Amara slowly descended the staircase, step-by-step. Where had everyone gone this Saturday afternoon? Waking up from her short nap, she was shocked to find an empty apartment. Both Mum and Dad were not in their bedroom, and neither was Junior, her younger brother of eleven anywhere to be found. Such had not happened since they moved to this part of the Lagos metropolis almost six years ago. Never! Was Amara to be worried? The flight of stairs led out to the backyard of the two-storey apartment building Amara’s family lived with other residents.
“Amara,” the voice called as she finally stepped out to the backyard. “How are you, my dear?” It was none other than Mama Ebike, the fair-skinned neighbor who lived on the ground floor. She was a seamstress who worked from home in her hovel erected right behind the residence. Amara saw she had a broom in hand and busied herself sweeping the front of her store.
“F-Fine,” the fourteen year-old replied with a confused countenance which Mama Ebike seemed to notice as she adjusted her red scarf.
“Are you going somewhere?” She asked flashing her habitual smile.
“I can’t find my mummy and daddy,” Amara replied as she shook her head. “And Junior too; nobody is upstairs,”
“Are you sure?” Mama Ebike seemed surprised and Amara nodded. “Didn’t they say where they were going?”
“No, ma,” Amara replied. “I woke up and couldn’t find anybody,”
“But how?” Mama Ebike mused as she dropped the broom and stood arms akimbo. “We should look around. Come then – let us go.” Then the warm neighbor reached out towards the young girl and Amara eagerly stepped forward, very elated to have found help – but that was a second right before she suddenly froze on her tracks.
“Mummy Ebike!” She exclaimed in alarm as her eyes flashed open and then pointed towards the woman’s direction. “Look!” Amara wondered how her eyes had not noticed before. Following her finger, Mama Ebike turned to see the army of Agama lizards quietly basking on the wall directly behind her – then she simply giggled and scoffed.
“Funny child,” she teased. “Are you afraid of lizards?” She asked, but Amara was not going to admit to one of her biggest fears, and almost every other crawling creature that there was.
“I don’t just like them,” she replied, shaking her head and not making eye-contact. There was no way she was taking a step further. Mama Ebike was laughing now.
“My dear, they’re still God’s creatures, you know?” She asked wearing her warm smile while Amara made a face.
“I don’t care,” her point was very apparent.
“They’re not so bad,” said Mama Ebike, and then Amara saw her take off a leg of her slipper – and then without warning, swung for the wall and crushed the nearest lizard with the hard sole making Amara flinch right where she stood. Then to her total shock, the child watched her neighbor grab the mashed up lizard, raise it to her mouth, and then bite a large chunk off it. Then she began chewing. “In fact….they taste wonderful.”
The look on Amara’s face was beyond description now. As much as Mama Ebike was a friend of the family, she heard “Daddy” about once or twice describe this woman before her by the term, “offish.” But Amara was yet to look up the word in the dictionary, but she was sure of one thing – it was no compliment. Mama Ebike swallowed the rest of her “snack” in delight now and was smiling warmly again, but she could not blame the young girl for not reciprocating. “Why are you staring like the worst has just happened?”
“Huh?” Amara unconsciously let out with her eyes still wide open. “You…You just ate…”
“And?” Mama Ebike instantly rebuffed. “Aren’t lizards eaten in some places?”
“Not…” Amara opened her mouth to speak but……WHAM! Another lizard had gotten squashed – a large male this time, and a shocked Amara wondered why the rest of these dumb things patiently waited to die. She watched again in disbelief as this woman raised the barely living reptile and bit its large reddish-orange head off to her horror.
“Hmm!” Mama Ebike moaned out while Amara quickly looked away in utter repugnance. “Their heads are the juiciest,” she mumbled, gnashing its skull with her molars; and then she began gobbled up the rest of the body within seconds. Amara was petrified now as she looked up and witnessed the Mama Ebike swallow it all down her throat. And then came the sigh of satisfaction. Amara’s stomach was starting to grumble now. She desperately looked around wishing for the presence of a third party to witness this…this madness, because no amount of her ramblings would convince anyone, not especially when Amara was known to add some exaggeration to the simplest tale. Who on earth would believe her this time?
BAM! Lizard number three!
Amara instantly shut her eyes and looked away again, then she heard the squashed reptile flesh being yanked off the wall and. Amara quickly looked away. She was done playing spectator to this grotesque scene.
WHAT? Amara’s eyes instantly shot open in disbelief. She most definitely heard wrong. But to her utter disappointment, Mama Ebike held the half-dead lizard out to her.
“No!” She instantly refused, shaking her head and not concealing her repelled frown.“I…I don’t want,”
“Didn’t your mummy ever tell you it’s rude to refuse something when offered?” Mama Ebike asked with a raised brow to the girl’s disbelief. “You must try it. It’s nice – very, very nice.” Something was certainly wrong somewhere with this woman, and speaking of her “Mummy,” Amara remembered she was yet to find her family. She was frightened now.
“I don’t want,” Amara put her foot down. “I’m going to find my mummy and….”
“You’re not going anywhere until you eat this lizard!” Mama Ebike no longer sounded friendly now. Then she advanced towards Amara with impatience. “Don’t waste my time. Take it now!”
“No!” Amara shook her head and backed away. Suddenly remembering she posessed legs, she turned and ran straight for the staircase. The crazy woman would have to get her Lizard-grabbing hands on her first. Amara was relieved as she got to the first floor now.
“COME BACK HERE!”
Spinning in dismay, Amara almost tripped over and wet herself in horror at the sight of Mama Ebike, whom now dashed up the stairs with such pace; and she was not alone – the bloodied reptile was still in her grasp. “Eat!”
“No!” Amara took off again. “Leave me alone!” Never in her life had she been this scared; not even her almost fatal encounter with the neighbors’ Pit-bull early last year amounted to this.
Amara was almost on the second floor now, with her family’s apartment just around the corner. Mama Ebike’s feet stamped loud and fast right after her, but Amara was swift enough and rushed in. Slamming the door shut, she bolted it completely and frantically turned the keys.
Without waiting, Amara spun and darted straight for her bedroom where she also locked herself in; and then she hopped on the bed till her back was against the wall, before burying her head between her knees. Was she safe now? Where was Mama Ebike? What was going on out there?
Amara pressed her eyes shut for a moment that almost seemed like forever.
Raising her head, Amara froze. Standing before her was none other than Junior who threw her a playful smirk.
“Junior?” She called all puzzled.
“Is Amara still asleep?” The male voice came from outside which got Amara flying off the bed without hesitation. Pushing passed her brother, she raced out to the parlour where both their parents stood.
“There you are!”
“Daddy!” Amara called with such relief before suddenly rushing and clinging to him to both their surprise.
“Oh! Okay! Someone really missed me,” her surprised father said throwing his similarly puzzled wife a glance. “But we weren’t gone that long now,”
“I know,” Amara muttered with her face still buried into his abdomen while her body still trembled.
“We just went to buy a gift for Aunty Lara’s birthday at the supermarket,” Junior emerged from the room.
“It’s tomorrow,” their father said gesturing to the large wrapped gift on the large glass dining table.
“Yes, dear,” their mother added she gently placed a round, covered white ceramic dish on the glass dining table. “You were sound asleep and we didn’t need to bother you.” But Amara’s teenage mind was still processing her close-to-real nightmare. Her heart still pounded hard. Dream or no dream, she was telling.
“Mummy, daddy…” She called. “I saw…”
“Hmm. Mummy, it smells nice,” Junior commented as his mother lifted the lid. “Can I taste…”
“No!” Their mother said while the escaping steam graced her nostrils. “Mummy Ebike’s dish isn’t bad at all.”
“Mummy Ebike?” Amara’s eyes shot open.
“We saw her on our way up,” her mother replied. “She cooked a lot today and was nice enough to share.” Then she picked a large piece of the spiced meat and rewarded herself a bite. “Hmm! Darling, you should try this,”
“What’s that anyways?” Her husband asked approaching her.
“I don’t know, but it’s probably one of her native dishes,” she replied raising another piece to his mouth. “Here,’’
“Hmm…Sweetheart!” He muttered.
“Mummy, what about me?” Junior was frowning now, of which his mother reciprocated.
“Fine! Taste… before you give me a headache. ” Amara watched the scene before her in bewilderment. She had a lot to say but felt so numb at the same time.
“It tastes like chicken!” Junior’s eyes were wide with excitement now as he licked his lips.
“I don’t think it’s chicken,” his mother corrected.
“Well, whatever this is, it’s finger-licking good,” her husband said with an impressed grin.
“Amara, why are you just standing there?” Her mother’s voice suddenly pulled her from her thoughts.
“Yes,” her father agreed. “You’ve been quiet.”
“Here,” Her mother approached her with a large piece. “Have a taste.”
Then Amara screamed.