Thorns Also Have Smooth Sides
Saturday. 4:59 p.m.
The golden rays of the evening sun drips gently from the blue sky, gifting the corners of Babaowo Street with its warmness. This particular street is known as the king of other streets in Lagos, basically for its connection to Iyana Oba, Iyana Ejigbo and Iyana Ikpaja street. And as it’s always a custom to Babaowo, soothing breeze of gracious wind lunges from each corner of the town to brush against the trash-littered areas while stroking some pleasurable waves—politely lulling in a feeling of relaxation.
Flickers of smiles are seen slithering into the lips of Babaowo dwellers, for there has not been a cooler evening akin to this since people absconded from the plague of a certain deadly disease called Covid-19. So, if this evening is as groovy and cozy as it promises, it’s then not a risk if one wants to venture into Babaowo, or is it? This is why it may appear hateful, blaming Tamara for deciding to pass through on the coolness of this impressive twilight. She will go to the airport for a trip to Canada this same evening.
At a distinct corner of Babaowo, there’s this particular mango tree that bears no fruits, for tales tell of a certain old woman who had cursed it in anger for refusing to produce in its first year of maturity. So, this barren tree stands adjacent to one old bus stop along the street. Lonely and sad, this bus stop harbors some rusty benches, so outdated are these benches that hasty passengers loathe to sit and rest on them each time they grace their sights.
But it’s in this bus stop that a moving bus—yellow and old—suddenly pulls over to drop Tamara in her lady-like glamour. Tamara appears. Her dark hair rescinding and dancing in the softness of the cool evening. Her unique silhouette earns her the status of a virtuous woman, so that many wonder what the hell such a lady will be doing in Babaowo at this time of the day. But Tamara knows better.
Her gorgeous chocolate skin shimmers under the golden bliss of the evening. Her upturned nose, thin lips, dark-brown eyes with oval face are making things difficult when trying to guess her real age. Confusing! But as Tamara stands 5ft tall, exposing her symmetrical features to onlookers, one might be right to guess she isn’t below 26. A good guess, after all.
Having alighted, she cast a sweeping glance across as her eyes catch the rusty benches and she desires to reach out a seat for herself, determining to wait for the next taxi to convey her to the airport. But sadly, the wafting stench of the dirty environ tucks against her nostrils.
“Oh! my gosh!”
She waves her left hand disdainfully and her little hand bag dangles beneath her armpit, releasing some fragrance of her perfume. This sweet smell oozes to the air. Her nostrils inhale it and she nods in satisfaction. She has taken time to polish herself. One doesn’t need be stingy with self-decoration if one is meeting with an important personality in a foreign land, right?
Sauntering her way confidently along the street, passers-by lengthen their stares to satisfy their lustful eyes. For millions of eyes threaten to pummel Tamara down to her knees, but she keeps her gait alright, inferring to circumvent their distractions. Her eyes only steal two sharp glances when she notices a sudden change of weather. One is at her wrist watch which says 5:50; and the other to the sky above her head which appears cloudy.
Uneasy. Tamara is aware that the lenient breeze has turned angry and droplets of rain have started to drizzle. She thinks of a plan. Ouch! her mind hits a blank page. Just then, the breeze comes mercilessly, brushing violently against the street belongings—things toss up in the sky while some particles of sand wiggle in the air. This is followed by a clatter of thunder, rumbling in a distant horizon. Shooting flashes of perpendicular lightening descend to the earth. Tamara is momentarily blinded as it’s now dawned on her that her trip to Canada is ruined, and her aim of meeting Ms. Adichie will be fruitless.
Ms. Adichie will sure feel disappointed, won’t she? Oh! Tamara will miss the last opportunity she has got to learn some craft of story telling from the great Chimamanda herself. What a great loss this is will be to her! Her last chance to revive her writing prowess from the writers’ block she has suffered since two years will now be dashed against rocks. This brings her nothing but painful tears of disappointment. Tamara mops her eyes softly and reasons:
When one door closes, another will sure open! Optimistically, she moves on. The vicinity is now gathering enough steam.
Sighting the mango tree ahead, she quickly scoots to its safety and shade as she carefully evaluates the obscure mood of the weather. In a jiffy, the few minutes ago serene street of Babaowo has become noisy with the rattling rain keeping many on their heels. People are seen retreating from other streets just to cluster in Babaowo—deterring the downpour.
Meanwhile, by the far end, at about 3 meters away from where Tamara is standing, Skido, a 22-year-old casanova lurks around, stalking her shadow secretly. The bloke must have seen her alight from the bus. But who knows what he wants from her?
The atmosphere is now becoming a little dark, but the dazzling flashes of thunder paved way for sight. Skido is revealed, sitting on the rusty benches at the bus stop. He has just lowered his speck, leering his eyes at Tamara. Then, Tamara darts eyes to his direction.
God! Their eyes meet.
Tamara’s heart hops into her mouth in horror, panting heavily—hands shaking and mouth quivering. There’s danger!
Skido on the other hand nods assuredly. In his mind, Tamara is a done deal. No escape route for her. His eyes then roll sharply to his left, and there stands Kankpala, another Babaowo hooligan.
Kanpkala is particularly ugly and without a light skin. One that doesn’t know his mother would often assume he is of gorilla descent. Without his red lips, he’s nothing close to human. He has got a stick of cigarette and a thick white smoke is puffing out in between his lips. Now, he removes the cigarette to whistle an affirmative sign to Skido. As expected, their eyes lock and invade Tamara at the foot of the mango tree. Skido’s signal says: wait for it!
Of course, Tamara is starting to weary more than ever. She waves hands frantically to any taxi that can transport her back home, but none is one sight. Abruptly, she feels a vibration coming from her hand bag. Her phone. It’s Tabita, her sister.
“How is Mama? is she getting any better?”
“No sister, Mama is dying. The doctor said if the operation is not commenced anytime soon, the money will be for her burial.”
Tamara quickly takes the phone from her left ear to the right “God forbid! Mama will not die!” Her eyes widens in disbelief.
“Amen!” This Tabita of a girl sounds quite girlish. And from her teenage voice, it appears she loves prayers.
“What about the money I deposited before I left the village?” Tamara is asking.
“The doctor said it isn’t enough to meet up with the amount needed for her treatment. Let alone the operation.”
“I know, right… hmmm… you know what?”
“I strongly believe Mama will live for us, God won’t allow her to die!”
“Ameeeeeeeeen!” You can see for yourself, the little girl really loves prayers.
“I was actually on my way to the airport to book a flight for the Canada trip before things suddenly changed around me. Right now, I don’t think I will still make it to see Ms. Adichie as scheduled!”
“What’s happening? What changed? Is the change preventing you from making the trip?”
“It depends Tabi, it depends. I can’t say right now until I am out of here.”
“Please sister. Try not to miss this opportunity of saving Mama’s life. Now that Sandra has helped us secure the free visa, it shouldn’t be wasted.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I will try. Sandra has really proved to be a reliable friend and a source of joy to our family. However, if I knew the trip would be ruined, I wouldn’t have even made her go through those stress for our sake.”
“Sister! what do we do now? how else do we make one million naira for Mama’s surgery if you miss the contest? Mama might die if you don’t win the money!” Tabita sobs.
“Where is your faith, Tabi? Didn’t I tell you Mama will not die?”
“Amen, sister, amen!” Tabita blurted in response. “But sister…” she continues.
“What is it?” Tamara is expectant.
“Sister, I fear if you don’t make it to Canada to see Ms. Adichie, you won’t be able to learn the writing skills to win the contest? Sister, I don’t want Mama to die!”
“I understand, Tabi, and I trust God on that. The most important thing now is for you to remain strong and stay close to Mama, am I clear?”
“Amen, I will!”
“And always make sure she eats something so she can respond to treatment.”
“Amen!” What kind of girl replies Amen to every instruction?
“Meanwhile, I think I have got to deal with the issue I’m facing here right now.”
“Sister, what exactly is this issue?”
“There’s heavy rain in Babaowo—the route to the airport, I’m kinda stuck here. The rain has been falling for an hour now,” she glances through the street road, “yet, there seems to be no vehicle on sight to take me back home. Worse of it, I think I am in a bigger trouble.”
“Sister what trouble are talking about? You’re getting me more scared. Why do you even have to follow that God forsaken street?”
“I didn’t know Tabi, I don’t know…” Tamara is now frightened. A cold impulse of fear streaming down her spine. “There are huge boys around,” Tamara perks up and sees Skido and Kanpkala making their way to her direction, “you know what, Tabi, call Sandra and ask her to come looking for me at Babaowo, I don’t think I will still own my phone any moment from now. Please stay with Mama, I’ll be home soo—
“What do you think you’re doing, madam!” Skido’s guttural voice almost ripped Tamara’s heart off. He forcefully snatches the cellphone from her ears. His sharp fingers, like that of a wild cat’s claws, rake over her ears, plastering some parallel lines close to Tamara’s ear lobe. This pains Tamara excruciatingly and some red fluid is already gushing down her ears. But Kankpala has closed in from behind, carefully removing the hand bag from her shoulder.
“Just be a gentle beautiful lady, huh?” he whispers. Oh, gracious! One needed to see Kankpala’s teeth—black as coal. Even the stench smell of leftover particles still oozes from them, threatening to damage Tamara’s nostrils. Imagine those beautiful nostrils fighting off the pungent. Though Tamara tries to hold back her breathe amidst begging them to collect everything and let her go, she still can’t be free from the torture of Kankpala’s breath.
“Look at it, just take, take them all and leave me alone, please!” she whimpers as she hands over her newly acquired wrist watch and ear rings to Kankpala.
“Will you shut your trap!” Skido barks, bringing out a short dagger. “Don’t you know this street?” Tamara takes a step backward, nodding negatively to the question. “This is Babaowo, the only street that can either offer you freedom or death. Begging me to let you go is a taboo here. Or do you want to kill me?” This question appears thunderous and confusing to Tamara.
How does she want to kill him? isn’t he the one holding a dagger? Tamara rolls her seductive eyes to him, shooting a flicker of life-sapping smiles. Somehow, Skido is weakened. He doesn’t feel it anymore. He doesn’t feel it will be satisfactory to just have his way with Tamara right there and let her go. No. Such a beautiful lady needs to be taken home for a good time together for the whole weekend. This idea is now growing in his head but Skido needs to outsmart his colleague, as Kankpala’s stare dances to his every move. Kankpala may be ugly but he’s obviously the wisest. Outsmarting him needs time and calculative moves. Meanwhile, Skido needs some time to think and plan! But takes a wrong first steps. The idea of starting with incessant chats is enough to piss Kankpala off.
“Look, in this street, showing mercy means an exchange for a life!” Skido begins. “And that will be my life not yours, huh. Look around you!” Tamara takes a careful glance across. “What do you see?” he bellows. Tamara sees nothing but a bunch of street dwellers watching and minding their businesses as though they didn’t notice what is going on.
“Ogbeni kilonso?” Kankpala is suddenly provoked. “Taste this fruit nah make we bounce! abi make I first you chop?”
Tamara is not liking the sound of this. It’s better she dies than allowing this rotten-mouthed beast to lay a finger on her body. Even Skido doesn’t like the smell of Kanpkala’s mouth but he’s used to it, anyways. Kanpkala remains his right-hand man in this kind of operation, and the bloke has proven resourceful many times.
“You no suppose dey yan all this give this girl nah,” Kanpkala blurts again. “Abi you wan begin chyke am on top?”
Who did he just call a girl? Tamara’s heart burns revengefully. If she has her way, Kankpala won’t have the mouth to repeat that again. She will make sure that stinking pit is sealed for good.
“Ski, you don dey shame me o, and you don dey fall my hands. I ask you wetin dey hold us here?” He darts eyes to the tongue-tied Skido and takes it to Tamara. Skido is staring pleasingly on her. “Oh, now I get am,” Kankpala shrugs his shoulders. “Ski, why beautiful girls dey weak you like this nah?” he barks angrily.
Skido has taken enough of Kankpala’s insubordination. “Kankpaaa chill. I say chill!” he roars.
“Don’t tell me to chill!” the gorilla scampers angrily and slaps the mango stem behind him with an open palm, feigning in annoyance. “Why we go come mission you com dey lecture woman on top say wetin? We never even do the mission! Shey if I enter before you now, you go say I break rules?”
“Kanpka na me you dey shout for?” Skido has taken the dagger off Tamara’s neck and it now points to Kanpkala. “Na me you dey slap mango for, Kankpa?” Skido’s heart is boiling with a pang of vexation. Tamara is now free with no one holding her. But all the while, it irritates to see this girl still standing there, frozen like an ice with no sign of escaping. The rain has stopped. Why is she not making any effort to run?
Tamara remains calm and stares at the two mad men barking and shouting at each other. Well, her mind rakes for any possible escape move but none is forthcoming. This is bad, it’s sure not going to end well for her. Just then, an idea creeps to a corner of her mind. Quietly, she sneaks hand into her bag which Kankpala has dropped carelessly on the ground to settle scores with his boss.
Prying eyes on her phone screen, Sandra has given her 10 missed calls while 41 came from Tabita. Thankfully, Sandra may still be around since her own calls are few. She quickly texts her exact location to her and returns the phone to where the new possessors have left it. One thing is certain to Tamara, any single effort to escape at this point may draw the attention of her captors, and if this happens, they won’t take it easy on her like before. Their anger may likely descend on her like a mighty thunder of Ogwugwu shrine. So she leans quietly against the fruitless mango tree, enjoying her freedom as she watches in amusement.
The ranting disposition of these mad dogs have accelerated to an entertaining level and now forces Tamara to let out some solace-given smile. The dagger has slipped out from Skido’s hand and dropped on the ground. Good. The battle is certainly going to be a measure of strength through punching and kicking. Tamara is aware the game has changed for her good. The Lord has laid an ambush in the camp of her enemies. Yes, whoever has said this prayer for her sake will forever remain blessed!
Skido is now ready to throw the first punch, he has even moulded it but Kankpala is not exposing his cheek well enough. He hangs his right arm a little above his eyes level expertly waiting to block it while aiming to use his right hand for a rewarding uppercut on Skido’s jaw.
“Watch your leg! Ski!” Tamara yells out to Skido who has exposed his right leg to Kankpala. It is obvious Tamara has taken side. However, she also fears that the rotten-mouthed wins this fight. If he does, game over! But if only Tamara gets a glimpse of what Skido has in stock for her after the war.
“Thanks, babe!” Skido got the info and readjusted his stance, his speck has been smashed as he gyrates his legs unsteadily. His heart pants heavily and his two arms swinging in the air, aiming for a perfect target on Kankpala’s face. Kankpala, on the other hand, has lost his target. “You witch! Oloshi,” he curses Tamara.
Unexpectedly, Skido takes this opportunity to launch his first strong fist. Accurately, it goes straight to his left cheek. Ouch! This thing sends an excruciating pain to Kankpala’s brain.
“Ahaa! Omo ogbatie!” He sends his uppercut but it’s too late. It misses, thus sending him off balance, as he staggers stupidly to Skido’s left. This earns Skido another chance to wrack a soldier-like blow on his mouth. Then, the wounded Kankpala collapses to the ground, grunting with blood spewing through his black lips. The rapturous cheers that emanate from other dwellers are heard across other streets. Skido is seen waving his hands proudly in victory and forgetting that he has sold Kankpala a demon’s soul.
“Skido, he is heading for the dagger!” Tamara charges. She seems concerned. But before the proud Skido reaches for the dagger, Kankpala has grabbed it and forcefully thrust it into his chest!
“Ahrrgh!” Skido’s body crumbles on the ground after seconds of gasping for air. Kanpala, out of fear for killing his boss drops the dagger and disappears to thin air.
“Jesus!” Tamara yells as she watches the crowd scampering away living Skido to die. “Where’s Sandra?” Tamara suddenly remembers she has been expecting a rescue team.
“Tamara!” Sandra’s voice yells from afar. The darkness has overwhelmed most corners and she barely sees her. She waves from a car beckoning her to come quickly but Tamara asks her to drive closer instead. Then Sandra’s black Jeep pulls over at the spot Skido is lying.
“Tamara, what are you doing?” Sandra screams.
“I can’t leave him here!”
“What? why? Do you know him?”
“I’m sorry Sandra I can’t. I’ll explain later! Are you helping me or not?!”
Sandra opens the car and the dying body of Skido squeezes in. The jeep races away.
As they cut the Inyana Ikpaja’s interjection touching down lane that heads to Cele Express, siren blaring of police car makes it way to Babaowo with its beams lightening the way.
Few minutes later, Sandra looks at the badly wounded Skido and returns it to her friend. Her expression is uncertain as wrinkles of annoyance queued on her face. “Tamara, this is a goddamn night for Christ sake and police check points are everywhere!”
Tamara throws a quizzical look. “What?”
“Look! you really need to start talking. Tell me why I’m carrying a dead criminal in my car at this ungodly hour of the night! And let it be something convincing, else I’m pulling over to dump him.” She steps on the break and turns the steering right. Tamara understands her friend isn’t going to give up this time.
“Alright. Calm down, okay? Skido raked my ear and injured me. I want to see him alive so I can show him how it pains to snatch a lady’s cell phone forcefully from her ears. Also, because of him, I lost my visa and my cellphone—and the only hope of saving my mom is gone. He needs to pay for all this!”
Sandra takes eyes ahead to stay the steering.”Well, Tama, you have got good reasons, but I still think you should be more concerned about your Mom’s health right now and not this riffraff.” She darts eyes at Skido to ensure he isn’t awake already.
“Tabi called earlier that the doctor isn’t going to carry out the surgery until the money is paid complete. So where do you expect me to get that kind of money?”
“And you think this street rapist has a million naira, huh?”
“Well, whatever he has will be sold to generate any amount possible.”
“Tama, I still don’t think this is a good idea. What if he wakes and he’s just a nobody?”
“My instinct tells me negative to that.”
“Where to now?” Sandra is giving up already.
“Just drive to any nearby hospital!”
“Okay, what if he wakes up the next day with a gun in his hands?” She asks again.
“I dodge such prophecy!” Tamara shrugs her shoulders in rejection.
“What if he runs away before we get back the next day?” Sandra opines again.
“Girl, I have got this under control, trust me!” Tamara assures.
The next day, Tamara and Sandra are seen, cruising in the soothing morning breeze to the St. Mary’s Hospital, Yaba. One who doesn’t know the mothers of these ladies will think they are twins. Exact age and shape with their baby faces glowing attractively and creating stumbling blocks to every opposite sex. Save for Sandra’s fair skin which makes her appear as beautiful as the Goorgi women of southwest India, they are nothing but identical twins.
As they walked through the ally, heading to the exact room Skido is admitted, Tamara’s hearts pants in fear. She prays silently that Sandra’s prophecy doesn’t come to fulfilment. What if Skido wakes up with a gun? or he runs away either? No! such will not happen! She comports herself bravely.
Soon, they are in the front door of ward 31. For a few seconds, they debated on who enters first until Tamara takes the courage to knock. The door swings open. God! The scene that greases their sight stings a chilling breeze to their spines.
What is Skido doing with his knees on the floor? Jezz! He even holds a red flower in his hands facing Tamara. What is happening?
“I know that I’m not qualified for what I’m going to ask for. But if you give me a chance, Tamara, I shall show you how a street riffraff loves a lady who saved his life. I overheard all the conversations in the car and over there is 1.5 million naira cheque. I hope it will be enough for your mom’s surgery!”
As Skido points at the edge of the hospital bed where a brown envelope lies, Tamara stands in tears. Transfixed. Confused. And ashamed!
“What do you think I should do, Sandra?” Tamara finds her voice after few seconds. “Reject or accept him?”