Awele crossed her bare legs and laid out her paraphernalia in front of her on the glass table. It was early evening. She was on the patio on the roof of her father’s house, sitting on a stylish cane chair under a thatch roof. Behind her was a fully stocked bar, and in front of her were the afore-mentioned glass table, more cane chairs, a pool table, an outdoor Jacuzzi, and a humongous 82-inch flat screen television. This was where her father and his friends entertained their women; sometimes girls the same age as her.
It took her less than a minute to roll the skunk. She liked to use two king-size Rizla papers – the blue ones, her favourites. The red ones were razz, as far as she was concerned. She would first construct a longer paper by sticking the two Rizlas together using the gum on one. Then she would reach into her velvet pouch and sprinkle the sticky herb along the whole length of the elongated paper, lining it up carefully and meticulously. Then she would pick up the whole thing and roll it lovingly and expertly into a perfectly tight slim cone.
When she was done, she admired her handiwork. It was long and flawless, and basically resembled a perfect white biro. She picked up her lighter, lit up, and inhaled deeply, making a sucking sound. She held it in for as long as she could, then let it out slowly. The familiar feeling washed over her almost immediately, reassuring in its familiarity. This was her second-favourite part of the day.
She put her feet up on the glass table and took another long drag. From somewhere below her, in the house, she could hear the faint faraway sounds of several people singing. Praise and worship. Oh yeah, she thought, it’s Thursday. Mum’s fellowship night. Maybe she’d stop by later when she’d finished up here. Just to say hello. She smiled to herself at the thought. Her mum and her ‘holy-nweje’ friends would all suffer heart attacks if she were to walk into their sanctified gathering in her bikini top and booty shorts, reeking of Igbo and Hennessy. She smiled to herself again. The idea was seriously tempting.
Her phone began to ring. She glanced at it without picking it up from the table. Wale. He had been after her for a while now. Handsome, well-educated, well-connected Wale, who drove a gleaming black GL550 Benz jeep. He was the type of man all her friends would kill for. He was also an arrogant bastard. And not to mention newly married, with an eight-month old baby. She ignored the phone and poured herself a generous snifter of Hennessey, her mind on the fact her grandmother was coming from Asaba to visit the next day.
Grandma Nwakaego, her mum’s mother, was her favourite relative, immediate family inclusive. They had an unspoken and unexplained bond, one they had shared since Awele was a baby. They talked on the phone everyday, sometimes twice a day. Whenever Awele’s mum, Nwadinma, couldn’t reach her own mother on the phone, she knew she could find out her mother’s whereabouts from her daughter because Awele would already have talked to her grandma that day. Nwadinma often said that Grandma Nwakaego was the only person Awele ever really listened to.
The best thing about her grandma’s visit was the timing of it. Grandma Nwakaego was going to stay for a week, which meant that she would be present for Awele’s twenty-second birthday on Sunday. Not that she had anything planned; she was just happy that her beloved grandma would be there. She couldn’t wait to see her again.
When she had finished her substance abuse session, Awele returned the Hennessey bottle to its place on the bar, emptied the ashtray, packed her Rizla, lighter, and other paraphernalia back into their velvet pouch, and returned it to its hiding place in the far corner of one of the cupboards under her father’s bar, behind an unopened case of champagne.
She then put her earphones in, switched on her tiny iPod nano, took one last look around to ensure she’d left nothing incriminating, and set off downwards into the house with Phyno and Olamide’s Ghost Mode blasting in her ears.
Halfway to her room, she decided to raid the fridge downstairs in the kitchen for kilishi and Diet Pepsi. Kilishi was her father’s favourite snack, and therefore the fridge was constantly stocked with it. In fact, there was a separate compartment in one of the fridges dedicated solely to her father’s kilishi.
On her way to the kitchen, she walked past the sliding glass door leading to her mum’s sitting room, where the praise and worship session was in full swing. Not that it was officially designated as her mother’s sitting room; it was just referred to as such because that was her mother’s preferred sitting area for entertaining her friends and for her prayer meetings. The main, grander sitting room, with the Italian furniture, Persian rug, and gold-plated crystal chandeliers, was reserved for her father and his business associates.
Awele was about to sneak past and continue to the kitchen when she spotted the pastor leading the praise and worship. He was in the middle of a vigorous prayer and his audience, including her mother, the hostess, was enraptured by him and his words. She looked carefully at him. She never forgot a face. And she had seen him before without a doubt.
Suddenly it came rushing to her, the realisation of where she had seen him before. Before she could think twice about it, she had slid the glass door open and stepped into the living room.
There was a shocked gasp from a few of the women in the group, and the pastor’s prayer died on his lips as everyone in the room gaped at her. She realised that she must look to them like one of the whores of Babylon with her booty shorts and her full bosom barely restrained by her bikini top; with the dragon tattoo snaking its way from her left hip all the way to its open mouth just under her left breast, the black ink highly conspicuous against her fair skin. Her mum looked as if she might just pass out and die of embarrassment.
“Hi everyone,” she said. “Good evening to you all. Sorry to interrupt your session, but this won’t take long.” She turned to the pastor. “Remember me?”
The pastor, a charismatic, attractive man in his early forties, opened his mouth and closed it again. The eloquence with which he had been praying just moments before had suddenly deserted him.
“No? Nothing? You want me to remind you?”
“Awele!” Her mother had found her voice. “Get out of here, you evil child! Get behind me, Satan! You want to kill me, abi? That’s what you want, abi?”
“I just want you to know the truth, Mum. That this your so-called pastor is a womanizing arsehole.”
“Blood of Jesus!”
Awele looked at the pastor. “Why don’t you tell them how you sat next to me on the plane and pestered me for my number all the way from Abuja to Lagos, even though you were wearing a wedding ring?”
“Blood of Jesus!!”
“Should I tell them all the things you said to me? You’ll take me to Dubai and South Africa, abi? God punish you! Dirty old man!”
At this point the pastor finally recovered his wits and his voice. “The enemy has sent this child to desecrate, confuse, and scatter our congregation!” he declared, his voice rising. “But he will not succeed!”
“Amen!” Coming from the congregation.
“He will never succeed!”
“You see?” wailed Nwadinma. “You see what I’m dealing with in this house?! She is on drugs! Hard drugs! See her eyes, now! Look at her eyes! Ashawo mmuo!” She flung herself down on the carpet and began to roll around, arms flailing around. “Pray for me o! Please pray for me! Deliver me from the jaws of evil!”
As if on cue, the pastor launched into forceful, fervent prayer binding the spirit that was in possession of Awele’s body. Everybody in the room soon joined in, their voices rising and rising in volume.
Awele watched them in growing disbelief. Both she and the pastor knew very well that everything she had said was true, and yet here he was leading the prayers to bind and send her back ‘to the depths from whence she came’. And her mother’s ‘Amen!’ was perpetually the loudest. After a minute or two she just shook her head, turned around and walked out of the room. Her kilishi and Pepsi were still waiting for her, after all.
The next day Awele was at the airport with Fatai their driver to pick up her grandmother. She enveloped Grandma Nwakaego in a bear hug as soon as she saw her. “G-Mummy!! Look at you looking like a hot babe! I hope you didn’t give out your number on the plane o!”
Grandma Nwakaego laughed and hugged her granddaughter tightly. “Omalicha nwa m,” she said. “I missed you.” She turned to the driver who was already loading her luggage into the car boot. “Fatai, how you dey, now?”
“Very fine, Ma! Welcome, Ma!”
On the drive back to the house, the two women sat in the back and talked, as they always did.
“She’s such a hypocrite, Grandma. Sometimes I wonder how she could really be my mother.”
“Don’t talk like that, my daughter.”
“No, seriously, Grandma. I know I’m not perfect, but she makes out I’m like this evil witch and she’s Virgin Mary.”
Her grandma laughed.
“What have I done to her?” Awele continued. “I just graduated with a 2.1 from Imperial. Was she a graduate at twenty-one?”
“No,” said her grandma, “But she didn’t have all the opportunities you are lucky to have.”
“OK, fair enough. But she should stop treating me like an evil spirit just because I’m a little different from her.”
Nwakaego smiled a knowing smile at her granddaughter’s words. Awele had no idea, but she reminded her grandma very much of her own self from about fifty years ago. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, she too had worn micro-mini skirts and high heels and see-through blouses and sneaked out to parties and had even smoked a cigarette once or twice. But would she confess all that to Awele? Never! But what reminded her of her younger self the most in her granddaughter were her strength of conviction and her inability to shut up and not speak her mind.
The two women sat in silence for a few moments, and then Awele said, in a lowered voice: “The thing I don’t get the most about her is the fact that she obviously knows what Dad is up to with his women all over the place, and yet she never says a word! Always just playing the dutiful and oblivious wife! Is it because he’s rich? Is that the price you have to pay to be a rich man’s wife? If so, give me a poor man any day!”
Grandma Nwakaego shook her head. “Nwa m,” she began, “One day you will learn this for yourself, but take it from an old woman now: you have to choose your battles very carefully. Your mother is not stupid; she just chooses her battles based on the hand she’s been dealt, that’s all.”
Awele shrugged. “Me, I’ll never be in that kind of situation.”
Grandma Nwakaego sighed. “Amen, my child.”
Later that evening, Nwakaego sat with her daughter Nwadinma in Nwadinma’s favourite sitting room. Akpan, Nwadinma’s cook, had set a plate of sliced mango in front of each of the women. Akpan was very proud of his culinary prowess, and his chef certificate was framed and proudly displayed on the kitchen wall, something that Awele teased him often and mercilessly about.
“Mummy, I’m at my wit’s end with that girl. I don’t know what to do again. I’ve talked and talked and prayed and prayed. I’ve left it to God.”
Nwakaego chose her words carefully. “But what is the problem, my daughter?”
Nwadinma stared at her mother. “What do you mean, ‘what is the problem’? Did you not hear what I just told you? What she did just yesterday?”
“Have you considered the fact that she might be telling the truth about Pastor Paul?”
“How can you say that, Mummy? Pastor Paul is a man of God! And it’s not only that. That little ogbanje came into my fellowship naked and high on drugs! I’ve never been so disgraced in my life!” Nwadinma shook her head and snapped her fingers in disgust. “Oburo m ka o yi. It’s not me she resembles. She’s her father’s daughter.”
For a moment Nwakaego considered setting her daughter straight on who Awele really ‘resembled’, but changed her mind. Instead she said, “She’s just young. She doesn’t really know herself yet. Give her time.”
“Give her time? That’s your advice? Is it when she’s standing on the roadside and charging money that we’ll start to do something? Have you seen her tattoo? The whole of her left side is a big black snake!”
“Nwadinma. Just for your information, by the way, your daughter is still a virgin. Of that I’m positive.”
That shocked Nwadinma into silence. “What? How do you know?”
Nwakaego smiled. “Easy. She tells me everything. Every. Thing. She nearly lost her virginity a year ago on her twenty-first birthday. But then she decided she wasn’t ready yet and that he wasn’t worthy. And she decided this all by herself. Without any input from me.”
Nwadinma stared at her mother in shocked silence. Then she found her voice. “You discuss things like that with my daughter?”
Nwakaego nodded. “Yes.”
“But why doesn’t she talk to me about things like that?”
Nwakaego just looked at her daughter. Some questions were not meant to be answered. A well-known Igbo idiom advises people who ask such questions to use their tongue to count their own teeth.
“There are many things you have probably misjudged your daughter on, Nwadinma. I think you’d be a bit surprised if you did less talking at her and more talking with her.”
Just then Awele walked into the room wearing a very short summer dress and holding a Diet Pepsi. “What are you two old amebos gossiping about?” she asked.
For Nwadinma, it was like seeing her daughter for the very first time.