The master of ceremony, dramatically, counts the money under the watchful eyes of the audience. It amounts to fifteen thousand naira, which he duly hands to the father of the bride, who, in turn, counts out five thousand naira from the bride price and returns it to the grinning groom.
Iniye always finds this silly.
The idea is that you never really complete the payment of an Ijaw woman’s bride price; you pay the agreed sum in full, and then a portion of it is returned to you, to signify that you still owe a certain balance. This you pay by contributing financially or materially to future events in your wife’s family, like funerals or weddings.
Iniye recalls her friendly argument with her father, a few years ago, during her immediate younger sister, Ebiere’s wedding.
“A responsible man will always contribute his quota to his in-laws without being asked; this bride price melodrama is unnecessary.”
“And what about an irresponsible man?” her father responds aptly.
“Well, that is the lot of the family. In any case, no one should have to be coerced to render assistance.”
Her father quells the argument with. “My dear, we are Ijaw people and this is our tradition; your western education has no bearing on it. Besides, nobody is forcing anyone to do anything. This is just a gesture that serves as a reminder that a marriage is a union between two families and not between a man and a woman alone.”
Today, she is sombre and in no mood to argue. She takes a seat at a table that is populated by unfamiliar faces and hides behind her large sunglasses, hoping her poker face discourages anyone with plans of exchanging pleasantries with her. Today, her youngest sister, Ayibainakarimanate, gets hitched, as far as traditional marriage rites are concerned.
“Even with a name that long, she still finds herself a husband,” Iniye mutters to herself. She is happy for her sister, but there is only the small matter of feeling out of place, as a result of being, officially, the only unhitched offspring of Mr. Timiebi, as well as the eldest.
She imagines for a moment, an old man, in a very distant future, telling little kids under a pale moonlight about the legend of Iniye.
“Once upon a time, a young sailor from Nembe, named Timiebi, encounters a beautiful crayfish trader, Ebeiya, during one of his voyages. He convinces her to marry him and she bears him four daughters. When they come of age, they all get married to strong and hardworking men, with the exception of the eldest, Iniye, who remains lonely for the rest of her life.”
Iniye snaps herself out of the imagination with “I bind you in the name of Jesus.”
Perhaps it is time to revisit that prophet who claims her plight is connected with a spiritual husband who’s too jealous to allow her marry any man in the physical realm. Or the Apostle whose vision reveals a nameless old woman in Nembe, rubbing chicken shit on a helpless Iniye. “That spiritual chicken shit,” he says. “Is repelling men in the physical and preventing them from making an honest woman out of you.”
If she isn’t such a fervent Christian who teaches teenagers in Sunday school, she wonders, maybe she would believe such chicken shit theories and perhaps get the help she so desperately needs.
“Thank you mummy and daddy,” declares the master of ceremony. “It is now the turn of her sisters to dance and celebrate with the bride.”
Iniye is tempted to remain on her seat but the roll call from the speakers causes her to reconsider. “Iniye where are you?” probes the big mouth M.C. “Preye and Ebiere, oya oya.”
There is no shortage of hugs on the dance floor and everyone is all smiles like everything is all right. It is a time to feast not a time to indulge elephants in a room.
6 a.m. on the dot, her phone alarm rings but she is already awake. Iniye, casually, turns it off so she can return to her train of thoughts – a train that is steadily galloping back in time to xoxo moments with her five exes, during their respective regimes.
September 18, 2009; the first time she gets to see the inside of a night club. Prior to that, the fact that she is in her third year in the university and has no past or present boyfriend greatly troubles her pals. Her status is not for the lack of effort from the male folk. For some reason, she is yet to contract the craze for boys that is consuming her peers. Her friends remain on her case but she doesn’t budge. Eventually, they label her a lesbian because they do not see any other reason why a beautiful, fair-skinned girl of her age and stature is still single. To prove them wrong, she decides to give Agada, a banker who wouldn’t take no for an answer, a lucky chance. And so on that 18th day of September, which happens to be her 23rd birthday, an impulse to rebel suddenly possesses her. She becomes weary of taking orders from Iniye the nun, and is really in the mood to go against her water-tight principles for a change. Incidentally, Agada asks, later that night, if she would go clubbing with him to celebrate her day, and he is pleasantly surprised by her response of “why not?”
From outside, the club looks like a regular bar but as soon as Iniye steps in, arm in arm, with her date, she gets the impression that the building would collapse any moment from the extremely loud pop music and the passion of the teeming, bouncing bodies, sweating on the dance floor. The trip to the minibar is punctuated with Agada screaming pleasantries at familiar faces. Ten minutes later, he is inebriated enough to get jigging on the dance floor. Iniye on the other hand is satisfied with observing things from her sitting position, while sipping alcoholic wine – which, surprisingly, doesn’t taste as horrible as she thinks it would.
The following morning, she wakes up in Agada’s large and comfy bed with a nagging headache and a feeling of grogginess. She tries to move and detects a funny, sore sensation between her legs. She confronts Agada and he is shocked she does not remember the amorous adventures of the night before. With little regrets – knowing she is fully responsible for her fate – she gathers her things, says goodbye to Agada in the same manner she would her doctor at the end of an appointment, and heads back to her hostel.
Later that day, she finds herself being continually upset and dissatisfied with the non-remarkableness of the event of losing her virginity. So at about 6.30pm, when she is completely sober and aware, she returns to Agada’s residence to correct the anomaly. Agada obliges her but is rash, intense and insensitive with his approach; once in, he does not listen to her until he climaxes and dismounts. Her second experience turns out to be even more forgettable, so she decides to terminate her rebellious quest. When Agada discovers that he has a greater chance of becoming the pope than bedding Iniye again, he terminates his relationship with her.
Since Agada, the closest she ever comes to sexual intercourse again, is with her second boyfriend, Isaac. The gentleman seemed to know exactly where and how to kiss her to make her body tremble and empower her hands with the urge to sever his underwear. But his resolve is immaculate. Whenever he gets her all wet and set, he reminds her of their pact to stay celibate until marriage, leaving her incapacitated but impressed. She cut him loose, the day she finds out about his “friend with benefits.”
Her next, Alex, turns out to be yet another cheating scum so she let him go as well.
Onome, then, comes along with a lot of love, responsibility and sensibility. The electric chemistry between them suddenly withers, on her part, when he opens up to her about his three-year-old daughter whose mother he does not intend to marry but is willing to take care of.
Aunty Gladys, a maternal aunt, steps in at this point, with her match-making moves and introduces her to Ebitare. After two months of trying to get to know each other, over the phone (because of the distance between them), their conversations barely get beyond salutation, basically. He would ask how she is doing, to which she would say “fine,” then he would inquire about her work and then end with “say hi to aunt Gladys for me.” There is no deliberate attempt by him to expand on their conversation and, strangely, Iniye makes no effort herself. She is both relieved and impressed when she learns about his engagement to another lady.
Iniye punctuates her thoughts with a quick glance at the clock. It is 6.30 a.m., meaning thirty minutes of preparation is what she has left, if she intends to make the first church service, where she is scheduled to teach teenagers about the importance of keeping their virginity until marriage. It suddenly hits her that these are two things she does not quite have at the moment – marriage and her virginity. And so a feeling of guilt and dejection tightens up in her chest. Perhaps God is punishing her for her moment of madness with Agada; perhaps she could have given one or two of her exes a longer rope, despite their baggage. She makes a mental note to do just that in her next relationship, after all, love is supposed to cover a multitude of sins.
The mild perspiration, incoherent mutterings and momentary quivering of Iniye’s body forces her colleague to shake her out of sleep.
“Are you okay?” Nurse Mary asks.
Iniye peers at the customised St. Gerard’s Hospital clock at the nurses’ station; it says 4.35am. “I had a bad dream,” Iniye clears her throat. “That movie we watched last night.”
“Yes. One of the scenes in the movie was recreated in my dream. I was about to be tortured and forced to be apostatized along with fellow Japanese believers, before you woke me.”
“It’s not funny,” Iniye asserts.
“Your name even sounds Japanese sef, so I’m sure you felt at home in the dream.”
“Shut your dirty mouth,” Iniye sniggers.
At about 7 a.m., Iniye enters the staff changing room, tucks her white uniform in her hand bag and slips into a button-down, purple blouse and navy blue pair of jeans. She straightens out her hair and is ready to begin her day off. For a moment, she tries to recollect her dream; perhaps she shouldn’t be watching movies like that, if she has any regard for her faith. What kind of movie has priests and their congregants call on God for years and years of persecution and torture (because they choose to remain steadfast at a time when Christianity is outlawed in Japan), only to be replied with consistent silence until they all perish?
On her way home, Iniye decides to make a quick stop at the ATM. There’s a short queue, but there’s no hurry so she waits her turn. Soon after, someone equally with the luxury of time slots in behind her, but not before asking the customary question. “Sorry, are you the last on the queue?”
“You are now,” Iniye quips.
Moments later, her new buddy is back with another silly question. “What’s that smell?”
Since last night’s dinner of moi moi and egg, Iniye is yet to do a number two, which, most likely is responsible for the awful smell accompanying her silent fart. She contemplates ignoring him, but that may suggest guilt, so she responds. “I don’t know; I don’t smell anything.”
Iniye completes her transaction and turns to leave. She notices her buddy’s, perhaps, judgemental eyes fixed on her, but she pays him no mind.
“Salome,” he calls out after her, but she does not respond. “Salome,” he tries again. Impatient customers behind him, voice out their agitation, as a smart ass jogs past everyone to the teller machine, further aggravating the situation. This encourages Buddy to go after Iniye and leave the tension behind.
“Excuse me,” he presses. “You really look like someone I know.”
Iniye peers at him to validate his claim. He may have a case, she thinks, because he looks vaguely familiar as well.
“Did you school at F.G.C Ijanikin?”
“I did, yes.”
“You don’t remember,” he points at himself. “Nduka?”
He nods in affirmation, prompting her to dive into his arms and squeal loudly.
After their Junior School Certificate Examination (J.S.C.E), Nduka is left with no choice but to trade Federal Government College (F.G.C), Ijanjikin for F.G.C Otobi, owing to his father’s decision to relocate his family to Benue state, following a transfer at his work place.
Iniye will always remember the last two or three months before Nduka’s departure. It starts with him writing her an interesting letter.
P.O. Box 9126
29th January, 1997.
Time and ability has forced my pen to dance automatically on this fortuitous sheet of paper. I hope you’re swimming in the wonderful pool of Mr Health, if so, doxology.
I am also perambulating in the cool breeze of wellness here.
Sweetie pie, the reason I am writing you this letter is because I love you spontaneously, and as I stand horizontally parallel to the wall and vertically perpendicular to the ground now, I only think of you. Each time I see you, my metabolism suddenly halts and my medulla oblongata ceases to function.
Crazy, crazy, crazy, you may say but my epistle is very genuine. I don’t ever want to see gloom and doom looming over your angelic live portrait. Let my appellation be scribbled across your heart with indelible ink. If any boy tries to ask for your companionship, tell him you are rented and caveated.
I think I have to pen off here, because I still haven’t finished studying Pythagoras theorem. Catch you later; sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite. Goodbye for now.
Your Slave in love,
Your pillow and cushion
At the time, Iniye, also known as Salome, is both impressed and wooed by this letter and so their very short but adorable puppy love begins. Their relationship is characterized mainly by acts of service – Iniye reserving a seat for Nduka during “prep,” Nduka helping with her math assignments, Iniye saving some home-cooked jollof rice for Nduka on parents/guardians visiting days, etcetera.
Twenty years later, the lovebirds reunite in Abuja, at an Access Bank ATM.
“For a moment, I thought I was mistaken when you did not respond to my calling your name,” Nduka admits.
Iniye releases him from the cage of her embrace. “No one has called me Salome for a very long time,” she explains. “As I grew older, I kind of developed a dislike for the name. For some reason, I didn’t just like the sound of it, and those who shortened it to ‘Salo’ did not help matters.”
Nduka laughs, not just because it is funny but because he still finds being around her now, as exhilarating as being around her was, twenty years ago.
“So I decided to use only my middle name and surname for W.A.E.C,” she continues. “And since then, I’ve been known simply as Iniye.”
“I see,” Nduka grins. “You look good by the way.”
“Thanks. You don’t look bad yourself.”
“See; don’t let me shoot you.”
Nduka laughs again.
“So, you reside here in Abuja?” Iniye probes, interrupting his exhilaration.
“No, no. I’m here on a visit.”
“To see your fiancée?”
Nduka smiles. “A colleague, actually. No fiancée yet. He and I both serve in the Nigerian Air force – he in Abuja and I, at the moment, with the Joint Task Force in Maiduguri. I was given a two-week break, so I decided to spend some of it in Abuja.”
“So, how’s the battle with the insurgents going?”
“It’s still on, but victory is in sight.”
She gives him two thumbs up.
“So where are you off to? I can drop you off.”
“Market,” she blurts.” Then home.”
“Alright. I’m parked over there.”
The following evening, Nduka picks Iniye up from work and they eat out at a recently opened restaurant. The next day, they’re playing scrabble at her place, and the day after that, they’re eating popcorn in a cinema and diluting the sugar in their mouths with wet kisses.
A month ago, Iniye receives news of her father being diagnosed with prostate cancer and she could not help but wonder if he would live long enough to ever be owed the balance of her bride price; today she has no such worries.
Seven days of pure bliss, painfully, comes to an end and Nduka has to travel to Port Harcourt to visit his parents before returning back to base. Iniye wishes the insurgents would just have a change of heart or raise a white flag, so her Ndukool would not have to go anywhere, but life is not that simple; her life has not been that simple. Nduka, however, assures her that he has got only about a year or so left, to serve in the war zone, after which he will be redeployed, hopefully to Abuja.
Months pass by with the pace of a decade. Sometimes, her darling’s number would be reachable and they would chat and laugh on the phone for thirty to forty minutes at a stretch. Other times, he would be incommunicado for days or weeks and then, eventually, his name would flash across her phone screen and he would apologise and explain that they had to go offline for a while.
Every now and then, there are days you wake up and find a ridiculously huge smile on your face and you’re just buzzing and happy to be alive for no particular reason that you can place your finger on. Today is one of such days for Iniye. She sings and woo-hoos in the shower, she dances foolishly in front of the mirror while dressing up and beams her warmest smile to anyone who dares to reply her greetings, en route her morning shift at work. Her patients are in for a good time. She hasn’t heard from Nduka in two weeks, but even that fails to dampen her mood.
By 7pm, her shift comes to an end and it is time to buzz somewhere else. As she exits the hospital’s gate, she encounters the icing on the cake of her happy day. When the screaming and hugging is over, she peers into his eyes with a thousand question on her tongue but none of them making it out of her mouth, so Nduka helps her out. “I came into town this afternoon and thought I should surprise you.”
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“Well, that would have spoiled the surprise.”
There is a plethora of questions Iniye yet wants answered, but she decides to savour the joy and tranquillity that comes with Nduka’s company instead. And so they gallivant around town for a while until, eventually, they settle for grilled meat and some yoghurt at a “Yahuza” spot.
“First, you pay me a surprise visit, then you give me this treat,” Iniye beams. “My birthday is, at least, a month away. Babe, I hope you know it is bad luck to celebrate early?”
“I don’t have to wait till your birthday to give you a treat; you’re a real gift. Everyday I’m thankful to God for letting you bring sunshine into my life.”
“Hmmm. If you see tears in my eyes, just know it’s you, and not the onions that are responsible.”
Nduka’s lips widen into a smile.
“Speaking of birthdays,” Iniye breaks the silence. “My mum turns 50 in three days.”
“My sisters and I are planning a surprise party.”
“Wait, does that mean you’re going to Bayelsa?”
“No, just my money is. Karina is in Bayelsa; she’s in charge of preparation and organisation, so we’re all sending our contributions to her.”
“My youngest sister.”
“The one with the very long name.”
“That’s her; Karina is the short version.”
Nduka laughs. “What’s the story behind that her name sef?”
“Well, first of all, it means ‘God has answered my prayers.’”
“A whole sentence.”
“More or less,” she blurts, and they take turns to snigger.
“You know back in the 80s,” she continues. “There were no scan machines to tell the sex of children before they were born, and so after three girls, my dad was super anxious to have a male child and his wife felt the pressure. Usually, my mum doesn’t last more than 20 minutes in the labour room, according to her, but well over four hours later, her fourth child would not emerge. The situation got critical; she even developed a labour-induced hypertension and it looked like either or both mother and child were not going to make it. It was prayer time – the doctor made that clear before carrying out a caesarean section.”
Iniye’s phone vibrates on the table; she takes one look at the screen then carries on with her story. “And that’s when my dad knelt down in the waiting area and told God that he didn’t care anymore about the sex of the baby, and that all he wanted now was for God to save both his wife and child. When God answered his prayer, he named the baby, Karina and decided four children were more than enough.”
Iniye, mid-sentence, notices Nduka staring absentmindedly at nothing; deep in thought, so she intervenes. “What’s on your mind?”
Nduka sighs. “Can you take two or three days off work; maybe get your colleagues to cover for you?”
“I guess so, why?”
“I’m thinking your mum’s golden jubilee is a good time to meet your parents.”
Iniye’s grin threatens to out-sparkle Yahuza’s lighting system. “Babe, are you sure?”
Iniye has no idea what she’s supposed to say at this point, so she mutters, “I love you,” as tears roll down both her cheeks.
Nduka reaches across the table and wipes her right eye with his right thumb. “I love you too, babe,” he assures, and then repeats the trick on her left eye with his left thumb.
What’s a life with no fun? Useless. The only problem is time flies when you’re having fun. Iniye’s thoughts exactly, as she reminisces by her corner at the nurses’ station, about the Bayelsa trip. Two weeks have passed since the trip but Iniye is far from weary of going over the highlights of the event of Nduka meeting her parents slash her mum’s golden jubilee, in her head.
The boyish, nervous smile on Nduka’s face, when he first meets her dad, is one to cherish. There is an air of caution and calculation to his responses, apparently borne out of an over willingness to impress.
And how can she forget the bonding moment between Karina and Nduka.
That lovely Friday, all three of them are headed to a confectionary store, in her father’s car, to get the cake for her mother’s surprise party. Nduka is in the driving seat, she beside him and Karina and her pregnant tummy in the back seat.
“So do you sometimes just come up with a name and say to people ‘my name is Cynthia’ or ‘Grace’ for example, just to avoid pronouncing your very long name?” Nduka teases.
Karina chuckles. “Bros, my first name is Mercy, so I don’t have to come up with anything na.”
“But, surely, your grandparents in the village don’t call you Mercy,” Nduka persists. “Do they go the easy route with ‘Karina’ or opt for the full package of Ayibainakarimanate?”
They all share a laugh, after which Karina asserts. “You’ll find out when you come to pay my sister’s bride price in the village.”
“Challenge accepted,” Nduka quips.
Bukola, the newly employed nurse on night shift with Iniye, suspends her preoccupation with her phone and stares at her colleague for a while. “What are you smiling about?” she asks.
Iniye heaves a sigh and smiles at her. “Good times, my dear, good times.”
“Hmmm, sounds like it involves a man. So who was he to you?”
“‘Is,’ actually,” Iniye corrects; a little upset by the ignorant girl’s choice of tenses.
Bukola’s phone rings before she could apologize.
“Who’s calling you at 12:30 in the morning?”
“Someone special,” Bukola replies, giggling. “Excuse me.”
The phone conversation takes a while, and that encourages Iniye to retrace her thoughts.
This time, she is sitting on her mum’s lap in the living room, while being fed cake. The surprise party is over and the guests are probably half way home. An unsuspecting Nduka walks in on them, having returned from seeing Karina off, and does not believe his eyes. “Agbaya, will you get up from your mother’s leg?”
In defiance, she wraps both arms around her mum’s neck.
“Leave my baby alone,” says her grinning mum, leaping to her defence.
Later the same day when she is seeing Nduka off to his uncle’s place, where he has been lodging, he makes an observation. “Your mum cooks a special meal for you on your arrival, you sit on her lap while she feeds you cake and she calls you ‘baby’ – I can’t say I’m not jealous.”
She laughs and laughs and then jokingly assures Nduka that she and her mum are not in a romantic relationship, and that he is her one and only.
“To prove it,” she says. “I’m willing to French-kiss you right now, in the middle of the street.”
Nduka obliges her, shamelessly, and they draw a few stares and whistles.
The loudness of the video Bukola is watching on her phone, jolts Iniye back to the present.
“Madam that thing is loud oh; turn it down.”
Bukola complies but the recording is still audible enough for Iniye to make out, “I am Wing Commander Stephen Nduka,” which causes her to dart to Bukola’s side of the desk, to watch the video.
Nduka is wearing a camouflage t-shirt with his ID card hanging down from his neck. He is on his knees and there’s a turban-wearing man with a knife wedged on the throat of his kneeling subject. A voice in Iniye’s head, desperately, urges her to quit watching but she doesn’t. Nduka then discloses that he is unaware of the whereabouts of his co-pilot, following the shooting down of their jet. When he is done talking, the knife-wielding man, expertly, works on Nduka’s throat until his head is detached from his neck. Iniye’s hands palpitate, involuntarily, for a moment and then she slumps on the floor.
Nurse Mary is giving directions to a visitor on how to get to the paediatrics section, when Iniye surfaces from a private ward. Mary hurries to her side, without causing a scene, and takes her by the arm. “You’re okay,” she assures. “Please come with me.”
Mary leads her back into the ward and sits her on the bed.
“Why am I in a ward?” Iniye demands.
“You had to be sedated.”
“Well, last night, you passed out and when you regained consciousness, you were a little agitated.”
Iniye squints at the clock on the wall; it’s a quarter past ten in the morning. Very slowly her mind begins to piece together series of memories until she remembers watching the video, but she does not flinch.
“So it wasn’t a dream,” she mutters.
Mary wraps a comforting arm around her shoulder and squeezes it gently.
The following day, Iniye receives news that the management of St. Gerard’s Hospital has decided to grant her two weeks compassionate leave. Very kind of them, she thinks, but that much time alone to reflect on Nduka’s innocence, humour and romantic ingenuity will do her sanity more harm than good, and so she resolves that a trip back home to Bayelsa would be ideal.
She immediately calls her dad to inform him, as opposed to her mum, so as to avoid another session of wailing and lamentation over the phone, by both despairing mother and child.
About two hours later, her dad calls back. “My dear, when did you say you’ll be coming home again?”
“By the weekend,” she replies.
“Can you make it tomorrow instead? Your mother really needs you.”
“Daddy…is everything alright?”
“Everything will be alright, my dear, don’t worry.”
Later that evening, while Iniye is doing the dishes after a bland meal (which is in vogue, for her, since Nduka’s passing), she hears her phone ringing in the bedroom. Nonchalantly, she dries her hands and heads in the direction of the whining phone.
“My sister’s daughter-ah-ah,” proclaims Aunt Gladys in a despairing, weeping tone. “My dear child.”
“Aunty it’s alright,” Iniye consoles, guessing her aunt is just hearing about Nduka.
“But why would your mother do this to us ehn? Why?”
“Ayiba nowa!” she exclaims. “You have not heard?”
“Aunty what’s going on?” Iniye inquires gingerly.
“There’s no easy way to say this, my daughter, there isn’t. But your mother has left us. She has left us oh; she’s gone.”
“Aunty let me call you back please,” Iniye interrupts and hangs up.
She scrolls down her call log to dial her dad’s number but considers it for a second. There are a couple of elderly women – family friends and relatives alike – who refer to her as “my daughter” or “my child.” So, exactly, which one of them is Aunty Gladys talking about now, by her statement of “your mother has left us?” Or could it be her grandmother?
Her father’s voice is calm and unwavering. “Hello my dear.”
This is not a mourning voice, she assures herself.
“Daddy, Aunty Gladys just called me, ‘saying your mother has left us;’ what…what is she talking about?”
“My dear, I…I wanted you to get home first before letting you know. I told everyone not to tell you yet; I must have forgotten about your aunt, Gladys.”
“Iniye, you know about your mum’s hypertension, and…she was greatly distressed when she received the Nduka news.”
Iniye listens intently, hoping against all odds that there is a miraculous twist somewhere in the story her father is narrating.
“Last night,” he continues. “She was inconsolable, and cried herself to sleep. This morning I tried to wake her but…”
The phone slips out of Iniye’s hands and crashes on the floor. She does not pick it up. She vehemently wills the ocean of tears breaking the banks of her heart to gush out of her eyes, but they do not. Instinctively, she puts on a pair of sneakers, grabs her purse and steps out of the house in the skimpy shorts and tank top that she is wearing.
After thirty minutes of a directionless walk, she spots an open air bar. A voice in her head beckons her to take a seat; she does, and orders a bottle of Guiness Extra Smooth.
“It is the bitterest and most potent drink I’ve ever tasted,” Iniye remembers her friend, Janet, saying, back in the university.
“Well, that makes it the perfect drink for the occasion,” Iniye says to herself.
It is 6:05 pm and the skies are still clear enough to delay the use of electrical bulbs and automobile headlights. So Iniye, momentarily, wonders what example or message she would be passing across if any of her Sunday school students run into her, dressed like she is, in a bar, never mind her pastor.
“What would Jesus do?” adds another voice of conscience.
She chuckles, perishes the thought and damns the consequences. It is a good time to forget God and wise words and moral principles because they cannot save you when push comes to shove.
There’s a young man in a white long sleeve shirt, black trousers and red tie, staring at her from two or three tables away but she pays him no mind. Three bottles later, Iniye slowly dozes off on her chair, and is not bothered until about an hour later when she is woken by the loud honking of a passing car. She gathers herself and signals the bartender to come over.
“How much is my money?”
“What time is it, please?” she asks, slipping him a thousand naira note.
“9:50 ma,” replies the bartender after checking his phone.
The man in red tie is still sipping from his plastic bottle of water, and watching.
She collects her change and staggers slightly to the roadside where she hails a cab. Instead of heading home, she asks the cab man to take her to the nearest, available club.
Loud music and lustful eyes greet Iniye as soon as she enters the club. A booth of four guys with eight pairs of red eyes and four bottles of alcoholic wine, instantly tickles her fancy, so she approaches them.
“Hi guys,” she grins at them, taking a seat.
The one in the black hat nods in acknowledgement; the rest ignore her but it does not deter her.
“Listen guys, do you happen to have any substance that can heavily stimulate my central nervous system?”
They all give her the “who the hell is this?” look, so she attempts to use a language they may be familiar with. “I mean, I wan shine my eye; I wan kolo – anything for the girl?”
This time they completely ignore her, so she concludes that they are gay or she’s not dressed as skimpy as they would like.
The second booth of interest has more cigarette packs than bottles as well as a shisha. This time, the occupants are not just one sex – three guys are in the company of two big-breasted girls. Iniye asks if she can join them; they don’t see why not, and so she evens their number and their fraternity. It does not take long before she is handed the shisha pipe.
Ten minutes later, someone taps her from behind. She turns and recognises the black hat guy from the first table. All five members of her current table are up dancing and screaming, she would too, if she could coordinate her legs. Mr. Black hat slips her a pill, which she swallows without thinking about it. She requests for another but he informs her that she can only take one per 4 hours. She gives him a “boy! I can handle it” look, and he caves in, against his better judgement, owing more to his desperation to take her to bed.
A few lazy attempts later, Iniye manages to force open her eyes and finds herself draped in a bed with white sheets. The red tie man from the bar is sitting in a plastic chair beside her and her first impulse is to sprint but she is too weak to.
He notices her flinching and assures her with a smile. “Relax, pretty lady. You’re safe; you’re in a hospital.”
A nurse, probably born with the gift of timing, walks in, and corroborates the claim of the man sitting beside her. After checking Iniye’s blood pressure, the nurse gives them some privacy.
“You passed out in a club’s rest room last night,” the man explains. “Luckily, I was close by and was able to bring you here.”
“You were at the bar too,” she mutters, accusingly.
“Yes, I was,” he confesses. “You won’t believe this but as soon as I saw you, on my way home from work yesterday, a voice in my head kept telling me to follow you. It wasn’t my imagination or anything, because I could hear it clearly and continuously.”
Moments later, when he is done explaining, he waits for her to respond but she says nothing, so he carries on. “I found your ID in your purse, so I know your name is Iniye. Mine is Samuel.”
“How did you get into the club dressed like this?” she blurts.
He grins at her. “Well, where there is a will; there’s a way.”
From his explanation or what he claims is his explanation, Iniye wonders if Samuel is God’s olive branch to her, assuming God is in the business of warring with people. But if he is, she hopes the branch is connected to a tree of everlasting joy, love and fruitfulness.
As if reading her mind, Samuel says. “Don’t worry, the worst is over. I’m here for you and I’m not going anywhere.”
A rebellious tear slips out of her left eye, which Samuel dispatches with his thumb. And for some reason, despite His silence, Iniye is deeply assured that God has not forsaken her.