It is Christmas. The euphoria is in the air. You stand at the village junction and watch as people alight from buses. People returning from the far North and those returning from close-by Onitsha, Enugu, and Abakaliki. You can see Phillip, the one who has been in Ibadan for over ten years. You can see the scar on his forehead. That scar has been there since he was ten. Philip cannot recognise you. He is shouldering a large brown leather bag. There is a Ghana-must-go bag beside him. The 608 bus conductor brings out another bag that is larger than all the others. The woman standing beside Philip shouts at the bus conductor ‘Easy! Kai, do you know how much that bag and its content is worth?’
Philip is surveying the surroundings. How everything has changed. He begins to walk away with the woman and four kids who look like him. The woman is a Muslim. Her head is covered in a hijab. You wonder if Philip has become a Muslim himself, if his name is no longer Philip.
You are waiting for your fiancé. His mother told you that he will return today, after having stayed away for four years. You knew him back then when he was in the village before he left for Lagos. Back then he would beat all the girls that were returning from school and had to pass through their house. Four years ago he travelled to Lagos and is yet to return. His mother has been courting you for him – buying you cloths and telling you that he sends them, even though she’s aware that you know he did not send the gifts. You know that he never sent anything to her, his mother; talk less of sending anything to you. But you kept collecting the clothes, the perfumes, sandals and creams because you did not want to disappoint his mother. When he gave his mother his phone number, she gave it to you. You had to ring him from Azuka’s Phone Center at the village junction, talking so loud to everyone’s hearing. Since then, you talk to him regularly. It is now the second year.
He promised to marry you. He said his mother had told him a lot about you. That he was making good money and when he returned he was going to take you to Lagos to see his residence. You could stay for two weeks if you want, he said. He asked if your parents would agree to that. You said no problem, they would agree, why not?
You spoke with him at Azuka’s pay-phone yesterday to confirm that he was returning. He said he was. Now you are waiting to see him. You have been standing here all afternoon. It is getting late. You could hear the rustling of the grasses by the harmattarn wind and the sound of the crickets. Since morning you’ve watched as lots of people alight from 608 buses. There are young men on commercial motorcycles, waiting to carry people to their destinations, if they could afford to pay one hundred naira. If they had bags, the price doubled. There is a young girl who has been made to stand for some minutes. The motorcyclists are arguing about who first saw her and whose motorcycle she will use. The girl is becoming nervous. She is Ngozi. She is training as a hairdresser in Nnewi town. Young boys hawking knockouts surround the buses. Girls hawking oranges and breads and groundnuts fight their way into the passengers alighting from the buses, announcing their wares.
You sit beside Azuka who runs the pay-phone centre and dial his line again, this time it rings.
Where are you?
I am close.
You stand as if you could see the bus he boarded approaching. But you have to stand for another one hour before he gets to the village junction. The 608 bus he came in is painted yellow. By the side is written; horn before overtake. There are other things written all over the bus by illiterate artists. You watch, straining your eyes as people alight from the bus, hauling heavy bags. Beaming with smiles. Others are tired out from the long journey and walk reluctantly to where the motorcyclists are parked. You wait impatiently till someone in a black polo steps down from the bus. On the polo is an inscription; My Money Grows Like Grass. You recognise him immediately because of his hair. It has always been bushy. You go to him, and he recognizes you too. He wants to hug you, but you cannot hug him because you are at the village junction – people will begin to talk, especially the pay-phone attendant, Azuka. She is the village gossip.
You take his hand instead. He smiles. He is carrying just a backpack like the kind primary school pupils use. He has no presents with him, not even bread or banana.
How are you, dear? he asks.
How is your mother?
Fine. And your journey?
Great. We thank God.
Nnoo! Welcome; you say.
You walk with him in the direction of his father’s house. You do not need the motorcyclists because his house is not far. They recognize him and hail him in greetings.
That was his nickname when he was in the village. He walks up to them and they shake hands. One of them insists that he enter his motorcycle. Free of payments, the motorcyclist insists. He looks at you.
Enter, you tell him. I will join you at your house.
He looks at you again and hops unto the motorcycle. He waves at you as the motorcycle zooms off. The men watch you. You look away gaily and walk along in the direction of his house. You are sure that they must be discussing you and Assignment.
You leave early because his mother is insulting him. Four years he had been in Lagos, and he did not bring a common loaf of bread home, she barks. What of the girl that has been waiting for two years? What did he bring home for her? Nothing! She yells.
You tell him not to mind. His mother asks you to visit on Christmas day and eat dinner with them. You nod. He waves at you. You are sure that he is staring at your buttocks as you walk away. It is dark, but you are sure he could see it sway from side to side, like water in a loosely tied leather bag. You are happy. He is not looking so handsome though. He is thin, and his hair is very bushy, but you don’t mind. He loves you, and you love him—you are sure that you can make him cut the hair and dress better. You are sure that you can make him throw away the name, Assignment.
On Christmas evening, you arrive at their house and his mother quickly serves both of you a hot plate of rice, with meats and fish in abundance. He eats slowly because he is from the city. And people who live in the city do not eat fast. You too, you eat slowly because he does. You cannot stop staring at his eyes. They dart often from one part of the compound to the other as if he is scared of something. They scavenge your body, picking out every detail. You feel his eyes go through your flowered blouse to your breasts and your stomach and private part. You grin.
What is it?
You are looking at me too much. Why?
Am I? I love you. That is why.
You can no longer eat because of that. Your stomach is filled with his words. He forces you to eat the meat, and you do. When his younger brother returns the plate, he takes the bench to the side of the compound that has an orange tree. He tells you about Lagos, while squeezing your hands. He tells you about the Third Mainland Bridge. How it could accommodate everyone from your village if they are asked to sleep on it at the same time. He says that Ikoyi is owned by white men and that you can never see a black man there except they are house servants and cleaners. You gasp. You wish you could visit that place where the earth is walked on by white men. He talks about Alaba market. Where you could buy a phone and go home to see that what you were holding was an empty phone casing filled with garri or sand. You laugh and call him a liar. He says it is true and tells you more stories—about women who live in big mansions they built from money they made from prostitution. About men who are Igbos but have lived in Lagos for twenty years because of the very enticing laps of Yoruba women. About Alaye boys who are called Area boys because they live on the streets and terrorize people—they are criminals and gangsters and rapists and drug peddlers and ritual killers. You gawk. If that is how Lagos is, you do not want to travel there. Ever.
There are so many stories that he is willing to share. It is dark and you must go home before your mother begins to get worried. He offers to see you off. His mother says good night and thanks you for coming. When you turn to leave, he calls back to his mother.
Where is the machete I sharpened in the morning?
It is in the house. What are you doing with a machete this night, George?
I am a man. A man is not supposed to walk about at night empty handed.
She fetches the machete from inside the house and brings it to him. You smile at his stubbornness. His strength marvels you. You walk out of the compound to the dusty road. The crickets are chirping. Birds are quiet. The breeze swirl the grasses and darkness envelops everywhere. The dusts rise to your feet and enter into your sandals. He holds your waist and pinches your buttocks. You squeak and come closer to him.
I need to feel you, he says. You are quiet. Your body is warm already. He leads you to the primary school along the road. You protest that you have a long walk before you. He says that he will walk you home. He has a machete and you have nothing to worry about.
The primary school is as quiet as a graveyard. There are two class room blocks. He leads you in between the blocks to the back. He drops the machete and makes you lean on the wall.
I love you, he whispers. He kisses your neck and you giggle and hold him tight. Your clothes go off, and he drives you into ecstasy. He rises up suddenly. Before you recognise what is in his hand, it is too late. The machete slashes your raised hand. You scream. Who will hear you in this quiet and secluded place, distance away from homes? You rise with great force. Blood is pumping out from your hand.
Jesus! George, what did I do wrong? Jesus!
He holds your neck and pushes you. He raises the machete and you grab it. He draws it down and it slashes your right palm. The pain sends waves into your head. Your brain dies instantly. You scream. He hits you with his left fist and you fall down, blood and mucus spurts out from your nostrils. You are crawling backwards. Pleading.
You said you loved me, you cried.
He is panting. Saying nothing. He drops the machete and is on top of you. You kick your feet as he strangles you.
The night is darker now. The crickets are calm. The breeze has ceased. You watch your body on the ground. Blood oozes from your two hands and your face. He is sitting calmly by the side of your body. Panting. After some minutes, you watch him stand and remove his shirt. He collects the machete, flexes his arm and raises it up. He shifts and cuts your neck, just where your neck connects with your shoulder. He cuts three times and decapitates your body from the neck. Blood is everywhere. On his bare body, his face, his trousers, on the ground. Everywhere. He pants and looks around. You are horrified. You try to push him out but you cannot get to him no matter how hard you try. You are crying and shouting but he seems not to hear you.
He kneels down and holds your right breast. You scream and try to push him off. No way. You run to the road swiftly more than you had ever done in your life. The road is deserted and you scream and shout but no one can hear you. You fly to his house. His mother is eating in front of their small hut. His two younger brothers are exchanging stories about the day, inside their small house. You can hear their voices. The older one is telling the other how he danced in his friend’s house earlier that evening. He says that Christmas is so fun. You are calling their names. You call his mother.
Mama! Come and see! Follow me. George is cutting out my breasts! He has cut my head off!
She is adamant. She picks a fish and begins to eat with leisure. You call her names and curse her. You run out.
He has cut off two of your breasts and has carefully cut off your vagina. The ground is full of blood. His hands are soaked. The machete too. He wipes it on the grass and stands. He walks out and you follow him. Cursing and crying. He enters one of the unlocked classrooms and produces about five paper bags and a small sack which he had kept hidden there, perhaps earlier in the day. He wraps everything – your breasts, your vagina, and your head connected to the neck inside the paper bags and finally into the sack. He takes them along with him.
He passes their house and goes to the junction. He is standing exactly at the spot where you had stood and waited for him on the 24th of December. He looks around to make sure no one is coming or watching. He crosses the road and you follow him. You are sure he wants to hide the sack, and you want to know where so that you could alert the villagers. You think about your mama—she must be worried now. Your papa must be out drinking and would return home late. Your siblings must have gone to bed. Your streams of thoughts are interrupted when he walks into the bush. You follow him. He drops the sack under a tree and slowly but effectively covers it with dry grasses.
You run home to tell everyone, but no one sees you. They cannot even hear you.
It is morning. Your mama is looking for you. Papa is suffering from a hangover and tells her to check you at your aunt’s place. You tell her to follow you to where the sack is but she seems not to see you. She can’t even hear you. You run to the place where the sack is hidden. George is there now. He picks it up and puts it into a Ghana-must-go bag. You are sure he purchased it from Mama Ezinne’s shop at the village junction. He walks out of the bush. A motorcyclist is waiting for him. He climbs unto it and they zoom off.
You try to chase them but your legs cannot even move.
Image is part of Max Ernst’s Le Ballade du Soldat (The Ballad of the Soldier), 1972 Via Magic Transistor
About the Author
Obinna Udenwe is a prize winning Nigerian writer. His works have appeared in the Kalahari Review, Tribe-write, Flair Magazine, Kadunaboy and in Literary & Travel Magazine. His debut novel, Satans and Shaitans, is set for release in October. When he is not travelling all over the world, he shares his time between Abakaliki and Enugu.