Monday, 18 August 2014

SIDE CHICK II





To get acquainted with the story, read SIDE CHICK I here  


Would the police be waiting for her? She wondered if she was wanted or not as she idly flipped the pages of her passport. With nothing but her hand luggage, she was intent on not staying too long in the airport. The busy streets of Lagos would welcome any stranger and it wouldn’t really be that hard to disappear.

It was good to be home again. The humidity of Lagos was never to be missed
, but still, it was more Nigerian than any other place in the country, and it was a perfect contrast to bring her memories of Paris bubbling back up to the surface, not unlike her last glass of champagne down by the Seine.
More nerve-wracking than she'd admit, she approached the immigration workers who searched her with dull, tired cow eyes and waved her off. Well, not completely. There was one gentleman who seemed to focus on her for just a little too long, but she didn’t press the issue when he turned awkwardly away as she shot him "the look". Toasters..Ugh.

She had fifty-seven messages by the time she remembered to put her SIM back in her phone, though it wasn't strange considering she had just up and left for two weeks. She spent most of the ride to the local terminal laughing over the myriad texts from her besties. They all thought she was dead, and she knew she would be once they found out she'd up and gone like a shot to the City of Lights.
"Good thing I brought treats", she chuckled.
There were a few more serious text messages from her boss. The old lech must  have been worried sick over where his golden goose had gone off to. No doubt he would have tried to reach…"him"…but Masha reckoned "he" wouldn't have been entertaining too many calls considering the state she left him in. No…he wouldn’t be entertaining anything for a while.

…………………….

Port Harcourt was home, and Masha felt exactly that. She had managed to forget virtually everything that had happened in the past month, what with all the busybodies that surrounded her constantly. Her sisters were ecstatic going through her phone, cooing at all the selfies Masha had taken with the crème of Paris. It was a good thing her childhood homie had up and become a designer straight after secondary school; otherwise she might not have swung it. It was hell and a half to salvage any of the clothes she bought from them, but she laughed at the wardrobe nostalgia.

Port Harcourt was turning out to be as much fun as she could have at home. Mildred and Zeke – Who-Must-Not-Be-Izzy, her  BFFs, came in from Warri and spent a whole weekend catching up. They all skirted around Kaduna until she was ready to talk about it, but she never mentioned Nonso, nor what he did to her… or what she did to him. She had buried it deep behind her smile, and it wasn’t that hard since she could get lost in the lives of everyone around her.

They went to the cinema after one particularly slow morning though, and they relished the chance to see something new besides Masha. For some crazy reason, they had the hall all to themselves so they were more than happy to recline on the cushions, put their feet on the headrests and throw stale popcorn at each other. It was just like old time, with a little twist though. Mili and Zeke had apparently started dating when they met up in Warri, and they'd been dying for a chance to tell her in person. She'd seen it coming a mile away, they were so in love it was almost annoying. Whenever they looked at each other, they were so warm and fuzzy, they made her feel warm and fuzzy. She was happy for them, truly, but she couldn’t help thinking of herself, how she had been happy and now she wasn’t.

"Mash! Snap out of it already! You're zoning out again!" Mili poked a carefully lacquered fingernail gently into Masha's cheek. "This is Houston calling Masha. Please respond."
"Careful" Masha said, chuckling "Ive seen people lose fingers like that."
"Oh puh-lease dear. If one finger is going to get you back from the twilight zone, then girl, there is a reason Zeke here has ten."
'Hey!' Zeke quipped. 'I need these too y'know. Who's going to play the piano on Sunday?"

"Sunday" made something lurch in Masha's stomach. Like some kind of password, it rushed blood to her face and suddenly she felt oven hot and clustered as though she were in a boiler room. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself down. Zeke and Mili were chatting on, oblivious of what was happening to her. She did her best to zone them out, trying to focus on breathing.
Then like a surge, memories began to flash in her head, conversations with Annie, being at Our Family Church, the choir over and over again, singing the same songs, the voice of the pastor talking about priorities, Annie bringing more membership forms, loading up the bus on Kaduna road, the prayer sessions, ….the speaking in tongues, the kabashing, droning on endlessly in her head…Nonso kneeling in front of the bed, praying…naked Nonso kneeling…Nonso getting on the bed, touching her…Nonso tied on the bed…his eyes focused, his mouth moving with no words coming out...the knife in her hand…Nonso in her hand…
"MASHA, CUT IT OUT!"
"Jesus!!" she yelled out loud, nearly jumping out of her seat. She turned to Mili and Zeke, who stared at her as pale faced as two Africans could be.
"Mash, what the hell is wrong with you?" Zeke's tone told her he was in problem solving mode and she knew the jig was up. An interrogation was bound to happen.
"We have to go," she said.

………………………………………………….

"WHAT WERE YOU THINKING??!"
"Calm down, Zeke," Mili said. "Losing your head is not going to help us solve our problem."
Masha couldn't help but be comforted with the way Mildred said "our problem". She had been scared they would never speak to her again. But trust the two of them; they had something much worse cooking up for her.
"Masha, do you realize what could have happened? You cut a guys privates off! How could you even do that?"
"I'm so sure she wasn't thinking straight."
"Mili, I see inception, conception and execution here. This was that premedicated shit!"
"You mean premeditated, right?"
"She thought it out, she bought the drugs,…Mash, did you even sharpen the knife? Was it a quick slice or did you saw the damn thing…awww I can't even think about it!" Zeke clutched his crotch involuntarily and Mili couldn’t help but giggle.
Then Masha giggled.
 Zeke looked up at the two of them and for a moment, there was a silence between them. Then his face broke into the most ridiculous grin, and in a minute they were all rolling on the living room floor laughing.
"My friends are sadists."

…………………………………………….


Masha returned to Kaduna; it was inevitable. Call it the forces of nature, the undying wheel of fortune, karma, fate…or the adamantine wills of the other members of her trio, but she was brought back. Mili and Zeke would follow shortly, because she would need the back up some way, but as she walked out of the gates at Television Garage, she knew she was back in the zone, and this time, on her own terms. She was not even afraid if anyone was after her. She would bear whatever consequences came her way. This was her new resolve, and it wouldn’t be taken away from her ever again.
In spite of this, no one appeared to have been looking for her. She got back to her little apartment and found it just the way she had left it. Calling her landlord, the man had been less than troubled by her absence, but then, she had gone to Port Harcourt twice before on similarly abrupt circumstances, and her rent for the whole year had been paid. As such, the most she got out of him was a shrug and a mumbled "welcome".
Her landlord's children on the other hand were chock full of questions that she never truly answered. They were an inquisitive bunch, but they never really listened when you answered their questions so she brushed them aside once she handed out a few treats from the road.
No sooner had she set her bag down when Annie's caller ID popped on her screen and her phone jangled in her hand.
"I hear your back in town! Girl, where have you been? This place has been crazy since you just disappeared! Haba nau, Mash you didn’t even tell me! I thought we were friends. Haba, almost two months o!"
"Slow down, Annie. Don't worry, I have plenty gist for you. No vex, abeg, I just had to run away for a little bit. Things have been crazy for me you know."
Annie hissed over the phone long and hard. Masha could picture Annie standing with her phone to her ear, her other arm firmly between the folds on her waist in that no nonsense way, and she couldn’t help but laugh. Annie was certainly a character, and she might have been the one person Masha had missed since leaving Kaduna.
"Ok o Mash. I hope I will see you today. Ehm, before I forget, Pastor has been asking after you a lot. He never says what it's about but he seems to be in a rush. I hope everything is ok?"
"Everything is fine, Annie. Just fine."


………………………………………….


Everything wasn't fine when Masha got to the church compound the next day. Annie, despite herself, had been unable to see her the day before. Claimed she was totally "forming busy" throughout the day, though Masha could imagine a certain Daniel had a little something to do with that. She was there when Masha arrived though and met her at the gate.
"Masha, so you can shine like this? Babe, you're hot oh."
"Oh thank you dear. You know I try so hard to be simple, but I just can't hide it."
"Common gerrout, nonsense girl. I have been waiting for you all day. Your two months of enjoyment has ended o. Come and help me out jare!"
They gisted and laughed their way through the church hall, and Masha was spared the endlessly repetitive questions of where she'd been and what she had been doing. Deep inside her though, she knew soon enough she would be called to the Pastor's office.


…………………………


There is rarely ever anything melodious about facing the music. Masha had learned this a long time ago growing up. She felt a lot like that tough girl who would stand up to her father when he was less than forthcoming with family affairs. Pastor Isaac was not like a father to her, even though he would love to think so. She had looked up to him once, a strong man who was proud of his relationship with God. Initially, she had been convinced she could follow his lead. But then she noticed a few other relationships he had that he wasn't nearly so proud of. Still, he wasn't perfect and it wasn't up to her to throw stones.
Pastor Isaac sat in his chair facing her. He was a fat man. While he kept quiet trying to conjure up a suitable atmosphere, she had tried her best to come up with another word for how to describe him, but some people are just fat. He wasn't round, nor large, certainly not rotund. He was literally and figuratively out of shape.
"Masha." He said her name in one long drawl, like he was exhaling cigarette smoke.
She waited for him, (he really was such a diva) and he continued:
"It's been a little while, hasn’t it? Suddenly we had no idea where you were or what had happened to you. It was a bit worrying, you know?"
"Sorry Pastor Ike. I just needed a break. It was hasty but I had to do it."
He nodded his head slowly and steeped his fingers under the chin under his chin. "There has been quite a bit of excitement since you left. I'm sure your friends have given you some of the gist. We missed you dearly but the Lord's work could not be put off. I'm sure you noticed the banners around town. We are about to host Our Family's biggest summit yet and we will need all hands on deck. I trust I can count on you."
Masha half expected the last statement to be a question but she knew Pastor Ike had a way of pushing people around without actually seeming to do so. So she masked her chagrin for the moment. Thinking about the benefits it would have on the people they would reach out to made it easier to bear.
"Have you heard from Nonso?" Pastor Ike shattered her train of thought, trying to be as careless about it as he could. Yet his supposed distracted glance at the bookshelf couldn’t hide his darting eyes. He, like everyone else, was hoping to get a rise out of her.
"Nonso? No I haven't. How is he doing, by the way? We hadn't actually spoken just before I left," she said.
"Oh I suppose he is getting along ok. I guess that means you’re unaware of his accident?"
"Accident?"
"Yes. Apparently he was just walking along his street and some mad man just ran him off the road. He had a pretty serious injury to his pelvic."
"His pelvis, Pastor?" Nonso sure knew how to spin a tale, Masha thought. An injury to his pelvis was a great cover story.
"Yes, of course. Well, you really should get around to seeing him. Not many people have been in touch with him since then, but I am sure he will be glad to see you, since the two of you were so…close."
Masha smiled sweetly and nodded her head. Pastor Ike had no idea how a visit from her would make Nonso feel, but she certainly could picture those bulging eyes of his near popping out of their sockets while he stuttered her name.
"Y'know what, Pastor? I think that is a great idea. I will go see him."


………………………………………………


Tough talk is generally made up of words that roll right off the tongue but aren't nearly so easy to swallow. Masha sat in her car, her keys and shades on her lap. She had gotten out of her car, and gotten back in twice already. She was shaking again, just like that last day when she screamed her lungs out, gripping so hard on the steering wheel her knuckles cracked when she finally let go. It was just like the day at the cinema with Zeke and Mili. The panic attack subsided when she remembered her friends, but she could feel it lurking in the pit of her stomach.
She was parked outside of Nonso's house, watching the open compound door with intensity. It seemed to gape wide, readying to swallow her in its misery. She could see inside the compound, a garden of filth surrounded the house. Rats picked away at trash piles undisturbed in broad daylight.
"This is ridiculous," she said to herself.  "I didn’t come here to gloat. I don't even know what I'm doing here."
She picked up her keys, fidgeting for the ignition hole, and they slipped from her trembling fingers. Cursing, she bent to retrieve them from the car floor and when her head came up again, she shrieked. Nonso stood right outside her window, his face dirty and riddled with tiny green spots. He looked like a mad man in his raggedy shirt, worn jeans and sandals.
"What are you doing here?" He asked through the glass and Masha had to roll the window down. As soon as she did, it took all her effort not to gag. He smelled worse than he looked, if that was possible. It really was as though something had literally died inside him and he smelled of rot and corruption.
"Y'know I was asking myself the exact same question. Would you believe I stopped because I felt nostalgic?"
"If you came here to gloat, go right ahead. You've already taken everything from me. I don't have any pride left, so you'd be wasting your own time. I'm not even a man anymore."
His fists tightened into balls and Masha felt the trickle up her spine, which was more than suggestion enough to get out of there.
"Nonso, you know you are right. I am leaving now."
"Why? You came to see how I was doing, didn’t you? You came to see the fruits of your labor!" his hands flashed to his waistline and he dropped his pants in a second.
"Here you go! This is what you wanted, isn't it?! This is what you wanted to see! You thought you knew horror! You thought you would show me the worst! But take a good look! I did this! I made it worse than you ever could!"
Masha had her keys in the ignition before he could shout any further. She kicked into gear and sped off; staring at the monster she had left in her rear view mirror. And a monster he was. As far as she could make out, he had tried to have his parts sewn back together. Perhaps it had been too late, perhaps it was a lack of expertise, but the procedure couldn’t have gone any worse. It had rotted away, and the gangrene had spread to most of his pelvic area. It was amazing he was alive, let alone walking outside in the street, flashing old girlfriends.
But she was dry eyed as she drove off. She didn't pity him, she wasn't angry with him. In the end, she felt nothing; an absolute apathy.


………………………………………………


Zeke and Mili felt more than nothing when they came to Kaduna. They were horrified. Perhaps it was only then that the reality of such an ordeal sank in, but they handled it better than most. It was decided then, that Nonso needed help. Without Masha's direct involvement, they had to come up with some way to get him seen to. It was a long shot, but they felt compelled to end the cycle of grief somehow.
Days after their arrival, and through some careful consideration, they found their way back to the rat infested compound, and dodging the myriad tetanus risks around the house, they opened up the iron door that led to Nonso's living room.


They found him tied to his ceiling, a chain looped around his neck.

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