by Nanya Kooper
Monday marked the hundredth and second day since Nedu was missing. The number of days kept shrieking in my head resembling sounds the Iyalogi made when she came offering ogi to the neighborhood. On day ninety-one, there was a foretaste of hope that he might have been found by one of the male prostitutes around Ojota but it was only a false alarm, a waste of time. On this day, I heaped upon myself fresh blame for his disappearance. The last time I saw him played unceasingly like a
flashback that just would not know when to stop till I finally came to terms with the fact that I probably should have done more. That night he had a client to go see and was elated for reasons unknown. He asked me to tag along as this client was a very big one who would pay us handsomely even if I did not join them in their adventure. I declined and with each decline he became more tenacious but I was not up to it. I had spent the previous night with a client of mine who had spent half of our time together deciding whether to use the sex toys he just got or not. Becoming a tag partner tonight was not in my plans.
‘I will tag along next time bro. Tonight I no fit. No vex.’
‘No wahala na.’ he said with a hint of sarcasm rolling off his tongue. ‘Na me go enjoy this one alone. No come ask me for money o cos I no go give you. You dey hear me so?’
And with that, he left our flat never to return.
As I continued to evoke all our memories at 4am, a phone call came in disrupting my hurting. I rushed to the table to pick it up. The identification of the caller was unknown. My body let out a temporal shiver. An unknown caller at 4am? Could it be? As I picked up the phone, my concentration spiked. It was unexplainable.
‘Hello. Ugo. This is Francis.’
Francis? I had not spoken to him in weeks. I was glad he called but I was startled as well since it was only just a few minutes past the hour of four. For a few minutes, he seemed to be gasping for air – puffing out a series of short breaths to gain control of his speech. I sensed already the arrival of terrible news.
‘Francis, is everything alright?’
‘I know we have not spoken in a bit but I had to call because both of you were close…He would have wanted me to call only you.’
My eyebrows squished together for a moment.
‘It’s Nedu. Nedu is dead.’
Nedu and I had met at the hostel that was owned by my Uncle Sonny Okocha which was a hub for male prostitutes. Just like me, he was picked up from the village, promised a better life by my uncle who vowed to enrol him in a technical school where he would train and become a master shoe make but he found himself satisfying the sexual needs of men. Before my arrival to Lagos, Father had handed me to Uncle Sonny without a second thought, believing that it was time for me to go make a name for myself and take care of the family. Mother was against this of course. She believed ‘a child would be vulnerable to the jaws of evil if that child was not at home’. Father waved off her superstitions. She had forgotten that when an Igbo man’s mind was made up, there was no turning back. It was Lagos or
nothing he said. Uncle Sonny surprisingly showed delight and no hesitation in taking me in after all, what was the point of family if we did not help one another on the day we needed it? I had originally believed I would be an apprentice in his business or head to the University for Studies as a civil engineer however when I was led to a room in a hotel with a man waiting for me, naked with a stick similar to the ones the guards used to chase thieves from the Obi’s plantain farm in my village and a smile that was ready to devour my innocence, my dreams had to take a detour.
With Nedu, life was bearable in the hostel. We did everything together except being demanded by clients at the same time. He believed if that happened, one of us would have to fake some sort of sickness while the other attended to the client. I found that hysterical whilst spending hours in the night praying to Mother’s Chi or any deity who cared to listen to not let it happen.
On my twenty third birthday, Nedu surprised me with an item he meticulously wrapped in tissue paper and tossed in my direction. In it was a cupcake. A sudden coldness hit the core of my belly as to how he had found one for we were not allowed to see such rare things in the hostel let alone eat them.
‘Where did you get this Nedu?’
We had only started calling him Nedu when a previous client, a white man had called requesting for him but he could not say his name Chinedu as it should be said.
‘I would like to have Nedu for the night’ was what the client said. The receptionist assured him there was no one called Nedu and in return, he attempted to pronounce Chinedu which was a failed endeavour. By then, Uncle Sonny already had an idea of who the client wanted. When the others heard the name, it stuck and even though he hated it; arguing that it was not the name his father bestowed on him, he knew he could do nothing about it. Here in the hostel, any humour we could find was worth the treasure hunt.
‘Relax man. Na my white mumu I collect from. He dey always make sure say I chop the things wey him chef dey always make for am so I come carry like one or two say make my guy chop too. Relax. Make you enjoy ya baiday.’
Chinedu had always been like that. He did not care if my uncle banned us from such treats for they had power to reduce our ‘performance’ with the clients. Today this one cupcake was not going to hurt and he was right.
‘Thank you’, I said, gulping the treat in one fell swoop for even though I was thankful Nedu got this and I for a change was not prepared to be on Uncle Sonny’s caning routine.
‘One day we will leave this place and when it’s your birthday, I will get you a gift with a party to celebrate.’ I said.
‘I no go mind o but this place wey we dey no bad. We fit be money men. When we manage comot, we go start our own business. I no dey in any rush. I dey enjoy am die.’
Nedu had told me once he was satisfied about not leaving. He never thought it was going to happen so why bother pursuing the idea anyway? Life had given him lemons, the least he could do was make lemonades. I could not blame him for this ideology he had conjured up for it was also the same mentality a lot of the men around us shared including me. We were already accustomed to this particular activity, it was already a habit, a way of life and now for some, an addiction shaped to become their reality. Still, I was never comfortable with the idea of sleeping with men. Some days I cursed my body and the day I was born while at the same time I found myself coming in contact with a deep gratified feeling of a job well done whenever a client uttered contentment. Truth be told, it was somewhat the only relief I could get. I was certain that if someday I left the hostel, it was going to be the end. I would leave the life and look forward to making a new one yet I never asked if it was ready to leave me.
Freedom came when news of Uncle Sonny’s death rocked the hostel. It turned out he was not only running the hostel at night; he was also an armed robber who had been on the police radar for the best part of a year. The operation had gone south and he was gunned down. The police had identified him and were aware that he owned a couple of businesses in Lagos including the hostel which they were sure was a place housing robbers. A police informant painstakingly informed the receptionist who informed us to leave the hostel instantly unless we were prepared to spend the rest of our lives in Kirikiri. The other prostitutes who already had a place to go wasted no second in gathering their belongings and fled. Nedu and I could not tell if this was real or just another fantasy. We were free yet it seemed untrue. Were we going to be hunted down? Did the police know what we really did? Our contemplation passed quickly when we heard the sirens from afar. That was our cue to leave the hostel once and for all.
Our legs found themselves at Yaba. With the little commission we made, we spent a few nights at a lodge to lay low just in case we were wanted before renting a mini flat a couple weeks later on Kufeji Street in Alagomeji. We knew this money we had was not sustaining enough. We needed a job, some sort of purpose. The only purpose we believed we had was sleeping with men. It was a skill that needed no classes or preparation. This was what we knew how to do best and we enjoyed it. One afternoon,
Nedu returned with news that he had reached out to his white connect at a call centre (apparently, he made it a habit to keep the numbers of each client he came across) and our lives in the hostel began again only this time no one was compelling us. We were able to fix the prices we wanted; if a new client was hungry for something different, we would charge extra to help endure the aftermaths of their ravenous appetites. I worried most times about our charges but Nedu put such to flight.
‘Nna. Dem get this money well well. Dem go pay cos na small change for dem. Make we just make sure say we do the thing wella and collect our money.’ Indeed, money was never a problem for these men. They just needed someone to control, someone who would satisfy their desires for a few hours and we were more than happy to.
Here I was, seven am on a Monday morning in the bathroom preparing to head to the hospital in Maryland that Francis had given me descriptions of. I was going to see Nedu lifeless. I was not going there to hear him speak. All those months he went missing, I blamed him till I no longer had the
strength to. At that point, shame enveloped me every night leaving sour tastes that cloaked my mouth, spending every night crawled up on the floor weeping for everything and everyone I could remember, everyone I had left down. Even though his disappearance took away the speck that shadowed my eyes, I still found myself searching for him earnestly as I began the hard and necessary walk to recovery.
Francis was on the night shift when Nedu’s body was brought in. He told me he was murdered by some gang members who found out he was ‘servicing’ other men rather than their Oga and were not happy about it. Returning to hotel where his client was, the gang members who had been following him organised an ambush when he was clear in sight. Stabbing him over and over again, they took an eye, sliced his tongue and left his body on a street close to the hospital. He knew this after the police had
managed to capture one of them who wasted no time in confessing. In a bid to save his life he was brought to the hospital where Francis worked in only to die on arrival. Similar to us, Francis was a prostitute but when the hostel was about to be stormed, he returned to his family, cleaned his act and went back to nursing school. We had met once at an eatery in Yaba. I had just returned from class at Yabatech, where I enrolled for my Diploma in Civil Engineering to get something to eat when I felt a tap on my back while I queued and there was Francis. We spent a few minutes together, chatting about how life had been doing us a favour since we left the hostel. He said he still had nightmares about it. He was seeing a therapist to help him be better. He suggested I see one as well. I did not think it was
necessary though I still saw the first man I slept with tormenting my dreams every now and then. I had told him about Nedu’s disappearance. We exchanged numbers and promised to call if anything came up.
Knowing how Nedu and I were friends, he didn’t waver, placing a call to me as he believed I was the only connection Nedu had in Lagos. Indeed I was. Tears flooded my eyes as trembles drummed on my cheeks. The hostel could not leave him and he could not leave it. I wish he had returned to me safe and sound or at least I would see him alive at the hospital so I could hear his story of he escaped, how he was able to survive all these months. Despair swam around me. Yet my mouth made no sound.
©Nanya Kooper, first published in ‘to grow in two bodies’.
Nanya Kooper is a writer, poet and currently pursuing a career in Environmental Management. When he is not doing those, he tweets via @thegodkooper, enjoys indie music and day dreams about liverpool.