A Brave Girl
It all began when her breasts began to form and her lips swell, when she stared in the mirror at her skin glowing with the soft light of pubescence, and when she walked with a gait girls her age do knowing that boys had eyes on them. It began when, in her final year in secondary school, a boy touched her navel and breasts and she moaned and the boy peed on himself before he could make her a woman.
And she had dreams for herself. Dreams her village Wannune could not contain; Wannune, that could never compete with what Makurdi, and even Abuja, offered, where stupid boys like the one who peed on himself, who couldn’t even buy her cream, will be far away from her. She’d be like aunty Ngusurun, who drew cars in front of her house in the evenings and gisted with men whose voice sounded like money.
Certainly, she began to sneak to the local clubhouses. At first, it was with the girls who sold fried crickets, gbyohi, fried melon seeds and beniseed in plastic buckets armed with rechargeable lanterns to ward off darkness, that she pretended to hang with, gisting about nonsense, like which girl didn’t finish school because she got pregnant, who slept with who, or something about a new cream, while her ears were keen on the booming sounds of music from the clubs. Something—that she hadn’t written her WAEC—stopped her from the taste of the wild adventure that awaited her in the dim place and that alcohol, that when she first had, she knew, by the ecstatic arousal she felt, she’d continue drinking it. The fear of God was still in her, so she doubted, sometimes, if she wanted to try another boy, this time it would be different. And, in manner as it happened in movies, time passed.
Just two years. She came of age, too, with the knowledge of the need to survive. She sold fried yam and akwese by the roadside in the evenings till dark. This was after wise youth empowerment people came in the village to improve the lives of the villagers. And she developed resolve—she did—to endure her shitty life even when other girls came out from the cars of their fake boyfriends and asked her to fry eggs for them. Sometimes, when she got close to the cars and the doors opened, she inhaled car perfume and knew, as described by that awful phrase—“deep down inside her,” it was what she wanted, too. And she wanted to dress well than she did. Wanted to smell like costly perfumes. She wanted to be a big girl.
Luck came for her—she didn’t have to sneak out on her family and run from the village, like many girls before her—when the remedial course she applied for in Benue State University brought her to Makurdi, the city where girls’ dreams were made flesh and men with real money dwelt. Makurdi, city of the biggest beauty pageants where classy Benue girls uploaded studio pics of themselves in heavy make-up on Facebook. And she saw the portrait in her mind that her dream was touchable as the vehicle bound for Makurdi passed the university gate; she saw herself as one of these girls online, with what she had to do completely rehearsed in her mind.
In her first days on the campus as she walked the tarred roads, a feeling she felt when a major road was constructed in Wannune returned to her. The road was bulldozed and filled with laterite—smooth, a long snake running straight to the horizon. She walked on it then with her friends, oblivious of their chatting. Her vision stretched beyond the bowels of small villages and hamlets the road led to; it held an escape for itself, an escape to be hers one day. That road and this one she walked on now became one with desire burning under her feet.
* * *
So it continued as it began: the girl who hung by the clubs in Wannune became a club troller in Makurdi. She made friends with classy girls and explored her sexual delights and found city ways to make quick money. “Sharp, sharp, oga. No waste my time, you dey carry abi you no dey carry babe? Mek I see road,” was a language she mastered, even surprisingly to her, in a short time.
Now she lived in a self-contain, an upgrade from her cubicle, her first nest as a student. She had everything in it big Makurdi girls had. A king-size mirror with a top for arranging used perfume bottles and cream containers and cosmetics. A mama-size mattress that reached her knees, air condition, dispenser, refrigerator, washing machine, a wardrobe full of clothes and shoes, flat-screen TV, DSTV and GoTV, a glass centre table, a miniature chandelier, and a huge teddy bear. She lived in a brave new world and her beginnings were erased from time.
It was the city, its poison, not survived by many. The city, whom her friends in the village feared, she tamed and chased its lore. She pursued the news about music and showbiz, watched the latest Nollywood drama, wore the latest, drank expensive wines and knew places in the city where there were lights at night, and took unbelievable care of her body as a sign of her classy life and for the commodity she became. For big men, for city boys, for zaddies. But it was work because money was sent home for fertilizer; money for a relative to treat appendix; money for making heaps to plant yam; money for a girl who called her Aunty, who wanted to apprentice as a nurse in a hospital in the village.
Then she fell in love.
Her friends were all agitated and foreboding. “Babe, dis kain life wey we dey ehn, we no dey fall in love o.” “Arrange yourself, babe,” they warned, “before one yeye boy go arrange your sense . . .”
She knew. She cautioned other girls, too. But who did not hope their story would be different? But this is how it all started.
For her lover, she began to adjust her lifestyle. Her stars and his aligned. She became uncomfortable when she slept with other men. But if she stopped, it meant a drop in her income. She took a break nonetheless and began to think of a startup. Then she discovered she was pregnant.
“Ewoo! Babe, you don get belle? Wetin do kodo? Abi e tear net?” her friends said.
Her lover turned cold and callous in a blink. It couldn’t be his, could never be, because she was a whore, he pointed out. He wasn’t in love with her, he said, and had slept with all her friends. “People like you are not my type.” He spelt it out loud and clear for her to leave him be.
* * *
Her belly began to swell like an atrocity. Which meant she couldn’t meet men like she used to or afford the lifestyle she knew. Occasionally, overly drunk, unscrupulous men, who needed an orifice for their penis—her old customers—rang her for blowjobs.
And when she went out into the city, no more as a classy girl, desire was not in her legs. At night, the lights were a blizzard to her. In her room the TV annoyed her with glamour on E channel, hedonism in music videos and artificial life in Nollywood. Facebook showed her the continuity of the lives of her friends, while the thing inside her cuddled itself with indifference and ballooned. Then the city began to withdraw itself from her, cold and impassive. Her friends did not call her for jobs or jackpots when they hooked a stupendously rich fool. Not that she minded—but what about occasional drinks? She was without, without them; and worthless, without the city.
And when she put to bed a brief air of ceremony lasted, then disappeared.
Then something started in her simultaneously. The theft that happened to her, that robbed her of her dream. Too much taken from her. It started with all the men that no longer looked her way or the places she couldn’t go to for runs anymore; as if to complicate and worsen her situation, she needed money even more in her condition.
* * *
That evening it started again, bile below her diaphragm wanting to break the walls and rush up to her tongue. It was New Year’s Eve. Everywhere, the city was a sonic timetable . . . loudspeakers from churches and secular bazaars turned the night’s air into a symphony of rhythm and drumming and bass. A song in the distance caught her ears and she tried to pick it out, the strands of it from memory—what song it was. The feeling of listening to a new song for the first time at the club was, so sudden, a thing of the past now; she missed the perfume and cologne charged atmosphere and the dark-lit, disco light ambience of the debauched VIP rooms, bass vibrating from the walls; she missed the caress of men who placed their hungry palms on her thighs and squeezed her pussy while alcohol flowed in her bloodstream; she missed the air condition of cars that drove her to the hotels, the apartments of men who came hunting for girls like her, the mint notes and bank alerts that came with the industry.
In her room, she finally found the flashlight and the world momentarily returned to normal. She switched it on and found the baby diaper she groped the floor in the darkness for. She perspired on her forehead and held the light in her mouth. She applied baby powder on the baby’s small chest, then its crotch, and flipped it over to do the same on its bum. Power returned and the fan in her room whirred with the promise of air; she breathed better as she took the flashlight out of her mouth.
The baby slept.
She fell beside the sleeping baby on the bed, exasperated. The music from the world kept reaching her room and she muffled it from existing. As she lay on the bed, that listlessness returned to her; she’d tamed herself enough but night was her element, not sleep. So she sat up slowly and opened her iPhone to Instagram and saw what she was looking for. The year was ending and her friends had the maddest fun of their lives—they uploaded a video on the app where they grooved and enjoyed at a party. And she felt lonely. And this video from the small size of the square in her hands caused her unnecessary pain. The small square in her hands showing her night, darkness, coloured lights, the city, fun, alcohol, passion—and at last she remembered who she was. And she would reclaim it. For this was how it started that the theft that happened to her dream would end. She couldn’t be lonely anymore, the night and the city beckoned her and desire returned not just to her legs, but her whole body was overcome by it. She dressed up and wore a cologne, sprayed a perfume and applied a roll-on. Then she looked at herself in the mirror and saw that childbirth hadn’t altered her at all, that all was perfect and normal again. As she turned the door handle to step out, she turned and looked at the baby, the pillow beside it, and the lullaby which she sang it to deep sleep.
Outside, the night air was fresh and cold; she drew in a long, slow draft of it passionately, hailed a bike and rode to Eden.
Terver’s “A Brave Girl” is the last story in our Praxis Magazine Ten Short Stories for 10 Days of Christmas stories published from 21 to 30 December. Click the link above for details and to read the earlier stories you missed. Invite your friends.