At the time Anjola was having a conversation with Slim that Friday evening in late February, Victoria was sitting with her mother in their living room. The room was quiet except for the steady hum of the air conditioner in the background. Tekena was upstairs, taking a nap since he had come down with a mild fever while Sophie was in her room, most likely on her phone.
She had arrived the house five minutes earlier and had not bothered making her presence known yet. After she greeted her mother who had been in the kitchen and asked about her siblings, they moved to the living room and she asked without preamble; “My friend was raped. What do I do?”
Regina Tarebi was a counsellor at St. Bernice International, a private school on the Island, whose ‘international’ was not an empty promise. Bernice was an extension of its British contemporary St. Gregory’s and had been in existence on the historic streets of Lagos Island years before the colonial masters let down the reins on Nigerian government.
Regina had gotten a degree in Law by the desire of her father – General Walter – who was a retired military officer with a big love for his family and big hatred for injustice. He had decided that his own way of contributing to the peace of the world was not only serving as a soldier but giving his only daughter among five boys to the justice system.
She had pulled through but had gone on to immediately obtain a Masters’ degree in Guidance counselling even if her original desire had been to study Psychology. And although Mrs. Tarebi would never tell her, she was elated that Victoria had decided to study Psychology. Her daughter seemed to be taking much more from her than her delicate looks. Now, as Regina was dressed in a teal, silk Kaftan and devoid of makeup, the resemblance was even more striking.
She gasped and sat up. “Dear God! That is terrible. Which of them?”
“Anjola. You may not know her but I met her at the Aje outreach and she gave her life to Christ.”
“Oh. It happened before or after?”
“Oh, dear God,” her mum said and was silent for a while, gathering her thoughts.
“Has she seen a doctor?”
“Err…no. I don’t think so.”
“How long has it been?”
“Over two weeks now.”
“She has to see a doctor.”
Victoria nodded and waited.
“And then she should see a good counsellor. There are several emotions that she would be processing right now – anger, guilt, regret, unworthiness, depression and maybe even suicidal thoughts. She needs someone who can work through those emotions with her, someone who can listen to and help her,” her mother’s words were measured, as though she were sorting through a pile of rubble.
“Mrs. Adegbite started talking with her today. But that was before she got news about Emmanuel’s accident and had to leave,” Victoria said, staring absently at a family portrait that hung over the plasma TV and noting quite uselessly that her dad’s smile was a little too enthusiastic.
“Ha! How did that happen?”
“He was hit by a car on his way from school,” she answered, massaging her temple.
“How is he now?”
“I don’t know yet, I’ll have to call her later to find out.”
They sat in silence for a while, each lost in her thoughts. Victoria suddenly felt weak and settled back in the plush, sapphire leather-sofa they got three months back. Her mother had done a re-design of the house, changing the walls from cream-and-brown to a daring white which Tekena had taken to planting his feet (how he did this, nobody was sure) and dirty hands on. After she got tired of yelling at him and anyone who unwittingly placed their hands on the wall, Regina decided to have an artistic splattering of sapphire blue on the wall and changed the sofa from the unimaginative brown to sapphire. Victoria liked the new look but sometimes felt like she was in an ice castle. The air conditioners running almost all day long did not help in dispelling that feeling.
“It is well,” her mum finally said.
Victoria cleared her throat. “Or do you think you could, maybe, talk to Anjola too?”
She shook her head. “No, that’s a terrible idea. No one wants to feel like everyone knows their secret. This is something very sensitive and private. Most people don’t open up about it and I’m even surprised she told you. Once she begins to feel like her secret is not safe with you, she will withdraw.”
“Oh, I get,” she said and then groaned. “I shouldn’t have told Uncle Chidi then.”
“No, it’s okay. It was necessary. Just make sure it doesn’t go beyond that. I trust Mrs. Adegbite can help her. And if she needs any professional advice, she can ask me.”
“Alright. Thanks mum,” she turned her head and gave her a small smile.
“Anytime, dear. You look tired.”
“I am tired,” she answered and chucked, “And I feel so old.”
Her mum smiled, “Yeah, it’s not easy to carry the burdens of other people. But this is what Christ has called us to do.”
“When you are ready, you can help yourself to the porridge. I also baked vanilla cake. Sophie mixed the batter.”
Now Victoria’s smile was full blown. Those were her two favourite things – yam porridge and cake. “Have I told you how much I love you?”
* * * *
“Anjola! Anjola! You dey born pikin for there?” the heavy raps on the bathroom door shared by all the tenants in their building, forced her out of her mini-trance. She raised her head and tried to blink soapy water out of her eyes. She had been in the bathroom for over twenty minutes, trying to wash the filth off her body but it wouldn’t give. For over two weeks, it wouldn’t give.
She was still too dirty.
The smell – Indian hemp mixed with sweat and malevolence – was still so poignant in her memory. And after scrubbing her skin to throbbing pain as she always did, she dissolved into silent tears. But overtime, the feeling had morphed from something overwhelming to a perfunctory ritual which she braced herself for before entering the bathroom. It had, like the nightmares, become a part of her life.
She cleared her throat and called back to Mama Ejima, “I’m almost done.”
“No o. You for sleep for there. In fact, make you do the naming ceremony inside the place. Nonsense!”
She remained silent as she finished and walked past two disgruntled male neighbours and the burly Mama Ejima who hissed as she walked past the queue.
In between getting ready for the bar and telling herself she wasn’t looking forward to Henry’s visit, Anjola decided to go back to school. She did not know where the decision came from but all she knew was that she had a sudden desire to go back. Maybe she hadn’t lost herself all the way.
* * * *
It was around 1pm when Henry stepped into the bar. Anjola joined him at one of the tables outside, making sure her face was devoid of curiosity or any kind of emotion for that matter. She still didn’t trust the guy.
“Hello Jola,” he greeted her cheerfully in that annoyingly fake accent. A little too cheerfully, she decided.
“You wouldn’t believe what happened to me on my way here. I saw this guy who had…” he stopped when he saw the look on Anjola’s face. He chuckled, “Alright. I can see you don’t really care. Let’s talk about why I’m here.”
Anjola reluctantly gave him a five for his tact and nodded. “That would be nice.”
“So, here’s the thing. I can help you make contacts with your preferred school, help you get prepared for all the requirements and tests, also hook you up with full scholarships and help you make preparations when you wanna travel. I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s a hectic process, you get? But it is very possible,” he said.
Anjola did not say anything for a while. It sounded really good, she just wasn’t sure about the motive.
She tilted her head, “What is in it for you?”
“Okay, thing is, I run an agency, Open Borders, that specializes in this kind of thing. And we usually charge our students a token fee but with you, it is very negotiable.”
She shook her head, dazed. “I don’t get this. How did you even know I wanted to study abroad?”
“I said never m-” he began to say but she interrupted.
“If you don’t tell me then this conversation is over.”
“Jeez! It’s really not that serious.”
“It is when a total stranger walks up to me and tells me something I only told a few people I actually know.”
He held up his palm in the universal gesture that meant ‘I surrender’ in any language.
“Alright. I’ll tell you but promise you’ll not freak out and would listen to me?”
“I’m not making any promises.”
He sighed. “I overhead a lady, I think your cousin, telling a guy one night, here at the bar.”
She groaned. She should have known. “Toke.”
He nodded. “So, will you listen now?”
“I still need to know what exactly you want.”
She waved casually at Sandra, a girl from her school, who walked past with a black nylon bag and allowed her eyes linger several seconds longer on Henry. Anjola did not need any prophet to tell her the whole school would be aware by Monday, of her ‘affair’ with a man on a hat. And for the first time in her life, she didn’t care. What dignity was there to protect anymore? She thought.
“You may not believe me but I just really want to help you.”
She shook her head, dazed. “Wait, you will help me with all the required tests, enquiries and registrations…for free?”
“And you will do this because you just want to help me?”
“You’re right,” she said. He started to smile before she looked him square in the eyes and finished, “I don’t believe you.”
“Because people just don’t do things for strangers for free. There is always a catch. Even companies don’t just give free cash to their loyal customers. You have to buy something first.”
He shook his head and gave a big grin that made him look boyish. And she realized with a start that he was quite handsome. She blinked.
“I was right – you are very smart. Alright, just one little thing.”
Anjola gave herself a mental pat on the back for that small victory. She waited in curiosity and when he didn’t say anything, she prompted, “Yes?”
* * * *
Sorry I didn’t post the series last week Friday. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling very inspired. And yes, I know what they say about chasing inspiration with a club BUT I couldn’t seem to find one of those (clubs).
Oh well, episode eleven is here now. God is amazing like that 🙂
And I posted something on Monday. Do read it if you’ve not.