It had been a while now, three years, four years, perhaps since I last tasted blood. Real human blood from a freshly killed. For one who sucked crimson cogitated juices off human marrows quarterly, for majority of the last eight of my forty-six years, it was a frustrating mortification going nearly fifty months without tasting my unsurpassed delicacy. It was one of those things living in the slums of Lagos offered one. You take a prostitute inside, no one asked questions the next day when they see her body, ripped, raped, floating the lagoon. No one wanted to think too deep on where they last saw the mutilated, with whom. No one looked too closely even; the police, livid with protective malevolence would easier handcuff the thinker than identify and fish out the body.
Tea or coffin? This was my trademark question. I always paid them before this, so that she wouldn’t die in my debt. I was that conscientious. Tea or coffin? They mostly replied tea, it never mattered because either way coffin was what I offered (or had in store). I would extend a glass of my drugged concoction. When the brew hit her system, and eyes dimmed and begin to roll, drifting to oblivion I would batter, rip off clothes and subject her mute body to my animal romance. Then I would fetch my axe and begin to butcher and suck. Then in the hollow of the night, carried the carcass to my car thence the lagoon.
Tea or coffin? Quarterly, in sweet rugged Lagos.
I had moved to Port Harcourt, lived here close to four years and I hadn’t had my blood mix. I made residence in a nearly neat and busy estate, miles from the waterfront, and my car was parked nearly half a mile from my door: the prospect of carrying blood dripping cadaver to the boot in a community of permanently raised louvers drew cold peddles from my spine which usually crawled to quench the fire in my loins and the buds forming in my redwashed tongue.
Today I felt I was ripe for the risk the moment I saw her. I was out to buy some groceries from the provision shop across the road when I saw the teenager. The sight of her carrying neatly plaited oranges tied in fours or five, in waterproofs was like a cigarette in me, burning the strength in my manhood, rousing it to murder high. She was shabbily dressed but even this didn’t alter her beauty, in fact, it tamed it. I forced my Adam’s apple down my belly and whistled at her. She stopped. At the sight of her half-cut pawpaw breasts, slightly revealed ebony laps, sensuous lips and promising eyes, my Adam’s apple rushed back to my throat and began to choke me. I coughed.
‘Blood,’ I replied but it wasn’t more than a mutter and she didn’t hear. She mistook it to ‘how much’ and said twenty naira per group. That was too costly. I couldn’t remember the last time I bought orange but it wasn’t half this costly. Perhaps it was the hike in fuel price and the resultant scarcity. The long queues at the filling stations had been making headlines but our military rulers had turned blind eyes. With this, the price of anything, everything quadrupled. Even shoe-shining which had no defined business with fuel had risen in price. And I, whose firm wasn’t more than six streets away hadn’t been to work in three days, no fuel to power the car; the only people who could query my absence had no fuel to enable their presence and where would they find the fuel to ink their pens?
‘How many do you want?’ the girl asked, a jolting steer off my reverie.
‘All of them,’ I bloated out.
A slight surprise crossed her face, so minute that if I wasn’t looking intently could have passed unnoticed, and which in the following seconds seemed like my imagination had put it there. She brought down the tray to her breast level and ran a quick eye over them. ‘Two-eighty,’ she announced.
‘I will give you 300; bring it to my apartment,’ I said and quickly marched past her so she wouldn’t catch sight of what was beginning to happen to my trousers.
Tea or coffin? I would ask this question once again. By the time I reached my door my body was charged with primal desire that my hands shook as I unlocked the door. I stepped aside and watched her enter. I shut the door, locked it and put the key in my wallet.
‘Where can I put them?’ she was unsuspecting.
‘To the bedroom,’ I heaved. I led, she followed. I hadn’t prepared any ‘tea’ for this but this wouldn’t offer more stumbling blocks that a luminous improvisation couldn’t arrest. My room was in disarray. My bed was unmade, my dinner dishes stood in the foot of the bed like abandoned burnt offering. My wardrobe was open and unarranged, and books and newspapers fought for supremacy on the carpet. I was ashamed of this, but coldly brushed it off. She would soon die and I would suck her blood; she wouldn’t live to tell of my unkempt lifestyle.
‘Put the tray there,’ I pointed to the stool. She placed the orange moulds neatly on the stool and lay her empty tray by it. I sat on the bed, watching. ‘Tea or coffin?’ I said when she looked up for her money.
Three pretty wrinkles formed on her forehead. ‘Did you say coffin?’
I was rudely taken aback. In all my years in the field of fair homicide, no one had been able to decipher that I actually say coffin and not coffee. And here was this girl, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, asking if I meant coffin? The anger that darkened my withered leaf-coloured face burnt my nose and pricked my heart. How dare she?
‘What if I mean coffin?’
She allowed a small smile that disappeared like a drop of water on hot plate. ‘Then you will have to put yourself inside,’ came her reply.
Calmly, I rose to my feet in all my murderous glory and lethal charisma. ‘Do you know who I am?’
She had no words for answer but her gaze was unruffled and challenging. ‘I am a serial blood sucker. I kill women, rape them, butcher them and suck their blood for sport. And I haven’t played ball for four years now.’
She didn’t as much as blinked at this revelation. I waited for the blow of fear to strike her handsome face but nothing was forthcoming.
‘Perhaps you have gone deaf,’ I said.
She snorted. ‘I think it’s time I try adults for a change,’ she said. ‘There comes a time in life when you have crossed the same stream too much and must get drowned. For four weeks now I haven’t eaten human flesh. And when I do I mostly eat children’s flesh. I prefer one and two years olds. My grandmother was sixty-nine when I ate her, but she tasted bitter and stale I gave up eating old people . But you aren’t that old, are you?’ An evil pause then, ‘How old are you?’
She took two audacious steps forward, her eyes shining with the fire of her words, so that it was impossible to say if she was bluffing or recounting true life experiences. ‘How old are you?’ she repeated, a perilous edge to her voice.
I wanted to laugh and tell her to try harder next time, in her next world, but that burning gaze held my mirth like vice. Where would a girl this young and harmless find such grandiose words if she wasn’t really old and hardened in the evil she professed? I watched as she examined me like a butcher would examine beef, then trained her eyes on my crotch. ‘You should be forty-something.’
She suddenly looked at and I looked away. She took a step forward and I took two backward. Then she laughed, a dry metallic laughter that hit the walls hard like stone and bounced off the walls like rubber. She wasn’t really laughing; something inside of her, perhaps her devilish alter ego was laughing through her, ready to break out and pounce.
‘Coward,’ she screamed, ‘coward! I thought you have balls.’ She hissed long and loud and turned. ‘It’s too hot to eat something cold and cowardly,’ she finalised.
‘Have you paid me?’
With quaking hands I counted fifteen twenty naira notes from my wallet and drop them on her tray. ‘Please go with your oranges,’ I drawled.
She shook her head as she took the money. ‘That is not how I do business. You bought my goods and you keep them.’ She counted the money and returned a note to me. ‘You overpaid me.’
She stopped at the door. My heart stopped beating. ‘Didn’t you lock the front door?’
I quickly handed her the key. ‘If I were you I would stop offering coffins. You never know what coffin is made to carry you.’ And she was gone. It took long moments for my breathing to become human.
Many years later, I found out that the girl’s name is Sade.
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