She saw him today. Her brother. He walked past her in the bank. She might have been mistaken because he looked chubbier and was pushing a beer gut. But it was him, alright. Half of his right ear was still missing. Mazi Enemuo, the village womanizer, had been responsible for the missing chunk that year. Her brother had dared to snatch one of his women and the man chased him with a cutlass, almost taking his head off. Nothing was done to Mazi Enemuo, of course. He was the igwe’s in-law. He didn’t even pay to treat the ear. Mama handled the treatment with the money she got from selling aki and ukwa at Eke market, the same money they all ate from.
Adaugo recalled hawking her okpa for longer hours the following week. She’d walk all the way to 9th Mile where commuters coming from the middle belt and north stopped for refreshments. She was one of those girls buzzing around the windows of cars, calling out for people to buy her hot okpa. She returned home after dark each day, something Chigo hated.
“Those boys in 9th Mile, are they still disturbing you?” he would ask, shaving the bark off cassava tubers. He did that every evening for their uncle’s wife who made akpu. The woman always paid him peanuts for his sweat.
“I don’t know what boys you’re talking about,” Dugo would answer. But there were boys that admired her. Especially Obinna, the bread hawker, who loved wearing those brightly-colored singlets with big, round holes in them. He had large nipples the girls always made fun of. But Dugo didn’t mind. Obinna was her first crush.
“Mama, must she go to 9th Mile for the hawking of this her okpa?” Chigo asked one evening when he wasn’t peeling cassava. Their mother was seated on her stool, legs stretched out. She was doing her usual thing of gazing into the night sky. She had been that way since Papa died. She’d gaze up and talk to him. Back then, she used to cry. These days, she just gazed, sometimes smiling.
Her eyes dropped. “We’ll be going to Benin.” Dugo and Chigo looked at her, not sure they had heard her speak.
“Mama, what did you say?” Dugo asked.
“We’re going to Benin. Your uncle, Anaebo, said that he’ll give us a place to stay there. He said I should come and take care of his house.”
“In what way?” It was Dugo that asked, and she did so harshly. Her uncle was a man that had rumors following him like flies tailing the poop on a toddler’s behind. Some said he had used his wife and Dugo’s father for money rituals. Others said he was responsible for the struggling finances of his other brothers. They rumored that no male in the Ganiru family could live past fifty because of him. He owned a certain house in the village that remained on foundation level that was not completed because it was whispered that the day he completed it was the day he would die. So, for years, it remained the way it was.
But it wasn’t for these things that Dugo hated him. Just seven years old, at the mourning period for her father following his death, she had seen Uncle Anaebo touching her mother inappropriately in the backyard, near the bathroom. It had not registered in her mind then what his actions meant. But it became clearer later on. She dreaded the man’s visits afterwards, and would always watch him like a hawk anytime he was around her mother.
“Don’t worry, my daughter. Leave that to me. Just know that we’ll be living a better life in Benin. You will finish your school there. Your uncle promised that.”
Mama reminded them that another uncle of theirs was taking their father’s house. They would soon have no place to stay.
It was with a reluctant heart Dugo went to Benin. Every morning, while she dressed for school, she watched her mother get ready for her job at their uncle’s place. She wondered if the man had learned to stop putting his hands on her. She feared that he had not. But if he did, Mama did not show it.
Chigo also worked for him, serving under him as his ‘boy’, apprenticing in the art of motor parts sales. He lived in his house, coming home only on Sundays. And at every visit, he would ask Dugo, “I hope no boy is touching you?”
The question always irritated her. She didn’t really think about boys. She was struggling with her studies and trying to adjust to the new environment. But when she first noticed Luper on that evening she went to Madam America’s to fetch some water and he gave her a single look and it felt like he was already touching her body, she didn’t breathe a word of it to Chigo.
Her attraction to Luper was instant after that first stare, making what she had felt for Obinna child’s play. Luper’s tall form and wealthy looks struck her. She had forgotten that she had a bucket underneath the tap she was standing next to. When the water began to spill, the gateman yelled at her and told her not to return if she was high on weed.
Luper hadn’t looked at her again. He had a phone to his ear. That year GSM devices were the rave. Only the rich had them. Dugo thought Luper struck the perfect pose for her ideal man. Rich, tall and handsome. She thought about him all night. The following day, she returned to get more water, and again he was there, standing out on his balcony with his phone.
Was he talking to a girl? Was that why he was laughing like that? Did that girl realize how lucky she was to have him?
The bucket overflowed again. The gateman yelled and warned. Dugo put the bucket on her head and made it home. Like the night before, her thoughts were about him.
School was tough. She was not the brightest student. This was because her uncle had insisted on her being in SS3 instead of repeating SS2 as the school had advised. He wanted her done with school quickly so that she could work in his daughter’s restaurant.
“You will find a good, rich husband there,” he had said, laughing. She didn’t know why that was funny to him. She had been to the said restaurant. Only fat, oily Igbo men and laborers frequented the place. Not men like Luper.
Dugo barely survived her final year examinations. English language was particularly tough. Chigo bribed someone to help her with all subjects except for mathematics. He believed it was disgraceful for an Igbo person not to know how to handle numbers. Not long after the exams, Luper visited Benin again. This time, he took notice of her. The gateman had not pumped water. Dugo met a dry tap when she went to get their daily share of water.
“Let me turn on the gen and help you pump the water,” Luper told her from his balcony. She knew he was headed to her soon. She stared at her dress. It was stained with palm oil from the meal of roasted yam and oil she had just taken. She smelled herself. She was yet to have a shower. Her hair was in a poor state.
She panicked. He couldn’t see her that way. Dugo bolted out of the compound and ran all the way home to change into something cleaner. She put a scarf over her hair. The stained mirror she always kept at the window told her that she looked a lot better. Lastly, Dugo wiped her armpits with a towel before she made it back to Madam America’s compound.
“Where did you go?” Luper was waiting by the tap. Before she approached him, she could smell him. He oozed of wealth. He looked even more handsome than she had seen from afar. She didn’t mind the pimples on his face.
“I just…” She wanted to respond to his question, but the words didn’t form together.
“Wait for the water to pump, and then you can fetch.”
“Do you want to come under the shade for a bit? The sun is too hot.”
He headed towards the house, leaving her with her finger on her chest, asking the air if he was referring to her. When he got to the verandah where wicket chairs surrounded a low glass table, he turned and beckoned her over.
She followed him.
Dugo sat, lowering herself so slowly that the act made him chuckle.
“The chair doesn’t bite.”
Luper didn’t sit. He stood, leaning on the railing that marked off the verandah.
“What’s your name?”
“Yes, your name. I’m Luper. What’s yours?”
“Charity,” she answered.
“Charity. Nice name. How old are you, Charity?”
He didn’t say anything more. For a while he stared out. She began to think that something was wrong with her age. Should she have said she was older? Maybe he liked older girls.
“You live with your parents?” he finally asked.
“There.” She pointed in the direction of her home as though he already knew the place.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
The question made her flinch.
“I just want to be sure that nobody is coming to beat me for talking to you.”
She didn’t know then that he was hitting on her. The whole thing was awkward, but in a nice way.
“I don’t have boyfriend.”
“That’s cool. So, do you mind coming here again tomorrow?”
“Do I mind?” She appeared confused.
“Can you come here tomorrow?”
“Oh. Em…Yes. Am coming here every day to fetch water,” she answered. Her English was horrible. Back in her school in Enugu, they taught them in Igbo. Even the English language was taught in Igbo. In Benin, everyone spoke pidgin. For some reason, Dugo couldn’t quite get it. She didn’t know whether to learn it or concentrate on English, so she sort of mixed the two together, and the result was horrible, often making Chigo and Mama laugh.
“Oh, cool. I’ll be here when you come. You’ll come around this time, right?”
“Good. Oya, go and fetch your water.”
He followed her, though. And helped her carry the heavy forty-liter gallon up on her head. She hadn’t come with a bucket today.
At night, she lay beside Mama on the bed, dreaming about the way he smelled and spoke. She was up early in the morning, humming to herself as she cleaned the house.
“Your uncle says you have to start coming to the restaurant next week.”
Dugo didn’t mind. She was looking forward to working in the restaurant. It meant more free food for them.
“So prepare yourself. Make sure you pray about it.”
“I’m not coming back this night and tomorrow night, so you better lock the door well and don’t go out after six.”
When her mother left to work, Dugo spent the day, trying to pick an outfit for her water-fetching date. The pink dress with the large, round collars? The combo of the black skirt and the red t-shirt with Destiny’s Child on it? The green floral dress that had large buttons in the front? She didn’t have many options. She settled for the pink dress.
As evening neared, she picked her bucket and made the short walk to Luper’s house. She had put on some lip gloss and a pair of pin earrings that gave her face a lift. Her hair was loosened and tied up in a bun. She smelled of Mama’s cheap perfume, stolen from the bottom of her box.
Luper was seated out on the balcony when she arrived. He smiled and gestured her over. She went to him, knees wobbling.
“Do you want to come inside?”
He laughed. “Yes, you. Just come and stay small. I’m pumping water. Let’s allow the tank fill up.”
Dugo looked at her bucket by the tap and at him.
“Your bucket is safe. Come in.”
She followed him in, entering the most beautiful house she had ever been in. It was so grand, the ceiling seemed to stretch up to the heavens. The walls were spotlessly white. A shelf held the television, VCD player and a host of things she didn’t recognize.
“Do you want to eat something?” Luper inquired.
“Come this way.” He led her upstairs. It wasn’t strange that no warning alarms went off in her head. She felt like she was doing the right thing. There was something harmless about him. His room had a lot of CD’s and tapes lying around. It was a messy space, and she felt the urge to clean it. But he invited her to sit on the bed while he played a Westlife CD for her. She knew some of the songs and hummed quietly as he tried to clean the place a little.
Later on, he gave her a glass of wine. She had never tasted wine before. The one she knew was non-alcoholic. This one made her a little lightheaded. She didn’t like it. She told him. He apologized and took the glass away from her.
“I like you,” he said, coming to sit beside her. She didn’t feel uncomfortable when he moved closer or took her hand. He told her how beautiful she was. He touched her face and lifted her chin and asked if he could kiss her.
She didn’t answer as his lips grazed slightly over hers. She had been kissed before. Some boy in her school in Enugu had cornered her on the way home in a lonely path and put his stinking mouth over hers.
This didn’t feel like that kiss. It was different. Sweet. Everything about Luper was sweet. The way he touched her breasts and sighed. She was glad to know that he was pleased with her. He didn’t beg too much to get between her legs. She gave herself willingly. Almost every girl in school seemed to have had sex. They talked about it a lot, sometimes describing the act in details. There was even that girl that gave Dugo her first lesson in blowjobs.
“Boys like it. They will always ask for it. Just do it.”
Luper didn’t ask for any of that; he was gentlemanly enough to seek her consent. Although she pushed him away a few times, out of apprehension, she eventually let him through. The pain made her cry out. She gripped the sheets. He apologized.
“I’ll be gentler,” he whispered, kissing her.
It was less painful after that. Sweeter. So much sweeter. The following day, she was at the house early, not caring for the censorious look the gateman gave her. Luper offered her breakfast, and while she ate, he kissed her all over her body and promised her many nice things. They watched a movie after having sex. Dugo didn’t know half of what was said in the movie. She only liked the sex scenes.
“You can do it like that?” she asked when the couple in the movie engaged in the doggystyle position.
“Yes. You want to try it?”
She didn’t like it when they tried it. She told Luper it was for dogs and other animals.
“Let me be seeing your face,” she mumbled shyly. Her heart was wholly taken.
She spent the night with him. Before the sun rose up, she wore her clothes and made to sneak out.
“Where are you going?”
“My mommy is coming back. I want to go home.”
Luper kissed her hand sleepily. She didn’t know it would be the last time she would see him for a very long time. As she snuck out of the house that morning, she ran into Madam America who was coming out of her bedroom.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“She’s with me, Mom,” Luper replied from his bedroom. He then said something in a language Dugo didn’t recognize.
“You can go,” Udazi responded, dismissing her.
Luper’s disappearance after their two nights together broke Dugo’s heart. The gateman didn’t have his number. There was no one else she could ask about him. Definitely not his mother. The woman scared her.
It took three months for Dugo to realize that she had missed her period twice. She went to a local chemist to confirm. There was a girl there who liked Chigo and always spoke kindly to her. The girl gave her a test strip and told her how to run the test. When Dugo did it the morning after, she wasn’t sure about the results. She waited for the sun to come up before running to the chemist to ask the girl what the stick read.
“Ah! You don carry belle o!”
Dugo put a hand over the girl’s mouth.
“Ya pregnant,” she repeated, voice lowered.
Dugo’s heart began to pound.
“Na who give you belle, Charity?”
The sudden attack of tears in Dugo’s eyes made her rub them. Chigo would kill her. Mama would be disappointed.
“Who give you belle?”
“Abeg, no tell my brother,” Dugo pleaded, almost going to her knees. But it took five hundred naira, all the money she had in the world, to keep the girl’s lips sealed. Only for a short while, though. Chigo heard about it, eventually. By then, the pregnancy had been terminated, thanks to Madam America. Dugo had had no choice but to tell her. She had seen her SUV driving into the house one evening and hoped that it was Luper. She visited the house in search of him and found Udazi, instead. After a difficult session of interrogation, Dugo told her about the pregnancy. Initially, the woman refused to accept that Luper was responsible, but she had a change of mind the following day and sent for Dugo. She took her to a place where a stony-faced nurse shouted instructions at her as she aborted the baby.
Dugo cried wretchedly all through the procedure.
“Why are you crying?” Udazi asked on their drive back home. “Don’t worry. Your life would be better. I’ll make sure of that.”
She told her about Italy, how the roads were paved with gold and how money grew on trees and the taps flowed with milk and honey.
“You go work small, but you go make plenty money. You go use am build house for your mama and buy her jeep.”
Dugo’s tearstained eyes shone as Udazi told her about Italy.
“But don’t tell your mother yet. I will tell her myself when I come back from America.”
Udazi returned the following month to paint the same picture to Dugo’s mom. Chigo was there too.
“No be ashawo work dem dey do for the Intaly?” he asked.
“No o,” Udazi answered, fanning herself with a Christmas greeting card. She seemed comfortable in their stuffy one-room apartment. She had sat on their bed without minding that it sunk beneath her, almost taking her to the floor. “Me I no dey do dat kind thing. I dey help girls find better work for Europe.”
“How about America? Why not there?”
“America too hard to enter. You must know person there before you enter.”
“Ehen? We know you nau.”
Udazi laughed. Dugo was uncomfortable with the way Chigo questioned her. She feared that he was being rude.
“No be like dat dem dey take do am.”
“So for Intaly, pesin no need to know pesin before dem enter?”
“Na im you wan carry my sister go? If dem come kill am nko? Na small girl be dis o. Foget all dis bress and nyash. Na pikin be dis.”
“Your sister don grow. She go fit handle herself.”
“No o! I no gree…”
“Chigo,” Mama chided.
“Mama, mba! E no go happen.”
“Chigolum?” she called again, adding in Igbo. “Allow me speak to the woman.”
But Chigo was stubborn. “Carry me. No carry am. Me, I wan go Intaly. I be man. If anytin happen, I fit fight. I go dey do plenty work for dia.”
Udazi smiled. “The work I wan give your sister na housegirl work. No be for man. Dem no dey trust man for dia.”
“Yes. The money na good money.”
“Mbanu!” He shook his head. “My sister no be housegirl.”
“Chigo!” Mama shouted.
“It’s okay, madam.” Udazi arose. “When una dey ready, come find me.”
That night, Mama went to her with Dugo, and apologized for Chigo’s behavior. Udazi continued to spin her lies until she got Mama sold.
“You go bring hundred-and-fifty thousand for me to process the documents for her.”
Mama gasped. “Where I go get dat kind money? The people wey dey give her the work, dem no fit send us the money?”
“No be like dat dem dey do am. Okay, how much you get?”
“Only seventy thousand o. And I wan use am do something.”
“Don’t worry, Charity go send you plenty money when she land dia. Give me the seventy. After, you go add the rest.”
Behind Chigo’s back, a deal was made. He didn’t know about it, although he found out about Dugo’s pregnancy from his chemist crush. Dugo denied it, but he beat her, nonetheless.
“Ashawo!” He shamed her in the compound where they lived. “Sense you no get! See as you be like fool! Dem go fuck you finish!”
Dugo was sad for days. Not even the excitement over the prospect of a better life abroad changed her mood. It took a long time for her to discover that Madam America had lied. It took the first man forcing his way into her. When she screamed underneath him, she remembered Chigo’s words.
“Dem go fuck you finish!”
The next time she heard his voice, he was telling her that Mama was dead.
“You killed her,” he accused. “You killed your own mother.”
The last time he spoke to her, he was disowning her. “If you ever see me on the road anywhere in this life, do as if you don’t know me. Don’t call my name. Don’t say ‘brother’. Just pass!”
Thus, Dugo watched him walk away from her at the bank, staring at his chopped ear, blinking away the memories it brought.
“Excuse me, ma?” The cashier behind the counter called her attention. Dugo stared on a little longer before taking her eyes away. She missed her brother.
Her business in the bank didn’t take long. She had hoped that she would catch a glimpse of him when she left the building, but she saw nothing. Just strangers bustling along the street.
She drove to New Beginnings. Today, the ladies were preparing to move to the new place. Dugo could sense the excitement in the air when she got there. She was there to see Osarobo. It was time to come clean.
Dugo was directed to Room 2 on the last floor. Written on the door were the words “Women With Destiny’. Underneath it was another bold sign instructing visitors to knock first.
Dugo did just that. She was invited in by someone with a tired voice. She walked in. It was a room for four, having two bunk beds. The walls were pink and purple. Curtains of the same colors were rolled aside to let in air from windows on opposite walls. The present occupants of the room were two ladies, stuffing items into a box. Neither of them was Osarobo.
Dugo introduced herself. She inquired about Osarobo’s whereabouts.
“She’s around. Just check one of the other rooms,” the tired voice lady answered. “She’s the one organizing all of us to pack.”
Osarobo burst in just then.
“I hope you girls haff pack o! Mr. T said that the truck haff start to come!”
She lost the verve in her voice when she recognized Dugo. She gave her a full body sweep with her eyes. Dugo smiled at her nervously.
“I came to see you.”
Osarobo pointed the way out. Dugo followed her to the common room. There was no one in there. The television was on. Some Nollywood movie was showing. They sat on a couch. Osarobo crossed her arms, waiting for an apology.
“I’m sorry for the other day,” Dugo said.
“You no want make anybody know say you sabi me, abi?”
“Not like that.”
“Iz true nau. You just deny me as if you better pass me.”
“No, Gemma. It’s not how you’re seeing it.”
“Sotay you run commot.”
“Luper… Mr. T… I didn’t want him to know that I lived in Italy, that I was doing…”
Osarobo cocked her head for more, making it harder for Dugo.
“He’s my… We’re dating.”
Osarobo pulled back a little, frowning, showing disbelief. Chandelier earrings that matched the flare skirt she wore tinkled at each movement her head made. “You and him? Na your boyfriend?”
“Where you take know am?”
“Gemma, na long story.”
Osarobo made an unpleasant expression, washing Dugo with hostile eyes. “You no wan tell me, abi?” She stood up, hissing. “I dey go.”
Dugo snatched her hand. “Sit down. I go tell you.”
Osarobo appeared as if she wasn’t going to sit, but she did. She slammed her bum hard on the couch, making her legs shoot out in front of her.
Dugo told her only part of the story, how she had known Luper before she left for Italy and how Udazi had deceived her mother into sending her there. She left out the part of the pregnancy, the fact that Udazi was Luper’s mom, and of course, her career as a porn star.
“Na wa o! Dat Madam America sef. We no go find am, beat am so?”
Dugo laughed, even though thoughts of beating Udazi to a pulp constantly crossed her mind.
“So, wait o… You and Mr. T go soon marry?” Osarobo clapped her hands in excitement, her anger at Dugo all gone. She was that way. She didn’t know how to keep a grudge. Or secrets, either. “Anyway, sha. Me I don tell Mr. T tay-tay say me and you do ashawo work for Turin.”
“Which time you tell am?”
“Dat day as you run commot. Hin come ask me where I take know you and I tell am. If to say dat time I dey greet you, you call me aside tell me all dis one wey you talk na, I for no do amebo. Na you cause am.”
Dugo was befuddled. Luper had known about her past and said nothing about it?
“So when una go marry?”
Dugo smiled, shaking her head. “Leave that talk, Gemma. Another thing brought me here.”
“Na wa o. See as you just dey speak Americana for me. You don change sha. Come fine like super model. Deedee, Deedee! I swear, I no know say na you dat day! I come look your eye well before I see say na you. You don change pata-pata!”
Luper had said the same thing. He had told her she looked a lot different from the Charity he had known. Charity had been chubbier, packing a good amount of baby fat. She had also looked naïve and unsure of herself, almost always apologetic for just existing. But Dugo lost all of that fat and grew into a confident, daring woman with a constantly-penetrating gaze. Her body had gotten curvier too. Her skin, after exhaustive maintenance and attention, became a representation for melanin beauty.
“So wetin carry you come?” Osarobo made herself comfortable by crossing her legs beneath her.
Dugo cleared her throat, pulling towards her. “Madam America.”
She told Osarobo about the plan to have Udazi on her knees.
“You know where she dey now-now?”
“And you siddon here dey look me. My fren, come carry me go meet am. I go beat Satan commot for her bodi.”
“Calm down, Gemma. Relax. See Maman nau, she is in prison .”
“And you tink say we fit put Madam America inside prison? For Naija? Dat woman get money o! She get mouth! If you carry the matter go polis now, na dia you fuck up! She go just bribe dem! No try am o! Notin like prison! I say, carry me go her house and leave me wit am! She go chop my shit today, walai!”
Dugo pacified Osarobo, explaining that she had irrefutable evidence to nail Udazi. All she wanted from Osarobo was a video recording, detailing how the woman convinced her family to sell her to human traffickers. She also informed Osaraobo that some of the other girls from Italy would be flying in the following day. Together, they would put up a good case against Udazi. The International Police had not been able to connect her to the human trafficking crimes because the maman person would not mention her name for fear that Udazi would expose the exact number of girls brought to her. She had only been convicted of three cases of human trafficking. She got away with the rest because the ladies involved disappeared. Many of them were still living as illegal immigrants in Italy. They didn’t want the government tracking them down.
Dugo, however, had by some means, succeeded in getting a few of them to speak on camera. The woman in prison released all transactional documents between her and Udazi. Dugo had threatened to take her to court for her crimes against her as a European citizen if she did not comply. The evidence was overwhelming. Dugo was confident that her case against Udazi was strong.
“You don convince me sha,” Osarabo said. “But e no go bad if I still beat am small. Just small.”
“No need. I go handle am.”
“So wetin you carry come for me?”
Dugo dipped her hand into her bag and pulled out a key. She placed it in Osarobo’s hand.
“Wetin be dis?”
Dugo reminded Osarobo of how much she had dreamt of owning a bike. She had called it ‘ladies machine’ then, fantasizing of how she would ride about town with her ladies machine once they were free from the shackles of their maman’s enslavement. Back in Benin, her mother had owned a petite bike which she had sometimes allowed her use.
Osarobo couldn’t believe herself. She stared at the key and cast confused eyes at Dugo.
“You buy me okada?”
“As in, vroom-vroom?”
Dugo laughed heartily. “Ya.”
“Osanobua!” The tears slopped out of Osarobo’s eyes, fast and heavy. Dugo had already gotten the scooter delivered to New Beginnings the day before. It was not just a bike to Osarobo. It was freedom. It was the good memories of a mother who died and didn’t say goodbye. Something Dugo related with.
“I no believe! I wan see am.”
Osarobo jumped to her feet. She didn’t wait for Dugo as she headed downstairs. She toured the compound until she found the scooter covered by a sheet of tarpaulin. She stood, gawking at it, chest pounding. Dugo arrived and unveiled it.
“Jesus!” Osarobo threw her hands in the air and fell backwards to the ground. “Ah! Deedee! You don kee me! You don kee me for my mama o! Hey God! Wetin be dis?!”
Dugo wasn’t laughing anymore. Osarobo’s tears had infected her. She pulled her friend up who grasped her with pudgy arms and wept on her chest. Dugo wept with her.
“Ah! Mama, you for no die! I for dash you dis one!”
Dugo felt the pain underneath her joy. She had also gone to Italy believing she could change her mother’s life for better. Even while she suffered brutal abuse and got no financial compensation for the mistreatment of her body, she hoped still, that one day she would break free and make her mother proud. But her dream died when the news of her mother’s death hit her. That night, she had stolen their maman’s phone to reach Nigeria. Osarobo had been with her. The plan was to call family members in Nigeria for help. They were only able to reach Chigo. He callously broke the news of Dugo’s mother’s passing and blamed Dugo for it. The girls were ratted out by one of the maids working in the personal quarters of the maman before they could reach anyone else in Nigeria. That night, they both got caned and went without dinner. Dugo fell ill and Osaraobo catered to her until daylight came. Dugo never forgot her kindness. The scooter was the least she could do to show appreciation.
“You wan make I carry you drive around small?” Osarobo asked when the tears dried and she got past the phase of disbelief.
Dugo used the only available helmet because Osarobo wouldn’t let her ride without it.
“You know say you be aje butter. Us, we don dey street tay-tay. Na dia we go die.”
“Abeg o, nobody is dying today.”
Dugo hopped on. The ride was crazy and left her screaming her lungs out in nervousness and excitement. Osarobo was a little rusty, but she caught on with time. They rode around the estate, giving passers-by something to be entertained by. It was all screams and laughter, friendship reunited, the joy of freedom.
At their return, Dugo found Luper waiting at the entrance of the building. He was amused.
“You’re just coming in?” she asked when they got into his office.
“No. I actually watched you and Osarobo from my window when you gave her the bike. Saw the whole drama. You two were that close?”
“Not really. I was not friendly. She was always nice to me,” Dugo answered, hurling herself up on Luper’s body. He held her as she wrapped her legs around him. It was her favorite thing to do. She loved the way he always bore her weight effortlessly. They kissed for a long time before Luper placed her on the table, pushing files away. Being that he wasn’t the one directly handling affairs at New Beginnings, he had chosen for himself one of the smaller offices. Nothing fancy like the one he had at the school. The desk was most times covered with files and some part of the office was used as storage for some donated computer equipment.
Resting his hands on either side of Dugo’s thighs, he kissed her teasingly on her lips, and proceeded to her neck.
“I can’t get over your generosity,” he said. “But I’m curious…”
“The money. Where do you get all of it from? I know sex sells. But the house, and now, this scooter…”
Dugo touched his cheek. He looked concerned. She didn’t want him to be. She had worked hard for the money. She wasn’t proud of all she had done, but she had had a goal, and it was paying off now.
“They paid me well. My agent was tough. I got the best deals. She made them believe I was gold. The money was a lot. It’s still coming in.”
Dugo didn’t like that she was explaining a lot. She was being defensive, and she didn’t know why. It was the vibe she was getting from him. On Sunday night, while they cuddled in bed, he had asked her more questions about the porn industry, trying to dig deep into the dirty parts. Dugo evaded his questions tactfully. Not even she went swimming in the dark pits of the porn world. It still gave her nightmares. She had locked up that part of her history and tossed away the key.
Luper picked his phone from the table and presented it to her. “I know you said you didn’t want me digging, but…”
The sound of her voice moaning loudly got to her before her eyes fell on the visual on his phone screen. She didn’t want to look. It was one of her movies.
“I begged you not to.”
“I couldn’t help myself, Ada. I had to know.”
“And now, you can’t get the images out of your head, and you’ll start judging me. Well done.”
She jumped off the table. Luper took her hand. “I’ll never judge you.”
“I swear, chums. I’ll never do that. It’s just that…I’m…”
“You’re worried that my videos are all over the internet and people will find out…”
“No. That’s not it. I doubt that anyone would guess that this is you, though. But that’s not the point. I’m worried about you.”
“You did all of this and went through terrible abuse… You need therapy, to talk to someone. You need to heal.”
“I don’t need to heal. I’m fine.”
“No. You’re not. I went researching about porn and all the horrible things female porn stars go through. The drugs, the abuse, the humiliation…”
Dugo dropped her head. He was digging into old wounds.
“You can’t tell me you escaped those, Ada. You need therapy.”
Her hand slipped away from his as her eyes looked up and found his. “I told you not to go and look for me. I’m here with you. Why are you looking for me in my past?”
“I’m sorry. But…”
“I made a big mistake. I didn’t have to tell you.”
“No, you did the right thing.”
“I did a stupid thing.”
“I’m sorry nau.”
“Luper, I have to go home.”
“And please, don’t follow me. Stay here and help the ladies move. I need to be alone. Please.”
She kissed him. “See you tomorrow.”
She left the office. He went after her, stopping her before she made it to the reception. “I’m sorry.”
She was stiff when he hugged her. “Luper, please let go.”
She didn’t want to be mad at him. Her emotions were beginning to push to the surface.
“When I’m done here, I’ll come over,” Luper told her.
Her legs couldn’t carry her out of the building fast enough. Osarobo was giving another lady a ride. She waved at Dugo as she zoomed past the gate.
“You constantly scare me.”
Ace’s eyes looked like they could do with a good night’s rest. He had been working tirelessly on his photos over the past two days. It was for his graduating project. There was enough time for him to handle the work, but he had chosen to do it now. Maybe to get his mind over Joana who hadn’t stopped calling. It was a typical response to pain. You concentrate on something else so as to avoid feeling. For Dugo, she was shifting her attention to a certain person that no one would imagine her connecting with.
“I’m serious. You’re scaring me.”
“How?” Dugo had just taken her eyes away from a table in the lounge they were at. The certain person she was making a beeline for was seated there alone. Stirring a lonely glass of liquor.
“I think I know you and then you come up with this. When you told me to go and do detective work, I didn’t know we’d end up here.”
“Well, here we are.”
“You think it will work?”
“I know it will. Stop asking me questions, you this Yoruba demon. Drink your beer jare.”
Dugo’s eyes went back to the table. The person had just ordered a second glass of whatever poison they were trying to drown themselves in.
Dugo picked Ace’s bottle of beer and downed what was left. “Can you wish me good luck?”
“For this.” Dugo’s face turned sad. She heaved and began to make sobbing noises.
“For God’s sake.”
She stood up. “I hate you!” she said loud enough to get the attention of people in the lounge.
“What’s wrong with you?” Ace asked, playing along with Dugo.
She left their table and marched to where her person of interest sat. The lady had on a white shirt and a black skirt. She looked like she was just returning from work.
Holding a hanky to her face, Dugo asked if she could sit with her. She shrugged. Dugo picked a chair, just as Ace got up and made his exit.
“Please, has he gone?” Dugo asked, eyes away from the entrance of the lounge.
“The guy in the green t-shirt and black jeans. Has he gone? I don’t want to look at him, please.”
“Okay.” Dugo sniffled, bringing her attention back to the table. “Thank you.”
She covered her face with the hanky and made a show of crying. The lady seemed undisturbed at first, but eventually, she asked the much-awaited question.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you okay?”
Dugo sobbed some more.
“Do you want me to get you something to drink? It will make you feel better.”
Dugo nodded. The lady called over a bar waitress and ordered a club soda for Dugo.
“Thank you.” Dugo blew her nose and had a taste of the drink the moment it came.
“Are you okay now?”
“Not really. I don’t think I can ever be okay.”
“What happened?” The lady freed her hair which had been held at the back. Scanty perms fell on the sides of her face. She forked them with her fingers. “It’s okay. You can talk to me. I’m a lawyer.”
“Maybe you can help me?”
“Tell me what happened. First of all, what’s your name?”
“Okay, Charity. Talk to me.”
“I…” Dugo looked at the entrance, as if apprehensive of being caught. “I don’t even know how to start this story. I’m still in shock.”
“Start from where you feel most comfortable starting from.”
“You see the guy that went out?”
“He’s my boyfriend.”
“And he… He… He raped me.”
The lady’s shoulders went stiff.
“I don’t know what I did to him. Just because I said I was not in the mood. He didn’t listen. He pinned me down and…”
Dugo employed the waterworks again.
“Aww, so sorry.” The lady touched her hand.
“He’s been begging me since, but I’m done with him. I’m done.”
Dugo was allowed her Oscar performance, receiving a gentle massage on her hand and soothing words as she cried.
“I totally understand what you’re going through.”
This was the moment Dugo was waiting for. “You know?”
There was shifting of eyes, a scratching of brows. Dugo studied her body language.
“You’ve been raped by your boyfriend too?”
“Yes. No. Not really. I’ve not. Not by my boyfriend. But I’ve been raped before.”
Dugo washed down the excitement in her with her club soda. The lady did the same, although it seemed like she was washing her lies away.
“Terrible experience. And it didn’t happen just once.”
Dugo signaled the bar waitress over. There was a juicy story waiting to be told by the woman seated in front of her.
“Excuse me, please,” Dugo muttered. “The useless rapist is texting me.”
Dugo brought out her phone from her handbag and turned on the voice recorder without her companion being aware.
“I’ve responded to him.” She placed the phone on the table between them. “Sorry, I didn’t ask your name.”
“What’s yours again?”
“Okay. I’m Idenyi.”
“Idenyi. I’ve never heard that name before,” Dugo stated. “Where are you from?”
“Benue state. Idoma. I was born in Makurdi.”
Dugo smiled, but not so much. She had to keep up with her act. “That’s nice. I’m happy to meet you, Idenyi. Happy to meet a woman who has gone through what I went through. These men, they’re so wicked. If we don’t stick to ourselves and help each other, they’ll keep hurting us.”
“So you were telling me about your boyfriend. You said he didn’t rape you? Someone else did?”
“Yes. It’s a long story, though. It happened years ago.”
“My dear, I am boyfriend-less, broke, I don’t have light in my house and I’m depressed. I have very good listening ears right now.”
Idenyi laughed. It was beautiful when she did. But then her eyes went sad immediately. It seemed like the sadness was a constant there. Laughter was the stranger.
The waitress brought their drinks. Each lady pulled hers closer. They took their first sips together.
“Okay. Where do I start?” Idenyi said, sighing out with puffy cheeks. “So, it was about fifteen years ago. I was dating this guy from a rich family. His name was Luper. His name is still Luper.” She chuckled a little. “Nice guy. Very nice guy. Kind and cool.”
Dugo agreed in her head.
“But I did something terrible. I…” Idenyi’s eyes filled with moisture. “First of all, I was raped…”
She stopped and rubbed her eyes. Her hand shook. Dugo reached out and held her. The act on Dugo’s part was genuine. She had a weakness for rape victims.
Idenyi picked her drink. She tilted her head backwards and all of it went down her throat. Dugo signaled the waitress again. The night was young and promised to be filled with drama. The truth was going to come out, one way or another. Dugo paused the voice recording and typed a quick text to Ace:
Please help me change the sheets in the extra room. We have a visitor sleeping over tonight.