Introducing Hadeh to you. Please read and drop a comment. I understand that you may be discouraged to encourage featured writers here because they don’t seem to complete their stories. I totally understand. But this series is complete. So, please give feedback. Thank you!
…She is away from home. She wants to become a woman of importance. But she has to be a stripper for the meantime.
Martha refused to return to Abeokuta despite the eyes staring at her like a tamed cat. She placed the glass cup on the table and waved her hand at her step-brother, Ayo, who happened to be her boyfriend and soul-mate. But he insisted she returns home.
They were in a restaurant. The sound of music mixed with side giggles and the noise from those watching the big TV and those drinking. The light was dull, creating an ambience.
Ayo was her stepbrother. They were separated when Martha decided one night that she couldn’t live in Abeokuta anymore and she disappeared, then three years later she had met her step-brother in Lagos.
When she left, she was just sixteen. She was innocent except for the torment and oppression that made her run in the first place. She had arrived into Lagos and fell into the hands of a guardian who happened to be a prostitute and stripper. She was hurtled into the hands of men, satisfying their perversions in the bar and in hotel rooms, sometimes visually, when she climbed the pole, sometimes physically, when she climbed a bed, sometimes in the rush like a flying jet, when she was called suddenly to help out in a car or an office desk.
She picked the cup again and sipped her wine. She wasn’t going back to Abeokuta. Not when she hadn’t achieved her aim in life. How could she meet her foster father when she hadn’t become a doctor but a stripper and a call girl?
‘Why?’ he asked.
She peered at him. She would tell him the reason, wished she could explain and watch what his reaction would be but not now. She would tell him only when she becomes a woman of importance.
‘I will go back home,’ she said, ‘but not now.’
‘Why!’ he asked and stamped the table with his palm. ‘You left home without letting us know your reasons and here you are insisting you won’t go back to the family that brought you up.’
She shook her head. The family that brought her up, she puffed and lower her cup down. The clock on the corner was digital and the time was 9 o’clock. The noise was getting louder as many people were entering the restaurant. She shifted and picked her bag from the table and, in the next minute, she was running out of the door and he was after her like a cat all over a mouse. Their desire wasn’t inclined and if she didn’t run, he would lure her to return, making her face the one she didn’t want to meet soon.
The night was a lonely night. By the standard of things, she used to be lonely at nights if she were sleeping at home. She would hear the noise of the AC and the crawl of some creatures up in the plastic ceilings. She could hear her own breath as she sat on the bed in just her underwear pant. She expected him to call, to say sorry, that he wouldn’t ever force him to do the things she didn’t want to do anymore. The silence was strong as though it was a human figure wearing a strong smell. She stared at her phone. She’d lost interest in playing with it as an object that could quench her boredom.
There was a TV hanging on the wall. She had switched it off some minutes ago. The light, too, was off, except for the bed lamp. A small table held her make-up kit, a power bank, her purse, her cards, a small jotter, a book titled ‘Americanah’ which she had read and read many times. An artwork decorated the wall in its frame. When the light was dim, the painting seemed to glow, sending a sweet sensation down to her stomach.
Her phone buzzed and she reached for it like it was a mosquito sting. She discovered he wasn’t the one and sighed, dropping the phone dejectedly.
His text came in late that night. She was still awake, waiting as though it was an important event that could not be missed and that would not fail to happen. The text read: At least talk to mum. This is her number 08133344455.
She waited till morning before she called the number, her step-mother, his mother. It rang slowly, too slowly and she felt her heart threatening to come out of her chest as a second passed with the phone ringing. It had been three years since she last talked to the one she used to call ‘mother.’ She was a heartless child. She hadn’t asked after the woman as though it was a painful memory. She remembered how well she had treated her as a daughter, how well she taught her about womanhood. She would say ‘no matter what, you will still have to do more house chores than a man. So practice now. It would become a habit before you are married.’ She would wake her up at five. The day began with washing the plate and then putting rooms in order, then it would continue in the kitchen, cooking.
‘Hello,’ a voice said on the other end. She recognized the voice, the same clear voice that sang among the choirs, the same voice that used to wake her up every morning, the same voice that would pelt her and say ‘your father was just being a father, he didn’t want you to become a bad child.’ She had thought she would keep her cool but something was melting inside her stomach, some emotions she hadn’t known existed. She was smiling, she was shedding a tear.
‘Mummy,’ she said softly, her own voice sounding different.
There was a pause on the other end, then a sudden blurting of ‘Martha!’ it was a question and a surprise altogether. She sniffed her tears and said ‘mummy,’ again.
‘Martha is that you?’
‘Yes… yes, ma. It’s me, ma.’
‘Ah Martha, we missed you. And it wasn’t good that way. What have we done to you that you wan punish us like that? It’s not good nah. It is not good at all. Put yourself in my shoe as a mother. I have been praying for you since you left and saw your message. Glory be to God. How are you?’
‘I’m fine, ma. I’m ok. I’m ok.’
‘Hallelujah, where are you?’
‘I’m… in Lagos.’
‘oh, God. Ayo too is in Lagos. I will call him for this good news. When will you come home?’
‘Ermm..’ she hadn’t thought of it. She would come home when she becomes a medical doctor and could stand before her step-father, the bishop. By then, she would have quit her job as a stripper come, call girl. She would come home when she could stand seeing her step-father’s eyes.
‘Martha,’ her step-mother said, ‘when will you come home? We want to see you. Me, your father, Ayo, Florence. All of us,’ she said. ‘Come today,’ she added.
She heard it clearly but she blurted, ‘ma?’
‘come home. We have been waiting for long, my dear. Just come home. Your father. Your father will be fine. Just come home.
Then she imagined her step-father’s face, the man who picked her up from a refuse dump and raised her. She would say, ‘Daddy, I’m back,’ and he would look at her, not smiling, not frowning either. She wanted to tell her foster mother, Mrs Ajasin, that the man was the reason she must become a great person and it was more than her father’s scowl; it was her payback.
‘Mummy, I will come.’ There was a pause on both ends as if both were waiting. She checked the phone and continued, ‘I will come, not today – tomorrow. I will come tomorrow.’
‘Alright, darling,’ Mrs AJasin said.
She sighed. She had just brought a journey of ten years nearer.
She called Ayo to tell him she had decided but he would not answer his call. She filled her bag with some clothes that would last her two weeks. Two weeks were enough to celebrate her reunion and she would be back to Lagos, back to her work. She sighed and called Ayo again, the phone rang until it went dead.
The day rushed to the night and then it was lonely like the previous. The rats in the ceilings, the walls, the paintings were her companion. She picked her shoes and went to work as usual at a bar, as a striper. She slid into the changing room, filled with girls and girls costume. She changed into a short gown, wore lingerie and wore a small mask that only covered the area around her eyes. When she stepped out, her eyes caught some familiar faces of men who raised a toast at her appearance. There was a taunt man, bearded. He wore a suit and a tie loosely, shirt unbuttoned to his chest, and he smiled and called her with his finger to which she feigned a smile.
‘Lap dance,’ he said.
She sat on his lap and writhe and wriggle. She heard him exhale as though puffing. Perversion was a pleasurable thing, she thought, it cost money for women to sit on another man’s lap than it usually costs in the outside world. She moved her bum rhythmically, up and down, quick and slowly as though she was obeying an army commander. She turned to face him, putting his face over her chest. He exhaled and he pushed him back slowly. Then she pulled it back, fast. The man smiled and tilted his head to the side in a knowing way. She shouldn’t be doing this, she said, but when the man showed a strand of cash she led the way to the corner.
The light was blue and they could hardly see the next person unless they walk close to their nose. There were partitions made of fabrics and tall above human height. They could hear moans and dark figures behind the partitioned curtains. The place smelled of incense and lavender and sweat. The man stepped to one of the partition and she sat on a small stool. He loosed his belt and she moved closer, sitting on his lap, the clothes and underwears were shifted by hurried hands, sliding into her like a nail drawn by a magnet and she was three thousand Naira richer when it ended.
She walked past another stripper who was earning her extra cash in loud moans and entered the bathroom. She cleaned up and sprayed perfume on her body.
She walked back to the hall and was heading to the pole when a man pulled her and said ‘lap dance.’ She feigned a smile and followed him to a place he could find a seat. Just as she sat on his lap, she caught a figure looking curiously at her. The light cast a red shadow on him. Their eyes met. It was Ayo and he was leaving.
She was pulled back by the man when she tried getting up. In the man’s eyes was anger that seemed like a stabbed kitten. Then she sat back and performed her occupational responsibility, feeling sad about it.
She went to Ayo’s house after that. It was a single room around the campus of Lagos State University. The place was always lively with music blaring and filled with the smell of cigarettes, meat, hemp, alcohol, and dirt. Cars were usually parked. Rooms were lit, often powered by loud generators. The building was occupied by students, but hardly would she meet anyone when she visited. They talked behind their doors in high spirit, loud noise or the spirit of a party. When it was quiet, the building was empty or the exam was forthcoming in LASU. The building was always a reminder of her longing. She imagined herself sitting in a room like one of these rooms – decorated with wallpaper, had a student desk and a look of student lifestyle – behind a table, facing her medical books. It was in her mind yet and it would soon come to pass, she always thought.
She slid the gate open and waved at the gateman. Ayo wasn’t at home when she knocked and opened his two bedrooms flat with her spare keys. It was dark. She turned on the bright bulb and waited and waited and waited. When it became apparent that he wouldn’t come, she picked a paper and write on it.
‘Bye-bye, Ayo. I have decided and maybe we will talk when we get to meet there. And please pick your calls.’
She placed the letter on a glass table and placed a remote control on it.
She left for Abeokuta in the early morning. The mosques were calling the Muslims to prayer and the traders were standing like one who had been working all night, food vendors pouring hot rice inside small bowls for their buyers and darkness disappearing over the city like smoke. She thought about Ayo as she sat on the old seats of the bus. He hadn’t picked his calls. She called Mrs Ajasin instead and tell her she was on her way. Her thought returned to him again. She remembered asking him if he would marry her if his parents indeed say ‘no.’ He had chuckled and replied ‘that’s not possible, they know you, you are their daughter.’ She shook her head to that – they don’t know her, not any more, the things she had done in the last one years, they don’t know her. She used to be their step-daughter, their little girl, the one with a cute smile and body bigger than her age, but many of that changed when she left home except her body size. It had changed when her step-father lunged at her and used her body for pleasure.
She was going home eventually and she wished Ayo could be beside her, patting her back, assuring her that no matter what ‘father… bishop,’ says or do, he would be beside her.’
How will you cope now with father after all he has done to you? She smiled and replied, ‘pretence. I will pretend nothing happened until I become a great woman.’ She unlocked her phone, it turned off and she unlocked again and again. She scrolled through the pictures, the one where Ayo was smiling. Like his father, he was bearded, but he was younger and more handsome. Perhaps you are measuring the beauty with the affection in your heart. She shook her head.
The bus drove towards Abeokuta. Ayo had been her ‘brother’ and friend since childhood. They were raised by the same parent. She was adopted but she never felt that way from Ayo’s mother. They grew together. They shared the same bed innocently at some points. They watched movies together and talked about it for many days later. When she danced as she loved to, Ayo would clap and hug her in that shy hug like someone who over-estimated the consequence of a simple gesture. They shared their ambitions together. She would become a doctor and he would become an engineer and they would make their parents proud – Ayomide Ajasin and Martha Ajasin. That had ended when she decided to run away at sixteen, but it had first taken a blow when his father began committing abominations when she was fifteen.
Ayo’s picture was still in her hand. He wore a white vest and his smile lit his face as though there was a light bulb under his facial skin. The muscle of his arms was evident and so was his wide chest, making her smile inwardly. The woman beside her said, ‘handsome bobo, is that your boyfriend?’ she shook her head, smiled and thought of what she would call him and how the chaos in her life had become still since they reunited. She could call him anything of course when they were together – treasure, hobby, love – but she shook her head. When she reached Abeokuta and she is before his parent, their parent, she would not call him any of that. ‘my brother,’ she said to the woman and smiled, his picture still in her hand.
She wouldn’t have guessed she would be entangled with a murder case when she arrived in Abeokuta.