I ran fast, crashing through weeping leaves, sharp grasses, thorns of creepers and the soft sinking soil of the bush. I fell several times but I took no notice of it. I kept on running until I came to the road. The road was empty. The rain had been heavy. An electric pole was bent double and a tree had fallen on top of a house on the other side of the road. The road was filled with the debris, the receding flood had brought. As I walked slowly, I saw roofs of some houses and shops had been pulled off by the rain. I held my uniform bunched together in my arms with my bag. I walked briskly in my underclothes, shivering, my teeth chattering with cold and fear.
I got home to find Mama standing by the door, her eyes filled with worry. Her eyes widened when she saw me. I know I looked terrible when she rushed to me, a soft moan coming from her lips.
Matilda: “I was scared. Why did you take off your uniform? Where is the other leg of your sandals? Come inside before you catch cold.” She said quickly as she rushed me inside.
She immediately put water on fire and stripped me off my wet clothes. She tried to remove my uniform from my arms but my arms were frozen around it. She looked at me curiously, then she tried again. I held on to the uniform like glue. I sat on that chair, reliving what had happened in the path. “Edirin is dead. I have killed. I am dead. I will go to hell. I didn’t know! God save me!” my mind howled inside me, even as I stared dumbly at Mama. After trying to get the uniform off my hands to no avail, she gave up and went to the bathroom to prepare bath water.
When the water was ready she took me to the bathroom and told me to get into the bath. I did, moving like a machine; the uniform still gripped within my arms. She hissed in annoyance and gave me a slap. My cheek flamed up and like a long dormant volcano, I exploded into tears. The uniform fell from my arms as I crumpled to the floor. Mama rushed into the bath and held me, muttering softly. I cried into her blouse for what felt like hours and she never shifted her weight even though our position was cramped. She sat with me in the wet bath and held me until my sobs subsided then she bathed me.
In my room, I laid on the bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering at life and my place in it. I could not understand what I did to God. Everything was fine before, but now everything had gone sour in my mouth. Happiness had fled from me and now I am a murderer. I was lost in my thought when my room door opened and Mama entered. She came to my bed and sat down beside me. I turned to look at her; she was a beautiful woman, my mother. Even with everything going on, she was a queen. The haunted look in her eyes pained me.
Matilda: “your uniform was stained with too much blood, I had to burn it.” She said.
In that statement hid the question that she feared to ask. Where did the blood come from? I turned my eyes away from her as I told her. I did not want to see her disgust, her fear, her pain. She gasped and raised her hands to her face. I stared at the far wall in silence; I was done talking.
Matilda: “did anybody see you?” she asked. I shook my head. It was raining heavily, how will I know? I thought. “What about the knife? Your missing sandal?” she added.
Princess: “I think the sandal pulled off as I was running but I don’t know where. The knife fell into the flood and disappeared.” I replied. My voice felt dry and hoarse.
Matilda: “we have to leave Benin as soon as possible. If that knife or your sandal is found near that body, we are done for.” She said.
I turned to look at her. She had not said ‘I’, she had said ‘we’. We were in it together. I have never loved my mother more than I loved her that moment; never!
The very next moment, she called Uncle Jonathan and told him what happened. He was outraged on the phone. I could hear him raging and screaming on the phone. I closed my ears to the noise, went deep into myself and soon slept off.
When I woke up it was night. Mama was seated beside me, a plate of pepper soup beside her. I was shivering and my body was on fire. The little scratches I had inflicted on myself while running stung like fire ants were running all over my body. My mouth was dry and my tongue swollen. I didn’t want to eat but Mama forced spoon after spoon down my sore throat.
The next morning, as early as six am, Mama and I crept out of Benin like thieves and fled to Kano to join Uncle Jonathan. For the second time in my life, I have had to flee.
Uncle Jonathan lived in a three bedroom flat at Sabo Gari. He worked as a teacher in one private school in the town. According to him the pay was not great but he made up for it by teaching home lessons.
He gave Mama and I a room to ourselves. I was already preparing for my WAEC and NECO exams when we left Benin, so he enrolled me in a government school and I resumed classes. In my head, I had this picture that I will get home one day and find policemen waiting for me. I was always wary of where I went to and how much time I spent outside. Once school ended, I rushed home immediately. The only time I stayed away from home was on Saturdays. I had discovered that I loved music. The choristers of the Catholic Church I worshipped in had amazing voices and I felt the urge to join them. So every Saturday afternoon, after doing my chores, I would go to the church and sing my heart out. It was kind of soothing; the peace and quiet of the church filled me up and I thought maybe, I was healing. Maybe I was because I met Okechukwu and I fell.
The devil works in mysterious ways, a priest once said. The church laughed at the statement but when I think back now, I see that he was right. The devil is a spirit but he is also man and the motives of man have always been mysterious even to themselves. We always say it was the devil that made me do it because we don’t even understand the reasons behind the actions we sometimes carry out. But I deviate from my story.
Okechukwu was the keyboardist in the choir and a good one at that. He had this thing of closing his eyes and cocking his head to one side as if he was listening to another song somewhere else. From the moment I joined the choir, my eyes never left him. Sometimes, I just watched his long hands fly over the keyboard as he poured himself into a tune of worship or praise. He was a work of art.
It took him three Sundays and four Saturdays before he noticed me. That Saturday, I was copying a new song into my song book after rehearsals, so I had not left when the others left. He and the other guys were packing up the instruments and taking them to the gallery, to set up for the next day. I ignored them and focused on my writing. I tend to writing slow and carefully. It was a bad habit and it affected me during exams but I had not been able to stop it. While writing, a shadow came shaded the light from my eyes. I looked up to see Oke, as his friends called him, looking at me. He had long dark eyebrows and his eyelashes were long too as if they were fixed. When he smiled, his dimples transfixed me like a rabbit staring at a hunter’s torch.
I was staring at his lips as it moved but all I heard was the rushing of blood in my head. My heart was running away from my chest and my breath was stuck in my throat;
Oke: “are you not done writing, blackie?” he said. His words sank into my ears and I frowned;
Princess: “don’t call me blackie.” I replied, suddenly angry. He smiled again and sat down beside me.
Oke: “you are new to this parish shey?” he asked, staring at my song book.
Princess: “yes… why do you ask?” I asked, staring at him from the corner of my eyes. He smiled again.
Oke: “you should not be out this late. Let me walk you home.” He said.
My heart stopped. All I could see was Osazee and his friends laughing and thrusting into me again and again. I snapped out of the memory and looked at Oke. His eyes were wide with shock. He was looking at my hands. I looked down and saw that I had pierced myself with my pen. I stared at the blood, surprised. I felt no pain. I removed the pen’s point from my hand and stared at the pooling blood. I jerked my hand in surprise as Oke tried to hold it. I looked up and saw that he had a handkerchief in his hand, so I let him hold my hand and wrap the handkerchief around it.
Oke escorted me to my uncle’s gate. It was already dark. Mama was outside with Uncle Jonathan. Oke greeted them and got no response. I told him good night and walked passed mama into the house. Some few minutes later, she came and joined me in the room.
Princess: “I was copying…” I tried to explain but stopped as Mama waved her hand at me as if my explanation was not important.
Matilda: “Maximus called today.” She said. I frowned and stared at her. “What could the old fool want after all this time?” I wondered. Mama ignored my frown; “he has asked to take over the shop in Benin. I was not able to get a sale before we left. He has also asked that I send him some money to restock the shop and help us run it until we return back.” She said.
Princess: “Uncle Maximus cannot be trusted Mama.” I replied. At that moment, I noticed Uncle Jonathan standing at the door
Uncle Jonathan: “never fear; I have my eyes on it all. He will need you to send him money from your account. If after a month or two, you don’t see any returns, you can sell it off. It is better someone is running it, even if it is my elder brother, than leaving it to waste away.” He said softly.
His arguments made sense but I was not satisfied but who am I to argue with my elders? I let it slide and went to the kitchen to take my food. In the kitchen, Uncle Jonathan came to meet me
Uncle Jonathan: “I want you to understand that this is not Benin. Don’t go about throwing yourself at any boy you see. I will not stand for such attitude in my house.” He said.
I was dumbfounded. I had no reply to his hurtful words. I nodded and left the kitchen for him.
Question: Do you consider Uncle Maximus’ involvement in Princess’ and her mother’s life, a good idea? If you were Matilda would you have run away with Princess or stay back to face the law?