Without a Voice
Written by Akintomide Ifedayo Adigwe
Cover art by Alaba Onajin
Copyright © Akintomide Ifedayo Adigwe 2013
The right of Akintomide Ifedayo Adigwe to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted with the Copyright right Patents and Designs Act
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author and the publishers
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be by way of trade or otherwise be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that which it is published.
TO GOD WHO ALONE DESERVES ALL THE GLORY
It was a cold humid evening. The sky was grim and overcast with thick cumulonimbus clouds. A moist earthy scent of wet soil hung everywhere, an evidence of the recent rains in the area.
Ginika Odogwu stood quietly, her face sad and forlorn and her clear hazel eyes filled with unshed tears. The ragged black dress she wore rustled in the slight breeze as she sighed taking a lungful of the clean crisp air.
She was of small, on the petite side, about five feet two inches tall with a lean angular face, full red lips, brooding hazel eyes and thick eyebrows. Her hair was long, crinkled and curly as was natural of the people of African descent. It covered her head like a shroud, round like a halo.
She was pretty; not in a loud distracting sort of way. Her prettiness was wholesome, natural like fresh dew on an early morning. It was not dissimilar from a rose in full bloom. Her looks had almost always gotten her more than a few male appreciative looks. Sort of like the looks she sometimes got from her stepfather.
That thought made her stiffen and she glanced back at the tiny hut behind her. Loud snores emanated from within its depths. It was her home and she lived there with her stepfather, her mother and her five younger siblings.
Another sigh burst from her lips with a whoosh and she turned away from the hut her sad gaze settling on the small settlement several hundred meters below where she stood. It was called Iseluku. A small village on the outskirts of delta state in eastern Nigeria.
The village covered an area of over five acres and it was a motley collection of small huts built in a wide circle with a narrow road meandering through the center of it.
The snores behind her increased in volume and tempo; she sighed again when she heard that and turned, facing the hut once more. It suddenly occurred to her that her family was sleeping early. They rarely slept before nine pm. To have them fast asleep at this time was an oddity. Sighing again at that thought she turned her gaze back to the settlement in front of her.
Sleep was the furthest thing from her mind at the moment. Not when the future before her seemed bleak and uncertain. She couldn’t remember a time in her sixteen years of life that she had ever dreaded the dawning of a new day as she did now.
Dawn had always meant something special to her. New hopes, new dreams, a fresh start, and the chance that maybe, just maybe the pain and failures of hundreds of yesterdays would fade away with the birth of a new day. Ifeanyi her best friend; in fact the only friend she had, did not share her somewhat whimsical view of the dreary village life.
Ifeanyi felt she looked at the world with a simplistic overly positive attitude; only seeing the bright colors and sunlit skies refusing to acknowledge the rains, the pains and the inherent evil lying just beneath the surface.
She however did not agree with that assessment. Granted she did try to see the positive side of things, but that did not mean she was ignorant of the darkness around her. Ifeanyi tended to be too pessimistic. That was probably why they were such good friends. They complemented each other. Her mother had always said that opposites attract. She and Ifeanyi were shinning testaments to that adage.
Thoughts of Ifeanyi made the unshed tears brimming in her eyes spill down her cheeks. She realized that she might never see Ifeanyi again after tomorrow. This was because tomorrow was the day she was being sent off by her mother and stepfather to work in a city very far away. Someplace in the west of Nigeria she had been told.
The person organizing the whole thing had been rather vague. Her face hardened as soon as she thought of him. Nonso Ogochi; a thin, short pot bellied man of undeterminable age who came to Iseluku every year to gather young boys and girls like herself to go work in the towns and cities as maids and servants.
Many of the young men and women taken were for the most part excited about the trip. To them it meant an escape from the dreariness and extreme poverty in their small community; hearing them speak of their lofty dreams sparked off two emotions in her. One was the urge to burst into uncontrollable laughter. The other was a deep sadness at their naivety and stupidity.
Countless occasions came to mind when she had been seated in the village square listening to groups of them chattering excitedly the night before they were scheduled to leave. She and Ifeanyi had listened as they talked making all their grandiose plans of somehow becoming rich and famous. Though how they planned to do this was never clearly explained. Who would have thought that barely a year later, she would be one of those going.
A light shone brightly in the square. From where she stood she could see the light creating eerie shadows in the gloom surrounding it. Few homes had electricity. If you had electricity in your house, you were thought to be influential and very well to do. Those traveling would probably be gathered at the village square right now. Ifeanyi might even be there. That thought brightened her sad eyes.
Sighing she headed towards the square picking her way over the rough uneven landscape as she stepped onto the deeply pot holed road meandering through the entire settlement.
Glancing at dozens of houses on either side of the pot holed road as she walked down the slope, she tried without succeeding to stifle another sigh. She stared at some of them so intently that a casual observer would think she was trying to commit them to memory which wasn’t that far from the truth.
Heaviness flooded her insides when she realized that she didn’t know when she would see these homes again. The sky lightened at that moment and she looked up as a bright half moon peeked out from behind the thick blue black clouds, bathing the earth around her in a soft silvery glow.
There was a rumble in the sky which was quickly followed by a bright flash of lightening. She stiffened bending low. For as long as she could remember the lightening had always been something she hated. It started when a young man in their village had been struck by it many years before.
Thinking about the lightening made her wonder why God created some of the things he created. Why did he create lightening? What purpose did it serve besides killing an unsuspecting person every now and then? Snakes were another thing she couldn’t understand why God created.
They were loathsome and fearful creatures, cold and slimy looking. She knew this because one had crawled over her leg once when she was asleep. A long black one; its cold body sliding over her had roused her from her slumber fast.
Luckily it hadn’t bitten her even after she had screamed as loud as she could. She had had the good sense to keep totally still till her stepfather had rushed over and killed it. That was one of the few things he had ever done for her.
She found him loathsome, maybe just as loathsome as the dead snake. Her real father had died when she was five. She barely remembered what he looked like anymore. The only thing she did remember with any clarity was that he was tall and dark. She also remembered asking her mother what had killed him on countless occasions. The details of his demise were things that interested her greatly.
The explanations her mother gave at the time never made much sense to her. She called it the blood sickness, something about his blood being different from everyone else’s. This sickness she said sometimes occurs in one person within a family.
The person’s weak and different blood made him or her sickly and if it wasn’t properly managed could result in death which, according to her mother was what happened to her father. Her mother had remarried a year and a half later (no big surprise there) to her repugnant stepfather.
To be fair to him, he had tried to be nice to her the first few months of their union. When he realized she remained unresponsive he had given up and ignored her completely. Now for some strange reason he had began to pay more attention to her and this attention was something she couldn’t say she was that comfortable with.
He kept looking at her breasts in a hungry sort of way. And sometimes (though he claimed it was an accident) he almost walked in on her several times when she was bathing. She considered telling her mother about this but always changed her mind at the last moment. In her mother’s eyes, her stepfather could do no wrong. He was the only thing that made her not sad to leave the village.
Pushing her sad and troubled thoughts to the deep recesses of her mind she stepped into the wide oval area which made up the village square. It was about twenty meters across. Huts were built in a concentric circle around the edges of it. Dozens of people were gathered in the center sitting around a large bonfire. Most of them were young, between the ages of twelve and seventeen.
Nonso Ogochi sat at the extreme end of the square towards her right with six of Iseluku’s most respected elders. They were talking in low tones their white robes and crimson red caps gleaming in the night. Tearing her gaze away from them, Ginika scoured through the sea of heads searching for Ifeanyi. She spotted her a few feet to her left sitting amongst a small crowd of girls.
Making her way towards her slowly, she edged past a small crowd of youngsters; passed a couple more before reaching Ifeanyi’s side. Ifeanyi looked up at her when she pulled to halt, her oval face breaking into a beautiful and heart stopping smile. Ginika smiled back sinking down beside her on the cold damp earth.
Ifeanyi was beautiful. Ginika always felt very plain when she looked at her full red lips, high cheek bones, and limpid brown eyes which had a splattering of grey in the center.
She also had a fuller figure than Ginika’s. Her breasts were large and pointed, her shape curved into a near perfect eight. Even the loose slightly stained gray frock she wore did little to hide her sensuous curves.
Many boys and a few young men around them kept darting appreciative glances at her. She hardly seemed to notice the looks or she simply chose to ignore them. Reaching forward, she took Ginika’s hand in her own the smile never leaving her face.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t come.” She whispered.
“I almost didn’t.” Ginika admitted with a shrug.
“You are unhappy!” Ifeanyi stated her eyes large and sad.
“Shouldn’t I be?” Ginika shot back with a hard edge to her voice.
“Have you spoken to your mother again?”
Ginika’s eyes filled with tears again which threatened to spill down her cheeks. She was barely able to keep the floodgates closed. Ifeanyi’s hand tightened over hers, her eyes shining with tears when she looked at the heart broken expression on her friend’s face.
“Tried last night and early this morning too, my mother’s mind is made up. I have no choice but to go.” She said sadly.
“But doesn’t your opinion count for something?” Ifeanyi asked aghast.
“Obviously not am afraid. She says the family needs the money. You know with the rains as heavy as they have been, my stepfather’s farm hasn’t done as well as it should have done. As a result food and money is scarce. And I still have five younger ones.”
“Same in my house too__” Ifeanyi agreed with a deep sigh. “The whole village is suffering from the unpredictable weather. But my parents haven’t asked me to go and serve as a maid to absolute strangers many miles away.”
“Maybe they aren’t as desperate as my own__” Ginika began with a mirthless smile. “___ Yet.” She finished quietly.
“I don’t think they would ever do that to me, except of course if I offered to go and they could see it was what I really wanted.” Ifeanyi said quietly with a speculative look in her eyes. Ginika sighed not noticing the look on her friend’s face.
“I must resign myself to my fate. Tomorrow bright and early the bus Nonso brought will carry I and the others to the destiny our parent’s and guardians chose for us.”
“Do you know where you are going?”
“I heard some of the older boys say that it is somewhere in the west.”
“Oh!” Ifeanyi said with a hard frown. “The land of those Ngbati, ngbati* people. How will you cope my friend?” *Offensive description of the Yoruba people.
“The gods will guide and protect me Ifeanyi. Should they choose to abandon me, then you had better look at my face very well because you might never see it again.” Ginika said in a grim voice.
“Do not say such things my friend.” Ifeanyi said in a sharp voice, fear and anger glittering in her eyes.
Ginika opened her mouth to snap at her but paused when she saw the fierce look in her eyes. With a loud sigh she closed her half open mouth and they both lapsed into silence listening to the loud chatter of voices all around them.
An hour and a half later
They walked up the sloppy road which led back to their huts. Silence engulfed them like a shroud making the croaking of the bullfrogs and whine of mosquitoes seem much louder. Both of their expressions were troubled and a sigh burst out of Ginika’s lips every couple of seconds.
Ifeanyi turned glancing at Ginika through the corner of one eye and reached over holding her right palm open in front of her. Ginika glanced down at her hand for several long moments before placing her left palm into Ifeanyi’s own with a sigh. Their fingers locked and held swinging slightly as they walked. Holding Ifeanyi’s hand comforted Ginika in no small degree. She felt less alone now than she had been feeling for the last thirty six hours.
She remembered the horror that had surged through her when her stepfather had told her with a gleeful look on his face that she was being sent to work as a maid in the city.
She had rushed to her mother for confirmation. One look at her mother’s troubled face had told her all she needed to know. Her worst fears had been confirmed.
She listened in a daze as her mother tried to explain the reasons for their decision. None of which seemed to make much sense to her at the time. She knew they weren’t well to do, but she didn’t think they were on the brink of starvation as her mother had suggested.
Sighing she shook her head slightly trying to clear it of her troubled thoughts. Looking up she realized with a bit of surprise that they were barely fifty feet away from her hut. She pulled to a halt slowly with a hard frown on her face. Ifeanyi stopped too glancing at her with a puzzled air.
“I think this is where we say goodnight.” Ginika got out in a flat voice.
“I thought I’d see you off to the door of your house.”
“That won’t be necessary Ifeanyi. Its not that I don’t want to spend more time with you; its just too painful for me right now. Please try and understand.”
Ifeanyi’s frown deepened for several seconds before fading away all together, her eyes becoming sympathetic and understanding.
“I bid you goodnight.” She whispered surging forward and hugging Ginika so fiercely that her air supply was almost cut off.
Without another word she pulled away and hurried back down the slope.
“Will you come and see me off tomorrow?” Ginika called after her.
Ifeanyi slid to a halt and nodded without turning around. A heart beat later she continued running down the slope quickly disappearing from view.
Ginika sighed and turned back to her hut. It looked grim and forbidding in the moonlit night. With another sigh she hurried towards it. As she got closer she heard the sound of raised voices. By the time she was fifteen feet away she could hear what they were saying and realized the voices belonged to her mother and stepfather.
“Are you sure we are doing the right thing Chukwudi?” Her mother asked.
“Listen woman do not disturb my sleep! How many times do we have to talk about this? It’s the only thing we can do. I don’t think I have to remind you how terrible the rains have been. The harvest from the farm is barely a tenth of what it should have been. Not to mention that land dispute I have with Edochie. Sending Ginika to work is the only way we can continue to put food on our table.”
“But it doesn’t feel right. Its like we are selling her off to slavery or something.”
“Now don’t exaggerate, it’s just for a year. Nonso assures me the contract is on a yearly basis. He says we are likely to get sixty two thousand naira for her salary for the entire year. Though not all that money will come to us, Nonso will also take his own cut. But at least we should get close to thirty five thousand which will go a long way in augmenting our income for the year.”
“Besides if things improve, she doesn’t have to go back to work next year.”
There was a long silence. The silence stretched on so long that for a second Ginika thought they had both fallen asleep until she heard her mother’s low sniffles which was followed almost immediately by an impatient grunt from her stepfather.
She sighed and crossed the intervening distance between her and the hut; making enough noise so that they would both know she was coming in.
The inside of the hut was shrouded in gloom but it was so familiar to her that she could find her way around even with her eyes blindfolded. Turning to her right she stepped over the bodies of her two youngest siblings took three more steps and sank down on a mound of soft rags bunched tightly together to form a make shift bed.
Her mother and her stepfather had lapsed into silence. A few minutes past and her mother started doing a poor imitation of quiet snores. Ginika frowned slightly in the darkness her teeth tightly clenched behind her pursed lips.
Shifting restlessly till she found the most comfortable position, she sighed deeply and closed her eyes. Only God knew when she would get to sleep was the thought that flashed through her mind at that moment. But she needn’t have bothered because five minutes later she was fast asleep.
4 am (Next day)
Her eyes fluttered open slowly and she raised a palm to stifle a yawn. A cock crowed in the distance and she yawned again as she sat up on her bed of rags. There was a bright red glow coming from outside the hut. This was accompanied by the intermittent crackling of wood burning.
The glow faintly illuminated the inside of the hut. Her stepfather and other siblings were still fast asleep. Her stepfather was snoring loudly his thick sausage lips parted slightly. A bubble of saliva burst out of his lips every couple of minutes exploding on his lips.
She grimaced in disgust and rose to her feet slowly. Her mum’s mat which was lying beside her stepfather was empty. She realized she was probably the one outside preparing breakfast.
She hurried out of the hut as quietly as she could carefully stepping over her siblings. Outside she raised one hand to shield her face from the glare of the large fire burning ten feet away from the entrance of the hut.
A big pot held up by two strong wooden spits bubbled merrily over the fire. The pot was blackened from years of continuous use and thin spider line cracks streaked across its surface like veins.
Her mother sat four feet in front of the fire staring into its smoldering and cracking depths as if entranced by the burning flames. She wore a white robe which was wrapped around her body in thick folds. Her hair was long hanging in untidy tufts on her head. She had skin that gleamed like ebony but her face was slightly wizen and very care worn. Ginika knew she must have been pretty once but years of worry and unhappiness had taken its toil on her.
Ginika walked forward slowly sinking down on the hard earth beside her. For several long moments none of them spoke. Then slowly almost imperceptibly Ginika’s mother reached out to her daughter clutching her arm and gripping it as if it was her last link to life.
Her hard grip hurt but Ginika endured it because her mother seemed to be drawing some comfort from it. There was a long silence.
“You do realize that this is not what I wanted for you?” Her mother asked quietly her voice a thread over a whisper.
Ginika nodded slowly but did not speak. What was the point anyway? At the moment words seemed unnecessary.
“It’s just for a year. Hopefully next harvest season will be much better so you won’t have to be put to work again. And who knows you might even get a chance to go further with your education; perhaps go through J.S.S 1 – 3.”
Ginika’s face hardened. She was on the verge of giving her mother a stinging retort when a loud snore rippled from the insides of the hut. The frown on her face deepened and she rose to her feet slowly gently prying her mother’s fingers off her arm.
“I need to take a bath mother.” She muttered as she walked away.
Walking round the side of the hut she could feel her mother’s eyes boring into her back. Directly behind the hut was a shower stall which was simply four sets of wooden slats eight feet tall whose ends were driven into the earth and nailed together to form a box like shape. It was wide enough for two people to stand in, side by side comfortably.
Two large clay pots about four feet tall and two feet wide stood directly in front of the stall. Ginika walked to the one closest to her and slid the clay cover off it carefully. It was half filled with water. A green plastic bucket lay inside the stall. She picked it up and quickly filled it up with water from the clay pot.
Closing the pot carefully she carried the bucket into the stall and closed the crudely constructed wooden door. It slid shut with a loud creak. Slipping out of her dress, she poured a bowlful of the bitingly cold water over her body. A tremor surged through her as she began to lather the foam like sponge with soap. The cock crowed again in the distance. She knew what that meant. It would soon be five am. She had to hurry if she didn’t want the bus to leave without her. Pausing slightly at that thought she had to will herself to continue bathing. Trying to miss the bus was just delaying the inevitable. She might as well face her problem head on. With that thought she began to pour water over her body faster.
Thirty minutes later
She strode down the narrow sloping road which led into the center of the village square carrying a slightly faded blue traveling bag which contained all of her possessions. She was clad in a white sleeveless blouse and a blue jean skirt which reached just below her knees. Her hair was combed back and tied into a knot at the base of her skull.
Her mother had wanted to see her off to the square but she had declined none too politely and thankfully she did not press the issue. Glancing back Ginika saw she still stood on the crest of the slope watching her walk towards the square.
With a sigh, Ginika turned her gaze back in the direction of the village. There was light shinning in the square. But this light was not the light from a fire. It was brighter and shone in two straight lines which ended in elliptical circles.
As she got closer she realized it came from the large eighteen seater bus which was to be her transport to her new life of servitude in the city. Heaviness flooded her insides as she thought this and she slouched in sadness as she walked. The loud chattering of excited voices made her look up again.
A small crowd was gathered in front of the bus. Majority of them were youngsters like her who were going to the city to work. The rest were family, friends and well wishers.
Nonso stood beside the door of the bus watching as each person clambered aboard. His eyes were narrowed to slits and she could see the almost hungry look on his face as he watched the boys and girls climb aboard the bus. He was probably calculating the amount of money he was going to make off each of them.
That thought for some reason brought more sadness. Lengthening her stride, she reached the bus as the last five people were preparing to enter. Nonso gave her a long irritated look which she pointedly ignored as she climbed onboard. The door was closed behind her with a loud bang.
She shuddered. It had an air of finality about it which made her want to start crying. The engine of the bus started with a healthy growl a few moments later. Nonso climbed into the front with the driver and they were off a few seconds later.
A place that is not home
She had gotten a window seat and she stared sightlessly out of it as the bus pulled out of the long narrow pot holed road onto the smoother four lane express road which linked the east with the west.
Cool breeze washed over her face. It had a slight chill to it as if it was going to rain in the next couple of hours. Nonso addressed them speaking in a loud voice, briefing them on what to expect when they reached the city. But Ginika found it difficult to concentrate on what he was saying.
She gave up after a while and resumed staring out of the window. What did it matter what they were to expect in the city. The only thing any of them could hope for at the moment was that they would end up with people who would at least treat them kindly.
Glancing at the excited faces around her, she suddenly had the urge to puke. She was probably the only person not thrilled about being in this bus. From the looks on the faces around her, she could sense that many of them felt it was some sort of epic adventure.
Call her a pessimist, but she really did not share their enthusiasm. Ifeanyi would probably call them daft and stupid. Baboon was another word she was extremely fond of. Sadness filled her heart as soon as she thought of her friend.
She hadn’t come to see her off as she had promised which was so unlike her. Maybe her parents had stopped her. Her eyes filled with tears but she quickly forced them away. Now was not the time to cry.
She had never been one to show weakness. The only person she was vulnerable with was Ifeanyi. So many of her peers in the village thought she and Ifeanyi were stuck up. This was something that had always puzzled her greatly. It wasn’t that she really cared, but she couldn’t understand why anyone would label her as being stuck up.
Being self sufficient and strong wasn’t a crime in her book. And experience had thought her that it was best you learned to look out for yourself because no one else would. In fact the people you thought would be there for you hardly ever were. Ifeanyi was the only person thus far who had proved her wrong.
Her mum had done the best she could for her under the circumstances. But truth be told, she couldn’t help feeling her mum was weak. The way she cowed and kowtowed to her stepfather was simply horrifying, even when it was so obvious that he was in the wrong. The whole am submissive to you thing sickened her.
Was that how being with a man made women act? Always being in subjugation to him and not having your own voice heard; if that was the case maybe she would never be with any man.
She couldn’t bear the thought that someone she loved with all her heart wouldn’t see her as an equal, a person even. But would regard her as a piece of property, to be possessed at whim when the fancy took him and ignored when he tired of her; maybe she was the only one who saw it. But it was very obvious that her stepfather had tired of her mother.
Her troubled thoughts and conflicting emotions made her sigh again and she leaned back in her chair closing her eyes slowly. She was asleep within minutes.
Ifeanyi sat two seats behind her friend watching intently. They had been driving for almost forty minutes and she still hadn’t noticed she was in the bus. Now she had eventually fallen asleep. It was probably for the best. She had looked so sad a few minutes ago that she had been sorely tempted to walk over and console her.
A small smile lifted the corners of her lips as she thought this. She couldn’t wait to see the look on Ginika’s face when she realized she had come along too.
She sighed glancing down at her feet, her eyes taking in her navy blue blouse and black skirt which reached her knees showing off her flawless legs. Her face grew pensive as she remembered the look on her parent’s faces when she told them she wanted to go and work in the city. Her father and mother had been shocked. But the shock on her mother’s face was child’s play when compared with the shock on her father’s own.
“Don’t I provide enough for you?” He had asked quietly with a hurt look on his face which tore at her heart.
“It’s not that father__” She replied. “I just want to be able to earn my keep. I am old enough to start looking after myself.”
The silence that followed had been long and uncomfortable.
“Hope this doesn’t have anything to do with Ginika going?” Her mother asked quietly.
It was Ifeanyi’s turn to be stomped.
“You heard she is going?”
“News gets around here. Ours is a small community so it’s kind of hard to hide anything.” Her mother replied with a shrug.
“Its part of the reason___” Ifeanyi admitted. “But that’s not the main reason.”
“I really want to start looking out for myself. You and father have done so much for me. Its time you focus your time, energy and resources on my two younger ones. Please let me do this. I cannot disobey you if you refuse but I implore you not to.”
The next bit of silence that followed dragged on for almost ten minutes before either of them spoke again. By which time Ifeanyi was sorely convinced that she would be forbidden from going. The surprising part was her parents exchanged several troubled glances and gave their blessings.
Ifeanyi leaned back in her seat with a sigh turning to look out of the bus’s window watching the land whizz by. A thrill went through her as she watched the bushes streaking past. For reasons she couldn’t explain to anyone at the moment, she found she was so excited. This was her first time away from the village. The heady taste of freedom and the expectation of new and better experiences sang in her blood.
Ginika’s eyes fluttered open and she yawned. The monotonous hum and rattle of the bus’s engine surrounded her like a shroud. She turned glancing around its somewhat cramped confines. A frown roughened her brow as her eyes took in the many excited faces around her.
This sight for some strange reason only seemed to depress her. Sitting up straight, she stretched her lithe frame to ease the stiffness in her joints.
The sun was directly overhead in the sky and it was quite hot. Shielding her eyes from the glare, she glanced out of the open window and released a sigh. She didn’t have a watch but she could see it was close to midday. That meant she had been sleeping for a while; a couple of hours at least.
Glancing around the bus once more, her troubled gaze eventually came to rest on the oblong shape of Nonso’s head. His head was resting on the left edge of the front passenger seat, his forehead poking out and facing her direction.
His mouth was wide open and loud snores erupted from its depths sometimes accompanied by tiny bubbles of saliva which burst on his lips every few seconds. Frowning in disgust she turned, resuming her vigil of the bushes whizzing past her open window.
Out of the corner of her right eye she noticed that the person seated beside her suddenly stood up and began to edge away. Her eyes drifted towards him slightly before turning back to the open window. A couple of seconds later, someone else slid into the now empty space beside her. She sensed it was someone else but did not turn to confirm her suspicions.
A heart beat later, she felt a hand tap her arm. She turned slowly with a hard frown on her face. She was in no mood to make polite conversation and she wanted the look on her face to convey that message. She was shocked to see Ifeanyi’s smiling face a few inches away from her own.
“YOU!!!” She gasped.
“Yes me.” Ifeanyi said as she quickly embraced her.
Ginika returned the hug and they clung to each other for several long moments ignoring the puzzled looks all around them.
“What are you doing here?” Ginika gasped. “I felt your parents stopped you from coming to say goodbye to me.”
“No they didn’t. When I got home I told them I wanted to follow you guys to the city so I could start earning my keep.”
“And they agreed?”
“Not at first. I had to convince them that it was a real good idea. They weren’t too hot on it initially__” She paused.
“I guess that says a lot about my skills of persuasion.”
There was a long silence.
“I still can’t believe you are here with me.” Ginika said her eyes still wide with wonder.
“Believe it! Did you honestly think I would let you go the city and have all the fun while I stay behind? No way dear.” Ifeanyi said with a wink.
“OH YOU ARE IMPOSSIBLE!” Ginika said with a laugh.
They linked hands and leaned back in their seats staring into each others eyes for several moments before turning to look out of the window watching the vegetation whizz by.
Ginika’s spirit felt lightened. It was such a relief that she was not alone anymore. Everything didn’t seem quite so hopeless. At that moment she even dared hope that something great would come out of this trip. A thought suddenly occurred to her and she turned facing Ifeanyi.
“How did you get the guy seated beside me to leave?”
“I have my methods.” Ifeanyi replied with a smug look on her face.
“No seriously!” Ginika chuckled. “Tell me___”
“Didn’t do anything fantastic___’ Ifeanyi began with a shrug. “You were fast asleep when I leaned over and told him I would like to switch seats with him.”
“And he agreed? Just like that__” She said her voice fading off.
“Just like that.” Ifeanyi said with a broad grin on her face. “He probably could not resist my allure.”
They locked gazes for several moments before bursting into laughter. Everyone around them turned and gave them pointed looks. Some were amused ones but most were simply irritated. Ginika and Ifeanyi ignored the looks. They were lost in their own private world where everyday rules did not apply.
At the moment Ginika found could care less what anybody did or thought. What mattered now was that she was no longer alone. And that singular fact made all the difference.
“We are in Ore* now!” Nonso barked from the front of the bus. *Small roadside settlement on the outskirts of Ondo and a transit to Lagos.
Everyone paused and looked out of the window watching the buzz of activity as the cars and buses in front of them slowed; on approach to Ore township. The road was patched and the surface uneven. It was obvious that some road rehabilitation had been done recently. But it was a shoddy looking job. Gaping pot holes had been filled with sand and gravel covered with a thin layer of tar.
As they slowed almost to a crawl dozens of hawkers and food sellers raced to their bus holding out their wares and shouting in loud voices. It was a cacophony of strange sounds and smells. The women wore mostly wrappers with native Ankara material sewn into blouses.
The boys and girls were clad in tee shirts and jeans. Most of them torn and ripped in various places; they all (Minus the bread sellers) carried their wares on light aluminum trays. The bread hawkers carried the loaves of bread in their hands as they raced after the slow moving buses. A couple of the boys and girls in the bus reached into their pockets and bought cheap items like biscuits, plantain chips and Akara (bean cake).
Nonso called to a woman selling fried turkey drumsticks dripping with oil and seasoning. He bought four off her and gave one to the driver keeping three for himself. Ginika watched him in disgust thinking he was done. She was shocked to discover a moment later that he was far from it.
He bought three cans of Heineken from another hawker placing them between his legs. The delicious scent of deep fried turkey filled the bus, making Ginika and Ifeanyi’s mouths water as they smelt it.
Popping one of the cans open he raised the frothing top to his mouth and took a long swig licking the thick foam off his lips as he lowered it and burped loudly. Turning his attention to the turkey drumstick he clutched in the other hand, he bit a huge chunk out of it and leaned back in his chair slowly burping once more.
Ginika and Ifeanyi exchanged disgusted glances and turned looking out of the window again. The bus suddenly broke right turning off the express way and headed down a single lane road. At this junction dozens of people selling bread rushed towards the bus calling in loud voices.
The driver did not slow down this time. He deftly switched gears and sped away, quickly leaving them behind, where after a few moments they completely disappeared from view.
“Ondo is just thirty minutes away.” Nonso shouted his mouth still stuffed with meat.
“Is that where we are going?” Ginika asked quietly.
“Seems so.” Ifeanyi replied grimly.
They both lapsed into silence as the bus increased speed.
Thirty minutes later
The bus driver slowed his speed as he entered Ondo Township. Ginika and Ifeanyi’s eyes were wide open in shock as they stared at the dozens of houses that whizzed by them as the bus sped deeper into Ondo town.
Majority of the houses here were bigger than the homes owned by the most prosperous men in their village. They weren’t the only ones awed by all they saw around them. The entire bus was as silent as a grave yard. The only sound was the steady hum of the bus’s engines and the cracking of bone as Nonso bit through the bones of the turkey.
Ginika darted a glance at Ifeanyi smiling slightly when she saw the look of wonder on her face. She turned back to the window again freezing when Ifeanyi spoke.
“I guess we are no longer in Iseluku.”
Ginika shook her head slowly frowning when she realized Ifeanyi was no longer looking at her.
“I guess we are not.” She said in a breathless whisper as they sped past an eye popping mansion which had thick white concrete pillars in front, gold plated fittings in the windows, two long drives built from concrete and huge manicured lawns.
The land it was built on was almost half the size of their tiny village. Ginika glanced at Ifeanyi to check to see if she had seen it. To her chagrin Ifeanyi was looking the other way. Before she could call her attention to it the driver made an abrupt turn to the right.
The street they were on was long and narrow with several darkened spots on the road evidencing the fact that recent road rehabilitation had taken place.
Twenty feet ahead they saw a small market to their left. It was a motley collection of small stalls and shops built entirely out of rickety looking wood. Dozens of men, women and children milled around the two dozens or so stalls which had tomatoes, vegetables, plantain, yams, coconut and many other food produce displayed for sale.
As the bus drove by their loud cries and voices filtered in. Ginika found she could make no sense of the few words she heard. Glancing back as they drove past, she kept staring at the hustle and bustle until the market completely disappeared from view.
The bus made a left turn. Ten feet away was another bad patch in the road. There were dozens of pot holes sinking several feet into the ground. The driver slowed almost to a crawl as he gently eased the bus into them. The suspension of the bus rattled jarring everyone inside very badly.
Ginika and Ifeanyi linked hands as the bus’s tires clambered back onto the smooth road. Driving for a couple more meters the bus driver made a right turn.
“We are almost at the town hall.” Nonso called from the front as if he was some sort of tour guide and they were the tourists.
They both gave him withering glances before turning their attention back to the world whizzing by outside the window.
The road suddenly broke into a Y shape. The side of the road they were on made the left branch of the Y. They sped down the trunk of the Y which was much narrower. Ancient looking homes rose on either side. Many of them weathered with vein like cracks snaking down their surface.
Up ahead was a Tee junction. Directly opposite that, a high wall, almost nine feet tall with dangerous looking spikes on top of it. The bus driver made a left turn immediately they reached the Tee junction.
“Behind that wall is the king’s palace or Oba as he is known here.” Nonso said pointing at the wall. Ginika and Ifeanyi turned back to look at the wall as the bus sped away.
“Now this road leads to the market.” Nonso said pointing to a long narrow road leading to their right which broke away from the road they were following.
“Wasn’t that a market we just passed a while back?” Pius a bulky heavy set youth with weathered features asked Nonso with a puzzled frown on his face.
“That was Odosida market. This is the main market.”
“You mean there are two markets?” A slim pleasant faced girl directly behind Nonso asked.
“Maybe four or five all told, though I haven’t seen the others yet.” Nonso replied.
They drove on for several more minutes in absolute silence. The youths in the bus kept craning their heads to look out of the window. The road ahead got even narrower. The bus slowed as the cars passed by them barely a hair’s breath from each other.
A few meters away it widened again and the bus picked up speed. Driving about a kilometer the driver made another right turn, fifty meters ahead of this turn was a church with grayish walls and a high clock tower rising up on the left side of it.
The eyes of everyone except the driver and Nonso widened as they stared at it. There was a Tee junction directly in front of it. The bus made a left turn driving beside the six foot walls surrounding it.
Another tee junction loomed up ahead. Reaching it the driver made a right turn easing gently into the busy late afternoon traffic. He drove forward for ten more meters and then trifurcated to the left. When there was a lull in the upcoming traffic he quickly turned left.
The road he turned onto was rough with erosion cutting deep pot holes into it. The bus clattered over them, the bad suspension shaking everyone inside. They drove for several more minutes before he abruptly pulled to a halt in front of a decrepit looking two storey building which looked as if it had been built in the 1930s.
“We have arrived!” Nonso said in a loud voice as he opened the door and clambered down.
Excited murmurs and deep sighs surged through the bus as the driver turned off the engine. He stepped out of the bus and rushed to slide the doors open so everyone could get out.
They alighted in their ones and twos as passerby looked at them with an extraordinary amount of curiosity. Ginika and Ifeanyi were the last ones to get off the bus. Turning around in a half circle they examined their surroundings.
“Don’t stand there gawking.” Nonso snapped.
They jumped startled turning around to face him. He waved them over pointing at the wide open black gates in front of the two storey building which the others were already surging through.
Hurrying towards him, they slipped past his fried turkey smelling body and stepped into the small squarish compound that surrounded the building. As they paused behind the others who were milling around in the center of the compound just in front of the door, it was pulled open and a middle aged woman with a weathered face and light coppery skin came out.
She was short about five foot three inches tall in Ginika’s estimation and was wearing a bulky looking white blouse and a long flowing black skirt which reached her ankles. Her small somewhat stubby feet were encased in brown leather sandals.
“Is everything ready?” Nonso asked her.
She nodded slowly but did not speak as she moved aside to let them pass. No one made any move to enter the house.
“Well don’t just stand there. Go in will you!!” Nonso yelled.
With small shuffling footsteps the youths surged forward walking past the woman and entering the house. Ginika and Ifeanyi brought up the rear. As they walked past her they couldn’t help but notice the sad and almost broken look in her eyes.
Directly beyond the door was a long narrow corridor with five doors on either side of the wall. At the opposite end of the corridor was a staircase leading up to the upper floor. The rough looking cement floor was dirty. It looked as if it hadn’t been swept in days.
The corridor was dim, illuminated by a single sixty watt bulb hanging drunkenly from a wire at the opposite end of it, just a few feet in front of the staircase. Nonso pushed past Ginika and Ifeanyi frowning when he saw the dirty floor.
“Woman don’t you ever sweep?” He yelled at her.
She cringed moving backwards as if she expected him to strike her. Glaring at her for several moments, he eventually turned to face the teenagers gathered around him.
“As you can see we have ten doors on this floor. Behind each door is a room. Two of you will share a room. Its five thirty now, we eat supper by seven. So get some rest. Tomorrow you’ll be taken to the homes where you will serve for the rest of the year. Is that understood?”
They all nodded slowly.
“Good! Now all of you should get into you rooms.”
With loud murmurs and shuffling feet, they pulled open the doors and entered their rooms in their ones and twos. Ginika and Ifeanyi held hands and made for the last room on the right which was a few feet away from the staircase.
When they reached the door they paused for several moments before Ifeanyi reached forward and turned the door handle pushing it open slowly. The room was small barely three feet wide and five feet long.
The floor was covered by tattered and dirty blue linoleum. There was no bed, only two mats placed side by side on the floor at the extreme left hand corner of the room. A small sixty watt bulb hung from the ceiling. It was turned on bathing the room with a sickly yellow light.
They stood poised at the entrance of the room for several moments before Ifeanyi sighed and stepped forward walking into the room slowly.
Ginika remained frozen at the entrance watching Ifeanyi as she dropped her traveling bag beside one of the mats and turned around in a half circle examining their surroundings with a critical eye.
The seconds ticked by slowly and she turned meeting Ginika’s troubled gaze with an even one of her own. Their gazes locked and held for some moments before Ifeanyi did an exaggerated spin and waved her hands around in a flourish with a comical look on her face.
“Home sweet home!” She said in a breathless whisper.
Ginika smiled wanly and stepped into the room with slow faltering steps closing the door behind her. As if on cue the whole room was plunged into darkness.
“I guess what they are telling us to do is to go and sleep.” Ifeanyi said with a derisive snort.
Amusement welled up in Ginika’s insides when she heard the tone in her voice. A heartbeat later she was giggling. A few moments later a bubble of laughter erupted from her lips.
There was a pause for a few seconds and then Ifeanyi joined in. they laughed so hard for about a minute till a couple of hard knocks rattled the room door making them jump in fright.
“Would you stop that noise and go to sleep!” Nonso roared from outside the door.
“You are disturbing everyone else with your racket. In case you have forgotten work begins tomorrow. If I were you I would get as much sleep as I can, because mark my words you are going to need it.”
His piece said he stomped off his heavy footfalls retreating down the corridor. They released deep sighs of relief at once and reached forward grabbing each others hands.
“The stupid buffoon could have at least made provisions for light. A candle or lantern would really come in handy right now.” Ginika said in an angry whisper.
“It’s still light outside anyway. This room is dingy but we can still find our way around can’t we? Besides he is right. We really should rest. Tomorrow might be hectic.”
“I guess you are right.” Ginika said with a sigh. “Let us rest. Tomorrow we shall see what the day will bring.”
They stretched out on their mats without another word and promptly went to sleep.
They were roused what seemed like a second later by loud banging on the door of their room.
“Yes!” They cried in unison springing into sitting positions with startled expressions on their faces.
“It’s time to eat.” A deep voice barked.
Ginika rubbed her eyes sleepily with one hand as she raised the second one to stifle a yawn. She knew whose voice that was. It was Clarius. One of the youths who had come down from Iseluku with them. She didn’t care for him much. He was loud, rude and uncouth. She wasn’t given much time to search for more disparaging adjectives to use to describe him before the loud banging resumed with greater intensity.
“Stop that racket!” Ifeanyi snapped as she rose to her feet. “We are coming.”
Her head stopped a few inches beneath the light bulb and she shielded her eyes from the glare only just realizing that the power was back on. Ginika quickly followed suit. They smoothened out the creases in their clothes and strode to the door.
Ifeanyi reached forward and pulled the door open. Clarius’s angry and puckered face appeared before them. Frowning in disapproval he turned and walked down the long corridor heading towards the long flight of stairs.
Three others filed after him as Ginika and Ifeanyi stepped out of the room closing the door firmly behind them. Following the others who were already climbing up the stairs, they exchanged wary glances as they took the stairs two at a time. Reaching the upper floor they stepped into a wider corridor which had three doors on either side.
Everyone was filing into the second door on their left. Exchanging glances they strode to the door which was wide open. Stopping in front of it they saw the door led into a wide room which had a long dinning table covering more than half of its length.
The table could seat twenty two people. Most of the chairs were already occupied. Nonso sat at the head of the table to their right. His face was dark and thunderous as if he was displeased about something.
Before he could notice them, they quickly entered the room and made their way to the three empty spaces on their left. The walls around them were whitewashed and dingy. The white asbestos ceiling was covered with cobwebs and had a dusty ceiling fan hanging from the center of it.
Nonso’s hard gaze settled on them as they took their seats. Ginika locked gazes with him for a few seconds before she turned away. Hugging a snake at the moment was preferable to her than looking into his cold hungry eyes; but she didn’t want him to think she was afraid. So she had held his gaze long enough to prove her point before looking away. A hard frown roughened her brow. She was finding more reasons to dislike him every second.
The sad looking woman they had encountered earlier strode into the room carrying a large pot filled with steaming rice. Two teenage girls who looked around eighteen years of age followed carrying smaller pots filled with stews. They carefully placed the pots on the table, on pretty hand woven raffia mats which were about ten inches across.
The elderly woman began to dish out the food. She served Nonso his food first heaping rice (which in Ginika’s opinion) could feed three people. She ladled the rice with lots of the savory looking stew balancing a large chicken drumstick on top of the pile.
Carefully handing the plate to him, she straightened up wiping a bead of sweat from her brow. Nonso rewarded her with a hard glare as he dug into his food with gusto.
The woman sighed at the look he gave her and turned her attention back to her task. Ginika noticed the exchange of glances and sighed. Her heart went out to the woman. She wished she had a way to take away the inherent sadness she sensed in her.
Before long it was their turn to be served. The woman served it quickly heaping medium sized portions of rice on their plates. They ate quickly. The food much to their surprise was delicious. Ginika and Ifeanyi couldn’t help looking at the woman with wonder in their eyes.
She scraped the little rice that remained at the bottom of the pot into a small aluminum plate and added a little stew before she walked towards the wall on their far right.
A wooden chair was backed into the corner. She sank down on it slowly and began to eat. The two girls who helped her serve food carried the now empty pots out of the room.
They returned a few moments later with two ten liter plastic kegs filled with water. A third girl followed a few moments later balancing two dozen small plastic cups on two large trays.
She walked around the table pausing every few moments for a youth to pick a cup off the tray. When they all had cups, the two girls with the kegs filled their cups with water.
Ginika took a sip of the cool tepid water and made a face. It had a slightly medicinal taste. Nonso smiled when he saw the look.
“We put alum in our well. It kills all impurities making the water good for drinking. The only drawback is the taste. Beggar can’t be choosers though.” He said the smile on his face becoming broader.
Ginika gave him a hard look before she slowly turned her attention back to her food. She couldn’t fathom why the man irritated her so much. Maybe it was because he was the reason she was here in the first place.
If he hadn’t come to their village her mother and stepfather would never have had the bright idea of sending her to work in this dreary town. A loud racking cough from her right snapped her out of her reverie. The sad looking woman was leaning forward in her seat with her shoulders hunched over as she coughed. She had her left palm over her mouth, her body shaking with the coughs ripping out of her throat.
“WOMAN WOULD YOU PLEASE LEAVE THE DINNING ROOM IF YOU WANT TO COUGH! DON’T INFECT THE REST OF US WITH YOUR PLAGUE!!” Nonso roared in fury his face bunched up in disgust.
She froze, stiffening as if she had been slapped. Her eyes filled with tears which promptly spilt down her cheeks. Leaping to her feet, she fled from the room and the plate in her lap fell to the ground shattering into a million pieces.
“YOU BETTER GET BACK HERE AND CLEAN UP THIS MESS YOU MADE!” Nonso roared after her.
“Don’t worry sir___” One of the girls carrying the kegs said quietly. She was a buxom beauty dressed in a tight blue dress which hugged her curves reaching only halfway down her thighs.
“__ I’ll clean it up.” She said with a flirtatious smile on her face.
Nonso seemed on the verge of another explosion when she said this, but calmed down quickly, smiling back at her. The girl still smiling knelt down and began to pick up the pieces of the plate.
“Abigail go and get a broom and a dustpan.” She said to the girl behind her. Abigail nodded slowly and quickly disappeared from the room. Ginika gave Nonso a seething look before she rose to her feet slowly.
“Where are you going?” Ifeanyi asked with a puzzled look on her face.
“Be right back____” Ginika said quietly striding to the door.
“And where are you going madam?” Nonso snapped. “No one leaves the table till we are all done.”
Ginika stopped turning around slowly. Their gazes locked and held.
“I have to go to the bathroom.” Ginika said in a voice that said it was clearly none of his business.
“You are a disrespectful one aren’t you? He said his eyes narrowing. “You’d be wise to talk to me with greater respect Ginika. I will not give this warning again. You may go.” He said in a cold voice.
She sniffed and turned, hurrying from the room feeling strangely unnerved by the coldness she heard in his voice.
P.S. - Follow the links below to buy
P.S. - Follow the links below to buy