Cinema Road was deserted already. The streets of Sagamu generally cleared up after nine-thirty. We’d begun watching the news at nine, so it was probably around that time now. There were no taxis or motorcycles, but returning inside to tell Grandmother the truth was out of the question. At least Aunty Afusa would be home and Titi needed her leg treated, I considered. I would let her make up the excuse for Kokonsari’s absence. Besides, I didn’t want Titi to experience Grandmother’s remedy for wounds. It was ultimately effective, but my sister was suffering enough already.
I stepped off the sidewalk and ducked into the narrow Batoro lane that ran through a cluster of hastily built two-storey houses which literally leaned against one another for support. It was a well-known but cautiously taken shortcut towards Sabo. Cinderblocks fell off the houses from time to time, and only a month prior, Mukaila’s uncle had his skull cracked by one. Luckily he survived. I ran on my toes with my hands on my head, navigating the road with the light shining out from lanterns through the neighbours’ windows, while the dagger scrapped against my tensed thighs. Water dripped from the roofs and landed on the muddy ground in dull splats. The lane stank. Sometimes people emptied their potties through the window in the rainy season, when Batoro became a gully waiting to happen. The fact that I could be running a gauntlet of shit made me chuckle. Duck! Turds are flying. I trotted on.
Batoro spewed me into Hospital Road, which was deserted too, but led straight on to Sabo. With any luck, a motorcycle working late in the hopes of getting passengers to the hospital would come my way, though I’d heard stories of riders and cab drivers who would hit pedestrians at night and drive off, only to come along when neighbours found the victim and needed an ambulance. I picked up my pace and broke into a sprint. I ran past the slouched gates of the community bank, past the sleepy motor park and Abule Nla, the low cost row of apartments where residents spidered from balcony to balcony into one another’s apartments whenever they ‘needed’ things. The smell of seasoned lamb slices skewering over smouldering charcoal jerked me. I was approaching Sabo. Hausa men sat in groups along the road, eating suya off plastic plates and chatting leisurely. Many of them wore Senegalese kaftans and plastic flip flops. A few raised their heads and stared as I ran past them, but they mostly ignored me.
This must be how Dad fled town, I thought. I didn’t remember him carrying any bags. He must have sprinted like this all the way to Lagos. And then from Lagos to Abroad. Maybe I should run through Sabo. I would run to Lagos and maybe find someone who could tell me how to get to Abroad.
But my chest was hurting. And I remembered Titi. Grandmother had pulled out the nail and tied up her foot like a bundle of dirty clothes. The familiar junction finally appeared. “Thank you,” I whispered. “Thank you.”
I stopped to catch my breath at the entrance to the house. I didn’t want to alarm Aunty Afusa. I would only tell her what was necessary. Grandmother needed her and Kokonsari. But I had to tell her what happened to Titi, didn’t I? Otherwise I couldn’t explain the need to take her box of medical things. I stepped inside and tiptoed over the benches.
As I approached the door of the living room and the sound of my racing heart slowed, a more urgent noise came from inside the room. It sounded like a groan and a moan and a gasp sharing lanes in the same throat. The door appeared locked, and as I drew closer, I remembered – the women in Kokonsari’s cassettes. That’s how they sounded.
“Ah, ah, ah, ah…”
I blushed at the thought of Aunty Afusa watching blue film.
“Ma, ma, ma, ma…”
I looked at the keyhole. What was she doing? I wanted to see her. Tempting as the thought was, I had a feeling I was going to regret peering through it.
And I did. There was my uncle’s wife, completely naked and bent over a plastic chair with her head on the back rest. Her left breast was hanging like a fruit bent on falling from an ailing tree. A thick hand cupped the right one from behind. Another rested on her arched back, and they both jerked back and forth like a car with a busted carburetor. Aunty Afusa raised her head and the sounds came out a lot clearer.
“Hammer, Hammer, Hammer, Hammer… ”
Ope Olum’degun is a fiction writer who prefers to read non-fiction. He moved to the US from Nigeria in 2009 and is currently in the MA in Writing program at Johns Hopkins University. When he isn’t selling books and magazines to finicky Washingtonians, he’s developing and writing a radio drama series for the National Museum of African Art.