Fiction

Taken

It used to be a bustling, trading town of 30,000. Then it became 13,000; then 3,000.

People were being taken. No one knew where or why. They just appeared, took you and left. At first it seemed clear; you tried to think about it or started to talk about it, then you realised that it was all shrouded in grey mist.

Grei and Jay walked briskly through the former market square; former because it was a shadow of what it once was.

Literally.

It was dark and grey with a few traders plying their trade. Strangely, no one seemed sad or angry; they just carried on with their day… a tad nonplussed but that was it. They knew people were leaving and not coming back, they had a vague idea of whom, what or why but they didn’t appear too bothered by it. In fact, they rooted for anyone who tried to flee the ‘Taking’ and spoke vaguely of doing so themselves.

As they walked through the market, Orant, the cobbler was standing in one of the darker shadows.

‘So where are you guys going?’

Everyone knew when everyone else was leaving; it was one of those towns.

Grei blurted out before Jay could stop him, ‘Oré’

‘Don’t mind him’, Jay countered with a smile, ‘Kogi’. She hit him playfully as if to suggest he was being silly by not speaking the truth.

‘I’m going to Kogi myself,’ Orant smiled back.

Jay kept the smile still and surreptitiously shoved Grei along before he could give away her ruse.

They got to the entrance of their small apartment and Jay shoved the keys through the keyhole and her other half through the open door, before he could give voice to the thoughts she saw race across his face.

Onyii was already waiting quietly in the shadows.

‘We don’t know who to trust. We don’t know how they know people are leaving and come to take them just before they are packed and ready to go.’

‘But we’ve know these people all our lives and the lives of our forebears before us,’ Grei cried out; a man in agony.

‘I know, G, I know… but I don’t think they realise what they are doing. The Takers are taking advantage of that trust to ferret out information. Look around you, Grei. No one seems bothered that we are a tenth of what we used to be; that people are disappearing. They all seem to think that it’s a bad dream that will go away with the warm, morning light!’

Grei’s baffled face cut Jay deep. She knew he was battling with the knowledge that their once peaceful, open and trusting town had become a place of darkness and emptiness. Thankfully, people still kept that trust and peace. Strife had not yet descended and she prayed it didn’t. They needed to get away before the Takers arrived.

‘Take this’, Onyii whispered as she shoved a holdall-cum-suitcase into Jay’s hands. A tear made its way slowly, without hindrance, down her smooth face.

Jay looked round the room and in a flash, knew precisely what to pack and what to leave behind. Grei was still dithering; picking up objects and putting them back down.

There was a soft knock on the door; then silence. Then another knock and a low whistle. It was the sign they’d been waiting for. Lamman was here.

They could not possibly take their car. Onyii mentioned rumours of roadblocks popping up unannounced on the main roads and  the highways leading to other towns. Lamman was the town’s champion bike designer and racer. His specially-designed bike would carry all three and their belongings out of town to safety; the less others knew, the better.

Hand in hand, Jay and Grei took one last look round their apartment. One they had saved for, bought and lovingly restored to its former glory.

‘We need to go now guys’, Lamman spoke softly, not wanting to break the spell but knowing that this was no time to entertain deep feelings.

‘Yes, we need to go’, Grei all but sighed.

The back door beckoned. Lamman knew best not to park the tri-bike anywhere near the house. He had left it by the town water reservoir, seventy yards away from Grei’s and Jay’s back garden.

Suddenly there was a knock on the front door and a bang at the back.

All three froze.

The sound of a powerful engine purring in the background.

The Takers were here.

This is not fiction

I was going to write and then I watched Emem Isong’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door.

My pencil has been playing hide and seek with my journal so I thought, ‘Hmm, let me ‘distract’ myself and do something else, perhaps, inspiration will come. So I went to iRoko TV to see what was on offer.

I love Nollywood by the way, warts and all.

On my sister’s recommendation, I chose Knocking on Heavens Door by Emem Isong and Royal Arts Academy. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it resonated with me in so many ways. I know first hand about domestic violence. I know how hard, nay almost impossible it is to break free…that belief that there’s a mistake somewhere, that this person cannot possibly a monster; that somewhere, somehow, the switch will flip back and s/he will return to what they were when you first met them and all will be well again. Continue reading “I was going to write and then I watched Emem Isong’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”

Fiction

Sister Sister

Both sisters paced the quadrangle upstairs; stiff, stoic and steadfast in their unwillingness to crack before the other.

Salihatu grew tired. She always gave up first. When they were younger, it seemed such a big deal but now she couldn’t care less. Mother was dead. This wasn’t time for games.

She spun sharply on her right foot, turning down the corridor towards the south wing of their home when she heard it.

Impossible. Inconceivable. Incredible.

It just couldn’t be!

Could it?

She spun right back, sharper than intended, almost twisting her ankle.

Her sister was crying…albeit, silently but not to her. She could hear her clearly; her expression of wordless grief as loud as the ticking of the wall clock affixed above the south wing hallway. And just as silently, she went over to her, put a comforting hand round her shoulders and drew her to the edge of the quadrangle staircase. They sat, like always, with their slim legs dangling through the railings.

“Our legs can still fit through”, Sefiyatu sniffled through her tears.

“Do you remember when we refused to eat tuwo and okro soup because we wanted egusi soup instead?”

“Yes and Mother asked cook to take it away and bring us something else instead.”

Both sisters could still see the rueful look on cook’s face in their minds’ eye, when he came back with ‘something else’ – water in their soup bowls and their mother told them it was ‘water-soup’ and they were to eat it and finish it all.

Both sisters looked at each other.

“Or when Maimuna complained about the new uniform Mother made all the servants wear…”

“Yeah…”, Salihatu carried on without a break in the narrative, “Mother asked to speak with her privately…”

“And…”, Sefiyatu took the narrative back and finished it off. “She came out of Mother’s room wearing a raffia skirt and a top made out of woven palm fronds!”

Salihatu wiped her sister’s tears with a pink handkerchief; the only colour Sefiyatu will allow on her face.

Their mother was a tyrant; an autocrat.

If she hadn’t been, the throne would have been ripped from her and her daughters. She would have been stripped of everything, cast into the stone-paved streets of Jalinga-Joppa with nothing but sackcloth, ashes, a small basket of fruit, a small cooking pot, a tripod and five pieces of firewood.

Her daughters will have been made to serve Daabar, their late father’s only surviving male relative, who had commissioned the royal tailor to make an inauguration robe for him, the very day their father died.

The two sisters looked at each other again; no words were needed this time.

The pink handkerchief passed over both faces again, this time, wiping tears off and resolve on.

Sefiyatu stood first, went over to the dangling rope in the middle of the quadrangle and pulled.

The sound of the royal gong filled the palace.

The servants assembled.

Salihatu let her sharp gaze sweep the assembly.

“Kudju!” she called out imperiously; pointed a long index finger at him and to the front row of the assembly. No words were needed.

A small, clean-shaven man with impossibly big eyes, long lashes and a small, cruel mouth ran out, trembling.

“I hear your room in the palace is too small for you.”

“N…n…no…no, your High-jesty, I mean your Migh-ness…I mean your Majesty…ies”, his big eyes darted between both sisters.

“We’ve moved you into more comfortable lodgings”, Sefiyatu announced, looking over the whole assembly.

Viko, the family’s loyal Palace-Master, who served the Royals like his father and all their fathers before them picked Kudju up with one powerful arm and marched him to the royal goats’ shed at the north side of the Palace boundary.

“Dismissed,” both sisters announced.

The assembly dispersed. Everyone went back to their duties.

“You think Mother would have thought of that?”, Sefiyatu wondered out loud.

“Naa”, her sister replied with a twinkle in her eye, “She would have made him move in with the dogs.”

“But he’s the Royal dog-keeper!”

“I know! I also know he hates goats!”

Royal peals of laughter rang out as the princesses made their way back to the palace, the sun warming their backs.

Fiction

My Turkish Delight

I always pronounced it as ‘hoo-moos’.

Try as I may, I could never get my Nigerian accent to get some words right; it always got in the way. Like when I was giving a presentation, all British and thing, and all of a sudden, that Mother Tongue Interference just popped out.

The British Education System is experiencing a ‘deat’ of experienced teachers due to…” The ‘r’ and the‘t’ just completely disappeared or morphed into something Hyginus, our former driver, will have recognised instantly.

Call me snobbish, elitist, Posh African, Colonial Mentality…na you sabi. You want to fit in, you have to ‘sound in’.

Anyway, there I was, waiting for my main, while enjoying my humus with freshly baked bread out of a raffia bread basket, when he came up to me.

“Mind if I share with you?”

I looked around in puzzlement to see who he was talking to while standing in front of me.

“You”, he smiled, his front tooth half-crooked; the only flaw in an otherwise, perfect face. (There I go again, me and perfection sef!)

There must be some catch, I thought wonderingly, he must be looking for ‘dark meat’ to sample or he’s on a dare or something…he can’t just come up to me. Mba nu! I’m even wearing my full ‘African’, complete with ichafu!

“No, not at all”.

How that came out without a stutter, only God knows. Why it even came out… another mystery.

Still smiling the half-crooked smile, he sat down, put his iPad case on the table beside the yoghurt and mint dip, slicked his hair back and ran the same hand over his close-cropped beard.

Ifurọ ya, agwọ! snake! What’s left of him now is to flick his forked tongue out and lick the side of his lips, I thought viciously.

“No, I don’t have an ulterior motive. I like you and before you say, ‘But you don’t know me’, let me clarify – I’m drawn to you and I want to get to know you”.

“Why”?

I didn’t care if I sounded churlish, ill-mannered or bush. What would this handsome, Turkish man want with me?

“Why not”? he replied, the smile never slipping off his face. “Is there something wrong with me or you for that matter?”

“No, no, nothing…nothing at all”, I tried not to stammer out my reply, bog-standard as it sounded to my ears.

“Good. So what are you having”?

Great, I thought, Why did he have to ask that? Can’t he see what I’m having? How am I supposed to pronounce that bloody word!

“Well…”?

“Hoo-moos”, I croaked over the slice of still-warm bread I threw into my mouth to mask that stupid mother tongue…

“Hoo-what”?, the smile grew wider.

I didn’t care that I was glaring with bread-stuffed cheeks. I gave him my best ogress look. It didn’t work. He burst out laughing.

“I do like you. You are cute when you make that face. I will get to know you and I want to hear how you say ‘Falafel’ ”