeks until it got to the time for her to deliver,
but she had complications and needed an operation.
I’m furious as I think about it now. I’m so mad because I went
everywhere to look for the money.

239
And every time I showed up at a man’s office to talk about Idy, all
I got was a lascivious smile and the statement: “If you need money,
you know what to do.”

It’s so crazy now that I think about it. It’s crazy because now I feel
like I should have slapped them in the face.

I feel like I should have screamed that life is not all about that. If
Idy were your daughter, you would do anything for her. They’d
shrug and say: “Well, she’s not.” 

I am mad at myself because I should have... I should have given in.

I should have done anything to save her life.

It’s not such a big deal anyway, is it? They want my body, so I
should have given it.

I should have laid there and let them have it, for Idy’s life. But I
didn’t. I was too selfish.

Don’t I feel worse now that she’s gone? She’s gone with her child. I
was already imagining what he’d look like, the baby.

I already imagined him in my arms. I was thinking what Idy would


grow to become. I saw it all, I saw the future.

But all that would never happen now.

************************************
I’m at Morgan’s home, a large bungalow, with a wide living room,
almost empty, safe for the TV, old brown couches and a refrigerator

240
humming at a corner. It is painstakingly neat with 3 large protector
windows which open to a flurry flow of gentle breeze. 

I don’t know why I’m here. Maybe I needed to thank him for his
effort, or I just needed someone to grieve with.

It’s so silly because if I go out and tell someone that I’m grieving
because I picked a girl from an uncompleted building to a founda-
tion, and then she died, they would not understand, because people
only grieve for the ones they love; for their friends, family, and the
ones they are connected to.

I sit in the living room, watching the boys run about boisterously.
Like every other child, they play, laugh, watch TV and do assign-
ments.

They would have been in the street, begging, hawking or turning


into criminals, but Morgan saw what the rest of the society could
not see. 

The home was barely even conducive for Idy. There are a num-
ber of bunk beds neatly lined in the rooms and several mattresses
where some of the boys lie on the floor.

They had to vacate a bed for her, the space for three children. 

Morgan told me he was a street kid himself and he understands


how these boys feel. Some of the boys have lost both their parents,
and some of them have been labelled as wizards.
One of the boys was found by the gutter, beaten to pulp by his
grandmother, who claimed the boy was a wizard, that the boy
would kill her.

241
“But these boys are not like that,” he’d said, shaking his head sol-
emnly and flashing his curry eyes. “These boys just need education,
that’s all. They just need love. Don’t we all need love?”

When he speaks, you can see the kindness flickering in his eyes,
you can almost taste it on your tongue. “People don’t donate often,
but we have a number of them come by at Christmas and on their
birthdays.

We should pray for more birthdays, shouldn’t we?” his eyes would
glitter in an infectious smile.

The children call him Daddy Mo, and he calls them big boys. He
lets them play outside in the evenings.

He would be the referee while they play football on the bare sand.

He knows every one of them by name, every 33 of them. He loves


them and it makes me want to cry.

Morgan smiles at me, holding my hand tenderly. “You’ll be al-


right,” he whispers.

Tears have welled up and stuck at the base of my neck, tickling me.

But I don’t want to cry. Not in front of Morgan. Not here. I don’t
want the boys wondering what’s going on. I don’t want to be weak.
I have to be strong.
So, I sit here in silence with Morgan, wondering how he gets the
money to take care of these boys. I want to ask if men actually give
him money without demands, and if women make demands too.

242
He looks up at me and whispers: “Eteka died 3 weeks ago. He had
asthma. He’d lost his inhaler and I was trying to find money to get
him another one.

On the day I got it, I came here, and he was sprawled on the floor.

He’d been playing outside when he lost his breath and was brought
in. The boys didn’t know what to do.

We lost him,” he sighs deeply and relaxes on the couch, his eyes
closed.

I want to grab him and give him a hug. The urge comes to me like
a running tap and then flows away as fast. 

“I don’t believe I am the one taking care of these boys,” he mouths.

“It is God that asked me to do this, so they are all in God’s hands.”

He brings his face close to mine, searching my eyes with a thin


smile at the corner of his lips. “You feel that it’s your fault.

You think it’s your fault that she died. I used to feel the same way.

When something goes wrong with the boys, I would blame myself.

I would starve as punishment. But it’s not your fault, Vic. You did
the right thing. It’s all in God’s hands.
Idy has gone to be with God, and it’s a good thing that she felt
loved before she died.”

243
I want to say something. The words flash in my mind and then
disappear, so I sit there staring at him, taking it all in and running
it through my mind like a cold shower on a rigid skin, the words
failing to penetrate, just falling on my mind and rolling away.

I want to argue with him. I want to tell him that it’s my fault that
Idy died.

I don’t care how calm and kind Morgan is, I don’t care how his
words make me feel, all I can think of is that if I had done enough,
Idy would have still been alive, safe and sound with her baby. She
would have been here.

Morgan holds my hand and squeezes it softly, sending chills of


relief all over me. “You did the right thing.

And I want you to promise me that you will keep doing this. There
is only a few of us out there.

Only a few people can reach out to someone else. Only a few of us
have the heart to think about what the next person feels. Don’t let
this bring you down. You are strong.

If you weren’t, you would not be here. You are a really strong per-
son, Vic. And you will be a really great woman.

I can see it. I see it so clearly. You are a great woman.”

I’m breathing heavily. My heart trembles as I steady my legs to


keep them from shaking. I want to believe him because he sounds
so sure, but I can’t. 

244
It’s my fault that Idy died, and I’m going to do everything to make
up for it.

I don’t know exactly how, but I know that I owe it to Idy to make
up for her death. I will give my body.

I will give anything. For Idy.

245
JUNE

The sky growls thunderously as a feint ache hits me. I


squeeze my forehead and drag my eyes open, trying to call out
memory from my now thumping head.

Unfamiliar stale cologne mixed with a reek of alcohol hovers in the


thick air. I squint in the darkness, unable to move.

A sharp pain shoots beneath me, and a repulsive wetness slithers


between my legs. I squeeze my eyes shut as a flash of terror passes
like a heavy wave.

The memory crawls up on me; a fuzzy picture of me being gripped


painfully on the bed, and him on me, panting animalistically. 

I can hear him clearly now: “It won’t hurt, I promise. You’re so
sweet, baby…” he’d let out his large tongue into my mouth, push-
ing himself into me, hitting hard for what seemed like forever, like
a knife continuously cutting through me.

I did not struggle. I only squealed when he went too hard. 

A sharp scream escapes my throat now as I jump out of bed. I run


to the bathroom and look my naked body over in the mirror.

Dark painful sobs fall off my heart, echoing through Sunny’s emp-
ty house.
God, I am finally slipping into that horrible pit. You are now going
to kill me. Do with me what you will, God.

246
I have done something abominable and I deserve to be punished. 

I feel shame flow over my face, covering me up like a blanket of


darkness. I hate myself. I hate my body.

I want to scrub it all away. I want to get his stinking body off me,
but it will never go away. It’s ingrained in my brain, stuck to my
skull. 

How could the world keep moving as though nothing has hap-
pened? How dare people move about like everything is okay? The
world is in fact insane.

It is the world that should be punished. It is God that is wrong.


God is cruel and careless. I want to die. I want to wash myself away
in a river.

I sob for several minutes before he trots inside the bathroom. He


stands at the door, staring at me.

When he sighs and tries to touch me, I flinch furiously.

“Why are you crying now? Didn’t you send me a message yesterday?

You said you wanted to see me, and I sent the driver to bring you.
Why are you acting like the world has come to an end?” he says.

A simmering hatred grows in my heart. Tears refuse to stop flowing


when I rush out of the bathroom and search for my clothes lying
remorsefully beside the bed. He silently scribbles into a cheque
book and stashes it to me. “My driver will drop you,” he looks
away and drops himself heavily on the bed.

247
I sniffle, a thousand loathsome words forming in my mind but
refusing to pour out. I want to scrape my memory.

But I cannot. It will stay there. It will stay there and haunt me until
it kills me. I close my eyes and let thick hard balls of tears fall.

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

My head goes blank when I get to the bank to realise Sunny had
given me an invalid cheque. I feel drunk as the words drift past
me; that there is no account by that name.

I feel invalid as I dial Sunny’s number repeatedly until I get home.


After a while, it stops ringing and says, the number you dialled is
currently switched off. Please try again later.

I have to stop crying. I have to pick myself up and think of what to


do. I have to do something. I can either choose to do something,
or allow myself to slip away.

I only have two choices. I can kill myself, or I can decide to do


something.

I get into the house, carry my piano and my violin and start to
head out. I look around the house. Maybe I should carry more
things; the TV, the ACs, Fridge, everything.

We wouldn’t need any of these.


If I have to save my mum’s life, then we don’t need anything.
I’m going to sell everything. I’ve already sold my body for a token
of invalid cheque, this time I will be more careful, I will get the

248
money in cash.

I have two choices. I can choose to kill myself or I can do some-


thing. I want to do something. 

 
 
 
 

249
VICTORIA
It has happened six times now. And every time it happens,
I turn numb. I just lie there and let it happen, and when it’s done,
I get the money and go.

It’s not so bad. It’s not as terrible as I thought, because now I have
a lot of money. It’s like magic because in three months, I have a
house of my own.

I dress up every morning and go to school, pay attention in class


and appear like every other normal person. Then in the nights, I
know where I have been booked. And then, I lie there and let it
happen. Now, I am with the seventh man, Steve.

There is a blankness that suspends somewhere beneath my chest,


there is that emptiness that tickles like an itch at the back of my
tongue.

There is the shame that washes over my face like a heavy rain. But
I’m alright. Nobody knows. And the fact that nobody knows, hurts
the more. I have to carry this burden alone, this heaviness, this
basket filled with pain.

I’d thought that maybe, if I had a lot of money, I’ll be alright. I


thought I’ll be fine by buying things.

But now, my house is filled with clothes I have never worn, wigs
from diverse nationalities, and shoes of all sizes, yet there is this
vacuum that cannot be filled. It’s like choking underwater, swing-
ing your arms out to be rescued, like screaming, yet no voice can

250
be heard.

“Do you want suya, baby-girl?” Steve’s voice rips into my thought.
I shake my head.

“What of roasted chicken and plantain?” “I don’t want anything.” 

We are driving past Maitama, the bustling part of the city. The
streets are lined up with grills of roasted beef, chicken, fish and
plantain.

And in sheds by the road, men are chatting in loud voices and
drinking countless bottles of beer.

And on some tables, you’d find shy looking girls or some of them
that have been accustomed to sitting beside beer reeking men,
streetlights stained on their bored faces.

As we drive past, I see them, almost in a straight line, in miniskirts,


in bum shorts, in short gowns, faces all painted, bodies disfiguredly
huge and some unnaturally thin.

They stand there, impatiently waiting for a man to pick them up


and drop them with some money by tomorrow.

I feel connected to them. They could be me and I could be them.


The only difference is that I don’t get to stand by the road. 

Steve drives slowly, trying to pacify me to have something, so I ask


him to stop and get me Smirnoff ice.

He pulls the car to a stop and rushes to get it, after placing a damp

251
kiss on my cheek and saying, “I’ll be right back baby, do you need
anything else?”

When he is out of the car, I wind down and peer through the win-
dow. 3 ladies, almost bumping into each other rush to the car and
stick their faces in the window.

When they notice it’s a girl, they express their disappointment with
outstretched hisses and long pouts.

“How are you?” I say to the only one that does not move away.
“Wetin happen, madam?” she says.

Her over-exaggerated makeup betrays the innocence of a 17- year


old, but her rounded waist and furtive eyes would deceive you into
taking her for a grown woman.

“I get business for you,” I say.

“True true! for where?” she asks, eagerness written all over her face
now damp from the drizzle that has started to spray transparent
dots on the windscreen. 

“Make we talk later. I go give you my number.”

She shuffles through her bag, produces a blackberry phone and


starts to punch at it. I say my number out and she saves it without
asking for my name.

When I see Steve walking back from a distance, I dip into my purse
and squeeze some notes into her outstretched palm adorned with
long artificial nails, the colour of a clouded sky. 

252
“That na 20k. Carry am hold yourself. You fit even go home go rest
for tonight. Make sure say you call me, you hear?”

She beams childish smiles at me. “Madam na you biko, why I no


go call you, I dey craze? Thank you, madam. Your market go sell
well well for you o!”

I wind up the window before she ends her pleasantries, a sharp cut
slithering through my chest.

I know that I want to help her, but in my heart, I’m hoping that
she forgets to call, that I don’t have to tell her that I cannot help
her. 

Steve jumps in the car with 2 bottles of Smirnoff ice and a wrap of
suya. “I thought you’d like this, baby-girl,” he beams. 

He sinks his face between my breasts and inhales deeply, then starts
to lavish them with wet kisses. He plants kisses all over my face,
then sticks his tongue in my mouth and wiggles it around. 

“Gush! You are so sweet, I wish I could have you here,” he whispers
to my earlobe, while licking it hungrily.

I am silent as I feel heat rise defiantly up from beneath my belly,


spreading sensation down my spine, and tightening my nipples,
fighting the urge to push him away.

I want to wrap my arms round his neck, dig my head into his chest
and cry as I feel his arms on my back, stroking gently, slipping
stealthily under my shirt, his palm, cold on my skin. 

253
I turn and look away, and through the window, the 17 -year old has
jumped into a red Camry. I want to stretch my hands out and stop
her. But how can I, when I cannot even stop myself?

254
UYAI

Deborah is fearless!

I can see her clearly in my mind, tall with long slender legs
that outline her sveltely gorgeous physic.

Her eyes are adorably large with thick long lashes that twinkle when
she’s happy. Her fluffy natural hair is thick, black and curly.

She is dark, with sparkling bright eyes. Her lips are the colour of
chocolate. Her pointed nose forms creases by her cheeks that budge
when she smiles.

When she walks, her steps are graceful like a pampering to the
ground. Her voice rings like the melody of birds and her words
sting like bees. 

The more I write about her, the more real she becomes to me. It’s
almost as if I could walk out of my hostel and see her walking
down the road, her bottoms wiggling glacially.

I know I may never meet her, because it is impossible for anyone


to be so perfect. 

Deborah is a leader. She is running for president of the Students


Union Government of this University, and no girl has ever dared
to take this mantle.
Every girl thinks it’s impossible, that they can only be second place;

255
that a girl can only be an assistant or deputy, but Deborah is aggres-
sive in her quest for power, yet she fights with so much grace and
candour. She would not be pushed to the rear.

She surmounts odds and thrives where everyone thought she would
fail.

256
JUNE 
There is a dampening longing in my heart, a yearning for
something I cannot really grasp. I don’t know what it is, but there
is a space in my heart, like an itch inside my throat.

I’m now working at Essence boutique, some blocks away from my


house, and I’ve started to pay my mother’s hospital bills. I sit at the
counter, reading Twilight and dwelling in my thoughts.

When I look up from my book, a luxurious white Mazda pulls


over in front of the boutique and a lady dressed in ripped denim
jeans that stop somewhere above her knee, her feet adorned in light
brown ankle-high summer boots, with a chocolate brown tan top
lying tightly on her well-outlined breasts steps out.

She remote-locks her car, pulls off her sun- glasses and flips her
long wavy weave-on, and then walks towards the boutique, her gait
pointed like the beak of an eagle.

257
VICTORIA
I’m stuck on 7. I’m done with 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and
5 and 6… but I’m stuck on 7. Steve; he won’t leave me alone. He
won’t let me go.

The more I try to go away, the more he clings to me like a child


on the mother’s breast. And I cannot say no. I’m mad at myself
because I cannot resist. 

It’s so unlike me. It’s so unlike me that I sometimes laugh at


myself.

I laugh because whenever I tell myself it’s over with Steve, when I
go home and lock myself in, when darkness starts to chase at me,
and all the hurts crawl like wingless cockroaches, I pick my phone
and I call him.

It’s so stupid. It’s stupid because I think about him all the time.

I don’t usually do that. I bother myself about his work, I try to help
him. Some weekends, we draft letters for his projects together.

He asks me to suggest when it’s a good time to call a meeting with


the governor. He asks me to keep some money in my account so it
would not be traced to him.

He makes me in charge of his life. He drives me to school when I

258
stay over with him. And he kisses me on the lips not bothering if
anyone would see. 

I pull my white Mazda to a stop at Essence boutique. I need a bag


and a shoe.

I have tons of them back home, but what else am I going to do


with the 500k Steve gave me this morning? I stay a while in the car,
counting the money. Then I step out, pull my sunglasses off my
eyes and walk into the boutique.

I look around for a while, hoping that the girl wearing a blue jean,
a little too tight, with her brown hair plaited in large cornrows all
the way to the back, her fair face twinkling in the morning sun,
revealing dark wet bags under her thick brown eyes would at least
stop staring at me like I just dropped from mars.

She peers at me, sullen like the world has fallen on her shoulders.

I imagine that she is not paid well enough here, because she would
have at least changed this over-worn jean, pale like the yellowness
of her skin.

She looks overweight, untrimmed and uncared for. 

I flash a quick smile at her, and she jumps to her feet.

“Hello,” she says, in an accent that does not depict her southern
heritage as most sales-girls would have.

She is probably well educated or from an elite home. The former


would be most accurate.

259
Because someone from an elite home would not be selling clothes
and bags and shoes.
“I want to get sandal heels. Do you have it?” I ignore her pleasant-
ry, watching her eyes fall in disappointment before I regret it.

“Yes, we have sandal heels and all kinds of shoes, please come over
this way let me show you.”

And so, we go around the shop, wearing and trying out numerous
shoes, and all the while talking about the nice things she has in
the shop, breaking down in detail useful information about the
products.

When I try to get personal, her face turns clouded, so I revert and
keep the conversation on the shoes.

There is a hidden hurt inside her. It is so obvious you cannot talk


with her for 2 minutes without having to notice. I want to help her.

I want to be her friend. There is only so much I can do, I know.


But I will try. This time, I will not give her my number and hope
she doesn’t call. I will take her number and call her.

“My name is June Jacob,” she says after calling out her number
to me. I tell her: “I’m Victoria Daniel,” and drop 65k for the two
shoes I got.

There is a fire inside of her waiting to burn, covered up by masks


of pain and hurts. I want to do the best I can to help.

260
UYAI
 
My legs are glued to the ground like the root of a mahogany
tree. How is this possible? How is it possible for someone to fall
right out of my imagination?

The more I behold the realness of her, the more listless I feel. It’s
unreal as though I’m seeing things in twos and threes.

There she is; tall, slender, hollow eyes, smooth black skinned and
remarkably voluptuous. There she is, Deborah, right in front of my
class, speaking smooth flowing English and winning the hearts of
everyone.

She came in with a team of 3 boys and one girl behind her. The
first boy, the shortest but seeming most eclectic and savvy of them
all steps in front of the class and after greeting us, he says: “I want
to introduce you all to a strong lady, a woman of worth, a woman
that has daunted all challenges and has decided to take up a mantle
that before now had been exclusive to the guys,” he pauses for effect
and to give time for the uproar in the class to fade, then speaks on.

“Our people say, a child does not go to meet elders empty handed,
but today is not the day for a long meeting, when the time comes,
we will come prepared, we know the tradition, but today is only for
introduction.

So, without too much talk, I introduce to you, Rebekkah Essien”.


The uproar rises again. “Wetin she dey go for, who she be, wetin

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she want, make she come see us…” but when her golden voice rings,
the whole place goes silent.

There is something royal about her, something hallowed, some-


thing so delicious you’d almost stick out your tongue to have a
taste.

She introduces herself, then says she will come back when the time
is right to state her mission, share her vision for our great school,
as well as her ambition, and she hopes that we will support her.

The whole class starts to cheer her, then shout that she brings some-
thing for the boys. She smiles and assures that she will. 

The other guy starts to chant, and the class responds. You see, there
are 90 percent boys in my class, so we are all referred to as “Engine
boys.”

At first, that felt very awkward to me, but after a while, I started to
see myself as an engine boy.

So now, the whole class is singing, “I am proud I belong to engine,


I belong to engine, I am an engine boy…” and I find myself singing
along. The song trails on as the group leaves the class.

I am stunned. I am stunned because she looks exactly like the char-


acter in my book. It’s just, my character is Deborah and she is
Rebekah.

Maybe it’s a mistake. Maybe she really is Deborah and the boys did
not remember.
This thought lingers in my mind until I start to see her name on

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stickers and white papers, stuck everywhere on campus; on hostel
doors, on white boards, on the walls, on lockers in the rooms,
on desks, everywhere; her face, smiley with her innocence glowing
through her bright white teeth. And every time I see her picture,
what builds in my heart is hope, strength, inspiration, and some-
thing else… love.

I want to meet her again. I want to see her up-close. I want to follow
her around. I want to know her so well.

I want to be the one to introduce her. I want to be so close to her.


I want to tap into her power.

I want to be part of her glory and the swiftness with which she
gathers so much goodwill.

How is she able to do it? How is she able to make so many people
love her? And even the boys, they respect her. I saw it. I saw it in
the way my classmates received her.

Because these boys, they are so wild, they boo away anyone that
comes to speak in the class. But not her, they cheered her, they love
her. How is she able to do it?

I’m lying in my bed with my pen up, and my journal right in front
of me. But I’m lost for what to write anymore. Because now, Debo-
rah is no longer just a character in my book; she is real.

I hold my pen to the book so tight it almost tears through the


pages. I hold fast to keep my hands from shaking. Then I write,
Rebekah Essien. And my head goes blank.

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JUNE
It’s been two weeks since I met Victoria. Mindlessly, I jerk
when my phone rings. And all the time, I get disappointed. I’m
mad at her. It feels awkward because it is as though I’ve known her
a long time. 

She made me feel like a genius. All I did was tell her about the
products. What year which bag was made, and by which designer
and which celebrity has worn it.

I gave extra information about the shoes she liked. And I helped
her choose two stilettos. I know that it took a lot to come out of
myself and be so chatty, but it helped me too. 

I’m thinking of what I’ll tell the agents from the real estate compa-
ny as I close the boutique an hour earlier to run off to the house.
When I get to the house, I find the gate ajar.

I quicken my steps, with my hands covering my mouth to keep


me from screaming. Outside, there is a large truck parked by the
fence, crushing the waterleaves my mother used to pick to make
our Afang soup. 

Men in dark suits are gathered around, talking in low tones while
other less dressed ones carry the furniture from the house; our
white sofas, my father’s book shelves, my reading table, our televi-
sion, my wardrobe… I run up and scream into their faces and watch
them cringe.
I am so mad that I want to tear at their clothes and rip their faces

264
with my clawed nails. 

“Calm down, madam. You have to calm down right now…” the
one with a bald head makes to hold me. “You are Miss Jacob, I
suppose.” 

I nod hysterically.

“That means we have been speaking with you on the phone. A plea-
sure to meet you, madam,” he shoots a hard, rusty palm at me. “I
can tell this is very unpleasant for you.

And please, accept my condolence on the death of your father, even


though it’s been years now. It’s really sad that we have to do this.

But we are only doing our job. I hope that you understand.” His
words sting my ear and I wrap my arms around my chest to keep
them from throwing a blow at him.

Then I sight one of them carrying my fridge across his shoulder. I


know it’s my fridge because I have High School Musical and Han-
nah Montana stickers on it.

When he drops it on the ground, preparing to shove it into the


truck, I run up and ask him to stop.

Then I bend down and throw the cans of Power Horse and Smirn-
off Ice into a bag before I watch them whisk the fridge away. 

The man with an incongruously slim body walks up to me, his suit
flabby on his skin like an agbada.
“You can take anything you want, madam. And when you are ready,

265
you can pick up your properties from our office.” 

I carry the bag of drinks to the back of the house, balance on the
steps that lead to the veranda and start to down the drinks hungri-
ly. I drink one bottle, then two, then three, then four.

At the fourth one, I can barely lift my hands. Faintly, I hear the
doors snap shut; the truck blares its horn and zooms. 

“We have left the small gate open for whenever you want to leave.
Please snap it shut on your way out, madam. And don’t take too
much of the drinks,” a fuzzy voice calls at me.

I want to scream at them. What do they care if I drink 10 crates?


My head is heavy and woozy. It’s funny.

I cannot imagine that while my house is being vacated, the only


things I cared to take with me are bottles of drinks.

I did not carry my clothes, my toothbrush, my shoes, my cream, or


even food. It’s so ridiculous, June, you are so ridiculously insane.

My head is jamming noisily. It’s as if I have people talking loudly


inside. I am here alone, with creeks of insects and the sound of
night.

There’s light tonight, so the security light behind the house trickles
into my glaring eyes, causing me to go blind. I am blind. I cannot
see my way. 

When I try to take the 5th bottle, I belch and throw up on my


body. Ewww, I’m dirty and stinking. I have been dirty for a long

266
time. Since the day I laid in Sunny’s bed.

I can never be clean. I can never be worthy of love or anything


good. I am dirty inside. I cannot bother that I have my vomit on
my clothes, because I am accustomed to the feeling; that you can
barely stand looking at yourself. 

I try to stand, but my legs are wobbly. Fine, if I cannot stand, then
I can crawl. So, I fall on my hands and knees and start to shamble
unsteadily.

Then, I throw my head back and laugh. My, I could pass for a goat
or dog, walking like this. It’s so ridiculous.

I laugh until my voice croaks like the sound of frogs that ring into
my ears from a distance. 

Fear grips me momentarily. A snake could crawl to me right now,


a lizard, a spider, a cockroach. As though in sync with my thought,
a large overfed rat crawled joyously towards me.

I tremble, trying to get on my feet and run but I cannot. When I


puke on myself again, the rat stops and glares at me in disgust.

I look back at him, his eyes shiny – reflecting the electric bulb – the
colour of contaminated river, reeking with oil spillage.

He stands there for a while, then crawls off lazily as though to tell
me that I’m not worth his time. And as the rat crawls away, I realize
I was getting comfortable with his company. 

Some years ago, I used to sit on these steps happily, listening to my

267
father tell me stories about his village.

My father would sit back and crack palm kernels while we talk.
And when we are done, he would throw them into a plate, throw
in a cup of garri, with cold water and we would eat happily, while
listening in awe to the gripping anecdotes which he gathered grow-
ing up in his village. 

My stomach starts to rumble. I stagger, holding the walls as I walk,


grateful for the light.

I am walking towards the gate, weeping voicelessly like a lunatic. I


am frightened and I can feel my bones shake.

Every minute that passes, it feels like something is going to grab me


from behind, so I keep shooting a fearful look over my shoulders.
The air is humid and packed with frightful heat. My heartbeat falls
so thunderously, causing me to shudder. 

The journey to the gate feels like the exodus that took 40 years.
Something is going to grab me from the darkness.

Someone is going to kill me. I’m so afraid I would die. I cannot


think of anything but the pound like a thick mortar in my chest.

God, if you can hear me, please help me. God please don’t let me
die. Please save me. Forgive my sins.

Forgive me Lord, I’m so scared. There is no one else to turn to.


God please help me. Please God.

Cold sweat glues dryly on my skin. My tears have turned to a sticky

268
straight line down my face. I am outside the gate now. It is thick
black. I don’t know if to turn left or right. 

A sharp pain shoots through my left foot furiously and I fall. I


feel my blood flow to the prickly sand. My eyes are closing, and
my head is turning empty. I lie limp on the road, willing myself to
move back inside. 

I am stuck and I cannot move. God I’m so scared. I don’t want to


die. God please help me. I need to get up.

I need to gather some strength and get off the road. I want to count
to 10. I will count to 10, then I can gather all my strength and get
up. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…7…7. I’m stuck on 7. I’m stuck on 7 and I
cannot move.

I can hear my phone ring from a distance as though stashed in an


unopened bottle.

God please help me. I’m going to die. 

 
 

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VICTORIA
I’m pacing back and forth my room. That feeling again.
That feeling that something terrible has happened. The feeling of
guilt and shame and remorse and fear.

Something bad has happened and it is my fault. Ben does not take
my call. Morgan says the boys are fine. Steve is off to a meeting at
the government house. 

I feel my stomach tighten as the memory strikes me. I have not


called June. I dial her number and it rings to a stop.

Then I dial again, and again, and again. Fear jitters through my
fingers as I keep dialling. Something has gone wrong and it is my
fault. She should be home now.

The boutique closes at about 8pm. I glance at the time on my


phone and it says 9:49. Silly me, she must be sleeping by now. I try
to snap out the fear, but my heart has not stopped pounding. So, I
get in my car and start to drive.

I weave the steering indecisively towards the estate. Steve would not
be home until about 2am.

There is something about him that holds me bound. It is the luxu-


ry that I fall into when I am in his arms. It is the feeling of control
when he lets me have my way.
It is the feeling of power when I am in charge of his life, when he

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would not take a decision until he talks to me about it.

It is the way he treats me so special, the way he draws out my in-


telligence, the way he takes me seriously. It is the foreignness, the
feeling I cannot get anywhere else. 

Steve’s consuming affection is chocking sometimes. He is the one


person that can do anything for me.

I can call him at any time. Steve would excuse himself from an
important meeting to take my call.

Sometimes in my house, his cologne wafts through me hurriedly,


and I would almost stretch my arms to give him a hug, to watch
his eyes twinkle when he says: “I love you, baby-girl,” and wait for
me to say something, knowing that I would not say anything. He
always waits for me to say something.

And I never say anything. The words always stick at my throat. The
words always slip away, and my mouth will remain shut.

I am stuck on 7. This was not intended. I’m supposed to move to


the 8th man, but I cannot.

I am thinking about Steve, my mind awash with his overbearing


sweetness when I almost run into a girl trying to cross the road.

I screech to a stop and stick my head through my window to rain


curses on her, my heart pounding so hard it threatens to fall into
my hands.

She rushes over to my car and apologises, panting hard. 

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“Wetin dey work you, you dey find pesin wey go kill you?” I rage.
She smiles. “So sorry, I guess I was thinking too much.

Could you please help? My house is still far from here and I cannot
find keke by this time.”

Maybe, it is the innocence in her eyes that melts my heart, I ask her
to come in.

“My dear, you are God sent. I don’t even have an idea how I would
have trekked home this night. This city just sleeps too early.

It’s just some minutes past 10, and the roads are dry like a grave-
yard.”

She talks very fast and her voice rings like a violin; something that
you want to grab and press replay until it lulls you to sleep.

She looks lovely in a dark, brown gown that lies gracefully on her
well-shaped black skin. She looks so full of life and her eyes saunter
vivaciously.

“So where were you going by this time?” I ask.

She smiles again. “I went for consultation. Actually, I needed to


meet a certain man to sponsor my campaign. But hell, it wasn’t
even worth it. I’m just tired of these men.

So, I’m going to my house. I know that I need money for the elec-
tions, but I cannot kill myself. The elections will happen whether
I have money or not. And at the end of the day, there will be a

272
winner.”

She looks at me and smiles again. “You, where are you going by
this time?”

I keep calm for a while because I don’t want to stammer. There is


something so powerful about her that makes you want to please
her.

“I’m going to see a friend,” I say. Then to keep her from asking
about the friend, I ask her: “What elections are you taking about?”
“It’s SUG: Students’ Union Government…” she makes to keep ex-
plaining.

“Heck! I know what SUG means.” 

“Oh, you are in my school? So sorry.

You look all foreign, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone like you in
school. I’m sorry, when you run for president, you seem to think
that you know everyone.”

“Yeah I know. I’m barely in school though. In and out,” I say.


“Where are you even going?” 

“I’m so sorry. That’s the first thing I should have said. Pardon me.
I live at Ikpa road, just close to school.”

I squeeze my forehead. “That’s quite far from here.” “I know right.


I wouldn’t want to put you through all that stress. Just drop me at
plaza. I’m sure I’ll find my way from there.”
“Alright that’s fine.”  

273
“Thanks so much. God bless,” She says, a little sullen, then her face
catches fire again. “So which faculty are you in?” 

“Law.” 

“Wow! I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. But in this country, your


destiny can be snatched from you just like that. I did not make the
cut off for my post UTME. And don’t think I’m dumb; they made
a mistake in my result. Nobody seems to do anything meticulously
around here. They make mistakes in my results every year,” she
blurts.

“Aww, sorry about that. I guess the faculty of law is quite me-ti-cu-
lous,” I say, stretching the last word to mimic her. She laughs so
light-heartedly I start to laugh too. “So, wait, did you just say you
are running for SUG president?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she winks at me.

“Isn’t that something for guys? I mean I’ve never heard a girl come
up for that. It’s usually…”

“A guy for president and a girl for VP,” she cuts in. “It’s in the
constitution,” she shoots me wry smirk.

“Well it’s not. And who says we cannot do something differently.

When we allow ourselves to be tied too long with a rope of how


things used to be, we forget that we have the power to decide how
things can be.”
I remain silent as she continues. “Well, I’m running for president.

274
And I know that it takes a whole lot.

Because first, I have to establish the fact that it is in fact possible


for a girl to be president,” her voice falls into a whisper. “It is pos-
sible to do anything.”

“So how are you going to get the money?” I ask, trying to look at
her and to keep my eyes on the road at the same time.

She sighs deeply. “You know, I can be a very funny person. The
first day I took my phone to call the stakeholders of my faculty to
declare my interest, I had only 200 naira on me.

And that money was my transport fare to school. That I have sur-
vived until today, I have no idea how.” 

Well, maybe like me, she has her own Steve. I catch the thought and
immediately feel guilty for it. Maybe her parents are her sponsors.

“My parents have done their best for me,” she says.

“They gave me 40k when I told them. I almost did not take it,
because my parents are civil servants, and they barely even have the
money.

But they are supportive. I just have a little bit of goodwill from
people I know that drop me some cash sometimes. And I also try
to find sponsors.

It’s sickening that almost all the politicians in power are men. And
the part I cannot even understand is when they place a choice be-
fore you, that you have to have a thing with them before they can

275
sponsor you.” 

She shifts in her seat. “For crying out loud, I’m not asking for
money to buy new clothes. I show them my vision for the school,
the opportunities, my intellect, but they don’t even care about all
that. It’s so absurd.” 

She shakes her head. “And I’m never going to do it. I’d rather stand
the elections without a dime than dash my body to some pot-bel-
lied man that is old enough to be my father, my grandfather even.” 

Her words hit right at my heart and I look away to keep her from
seeing the heat that has risen to my face. Steve is 43, 23 years older
than me; old enough to be my father.

He beams with so much youthfulness that you can barely even


notice. He treats me as though we are equals. 

We drive past plaza. I do not stop. It’s not safe to drop her here.
“Have you eaten?” I ask.

“No, but I’m fine. I had a quick breakfast in the morning. And
after that, I kept shuffling from class to offices and meetings.

You can’t believe I’ve met with over 30 people today. I wish there
was another way to appoint leaders without having to go through
politics. I don’t like politics.

But I know that I have many things I want to do as president. I


have so many ideas on how we can have a better school.”
I drive past school as she says this. Don’t we need a better school?
I have been so accustomed to how things are that I never thought

276
that it could be better.

That we could have more hostels to go round, classrooms with


sockets that work, events that are more meaningful and much more.

Maybe I could run for office myself. But no, I prefer my quiet life.
I am not ready to have meetings with 30 people in a day. 

“Here,” she says, pointing to a black gate. “Thanks a lot, dear. God
bless you. And it was really nice talking to you.”

“Nice talking to you too, madam president. And I would really


love to hear about your ideas. I am Victoria Daniel,” I stop in front
of the gate.

She beams when I call her madam president and looks pensive
when I say my name. “I have seen that name somewhere.

I think on facebook. You run a foundation, right? And there was a


time you rescued one girl from an uncompleted building.”

“Yes, I run a foundation, and yes, a girl was picked from an uncom-
pleted building,” I look away when she asks about the girl, and as
if she understands, she does not ask a second time.

“My name is Rebekah Essien,” she says. 

As I watch her disappear, I don’t have the nerve to go to Steve’s


house. Rebekah carries about her, so much power and cheer that I
start to feel light.

When she says, everything is possible, you really feel it.  

277
The night is hot and quiet. And somewhere in my heart, I still feel
the pangs of dread that something has happened.

Something bad has happened and it is my fault.

278
JUNE 
A sharp pain shoots through my head as rays of warm sun-
light pour angrily on my face, causing the corners of my eyes to
twitch. I feel hollow and dry.

I cannot feel anything for a second. But when the pain on my left
foot rises like the gall that rests on my chest, I swing my eyes open.

I am in a sparkling hollow room. The curtains are thin white satin


materials that allow the sun to meander through them.

The wardrobe is covered with mirrored sliding doors, and the bed
is consumingly big and soft. 

I flash frightened eyes around me, pinching my skin repeatedly. I


cringe at the pain.

The room is very plush and large. It is dimly lit with foreign bulbs
and long florescent lights. Sea-like artworks adorn the walls and a
pile of books are incongruously stacked at the far side of the room,
close to the large boxes you only find in airports. 

If I’m not dead, then someone is getting ready to kill me. I need to
plot my escape quick.

From the window, I can tell that it’s a storey building. So, if I’m
going to escape, the plan has got to be solid.

I lie in bed thinking, the headache rocking my head thunderously.

279
I shut my eyes, trying to conjure useful memory. I can feel my shak-
ing hands on the wall of my house. How did you get to the road?
I crawled? I walked? 

My eyes are still closed when the door creaks open, jolting me back
to the present. A bright face sticks in through the door, followed
by a hefty figure.

I stare at him, stark and afraid. Maybe I am dead. Maybe I am dead,


and this is my mansion in heaven, and this man here is an angel. 

He walks slowly towards me, and I jump to the other side of the
bed, looking at him from the corner of my eye, my heart thumping
loud against my chest.

He makes a grimace as I feel hot pee trickle down my trembling


legs.

“I’m so sorry for startling you,” he says tenderly.

His voice reaches me soothingly. Then I jolt up again. Maybe he


just wants me to relax so that he can get a hold of me and kill me.
I won’t fall for his trick.

I get off the bed and stand against the wall, arming myself with the
pillow, ready to throw it in his face if he comes closer to me.

But it’s useless because a pillow won’t even budge him. He has
heavy shoulders that carry his arms so high, lifting him as though
he is deliberately puffing.

Through the transparency of his long white garment, his stiff groin

280
bulges from his tight under-pant.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he repeats.

I nod and drop the pillow.

“I just needed to be sure that you are okay. I didn’t have the time to
take care of the wound on your foot, so I just cleaned it with spirit.
How do you feel now?” his eyes twinkle warmly.

His kindness is so soft, you can almost feel it on your skin like the
fur of a loved pet. He relaxes his weight on the bed, that side of the
bed melting in protest to his weight. 

“I’m Kubiat. Just call me Kay. Found you on the road last night,”
his eyes widen. “Creepy, isn’t it? Drunk, and wasted, and wounded,
and bruised,” his eyes fall and instantly, I feel embarrassed.

“I mean, I’m the one to be afraid here, you know. You could harm
me,” he giggles. “Come on; stop acting like a wet chicken. And
have yourself some rest.

You’re probably having a bad hangover. Yeah, your thoughts may


be distorted, and you would not remember a thing. So, let me help
you out.

I saw you sprawled beside the road by a big nice house, the gate
open. First, I thought it was some mad woman, but you were prop-
erly dressed you know, and your foot was bleeding.

I took the risk, I don’t know why. I wanted to leave, but I took the
risk. I just said, damn if this bitch is going to turn wild by mid-

281
night, then whatever.”
 
He looks in my eyes. “You are a badass bitch you know. You stink
of cheap alcohol and grime,” his eyes flutter to his bed and back to
me, disgust filling up his hollow face. 

He looks calm, and at the same time, powerful and threatening.


“Just get yourself a clean shower,” he snaps off the bed.

“There’s a new toothbrush in the bathroom,” he glances round the


room. “Change into one of the shorts you find in the wardrobe.

I’m pretty sure you would find something you like,” he glares at
me. “What you have on right now is too stinking, I can’t stand it,”
he walks to the door and turns to look at me, his dark brown lips
curled into a frown.

“And don’t do anything stupid, do you understand? Find your way


downstairs when you are done. And, I’ve got your phone.” 

I wrap cold arms round my shivering body, so cold that the hot
shower cannot dissolve the goose bumps on my skin. When I look
in the mirror, my eyes are stark yellow, surrounded by thick brown-
ness like bags of sweet chocolate. My face is pale and glum. I try to
smile, but it looks too awkward. 

My legs are shaking, my heart is thumping. I’m trying so much to


tell myself that I am alright. Yet, every minute that passes, I feel like
I’m going to die. 

282
UYAI
 

I’ve been following her. I’ve been following her silently. She
never notices.

I follow her when she goes to eat at the cafeteria, all the while
talking to people, smiling wide, saying loud ‘hellos’ across the
room and sometimes, offering food to people.

I follow her to classes when she goes to introduce herself. I enter


the classes through the back door and sit behind, watching her,
watching as she speaks, as she reads out a recharge voucher for the
fastest person to load on their phones, watching as she thrills other
students.

I follow her to church. I find it comfortable, because it’s just a few


young people gathering together to sing, and pray, and dance, and
be happy.

I just sit behind, and then leave unnoticed. I follow her when she
goes to familiarise with faculties during their meetings.

She would talk very gracefully and even when they say awful things
to her, she would smile. She is never intimidated.

I’ve followed her for so long, and I have never seen her angry or
dishevelled in any way. 

I love her. The thought of her makes me smile. So, I try to convince
people to support her. I explain all her plans and ideas, everything

283
I have heard her say.

And most of the time – the hardest part – I have to convince them
that a girl can be president.

It’s hard for me to come to terms with this myself, but I have
thought about it and I don’t see why a girl cannot be anything she
wants.

I tell them to look at the intellect, to drop their bias and see a
girl for what she is – human. So, I win. And every time I convince
someone, I feel happy and fulfilled. I feel like I have accomplished
something.

I go from hostel to hostel most evenings. I go from room to room,


corner to corner and try to talk to people.

Sometimes they throw me out. But I don’t mind. I believe in her.


She inspires me. She models for me everything I couldn’t be. 

I snuggle in my blanket, listening to the soft pattering of rain on


the roof and the whiff of air by the fan.

The thought of her lulls me to sleep. As my mind gently drifts off,


I feel a tap on my leg. I stretch, grunt and pull my eyes open. 

There she is. “Hello,” she says. “May I come in?”

I nod. She walks in gingerly and stands by my wardrobe, water drip-


ping from her thick black hair and shrivelling fingers.
I swing off the bed and throw a towel over her. 
“So sorry to bother you,” she whispers. But it’s not a bother at all.

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It is a dream come true. I’m trying so hard not to show my pleasant
surprise. 

So calmly I ask her: “Would you like some tea?” She says yes, and I
boil water in my electric kettle immediately.

“It’s so cold out there,” she says as she sips gently from my cup.

For want of what to say, I ask her: “Are you in this hostel?” 

“No, I’m not,” she shakes her head. “I came to see someone.”

I know she came for consultation. Maybe she wants to meet the
Vice president who stays in my hostel, or my hostel representative.

But I won’t let her know I’ve been following her. That would sound
too insane.

“Thanks so much for the tea,” she passes the cup to me. “May I
please stay here until the rain subsides? I’m going to the next hos-
tel. I’m supposed to meet with the outgoing president. But he’s not
taking his calls.

That reminds me, I need to charge my phone. Can I have your


charger?”

I get her my charger and help her plug her phone by the wall. Then
she heaves her body on the bed with her legs still on the ground.

“So exhausted,” she utters.

“Sorry. Do you need anything else?”

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“No dear. I’m fine. Let me just take the time to rest. Because when
this rain stops, I’m on the marathon again.”

I know what she is talking about, but I ask: “What marathon?”


She smiles. “I’m running for SUG president,” she pauses and looks
in my face for any emotion.

I can tell she is used to different expressions: surprise, denial, disbe-


lief. But my face is blank, and I wish I could feign surprise.

“That’s nice,” I say.

“You think so?” she asks. “You know, not everyone thinks so. Most
people think it’s not possible.”

“I think it’s great,” I say. “Not everyone would have the courage to
go for this. It’s not something normal like that.”

“I know right. But you see everyone should have the courage to go
for their dreams. The world just shrinks us into thinking that some
dreams are possible, and others are not.

But the very fact that you can think of doing something in the first
place, that you can piece ideas together and form something in
your imagination; that means that it is in fact possible.” 

I shrug. “Sha some people have different things that they want to
do, but they just cannot do them.”

“Well, that’s true. The main reason why people should actually
follow their dreams is because we were all created for a purpose.

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God created us all differently and designed into us specific things
that we should do in this world. And every single one of us was
meant to be and do the things that God has called us to do.

God instils in us talents that help us to fulfil our purpose. It’s just
useless that people ignore this call. And everyone knows what they
really want to do, but most times they just ignore it.”

She glances at her phone which has started to ring.

Then she picks it up and talks to the president; praising him, teas-
ing him, laughing and making jokes, then telling him that the rain
had been sent by her village people, so that she would not meet
with him today.

She concludes by telling him that she is around his hostel and
would see him shortly. She pulls her face together and turns to me.

“You know, like this phone,” she continues. “It was made by a man-
ufacturer. And the person who made it knows what it is capable of.

So, there is a manual that tells you its functions. If you buy this
phone and choose only to make calls with it, that is all you would
see.

But if you look closer and realize that this phone is capable of be-
ing your clock, your notepad, and you can even reach anywhere in
the world through the internet, then that is what the phone will be
to you. And you cannot ride in this phone because it’s not a car.

You cannot swim with it. So, why do we humans think that we can

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just do anything with ourselves without paying attention to the
manual of our lives?

If we were created by God, then He alone knows our purpose. So,


we should ask him and then live accordingly.

That is the only way we can get to greatness,” she smiles. “It’s like
I’m talking too much. Don’t mind me jare. I just love talking,” she
sits up on the bed. “What do you love to do?” 

I am stunned for a moment. I have never been asked that question.

And even though I know at the tip of my finger that I love to write,
I just can’t form it into words. So, I look away and say: “I don’t
know.”

She smiles and looks around my corner. There are novels stuck at
the side of my bed, covered slightly by my pillow.

She picks up ‘Purple Hibiscus’ and reads the title out loud. “Mehn!
I’ve read this book twice and I cannot get enough of it.”

My heart skips. She loves to read too. “Yeah the book is so cool. I
love the ending because they finally find freedom.”

She looks up at me. “You think so. Freedom at what cost?” she
shakes her head. “Killing papa was absolutely unnecessary.

You can gain freedom without violence. If we were to kill everyone


that oppresses us, then feminists would have killed most men by
now,” she giggles.
“You can conquer them without turning to violence. You know,

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some of the guys that started out attacking me and saying all sorts
of things; when my team tells me about those kind of guys I just
tell them ‘don’t worry, give me his number’ and all I have to do is
have one meeting with that guy and before you know it, I have him
on my team campaigning his life out,” she throws her head back
and laughs.

“Women are so powerful; they don’t even have an idea. Why would
any woman shy away from her dreams?

The fact that you are a woman even gives you an edge, you know.

You can charm someone with a smile; speak so eloquently, they’d


forget their name. Your boldness alone, your carriage would make
people fall at your feet.”

She unplugs her phone from the socket and tucks it into her bag.

“My dear, let me better go and see Mr President before he starts


being busy up and down.” 

“Sorry for my bad manners,” she says. “I am Rebekah. What’s your


name dear?”

“Uyai,” I say. The way she calls me dear is so soothing I want to


sink my face into the hollow of her neck and inhale the fragrance
of Olive shampoo and coconut oil in her hair.

I want to put my fingers through her hair and shoot it all the way
down until I can feel her scalp.

“Oh, nice name. And you are beautiful, like your name implies,”

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she says stretching up. “Uyai, thank you so much for keeping me
from this cold rain. And thanks for the tea.”

She places her soft palm on my arm. “If you love to do something,
just go ahead and do it.

Don’t let anyone discourage you. Pursue your dreams. There is


greatness inside all of us, but that greatness will never be seen if we
keep running away from our dreams.”

She smiles warmly. “And you know, no matter how hard you push
it away, your dreams will always haunt you.” She takes a few steps
out and turns to me with the smile still smearing her thick black
cheeks. “Dreams are irresistible.”

I nod and smile back at her. I want to hold my heart in my hand to


stop it from breaking out of my chest in glee. A surge of boldness
fills my brain.

I pick my pen from the side of my bed and drag out my journal.
Then I write: Dreams are irresistible. 

290
JUNE
When Kay asked me to marry him, I said yes without even
thinking about it. No, he didn’t ask. He just sat back at the table
after dinner and said he wanted to talk to me about something. 

When I looked up at him, he said: “I want to marry you.” And


I said okay. He said: “I’ll inform my family in the US and they
would come over for the wedding; nothing really big, just a pastor
and the family.” 

Then he paused, looked up at me and asked: “Or do you have any-


one to invite apart from your mother?” I said no and he dragged
his seat, said goodnight and walked into his room. That’s it.

He is very controlling and domineering. But I like him. Sometimes


it’s frightening the way he is. Everything has to go his way. Not like
I ever object anyway. Sometimes I’m afraid he would squeeze me in
his arms and strangle me to death. 

When he takes me out to dinner with his friends, he introduces me


as his first lady. This makes me feel ecstatic, but it’s choking. I like
it, those evenings.

They usually take turns to have dinner in each other’s houses, eat-
ing fried rice with turkey or scrambled eggs with fried yam or some-
thing they call Brunswick stew with rice and listening to Kanye
West or Jay Z. His friends are all married except him. So, they
carefully omit him from the duty of the host. 
He’d nod his head when I appear in a soft lemon coloured gown or

291
a flowing milky dress with expensive jewelleries and light makeup.

He’d smile when I touch my cheeks with his friends’ wives and
hand my knuckles to be kissed. It feels perfect, only that I am so
careful, too careful that I never speak until a question is directed to
me. I don’t want to do anything wrong. That’s the way it is, living
on the edge. That is the way it is with Kay.

In the night, he’d kiss my forehead and say: “Goodnight June.”


And that’s it. He would not come to my room; he would not touch
me. The highest that we have had of romance are kisses and hugs
and pecks and I love you, June. I love you too Kay. 

I feel trapped. I feel trapped and I’m not ready for this. But I’m so
attached to him I cannot say no. He’s protective. He is overwhelm-
ingly sweet and sometimes it’s frightening.

Sometimes I want to squeeze away from his wide arms. And other
times, I want to stay there forever. I don’t know if I love him. It’s
not the way I felt for Dave, it’s not even close to how it was with
my dad. I’ve never known love to be like this. Love is conversation,
laughter, fun. 

I squeeze my eyes shut as the car snakes out the gate. We are going
to bring my mother home from the hospital. She has been treated
but the hypertension can only be managed. 

“Are you alright?” he asks, weaving the steering with one arm and
with another trying to select a song from his phone connected to
the car player. Barely looking at me, he asks the question twice.

I’d nodded the first time, but since his eyes are stuck to his phone

292
and on the road, I speak up: “I’m okay.” 

He nods, drops his phone and continues driving. I am accustomed


to sitting in silence.

Silence which doesn’t mean there is a problem. Silence as though


you are holding your breath, hoping that this new world doesn’t
crack open like an egg. 

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

I exhale deeply and look at him. He has this childish cuteness that
envelops you. That sucks you in and holds you bound.

He has tiny curled up lips, seated beneath a pointed slim nose and
bright white eyes flushed all over with innocence and terror.

He is never mad at me, but half the time, I expect him to be. I fear
that he could snap my neck with his fingers.

“Nothing,” I say. 

He turns out of the estate, waiting for a car to pass. A Mazda. A


white Mazda. My heart skips as I squint through the tinted glasses.

I look intently as though my life depended on it. It’s her. It’s Vic-
toria. I want to open the car and run out to her.

I want to hit at her window until she winds down and apologises
for not calling me. I want to speak into her dark brown eyes and
slim ebony cheeks. 
I stare at the car, digging my forehead into the window until I can

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see my breath form a fog on the glass.

I stare until her car snakes off the road, into the estate. There is
another girl in the front seat. They are chatting happily.

She is laughing. She is happy. Happy without me. I want to scream


at her. I wish I could. I wish I could open this car and run to her.

I start to breathe hard, my shoulders heaving. I lift my hands to


wave, to call out to her.

Kay pulls over and fixes me a cold glare, one arm still on the steer-
ing. I jerk out of my reverie and gawk at my denim trousers. I feel
his stare hot on me, burning my skin red, too close, threatening. 

“Damn, you are a badass psycho,” he spits profanity and I can feel
myself trembling. I sit there for several minutes, waiting for him to
throw me out in the streets where he found me.

The silence burns deep into me. Kanye West is singing “Runaway”
from the music player, his rap too fast to grasp. I want to open the
car and run into the road. 

It’s sudden, his grip. He wraps his arms around me. When he lets
my head sink into his chest and strokes my hair gently, I sob, feel-
ing the wetness of my tears on his shirt. 

Then I hear my phone ring. His grip is firm, and I hate to untan-
gle from this comfort. So, I let the phone ring to a stop, and then
again.

I dig my face deeper until I can feel the hairs on his chest tickle me

294
from beneath his crisp white Tee shirt.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” he says.

He dips a wet kiss on my cheek. I sniff hard the fragrance of his


cologne and relish the relief that flows like a wave down my spine. 
It’s okay! 

 
 
 
 
 

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VICTORIA
She is so vivacious you can’t help but laugh so hard at her
jokes. It’s so unlike me to exude such happiness but I find myself
enjoying her company, wanting to be with her, calling every day to
know how the campaign is going.

And thoughtlessly, I have become part of the campaign.

I am not just part of the campaign. I drive her everywhere she wants
to go. I make sure she is safe at home most nights, and when I’m
too busy, I drop the car with her.

I buy the drinks she needs for the consultations. I brew ideas on
how to win the hearts of the students. I pay for her food. I care for
her. 

Bekka has bought my heart. It is something about her courage,


her innocence, her laughter. I see myself in her. I see her victory
as mine. When she is upset, I feel myself go down too; when she is
happy, my eyes light up. 

So today, I’m taking her to meet with Steve. His political career had
also begun in school so I am sure he would be glad to support. The
campaign has become a part of me.

It is my quest for freedom. It is proof that a girl can be successful


without making immoral compromises. It is proof that a girl can
reach for the top. That a girl can dare to tread territories dominat-

296
ed by men. 

As I turn into the estate, there is a sinking feeling that drops to the
pit of my stomach like a heavy stone. I look behind and there is
no car coming.

A black Toyota highlander stands in front of me, waiting to drive


out of the estate. The glasses are tinted so I cannot see who’s in it. 

Bekka makes a joke about Davido’s new song that just came on the
car radio, about how dumb it feels to sing “Skelewu” without even
knowing the meaning, but you find yourself singing along anyway.

So, I laugh because this song has been played so many times it just
sticks to the back of your brain so that at very odd moments you
find yourself saying “Skelelelelelewu” and feeling dumb afterwards.

The laugh does not push away the feeling even after we have driven
far into the estate.

It is the feeling of wrongness, the feeling when you should have


done something, but you didn’t. The feeling makes some sense to
me when we drive past Essence boutique.

I slow down, squinting through the glass doors to see if June would
be there, sitting at the counter and reading “Twilight” but I cannot
see anything. I make a mental note to stop by the boutique later.

But that is still not enough so I take out my phone and dial her
number. It rings to a stop. I dial again and she does not take it. The
feeling tightens into dread. 
When I drive into Steve’s house, he is seated on his balcony, radio

297
in one hand and his iPhone in another.

He looks down and smiles. I smile too even though I know he can-
not see my face from where he is. There is a twitch in my stomach
that tastes like happiness. 

Some things that are wrong are just irresistible. Some things that
are right are just too difficult. 

298
UYAI
“So, if you love to write, why then are you studying Engi-
neering?” she asks.

I lie quiet, listening to the whistle of birds that dump their dungs
on the windowsills defiantly, perching as though they owned this
old block of prefab hostels.

The fragrance of vanilla flavoured body fantasies fills my nostrils,


leaving me breathless. Also leaving me breathless is the fact that I’m
lying in my bed, side by side with Rebekah. 

The coarseness of her thick hair caresses my shoulders, stinging


into my neck as I watch her chest rise and fall in condensed succes-
sions. I am so thrilled it takes so much effort to lie here, calm and
collected, trying to hold this dreadful conversation. 

“Can I see?” she says, gluing her warm eyes on my face and smiling
wryly. I shake my head. “Well why not? I can tell you are a great
writer.

I can tell because you are so quiet,” she steals a glance at me. “Or
reserved. Reserved people are very observant and that makes them
great writers because when you speak less, it gives you enough time
to think.”

She says so much in the shortest possible time, her voice ringing
like a bell and sprinting so fast from the beginning of the sentence
to the end devoid of punctuations.

299
“I don’t think so,” I say. “Well, I am reserved because I don’t have
friends. Nobody reads whatever I write, they are not that import-
ant, just scribbles.”

“But I want to see,” she beams. 

“So, if you like politics so much, why are you not studying political
science?” I turn the question back to her, to sway her mind from
wanting to see my writing.

Now I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned it, that I love to write. It


just slipped while we were having a conversation about school.

She’d appeared at my corner, smiling cheekily. She said she just


came to see her Good Samaritan. 

She explained to me a story from the Bible where a certain traveller


was attacked by armed robbers, stripped of his clothes, beaten and
left half dead on the road.

A priest passed, avoiding the man, then a Levite also leaves the man
on the road, but a Samaritan happens to be the one to help the
man, despite the fact that Samaritans and Jews despised each other. 

Jesus had said this parable to explain that your neighbour is any-
one who shows mercy to you, not necessarily that you come from
the same family or tribe.

She had ended the story saying: “Tell that to the nepotistic Nigeri-
an politicians,” with a short mirthless laughter.

300
She turns to me. “Well, you don’t have to study political science to
be a politician.

Some leaders in Nigeria barely even went to school anyway. Any-


one can be a politician if you have a heart for service.

Politics is really about seeing that something is wrong and taking


responsibility to change it. But I don’t see myself as a politician
though. I like to call myself a leader.

Because the process called politics in this country is so murky you


don’t want to be associated with such insanity.”

She flashes a wry grimace as her eyes drop on my journal sticking


out its ears beneath my pillow. “Is this it; is this where your stories
are?”

I push the journal deeper under my pillow and drop my elbows on


it. “So, I can also say, you don’t need to study communications or
literary studies to be a writer,” I sway the topic again.

She smiles and brings her face to me. “If you write, you should be
proud of your work. You should put it out there because the world
wants to see you.

You cannot be the sole judge of your art. You have to put it out.
Some people will like it, and others would think it’s silly. But that
doesn’t matter, as you keep putting yourself out, you would be ac-
cepted for who you are.” 

She stops trying to lift the pillow as I slowly loosen my grip. “Not
everyone likes me. In fact, I actually think that most people don’t.

301
People say I’m proud and saucy and all kinds of things. But what
do I care? My own is to present myself as an eligible leader, and tell
you what I stand for, and what I bring to the table. If you refuse
to support me, then that is your business.”

“But you have not told me what you would do if I vote you,” I say,
resting my head on her arm.

She smiles. “Well I won’t, until you let me read your story.”

“Look who needs my vote, giving me conditions.”

“I’m so sorry ma, I will explain to you my manifesto right away,”


she says in mocking humility.

I drag out my journal and hand it to her, watching her eyes glitter.
“Wow thanks,” she squirms.

I move my head from her arm. Gently wrapping my arms around


her, I cross my legs over hers, bringing my face so close I can feel
her warm breath on my skin, sinking in and boiling up emotions
inside of me.

A sudden urge to grab at her and slide my fingers all over her soft
skin pours over me and I can barely think.

I press my lips on her cheek and push my fingers to her thighs.


Pulling my lips to her mouth, she jerks away. And instantly, my
mind curls back to its senses.
I want to apologise but I cannot find the words. She would be mad.
She would leave and never come back.

302
She would go on and on about how much evil I am and how I’d
rot in hell. She would hate me. I lie back and wait for her to pour
out the stinging words on me.

I wait and wait but the words don’t come. 

They never come. I stop expecting her to judge me.

Because when she’d asked why I wasn’t in church today, and I told
her I don’t go to church, there was no disdain on her face. She just
said okay, I only go to church in the evenings myself. 

The room is quiet. My roommates are all gone to church; each of


them, looking at me with eyes that burn hotter than hell is expect-
ed to be, whispering under their breath at what devil has possessed
me after they have tried severally to drag me to church and I have
remained adamant.   

She turns to look at me and I avert my eyes. “Would you let me


take your journal home so I could read your story?” she pleads.

I say yes. I would let her take anything she asked for right now. I
am awash with shame and I want to do anything to salvage myself.
She squeezes my hand softly and says: “Thank you.” 

My roommates start to trickle in, talking loudly, exclaiming how


hungry they are, how much longer the sermon had lasted and shout-
ing goodbyes to friends that have to part ways to other rooms.

Rebekah looks at me until I cannot ignore her eyes any longer.


When I look back at her, she smiles.

303
“Thank you so much my Good Samaritan,” she says, her eyes glim-
mering like Christmas lights. “Thank you for giving me your story
to keep me company for the weekend.

I’m sure I’m going to love it,” she flips through the book adoringly
and smiles at it as though reassuring herself that she would love the
story.

Her smiles set me at ease. When I decline her invitation to join her
at her church later in the evening, she just shrugs and says: “Okay,
maybe you would come some other time.”

With my journal clasped tightly in her hand, she kisses my cheek


and hugs me tightly before she saunters out the door. I feel bereft
and I cannot tell if it is the absence of my journal or of Rebekah.
 
Staring forlornly at my empty corner, I know I would lie in bed all
day, thinking about how much I love her and how much I want to
put my stories out there for the world to read.     

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

304
VICTORIA                                                                          
“So, if you know he is married, why are you still with him?”
she asks, her eyes stinging into mine. My tongue sticks to my throat. 

I’d ignored her when she tried to bring up this conversation on


our way back from Steve’s house. I’d diverted her attention to the
money Steve had given her.

“This would go a long way Vic, thank you so much,” she’d said
over and over. But I knew this conversation would bubble up again.

She’d starred fixedly at the pictures on the wall in Steve’s sitting


room. The pictures of him, smiling in a bright green Ankara with
his light skinned innocently charming wife and curiosity-stricken
eyes of his 3 boys, and the baby girl balanced on his laps all having
a perfect life now in Canada.  

Some nights, the wife would call, and he’d ask me if he should take
it. I’d turn and face the wall, pretending to be asleep, and when I
don’t answer, he would switch off his phone. 

“Do you really think Steve loves you?” she asks again. 

Her calmness gets on my nerves. Who does she think she is? Because
she grew up in a perfect family with parents alive and everything
in place, she thinks she can look me in the face and question my
actions.

“I have told you. I don’t want to talk about it, Bekka. Don’t you

305
understand?” I squirm.

She shrinks back and shrugs. “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk
about it. Believe me, I understand. Things are not always the way
they seem. And nobody is perfect.”

“Some of us just have extra doses of imperfections. I mean, look at


you. You have everything at your beck and call.

Your parents would kill for you, you have a perfect life. So here you
are thinking everything is possible. But you have no idea.

You have no idea what it feels like to try to be good in a world


that constantly wants to crumble you,” my voice breaks and I look
away.  

She walks to the window and looks out to the bright evening sun
preparing to go home. She stands there for several minutes, pen-
sive, giving me time to collect my thoughts and calm myself.

“You are no longer running your foundation,” she says, then turns
to look at me, her eyes stained with sunlight shining right through
my heart and breaking down all my walls.

She carries a certain dose of infectious peace that pulls away blan-
kets of your covered emotions. I shake my head.

She throws her hands in the air and takes 2 steps forward. “I will
not say that I know what trauma feels like.

That would be a lie. I can never claim to know what anyone feels.”
She walks over and takes a seat on the sofa right opposite me. “But

306
what I know for sure is that, despite what happens to us, the only
one luxury we always have is of choices.

You would never be able to control all that happens to you, but
you can always decide what to do afterwards.

Everyone faces difficult times. Some people lose a loved one, others
are too caged to live, and some don’t even have enough to live by.

The beauty of this is that some of the greatest people in the world
have had the most difficult lives imaginable.”

She sighs. “There is a woman I love so much. I follow her on social


media and watch her videos online,” she makes a half smile.

“I love to call her my mentor, but I know I may never get the
chance to meet her.

Oprah Winfrey, she’s a talk show host and media entrepreneur.


She’s one of the most influential women in the world.

But you know what, she was abused when she was a teenager, had
a child at 14 who died shortly after birth. But she daunted all that
and today, she inspires millions of people around the world.”

She keeps talking as though making a recitation to an attentive


audience.

“She was born out of wedlock and her parents never got married.

She loves to narrate how her parents just met once under a tree and
she was born. She calls it serendipity.” 

307
The sun turns orange, spraying gentle heat into the room which
battles with the cool breeze lifting the white curtains, causing them
to flow gracefully.

My glass table glimmers and the flowers in the large ceramic vase
by the window dance joyfully.

“I have been abused,” I hear myself whisper, stunned. 

It rings in my head all the time, it torments me in my sleep, it


washes shame over me, it pushes me into deep depression that I
struggle out of by running to the arms of men, to Steve’s house,
to several doses of sleeping pills; but I have never said it out loud.
Now I wonder if that was the right thing to say. 

She looks straight in my eyes, with the same calm written all over
her, her hands on her legs, sitting upright, unmoving, emotionless,
judgement-less, her blank round face prodding me to go on.

“I lost my family in a fire when I was 10,” the words come with a
sudden nausea that makes me want to disappear. 

I can feel the heat on my face. My mother is shouting for Jesus


to forgive our sins, my big brother is shouting for his leg and my
father is saying, “Run outside…” and my sister, she is screaming
too loud.

When I open my eyes, I am holding the windowsills and rending


frightened shrills to the sky. 

Bekka comes up behind me and strokes my trembling back gently.

308
I lower myself to the ground, bringing my knees up to my face and
wrapping my arms around them.

She sits directly opposite me, crossing her legs into a yoga position
and placing her hands on them, her eyes still fixed on me.

There is turmoil inside of me. When I close my eyes, Ben is on me,


thrusting violently, moaning softly and stinking of alcohol. 

“It’s my fault, Bekka. I should have tried to help him. I know I


tried but I just did not do enough.

He was depressed and I should have helped him. So, he started to


come into my room. He did not force me. I thought that if I al-
lowed him to sleep with me, he would be alright.

I thought I was helping him. I wanted to help him because he has


been there for me, for 6 years. But it kept hurting.

I kept supressing the hurt because I thought he’d be alright if I


allowed him. And he never stopped.” I stop talking for several
minutes.

My tears dry up, forming sticky lines mashed with foundation and
mascara.

“Was that… your boyfriend?” she looks on for an answer. 

I inhale deeply and exhale with a sudden jitter. The breeze from the
windows turns icy.

I get off the floor and drag the glass windows closed, all the while,

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followed by Bekka’s sharp eyes and apt attention.

The enclosed sitting room welcomes thick darkness, chased away


by the flashlight on my phone. 

“I have to put on the gen,” I glance at her. “But I have to drop you
at home first.” 

She nods. When I pullover in front of her gate, she looks up at me.
“Vic, you need to understand that everything that has happened to
you is not your fault at all.” 

Shrilling voices flutter in my head. It’s my fault that my family


died.

It’s my fault that my uncle got depressed. It’s my fault that Idy
died.

It’s all my fault. I try to dodge her eyes, but she stares at me until I
have to look up at her, feeling like a vulnerable little child.

“And everyone has choices. If a person did something wrong to


you, it is because they chose to. It has nothing to do with you. It is
not your fault at all.

It is just their decision to act that way,” she says without averting
her eyes. 

“Stop it, Victoria,” she blinks. “Stop giving away yourself. The men,
they don’t deserve it. They don’t deserve you,” she shuffles open
the door, her eyes still fixed on me. “Stop giving away your power.”
I swallow hard pints of tears before I ask: “Can I trust you?”

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“Yes,” she nods. “Yes”.

Before I go to bed, I make three decisions: 

1. To talk to Bekka about my past, 


2. To stop blaming myself, and 
3. To look up Oprah Winfrey.

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JUNE
Life whirls past like a distant dream. And there are times I
actually feel like I am floating through it all, my head too heavy to
carry and faces too blurry to recognise.

Some mornings I’d run into the bathroom and throw up, my head
beating fast against my skull, my body drained of all energy. 

Kay pops into my room with glimmering smiles, but I cannot


return his jocundity. He walks in with a sudden gloom. “What’s
wrong with you, my favourite pumpkin?”

I smile weakly, trying to avert his attention by asking about his


family who’d just landed Port Harcourt yesterday. But he would
not have it.

The dampness on his face threatens to tear me apart so I tell him


I have been ill. 

“Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier, do you think I can bear
it if anything happens to you?” 

“You were too busy; I couldn’t bother you.” 

He throws his hands in the air. “Oh, that’s rubbish.

Do you think I’m doing all these for the British Prime Minister?
If anything happens to you, all these are nonsense. Don’t you un-

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derstand?”

He props my head up on his laps and strokes my face gently with


the back of his fingers.

A sudden urge to jerk away flows through me but I supress it, lying
calm in his arms. When I squeeze my eyes shut, he pulls me into
his huge chest in a warm hug.

“I’m so sorry, my love. I should have had my eyes on you, but I was
too busy. I should never leave you alone.

Your body is so warm. We need to go to the hospital,” he whispers.

I shake my head slowly. “No, I’m fine. I just need to rest,” I mur-
mur, knowing that he would win.

“No baby,” he gets off the bed, slides open my wardrobe and brings
out a flowing blue dress. “This is comfortable enough to wear. Put
it on and I’ll drive you to the hospital right away.”

I do not object. Soon as he leaves the room, I let hot water flow
through my skin and throw on the overbearingly bogus gown.

I watch displeasingly as it sweeps the ground beneath me, but


changing it would feel like defiance to his order. So, I amble along,
the hem of the dress following obediently behind me. 

Downstairs, Jason, Stanley and Uko, along with their wives sit
around the living room with a bowl of popcorn, bottles of Baileys
and prolonged smiles plastered on their faces, starring amusedly at
Kevin Hart in one of Madea’s hilarious series on TV.

313
They give me a quick glance and fast greetings and I respond as
fast, savouring the unusual airiness that flows through the drawn
curtains and opened glass doors.

Julie turns to me. “Would you like to have something? We made…”

“They made all kinds of things, my stomach is still flowing from


the porridge I had last night,” Jason cuts in and the others break
out with laughter.

I give a weak smile, my voice too small compared to the roar in the
room. “I’m fine. I’d have something later.”

“You’d better,” Stanley says. “It’s too early to have your stomach
mashed up,” they laugh again, and I slip away ghostly.

“Hey babe,” Kay jumps into the car beside me, smelling of tooth-
paste and freshly worn cologne.

“You know, I’m going to just drop you at the hospital and get back,
so we can drive to PH to get my family,” he shoots me a wide grin,
almost bumping the steering with his palms as he swings it in glee. 

“I’ve not seen those guys in 2 years. I just cannot wait. You would
love my kid sisters.

They have trouble moulded into those cute faces you see in pictures
and videos.

They are a pain; a sweet pain though,” he beams.


I manage frequent smiles, trepidation building up as I try to imag-

314
ine what could be wrong with me. 

“Babe you look so worried,” he says when he drives into the hospital.
He looks at me tenderly, taking my fingers into his mouth.

He sucks at them excitingly and kisses my palm, then places it on


his face. “I wish I could stay here with you, but I have to…” he sighs.

“It’s not like I’m too busy to be there for you, you know how im-
portant this is for us.”

“It’s alright, Kay. I can hold up until you get back. You are doing
a lot already.”

He kisses my forehead and waves until I walk into the building. His
cousin, Kuseme who owns the hospital receives me in a warm hug.

“Bride to be, abadie?” “I’m fine.” 

He gives me a chatty grin, makes quick orders to nurses and holds


my hand until we get into his cold office.

My heart cuts when he says: “You need to have a pregnancy test,”


his bold eyes tearing through my skin and sending balls of sweat to
my forehead. “…because from what you are telling me, Miss Jacob,
we really have to be sure,” he smiles wryly.

“But you know, having a pregnancy test doesn’t necessarily mean


you are pregnant, unless of course the results say so.”

I start to tremble in my seat.


There is no way I can be pregnant. Kay has never touched me since

315
I met him, and I have barely said a word to any other man.

My eyes burn crimson and the room deflates as though it would


squeeze me to death.

“Relax my dear,” his soft eyes flicker. “I’m sure nothing has gone
wrong. You are in safe hands here. And I know my brother.

He would stand by you no matter what happens. I’m sure he’d be


glad, you know,” his smile lingers.

And now I wish I had crawled up nude on Kay. I wish I had made
him let down his guards and have me. But how could I when I have
been too frightened to even let him put his hands on me. 

Kuseme does not understand this, so he is all smiles when he hands


the positive test results to me hours later.

I stare at the papers until my tears drop in large circles on it, until
my hands shake, until I cannot hold myself together.

His face squares in. “It’s not so bad, my dear. At least, you two are
planning a wedding. These things happen. I will talk to my brother.
He will be glad about this, you’ll see.”

As he says this, I up and rush to him like a lunatic. “Don’t say


anything to him,” I shriek, my chest heaving.

He opens his mouth in an ‘o’ shape then closes it back.

“Don’t!” I repeat before I storm out of the hospital with the papers

316
held incongruously in my hands.

The house is comfortably quiet when I drag my heavy legs in. The
only sound audible are the squeak of birds and the gentle rise and
fall of my mother’s breath.

I savour the silence as I let my feet fall heavy on the steps.

I will finally have to tell Kay about Sunny. I feel the pain every day,
but I’d thought it would live in me until it dies off. Shame glues to
my skin as the memories flash aggressively.

I had walked into Sunny’s car, smiled at him in his house, and lay
quiet in his bed. I was drunk, I know. But it’s my fault. He did not
force me. I let him do it.

I hate myself. I hate myself so much; I want to go round to the


balcony, and jump all the way down.

I want to get into the kitchen and drive one of those sharp knives
through my stomach. I want to get into my mother’s room and
throw in every single drug until I wring my stomach to death. 

Maybe here is when Kay would finally squash me in his palm. This
is when he would strangle me to death.

All that affection, they would slip away, and he would see me for
the dirty stinking worthless slut that I am. 

I will never be able to stand the gall in his eyes when he finds out,
so I run down the stairs and into the kitchen.
Then I throw a sachet of detergent in a cup, pour water into it

317
and stir with a spoon, waiting for the courage to empty it into my
stomach.

Tears trail the corner of my eyes and my heart twitches. When I


close my eyes, all I can see is my father’s smiling face.

“I’m coming, daddy,” I whisper. “I’m coming to meet you,


Superman Daddy.”

A thick cold slithers through me. If I drink from this cup in my


hand, I will die. Not only will I die, I will kill the baby growing
inside of me.

A gnawing hate grows deep within me, for the child and for me
too.

A shudder passes through my veins as I put the cup to my mouth


and take a sip. The content burns through my mouth and settles
dryly in my stomach.

The baby moves inside of me. Upstairs, my mother starts to cough,


and my phone shrills.

Maybe they can feel it. Maybe they can feel the life of someone they
love coming to an end.

Maybe they can feel it the way I fell ill on the day my father died.

The doctor said it was malaria and typhoid, but I knew that what I
felt was a disconnection from life.

It was a disconnection from everything that mattered to me. My

318
father was being blown up, scattered into pieces and I could feel
every bit of it. 

My mother is coughing more loudly now, the baby is kicking more


violently.

I take countless gulps and feel the liquid slide down my intestines,
burning like the fire of a blown-up aeroplane.

 
 
 
 
 

319
 

VICTORIA  

“I’ve been calling her for months now and she never takes
the calls,” I say to Bekka after dialling June’s number twice. Its late
afternoon and we have been talking all day.

My chest heaves. I have let it out. We changed positions over a


hundred times. We’d break to have tea, to have cornflakes, to pour
in more wine, or to just be quiet. 

I started from the little love in my family, from the contentment of


a humble childhood, to the day I lost it all in the fire, then about
Udo. It took very long before I could mention Ben.

But I did. I did and I expected her to gasp, but she just starred
coolly at me, blank faced, nodding slightly as though I was giving
a detailed account of a serious movie. 

The only thing I am unable to mention is Simi. It was a pact be-


tween Ben and me. Even though my heart hammers horribly at the
thought of it, my lips remain glued.

She’d reached out and grabbed my hand softly when I talked about
the men. Then I felt light when I talked about Steve.

My eyes brightened when I mentioned that he’d given me the white


car, and he has paid for a trip to Dubai for next Christmas.
But her expression remained the same. “Maybe you should go over

320
and see her,” she says now.

“She is no longer at Essence boutique. When I asked, they told me


she just stopped coming.”

“She is alright,” she says.

“This is the same way I felt when Victoria died,” I tell her. “I always
have the hunch, the grave feeling when something bad happens.

And every time I feel this way, I’d call to check up on everyone I
know. But June, she never takes the calls. So, it leaves me the more
agitated.”

She sighs. “You are a great person, Vic. You have a calling on your
life.”

“I know,” I say. “I am drawn to helping people, especially girls. We


carry about so much emotional distraught the world would never
understand.”

She places her warm palm on the back of my hand and squeezes it
softly. Then her face becomes clouded.

“I don’t want you to keep living like this. Living a life of purpose is
hard enough. And when you keep giving away yourself, it becomes
more herculean.” 

I get up and pace the living room. Then I sit on the arm of the sofa,
taking a sip from the glass of wine.

The AC purrs furiously and everything stares expectantly at me. 

321
I shake my head. “I cannot let go of Steve,” the words surprise me.

“He is all I’ve got. I am too attached to him I cannot be with some-
one else.

What am I supposed to tell him? That I just woke up one morning


to realise the woes of having a relationship with a married man or
that… what?” 

My heart thumps loud, gripped by a defiant fear.

I cannot get Steve’s infectious smiles out of my head. I cannot keep


the feel of his warm hands off my skin. I cannot escape the luxury. 

“You were surviving just fine before you met Steve,” Bekka looks
straight in my eyes.

“And you will be perfectly fine without him. Think back on all the
people in your life that were almost indispensible.

Come on, you are stronger than that, Vikky. You are the one that
left Lagos by yourself, came all that distance away from your uncle.

You were with Ben for 6 years and you thought he was all you got,
but you left, and you are still alive,” she narrows her eyes. “Do you
really think anyone is indispensable?”

“But he has been so good to me.”

“Because he wants something from you, and he is getting it.


It is called manipulation. Steve knows the things that you desper-

322
ately need, and he uses those as bait to rope you in. And it’s so
subtle you would barely notice.

It’s not money. Some men would throw money in your face and
once you see more money, you would get bored.

But some of them know a little more than that. They know that
you need the love, affection, a father figure.

They capitalize on your need to have a man in your life, that pro-
tection.

They know how to capitalize on your weakness, insecurities, a lack


in your life and they tempt you with these things.

You can barely recognise this because you are all roped in. It’s sub-
tle, it’s manipulative.

If Steve really loves you, he would not sleep with you, because
check it, he would not stand it, if a man, double his daughter’s age
gets even an inch close to her.”

“These men, they would protect the ones they really love, and they
would destroy others.

Has Steve ever had a conversation with you about your future? Has
he asked about your foundation and why it’s not running anymore,
has he spoken with you about the things you are passionate about?

He would never talk about those things.

He never wants you out of his grip. He wants you to remain in his

323
harem and he would do anything to keep you in, even if it means
licking your feet every morning.”

I squeeze the glass in my hand until it cracks. Hurling it across the


room, I watch it shatter against the white wall, turning it bright red.

Then I swing off the sofa and start to pace again, this time, sobbing
and whispering to myself that Steve loves me. 

Bekka places her hands on my shoulders when I finally drop my-


self on the glass table in the middle of the room. “It’s alright,” she
repeats until I stop crying.

“It is time for a fresh start,” she draws her face close to mine. “The
thing is, God actually wants to be that father to you.

God is the only one that can love you unconditionally. It never
hurts, you know.”

I close my eyes when she asks to say a prayer with me. Her voice
rings through my being and calms me.

It reminds me of the times my mother would hold my both hands


to pray when she was troubled. My mother used to say that God
always answers the prayers of children. So, she would have me pray
with her all the time. 

“How are you sure that God can hear you and that he would an-
swer?” I ask when we end the prayers and open our eyes. “I mean,
he should be a really busy man you know.”

She smiles. “He is man enough to understand everything that hap-

324
pens in this world, and he is God enough to be timeless, boundless
and limitless.

He is everywhere, and he is in your heart,” she stares into my eyes


until I can see my damp face in her pupil. “How do you feel?” she
asks.

“At peace,” I say.  She smiles at me. The smile is so bright it shines
into my heart with simmering heat that melts every stone that has
blocked my own sincere smile.

So, for the first time in a long time, I smile, and I mean it.

“God loves you,” she says.

I throw my head back and laugh. “I don’t know what that means,
Bekka. I don’t know what love means.”

“Well, you have to ask God. Because in his word he says, ‘God is
love’.

So, if he is love, he alone can explain what that means. Go ahead


and ask him.”

I run to the window in glee and scream. “God what does love
mean?” then I start to laugh again. She laughs too.

And this picture sticks to my brain – the picture of me laughing


genuinely from my heart and Bekka laughing back at me, sun-
shine streaming from the window, spraying colourful glitters on
her black face.
I laugh until my sides cave, until my teeth quiver. 

325
I laugh until the tears start to fall, until they stop falling, until I
know that I truly will be alright.

326
JUNE
When I open my eyes, Kay is looking down at me with
damp bloodshot eyes. He sniffles and wipes his face with his long
thin fingers.

I squeeze my eyes shut and look away. He takes my fingers to his


lips, planting a wet kiss and holding it there until I turn to look
at him.

A threatening question glimmers in his eyes. I know what the ques-


tion is. I know what it is, and I am not ready to answer. 

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

He sniffles even more, his chest rising and falling heavily. “What
happened?” he asks voicelessly. “Am I not enough for you? We
did not meet in the best of ways, but I have given you everything
because I love you.

I love you so much sometimes I think it’s just crazy. I cannot ex-
plain it, but there is something inside of me that feels perfect when
I’m with you.” 

He let’s go of my hand and walks to the lone seat beside the bed.

“You could have just said you did not want to marry me. You could
have said no.”

327
I shake my head as hot tears trickle down the corners of my eyes. “I
love you, Kay. I want to be with you.”

“Then why did you do it?” he rages, his eyes frighteningly hot.

“Because I didn’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to cause you any
pain, Kay. You don’t deserve a girl like me.

You have a perfect life and I do not fit into it. I do not fit in with
you, Kay.”

I watch the nerves on his neck and upper arm tighten. He drops
himself on the chair, his eyes glued to me. “Is there something you
want to tell me?”

I open my mouth to speak but my body turns numb.

 
 

328
UYAI
The surprise on her face is unmistakable when she says:
“This story is so unbelievably familiar, Uyai.”

We are taking a walk from the prefab hostels on the main campus,
through the small gate.

If we turn left, we would be heading towards the SUG secretariat


which is called community centre, and if we go right, we would
be leaving the main campus through the main gate, towards the
annex. 

We turn right. On the wall outside the gate, there are posters of
political aspirants, students’ organisations and church programs.

And there is Bekka, smiling in an all-white poster with blue inscrip-


tions and a perfectly designed art: “Making a difference…”  

I stare back at her poster until we walk to the road. She does not
look. She is greeting people on the way.

She would wait and shake hands firmly, bubbling with smiles and
listening attentively when they bring up gist.

Then she would politely ask to leave and sometimes would be made
to spend more time than necessary. She knows almost everyone, she
smiles with all of them, and they love her.

We walk to the law garden, a little cubicle behind the law faculty

329
covered by a large tree that forms a comfortable shade for couples
as well as students who just want to catch up. 

“We have to publish that story, Uyai. It’s too beautiful,” she says
when we settle on a stone seat under the tree.

I gasp. “I can’t, Bekka. Nobody’s going to read it.”

“Well let’s put it out first before we decide if someone is going to


read it or not,” she utters dismissively.

I want to argue but I am short of words. 

“You see, I don’t just love the story because it is very similar to my
life, I love it because it is an inspiring story.

It is a story of possibilities. It shows that it is possible to have a


dream and chase it till it becomes reality.

Many people don’t believe this. It shows the power that women
have to change their lives and to change the lives of others. It is
liberating.”

“Your life is more inspiring, Bekka,” I say. “You are the one who
is liberating. You are the one who radiates possibility. I knew you
before I met you.” 

She stares perplexedly at me. “Well I know I’ve been saying


everything is possible, but how?” 

“I started out trying to write about Deborah in the bible, about her
courage, about her power. And then I met you and you were the

330
very same person I had in my head. The Deborah in my head had
your black round face, your deep dimples, your natural hair, your
glowing back eyes.

When I met you, I could recognise you. I knew you before you
came to my room,” I smile at her awed cheeks.

“It was a pleasant coincidence, you know. I followed you, and I


wrote down everything I saw and everything I thought.”

She shakes her head slowly. “Amazing things happen.”

I can feel my inside bubble, and my love for her grows even deeper.

She opens her round dark-brown lips to speak and stops when a
stout figured boy walks up to us.

“Rebekah how-far?” the boy hails.

Bekka smiles at him. “Ifiok, I’m fine. How you dey?”

“You and this your smile,” he says. “You think you can deceive me.
You have not come to consult me.

Do you know who I am in this school?” he settles his books stuck


in his armpit, then with the other arm, he gesticulates aggressively,
his frame solidly fixed on the ground, carried by short firm legs
with feet in perfectly worn out brown shoes. 

“You are smiling. You think you can deceive everyone in this school
with your white teeth. It’s not me.
It’s because you don’t know who I am. In 2009 I was the one that

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delivered the SUG president. I singlehandedly gave him 600 votes
across all faculties,” he looks stern and authoritative as he speaks.

“Ifiok but I have told you that I would consult you alongside your
faculty when the time comes,” Bekka says.

Ifiok beats his chest. “Consult me alongside who? A whole me, the
kingmaker, the Escobar of this school, you want to lump me up
with my faculty.

It’s like you don’t know what you are doing. It’s like you want to
fail this election. It is hard enough that you are just a woman, dar-
ing to drink from the cup of men and you are not even loyal; you
are not asking the right questions.” 

He points his finger up at her. “I give you one week to come to me


with your drink and foundation.

If not, bet me and see; you will not have up to 100 votes in this
school,” he stretches forth his hand, his stiff palm facing the sky.
“Bet me and see. You will lose this election. I’m telling you.”

Bekka looks sternly at him. “First of all, I am not JUST a woman.


Secondly, you cannot speak with me so disrespectfully. Do you
understand?” 

She creases her forehead, heat rising up in her eyes. “I don’t have an
idea who you are Ifiok, but if you are really that high and mighty,
you would learn how to talk to people.

This election is not in your hands whether you singlehandedly


delivered all the SUG presidents or not. You cannot determine the

332
outcome of this election. Once again, I will consult you when the
time comes, alongside other stakeholders in your faculty. Have a
nice day.” She dismisses him with her eyes and then turns to me as
though he was non-existent.

Other students at the garden start to jeer at Ifiok, some of them just
laugh. One of the students, shout: “The Escobar!” 

He snaps his finger. “We’ll see,” he thunders and walks away, shoul-
ders sagged.

I turn to look at her and all the heat is gone. What is left is the soft
smiling Bekka that I am in love with. “Aren’t you scared that you
would lose his support?” I ask her

“Uyai I know that I need all the support I can get right now, but
that doesn’t mean I cannot put Ifiok in his place.

That I need support will never rip me off my power, self-respect or


ability to speak up for myself. If Ifiok needed me to consult him or
if he feels that he has something to contribute to my campaign, he
should have said so more politely and not come up to me like an
unmannered person.”

She sighs and says in passing: “Those are the kind of guys that
would insist you consult them alone in their rooms.”

Then she makes a short hiss and yawns. “Babe I’m hungry. How
far, let’s walk to the cafeteria please.”

As I walk side by side with Bekka, I feel her values and strength
seep into me. I am emboldened to stand up for myself when I have

333
to. Only I am not sure if I want my book published yet, or if I can
even afford it. When I ask her how we would get the money to have
it published, she looks tenderly at me.

“Uyai, we are going to publish this book even if it means using the
money for my campaign to get it done.

I will take this up as my own project,” she winks. “Any other ob-
jection?” she says in mocking authority. When I don’t respond,
she says: “Objection overruled,” and pats me gently on the cheek.
“Madam Writer,” teases.

I exhale deeply and allow myself to step into Bekka’s power, and
grace, and elegance. I allow myself to lend her courage and all that
she represents. And I believe that everything is possible.

334
 

JUNE 
The day I found out Kay is my cousin, I had woken up in
high spirits. I was greeted with a kiss on my forehead and led to the
table for a family breakfast.

Stanley and Julie had come along with their adorable 4-year old,
Sarah who shimmered her teeth in brilliant giggles and talked in
animated excitement her face shone in the brightness of a beautiful
morning.

Kendara and Kenti, Kay’s sisters never stopped arguing, but this
only caused more amusement as their mother has to act the medi-
ator several times over.

Even Kay spoke more often than he normally would with a voice
enthused with a mixture of affection and mirth.

My mother sat firmly beside me, smiling intermittently and mak-


ing a knowing eye contact with Etima, Kay’s mother.

It’s amazing to find that my mother can connect so easily with


another person. They had instantly become good friends, chatting
at every opportunity and sometimes sprawled on the leather seat
placed outside for the purpose of their bonding.

They shared reminiscences of childhood, motherhood and hus-


band-issues-hood. When my mom passes a smile across the table,

335
my heart twitches and I want that smile to last forever. 

It was a dream-come-true. Kay and I were going to be married in 3


weeks. The wedding was family-and-friends-planned.

We collectively chose everything. From the colours of the day


which caused a heated argument between the bent-on-pink-and-ox-
blood Kendara and the purple-and-white-loving Kenti. We picked
white, with a touch of pink.  

“Big grandma!” Sarah shrilled at Etima, her eyes stars-twinkling.

“Why do your children’s names start with the letter ‘k’?” we all
broke with laughter both at the wit of such observation and the
mirth with which she displayed her knowledge. 

Kendara turned to her affectionately. “Wouldn’t you like your


name to start with the letter ‘k’ too?” she asked, her face touching
Sarah’s happy cheeks in a kiss.

Sarah shrieked, revealing deep hollow dimples. “No! I love my


name, Sarah. Mommy says my name means princess. I’m a prin-
cess, right Mommy?”

“Of course, you are a princess my darling,” Julie said to her bubbly
daughter. We all smiled at her and continued munching our meal
in excitement.

The days had been full of activities, planning, fun and so much
love. I don’t remember the last time I was filled with such gaiety.
Kay made the world feel like a paradise.
He’d showered me with so much attention. He had started to sleep

336
up in my room so that he would attend to me if I needed anything
in the night. He would lay his head on my tommy and smile or
make a joke.

It was totally unbelievable that a man could be so accepting and


affectionate to an unborn child which he knew did not belong to
him. Kay is unbelievably amazing.

The wedding was going to hold on a Saturday morning at St. Jo-


seph Catholic Church and the reception would be back home with
the family and Kay’s friends. I had the picture all over my head. It
was going to be the happiest day of my life.
 
I have fallen in love with Kay. It is different from what I know love
to be; it’s like leaning in and allowing yourself to be loved without
any active contribution of yours.

It is that love that makes you smile in your sleep; that keeps you at
peace all through the day; and the love that keeps you on your toes
watching closely to ensure you don’t burst it open like a balloon. 

My heart flew about in glee as I watched my mother start a conver-


sation with Kay, as I watched them flow as though they had been
friends, all their lives. It was like a dream I was unwilling to wake
from.

Then Sarah asked in a sullen voice as though in preparation for


what would happen next: “Mummy, why do Kendara and Kenti eat
their garri with fork and knife?

Yesterday when we had editan soup for lunch, they refused to use
their hands,” the sincere concern on her cute face cracked us up

337
the more.

“It’s because Kendara and Kenti are ajebutter,” Stanley said amidst
giggles.

“Daddy what is ajebutter?” she asked with a puzzled look, dropping


her spoon in her plate as she looked on for an answer.

We all looked up at him as he struggled to swallow a chunk of meat


in his mouth before speaking. We waited and waited until it finally
happened. 

Etima’s phone rang. 

Her phone rang and her face went twisted. Rage painfully sat on the
same spot on her smooth dark face where happiness had dwelled
just seconds before. “It’s your father,” she whispered to Kay, fum-
ing.

“I have no idea what he wants this time. Why would he just not
leave me alone?” the phone rang to a stop and then started again.

“Take the call, mom,” Kay said. And now I wish he did not. Because
what you don’t know cannot kill you, right?

She slid through the phone with her thumb and put it to her left
ear gingerly, then dragged her seat. She walked to the sofa in the
sitting room, but she was too loud we could hear the animosity in
her voice.

“Sunday Jacob, what do you want from me this time… yes my son
is getting married and so what… he is my son and I have every right

338
to take decisions about him… where have you been all these years…
you think you can abandon your children to carry out your politi-
cal bullshit and then appear out of the blue as a proud father… we
are divorced for Christ sake… no you are not coming over to the
house… if you get an inch close to this house, I promise you, I will
call the police…” she starts to yell.

Kay got up and stood by her side, stroking her shaking shoulders
softly. Etima sunk her face in his chest for comfort. “I would not
let him destroy my family. I need to call my lawyer…” she looked
up at her son and whispered: “He says he’s coming here.”

Stone-faced, Kay lowered his mother gently to the sofa and shot
us a laboured smile. “Seems we are about to have an unwelcomed
visitor,” then to our puzzled faces he added: “He’s not that much
trouble. I can handle it.”

The short epistle I’d heard about their father was how he cheated
on their mother and she filed a divorce after she found out. Kay
was 10 and his sisters 2 years old. They moved to the US after the
divorce, and never made contact with him.

“He was never an available father anyway. I lived with him for 10
years and barely knew him.

He’d leave the house early and come back when we’ve all gone
to bed. I swore never to be a politician when my father started to
come home drunk, and sometimes, he would not be home at all.
The fights became endless and unbearable.

So, mum called it quit.” He had gotten too emotional and I never
asked about it again. I never even asked who the father was. Their

339
mother had changed their names alongside hers to her maiden
name. So, he was gone for good, except that he was on his way to
‘witness’ his son’s marriage.

For some reason, my heart started to thump loud. I had no reason


to be worried. But somewhere in my tommy, a deep pit was being
dug and kept widening as time closed in.

We all stopped eating, stopped laughing and sat waiting in the


sitting room. Even Sarah became quiet, clinging jealously on her
father’s legs.

The nock came with a familiar voice. Then the hole in my stomach
began to cave, my heart sank, and my voice caught in my throat. I
wanted so much to scream when he appeared at the door, potbel-
lied, black-faced and ball-round. 

“Well I did not come for anything much. I just want to give my
son my blessings before he gets married,” he beamed that dubious
sweetness. That same voice he had used on the Sunday I first met
him. It was that same tone of treachery.

My mom’s bewilderment was unmistakable. Her voice shook when


she said almost inaudibly: “Sunny!” staring at him as though he
were a ghost. She looked animatedly from him to his ex-wife and
children and back to him.

She seemed to carefully avoid my face. It was the same look she had
when she was going to tell me about my father’s death; that look of
horror and disappointment and guilt.

Kay got up amidst the awkwardness. He shot his hand for a hand-

340
shake and his father drew him in a stiff hug. “Nice to meet you
again, man.”

Sunny sat down, avoiding my eyes as though I were a dragon drip-


ping with flames. This infuriated me so much it was difficult to
even swallow my own saliva. I got up and ran to the restroom to
throw up. 

When I got back, he was saying: “So who is the lucky bride?” his
face fixed on Julie.

I stand unmoving, resting on the wall behind Etima. Kay looked


up at me. “Say hello to my father, love.” 

I squeezed my face so hard I was afraid I may have looked like a


monster. Sunny finally looked at me, then shook his head. “She
can’t be your wife,” he laughed tautly.

The room fell quiet. I could not bear the guile in my heart any
longer, so I charged to the middle of the room. Fuming, I shrieked:
“You are so shameless, Sunday!” I screamed into his face until ev-
eryone came up to hold me. 

“This is so impossible. This man cannot kill my joy again. I cannot


allow him to take everything from me.

I cannot let him win this time. Go away, Sunday. Go away!” And as
I shouted, I wished I had simmered with that much rage on the day
his huge body pinned me to his bed. I closed my eyes and I could
hear his gloating moans, and this enraged me the more.

Julie excused herself silently and walked her daughter outside. Then

341
her car engine raved and she was gone. Little Sarah should not be
contaminated with such chaos.

But she still will grow into this wicked world. I was once caged like
that. My father would not have let my feet touch the ground if he
had the power to.

He would have gladly laid a golden carpet for me to walk on, but
here I am, exposed to the world, ripped of innocence and happi-
ness.

Kay got so mad he nearly pounced on his father. When all hell had
let loose and he realized Kay knew what he’d done to me, Sunny
shamefully ran into his car and drove to his death.

I would never have wished for him to die, but the news had rushed
a secret delight through my veins.

Kay had insisted the wedding went on, but I knew it would never
be the same again because he could barely look me in the face. I
don’t know what bothered him the most; that I am pregnant, that
I am pregnant for his father, or that I am his cousin? 

He stopped kissing me on the forehead. He stopped smiling at me.


He could not even smile at all. He would look at me for hours
without uttering a word.

After the days dragged on agonisingly, his mother announced that


they were all moving back to the US.

“Don’t worry, J-girl. We will keep in touch surely. K-daddy needs a


new environment to get himself back. You can have the house and

342
the car; everything here is yours.

We would also wire you some money. Please make sure you take
care of your mother and the baby.

Take care of yourself too my dear. That is how life is, some things
just happen that way. We can never predict or decide the things we
face in life. We just have to move on.” 

I’d breathed deeply into her soothing breast as she drew me into
a motherly hug. Kendara and Kenti clung to me. “I’ll miss you so
much,” they said in turns. “I’ll miss you too,” I said.

My mom took turns to hug everyone. Then eyes turned to Kay and
me. We looked at each other, but my legs refused to move.

We stood there until the moment passed. And before long, they
were hauling their things into the car outside. 

Now, I am at the airport, saying goodbye to my love. I am saying


goodbye to Kay. And for the first time after the incident, Kay hugs
me.

He hugs me so tight it’s as though I disappear into his body as I


feel him tremble.

He clings to me, weeping like a child until his mother rubs his back
gently and he pulls away. 

“I was trying to avoid the tears,” he says, dragging his puffy face in
a pained smile.
“It’s okay to cry my dear,” Etima says and my tears flow in obedi-

343
ence.

When I watch them walk off, I suddenly feel bereft. I stand here
alone, weeping and watching my life slip away. My father was
blown away in an airport, and in an airport, my love is flown away.

I have to take measured steps to keep my shaking legs from throw-


ing me on the ground.

When something starts to feel good, it always goes away. Some-


thing bad must always happen.

It is not possible to have a lasting love or happiness. Something


bad must happen and it will all be ripped off you.

My eyes are clogged red with tears. So, I hover through the airport,
car keys dangling through my fingers, phone slipping off my hand.

I am about to stumble over when a hand catches me. “Are you


alright?”  

344
VICTORIA
I drive slowly into the estate, hoping for enough time to
think. I am going to break up with Steve.

I have cooked up words in my head and re-cooked them all-over. I


have no idea how to do this, but I know it is the right thing.

I drive past a box-shaped blue duplex with tall flowers shooting


through the fence.

On the balcony, a lone wooden table sits expectantly, carrying an


abandoned wine glass. The chandeliers gleam in the sun, shooting
sparkles on the coated glass windows.  

I stare fixedly, moulding up in my imagination the picture of the


owner of the house. He is comfortably wealthy, with a daughter
about my age.

She would probably be watching TV now, lying on her large bed


with her phone stuck close to her face or reading a book at the
poolside. 

She has a father who affords everything she needs. She is soft and
cared for. She would never have to sleep with a man for money or
fall in love with a married man.

She would not, because when she comes of age, the son of a wealthy
man like her father would kiss the back of her hand and sweep her

345
off her feet. 

A thought shoots through my mind as though from an external


source. “Victoria, no one is perfect.”

I shake my head in disbelieve as the voice gets louder. It reminds


me of a man in the Bible who was born blind.

After Jesus had healed him, his disciples asked if the man’s blind-
ness was as a result of his sins or the sins of his parents, and Jesus
said: “…but this happened so that the works of God might be dis-
played in him.” 

As I turn into Steve’s street, my phone rings. 

“Hey Vikky!” Bekka shrieks.


“What sup?”
“I’m super dope!” she chimes. “Where are you?” 
“Nowhere in particular.” 
She waits on for more explanation. When none comes, she says:
“Okay, I just wanted to say hi. And I have something to show you.”
“What?” 
“Something very interesting...”
“What is it, Beck?” 

She chuckles. “So, you cannot handle a little suspense.

Since you are so eager to know, will you come to school now so I
can show you?”

“I’m not free now. Just go ahead and tell me.”


“Calm down. Didn’t you say you are nowhere in particular just

346
now?” 

“Fine. You win.” 


“Yes!” She clatters. “Hall 3, main campus.”
“Yes, madam president.”

When I look up from my phone, I am in front of Steve’s house


and immediately, I am ripped off all morale. I decide to buy myself
more time, grateful for Bekka’s call. 

I want to close this chapter and never open it again. Only, I will do
it another day. 

347
JUNE
I rummage my closet for something perfect to wear. We are
going to meet at our usual spot. I don’t have an idea what it would
be like seeing Dave again. I’d stopped taking his calls and before
long, he stopped calling. 

My heart did not flutter when I read his message. He said he’s back
for a holiday and would love to see me. I did not feel ripples in
my stomach when I read the last part: “I have missed you so much,
my love”.

I am afraid because I don’t know how I will tell Dave that I don’t
feel anything. I don’t know what I’d say when he says: “I love you”
and looks on for a reply.

Maybe it is a bad idea to see Dave. Maybe I should keep shutting


him out. I can’t face him. I am awash with the feeling of failure. I
failed our love. 

I dress and undress several times, throwing clothes all over the
bed. If I wear a tight gown, my protruding tummy would be too
obvious.

And if I wear a jean it would be too uncomfortable. I rest my ex-


hausted back on the bed.

Through the sliding closet door, I see my fluffy body. I am the


colour of ripe banana with hollow stretch marks on the sides of

348
my waist and on my full breasts. My tummy shoots out as though
I have a hard coconut in it. 

If he sees this shooting tommy, he would find out everything and


he would hate me. No, I won’t let that happen.

I cannot let him look me in the face and reject me. I cannot stand
that. 

Randy said he was going to call me. He had reached out to catch
me when I tripped at the airport.

He had gotten in the car and driven me home. And this time, he
was not evasive. He told me to hold on for the sake of my future.

He said something about how my life is supposed to be an inspira-


tion to the world. I had looked in his eyes and found hope. Maybe
that’s why I’m still alive.

When my phone rings, I am afraid it is Dave. My mind instantly


builds up several excuses. Maybe I’ll tell him I just fell ill, or my
mother needs my attention, or I have work to do. 

I glance at the shrilling phone. It is Randy. The calm in his voice


swallows me up like the fish swallowed Jonah.

In the captivity of his enveloping serenity, I say: “Yes, I’m coming


right away.”

349
 

UYAI 
A tall girl with a slim stomach and round hips beautifully
adorned in a light blue ripped jean appears in my corner. 

Her silver earrings sprinkle a bright sparkle into my eyes.

“So, what’s the surprise now, madam president?” her voice rings
out in feigned contempt.

Bekka shoots out my journal, and then withdraws it swiftly with a


giggle. “Wait, first things first, this is my friend Uyai. She is a very
beautiful writer.

Vic you won’t believe it, she actually wrote a book about me before
even meeting me.”

Vic creases her forehead and narrows her eyes. “Can I at least sit
down first? Gosh this place is so hot,” she blows air on her face
with a wave of her fingers. “You say the book did what?”

Bekka shoots the book at her again. “Here, have a look. It’s a story
I think you’d really love.”

The exhaustion on Vic’s face makes me want to rip the book off her
hands and hide it under my pillow.

She flips through it, physically straining to keep herself from tear-
ing off a sheet to use as fan. She turns to me. “Nice to meet you,

350
madam writer.” 

Bekka starts to chatter about how great the story is and how im-
portant it would be to girls if there was a book like this that can
inspire them to bring out their greatness. 

Vic finally gives in to the urge, blowing air on herself with the jour-
nal. “This hostel is so stuffy.

How on God’s earth are students supposed to survive jam-packed


in a tiny room like this,” she turns to Bekka. “So, madam presi-
dent, who is Deborah?”

“Deborah is a woman in the Bible who was a prophetess and also


led an army to war. She signifies the strength of a woman,” I chip
in before Bekka speaks.

“That’s nice. I know who Deborah in the Bible is. I just don’t un-
derstand the connection between Deborah and Bekka.”

“That’s what I’m telling you now. The story is about me. You know
what, I think you should just go home and read it.

You would understand. I really want the book to be published and


I know you would like it too.”

She stares long at the book and then up at Bekka. “I’ll read it.”
Bekka shrieks and grabs her in a lingering hug.

My heart skips. She turns to me. “You’ll see; this book will be out
there. I’m so proud of you.”
Another reason Bekka should be president: Bekka is that leader that

351
believes in you long before you ever think that you are any good.

Bekka is that person that would bring you up and connect you
with other great people.

Bekka would never give up on you.

“So, Vic, one more thing,” she says.

Vic rolls her eyes and Bekka giggles. “My church is having a movie
night this Friday. We are watching Akheela and the bee. It’s a very
inspiring movie...”

Vic stares at Bekka for some seconds. Then a smile forms on her
small lips. “How are you always so happy?” 

Bekka laughs. “Just say you are coming for the movie.” 

Vic sighs. “Fine. You know you always win.”

352
JUNE
His house has the feel of a 4D cinema. He is sited in his
white sofa, starring aptly into his 84-inches LCD TV when I tap
lightly on the door and walk in.

There is a sense of foreignness that fills the air and filters into me
the fragrance of the air-freshener hung on the wall above the TV.

By the sofa, there is a short stack of books above which hangs an


acrylic painting of him.

His apple Mac book changes into faces of Nelson Mandela and
Albert Einstein and then Steve Jobs.

The living room is crammed with books, artworks, gadgets, video


games and cassettes. He is comfortably dressed in a grey singlet,
and white trousers with pink feminine slippers that lie peacefully
on the dark blue rug.

The centre table has papers scattered about, his apple laptop, en-
velops, books, a bottle of honey, a mug, bottles of water, handbills
and other scraps of useful items that could have easily been ar-
ranged properly in a cupboard.

I take a seat on the sofa adjacent him after saying a silent “Hello”.
He turns and smiles at me, his teeth glittering and his eyes reflect-
ing the dimly lit pink and blue florescent lights.

“How did you get here so fast?” he asks, the gentle smile still ca-

353
ressing his face.

“I live very close.”

His face saunters off the TV and fixes straight on me. “You are
beautiful,” he says, and heat rises up my stomach and settles on my
cheek. I sit upright, unable to breathe properly.

“So, how are you?” he says after I remain silent for too long.
“I’m fine,” I say. “And you?”

He throws his hands. “So so… we’re doing our thing,” he glances at
me. “What would you like to have?” 

I shake my head. “Nothing.” “Are you sure?”

I nod.

“Okay, I made smoothie though, in case you change your mind,”


he goes into the room and comes back with a big jug and 2 glasses.
“It’s just carrots, pineapple and ginger.” 

He sets it carefully on the table. “It’s really good to have you here
June.” 

As my eyes stare back at him, the memory of the first time I met
him floods my mind.

“What did you mean the other day? What did you mean that I was
searching for something?”

A curt smile slashes through his thin face. “We all are searching for

354
love, June.” 

His words take a while to settle. I had not expected the answer too
sudden so now that it has come, I don’t know what to do with it.

“We all want the same thing. We want to be cared for, to feel that
we matter. It is important to everyone. And more important is that
we want to be loved by the ones we also fancy the same way.”

He rises and then settles beside me, his body very close to mine. “I
saw it in your eyes.

I saw the longing for something real. And it was wild. And when
it is wild like that, you are more likely to make mistakes. You are
likely to just accept whatever comes.

But the hole in our hearts can only be filled by the one who put it
there.”

He starts to say something, but the shrill of Lady Gaga’s Applause


stops him. I pull the phone from my purse.

It’s Dave. I put it on silence and shove it back where it was.

“Why don’t you want to take it?” 

I shrug. “I just don’t want to talk.”

He brings his face close. “Hey, you can talk to me about anything,”
he looks deep in my eyes and without words, sets my heart at rest. 

“I miss him so much. I miss him every day, Randy. I can never get

355
over the pain. He didn’t even have the time to say goodbye. And
even if he did, it would still hurt the same,” tears sting the corners
of my eyes.

He puts his palm on my shoulder and an instant jitter slides


through me.

His gaze is so enveloping I want to enter into his soft eyes and re-
main in that comfort forever.

“My father, he died in a plane crash.”

He holds my hand. “Would you let me take this ride with you?”
he asks. This moment reminds me of that night in my room. My
father had asked me the same question. 

I nod desperately.

“Okay, now let’s start from the beginning,” he says. “Tell me about
your dad. He must have been a really amazing guy, you know. You
are in love with him, so I’m guessing he was a prince charming.”

My eyes light up as I start to charter surprisingly excitedly about


how amazing my father was.

I refer to him in present tense because I still cannot come to terms


with him being in the past.

I start from my childhood. I smile when the picture of my father’s


cute smile fills my head. I laugh as I recount the jokes we shared.

I bubble when I remember the dates we had, the nights I’d lie listen-

356
ing to his stories until I slept off in his arms. Then inevitably, the
story winds off to where I cannot find the story anymore. 

The room shrinks, emitting more cold now. He places his palm
on my arm and the warmth shoots violently through me. “Tell me
how you really felt.” 

“You can’t be serious. I cannot tell you that. I don’t want to remem-
ber. It was really terrible,” I exclaim.

“How terrible?” he asks, still calm as the sea.

I tell him how I was sick for several weeks. I tell him how I relied
on Dave to make me happy and how broken I was when he had
to leave the country. It is awful because the excitement turns into
heart wrenching sobs.

When I quieted, gulping at the mucus almost pouring over me, he


squeezes my hand softly and excuses himself.

He returns with an unopened tissue, unwraps the water-proof and


stuffs it in the middle, then hands it to me. 

He pours smoothie into the glasses and hands me one. The co-
loured water drains coolly down my intestines, settling arrogantly
and spreading cold inside of me. I take a few more gulps and then
drop the glass on the table.

He looks up at me after dropping his own glass. “How do you


feel?” 

I shake my head. “I don’t know.” “There is more you want to tell

357
me.”

“I feel so helpless,” I mutter. “Everything always turns out so bad.

Whenever things start to feel good, something bad always happens.”

“Are you sure?” he asks.

“Are you sure things are really like that? I mean, does everything
really turn bad?”

I nod. Then I go on again about losing my father, about Dave hav-


ing to leave, about my mother’s ill health, about losing my house,
and then about Kay.

“Now, I am pregnant, and I hate myself.” I say raising my voice. 


Randy rises, walks around the tight space, then settles on the table
in front of me. “You will be fine,” he says. 

“The thing is, in life, there always has to be good times as well as
bad times. And the things we focus on the most become our con-
stant reality.

Newton’s third law of motion describes this aptly,” he looks into


my eyes and I fix my eyes on his lips, holding unto every word.
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

When you send out the energy of your thoughts to the universe,
it will come back to you in the form of physical things. Whatever
you exert so much energy thinking about, will eventually happen.”

A small smile adorns his face and I feel like wiggling my fingers

358
through his bushy beards. “Isn’t it amazing, June. Isn’t it amazing
that we have the power to create things with our thoughts? God has
given us the ability to define our reality.”

“How is it possible?” I ask. “How is possible that anything we think


about can actually happen?”

“Would you like to try it? Focus on a particular thing, think about
it so hard.

Create it vividly in your mind without any doubt and let the posi-
tivity flow through you. Hold that thought and that feeling for as
long as it would take to see it happen.”

“It’s not possible,” I shake my head. “You cannot just bring some-
thing to reality by thinking and feeling and all that stuff. So, what,
are you saying that I have been responsible for bringing sadness
into my life by my thoughts?”

“Exactly what I am saying; we are all responsible for our lives.


Nothing just happens. There are no coincidences.

If you focus on the bright side of life, life actually gets brighter.”

My phone rings again. It is my mother. 

“I have to go, Randy.”

He smiles. “How do you feel?”

“I don’t know.”
“Would you like to come back?”

359
“I will come back,” I say. “Thank you, Randy.”

He walks me to my car. And as he stands in the darkness, waving


at me, I want to jump up and give him a hug. A song is tugs at
the back of my head. It is the song we used to sing back in Sunday
school and in the choir when I played the keyboard in church.

It sticks to my mind so fiercely until I start to sing, “Amazing


grace, how sweet the sound that saves a wretch, like me. I was once
lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now, I see...”

I sing until tears catch at my throat. I sing until I begin to cry,


rocking back and forth, holding firm at the steering. I sing until I
stop crying. I sing until peace flows through me.

I decide that if I really have the power to create my reality, I would


fix my mind on having a beautiful baby girl. I will form her per-
fectly in my mind and we’ll see if she would indeed become reality.

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

The rain falls harder when I drive into Randy’s house. He is stand-
ing at his veranda with a rainbow-coloured umbrella.

When my car raves to a stop, he advances towards me. With his


arms wrapped on my waist, my hands on his shoulder, he leads me
inside.

My jacket is soaked and my hair drips warm water that tastes salty
on my lips. The disarray of his house seems to steady my mind.
It recognises the chaos in my head and makes peace with it. This

360
thought almost gets me laughing out loud.

Because no matter how rowdy Randy’s house gets, if you stay here
long enough, you can go around it with your eyes closed. 

His eyes appear in my face after he slams the door close. He smiles
into my trembling lips, his cheeks rippling like a startled river.

“You look so cold and white,” he whispers.

He draws me swiftly to his chest, staining his white Tee shirt with
the water on my clothes. He wraps his hand around my waist and
presses his warm lips into my neck.

I lift my confounded fingers to his shoulders and run them down


his back. He squeezes me harder on his chest and in a final move-
ment, plants a soft kiss on my lips.

“So sorry dear,” he says casually as though nothing happened. He


swings around, turns off the AC and helps the jacket off my shoul-
ders. “Would you like to have tea?”

I shake my head, still trembling from the softness of his touch.


There is a jocund jitter beneath me that swings through my spine
and up my head. A lingered longing raises heat to my ball-like
nipples.

“No, I’m fine.”

“Okay. I was in my studio when you called. Would you like to see?”

I nod and follow his lead. He walks through the jumble of clothes

361
and rumpled bed that is in his room, and into a wider space, filled
with 2 keyboards, a band set, 3 guitars and a recording desk, with
two wide Apple computers.

When we descend the few steps that empty into the studio, he
opens his wide arms. “Here we are.

Here’s where I make music,” he winks. “Just for the fun of it.

Even though we play some of the songs in my church, I don’t have


plans of making a superstar of myself.”

In a fleeting moment, a resemblance of my father sweeps through


his tall frame, calm eyes and oblong face.

The soft smile that runs across his cheeks brings back the gentle-
ness of my father. I stare, stunned at him, nursing the longing, like
the sting that shoots through when you bite your tongue.

Tears gather on the inside of my eyes. I cover them with my eye-


lid, squeezing shut my eyes and trying to picture my father in my
mind.

I try so hard but the only picture that wells up is that of Randy. I
fling my eyes open in frustration.

“You should come to my church one of these days,” he says, fon-


dling the keys on the keyboard, sliding his fingers nonchalantly
through the white keys.

I shrug. “Well, maybe. I haven’t been in a church in a long time.”


“You would definitely love it. It’s the gathering of the children of

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God to share the love of God.

You can walk in with your jean and sandals. A smile on your face
is all that is important to us.”

“Sounds interesting,” I say. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to


do anymore.

One minute I’m alright, and the next moment, I want to get run
down by a truck.”

“We all feel that way,” he says, amidst the dull music springing
from his fingers.

“You have everything figured out. You know so much. Look how
calm you make me feel. You cannot be as clueless as I am.”

He pauses, a stern look plastered on his face. “We are all clueless.

The only thing that sprinkles sense into anything is the belief and
trust in God and his son, Jesus.

God sent his son to die for us. He died, resurrected and ascended
into glory to sit on the right hand of his father.

That is all that makes sense. And I am not the one that makes you
feel calm. I don’t have such power.

Everything that I do, is through the grace endowed me by God. We


all have that grace if we believe.”

I close my eyes again, trying to place what it is about him that looks

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just like my father. My eyes are still shut when I feel his breath
behind me.

“Jesus loves you, June.”  

“Then why… why did he let him die?” 

He swings me gently turning my face to his, so close I can feel his


warm breath fall gently on my forehead. “Don’t sound like he is
such a terrible guy.

God has been with you through everything that has happened. He
has protected you, covered you and loved you. That is why you are
still here. God knows all that is happening, and He knows why.

You were created for His glory and everything that happens even-
tually leads you to His purpose for your life.”

In this moment, I’m carried back to those days when my father


would tell me things my little mind could not understand. Now,
listening to Randy spew incomprehensible words makes an un-
named feeling hang on my chest.

I turn and walk to the keyboard. I have not placed my fingers on


the keys since that Thursday at school. So, I give them an unfamil-
iar stare and they look back at me in a warm welcome.

I spread my fingers on the white keys, thumping them lightly. It


feels like coming back to an old friend. My spirit floats in the sul-
lenness of the soul purging melody.

My heart breaks and mends several times over. My mind drifts into

364
a peaceful place, interrupted by the salty taste of tears on my lips.

It’s like finding a long, lost love. It’s like eating your favourite food
in a desert. 

Jesus, please speak to me. Please talk to me if you really love me. I
want to feel you for myself.

I’m tired of only just hearing from other people that you love me.

I want to feel it. I want to have an indelible knowing of that love. I


want to forgive myself. I want to know what love really is.
I believe in you, Jesus. I believe that you came to the world and that
you died and rose again for me.

I believe that you have taken away all my sin, and your blood has
the power to make me a new person.

God, please fill me with a kind of newness I cannot explain.

God, please make me permanently yours. Be an anchor to my heart.


I’m tired of trying to find love like my father’s.

I want you to be my father. Make me hold unto you. Teach me


how to live right. Help me to let go of this pain, and this hate, and
this guilt.

Gently, my fingers glide to a stop. I feel as though cold water has


been poured over me.

I feel washed to the marrow of my bones. There is an unsettling


peace that rests on my chest, an indescribable lifting. I feel that if

365
I stood up immediately, I would glide through the earth and float
in the skies. 

When I look up, Randy is by the closed window. He is praying in


a certain language I cannot comprehend.

I sit still at the keyboard and watch as he nods in a smooth rhythm,


hitting his fists into the air, the words rushing out of his mouth
like an over-rehearsed song. 

He reaches a crescendo, lifting his hands and saying repeatedly:


“Thank you Jesus… I love you Jesus.”
As I see his face soften back into consciousness, I also whisper:
“Thank you Jesus.”

The silence lingers for so long, a certain heaviness floating in the


cold air. “That was so powerful,” he says, walking to me.

“You have been called to things too great to understand. And once
God calls a person, you never see the entire road.

You only have to start walking, and every step would be illuminat-
ed as you go. You have to believe that he who calls you is faithful.

The thing about Abba Father is that He never leaves you halfway.
For He who began a good work in us, would be faithful to com-
plete it.”

He relaxes on the sofa. “How did you learn to play so well though?
I mean, I thought I was a good keyboardist, but I must say; you
win.”
I try to avoid his eyes, unable to bridle the pride that puffs my

366
chest.

“What language were you speaking while you were praying?” I ask.

“I was speaking in tongues. It’s the gift of the Holy Spirit. There are
many things you need to learn. But first, you have to be baptized.”

My eyes widen. “Am I born again?” 

“Of course, you are.”

“Is it that easy?”


“Well, for anyone who believes, He gives the power to be called
sons of God.

If you believe in your heart and proclaim with your mouth that
Jesus Christ is the son of God, you are saved,” he places his lips on
my forehead. “You are saved, June. You are God’s child and you
can call him father. Isn’t it amazing?”

What I think is amazing are those soft gazelle eyes of yours, Randy.
But I cannot say that, can I? 

“You are so beautiful,” he whispers as though in my thought.

My heart skips and I turn away. “I guess I should be on my way.” 

The cursive words on a golden plaque on the wall calls at me. My


feet rooted to the ground, my fingers tracing the words, I read out
loud:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate

367
Our deepest fear

Is that we are powerful beyond measure

We ask ourselves

Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us


And as we let our own light shine

We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

“Lucky you, we are seeing the movie this Friday at the church mov-
ie night. Akheela and the Bee,” he beams behind me. 

I say yes with my eyes.

“How do you feel?” he asks.

I want to grab him and kiss the chocolate brown off his lips. I want
to curl up beside him all night and talk about Jesus. I guess Jesus
would not give me the permission to do any of these, so I say: “I
fell at peace.”

“Thank God,” he whispers. Gracing my cheek with his lips, he cra-


dles his thick beards with my fingers, and then moves away gently. 

Frustration crawls up my face, tugs at my chest and draws out of

368
my throat the words: “Are you in love with me?” 

“Love is not a feeling,” he says with a contented sigh.

The frustration settles at the tip of my eyebrow. I stare unblinking


at him, waiting for a more reasonable answer.

When no more words come, I saunter to the living room.

In one swift motion, I grab my purse and tuck my phone in my


back pocket. 

“It was really nice seeing you, June,” he says with an innocence that
infuriates me.

But my heart softens when he pulls me into his soothing arms.


The hug lingers until I soften my grip and pull away. “Thank you,
Randy,” I mutter.

He leads me through the cold wetness of the rain-soaked walkway


and helps me into my car.

The urge to kiss him doesn’t disappear as I drive off, trying to fix
my mind on Jesus.  

369
UYAI
“Hello parents and friends, my name is Rebekah Essien. I
am in year 3 A…” she gaggles with laughter and continues.

“Panel of judges, co-debaters, time-keepers, ladies and gentlemen,


my name is Bekka. I am here to propose a motion that y’all should
vote me as your president.

There would be free beans and bread for all. I will make sure that
every student has enough airtime in their phones to call their boy-
friends and girlfriends, thank you.”

“You better be serious. You have to give this speech in 3 weeks.


Keep joking. They will throw crumpled papers at you or stone you
with pure water,” Vikky says, unable to hold her laughter.

I laugh too.

Bekka turns to me and asks why I had to carry a notebook go see


a movie.

“Do you want to jot down moral lessons, Madam Writer?” she
teases.

I want to defend myself, but their voices shrill in cacophonic melo-


dy when Celine Dion’s voice comes on the car radio.
“Coulda woulda shoulda. But I didn’t do that. You gotta give it a

370
shot. Better believe.

And don’t say you coulda woulda shoulda…”

Their high spirits soak into me as I sing along. We drive past a


book- store. There is a neat rack of books by T.D Jakes and Fran-
cine Rivers outside.

Maybe someday, my book will also be displayed like that. Maybe


someone will pick it up and read it. I cringe at the thought of it.

What will the person’s face show? Smiles, a connection, approval,


enthral, or disgust.  

Bekka says the book is amazing. Vikky agrees same. So, fingers
crossed, we will wait. At least, I have written the book, and I have
sent it to a publisher. I would not have to say, coulda woulda shoul-
da, but I didn’t do that.

We leap off the car in front of Bekka’s church. Recognition creases


my face into a warm smile. I have been here many times.

Those times I used to creep up behind her, sometimes fiddling my


phone when she looks back, or pretending as though I was lost.

The church could have passed for a lounge. It is lit with dim co-
loured lights, the seats arranged into a semi- circle, surrounding the
altar.

The musical instruments sit at a corner at the far right, manned


with smiling faces and eager hands. 
Simple and sophisticated, Pastor Randy flashes a warm smile.

371
“Welcome to The Gathering.”

We hurdle in the comfortable semi-darkness, flashing smiles at


other youngsters as ushers dressed in ripped jeans and white sneak-
ers point us to a seat.

The pastor is in a tee shirt, his heavy chest shooting out his slender
figure that screams consistent workout.

The deliberate curls of his black hair gleam in the colourful lights
that flicker his white teeth every time he smiles. 

“Today is a fun day. So, don’t expect me to talk too much,” he says.
“So shortly, the media department will put up the movie we have
been waiting for.

The popcorn will go round too,” he pauses, savouring the applause.

Bekka turns to me. “This is going to be so much fun.” She flips her
head to Vikky, and whispers something with the same excitement.
The lights go out.

The screen blinks on, showing a video about the church. “Come as
you are. Jesus loves black, and white, and tall, and short, and even
the sinners too.

You don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain kind of person.


Just walk into the open arms of Jesus. Jesus loves you...” 

Then the church falls quiet.

“You know that feeling 

372
Where no matter what you do or where you go, 
You just don’t fit in? 
Don’t know the word for that. 
Alienation, estrangement, incompatibility…  
There’s gotta be a word for it. 
Because this is how I feel all the time...

My mind begins to flutter, because like Akeelah, I feel alienated.


I feel alienated from a world that refuses to accept people the way
they are.

I feel alienated from my classmates that think that I’m weird because
I read too much and I don’t have friends.

And there is absolute incompatibility between the girl my father


wants me to be and who I am.

I feel like there is a ceiling just above my head. Limiting my thoughts,


my potentials, my world. Ripping me off myself.

I want to stand up against this ceiling. I want to break out of the


picture of someone else in my father’s head who can never be me. 

As I watch Akeelah stand up for herself and accept a challenge de-


spite the fear of what people will say, my courage builds.

And then it settles in my heart: maybe it was a good idea to send my


book off to be published.
Maybe the best decision I’ll ever make is to accept myself. 

373
It is, owning all my flaws, accepting my identity and giving myself
the permission to live.

Because as I let my own light shine, I unconsciously give other peo-


ple the permission to do the same.
 
 
 
 
 

374
 

VICTORIA
“You know the feeling where everything feels right, 
Where you don’t have to worry about tomorrow or yesterday, 
But you feel safe 
And know you are doing the best you can? 
There is a word for that feeling, 
It’s called love, L-O-V-E 
And it’s what I feel for my family 
And all my coaches in my neighbourhood where I come from, 
Where I learnt how to spell.”

Akeelah’s words send chills through me. I pull my eyes shut


for what seems like forever.

A nameless emotion settles at the base of my stomach. Akeelah


had her coaches and her family. I want every girl to have me.

I want to manifest the glory of God that is within me. I want to be


here among these people. I want to feel this emotion over and over.
I want to hold unto this love.

I want my life to make a difference. And I want these with all my


heart.
A boy with hair dyed blonde walks past, giving me an infectious
smile. Then he walks back. “Hi, I’m Mfon. I think I’ve seen you

375
somewhere. Maybe school?”

I nod and form a smile. “Quite probably. I am Victoria.” 


“Is this your first time in church?”

“Yes.”

“That’s cool. What do you think about the church?”

“Well, I think there’s a lot of nice people here.”

“Tell me about it. Wait until you meet my pastor.”

As though on cue, Bekka chimes. “There she is; my friend, Victo-


ria. She owns a foundation, Victoria Foundation.”

The pastor smiles and pulls out his tender hands. “Thanks for tak-
ing out time to fellowship with us, Victoria. I hope you’ll make The
Gathering your church.”

“I hope so, Pastor Randy,” I take his hands gingerly.

“Thank you.” his babyish smile sinks straight to my heart. He is


charming in a very alluring way.

And like Bekka, he smiles all the time. Now I know where Bekka
gets her effervescence from. I wonder if I will one day start to smile
like this.

“I was just telling her what an amazing pastor you are,” Mfon says,
smiling up at his pastor. “Thanks dad for the movie, that was really
inspiring, just that I don’t know how to spell words.

376
I’m better at social service and any work that helps people’s life get
better.”

My ears rise like tall antenna. But before I can say anything, Mfon
throws his pastor a hug, shakes Bekka and extends his hand to me.

Before I am able to blurt how great it would be for us to work to-


gether, he shoots me a smile and walks off.

When I raise my head, I cannot believe the person trotting with a


protruded stomach towards Pastor Randy. I run up to her, throw-
ing myself in a big hug.

“June! How have you been?” my eyes run from her tired face – the
chocolate bags still stuck under her eyes – down her slim neck, to
her well-rounded breasts that bloom like a chicken forced to grow
in 3 weeks so it could hit the market. When my eyes settle on her
stomach, she cringes.

“Victoria, it’s good to see you again,” she utters mirthlessly. In her
eyes are many unspoken emotions that I wish I was a part of in the
6 months that have swirled past.

“Oh, I was just going to introduce. It’s nice to know you two al-
ready know each other,” Randy says.

June flinches. “Yeah, only that she promised to call and never did.”
I want to squirm about how I called many times and she never an-
swered. But I shrug and say: “I’m sorry June.” 
Maybe because he notices the gloom on my face, Randy walks up
and says: “It’s alright, Victoria. I am sure you two will sort this. It’s

377
no coincidence that you met today.”

“No, there’s nothing to sort, Randy,” she creases her emaciated


cheeks. “It’s really not a problem.

She must have probably forgotten,” then she rests her arms on her
waist. “I should be on my way now. I find it hard to stand for too
long.” 

She smiles at Randy, hugs Bekka and Uyai, then gives me a long
look before throwing her arms heavily on me.

“You’ll be fine,” I whisper. 


“I hope so,” she sighs.
“Victoria, can I speak with you for a second?” Randy says. 

We walk out to the cold evening, sprinkled with sharp street-lights.

“You are a great person, Victoria,” he says, sincerity smearing his


calm face.

“Everything that you have ever been through was to prepare you for
this moment. You need to focus and have faith in God.

God can provide everything that you need. Imagine that the God
that created the whole world beckons on you, and you want to go to
men who cannot even afford just enough to keep alive.

Yeah right, some of them have big houses and cars, but come on,
God has the whole world.”
I exhale, unable to fathom the connection that flows through Ran-
dy to me. As he speaks, his words register more sense than I have

378
been able to muster all my life.

The words form large balls of comfortable tears in my heart, wait-


ing for solitude to pour out.

His voice falls into whispers as tiny drops of rain blows on our fac-
es. “How do I know he would give you everything you need?

Because He did not spare his son, but gave him up to die on the
cross for our sins.

If he did not spare his son, how then would he not give us every
other thing?” he looks me in the eye.

“There is nowhere to find love, and peace, and laughter, as well as


riches and resources to get things done.

In some places, there is money and no joy. In other places, there is


so much laughter, but no food to eat.

But in God, there is everything,” he breathes hard, his huge chest


rising and falling like the tides of a sea. “Go back and take up your
foundation from where you left off.”

“How did you know that?” I exclaim. 

“God knows everything about you. Before you were born, he knew
you. He formed you with his hands and he called you into great
things. You need to open your heart to God.

That is the only way you can access the greatness God has depos-
ited in you.”

379
I blink several times, struggling to push back the tears. It is hard to
believe that God would have any interest in someone like me.

I have done too many awful things with my life. My mind flies to
the stiff face of Simi, probably unrecognisably decayed now.

Then to all the men I have slept with. When it wanders to Steve, I
shudder.

“It was nice talking to you, Randy. I have to go now,” I utter.

He nods, calm as the moon staring down at us. “I hope to see you
around often, Victoria,” he says in a distant tone, as though it wasn’t
the same mouth that spat out things about my life.

“Bye,” I hurl myself into my car and speed off.

It is one thing for God to call me into great things; it is another thing
for me to accept right? But you see, I cannot accept when I’m still
very unclean.

I need to sort out my life, and then I can say yes to God. So, God,
you gotta hold on for me. I have a lot of things to sort out before we
start working on any greatness. 

And you know I really want to sort my life out. So, just hold on for
me.

380
UYAI
Like the many Sundays I’m accustomed to, the house is
dead quiet; Mummy in her room, daddy in the sitting room, and
Ini, watching a movie.

I am scrolling through my phone, when unexpectedly I hear my


father’s loud call. Startled by the ferocity of his voice, I hurry to the
sitting room.

“Didn’t you hear that I was calling you?” he rages, the scar on his
cheek growing wider as it folds into a thick frown. “Ehn, I’m talking
to you,” he roars. 

A river of fear trickles down my intestines. “I’m sorry I didn’t hear


you the first time, daddy,” I say, pinning my eyes to the ground, my
hands folded behind me.

“Of course, you won’t hear me. You won’t hear me because you
are now so daft,” he spits.

His words drop with a shock on my bones. I move backwards to


avoid any blow he might send my direction.

“Where are you going to? Sit down!” he orders. “Sit down, I am
talking to you this idiot.”

That second insult drops heavily on my eyelids. I flinch and sit


directly opposite him, keeping my back straight and my buts stiffly

381
on the edge of the seat.

“I sat you down here to talk to you before you started school. What
did I tell you?”

My lips glue together as I try hard to blink away bristles pouring in


my eyes from the fan.

On the Sunday evening before my father drove me to the Univer-


sity, he had said many things. 3 things stood out: that I must not
join cult, that I must not spend all the money I was given, and that
I must have a first class. 

I remember those three so clearly because he’d said them with so


much vehemence, I could almost feel the words pierce through
me.

I remember very clearly because that day, he had received some of


his political friends in the morning and had drunk too much, his
bloodshot eyes darted over me like a hawk.

“Am I talking to myself? Answer me you buffoon. I say, what did


I tell you?”  

I have not joined a cult. I still have some money left from what he’d
given me, and I have… I did not check my last semester results. I
already felt that it was awful, so I didn’t bother.

“It’s like you are joking with me,” he thunders. “You are very stu-
pid for shutting your mouth when I’m asking you a question.” 
“I’m sorry daddy,” I shudder.

382
“Sorry for yourself. Sorry for your useless self. I give you everything
you need as a child and you think all my hard work can go down
the drain. You think you can live as you please.

You think you can grow long wings and make your own rules,”
he pauses and makes a feigned laugh. “What was your result last
semester?” 

“I did not check my result,” I say.

He makes the laugh again. “That is, you think I am a child. You
think you can just… in fact,” he gets up, landing heavy strides on the
tiled floor towards his room.

Fear creeps up my shivering legs. Maybe I should run outside, or


hide in my brother’s room.

Before I can allow my adrenaline conjure some protective ideas, he


shuffles out of his room.

To my relief, he only has a piece of paper in his hand. No weapon.


I sigh in momentary relief.

“Since you did not have time to check your result, I did. I asked
your HOD to print it out for me.

Now what is the meaning of this?” he pins the paper to my face


forcefully. “This is what I spent my money on.

This is the rubbish I wasted my hard-earned money to produce.


You are a total waste.”

383
The words smash hard into my heart as I run my eyes to the top of
the paper. It has my full names.

I scroll down to the right side where the grades are printed. I count
mentally: 3 Fs, 2 Cs and 1 A.

Then with my eyes, I trace the A from the right side to the left and
it reads, Use of English. Then I shut my eyes, anger rising from my
bosom and settling at the back of my tongue. 

“Have you seen? Have you seen the waste that you are? Answer me
you idiot,” he shouts, standing some inches away from me, and I
imagine that he is ready with a blow.

My blood runs hot, causing my chest to tremble in rage.

“I am not an idiot,” I say calmly, almost inaudibly.

“What did you say?” he moves closer.

“I said, I am not an idiot.”

“You dare talk back at me?” he stands right above me. “You come
back with this stupid result into my house with your idiot head and
you sit there and talk back at me.” 

In an instant, so swift I almost did not see his hand move. A blow
lands heavily across my face, the ferocity of it twists my neck with a
sharp crack.

For a moment, I am unable to think. I sit still, breathing heavily for


several minutes before my brain switches back to reality.

384
Tears blur my eyes and I hear my father’s voice echo through my
consciousness. He is raging, spitting fowl words and pacing wildly. 

The anger in my heart cements into thick fury. I drag myself off the
seat, swaying slightly. Then I steady myself holding the arm of the
chair.

“Did I ask you to stand up? Sit down now! I say sit down. You good
for nothing bastard,” he roars.

“I prefer to be a bastard. Yes, I prefer to be a bastard than to be


treated like this,” I hear myself retort, my voice shaky, my face cov-
ered with steaming tears. 

“Are you mad? How dare you…” he advances towards me and I


cower. This time, the blow strikes hot waves beneath my ribs, send-
ing me tumbling over a stool on the side of the sofa and landing
heavy on my back.

I rise up instantly, mustering all my strength and with a thoughtless


head, I send my body over his gigantic frame. “Kill me. Kill me
now. You have to kill me!” I scream.

A door bangs and frantic feet shuffle towards me. Then I hear my
mother shout. “Peter, please don’t kill my daughter. Peter, please
leave her alone.” 

A sharp pain shoots through my spine, shoving me violently into


the arms of my mother. I strain open my eyes and find in my fa-
ther’s hand, the rod that holds up the curtains.

385
He lurches forwards and my mother throw me behind her. The
rod hits her breasts.

She rushes into him, holding him by the waist. “Peter, please I’m
begging you.

Please don’t do this. Please Peter.”

My head feels light. My eyes are shutting on me. Like a sound from
a hole, my brother challenges my father, dragging him by the shirt,
while my mother holds his waist.

The world tumbles over my head and crashes into my broken ribs.

With unclear vision, I stagger to my room, grab my phone and my


sleep over bag and head to the door.

My mother runs to me, falls on her knees, tugging pleadingly at my


skirt.

“Please my dear. Please forgive your father, he was just angry.


Please don’t go away.

Please, my child, stay for your mother.” She leaves me and rushes
back to the living room when my daddy hits my Ini on the face.

He turns to me with eyes that resembles the devil. “Let her go!” he
roars. “I cannot train useless pigs in my house.

Pigs that have no heads. Go away if you want to. And if you step out
that gate, do not ever come back to this house. Do you hear me,
bastard? I don’t ever want to see you in this house.” 

386
The pained look on my brother’s bleeding head breaks my heart.
He calls out to me, an affectionate plea in his eyes.

I shut the door quickly. When the warm evening wind hits my face,
I spit blood onto the black sand beside the hibiscus flowers and
promise myself that this would be my last time in this house.

387
VICTORIA
I’m in his house, pacing and restlessly waiting for him to
get home. There is a feeling up my throat that tastes like fear as the
familiar scent of his room soaks into me.  

It used to be a safe haven on this large king-size bed with golden


lampstands.

The neatness of the black tiles used to seep calm into my veins, the
cold from the air conditioning soothing me to sleep after exerting
my energy entangled in his arms.

I find peace here; I find love and stability; and here, I really feel
wanted.

Now, I have to let all these go. I have to let go of the security of
having all my needs met even without asking. I have to let go of
the power that comes with having another woman’s man fall at
your feet. 

I sink into the bed as faint hunger caresses the inside of my stom-
ach. My heart is too troubled for food now.

The house is so silent; I can hear the birds chirp loudly as though
they were in bed with me. I wish I could be as the birds, free of
worries, free of pain. My mind is drifting away as my thoughts
wander. Peace covers me like a warm blanket and my head glides
into troubled emptiness.
                      

388
                        *********************************

I jerk awake. Startled, I search the bed with my hands for my phone.
It’s 4:25 pm. I have been sleeping for 2 hours. When I stretch on
the bed, my feet hit something warm.

I blink swiftly, trying not to jump as I stare at the firm fair figure
beside me.

“Baby girl, you are awake,” he says. My nerves relax, releasing a


wide yawn.

“Did I sleep that deep?” I rest my head back on the pillow, careful
not to go too close to him. He moves to my side, his warm breath
raising goose bumps on my arms, in conflict with the cold. In my
mind, I move away, but his strong cologne reaches for me.  

We lay quiet for a while. I am accustomed to this silence. It used


to bring peace, but now, it builds unyielding trepidation. I should
talk to him now.

I open my mouth to speak, but I think better of it. Maybe I should


just enjoy his company. We are only lying down, aren’t we? Let’s lie
like this for a while, then I’ll talk. I’ll first ask if he loves me. Then
I’ll tell him we should stop.

His arm steals to my side with a slight lurch of my body closer to


his. My heart moves away. But I lie still, his breath on my face,
spreading sensual warmth all over me. It feels good. 
God, I don’t want this to happen.  He caresses me gently, moving
from my neck, all the way down and back up again. In a swift mo-

389
tion, the button on my jean snaps off, then the zip slides down.

Disobeying my heart, I help the jean off my legs. He slides his fin-
gers through my back and pulls off my bra.

The warmth between my legs grows wild. My mind is pleading,


the ‘no’ getting weaker and weaker until it disappears at the erotic
thrusts that flings me into a world of possibilities.

My memory vanishes at the sonorous moans that tighten the grip


of our hearts.

We glide in steady movements holding each other and then faster,


the waves disappear into a borderless sea meeting the sky in a sick-
ened blueness.

Then we sigh like tired stars and lie in silent recess.

Genuinely, I say: “I love you, Steve.”

And he says: “I love you too, baby girl.”

Tears well up inside of me as I run to the bathroom. I stare in the


mirror and sob silently.

Why do I always fail at everything? Everything that happens to me


is a setup for my failure. I could not save my family, I could not
save my uncle, I couldn’t help Idy, I cannot save myself.

I fail at every single thing. My heart wrecks into cold pain.


I wash my face hurriedly as I feel Steve come up behind me. He
pours a long pee into the loo and stretches.

390
“What’s wrong with you, baby girl?” He places his arms on my
shoulder and stares into the mirror.

I flinch. “Nothing.” He shrugs. “I just wasn’t feeling you, that’s


why I asked.”

I jump in the shower and run hot water over my bumped skin,
then I throw on my clothes and stuff my phone in my back pocket.

“I have to go now,” I say into his startled eyes. 

I feel like a frightened lunatic. The pain in my heart rocks heavily


like a boulder. I half-run into my car. And in shaky hands, drive
out of the gate.

I should go home and soak my pillow in tears. I should meet Bekka


and try to be happy. I should go to a club. I should drink my sorry
life away. I should drive into a poll and end this misery. 

I sob silently. I am backing out, God. I don’t need the greatness. Go


give it to someone else.

Maybe you missed your way while searching. I’m really not the one
you were looking for. I’m going to tell Randy not to bother. God
had made a mistake. I cannot do this. 

When I get to the junction, I turn right instead of left which heads
out. Then I make another turn to B line and start to dial his num-
ber.

391
JUNE 
“Hello, am I speaking with June Jacob? My name is Joyce.
I’d like to talk to you about something.”

I adjust on the sofa, struggling to get the right position to rest my


aching back. My stomach has grown round like a football and every
movement inside startles me.

I hold the phone stiffly to my ear with my right hand, and with the
left I cradle the base of my abdomen. 

“Yes, this is June Jacob.”

“I’d like to speak to you about something very important. And it


would be nice for us to meet personally.

I am in Uyo, at the moment. I’m at the estate, but I can tell that you
are no longer at the house at D line. How can I get to you please?”

“What is this about?”

“It’s really personal. It’s about your father.” 

My heart starts to race. I pull myself up with a grunt.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. I’d like to know you better, Ms Joyce.”

392
“Well, I’m a lawyer. I live in Abuja. I had to come down because I
have a message from your father.”

“Who are you?”

“Let’s meet at M&K’s in a few minutes, and we can talk.” 

In exactly 30 minutes, my car raves into the parking lot of M&K’s.

I’m dressed in bogus denim shorts with a black top that glues loose-
ly to my stomach, making it look extra-large.

When I get into the restaurant, I spot a fair lady sitting by herself in
the corner, looking outside through the glass walls. She looks sul-
len, smeared with a fading beauty that struggles through a worn-out
makeup, and short curly hair.

I slide into the seat opposite her and give a feigned smile. She does
not smile back. There is an old tiredness that lingers in her eyes.

She blinks and looks away. The silence raves up my nerves and I
cling to the table to gain balance.

“So, tell me you actually see ghosts,” I say. 


She looks at me, shakes her head and smiles weakly. “Would you
believe me?”

Fear shoots through my expectant eyes as I pin her a questioning


look.

“Relax, you look frightened,” she raises her hands in mock glee. “I
don’t see ghosts, okay?”

393
Does she really think I straddled my huge stomach all the way here
to make jokes? “Please can you be serious, Joyce.

I have other things to attend to,” I raise my right hand and give a
quick glance at my watch, even though I had no concrete plans for
the day.

She sighs. “I’m sorry, June,” her eyes glisten. 

She places her palms on her face, rubs it red and folds it into a fist.

“I don’t know how to say this, June. I don’t know where to start.

I’ve lived in denial for so long, hoping it was all a joke; that he will
pop in through my door and flash me that cute smile.” She stops
herself as though she was saying more than she wanted to.

I sit back, pensive, the suspense raving up my spine.

She looks out again, “I’m sorry.”

“Please, can you cut the chase, Ms Joyce?” 

“You know, I knew all along it was wrong. But I ignored all my
senses. I just wanted to be with him.

You know how he is, calm, loving, funny.” she smiles weakly, and
shoots a teary glance at me. “He always said he wasn’t perfect, but
I thought he was. I knew. I knew everything.
I knew about you, about your mother. But I was…” she wipes a ball
of tear with a finger. Her eyes turn the colour of ripe mango.

394
The waiter comes to ask if we need something and she shakes her
head. The waiter stays put.

I know that if we do not order something, we may not be allowed


to stay longer, so I ask for coke. 

“I may not be able to stay longer, Joyce,” I say, shifting uncomfort-


ably in my seat.

“I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” her tears dry up, making a black
gum of her mascara. 

I drag my seat back. “Well, if that is all, I would like to go now,” the
smell of fried chicken makes me nauseous. 

She places her hand on mine softly. “He gave me his will.” My
brows rise. “What?” 

“I am his lover,” she mutters with bold eyes. 

My face distorts into anger, unbelief and painful recollection. She


is the woman my father spoke to on the phone all the time, the one
he was with whenever he was in Abuja, the one my mother spoke
about when she went through his phone. Instantly, she becomes a
stinking rag before me.

“I’m so sorry. I’m sorry…” she talks very fast. “At first, I did not
know, but when I found out, it was too late. I was too much in love
with him. I couldn’t let go.
I’ve been so hurt. I have not been able to get over it. Please forgive
me, June.”

395
“Why?” I utter voicelessly, as I get up unsteadily. “Thank you,
Joyce, but this information was absolutely unnecessary to me at this
time. Have a nice life,” I bolt to the door.

A shadow appears by my car window, as I sit sobbing. It lingers for


more than the time it takes to pass. I look up and she is the one,
standing by my window, eyes dry and bulgy. 

Out of curiosity, I wind down the glasses and stare at her. She
searches her bag and produces a brown file. “Here, that is his will.

He gave half of his property to me and half to you. We would have


to get a lawyer to…” she pauses midsentence and sobs quietly. “I
don’t want anything.

I wish I could pay for everything I did,” she steadies her voice.

“The lawyer’s number is in there. I’m a lawyer myself. You can call
me if you need anything.”

She is a lawyer; fair, slender, curvy. This is the kind of woman my


father wanted. This is the person he was going to divorce my moth-
er for.

Anger rises up my chest, and I want to spit in her face.

“I’m so sorry,” she says. “I don’t want anything. It all belongs to you
and your mother.

Please take care,” she shoves the brown envelop to me, places her
hand over her face and moves away.

396
I fix her a cold stare, until she slides into a grey Camry and drives
off.

I bow my head and try to focus on Jesus. In my heart, I hear the


word clearly, forgive. This is so hard. Forgive, my child…

397
VICTORIA
The smile on Randy’s face is enough to quieten the turmoil
in my heart as he welcomes me with a hug and points to his dark-
blue furry sofa.

We sit in comfortable silence for a while. When I fix my gaze on


him, his eyes cause a fierce comfort to stir in me. 

“God must be making a mistake,” I whisper.

“You have a lot you want to share,” he clasps his hands on his knee,
calmness written all over his charming face.

“That’s the thing. I wish you could just get into my heart and find
out everything yourself.”

He chuckles. “I’m not in the best position to do that,” his eyes


glitter in amusement and frankness. “You know who is.”

I close my eyes. If I go on like this, my heart would explode. I can-


not go on acting strong. I don’t know how to take it all in anymore. 

“Let it go, Victoria. Let it all go,” he rests his cold palm on my leg.

I fling my eyes open, steadying my leg so his hands don’t move


away. “How… how am I supposed to do that?”

He slips his hand off my leg. “Have you tried talking to God about
it?”

398
I shake my head. “How am I supposed to talk to Him when I can-
not even fix my life.

Yeah, I know all the things God doesn’t want me to do. I knew that
all along, but I kept doing them because I didn’t care.

Now I want to make it all right. Why does it have to be so hard


to…” I pause, wondering if I could trust him.

His thin neck stands as though fixed to his body with super glue.

He rubs his hands together. “May I turn off the AC? This cold is
getting to me.” 

He gets up, lifts his hand and turns off the AC hung very close to
the ceiling without much of a stretch.

He would make a good basketball player. He would have loved


Ben, and Femi, and Ramsey, and Ike. He is that kind of man; exot-
ic, gentle but lousy when in high spirits.

Thunder growls outside. I would have seen the lightening slide


through the sky if we were not enclosed in here, all curtains down.

He sits at the edge of the seat and rubs his palm on his face.

“Are you alright?” he turns a white face to me.

“I’m fine,” I sigh. “Do you play basketball?”


He chuckles. “A little bit. My days in Nebraska where I went to
college. Why, is it written on my face?”

399
“Nope, it’s on your leg.”

He throws his head back in a raucous laugh. I smile too. Then I


start to laugh. Something in my heart eases.

“You kinda have the leg too, you know,” he says, humour still
smeared on his bright white eyes.

“My days in Lagos, where I went to high school,” I embolden my


voice to mimic his.

He laughs. “Holly molly, I have very bad manners, please forgive


me. What can I offer a beautiful athlete?” he spreads his hands and
winks.

A glitter forms in his dimples. My heart misses a beat. I try to hold


it. Then my stomach churns.

“Aww, you just reminded me I have not eaten in like forever. What
do you have?”

“Heck, I don’t have anything in this house. I can make you


smoothie.”

I nod. “I guess that would do. Everybody needs a dose of healthy


living.” 

“Looks like you’ve been doing a lot of that,” he looks me over, then
he giggles. “I’m not saying anything,” he gets up and walks inside.
My heart starts a dance. I have never felt like this before, not even
with Steve.

400
This feeling is calming, and gleeful. If someone had tried to explain
it to me, I would say they were making it up. 

I shrug it off. Love does not exist. If someone gives you attention
and provides your needs, then they love you. If you reciprocate,
then you love them. 

The blender croaks loudly from inside as warmth flushes through


my neck. I busy myself with my phone for a while, then toss it
back in my pocket the same time Prince charming arrives with two
glasses of pink liquid.

“Having a fight with your phone?” he hands me one glass. “Toast


to what?” he chimes.

Toast to having a feeling that I have never had before which makes
me smile inside and I think it is love. “Toast to the love of God,”

I say. “Okay… toast to the love of God.” 

He takes 3 deep gulps and sets his glass on the table. “Wow, I’ve
been a pastor for 4 years and I’ve never had to toast to the love of
God.”

I drop my glass on the table too and giggle. “Maybe you just hav-
en’t met people that are crazy about God enough.” I mean crazy
about you.

“Well, are you?”


I nod. “It’s just that I don’t understand a thing. Sometimes, it lit-
erally drives me crazy.”

401
The sky growls again, my phone flickers. It must be Steve. Is that a
sign that I should talk to Randy about it?

“My life is too messed up for God to want to do anything with.


I have been through too much. I have done too many terrible
things.”

“But He loves you the same.”

“Why?” “I guess you should ask Him.”

“Today, I wanted to fix things. I wanted to end the bad road and
make it right. I just want to be good enough. But I screw up all the
time. That’s the way I am. I fail at everything.”

“I’m sure you scored some points when you played basketball. You
couldn’t have failed at everything,” he winks.

I give him a serious look. He feigns surrender. “Sorry.”

My heart falls into a blissful comfort. So, the words poor out of
me like a heavy rain. I begin from the fire, then Udo, and then my
uncle.

I tell him about the foundation, about Idy, about the 6 men. And
then the 7th one that is too difficult to break off. 

I exhale softly when I stop talking. Then he moves to the edge of


his seat, close enough to hold my hands. I rest my hands in the
softness of his. My heart starts to run faster than I can hold. 

402
“Victoria, God loves you,” he fixes his eyes in mine and I want to
look away. “He loved you before you were born, before you knew
yourself.

He loved you before any of these things happened. He loves you


the way you are. He loves you today. He will love you tomorrow.”

Maybe the message had to be repeated that much to sink in. He


slowly releases my hands and I can breathe properly again. He re-
laxes on his seat, the calmness returning to his face. 

“You feel like a failure because you are trying to do everything with
your own power. You didn’t have any power to help your uncle.
Only God could have saved him.

Only God could have saved Idy. And today, you were trying so
hard to sort things out by yourself. As long as we live in this flesh,
we are frail and useless.

It is the Holy Spirit that works in us; both to will, and to do of His
good pleasure. We don’t have the capacity to do anything right. Let
go of all that pressure and leave it all to him.”

“I know… I want to do that, but how?”

His face smoothens out, so peaceful that I want to rest on it, and
have a long nap. “Talk to Him,” he says.

“How?” “Just talk. He hears you. He wants you to focus on Him.

Get the Focus off yourself.”

403
Thunder roars violently, and this time, the lightening is visible
through the thick curtains. I drag my eyes round, searching the
cramped-up living room for a clock.

The clock hangs above the painting of a black woman bent over so
that her hands and legs are the only provision for her cover.

She looks pensive as though in deep connection with something


unseen. It’s 9:50 pm. 

“Wow, time flies so fast,” he glances at the clock and back at me.

“…When you are talking with someone amazing.” 

When I step out to the veranda, the cold hits me like a hurricane. I
cringe and turn to him, my face close to his warm chest. Something
inside of me moves. 

“Gush, it’s so cold,” he jumps back inside. “You should go now.

This rain will last till morning.” 

He rushes inside and returns with a grey hoodie. 

“Here,” he throws it over me.

He walks me to the car, one hand in pocket, and the other wrapped
around my shoulder. “Try to talk to God, Victoria,” he says.

“Thank you, Randy.”


As I jump into my car, I imagine that I give him a hug and a deep
kiss. I imagine my arms around him, my face in his chest. I flinch,

404
wishing I didn’t have to leave. 

He leans over the closed door. “Maybe we could hang out some-
time, see if we can still remember how to make passes.”

I laugh lightly. “Or just watch a movie; that your large screen is a
total waste.”

“It is comfort to a lonely man,” he says before thinking better of it.


“Not like I’m really lonely though but I’m… alone most of the time
you know. So, we can see a movie. Tomorrow night.”

“That’s a date,” I flick him a smile and start the engine. 

God, I love him. I know it must feel awkward that I’m telling you
about this, the first time I try to talk to you? But really, I love him
with all my heart.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

405
JUNE
When my mother made her usual sneak into my room last
night, she’d placed her hand on my tommy and said a prayer. Then
she’d sat there talking.

She talked about her childhood. She told me how hurt she was
when her father packed his things and left the house after daily
fights with her mother.

She told me how lonely she was, when at 3 she was alone in the
house, while her mother had to go to work all day, and sometimes
in the night.

She talked about her constant search for love. Her face lit up when
she talked about how she met her Jay.

Then, it dampened when her Jay became a totally different person.


She cringed when she explained how she saw Jay’s blown up plane
on TV.  

She spoke with accurate details. She remembered exact dates and
explained real emotions. She talked when I gave rapt attention. She
talked when I was no longer listening.

She talked until my eyes swam around like a wavy sea. She talked
when I started to breathe heavily, eyes closed, her voice echoing like
a distant wind.

I have become accustomed to the happy faces and vibrant smiles


at The Gathering. I have sunk into their overwhelming tenderness

406
and accepted their kindness. I have found home.

Today is our family meeting. We gather in a circle, Randy in the


middle as the ‘father’ probing into our lives and offering priceless
advice. 

His white shirt with Ankara patterns woven on the sleeves says:
“God is love.” His face gleams when he talks, and flickers when he
smiles. 

My heart jumps when he says my name. I turn to him, hoping he


won’t ask a question I am unable to answer.

“Would you please get on the keyboard?” his gaze, alongside every-
one else’s is fixed on me.

I start to shake my head, then I hold it in the middle. My heart


starts a new kind of beating that sends my nerves shooting up as
the terrifying eyes stick to me until I move myself heavily to the
seat behind the keyboard. 

Randy starts a worship song, the others join in. When the song has
been repeated thrice, I know that what’s missing is the tune that’s
meant to be made by me.

I close my eyes and lead my fingers slowly through the keys. I


thump 6 keys, then move my fingers to the next 6, and then back
to where I started. I nod slowly as the music flows into my heart.

Before long, people get off their seats, raising their hands, talking
animatedly with a pained look on their bright faces. Randy breaks
out in a different language and other voices clatter incomprehen-

407
sibly.

A soft breeze blows over my face, causing a tender grip in my stom-


ach. It is like floating on water. Like flying in the air. Like falling
off a cliff, yet you enjoy the glide, knowing you would not hit the
ground.

Then slowly, it quietens. Randy’s voice breaks the solemn silence


with repeated: “Thank you Jesus” before ordering the church to
have their seat.

I remain stuck behind the keyboard, feeling as though I belong


among the keys.

Vikky looks up and flashes a delighted wink. I know that’s a sign


that I played well. I allow the pride to swell my chest.

People talk freely about their lives. A girl in tears speaks about the
illness of her brother. Randy tells her that by Jesus’ stripes he was
already healed, she only had to pray for him in faith.

A boy asks if it’s the right time to ask out a girl he was in love with.

Randy smiles at him, and asks if he could start out by being the
girl’s friend first, then maybe he could invite her to church.

He shrugs and says he would try. “How are you doing, Uyai.” Ran-
dy calls at the girl that sneaks ghostly to the back of the church.

“I’m fine,” she says gloomily.


“How is your family?”

408
She squeezes her eyes shut and shrugs. “I don’t know.” 

“How is your book coming?” Randy presses on

“Done editing, I’ll be printing in a couple of days.”

“Would you like to speak to me about it later?” 

She nods.

“Victoria!” Randy turns to Vikky.

She raises her head wryly, avoiding his eyes. 

“How’s your foundation doing?”

“Great! We are planning an outreach for next month.”

Randy smiles affectionately at her. My heart misses a beat. She has


on, a grey hoodie. A faint memory of the hoodie drops heavily in
my heart from that day at the park, when Randy first spoke to me.
My stomach twists in condensed fury.

I try to dismiss it with a thump of the keyboard, burying my head


in the soft music.
“How are you, June?” he smiles.

“Fine,” I wince as my abdomen growls at the soft movement wig-


gling inside of me. 

“Are you alright?” “She’s saying hello,” I glance at my stomach and


flash a cheery smile.

409
“Did you do the scan?” “No, but I believe she’s a girl.”

Excited glees ring out from different directions as my heart bloats


in glee.

“She would be so adorable. When are we expecting her?” Bekka


shrieks.

“She’s 7 months old now. All things being equal, she’ll be in our
arms in two months.”

Bekka gasps. “Wow. Your baby would be born in June!”

The realization hits me. My baby would be born on the same


month I was born. She would be a second me.

She is my second chance. She is the chance to right all my wrongs.


To give all the love I never had.

To be everything I couldn’t be. To have everything I ever lacked.


She is my chance to be a better person.

These thoughts linger until I don’t have time to think about it


when Vikky asks: “What will you call her?”

“June Jesus.” 
Randy chuckles. “Remember how offended you were when I called
you that the first time we met?”

I smile as the memory flickers. “It isn’t my name. I had every right
to be. Now you’ve found the rightful owner.”

410
He giggles. “Yes ma. Since Jesus is the father, I am relieved of that
responsibility,” he raises his hands. “But I still volunteer anyway.”

My heart floats with joy as I think about my daughter. I think


about how happy she would be, jumping from one arm to another,
seeing these faces smile at her, at every chance.

I heave a grateful sigh at how much love she would be born into.

We rise to pray for Bekka’s elections. Randy says that she is victo-
rious, notwithstanding the outcome; That God has set her up as a
leader in her generation.

A woman that would stand strong as Deborah stood for her peo-
ple. That God will make her brave to stand against people that
want to bring her down.

And because she has chosen to shine her light, her light will illu-
minate others.

When he starts to say a prayer for June Jesus, my eyes fall closed.

A wide smile forms on my face as I feel her make an excited leap.  

You will be a perfect child, June Jesus. 

411
412