(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A.Adams… continued from last week)
I was told I needed to smile a little, flirt a little, hold my breath, tuck in this righteous indignation of mine, and add some mirth to my moral might. This will open the doors of possibility to escape and return to Nigeria, they hypothesized. When you find yourself in Rome, do as the Romans do, they philosophized.
While I thought about this, one night, Mama Tee came to our room with a girl who wore a sleeveless, figure-hugging dress that stopped above her knees. She looked youthful but her youthfulness appeared crushed under the weight on her shoulders. She ordered her to strip and when she did, I saw deep and shallow lacerations crisscrossing her back.
Those that have healed, and those still with fresh blood clots.
“Do you want your story to be like Emily, ” her croaky voice snapped me back to reality from the momentarily horrifying sight.
“No ma,” Uju answered, not showing much surprise. Chelsea and Somto too said same. I remained speechless.
And then in an act that was both stupefying and horrifying, she yanked off her tight blouse, unmasking her unnaturally yellow skin. All the folds around her chest, spilled out, excited to be let out of their packaging.
“See, this is my power….,” she pointed to the incisions on her upper back, turning her head at angle 90. “The mothers gave me. It is not for nothing,” she said with such bombastic gesture that showed her eyes, which were empty of warmth and ominous with evil.
She told us we all must go to the club every night and remit the profit to her in the morning.
When she left, I laid on my bed, my face buried under the lean pillow, and cried out my heart. For once, I was scared. Really scared. Not about her, but about what she was mandating us do- “remit profit?”
The following night, I laid on the mattress, face down. A portion of my King James Bible was open before me, I tried to read but the lines were not only blurry, they were skipping.
Meanwhile, Uju and the rest were chirping like birds, preening like peacocks in front of the half broken mirror in the room, dressing for the club. Uju was in a velvet black jumper and a black micro mini leather skirt. Leaning on her left shoulder was Chelsea in a similar costume. Somto wore a red wig, red off-the-shoulder, lycra mini dress with a matching ankle-length stiletto heels. They were taking selfies and practising erotic dance for the night.
“Angel , oya get up make we go,” Uju said. Her bangles jangled as she commandeered me with a wave.
“Point of correction, my name is not Angel.”
“But Madam say make we call you Angel. It is for ya protection.”
“Oya, oya, make we go,” Chelsea added.
“I am not going anywhere,” I retorted.
“You want to see the wrath of Madam, she will beat nonsense out of you,” Somto chipped in.
“Remember Emily oh, ” Chelsea added.
“I said I am not going anywhere. You guys should leave me alone!” I screamed.
As they slammed the door on me and left, my stomach churned immediately at the smell of incipient trouble.
The next day when the girls remitted money made from the previous night to MamaTee, “I was on my period,” I lied when it got to my turn to account.
“What???” she yelled like a woman in labour. Her visage suddenly changed, I thought I saw one of those witches in the movies.
“What do you mean you no go club? You think you come here to sleep and eat for free?”
“I, I,III” am… sss sorry ma… I just started my menstrual period yesterday and my stomach was really upset…”
The other girls turned at me with a look of ‘we warned you’.
“Why I give you tablet, analgesic, flagil…eh? Funto… Angel…Angel…Angelica….eh? ….how many times did I call you???”
“Three times,” I answered, my voice quivering. For the first time, the implication of what she was asking me to do dawned on me. I became even more scared. “I want to return to Nigeria,” I said through tears.
“You are joking,” she breathed out with an enthusiastic meanness. “I give you two days…two days,” she repeated for emphasis, “….to dry your fountain of blood”. She widened her eyes at me, snapped her fingers.
“Get out! ” She barked. I ran like a frightened chick to the room.
For three days, I mourned. I mourned the loss of my family—of my father and mother, who though alive, are to me currently dead, of my three elder brothers and my only younger sister.
How could dad have thrown me out of the house because I refused to follow him to his Aladura church? Why would he pour water on me because I was caught speaking in tongues? “That’s balderdash!” He had rebuked.
Why would he have flogged me because I was caught attending fellowship? “You have gone wacko!” he had said and threatened to stop my education if I didn’t obey him? What had changed in this beloved dad of mine, who had loved me so much and had given me a coat of many colours.
Perhaps I was truly a disobedient child. Perhaps I was too young to have held an opinion or hold on to my faith?
I cried through my rue and retrospect. I wore sackcloth, ate nothing, drank nothing, said nothing to no-one.
Here was I, a child born and bred, buttered and watered in a puritanical home. A child brought up by an enlightened, Lagos family- Zachariah Colesworth’s pride. A child that grew up eating Weetabix, ice cream and drinking Horlicks, a child pregnant with the dream to impact the cosmos. Now her own world is on a free fall. I had never felt so disabled, so bereaved, so powerless and so alone in this world.
At the end of my two-day ultimatum, Somto laid her hands on my shoulder, where I lay.
“Don’t cry again. You are a fine girl with a fine body,” her head was bent sideways in sympathy.
I looked at her with grief-stricken horror. “Meaning? ”
Her face suddenly lit up that I considered her worthy of a reply.
“It’s easy, do it.”
“As the Romans do?”