Nefisa did a slight skip as a soft breeze whispered across her cheeks and played briefly with some loose strands of her hair. Lightning flashed behind some clouds seconds before she heard a muffled rumble of thunder. The rich conversation she’d just had with her reading partner was exhilarating.
He had loosened up and laughed freely at both their jokes. She smiled till her ears tightened and laughed till her jaws ached. And he kept touching her. Lightly on the shoulder and left thigh. Everything made her feel giddy as she gathered her books and he stood up to walk her to the faculty exit.
At the door, they had stopped and looked meaningfully into each other’s eyes. Looking back, she thought he had thought to kiss her or something, instead, he settled for a light pat on her shoulder. Nevertheless, she giggled and did her little skip again as she made her way along University Rd. butterflies in her belly made her feel like she was walking on air.
And she was walking on air!
She had failed to notice that one of the slabs covering the four foot wide gutter had been removed “for maintenance. As she felt herself falling, she flung her arms out in an effort to grab onto something but instead painfully jarred her elbows and scraped her chin before falling in and landing at the bottom with a splash. Her legs slipped backwards, forcing her to ignore her pain and scrape a handful of slimy stuff on the wall before her fingernails connected with cement.
Having steadied herself, she flicked her wrists to rid her palm and fingers of the slimy algae she had scooped, dried her hands on her skirt and touched her elbow softly. She sucked in some air from the stinging pain. A flash of lightning caused her to look up while the thunder that struck a few seconds later made her jump in fright. She had to get out of here, she said to herself. What if it rained? The gutter, like all the gutters around Unilag Campus ran into the Canal. And even if she could swim, she wasn’t sure she stood a chance.
Collecting her self, she tried to assess her situation. She could pull herself out. She was beside the cemetery and didn’t want to make attract unnecessary attention. Partly because she had heard stories of girls being raped on this very road and partly because she didn’t want to disturb the resting dead.
Her phone! It was in her bag and her bag had fallen off during the fall. Ignoring, the feeling of repulsion that welled up inside her, she bent down and searched the muddy bottom of the gutter, all the while praying that the phone hadn’t been destroyed by the impact or water getting into it. She located the bag and whispered a “thank God!” when she saw that the content of her bag were still dry. Taking out her phone she pressed the key pad and almost shouted for joy when the backlight came on.
She quickly pressed the phone to her chest, her heart sounding like the pounding drum kicks coming out of a woofer surround sound system.
She had heard someone shout.
She was beginning to doubt it. She returned her phone back into the bag and was reaching up to pull herself out when she heard footfalls like people running and a lady whimpering. They were drawing close.
The scream again! It was a lady and the sound of a crash signaled that a chase had just ended with the hunted now in captivity. Muffled sobs and male grunts told the story of a struggle and from the clarity, it seemed like they had fallen with the man lying on the woman. From inside the gutter, she could see part of the lady’s head as apparently, the man lifted and bashed it on the gutter-slab continuously, his brutal grunts coinciding with her pain inflicted cries. On the fourth bash, the lady was silent.
Nefisa could now tell that there where two men as whispered conversation made its way into the gutter. She couldn’t believe this was happening. Had she fallen asleep while reading? Would she soon wake up to Kade’s gentle touch? She moved deeper into the shadow as one of the men stood over the hole through which she had fallen. She heard him unzip his pants and froze as he started to urinate into the gutter. She ignored the urine spray that fell on her face. A thousand thoughts raced through her mind. Safety and comfort seemed so far away now. The incessant, insult-peppered nagging from her mother for her to find and marry a good muslim brother now seemed like soothing words to her. Love for Kade seemed inconsequential. The thought of walking on the crowded streets of Lagos with the scorching sun piercing her brain like red hot pins now seemed like a day on the beach. All she wanted was to get out of this alive.
The man had finished urinating. She heard the short spurts that signaled the end of the process. She heard him zip up and yelp as he caught his bura in the teeth of his zipper. He cursed under his breath. From his accent, Nefisa could tell he was a Hausa man. They whispered some more and carried the limp body of the woman. The muffled sound of a Nokia ring tone made them pause.
From the voice, it was probably the other person and he spoke heavily accented igbo. Apparently, he was the one carrying the body as talking seemed to be an effort for him.
“Nwadoo! Awjaw! Mo ta pei. Maza maza.”
The hausa man was obviously getting impatient. Nefisa heard as he started to walk away along with the igbo man. Their footsteps receded as they moved away, towards Herbert Macauley road.
Suddenly, Nefisa’s message alert tone, Jeremiah Gyang’s Na Ba Ka disrupted the pervading silence.
“ALLAH NA BA KA SU CHI ALLAH!!”
Her heart raced wildly. She fumbled frantically with the phone, pressing all the buttons to stop the sound. She succeeded and for the second time that night, pressed the phone to her breasts to praying to Allah that they did not hear the sound and return to investigate the source. She held her breath and would do the same to her heartbeat if she could.
A car door slammed shut!
The sputtering start up sound of a car engine that need servicing. Gears crank and the car drives off allowing the near absolute silence to return.
The light and sound of an approaching okada ensured Nefisa that the men were no longer on the road. The threat had passed but she still waited, frozen in fear until the okada had passed. She then reached up again to pull herself out of the gutter.
Nefisa sat at the back of the class. She was still mildly traumatized. Her eyes were swollen and she was tired. She didn’t know if she should tell the police. Will they know she was the one that had told? She had to talk to someone. She’d called her mother when she got home but her mother had immediately launched into a speech on how her husband would have protected her if she was married. She wouldn’t have had to go out alone as her husband would have accompanied her home. That was highly improbable, Nefisa thought, though she kept her thoughts to herself. No, talking to mother hadn’t helped.
She raised her head and gave a poor attempt at a smile. Kade walked up to her with his arms open. She instinctively got up and accepted his embrace. She suddenly pulled free. This was the first time they had hugged. She felt awkward but Kade went on asking how she felt like nothing had happened. She was relieved as she didn’t know how to react.
“Neffy what’s wrong? You don’t look to well. Don’t tell me you continued reading when you got home?”
“I wish. Kade, I –“
“KADE LOSCOPIC! HOW IS IT HAPPOONING HIA?”
They both turned to see who had called. It was a short light-skinned fellow with jerry curled hair. The type Nefisa’s father detested. Kade, on recognizing the fellow, got up and walked towards him. Calling him a “Badt guy!”
They shook hands and started to talk in conspiratorial tones. The guy spoke in heavily accented igbo. Kade was from Enugu and consequently, most of his friends were also from the eastern part of Nigeria so there wasn’t any reason to be alarmed. But Nefisa was alarmed. There was something about his voice that refreshed last night’s incident and brought a fresh wave of fear.
“Nwadoo! Awjaw!” the Hausa had called his accomplice. “Mo ta pei. Maza maza.”
Was that his name? She turned and cast a quick glance at Kade’s friend. She hadn’t seen the face of either men yester night so she didn’t expect to recognize him. She saw him hand his phone over to Kade who took it, turned and held up a finger to her indicating that he wouldn’t be more than a minute.
She nodded and Kade proceeded to copy a number unto his own phone. A few seconds later, she heard Kade bid him farewell.
“Correct guy. I knew I could trust you to handle it.” They slapped palms a couple of times with Kade calling out after each slap-of-the-palm:
Nwandu ojo! Badt guy!!
Nefisa began to fidget nervously.