We were standing in an empty space, but a force pinned us from floating and sinking, fixing us stable in midair. A white light surrounded us. What I saw was not what I had believed I would find in the place of the newly dead. I had always assumed it would have a foul stench, people with tattered clothes who were hobbling with outspread arms, their mouths dripping blood and speaking sluggishly. So when Padjonsin had instructed me to wear a black gown and high heels, I had thought he was crazy but here they were: the smell of nothing, black suits, black gowns, and black shoes. I could say I blended in, but there was that blank expression they all wore that I could hardly mimic. A quick facial sweep would immediately reveal I wasn’t one of them. But I wasn’t to worry about that. Focus on your goal, Padjonsin had said.
They all stared ahead, waiting. No side talk. No catching up on old times. The silence was brittle, anything would have shattered it. A pin drop would have been thunder. Padjonsin had told me not to be surprised by this. Even people who lived all their years together would be unable to recognise each other after life. Their memories were no longer theirs; it had been taken for examination. After 90 days, their results would be ready, determining their final fate: Rest or Torment.
Who did I know that had died in the past 90 days – apart from Kemi? Maybe seeing a familiar face would give me hope that I would find her, but I quickly killed that thought. All I wanted was to save her, and by my timepiece—handmade by Padjonsin in sync with the life of the red moon—I had 15 minutes left. Fifteen minutes before the rain stopped falling and the redness of the moon faded. Fifteen minutes to leave here with her or else I would become one of them.
Lightning flashed, adding a brief blinding brightness to the warm glow of the red moon. Rain kept falling, like pellets shot from the sky, chasing everything with legs indoors. Aluminium rooftops became drums. Potholes pooled with rainwater. Drainages threw up forgotten refuse. The streets were slippery traps, streaming with nylon wrappers, plastic bottles, and cans. Deafening thunder ripped the air.
Inside one of the aluminium roof-toped houses, Alade rolled on his bed, his rumbling thoughts preventing him from settling into sleep. The glow of the moon sifted through his window pane, dousing the darkness in a shade of red. That was when he saw the figure standing by his doorframe. He squinted at the figure; all the while rubbing the left side of his chest like it would slow down the beating of his heart. Could it be her? he thought. Her name hung in his throat. He pushed it out. “Ke-Kemi. Is that you?”
Then the lightning flashed, and his room—green carpet, peach walls—lit up for a brief moment. The figure was slim with a shaved head, in contrast with Kemi’s pudgy frame and plaited hair.
Alade took deep breaths, disappointment calming his nerves. “Yomi, what are you doing there?” He said, suddenly feeling guilty at his disappointment in seeing the expected.
“Daddy, it is the rain. I am afraid. Can I sleep in your room?”
“Come here son.” He adjusted himself on the bed, creating space.
Yomi peeled his frame from the door, shuffled into bed and pulled the blanket to his shoulders. “Where is Mummy?”
“She will join us before the rain stops.”
“Where did she go to?”
“She went out.”
Before Yomi could speak further, thunder blasted from above like an explosion from the sky. Father and son froze, slowly thawing to the music of rainfall drumming and splattering.
“Daddy, please tell me a story.”
Alade fell silent for a while, searching his thoughts, and then he spoke. “Once upon a time, a woman loved her children…”
I was the only one moving, looking at faces to pick out Kemi. It was difficult to describe the state of the people here. There was something alive about their dead faces, like if you tap them they would look back and ask you, “what?” It was like being stuck in both worlds, neither here nor there.
Since Kemi had been dead for almost 90 days, I had to keep moving forward. Padjosin had said they arranged themselves according to their time of death, the older ones at the front, and the more recent ones at the back. A new being popped in every few minutes, never filling this empty space. The last one I had seen had suddenly appeared, dripping wet. Fresh scratches were on his skin and he had been missing a head. Then his head emerged from his neck, a flawless brown skin replaced the scratches, and his drenched shirt transformed to a black suit. After that, his expression became blank, and he stared ahead like the others.
I imagined how Kemi would have been on arrival. Did she discover the ease of standing that had evaded her all her life? What about the ease of communicating with words, instead of groans and cries? Did she discover why she got here early or the blankness took over before she could process her memory? Shivers crept down my spine.
I pushed through the cluster of staring beings. I was tempted to shout her name; maybe she would turn and recognise me. But who was I kidding? Without memories, how would she even know what her name was? How I wished there was a faster way to pick her out, but there wasn’t, I had to rely on facial recognition. She was twelve, big eyes, full lips, and about five feet tall. I’d have to take my eyes off the tall ones and target the short ones.
I stood between two women, who happened to be tall and muscular, probably bodyguards or soldiers in their lifetimes. I stood on my toes, braced my hands on their shoulders for support, and lifted myself up so that I had a better view of those at the front. Although, it was still difficult to catch those at the uttermost front, I could see an assembly of heads: grey, black, brown, red— none of them with plaited hair. And that was when I saw her—between a taller man and a child—hair in a puffy afro, with a black gown clinging to her chubby frame. My heart flipped with joy.
I jumped down and began running, stopping myself from screaming her name. Kemi! Kemi! I kept shouting in my mind. Wild with excitement, I pushed through beings, only for them to take their previous position after I passed. I got behind her, and turned her to face me and whispered her name. But the face that met mine had tiny eyes, like she was falling asleep, and thin lips that looked like straight lines.
“No, no, no,” I whispered, trying to catch my breath. The strain of running slammed me and everything around me started spinning. I felt dizzy, like I would throw up or faint, or both. My timepiece said five minutes more. I remembered Padjonsin’s words: Once you have five minutes left, save yourself. But this was no time to succumb. I didn’t get this far to give up. I could still save her, I could still save her. Tears began gathering in my eyes.
Before Alade got halfway through the story, he heard his son’s snoring, like a soft brass solo to the melody of rain in the background. Apart from these sounds, his house was quiet. Usually, this was the time he and his wife would eat of the fruits of their privacy, partly freed from the constant monitoring Kemi demanded. It would be just the both of them planning for tomorrows and rediscovering their sensuality, until few months ago when Kemi died.
After her death, his wife hardly got out of bed. He spoke to her but she would only stare at him with indifference, like he was a brick wall. It was the same way she treated all those who came to mourn with her. It was like her sense of recognition had vanished. During those days, she would only speak in inaudible mumblings, then she’d utter a shrill cry for Kemi and begin a frantic search all over the house, looking under the couches, in cupboards, under pillows, inside wardrobes. All he could do was force feed her and ensure she did not step out of the house. He thought with time she would become her old self.
But she never did.
One day during one of her frenzied searches, he took a chance to bring her back.
“Darling, can’t you see?” He hesitated, considering the weight of his next statement, and then he said it.
She turned to look at him. Her hair had locked into rebellious dreads. Bags had settled underneath her eyes, and trails of dried tears traced her cheeks. “What did you just say?”
“Can’t you see you’re free?” he asked. At her silence, he pushed further: “You are free from all the carrying, cleaning, and monitoring. Now we can focus on Yomi.”
He didn’t know what she would do or say, but he hadn’t expected her to get up quietly and leave the house. “Don’t follow me,” was all she said.
Yomi had appeared from the bedroom then and took his hand, leaning into him. Alade had put his hand around Yomi shoulders as they watched her shut the door.
After she had left, he began regretting all he had said. Maybe he had been harsh. Maybe he sounded like he didn’t love his child. Yes, it was true that he was relieved of the shame he felt when she would shit herself, even in the presence of visitors. How those visitors would view them with pity, like they were asking what offence he had committed to be afflicted with such a burden. But he had loved his daughter.
He missed the way she smiled when she was full, how she laughed at the sound of her own farts, and then would begin crying once she caught wind of the smell. He even missed her constant calls for attention that made him feel like a father even though her cries would demand attention when sleep was at its sweetest, leading to scuffles between him and his wife about who should attend to her next.
He had loved his daughter but he could not let his wife continue to hurt herself in mourning, starving their surviving child of the care he deserved.
After two days, his wife came back. He wrapped her in an embrace, apologised for his words and promised to always be by her side. She also apologised for leaving. He didn’t ask where she had been, he feared it would push her back to insanity. But he had always suspected there was a catch to her sudden change, because after she came back, she would whistle happy songs and would always have a smile ready, like a woman who had not just lost a child. She proved him right a week later.
“Remember when we were children and our parents told us not to do bad things or else Padjonsin will carry us away?” She asked one morning.
Alade smiled and nodded. “Which child wasn’t afraid of him? Back then, I would see him walking, mumbling to himself, and I would hide behind my mother.”
“That man has been around for a long time,” she agreed. “Anyway, he told me I can bring Kemi back, not only that, he said I can bring her back whole.” Then she told him everything, rushing out the words like if she paused, her courage would flee.
His first response was to reprove her for having anything to do with Padjonsin, but the thought of bringing back Kemi, free from the pity and disgust she evoked from onlookers made him smile, then the smile faded immediately. What if it failed and his wife relapsed into madness or, worse still, he lost his wife in the process? So he carefully pushed her away from that thought.
But she had seen his smile, and it was this she used as an entry point, moving and prodding, until he finally succumbed.
Yomi’s snores suddenly became louder, lifting him out of his thoughts. Had the snores become louder or was the rain receding? He peeped through the window. The red moon was slowly draining of its colour, merging back to silver. Quietly, he slipped out of his room and stepped out of the house.
I threw away all concern and began shouting her name. The only response I got was silence. But still, I ran past these statues of flesh, blindly pushing forward.
My husband would never understand this need to save our daughter, saying I should let her go. He would never understand that the umbilical cord linking a mother to her child doesn’t get cut off at birth; it still remained, even after death. That was why Kemi, dressed in glowing white, had appeared to me after her death. When she disappeared, I would search for her everywhere. Now I was here, still searching. But coming here to bring back Kemi was beyond the umbilical link, it was much more than that.
After discovering Kemi’s shortcomings, I had to close down my market stall to give her the full care she needed. There were selected foods she had to eat, a particular way we had to position her after eating, the periodic adjustment of her body while she slept, and many others. My husband assisted at night, while I bore the daytime duties alone. Even naming our next child Oluwayomi: “The Lord has saved me,” did not save us from the hardship of catering for Kemi.
The care drained my youth, or rather what was left of it, faster than time could. The sides of my hair sprouted grey. Wrinkles marked my face. My cheek bones popped out. My steps slowed to the dragging of feet, worsened by back pain that visited as frequently as the rising sun. It was during this period that my husband started going on business trips. If it wasn’t trips, then work would suddenly become so hectic that he had to stay the night in the office. I was bearing the hardship all alone. Any time Kemi laughed, it seemed like mockery; any time she cried, I blocked my ears. Sometimes, I cursed myself for pushing someone like that out of me. When she became too troublesome, I calmed her with sleeping pills. Then one day I fell sick and needed rest, and so she wouldn’t disturb me, I made her sleep – perhaps for too long.
The guilt and grief almost killed me, till I met Padjonsin. It was after I left the house, wanting to be as far from it as possible. Walking down a narrow path, he loomed over me, blocking sunlight; his gaze like a knife piercing my skin. I wanted to run, but fear held me to the ground as tears dripped to my feet. He lifted my chin and asked what was wrong, his voice like a slow massage calming my nerves. I told him of Kemi’s death. He asked of the date of death. I told him. He said there was a way out, that I should follow him. My head kept telling me to run away, but my legs refused and found their way to his home.
He told me that when rain fell on a night of a red moon, it opened a rift between the place of the newly dead and the world of the living. And it was then that a living being could go in to bring back the dead. He said the next occurrence would be in two weeks time, but to prepare me for the journey, I would first need the blood of the one who fathered the child. When I got home, I convinced my husband to give in. What I didn’t tell him was if I failed to bring back Kemi, all the years I have lived on earth would belong to Padjonsin.
With this in mind, I turned their heads forcefully not caring if their necks snapped, but no match. Two more minutes. Maybe I should save myself and get out? No, let me give myself a minute more—
Alade was out on the deserted street. He stumbled, fell, and rose, screaming his wife’s name. Confusion directed him to different paths until he finally succumbed to helplessness, kneeling down in the middle of the street. The rain water soaked his trousers, cold on his knees, and calves. He hardly felt the droplets on his skin. He looked up; the moon was mostly silver with only a faint red crescent.
Then he fell flat to the ground, his tears merging with the wetness of rain.
She suddenly remembered her husband, the joy they had felt at the birth of Kemi, one of theirs in this world, a proof they would live beyond their death. Kemi, her name meant “care for me,” and they tried to. She pitied Yomi, who had always been eclipsed by Kemi, his wholeness an excuse used to ignore him. She hoped her husband would do a better job alone than they had together. She held on to these memories and thoughts till they became too heavy and painful, like a migraine. Then the migraine faded, and all she felt was relief.
After a while, it began to get her in trouble at work. Her colleagues thought that she was getting lazy, arriving late, or disappearing in the middle of the day for hours at a time. She bought a headscarf and a long coat, and took to walking into the office with her face turned towards the wall. Once, Gareth from Purchasing bumped into her. She dropped her bag he bent down to pick it up, and then looked her straight in the face. There was nothing there, of course. Her head scarf was empty. But he did not flinch; just handed her the bag and went on down the corridor.
Tendi was getting used to this reaction. As it was impossible that she not have a face, peoples’ brains just put one in for her. Children were different though. They saw what was actually there, whether it was possible or not, and Tendi came to quite enjoy frightening a whiny child on the bus into silence by lifting her scarf, just for a moment.
Her first big visibility loss had happened just as the riots were beginning at home. Her mother had phoned and confessed that she’d been lying, and that actually she did not have enough to eat. She had not liked to ask before, because she knew how hard London was for the undocumented, but she was very hungry now – and would Tendi go on the internet for her and order something?
As Tendi ordered the maize and the meat, her fingers on the keyboard slowly disappeared. At first she thought her eyes were failing, or her mind. She ran away from the mirrors in her flat, down to the corner store, and it was there, at the Pick’n’Go, that she realised that no one else could see her either. While putting out the Pringles, Mrs. Patel picked her nose right in front of her. She thought next about phoning for an ambulance, but she knew that with ambulances came police. She went back up to her flat, and – ever the student, even after all this failure and discouragement – thought of books. She found The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison on the internet and was thrilled when she saw the cover art, but then she read it and found it was just a strange story about some guy in a basement who never actually lost his visibility.
She was slow to it, but she did eventually think of movies. She had been brought up on a farm compound so had little idea of who the superheroes were, but she knew some of them had special powers and thought it might be in some way related to wearing underwear. She went down to the Blockbuster, not sure how she would rent a video while not visible; but once she got there, she realized that of course she did not need a formal rental process. No one could see her taking what she wanted. She took some movies and, this being the early days of her invisibility, actually did return them later.
She watched Spiderman and Superman and Ironman, the Hulk and Transformers and Indiana Jones. That night she got up to go to the toilet and realized she was visible again. Sitting down, she could actually see her thighs and not just her urine hitting the water. She gasped, put out her hands to touch her legs, and immediately disappeared again. She thought about how the Hulk got big and green when he got angry, and wondered if it was distress that was making her transparent. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror in her pyjamas, breathing deeply, talking comforting nonsense to herself. Slowly the outline of her head began to appear, and then her arms. This excited her so much she disappeared again.
She spent hours on the internet learning about managing her emotions. She tried mantras, and whale music, and white music, and breathing of all kinds. She found her special place, a patch of sun outside her grandfather’s house on the farm compound, and went there often. Yoga seemed to help too; she was almost always visible while the yoga DVD was on. She learnt that anything she touched with bare skin also became invisible, but if there was cloth between her and any object, it was not affected. She was very careful never to leave anything in her pockets, after an embarrassing incident in which she terrified an entire tube carriage with her house keys.
Over time, she needed the headscarf less and less, but she never got complete control of what she came to think of as her opticality. There were always embarrassing blips, like when she would disappear and reappear on a car backfiring or a door slamming. Gareth from Purchasing was also a problem. He had a very sweet smile, and sometimes when he stopped by her desk to talk procurement, her heart would pick up its pace and she would flash in and out to its beat.
The news from home also seemed to affect her particularly, often able to make her disappear for hours at a time. It’s not so easy to go to your special place when you hear it’s been burnt to the ground, and that gramps is now living in some city slum. She tried various mantras for it. ‘That’s not your home anymore,’ being often useful, though nothing worked all the time.
Over time she realized that just as she could maintain calm, she could maintain upset. This meant she could be invisible almost as she chose. That she did not start stealing immediately was testament to her Mission schooling. London is, however, a hungry city and will chew up even the strongest. So eventually she did start lifting a little here and there. Just chewing gum and fizzy drinks, at first .I’m illegal anyway, she thought. My every breath steals air from these British. So she began to take more than air.
It had always hurt her in the evenings as she left work to see friends in bars, families in restaurants, the whole happy whirl of people at home. All the wealthy English stepping off the cold streets into the theatres, golden doors opening onto grey pavement. Now she too entered those doors and just like the English she would wait until the lights began to dim, and take a seat. After a while she realised she might just as well sit on the stage. Once during Mama Mia, she started to enjoy the show so much that she lost her feeling of upset, and her outline started to appear, downstage centre. The conductor, whose brain was on the music, actually saw her and dropped his baton on the cymbals with a clash. That disappeared her quick enough.
She stole a lot of clothing. She’d read news from home for twenty minutes or so, just enough to upset herself, and then she’d go out to the shops. At first it was just H&M, but after a while, Selfridges, Harrods, Rigby & Peller. If the news from home was bad enough, she could keep going for entire afternoons. She did sometimes set off the door alarms as she would leave with her arms full of clothes, but staff always assumed it was a malfunction. If the alarm went off and she was not near it, Tendi would run over as quickly as she could, her arms spread out in the empty space, hoping one day to feel the warm body of another invisible.
She took time off work to go and sit for a few days at Her Majesty’s Passport Service. She had no trouble remaining invisible because she was furious all the time she was there. The workers acted as if their duties were just dull routine, and not what could change someone’s life. She followed around a guy called Derek, and learnt his passwords, and one night when the place was empty she sat down at his desk and entered herself in that great database, which separates those who are allowed, from those who are not allowed. She printed out an Indefinite Leave To Remain certificate, and pasted it carefully into her passport. She sat for a while under Derek’s desk lamp, marvelling at the hologram. Then she took all the workers’ family photos and knickknacks off their desks, and threw them in the skip outside. She had let herself stay upset for too long. But she was legal now.
She thought again about getting help from the authorities. She told herself that the movies had made her afraid of medical experimentation, but really she was enjoying what she had started to think of as her power. She often went over to Gareth’s desk, to listen to him talk on the phone, or to read his emails, or just to smell his aftershave. This came to an abrupt end when she heard him confessing to his sister that he had a crush on someone in the office. She walked back to her own desk, almost in tears. She sat down and kicked off her Jimmy Choos (good fakes, she’d told the girls in the office. African connections, you know. They had no idea).
She went to the bathroom, gave herself a firm lecture, and transitioned back into visible. She went to the lunch room. It was only then, as she sat watching her colleagues warm their sad leftovers, that she realized that the woman Gareth had a crush on was almost certainly herself. She went through each lady there: too old or too married, and had to bite hard on her lip to keep from laughing. It was almost as if she had been in the shadows of the semi-legal for so long she had forgotten she could be noticed.
Then she really did start to follow Gareth quite a lot, to secretly learn what he liked, so she could become it. However, on their first date at a cheap Italian restaurant in Soho, she found she could abandon all her pre-arranged comments about bands and Manchester City. It was strange, after all this time trying to pass as English, to be asked about Africa as it if mattered. There was an embarrassing part, where he thought her gramps owned the farm on which she grew up, and she had to explain that he was just a worker there. But a worker loves his home just as much as an owner does, she tried to explain. She was still a Mission girl, so she didn’t have sex with him for some time, and when she did, she insisted the lights be off. He thought she was nervous about her body, which of course she was.
She still paid for Starbucks, because she couldn’t figure out a way to steal it, and it was one day while waiting to order that the idea of assassination first came to her. She immediately put it out of her mind as obviously ridiculous. But it kept coming back, like a cat you should not have fed the first time. She found she could no longer upset herself over the news from home without a dark shadow of the solution rising in her mind.
She began to feel guilty. It was like the time she had found a dead street kid back home. He wore a bright yellow T-shirt, and would hang about the area where she worked, so she knew him by sight. When she saw him lying on the pavement one morning, curled up in a foetal position, she thought he was just sleeping. But when she saw him again that evening, in the same position, she knew he was dead. She kept walking. He was gone by the next morning. The country was hip-deep in crisis by this point, far beyond where the police might have acted, so she wondered where his body might have gone. She had a horrible image of the other street kids taking him somewhere and some funeral ceremony devised by children. She knew there was a little one who wore a pink shirt and a bigger one in black shorts who often went around with the yellow shirt but she never did ask them what had happened because she did not know want to know the answer. All the times she had refused to give yellow shirt money – “a dollar, mama, please” – would come horribly to her mind for months after that. It only really stopped when she moved to the UK. This guilt now was like that guilt then. As of something she ought to have done, or should be doing.
On the one hand, there was the question of whether it was even a desirable outcome. Would assassination make things any better? On the other hand, there was the question of practicality. Would her invisibility actually make it possible? She had reason to think it would.
One afternoon after a boozy picnic with Gareth in St James Park, she had decided she’d like to see the Queen. It was easy; she just followed a truck through the palace gates. She wondered around for quite a while, feeling a bit deflated by the modern toilets and the standard office equipment. Then she entered a warm living room and there she was! She was wearing a nightie with a dressing gown over it. She looked just like a real grandmother. The corgis ran towards Tendi barking with the pointless enthusiasm of all little dogs. She knew how to deal with them; she just stood still and they lost interest. Then Tendi sat down carefully on the sofa to the Queen’s right and watched some TV with her. She thought she had never felt so welcome in England as she did then, though the old lady did love to channel surf. The living room was just exactly how she had imagined Europe would be before she came, all warm and golden-toned and safe with all the children tucked in their beds, and only on the streets if they were playing on their bikes till dinnertime. And if they did die, after lots of free medical care, they were buried with fluffy bunnies by weeping parents in green churchyards next to their dear old grannies.
So Tendi lay awake at night, trying to find good reasons for dismissing the ridiculous idea. There is little more painful than extended indecision. A line from one of those Blockbuster movies kept coming back to her, the one with the Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.” She hadn’t even liked the movie, but the line troubled her.
Then one day on her way home from work she didn’t get off at her stop. She stayed on the line, which she knew ended at Heathrow. She gave up on being an adult and decided to let the oblivious universe decide for her. If there were free seats to home tonight she would go, and she would do it. If not, she would put all that dark country behind her and enter this new one with her Indefinite Leave and her Gareth, and her Jimmy Choos. She waited in the ticketing line, feeling sick. When she got to the front she asked and got her answer. There were seats.
She did not buy one, of course. She just walked on, invisible, and waited till the doors shut before she sat down. She made sure to be visible then as her countrymen were like rebellious rabbits on planes with no one staying in their own seat for longer than necessary. When they landed and she smelt that familiar smell of dust and hot rubber her body blinked out. She’d thought it might; she expected the stress of home to be too much for her fragile content.
What she didn’t expect was that she would not be able to reclaim visibility, even over days. Something about being there kept her unable to reflect the light. So she wandered the town alone, seeing what was left of her home. She went to see her mother, though of course her mother could not see her. Watching that old lady sit alone in her bare flat steeled her at last to go to where he was.
She slid into a taxi that was headed in the right direction, and slid out near his residence. She walked all the way around its high external walls. She stood at the main gate for a while, and then just as at Buckingham Palace, simply walked in behind a truck. She was sweating. She had a kitchen knife in her hand. The truck went to the kitchens and she followed it there. She was surprised to see normal people there, preparing normal food. She climbed out of the kitchens and found herself in a long hallway. It had a dark green carpet and old photographs on the walls. She stopped to look at some old white people she did not recognize. She opened each door along the hall, finding room after empty room, and then finally in one big sitting room, she found a woman watching TV. The Kardashians was on.
The woman was wearing a T-shirt and some old jogging bottoms. It was his wife. Tendi had never seen her in real life, and never without a hat, but here she was. Tendi stepped in and shut the door behind her. The television was on very loud. Tendi looked around the room, which was decorated in red satin with gold detail. She couldn’t believe how close it all was to caricature. There were even some Harrods bags on the bed. Suddenly the wife started yelling.
“Daddy, come!” she shouted. “Come and see!” There was a pause, and then “Da-ddy!”split into two long syllables. A door next to the TV opened and a bent little man shuffled in. He was wearing a white shirt buttoned to the neck and black trousers. Tendi felt all the blood run up into her face.
“I am not deaf, you know,” he said.
“Oh yes you are,” said his wife. “Anyway, come and see how modern this clinic is, where Kourtney is having her ultrasound.”
As he crossed over towards the sofa, towards where Tendi was standing, she had to control a very strong urge to run away. Here he was; the beginning and the end. He sat and she heard a little creak from the sofa. She was astonished that he had weight. She had imagined him to be only myth.
“It’s not so modern as in Asia,” he said. His wife said nothing to that.
He sat for a while, watching with her, and then got up from the sofa – not without a little difficulty – and shuffled back to the door. Tendi followed.
It was a small study, the walls covered in bookcases. He went over to a well-stuffed chair and sat down. He opened a book and started to read. The worst part was the room had the light, urine-tinged smell she associated with old age homes. She had often thought of all the things she would say to him. But now she wasn’t here to talk. She had looked up how to kill someone on the internet. What was needed was a quick, hard, ear-to-ear slice. She walked up behind him. She read his book over his shoulder. It seemed to be some kind of adventure story, set in England. She stopped reading as the book tilted forward onto his chest. He was already dozing.
This suddenly seemed like murder. But she thought about her grandfather and his life on the farm, about her mother and her pension, about that yellow shirt boy, and she lifted up the knife. With her blood screaming through her veins, she brought it down hard into his neck.
He gasped and his hands swung up to the knife he could not see. She pulled the knife sideways. His neck was thick, and it was very difficult to pull it across. He struggled and his struggling gave her strength. He was a powerful man and deserved no pity. His blood gushed over her hands as his feet thumped on the floor. The blood was warm and it kept pouring, but at some point she understood it was no longer being pumped.
She had been worried that after she did it she would feel remorse, or horror. She had done Macbeth at the Mission school; she knew what fate awaited murderers. But what she found as the blood dripped down was a sense of well-being, as if all her troubles had been removed. As if someone had gone backwards in time and wiped away all her difficult past. The university she could not afford to attend. The menial jobs. That time in Jo’burg when she had been treated like dirt by South Africans with welfare checks while she cleaned toilets. Every time it had rained in London.
He had broken up her life and that of tens of thousands of her generation, and now she had broken his. She felt the joy of justice done. As he grew still, a great peace came upon her. She removed her hands from his neck, and put the bloody knife in her pocket. She did not want to leave fingerprints. She looked at her hands, slick with his blood, red to the elbows. She smiled. It had, after all, been easy. Then she stopped smiling. She realized she could see her hands. She looked down her body. She was visible.
She sent her mind quickly to what she knew could upset her. She thought about that time in South Africa when she had cleaned the toilets. She thought about her mother’s pension. But somehow they were not as terrible to her now as they had been before. She was not just a small pebble ground down by an all-encompassing grinder, but the pebble that had stopped the machine. She had justice now. She was somebody now. She thought of other bad things, of hurricanes and famines, but still she could see herself. She looked for another door out of the study. There was just the one. Then she heard a voice:
She heard footsteps approaching. She looked for somewhere to hide and went over to the desk, thinking she could get underneath it. Then she stopped. She was not someone who needed to hide now. She went back towards the door and stood in front of it, knife in hand. She was somebody now. They would see.
Olachi’s head popped through the back door startling Taiye. “Your 4:15 massage is here!”
Taiye pressed the red button, cutting short the heated conversation she had been engaged in. Work was calling, village matters would have to wait. She tried calming herself down as she followed Olachi into the building that housed the elite spa they both worked in.
“What were you doing there?” Olachi frowned. “Your client has been waiting for a while now. Better pray Madam doesn’t come in.”
What was on Taiye’s mind far outweighed Madam’s wrath. Her brother needed money for a new laptop since his old one had been stolen, her younger sisters needed money for their school fees, the monthly allowance she sent to her mother was behind schedule…this did not even include the distant aunt who had called just now to demand why Taiye was yet to send the money she promised her into her account, a day had already passed since she had asked. Taiye dragged her hand across her face; at this rate she would be unable to pay the rent.
“This is the woman who will attend to you,” Olachi’s words dispersed her thoughts in four different directions. Taiye looked up to find her client seated on one of the sofas in the waiting area.
The woman’s skin was as yellow as a bar of soap. She wore an incredibly short skirt and a flimsy top that exposed a curved shoulder, her eyebrows were perfectly arched, eyeliner wings steady and lips zobo-red. The air around her screamed affluence and sophistication, she was probably one of those young women running around Abuja being sponsored by their sugar daddies, Taiye thought maliciously. The woman’s lips quirked, one corner lifted up slightly as she stared back at Taiye studying her. The slight movement made Taiye pause; she was suddenly assailed with the uncomfortable thought that the woman could read her mind. Impossible.
“Good evening ma.” she played subservient as Madam said the clients expected. Then came the introduction, “My name is Taiye,” and the apology, “I apologise for the wait. Kindly follow me.”
“I trust this room is to your taste.” Taiye shut the door to the dim room behind them. The scent of sandalwood along with the soft sounds of a gentle rain from the music player surrounded them. “You wanted the shea butter massage, ma?”
“Yes, and I hope it is good.” She dropped her bag on the floor. “I am already unimpressed with your services. It is just unfortunate that my usual spa is closed, I wouldn’t even consider coming here…”
Taiye blocked out her words and commenced preparing the shea butter, warming it up so that it melted and adding a few drops of calming lavender essential oil to it.
“I apologise, ma.” She said finally. “I will give you some privacy now, please take off your clothes and lie face up on the table.”
Taiye stepped out; her hands itched from wanting to slap that woman. It must be nice not to have any problems in one’s life apart from when and where to have a massage. They looked about the same age yet life had clearly dealt Taiye the heavier burden. She walked to the extreme end of the corridor and leaned towards an open window dragging in the dust-laden air deeply. Focus Taiye, she told herself. Five minutes later she was back in the room where her client waited. Shortly after, she started her work first stretching her client’s muscles. As she applied pressure on her client’s stomach, she admired the little ring that adorned her belly button. Taiye worked, kneading at the muscles and imagining how many men must be chasing after this woman, how she must entrance them.
She asked the woman to turn over, that was when things got strange. Taiye rubbed more shea butter on her hands and looked down on the smooth expanse of her client’s back in preparation. Just below the woman’s left shoulder blade was what looked like a painful bump, the kind that Taiye associated with being hit badly. Before Taiye’s eyes, the swelling shifted under skin and disappeared. A sharp pain pierced Taiye’s chest as she stood rooted to the spot, her hands unwilling to continue the massage. The bump appeared again, lengthened so it resembled a snake and slithered across her client’s back.
“Is anything the matter?” Her client’s lulled voice was a testament to her calmed state.
“No,” Taiye breathed. Then she shook her head so her voice came out stronger when she repeated, “No”.
She had to maintain her professionalism in the face of hallucinations. Taiye pressed her hands onto the woman’s shoulders; she slid them down her back and stared in horror as her hands sunk through the woman’s skin. She lurched, moving her hands back and forth but all she felt was lightness and all she saw were her wrists. Crying out her horror, Taiye jumped back pulling her hands with her. The woman lifted herself up on her elbows and regarded Taiye.
“What on earth is wrong with you?” Her demand was harsh but a lopsided smile occupied half of her face.
“I am sorry madam,” Taiye ignored the heaviness in her stomach.
“You seem distracted,” the woman continued. “Is everything all right with you? At home?”
She looked into the woman’s eyes; they seemed to change colour from black to a light hazel. At that moment Taiye thought the woman knew all about her.
“I don’t have all day,” the woman said. When Taiye did not reply, the woman lay back down on her stomach.
Taiye had never seen anything like this before – outside her dreams which, when she had them, always veered into the weird. She was definitely not asleep now. Taiye reluctantly approached her client’s prone form and tentatively touched her shoulder. Her skin was soft but not soft enough for her hand to be submerged in it, Taiye resumed the massage. By the end of the day, she had convinced herself that it had all been an illusion. A peculiar illusion drawn from the horror movie her boyfriend had forced her to watch last week.
She must have looked over her shoulder a hundred times as she walked down the dark street to her one-room home. The prayers she said before sleeping that night were more fervent than usual. They were ultimately useless because when she slept, all she saw was her 4:15 client.
The only business Taiye could do and excel in was in her trade. On her day off, she kept herself busy by borrowing clients from Madam’s spa, offering them home treatments at rates that were just slightly lower than the standard home-service rates dictated by Madam. She not only borrowed clients, but equipment as well and had her boyfriend drop her when she needed to make things happen.
That day Taiye found herself stranded outside the gates of a high-class estate tucked away in Maitama with a folded table to her left and a box of aromatic oils and butters in her right hand. She tapped her right foot; Gregory had promised to pick her up and he was already fifteen minutes late. Taiye knew intimately how the guards at this estate enjoyed mistreating anyone who they regarded as poor, Nigerian and local, she did not want to give them a chance to embarrass her. The guards had already given her a tough time when she had entered the estate and were shooting daggers at her from their post five feet away. Taiye wiped her sweaty palm on her side and observed a fancy Mercedes SUV drive past her. She admired the dark red colour of the car and thought she recognised the person driving it, which was out of the question; no one she knew personally could afford such luxury. There was a loud screech as the driver pressed on the brake and shifted the car into reverse. When the car stopped before her, Taiye remembered where she had met the driver.
A month must have passed since that fateful day, yet standing in such close proximity to the woman, it felt like only yesterday. In some ways it was only yesterday considering the nightmares that had plagued Taiye since then. Taiye never recalled the dreams in detail beyond the strong impression that this woman had been in them. She had grown convinced that the woman was involved in some kind of occult activity, and that the woman wanted to initiate her – if she had not already. There was no other reason for her to be dreaming about someone she had only spent an hour and thirty minutes with.
“Taiye!” the driver called her as if they were friends. “Imagine seeing you here. How are you?”
“I am fine,” Taiye dared not to look at her. She did not even know this lady’s name.
“How come you’re just standing here?” The woman eyed Taiye. “Come on, let me give you a lift.”
“I don’t think you’re going my way,” Taiye pointed in the opposite direction of the gilded main gate.
“Come on, I can drop you off afterwards.” The front door slammed behind her as she exited the car. “How much longer do you intend to stand under the sun; those look heavy.”
If this woman was engaged in evil, would she be so eager to carry the folded table and deposit it in her car in such a carefree manner? There was always the option to run away, to find protection between any hallowed walls. Then there was the option to succumb, especially if it meant Taiye would be sitting behind the driver’s seat of a car like this Mercedes. There was also the possibility that Taiye’s imagination had run wild. Taiye chewed on her bottom lip and decided: she would only put up the least resistance. She settled into the plush leather passenger seat and reached for the seatbelt.
“I’m Lila.” The car was filled with a strong heady fragrance as she closed the door with too much force.
“Nice to meet you,” Taiye replied.
Lila’s laugh was high-pitched. “Why are you so formal? See you.” She slapped her hand on the wheel. “Sha, don’t start calling me ‘ma’, this is not the spa.”
As the car lurched forward, Taiye was suddenly assaulted by a memory that could only have come from one of those nightmares she had had recently. Lila standing still and nude; Taiye recognised her even though her face was distorted, as if she was wearing a mask. Her eyebrows seemed bushier, her eyes bigger, her mouth wider and higher on her face and her chin long and pointed, curved outward. Despite her grotesque appearance, Taiye recalled shamelessly lamenting to the Lila in her dreams. Her issues with her family and her need for money poured out of her mouth like water from a kettle’s spout. It was always about money, right until she would find herself wrist deep in Lila again but this time Lila’s body took her arms, then her torso and her head. Worst of all, it had felt good. Heat flooded through her, but Lila was saying something and Taiye was not listening.
“…so I will just branch by my place and pick up a few things.” Lila finished.
“I said I needed to pick something from my house, I live in this estate.” Lila snickered. “Or did you think I was here to meet my sugar daddy?”
Taiye squirmed in her seat; luckily Lila did not even wait for her to reply.
“We’re there already. See.” She swerved right and pressed on the car horn in a long and protracted way until the gate shifted.
The black gate was pushed back by an old woman almost bent double. The elder looked like she was going to fall over at any moment yet she continued until the gate was wide enough for Lila to drive through. Taiye’s eyes met the old woman’s sombre ones; surely there was a limit to who should be doing the work of a housegirl. Taiye sat still while Lila jumped out of the car.
“Mama!” Lila screamed at the old woman. “We have a guest.”
Taiye’s mouth fell open. She looked from Lila with her curly weave-on and shiny nail tips to the old woman modestly dressed in an old worn blouse and a faded wrapper around her waist, its dull print suggesting it was as old as the woman. The door to the passenger’s side jerked open.
“Don’t tell me you plan on sitting here, the windows are rolled up, you could die!” Lila laughed. “Abi you’re scared? Don’t worry, I don’t bite.” She winked.
The entire episode was too strange. Knees throbbing, Taiye looked at the gate that the so-called Mama was sliding shut. She could still run away. Then she mentally slapped herself; why, this was an opportunity! Even if there were no occult activities or initiation involved, there must be some goodness that would come her way from rubbing shoulders with someone like Lila. If she looked on the bright side, soon Taiye would cease her lamentations of poverty. She slid out of the SUV. The house was two stories high, and looked too grand for just one person, Taiye could not picture a family behind the bewildering Lila. Inside the mansion, everything looked new. There was no helping it, Taiye thought back to where she lived, her one room with the mattress she slept on in one corner and the stove she cooked on in another. It was a huge stroke of luck that she had her own bathroom.
Lila led her straight to her bedroom on the upper floor with its queen-sized bed overflowing with stuffed pillows.
“I just needed to change…but I’m sweaty, I should have a bath too.” Lila peeled off her jeans while Taiye averted her gaze. “I hope you don’t mind. Mama will bring something for you to eat.” She shouted the last sentence, as if she wanted Mama to hear her from downstairs.
Taiye found herself alone, her feet sunk into the plush carpet as she looked around. There were no personal effects at all; no photos on the walls, in fact apart from what looked like wallpaper the walls were bare. The door opened and Mama entered in carrying a tray of juice and small chops, she set the goodies on a low table beside the bed. Mama’s head cocked as she regarded Taiye.
“You are one of the ugliest that witch has brought home.” Her whisper was harsh and her English was peppered with an accent that suggested some time spent abroad, it completely contrasted with her image.
Taiye frowned as Mama fired on. “You should see yourself, standing and gaping like a poverty-stricken idiot. You must be a fool for choosing the company of that harlot.”
“Mama…” Heat flooded Taiye’s face.
“Don’t you dare call me Mama, do I look like your mother?” She kissed her teeth viciously. “You idiot.”
Taiye flinched at being berated by an elder for no apparent reason. The woman words cut like a knife and she fired on so Taiye had to block her out. She sipped at the juice and marvelled at the smoothness of the mango. Despite her best efforts as she nibbled on a samosa, words like “worthless” and “mumu” passed through her mental wall. She must have really looked like the fool Mama thought she was perched at the edge of the bed, eating quietly while being insulted when Lila emerged from the bathroom with a wrapper tied over her chest.
“Mama is that really necessary?” Lila stood akimbo. “You know better than this, go feed on someone else.”
Taiye watched as Mama shrunk visibly, and despite her harshness she felt sorry for the elder.
“Mama, you’ve grown horns to be insulting my guest in such a manner.” Lila pushed open the door to the closet. “Sometimes it is like your forget it is a blessing that you’re even alive.”
“I have done nothing wrong.” Mama’s eyes followed Lila’s movements, hands clutched to her chest. “I have not eaten in days and you forbade…”
“Will you get out of this room!” Lila eyes were white in rage. “In fact get out of this house, of this estate! Go back there and see what will happen to you. And if I hear that you fed without my permission…”
Lila’s glance fell on Taiye and softened.
“Leave this place, Mama.” Rolling her shoulders, she inhaled deeply. Two sets of eyes watched the old woman as she scurried away. Lila smiled at Taiye, her smile was so wide it reached her eyes.
“I am sorry about that.” She turned her attention back to the closet stuffed with clothes. “Mama can be unseasoned.”
“But should you…” Taiye’s voice broke, she pushed herself to continue. “Should you be talking to your mother in that manner?”
“I shouldn’t, right?” Lila extracted a red top. “But I give her all the respect she deserves by calling her Mama and providing a roof over her head. How did you feel when she was talking to you?”
“I…I felt bad.” Taiye lowered her gaze as Lila lowered her wrapper.
“Imagine, I grew up with that every day. That woman feeds on negativity.” Lila said. “She has not one loving bone in her body.”
Lila had mentioned her mother feeding but it seemed she meant it figuratively.
“Help me zip up, Taiye.” Lila showed Taiye her back. What Taiye had mistaken for a top turned out to be a dress. “Tell me, how do I look?”
She twirled round playfully. Taiye took in her bare feet and let her gaze travel up to the curls she had packed in a bun. She looked stunning. Taiye knew such a look would never befit her.
“You look great.” Taiye breathed. Such skimpy clothes would look horrible on her; there was no need to even imagine herself decked in such a daring fashion.
“Would you like to try something on?” Lila read Taiye’s mind. “Actually I have a dress that would look excellent on you.”
Taiye had to decline. “I have overstayed…”
“Nonsense.” Lila held a green flimsy thing in her hands. “Today is your day off Taiye, let me take you out.”
“The truth is my boyfriend is waiting for me.” Taiye swallowed.
Lila advanced until she stood in front of her. “Forget Gregory.” Reaching for Taiye’s hands, she pulled her up.
“I did not…” Taiye stammered. “How do you know his name?”
“I think you know.” Lila’s fingers were on the buttons of Taiye’s shirt, undoing them one by one. “At the very least you should have an idea. Now, are you coming out with me or not?”
Taiye held her shirt closed with both hands, nodded her consent and slipped into the bathroom.
“Taiye, you look gorgeous.” Lila remarked. “Your skin tone complements this colour.”
This was the first time anyone had complimented her on her skin tone, no one had teased her, but no one had offered her honeyed words for her sepia tone either. It felt akin to sacrilege to put a designer dress on her dirty sweaty body. Her dimpled thighs should not be exposed, and her father would roll in his grave if he saw her wearing a dress that revealed her back. But Lila had called her gorgeous. Taiye stared at herself in the mirror; she looked wild, like an alluring temptress. Was it possible that one dress and a bit of makeup could have this effect? Or was Lila’s aura rubbing on her already?
“Thank you.” She wanted to pinch herself, there was a longing in her voice; she did not want to give up this dream.
“You look delicious.” Lila’s head appeared beside her own in the mirror, her chin burrowed into Taiye’s shoulder. “Are you ready to join me for an adventure?”
Downstairs there was someone waiting before the front door, from the distance Taiye could make out a slim figure shrouded in a green caftan
“Olokunfemi,” the woman in the caftan cautiously turned to face them. “You’re going out to eat and won’t even show the slightest mercy to Mama.”
“Before you start accusing me sister, I have a guest.” Lila stooped to slip on her high heels. “Taiye, this is my sister Yazmin.”
As Taiye greeted her, she noticed Yazmin’s eyes were murky, unseeing. Nonetheless Yazmin was as beautiful as her sister, though plainly dressed in a caftan and without makeup.
“We will have this discussion when you come back.” A frown marred Yazmin’s brow as her blind gaze moved over the wall near Taiye. “I did not notice you had company.”
“That’s rare of you.” Lila let her bought hair down from its bun and dragged her fingers through its mass. “Before you disappear at least come and open the gate for me.”
Taiye would not ask questions. Her nails dug into her palms as her phone vibrated in the bejewelled clutch bag Lila had lent her. She would not ask why her sister had called her by that name, nor would she demand to know the sense behind sending a blind woman on such an errand.
“I can open the gate.” Taiye offered. Lila shrugged and headed for her car.
“Taiye,” Yazmin called out as Taiye followed Lila’s footsteps. “You should know that anyone you meet in this house is more than you can possibly imagine.”
Her hands stilled on the doorknob. “I don’t understand.”
“That is the least you should know if you are going to be hanging around my sister.” A blaring horn startled Taiye into action. She was out the door before Yazmin had the chance to say anything else.
As the SUV wound through the streets of Abuja, Taiye studied her phone. Eleven missed calls, most of them from Gregory. She turned off her phone; if she wasn’t here she would be at home preparing efo-riro for the dinner she would share with Gregory. At that moment Taiye decided she much rather preferred Lila’s company. It must have been the years of repression, the years of taking responsibility for her siblings as the first daughter, the years of looking for work so that money could be sent home after her father had passed away, it must have been a culmination of all her experiences that made Taiye this eager to give herself over to temptation unheeding. As night drew closer, Lila drove them to a inconspicuous-looking house. Past the gates and behind the multi-storied building, a party was in full swing in the backyard. Taiye kept her head down, ignoring most of the crowd as Lila wove her way through it.
“Ah there is Chairman.” Lila reached for Taiye’s hand and walked towards the short man decked in a pricey suit. She introduced him as the owner of a successful supermarket chain in Abuja and Kaduna. To the Chairman Taiye was “my friend.”
The three of them settled down on lawn chairs and as the evening progressed, Taiye felt more out of place. Her two companions were discussing things that were foreign to her, like the benefits in importing used cars from South Korea as opposed to China. There were servers carrying trays of colourful drinks that exploded in Taiye’s head making her groggy. When the Chairman rose to his feet and Lila with him, Taiye mirrored their movements. It was not long before she found herself in a room with the two of them, the intention of the Chairman clear as day.
The penthouse suite of D-Suites in Maitama was a muted affair. It was not exactly how Taiye would have pictured the most expensive room of such an establishment. She barely had time to scrutinise the brown and gold décor of the sitting room when Lila took her hand and dragged her through to the bedroom behind the Chairman. The fluorescent lights on the ceiling and the two lamps on each side of the bed were lit, all of them highlighting the queen bed in the centre of the room.
The Chairman lay on his back on the wide bed, Lila straddling him. It seemed normal enough when Lila lowered her head to kiss him. Taiye had to look at something else other than those two. The colourful clock on the wall by her left was a good enough distraction; it was frozen at five minutes past seven. Even with her gaze somewhere else Taiye could hear them; the wetness of two lips meshing, soft groans and low moans. Then there was a faint gurgling sound like the last of water going down a drain. The strange sound drew Taiye to tilt her head slightly in the direction of the bed in the hopes of catching a glimpse. She blinked. From where Taiye stood she could clearly see what looked like water spilling out from the side of Lila’s mouth, which was glued to the Chairman’s. Lila’s hands were flat on the Chairman’s chest and below her the prone man struggled. Someone as slight as Lila was, compared to the Chairman’s broad frame, should not have been able to hold the grappling man down, yet Lila did not loose her grip on the Chairman until his movements stilled.
“Finally!” Lila gasped, flinging her head back. She turned to smile at Taiye who shook in her shoes. “Taiye help me with this.” She was pulling at Chairman’s tie. When it loosened, Lila’s deft fingers were slipping buttons out of their holes exposing a hairy chest and a slightly paunchy stomach. The sound of her own breathing was heavy in Taiye’s ears. She should leave.
“There’s no way you can leave now Taiye.” Lila placed both hands on the Chairman’s still chest. “Sit down.”
There was a magnet in the lone chair situated near the bed and it drew Taiye’s behind. She sat on it just in time to see Lila’s hand sink through the Chairman’s skin. Lila moved her hands, drawing them apart and down, opening the Chairman up. Taiye tasted blood in her mouth; her teeth had gnawed at her inner cheek. She had seen this before, back at the spa and then again in those nightmares. Instead of guts and gore, a grey light spilled out from inside the Chairman. Lila leaned over breathed in this glow, inhaling the grey through her wide nostrils she moaned.
“Absolutely delectable.” Lila shifted off the Chairman, kicking off her heels she stood on the bed. “Taiye, see you soon.”
With those parting words Lila stepped into the glow, slipped her foot into the open stomach and sunk into Chairman’s body. The gaping hole sealed behind her. Taiye stared at the bed unseeingly, persistent quivers racked her frame.
Despite it all, Taiye slept. She awakened to the sun on her face, she was lying tummy down on the bed. She was not aware of the exact time, but years of habit told her that she was late for work. It took two breaths for the events of the previous night to slam into her. Taiye jerked off the bed and was surprised to find it empty. The white covers on the bed, the marbled floor and the mahogany bedside desk let her know that she was still in the guesthouse they had driven to the previous night. There was no deadly stiff Chairman lying beside her, Lila too was nowhere to be seen. Taiye’s hand reached for her throat, last night definitely happened. She did not conjure it up. Something so unnatural was beyond her scope of originality.
The loud gurgle of a toilet flushing told Taiye that she was not alone. The door to the bathroom swung open and in its frame stood the Chairman, naked as the day he was born. The sight of his nudity caused Taiye’s mouth to fall open, panic to flood Taiye’s veins. Had something sexual happened between her and the Chairman? But she was fully dressed…
“Calm down, Taiye.” The Chairman’s mouth moved but it was Lila’s voice. “That did not happen, but it can if you want it to.”
The laughter was undoubtedly Lila’s. Flabbergasted, Taiye’s eyes followed the Chairman – no it was Lila that leapt across the room in a movement that would be considered strange on a pot-bellied man like the Chairman. Standing in front of a full-length mirror the Chairman looked at himself.
“No matter how many times I do this,” a hand reached between his legs. “I can’t get over it.”
“What…” Taiye’s voice croaked, she cleared her throat. “What is going on?”
“Haba, you should know Taiye. I thought you were perceptive.” The hand stroked and a light giggle burst forth from the Chairman’s lips. “I am borrowing Chairman’s body. Tell me Taiye would you let the Chairman fuck you?”
“No!” Taiye recoiled. “What are you?”
The Chairman pouted. “You’re no fun.” He stepped away from the mirror.
“Why involve me in this?” Taiye hugged herself bringing her arms across her midriff.
“Because I like you, Taiye…plus it always pays to have a human sidekick.” The Chairman pulled on his boxers but the eyes that were trained on Taiye belonged to Lila. “You knew there was something off about me yet you still came along with me. Now that is sexy and I shall reward you immensely.”
Her ears perked at “reward.”
“You’re not going to eat me, or use me as sacrifice…”
“We only eat emotions.” The Chairman laughed, high and feminine as he slipped on a shirt. “I like lust, Mama eats shame, Yazmin fear – although the goody-two-shoes likes to fast.”
“Do they borrow bodies too?” Taiye felt the knot between her shoulders loosen.
“That’s my speciality.” The Chairman knotted his tie. “I thought it was useless before I discovered that this is the least stressful way to learn personal information like account numbers, PINs and the like.”
Her knees did not feel wobbly; Taiye lifted herself up from the bed. “This is all to steal people’s information?” She helped the Chairman put on his suit jacket.
“At its core.” The Chairman smoothed the silver jacket. “You have no idea how nice this is. You should let me borrow your body.”
Taiye shook her head. “Haven’t you already?” At the Chairman’s raised eyebrow she continued. “I mean in my dreams, you…we…”
“That wasn’t me!” The Chairman dissolved into laughter, bending over and slapping his knees. He sighed. “I said you were perceptive, but could someone have been warning you about me?” he stroked his chin.
“This is not funny.” Taiye began to feel unsure again, just when she had gained some confidence.
“Okay Taiye,” the Chairman pouted. “We’ll investigate that later, now need to go to the bank to effect some transfers.” He winked. “Coming along?”
There were still questions that needed answering: What would happen when Lila posing as Chairman walked into the bank? What kind of reward would Lila give her? Taiye’s fingers dug into her palms, she nodded her consent.