Whenever people said things like “You can’t eat your cake and still have it” or “You can never continue to enjoy the sweet nectar of life without tasting the bitterness of the bitterleaf” she would laugh, show her milk coloured and well-set teeth and say “Those are clichés, and what is believed by others is not what I believe”.
Sure. That was her: Joke the know-it-all. Seeing her from afar without any prior description of her, one would not miss the guess. Her legs always stepped as if to music, with her hands resting softly on her bebedi; and if one was close enough one could see her angelic face, and the dimples that appeared whenever she smiled. Her wide, white eyeballs with long, pointing, natural lashes that barbied her eyes, and the smooth chocolate of her skin made those who seek the perfect chick run after her.
In the whole of LAGBAJA street no one was more beautiful – and she wasn’t just an epitome of beauty, she was also a good gal for lust-ravaged-hearts. And she was no good to herself: her miniskirt was never left at mini, she always drew it up to the level that it was only mi, to market the ni she wasn’t ready to sell. She just wanted to look hot, like Nicki or those semi-nude ladies in Olamide’s, Davido’s, and other hip hop, videos. Probably, she didn’t know that provocative dressing, while not serving as a justified reason for rape, puts one at a higher risk.
Considering the fact that Joke was only seventeen, not even eighteen, one would wonder where her parents had gone to when she was leaping for the moon.
Her mother Miss Goriola was a single mother of two, the other girl twelve; though both girls were from different fathers, they had the same traits. Probably their mother’s trait was dominant and both fathers’ was recessive. Miss Goriola, however, was the author and finisher of Joke’s fate. She not only bought her daughters skimpy, tight and body-revealing dresses, she also tongue-lashed anyone who rose in accusation against them.
The other day when Mama Ngozi called her to tell her that what her daughter, Joke, was wearing, with her busty front and back, only made her look naked, she walked away in disgrace and humiliation.
‘Mechuonu Mama Ngozi,’ said Joke’s mother. ‘Abeg wetin be your own wahala? Ehn? Wetin I buy for your market wey I no gree pay? Ehn, wetin? Sey I con your house con beg for cloth for my pikin? Abi na you be gee me the money wey I take buy am? Chineke na poogi.’
Mama Joke’s voice was so loud that a number of people had already gathered to watch the drama – acted by a single person because Mama Ngozi could not so much as open her mouth.
When she could no longer bear the insults she crawled into her room.
‘Stupid woman, na me be say mey your pikin be mumu? Ehn? Na me?’ – Joke’s mother kept throwing insults at the woman and her child who was physically impaired.
That day Mama Ngozi couldn’t step out of her room for shame. She drank tears for water after eating insults for food.
As a result of what the neighbours saw that day, Mama Ngozi being the perfect example, none of them dared open its mouth to talk about Joke or her sister, and whenever they did, it was in hushed tones in order to avoid Miss Goriola’s wrath. Only a few neighbours like Iya Fatai had the guts to say what was the truth to her hearing. But it was still pretty much like trying to break a rock by hitting it with eggs or trying to dry the sea by using a bucket – only God’s intervention will do.
God was silent.
Joke’s father who had left her mother and her when she just started holding to things, to plant her feet, was said to be a pastor. Somehow along the line he believed he got the call (not the call as in Okara’s River Nun), a call from heaven. But sure it couldn’t be. Maybe some angels of darkness tried to make it up, becoming angels of light, because that was the only probable explanation. And what was the name of his church, or what they call MINISTRY. MERCY … MERRY … MIRACLE or was it MARVELOUS? Joke thought. Yes, MARVELOUS GOD MMIRACLE AND DELIVERANCE MINISTRY.
She had visited the church once, and had seen her father on a raised cemented floor called altar, preaching what he himself will never do, praying for what he will never receive, and claiming to deliver others when he was in shackles. When the service came to a fold she finally met with him. But she could clearly see that he wasn’t pleased to see her. He said he had a meeting, squeezed a thousand naira into her palm and rushed off, like a tumultuous wind coming from the unknown. He didn’t even look back; she didn’t expect him to – but she wanted him to.
So for Joke there was no counsellor, although she was told by some well-wishers that she wasn’t doing the right thing, she believed she was doing the best she could ever do. Who wouldn’t? She got her mother’s back. And for news she was still a life-flower, unlike some abori-ma-bowas that cover every part of their body, face included, yet would not cover what needs to be covered.
However, all days are the thieves’ but for the one day that belongs to the owner. After she had escaped narrowly many attempts at rape (or date rape), Jaja caught up with her.
Many times Joke would visit guys alone, whenever she saw anything that looked like money or that could bring in money there, she took it. For this her mother lauded her, always calling her ‘a smart gal’. Gifts are very important in relationships, but what made it some kind of a cheat was that Joke gave nothing in return. It seemed she was taking them for some kind of maga.
So, fortunately for Jaja, and unfortunately for her, that day as usual she visited alone. When she stepped into the one-room apartment that Saturday evening, Jaja immediately turned the lock, slipped the key out of the lock and threw it under the bed.
It soon dawned on Joke that there was nothing she could do.
Then she began to be assertive – her mother had taught her the skills. She tried to get Jaja’s attention but his attention was in her cooperation; she tried to take a position but he insisted she took his position; she tried taking the offensive but Jaja played on the words of Jesus saying, ‘”Woe to the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come: but woe to that man or woman by whom the offence cometh”’- he was a choirmaster. She then offered a compromise: ‘Just give me time I would show you that I’m hot’. Jaja was, however, much hotter at the moment. She wanted to stop the discussion but she knew it was a very bad idea, and walking out of the room was a dead end.
Not until Jaja had his way did he start searching for the key.
And now standing before the jury being accused of rape wasn’t in any way clear to him and he boldly asked the Judge, ‘Have you ever enjoyed something you didn’t pay for sir?’
Though not knowing were the accused was headed for, he answered ‘No’.
‘Now very good.’ Jaja shook his head. ‘Ask Joke if I did not pay her for what I enjoyed. In fact, I paid more than I would pay if I had visited her sisters, because they both market their products.’ He let that register, a good lead kinda. ‘So why I am being accused for buying a product she came into my room half naked to sell – which she now claims that she never wanted to sell, after collecting a good deal of cash and gifts for – I don’t know.’ It clicked something, dawned. ‘Would you kindly explain sir?’
Silence descended on the courtroom like a dark, hot and wet fog. It seemed the Judge needed time.