“Gone to be with the lord,” the officiating minister said, crossing himself solemnly.
Even when the church choir sang, “Jerusalem on high… My home when I die. The centre of my bliss,” she still prayed for the resurrection of her friend so they could go home to their hostel and, perhaps, laugh and talk about the incidents of the past two weeks. Then in the coming week, Damope would testify in church how God raised her from the dead because Omolewa didn’t want her to die. Then she would be the heroine of the charismatic revival in the University. Alas it wasn’t so.
She found herself holding Damope’s aged mother tightly. The woman had thrown herself into the grave, in a fit of the wildest grief. Omolewa found herself weeping disconsolately. The wailing reached a crescendo as the cemetery workers toiled on, sealing the grave, oblivious of the emotion it stirred.
“Good friend, rest in perfect peace.”
She spent the weekend in Damope’s family house, not letting the old woman out of her sight. She had refrained from furnishing the details of Damope’s death to her family or any living soul. Although she felt it was better left untold, she knew everyone had to know that Damope hadn’t died trying to save her own hide. Perhaps it was her fate to die like that. But could fate had destined their meeting and fished both of them out from a sea? It was during their registration at the Obafemi Awolowo University.
Omolewa had been at the front of the queue, cock sure she was going to have it done. There was nothing hustle-free in Nigeria, she had been thinking. From obtaining her JAMB registration form at the bank to sitting for her POST-UTME exams, it hadn’t been an experience worthy of fond memories. Her brow was beaded in sweat, and she was hot inside. The heat was stifling. Her throat was dry like a parched land. A girl, unable to bear the hardship of it all, had fainted away. But Omolewa knew she was a strong girl, despite being a sickler.
Her eyes were glued to the door—the door that wouldn’t open, the door that tested her perseverance and mocked her patience. The registration officers had commanded that it be shut against the students. They didn’t want any student in the registration hall, except he was summoned. So far only the first fifty had been admitted into the building and until the lucky batch was done, nobody else was permitted to enter. Omolewa had prayed to that door, in that usual manner of desperation when one would resort to doing the most ridiculous. Now she felt that door was no longer worthy of her attention. Some of the students had left the queue to take a walk or to eat. That was the last thing on her mind. She couldn’t afford to abandon her vantage point seeing there was no guarantee that she would have it back when she returned. It was in her best interest to wait it out.
Like an answer to her prayer, the door eventually opened and a thick-set security officer marched out. In that split moment, he had arrested everyone’s attention. He looked quite important; knowing his next utterance wouldn’t float idly in the air, and having these children at his mercy. He was clean shaven, and his uniform was well starched and ironed. He was flaunting an impressive crease on his trousers. There was something special about the university staff with the way they cared about their appearance, Omolewa thought.
“Let the first fifty step forward,” he called, hoarsely.
A murmur broke among the crowd.
“What about us?” Someone from the crowd shouted, irritably. The security officer turned a questioning eye at the student.
“We have been waiting here for ages!”
“And how does that affect the price of garri in the market?” Returned the security officer.
“How can you be so callous?” Shouted the student, warming up. “We are human beings, not fish to be smoked in the sun.”
The other students murmured in approval, at the challenging audacity of this boy.
The security officer lost his temper.
“Who are you to raise your voice at me? Am I your mate, or is that how you talk to your father at home? It is idiotic rascals like you who come here to cause trouble and get…”
“Radicals, you mean,” the student cut in.
“Look, I am not going to waste my time with you,” declared the security officer. “Where are my first fifty?”
“No one is going through that door!”
A commotion ensued as the select fifty made their way. Everyone charged for the door. Omolewa was caught in the frenzy. She dreaded whatever spirit had possessed the mob. That spirit was going to tear down that door, pushing her, against her will, towards it. The security man, with an agility unsurprising for a man of his physique, glided into the sanctuary of the registration hall and shut the door. The surge of the crowd crashed against the door. Students fell. Omolewa was one of them. She was trampled upon by hasty merciless feet, flat heels and stilettos. She cried in agony.
Mercifully, someone caught hold of her arm and dragged her to her feet. This Good Samaritan carefully shepherded her out of the crowd. She was breathing sharply. Her face was lacerated, and blood ran freely. She was too daze to appreciate the presence of her helper who took out a handkerchief, wiped her cut, and then got a sachet of water to wash her dust-smeared face. Not a word was spoken between them as Omolewa didn’t answer any of the questions put to her.
The shock of it all stiffened her tongue. There was silence as the Good Samaritan continued her work, undeterred. The crowd at the door was chanting protest songs. Omolewa hated them. She hated the registration officers with a greater vehemence. Her new smart phone had vanished into thin air. She tried not to let the tears betray her emotion. She wanted to scream and bang her head against the wall as she did when she was a kid. In her present mood, she didn’t know when her helper took her leave.
Omolewa soon forgot about the incident at the registration hall. Classes had to be attended. Books and materials had to be bought and studied. New people met and friends made. The face of her helper soon became etched in distant memory. She didn’t wish to stay in the hall of residence the school provided so she phoned home, asking for money to acquire accommodation in a private hostel. She had been told that private hostels were well maintained. Besides, it would give her a big girl status. She was glad when she found out that she’d have only one room mate.
Omolewa moved in, after completing her registration. Her room mate hadn’t moved in then. She prayed the girl would never come. She would have the whole room to herself in blessed privacy. Alas, it wasn’t so. She returned from class one day to find a girl by her door, sitting on a huge suitcase. The girl lifted up her eyes to stare at her, and Omolewa exhaled sharply. It was the Good Samaritan.
“How are you?”
“Fine… Thanks for the other day. I am sorry about the way I behaved. It was due to shock.”
It came in a rush.
The girl simply nodded.
“Let me help you move your things in.”
The days they spent as room mates unravelled so many things about them. Damope, for that was the Good Samaritan’s name, was a worthy companion. They were quite inseparable. They shared their deepest secrets and fears, dreams and aspirations. Damope was the only girl in a family of three boys whereas Omolewa was an only child burdened with sickle-cell anaemia. They lived as if they had known each other from birth. Omolewa even knew Damope’s ATM password. It was quite easy for guys to suspect they were lesbians; for while Damope was of average height and buxomly, Omolewa was thin and quite unattractive. While Omolewa was a fire-praying Christian, Damope didn’t care about church or what Omolewa’s pious church sisters whispered about her when they visited.
Damope was the darling of men. There existed no power of a man to withstand her charms. One day, Omolewa had returned from lecture and found her in bed with the President of the United Joint Christian Mission. He was sucking her breasts with delight, in the noisy manner of a hungry infant.
“Na wah-ooo. So you can also make pastors fall too?” She asked in wonder thereafter.
It was at the end of the first semester that news reached the campus that a gang of boys had overran a private female hostel and raped every inhabitant including the female porters, and that the school had sent the victims home. These boys were members of cult in school—like the Black Axe, the Buccaneer, etc
Omolewa was frightened.
“Will they come here?” She asked Damope.
“Do you want them to come here?” The latter returned.
Omolewa was speechless but nevertheless afraid.
“No harm will come to us,” Damope reassured her. “I can promise you that.”
It wasn’t in her power to keep that promise for their hostel was soon paid a visit. The sporadic clatter of gunshots had roused Omolewa. She started up from her bed to see her friend staring at her with wild eyes. They knew what was in the offing. Omolewa heard distant cries, crashing doors, and mechanical laughter. A cold chill crept down her spine. Soon a machete slashed at their door, and chips of wood flew at her. Damope dived under the bed and she followed suit. They held each other in a tight embrace. Each machete-blow that was dealt to the door brought their fate nearer. The door soon yielded. The visitors marched in, reeking of alcohol and marijuana. The petrified girls saw their feet pacing up and down the room.
“There is no hiding place for you bitches. Come out now!”
The movement around the room went on. The wardrobes were hacked open till one of the boys looked under the bed. They were both dragged from their hiding place and made prisoners in a corner of the room.
“So you think you can outsmart us,” said one of them who appeared to be the leader; “today I shall slay your pussy.”
His voice was like a whiplash. It carried much venom. Omolewa broke down and cried. The boys began to take off Damope’s night gown.
“This girl is mighty in breasts and yansh.” They bawled. When she tried to resist, they set on her face with blinding blows. Having subdued her, the leader fell on her thighs. Omolewa broke down and cried. The boys taunted her:
“Bitch can’t you be patient? His rod cometh in a moment to comfort thee.”
His appetite thus sated, the underlings had their turn. Damope was in a vanquished state.
The rapists seized Omolewa.
“Please, don’t do this,” Damope cried. “She has HIV. She is also a sickler. Can’t you see?”
“Is that so?” Asked their leader, his lips curled in a sneer. “Then we shall cure her right now.”
Omolewa bit and clawed at their grip. The leader slapped her hard. She spat in his face. He straddled her and started to shed off her clothes. At that moment, she felt she was the world’s worst sufferer. She never imagined her chastity was going to be taken, stolen from her in such a violent and undesirable way. She had created her wedding night in her fantasy; how her Prince Charming will make his entry into the sanctuary of her groove in a bedroom glowing with candlelight, in a night set alight by their passion, a night pleasing to God himself. She had voiced it out to Damope.
“I envy you…,” the latter had said. “But I don’t wish I had waited till my wedding night.”
Quite all of a sudden, the room was steeped in darkness. Someone had upset the candle illuminating the room. The leader cursed. When a glimmer of light was seen again, it was in the flames leaping up the curtain on the window.
“Fire… Fire! The bitch has done this.”
The boys, quite distracted, fled the room. The leader stopped by the door and fired in the direction of the curtain. Damope let out a piercing scream. Omolewa wormed her way in that direction and gathered Damope up in her hands. The latter was fighting for her life, gasping for breath.
Omolewa began to cry afresh for her friend.
Post image by daliscar1 via Flickr
About the Author:
Joel Eghosa Ighalo is a law student by day and a writer by night. His poems were featured in the anthology, “footmarks.” while his short story, “Dear Diary” was featured in, “Broken Chimes,” a collection of short stories. Though faced with the full rigour of his legal study, he is presently working on his first novel. His works explore the theme of social injustice and inequality.