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Crispin Oduobuk MfonAbasi


Crispin Oduobuk-MfonAbasi

Oduobuk-MfonAbasi is the 2008 recipient of the IRN-Africa Outstanding Award in Creative Writing. His work appears in several publications including Outliers, The Best of Gowanus II, and (online) Gowanus, East of the Web, Eclectica, 42Opus, Under This Red Rock and others.
His stories were named Notable in the 2005 and 2006 Million Writers Awards, and one of the ten finalists in the 2006 Best of the Net awards.

He lives in Abuja, Nigeria.



 This is Lagos

Stevo swerved into the narrow alley at full speed—an antelope escaping a leopard. A dog yelped out of his way as he tore past the side door of an abandoned factory. Something clanged to the ground behind him. His heart bucked and, looking back, he stumbled to the concrete.

The dog had brought down an empty oil drum as it bounded away. Oh God, let it be he’d shaken them off. He knew his heart would explode if he tried to run again.

He panted back to the side door, garbling a ‘thank you’ to God for keeping him alive and giving him the bread idea.

He’d toppled a bread seller’s cart on Ogunlana. Loaves of all types — big, small, round, sliced, soft, hard… free loaves bounced everywhere; as good as manna from God Himself. And Lagosians rushed at them.

“See bread-o!”

“Leave my bread!”

“You dey crase!”

“Gimme di bread, jo!”

In the middle of the katakata, with everybody grabbing loaves, he scooped up two hard Agege loaves and took off.

Still wheezing and dripping steamy sweat, he forced back the weathered bottom half of the side door and slid in. Thank God he’d kept himself trim. If he’d been fat like Singood, he would never have been able to get in.

As he waited for his eyes to adjust to the near-darkness, the scar on his left forearm itched. He frowned. He’d recently tried to have a cobra tattooed around the old knife wound, figuring it would look tough and scary and more fitting for a gangster rapper. But the skin around the scar had moulted and disfigured the snake.

Now that he could see somewhat, he remembered he’d once done casual work here in the days when he still believed that honest, hard work guaranteed success. He recalled that big doors at the back opened onto a loading bay. What good luck; the doors were boarded up, as were the front doors. The windows were too high and had also been boarded up. That left the side door under which a little daylight now seeped in. Yet darkness still owned the factory and its airlessness reminded him of the stinking, windowless Ajegunle room that belonged to Kojack.

Kojack. Stevo’s frown deepened. He hissed. The snake-like sound came back at him in an eerie echo, sending his heartbeat racing again. He stepped back to the side door and listened. He heard nothing significant either outside or inside. He moved to a nearby slab and set down the Mama Smallie’s bag that held the money and the loaves.

Now that he’d stopped running, the pain quickly caught up and weakened him. He’d only wanted money for studio time, yet, see where Kojack had landed him, on a Friday evening that he should have been having a good time with Pauline.

Pauline. He wished he had his cell phone with him. But not wanting to lose it at work, he’d left it at home. He longed to speak with Pauline though not as much as he wanted to be with her. That way he’d be one hundred percent sure her big, round and soft ass did not pleasure another man. Especially that yeye half-caste.

He checked the slab for sharp objects.

He’d expected the pain but had no idea it would be this horrible. The pain simply owned him. How could he get some relief? He pushed a large loaf down the back of his jeans and bound it in place with his big-buckled belt. Then he sat down on the slab.

Nothing he’d ever known prepared him for the pain. Not being beaten nearly to death by area boys on Lagos Island. Not having his head slammed against one of the pillars of the Ojuelegba overhead bridge. All of that hurt really bad but this hurt more. The pain intensified with every passing minute. Did getting burned on the calf by the silencer of a motorcycle that had just been turned off come close? That happened to him during his Akoka days when he bought the Harley Davidson which supposedly once belonged to the eccentric musician Charly Boy. The tip of the silencer would have to be buried deep in his ass and the motorcycle’s engine left running. Maybe then the pain would come close to what he felt now.

He exhaled and stretched out on the dust-covered slab. His sweat-soaked clothes matted over the dust and gave up a smell like that of the earth when the first drops of rain came at the end of the dry season. He liked the smell and inhaled deeply. It reminded him of days when nothing mattered except eating, playing with his friends and sleeping. He regretted how things had turned out. If he ever saw Kojack again, he would off the bastard. He had told Kojack they should leave Mama Smallie’s alone. If he’d said anything about having a bad feeling, he knew Kojack would have hissed and told him to keep his yeye feeling to himself. So instead he said everybody went to eat at Mama Smallie’s, a truth nobody could argue with.

Kojack had glared, his big bald head still managing to look too small for his extra large eyeballs.

Stevo stood a head taller than Kojack and so didn’t understand why it always seemed Kojack’s eyes were burning down on him like two welder’s torches. “Proverb say make you no throw stone inside market because you fit hit your own person,” he said in pidgin, the only language he suspected Kojack understood fully. Nobody knew Kojack’s tribe, a major mystery in a city where, if one couldn’t tell your roots from your name or accent, they would ask. But who would ask Kojack?

“Your yeye proverb no mean anything,” Kojack said, double-checking his gun. “Na because everybody dey chop for that place we go enter there. Them get plenty money. Oya, make we go work, jo!”

Now Stevo raised his head and checked the crack at the bottom of the door. The day still had too much light. He laid back and closed his eyes. Almost immediately he saw Pauline.

In her slow and suspicious way, she stood before him undressing, not smiling but not frowning either. The glowing roundness of her breasts jumped at him as she took off her bra. He swallowed and reached out. But oyibo hands reached out from behind her and cupped the breasts.

Stevo sat up. A new layer of sweat oozed out of him. That yeye guy had Pauline. When he’d asked Pauline about the guy, she’d lied that she didn’t really know him, just another man toasting her. He’d seen through the lie but had decided not to pursue it, after all Pauline’s breasts had been in his hands then. But now he wished he’d slapped the truth out of her.

What did he know about the yeye guy? The guy drove a new Kia, looked like a banker and had a flat in Ikeja. Stevo bit back his lip. Mfana Ibagha, he whispered the words made popular by the Tu Face song. No problem.

When he set out from his one-room home in Apapa that morning, if anyone had told him he’d be owned by this sort of heavy kasala before the end of the day, he would have cursed them and their ancestors. But how had it all gone wrong? Five of them went in. Singood, who had the map of all Lagos roads burned into his usually thick skull, waited outside with the engine of the Danfo running. They all had guns, though not all the guns had bullets. Still, what could people who were stuffing themselves with amala and ewedu, garri and edikanikon or rice and chicken do in the face of guns?

Kojack knew where to get the heavy cash in an inside office. The rest of them emptied the tills at the serving counter, collected phones, wallets and purses. Only one woman screamed and Stevo kicked her into silence as they hurried back into their bus.

Singood shot out of Mama Smallie’s parking lot into Ogunlana Drive and nearly rammed a Rav 4 coming out of the roundabout at Adelabu, Masha and Ogunlana junction. A stick of a man stuck an angry kwashiorkor head out of the Rav 4 and cursed: “You dey crase! Yeye idiot!”

Singood manoeuvred around him.

“Wait!” Kojack said.

Singood stopped the bus right in the middle of the roundabout. Other motorists honked and cursed. Kojack passed the money bag to Stevo. “No touch anything-o!” Then he got out of the bus and their trouble started.

Stevo shifted on the slab. The pain had spread. His ass felt as if it had been dipped in a bucket of acid and now the deadly liquid burned through blood veins to every part of him. This new level of pain imposed fear that made him tremble.

Along with the heat, he became aware of sounds of the city filtering through: Cars honking loud, bus conductors calling several routes — Apapa, Lagos, Barracks, Ojuelegba — some along with special instructions; “No bring five hundred naira - o, I no get change, o!”

The strains of a gangster rap song pounding loud, most probably from one of the ubiquitous yellow Danfo buses, drifted to him. He tried to catch the lyrics of the song. He couldn’t make it out but the rhythm helped dull a pain he really couldn’t forget.

He could use a funky beat like that on his album. He’ll surely finish the album now that he had the money he needed. A beat like that brought out the hardest lyrics straight from the heart; something that real rapheads would appreciate; something like the new hook on his mind:

Four got shot,
One got caught,
One got away with a bullet in the butt!

He liked it. Mad funky. Heads would nod till it seemed their owners were determined to break them off their necks. What would he call the song? It had to be funky too, something that would really gel with how the song came about. He sang the hook in his mind over and over though the pounding beat had faded away and the throbbing pain refused to be forgotten. At length he had it. In a rough voice, something like DMX’s, he could hear ‘This is Lagos!’ looping over and over at the top of the hook. It would be super — a street anthem for years to come. Damn! He had to get to a studio.

Suddenly he felt faint and found it difficult to breathe. He shut his eyes tighter hoping that would make him feel better. He wished he had Pauline with him! At a time like this he would have liked to cling tight to her soft curves and inhale the baby oil smell of her skin. He loved Pauline. Best girl he’d ever known. Didn’t talk much. A bit stubborn, yes. But she hadn’t allowed her fine face to turn her into a proud and pompous bitch. He would marry her.

Suddenly he felt something hard pressing against his navel. He touched it and realised he still had his gun stuck in his waistband. He hissed as he took it out and kept it carefully beside him.

The bulky locally-made pistol hadn’t helped much when the police stumbled on them. Not his fault. Hadn’t he told Kojack they were better off just using the bus for ‘catch in the air’? It annoyed him that Kojack hadn’t been among those the police killed. He didn’t mind Singood dying. The bastard had been living half-dead in any case, his fat body slowly being sucked dry by a disease everybody suspected he’d caught from a prostitute. But Wale, Emeka and Sani were new to the game and shouldn’t have died like pedestrians crushed by molue on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. He hoped he would see Kojack again in this life. He would off the yeye bastard from a distance without a second thought.

He checked the crack again and could barely make it out in the darkness. He tried getting up and felt sickly as if he’d had malaria for days. He tightened the belt against his ass, stuck the gun back in his waistband, then brushed as much dust as he could off his black clothes before slipping out.

Taking slow and careful steps, he thanked the darkness for coming. It seemed any minute now his legs would stop walking and he would collapse. But he had to keep moving if he wanted to stay alive. Thank God he knew his way round Lagos. He quickly identified his location as a side street off Alhaji Masha Road.

A new model Toyota Corolla stood at the Ogunlana side of Adelabu, Masha and Ogunlana junction, close to the spot where the Rav 4 had been just two or so hours earlier. He looked round but didn’t see the Rav 4. Perhaps the police had taken it away. The stick man certainly had not.

A woman sat in the driver’s seat of the Corolla chatting on her phone and throwing her hand about. Stevo looked round. They were people selling roasted plantain, maize and pears at the corner. They weren’t a problem. Neither were other people on foot like him nor the passing cars.

A rickety Peugeot 504 backfired and reminded him of the sound of Kojack’s gun as it went off. The next thing, Stevo saw the stick man’s head fall forward on the Rav 4’s steering wheel. Kojack jumped back into the front seat of their bus. “Oya!” he motioned to Singood.

Singood swung towards Adelabu Street. The bus moved a few metres and died. Lagos drivers, veterans of mayhem on the road, immediately began going round the Rav 4 and the bus while cursing and showing Singood five shege fingers. Few people seemed to be aware of what had happened to the Rav 4 driver and nobody cared.

Kojack glared at Singood. “Go now!”

Singood tried starting the engine. It made the right noise but wouldn’t start. Kojack looked back at the Rav 4. He opened his door. “Oya, make we go!” He got down, gun still in his hand.

They followed him and were running towards the Rav 4 when a waste disposal truck came out of the roundabout and blocked their way. As the truck passed and headed into Ogunlana, a shiny police van packed with mobile policemen appeared on Masha Road.

If Kojack’s gun had been hidden like the rest maybe the police would have simply driven past. But how could they miss a gorilla of a man like Kojack running about with a gun in his hand?

Several Mopol opened fire at once. People around the junction screamed and ran in every direction. Motorists panicked and some got on the pavement and hit pedestrians in their attempt to get away. In that first volley of shots, Stevo and his pals all got hit as did several passers-by. Kojack’s right hip seemed to explode and he fell close to the Rav 4. Some guy in a business suit got hit in the shoulder and it looked as if his arm had been severed. Singood got it in the chest but managed two more steps before falling. Stevo had no idea how Wale got it. He just saw the boy go down spewing blood. Emeka’s head scattered and blood and brain matter fell on Stevo’s shirt. Stevo felt the burning sting of a scorpion on his ass as he jumped onto the tailboard of the garbage truck. Someone grabbed his leg. He shrugged the person off before turning to look. Behind him, Sani fell into the road and a Mopol ran up and blasted away. Sani bucked on the ground and his guts spilled out. Stevo threw up.

Two Mopol on foot were gaining on the truck when he saw the bread seller’s cart. He jumped off.

With his gaze fixed on the woman in the Toyota, Stevo transferred the bag to his left hand and reached into the front of his jeans for the gun. He stepped quickly to the driver’s window and hit the glass with the butt of the gun. The glass made a shrinking sound and sort of became frosty like a beer bottle out of the fridge. He tried to hit the glass again but the car sped away from him. People jumped out of the car’s path and cursed the driver. Stevo stuck the gun back into his jeans and looked round again. He didn’t notice anybody giving him a second glance. Despite the pain he smiled: Lagosians always minded their business. He walked calmly towards Adelabu.

A Hummer cruised past blasting furious Fuji music. He wondered how ‘This is Lagos’ would sound if he threw talking drums and congas into the mix, something upbeat like Femi Kuti’s ‘Beng Beng Beng’. No, no. It would sound even better on a Fela hybrid. Mix the rhythm of ‘Lady’ and ‘Shakara’ with a thumping gangster bass and kick drum. That would be the bomb.

The pain that had never left him now reasserted itself. Suddenly he feared it would kill him. Hospitals were out of the question. Gunshot wounds were never treated without police clearance. He had to go to Pauline’s.

Stevo doubled back to Ogunlana. Right in front of the Mama Smallie’s outlet where they’d gone to work earlier, he stopped a Lawanson-bound bus. Once in the bus, he saw Pauline. Her big, round ass rolled gently in a loose, black skirt as she walked down the street ahead of them. He gasped. “Hey, conductor!”

The conductor scowled. “Na wetin?”

They drove past ‘Pauline’ and she became an unknown person. He hissed at the conductor. “Forget.”

At Lawanson bus stop, the usual ‘go-slow’ had motorists honking and swearing like they were in a reality show with a fat cash prize to be won by the hardiest curser. He hailed a taxi. “Smith Street.”

On the way, he spotted a patent medicine store and remembered Pauline saying something about the ‘chemist’ being a ‘sharp man’ who ‘helped’ girls so long as they paid. Stevo stopped the taxi.

The sharp man wanted lots of money. At first Stevo wanted to bargain. Then he remembered Prison Break. What would T-Bag have done? Use his gun, no doubt. Stevo’s scar itched. He scratched and bargained.

The sharp man checked. A flesh wound, he said.

Stevo didn’t believe him. “Why di ting dey pain?”

The man shrugged. “Even when bullet enter comot, e go still pain.” He dressed the wound, gave Stevo a shot, handed over small sachets with painkillers and antibiotics and pocketed a twenty thousand naira bundle.

Stevo felt better. He pretended to leave, turned round and whacked the sharp man on the head with the butt of his gun. The guy fell back behind the counter. Stevo retrieved the bundle and rapped into the night:

One got the butt of my gun on his head!

Pauline lived in one room in a face-me-I-face-you compound that had communal bathrooms and toilets. The familiar stench from the open drains that ran along the sides of the street greeted him as he crossed into the compound. Just outside Pauline’s door, in the narrow corridor that separated the rows of rooms, he’d chained the wheels of his Harley Davidson together. He knew the neighbours complained about the bike. He’d purposely kept it there knowing everybody who squeezed past it would ask who’d left it. The answer, “Na Pauline boyfriend,” mattered more to him than the inconvenience even he suffered to reach Pauline’s room.

He let himself in and turned on the light. He’d known Pauline wouldn’t be in. She’d always blamed the perpetual blackout even after he’d bought her an I-pass-my-neighbour generator. But see now the area had light yet she’d abandoned her home. He’d warned her about her waka-waka. Well, he’d unintentionally left a mark on her neck once. Tonight he would intentionally leave many on that fine face of hers. Then she’ll learn never to diss him just because she had a fine face and a nice ass.

He chucked the surviving Agege bread on top of the small fridge which stood near the door. The bread displaced a knife which fell to the carpeted floor with a soft thud. He placed the knife next to the bread, shoved the money under the bed, flicked off the light and went back into the street.
Bus conductors were still at it:

“Anson wole, Lawa! Anson wole, Lawa!”
“Lawanson! Lawanson! Lawanson!”
“L-a-w-a-n-s-o-n! Every drop fifty naira!”
“Enter with ya change-o! I no wan fight-o!”

Stevo walked to a GSM pay phone stand opposite Pauline’s place. He’d memorised her number and dialled it easily. The call went through but Pauline did not take it. Mfana ibagha. He hailed a taxi.


Femi drove past the three elders at the decommissioned toll gate. He always thought it incongruous that though the statutes themselves had their hands raised in welcome, a sign at the same place merely proclaimed, ‘This is Lagos’. No ‘Welcome’ like in many other cities, just the bland geographical information.

He glanced at the dashboard clock. 8:42PM.

You’re lucky, you know, he said to himself. Only three hours after leaving Ibadan.
I know, he answered himself.  

Ideally, travelling between the two cities shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half of easy driving. But besides the car-sized potholes that slowed movement and sometimes caused accidents, along the expressway, a number of popular Pentecostal churches had set up prayer camps that hordes frequented, regularly causing traffic gridlocks that turned occupants of all vehicles within a twenty kilometre radius into unwilling prayer warriors.

He never ceased to be amazed by the hypocrisy at the heart of it; the way some people worked the church circuit the same way they worked witch doctors and shrines, oftentimes all at the same time. And when they finally ‘made it’, regardless of what bizarre combination had brought the ‘success’, they went back to church for a showy thanksgiving ceremony. He waved it all away; after all he had his own issues.

He pulled into the compound where he’d recently paid for a two-bedroom flat; a nice enough place, though not quite as nice as the three-bedroom flat he lived in at Festac Town. He parked and sat in the car. Several power generators in the compound made the place noisier than the printing press next door to his former firm in Ijora. Going to work there could only be compared with taking a day trip to hell.

His hands were trembling. He gripped the steering wheel hard and exhaled. Okay, okay, you have to deal with this now. You’re troubled. I know. I just can’t put a finger on it. Eh, actually, you can. You can put three fingers on it. That’s true. He shook his head. Pauline. Christy. Kenya.

The first his body couldn’t do without. The second; the date for their wedding loomed like a hangman’s noose. And the third? He didn’t know if he’d fallen in love.

What had happened to him? He’d always been a one-woman man. He used to be the one advising randy Jimmy at his old office to stop searching for the meaning of life between the legs of women. So how had he gotten himself involved with three women at the same time?

He let himself into the flat.


No answer. He looked around and then left the house.

You know where she is, don’t you?

I know. 

You thought you could keep the whore off the streets, didn’t you? Well, even if you do, and know now there’s no guarantee you’ll ever succeed, remember you can’t keep the whore out of her.

Stop judging. Are you a saint?

Whether he judged her or not, he couldn’t help thinking about HIV everyday now. Though he’d tested in the past and celebrated his negative status, since he met her he’d been afraid to test again. If he had the virus, it would be curiosity over a club name that caused it.

Everything Goes Club. The name seduced him. He couldn’t resist. He’d heard the place, just off Allen Avenue, described as the nicest looking club in Lagos. He went there expecting to be disappointed since he knew Lagosians dished out superlatives with the same ease their bodies oozed sweat in the humid city. He got a pleasant surprise.

The club got going at about 11:00PM. Naija jams, hip-hop and R&B reigned. Somewhat like some clubs he’d visited in Atlanta during a brief trip to the U.S. Beautiful women in short skirts, tight gowns, skimpy tops and stiletto heels; they outnumbered the men three to one. He felt at home because they were many oyibos there that he recognised as part of the oil and telecoms crowd. The night climaxed for him when he met Pauline.

Now he found her along Allen, a little way from the club. Her small tight leather outfit left little to be imagined. As always, he marvelled at her glorious height. And her juicy body size. A bit on the plump side but certainly not fat. He thought of her as being more like him. Not like Christy who had the body of a magazine model; beautiful to look at but passionless to touch. And certainly nothing like Kenya, a petite Penelope Cruz look-alike of multiple nationalities and a singular ice-cold personality. Pauline had a real woman’s body. He enjoyed holding her sexy waist, kissing her full lips and squeezing her well-formed buttocks and her huge breasts. He swallowed as he pulled up next to her.


“Leave me alone!”

“Come on, what’s the matter?”

She gave him a dirty look. “You don’t own me!”

“Agreed. Can you just come in let’s talk?”

She hissed, took her bag off her shoulder and rummaged in it. He wondered what she wanted. Just as he remembered she carried an ugly-looking dagger in a sheath in the bag, she closed the bag and shouldered it. Abruptly she opened the front passenger door, got in and crossed her hands over her chest. He drove off.

He stopped at a dark spot near the flat. As he looked at her, he thought about the commitment he’d made with Christy. In less than six weeks they would be man and wife after dating for years. They were practically living together now, though for appearances’ sake she still spent some nights at her aunt’s place. He’d settled well into his new job where he had a quiet ninth-floor office, managerial rank and all the perks he’d always dreamed of. Everything seemed as perfect as could be.

And then he’d gone and gotten a flat for Pauline, while taking the frigid Kenya on fruitless expensive dates. He didn’t even want to think about Kenya. That arrogant only child of an equally arrogant European diplomat annoyed him in the way she made him desire her without ever offering him a half-hope that he’ll ever have her. And he blamed her father for it. He imagined the man had secretly killed his wife so as to have the freedom to cohabit with his daughter and do forbidden things with her. He realised how cruel such thoughts were and how they could only have stemmed from bitterness. But how could he help thinking that way when Kenya seemed to prefer her father’s company to his? He sighed and flicked her and her father out of his mind.

“We can do so much more,” he said.

Pauline looked askance at him. “Huh?”

“I mean you can do anything you want.”

She hissed. “Abeg. Don’t preach to me.”

“I’m not preaching. I’m just saying—”

“Don’t say!” She stared straight ahead, her trademark scowl curling up her upper lip. In that moment he realised what he will do. He will forget her. He will forget that stuck-up Kenya too. He will get tested. And if he had the virus, he will let Christy go. But right now he couldn’t stop looking at Pauline.

The braids she wore concealed the scar he liked to caress at the back of her neck whenever he had sex with her. Her breasts heaved under her crossed arms as if she’d been in a race. Christy would never get into these tantrums. She had never spoken to him with disrespect. She dressed decently and would rarely be found outside after dark. But making love with her, protected always, had faded into a tasteless chore since he met Pauline. He’d never seen Kenya naked and didn’t think Kenya had ever seen herself naked. She most probably took off her clothes only in pitch darkness. 

Now, though he would never want to see either Kenya or Christy in a similar dress, Pauline’s little outfit had ridden up and as his gaze roved over her bare thighs he felt himself stirring. He swallowed and reached out.  

The flat of her stomach felt firm and she didn’t say or do anything as his hand went down. When he touched her below, she gasped, turned and looked away from him. As he kept working his finger gently, she looked up, looked down and finally looked at him. Then she reached for his zipper. Soon he searched for the scar as she impaled herself on him.

As Pauline ground into him, he remembered scoffing at Jimmy who’d said he couldn’t help wanting different women. Jimmy claimed an aunt of his had bewitched him to be a philanderer. Then Femi had dismissed it as one of those instances where people blamed their personal failures on witchcraft. Now he wondered if he himself had come under some witch’s spell. Perhaps he needed to voluntarily become a prayer warrior.

Another moan from Pauline and he took a breast in his mouth and traced a tender finger down her back. His other hand continued caressing her scar and soon they were both gasping for breath. Suddenly his window shattered and a gun hovered in his face.


Pauline fell into the front passenger’s seat as the gun went off. Femi’s face disappeared. She stared in horror as Stevo pulled the body out and got into the car. She tried to open her door but stopped when he pointed the gun at her.

“No try me.” Stevo’s voice had an inhuman quality she’d never heard before. She slid into the corner. Stevo started the car and drove off.

Along the way, as he tried to light a joint, she noticed his hands were shaking like hers. After several tries, he finally got the joint going.

“I told you to stop all your nonsense!” Stevo shouted after several long drags.

As he sped through the night, she sat there shaking, cursing the day she met him. 

One night, an Alhaji gave her cool cash and an expensive phone. So she left work early. Not needing a taxi, she got into a Danfo. It turned out to be a ‘catch in the air’ bus. The six robber-passengers robbed the six genuine passengers in the bus and then threw them off. She lost the cash, the new phone and the cheap old phone she carried to work.

The next day a friend came to tell her that some guy had called to say he’d found her phone and wanted to return it. It sounded crazy. Armed robbers had taken her phone, she told Abang, why would they throw it out rather than sell it?

“Because it’s too old, too cheap.”

They met Stevo at a Mama Smallie’s outlet in Surulere. She found him okay and they started hanging out. Weeks later, she saw Stevo with a phone like the one the Alhaji had given her. Stevo swore he’d bought it second-hand at GSM village. It seemed too much of a coincidence. Then his possessiveness became a problem. He took that further by beating her. Now he’d killed Femi.

“Stevo, slow down.”

“Shut up!”

His voice sent a new wave of fear coursing through her. The last time she’d felt like this had been the night she arrived in Lagos. Barely ten minutes off the bus at Iddo, she’d been dragged under a bridge by an area boy. He had a dagger. But while he buried himself in her, he lost his grip on it and she buried the dagger in him. Now the dagger lay waiting in her bag.

“Stevo, I won’t tell anybody, just—”

“Shut up! Ashawo!”

That surprised her. He’d never called her that before. She wondered if he’d been taking something other than weed. She remembered him telling her he’d been studying in UniLag at Akoka. She hadn’t believed him at first. But later on, she wondered if anyone would believe she’d spent two years studying Literature in UniCal at Calabar before she got rusticated. Now she had no idea what to think of him. “Stevo—”

“You can wear Dolce & Gabbana, you still be ashawo!”

She had no idea why ashawo had become his anthem.

“I gree! I be prostitute! Just drop me!”

Stevo gave her a vicious look. “I tell you to stay one place, but your stubbornness no gree you hear word!”

She’d heard about her stubbornness before. Same way she’d heard this ashawo talk. Her mother had been the first person to call her ashawo, just because she’d stayed late at a friend’s party. The night her father brought home a brand new generator to fight the endless darkness, she defied her mother and went to another party where she ended up staying all night. When she came home in the morning, her parents and three siblings had paid with their lives for the presence of the generator in their home. She had no plans of ever not being stubborn.

The way she saw it, after tonight she had two choices. She could head up to Abuja and hustle there or go straight back to Calabar and wait out her rustication. Lagos would never be safe for her so long as this mad man lived here.

As they approached her place, she wondered why he would take the stolen car there.

“Shebi you know this car get tracker?”

“Shut up! You wan teach me wetin to do?”

She followed him inside the corridor, uncertain whether to create a scene and hope for the best.

What if he shot her? He’d already proven he could kill.

She watched as he unlocked the chain on his bike. What did he want to do with the ancient thing?

He took the chain off the bike, pushed her inside, flicked on the light and locked the door behind him. She stood while he sat on the bed.

“Today you must tell me why you can’t respect me.”

She wondered where that came from.

“Pauline! I’m talking to you.”

“But I respect you now.”

“So why is it when I tell you simple things you can’t do it?”

What could she say to that? The question did not make sense to her.

“Come here.”

She went to the bed. He grabbed her ass and pulled her to him. She didn’t resist. He took away her bag.

“Pauline I love you! Why are you doing this to me?”


“You know what you are doing.”

Suddenly he got up, swiped her legs and she fell to the floor. He looped the chain around her hands, pulled the fridge to expose the back.

At that point she realised what he wanted to do. As he tried to link the chain to the metal grill at the back of the fridge, she looked round in rage. Within the moment, the knife on the top of the fridge glistened at her. With both hands she snatched it up and balanced it.

Pauline smiled as she saw Stevo’s eyes widen at the sight of the knife in her hands. He stepped back, reaching into his waistband as she lunged at him.

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