By Adeola Opeyemi Salau—
Of all the days to die, you die on a Saturday morning with the grime of Friday night clubbing clung to your skin.
You wake up to the scream of your neighbour’s daughter ringing in your head. You sit up on your bed, your head exploding from a hangover. You do not remember much of what happened last night. The vague memory you have is that of you and your friends downing bottles after bottles of beer.
“Can somebody shut that girl up for me?” you hiss, your throat hurts and it feels like the girl is screaming inside your head.
This is why you hardly drink; there are always bottles of regret clanging in your head the next morning.
“Do it yourself.” Your brother replies.
Your eyes hurt. When you open them, you see your brother preparing to leave for his shop. Even as you stand from the bed and walk out to shut the girl up, you have a feeling your head has tripled in size.
“Have you finally found some poor guy to marry you?” you ask the screaming girl.
She rolls her eyes, hisses at you and turns to her younger ones, all eight of them. Your neighbour has two wives and, like you and your brother, he and his family stay in a single room apartment.
“Admission list is out. My sister is going to be a lawyer,” one of the younger ones replies you.
“A parrot is more like it.” you say after a momentary loss of words.
“You are just jealous,” the parrot replies you.
You shake your head and turn towards your room. She is right; you are jealous, and afraid and briefly petrified.
Admission list is out!
You sat for the same entrance exam with the screaming girl. It isn’t the first time you would attempt to secure admission into The University. If you fail this time, you would have to join your brother by the roadside, selling used clothes. You cringe at the thought.
Like a puppet on a string, you pick your wallet and trek to the bus stop.
“200! Uni-Gate, enter with your 200 naira change o!” The bus conductor says when you stop the bus. Normally, you would sit by the window, gazing at the tall buildings that make the mega-city, but today, all the window seats are taken.
You sit beside a fat woman dressed in an expensive Aso-ebi, the type Lagos women wear to weddings and funerals. The harsh feel of the lace-material reminds you of sacks. You spare her one more glance, purple eyelids and a contrasting pink blush on her very dark cheeks, her face is a palette of several colours. You know you smell of rotten fish and nicotine but you prefer your stale smell to her stuffy perfume harassing your nostrils.
The woman glares at you. She knows by the time you both alight from the bus she would smell more like you than the expensive perfume she had bathed herself in this morning. She squirms and mutters about the lack of space.
“There is little space here, madam,” you spit the last word at her and cast a glance at her ample frame.
She hisses and readjusts herself, her fat arm resting on your chest. She huffs and puffs at a radio discussion on marriage and soon she sparks a heated discussion on the evil of men. The women join in, the two men sitting by the driver merely grunt from time to time as if they dare not disagree with the women.
“You let these men run all over you and they will.” The fat woman says, her plump arm pressing you to the chair. She removes a thousand naira note from her purse and points it at the conductor without sparing him a glance.
“I don talk say no change now!” the bus conductor ignores the one thousand naira note.
“See,” she says as she jams a smaller note into the conductor’s hand, “even this small agbero boy thinks he can talk to me anyhow. Such is the power we’ve given these men.”
You start dozing off, your head constantly falling on the fat woman’s shoulder. She squirms and curses you and keeps pushing your head away. You mumble an apology and return to wonderland. This time, you even manage to drool on her shoulder.
Someone is screaming.
You open your eyes. The fat woman’s red painted mouth is close to your ear and she is screaming at you. You look around to see if there has been an accident. You don’t see anything. Rather, you are taken aback as the fat woman’s hand whips across your face. Hard. You open your mouth to talk and she sends another slap your way. You hold your cheek with both hands and fight tears threatening to spill.
“Where is it?” The passengers shout as the bus stops and they drag you onto the busy street.
Your eyes gloss, “What?” you ask.
The beating intensifies, the fat woman curses, “Thief. Ole,” she punctuates each word with a slap, “You have been doing this for a long time but God has exposed you today. You stinking bastard!” she sinks her teeth into your arm and you scream.
“Where did you put the one thousand naira you stole?” another passenger asks you as you struggle to extract yourself from the fat woman’s grip.
You try to defend yourself. To tell them you were sleeping through most of the journey. They won’t listen. You must have robbed her while pretending to sleep and resting your body on her. The crowd is getting larger and more irate.
There is a click in your head. You remember the bus conductor pocketing something while the fat woman was busy discussing the evils of men. You had been too drowsy to notice what he’d picked up. You point a finger at the bus conductor and the boy steps forward and slaps you.
“Na so boys like you dey do. Oloshi!” he says, the impact of his rough palm on your cheek makes you bite hard into your tongue. You taste blood.
There is one rule for surviving a mob in Lagos: Stand on your feet and deny the allegations. You open your mouth to defend yourself when someone kicks your legs. The last thing you see before you fall to the ground is the bus zooming off, the bus conductor safely behind a closed door.
In a blink of an eye, someone throws an old tyre on you and another person emerges with a bottle of petrol. They will roast you alive, you know. You’ve seen things like this happened but you’ve never imagined it would someday be you, lying in the midst of bloodthirsty strangers, begging for your life.
You feel petrol mix with your sweat and blood. It stings. You spit something salty. Blood? Sweat? Petrol? You can’t tell. A new wave of panic assails you and you grab a man by the ankle. The man kicks and curses but you hold on tightly.
You scream, “I didn’t do it, I swear! I was sleeping the whole time, ask them.”
“Ask who?” Someone asks.
You swallow more saliva and look around for someone to corroborate your story. Someone from the bus who could vouch that you were sleeping through most of the journey. Not a single person from the bus is in the crowd, not even the fat woman.
You let go of the ankle you’ve been holding onto for dear life. The man rubs his ankle and spits at you.
“Get matches!” someone yells.
You watch as several boxes of matches materialise from the crowd. You open your mouth and scream your explanations. No one is listening to you anymore.
They say memories and regrets are the last things the heart feeds the brain before it stops beating, yours is different. The last thing you notice before the crushing pains of death is the angry beat of Terry-G filling the air from a roadside studio. Of all the songs to mark your exit, it has to be the out-of-tune song of a stoned Hip Hop artist!
You shut your eyes to the nightmare around you but they open wide when the fire begins to lick your skin. You turn deaf as the flame burns through your eardrums and makes a ring around your head.
You do not hear the sirens nor can you see, as the mob scatters with smiles dancing on their lips.
Adeola Opeyemi is a poet, short fiction writer, lazy painter and editor at WriteHouse Collective. She has been published in both online and print journals. Her short story, Being a Man, was shortlisted for 2015 Writivism Short Story Prize.
This is the fifth of a set of Writivism stories Saraba will publish in the months of June and July. Please tune in next week for the sixth story in the series. To find out more about Writivism, please visit the official site.