Efe was eighteen years old when I met her for the first time while traveling on a bus to Lokoja North Central, Nigeria. She had bright eyes and was full of life but deep beneath the light skin and radiant face was a story of pain, bitterness and love.
On a visit to her house few years ago, I noticed an unusual tattoo on her wrist that got me curious and I asked “wetin de your hand sef” (what’s that on your hand?) And she replied “It’s a long story and I don’t want to talk about it anymore” as she opened the fridge at the corner of the living room.
As I settled down into the soft leather sofa with a glass of orange juice in front of me, Efe emerged from the kitchen, walked straight to me and asked why I was interested on the scorpion tattooed to her wrist and I simply told her I was scared of people with tattoos, she smiled and said “finish your drink and I will tell you everything”.
“About ten years ago after the death of my father, my mother took me to Aunty Evelyn her cousin in Gusau, Zamfara state, North West Nigeria. I was about 12 years old. Madam as Aunty Evelyn was called treated me very well; she changed my cloths and enrolled me at a private school few meters away from her house. My joy knew no bounds as I quickly settled into my new environment.
Aunty had a very big restaurant where she sold food and alcohol. The business was booming, and the men who came to eat or drink at our place will often give us money. Our restaurant was well organized, everyone of the over 20 girls knew what was expected of each of them, apart from the occasional girl quarrel everything was perfect, until the State Government
introduce the Sharia legal system (Islamic law).
The system brought about a sudden shut down of all premises where alcohol was sold. The alcohol business was the livewire of our restaurant; its ban completely crippled our business. For several months, we watched as our once bustling restaurant and bar became a warehouse for chairs and tables while Aunty became increasingly hostile as her business fortune dwindled.
One Friday afternoon, Aunty summoned a meeting and informed everyone that she was leaving town and closing the restaurant for good, this did not come to me as a surprise as I had previously heard her discussing with a lady over the phone about her plans to relocate.
Forty eight hours later, Aunty instructed the girls to pack, selecting twelve of them to make the trip with us while others returned to their families.
Fourteen of us including aunty left the city that night aboard a Mercedes 911 truck which carried all our belongings and headed for the garden city of Port Harcourt South of Nigeria. After a long
tortuous journey, we finally arrived a city bustling with life and littered with expatriate oil workers who had lots of petro dollars,
Aunty had secured the perfect environment to re-launch her
businesses I said to myself. Two days after our arrival, our sleep was disrupted by a loud bang
on our door, it was about 2 am in the morning and we were terrified, but our fear soon gave way as we heard the voice of Aunty
Evelyn asking all the girls to move to her room. As we stepped into her room, the sight of a middle aged woman in white cloth seating over a big black pot sent further shock waves down our spines. On noticing the fear on our faces, Aunty quickly calmed our nerves by introducing us one after the other to the lady who immediately proceeded with the ceremony.
One after the other, the girls took turn to swear the oath of allegiance to Aunty and Ohe, the goddess of the night. The consequence of violating the oath was slow and painful death.
When I woke up that morning, I realized my legs were swollen;my body was probably reacting to the concoction we had taken the previous night before the scorpion was tattooed to our wrists.
Nevertheless, I soon joined the girls to entertain the white men who had visited our lodge to welcome us to the city. The white men had lots of dollars, and always lavished gifts and money on any girl who goes the extra mile to satisfy their lust. As the years rolled by we slept with men of all shades and characters, remitting eighty percent of our proceeds to Aunty. The oil workers ensured we lacked nothing. Life was good or so we thought, until
Mene was my best friend, she had been sick for two days and suddenly died on the third, we had all expected her to pull through, but she never did.
Aunty did not allow us mourn as Mene was quickly buried at a nearby bush and life continued as if nothing had happened. It was Mene’s death that pushed me into deep reflections; I became
Lonely and depressed as I pondered over what had happened. Mene had disagreed with Aunty a few days earlier over the fees we remit. Could aunty have murdered my best friend? As wild thoughts ran through my mind, I started planning my escape, and with every passing day I dreamt of the day when I will be free from the clutches of the Ohe deity.
As I made my plans, I realized I would need some help if my dream was to become a reality, so I shared my plot with a fellow roommate Ada, who made me believe she also wanted out only to reveal my plans to Aunty.
I was in the market, buying food stuffs for the lodge when I received a text message from Ovie Aunty Evelyn’s former boyfriend that Ada had revealed my escape plans to Aunty. Straight up I knew I had to activate my plan ahead of schedule, going back to the lodge was not an option.
Armed with the money to buy food stuffs, I headed for the motor park. That day was the last time I saw Aunty.
I boarded a vehicle heading to Abuja Nigeria’s capital city. The journey was very smooth and we arrived Abuja some few minutes before midnight. As other passengers disappeared into the darkness I searched for a spot where I could lay my head till the next day.
As the cockcrow signaled the birth of a new day, I moved round the park in a bid to get familiar with my new environment which was already bustling with life as tea sellers and restaurants light up their fire place to prepare for the day’s business. As I moved round I stumbled on an advert at a restaurant within the park which read, Sales girl wanted; apply in person. That was my perfect opportunity, I applied immediately and started work same
As night falls and the once bustling motor park goes quiet I and other workers spread our mats on the floor of the restaurant which also served as our bedroom at night. My new madam was kind tome and her business prospered under my watch. I never knew my HIV status until Victor proposed to me and we had to do some laboratory test as a pre requisite for the announcement of our wedding banns at our local church. Despite the fact that the result came back positive, Victor still went ahead and married me and today I have a son for him who is HIV negative, we received extensive counseling at the clinic when I tested positive and continued to receive support even after the birth of my son. Victor, my husband knew all I had gone through and was wiling to support me all through.
Today, I have my own restaurant, a bundle of joy as a son and a wonderful, caring and understanding husband. Heaven has been kind to me, Oche” As I left her apartment that evening, I recall the words of my mathematics teacher, Mr Rene, who said “every problem has a solution”