The first time was not the one that broke Selina’s world. When it happened, it had been a long time coming, like racing through the streets until your luck ran out and you were hit by a keke. For a girl that grew up in Ring Area, she was a rare commodity-fourteen and not even one boyfriend yet. She was pursued by the inexperienced boys and coveted both secretly and openly by the men who benefitted from the over-abundance of young flesh that dominated the houses on Ring.
Even Agnes had done it before her. She had come home very late after school that day; fortunately for her it was still a couple of hours before their sitting room would turn to the beer parlour where their mother made her livelihood, so her absence was not noted. She sneaked in through the back door into the room all the children shared, carrying a bulging yellow plastic bag, a satisfied smirk on her face. Selina felt sicker and sicker as her younger sister pulled out striped nylon skirts in different colours, gauzy chiffon tops, two pairs of netty leggings and hoop earrings, and topped it off with a wad of notes. Aggie raised a brow at her, ‘wetin you dey look? No touch my cloth o. Me I don get money to buy human hair join.’
‘Aggie, e pain you? How body dey do you?’ Aggies’s confident smile faltered, ‘no be ya consain, e hear? Holy holy.’ She hastily pushed the money into her bra and exited the room.
The little ones watched their exchange but did not understand-unless maybe Grace, who was wiser than her ten years. When Selina looked in her direction, she continued furiously polishing her school sandals while pretending to not have heard anything.
Selina had spent days after that in a guilty haze, jumping whenever Ma Vero called her name, wondering whether to tell their mother and deciding against it when she saw her sly, covert smile at Papa Ifeanyi when he swatted her bottom at the shop. She would just maybe brush it aside, after definitely twisting her ear. Then she would take Aggies’s money, and the girl could hold on to a grudge.
Vero was a buxom woman whose washed out, fair skinned beauty and excellent shape told of someone who having been forced to make hard choices, lived with their consequences-and she had. She had also grown up on Ring, dreaming big dreams of being a singer and becoming a neighbourhood sensation-even moving briefly to the big city-when she won a talent show. In an unfortunate twist, she’d fallen in with one of the judges-some producer nobody seemed to remember his name-and when he denied her and her unborn child, she had no choice but to return to Ring and lick her wounds.
She had collapsed, and never quite gotten up off her fall.
Her method of dealing with the grief of her failure resulted in more children from men who never showed up after she took in- Agnes, Grace, Charity and Bobo. Bobo’s father had compensated her with their two-room apartment for giving him a much needed son-whom his family was still in the dark about-and still paid them nocturnal visits when his wife was being particularly cantankerous.
Selina had learned early that she had caused the stalling of her mother’s dreams, and had to make herself as invisible as possible. Ma Vero was liberal with her censure and her smacks and most of them were directed at her.
So it was that the first time she had sex, Selina had been expecting it for some time. Ifeanyi had been ahead of her in school before he dropped out to open a VCD rental shop, after which his attention became a source of worry for her. Girls who did not stay invisible on Ring became mothers before they were ready.
No matter how much she tried to avoid him, he would invariably wait for her in dark corners she would never have even thought of as opportune places for amorous attention-near the borehole, and at the back of her mother’s shop, and at block rosary-where his hands always found their way under her skirt or down her shirt. She rebuffed him, but that only seemed to encourage him. His leers followed her everywhere until he’d caught her one night on her way back from youth fellowship at the church and a hurried fumble in his shop had done the deed; her frantic shouting drowned out by the drumming of the neighbourhood carollers.
She slunk home, feeling filthy and weak, crying tears of defeat, and went straight to bath, after which she crawled into the bed she shared with Aggie and Grace and covered herself. Even at the threat of caning by Ma Vero when business became really busy that night, she didn’t surface from her misery. Her mother left her alone. Aggie seemed to know that something monumental had happened, and brought her a cup of hot Milo. She ignored the drink, but Charity drank the beverage and then crawled under the wrapper with her, and her littlest sister patted her head while she cried.
She found that her legs were wobbly and she hurt the next day. She’d forgotten to brave the pain and adjust her steps when passing her mother with an empty bucket from doing her washing. Vero’s narrowed gaze followed her until, ‘Selina, come here.’
‘I say come here!’ She shuffled to her and kept some distance between them. Ma Vero dragged her by the ear into the small enclosure from their sitting room/beer parlour that served as her office. ‘Wetin dey do you?’
‘Shatap dia! I say wetin dey wori you? Na who touch you?’
‘Ma?’ she echoed dumbly, her heart pounding.
She didn’t duck in time to avoid the slap; her ears rang and tears sprang to her eyes. ‘You wan make I ask you again?’
‘No ma,’ she sniffed, ‘na…na Ifeanyi wey come take me to im shop and im come…’
‘Wen dis wan happen?’
‘Eeeh? So you no know say you go tell your mama when somtin lai dis happen abi?’
‘Im force me, mama, I no wan do am,’ she’d broken into sobs.
Her mother watched her cry for a few seconds, then, ‘E don do, wetin don happen don happen. Wetin im give you?’
Her eyes widened, ‘Ma?’
‘Na wetin dey worri you dis geh sef? You no hear me abi you no understand wetin I talk?’
She cast her eyes down, ‘Sorry ma. Im no give me anything.’
Ma Vero’s eyes went dangerously dark. ‘Say wetin?’
‘I say im no give me…’
Ma Vero peered at her in obvious disappointment. Her daughter’s lack of drive was a source of both bafflement and annoyance to her. Now, if it had been Aggie…
She pushed her aside and seconds later, the door to the house banged shut.
Selina was too afraid to leave the room; she stood there shaking until her mother returned an hour later with two small boys carrying a TV and VCD player, which she placed in the parlour with a smile of satisfaction. Then she’d taken Selina to the chemist, who seemed to know what she wanted and gave her some pills to swallow.
Ifeanyi never spoke to her again.
She never could look at that TV set without feeling the worst sort of shame, and nobody could persuade her to watch home videos on it with the rest of the family-not even little Bobo, whom it seemed to give so much joy. She couldn’t see it as anything other than the price her mother felt was acceptable for an act she would never be able to erase from her memory.
The second time was two years later, after she’d accepted that Ma Vero would not pay her school fees to start senior secondary school, and had resigned herself to a life of serving her drunken customers while avoiding their fevered gropes, and borrowing books to read in dark corners from her classmates. She was stealing a reading break, peering intently into the pages of a Johanna Lindsey novel in the kitchen outside, when she heard her mother shout her name.
She rushed to the parlour to see that a huge man in a brown kaftan was causing a furore. He was loudly and brashly asking for the best seat, and beer, and some goat-meat pepper soup. Her mother was smiling widely, brushing up against him as she led him to a private booth and made him comfortable. Her make-up looked garish under the blue and yellow lights, her silky top and leggings gaudy, but it seemed to do the trick because the man was smiling back at her and touching her backside like he owned it. Her other customers could not grumble that she didn’t show them such attention because they were curious, and some of them even signalled Aggie and Grace for extra bottles of drink so that they would have an excuse to gawk.
No one who dressed like the man in the brown kaftan drank at Ma Vero’s. Was he lost?
His presence made Selina nervous and she had a deep foreboding that things were about to change.
Ma Vero and the man had an intense consultation with much head shaking and nodding and gesticulating, and Selina watched with a growing sense of unease as her mother glanced at her once, twice.
Aggie served him some beer and the pepper-soup while Ma Vero motioned for Selina to follow her to her room.
In the room, she wordlessly went to her wardrobe -a territory forbidden to the children on pain of pepper in their eyes and private parts- and pulled out a green strapless dress from the very back. She clutched it to her, caressing the dress like it was a dear friend until the silence got to Selina, ‘Ma, na wetin?’
‘Seli, remove ya cloth.’
‘Ma?’ she whipped around furiously.
‘Shebi I don tell you say make you stop dis foolish “ma, ma” you dey do wen pesin wan talk somtin wey dey important. I say remove that cloth,’ she pointed at the black skirt and yellow tank top Selina was wearing. She removed the clothes, and her mother handed her the green dress, which she put on almost reverently.
‘Na dat dress I wear de day I win Sing Aloud Talent Contest,’ her mother smiled, and in that moment, she looked as young as she really was. ‘E dey bring luck. I never wear am again, because I come…I come get belle. Beht you go wear am today, my daughter Seli, you don bring us luck.’
Selina was thoroughly puzzled, even though she liked the way the dress fit her and the feel of the expensive material. She didn’t want to parrot another ‘ma’, so she kept quiet.
Vero sat beside her on the bed and held her close. ‘Selina, open yer ear well-well, make you hear wetin I wan talk. That man wey just come say im don see you as you dey waka, and im like you sotee im ask people and dem tell am say you be my pikin. Im remember me from when I dey sing…and im wan epp us. We go get new house, big flat for Independence Road! We go live for upstair. Im wan open big supermarket for me, we go get boi-boi wey go dey sell am for us. Im wan epp me sing again,’ her eyes filled with tears, ‘im say im get one hotel…Protea, you know am?’
Selina nodded mutely.
‘Na im hotel, and I go start to dey sing for the club wey dey dere.’ She got a faraway look in her eyes, ‘if pesin tell me say na you go help dis family progress, I for no believe am. E beta say I dey see am korokoro with my two eyes. Even de school wey you wan go, im talk sey you go reach university sef!’
‘Im wan make I do maid for am?’ Selina’s head was screaming an entirely different question, but those were the words she found coming out of her mouth.
Vero gave her a slow, shrewd look, like she was failing at a test she expected her to know she was taking. ‘No. Im wan make you go make am happy. Anytin im tell you, do am.’
Vero took a deep, fortifying breath, ‘Dis geh! You no hear wetin I say?’
‘A hear ma.’
‘So wetin you dey ask again? You be small pikin? Oya, come make I do you tiro,’ she produced an eyebrow pencil from her handbag and carefully lined her daughter’s eyes, then gave her a pair of her jewelled slippers to wear, and armed her with a purse she’d hastily crammed full of stuff.
Selina found herself numbly being shuffled out the back door and into the man’s Mercedes car. It was very coldly air-conditioned, but it did nothing to mask the smell of him when he crammed himself in next to her, moments later.
A fetid brew of stale sweat, spit and onions.
She soon found out that the spit was an inevitable consequence of him speaking, and she was consistently sprayed the whole ride to his hotel as he rained platitudes on her.
‘Fain geh, see as your skin fresh. Eh! You don ripe o! You like chocolate? I go give you chocolate, and by the time I don sama your life eh…you go be big geh for this town…you wan chop? You like chicken suya..?’
She ignored him-not that she would have answered him anyway if she wanted to. She felt like she was watching something happen to someone else-she couldn’t feel any part of her body, and the part of her that was even vaguely aware was floating away from the speeding car. It was an odd feeling, to be so disconnected from herself.
When they got to the hotel, she could only form a brief impression of grand structures and bright lights before she was whisked up a lift and into a luxurious suite.
The man-for she still did not know his name-tried to coax her into the shower, but she was unresponsive so he laughed it off as nervousness and took off his kaftan, leaving him clad only in a sweat-soaked singlet and his boxers. She sat there, on the edge of the immaculately made bed, as he went to the walk-in closet and produced a black duffel bag.
She was roused from her lethargy when he opened the bag and withdrew its contents, placing each carefully on to the bed. Handcuffs; a thin, silvery chain; a whip she recognised because her mother had some regulars who were in the army;…and some scuffed, wicked-looking leather implements she didn’t even want to contemplate, that shone from wear.
Reality slammed into her-this was happening. Those leather things had made an appearance because she, Selina, was in the room. She stood so quickly she swayed on her feet.
‘Take off your dress and lie down.’
His brash, uncultured tone had morphed into cold civility. That change made her afraid. She hugged herself around the middle. ‘But sir…I want to go home.’
‘You will go home, my dear girl,’ he said in a gentle voice she would have never thought him capable of, ‘but not just yet. Not until we have had some fun first.’ He arranged the paraphernalia on the bed with practiced precision, and then fixed his gaze on her.
Something in his eyes made her blood run cold. Tears slipped hot and wet down her cheeks. She removed her mother’s beautiful dress and laid it carefully over a chair and stood in only her panties, shivering from the cold air; her mother’s dress had not permitted a bra.
‘That too,’ he was sounding less and less patient. She took it off, her hands trembling. She’d heard stories of ritual killers, but they usually kidnapped unwary children from the streets. She’d never heard of one given to them by their mothers or fathers.
She lay down and closed her eyes, resolving that she would not feel anything, but she felt every wisp of air, every breath he took, every nuance of his groans as cold metal wrapped around her foot and clasped to the bedpost, and the rough bite of leather on her other foot, making sure she stayed spread-eagled. She bit back a cry as the whip traced her body in slow, languid sweeps, and even though she tensed, nothing prepared her for the first lash.
Or the others after that.
Her cries only excited him, and soon he was in her.
She felt a tearing pain, and she knew that nothing would ever be okay again.
Edited by: Plastosilch (Samuel Opara, https://plastosilch.wordpress.com)