The deafening sound resonated in my ears. I had to wait a few seconds for the ringing in my ears to stop. Somehow, we had ended up with our backs against a tree. Alex had obviously regained his hearing before me, because he reached out to help me up so we could get back to the car.
‘Alex…” I gasped then. “What’s that on your hand? Oh Jesus, you’re bleeding!”
I could only stare. Was this some kind of practical joke? April Fools’ Day or Candid Camera? Or did this gargantuan man actually think I was going to marry the pot-bellied old man sitting and gambling in there?
As if he’d heard my thoughts, he looked at me sternly and said, “Iyawo Oga mi, oga say make you no comot.”
How were things possibly going to get any worse than this? Stranded in the middle of nowhere and finding yourself suddenly betrothed to a man with an illiterate as his PA. Of all the things happening at that point in time, the scariest thought was that Alex and I wouldn’t make it to the wedding. Let’s call it the fear of Nena. It was then it dawned on me that I didn’t even know where Alex was. He couldn’t possibly be any worse off than me. I couldn’t imagine any old woman forcing him to marry her. He was probably waiting at the car or better still watching, and maybe even laughing, from a distance.
I wouldn’t blame him if he actually was laughing. I mean, it really was a funny sight. Me, standing in front of the door with the massive man holding his hands out so I wouldn’t escape and moving back and forth between Yoruba and Pidgin. One thing was sure though, my children wouldn’t lack bedtime stories.
Seeing as I couldn’t escape, I turned around and walked back into the makeshift casino. The old man, who was probably celebrating inwardly that he had acquired fresh meat, looked up and smiled at me through his MTN-yellow teeth. “Iyawo mi,” he crowed, “se o tide.”
I rolled my eyes and said with heavy irritation, “Baba, kini gbogbo nonsense eh?” Between you and me, I barely understood what I’d just said. I quickly switched to English. “Why is that man outside disturbing me, and who is your iyawo?”
“Ahah, Omoge mi. Cool nah.”
Then the old man stood up and walked towards me as if to explain something. “Oya, come. No be vexing for me. Take it cool.”
All of a sudden, Nena came to mind. If she was the one being struck bullet after bullet with the remains of the English language this man was speaking, a bomb might have gone off in her brain. The girl couldn’t even pretend to stand bad English. She had once walked out of a job interview because the interviewer kept repeating, “What year did you graduated?” She said she couldn’t work with that kind of person and she never went back. Extreme? Maybe. Anyway, my problems were bigger than Baba’s English or the lack thereof. This man seemed to really think I was about to marry him. Of all the ‘yawas’ I had found myself in, this had to be the most confusing. From going to someone else’s wedding, I had managed to be courted, proposed to and become engaged without even knowing it.
This is the kind of divine intervention people mark attendance at Redeemed Camp for o. My mind and her twisted sense of humour.
Baba escorted – or rather stalked closely behind – me, so I had no choice but to move ahead of him, to keep from being absorbed by his pot belly. I found myself shepherded to a mud house. Upon getting in, it was to behold the matchmaker herself, the old woman sitting on a mat at one corner. She started smiling the moment she saw me. I couldn’t fathom what they were all so happy about. The old man said a few things in his thick Yoruba dialect that were beyond my understanding. The woman stepped out and came back some minutes after with a big plate of something I was obviously supposed to eat. It was not until both the old man and his wife had left the room that my stomach started to make those funny sounds. I had told myself I wouldn’t eat the food, but I wasn’t strong enough to hold back. The betrayer in the centre of my being caved and I rushed at the plate. It was as I gorged myself on the meal, that it occurred to me that wherever Alex was on planet earth, he hadn’t eaten since we left Lagos. I left some food on the plate, making a mental note to give it to him if he came for me.
I woke up suddenly on the mat. I didn’t realize I had slept off. All that scheming and gambling must have taken its toll on me. Or maybe that old woman had drugged me. My phone was dead and it was pitch-dark in the room.
Are there even any windows in this thing? I thought with some exasperation as I looked around me.
Just then, I heard the sound of a twig break outside. I couldn’t see anything, but I sensed that someone was coming. My heart started to pound again. I felt around me for the plate or anything else to use as a weapon. And just like in all those horror movies, there was nothing. I got up slowly and, flailing my hands about, felt my way to the wall. Whoever it was would be entering the room soon.
The door opened slowly with the person trying to make as little noise as possible. I couldn’t even make a guess at who it was still. Where was the moon when you needed it? I couldn’t see or shout or escape, so I did the only thing that seemed sensible. I lashed out with a roundhouse kick! How I perfected the art of kicking is a story for another day. Anyway, my leg struck a body, and grunting in pain, the person fell and landed with his/her head smacking against the plate I’d been frantically searching for earlier. Just when I was about to jump over and run from the room, the person grabbed my ankle and pulled me to the ground. It was the hands of a male, and I struggled against the hold he was attempting to have over my body.
“Jesus!” he swore. “Aisha, when did you become such a wrestler!”
“My God! Alex, why didn’t you say it was you?”
“I wasn’t sure you were here nau. I don’t even know if I can still stand.”
“Sorry, sorry. Where have you been?”
“Your bobo had me kept in one tiny room somewhere. I managed to get out and I started going from house to house, looking for you.”
I couldn’t see his face, and I supposed he couldn’t see mine either, so he wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the look I gave him that night. My bobo indeed.
“Ok, let’s go now please. Enough drama for one night. What’s the time?”
“It’s almost 1am. Do you still have the money?”
“Yes! Come, before someone wakes up.”
I wasn’t at peace until we had bought fuel and driven about thirty minutes away from what could have become my village by marriage, and I couldn’t thank the strange man who sold the fuel to us in the middle of the night enough. I was awake as Alex drove. He kept on laughing and teasing me about ‘my bobo.’ The only good things that came out of stopping at that village was the money for the fuel and whatever it was that woman had given me to eat.
Oh, and of course, I got an opportunity to kick Alex! At least I had something to retaliate with, while he laughed at me over my bobo.
“You’re extremely bubbly for someone who hasn’t eaten all day,” I observed. “I kept some food for you but you face planted into it.”
“Who says I haven’t eaten? When I was going from house to house looking for you, I entered one where someone had left some stew to cool overnight, and there was rice in the pot too, and my feelings for rice and stew haven’t changed.”
“So, you stole someone’s food?”
“I like to think of it as tasting.”
“Ok, how many pieces of meat did you ‘taste’?
He looked at me with a shade of guilt in his eyes. “Four…”
“Ah, Alex. Ole! By tomorrow, they’ll be searching more for you than me.”
He burst out laughing. “You know you just jilted a chief?”
I looked at him like he was speaking another language. “What are you talking about?”
“Your bobo is a chief nau. Why do you think he was confident enough to consider you acquired on first sight? Apparently, chiefs are allowed to pick and choose any lady they please. You should be flattered really.” He stifled a laugh as he winked at me.
“And you know all this how exactly?”
“The man that led me to my room told me. He kept talking about how if I didn’t cause trouble, the chief would be very kind to me for bringing him a new wife. So you see, even with my ‘Harvard English’, I can still communicate in a village.”
“That explains a lot then. And the fact that you managed to understand doesn’t mean you can communicate.”
“You must always have a comeback though,” he complained slightly.
I grinned, celebrating my little victory. We talked most of the way. I told him about the old man’s English, and thrill I got from gambling, and we laughed till our jaws began to hurt.
At about 3am, Alex made a turn off the express into a bush path.
“Why are you getting off the road?” I queried.
“The GPS says this is a short cut. We can cut off more than one and half hours of the journey this way.”
“Hmm, are you sure? We can’t afford another situation o.”
“Relax, we’ll get to Kaduna soon.”
So I relaxed and took in the passing scenery. The bush path looked like an illustration of Robert Frost’s The Road less travelled. It was lonely and covered with twigs and leaves, and seemed to narrow as we went further. I decided not to say anything so I didn’t sound like I was nagging but I was sure he noticed it too. We drove a little more and came to a part where a log had blocked most of the road. We both got out to move it off the road. We moved the log, locked the car and decided to walk further a bit to see if the road was actually motorable.
We’d walked a few minutes and were just about to head back to the car when we heard a deafening sound. Maybe it was fear or some other force, but we both found ourselves hurled against a tree. After a few seconds, when the ringing in my ear had reduced, but with the confusion still lingering, I heard Alex husk, “Was that a gunshot?” He reached out a hand to help me up so we could get back to the car.
“Alex, what’s that on your hand?” I gasped. “Oh Jesus, Alex, you’re bleeding!”
Written by Nky Otike-Odibi, tweets @Nky_Otk and blogs at legalwatchmen.blogspot.com