Rain drops were splashing all around, caressing her skin into goose bumps, with slivers of a shiver darting about her insides. She had hurried to the safety of the rusty shed with its muddy floor, and now wondered if the shed’s leaking roof wasn’t just as bad as being out in the rain. A gust of wind blew the rain straight at her with an impertinent fury which she could not understand. If only she hadn’t come out this morning. She hugged herself for warmth, thankful that she was clad in a blazer and a pair of jeans . At least, her health wasn’t at risk. Then again, there was her hair to worry about. The waist-long braids were newly made and would definitely be soaked by the time she made it to her appointment. Keeping them from getting smelly was another task by itself.
She gritted her teeth in anger at her “employer-to be” for rescheduling her second interview from a date which most likely would have been rain free; then at the elements for picking today of all days; and then at herself for not being one of those women who drove the big cars and never bothered to offer a hapless younger woman a ride, even in the pouring rain. It was hard stifling the temptation to hurl insults at such women.
She closed her eyes to a mumbled prayer. Her suede heels were soaked wet – no prayer could save them now. It was slowly getting as dark as night with the clouds continuously pouring out their excreta. Or would it be the angels emptying their large buckets from the raging heavens above? She couldn’t be bothered enough to analyse it. The only thing of which she was certain was that today was an upside down day. Then the rain played the human game of deceit, giving her a stint of false hope as it abated for a bit. Pray, she could have ventured out but wisely remained under the shed and then pow, a fresh gust of wind attacked the shed, somehow making a dust cloud of a patch of dry sand behind her. And the rain resumed its business. The dust, it went right into her eyes like insects drawn to nectar.
“Isn’t this just great?”
It should have surprised her that she could even mutter these words.
Rubbing her eyes, she couldn’t tell when the car came to a stop in front of her. She didn’t even hear the sound of the engine idly running; the rain had selfishly swallowed the sound of every other thing. She simply intuited that there was someone out there just beyond her immediate darkness. Not someone looking for shelter from the rain like the many around her, but someone fresh. First she picked up the scent of aftershave mixed with some sweetly wild perfume. It was then she became self-conscious about the colour of her eyes definitely having changed from pure white to marijuana high-red. A hand wrapped around hers and she flipped the hurting eyes open. It was easy for her to hide her disappointment that he wasn’t built like The Rock. On the plus side, she had a man willing to take her wherever she was going – at least, his gestures seemed to say so.
Her upside down day was now unfolding like a romance novel. A graceful smile to the gentleman and another to the rest of the refugees who obviously wanted to know why this man had singled her out of the crowd. Her frustration quickly melted away. “Favour”, they would say. Or maybe “luck” another would say. But she didn’t care for the reason this unknown young man was giving her a ride. At this point, she was strongly tempted to tell the elements “screw you” but she didn’t. A gentleman had just opened his car door for her and ushered her in, not minding that he was getting more than a little wet from the rain or that she was a complete stranger. Yes, a dream come true. She however prayed again, he’d better not be one chance or a loony kidnapper. She had always taken her chances. As a kid, no one ever drummed into her “don’t talk to strangers”, so she was in no way paranoid about this or any other thing.
Settling in like a wet cat, she looked at the gentle-person folding his umbrella and dropping it behind the driver’s seat. “Thank you”. She said this in her tiniest voice, with her tiniest smile. He shrugged, seemingly saying don’t worry, I always rescue damsels in distress.
The car ride was quiet except for Dan Foster, going on and on and then some Beyoncé, and some Lagbaja, a combo only the radio would think of. It was awkward and this time she thanked the rain for its work – making the awkwardness less awkward because of its drumming against the car.
“Where are you off to?” he asked after five minutes
“I’m going to Ajah, I have a job interview.”
“Aren’t you a little too young to be seeking employment” he asked with some concern.
“It’s the holidays” she countered “I need to do something lest the devil take over.”
He laughed, obviously charmed. “I’m Lanre.”
“Bunmi” she smiled. “I hate my soon to-be boss.” She relaxed into her normal, throaty voiced, talkative persona. “I’ve only met him once but I hate him already because he’s damaged my hair, my shoes and possibly even my health.”
Lanre kept his smile brief even though obviously charmed by the light-skinned beauty sitting in his passenger seat; and he thought her banter outrageously funny.
“How old are you?”
This was a blow to her ego. She prided herself in looking at least a year older, or at least that age where you need not ask how old she was – you could just tell she was mature enough for most things. She contemplated replying with the same question but he seemed to be at that age where you just knew he was a full-grown man.
A little self-conscious, not willing to accept that all he saw her as a child, she answered with her eyes glued to a spot on her dark jeans.
To her it was the truth, even though she wouldn’t be eighteen for the next eleven months.
He smiled and replied jokingly “you look younger.”
She didn’t answer, just laughed back and studied his features. Well-built with really dark skin, clean-shaven jaw, and very short dark hair. He had weird round eyes which didn’t complement the glasses he was wearing. Maybe if his eyes were a little squinted, he would have looked way better. Not deceived by his well toned muscles and his height, she could tell he was in his early thirties or maybe late twenties. More likely his early thirties.
She picked up from where he’d interrupted her earlier “I’m not being ungrateful. It’s just that I’m not used to this” she paused to dab at her hair with a handkerchief.
He laughed. “So sit at home, watch some TV, or sleep.”
“Maybe. But Mama would never let me hear the end of it. Mama is my grandmother. I live with her. And thanks for the ride, I’m grateful.”
She hesitated, unsure whether to pose the question that had sprung up in her mind.
“Why did you pick me?”
He smiled and took his eyes off the road for a second to look directly at her.
“I had an antsy feeling in my spirit to save you. Almost as if God said I wouldn’t rest until I picked up the girl under the shed. And I guess I did well.”
She nodded, more to soothe this new feeling of suspicion which was simmering within her than in agreement with him. She was already inside his car, what could she do other than pray he was just a nice spiritual person? And from his words, spiritual it was.
He glanced at her “why did you come in?” He gave out a chuckle which seemed forced. “I mean, you weren’t even …….”
She quickly interrupted him “I prayed a short prayer just before you came and maybe you are God’s way of answering”.
She hoped she was somehow making more sense than it sounded like.
“And well, I’ve gotten rides occasionally from people coming out of the estate. This isn’t the first time.” She laughed, feeling almost comfortable again.
They both fell silent and pretended to pay attention to the radio. The Lekki-Ajah Expressway was one continuously straight highway, with a few pockets of traffic at various points along its stretch. They were joining the usual Ajah traffic jam when she found she was feeling a bit dizzy, then light-headed and almost sick. The sleep crept in on her as if it were poison – deliberate and unyielding. She fought back and unconsciously pressed her legs together, drumming her fingers lightly on her purse to stay awake.
She turned to the side of the window, even though her vision was blurred she could make out colours. The last she saw was red – maybe it was a car, but then she wandered off to a place where only sleep could take one without knowing for certain. She often fell asleep while using the town service vehicles, but those were sizable busses which always had quite a number of people in them. Here she was alone with a perfect stranger in his car and she couldn’t keep herself from dozing off – head up or head down. At some point, she felt his eyes on her but she was too weak to do anything even though she wanted to sit upright and cause the sleep to run away.
When she did wake up, it seemed like hours of sleep had gone by. She couldn’t tell for certain. She did know that the journey through the traffic jam to the Ajah roundabout even on the worst traffic days wouldn’t take five hours, which was how long she felt she’d slept. It was hot in the car. She could still feel the rain drumming on, but she couldn’t tell where the heat had come from. She rubbed her eyes, trying to pull herself out this of this shameful half-asleep state.
She tried to take in her surroundings. She was in the bushes. There were some individuals moving around, dressed in very native attires – definitely not city folk. There was a fire in a small clearing and then darkness.
Screams filled her head in her own voice. Like “whaaaaaat?!!!” Her mind raced mindlessly. She wanted to rub her eyes again as her vision blurred and then blanked.
And then she was fully awake. She wanted to be sure she was seeing the right thing. Wads of Naira notes were spread on the ground like stacks of useless leaves. She was still staring at them when a man dressed only in a small loin wrapper and a red cap on his head appeared in front of her and began chanting away.
Where the hell was she? She was supposed to be in some guy’s car. Then she clearly heard sounds like animal growling. This man was most likely of a tribe she had never come across. She had never been too good at local geography or cultures. All she could tell was that his language was very foreign to her hearing.
It was only after he stopped the chanting and animal sounds that she realized she was stretched out on the floor, her hands and ankles firmly tied to some sort of metal ring. She was lost. What was going on, where was she? Where was her knight in shining armor? At this same moment the drum beats started and then dancing. She soon recognized one of the dancers to be her prince charming, clad in similar loin cloth and red cap as the other dancers. She was still clad in her own clothes, even the uncomfortable heels remained at her feet. Most of the buttons on her blouse were gone and her bra was more than just askew; hands had surely been there. She was going to laugh at herself. Laugh at all this being a bad dream and she still being in his car sleeping. But one couldn’t do this in dreams. One couldn’t realize they were dreaming and begin to laugh, could they? That wasn’t what happened with dreams, was it?
So this was real. It was real right? She searched her heart, her head, her mind, even her soul, for some confirmation. None came. She tried to struggle free and the image of a rabbit she had captured with her brothers some years ago came vividly into her mind. But this couldn’t be the rabbit seeking revenge. This was real and she found it exceedingly hard to believe.
Chiming, chanting; the song went round and round. So did the dance. In circles they swayed themselves almost like young female dancers showing off their talent. The one who had chanted at her earlier seemed like the leader. He had appeared again, peering closely at her as if to make sure she was alive. He spat at her. She felt the saliva dribble down her cheeks and neck. She also felt ants and insects crawling along her back; it tickled. And she could smell boiling hot water.
She sucked in air and screamed. A shrill sound that froze everything in place. It pierced the darkness which she could feel closing in on her. It seemed her uvula was dancing as she screamed and that the trees were dancing and surely some flying insects were seeing themselves into her mouth. Her scream died into a fit of coughing.
Someone else had joined the leader who was still looking down at her. She expected it to be Lanre, his dark muscles glistening with sweat, but it wasn’t. She strained to recognize the familiar face, accepting that it might very well be the last known person she would see. It definitely was her employer-to-be, even though she had only met him once before, she knew without doubt that he was the one. A cruel looking knife materialised and its shiny blade advanced towards her. She tried rolling away but couldn’t move. The dancing was now in a circle around her, like a ring around the rosy or who is in the garden child’s play, except that it was hardly pleasant and she was about to die. She could now see the steam from the boiling hot water against the flames of the fire, and it had suddenly grown really dark. Fear crept through her, stole her mind. Why, why was this happening?
She was going to die. She tried to scream but couldn’t. The knife was nearer now and she began to blame her stupid lack of sense of security, the stupid man who had picked her up, the rain and the elements, even the angels had their share of the blame. And then there was her phone for receive her would be employer’s message, her employer-to-be for rescheduling, the day bothering to come, her restlessness, her sister for connecting her with one of the largest law firms around, Mama for pushing her to look for work, the holidays for coming, exams for ending, school for closing; her list was endless. Finally with a sort of dramatic finality, she closed her eyes inhaled for what was supposed to be one last time and felt the knife blade against her throat.
But no, the knife hadn’t killed her. She hurriedly thanked her stars. But had it somehow become a rope. Had they changed the method of her death to strangling? Had their gods somehow contacted them? She could not tell; nor could she make sense of the intensifying crisp scent of freshly minted Naira notes. All she knew was that she was being strangled and was struggling to set her hands free. Breathing was becoming impossibly difficult. Someone tore off the ropes which held her hands. She mumbled something about not being anyone’s meat and wanted to thank the person who set her hands free but she realized that she couldn’t open her eyes.
What would it cost to flip her eyelids open, a daily routine for the past seventeen years? Each second ticking away was more time than it usually took for her eyelids to respond to her brain’s command. Then curiously, the strangulation stopped. They seemed to have backed off. It was very quiet. She was calm, but she still couldn’t open her eyes. Then a gentle poke and the sound of whistling leaves in the now gentle and quiet bushes. A poke became pokes. The struggle to open her eyes made her bring her hands to them, although the frustration was now only mild. She was able to open them, gently. Her eyes took more than a few seconds to adjust to the fluorescent lighting of her bedroom. Her baby brother stood over her, poking her with his three-year old fingers. She smiled as she confirmed she was awake in her room, on her bed, and happy it had only been a dream. A weird dream on a rainy night. What were the odds? She gave a short still-frightened laugh, which caught abruptly in her throat as she noticed that her baby brother was dressed in a white loincloth and not diapers. And wasn’t that a red cap on his now oversized head?