That feeling of being watched was there again. She could feel it. Something was not right. At first, she had thought that it was just her mind playing tricks on her, but now she was pretty sure it wasn’t. Someone was watching her, what she didn’t understand was “how?”
She turned in the bed she was in and looked in duke’s direction. He was still sound asleep. Snoring his beautiful baby snore. She reached for the switch of the bedside light that was near her bed and switched on the light on her side, she looked around slowly but still saw nothing.
She stood up and went to the walls and started to look at them closely, not sure what she should be looking out for but looking out all the same. She didn’t see anything, so she collapsed back in her bed. Her thoughts drifted to the times she had had these same feelings.
A long time ago when she felt the hair at the nape of her neck standing attention. That night, alone under the staircase that formed her house. She used to cover her bed space with a piece of wrapper to at least give her some privacy. But she always felt haunted. There was this eerie feeling of being watched.
A feeling that someone was waiting, waiting for the moment to pounce. She had often dismissed it but one evening, she had been proved right. She was in the space that served as her room under the steps as usual that night, drowsy but not quite asleep. The space under the staircase that served as her room was obviously meant to have been something else entirely. It had small holes that seemed just big enough to take in a bottle of wine.
Indeed, when she had first arrived, she had seen just one bottle of wine in one of the holes. The place had been meant to be a mini wine cellar of sorts. This particular day, something… or someone as she would find out had slipped into that space and instantly covered her mouth with a hand.
She had at least opened her eyes to see who or what it was and what it wanted but it was pitch black everywhere. She wondered why it was pitch black and she tried to remove his hand from over her mouth to at least ask what he wanted. He held her down with one hand and pushed down on her so hard that she could not move any part of her upper body. The minute the body came in contact with hers, she didn’t need to wonder who it was anymore… only one person smelt like that, only one person smelt exactly like that.
“ if you make just one sound, you will be on the streets in a flash and ill have everyone make life hell for you out there .” He whispered.
Mary knew then that this was not a drive by joke. Her fourteen year old body reeled with pain as he forced her skirt up her thighs and his nails scratched through. Confused as to what to do, she had stayed still as he pulled down her old, slack worn out panties. When he pushed himself into her, she had bitten her lips in a quiet attempt not to cry.
He had withdrawn instantly… “what the f**k is this… where the blood coming from? You in your period or what?” Mary was too shocked to answer. She didn’t understand what had happened to her. She had no information to prepare her for what had happened. She could see the blood. She knew menstrual periods were not supposed to flow like that, plus… it wasn’t that time of the month yet. So what was that? She concluded that whatever he had done to her had wounded her severely.
That’s what it had to be… a wound. After the initial sharp pain, Mary continued to feel a dull pain, the guy had pulled out, disgusted by the blood. He had left but not before he whispered in her ears again that “ if you tell anybody, ill have you thrown in the canal.”
Mary could swim. In fact, she was a swimming champion in her little town. But at that moment, she got the impression that no amount of swimming could save her from the clutches of the canal. She sat quietly still long after he had gone. Wondering what it was that had happened to her. Feeling like someone had driven something sharp through her body.
The bleeding stopped, the pain left, he went away for a while…and she forgot that first experience. Until the next time. ********************************************* ***************************************
“what are you looking at Mary?” Mary jumped. Why did this boy always make her jump? “good morning small oga” “ what are you looking at Mary” “ nothing… just the wall. Its nice paint work isn’t it?” Duke looked at the wall skeptically and said “ you know… Mary, I’m a child but I’m not an idiot.” Mary laughed nervously. “ who ever said you were? Little oga, let me deal with them.” Duke ignored her and walked towards his wardrobe.
He opened it and started to get out clothes one after the other. “ what are you doing young man?” Mary asked, looking at him suspiciously. “ just looking for the right outfit for my outing today” “ outing? What outfit?” “ daddy is taking me out for iced cream. I have to dress properly. Please help me choose?” He looked up at her with his big brown eyes and Mary’s heart melted. Even though Duke had shown little excitement last night, he was indeed excited and he really wanted to spend time with his dad. What was more, he wanted to look just perfect.
Mary felt a surge in her chest as she looked at his beautiful head of curly hair. He was a little darling and the more days that passed, Mary found it increasingly difficult to leave him. “ sure duke. Lets find you the right clothes” “ I am going to order chocolate iced cream…” Chocolate iced cream, Mary knew what that was. She had had it. She hated chocolate. She hated chocolates with a passion. “ no!” She said abruptly.
Don’t have chocolate iced cream Duke looked up at her, startled. What the hell was wrong with Mary, she never snapped at him. “ but I like chocolates!” He groaned babishly “ well, unlike chocolates right now. Don’t get chocolates out there. Don’t.” Duke looked at her incredulously and ignored her. He would do what he wanted. If Mary didn’t like chocolates, that was her problem, not his. Mary continued to look into the wardrobe and bring out clothes that she thought might look nice for a warm afternoon of iced cream guzzling.
She was getting the children ready for iced cream. Uncle Tade had come back from his station and like he always did, he wanted to take the children out for iced cream. When they were ready, she had walked all three of them out to meet their uncle. He had taken one look at her and said. “ go dress up, you’re coming with us.” She walked into the house with heavy feet. She had not forgotten what had happened the last time he had come.
Even though the physical pain was gone, somehow she could still feel it. She remembered what it felt like and how she felt. She still felt hollow, empty. As if something in her stomach had been taken away and it was now leaving a vacuum in her. She had nightmares about drowning in the canal and each time, as she sank into the bottom of the water, she would feel the thrust of that object go through her.
The sharp pain would come and the bleeding would start. As she came back out, she was dressed just as usual. The fairly used dress that madam had bought her some weeks back. The dress didn’t look used at all, it was pretty and figure flattering.
He kept on looking at her, not taking his eyes off, stripping her, violating her with his eyes. Her heart started to pound and she could feel fear settling on her shoulders and making her feet heavy on the floor.
She consoled herself with the presence of the children. He wouldn’t do anything while they were there, she knew that. So she took deep breaths and calmed herself.
At the iced cream stand, the three children got vanilla flavor. “what will the lady have?” The iced cream man had asked Tade looked at her, with that burning look in his eyes he said “ she will have chocolate. A big chocolate cone!” Then he turned to the children and said “wait for us in the car darlings, Mary and I will do a little shopping before we go home.”
The chocolate iced cream melted in the cup. Mary’s heart panicked. But she calmed herself. “ run away now! Hit him in the balls and run away!” She kept saying But she didn’t. When he gestured towards the bathroom, she followed him. When he gestured for her to kneel, she did and when he took the iced cream from her and poured over himself…
“Its yours… a big nice chocolate bar… gobble it all up.” When she hesitated, he reached out and grabbed her head, he pushed himself into her mouth and growled something about killing her if she didn’t start eating immediately. .. “I have to tell my madam about this…” She thought. But she knew she wouldn’t. ********************************************* *********************************** “MARY!!!” She jumped and looked down at the little boy pulling her arm off. “Yea?” It came out in a gaspy whisper “ will these do?” He asked.
Turning aroundin the clothes he had obviously chosen. He had somehow managed to get them on. Yes… yes its good.” She said as she watched herself on her knees, sucking away at the chocolate. “duke?”
“ please don’t take chocolates” “okay.”
Duke was ready in no time, dressed to kill in his navy blue suit and cream shirt and a white striped red bowtie. Mary had taken her time to iron the clothes properly. She even applied powder to his nose and brushed his eyebrows. All that touching put him on edge, but he endured it because he wanted to dress up for daddy. When they were don, Mary called for his breakfast and helped him eat just enough so that he would be able to save space for the food and iced cream that he would want to have. When all was ready; he stood in front of the mirror and checked himself out.
“I look really nice Mary”
He said. Turning around and acting like a sort of model. She laughed lightly and pulled his nose gently.
“Yes you do… yes you do”
She looked at him and remembered one child she had known. One child a long time ago. He had been like him too, he didn’t know quite as much a duke knew, nor did he have the special issues that duke had, he was just a boy. Just a boy.
It was late in the evening. The whole community had been warned by the priest of an impending danger. A spirit would possess a person and when the people saw this person, they would know. This was the third of such prophecies in four years and Mary knew what it meant. Someone was about to be made a victim.
Someone was about to face the wrath of the gods. The stream had decided to flow red today and Mary wondered whose turn it was to feed it.
That evening, the streets were deserted. Everyone stayed in their houses; the trees that used to boast of a lot of children playing under them were all alone and looked strangely bare and naked.
The playgrounds looked striped and the little village itself seemed to have had life snuffed out of it. Sometime around 7pm, the town got shocked by the cries of Dugo, Mary’s step mother.
She was in the middle of the courtyard, screaming at the top of her voice and jumping into the air with surprising agility for a woman of her size, she would then slam herself on the floor. Her wrapper came off and her breasts flapped around in the wake of the perilous rampage of emotions that ravaged her body.
She was doing all this about one foot away from the body of a small boy of about five. He lay on the ground, naked too. A small mound of child feces was a few inches from his body. His throat was slit from ear to ear and he seemed like he had been drained of all blood.
He was her first son. She had had three girls successively before him and had had to go and pray specially to get him. She had carried three sacrifices and had spent a lot of naira on cockerels and male cats.
Now he was dead, the meat of the deity. The river had taken its choice.
Dugo wept like no tomorrow, she would not be consoled.
“Hei!” she continued to scream
“Why me!!! What did I ever do wrong?”
She wept nonstop.
Before long, people had gathered around her and they all had a word to say.
“Sorry nno, the river has claimed her price”
“Ewwuuuuu, stop crying, you will have more sons. At least we now know that it’s not your loins that are incapable of producing sons.”
“ it’s okay dugo, calm down , e don do… last twenty years it was my sister… ill never forget” another volunteered.
They had all tried to console her, but dugo would not be consoled. It was not in the habit of the river to take small children. Usually, it was adults that the river took and people always had one thing or the other to claim they knew about the victim that was bad, or evil. Now that the river was taking children, everyone knew that they should not allow their children out on the nights of the deity.
Mary was there, she watched as the people cried and sympathized with Dugo. She watched as the men took the boy’s body and went to bury him; she would not dare tell anyone what else she had seen. She would not dare. Her eyes had seen evil and she had feared for a very long time afterwards that she would die too.
Duke was done checking himself out in the mirror, he looked fab and he knew it. So he stepped out of the room with Mary, he was going to get iced cream with his dad. In the sitting room, his dad too had just finished breakfast.
“Oh… you’re ready?” his dad said as he looked him up and down appreciatively.
“Yes daddy” he answered. He said.
“Did Mary dress you?” his dad asked, looking at the outfit. He tried to remember when he had bought it for him but he count. No one had ever been able to dress duke like this before. This would have required a lot of touching and duke never let anyone touch him that much. Duke obviously really like the new girl, he smiled. Talking of which, he looked at Mary and asked.
“Is that what you are wearing?”
he asked. Looking at the rather ugly dress that she had on.
“Oga, she I dey go with you Ni?”
Mary asked, surprised and uncomfortable. She remembered vividly the last time she had went out to get iced cream with an oga.
“Of course Mary… I don’t think I can handle this little man alone. Please go and get dressed.”
The tables had just taken a different one from the one she had been anticipating. She really didn’t think that going out with them was a good idea. But who was she to argue? She went upstairs and rushed through a bath and dressed up as quickly as she could. She picked the best dress she had, it was a tiny little bit shorter than she thought it was, but at least it covered her knees. She rushed through the white powder ritual and rushed back into the sitting room, trying as much as possible not to keep her oga waiting.
The minute he saw her, father and son burst into laughter. She stood there; looking at them, unsure what it was that was so funny. The first to recover was the father who pointed to her face and tried to say something but ended up bursting into laughter again. She was now thoroughly confused as she waited for him to stop laughing and tell her what he obviously thought was so funny about her face. Then he said, admits giggles.
“Did you check yourself in the mirror before coming?” she looked at him, realizing that he was right. She didn’t.
Well, please go and check.” He said with more giggles. She ran back upstairs and checked herself in the mirror. What she saw actually made her laugh too. Her face had been wet when she used the white powder; the powder had then formed a cake of sorts on her face, making her look like a ghost. The dress she had on was black, it contrasted sharply with the color of her face and she looked like a mourning ghost of sorts. She had to wash her face with soap and water to get it off. Then she ignored the attempt at makeup and rushed back downstairs.
They set out for their day out minutes later. Duke was in the front seat, fully belted and Mary was in the back seat, wondering where all that cold was coming from.
Mary looked at the floor, feeling uncomfortable by the way her oga had looked at her. there was something in his eyes that she wasn’t comfortable with. It was not the same as the one that devil had when he looked at her, but somehow, she felt like she had to guard herself against him. As if she at that moment felt naked to his eyes, she pulled the dress around her even though it wasn’t even showing any vital part of her body in the first place. She fiddled with her own hands and wondered what she ought to say in a situation like this.
The attendant came in and looked at him, then she said…
“ well…?” it was obvious that she wanted to know what he thought of the dress before proceeding. He started back to consciousness and took one last look at the dress again before saying in a controlled voice.
“ its not bad.” The attendant smiled, she knew that she wasn’t about to get anything better from him. Even little duke sat there, looking and nodding like a drunk agama lizard. She smiled at the way he was looking at her feet. The attendant took her back inside and she changed into the other five dresses one after the other. the effects were the same. By the time they were done, he was looking at her in a wistfully funny way.
When they were done, he paid for the outfits, somehow he was not grumbling anymore. On the ride back home, duke was talkative and would not stop talking about how satisfied he was about the day. Mary was still silent and she thought over the things that had plagued her mind on their way down. her mind wandered away again, and she found her way back to the little village.
The village settled into a routine of fear. The citizens knew that the season of flowing blood was not over and everyone were very conscious of their environment at all times. Mary’s night mares had grown. She would wake up screaming in the middle of the night out of nowhere.
She would be awake for hours during the night, reading astrology through the broken rafters and leaking roof. She was scared stiff and as everyone waited for the rounding off deaths for that year, somehow, she began to fear that she might be the next. She hid in her room for three weeks after her step brother’s death. Every one thought she was still mourning the boy, they were partly right. But the force that kept her hidden in her room for that one was stronger sorrow. It was acute fear.
Today, she had walked to the stream for the first time in weeks to have her bath. As she got into the water, she immediately sank to the bottom of the shallow side and waited for her body to obey her. she was just about to surface and prepare to try again when she heard a crash.
Something had fallen, it was the sound of the earthen ware pot that was so common in her village. There was a muffled scream and the sound of struggling. Mary came up from the water slowly and walked on wet feet to a corner of a huge rock that stood to her right. She peeped through the corner and saw what she had run from fro three weeks . a girl who was naked from the waist up was struggling with the devil.
She was fighting fiercely, vibrating and trying as much as she could to move away from the reach of the knife that was making its way to her throat. Mary knew that girl, she knew her in the farms, she knew her at the stream. She knew her at the moon lit playgrounds and she knew her now in her minutes of deathly struggle.
Mary did not need to think much, the decision was made in a flash. At least, devils had hands and legs and used knives, they had to have faces. She crept as silently as she could through the shrubbery and came directly to the back of the devil. Once there, she stood a few seconds, wondering how to kill a devil, not really sure what to do, she grabbed a big stone that was within her reach and without thinking at all, she brought it down hard on the part where she assumed the devil’s head was.
The cry was loud and paralyzing, but the devil went down on his knees, and the girl with him. Shocked and not knowing if she had died or not, Mary did not wait to find out as her fear finally overshadowed her bravery. She hit the ground sprinting and was out of sight before the hapless girl could detangle herself from the bulk of heavy body that had fallen on top of her.
Once they were back home, dukes chatter stopped almost immediately they stepped foot into the house. She noticed it and she wondered why this was so. Before she and duke retired to their chamber. She faced her oga and got on her knees.
“ oga, thank you for all the clothes wey you buy for me o. abeg no vex about oga duke o. na my fault. Sorry oga no vex” she said.
He looked at her and smiled. The way mary talked with such timidity and humility, he just couldn’t fathom it. He was used to women who were societal, whose very existence was bold, sophisticated and their sex appeal ravaging.
He was used to women who would face any man no matter who he was and what he did, he was used to women who constantly nagged and almost never said thanks for anything, and here was a girl for who all he had done was pay for a few dresses and she was on both knees, thanking him!
How could it be that the women who really deserved these thing didn’t get them. What a shame that she was a maid, he would have liked to befriend her and at least get into her head. At least that would help him know what it was that she seem to always be thinking about.
“ Mary… please get up, duke is your benefactor not me.” He smiled
“ yes … Mary, get up…”
The both looked around and fumbi stood by the door. The minute the oga saw her, he looked instantly to the place where duke had been standing, but the boy was gone. It was Fumbi, the lady friend from the other day. She looked like some sort of magazine model with her face looking like it had been specially sculpted and painted by some really good artist.
“ fumbi…” oga started to say but she cut him short
save it bolaji, this is the reason why you decided to cancel our date? Are you okay? Who do you think you are to set a date and then cancel?” she was saying. Recognizing the face of trouble, Mary scampered away to the room.
Fumbi and Oga”s voices could be heard starting to rise. She was obviously in the mood for a fight but he Was trying all his best to calm her down. All through he ruckus, Duke sat by a corner and pulled his legs up to his chest and rested his chin on his knees.
Mary knew that posture, she had seen it before, hell! She had pulled herself into that position before. She watched him for a while, resisting the urge to pull him into her arms. But then he started to close his eyes and bite his lower lips,m she knew she had to act fast or there would be no sleep for anyone in that house.
She lifted him out of the bed and into her lap, then she held his tense body in her arms and rocked back and forth. Repeating the process over and over again in a bid to calm him.
Surprisingly, the repeated movements calmed him down he rested in her arms and sucked at his thumb. She bloomed as him as he slowly drifted off to sleep and didn’t know when the tears came to her eyes and spilled over. She breathed and swallowed her tears as she held him close. Still consumed with the effects of seeing duo unlike that, she was starting to doze off when there came a knock on the door.
To be continued…