I woke up the second day to the drone of Cindy’s big radio. Some people huddled around the gadget like lottery players waiting to hear the results that would make them millionaires. I yawned and stretched my neck which ached due to the awkward angle I had slept. The presenter on the radio was saying something and Sandra motioned for me to listen and I did.
It was reported that seven undergraduates of University of Lagos were murdered in cold blood in their sleep and that the dastardly attack was perpetrated by some secret cult members from outside the campus. The culprits were suspected to have come from the neighboring Lagos City Polytechnic.
At the mention of our school the other girls looked at me with something in their eyes which I couldn’t place. My mind went straight to Austin. Could that be where Austin went when he said he was traveling? I leaned back dejectedly, regretting the day I met Austin at the café. The newscaster continued but my mind was somewhere else. I became afraid of telling Austin off. It would have been easy if he was just a cult member but he was the captain. Who would have thought I would end up in that position? Someone turned the radio off and Bimbo asked me what I was going to do. I told her that I would give him his keys and start avoiding him until he gets tired and forgets about me.
We dressed up and went for lectures. Austin’s friends asked me if I had seen him or if he was back. I just walked away from them before anybody would see us and link them to me. I received my lectures and went back to the hostel. I cooked and ate even though the food tasted like sawdust and sat heavily in my tummy like lead, I finished it. At least it drove the thought of Austin off my mind for a while.
The other girls joined me later and asked if Austin was back and I said no. Some other friends came to visit but I just sat at a corner and listened to their conversations. The news was all over campus that the suspected cult attack was from our school. Another girl said two of the guys were caught by the vigilante group and one of the culprits claimed that the Rector of the institution was aiding and abetting cultists on the campus.
During this gossip, a lady came in and told us to turn our radio on. She said that someone said that Austin, the Black Crow was one of the two guys arrested. My heart missed a beat. I scampered off the bed and switched on the radio only to get the last bit of the closing music. I hissed and turned the radio off. I silently hoped and prayed that it was true. I decided to catch the evening news on radio or go to the Potters’ lodge to watch it on television.
My walk to the lodge was fast and I was furious all the way there. Everybody looked at me with suspicious eyes and nudged themselves as I walked past them. I felt uneasy. The television had just been turned on when I got to the lodge and the few people there looked at me with those stupid eyes. I ignored them and concentrated on the screen instead.
When I saw Austin in handcuffs, my heart leaped for joy and gladness. Now I didn’t have to face him to say anything. It was all in the open. It reduced my fear. The reporter was saying something about the Rector being arrested. The man appeared on the screen and denied the allegation of his involvement in the activities of the cult group. I got up and walked back to the hostel, more relaxed and happier. The suspicious glances, low whispers and small talks were all what I could handle with the help of my friends. I didn’t let it bother me. I knew it would soon be over and it did.
I didn’t run into any of Austin’s friends for weeks and it was like they had all disappeared. I was invited to the SAO to explain my relationship with Austin. I admitted he was my friend but I didn’t know he had anything to do with cultism. The senior student affairs officer said I knew he was a cultist but decided not to say anything. I was therefore given a week suspension from lectures. I showed the letter to my friends when I got to the hostel and cried my eyes out. What will I tell my aunt when I get home? What will Sean say? These were the questions on my mind.
I gathered a few clothes and walked out of the campus. My aunt was full of understanding. I told her that I had learn my lesson and promised to be more careful. I was glad she didn’t take it too seriously. It would have been terrible for me if she had.
When I got back to the campus after one week, the first person I saw was Austin. He called me as I passed through the gate but I ignored him and went to the hostel. There was nobody in our room when I got there. I unpacked my luggage and cooked some rice, Sandra came later. She told me that her dad died the third day I left and had since been buried at Nsukka, a town in the Eastern part of the country. She said she came back from Nsukka two days ago and that her uncle threw them out of the house when her mum refused to relocate to the village as they had suggested.
Sandra told me how her dad’s family had accused her mum of witchcraft. They even said she was the one that killed her husband.
“They said she had to drink the water that was used in bathing the corpse of my father in order to prove her innocence and when she declined, they sent her packing and labeled her an outcast and a witch,” Sandra said and tears started to fall from her eyes in spite of her effort not to cry. She said her mum had since rented a small room on a street close to their former house.
I was baffled, I knew the Ibos were very traditional and crude but I was amazed that it was as bad as Sandra had described it. I went to Sandra and hugged her until she stopped crying. She pulled back and wiped her tears.
“Cindy will kill me if she sees me crying like this,” Sandra said and smiled. We joked about that for a while.
When I saw that she was in a lighter mood I asked how lectures were and what I had missed. I told Sandra my encounter with Austin and to my surprise she told me Austin was released the third day he was arrested. She said the judge had said there was no evidence strong enough to convict him as charged.
“Austin came back into school with a car, Alice. A guy arrested for murder came back into the campus with a brand new car. Can you beat that?” Sandra concluded and hissed. I asked if he had come for his key and Sandra told me he had. She said they had given it to him just two days after his release. I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t in the mood to face Austin now or ever.
Bimbo and Cindy joined us later and we gossiped till late in the night. As I lay on my bed, I remembered what Bimbo said about politicians using these guys as political thugs, sending them to do their dirty jobs while they sit in the comfort of their offices and count the money the thugs brought. It was sad that the society had degenerated to that extent. The government had let us all down but we all had our path to play. I decided to start a group where we can enlighten new students as to what and what they can do in campus to while away their time without the violence. It turned out to be a very successful group and we soon become very popular and had our share of treats and enemies.
By the second year on campus, a girl started to frequent our room. She was Ronnie Ferguson, Bimbo’s supposed course-mate. Each time this girl visited, Bimbo and Cindy would dress up and go out all night and return the following morning tired and ruffled.
When it first started, Sandra and I thought nothing of it and often ignored them when they came back the following morning. Things started to get out of hand though. They started to go on their weekend escapades and come back drunk and they sometimes vomited all over the room. Sandra would boil with rage but I always cautioned her just to avoid any quarrel. There was a particular day they came back to the room so drunk that they fell asleep on the floor.
Sandra and I had to undress them and lay them on their various beds. It was during the walk to the bed that Bimbo’s bag fell off and its content scattered all over the floor. When Sandra came to pick the things up, she saw bundles of five hundred naira notes in Bimbo’s bag. She called my attention to it but I told her to return the things and mind her business even though in situations like that I knew that minding her business was not something Sandra was good at.
The following morning was a Sunday and as we walked to our Sunday campus fellowship, Sandra asked Bimbo how she got the money in her bag. Bimbo smiled and just walked on. Sandra caught up with her and demanded an answer to her question.
“I’ll tell you when we get back to the hostel,” Bimbo said.
“That is fine by me. I just hope it’s not something that can land us in serious trouble.” Sandra said.
“Oh, I didn’t steal it and it’s neither from the Forum’s purse,” Bimbo answered and smiled. We concentrated on the pastor and left the accusation in the air. After service, Sandra and Bimbo waited behind to talk to some girls. Cindy and I went to the hostel.
By the time they got back to the hostel after the fellowship, Cindy and I were about to eat lunch.
“Can’t you just let it rest?” Bimbo asked as they entered the room. “It’s beginning to annoy me.”
“What is the problem?” Cindy asked as she dished out some rice into a plate for Bimbo.
“I wanted to know where she got such a huge amount of money from,” Sandra said.
“Oh, that! I have more than that,” Cindy said and resumed her seat.
“I thought I told you to forget about that money Sandra?” I asked sternly.
“Okay, you people should sit down and listen very well.” Cindy began but I told her not to bother telling us where and how they got their money because it was not necessary. Sandra looked at me like I was crazy.
“Calm down. We had a plan to tell you anyway,” Bimbo said as she ate. “Sandra was just being too pushy and nosy.
“You will be nosy if you were also in my shoes. How come you have such a huge amount of money?” Sandra said but was interrupted. Cindy wanted her to stop calling a mere fifty thousand naira a large sum of money; she said she had one hundred thousand naira with her. It was then my turn to exclaim.
“One hundred what?! Are you sure it’s not from the Forum’s account?” I asked Cindy, and Bimbo burst into laughter. Cindy asked me if the only way a girl could have one or two hundred thousand naira is when they steal from someone or somewhere.
Sandra answered by saying, “When it is gotten overnight, it becomes suspicious.”
Bimbo smiled in her usual calm way.
“Please stop smiling. This is serious.” Sandra said sternly and stared at Bimbo who just burst into a hearty laugh. It was then that Cindy told us what they did to get the money.
“Runs? What does that mean?” Sandra asked, looking all puzzled.
“It means we date sugar daddies and work hotels,” Cindy explained further.
“Wealthy, fat, pot-bellied, old men with bald heads?” was all Sandra could say. “That is so disgusting.”
“Not all of them are pot-bellied and bald,” Cindy corrected. “In fact, Senator Martins……”
“Senator who? Is that a real senator or someone who just answers to that as a nickname?” I asked.
“He is a real senator of course. He is handsome and really cute. You should meet him. He is the one that gave me the Hundred Thousand Naira.” Cindy concluded.
“You girls are unbelievable!” Sandra interjected and swung her leg over the bed, twisted her neck until it cracked loudly.
“Are you telling us that these married folks you date give you such amount of money?” I asked. It sounded very unreal to me. Cindy answered affirmatively and Bimbo said she had three hundred thousand naira in her bank account. Sandra shook her head and said she really did not envy them because it was their future they were toying with.
“Don’t you feel any remorse sleeping with other people’s husbands?” I asked with all seriousness. “And they would have other girls too?”
“Tufiakwa! God forbid!” Sandra said and snorted noisily, “Lots of diseases and germs circulating.”
It was obvious that Cindy had no intention of making excuses for anything she had done. Bimbo did not look pleased, but she did not look as if she had anything further to say.
“Well, we always insist on using protection. And moreover, we are just their friends. We act for Madams who are incapable of satisfying their husbands’ sexual wants,” Cindy said and lay on her bed, her chin resting on her palm.
“You are just their Friends?” asked Sandra.
“Yes,” Cindy replied.
“I really think it’s no different from prostituting,” Sandra grimaced and made a funny face.
“Of course it is. We don’t go around parading ourselves on the street for those hungry, poverty-ridden men out there. Ronnie made sure we had the best clients.” Cindy countered.
“Did you just say Clients? Is that what you call those irresponsible married men?” Sandra asked and went into the toilet.
At that moment I inexplicably saw flashes of the girls I used to see on the streets when I was a kid. I advised the girls to stop their escapades with those men. It might be sweet now but what about their future?
“What if the man you decide to marry turns out to be related to one of your so called clients?” I asked, facing Bimbo.
Bimbo didn’t answer me. Instead, she turned her back. Cindy said she would drop whoever he is and go for another person. She said she didn’t have to be married to have a happy life or children. I shook my head, lay on my bed and closed my eyes to sleep. Sandra came back in and we all dropped the topic.
From then on each time Bimbo and Cindy went on their rendezvous, Sandra and I just wished them luck and safe return. Sandra became withdrawn after that conversation. I noticed that she was no longer as close to both Bimbo and Cindy as she used to be. She avoided eating with them, using their body creams or sitting on their beds. I asked her why she withdrew and she said she was just being careful. She said her fear was that the ladies could have been infected with some kind of disease by the men they slept with.
I came back one day to find a fuming Sandra in the room. She told me that Bimbo invited her to come with them to one of their mysterious trips so that she could introduce her to an expatriate that was working with an oil company.
“What? Are you serious?” I asked looking all excited and Sandra shook her head, disappointment registered on her face.
“Why are you excited about what I said? I may do a lot of things but would not turn myself into anybody’s bed-mate because of money,” countered Sandra. “I’m so disappointed in you. What will the Forum members say when they get to know?”
I reasoned with what she said. I said I was sorry and that I just thought it could make an exciting varsity experience.
“You want an experience that can be disastrous to us if it goes wrong? No, thank you,” Sandra retorted. I shook my head and kept quiet after that.
A month after that discussion however; Cindy, Sandra, Bimbo and I were off to a party that was supposedly organized in honor of a retired Inspector General of Police. It was curiosity and my plea that made Sandra decide to go. When we got to the supposed venue, it was to find the place empty except for some Caucasians drinking at the open bar. One of them sighted us as we entered and came over to meet us. Cindy hugged him and he shook Bimbo’s hand. Introductions were made and we all joined the others at the bar. Sandra and I exchanged confused glances and looked around suspiciously.
“Are we too early for the party?” Sandra mouthed and I shrugged. Sandra begged to be excused with Bimbo for a few minutes and Bimbo followed her reluctantly.
“What is it now?” Bimbo asked as they got to a corner of the place.
“Is this not the venue of the party? Don’t tell me we are too early,” Sandra asked as she led Bimbo to a corner of the lobby.
“Relax, girlfriend. Well, there is no party. Those three guys just came into the country to visit Jeff, Cindy’s mate and needed companions for the night and through their stay. They’ll pay in dollars,” Bimbo explained and tried to smile but frowned instead when she saw Sandra’s stony stare.
“Wake up girl, these guys has hard currency and are ready to spend it if you play ball.”
“Do I look like someone who wants play ball?” asked Sandra as she shifted and poked Bimbo in the belly. “Do I?”
“You could do with a little more money,” Bimbo said. Sandra hissed and walked away from Bimbo and came to where we were seated. From the look on her face, I knew she was ready to make trouble.
“This is bullshit,” she whispered into my ears and turned her hard gaze to Cindy who looked away and drew closer to Jeff. Sandra pulled me out of my seat and told me we had to leave. I pulled back and she leaned towards me and said, “Let’s go.”
“Come on Sandra. It’s late,” I whispered back.
“They want us to hook up with these men.”
“Well, they are not married,” was all I could say and Sandra hit me.
“How do you know that? Is it because they are white?” Sandra answered angrily and forgot to whisper and so everybody heard her. Cindy got up, took hold of Sandra and dragged her out of the Hotel.
“What is wrong with you? Did you have to raise your voice like that?” Cindy fumed.
“Please, spare me all that because I’m not in the mood for that bullshit just now,” Sandra said and snatched her hand from Cindy’s grip. She made to walk back but Cindy pulled her back. We came out to join them and I begged Sandra to calm down. She wanted to know why she was not told anything before asking her out.
“Would you have followed us if you were told?” Cindy accused, sounding sarcastic. Sandra said she probably wouldn’t have agreed and demanded to know if she did not have a choice not to do what they wanted her to do.
“Let’s just drop this issue. Do you want to leave as late as it is now?” Cindy asked.
“Yes, I want to leave,” Sandra replied. Cindy went inside and came out later with one of the guys. She told us he had offered to take us back to the campus. Bimbo and Cindy left us there and went back into the Hotel.
Sandra and I were quiet on the way to the campus. We sat in the back and everybody kept quiet. Sandra; who had been all hot and furious, started to feel uneasy. She started shifting in her seat.
“We are so sorry for putting you through this stress,” Sandra said suddenly to the guy. The guy appeared not pleased but managed to smile. He asked for Sandra’s name while reminding us that his name was William.
“Was it really necessary to say what you said at the Hotel the other time? About our being white?” he asked. Sandra dabbed her face with the corner of her handkerchief and picked at an imaginary speck on the seat.
“Well, it just came out wrongly. I didn’t really mean anything by it.” Sandra replied and looked out of the window. It was starting to drizzle outside.
William asked if she was a racist and Sandra hissed and told him to cut the chit-chat and just concentrate on his driving. By this time I was beginning to get angry at Sandra for being unnecessarily rude. The guy was only trying to make conversation and there she was being ridiculous and rude. I felt like giving her a hot slap across her face.
We thanked him when we got to the hostel but he drove off without as much as a reply. When we got into room, I burst into an array of angry words telling Sandra that what she did was childish and wrong.
“You need to stop being stupid. I prevented you from sleeping with those guys. Come to think of it, is that why you are angry?” Sandra said as she undressed.
“You are totally out of it, Sandra. That poor guy agreed to bring us back and you couldn’t even appreciate it,” I countered.
“Is that all?” Sandra asked and turned to look at me.
“Yes, that is all. You really need to improve on your silly temper tantrums. It’s becoming irritating,” I said and went outside to buy a loaf of bread and tin of tuna. I returned to find her on her bed and I sat down to eat. She had slept on an empty stomach, so I left some bread for her because I knew she would wake up sometime in the middle of the night hungry. I switched off the light and got into bed.
Just like life is so unpredictable and the society is always changing, it happened that I came back one day to find Sandra in tears after her trip home.
“What is wrong with you?” I asked as I dropped my books and bag on my bed.
“Alice, I’m finished. How will I ever cope?”
“You better not let Cindy come in here and see you crying like this. Are your mum and Jenny okay?” I asked and moved closer to her.
“Mummy had another crisis and the doctors said I should go and bring thirty thousand naira,” Sandra said amidst wails.
“Thirty what? Where do they want you to get that kind of money from?” I asked; scratching my head.
“I don’t know. May be one of the girls can borrow me,” Sandra replied wriggling her hands and looking at me expectantly.
“Sandra. Have you forgotten how you swore not to touch their money?” I replied.
Sandra burst into another string of tears.
“You really do not have to cry. I think it’s high time we sit down and reason things out,” I said looking serious.
“What are you trying to say?” Sandra asked me.
“Let’s consider what Cindy and Bimbo had been telling us. I think we’ll have the money by the end of this week if we put our heart to it,” I explained.
“God forbid. I can’t. Its prostitution,” Sandra said sternly and shook her head.
“It’s not really prostitution. Let’s try it out. I know you are thinking of what Cindy will say but leave it all to me,” I said further.
“I will sell my body to some useless, irresponsible men because of thirty thousand naira?” asked Sandra as she moved away from my side.
“Yes you will. Do you know what can happen if we do not get the money soon? Your mum will be paralyzed for life. What will happen to Jenny? Do you think I deserve to do it too?” I said angrily.
“You have been paying too much attention to Cindy and her sweet talk,” Sandra said.
“That is not the issue Sandra. This is a way of survival. Bimbo pays her sister’s school fees and Cindy just rented an apartment for her siblings. These girls are not dullards and are definitely not prettier than us. Look at you; despite your short hair, you look gorgeous,” I said and poked Sandra and she smiled.
“I really have to give it a serious thought,” Sandra said and lay down on her bed.
I told the other girls what happened when they came back. Sandra was sleeping then so she didn’t hear what we discussed. Cindy felt very bad and volunteered to borrow Sandra the thirty thousand naira. She said she would have given her the money but the apartment she rented for her folks had left her broke. That was a new chapter in our journey. One thing led to the other and months after that incident, we blended in.
We became popular on our campus. We started making more money than we ever imagined we could have. I began to visit Sean in his hostel with beverages and money but I always avoided his questions on the source of the money. I never took money or my expensive clothes to Aunt Betty’s house whenever I went on semester breaks. Sandra paid her mum’s hospital bill, bought her rather expensive drugs. They later moved from their one-room apartment to a mini-flat which Sandra rented. Her mum was glad, it was a relive to her so she didn’t bother asking where the money came from. This surprised me but I did not blame her, it was the society I blamed.
When Sean finished his secondary education and Aunt Betty complained that she was hard on money, I sent him to South Africa to study medicine with the help of Alhaji Baruwa, a wealthy politician whom I was dating then.
Everything didn’t really go smoothly as our group began to suffer. Members started withdrawing and we began to get labeled by other students. There was even a day that I ran across Austin during one of my visits to the café to chat with a foreign friend of mine. He called me all sorts of names and spat on me. I was so embarrassed to see that many people witnessed my humiliation and saw the laughing faces of some of my course mates. I walked away with my feet dragging in shame and I swore to deal with Austin in a very brutal way for making a fool out of me.