Stay Alive

Stay Alive

Emeka crashed unto his un-made bed like a war-plane into earth. Mosquitoes sang him welcome songs, he’d just come back from a night vigil and it was that time of the night when it was so cold and you just wanted to hold something…or someone warm. He settled for his arms and knees, they were sore from hours of frenzied hand-clapping and feet-stomping and he’d even told Bose he would be travelling and all these was because of a girl. Christabel.

She was a ‘Christian sister’, married to Jesus and all that, and it didn’t take Emeka long to realize that if he was going to have a chance at her, he would have to break that union. He would have to become a ‘Christian brother’ too.

And so when she called him today to invite him for their monthly student fellowship crossover night, he welcomed it with enthusiasm. He cancelled his ‘appointment’ with Bose, fuelled his generator just in case, stocked his fridge with refreshment and manscaped. He was going to bring her back here from church as the girl’s hostel was farther and it would be late, then he’ll seduce Jesus Christ out of her.

But things don’t always go as planned; the student pastor offered to give all the girls a ride back to the hostel with the fellowship bus, that way, they won’t be asked too many questions at the school gate. She thanked him for the offer and disappeared into the early hours of the morning.

The thing was if he wanted a girl on his bed right now it won’t be a problem, network willing, he was one of the seven wonders of the university the girls wanted to conquer before he or they graduated and he knew it. Sarah was different. Asides the fact that she would definitely be a virgin, she was his childhood sweetheart, back when he used to live in Apapa before father got transferred and he used to believe in such things. He would pick a hibiscus flower from his neighbor’s immaculately manicured garden and place it behind her ear and call her his princess. Too much fairytale books those days.

But what exactly was it that he wanted from her, her untouched body? A return to childhood? Well, he didn’t care, a guy would always be a guy!

And being a guy, he fetched his phone and began to scroll through his contacts for Bose’s number as the mosquitoes continued their unending litany.

*

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN? OH, SO YOU EXPECT ME TO CARRY THE MONEY FOR MY HISTORY TEXTBOOK AND PAY FOR A TAXI TO COME TO YOUR HOUSE AND SERVICE YOU?…DONT TELL ME I’M SHOUTING, I’M NOT SHOUTING!…YOU KNOW WHAT? GOODNIGHT!!!”

The first thing Bose wanted to do after cutting the call was to smash her phone into the nearest wall, but she considered Laila, her roommate who was worlds away on the bed beside her. Yes Emeka was the cutest bar of chocolate in final year and maybe all the girls wanted to have a bite of him before he graduated, but did that mean she would be trampled on? NO! Senators and bank MD’s were at the mercy of her body, she could snap her fingers at him and he would vanish, who did he think he was sef?

The full moon from the window bathed Laila, making her look like a black and white painting, a marvelous work of chiaroscuro. “Lucky girl.” Bose said to herself. Laila had the kind of beauty that attracted only descent men, a natural beauty that made the otherwise feel unworthy of it.

No, she won’t break her phone over a man. Besides it was going to be a channel for her next cash. She reclined on the bed and dialed Chief’s number. “I’m sorry to call you now sir and I know you’re with your wife, but if I don’t pay the thirty thousand naira my department is paying for the history textbook, I may be exempted from the exams, can you imagine?!”

*

Chief Osaze could imagine. He could imagine the silken feel of Laila’s lips on his skin, her soft fragrance of strawberry but this imagination was not the yearning of an unfulfilled dream, it was a recalling of accomplished sins with the girl. ‘Imagine’ was the only word that appealed to him from Bose’s call, of course he would send the leech some money the next day, but it was Laila that preoccupied his thoughts in the hotel room some business trip cities away. He was her first, she’d been a good girl driven into his arms by circumstance. She’d stolen his number from her roommate, Bose, the day she’d been advised to withdraw due to unpaid school fees.

What he didn’t like about the whole thing was that she became a full blown prostitute after him, he knew his friends were with her whenever he was with Bose, but he didn’t mind too much, it wasn’t love after all, she was not his wife…

He rolled off the bed and walked to the window, scratched his protruding belly and looked down at the young people leaning over themselves and holding hands in the street lights below, the phone still in his hand. It was late, but he would call. It would be a sin not to.

*

Laila crept back to bed, hoping Bose had not heard her phone conversation in the kitchen. She’d begged Chief to stop seeing or calling her but he wouldn’t listen; he kept using her as a rebound from Bose and she was tired of it, for she had nothing more to give him. Them. All the vultures who craved her flesh. Her affections, even pity, had been exhausted by the time she was with the fifth man and as for her body, well…she’d gone to see the doctor this afternoon. ‘It’s a miracle’ the woman with white overalls and kind spectacles had said. “You’ve progressed from HIV to AIDS and it’s not really telling on your looks.”

Laila hadn’t been sure if it was a compliment or fact, she didn’t even know how to react. Maybe that was because she felt there was still hope of her situation being reversed. Surely some wonder drug or something would do the trick. “What do I do ma?”

The woman had taken off her glasses to look at Laila tenderly, a lone rose in a gathering storm. “Stay alive my dear.” Then she went on to give Laila the full gist of her condition, the various drugs that could abate it and etcetera. It was unreal to Laila, she watched herself in the small white-plastered cubicle of an office, seated in front of the middle-aged woman kindly telling her she was about to die. Or could. It didn’t make sense, was AIDS a part of the script for an orphan child? Wasn’t the person supposed to become successful in life? How did success relate with AIDS?

Laila had staggered home that afternoon and Bose would have noticed had she been less pre-occupied with Emeka. She immediately threw herself into sleep and didn’t wake up till Emeka had called Bose. Yet she pretended she was still sleeping. She didn’t want to face anyone, not like this, in this shell of a body that was quickly rotting away.

Their faces, the men, hovered in front of her in the darkness as she crept back to bed, almost drawing a whimper from her lips. She thought of all the girls in the school fellowship choir like Christabel, who looked up to her and shuddered, not from the night-cold.

*

Christabel’s joy died like a flame when the girls’ hostel loomed into view; there was no electricity. Yet she didn’t complain when the student pastor dropped her off without saying a word, God knew she’d put him through too much already. He’d been pressuring her for weeks about a dream he got from God, that he’d married her and lived happy ever after or something like that. She told him that until God showed her those dreams, he could keep them to himself. In more polite words of course.

As she stepped into the 3 storey building that was her hostel, mosquitoes and regret stole bites from her flesh. She liked Emeka and as for God’s opinion in the matter, didn’t He lead him back to her after more than a decade? Was an open vision from heaven necessary?

She reached for her phone in her hand bag and dialed his number. He had a Lerato so he could come pick her, he tell the guards something funny, like she was his sister who came to see him and lost her way. It would be a lie, it would be a joke. Emeka was a good boy, gentle, it showed in the way he dressed, what harm will it be to use the opportunity to catch up on old times?

“Oh yes Emeka sorry, I was thinking about something. Urm, I know it’s late but could you come and pick me up?…Sure, it’s no problem… Maybe I’ll cook something tomorrow more decent than sand and grass from our childhood days.”

As she ended the call with a smile and sat on the visitor’s bench in front of her hostel, something fragile left her and something sultry, delicious got in. she hugged herself in the night-cold as this delicious thing ravaged her, quickened her heartbeat. This quickening became more rigorous when a pair of lights tossed themselves carelessly in the night accompanied with the faint rumble of car engines.



6 thoughts on “Stay Alive” by TJ Benson (@jazz)

  1. Hmm, TJ, I see you o. From Facebook to NS abi?”

    Good story my man.

  2. nice write up

  3. I like the story.
    It sounds real.

  4. I don’t know who to waste my pity on. I hope they stay alive.
    Well done, Jazz.

  5. What a vicious circle!

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