For the fourth night in a row, Anjola saw the dark figure in her dream. He stood; silent and foreboding amidst the shadows that lurked under a full moon. He faced her, looming over one of the stalls, outlandishly tall.
And with a hat. Always with a hat.
She would wake up with a scream, drenched in sweat and with her heart beating painfully. The sorrow and acute horror that followed nights such as this were one she could not explain or surmount. It left her with a certain sense of hopelessness.
The only person who roused at the sound of her faint scream was Toke. Anjola heard a rustle beside her as her cousin felt around for a torchlight. She turned the beam on her when she found it.
“Anjola, what do you?” she said in what was meant to be a whisper but came out as a loud, grating sound.
“Nothing. I just had a dream.”
“Which kind of dream is that? Since Tuesday!”
“I’ll be fine. Go to sleep.” As the words tumbled out of her mouth, Anjola wanted to call them back. No, she would not be fine and she desperately wanted to tell Toke. She wanted to hold her cousin tightly to assure herself she was safe from the shadows that haunted her. She wanted someone to sit with her and cry the remaining sleepless night with her.
But she didn’t do any of that. She just lay back instead; turning away from her cousin’s probing eyes and allowing the pent up tears fall.
She thought of calling Victoria with the phone she got her but what would she tell her? How could she explain how lost and scared she felt? How would she understand the sense of betrayal she felt so much that it threatened to choke her?
“Talk to God.”
The thought came; unbidden and unwelcome but she cast it aside. This was all His fault. If she was going to talk to him, it would be to ask him all the questions that kept swirling in her mind. Questions that, try as she might, she couldn’t suppress. Questions that joined all the previous ones she had about him before.
Her mind flashed back to the dream and a fresh wave of fear washed over her. It always made her relive the horror of that day. But what was stranger was the sense of familiarity it brought. On some occasions when she had been brave enough to think about it, she wondered who the man was; the one who had violated her. It had been too dark to see anything and he did not let her. Not like it mattered but these dreams she kept having gave her pause.
By the time everyone left the house that morning – her siblings to school, Adio to the secretariat, her mother and Bolu to the bar and Toke to the factory – Anjola started her chores. She had pushed them aside yesterday because she didn’t feel too well. Her head felt light and she felt woozy. And aside from the fact that the dream cast an ominous shadow over her, she was very worried and scared about one particular matter.
Her internal calendar had missed some very important days.
* * * *
Victoria hit backspace for what seemed like the hundredth time that morning. She sighed as she sat back and watched the blinking cursor on her computer screen. Try as she might, she couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand.
She was supposed to type out the letters they would distribute to solicit for funds for the Aje outreach. Uncle Chidi had given her today as the deadline to give space before the outreach but at the rate she was going, she didn’t think she was going to finish typing the letter. Or at least finish it without errors.
All she could think about was Anjola. She had no idea what she was going to do about the situation. What did one do when a new convert they preached to got raped and blamed God for it? She had never been violated before but she knew from her little understanding of psychology that there was so much counselling that needed to be done for her. She also knew that it wasn’t a light matter.
She had planned to tell Uncle Chidi about it but she hadn’t seen him and she didn’t think it was a matter to be discussed on the phone. She also intended to wait till that weekend to tell her mum about it. Her house was in the same city as her school, so she spent most weekends at home.
But she also had to be urgent about whatever she was doing. Anjola seemed to be slipping away very fast. From their call the day before and her talk with her, Victoria could sense it; the deadness in her voice, the way her eyes did not light up anymore.
She had even stopped going to school. When she asked her over the phone, Anjola had replied;
“Why should I?” in that monotonous voice that scared Victoria shitless.
“But you can’t stop going to school because of this. Life hasn’t ended.”
“It has for me.”
The line was filled with silence while Victoria desperately grappled for something to say. Anything that did not sound cliché or patronizing. Anything that would break the ice.
“Anjola. Your life has not ended. God has a plan, you just….”
“Look, Victoria,” she cut her short. “You can say anything and I would still try to listen to you but please don’t ever bring up the issue of God and his plans. If His plan is that I would be raped and treated with so much lack of dignity right when I decide to accept Him then I don’t want a part of it,” her words dripped with cold bitterness.
“Are…are you…saying you don’t want to be a Christian again? Is that what you are saying?” Victoria’s voice was a gentle whisper as though she was scared to say the words.
“Yes, that’s what I’m saying.”
* * * *
Bose Karimi did not have any friends.
Yes, there were those occasional flies that perched around her for one reason or the other – please talk to your brother for me or can I please get five hundred naira from you and share your regular goodies? Or more frequently, can you write my Maths homework for me? – but none of them were by her standard a friend.
Except for Anjola.
She was the only one who seemed to look past the fact that Bose was the fat daughter of Chief Karimi. Anjola never cared about the fact that her brother was the heartthrob of every girl in Aje because which impressionable teenager did not want a tall, dark, handsome older guy with some jingles in his pocket? She never tried to earn her favours or drill her for information about Dele even after she had told Anjola her brother liked her. She was the only one who laughed genuinely at her jokes and bought her gifts at random. She was the only one who made her laugh and did not make her feel like she had to earn her attention.
And she was the only friend she had who said the strangest things.
“Bose! Stop that!” she would yell at her anytime she saw her biting her nails or doing anything ‘unladylike’, “How am I supposed to introduce you as my friend when we both get to Harvard ehn?”
She talked about her dream of studying law in Harvard like she was so sure, like she had absolutely no doubt in her mind that it would happen. And that in itself was strange. Because for one, girls in Aje scarcely spoke of a University education (except the children of the chairman or a child of a teacher) and if they did, it was in halting whispers for fear that the wind might carry it to the ears of a bewitching neighbour. And if they dared to speak of it, it was never under the illusion that it would be outside the shores of the country.
But Anjola was different and that alone drew Bose to her. She made her see beyond where she was even as a ‘local champion’. She did not talk about boys in that crazy way all the other girls did, neither did she gossip about other girls (well, except on some occasions because it was irresistible. How would you not talk about that snobbish girl who got pregnant for the English teacher?), she talked about interesting, intelligent things that Bose had never heard of, things she had read in books and more recently about God.
In recent days, her friend seemed to have caught a different kind of fever as she had joined those over religious born again people. There were few of them in their school (at least that was what they said before they got pregnant or got caught smoking ‘igbo’) and she had been surprised when Anjola said she had joined them.
“But you are not a bad person now. It’s somebody like Nkechi that needs that one,” she had said, genuinely puzzled. Anjola was a good person by anyone’s standard. She was so nice that she could go any length for a person. She was the type of friend that could help you in an exam or lie for you to get you out of trouble.
“Bose, I am not a good person o. In fact, I am probably worse than Nkechi with my hypocrisy and lies; both within and without.”
She didn’t get that. She didn’t understand that at all.
“Anyhow sha. Just make sure you don’t start dressing like old mama the way some of them used to do. They will now be hiding all their endowments like it wasn’t Jesus that gave it to them. Dele will not even look at your side again.” Anjola just gave her that frustrated look she did anytime Bose said something stupid.
That was last two weeks. She hadn’t seen Anjola since then and Bose was beginning to get worried. Not that it wasn’t a normal thing in their school for students to miss classes days on end but it was strange for someone like Anjola who everyone knew as an ‘Efiko’*.
So after playing it around in her head for so long, Bose decided to go check on her friend even though she knew it would mean trouble for her. Her father did not allow them to mix with any of the local kids and always made sure they were home from school at least thirty minutes from the closing time or they got in trouble. Her younger brother – Jide – often flouted this rule and that had earned him various marks from belts, sticks, canes or a spontaneous slipper.
Immediately the bell sounded off, she picked up her bag and sneaked out of the class dodging her brother whose class was opposite hers. She was in such a hurry that she did not see Nkechi until she bumped into her.
“Madam, watch where you are going now!” she snarled, sounding as cranky as ever.
“Sorry,” Bose muttered and hurried on but she was blocked.
“Wait first. Where is that your friend sef? I heard she has stopped coming to school. I wonder why…”
“I don’t know. Please, let me pass.”
“…I hope she sef never catch boy fever,” she smirked. Boy fever was what happened to a girl who got pregnant.
“How can you say such a stupid thing? You think everybody is like you?” she snapped her mouth shut immediately the words were out.
Nkechi’s eyes narrowed, “What does that mean ehn, Fat head? Is it because I am so fine that all the boys want me, that’s why you’re jealous? Na me say make you worwor*? At least your friend is fine enough to be toasted. But not you, fat and ugly for nothing. Nonsense!”
Bose clenched her fists, blinking her eyes rapidly to prevent the tears from spilling. I will not cry. That’s what she wants. She will not see me cry.
She ran as fast as her legs could carry her; past the gathering crowd of students itching to watch a fight, through the corridor, the open fields and the gate held on both sides by a broken fence and didn’t stop till she got to the main road.
It was in situations like this that she missed Anjola. If she had been the one, she would have looked Nkechi coolly in the eye and said something like, “Are you an airhead or you’re just being deliberately obtuse?” Nkechi would give a blank look, robbed of a comeback since she wasn’t sure what Anjola was saying even though she knew she had been insulted. Bose smiled a little at that thought.
She walked in quick steps till she got to the bar. The first person she saw, talking to a customer, was Anjola’s mother.
“Good afternoon ma.”
“Ehen, Bose. How are you? Anjola is inside.”
She bowed her head in gratitude as she walked into the bar. Anjola was sitted behind the counter with a faraway look on her face and no book in sight. Now Bose was very worried.
Her friend jumped and blinked before recognition flashed in her eyes.
“Bose, what are you doing here?” No warm smile. No sign of pleasant surprise. Nothing but a shell of a voice and an empty stare.
“Anjola. What is wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
“Don’t tell me that one. You have been absent from school for over a week! Are you sick?”
“I said I’m fine, Bose. Does our dad know you are here?”
“Of course he doesn’t. I took a risk to come and see you. I was very worried about you,” she paused as she rounded the corner to stand beside her. “What is wrong, Anjola? You look like something terrible happened.”
“I’m not going to school anymore.”
Bose gasped. “What? Why?”
She stopped as understanding seemed to flood her mind. “Don’t tell me you are pregnant?”
The flash of surprise and then anger was the first trace of emotion that Bose saw on Anjola’s face that day.
“The pregnancy you gave me abi? Don’t be stupid. Where did you get such a crazy idea from?”
“Sorry. It’s just that Nkechi said….and I thought…” she answered sheepishly.
“So you’ve started listening to Nkechi ehn?”
“I said sorry now. Ah!”
“Whatever. Well, I’m not pregnant. I just don’t see the point anymore.”
“But what happened that made you not to see the point? Or oh! Is it because of that born again thing you were saying?”
“So, what now? Talk!”
Anjola sighed. “Bose, have you ever felt betrayed by someone you trusted?”
“Urmm… I don’t know…. Oh, there was a time I had a close friend in JSS2 and I found out she was only friends with me because she wanted to get close to my brother. Why do you ask?”
A shrill sound filled the air before Bose could protest. Anjola brought out a phone, stared at the screen for a while before picking the call.
“Hello? Yes? Okay?…I don’t know,…I’ll be very busy today…Errm…tomorrow?…It’s fine…. Yeah, bye.”
She dropped the call and faced Bose.
“Anjola! Where did you get phone? Your mum bought it for you?”
“No. Shut up. You ask too many questions.”
Bose’s eyes widened, “Or your boyfriend bought it for you? Is that why you don’t want to come to school again?”
“For God’s sake Bose! Stop it!”
“If you don’t tell me what happened to you I will just assume it’s because you have a boyfriend and have boy fever.”
Anjola’s eyes narrowed and Bose tried not to smile in triumph. She had gotten her.
“Fine. I’ll tell you but don’t tell anyone.”
“I cross my heart,” she said placing her two hands in a criss-cross over her chest.
“Okay. My mum doesn’t have money to send me to school anymore. And Adio said he can only cater for his own children. So…”
“Ahh! Anjola, I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you tell me now?”
“I didn’t want you to laugh at me.”
“Haba! How will I ever do that? I’m offended you’ll think so of me.”
“But wait o. Our school fees is not that expensive now.”
“I know. But business isn’t moving again.”
“Chai! …I will try and talk to my daddy for you.”
“Oh no! Don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll…work something out.”
“But how will you now write WAEC? It’s next two months o!”
“I will…figure something out.”
“Well, trust you sha! Miss Harvard. Don’t worry, I will bring my notes for you to read.”
Anjola smiled a little, “Thank you, Bose. You’re the best.”
“Anything for my friend. Oya, let me start going before my daddy will use belt to finish my life.”
* * * *
Anjola felt very guilty about deceiving her friend the way she had. But she pushed the feeling aside telling herself it was a necessary evil.
There was no way she could tell Bose the truth. She loved her friend but she also knew what she was capable of. She knew that the minute she knew the truth, she would spread it like butter on bread all over Aje and that was the last thing Anjola needed.
Since she became old enough to reason complex matters, Anjola had made up her mind she would never be an object of scandal and a topic for gossip in Aje. The gossip mongers were merciless when it came to juicy matters and boy will they have a field day if they got wind of what happened to her. Anyone who got to spread first-hand information got some sought of invisible badge and there was no one Anjola knew who craved that more than Bose.
Bose was a nice girl but she was also very insecure. She wanted to be popular and accepted by everybody and could go lengths to be just that…even betraying a friend.
But the fact that she was not exactly the sharpest tool in the box made it easier for Anjola to sell the lie to her. Her friend did not think it was strange she would stop going to school in the middle of the term even though they had paid their fees long before then. Or that she had a phone but did not have money for her school fees. Yes, Bose was one of the best students in school, no thanks to cramming, but she could be quite gullible at times.
And that was to Anjola’s favour.
She had also deceived her mother and Toke, telling them she was tired of school. And since they were not particularly wild about her going to school in the first place, they had accepted it with a shrug. But she knew there was one person she could not deceive.
She had called to tell her they’d be going to see somebody…one Uncle-something. The plan was that Victoria would pick her up the day after, so they could go together. She did not like the idea that Victoria had told someone what happened to her but she agreed to go with her all the same. Maybe the person would be able to explain to her why God did what he did to her.
* * * *
- What do you think Victoria could have done to help Anjola?
- Was Anjola right to lie to her friend since telling her the truth seemed costly? Do you believe there is such a thing as a ‘necessary evil’?
Efiko – A very studious/scholarly person.
Worwor – A person perceived to be physically unattractive/very ugly.
Hey, my humans people!
Like I promised, I will begin to post the episodes for ‘Forgiving God’ more frequently since some people have been telling me how much they want closure.
Expect the next episode on Tuesday, a flash fiction on Sunday (my special Christmas treat) and a probable late birthday post before then.
So sit back and take a chill pill (and popcorn or dodo depending on your preference).
A Public Service Announcement!
All birthday and Christmas gifts should be sent directly to me. Not my P.A!
I repeat: All late birthday and Christmas gifts should be sent directly to me.
Not my P.A.
Have yourselves a joyous Christmas.