At this stage, Olivier who was watching Nicholas with the tail of her eyes could no longer go on with this deceit. Nicholas could be a brut, but even Nicholas didn’t deserve this.
‘I have a confession to make,’ Olivier blotted out.
All eyes descended on Olivier.
‘What confession is it!’ the step mother fired. Olivier opened her mouth to talk but the say-it-and-die look in her step mother’s eyes stopped her mouth. Her lips shook.
‘Tell us the confession dear,’ the principal implored.
Olivier wanted to say, ‘Nicholas is not responsible for my pregnancy; my step mother’s brother Tony is responsible. My step mother asked me to frame Nicholas, I am sorry.’ But what she couldn’t do was open her mouth; her step mother’s eyes, like two firearms stopped her.
‘Hey, girl, you have two seconds to say your confession.’ Olivier’s father rose to his full height.
Olivier couldn’t remember ordering herself to move, she just found herself climb the window and ran away.
‘Hey, come back here!’
‘Stop that girl.’
‘The gateman will stop her.’
But the drunken gateman was sleeping on his post. Olivier got to the gate, opened it and fled into the world.
Olivier only stopped running after she had put a good twenty kilometres between her and her school. She couldn’t tell how long she had been on the move. Five hours. Perhaps six. Or seven. She couldn’t say, she didn’t keep note of the passage of time; to her, distance was the key-word. So she had ran, then walk, and break into a run when a car appeared to be coming her way, or when she saw a car of the same brand with her father’s, step mother’s or principal’s. Fear and hunger never worked together; if you are really afraid, you won’t notice your hunger; and if you are really hungry, fear stayed at bay. For Olivier, the more she put distance between her and her school the less afraid she became and the less afraid, the hungrier.
The sun had been oppressive and she didn’t seem to get enough air at each inhaling. Now, Olivier was totally famished, she got to a provision kiosk and drop dead on the bench.
‘Who are you?’ an angry obese woman demanded. From the wrath in her voice, Olivier knew she was the owner of the kiosk.
‘I am hungry,’ Olivier said.
‘Give me coke and egg roll.’
‘No egg roll.’
‘Coke and gala, anything.’ Talking sapped her energy.
The woman brought Olivier coke and doughnuts. It was after Olivier had taken three bites and four sips that she discovered she didn’t have money.
It was 9pm when Olivier found a church. She had started looking for a church since night came and wrapped Lagos in darkness. Olivier didn’t know the name of the neighbourhood she was in. The houses were mostly of concrete but had seen better days, the streets were so narrow even for a car to pass; women bathed their children in the veranda and used their roofs for their laundered clothes to dry. To Olivier, this didn’t matter; all she knew was that almost every Lagos street possessed a church, one mushroom church or another. At first, Olivier only looked for a Catholic church. She understood the organisation of the Catholic Church and cherished the pure kindness of reverend fathers, but the haphazard Pentecostals and their cunning-eyed pastors made her nervous. So Olivier continued to pass sign boards carrying the live photos of pastors and their wives—and their Pastor Mrs.
Night continued to eat into the clock and Olivier still hadn’t found a Catholic Church. She was now a walking corpse. Only her sweat-stained school uniform separated her from full-time street people. At this moment, Olivier no longer wanted a Catholic Church, she just wanted any Christian sanctuary to rest for the night. But first, she would ask God to forgive her for running away from the kiosk without paying for the warm coke and sour doughnuts.
The church Olivier found was a very small one; there was no sign board carrying the pastor, and his wife’s, face. It was a small church. When you stand at the door, the priest on the pulpit would hear you if you speak just above a whisper. Olivier entered the old wooden door with more fear than reverence and reparation. The church was dark save for an ill-motivated candle in the alter, where someone—a man perhaps—knelt shouting supplications to his God. Olivier tip-toed to the last bench and lay on it. Exhaustion was a keener sedative; it smothered Olivier into an erratic sleep.
Olivier was woken by an authoritative torchlight on her face. She didn’t know where she was at first, she didn’t even remember she was lying on a bench, so she took liberty with her balance and fell off. The pain of falling brought her to her faculties.
‘Who are you?’ a rough voice demanded behind the searchlight.
‘Olivier,’ Olivier blabbed out.
‘Oliver?’ the rough voice said, ‘what are you doing here?’
‘Is this your bedroom?’
‘It is a house of God.’
‘Would you get up and vamoose from here? It is a house of God, is it your father’s house? Is it your bedroom?’
Olivier wondered if she was the demon harassing the man. ‘I—I have nowhere to go.’
The man nearly dropped his torch with animosity. ‘And you want to turn the church into a bridge where your likes sleep under? You…’
‘There is no partiality in the church, sir.’
‘Nor do we allow pips to use our church as refuge.’
‘Sir, please let me stay here just for tonight, I beg you in the name of God of Abraham, Isaac…’ Olivier didn’t finish. The man unable to restrain his mounting impatience, rushed towards the alter to get some cane or even weapon, Olivier didn’t wait to see; she stumbled on bench and kicked her way out. As she ran she overheard the insolent fellow saying, ‘Abraham himself won’t allow a pip like you come near him.’
Olivier decided never to forgive the fellow, even in heaven!
It was past mid-night, the moon was at its full brightness, electricity was out, and even the most liberal generator-user had put it off and gone to bed, leaving the night for insects and the homeless. Olivier sat on a veranda of an ill-completed building, dozing. She was dozing against her wish; she was consumed by heavy forebodings and wanted to stay awake and guard against it. But she was too drained and inexperience in the battle against slumber. Hard as she tried, she kept dozing off. She never slept for a long time though; five minutes and a hoot of an owl or the bite of a mosquito would wake her. She would curse herself for having slept off in the first. She wanted to play a striking amateur night watch-girl to the latter.
Olivier was woken the one hundredth time by a kick in her calf by a tired cover shoe. Olivier blinked at three men who she immediately decided were touts. The word rape in bold letters scarred her mind. RAPE!
‘Who be dis?’ the first man asked. Although his mouth was four feet away, the smell of ogogoro hit Olivier’s nose when he opened his mouth.
Sleep washed their hands off Olivier and her eyes shone like two motor headlights.
‘I am Olivier.’
‘Wetin you want for here?’ the second demanded.
‘I am waiting for somebody?’ Olivier said, her fear now inspiring her vocal cords.
‘In our door-mouth?’ queried the third. ‘Haha, you are waiting for us ni. Haha.’ It is not every night that he saw a decent dish waiting for him in your compound frontage, so the man began to sing with elation, in a voice that would corrupt any decent sound system. ‘Oh baby, pull over, oh baby pull over, pull over.’
‘Make we carry the chick inside jare.’
A cold shiver shook Olivier. Her inspiration mounted. She saw the second man loosening his belt.
‘I hope you have a condom,’ she said.
The third fellow continued to sing, ‘Show me your particulars o, baby pull over, show me your particulars o, baby pull over!’
‘What nonsense condom,’ said the first, ‘we will chaw you the way we want, girl.’
‘It is for your own good. I am HIV positive.’ Olivier knew that in Nigeria, if someone suspects you are HIV positive, he wouldn’t touch you with a stick even if the stick is one mile long.
The singing fellow suddenly stopped singing. ‘You no get respect abi? HIV ni, positive ko.’
‘It is for your own good,’ Olivier echoed and rose to her feet. The first man pushed her back to her buttocks. ‘So you think we are your mates abi? You, small girl like you get aids?’
Olivier was weakened by the shove, but she refused to back out. ‘I am HIV positive,’ she shouted, ‘can’t you see that I am on my school uniform? My step mother chased me out of the house when the doctor told her the result! I need my sleep so if you want to take me into your room do so now!’
The men stood undecided, gaping. Olivier had really pulled over!
The second took Olivier by hand and walked her to a safe distance from the others. ‘I am a medical student drop out. I am HIV positive. Now, tell me the truth, do you have the virus?’
Olivier’s heart did a little tumble. She had fallen into a real positive; she nearly told him the truth but stopped herself in time. ‘Of course, I am.’
‘I will help you,’ the man said. ‘People living with aids are stigmatised. This shouldn’t be so. We must help one another. My friends don’t know I have the virus, but I can still protect you from them.’
Olivier didn’t know if she should be happy or saddened by this. The man walked back to his friends.‘Hey, dis girl no be street girl o, she need our help…’
‘You wan carry her go your room?’ asked the singer.
‘I need to protect her…’
‘Omo, na grammar you dey speak, dis girl na all of us find am, and na we all go claim am,’ said the first.
‘She has aids.’
‘That one na wash o, dis girl de clean jor. Na who she wan deceive?’
A long argument ensured, interwoven in Yoruba and pidgin. After about five minutes of agitations, Olivier’s new ‘friend’ decided to play tough. ‘Sunny, it is not what you think; Taju, what you think doesn’t count.’ With this he seized Olivier’s wrist, kicked the passage door open then led her into the bewitching darkness of his room.
Olivier’s first night outside her home would be spent with a man who had HIV.
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