The thick smell of burning human flesh infiltrated my subconscious as the searing heat travelled the length of my Being. Fast asleep, I saw myself standing before the slow roast of a pig and watched gradually as I became the pig, roasting on the large sized grill. Slowly gaining consciousness, I opened my swollen eyes to a dense cloud of smoke suffocating me and immediately erupted in loud cough, scrambling to my feet when I realized I was the source of the smell, and that the tiny shack I lived in was on fire. The thin mattress which was padded by extra clothing had melted on my back, the candle I used for lighting was nowhere in sight. I was literally on fire.
The burning pain registered instantly as I ran out, temporarily forgetting about the fresh pains in the lower part of my abdomen with the fastest speed my legs could produce; one destination in mind – the pond down the gentle hill. With little visibility and increasing burning sensation on my back, I ran blindly to the small body of water servicing the littered shacks up the hill; the little mattress still glued to my back continued to burn.
Throwing myself in the clear water, the fire was put out instantly but the burning sensation stung me the moment my burnt back was exposed to air as I crawled out of the river weakly. My legs barely able to carry my weight now that the pain in my abdomen resurfaced like Legion after he had gone out of the possessed man in the holy book. Still sore from the forced stillbirth earlier in the day, I wept – for my loss, the pains all over my body, for been abandoned, for been abused. Resting my hands on wet earth, I cried for a long time, total darkness surrounding me save the moon that appeared from the dark clouds as I turned to face the heavens. Fearless and scarred, I sniffed in the hiccups and swore to survive. To be more. I was at my end and I knew that I was ready to rewrite my history at all cost. The night was long gone and my burnt skin was raw and prickly as I struggled to stand and take steady steps up the gentle slope. Seeing my shack burn in a distance, I wondered where I’d go to from here.
Just as I walked past a tree, I perceived the distinct smell of burning tobacco. My heart froze and I hastened my leaf-like legs but not before a deep voice commanding me to stop sounded from the dark. The moon had gone under the thick clouds again and soon the owner of the voice materialized right before me. I stepped back, the red butt of his tobacco glaring at me in the face.
“Wia you dey go?” he asked, a deep drawl in pidgin. His voice thicker than sh*t. He reeked of concentrated tobacco and dry gin – a combination I was sure he used to bath.
“Home” I answered holding my breath.
“Wia you from come?” he asked going around me in circles. The long green cardigan I wore felt heavy to my calves but I was exposed where the fire had feasted on my back.
“Waterside” I replied not flinching as the shadow came to stand before me, feeding me the smoke from his mouth. I refused to cough.
“To do what?” he fed my nose directly knowing that I was holding my breath.
“I was on fire”. I said innocently and he gave a growl.
Suddenly, he dropped the lit stub in his hand and yanked on my breasts painfully. I broke out in a whimper as he twisted my sensitive nubs; tears running down my eyes involuntarily as the receding pain came back.
“Ssssshhhh. Lie down” he commanded as he released me slowly but continued twisting my nipples in circles. I stood defying his command. My back was sore, I had just given birth to my premature baby as a stillborn in less than 10 hours and I was sore down my tubes.There was no way I was going to allow this abuse.
It would seem as if this was a test I had to pass and I could feel eyes of the unknown watching my every move as if waiting for me to take the freedom I had sworn I would.
“Lie down” he barked and then attacked me in a sudden move, my raw back touching the hurting sand in a blink of an eye. The pain caused me to cry out as I struggled to get him off me but he was fumbling with my long cardigan, trying to pull on my pant. My body screamed out in excruciating pain as his weight pinned me down, my lower abodmen ached like my insides where being pulled from my stomach walls, my back like I was lying down on a thousand needles and I could feel blood sipping out of my young womb. Death was staring at me in the face and I knew that this was not the end of the road, it was the breakthrough I needed. I snapped, strength surging into me as the moon came out of its hiding and my eyes opened in the thick darkness to see a big stone within reach. My teeth opened and with so much hatred I bit his ear off in one clean bite. He screamed as I tasted blood gushing out of the faceless rapist, rolling off me. I moved swiftly carrying the stone and as he knelt there holding his right ear, I raised the large stone to the heavens in blessing and pummeled him with all the strength at the centre of my Being. He screamed thickly and slumped. I went down on my knees and blindly began pounding the figure laid out before me. This was victory and I annihilated the enemy with much relish. God had indeed delivered the enemy into my hands. I released the hurt and anguish – pounding him into the earth until my limbs were weak and the involuntary jerks from the mass of flesh stopped. I took a deep breath expecting to feel fear, regret or happiness. I felt nothing as I stared at the mashed flesh before me.
Standing up covered in a splatter of warm blood, I could see blood flow from my attacker, wetting the earth and almost as if I was being controlled, I dragged the body down the short distance back to the pool of water and dropped it by the mouth of the cold water. Discarded what remained of my cloth and took a bath; washing away the blood that had splashed on my face, my raw back stinging faintly on contact with the cold water, unafraid of the night. The moon which before hid behind the dark pregnant clouds had moved overhead witnessing the event and shone brightly as a night bird hooted in rhythm, perhaps a song of victory.
Dragging the body after I had washed off his blood, I deposited it in the water and silently walked uphill to my shack in the nude – this time uninterrupted. A surge of confidence and strength guided my legs as I watched what remained of my shack fall to the ground as I approached. Few neighbors standing with arms folded, no one making an attempt to put out the fire or rescue me. I moved noiselessly and grabbed a pair of trousers and shirt dangling from a makeshift clothing line. Wearing the male getup, I took confident steps and headed to the Highway determined to survive and ready to take on anyone who tried to stop me. Fearless of what the night may hold, I walked back into life, an abused woman and a murderer.
I knew the moment she twisted beside me that she was having the nightmare again and I sat up, watching her as she struggled, cried, kicked her legs and sobbed quietly before the tears flowing from her eyes dried up. The first night I had witnessed it, I had woken her up and we stayed up all night talking about our nightmares and fears. She had lost a child and I had been abused. Of course I knew her story was far from the complete version likewise mine but we understood that people like us held on to the darkest of secrets. I knew she was going to wake up soon and smiled as she opened her eyes, scanning the ceiling as if trying to determine where she was before finding my eyes and smiling painfully.
“Are you okay?” I asked through sad smiles.
“I want a baby. Let’s get a baby” she croaked, her voice belonging to someone else.
“A baby?” I questioned, a surprise laugh escaping me as I made to switch on my bedside lamp. I wanted to be sure she was really awake and was not talking in her sleep.
“Yes, I will get one” she continued, eyes wide staring at me as if daring me to deny her a request I had a hard time understanding. I had never seen Debbie with a man. She didn’t discuss them. She didn’t bring them home. She never slept out. She had no male friends and now she wanted what they had to offer? It was impossible.
“Debbie, Debbie wake up” I tapped her. She smiled as she sat up and switched on the lamp on her own side of the bed.
“I am awake. I think a baby girl will be nice” she said, looking at me with strewn hair.
“I don’t know what happened in your dreams but I don’t think getting a baby girl is a good idea, not now that you will be busy at work and moving to the new house, a new city. The process of adoption is not what I want to do at the moment and I don’t see you getting pregnant anytime soon” I said covering plausible avenues for getting a baby girl knowing she would bribe me to get the adoption process started. But most importantly, I didn’t want a baby. Not now, not ever.
“You are right. I don’t have the time and it will be selfish of me getting you involved” she said looking at me sadly.
“I miss her you know. She would have been 16 today” she continued and her strong eyes watered as she closed them.
Today was the birthday of the baby lost and I knew she was pained.
“I am sorry Debbie” I said as I pulled her close and stroked her hair. She cried quietly, sniffing in the tears and cleaning them off.
“I have cried enough for one night. So are you going to stay with me?” she asked, managing a smile. I couldn’t leave her now and Abuja seemed like fun. Art business could work here. Who was I kidding? With Debbie here, it was going to work.
“Are you kidding me? With my furniture coming in this morning, it would take the military to send me back. All my shoes can finally have a place called home” I said trying humor. She gave a small laugh as she sniffed again, getting out of bed.
“Thank you” she said checking her emails on her ipad.
“We should have PDG at the address before noon” I said referring to the moving company and she nodded.
It was a Saturday and we have been staying at the Hilton for two weeks. The move was today and we were checking out before noon.
The past week was busy for everyone. The new house was perfect but Debbie had refused it because she had a colleague for a neighbor. It had taken the Oshodi story to get her to have a rethink, not Mr. Fatasho’s soft directive to either have that house or pay out of her pocket.
I had gone back to Port Harcourt to send personal effects and favorite piece of furniture and art from both our flats. The girls were ‘handy’ in grabbing clothes off Debbie’s hanger and picking my shoes but helped with supervision as the workmen packed and moved the boxes. I was stiff from the marathon move and taking the last flight last night to Abuja after lunch with the girls. Debbie was not in by the time I got in and I saw my brush in the position I had left it. I knew Debbie. She was overworking herself again. A call to Debbie confirmed she had not come back to the Hotel since I left on Tuesday but was on her way. She came in 11:45pm.
“Can’t believe I am going to leave here today” I said and she laughed, going to the toilet with her ipad, already working.
“I need to pee and try to sleep in a little more” she said.
“Highly recommended” I said following her to the toilet, collecting her ipad. She laughed.
“So how are the girls?” she asked taking a piss. We had not talked since she got in last night in a bad mood and was now catching up on the gist.
“They miss you” I said
“They miss the lunch” she eyed me and I laughed as I filled her in on the latest man in Uloma’s life. Eva was going to Lagos to be with a new musician she didn’t disclose and Tina was all about inheriting items.
“Eva says she will be coming to see our mansion next week and Uloma is still having the Ex slashing her tyre. Tina is good but angry that she had to give back a refund” I reported as I was now taking a piss and Debbie washed her tear stained flawless face.
“I am going to miss them” she voiced and I knew she was. They were her social life and now she was going to be buried in work for a long time.
“You may want to hold on with the missing. They looted some dinner gowns and bowls. Tina took your gold-studded purse” I said, as she simply shook her head.
“She always had her eyes on it” she said as I flushed and followed her back to bed.
Silently remaking the bed, we got in.
“It will be fine” I reassured as I saw her face fall again.
“I know” and with that she backed me, the thin straps of the free yellow night gown revealing the long slant of ugly scar running from her left shoulder to the lower end of her spinal cord She had never told me how she got it and I waited patiently for the day. My eyes closed and a surprising yawn followed as the first drop of rains sounded outside.
The wet morning had me patiently waiting for my new neighbors. Rolling over in my large bed, I replayed yesterday’s evening. I had been so closed to kissing her. So close but the look in her eyes had stopped me. She looked as if she was going to hurl me at the wall and I had stopped the downward move to her inviting rosy lips. Sandra had convinced her take the house and I was surprisingly anxious to get them settled in.
The past two weeks had revealed an impressive side of the woman Debbie Black really was. The hate was slowly turning to admiration as she worked tirelessly to possibly prove her worth but she didn’t need to. I was over the Passover by the third day and was now preoccupied with getting her in my bed – one fit that was proving to be more difficult than getting my office.
She had been sleeping the office the past week and brought everyone down to the meeting room, allowing the team brings ideas to the table and brilliantly cutting out ideas that were dead without hurting her feelings. Never before have I seen the staff respond to these sessions but all were quick to proffer solutions, take on extra assignments and go out of their way to make sure the projections were almost absolute. Holding mini presentations she presided over, they flocked in to do their best. The number of office sleepers had increased and soon the entire mornings were dedicated to fine tuning ideas and getting the best ads pass through to final presentation.
She was all smiles but I knew she was out of it. Her eyes showed fatigue and as I watched her make an impressive presentation to top management in the same meeting room that she was hired just two weeks ago, I knew I wanted her. I wanted her. I wanted her for me. Nods of approval trailed the presentation and as she sat down, Dad beamed proudly.
“Well done Debbie. I think we are going to have a busy month” he said as he looked at everyone. This meant her presentation was a go and we all had the collective responsibility of making sure it happened.
“It was a collective effort Sir” she said acknowledging the work of her team and smiling at Jacob who was all smiles too. She didn’t know but this was the first time Dad approved on first presentations.
“Let’s tidy it up” he said meaning we all had work to do and soon called the meeting to a close. She was with Jacob the moment Dad left and we went down the floor to the new meeting room they had dedicated to the marathon. Everyone eager for the verdict as she and Jacob who had long established a good rapport with her announced that the presentation was given a go. They erupted in applause and some gave shouts. Filani, an eager project manager in real estate was first to demand ‘popping champagne’ and soon they had drinks and chops flooding the meeting room. Debbie sneaked out and was headed to her office when I caught up with her.
“That wasn’t bad” I said as I arrived at her side.
“I am glad you approve” she said with a tired smile, nodding at greetings thrown at her from staff at the corridor.
“Let’s bury the hatchet. I don’t seem to see a need for it now that we going to be neighbors” she gave a little laugh and looked at me.
“Well?” I pressed and she shook her head, leaving me standing there.
I followed her.
“So now that we are friends, what do I cook for house warming?” I asked, playing the cute card as she matched briskly in high heels to the elevator.
“What?” she asked, then it came to her.
“Oh! The move is tomorrow. I totally forgot. Have to call Sandra” she continued as she dialed.
“Join me for dinner tonight” I blurted as she entered the elevator carrying her to her office.
“Not hungry” and with that the door closed. I stared at the elevator for a while.
Why in God’s name was I bent on getting her approval? Her smile? Her attention? Her insanely curvy self?
I wanted her and it was beginning to annoy me. On a whim, I decided to follow her.
Her door had just closed when I stepped out of the elevator and Idris acknowledged that she was in, waving him off the intercom. I opened the door unannounced.
“Vincent?!” she called as she turned to see me standing in her doorway, losing her footing and tumbling on her settee. I moved quickly to help her up as she found her bearing, frantically looking around for her jacket that I saw on her desk and shoes kicked to different corners. Our eyes met as I knelt down above her, exchanging breath as I slowly traced her mouth, the tip of her nose and tired but beautiful eyes. I longed to plant a light kiss on her well defined lips. Her eyebrows were arched in high fashion with real hair and long lashes blinking in annoyance. She looked dangerously closed to kicking me in my groin as she puffed. It wasn’t time for a kiss yet.
“You should rest” I said as I offered her my hand to stand but she refused to take it.
“Please pass my jacket and next time could you knock?” she said as I made to get her the purple jacket.
“Noted” I said enjoying myself as I watched her struggle into her jacket and jotting her firm chest forward. God! I wanted her.
“What do you want?” she said trying to mask her anger as she stood up, going to her seat. Her question conjured images she wouldn’t approve off – not yet anyways.
“Are we going to have an impressive presentation on how to get back Ele anytime soon?” I teased and she smiled. I had been on Ele’s case for past days at every opportunity.
“A phone call should put that to rest” she answered as her phone rang and she picked.
“Yes. Yes na! I will send him. Hahahhahaa….I know o!!! Okay dear, till you come” she finished.
“I am guessing you will need a driver. I will be back in 40 minutes to take you to the hotel and have dinner on your account” and with that I left her office wondering why she was so wound up when I entered the office.
Could it be the tattoo-like scar on her back? How did she come about the beautiful scar that looked like a tattoo? She intrigued me some more but the image of her backless white camisole had me imagining how firm her breasts must be to have no bras supporting it – a lurid smile breaking out on my face. Having her as my neighbor was definitely going to be interesting and I had all intentions of seducing the almighty Miss Black, a tent forming in my boxers as the rains increased in intensity.
Love on the 25th is written by Uneñ Ameji. Follow @UnenAmeji on twitter.