The room is dim. Harsh incense pervades your nostrils. Your eyes fall on a bar, a sofa and imitations of African relics stuck to the wall; others, much larger, at various points, aligned–a carved Ibibio, a wooden ekpo face mask with hinged jaws, an Ife bronze head of man with scarification’s and holes along its hair-line and neck.
You shiver, begin to retreat.
You listen: “Yahaya…” It is a whisper. It is your name.
You take a step backward, but scales seem to fall from your eyes and you see a slender hand beckon to you, like a priest to a stray lamb. And there she lays, a woman in a corner of the room, coiled, tiny flame burning from a small cup beside her, revealing tattoos of couples in pervasive sex acts.
A fright spirit possesses you.
Still, your feet advance, feeling the floor, learning to trust what should not be trusted. When you falter, she gazes at you, to the depth of you, and you are drawn to her, like a ram to the slaughter.
Everything about her is beautiful, terrifyingly so. Face, sculptured to perfection, arms are slender, legs are long. Then those secret places your preacher spoke about just last Sunday. Man and wife alone, he had said. But you dare not stop. No, you cannot. No one ever told you sin was this sweet and yet today you tour and bask in its glory.
You rewrite your history:
You begin with Sunday, that holy day called the Sabbath. There is heavy traffic at the intersection that leads to Wusasa, in Zaria, your birth place. So you have seen it all, the ganuwa, that great wall built by Queen Amina who lived centuries before, a brave woman whose legendary exploits is hardly talked about. But you made it your business to investigate, head buried in the town’s community library, even while you were in secondary school. Your discovery helped you make an important decision. You fell in love with History. This is why you gaze at the ganuwa in a manner only a visitor would.
But you are a different kind of visitor. Your account ignores this, takes you into Wusasa, where the Evangelical church you attend with your parents is located. By the way, you are at the back seat, your father behind the wheel, your mother by his side, aligogoro grazing the ceiling while she nags about what the pastor will think of “our late arrival”.
You will not be late. You are never late, really.
The service is a part you rush through, even in reliving this history. You did same that fateful day before you met her–rushed it in your mind, the preacher’s lips flapping faster like the forward button you depress on the remote control when you watch pornographic videos. You naughty historian!
You are already outside, six feet frame in expensive ‘church’ shirt, lazy against father’s gleaming Benz. She saunters your way. You get your bearing. It is not that you are not used to seeing beautiful women. Sometimes all you do is look at them through church service. It is the one sin you are faithful in. You have not seen what they look like beyond their dresses. You only fantasize about these. You blush even, when teens, eighteen-year-olds like yourself, pay you extra attention. But this woman, she asks you to take her around town.
“I’m new here, you know,” she says, not letting your eyes stray.
They stray. You can hardly look into hers. They remind you of that popular river that keeps claiming lives in your neighbourhood. But you agree, head bobbing in the affirmative.
* * *
You wake. Shake your head to clear the dream. Or was it? You cannot see a thing in the darkness. You feel the softness of where you lie. Fall off. The floor is hard, cold, tiled. You stagger a little, get hold of something.
“Aaaaahhh!” It is rough.
“Ah!” This time your hands are more familiar with the objects.
You do not give up until you find a door.
It opens in your hands, soundlessly.
Now you know it is not a dream. It is the same door you came through. You brought yourself.
Right before your eyes, day begins to break. You have never slept outside home. Not in this manner. Then you see the note. Written by hand, stuck to the door.
You devour it with eyes that grow ever darker and slouch onto the steps.
Tears begin to fall.
You do not comprehend why.
But some day, you will write about her–about the wind that fateful night, the lightening as it ushered her stepfather in the darkness and devil’s brew in his breath, he ravaged her. To survive the ordeal, she thought of better things; the soft lines on her father’s face when he spoke to her, the worst; his trembling hands at the point of death, eyes passing through her mother to hold hers.
So the men had started coming. Once poorly kept secrets, now open. They all loved to touch the little girl, play with her. She was just twelve. When she was eighteen, she marked her birthday in a strange town in the arms of a strange man with a familiar breath. When she was much older, the sexually transmitted disease was born in one of such moments, so she took care of herself and planned her payback. She called it, operation killing eighteen.
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Nathaniel Bivan is a writer and journalist based in Abuja, Nigeria. His novel Dear Brethren is due to be released in 2017. He blogs at christazine.wordpress.com.