Olivier stood under the shade of a pear tree, exhausted, hungry and hateful. The murky green standing gutter before her should have tormented her eyes and ravaged her nose, if only she cared. She didn’t care too for the vehicular and human indiscipline on the dirt road, fighting for superiority, busy, busy, going nowhere. Lagos! Olivier spat into the gutter. Hunger, like a wicked unforgiving master, kept her stomach warm with pains. Her hunger is only surpassed by her frustration of trying to get a job, trying to get a job from the women folk. Before nightfall.
In her great trek for job she had stopped in a shop. ‘I need a job,’ she had told the woman.
‘Please get out of the way let me sell my market,’ came the curt reply.
Olivier trekked some more then entered a restaurant or Mama-put and spoke to the Iya Basira. ‘I need a job here, please; anything that can earn me something.’
The woman regarded Olivier with sleepy eyes then, ‘Keep looking, when you find one, call me. I too need a job.’
Olivier stamped away, barefoot, the hot earth burning her soles, hurting her soul. She checked with half a dozen other women and got more or less the same answer. With a violent temper, cursing the whole of humanity, she retired to under this tree. To rest, re-strategize and continue her hunting. She…
Olivier blinked at a tall youth of about twenty-six, lean with sharp eyes and a mischievous grin.
‘Your Excellency,’ the youth repeated as he crossed the gutter to stand before her. He wore a green T-shirt over jeans and canvas.
Olivier turned her head and looked behind her. Who the hell was he referring to?
He pointed to her feet and laughed. ‘You have no shoes; you must be related to the president, your Excellency! Hahahahaha.’
Olivier’s face crowded. ‘Get out from here!’
‘She has no shoes, she has no clue,’ he sang, laughing.
Olivier shifted impatiently on her legs. ‘You are harassing me!’
‘Sorry ma,’ he bowed in mock courtesy, then from behind him he produced a nylon bag in which he brought out a pair of shoes and set them before her feet. ‘With these shoes I severe your connection with Aso Rock,’ he announced ceremoniously.
Olivier glared at the shoes with hate, just as you would glare at a couple of cockroaches on your well-made bed.
‘Wear them, Miss Azikiwe,’ he urged.
She didn’t budge. Her hands across her chest held her temper from boiling over! The man decided to help her. He dropped on a knee and touched her ankle. Olivier gave him a smart kick on his shoulder. He shrugged to his feet. ‘Not wanted here, I guess.’ He brought out his wallet then extended a 500 naira note. ‘Buy pure water.’
She was hungry, she was thirsty but she would die first before she touched a man’s money. ‘Go to hell with your stupid charity, I don’t need it!’
His face remained without expression. ‘Come on, take it. It is a loan. You may pay later, although the shoe is free.’
Olivier’s nose did a funny movement.
He shoved the money into Olivier’s blouse pocket. She brought it out and hurled it across the gutter. ‘Be careful,’ she warned, consumed with rancour and a little petulance. He picked up the money, checked around for something then picked up a twain. He grabbed the tree branch and tied the money among leaves. ‘Money grows like grass, abi? This one is a fruit for you to pluck.’ He walked away humming, ‘He has no shoes, he has no clue.’
A moment passed. Olivier’s anger turned to an urgent curiosity. She looked at the shoes, not bad, new, not too cheap. She decided to try it on, just try it, nothing more. She put a foot in. it fitted. She tried the other foot. Perfect. Well, she could wear them for now and return them later when she found a job and made her money and bought her own shoes. Olivier sighed. She must go get a job now. She crossed the gutter then stopped. The money. She hated to touch it but her belly rioted for it. She would also borrow it, and return it when she got a job. She loosed the note, scowled at Nnamdi Azikwe’s half-smile and zoomed away.
‘I need a room for the night,’ Olivier told the barman in the counter and extended the 300 naira change from her ‘loan’.
The barman looked at her as though she was from Venus. ‘Room for 300 naira?’
‘Yes. And the room must have a big padlock.’ Behind her, men sat drinking beer and swimming in their thick cigarette smoke, oblivious of the terrible blast from the loudspeaker that passed as music. But she wasn’t afraid; she would shut them all out with her giant padlock. She lifted the 300 naira higher.
The barman didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
‘Where in Africa do people rent rooms for 300 naira?’ The barman hissed.
‘It is just for this night.’ Olivier didn’t understand the sarcasm.
‘Rent her the room,’ a fat half-drunken fellow dropped his bulging belly on the counter.
‘I say rent her the room.’ The man sounded impatient.
Olivier wondered who he was.
‘In short, gimme the key,’ the man said.
The barman shrugged, turned and from the board where scores of keys were hung behind, fished out a key. ‘Room 23.’
‘Let’s go,’ Fat told Olivier. He led the way to the stairs and Olivier, confused but determined, followed.
‘Here we are,’ said the man when he opened a room halved by a big bed in blue sheet. Olivier’s eyes lust after the bed she couldn’t wait to lay her back on. She entered the room then turned to her guide. ‘Take your money,’ she offered.
He laughed, shyly, stupid. ‘You pay me in kind,’ he licked his lips covetously.
Olivier’s antennae showed red. She took two steps back. ‘Take your money!’
‘Baby girl, come closer.’
‘Do you want to get hurt?’
‘Of course not.’ He laughed.
‘Then take your money and get out.’
He loved difficult girls, the fat man; he would teach Olivier to submit, to yearn for him.
Above the blasting music in the hall came a desperate scream from upstairs. The smoking and drinking lodgers were used to the subdued cry of pleasure; but this was no cry of pleasure, it was a cry of raw pain with venom of a goat whose throat had just been cut. Before the merry-makers could give a second thought to it, the fat man raced down the stairs, covering his bloody ear with a trembling palm. ‘She bit me o,’ he announced, ‘the witch wanted to bite my off my ear.’
Olivier spat blood off her mouth and wiped her lips. Her teeth were proving to be potent weapon of self-defence. He thought she was helpless, stupid man. She shouldn’t have let go of him, she should have bitten his ear off and chew it like biscuit bone. Stupid man! She lay down on the bed and stretched out her tired bones… she closed her eyes in sleep.
Olivier woke with a start and beheld five angry men in the room, led by the barman who carried a club in his hand, charging forward, cursing. ‘No,’ Olivier shrieked back as the incidence with Suleimon, Taju and Ahmed flooded into her mind. Oh God, not again. She plastered her back on her wall, her legs jammed together, eyes shut, hands on her head, waiting for the worst. She felt someone climb the bed.
Nothing happened for a moment. She heard whispering. A hiss. Another hiss. They are arguing about who will rape me first, Olivier wept. More whispering, someone cursed loudly and the door was hammered shut. Olivier opened one eye; she saw nothing; she opened the other eye and saw the youth who had brought her shoes standing with a haggard look on his handsome face. Olivier had never been so glad to see a man before.
‘Are they gone?’ she inquired, breathing heavily.
‘Let us go.’
Quickly, she grabbed his hand and he led her downstairs. Olivier nearly fainted when they passed the bar room, expecting the men to pounce on her and tire her into pieces. Nothing happened.
‘You saved my life,’ Olivier cried when they walked into the night, gulfing in fresh air, air of freedom, greedily.
‘How did you do it?’ She asked. ‘What did you tell them?’
‘I told them you were my sister.’
‘And they believed you!’
‘You are one of them,’ she accused.
‘Does it matter?’
She swallowed hard.
‘What were you thinking coming to a rent-an-hour brothel?’ his voice was sharp.
‘I thought it was a hotel. I didn’t have a clue.’
He nearly smiled. ‘Let us go.’
‘How did you know I was here, you stalked me!’
‘I followed you. I was sure you would get into trouble. Let’s go.’
‘Where are you taking me to?’
‘To Lucy’s place.’
‘Who is Lucy?’
‘I hope she won’t try to rape me.’
‘She doesn’t have a dick,’ he said.
‘I met a lady this morning who has a dick.’
‘You can always bite it off, little vampire.’
‘What is your name?’
‘Olivier. And you?’
He flagged down a bike. ‘Iyke.’
‘Thank you so much, Iyke,’ she said shyly.
‘You haven’t thanked me for the shoes.’ He winked.
Olivier began to get angry then became defiant. ‘What if I don’t thank you?’
‘I will have to collect the shoes.’
‘Do your worst!’