He was beautiful in his sleep. Nude, a pillow between his legs, twitching eyebrows and a heaving chest gave her some distraction for the morning. She stood by the foot of her bed and watched him as she sipped noodle soup from a bowl held by both hands.
Mother’s plans had come to nothing; her spell on both of them, useless. Genesis hadn’t seen the faces of her rapists while she was intimate with Dominic but she hadn’t seen his face either. In fact, the entire experience could be described as mildly agreeable and for that, she owed her best friend, Nancy, a huge one.
Nancy was Mother’s rogue daughter and had nothing in common with her. She was dark-complexioned, overweight, crass and loud. She ran a hotel where she pimped out all the girls Mother no longer needed. Mother loathed her and the feeling was mutual on her side but this didn’t stop Genesis from keeping her bond with Nancy. She was always the first person she turned to whenever she needed a shoulder to lean on.
Two days after her rape ordeal, she had visited Nancy in her hotel and as they both sat to have their nails done, she narrated all that befell her in the hands of Mother and the rapists. Nancy was peeved.
“But I warned you about her, didn’t I? I told you the beast in her will soon come out, Jene! It is her MO! She has a sick fetish of seeing people being raped. I told you! But you didn’t listen! Now, look at you!”
Nancy dismissed the ladies attending to them and left alone with Genesis, she cussed Mother in every tongue she knew. Genesis was bereft of tears and so she sat silently until Nancy expended herself. It took a long time but Nancy ended in a low note and turned concerned eyes on Genesis.
“I’m so sorry, love.”
“Did they use protection?”
“Yeah… Look, I didn’t come here for all that one, Nance. I’m here because I need to get over what happened. I need to be with this guy.”
“The Ditorusin person?”
“You like him?”
“It doesn’t matter but I want him, not just because Mamisi doesn’t want me to but because it’s now like an obsession. Even with what happened to me, I can’t stop thinking about him.”
“So maybe Mamisi was right about you being in love.”
“I don’t know what’s going on, to be honest, but I can’t let him go. I need your help.”
Nancy’s causticness returned. “Then why are you here nau? Shebi Mamisi has all those her charms and oils and perfumes na. Use them.”
“I’m serious here, Nance.”
“Oh, they’re not working again abi?”
“Relax. I’m just joking.”
“Mamisi wants me to go there and do a quick job but it won’t go her way this time. I’m in control and this is going to be my last job because he’ll be the first man I’ll keep. In fact, I think I want to marry him sef.”
“Marry?! Ha! Jene, what has happened to you?” Nancy teased but when she realized Genesis was serious, she stopped and looked into her eyes. Genesis stared back, unflinching.
“You’re not joking o. You really want him?”
Genesis kept her unwavering air.
“To the point of marriage? You like him like that?”
“Are you go-going to help me g-get out of this nightmare in my head or not?”
“Ah. You have vexed. Oya, pele.” Nancy patted her back. “Of course, my darling, I’m here for you.”
Nancy rose up from her chair and left her hotel room. She returned with a trolley containing food and a bottle of champagne.
“I’m not hungry,” Genesis mumbled.
“The food is not for you jor. I didn’t want to ring the bar because I wanted to catch the stupid barman and the waitress he’s been banging in the act. But my fat soul saw this trolley in the hallway and I changed my mind.”
Genesis laughed despite her mood. Nancy made another fat joke at her own expense while she popped the champagne and poured them both glasses. They drank, talked about other things, ordered yet another bottle and were half way into it when Nancy steered the conversation back to Genesis’ problems.
“You want to know how I got over my own rape experience?”
Genesis sat up straight. This was one part of her life Nancy never spoke about. Before a brutal rape incident which Mother denied having any hand in, Nancy possessed a happy-go-lucky persona without a care in the world. The ordeal had kept her in the hospital for weeks but when she returned, she bounced back really fast. No one knew how that happened. The only problem was that she turned into an entirely different person.
Genesis wanted that. She wanted to get out of her own nightmare quickly. She did not mind if in the end she changed like Nancy; she just needed to erase that terrible morning at Mother’s beach house from her head forever.
“First of all, I addressed my mind,” Nancy began. “I told myself, ‘Nance, you were raped and beaten senseless. Yes, it was hell but get over it.’ I repeated that every chance I got like a mantra and whenever the memories came, I didn’t drive them away. I let them play in my head and watched them like a movie until they meant nothing to me.”
Her words shocked Genesis who put her glass of champagne to her laps and lowered her head in thought.
“Babe, it’s a mindset and if you let it, the thing will become a stronghold. It has happened and you can’t undo it, so own it and turn it into pleasure. It’s stupid to let yourself become a victim because you can die in your depression for nothing. And Mamisi would move on and replace you. Mind you, therapy doesn’t work. All that talking to a psychologist is crap. They’ll just be using you to make money and you’ll be trapped in your pain till you die.”
“So, that’s how you got over what happened to you?”
“Yeah…but there’s more.”
“I re-enacted the whole experience.”
“Re-enacted? I don’t understand abeg. Explain.”
“I paid some guys to sleep with me and turned everything into a fantasy and my dear, from that day, I have not shed a single tear over that night.”
“That’s insane, Nance. You really did that?”
“Not once, not twice.” Nancy laughed. “It became fun, actually.”
“God forbid! You’re sick.”
Nancy rolled her eyes and grinned. “Oh well… But it works, Jene. It’s simple psychology, really. That which doesn’t kill you will keep trying to… until you kill it. So take what happened to you and screw it like it screwed you.”
Genesis didn’t do that exactly but when Dominic stepped into her apartment she knew she had to confront her fears. His caresses and kisses had been torturous at first and left her cringing inwardly. She endured as much as she could but then it became unbearable and she broke away from him and found the solace of her bathroom where she showered and scrubbed herself. It was there Nancy’s advice returned and she let it sink in with the help of some liquor she found in her medicine closet. When she went back to Dominic, she was a lot more relaxed and pliant. It was still difficult to give in but she allowed him with no fuss. Her thoughts and memories were forced to leave and she gave permission to her body to feel.
Dominic was different from the men in her history. He was fresh and virile with hands that came from a place of skill, and lips that uniquely adulated her body. This was not a man accustomed to being served in bed. He possessed a buffet complex and enjoyed serving himself without caring much if he got anything in return. He took her selfishly and even after they exhausted the pair of condoms he had come with, he still demanded for more.
It was at that juncture she pulled her mind out of its place of protection and told herself she had gotten enough. She was desperate to have a bath to expunge the guilt and utter disgust that settled on her immediately but Dominic gave her no room. He held her bound and compelled her to pleasures worked by his tongue and hands alone. After he was sure that she was where he wanted her, he let her be and fell asleep in her arms.
It was daylight by then. Genesis could hear Wura’s stunning voice from the downstairs apartment, singing out popular hymns as she got about getting ready for church. Genesis slipped away from Dominic’s clutch and went for that much needed shower. She did a bit of cleaning around the house as well and prepared peppery noodle soup which she took back to her bedroom. Dominic stirred as she walked in but didn’t wake. She watched him until the last drop of soup left her dish. Thereafter, she picked a novel to read. Three hours went by and he finally woke up. He looked about him, taking in the posh setting of her bedroom. Next he turned his attention on her. She was sprawled on a Victorian sofa.
“You made me sleep, which is a feat no one has ever accomplished.”
His wristwatch was brought to his face. “12:30. I missed Mass.”
He sat up, pillow still between his legs. A hairy chest was above what once used to be toned abs that had now turned to minor folds which disappeared and left lines anytime he sat up. He wasn’t much of a hunk, just a normal man with a commanding air that most people found gripping. She had seen better.
He got up at and flung the pillow aside. She looked elsewhere as he dressed up. Done with that, he approached her and stood, staring down at her like she was an enigma.
“I’m hooked,” he confessed. “Whatever it is you’ve done, you’ve gotten me and I’m going to keep coming back for more.”
He lowered himself into a squat and searched her eyes.
“But of course, I’m not stupid, I know you were sent by someone. It’s not the first time they’re doing it; many are my adversaries. However I’d like you to tell said adversary that I’d have you as my war booty. You ain’t going back to them. I’m keeping you. I want your body, I want your mind and I want…”
“How easily you forget your fiancée…”
“One thing I don’t want, though: your opinions on my personal matters.”
“Noted, Dominic.” Genesis sat up and pulled him to her. She gave him a peck.
“I’ll see you later?” he said and stood up. “Don’t go kissing some other dude.” He got to the door. “I don’t share.”
She was filling up with anger but she couldn’t show it. Men did not speak to her the way he just did and she was very close to losing her patience. What she felt for him at that given time was a mixture of dislike and overpowering attachment. The sex was to blame. It had connected her to him at some level and it felt like he had raped her like the five men had. For that she despised him. Yet she knew she wanted to see him again, even if it was just to watch him sleep. The manner in which hours ago he gave himself to her selflessly already left a mark.
Dominic could patch her up. She knew this. He could take away the pain even though he was soon going to become a puppet in her hands as things were fashioned to go. But she was determined not to let it get to that point. To help her escape from Mother’s claws and from the life she knew, he had to remain the man he presently was. And for that reason alone, she wasn’t going to resort to her old ways. All charms and potions were to be done away with. She was going to win his heart and devotion the old fashion way.
Church service was a blast. It was one of those Holy Ghost empowered gatherings that left a lot of people high in the Spirit. Wura was one of them. The preacher’s message wasn’t going to be forgotten in a hurry. It had left a mark on her and with a sated and blessed heart she left the church. But it seemed the devil was waiting for her as she kissed the outside air.
Wura turned to see two of her friends from the previous evening approaching her. Straightaway, she felt a little apprehensive. They hadn’t spoken to her since their encounter with Mahmud.
“What’s up na?” Gloria, the more talkative of the two asked.
“I dey.” Wura smiled uneasily at Lydia. Folake was standing away from them, speaking to an usher by the gate. From the mien she wore on her face, Wura could tell she was not interested in their little gathering. Folake had always been the nicest of the three. Had it not been for Gloria, Wura would have gotten closer to her.
“Are you going home?” Gloria asked.
“Is your boyfriend coming to pick you?”
Wura didn’t miss the emphasis placed on the ‘boyfriend’.
“No, he’s not. Any problem?”
“Erm… Sister Kate wants to see you at her house. She says it’s important.”
Wura felt her pulse quicken. Sister Kate was the leader of the Chastity Vow fellowship of which she was a member. Wura didn’t need an angel to tell her that Gloria and Lydia had run their mouths.
“Her house is not far from here,” Lydia mentioned. “We can even walk.”
Wura knew she was cornered. It was times like this she needed Pastor Ralph but he was nowhere in sight. She kept a polite smile on her face and followed them to Sister Kate’s house.
Sister Kate was an old spinster that had enjoyed life to the fullest in the past and turned to God when the world and its pleasures were not favoring her any longer. Wura could still see signs of the type of life she once lived evident in her sitting room. It contrasted greatly with her conservative dressing and reserved persona. Wura was often uncomfortable around her. She had eyes that seemed to read deep into people’s souls. It was eerie.
“How was service today, girls?” Sister Kate welcomed them in with a sneeze and a hanky to her nose.
“Ah! Aunty, you missed o! But I bought you the CD.” Gloria immediately made herself comfortable.
“My dear, this catarrh wants to kill my enemy. I couldn’t even sleep sef. It is well sha.”
“Sorry,” Wura muttered and received a smile from her. They all settled down afterwards and Sister Kate took a comfortable seat that was directed at Wura.
“How are you, Wuraola?”
“I’m fine, ma.” Wura answered to the deliberate pronunciation of her name.
“I’m sure you know why you’re here?”
“No,” Wura lied. At that moment she felt an instant sting of annoyance at Gloria and Lydia. If she survived her interrogation session with Sister Kate, she was going to beg God to allow her keep a grudge with them.
“Wura, you know me. I don’t waste time, so I’ll just go straight to the point.” Sister Kate put her hands together and rested them on her knees.
“I got some information late last night from your friends here and it was disturbing. Before I go on, please know that your friends have your best interest at heart and that is why they called and spoke to me first. I commend them because they acted fast. Now, the issue they tabled before me is about a young man they met yesterday. His name is Mohammed?”
“Mahmud,” Lydia corrected.
“Yes, I was told he’s your boyfriend?”
Wura didn’t reply.
Wura bowed her head. “He is.”
“Raise your head nau. Abi you’re ashamed of him?”
Wura looked up.
“My dear, there should be nothing to be ashamed of if you’re doing the right thing. Are you doing the right thing?”
“I don’t understand your question, ma.”
“Wuraola, as the leader of the Chastity Vow fellowship which you are part of, it is my duty to be informed of any ongoing relationship that members have delved into. It is the same rule with every group in the church. If you’re seeing someone, your group leader should know, so that they would in turn, relay the message to the marriage committee. You know that, right?”
“So why haven’t you come to tell me about this Mohammed person?”
“Or is it because he’s a Muslim?”
Wura bit her lower lip.
“Answer me nau.”
“I was waiting for the right time.”
“Right time? Hmmm…Sister Wura, are you listening to yourself so? Right time with a Muslim? My dear, there is never ever going to be anything right about dating a Muslim.”
Wura scratched the back of her neck where prickly heat had launched a vicious offensive.
“You are a lead worshipper in the church, a minister, a vessel. God blesses people through your voice. Therefore, you cannot take that vessel and use it for anything else. It has to remain untainted.”
“Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers,” Gloria chirped in.
“Do you know what you’re getting yourself into? Have you any idea what Islam is all about?”
“Blood, killings, Jihad wars, not to say the least!”
“Have you thought of your future with this boy? I heard he even smokes.”
The air zapped right out of Wura. Gloria and Lydia were definitely going into a new black book she would create just for them.
Sister Kate went on. “The average Muslim man would convert you the moment you become his wife and he will force Islam on your children…”
“And he can’t even love you sef. He’ll marry other women on top and lock you in his house like a slave.
“Is that what you’re going for?”
Wura felt the sensation of fiery tears in her eyes.
“My sister, wake up from your slumber o! This is not the will of God for you! He is not an author of confusion to give you a man out of your faith! Whatever is holding you bound to that Mohammed boy, you better use your authority in Christ and cast it away this minute!”
Wura rubbed her eyes but tears came down her face in a rush.
“Or are you having sexual intercourse with him already?” Sister Kate asked then sneezed into her hanky.
“No, no, no. I’m not.” Wura sniffled.
“Then you better end it with him before any of the pastors get wind of it. The will of God will not lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you, Wuraola. That relationship is from hell. Get out of it and seek God’s face. He will give you the right Christian brother at the right time.”
Ironically, Wura concurred with everything Sister Kate was saying. She had been thinking along the same lines from the first day she said yes to Mahmud but it was a constant war within her. Her feelings for him were growing stronger by the day and she couldn’t stop herself.
“What if I’m in love with him?” she dared to ask.
“Love keh.” Sister Kate sounded irritated. “Get such heady thoughts out of your mind. True love won’t turn you away from your faith.”
Wura went home that day utterly depressed. She cried all through the night and rejected Mahmud’s phone calls. When she finally answered him the day after, she asked for a break. He didn’t take her seriously. He was going to be away for the week for a family emergency in Sokoto. The call ended with Wura reiterating that she wanted to be left alone for a while to sort out her feelings.
By noon, she met Genesis for lunch and shared her dilemma with her. Genesis told her to follow her heart and gave her much hope that things would turn out fine. She also gave her the day off work. Wura wasn’t satisfied with Genesis’ counsel, thus she called her elder sister to get a different opinion and she wasn’t surprised that her sister stood strongly against her being with Mahmud. This only plunged Wura deeper into her depression.
The days following that were miserable. She avoided church and everyone else and kept to her room. By Thursday, she was beginning to feel the onset of a fever but she paid it no mind and honored an appointment with a client. Friday came and she had gotten worse. Genesis forced her to stay at home. She obeyed but in the afternoon she took a shower and was on her way out to the nearest pharmacy when Mahmud showed up. From a hug she didn’t reciprocate he discovered she was running a high temperature and dragged her into his car. On the way to the clinic where he worked, he asked her general questions about the symptoms she was experiencing.
“Headache, sore throat, weak joints, burning eyes…” she replied.
“Does it hurt when you pee?”
“Any nausea, diarrhea?”
“When was your last menses?”
Wura glowered. “Why all these questions, Tokunboh?”
“See me see wahala. I can’t ask my girlfriend about her period again?”
Wura was quiet. The unhurried manner in which he had called her his girlfriend left a queasy feeling in her gut. From the little she knew about Mahmud, he liked to act clueless. It was possible he sensed the anxiety within her but pretended he didn’t. All the same, it wasn’t the best time to break up with him. She needed to get better first.
At the clinic, Mahmud ordered a full medical checkup on her, even though a colleague was against it.
“It’s probably common cold, Tokunboh.”
“Just do the whole thing, please,” Mahmud insisted.
Wura was forced to endure a series of tests that lasted almost two hours. In the end she was diagnosed with influenza, given drugs and told to rest.
Heading back to Mahmud’s apartment which was in the same neighborhood, Wura lashed out at him.
“You could have just asked me my HIV status, you know! Or asked if my womb was still intact after all my abortions! Why did you make me go through all that stress with that woman pushing her fingers into my private part and rectum?! You’re wicked!”
“I just wanted to be sure you’re okay, baby.”
Mahmud held her with his free hand but she smacked him away and faced her window, fuming. He teased and called her sweet names but nothing he did seemed to placate her. The moment they got to his house, he set before her a bowl of steaming peppersoup they had bought along the way, made sure she took her drugs and watched her while she ate. Subsequently, he tucked her in bed and apologized for his actions at the hospital.
“I’m really crazy about you, that’s why,” he said, running a finger over her trimmed eyebrow. “If good health is all I can give, then why stop me?”
She managed a smile and he gave her a peck. He was out of the house in a jiffy for his shift at the hospital. Wura buried herself under a fuzzy blanket and tried to ignore her ringing phone. From its tone, she knew it was her elder brother calling.
She put out her hand and picked the phone off the floor. Her thumb accepted the call.
Her brother didn’t mince his words. His instructions were crystal. She was to dump Mahmud faster than lightening. She sobbed silently and didn’t interrupt him as he blustered. His wife spoke next but she was gentler and appealed to Wura’s commonsense, stressing that the family was never going to accept Mahmud. Wura thanked them both and put her phone away. She thought about calling Pastor Ralph but it was late already and she concluded he would merely reiterate all that her siblings had told her.
She cried herself to sleep. Bliss waited for her at the other end where none of her troubles resided. She slept like a babe in arms until sunlight peeked in through the windows. She tossed on the bed and turned around only to fall into Mahmud’s arms. He smelled lightly of sweat, tobacco and his signature perfume that had tones of leather and wood. She felt comfort in his cuddle and squeezed him tightly.
How was she to let go of someone that always made her at ease?
She released her grip and looked into his eyes.
“Mahmud,” tears clouded her vision, “it can’t work. We have to break up.”
“I know. It’s been in your eyes since yesterday and you don’t have to explain. I understand. But know that I’m still crazy about you no matter how this ends.”
His words did not make her feel any better. She weakened and tried to turn away from him but he drew her back. There was sadness on his face.
“I can’t force you but can I at least have one last kiss?”
She willingly gave him her lips. It was going to be the final time; therefore, she allowed him and all her misery seemed to disappear under the familiar taste of his gentle tongue.
And just like an inconsequent fly zooming by, a thought passed through her mind and told her she was never letting go of Mahmud. She cast the thought away but her body pressed hard into his as his hand for the first time crossed its boundaries and felt the lushness of her bare skin.