I hate Lagos. It is a city of vermin and lost souls. The darkest hearts live there. The air its citizens breathe is tainted with evil. You stay there long enough and you become part of the darkness. Even an innocent child is not immune to its perversion.
Of course, like every megacity in the world, it’s a place where dreams come true. The skyscrapers, fast cars, bright lights and nightlife will always enthrall you. Each street is booming, and every destination boasts of its own distinctive spirit. From beaches to bars, hotels and local joints, adventure calls. It is the hub of modern Africa. The story of the Dark Continent cannot be told without giving Lagos its due mention. The core of oil-rich Nigeria rests on this legendary cinematic city.
But it isn’t always pretty or inspiring. Behind the booming industries and glass-walled boardrooms, posh boutiques and luxury homes, real people with terrifying stories reside. Everyone in Lagos has a tale to tell. Even the roaches that live in its stinking gutters and feed on the waste of the city.
For me, it will always be a place of haunting because it was where I murdered my sister when I was only eight years old.
Strange, but true.
She was my twin. A sickly thing that could neither walk nor speak; yet, was loved by our mom. Loved more than I was. We were not a brood of vermin or roaches that lived under a bridge. We were a typical above-average family, residing in a suburb called Dolphin Estate, in a house that was in those days, considered luxurious by most. On the day my sister and I were brought into the world by the hands of a surgeon, I came out looking like I had fed on her in the womb. She was a scrawny little baby with no chance of survival. Mommy was told to say goodbye to her before she was placed in an incubator. Everyone waited for her to die, but she was determined to stay.
Two days later, she was still breathing, although barely. Mommy was told to take me home and care for me. It was still unnecessary to hope, but she wouldn’t listen to the doctors. She wanted to be with the fragile one. She wouldn’t even look at me. Hence, Daddy and Grandma brought me home, and six days later, in a loud ceremony, I was named Eniola. No one even cared to christen me Taiye or Kehinde as was the norm with naming twins. My life was already set for me to be by myself.
Mommy was absent for the naming ceremony. While Daddy and the partying crowd he invited celebrated lavishly, she sat beside her baby in the hospital, and after hours of prayers, named her Eyitope.
That night, Tope stopped breathing. She was placed in a carton by the nurses. Daddy drove to the hospital to get Mommy. He brought her home, tucked her in bed and placed me in her arms. I was told that she wouldn’t touch me. Rather, she lay there all night and stared at me. By morning, the hospital rang the house and my parents were asked to come for Tope, who had by some miracle, returned to life in the middle of the night.
Tope was brought home a month later, enough time for Mommy to disconnect from me. The years that followed were hard on all of us. Mommy faced a life where Daddy was never around. If it wasn’t business taking him away, it was a certain woman who lived down the street. Mommy knew about her, but she was a typical Nigerian wife who was advised not to bother herself with her husband’s extracurricular activities. On balance, he provided for his family and gave them everything money could buy. Why was she being ungrateful?
She was asked to concentrate on her children. And this, she did. The only problem was that I didn’t count as one of her children. Tope was first, and then there was Lekan, my elder brother, who got more attention than I did. Sometimes, I caught Mommy staring at me with eyes that made me want to run and hide under my bed. At an early age, I understood what contempt meant. It was something served to me by Mommy, and when I was full of it, I served it to Tope.
As we got older, the responsibility of caring for Tope fell on me.
“Eni, take this kokoand give to your sister,” Mommy would say, placing a dish of guinea corn pap in my hands. “Don’t force her or she’ll vomit.”
I would hold the dish with small, shaky hands and walk to the living room where Tope would be seated, playing with toys in a manner that invalids do. For a long time I would stare at her, wondering why she would not just get up and play with me. Why she always had to sit around and speak like there was hot coal in her mouth. She couldn’t even call my name properly, and sometimes she would soil her pants, and I would get scolded for not picking out the stench of her mess on time.
Tope got the best clothes, as skinny and ugly as she was. Even her useless feet that could go nowhere were blessed with the prettiest ballerina shoes. Mommy always tended to her thick, long hair and manicured her equally-long fingernails with much concentration and love. She would call her beautiful, even though I was the beautiful one. Daddy never failed to remind me. He was nothing like his wife. He loved his children equally. I can’t ever recall fighting for his attention each time he was home.
But he hardly ever was. Mommy said the other woman, whom everyone called Aunty Ada, was responsible for his absences.
“Useless Igbo witch! She has locked your father in a bottle! God will punish and destroy her!” Mommy would curse as she combed my stubborn hair. I didn’t understand why she always waited until it was time to groom my hair to gripe about her troubled marriage.
“Prostitute! Sleeping with people’s husbands up and down! Jehovah God will visit her with thunder and lightning soon!” I would get a smack on the shoulder from the comb in her hand for no reason. “Your hair is thick as a forest with wild animals!”
A forest alone was bad enough, but she always loved to add the wild animals to it. That was how much I was disliked.
As I grew older, I concluded that it was because I took after my paternal grandmother in likeness that I was so despised. I was fair in complexion with rose-red lips and a promising hourglass figure. Even at a young age, everyone could tell I would make heads turn in my future because of my curves. But Mommy constantly reminded me that I looked nothing like her.
“Do you know what black beauty is?” she asked me one day, while oiling her skin with a mixture of shea butter and coconut oil. She stretched out her arm to me and continued in her hoarse tone. “This is black beauty, the same type of skin your sister has, unlike your borrowed color. I can bleach myself and get your skin, but you can never get mine. I don’t know why you came into this world looking like that old woman.”
If there ever was a pair that was metaphorically oil and water, it was Mommy and Grandma. Even if they were tossed into a pot and left to boil together to make soup, they would come out as the handiwork of a woman who had never entered a kitchen before.
I would learn years later that Grandma, before my parents got married, did all she could to ensure that Daddy never tied the knot with Mommy. She had warned him that Mommy would bring him sorrow for three reasons. Firstly, she was sickly, suffering from asthma; hence, Grandma felt she would die young. Secondly, Mommy’s father was a Togolese loafer who abandoned Mommy and her mother. Grandma surmised that Mommy, coming from a broken home, would not know how to keep hers too. The third reason she disliked her was for her attitude; Mommy had a caustic mouth and a fiery personality she couldn’t stomach.
But Daddy stuck with her, pleasing his father, who felt Mommy was perfect as a wife for him. It was from Grandma I learned these things, and many other things about my parents’ dysfunctional marriage.
I loved the old woman, nonetheless. And she loved me back a hundredfold. She used to call me her mirror. She’d say, “If I want to see my reflection, I would look at you.”
She didn’t care much for Tope, but she was a lot better at hiding her indifference than Mommy was at showing me her disdain. Unfortunately, Grandma lived in the north and I only got to see her once a year. Parting with her was always a painful affair. She would cry, and so would I. At each departure, I fell ill and Mommy nursed me. Only in such moments did I get a taste of her love.
Mommy was not all thorns and thistles. There were times when she seemed soft and open-minded. No one knew what triggered those occasions. But I was too unloved and too young to care. I’d simply plunge into the love she was offering, and like the fool I was, hope that it would last forever. But every single time, she would end up breaking my heart. And in my predictable way, I would go right ahead and unleash my pain on Tope.
The day I killed her, Mommy flogged me with a stick she broke off a branch of the guava tree Lekan and I loved climbing in our backyard. She had sent me to a provision store to buy a bottle of coke, which I knew she would share with Tope alone. But Aunty Ada’s daughter, Halim, had stopped me along the way to show me the new doll Daddy bought for her.
“My daddy?” I asked, bearing a frown.
“Yes. It’s called a Barbie.”
In jealousy, I replied, “I know what a Barbie is! I have plenty of them!”
And that was the truth. Daddy spoiled us so much that Lekan, Tope and I lost count of the toys he got for us on his trips outside the country.
“Why did my daddy give you a Barbie?”
“I don’t know. But do you want to come to my house and play with me? You can bring your own.”
Her offer was tempting, but I felt a sharp pain on both ears from the memory of Mommy pulling them the last time she warned me never to speak to Halim or Aunty Ada, let alone visit their house.
“My mommy said she’ll beat me if I come to your house.”
Halim looked equally sad. “Even my mommy too.”
“My mommy said it’s because your mommy has locked my daddy in a bottle.”
Halim put out a confused face.
“She said your Mommy is using juju on him,” I added.
And it was at that moment I heard Mommy’s husky voice from her bedroom window.
“Eniola, if I come out of this house right now, I will kill you and that small witch you’re talking to!” she shouted in Yoruba. Tears swamped Halim’s eyes in a rush.
“I’m not a witch,” she said to me before walking away.
I felt sad, watching her go. I was actually fond of her. She was the happy and playful type.
I walked to the store, bought the bottle of coke and returned home. Mommy seemed too much in a good mood to scold me about Halim. For a short while, all was well in my little world. But Daddy came home and I heard him shouting at Mommy from upstairs. I didn’t know what he was angry about, but it soured my mood.
When he was done, he stormed out of the house, charging past me like I didn’t exist. Minutes later, I was being whipped by Mommy for my encounter with Halim. I was whipped so hard that I was scared I would die. Even when Lekan tried to stop her, she threw him to the floor and continued whipping me.
I cried for hours, hoping Daddy would come home and comfort me. When it was clear that it was not going to happen, I withdrew to my bedroom and lay on the bed, staring at Tope who was engrossed in an Enid Blyton book. Mommy soon came
As usual, I was given the chore of feeding her. I pulled a chair, lowered my aching bum on it and sat before her. I flung her book away. She stared at it and at me with red, murky eyes and hit the armrest of her wheelchair in protest. She mumbled in her disjointed manner, but I didn’t bother to make out what she wanted to say.
“Open your mouth!” I shouted, thrusting forward a mold of semovita smeared with soup. I shoved it into her mouth and watched in disgust as she made hideous mouth movements in the name of chewing. This went on for what was an eternity as I continued to feed her. Finally, I pushed a chunk of fish into her mouth. I knew I was supposed to crush it, but I didn’t care. Not crushing her fish was the least of the mean things I had been doing to her for years; which was why I didn’t move a muscle when she began making choking sounds a few seconds after she chewed the fish.
I had thought to myself, ‘this stupid girl is trying to get Mommy’s attention as usual, so that I’ll get into more trouble.’ I ignored her, walked into the bathroom, washed my hands and returned to the bed. I lay down where I had lain before to watch her choke.
There was perverse pleasure in seeing her in pain. I knew something was wrong, I knew I was supposed to help her, but I lay there and just observed as one would an incident they weren’t directly connected to.
By now, Tope’s arms were flailing. She was making familiar sounds that indicated she was calling for me and for Mommy. Slimy saliva and blood began to drip from her mouth in gobbles.
Still, I lay there. It was as if I had been tied to that bed, because even when I tried to move, my limbs would not let me.
Tope began to jerk. She clutched her throat. Her eyes rolled a couple of times.
Yet I lay still.
And then, Lekan burst in, took one look at her and called out for Mommy. It was only then I came to my senses, as if someone had slapped me into reality. I jumped off the bed and tried to scream out as well, but was unable to move an inch closer to Tope. Fear had suddenly seized me and I stood, quivering.
Lekan, just a child himself, had gone to Tope and began to hit her chest in an attempt to save her. She dug sharp fingernails into his arms as if trying to hold on to life.
“Mommy!” I screamed, seeing now that the situation was grim. Guilt had taken over.
Mommy hurried in, and in typical Nigerian mother hysterics, threw her hands over her head as she dashed towards Tope.
“Iya mi o!” she shouted. “Who has killed my child?” She pushed Lekan away. “Eyitope! Who did this to you?”
I was thrown a sharp glare.
“I just gave her fish o,” I tried to explain, but I was cut off as Mommy instructed Lekan to run to the house across the street and call for the doctor who lived there.
“Eniola! Ah! You’ve killed me!” She carried a limp Tope in her arms and slumped to the floor with her. She mumbled in prayer as she dug her forefinger into her mouth.
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, don’t let my baby die,” she wept, her breath weakening. “Eyitope!”
She pulled out her finger from Tope’s mouth, laid Tope gently on the floor and put her ear to her chest to listen for a heartbeat.
She repeated the activity once more, wheezing while doing so. I was smart enough to dash to her bedroom to get her inhaler. When I returned, I saw her lying on the floor beside Tope, gasping for air. She took the inhaler from me and helped herself with it until her breathing normalized. I was almost forced to snatch it off her hands to use on Tope.
“Eyitope o,” Mommy sobbed in a breathless tone like one who had just recovered from strangulation.
I sank to the floor. I was shaken. I knew what death was. A cuddly kitten Daddy had given me the year before had been maliciously poisoned by Mommy because she had suspected it to be evil. I had held the poor feline in my arms and watched it die slowly.
Tope was that kitten. Mommy would survive as she always did with her asthmatic attacks. I was sure of that. But not Tope. She was dying slowly, and I knew that if she died, she was never coming back. The secret joy I had felt before was gone now. I did not want to lose my sister. If I could pray like Mommy was doing, I would have done so. But all I could do was watch.
The doctor charged in with Lekan a couple of minutes later. He was tall with a heavy crop of beard that seemed white on one side and dark on the other. He occasionally came to the house to drink with Daddy and watch football. Sometimes, Uncle Greg, who lived two houses away from ours, joined them. Uncle Greg was younger than the doctor was. He was about Daddy’s age. His wife, Aunty Bisi, was pretty. She used to be friends with Mommy, but that ship left the harbor a long time ago. Mommy had made it clear that she could not be friends with anyone acquainted with Aunty Ada. However, we were allowed to visit Aunty Bisi’s house and play with their kids. Sometimes, they came to ours. Aunty Bisi hardly ever visited. But today, she came running in with the doctor, who dropped on his knees and attended to Tope the moment he came in.
“What happened to her?” he asked.
“Her sister said she gave her fish,” Mommy cried, rising. “I think she choked on it. Ah! Eniola!”
“Dried fish? Fresh fish?”
The doctor, who always seemed to carry a stethoscope everywhere, had now set it to Tope’s chest as we all observed in thick silence. Aunty Bisi stood at the foot of the bed, which was close to the door. She would not come any further.
I was numb for the most part. I couldn’t see what the doctor was doing because Mommy had blocked my view.
The doctor stood up, carrying Tope in his arms. He dashed out. Mommy ran after him. Aunty Bisi followed. It was just Lekan and I left in the room. My eyes were fixed on the puddle of blood and saliva Tope had left on the floor.
When I looked up, I saw Lekan staring at me. I waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. He continued to stare as if he was judging me. His manner broke me. I drew my knees up, buried my face on them and cried. He sat beside me. I guess he was as traumatized as I was. We sat there for hours.
Darkness came, and at last, we heard the sound of a car outside. We ran to the window to look out, and there was Daddy, stepping out of his car. Mommy emerged from the passenger’s side with her head slumped. The security light shone on her and she seemed to me like the lost old woman who always found her way into the estate to beg for water and fifty kobo.
I remained at the window, waiting for either Mommy or Daddy to open the backseat and carry Tope out of the car, but none of them did. Moving in the manner of zombies, they dragged themselves towards the house. I stayed there, staring out still, waiting for Tope. I was sure I could see her in the backseat. I could see her hands hitting the window. She was crying to be let out, but nobody heard her.
Moments later, Daddy drew me away from the window. He took me to his bedroom, sat Lekan and I on his laps and told us that Tope had gone to be with Jesus.
“When is she coming back?” Lekan asked. Unlike me, he hadn’t encountered death personally.
“She is not coming back, Son,” Daddy explained.
His words broke me. I felt my head swell so many times. I lost myself in his arms while Lekan stood up and walked out of the room as if he had heard nothing.
Days passed and Mommy saw no one. She was locked in her bedroom. When Tope was buried, she was absent. Daddy was told not to be present too, but he insisted that no one would bury his daughter for him. Holding both of his hands at the funeral, Lekan and I stood by him. I heard many people say that God knew best, that Tope was resting from her pain, and God had a great plan for us by her death.
What plan? What rest? I had asked myself. I had been her only pain, her enemy, her rival; and I had eliminated her – the one whom I had fed on in the womb.
Soon after she was buried, things began to fall apart for Daddy financially. It was as if Tope had been an angel sent to watch over and bless us, and now that she was gone, we were thrown into a place of darkness. Working as an engineer for a popular Arab company at that time, money hadn’t been an issue for Daddy. But for reasons he never explained to anyone, he was fired, and became unemployable by other prestigious firms around the country. It was the first time I ever heard the word ‘blacklisted’. Daddy had told this to Mommy over dinner one evening. Of course, she blamed it on Aunty Ada.
Grieving for Tope, Mommy shaved off her hair and moved about the house in long, black dresses, muttering to herself. She refused to do away with Tope’s belongings. They were left as they were in our bedroom. Even the wheelchair was at the exact spot it had been that dark day.
“That Ada witch killed my child and now she wants to finish you too,” Mommy told Daddy. He ignored her insinuations and assured her things would be fine.
That never happened. A few months down the line, he sold his cars and cut off many luxuries we used to have.
“Lagos is too expensive,” I heard him tell Mommy one day. “I have applied for a job as a lecturer in OSU. They said I’d get it. Prepare the kids to move to Abeokuta.”
Daddy didn’t like to talk a lot. He always threw his words around like mines, never staying back to find out the damage they caused. But that day, he sat at the dining table, stirring a cup of tea as Mommy stood over his head with an expensive glass dish in which she loved to store fruit salads. I feared that she would smash his head with it.
“You want to go and meet your whore, abi?”
Daddy looked up, and back at his tea.
“You think I don’t know that she followed the Nosakhares to Abeokuta?”
The Nosakhares were Uncle Greg and Aunty Bisi. I was just finding out that they had moved to Abeokuta. I hadn’t seen them in a while, and in my little mind, I concluded that Mommy had in some way driven them away from the neighborhood. I feared her so much that I believed she was powerful enough to do a lot of things.
“Tolu, please go and finish what you’re doing. Your shouting will not change my mind. The moment I get the job, we are moving.”
“Ogun State University is at Ago Iwoye, Daddy Lekan! Why don’t we move there? Why Abeokuta?”
Daddy sprang up in anger. “If you question me one more time, Tolulope, I will beat you blue-black and nobody will do anything about it!”
He towered over her, waiting for her to test his patience. When she gave no retort, he shoved her away and marched out of the house. A few weeks following that, his appointment letter came. Mommy packed our things and explained to us that we would be leaving Lagos for good. I was particularly happy because the house was haunted by Tope’s ghost. I hadn’t been able to sleep in our room. I shared Lekan’s room, and on many nights, woke up screaming, because I always heard Tope scratching the door with her long fingernails.
“But we’re not going to Abeokuta,” Mommy whispered. “I’ll take you children to Grandma in Osogbo.”
“But Daddy said…”
Lekan was cut off sharply. “Forget what your daddy said. The woman that killed your sister is in Abeokuta. She’s the one that made your daddy lose his job. She’s very wicked… Lekan, you’re eleven years old. You should know how wicked people can be. Do you want her to kill Eni too?”
Lekan shook his head, frightened.
“Eni, iya mi, do you want her to kill your Mommy?”
Hearing her call me the same pet name she had used on Tope brought warmth to my insides. I could have hugged her at that moment if she still didn’t have those hostile eyes.
“No,” I answered her question.
“Good. So, you will keep your mouth shut about our visit to Grandma’s. Early tomorrow morning, when Daddy leaves, we will go to Osogbo. Okay?”
Lekan and I nodded. I wasn’t elated about staying with my maternal grandmother. She was in many ways like Mommy, and she possessed holes for teeth. When she spoke, a lot of saliva flew out of her mouth. And if you were not lucky, you would get plops of mashed Kolanut on your face.
“What about school?” I asked Mommy. It was the long holidays and I couldn’t wait to return to school. Tope’s death and the absence of the Nosakhares had made my life miserable.
“We’ll cross that bridge when the time comes.”
I nodded, believing there was some literal bridge we had to cross to get to school. I had no idea that our lives were going to take a drastic turn from then on.
As planned, early the next morning, when Daddy left the house, a yellow cab pulled up outside and Mommy pushed us into it after filling the trunk with our belongings. While she spoke with the driver, my head hung out, taking in the fragrance of the fresh flowers Mommy cultivated. They were planted in clusters on a bed just outside the house. Tope used to like them. I loved plucking some for her whenever I was in an angelic mood. The smile she often gave me was priceless. Those were rare moments when we allowed ourselves be sisters.
“Eni, put that hand in before I cut it off,” Mommy ordered. It was beginning to rain and I had stuck out my hand to get a few drops of water. I withdrew into the cab as it revved and swung over the main street of our quiet high-end neighborhood. I hoisted myself up on my knees and turned around. I peered out to have one last look at my childhood home.
Parting from it was bittersweet. Somehow, I knew we weren’t coming back. As infantile as my mind was, I sensed an era was over. But as we drove away from the house, I saw Tope standing by the window of our bedroom. She wasn’t calling for me or scratching the window as she did in my nightmares. She was smiling and waving, and that image has not left my mind nineteen years later.
Tope is the reason I hate Lagos.
 Koko – pap, made from maize or guinea corn
 Semovita – a meal made from durum wheat, usually eaten with soup
 Ogbono – Docanut or African bush mango. The seed is ground and prepared into a soup
 Iya mi – my mother (Yoruba). It could also be used as a term of endearment for female children, especially from their mothers
 Oluwa – God (Yoruba).