The cold marble floor as I paced the dimly lit room in my socks
had me reaching for the A.C remote as I waited for the man that had mysteriously disappeared for two weeks. Two long weeks! And then he had magically reappeared last night and John, Harold’s manager at the lounge had contacted me immediately as demanded. Debbie and Kole had suddenly gone off the radar after a shocking interview a day after our glorious tryst – both looking at each other with adoring eyes and radiant smiles. Debbie looked flawless and a masked countenance that I knew too well was her poker face or was it me hoping she was under duress? Kole seemingly ecstatic at the ‘love’ questions caressed her as much as possible and even had the balls to kiss her! I wanted to hit the roof.
Series of calls and emails to Debbie were left unanswered and Sandra worked tirelessly on her seduction plan. I moved into my private quarters in Asokoro after I found her waiting for me in bed naked. I wasn’t interested and the fact that she would think I wanted sex as payment for good deeds done in the past was appalling. Restless and doubtful, I knew something was wrong – had gone wrong. Debbie was not going to marry Kole after what we had, was she? The possibility distracted me from work and the first executive meeting was the fastest in the history of the Group.
Now waiting for his arrival, I moved around the large room wondering what was taking him so long. A Saturday morning with less traffic, I had expected him sooner. Just then the sound of the gate opening and motorcycle filled the quiet compound as I walked out to the balcony of the 2 bedroom condo on the 3rd floor and waved him up. I made to it door in split second and stood with the door opened.
“Good Morning Sir” it was Caleb, a little slant of shoulders, he gave my breakfast with his right hand as he struggled to catch his breath from the climb up.
“Come in. Close the door behind you” I said leaving the door open for him to come in. Momentarily suspicious, I caught him looking inside the room before stepping in.
“Your package Sir” he said extending the sweet smelling pancakes.
“You can leave it on the table. I have a couple of questions I need to ask you” I said rather impatient, my eyes fixed on him. He looked a bit alarmed and then the look was gone.
“Yes sir” he said meekly going to the 2-seater dinning table, turning his head to look at me as he went. I took a seat and I motioned him to do the same as he returned.
“Do you know her?” I asked after he finally found the courage to sit and I passed him a picture of Debbie on my iPhone gotten from Sandra’s Facebook account. The picture taken probably at a party had Debbie laughing out loud at a joke with the girls. She looked refreshingly happy and I found myself glancing at it as often times as I could.
“No sir” he said barely looking at the photo. It was almost as if he was expecting the question.
“Have a second look” I pressed, zooming on her face. He didn’t miss a beat…he simply stared at me and shook his head. He knew without looking who I was referring to out of the five faces.
“I have never seen her” his eyes staring right at me but his Adam’s apple told a different story.
“I asked if you know her, not seen her” I corrected firmly.
“If I have never seen her, how can I know her Sir” he was playing smart and annoyingly so.
“Of course” I nodded, eyes resting heavily on him.
“I don’t suppose you would like to chat with some of my uniformed friends” I said easily.
“No Sir” he was looking around the flat helplessly now.
“I ask you again. Do you know her?”
“Alama” he said almost in a whisper.
“She was my wife”
“..Was your wife” I repeated, disbelieving.
“My wife, she is…was my wife Sir” he looked restless, a bit fearful.
“How is that possible?” heat rising up my neck.
“No, we married, like that, it was in registry” he sounded confused and incorrect.
“Of course you were married!” what was this clown saying? He was speaking but not communicating. It looked like he had a lot to say and couldn’t compose himself because he was afraid. Afraid of what? I had to find out and fast too. I didn’t like where this was going.
“Yes. We were but she died” his eyes avoided mine.
“She died” I chuckled with a grunt. This man was either clueless or there was more to the story.
“No sir, Yes sir, Sir, I really don’t know what happened to her Sir” he was speaking louder now. I nodded. He definitely knew more than he was letting.
“And what did you call her?”
“Alama, Alama” he repeated looking at me.
“Alama” I called slowly, tasting the name on my tongue.
“Please Sir, I am begging you. I am sorry…it was the devil’s work and it was my past” he was soon on his knees and I was at a loss for words.
A simple question had turned to a full blown confession – however scanty and I was hardly prepared for it.
I dialed Umar.
Caleb Hontal – 1998
“You don pay the money wey you dey owe Baba D?” It was Taiwo in between thick puffs. It was a cold Saturday and I was free to go about my business since Oga Fred was out of town. My Oga Fred was married to an Edo woman who didn’t like life in her state but would rather stay in Lagos with the children. She was indirectly encouraging her husband to bring University girls home because Oga Fred didn’t look like he could keep it zipped and I wondered what possessed her to trust him especially since she called the house often to keep tabs on her husband. I liked Madam Joyful because she was nice to have around and food was always in abundance but I was indebted to Oga Fred. He was after all my employer, benefactor and gave me the go ahead to have his women after he finished with them. Other days, he brought untouched ones for my pleasure if he was particularly pleased with my chores or for being discreet. My Oga was the best Oga and nothing Madam gave me or bribed me with could loosen my tongue. Oga Fred’s women were non-existent as far as I was concerned.
“Madam, Oga no be dat kine man” I’d swear on the phone or in person when she came for holidays touching the earth and raising my guilty fingers to the heavens.
In all the drama, I had a large family and as the first boy, I had the sole responsibility of sending money to my mother who didn’t care how I got it. Taking loan from Baba D was only natural after I was introduced to the “peacemaker’s club”. The club was a den of borrowers and a dark mean lord known as Baba D ruled with fear. I had borrowed a time too many and now the richest old man as popularly called was looking for me like lice for his Fifty Thousand Naira. Oga Fred wasn’t going to give me any extra money because I had exhausted my credit limit with him and lately, he wasn’t so pleased with my chores. Madam had nearly caught him just last week when she came in unannounced and I had taken off my clothes and joined the naked girl just in time.
What was I going to do now? I kept the talks loud and raps solid about having some ‘big’ money soon – a lie I kept telling to buy time before I was roasted alive like the Ofure who had disappeared to Kano but was found out and dealt with. With Baba D, there was no hiding place.
“Mehn, na so I see am o” I said as I took a little puff from his cigarette and handed it back. The second son of my poor father, I had left the house when I was 17 because I had 13 direct siblings and father was taking a third wife. With just eight years of schooling, I headed to my Uncle’s place in Benin City and he had found me a cleaner’s job at Oga Fred’s office. Soon, he brought me home as his house keeper and I had been living with him for 8 years.
“You have to settle the old man. I hear say he dey kill him debtors o. Suggest say make you get him some cash before your call up” Taiwo advised as we rounded up on the cigarette.
He had come around for breakfast knowing I was home alone.
“I go pay” I said scratching my head as I went to get some boiled yam.
Hours later, Taiwo and I headed to the market with a whole tuber of yam laid to rest in our bulging bellies and there she was, standing across the street in a long black gown that seemed to flow endlessly, giving her the illusion of a matured woman ready to be plucked. Taiwo caught me staring and laughed.
“That is Alama, and if your P dey scratch you, better find Chichi o because I hear say she sharp pass razor” he sneered. Taiwo, the general adviser said again following my eyes. She was sweet and innocent, eyes darting and avoiding mine as she noticed she had become the subject of my slow appraisal. Quickly moving through the deserted street, she entered a house I came to know as hers 9 blocks away from mine. If there was girl who I wanted more than anything, it was Alama. I was in love.
I took to strolling by her house when Oga Fred was out or traveled, I waited to see her as she walked by and called her to corners for talks, offered to help her carry her baskets but she would not give me the time of day – evasive and rude, brushing me off before I took two steps close. The break came one cold Sunday night. Oga Fred was due to come back Monday and so I stayed out late with the boys at Mama Bose’s joint drinking on my heavy account. I had no idea when I was going to pay – if I was going to pay. I knew she was simply going to embarrass me one day and throw me out but until she did, I was a customer and enjoyed the benefits.
Stumbling down the eerily lit street a little drunk but conscious, I stopped to take a leak at her gate just for fun. As I held my trousers and made to unzip my fly, I suddenly noticed movement in the dry gutter and a face came into my blurry view. Alama.
She was sitting up with legs spread in front of her in the dark empty gutter at 1am and if not because I had stopped at the gate to take a leak, I’d have missed her frame.
“There is someone here” she said and I jerked, turning back to quickly zip my trousers.
“What! What are you doing there?” I asked turning around to face her.
“Going to bed obviously” she said in crisp English lying down back.
“In the gutter? At this time of the night?”
She didn’t give a reply.Forgetting I had full bladder to empty, I stood wondering what she was doing in the gutter in front of her house at that time in the night.
“Is everything ok? Were you locked out?” I finally found a reason. She still didn’t answer.
“Let me knock so that you can go in” I said after another minute of silence.
“Can you just go away?” She said in a whisper. I didn’t. Too tired to continue standing, I decided to seat on the tarred road with her but she shot up so fast with a cutlass I had not noticed, I moved backed.
“Hey!!! Be careful” I raised my hands in surrender and for the first time I saw fear in her eyes.
“What do you want? Don’t come near me” She was backing away and I saw a bag when she moved out of the gutter.
“Where are you going? What is wrong?” I asked, suddenly afraid for her. Something was wrong but a proud chin, pressed forward declared she was traveling out of town.
“Running away looks more like it” I said under my voice.
“Don’t say anything to anyone” she raised a little finger to warn me.
“And what if I do?” I said going to knock on her gate. She was out of my sight with her bag and down the street in long strides. There was one option I followed in hot pursuit.
Catching up with her, she fought for her bag and I fought for control.
“Stop! Stop!” I said, struggling with her. She stopped, breathing high and looking around as if someone had seen her.
“Please let me go” she begged trying to dislodge my fingers from her bag.
“I will. First tell me what is wrong” and then she broke down in tears. Crying and trying unsuccessfully to stop, she let me hold her while she cried, sniffing and trying to keep the tears from falling. Without a word, I picked her bag and helped her to the 1bedroom Boys Quarter I was staying.
She was quiet as we reached and had assumed a position I knew as suspicious.
“Don’t worry. I won’t take advantage of you” I said in good English, trying to impress her.
“Ok” she sniffed as I moved around the space without aim.
“How old are you?” I asked as I took a seat far from her. She was standing by the door with hands folded and eyes alert.
“16” she voiced and stared at me in a challenge.
“16? Wow” I couldn’t believe it. She had the body of a 20 year old – her flawless skin, perky bosom and evident curves even in the long gown. She always wore gowns.
“Please don’t tell anyone you saw me” she said after a while, looking uncertain.
“I won’t” and she nodded. We stared at each other for a while.
“What is your name?” She asked dropping her hands.
“Ok. My name is …..”
“Alama. I know” a little surprised, she looked around the room.
“It is late. You can sleep in here. I am going to …. ” I looked around and she watched me.
“I will go and sleep in the main house. My Oga is not around. Please lock the door” I said and was out before she decided to go sprinting again. I was dizzy now and needed a bed to sleep off the exotic liquid in my stomach. I reached the main house soon enough but decided against going to check if she decided to run away. If anything, I knew was running away and I had to earn her trust.
The next days were quiet but definitely worth it. She lived in my room, not stepping out but watching my movements with eyes wide whenever I came in and eating only after I had taken a spoonful of food.
“You know I am not going to bite right?” I asked putting on my English tongue. With her, I was a different person and wanted to be proper.
“Yes” she answered and for the first time in 3 days she smiled.
“Are you not supposed to be in school?” I asked sitting in the kitchen. She was a little relaxed now and didn’t mind having me around.
“No” was a short reply and she went back into her shell.
A week later, we had turned to ‘friends’ and talked about movies we had watched and places we had traveled to. She kept asking if her parents were looking for her and I said no mostly because I had an agenda. I wanted her and was beginning to fall for her or so I thought. But the truth was that the street was filled with her picture and her ‘white’ mother had come from ‘Overseas’ and was seen for the first time asking for her daughter. We were told her father had a new African wife who didn’t want Alama in the house and so the girl had either committed suicide because she was rejected or ran away. I didn’t offer the truth even when the white sad woman had placed her picture in my hand and asked if I had seen her daughter. I shook my head. Two days later, we heard the white woman had shot her husband and new wife dead and was on the run. Telling Alama that her mother had committed murder was hard and if she came out now, the police would pick her up. It was best she remained missing.
Another week and we were sleeping on the same bed, talking about nothing but dreams and aspirations. She didn’t tell me why she was running or where she was going to. Few days later, we ended up naked and I was surprised at the tears dripping from the corners of her eyes as I pumped away without a sheath, too late to stop.
We were back to strangers after that and then Baba D happened. A broken nose and few body cuts from his boys, I was left with her to heal and a 7 day ultimatum to payback. I was at the end of my rope and had to act. I waited for Oga Fred to travel the weekend after the attack, sold couple of his belongings, settled a larger part of the debt and kept the balance for myself and new responsibility – Alama.
She knew what I was doing but she didn’t say a word; looking as I moved around and sold Oga Fred’s belongings without thought. My life was better than all his belongings put together and I was willing to keep it.
“I am leaving Benin” I had told her Saturday night knowing Oga Fred was returning in the morning.
“I will follow you” she had declared and we were off in the middle of the night a month after I had found her in the gutter. A stop at the Registry had us our changing names, declaring age and out of character decided to get married. Ecstatic and happy, we moved from town to town until we reached Ugeli…a ghostlike town and settled down in a slum after exhausting the remaining money from Oga Fred’s sales. We both wanted to be lost and we were weeks that followed were blissful, days of insistent sex even when she wasn’t up to it, I’d say it was her duty as a wife and she’d submit quietly then ignore me for few days and we will continue from where we stopped – the bedroom. And then she got pregnant.
That changed everything. I couldn’t believe she would allow herself get pregnant? I blamed her for carelessness and chastised myself for not taking more precaution. Why didn’t she tell me she was now menstruating? How could she? Knowing our condition? I was angry. I had to get the unfortunate being out, keep her to myself and had to do it without her knowing because she was excited at having a baby.
That was the beginning of spiking her food and drinks with diclofenac and ibuprofen with the hope of an early miscarriage but she progressed. What was I going to do with a child? I started a cocktail of Accutane and Mycophenolate after I told the sad tale to Dr. Ifeanyi – a pharmacist who had access to drugs at the General hospital in town but stayed in Ugeli. Known as the doctor from ‘Obodo-Oyinbo’, Dr. Ifeanyi soon became my friend and gave me what I needed to help his ‘new couple’. It was that or I’d have to start borrowing again. Nothing I gave her terminated the pregnancy and desperate for escape, I had gone back to drinking, waiting for the inevitable – a baby I didn’t want. Nights after nights, I stayed at the bar and found a new love interest – Bisi. Then I ran into a long friend of Taiwo from Benin. Needless to say, the next day, I was discovered by Baba D’s boys and was beaten mercilessly. Only a promise to give up Alama as a sex worker in his establishment had set me free because I was penniless at this point.
That afternoon as I walked back with pains all over my body ready to take my bags and run with Alama to a new town, I met a crowd at the red hut we called home. Alama was in labor and hours later had a still birth with Dr. Ifeanyi at the helm of affairs. I was more than relieved. The drugs worked but now she was too weak to run. I was torn between leaving her in that state or simply waiting it out. I decided to wait. Perhaps, they wouldn’t want a woman who had just given birth. The thought was comforting. She soon slept off out of exhaustion from the tears and injection Dr. Ifeanyi gave her and I snuck out to the joint shortly after.
They didn’t show up at the bar as agreed that night and so I went with Bisi – my new love interest to her room at the back of the joint. I drank all the beer I could possibly drink and slept off almost immediately. Bisi hated Alama because Alama was the only thing standing between us and made comments of making her go away so she’d have me to herself. I laughed it off and made good on the threat by pounding her sore in her little room where she serviced other of her sister’s customers.
Then my world came crashing down the very next day. The place where my hut was meant to be was burnt to the ground and red earth mixed with black ash was the only evidence of existence. What had happened? Did the neighbors see anything? Mama Goina said Alama may have died in the fire because they all came out and met an empty hut. I was relieved when I heard that because I was convinced Baba D had her but then ‘Collector’, Baba D’s first son had been found dead in the little stream down the house. Alama was not in Baba D’s custody and I was blamed for the death of Collector. Alama was either burnt to ashes or was simply gone.
Baba D had my left hand for the remaining part payment and I was handed me over to Oga Fred who was looking for me. I was left with the police for couple of weeks until Madam had come to my rescue. She promised to help only if I told her everything she needed to know about Oga Fred’s activities. Apparently, she had contracted HIV from her husband and she wanted to know who he had been sleeping with because he accused her of bringing the killer disease into their home. A deal was struck and I told her what she wanted to hear without mentioning I had sloppy seconds. She pulled some strings and I was out barely two months later. Without a hand and the clothes on my back, I was headed to Abuja – no man’s land. This time determined never to get caught again until I had seen her on TV. My Alama. She was older definitely but she still looked as she did at 16 years. And now, here I was kneeling before this man who held out her picture asking me if I knew her. Of course I did but she was my past and Pastor Biola said our past did not matter.
I had given my life to Christ and all things were now new.