While I work on my article on my perceptions of the Nigerian police, I thought I’d keep the update hounds at bay with this.
I first saw her on my second visit to the nightclub. There was something commanding about her presence and I watched her with more than intrigue as I sipped on my beer. I saw behind the too much makeup, the gaudy orange-colored hair and the screaming colors she wore. She was rebellion personified — although what exactly she was rebelling against, it was difficult to ascertain.
I watched her wiggle her hips with reckless abandon on the dance floor and I wondered what hurt,what sadness she was trying to dance away. For some reason she knew I was watching her. Out of the many patrons watching her do her moves on the stage, she had eyes for only me — the disillusioned musician come to drown his sorrows in Star beer and isi ewu.
I finished my beer and got up to leave. Someone nudged me.
“The babe like you. You wan’ make I hook you up?” a hulky fellow who looked like a pimp winked at me.
“Sorry, I have to go,” I shook my head.
“Wait,” he said, holding my sleeve. “I give you discount — two ton for one round.”
Something about the way my eyes narrowed as I looked at him,then down at his grimy hand tugging at my sleeve made him withdraw. I picked my cello and walked out, humming the refrain from my latest song.
I returned the next week and after ordering some goat meat and stout, headed for the corner I’d sat in the previous time. I had begun to tuck in when I caught a whiff of strong, pungent perfume. I knew who it was even before she drew a chair for herself and settled at my table.
“Hi,” I said, studying her up close. She had high cheekbones and I guessed from her straight hair and thin lips that she was mixed.
“Hello,” she surveyed me with frank, undisguised interest.
“You came yourself this time,” I remarked.
“Wetin you wan’ make I do?” she shrugged. “I…”
“Cut the pidgin,” I interrupted her. “You’re an ajebota and it comes out forced from you. We’ll use plain old ajebota English.”
“Good,” she laughed. “I’m tired of being a phony.”
“Great,” I said. We were quiet and she watched me with amusement as I attacked my meat savagely, finding some sort of common ground in my lack of etiquette.
“You’re a university student aren’t you?” I asked when I was done, shocking her.
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Do you have any clients tonight?” I asked her.
“No. Why do you ask?”
“I seem to be monopolizing you. Your pimp behind’s been giving me the evil eye,” I nodded in the direction of the man I’d met the previous week. “Would you like to go for a walk?”
“Why?” she asked.
“Do you have to answer questions with questions?” I gave a mock sigh.
“Okay, I give up,” she grinned. “I’ll get my handbag.”
Over the next few weeks, then months, we took walks in the streets. Sometimes we walked along the beach and she would sing one of the songs I taught her while I fiddled away, sometimes strumming on my cello like I would with a guitar. We discussed everything under the sun — everything but what she did until we had our falling out.
I had never visited on any of her workdays until the gang of musicians I rolled with dragged me to the nightclub for a night of fun. I took my usual position and ordered a beer. One by one, they melted off in different directions to pick up girls for the night until I was left alone, absent-mindedly refining a tune I had come up with that morning.
Temi, the gbese of our group returned with a girl in tow.
“Teks, can you lend me five ‘huns’? I left my wallet at home.”
He never bothered to change the old line he had always used. He never paid back any money, but he was fiercely loyal to anyone he owed.
I sighed resignedly as I peeled a five-hundred-naira note from my roll and handed it to him. I glanced briefly at the girl he had his hands around, did a double take and looked back again. Our eyes met and we held the stare, unwilling to break it.
Without any warning she pulled away from him and dashed out of the club leaving him standing open mouthed. I hadn’t come with my cello so it was easy for me to follow her. I found her sitting at our favorite spot on the beach, sobbing.
I stood awkwardly beside her, then lowered myself onto the sand and put my arm around her. She leaned her head on my shoulder, finding solitude in just crying silently, wetting my shirt with her tears.
“I don’t do this because of the money,” she blurted out when the silence became unbearable. “I do it to get back at my father.”
I didn’t say a word.
“Ever since I can remember, he would come into my room — come into my room and touch me. I was never innocent. I never knew what it was. I remember the bruises he left in me when I was wide enough for him to… to…”
She burst into tears again and I held her tighter, knowing I could never understand the pain she had undergone. After a while, the tears subsided and she began to talk. Her voice was disembodied, void — it was like listening to a ghost talk.
“He was one of the most respected men everywhere — in the church, his place of work, the community. Even my mother thought he was a saint. I alone knew who he was in secret because I was the subject of his attentions before I could even talk.”
The bile rose in my throat as she recounted her ordeals at the hands of the man she called her father. I listened to her talk about everything — leaving home for the first time and going to school. Learning that her father had political aspirations. She had a weekly allowance that kept her pretty well off but she had wanted to hurt him. She had become a prostitute.
“It was my way of getting back at him. I got back at him and the men in this world because that’s what I imagined all men did to their daughters. Was it really worth it?”
I didn’t answer.
“I ended up hurting myself more than I hurt them,” she continued. “All my life has been filled with hate until I met you.”
I chuckled quietly.
“You’re different from the other men. You were more interested in me as a person, not as a body. You’ve never told me your name or asked mine and you’ve never tried to take advantage of me.”
“The solution to everything lies within you,” I heard myself say and I wondered when I had become philosophical.
“Yes,” she said huskily.
She was hugging me now, and with some alarm, I realized I could feel her nipples poking at my chest. In the dark I felt her hot breath on my face moments before she kissed me. She slipped her hands into my shorts and held me. Gently, I pulled her hands from my shorts and held her away from me.
“No,” I said. “No.”
I felt her tense in my arms, then she pulled away.
“You’re like the others!” she screamed, pommeling me with her tiny fists. “You hate me because of who I am!”
When I tried to restrain her, she sank her teeth into my arm, scratched my face viciously, then jumped to her feet and ran away.
I stopped visiting the night club but the urge to go back, to mend things between us, haunted me until I could take it no longer. One week in July I walked into the club and found my spot. She was the one who walked up to my table and asked, “Do you want to take a walk?”
We walked all the way to the beach without saying a word until we got to what used to be our favorite spot. The silence hung between us, reminding us of our not-so-pleasant parting months before.
I unslung my cello from around my shoulders and dropped it on the sand. We stood apart for what seemed like an eternity then she came into my arms. We kissed under the stars and I found myself bursting with emotion for this frail girl I had met a year before.
Later, while I played my cello to one of the old songs, she stopped singing abruptly.
“I wanted to tell you something Tekena,” she said.
“I’ve given up my old life,” she said. I could hear the hunger for approval in her voice and I knew my response would affect how things would be between us from then on.
“You’ve thought about it?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“You know I don’t care what you do?” I asked.
“Yes, yes,” she said. ” I know.”
I was silent. She waited.
“Selina,” I said, my voice barely above a whisper. “I’m happy for you.”
“Oh, Tekena,” she said simply.
I dropped the bow and clasped her to myself, my mind faraway in the past, back in the days when we had just met.