shabby poor condominium with weathered spiral staircase

Tulasi – for the Neighbour’s Wife

“Thou shalt not covet thine neighbour’s wife, property….”, roared the voice belonging to the Priest at St. Peter’s cathedral – it rang out from the microphone and out through the horn speakers. His words, ironic, they found me with someone holding my belt and another hitting the side of my face.

I could feel the pumping of blood rushing through the side of my face, looking for gashes to run out of. My ears were ringing like the hissing of train tracks grinding to halt.

One slap followed another and another as I started losing the will to cover my face.

“Wetin you dey find? For this time? You no get house? You no get shildren?” A dark hulk, bald head man continued to yell into my other ear.

He would intermittently jerk back his head to avoid smashing it into mine which had continued receiving smacks from the other side. I am sure he understood that my other ear should be deaf already from the hitting.

I turned to him, spittle and blood in mouth, and begged him to tell his bare-chested friend to stop hitting me for a second so that I could explain.

“I can explain!” I hollered in tears.

“Abi oloshi leleyi ni? Abi aye eleyi fe baje ni?” Barechest queried as he upped the ante on the slaps and kicks.

“ejoor, let me explain to your friend. E je kin shalaye ara mi!”

I again appealed to Black baldy who had now started calling for the petrol station attendant across the road to bring some matches and the vulcanizer next to him to bring the tyres he had no use for, that they needed to make a bonfire.

***

It was probably not yet later than seven in the morning, three months ago.

I had had a policy against fraternizing with juniors at work.

Somehow, Dauda made me cross that boundary.

He had a gentle mien at work and spoke clear crisp English.

He was the driver, but everyone always had an errand for him. I felt like he was being a rug. So, I told him one day that he had to learn to stand up for himself. He had to be a man.

We talked a lot that day and he even told me about his wife, I wish he never did that. I wish I never told him I wanted to drive him home – that his wife would be proud of how hard he worked.

I wish we didn’t stop at his compound gate and talk about the weather, the way it had rained all week and the ground was always wet.

The road to his house went through shacks and tumbledown apartment buildings.

I had never been in a more despicable neighbourhood. It felt like one of those places we read about in the news that fire had gutted a line of homes and killed twenty, and the fire station had no water.

Where I live, there are boreholes, water tanks and generators for when the light goes out.

But Dauda lives in an imitation of a rat colony. Babies hawk oranges, mothers hawk their bodies and the men sleep drunk in the gutter.

We rolled through the mess and arrived at his compound. I couldn’t wait to leave at first but then we started talking about the stupid weather.

He was saying something about going for prayers when I saw her.

I mean, in this kind of place. How likely is it to find a pearl in a pigsty? She was so out of place, ridiculously gorgeous, teeth fine like butter and milk, eyes bright like the Sun.

I was staring for so long that I didn’t hear Dauda at first.

“Oga, meet my wife, Romoke” he said, it seemed like he was repeating it, so I quickly said I heard him the first time. I covered how flustered I was with a curt greeting and hurriedly announced my departure.

Two weeks later, I was back in Tulasi as they called the community. They said it got its name from the hurry with which mothers wanted their daughters married off.

Dandan lowo ori, Tulasi laso ibora, was the saying that reminded every girl to close her laps to men that would not marry them or pay the bride price.

Money meant a lot in such a place where everyone languished in the most extreme poverty.

Romoke was by her shop in front of the house as Dauda had told me. I beckoned to her like as if I had come looking for something. I should have known it would end in tears. My heart was pounding like the drums from egungun festival.

I told her I wanted my trousers mended. She laughed and asked about all the fancy tailors on the Island, that why was I coming all the way to Tulasi to get a tiny rip mended? She knew I was looking to mend something else. In fact, I wanted to mend her there on the streets, right in the view of everyone around.

I wanted to scream in ecstasy while mending Dauda’s wife. I licked my lips and asked her to get in the passenger seat with me.

There was a man at the driver side, he kept hopping and screaming, “alaye, shey n to n shey!”

I remember thinking, irritably, what does he know that I am doing? The insolent idiot! Telling me to do what I am doing. He peeped through the tinted glass and I could only see his broken front teeth before driving off.

***

Our romance was made in the movies. I even started to think Romoke would leave Dauda, I would have him sacked and we would have a secret wedding.

So, when I became reckless, and started to sneak into their home at odd hours, it never occurred to me that he who the gods will kill, they first make mad.

I was parking my Porsche at the Petrol station close to the highway and taking back routes into Tulasi, wearing t-shirts, jeans and sandals so I could blend in at night.

I was climbing the back fence and knocking subtly at the kitchen entrance, whispering through nets and asking to be let in.

That day, I had forgotten to wake up early. The night had a lot of steam, sweat, and saliva involved. We were still tangled in the sheets when the sound of keys jangling woke me.

It was chaos for the first few minutes. I stumbled and fell enough times to give up any hope of escape. I snatched my jeans and shirt, pulled my shorts on and scampered to the kitchen with Romoke in tow.

She fumbled with the lock and managed to finally squeeze me through without making a sound.

I sighed in relief once outside and squeezed into my cloths. I started to run as soon as I heard Dauda’s raised voice. He must have seen my watch or my shoe, oh God, what a mess.

I ran.

Then at the fence, I grabbed hold of the top brick and vaulted over the five feet.

There was someone crouched by the other side, I didn’t bother to check what he was up to, it stank like shit anyway.

“Ole!” the crouching man yelled. I glanced back just enough to see him grab his pants and begin to chase after me.

Come on man, you can’t be serious! How does jumping a fence half naked make me a thief?

I didn’t try to wait and argue though, I kept running. Until someone tackled me, his bare chest ramming into me before we hit the ground. I could see his broken teeth as he screamed to the others, “mo ti mu were!”

The beating went on for hours, or at least it felt like hours.

The people around kept asking me to confess. That I was the one that stole some goat belonging to one Iya Siki, I was the one responsible for the missing sugarcane in Baba Elegbe’s farm, that I was also the church thief who had been raiding the pantry and contributions for Ikore since 1995.

I mean, how does a thief carry on for so long? I was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong things.

Someone had finally come with the fuel and tyre. I was on the floor, too dizzy to protest or beg. I felt the splash of fuel on my body. A horrid chill ran down my spine.

Just across the road, I could see my car. All I needed was for one person to let me get to my car and make one call, just one call to identify myself.

“Ishana daa?” baldy yelled.

The cry for the matches was still ongoing when Dauda shoved through the crowd, his eyes red probably from crying.

Our eyes locked for a second and I wished they had started burning me before he arrived. I couldn’t even ask him to help, the shame was too much, I just covered that side that Barechest had been hitting, so that he could maybe turn around and hit the other side of my face a bit.

Someone had found the matches, and I was still crouched on the floor, holding my face, peeping at Dauda. I could see the struggle in his eyes, he wanted me to burn also.

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About the Author

jonathanoladeji

Damilola is co-author of Life's Chrysalis, where he wrote “Rejection: Like Earth to Rain”. His writing has appeared in The Naked Convos, Africa on the Blog, The Guardian News Nigeria, Viva-Naija News, and Tuck Magazine. He also volunteers with PDBY News at the University of Pretoria. Damilola is an IREBS for African Real Estate Research Scholar at the University of Pretoria, where he is a Doctoral Candidate. He is the Head of Media and Strategy at Upside Africa. Damilola won the Biopage essay contest in 2018. He plays the saxophone for leisure.

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