It’s raining. Your pink sandals are saturated. Water has seeped into their soles and settled resolutely between your toes, causing every step you take to create a squish-squish sound. You have never liked your feet wet. The wetness irritates you, tickling between your toes like earth worms. If you had rubber sandals on, you wouldn’t be this disconcerted, because rubber isn’t ruined by vapor, though sounds more provoking when wet. You wish you hadn’t worn this pink suede sandals your Mother bought you on her last trip to France on a day like this.
For a moment your mind wanders off. You stop thinking about the rain, your wet sandals, your tunic shirt glued to your back like snake-skin. The only thing on your mind is the reason you have come this far down the road, with a strong-willed resolve.
You don’t know what you will do to him when you see him. You don’t know what you will say. You don’t know if he will be in the company of the same men who came knocking last night. You were watching Hotel Majestic, your favorite African drama series, when you heard a knock at the door. You walked towards the vestibule, paying no attention to where you were headed as you chewed on the juice sac of the orange you had in your hand. This was the spellbinding part of the day’s episode, the part where the Honorable pays a group of miscreants to flog Maja for insulting an elderly village man. You’d heard a lot from your online friends that the scene was heartbreaking. You were waiting your turn to cry when you opened the door.
You knew him from his scent, standing amidst the four men. They all had ski masks on yet you knew him; because it had to be someone who knew you, someone who knew you well enough to know your mother had traveled and you’d been left home alone. It had been two months since your mother fired him, since you told her he’d been dipping his finger into the pit of your navel and tickling you inappropriately. Somehow, at the back of your mind, you always knew he’d be back someday. And you were ready for him.
You were tired of keeping quiet about his advances, about the times he would rub your lower back repeatedly, holding you close when you brought him food on a white-flowered ceramic plate, the one with the little ornament on the side. He loved that plate. He’d been around so long you no longer could tell if he was friend or family. Your Mother had brought him from the village after you’d convinced her she needed help round the house. He was young, with a strength that accompanied youth, and your Mother knew she would find good use for his labor in the city. Who better than someone she could trust, someone from the same village to help look after the big compound, water the flowers, wash her cars, and ensure the security of the house. It made perfect sense to bring him to the city.
Your Mother was almost never home, busy with her work at the Ministry of Agriculture. You called him Uncle because he was older and anything else would have been considered disrespectful. That day, you both were playing in the citrus grove, watering the plants and sprinkling the water over your heads, when he took you up in his arms, spun you around and cupped your breasts. You said nothing to him about finding it inappropriate. Instead, you mentioned it to your Mother when she got back from work, said you did not like the way he fondled you. Your Mother, of course, became livid, sending him packing immediately, despite his tears and pleas. “I swear, Ma. To God who made me, it is the handwork of the devil. I will never come close to her again,” he begged, genuflecting on the floor.
Now, he was here, with four other men built just like him—tall, broad, and muscular.
You weren’t thinking straight when you opened the door. You weren’t thinking at all. Your mind was on the TV, the orange was in your mouth, and as Maja cried on screen from the whips, for some reason, the sweet orange you were eating turned sour. You always thought Maja was handsome. He was your favorite character in the entire TV series, and there were nights you dreamed that you were his sleeping beauty, that he came to wake you up with the softness of his perky lips. In your dreams you kissed him back, hard, because a part of you knew it had all been a dream and when you woke up the real Maja wouldn’t be there.
You veered off the screen to look at who was standing outside the door. The first man pushed you to the ground as he came in, grabbed you by the wrist and dragged you to the center of the living-room while the remaining men came in, shutting the door behind them.
They surrounded you. Your head was slouched on the cushion-top and the one who seemed to you to be the ring leader knelt before you, observing the fear in your eyes. Through the holes in his ski mask you could see the color of his eyes—amethyst. He swayed his head from left to right as though giving you ample time to imagine what he looked like beneath the mask. He walked his fingers from your bosom all the way up to your lips. He put his index finger into your mouth, sank it deep, pulled it out, and tasted you on it. He enjoyed seeing you trembling, sweat dripping down the root of your hair and tumbling down your temples. He seemed to have enjoyed the taste of your saliva.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” he broke into laughter.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” you followed suit.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha,” they, too.
He stood up, helped you to your feet, and ordered that everything in the living-room be destroyed. With the cudgels they carried they broke through the pier-glass, the dinette table made of glass, and tore open the cushion pillows. Approaching the LG flat-screen TV—
“No, not the TV!” you interposed. “I still want to complete my Hotel Majestic.” You picked up the remote control, pressed rewind, and paused it where you left off.
“Ngozi, where did you say she keeps the money, these days?” the ring leader asked you, taking off his ski mask.
It felt exhilarating to see his boyish face, because even though you’d all agreed on this one plan, you were apprehensive, because you had imagined how things could go horribly wrong.
“It’s upstairs, Dubem. Come, let me show you guys,” you said.
On the staircase, whilst you led the way, he hugged you from behind, spun you around, and you fell into his lips. It felt just like kissing Maja in your dreams. You kissed him harder than you ever had.
“Oya, oya. We did not come to play,” said one of the men as they all went up the stairs. “Let’s finish what we came here for and be going.”
You led them to your Mother’s bedroom. They broke down the door. Then you showed them the wardrobe, where your mother had stashed a huge amount of her savings. They took it all, roughened the room a little to show that the house had been robbed, and went downstairs.
When they got to the vestibule, Dubem said to you: “Don’t scream yet. Do it when we have gone. I’ll keep your share of the money until you come to-morrow,” and he kissed you, briefly, on the lips, and left with his gang.
You did not scream after they’d left, because you did not want the neighbors to come rushing into the house. “Strangers,” your Mother considered them. And she loathed negative publicity.
You picked your way around the disheveled sitting-room, found your phone and called her. She answered on the third ring.
“Hello, Ngozi,” she said. “What is it? Why are you awake by this time of the night?’’
“Ngozi, talk! I had a very long day, and I need to go back to bed. Is everything OK?”
You began to cry, your sobs triggering her anxiety.
“What happened? Is everything OK? Did something bad happen to you?” she asked, panic-stricken. “Ngozi! talk to me!”
You heaved a loaded sigh, then, amidst your crocodile tears, began telling her about the men who invaded the house, about the masks they wore, how you came close to being raped; but did not mention him, about the flame he ignited on your lips when he kissed you goodbye. Of course you could not tell her that. She promised to cut her trip short and send someone over the next day to take stock of the things stolen. She asked you not to cry, and to sleep in the visitors bedroom upstairs, because it was the only one that had an alarm for a deadbolt.
Dubem. His name makes your cheeks blush pink, and even though you missed him terribly in the period he was away, you both thought it necessary to have Mother kick him out of the house. If she hadn’t, there would have been cause for suspicion. It was well planned. You are young and in love. You would do anything to prove you love him.
You remember his room is cramped and stuffy. There isn’t enough air to go round. There is just a window. No cross ventilation. In the past, when you snuck out of your Mother’s house to be with him, it felt claustrophobic being inside. As you make your way under the rain in your pink suede sandal, you wonder if he would use some of that money to rent a new place, an apartment, maybe. That would be nice! This is the thought most dominant in your mind as you step out of the rain into his veranda and ring the bell.
He opens the door. You barely notice the suitcases hidden behind the pencil pleat curtains because he sweeps you off your feet almost immediately and kisses you on your lips, deeply. “I did the right thing,” you say to yourself.
He tenderly drops you on a sofa and heads into the kitchen.
“Baby, I prepared something special for you, to thank you. You’re amazing!’’ he says enthused, coming out of the kitchen.
You smile and watch as he opens a pot of steaming hot Jollof rice, with fried meat and dodo, laid out on the floor.
He disappears into the kitchen again, returns with two glasses of water and two packets of Nutri-c. He empties them into the glasses, steers with a tea spoon, and places them on the side-table. Then he kneels before you, helping you out of your wet clothes. You are naked. You take his index finger into your mouth, sinking it deep as he leans your body against the pillows and begins running his tongue over your nipples. You are happy, blissfully so. It is all you think about when you both sit on the laminated floor to eat. When you are done eating, exhausted, you crawl into bed and sleep.
When you wake up, the room is eerie and dark, and you can hear the deep-throated croaking of frogs settled in the swampy gutters outside the window. You reach across the bed for him, but he isn’t there, instead your hand grabs a phone, your phone. You swipe open the touch-screen. The screen light illuminates the room, partially. You stand up, turn on the light switch. It’s total darkness. You illuminate your path to the kitchen with the help of your phone to find him. He isn’t there. You come back to the room, flip the curtain by the door to check if the suitcases you thought you’d seen yesterday are still there. They aren’t. He is gone. And the only thing he left behind is you.
Michael Ogah, lawyer, writes to save his life. Currently working on his first novel.
Oluwatoyin Adisa, skinny, foodie, reads and writes like a maniac.