Shorter days, longer nights… darkness seemed to arrive early for the girls in Fatima Dorm during the harmattan season of 1989. But the night was never truly dark for them. After food and night prep, the girls always gathered around Omasan. She was a tall, slim girl who was beautiful, boisterous and loved to entertain them with her up-to-date dance moves. Of course, it was against the rules to dance to or listen to secular music but she had her little tape player with her. It was one of those funny things that had a handle one had to wind before any sound came out. She also had a mix tape of the latest disco and dancehall songs and taught the others the moves all the cool guys and girls in America loved boogying to. Her father was rich and they had a second home in Chicago where her elder sisters lived. They were the ones that took her to the disco halls and introduced her to boys and taught her things girls her age shouldn’t know. She was 17 going on 30. She had seen all, heard all, done all. School would have been hell for the girls in Form Four if she had not been part of it.
Omasan also dominated the world around her during classes. The boys wanted her, juniors looked up to her with an adoration reserved for role models and the teachers doted on her because she always made teaching worth the effort with excellent grades. But no one knew that her dark side was as real as the light. She kept it hidden so well, masked by her ever lively persona. No one had ever seen her cry or sad. She had been seen on occasion get really angry. The first time was when a boy had made a derogatory remark about her in class. Omasan left the section apportioned to girls, marched to the boys’ desk which he shared with two others, and flung his face with a nasty slap. The second time was when Miss Boma, their math teacher, had called her spoilt and rotten and ordered her to remove her earrings because they were, in her opinion, too flashy and carnal. Omasan objected not and obeyed the woman but turned into a raging bull the next day when she saw the same earrings adorning the woman’s ears. There were different versions of the type of words Omasan said to her in class that day but the 17 year old was suspended for two weeks for her rudeness to the woman. No one gave Omasan an award for her behavior but it was glaringly obvious that Miss Boma had gone too far.
A tall, strikingly beautiful woman, Miss Boma made Omasan her worst enemy. She hated everything else too—her fellow teachers for being too lenient, the students for being unruly, the principal for not running the school the way she envisioned and life itself for dumping her into this miserable terra firma where men used women as they pleased. In conclusion, Miss Boma was everyone’s worst nightmare and she made no apologies for being the person she was. Easily heard a mile away because of the rhythmical sound of her pointy stilettos, a noisy class in a flash turned into a group of students with heads bent studiously going through their textbooks. Not a peep would be heard except the sound of the kois-kois, kois-kois, kois-kois that usually announced her coming. She would stop in the middle of the class, place her hand on her waist and with wide eyes fish for a poor victim to unleash her terror on. Omasan was always her quarry but the girl took it all in and waited patiently for a perfect moment to put the fear of God in the woman because it seemed the first assault of curse words she had rained on the mean creature had not gotten to her. Someone needed to put the woman in her place.
“Lights out!” one of the prefects called but the girls in Yellow Room didn’t bother to obey. They were having a dance fest around Omasan’s corner as she taught them the Butterfly dance in rhythm to Milli Vanilli’s Baby Don’t Forget My Number. However the party was cut short as sounds of girls from the opposite block running into their rooms in a frenzy interrupted them. In seconds, everyone dispersed, lights went out and not one soul was seen across the square that demarcated both blocks. On Omasan’s block, the whispers “she’s coming! she’s coming!” spread round like a ripple until someone switched off the lights. Nonetheless, Omasan’s music remained playing.
“Off that thing!” someone said in a sharp tone and Omasan picked her cassette player and angrily settled into her bed. She watched the girls running to their bunks to hide like mice scurrying from a cat and she sighed. The scene was never different; every night, it was the same thing. Just yesterday, the cat had appeared unannounced during siesta and both junior and senior girls scampered to their rooms and in their headlong flight to safety, left buckets rolling on the floor, wet clothes strewn around and the tap by the garden running in full force.
The cat, Omasan’s staunch enemy, Miss Boma, walked into the dormitory, stood on the concrete slab where the running tap was situated and called out in a ghostly voice to every girl born of a woman to appear in front of her before the sweat she wiped off her brow dropped to the ground. There was no little rout as the teenagers rushed out and lined up before her.
Miss Boma stood tall and beautiful, her jerry curls shining under the sun and her bright, red lips curled in a crooked smirk. She was the Nigerian version of Vanessa Williams but no one called her that for fear of swelling her head.
Miss Boma strolled from left to right before the girls, tapping her cane in her hand in rhythm to the sound of her shining blue stilettos which seemed to be in a vortex that protected them from the splattering tap. Each time the drops of water came in contact with the pair, they immediately slid down as if scared of their shining blue surface.
“I can see that you girls are beginning to grow horns! No, some of you are growing testicles! Do you know what testicles are?”
She waited but no one dared answer.
“Boys have them and that is why they behave like pigs and goats and dogs! And it is a shame that some of you now have those same testicles, like Omasan!” She pointed the cane at Omasan and the girl rolled her eyes exasperatedly. She knew the gathering wouldn’t end without her name being mentioned, so she braced herself for more trouble.
“Omasan believes that her spoilt, heathen, American lifestyle should be shared with the rest of the school and some foolish girls have decided to follow her. Monkey see, monkey do, ehn? Well, let me let you know that I am the only one here you monkeys should be obeying! You should be afraid when you hear the sound of my shoes from afar and none of that lady kois-kois I keep hearing from your lips these days. My name is Miss Boma! Not lady koi-kois or Aunty. Miss Boma! And these are stilettos! STI-LE-TTOS! Do you hear me?!”
Miss Boma pulled back with surprised satisfaction at the quick chorused response and fixed her stare on Omasan.
“Omasan, I put you in charge of… What are you girls supposed to be doing now?”
“Okay, everybody, just go to sleep.”
The girls weren’t sure they heard her correctly.
The scrambling back to the dorms began…
The girls stopped…
“Do you have testicles? Walk like ladies to your rooms and Omasan?”
Omasan turned around as the girls took slow steps back inside.
Omasan dragged her feet to her.
“Does something seem out of place here, Miss America?”
Omasan looked at her blankly.
“Buckets littered around, clothes on the ground, the tap behind me running… What do you think should be done?”
“Call the girls back to clean their mess?”
Miss Boma smiled, looked to the sky briefly and walked to Omasan with slow, deliberate steps. “I give you ten minutes to clean this place.”
Omasan squeezed her lips together to ward off tears.
“Oh, she’s going to cry. Hop to it before I tear you to pieces!”
Omasan turned around and Miss Boma slapped her cane on her bum with a nasty swack .
Lady kois-kois is married to sa-tan
Back in the day she was a man
with testicles inside her pants
she has no heart because it has been damned
“Shhh! She’s here!” Omasan’s bunk mate whispered but Omasan continued her song in rhythm to Miss Boma’s approaching steps. In her head, she already knew how many steps it would take the witch to get to her corner so she kept on with the song until Miss Boma approached her and stood over her head.
“Did I hear humming around here just now?”
Omasan’s eyes were shut tight.
The girl sprang up.
“Clean your corner; it’s dirty! The rest of you, go to bed!”
Kois-kois—kois-kois—kois-kois… Miss Boma tapped away.
Lady kois-kois is married to sa-tan
Omasan resumed and the girls burst into laughter so loud they did not realize the kois-koising had stopped.
“Oh God, she heard, she heard, she heard! She’s coming back!”
Bunks squeaked, blankets ‘whooped’ and the room fell dead silent again but Omasan remained awake. She was cleaning her bed as the moonlight from her window illuminated her corner. They said something snapped in her that night, that a familiar demon that often got her into trouble kept her singing that song. It danced to the rhythm in her head as it pulled the strings of her tongue, forcing her on. It cared not that Miss Boma was standing behind her, pure wrath sketched on her features as she listened to every word.
Omasan straightened her bed sheet and went into a crawling position to lie on her bed but the enraged Miss Boma landed both of her flattened palms on her back and an unwelcomed pain spread over Omasan’s vertebrae with a cackling ripple and she screamed out. The girls peeped from their blankets as Miss Boma dragged her prey out of her bed and pushed her with cane lashes out of the Yellow Room.
“So I am married to satan, ehn? You will see what that means! Useless child! Today, we will go and visit him! Oya, be going!”
She led her to the garbage collection room outside the dorms where the girls usually dumped the day’s dirt for the cleaners to clear the following morning. The dirt was often carried to a place called Satan’s Hill, a quarter of a kilometer away from the dormitories and dumped into a deep gully that separated the school from the cold, huge mountains that towered above the entire expanse. No one had crossed the gully for fear of an alleged ‘bottomless pit’ hidden from the sight of the human eye that swallowed everything that went into it but never filled to the brim.
“Oya, start by carrying that drum!”
Omasan looked at the plastic drum Miss Boma’s cane was pointing at. It was teeming with roaches and maggots, and saliva filled her mouth immediately.
“Quickly, pick it up!”
“Please ma,” Omasan begged, “I am sorry.” She knew she had no option. If Miss Boma reported her to the principal, it would be her last strike and she would be expelled and expulsion meant living in Nigeria with her mother.
“My friend, pick it up!”
Omasan searched for the demon that had encouraged her earlier but it was on its usual hiatus. In tears, she lifted the drum and swearing under her breath, made her way to the hill.
The scariest stories she had heard about Satan’s Hill were of the wailing, restless souls of an aborted baby that had been cast in the bottomless pit and a former head girl who had missed her step and came crashing down into that same pit. They said their bodies were never found and that at certain times at night, one could hear their wails carried by the wind, reaching as far as the main school gate which was over two kilometers away from the hill. Omasan had never believed those stories.
Sweating, despite the freezing Harmattan weather, Omasan finally reached the peak of Satan’s Hill and brushed away the maggots that were squirming around her hand. She pushed the drum and emptied its contents down the hill. A strange animal hooted in the distance and both ladies shivered.
“Pick the drum, let’s go back and get the others,” Miss Boma ordered and waited for Omasan but Omasan remained standing. “I said pick the drum!”
Omasan felt it before it filled the large veins that stood on the sides of her neck with its rage. Usually, it made her stomach churn before it began its work but now she felt no churning, just her veins pumping and her chest heaving. Her demon had taken over fully.
Miss Boma slapped her back with her cane. “I said pick the drum, my friend!”
“What did you say?”
“I said no! I will not carry any more garbage! In short…” she lifted the drum and threw it over the hill, “to hell with you and I don’t care if they expel me, I will tell my daddy to destroy your life for all that you’re doing to me! You’re a bully!”
Miss Boma burst into laughter, her garbled sound echoing in the darkness as it hit the mountains, bounced off them and spread through the dark trees.
“You will report me to your daddy? And what will he do, child?” she laughed again. “What will he do that he has not done before? Your daddy used and discarded me like a piece of rag because you and your sisters made sure of that! Oh, Omasan, light of her daddy’s eyes,” Miss Boma pushed the teenager’s lips with her cane. “You are just a child and do not know what it means to have your heart broken by a man, to have him promise you forever only to abandon you a few weeks to your wedding, to have him give you a taste of the blessed shores overseas and snatch them off your hands before you can even breathe!” the woman said breathlessly, her hand in the air like one looking at something only her could see. There was pain in her eyes and if only Omasan was old enough, she would have understood it. All she saw was a woman who wanted to take the place of her mother and the riches that belonged to her and her siblings.
“Do you know what type of shame I faced? The pain I went through? The sleepless nights I shared with the devil who was telling me to kill myself every time? Do you have any idea?! No, you don’t because it was all your fault. Your daddy told me specifically that marrying me will tear you apart because you are still very attached to your mother and the divorce was still hard on you. You are the reason I have no husband today. You!” she slapped her cheeks with the cane. “So why are you surprised that I am now satan’s wife sent to give you hell? Ehn? Why are you surprised? My friend, will you march back to the dorm and get the remaining drums before I beat the America out of you!”
Omasan shook in the cold, crying silently. Her rage was still seething beneath the surface but it lacked its initial venom because her demon had disappeared again. It hated when she was weak; it feasted on her pigheadedness and ire. Miss Boma had struck a cord and she couldn’t fight on, not with those words she had just heard. Defeated, she started off to the hostel first and had walked a good distance when Miss Boma called her back. “Come and remove my stilettos from this thing!”
The girl sighed and walked back. She looked at the woman’s feet and remembered the shoes. They actually belonged to her, a birthday present from her sister. Two new pairs of shining beauty but Miss Boma had seized them from her as contrabands and the very next day, wore them to school. The blue ones during the day and the red at night. Omasan never told anyone this.
“Oya, take off your socks and clean the shoes.”
Omasan noticed that the shoes were stuck in a mold of faeces and she fished around for a piece of paper large enough to rest Miss Boma’s feet on.
“Please ma, put your left leg on the paper, let me remove the shoe.
Omasan heard the familiar voice. Her demon was back again. A feverish pleasure tickled her. She was not alone anymore.
“Push her!” the voice was so stronger and louder that she was scared Miss Boma heard it.
“Push her!” The voice urged on ravenously.
“Remove your socks and clean it, my friend! Do you want to sleep here?” Miss Boma barked as she looked around her uneasily. The air had become eerily still. The trees stopped swaying and a dark cloud shadowed the moon. “Hurry!”
PUSH HER! PUSH HER! POOOOOOSH HER!!!
And without dithering, Omasan sprang up and jabbed Miss Boma with both hands on her chest, sending her rolling down backwards into Satan’s Hill. The woman screamed in sheer terror, clawing the air but she fell fast downhill. Omasan stood at the top and watched as the helpless creature tumbled for what seemed like a hundred times before she hit a dried leafless tree at the base of the gully that broke not only her fall but her left leg with a disturbing, cracking sound. After that, she simply disappeared into the darkness.