Monday, 4 August 2014
SPOKEN FOR 04
Days had wrapped up into nights, and nights had lingered on into day. Kemi had searched every where she could think of for the child, but there were no results. Some of her neigbours had helped to search as well but Shomi wasn't seen. To Kemi's surprise, she had cried. She didn't know why she cried. With the girl gone, it would mean less bills to pay and also the opportunity to be able to forge ahead with her life. She was still just twenty two. She still had the world at her feet. But she missed the girl's presence. For what it was worth, the she had been the one who had birthed the girl. A couple of green bottles and a few sticks of cigarette helped her calm her worries though.
"What is your name?" The woman in the red and yellow Christian Wives Association wrapper asked, looking at Shomi. Shomi opened her eyes. She jumped to her feet and tried to run out of the room. She looked around her. There was only one orange electricity bulb hanging loose on the ceiling so it was a little dim. She began to perceive the aroma of good food and then her eyes found the covered plate on the table beside the large chair of old velvet cushions where she had been sleeping.
"What is your name?!" The woman said again, this time raising her voice. Shomi winced, and moved backwards again.
"I won't beat you. Shey you want make I send you back to place wey I find you?" The woman said, standing akimbo.
Shomi shook her head. The memories came back, but she didn't really understand. But she knew those two teenagers who had abducted her on her way to the Suya man's place had done what the many men that came into Aunty Kemi's flat did. And it had hurt her so much that she lost consciousness.
The woman sighed as she looked at Shomi. Poor child. She knew the child had been sexually abused because she had found her on her way home.
That night, she had been going back home but had stopped to urinate beside an uncompleted building which wasn't too far from her house. She had been so pressed and she couldn't wait till she got home. As she squatted to ease herself, she heard the voices of young men. One of them was scared judging from the pitch of his voice. He'd said "You don kill am!" and the other had said "Make we dey go before somebody go waka come here." She purposely coughed and stamped her feet for them to hear. They sure heard her and they ran away like the immature boys that they were. Then she hurried towards where the voices had come from and she saw the little girl; unconscious. She was confused as to what to do at first. There was no near by hospital. What if the girl died on the way? The Police would accuse her of murder. The neighbours would think she had used the girl for money rituals. She eventually lifted the faint girl up, carried her on her large hip, rushed to her house which wasn't so far off, and then she poured water on the girl's head as she cleaned up the mess that had been made. Her neighbour was a nurse fortunately so she called her to take a look at the child.
"Come and eat. I know you are hungry." The woman said. "My name is Madam Joyce."
Shomi stared at her, with no expression. The woman was large...with fat all over her that it was difficult to believe she was not a rich woman. Madam Joyce sighed then she walked out of the room leaving Shomi by herself. As soon as she was gone, Shomi ran to the table and opened the covered plate. There was no cutlery so she dug her small fingers into the plate of white rice and fish stew. Madam Joyce walked back into the room with a white plastic spoon in her hand and a plastic cup of water.
"Oh I see you are very hungry." Madam Joyce laughed, shaking her head.
"Thank you Madam. My name is Shomi." Shomi said timidly.
It had been about three weeks and some days since Shomi had started to live with Madam Joyce. The woman lived alone. She didn't have a husband or children. She had a spot on the way to the Community bus stop where she sold Akara, Fried yam and stew to passers-by. There were some other people who sold their wares too. The newspaper man had chosen the spot too because he knew that Madam Joyce would need to buy his old newspapers sometimes. The spot was a mini market.
Shomi had started to help her. Well, it wasn't as though she had a choice. Every morning by 5.30 AM, she had to wake up to clean the kerosene stove ahead of time so that by 6 AM, when people had started to get to the bus stop so that they could head to their respective places of work, they could open for business.
It was a new environment and Shomi didn't know her way around. Madam Joyce had decided that after some time, she would start sending the girl to hawk Akara and Fried yam around, so that they could spread and expand their customer base. She was scared at first though, because she didn't want the girl to get missing. But then, the first time Shomi eventually did, she came back home, not only by herself, but also with about Eight hundred Naira. That night, Madam Joyce had let her eat the tail piece of the Titus fish and to break the bone of Madam Joyce's drumstick, as her reward for good performance.
"Madam," Shomi went into Madam Joyce's room, one night after she had washed all the bowls and big frying aluminium that they had used for the day. Shomi was not allowed to sleep until the kitchen was sparkling clean. She had to wash every single trace of oil, gather enough old newspaper and old examination question papers that the public school opposite their house threw away, to wrap the Akara and yams they sold in. The newspaper vendors at the spot were getting too expensive. She also had to make sure that there was Kerosene in the stove always, and also to see to it that the wick of the stove was not burnt short. She also had to make sure there was enough coal as an alternative. In truth, the kerosene stove was the alternative, and the tripod stand and burning coals were the main instruments of business.
Madam Joyce was about sleeping. She had already turned off the lights in her bedroom. She was grateful that there was Electricity. It was the second time that week that there had been uninterrupted Electricity. That meant she would sleep off with the breeze from the small standing fan caressing her mound of flesh.
"What is it Shomi?" She said harshly, angry that the girl had come to disturb her sleep. Electricity was not guaranteed and she needed to enjoy the lullaby of the fan's breeze.
Shomi went towards Madam Joyce's bed and then, she went on her two knees. Madam Joyce frowned, looking at the girl, trying to understand what was going on.
"Madam, I want to tell you thank you for everything wey you have do for me. God will bless you every day!" Shomi said.
Madam Joyce sighed. She didn't know why the girl was thanking her. In fact, she had beaten her that evening because she had burnt up the remaining soup they had left while trying to heat it up. So the appreciation seemed quite funny.
"Amen. Thank you." Madam Joyce said.
Shomi wanted to say something else but she hesitated. She had already turned the knob of the door when Madam Joyce called her back.
"Come, sit down." Madam Joyce patted her bed so that Shomi would sit beside her.
"Yes Madam?" Shomi said timidly, as usual.
"What class are you at your school?" Madam Joyce said.
Shomi giggled, then she put her hand to her face to cover it. She was shy. Madam Joyce looked at the child and laughed.
"Why are you laughing?" Madam Joyce said.
"Na the question wey you ask me, Madam. I no dey go school o." Shomi said, covering her face.
The woman sighed, and then shook her head. Even if she was just an Akara seller, she didn't believe it was right for a promising young child to waste away this way. The girl was quite smart, although timid and withdrawn.
"Okay. If you sell Akara and make up to One thousand Naira tomorrow, I will register you in the school." Madam Joyce said, pointing at the window towards the public school opposite their house.
Shomi jumped to her feet and wanted to express her appreciation for what Madam Joyce had just said, but she retreated. She didn't know if it was right or wrong to show emotions of gratitude, or any other sort. She had never been hugged or held dearly by Aunty Kemi or any one else. All she knew in her almost eight years of existence was violence and flogging.
"Thank you Madam!" She said, her voice doing all the expression.
Madam Joyce nodded, and then dismissed her.
The following day, Shomi had woken up earlier than usual. She had brought out the buckets they fetched water in to wash the peeled yams. She checked the kerosene stove again to be sure the kerosene she had poured in just about six hours ago, was still there. She had even boiled hot water for Madam Joyce to take her bath with.
By the close of business, Shomi came back to Madam Joyce's stand, happy and totally excited. In fact, she was too excited that she wasn't calm enough and had hit the bucket of water beside the stove. Madam Joyce raised her voice and pulled her ear but that didn't kill the child's joy.
"Na the money wey I collect today be this." She said, happily handing over the crumbled notes to Madam Joyce.
The woman counted the money. She counted it all over again the second time, and then a third time. Then she looked at the child.
"How did you make 2,500?!" She asked, surprised.
"I just increase the price." She said, smiling.
Madam Joyce didn't say a word till they got back to the house. Then she told the girl to take off all her clothes, and kneel on the floor. She reached for her long cane and then she began to flog her.
"Next time, you will not lie!" She flogged her bum. The girl started to roll on the floor, crying and weeping.
"I want to go to school....I want to go to school..." Shomi mumbled between her tears, trying to block the strokes of the bamboo cane.
"If you want something, you should not lie to get it. If you lie to people you will steal from people! Do you want to be a thief? If you steal from people, Police will catch you and they will beat you and throw you in prison! Or they will burn you with petrol!" Madam Joyce flogged the girl more and more, then she stopped. She realized she had started crying.
As Madam Joyce went to bed, she couldn't stop thinking about her Ezekiel.
Some years ago, Madam Joyce's husband had been very sick, and there was no money to take him to the hospital, or to buy food for him, so that he could take his drugs. So her teenage son, Ezekiel,had gone to the provision kiosk three streets away, and when the seller wasn't looking, he picked a loaf of bread and two sardines and hid them in the black polythene bag he had taken along. Then he began walking very fast...till he began to run. Unfortunately, someone had noticed and had started to shout Ole! Thief! And within the hour, a mob had formed and had started to pour petrol on Ezekiel.
By the time Madam Joyce got there, they had burnt her son.
And now, it brought tears to her eyes, because she wished she had flogged him this much if it would only have prevented him from stealing.
The standing fan stopped rolling and came to a halt. NEPA had interrupted the electricity.
Shomi lay in the darkness, crying and regretting why she had decided to go to school in the first place.