(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A.Adams… continued from last week)
Somto became Lucy, Chelsea was now Lucinda and Uju turned to Empress. After this naming ceremony, she shared us, like her personal belongings, to work at a restaurant in Cotonou. I remember four of us went to the same place, while the other eight, elsewhere. We arrived at the restaurant, a nondescript bungalow whose fascia board introduced -‘Welcome to Mama Tee Inn’- in letters and colours that were both bored. Three shirtless men sat at its entrance, playing the game of Whot.
As early as it was in the morning, they were high on alcohol, which inspired them to bark and crack, rail and rant jokes, and all previously embottled feelings. The only woman in their midst drew a wrapper up to her bust and cleaned her teeth with a twig, chuckling at their rants. When we asked her for the restaurant owner, she pointed us with her left hand towards the reception.
As soon as we entered, I had no doubt that the plus-sized woman, who sat on a wooden bench, in a yellow peplum blouse, plucking ugwu (pumpkin) leaves, was the eponymous Mama Tee. She exuded the aura of those women who had shed both sweat and blood as evidence of their hard-earned money.
Those women who, for circumstantial reasons, no longer needed to rely on men to raise their children. Women, who after several lies and disappointment from some itinerant father, are left with no choice but to take the bull by the horn. The smell of beer from previous night frolicking still lingered in the room, and that of mildewed sex settled like dew on grass.
“You are all welcome, my dear,” she said. The solidity in her voice tells me she had been well briefed about us.
“Thank you ma,” we curtsied. Though she doesn’t appear as lubricious as Madam Maga, her blouse had such a low-neck that spilled out her massive cleavage.
“Silfa, Silfa,” she called. Immediately a slim, fair complexioned girl with her hair held in threads heeded. I later learnt her name was Silver, and she was her fifth child from her sixth husband. She was a Yoruba woman of 44, but currently married to a Cotonou man, ten years younger.
“You, your name?” She asked Uju, who stood to her right.
“And you?” She gestured with her head at Chelsea, who stood next to Uju.
“Lucinda,” Chelsea muttered, placing her left hand on her chest.
“Somto and I, didn’t wait to be asked. We responded as her eyes shifted from person to person.
“Lucy,” Somto said.
“Funto,” I said.
All other girls turned at once, to look at me, wondering why I didn’t bear my new name. My expressionless eyes remained settled on Mama Tee.
“Funto,” she repeated, nodded and closed one eye as though ransacking her memory. “I like that name,” she nodded again. “You will be in sharge of all these things here,” she said, pointing at the other girls, as though they are ‘the things’. “Funto I shoose you because you are a mashure somebody, and you have confident.”
In my mind, I pointed her to Uju to be the leader.
Since when did she know me to be a mashure somebody? Such a cap wouldn’t fit my head; such mantle of leadership on me would be as inappropriate as wearing a ball gown to attend a job interview.
“You will control the girls. You will make our customers feel comfortable.” Comfortable? What kind of comfort, I wanted to ask.
On a regular day at the restaurant, men came from everywhere to fill their appetite. Appetite for sex and appetite for food. The inn was situated at the epicenter of Cotonou -a beehive of both day and nocturnal life. It opened around 11am till midnight. For evening frolicking, men strutted in: their well-ironed, starched shirt, tucked out, sleeves rolled up, ties undone, their pot bellies and their perfumes ahead of them.
“M-a-c-u-s-t—o-m-e-r,” Mama Tee, would hail in a shrill musical voice. The hail never walked alone. It was always accompanied with a flirtatious smile. Her artificial lashes, similar to the edges of a coarse brush, would also flicker in unison. The men sat in tables of four or six inside or outside. They ate pepper soup. Bottles of cold beer accompanied it, and also loosened their tongues, as they waxed eloquent and became flirtatious. They nodded to Fela’s Afrobeat music. They stamped their feet to Michael Jackson’s.
“More drinks please,” they ordered with utmost cheerfulness.
Oftentimes they drank to stupor and went home without legs.
One night, we girls, returned to our room; for the four of us stayed in one room. They were counting their blessings and voicing their thanks to God, -for a successful outing. Really? I thought. Both robbers and fraudsters would thank God, -for successful outings. My goodness!! How many profane thanks God had been offered?
Chelsea began to plot the graph of her career. “In six months, I fit make N100,000, I go fit go Europe that time,” she said with the rising and falling cadence of an Edo girl.
She was counting crisp N1000 notes she had made from her ‘successful outing’. She had told us how her aunty, who is from her village in Uromi, is waiting, at the end of her course, to receive her at Bologna.
Somto, on the other hand, is planning to elope with Mama Tee’s young husband. She has been telling us how the man, who is supposedly married to her boss, lavishes her with gifts. With Somto, what readily comes to mind is a pretty-faced doll, so agreeable and so vacuous.
She comes across as those little girls; victims of incest; whose uncles would defy and bribe with candies, just so they keep mum. And she would cooperate because she was not taught to say ”no”- the sheer flaccidity of willpower.
While everyone thought aloud about their plans, Uju was abnormally quiet.
“Did you fight with your boyfriend,” Chelsea asked, playfully pulling her freckled cheek.
“Abeg leave me jare…Dafe say make I go douch!”
“ Your thing dey smell? Chelsea said, and Somto laughed. I watched.
“You get douch?” she ignored Chelsea and turned to Somto, who was also sitting on the floor beside her.
Somto sprung up and thrust something at her. My eyes followed the wrapper. Douche?! “What is douch,” I asked Somto, privately.
“After everything, you will clean up; no smell, no germs, no pregnancy,” she said, raising her two hands, palm up.
I drew my face.
“See as e dey do mouth like person wey chop shit,” Uju reacted to me. “Shebi you dey do holy, holy, oya, make you come return to naija now.”
Those words hit me like a fusillade of bullets. Perhaps she needed to say it, and I needed to face it. I should have known I don’t belong in this circle.
A circumference of girls building empty castles in the air; of disoriented youths pursuing odd ambitions, and a career in vanity; an aberration of teenage-hood. I will look for money; and to Nigeria my country will I return. This is my pledge.
To be continued next week
Abiose A. Adams is a novelist, investigative journalist and programme officer at TheCable Newspaper Journalism Foundation. She can be reached on [email protected], @abioseadams, 08174217144(WhatsApp only).
Synopsis (After these eerie days)
She is ambitious but unschooled in street-wiseness. Seventeen-year-old Funto Colesworth did not know the trip to study her dream course, Medicine, in France, is one to nowhere until she finds herself in a brothel in Cotonou.
Rather than remain there to hawk sex which she is mandated to do, she escapes and joins another set of human traffickers to cross the ghoulish Sahara Desert with ten other trafficked girls. On surviving, she continues her flirtations with danger; gets into a close-shave with death in the Mediterranean Sea, where she is the only survivor amongst the girls. Arriving Italy breathless, Funto is introduced to Rome’s red-light district, where she subsequently meets a rich and snazzy footballer, Khalil.
Their whirlwind romance would have resulted in marriage and landed her a fortune, but her hopes went up in flames again when he is killed by his irascible, psychotic twin brother Hamil. Then she realises the more ruinous cost of naivety when Hamil implicates her, leading to her imprisonment in Germany. Thrown in gaol, and with no clemency in sight, Funto felt defeated until she meets a Ghanaian missionary, Duncan Melanby, whose romance with her leads to the fence-mending between father and daughter, after twelve eerie years.
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