I turned away quickly in order to hide my face from Collins as he staggered from far behind towards our direction. Luckily, he hadn’t seen us, yet. The sun was really hot that day; I could feel the heat burning through the skin on my feet, which were dark from previous sunburns I had endured, the yellow slippers I had on did not help matters as the contrast was very clear, my feet looked like a mini taxi.
‘Eh-‘, he sneezed. I didn’t even notice that Mama had woken up and was crying as the sun scorched her skin, I also didn’t realise Collins was standing a little distance away from us, swaying like one of those car wash props. I placed one hand below Mama’s bum and patted repeatedly, trying to comfort her.
‘Pet am nau. She dey make- make noise,’ Collins was walking closer to us now. I needed him to stop, but he wouldn’t as long as Mama stayed crying. While still trying to comfort her with my words, I slowly brought her to my front to make my efforts easier. The call had ended and the lady seated under a big yellow umbrella was letting me know of the call rate; 100 naira for 5 minutes. Nelo didn’t end the call immediately I stopped talking. Why?
‘Ah madam, abeg nau. I no know say the call still dey go, you for end am when you see say I turn.’
The lady paid me no attention as I kept begging her not to charge so much, it was all to no avail, I was as well talking to a wall. Reluctantly, I gave her the 100 naira. Collins was so close now and I hadn’t noticed, he was literally standing next to the lady. ‘Emike? What are you doing here? With bag sef.’
I had no idea when I headed for the hills, it was all like a movie but I needed to get as far way as possible from that man, he gave a chase but his drunken state didn’t let him keep up. Regardless of that I didn’t stop.
My heart raced faster than my feet, my life flashed before my eyes; not the previous but the future which could be altered if that mad got a hold of me. I could never let Mama grow up knowing that man was her father, and so i ran even faster. At that moment, Mama was slipping from my sweaty hands, so I held her even tighter, completely unbothered by her wail. That was the least of our problems, safety then was top priority.
I ran as far as my feet could carry, till I got to a place I didn’t know of. We were lost. The only money left on me was for my transportation to my sister’s place but how was I to get there if I had no idea where I was? I tried retracing my steps but it seemed I had taken a lot of turns while running, and I couldn’t figure out which ones.
The sun was setting and I still had no idea how to get out of that place, asking people was futile because all they did was make me turn in circles. There was an uncompleted building close-by, and we would have to spend the night there. Mama was already tired and fast asleep on my back, I had left my bag at the call center while running away from Collins, but luckily I had my purse with me and it was most important as that was where all my money was. I found us a safe place in the building, safe enough not to be spotted easily, and close enough to an exit if anything was to happen. I had heard a lot about places like this and even though I couldn’t be fully prepared, I had to try any way.
I gently untucked Mama from the wrapper she was strapped with to my back, and spread the wrapper on the floor, so we could lie on it. Mama was still fast asleep but I needed her to eat, she hadn’t eaten since that morning and the last thing I wanted was a sick child while I had no money. I lifted up a part of my shirt and then, my bra underneath so that Mama could suckle even as she slept, and after some minutes we both lay down to sleep. The next day was going to be a long one. I planned to get out of the building early enough so I couldn’t be seen by anyone and also find a way to reach Nelo to tell her of my permanent visit to her house.
* * *
I felt a sharp pain in my thigh, I thought I had cramps from walking all day, so I woke to give myself a little massage and get some rest. As I opened my eyes, I saw some figures standing above me, one of them held something in his hand, something like a machete.
‘She don wake, she don wake.’ One voice said.
And from other, ‘Woss! Who you be? Wetin you dey do for our kingdom? You no get respect ni? Your liver don grow, abi?’
At this point, I sat up but wondered what was going on, I was still sleepy and not in the mood for all this. ‘Sorry, what’s going on?’
‘Ahhhh!’ Another exclaimed. ‘She dey speak grammar for us. Carry her pikin fess, make her eye shine.’ As he spoke, one of the figures picked up Mama who was still fast asleep by my side.
‘No! Leave my child. My baby!’ I was on my feet now, struggling to get my child away from his hands, she woke up and started crying but those figures didn’t budge. Next thing I remember was a sharp pain on my face, one of them had slapped me, and I was silent all of a sudden.
‘Sit down there!’ One of them said, pointing to one corner of the room. Obediently, I walked over to the place and sat down, as I sat, they laughed at my sudden obedience and hailed themselves, calling some weird names that were difficult to pronounce. One of them shouted, ‘Spiroooo!’
‘Bless you, bless you.’ Spiro replied, then he asked me, ‘What’s your name?’
‘Emike’, I replied.
‘Eh-ehn? So, wetin you dey find for Lagos?’
‘I- I live here,’ I had started crying just remembering how life in Lagos was once upon a time, a fairytale. ‘But I’m leaving now. Let me just have my baby back and I’ll leave your building for good. Please.’
‘She dey cry,’ he said to the others, and they all laughed. He faced me again, ‘Wetin be your papa name for Edo?’ There was a bit of concern in his voice now.
‘My papa?’ I asked, wondering why he wanted to know about my father all of a sudden and what he had to do with this.
‘Abeg, I put water for mouth?’
‘Momoh’, I responded to his rhetorical question.
‘Momoh, Momoh…-‘ he repeated the name like he was trying to recall something. ‘Your papa na lecturer for UNIBEN?’
‘Er… yes. He was, he’s retired now.’
‘I knew it! I knew I had heard your voice before, with that voice too.’ Spiro sounded excited. ‘It’s me, Victor. Your father helped with my education while I was working as his driver.’
‘Oh my! Victor, what are you doing here?’ I was a bit elated to know there was someone familiar around.
‘Mennnn… aunty, na long story o. But please, stand up. Sorry for all the inconveniences o, please don’t be angry, abeg.’
How could he really tell me not to be angry? After the slap and temporarily kidnapping my child, but if I had to get out of that place I needed him by my side. ‘My baby please,’ was all I could respond, and one of the other figures handed Mama to me along with my wrapper.
* * *
We walked to a small apartment, the other figures walking behind us. I had come to know later on in my conversation with Victor that they all worked together, doing whatever was considered as work, from bricklaying to stealing. In turn, I had told him about Collins and how I was trying to get to my friend turned sister. Victor had promised to help me get some basic things before travelling to Benin, a journey which was impossible to embark on the next day anymore.
‘Victor, thank you for everything. I’m really grateful.’
‘Hmm… na God o!’
God? Was there such a thing? Even if there was, he had abandoned me too for too long.
Sorry Chapter 3 came late, I’ve been so lazy to write it. What are your reactions to this chapter, and what do you think goes on in Sticks & Stones 4? Let me know in the comments section, friend.