The road unleashed itself before her, leading nowhere. The guards pounded behind her, their dogs barking loudly. They would not find out. Thick walls of trees flanked the path; it would be easy to slip into them and wait. But she could see their expectations in her mind — they would ransack the foliage and beat her out.
She sank her teeth in her lip and sped up. The soles of her feet were almost numb from running.
She had always been running. All her life. She ran from her stepfather’s house when he tried to tuck his finger up between her thighs. She ran when her mother hired street boys to find her and, when they did, she ran again from the Aladura church her mother had taken her to, where they could have beaten out the demons living in her body had she waited for just one more round of violent, prayer-strung whipping.
She ran when she got to Lagos and fell into Mama Girls’ hands and Mama Girls kept handing her over to big men (who needed to jerk off) and yet kept on taking more than half of her pay: something she didn’t do with the other girls. She ran to Ibadan after stealing Mama Girls’ iPhone and heavy gowns and selling them to build a kiosk where she could sell paraga to the street boys and okadamen.
She should have stopped running then. Her business was blooming. She was earning rivals, steadily. At least, she now had a stable, less illegal means of survival. Of staying in one place. Of finally achieving her childhood dream of gathering enough money to go to university and learning how to become a medical doctor. So she could do something about the scourge of cancer that claimed her father while she was still in primary 6.
She should have stopped running. But then what chases us on the road of life is bigger and thinner than the road itself. We can barely see it. Just before it grabs us. And engulfs us.
She ran when her rivals torched her kiosk in the middle of the night and she barely managed to leave with her life. All her belongings, meagerly and painfully put together, were lost in the quick flames. It was dry season and the wood was thirsty. They must have used something stronger than kerosene, because the flames would not stop rolling and spreading, no matter how many sprinkles of water the neighbours, panicked into a sudden, futile fluster, could throw on it.
She ran. To another side of Ibadan. Where she worked as a shop attendant for a woman who wanted to go to parties rather than sit in her shop and work. She was paid handsomely. She started gathering the pieces of her life again, started building a small meaning for it.
And it was there, at this shop, that she met Akin. Akin had come to get some provisions, and she was carrying them to his car when she tripped on the gutter plank and almost fell into the gutter.
“There, there!” Akin shouted.
She wanted to shout back, to tell him to stop shouting, that she was fine. But she said, “Thank you.”
He was holding her; their eyes caught. Something snapped between them. And she smiled, seconds before he did, too. She allowed him to hold her some more, to jocularly cast the blame on the negligent government who wouldn’t seal the drainage system, before disengaging. Akin started coming over regularly to buy provisions, but they both knew these were provisions he did not need. She learned more about him, how his wife had divorced him a year earlier and he had been grateful that there was no child between them to ever bring them together for anything, how his uncles had kept pushing their impressionable daughters at him, how he was the only son of a dying wealthy man.
His father was dying of cancer — she learnt this when he took her home to show his father that he had brought home “a replacement” and his father had smiled a strange little smile.
He was a wiry little man, his father, and it was hard to imagine as he lay in his bed coughing and trembling that he was indeed the owner of the huge, delicately furnished house and its sprawling compound, which choked with cars. It was also hard to imagine that she, a girl from nowhere and everywhere, beaten by life and blocked from her original destiny, would now be wife to the sole heir to the endless properties. These things were hard to imagine. But what was not hard to imagine was the pounding on the door very early in the morning after she met his father, and she rising to open the door only for burly-chested men to barge in and drag her out of the room. She struggled and flailed, her night gown still wearing the scent of Akins perfume from the night before’s bed romp.
“No!” she shrieked as these unknown giants yanked her down the curving stairs.
“Akin!” she yelled his name and he appeared. He stood by the entrance door downstairs and folded his arms. She gaped at him. He shook his head, slowly, sadly.
“It is time.”
An arcane light gleamed in his eyes. Something she had never seen before.
He pointed to an inner door.
And it dawned on her.
If she let the men drag her through that door, she would never come out again.
“Why?” she managed to breathe.
“Papa is dying. The deities of Ajé Olokun must be pacified. Or else, all this wealth dies with him. And I am left with nothing.”
He spoke mechanically, like a robot.
Something broke inside her head; she screeched and bit the nearest man with all the pain in her life. He let go. She kicked recklessly and she was free.
Akin barred the door and faced her. The moments paused for her, and she headbutted him, right in the solar plexus. All the months of living with street boys had taught her how to make moments pause for her to move.
Akin moved out of the way to tend to his violated torso, and when she lashed out at the door, it surprisingly gave way.
And then her running began again.
Soon, she accepted the inevitability of the trees around her. Where would the winding road lead anyway?
They would shield her. They SHOULD shield her.
She saw a tree. Stately. Proud. Leaves swooping down like heavy garlands. Branches stooping like tired housewives. It was baobab. She slammed herself against the bole and waited.
The dogs barked past. The guards yelled. She heard Akin growl out, “Find the bitch!”
And she prayed to the leaves to engulf her more.
They engulfed her.
Only that they did so with something held in their dark cocoon: a python. Who saw her, saw the tears that drew lines across her face, saw the sleep crusts in her eyes and in their redness the agony of many years of unrest. And still clenched its mighty jaws.
Around her skull.
The sound that drew the guards and the dogs to her was not her petrified, deathly screams.
It was the clatter of her skull cracking open.
What chases us on the road of life is bigger and thinner than the road itself. We can hardly see it. Just before it grabs us. And engulfs us.
Written by : Ayosojumi Adeniyi