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August Debut

Issue 2; October/November


Toni Kan


Toni Kan

Kan is an award winning poet, essayist and short story writer. The author of two critically acclaimed books; When a Dream Lingers too Long, a collection of poems and Ballad of Rage, a novel, his works been been widely anthologised both at home and abroad. Toni Kan's short story collection, Nights of the Creaking Bed, is due out next year from Cassava Republic.

 The Car they Borrowed

There is blood on the driver’s seat.

This is the first thing Bunor notices as he pulls open the door of his new car. A white,blood stained kaftan is draped over the front passenger’s seat. Bunor staggers back in horror.

He takes a look at the shimmering black paint then walks to the back of the car and checks the black sticker his wife gave him two days earlier, a day after he brought the car home. He had liked the legend: if God bi fo mi! It is not a full sentence, just a phrase, really, and a prayer rolled into one. It is his car. There’s no mistake about it.

He circles back to the front and peers in. There is blood on the seat! He reaches in a finger and his finger comes up with blood. He wipes it on the steering wheel and stands back to look at his car again. That is when he realizes that the engine is running like they said it would.


“You will go to Mobil Filling station at 3 o’clock; you know the one on the expressway? Cross to the other side and you will see your car. The engine will be running. Get in and drive home and forget about this meeting.”


Bunor sits up in bed at 3.30 am. He hasn’t slept well. Like a child with a new toy who can’t wait to show it off, he tosses and turns as he thinks of how he will make an entrance at the end of year party his village folk hold every year in the city where he lives. He will arrive late to ensure everyone sees him when he lets his wife out of his car before looking for a place to park. After years of trundling around town in that old jalopy, he is going to savour his moment of glory. Those who used to laugh at him in the old days when his old car would not start were in for a big surprise.

Rolling out of bed, he goes to the bathroom that stands between the children’s room and the one he shares with his wife. He lifts the toilet seat and recoils.
“Martha! Martha!!” he calls and the house help comes running in from the living room where she sleeps, clutching her wrapper to her chest.

“How many times will I tell you to always flush the toilet before you sleep, eh?” he asks and slaps her with his open palm. The sudden and unexpected blow knocks the girl off her feet and as she tries to steady herself, her wrapper slips and she is naked before her master. Bunor looks at her full breasts and his eyes widen.
“Oya, flush that thing before I kill you,” he says, standing there and watching as she tries to make herself decent under his gaze.

After the toilet has been flushed, Bunor goes in and while he is at his business his
thoughts are on the house girl. Her ripe nakedness has surprised him. Was it not just yesterday that his wife brought her home, a mere ten year old with pimples for breasts?

He wonders whether she is still a virgin and just thinking about her makes him grow hard.

Bunor returns to bed with an urgent need. He turns his wife over and pulls off her
wrapper. “Bunor…” she says as he parts her legs and covers her lips with his.


“We need your car for just four hours,” the fat one says, staring straight at Bunor and sounding as if they are having a perfectly normal conversation.


He sleeps after making love to his wife. And it is almost daylight when he rouses. Bunor picks up his shorts from the floor and walks downstairs, whistling and scratching as he goes. The landlord’s son is washing the landlord’s old, weather-beaten, 505 saloon, the one he has driven for twelve years.

“Only God knows what he does with the rent he gets from all these houses he owns,” Bunor said to his wife as they walked upstairs two nights ago when he had gone to ask the landlord to bless his new car for him.

“It’s not every one who likes a fine car,” his wife, Angie, said. “Moreover, he has all those wives and children to take care of.”

“Who told you that? The man doesn’t take care of anybody. Four wives and he is still looking outside? And who says people don’t like fine cars? Those who say that are the kind of men who marry ugly wives because they don’t want other men to look at their wives. Me, I looked well-well before I married you.”

Angie paused in mid-stride and gave her husband a look that said: did-I-hear-you-right?

“But you know I’m right, eh. Who will see this your backside and say he wants an ugly woman?” Bunor said and hit his wife playfully on the bum.

“Bunor,” she remonstrated. “That’s all you know.”

“At least, I know something,” he said and they both laughed.

He had married her straight out of secondary school. Home on a short visit to see his mother who had just left hospital, Bunor met Angie tending his recuperating mother.

“Give me grandchildren before I die,” his mother said as soon as he entered and asked how she was doing.

“Mama, I will,” he said with a sigh as he settled beside her on the long settee.
He saw her the next day. Slight of build and fair of skin, she pleased him the way a ripe fruit pleases the eyes even before the tongue has known its tangy sweetness. His mother called her Angie and smiled when her son’s eyes lingered on the comely maiden, watching her as she busied herself around the house, washing dishes, making lunch and serving mother and son.

“You say she is Offor’s daughter?” Bunor asked for the umpteenth time and his mother smiled to herself, pleased that her son was pleased.

“That’s what I said,” she told him as she dipped her ball of fufu in the soup.

“But how come I never met her before?” Bunor asked licking his fingers and looking at the young woman from the corner of his eye.

His mother’s unspoken reply was a knowing smile.

Bunor returned two months later to dispense with the traditional rites that would make her his wife and then he took her back with him to the city.

Angie made him a happy man, but it was happiness that brought him anxiety. At home, he loved to watch her walk naked around his small room. He loved to gaze upon her mature but innocent beauty but he soon discovered that he was not the only one who liked to look upon his wife. He knew that when other men looked upon his wife, they imagined what he saw and that knowledge made him sick to the heart, especially since he was just a young man starting out in life. He lived, then, in a one room apartment with a bed, a chair and stool for furniture. He didn’t own a TV set yet, but there was a small transistor radio, which was permanently tuned to a station that played Congolese music.

His humble station was a source of worry because he knew that a richer man could so easily tantalize his prize away with money or the things money could buy, things he could ill afford. And it didn’t help, either, that he had married her as a virgin. Bunor lived in mortal fear of Angie being tempted to see if what she was getting at home was the best there was.

When he made his fears known to Uzor, his best friend, Uzor had been quiet for a heartbeat and then said, “You must test her and then you must beat her.”

“What do you mean, test her? What kind of test?” Bunor asked and Uzor had pulled him close and whispered in his ears.

“Once you do it, she will never try any nonsense.”

That Saturday, Bunor came home earlier than usual and stood outside the door waiting for Angie who had gone to visit Nelly, an old classmate who had just moved to the city after marrying a policeman.

“Where have you been all day?” he asked, the moment she stepped into the corridor that led to their room.

“I told you I was going to visit Nelly,” she said.

“And you didn’t see any other dress to wear?” he asked looking with disgust at the pink print dress she had on.

“Bunor! But you bought me this dress. Are you sure everything is okay?” she asked and his reply was a slap that cut her lower lip. As she raised her hand to wipe the blood, Bunor pushed her down on the bed, pulled up her skirt, tore off her panties and inserted two fingers into her private part. He pulled his fingers out and then stuck them under his nose.

“God has saved you,” he said and barged out of the room as Angie lay there, shivering from rage and shame.

Even though Angie passed the test, Bunor never let go. The thing he cherished had become a source of misery leaving him prone to random attacks of jealousy.
Sometimes, they would be at their town’s meeting and if he noticed a man looking in her direction Bunor would turn to her, his face a hideous mask of jealousy and rage.

“Why did you wear that red lipstick, eh? I told you not to wear it. Oya, go and wipe it off,”

And like an obedient child, Angie would rise to do his bidding.

Her calm subservience was not enough. To him, it could well be a mask for adultery so he took to watching her, paying young boys and girls in their compound and on their street to monitor her and whenever he heard reports about her that suggested something was amiss, he would beat her, venting his frustration through violence. He was like a man who had stolen a whistle but who could not blow it for fear of discovery.

“Who was the man in the red car? He asked her one Saturday night as he walked into their one room apartment. Bunor had been drinking as usual and had just learnt from one of his spies that his wife was spotted talking to a man in a red car that afternoon.

“What red car?” she asked him setting down the tray that contained his food on the three legged stool.

“You know what red car,” he said and slapped her hard, so hard she fell on the stool and overturned the tray. The sight of the wasted food and the accumulated silt of his dark frustrations fuelled his rage and he beat and slapped and kicked her until she was a bleeding and whimpering heap on the floor.

They didn’t sleep that night. Angie was rushed bleeding to the hospital just before

“If you bring this woman here again, I will report you to the police, you hear me?” the doctor told Bunor inside his office after he had shut the door behind them. “If you do not want her in your house send her home, she is somebody’s child, you know.”

“I am sorry, doctor,” Bunor said standing there like a naughty school boy summoned to the staff room.

“You better be,” the doctor said then flopped into a seat. “I’m sure you know we have to keep her here. She just had a miscarriage.”

The doctor’s words were like a whip on his bare skin and Bunor’s eyes watered with tears.

“Doctor, what did you just say?”

“I said you just kicked your child out of her womb and you are lucky I am not calling the police.”

That was the last time Bunor laid a finger on his wife.


“Give us the car keys,” the one with the full moustache says to Bunor, a gun appearing as if by magic in his hand. “We just need to borrow it for a while.”

Bunor is listening but really not hearing him. His mind is on the whiff of marijuana
floating in the air between them.


Bunor is nineteen and formal education as he knows it has just come to an end. He has just received his secondary school leaving certificate and is out celebrating with his friends. They have borrowed two cars from two well-to-do parents and gone for a picnic.

Bongos Ikwe’s voice is issuing out of loudspeakers. His deep voice is singing “What’s gonna be is gonna be, there’s nothing to do about it” and the young men and women are echoing the words, aware that the cushioned life is over. Now, they must stare life eyeball-to-eyeball as young adults.

Bunor sits away from the group, a joint burning between his fingers, its thick smoke pluming into the air. His mind is on his impending trip to Lagos where he is to join his uncle’s business, effectively ending his dream of university education.

He always knew that secondary school was all his parents could afford but now that it was coming to pass, Bunor feels the loss keenly.

He watches his friends as they sing and dance and scream. There is food and drink aplenty and everyone is in a happy mood. He watches the girls, some of whom would fall pregnant that evening after the drinks and food was gone and boys and girls couple like dogs on heat celebrating the end of innocence by losing all of it.

In a year, there would be babies for those who didn’t abort the pregnancies. Some, those whose parents could afford it, would go on to university while the rest would get married and live out their lives in the provincial ambience of the village, their dreams turning to cobwebs in their heads as they slowly become all they had hated in their parents. That was the sum of their lives.

Bunor took a drag on the joint, flung it away and rose to his feet.

“What’s gonna be is gonna be, there’s nothing to do about it,” he sang as he went to join his friends in their revelry.

Later that night, Bunor would lose a dear friend at another party and it was a death that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Elege was the son every mother wanted to have, the brother every sister wished for, the man every woman wanted to marry. He was not just good in school; he never ever seemed to put a foot wrong. Mothers invoked his name the moment after they had slapped you half-blind.

“Useless boy, is Elege not your friend, can’t you see how well behaved he is?”

Elege was all they said he was but he was also the most mischievous of them all. His sharp tongue and quick wit made others dread him and love him in equal measure but many of them knew that if he hadn’t grown into a tall and muscular but soft spoken young man, Elege would have had a difficult life because every time your mother slapped you and then compared you to Elege, you’d just seek him out and punch him in the nose. But it wasn’t so because Elege was tall and huge. A gentle giant, he was a bit too gentle that night. When Dulue turned the car stereo volume up, Elege reached out and turned it down.

“Elege, what’s wrong? We are going to a party, not to a wake,” Dulue said.

Elege would have had a reply ready on the tip of his tongue, but he had merely turned the volume up a notch, then focused his attention on the road in front of him.

Elege didn’t drink when they got to the party; he merely sat in a corner and nursed a bottle of water.

“You are supposed to be the happiest man here, you know?” Bunor said to him as he settled beside Elege in the corner. “See, even people like Dulue who made only 2 credits are dancing. You should drink a beer at least.”

“I don’t feel like. I shouldn’t have come. I just didn’t want to disappoint you all since I had promised to bring the bus.

The two friends lapsed into companionable silence. Then when Bunor finished his drink, he told Elege that he was going out to smoke weed.

“You want some?” he asked but Elege had shaken his head.

By the time Bunor re-entered the hall the music had stopped and people were massed around Dulue and another boy Bunor didn’t know. They were in a tangle and Elege was trying to pull them apart.

“Dulue, let’s go,” Elege said as he tried to pull them apart. Forcing himself between them, he pushed the other boy away. But he must have misjudged the boy’s strength because when Elege looked up the boy was on the floor and struggling to get up.

“Ok, you’re fighting for your friend, eh?” the boy said dusting himself.

“I said enough!” Elege told him and began to shepherd Dulue towards the door.
The next few moments went by in a blur. One minute Elege was heading towards the door and the next minute, the other boy had rushed up front with a dagger. He raised his hand and brought the long blade down.

Elege screamed and staggered back, his white shirt turning red from the spurting blood.

He grabbed the dagger and tried to wrench it out of his chest, his face a mask of shock and pain. He pulled and pulled and then screamed as the handle came off. Then as his friends watched, Elege staggered, fell back and lay still on the floor.


“Don’t go to the police, you hear me?” the fat guy says as he slides behind the steering wheel. “We are not stealing your car, we are just borrowing it for a few hours.”

“When you pick it up, check under the passenger seat there’ll be something there for you. Then, drive it straight home. Don’t go to the police because we will be watching you,” the mustachioed guy says as he gets into the passenger’s seat of Bunor’s car.


Bunor staggers upstairs and walks like a zombie into their bedroom without
acknowledging his wife and children.

“If I had known, I would have washed the car in the compound,” he says to himself not realizing that he has spoken out loud.

“What’s wrong with washing it outside?” his wife asks and he bursts into tears.

“Bunor, what’s wrong? Did something happen?” Angie asks kneeling and cradling his tear streaked face in her hands.

“They took the car,” he says trying hard to control himself.

“Who took the car?” she asks and not waiting for an answer runs to the window. She looks outside and a dry patch surrounded by wet ground is the only evidence that a car had been parked there. She screams!

“Bunor, who took our car?”

After Bunor has mastered his emotions and told her the story, she says they must let the police know.

“But they warned me not to. They said they are just borrowing it.”

“And you believe them. They don’t want you to go to the police so that by the time you finally make a report, the car would be far gone. We have to report it o.”

“Angie, they said four hours. Let us wait.”

“In four hours, the car could be in Onitsha,” she says looking at him as if he has
suddenly lost his senses. “OK, if you don’t want to make a formal report, let’s go and see Nelly’s husband. You know he is a policeman.”

Nelly’s husband is fat and big bellied like most police officers and he is picking his teeth when they enter.

“Beer or stout?” he asks as Bunor settles into the seat he has offered him and Angie disappears into the kitchen where her friend is doing the dishes.

“Nothing for now, I have come with a big problem.”

“Then you’ve come to the right place. The police is your friend, you know,” he says and laughs at his own joke. “So, what is the problem?”

Bunor tells him what has happened and the dire warning and when he is done, Nelly’s husband is snoring gently, the toothpick bobbing between his quivering lips.

“Ikenna!” Bunor screams and the fat man jumps.

“Sorry, my brother,” Ikenna says. “I came back this morning from a useless night patrol. Anyway, they gave you the right advice and you should obey it. Don’t make a police report. No need for that. Just go where they asked you to and pick up your car. If it’s not there you can call me. Go home and rest.”

Bunor exchanges looks with his wife who has rejoined them.

“You say I shouldn’t make a report?”

“Ehen, that’s what I said. Go and pick up your car like they asked you to and thank your God.”


“3 o’clock. Don’t be late o,” the mustachioed guy says as they zoom off.


When he realizes that the engine is running like they said it would be, Bunor reaches under the passenger’s seat and fingers a bag. He pulls out the bag and inside are wads of hundred naira notes. He pushes the bag back, looks around to see whether anyone is watching, before he gets in behind the wheel and slips the gear into Drive.

“There is a bloodstained kaftan and money in the car,” his wife is saying to him. “Maybe they killed somebody and somebody could have gotten the car number. Go and make a report. Tell them the car was stolen and now has been returned. You don’t have to talk about the money.”

Bunor tells her to hush but she persists until, worn out, he asks her to come with him to the police station. When they get there, he changes his mind and asks her to wait in the car. It is dusk and the station is busy. Wives, siblings and friends of the detained are massed outside bearing food, change of clothes, medicine and other essentials. Bunor pushes through until he gets to the counter where three policemen are seated.

“Good evening….” he begins before he is struck dumb.

The uniformed officer sitting in front of him is the moustachioed man who borrowed his car earlier in the day. He looks at Bunor with eyes that have narrowed into angry slits.

“Didn’t I tell you to stay at home?” he hisses. “Didn’t I tell you to take what we left for you and go home?” he asks and Bunor just stares, unable to speak.

“Get out of here!” the man barks and Bunor is startled but still he doesn’t move because there is a puddle at his feet and his trousers are wet and warm and clinging to his legs.

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