By SOCRATES MBAMALU
Rashidat had just completed her secondary school education and was waiting on life to give her new directions. She’d been hanging around Seun since the day he moved into the neighbourhood. Her breasts were big and her hips round, and this did not escape Seun’s notice. She always sat in front of Seun’s room with a smile. She was dark, and Seun loved dark girls. He’d been ignoring her for some time, but when you see temptation every time, you start thinking about how a little tasting won’t to do an awful amount of harm. Seun had just come from work when he spotted Rashidat.
“How was work, brother Seun?”
“Very stressful. I beg, come massage me.”
She laughed at the idea of her massaging him. It sounded foreign. She followed him to his room anyway. He removed his shirt. He could sense her robotic movements.
“Na only massage. You dey fear?”
“Fear? No o. I will massage well.”
He lay on his back. Her fingers dug into his skin with a feminine force. Her breasts grazed his shoulder and right at that minute he wanted to have her.
“Oya, my turn to massage you.”
She giggled, but when his hands stroke her inner thighs, and his lips brushed against hers, she moaned. He snapped back to his senses and asked her to leave his room. What was he doing? Rashidat was confused. The landlady walked in just in time to see Rashidat leave Seun’s room.
“Good afternoon ma,” Rashidat greeted.
Silence. The landlady looked her over before walking away.
There were two sounds inside the room — the orchestra of mosquitoes and the occasional slapping of hand against hand, hand against ear, hand against cheek. It was in this room that Seun slept. Besides the light from the candle flame, there was a burning glow from a mosquito coil. The Lagos heat had him drenched in his own saltiness. He hated Lagos. But wetin man go do? Man must chop. Lagos had turned everyone into an animal. He often thought that George Orwell’s Animal Farm would have come out much better had it been set in Lagos. Lagos killed your humanity and left you with just one instinct: the animal instinct to survive. Seun hissed. The heat. The roads. The traffic. The police. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
“We don’t know how he died o,” Rashidat was saying when Seun came out of his room in the morning. Rashidat and her family of five lived in one room. They were part of the over thirty tenants who occupied the building that had ten rooms overall.
“It is brother Mukaila that died in an ashawo place,” she went on. There was a brothel a few metres away, about a five-minute walk away from where Seun lived.
“Mukaila has died?” Seun asked, though he didn’t know who Mukaila was.
“Not my brother o. Yes o. In an ashawo place.”
Rashidat kept emphasizing ashawo as if prostitutes were a disease. Death had become too normal. Boko haram killed people — who cared? If a man died in a brothel, who would care? Seun had come to learn that if you wanted to survive you had to act like you didn’t care. Talk tough. Act rough. If you were new to Lagos, it could be sniffed from miles away. There were dead giveaways. The slowness or quickness of your steps. Your gait. You had to show urgency in everything you did to fit in. Lagos’ survival mantra was I no be gentleman.
It was this mantra that was about to get him into trouble. It’d been a few years since he’d finished law school. When he turned twenty-five, he’d left home.
The landlady was a widow in her forties, a little attractive. She liked Seun. When Seun failed to pay his rent one time she asked him if he had a girlfriend. Later, Seun was in her room.
“Just twice a week and you won’t be paying rent again.”
“What? I can’t do that.”
“Pay your rent tomorrow then.”
“But madam, be reasonable. The government has not paid our salaries for two months.”
“I am being reasonable. Twice a week. You might enjoy it, you know?”
Seun had no girlfriend. But then again, he’d be saving money. He sighed. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.
As for Rashidat, she had become more emboldened after the first encounter. She was about eighteen. He never had to invite her to his room again. She came on her own.
“Seun, I need a massage.”
She lay on the mattress, and Seun came to her, licking her ears with his warm breath, igniting her cells till they burned with every single touch of his fingers, and when he slid into her, she held his buttocks and urged him on, until they fell apart.
The candle flickered, and the flame danced from side to side. That flame got so low at times you started thinking it was going out and leaving the room completely dark. It never did go out. It stood up again, the orange flame, and burnt evenly before bending again to the side and eating down the wax that surrounded it. It was just the way Seun danced with the landlady on her bed. Sometimes he would go low on her, sucking out moans from her, and when she thought it was enough, he would come up again and roll his tongue around her areola till she squirmed gently. He burnt pleasure into her, her mouth gasping out at times, her hands pressing his head deeper into her soft mound, until she danced like the flame moving up and down, bending and burning out more pleasure.
“I know you fuck Rashidat.”
“You better stop or I will start charging rent again. I don’t share!”
Seun’s new environment was made up of people, politics, smells and noises. He often found himself listening to the loud arguments of Baba Bola and Baba Sikiru, arguing who was a better vice president candidate between Fashola and Osibanjo. Then there were the noises of the children in the compound chasing away goats, spitting at them and kicking them, a chicken with a bare pink neck scratching for food with three of its chicks, and a pig grunting somewhere. He woke up to the same sights and sounds every morning; and then he went to work, came home and battled mosquitoes at night. He endured the acrid smell from the dirty water that flowed between his house and the church, and listened to the humming sounds of generators till they died out one by one. Then he listened to the silence of the night, before the muezzin’s call sounded and Lagos woke up again. And then there was the ringing bell of a white garment-wearing woman who chanted prayers and Bible verses like an incensed spirit, the call of repentance from another voice over a megaphone and the crowing of a cock. Lagos was a city that needed repentance. Seun had been caught in its snare. He had planned to stay for only two weeks, but the temptation Lagos had, which most people called opportunities, could not be overlooked. He’d ended up staying for five years.
One morning, the noise was in front of his door. The voices of Baba Bola and Baba Sikiru, and this time it was not an argument about Fashola or Osibanjo.
“Who is the father of the baby?” It was the voice of Baba Sikiru.
“I don’t know.” Seun overheard the timid reply of Rashidat followed by the sound of a thundering slap.
“You must confess who the father is!” Baba Bola injected.
Seun stood up, packed his bag and threw it out of the window, before walking out with his boxer and vest, as if he was going to urinate in the toilet behind the house. A crowd had gathered in front of Baba Sikiru’s house to pick up bits of gossip. It was through this crowd that Seun sneaked out.
“I know who the father is. I must collect my rent from him today!”
He heard the clear voice of the landlady. He quickened his steps, picked his bag and left.
About the author
Socrates Mbamalu is a contributor to Waza and Afridiaspora. He has participated in the 2014 and 2015 Writivism mentorship programmes and his work has appeared in various literary magazines. He lives in Port Harcourt.
This is the fourth of a set of Writivism stories Saraba will publish in the months of June and July. Please tune in next week for the fifth story in the series. To find out more about Writivism, please visit the official site.