In a room in a house in VGC, Kike, Janet, Mama, and I were sitting on dining table chairs on one side of a wide wooden desk that had three landlines and four mobile phones connected to chargers on top of it.
On the other side of the desk, a short, stout, bald man who had four deep tribal marks running one atop the other along his cheeks and one across his nose on the left side was holding Janet’s phone in both his hands, staring at the tiny screen.
He was in a mostly brown Ankara outfit. He had large coral beads on one wrist and an equally large gold bracelet on the other. Around his neck he wore a slim gold chain, a woman’s chain, pulled down by a white and yellow gold star pendant.
The AC was on and the room was cool but he had sweat beads across his huge shiny forehead.
Behind us, even though I didn’t dare to turn and look but I could hear his heavy breathing, stood a tall muscle builder – for want of a better description, who had shown us into Uncle China’s office.
Uncle China needs explaining.
It had been one week and a few days since Jonny left for Abuja and left me with a new phone, promise of a job, twenty thousand Naira, and instructions to call him the moment the money finished. The money finished the next day.
It was an environmental sanitation Saturday and all the girls were home, as happens on all environmental sanitation days.
NEPA had taken their light as usual but we kept the door and the windows shut to discourage any of the ‘I like to clean’ neighbours from asking us why we weren’t out tidying up the compound. We were all bored to within a few inches of our lives. That was until Janet finally managed to receive the video clip someone had been trying to send to her via BB.
Now, we had all heard of the rape video making the rounds on campus but none of us had seen it, living off-campus as we did. The general gist was that a group of cult boys had taken turns raping a town girl and they had been very studious to film every minute of their crime and to broadcast it freely - in case someone later had the audacity to doubt that they really did it. They had however sloppily managed to not let the camera capture their faces, only their victim’s, the result of which was that other people were being credited for their work.
On a good day, with better things to do other than trying to go back to sleep in a hot crowded room, I would have cursed anyone who wanted to show me the video. But it finished downloading onto Janet’s phone and she played it and the sound of human voices coming out of something that had electricity in it was too much of a temptation right then.
We all crowded round Janet and to watch the video. We watched the girl getting raped - repeatedly, and taunted, and threatened, and mocked, and raped again. And we cursed, and we swore, and Kike cried. Then Mama let out one of her ear-piercing exclamations.
“I know that room! That is them Kaska’s room! That is Banger’s box! It is them! Aye wan to baje! Awan omo-ole! It is them!”
It turned out that Mama had just cracked open a case that still had the entire Nigerian Police Force baffled and confused and clueless. The rape had become something of a national hot-topic, with politicians getting involved and promising heaven and earth, but till date no arrests had been made – because the girl was unknown and her rapist’s faces were not clear and nobody knew where or when the event took place. But Mama, just from watching a few seconds of the sick thing, had identified the location of the crime and possibly, the criminals.
As the rest of us deliberated what to do with this brand new information, Mama was busy calling someone on her phone. She hushed us when she got a connection and in time we all watched her have a strange conversation with someone who, from the sounds of it, put her through to someone else to whom she repeated what she had told the first person: that she was Uncle China’s niece and that Uncle China had given her the number she was calling him on for when she needed to see him urgently.
After the call we prodded her for information but she just told us to get ready, that she wanted us to follow her to her Uncle’s place in VGC and that he would be able to do something about the video. What, she wouldn’t say.
Environmental had not finished but a Mercedes Veno bus arrived at our BQ, driven by a man who looked as if his real job was as a boxer and not a driver. And so it was that we all found ourselves in VGC, Uncle China watching the rape video on Janet’s phone, and Mama repeatedly reminding him that she knew who the boys were.
Uncle China looked up from the screen. He was still holding Janet’s phone in both hands.
“Aburo, you said you know the girl?”
“No, just the boys. I think the girl is not from school,” Mama answered him.
“It’s ok. What do you want me to do?”
“Uncle, see how they did that girl anyhow?”
“It’s ok. Oya, put the video on my phone.”
He picked up one of the phones on his table. Mama took the phone from him and began clicking and tapping away while Uncle China watched keenly as if magic was about to happen and he did not want to miss the magician’s sleight of hand.
When he was convinced the video was on his phone – by making Mama show him how to find it and by playing it again – he handed the phone to the muscle builder. Next, he pressed a door bell that had been screwed onto his desk. I heard it ring in another part of the house. In very little time another huge fellow was in the room with us.
“You and the Obalende boys will go and see some boys today,” he told the new comer, “Femi will show you something on my phone. Go and get ready.”
With that the man took the phone from Femi and left the room. Uncle China then turned his attention to us.
“So, my sisters, have you eaten?”
We stayed at Uncle China’s house for the rest of the day, eating, watching DSTV, and when we discovered he had a swimming pool Mama asked if it was ok for us to go swimming in our underwear.
Uncle China had a trunk full of bikinis and we all gladly chose our sizes; I, after surreptitiously sniffing to make sure mine had been washed after the last girl who borrowed it.
At about nine PM, after Mama had disappeared with her Uncle for like two hours, yet another scary looking huge fellow came to us in the parlour we had camped in to inform us that bedrooms had been arranged for us.
I tried calling Mama on her phone but she didn’t answer. Instead she sent me a text telling me that her Uncle liked me and asking if she could give him my number. At least she asked for permission. The thought of sleeping with someone (God forgive me) as repulsive as him only strengthened my resolve to stop hustling. I ignored her text.
Kike was first to get a BB message from someone in school filling her in on the latest gist: A group of notorious cult boys had been picked up from campus by some SSS men.
After that the gist came flooding in. Some people said SSS, some said other cult boys, but the common part of the stories was that the boys were dramatically abducted in school and whisked off in a commercial bus. Much later the bus returned to SUB where the boys had being picked up and they were dumped on the ground, beaten, bloody, and naked.
Soon, pictures followed, and then a video of five severely battered boys holding their family jewels in their hands and cowering to the jeers of onlookers filming them and taking pictures. I hoped Mama was right about them.
That night we slept in different rooms in the big house in VGC. In the morning we were treated to breakfast and five thousand Naira each before Uncle China sent us off to school with a fatherly ‘Make sure you face your studies o.’ He never once mentioned the boys.
I returned to our tiny BQ with a new found respect for Mama, (or was it fear?), and with a thought that had been slowly forming in my head since the night before.
When I knew no one else could hear us, I spoke to Mama.
“I just saw your message this morning,” I told her, “you can give him my number.”