When Anike opened her eyes, she was on a hospital bed. Her head ached so badly, like Thor’s hammer was being slammed against it repeatedly. She closed her eyes and tried to remember how she got to a hospital bed but her head only ached some more. She drifted off into sleep again. When Anike woke up again, it was night. This time she didn’t need to rack her brain, everything came rushing back. Her escape from Lagos, her grandfather’s death, her grandmother’s amnesia, the lawyer and his order to keep her away from mama… It all came back to her like some horror slideshow. Surely, she was the most unfortunate girl in the world, she muttered to herself. Suddenly, it occurred to her that the hospital might alert the lawyer about her visit. Oh no! She thought. Anike got up gingerly, bending her head forwards a bit to check the headache. It was gone. She opened the door a crack and peeped out. Her room was directly opposite the nurses’ station but she was in luck, there was no single nurse in sight. She sneaked out of the room and out of the building.
Anike wandered towards the Ojurin intersection wondering where she was going to sleep that night. It must have been really late as the numerous stalls and shops were locking up for the night. Even the road was getting deserted; she noticed just a few private cars and some motorcycles. She hadn’t encountered a single public transport bus since she left the hospital. She rued the fact that she didn’t have a wrist watch. She then smiled at the inconsequential thought considering the magnitude of her problems.
Just before the Ojunrin intersection, Anike came face to face with a mad man. The guy was very tall and very black with dirty, brown hair that had become dreadlocked over the years. Anike was alarmed and she jumped to the road where she almost got hit by a speeding motorcycle. The motorcyclist didn’t even glance back. The mad man stared at Anike with a lewd smile and outstretched arms.
‘My wife.’ He said, approaching her.
Anike was too scared for words. She kept walking, ready to break into a run if the madman came any closer. She took a quick glance around and she realized there was no one in sight to help her.
The madman opened his bloodshot eyes wider and dashed in her direction. Anike took to her heels. She saw a shop with its lights still on just ahead and she made for it. She got inside the shop and shouted for help. A short, well fed boy came out to see what the problem was and she pointed towards the road from whence she came. The boy looked but didn’t see anything and told her so.
‘A mad man… on the road… was chasing me.’ She blurted out while panting heavily. It had been a while since she attempted a race of any kind and was badly out of shape.
‘He called you his wife, didn’t he?’ the boy asked, relaxed.
Anike was puzzled at the nonchalant tone the boy adopted. She glanced back again to make sure she hadn’t been followed. ‘Yes.’ She replied.
‘That’s Supo, the madman of Ojurin. He does that whenever he sees a beautiful lady.’
‘Nothing more, I hope.’ Anike returned. Her ragged breath was getting normal now.
‘Most of the time, although he once raped a woman right here. He got the beating of his life afterwards from the garage boys but the damage had been done.’
Anike started to shiver. Rape! She couldn’t even begin to imagine herself being raped. By a mad man no less. She wrapped her arms across her chest in a bid to ward off the sudden chill.
The boy must have guessed her train of thought as his face softened. ‘Where are you going so late in the night anyway?’
‘I have nowhere to pass the night.’ Anike blurted out without thinking.
The boy’s forehead creased. He couldn’t understand how a pretty young girl like her would be in that kind of situation.
‘How’s that possible?’ he asked.
‘It’s a long story.’
At that point, Anike was almost in tears and the boy’s heart melted some more.
‘Just give me a minute to finish packing up while thinking of a solution, alright?’ he motioned her to a chair inside the big shop.
Anike obliged and looked around the shop. It was a supermarket filled and almost bursting with goodies.
A few minutes later, he had finished packing the remaining wares into the shop. He pulled up another chair and looked at her with eyes full of pity. She was so young, probably around his age, he thought.
‘I would have taken you home but mom wouldn’t hear of it. I’m sure she’ll almost take my ear off for staying this late as it is. Would you mind sleeping in the shop? I’ll have to lock you in , of course but I’ll come really early in the morning to open up so mom won’t see you.’
Anike was so touched by this kind gesture from a stranger that she started weeping. The boy didn’t know what to do. What does one do when a girl cries? He asked himself. Hug her? No way! She was but a stranger. Luckily for him, the tears stopped as suddenly as they started.
‘Thank you so much…’ she floundered, ‘I don’t even know your name.’
‘Kunle.’ He said simply.
‘I’m Anike.’ They both stood up and shook hands awkwardly.
At the hospital early the next morning, Mama woke up from her sleep and shook the student nurse by her bed awake. The nurse stood up immediately, thinking Mama needed assistance for one thing or the other.
‘Where is my granddaughter?’ Mama asked her calmly.
The young nurse was perplexed. All she was told by the matron was to be alert in case any of the elderly patients needed help.
‘Where is Anike, my granddaughter?’ Mama repeated, her voice had gone up by a decibel or two.
The poor student nurse didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t a psychiatric home so the woman wasn’t crazy, she thought. Or maybe she was, she said to herself backing off as Mama caught her by the uniform. She ran to the nurses’ station to alert the most senior nurse on duty. They both went back to the ward to calm Mama down but she wouldn’t be pacified. She kept raving and ranting, threatening anyone who contrived to keep her beloved Anike away from her. She managed to wake up all the other patients in her rage. In the end, the doctor had to be summoned and it was he who ordered that the lawyer be called. When he arrived, Mama explained to him that Anike was indeed her granddaughter and mandated the lawyer to find her immediately. She’s all I have left in the world, the old woman sobbed.
As Kunle Adeyemi ate his breakfast, he watched the 6 a.m. news. It was a habit he enjoyed. He usually woke up at 5:30 a.m., had his bath and by 6, he’d be at the kitchen table to eat and watch the early news programme. Immediately after the news, a missing person’s ad filled the screen and Kunle had to blink before looking again. It was Anike. He rushed the rest of his oats and rushed down to his mom’s supermarket. He unlocked the door at lightning speed and told Anike what he had seen.
‘You have to tell me your story, Anike.’ He said earnestly.
And Anike did.
‘It’s probably a ploy by the lawyer to get me.’ She told Kunle with fresh tears in her eyes.
He nodded solemnly.
‘I need a pair of scissors.’
Kunle went into an inner office and brought it. Anike got to work immediately, cutting her long, dark brown hair with quiet efficiency. She cropped her hair very close, almost like the crew cut Kunle was sporting. When she was done, she looked at herself in a mirror and was satisfied with the result. Even she found it hard to recognize herself.
‘No one, not even that wicked lawyer can recognize me now.’ She told Kunle with a smile.