The room was dull white enclave of overused sheets and lingering smells of past affairs. The two occupants of the room slept on the bed. Far away from each other as their ages were far apart, they drifted in the world of dreams and saw things that baffled them. The man, middle aged and well preserved, saw himself sharing his favourite meal of Banga soup and Starch with the American president in a dark room. The girl, blooming with youth, perky breasts pointing ceiling ward dreamt of more somber subjects. She tossed and turned, and tried to escape the voice of the weeping apparition that followed her everywhere she went.
My daughter was sickâ€¦.he liedâ€¦he said he did not have money.
The girl hurried along the road that was covered with stones and thorny bushes that drew blood from her feet, but the apparition, female and shabbily dressed, managed to float ahead of her, continuing its keening cries.
He has abandoned usâ€¦he has abandoned his family.
The girl found her voice. It was an angry one.
â€œStop following me,â€ she screamed, stamping her feet at the apparition and then turning away from it. Facing her former direction, she began to run, bare feet pounding ground that hardened and caked under her. As she ran, she noticed the eerie silence that surrounded her and the woman that stood waiting for her at the bank of what resembled a river in the distance. When she drew close to the river and the woman, she realized that it was the apparition who had now assumed a more solid form. The tears were gone now. Her face bore a sinister expression as she raised long gnarly fingers towards the girl.
â€œYou have chosen to reap where you did not sow,â€ she said, her shrill voice reverberating through the place. â€œThe money you collect from my husbandâ€¦you will never use it well. You will never know the joy of marriage. Countless men will go through you but none will call you wife.â€
The girl opened her mouth to reply the woman but her tongue refused to move. She stood frozen and afraid as a sudden wind began whipping around the woman, lifting her in the air and dumping her before the girl. Long bony fingers wrapped themselves around the girlâ€™s neck and squeezed, and she gasped for air, hands flying towards the womanâ€™s face.
â€œHey, heyâ€¦wake upâ€¦wake up!â€
Light overcame darkness. The woman and the river disappeared, leaving the girl completely disoriented by her new surroundings. The man beside her was frowning, his dream of Banga soup and the American president chased into the shadows by the recessed lights in the ceiling of the room.
â€œYou were shouting,â€ the man said again, falling back on the pillows and scratching his stomach. He eyed the girlâ€™s naked breasts. â€œYou were having a bad dream?â€
The girl rubbed her eyes and rolled to her side, facing the man.
A lecherous smile on his face, the man leaned forward and tweaked the small round dark nipple on the girlâ€™s left breast with his thumb and forefinger. The girl pushed his hand away and attempted to roll out of his reach, but she was restrained by the manâ€™s searching hands and promises of more money. She sighed and rolled from her side to her back, spreading her legs for the man. She remembered her dream as the man penetrated her.
You will never know the joy of marriage. Countless men will go through you but none will call you wife.
She closed her eyes to the voice and tolerated the clumsy kisses of the man panting and growling on top of her. She was relieved when the man released a breathless squeal and rolled off her. He showered afterwards and she went in after him, rushing through her own shower, eyes on the rapidly brightening sky outside the small bathroom window. She had a test that morning, but that was not important. Her stop at the Samsung showroom on Allen Avenue was the reason for her eagerness to start the day. She would join the league of Android users today. She pictured herself with the Samsung S4 she had seen with her one of her roommates and shook with excitement.
When she returned back to the room at the end of her shower, she met the man lacing his shoes. He finished with his shoes and snapped his leather briefcase open.
â€œHere,â€ he said, handing her a thick wad of Naira notes, â€œYour money.â€
She stood in the manâ€™s way and counted the money. She gave a satisfied nod in the end. It was the amount they agreed. Tucking the money into her bag, she slipped into her clothes. She left the hotel in a cheerful mood, nodding happily to the guards standing in the carpeted lobby. She walked only a few meters before she found a taxi. The driver was a young man who smiled a lot and muttered prayers under his breath. He looked at her in the rear view mirror and asked her if she was fasting. She lowered the mirror she had been staring into to her lap.
â€œBecause it is Lent,â€ he said, his broad smile making him likeable. She wondered briefly if he was married or single.
The early morning traffic was light and they got to Allen Avenue in thirty minutes. When she alighted from the taxi, she waved the driver goodbye. The man looked once at the backseat and reciprocated with an exuberant wave. She sashayed into the glass enclosed show room and browsed through the electronic gadgets displayed on transparent glass stands and shelves. She found the one she was looking for. She smiled at the price tag and motioned to the male attendant watching her with hawk eyes.
â€œI want to pay for this,â€ she said, hands reaching into her bag for her money. Her fingers encountered everything â€“ from her multi coloured make up purse, used black lace panties, a toothbrush carrying residues of tooth paste at the base of its bristles, to an old Blackberry Bold five, and a bunch of keys meant for her cupboard in school, yet, the money was nowhere to be found. She smiled at the man in embarrassment and proceeded to empty the bag on the cashierâ€™s counter in the full glare of the storeâ€™s attendants and the few customers trickling into the store.
â€œExcuse me,â€ she said to no one in particular, rummaging through the scattered contents on the counter, sweat breaking through her foundation. She searched slowly, opening eye shadow boxes and checking in the torn parts of her bag for the money. Her search lasted ten minutes. By then, the cashier and the attendants were exchanging glances and whispering among themselves. The manager finally walked up to her.
â€œI am sorry, but are you still buying the phone?â€
The girl shook her head, confusion marring her beautiful features.
â€œIâ€¦I am looking for my money.â€
The manager hung in the background and then turned on his heel back to his office. Gradually coming to terms with the reality of her loss, the girl swept her possessions back into her bag and left the store. She walked into the morning sun, eyes squinting at the world as she tried to remember how she had come to lose her money. Taxis honked and drivers looked expectantly at her as they drove past. She stared with unseeing eyes at them, walking aimlessly as her mind vigorously replayed the events of the morning.
Had she left the money behind in the hotel room?
She answered herself.
No she had not.
She bit her lips, squinting harder.
Did she leave it in the taxi?
She recalled removing her mirror from her bag to check her makeup. She had also removed a few items which she placed on her lap. Then the driver had asked her if she was fastingâ€¦
The answer came to the girl and she gasped, her heart turning solid in her chest.
The money had been among the items she had removed from her bag.
â€œI left it in the taxi,â€ she said in a horrified whisper, eyes growing wild with shock. After what seemed like eternity, the world stopped spinning. She made a call to her roommate and asked for a loan.
â€œI will pay you back,â€ she whispered brokenly. â€œI am seeing Chief tomorrow.â€
She found the strength to hail the next taxi that honked at her. Flinging herself into the backseat of the taxi, she thought about her dream.
The money you collect from my husband, you will never use it well.
Her hands shook slightly as they sat on her lap. She regretted her time with Doctor Ejiro. She made up her mind to avoid him. Thank God she had Chief. He was old, graying and almost a great grandfather, but at least there would be no ghosts that rained curses in her dreams.
Yemisi pretended to read a novel as one of her roommates talked to one of her boyfriends on the phone.
Please nowâ€¦donâ€™t worry, I have something to show you when we meetâ€¦.yes nowâ€¦okayâ€¦I love you.
The girl ended her call, turned to a friend and cackled loudly.
â€œIdiot! Old fool like him. Every time you see him, he will be showing you pictures of his children in London and America, and yet common two hundred k, he cannot drop.â€
The girls laughed among themselves and moved to another pressing matter â€“ the issue of Camillaâ€™s confrontation with Sofia in Cruel love. They argued over the Mexican soap, voices deepening with conviction as they pitched camps with television characters.
â€œSofia should calm down. Anthonio likes her.â€
â€œIs not Sofia fault, is Anthonio. He cannot make up his mind ni? I just hate how men used to do sometimes.â€
Yemisi stopped listening to them. She thought about the persistent itch in her private part. It consumed her thoughts and took away every desire to partake in normal everyday activities. She had used every medication she could lay her hands on, and yet the itch continued. To make things worse, the itching was accompanied by a colourless discharge that seemed to contain a million squirmy things that walked all over her privates and the skin of her thighs. Yemisi was afraid. She had to talk to someone.
She dropped her novel on the bed and stood up from the bed with a sigh. The itch began in earnest and she squirmed on her bed to relieve herself. Her squirming stopped when her roommate Folake burst into the room and snapped her fingers at one of the girls discussing Telemundo.
â€œThe one thousandâ€¦quickâ€¦the taxi is waiting.â€
Yemisi left her bed and her room, walking slowly up to stairs to seek Peroâ€™s advice. Behind her, her roommates were shaking their heads.
â€œHow can she forget money in taxi like that?â€
â€œWo, she better pay me back on time. I cannot be working for someone to come and be chopping.â€
As for Yemisi, she found herself standing before a locked door when she got upstairs to Peroâ€™s room. She stopped a girl she had seen once with Peroâ€™s roommate Eno. The girl stopped beside her, a curious smile on her face.
â€œPlease have you seen them?â€
The girlâ€™s smile disappeared. She shook her head.
â€œI have not seen anyone.â€
Yemisi watched he girl disappear into the room beside Peroâ€™s own. She struggled with recalling the girlâ€™s name and finally got it. The girl was Joy. Her reaction to Yemisiâ€™s question had been surprising. Yemisi resolved to find out the reason for the girlâ€™s behaviour, but that would be after she found a cure for the thing between her thighs.
The band was cold and heavy on the fourth finger of Patriciaâ€™s left hand. She wriggled her fingers, trying to get used to the weight as she walked beside Tola to the car park. She looked at the busy road beside the registry and told herself it wasnâ€™t real. They had just played dress up and she was going back to the hostel with the friends that walked behind her in their impromptu pink satin dresses and strappy high heeled sandals. They were going to laugh and joke about the whole thing.
I pronounce you husband and wife?! Really? Who got married with just three people in attendance?
â€œHow do you feel?â€
Patricia looked at Tola. Handsome in his black suit, the hand wearing the gold band that bound him to her on the small of her back, he appeared to be slipped into his new role perfectly. She was not as lucky. It was hard to imagine herself as a married woman.
Tola smiled, â€œthat makes the two of us.â€
His words cheered Patricia, and she stopped feeling guilty for her mixed up emotions. She smiled.
â€œYes it does.â€
Tolaâ€™s driver sprang out of his other car, a black Range Rover Sport and stood under the scorching sun as they approached. Patricia slowed down to join her friends. Tola shook the hands the girls offered him and thanked them for attending the wedding. Finished with his goodbyes, he walked to the car he and Patricia had driven in to wait for her.
â€œWhen are you going to tell your parents?â€
Patricia sighed at Enoâ€™s question.
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
â€œBut honestly, I think this is kind of romantic,â€ Eno added dreamily. â€œI wish I can do the same. Big weddings are not my thing.â€
Onyinye and Pero added their voice to Enoâ€™s day dream. They all wanted small weddings. Then, they wanted to get married at the registry too. They wanted a lot of things. It was Patriciaâ€™s tired smile that told them it was time to go. She promised to return back to the hostel the following day. She hugged her friends and waited as they were driven out of the registry compound. Tola was on the phone when she went to meet him in his car.
â€œI did it already Deji. I donâ€™t care if he finds out.â€
The walls of Patriciaâ€™s stomach tightened as reality dawned. They had gotten married without the consent of their parents. She didnâ€™t want to think what would happen next.
It was evening when Chief Opanuga found out about the marriage of his third sonâ€¦.He shook with rage at the news. What irked him was the fact that he had just gotten off the phone with his friend after a conversation on a future family alliance. Adebayo Lewis had been his friend for ages. Disappointing him was not something Chief Opanuga planned to do. Hands behind his back, he paced for several minutes in his massive bedroom. It was incomprehensible how his children enjoyed going against his wishes. Deji had gone ahead with his importation business even after he warned him not to. Doyin would not listen to him about taking over the reins of control in the bank he owned and now Tola was toeing in the line of his older siblings. Chief Opanuga stopped in the middle of the room and called his driver.
â€œGet ready. I am going to Tolaâ€™s house now.â€
Now out of his suit and dressed down in a pair of jeans and blue T-shirt, Tola strolled into the living room to open the door for his father who had brusquely announced his presence downstairs a few minutes ago. He stood, shoulders squared and legs apart behind his favourite sofa and looked into the face that was a lined, older version of his own.
â€œSo you are married?â€
Chief Opanugaâ€™s expression became ferocious.
Chief Opanuga felt his blood surge with anger.
â€œYou went against my wishes Tola.â€
Tolaâ€™s chin lifted. His lips tightened.
â€œI am talking to you Tola. Did you go against my wishes or not?â€
â€œThis is my life we are talking about. I am not letting anyone dictate who I fall in love with.â€
â€œAh, I see. So I am now dictating for you, is that it?â€
â€œI didnâ€™t say that.â€
Tola did not have to say anything about his fatherâ€™s controlling ways. It was the usual cause of conflict between him and children. Chief Opanuga liked to chart the course the lives of his children took. It did not matter if they wanted something else.
â€œThis marriage,â€ Chief Opanuga said, his face screwing up with distaste, â€œwhere did it happen?â€
Chief Opanuga nodded. â€œGood. You are canceling it.â€
Tola shook his head. â€œNo I am not. You canâ€™t cancel a marriage that has been registered.â€
Chief Opanuga glared at his favourite son while his mind worked tirelessly to find another means to put an end to the unpleasant reality of his marriage. He remembered something.
â€œYou can annul it then.â€
Tola gave his father another shake of head.
â€œNo I wonâ€™t.â€
â€œDonâ€™t push me Tola.â€
â€œI am not trying to push you or anything. I am married and that is that. I am not changing anything to please anybody.â€
Chief Opanuga pointed a finger that shook with annoyance at his son.
â€œYou have forty eight hours to change your mind if you intend to retain your position at Zlo.â€
Tola shrugged but his father was already on his way out of his living room. The door slammed in his wake. Exhaling now that the confrontation with his father was over, Tola walked to lock his door and turned back to his bedroom. Patricia was behind the door, fingers linked together. Tola paused at the sight of her in an old navy blue T-shirt and shredded blue jeans short. He liked what he saw. He liked it a lot.
â€œHe is right. We could get an annulment,â€ Patricia said, lips turning in rueful smile.
Tola followed her as she walked back to the bed and picked up her phone. Swiping a finger on the screen, she tapped her password into the password bar and read the page she had been visiting before Tola returned to the room. Her back turned towards him, she read the article that opened on her screen.
â€œThis article says you can actually annul a marriage that hasnâ€™t been very long.â€
She faced him, a brave smile masking the turmoil she was feeling. Hearing his father tear him apart because of their wedding that morning made her want to renounce every vow she had taken during the twenty minute ceremony.
Tola reached for her, a frown on his face.
â€œWe are not annulling anything. He has to get used to the fact that I am old enough to make my own decisions.â€
He pulled her into his arms and kissed her neck.
Patricia forgot all about annulments. She wrapped her arms around his middle.
â€œUntil I lose my job?â€
Patricia giggled. â€œMaybe.â€
Tola laughed, the sound vibrating under her cheek.
â€œYou read the vows wrong. It said for better for worse.â€
Patricia stood on a tip toe and kissed Tola. Her kiss wiped the smile from his lips. He snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her against him. His hands roamed her body, caressing her chest and her sides. He teased her, tongue sliding along her bottom lip and then slipping past her lips to explore her mouth. Patricia moaned. Tola smirked against her lips. He loved how responsive she was with him. There was no doubt that she was the one for him. He would hold on to their marriage, ultimatum or not.
Pero was alone in her room. Done with their bridesmaid duties, Eno and Onyinye had left her alone to wait for her boyfriend. She changed positions on the bed for the third time. Her body twisted in an awkward angle and legs dangling from the bed, she browsed through her Facebook page, checking the updates and profiles of her friends. Boredom soon caught up with her and she threw the phone on the bed.
Where was Joe?
The reddish yellow rays of dusk fell across the louvers of the window, giving splintered light to the dark room. Pero was fighting anger and losing. Her boyfriend had called to tell her about his plan to drop off a female colleague at home before coming to the campus to pick her. She stood up from the bed and straightened her floral print Bandeau maxi dress. She recognized trouble when she saw it. Something was not right about Joe dropping the same female at home for the second week running.
Her phone rang. She hurried to the bed. It was Joe. He told her he was downstairs. She picked her bag from her bed and dashed downstairs to confront him about his late arrival and his recent chauffer duties. His smile was tired when she entered his car. Peroâ€™s olfactory nerves overrode her optical nerves. She smelled the female perfume in his car even before she saw the tired rings under his eyes.
â€œWhat is going on?â€
Joe exhaled softly. Confusion dulled his handsome face.
â€œThis thing with your colleague.â€
â€œYou drop her home every day.â€
â€œNo I do not.â€
Pero was in the mood for an argument, so she indulged herself, counting on fingers all of Joeâ€™s sins, cutting all of his explanations before they even left his mouth. He gave up in the end.
They sat in a sullen silence, staring into headlights and half naked females with bouncing body parts. They sat for a while until someone knocked on the passenger window. It was Yemisi and her face was contorted in pain. Her lips moved, causing fog to appear on the window. Pero read her lips.
Jo mo fe ri e.
Remembering her manners and her discomfort, Yemisi looked past Pero at Joe and waved. He returned her wave, brows dipping as they took in the ample cleavage escaping her top. Pero excused herself, leaving Joeâ€™s car to stand outside with Pero.
â€œSorry but please can your boyfriend take me to Tabade?â€
The urgency on Yemisiâ€™s face scared Pero.
â€œWhy? What happened?â€
Yemisi rubbed her thighs together.
â€œSomethingâ€¦something is inside me. I donâ€™t know what it is but I have to see a doctor.â€
â€œBut Tabade is a pharmacy.â€
â€œWo, Pero any one. Let me just go and see someone who will prescribe something for me.â€
Pero had no choice but to break the cold silence between her and Joe. She made her request. Joe reached for his ignition without a word. They drove to the pharmacy at Akoka. Yemisi rushed inside, asking in a quivering voice if the doctor was around. The woman at the reception desk who doubled as the attendant confirmed that he was, but she was to wait because he had just resumed. Yemisi doubled over and groaned loudly.
Please I have to see him now. Please!
The pharmacy attendant rushed into a room at the back of the pharmacy. She came out in minutes, ushering Yemisi inside. The doctor was waiting for her. In her garbled English, she explained her condition. The doctor placed her on his examination table, parted her thighs and looked at her bruised infected privates.
â€œYou have been scratching.â€
â€œYes, yes,â€ Yemisi panted, eyes filling with tears. The doctor shook his head and went to business immediately, filling syringes with medicines and setting needles on them. He gave Yemisi two shots on each cheek of her buttocks. She took the pain without a whimper. He wrote some things on a paper and handed it to her.
â€œGive her,â€ he said, motioning to the door. Yemisi pulled her trousers over her sensitive buttocks and limped to meet the attendant. The woman looked once at the paper and brought out small plastic containers holding round white tablets. There was a tube of ointment among her package.
â€œUse it twice daily,â€ the attendant told her.
The bill was high but Yemisi had enough money to settle it. She was a little surprised to find Pero waiting outside the pharmacy with her boyfriend. They drove her back to school and Joe endured her effusive thanks. When she disappeared into the hostel, Joe asked Pero what her plans were for the night.
â€œGoing home with you.â€
Joe took her home. They had a long talk that night. His colleagueâ€™s car was stolen three weeks ago. He dropped her off at her place at Dolphin Estate because had been friends for a while and that was what friends did. And no, he did not fancy her. How did he know she was not interested in him? She had a fiance and her marriage was just a month away.
â€œYou are jealous and temperamental,â€ Joe said in the end, a quirky smile on his face. â€œBut I love you all the same.â€
Pero moaned about how perfect he was.
â€œI am not.â€
â€œYes you are.â€
â€œWhat if I told you I was once aâ€¦.â€
Pero frowned when his eyes became distant.
â€œOnce a what?â€
Joe kissed her on the nose.
â€œI will tell you tomorrow.â€
Pero slept with her questions.
Did Joe have skeletons in his closet?
Yoruba words used
Jo mo fe ri e â€“ Please I would like to see you.
Umari Ayim is the author of â€œTwilight At Terracotta Indigoâ€ and â€œInside my Headâ€. She blogs at www.umariayim.com/