As Yemi laid unconscious on the floor in the Phillip’s mansion, she drifted in and out of a river of memories. One memory stood out and wrapped itself around her mind like a turban on the head of a Sikh.
Her mother and father sat on the sofa. Yemi sat on a plastic chair. The twins sat on a mat. They ate their humble meal of Amala and ewedu in silence.
‘Crash!’ The fragile door to the apartment was kicked in. It was held in place by one hinge and looked like a beggar with a crooked arm soliciting for money from passing motorists. Three men walked into the apartment. Their leader wore sun glasses although it was 8:00pm. The two men who came with him took positions by the door.
The leader removed his dark glasses. “Mr Esho, do you have our money?” the leader of the gang asked.
The mechanic stood up from his chair. “Sugar, I don’t have the money. Business has been a bit slow.” His wife held his hand and tried to pull him back, but he snatched it away from her.
Sugar frowned. “That was what you said last month. Mr Esho, this is not how we conduct our business. When you borrow money from us, we expect you to pay back when due.”
Kola bowed his head for a moment. When he lifted it, there was anger in his eyes. “Is that why you broke down my door and burst into my home at this time of night and talk to me as if I am a thief? If you want your money, be patient with me!”
“Kola, are you attempting to default on your payment?” Sugar gave a sign to the two goons who stood by the door. They forced Kola to go on his knees before Sugar. “You have refused to listen to reason, so I think a little demonstration will be in order.”
“Leave my father alone!”Yemi shouted at Sugar.
The hoodlum turned to Yemi. “And who is this pretty one, your daughter?” he smiled at Yemi. “I like her, she’s feisty.” He took two steps towards her and slapped her with a palm that looked like the head of a tennis racket. The force carried Yemi across the room and dropped her near the door of the bathroom. “Never you talk to me like that again!”
“Agh…” Yemi moaned in pain and put her hand to her face.
Sugar turned to Kola. “I will teach you a lesson that you won’t forget in a hurry.” He nodded at the men and they proceeded to beat him like a farmer beats a stubborn goat caught eating his freshly made pounded yam.
“No!” Yemi screamed and lunged for Sugar but he threw her off like an irritable insect. Yemi knelt in one corner and cried. Her siblings watched helpless as their father was beaten like a thief.
“Enough!” Sugar said. The goons retreated. Kola lay on the floor looking defeated. It wasn’t the blood on his face that made Yemi cry, it wasn’t his torn shirt that broke her heart, it was the look of total helplessness, it was the humiliation, it was the complete shame that covered his face that made her heart pound with pain.
“Hold him up,” Sugar ordered his goons. They held up the bleeding man. “This was a small demonstration. The next time will be worse. I will be back. Make sure you have my money.” He walked towards the door. His goons dropped Kola and he collapsed on the floor. Sugar stopped by the door and turned around. His eyes settled on Yemi. “You, come here.”
“Leave my daughter alone,” her mom said weakly.
Yemi walked over to him, her eyes burning with anger. Sugar regarded her with lust. “You can save your father all this trouble if you just follow me to my place tonight,” he said and licked his thick disfigured lips, darkened by cigarettes.”I will forgive his debt and will never come here again”
Yemi spat on the floor near his white sneakers. “I would rather sleep with a pig than sleep with you!”
Sugar chuckled mischievously. “We shall see about that, won’t we? I give you and your father two days to get my money. Let’s go!” The three men walked out of the apartment.
But Yemi didn’t realise how prescient she was.
“So, you want me to help your father?”
Yemi was with chief Alawo, the most powerful man in the neighbourhood, called ‘the pig’ behind his back because he was overweight.
Her mother had tried to stop her.”Yemi, please don’t go to this man. He is worse than Sugar and his gang. Things could get worse instead of getting better,” she begged her daughter but Yemi could no longer tolerate to see her father humiliated by loan sharks
“If this harassment continues, one day they will kill dad,” she told her mother.
Her mother could see the determination in her daughter’s eyes. She had no choice. “Do you need anything?” She asked Yemi.
“Yes. I will need a dress. An attractive dress.”
They found the dress she wanted at the used clothes section of Balogun market in Lagos.
Yemi stood before the mirror in her room and smiled at her reflection. She liked what she saw.
“What will you give me in return?” Alawo asked the pretty dark skinned girl standing before him in a tight, short dress. He sat at the dining table and tore voraciously into a piece of chicken.
Yemi looked into his eyes, saw the lust and knew that she had him where she wanted him. To survive in the ghetto she had learned to read men, their feelings, their passions, their fears, their desires. She could tell when a man wanted to touch her. She knew it instinctively ever before he voiced his intentions. She could tell when total strangers wanted her, it was in their eyes, in the way they spoke to her with gentleness, afraid that she may reject their request for physical intimacy. She had learned to study the eyes of a man to know what he wanted from her. As she stood before chief Alawo, she knew what he wanted from her and she was prepared to give it to him. “Chief,” Yemi knelt down before him. “What do you want from me?” she touched his knees and the chief gasped, his breathing quickened, layers of fat flesh shivered in anticipation of the promised pleasure in that touch.
“Come and sit beside me,”the fat man liked her confidence. Yemi sat beside him at the table.
“Kanayo!” Chief barked like an angry army sergeant. A huge man appeared before him. “Find Sugar and his boys and bring them here now!”
Thirty minutes later Sugar and three of his boys stood before chief Alawo. They were surrounded by six hefty looking men. One of them held a gun. Sugar looked like sheep before a lion. Gone was the bravado and arrogance.
“Yemi, come here.” Yemi came out of a room and sat beside the chief. “Are these the men who came to your home?” Alawo asked.
Yemi nodded. “All of them, except that short one at the back.”
“You,” Alawo pointed at the short man who looked at Yemi with fear. “Get out of here!” The man ran out of the house. He turned to Sugar and the two men who stood with him. “Do you know this girl?”
“Yes, I know her,” Sugar said.
“Wrong answer,” Alawo said and two of his boys rained punches on Sugar until he fell to his knees.
“I asked you a question. Do you know this lovely girl sitting beside me?” Alawo asked again.
Sugar wiped the blood flowing from his nose, looked at his boys as if expecting an answer from them but they stepped back in fear. He turned to the chief. “Yes, I said I know her. She’s the daughter of Kola the mechanic who owes me some money.”
“Wrong answer.” Chief nodded to his boys and they proceeded to beat him again. This time he was stretched out on the floor.
“Lift him up,” chief said and his boys propped him up. “Listen carefully. You don’t know this girl. You don’t know her father. Her doesn’t owe you money,” chief paused. “If you go near her family again, you will meet with an unfortunate accident, and so will your boys. Do you understand me?”
Sugar nodded his head.
“If you see this girl coming down the street, you will cross over to the other side in a hurry. Do you understand me?”
Sugar managed to nod his head again.
“Kanayo, get this worthless scum out of my house!”
Sugar was dragged out of the room and his boys followed him.
Alawo turned to Yemi. “Are you satisfied?”
Yemi didn’t answer him. She stood up and walked towards the master bedroom. She stopped at the door and turned to the chief.
“Let me show you my gratitude,” she smiled and entered the room.
The fat man stood up, moved as fast as the quivering layers of flesh on his rotund body would allow him, entered the room and shut the door.
Yemi returned home the next day.
“Where have you been?” her father asked.
“I had to take care of some business.” As she spoke she entered the kitchen and dropped the bag of provisions she carried on the kitchen cabinet.
Her father followed her into the kitchen. “I said where have you been?”
Yemi handed him an envelope. “That should help you with the bills until business gets better.”
He opened it and saw money. “Where did you get this?” he shook the envelope at her.
“Dad, Sugar and his gang will never bother us again,” she said in a tired voice.
“And where did you find that dress you have on?” he asked.
She didn’t answer. She entered her room and shut the door. Her dad stood there with the envelope in his hand and wondered.
Yemi had just turned nineteen.
To be continued.