The thing with getting used to suffer-head is that the slightest luxury feels strange - suspicious even.
When I went to sleep, there were at least five of us in the room: Kike, Mama, one Tolu girl from next door, Clara, and myself. But now, I was stretching all over the mattress without touching someone’s breasts or having my leg pushed away by someone’s arms. It felt wrong.
I woke up to bright light. But even as I anticipated the pain from opening my eyes in the lit room, I knew it wasn’t morning yet. I rolled over on the mattress, away from the glare of the 100 watt light bulb, and I slowly cracked my eyes open.
Mama was by the door, in pants and bra, and a hairnet and nothing more. She was holding a phone in front of her face with both hands. I looked where she was focusing on the other side of the bed and I saw Kike, naked as she was born, spread on the worn bed sheet in what she must have thought was a sexy pose.
I closed my eyes and rolled over.
But how can you go back to sleep after you’ve just seen your roommate taking naked pictures of your cousin?
I threw the cover cloth off my body and sat up on the mattress just as Mama clicked, the camera flashed, and Kike grabbed a piece of cloth to hide her body.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
Kike avoided my face, embarrassed, obviously, and pulled the cloth over the rest of her bum that was still exposed.
Mama on her part barely lowered the phone. “Oya now,” she said and hissed.
I reached out and tried to pull the cloth away from Kike. Had I been dreaming or was she really having Mama take naked pictures of her?
“Oh! Leave her now,” Mama said.
I put up my arm to silence her and didn’t let go of my grip on the cloth even as Kike held on tight to what remained of it on her body.
“Kike, what are you doing?”
Mama answered for her: “What does it look like? We are taking pictures to send to her boyfriend.”
“You know now. That her new bobo.”
“He asked you to send them?”
Kike had gone mute but Mama was more than willing to keep answering for her.
“Look, Amaka, this thing does not concern you. Shebi you were sleeping?”
I pulled at the cloth to get Kike’s attention. “Did he ask you for naked pictures?”
She looked at Mama before answering me.
“No,” she said.
“So why are you sending them?”
It was not the naked pictures I had a problem with, but the fact that Mama appeared to have captured her face as well.
Again she looked at Mama and I suspected she’d taken advice from her. I looked at Mama.
“Was this your idea?”
“What is your own? Go back to sleep.”
I got up and walked over to her. “Let me see the pictures,” I said.
She hid the phone behind her back and I was in no mood to struggle with her sweaty naked body.
“Have you sent him any?” No body answered me. “Kike, have you sent him any?”
“And did your face show in it?”
I was busy lecturing Kike on the folly of sending naked pictures of yourself showing your face when her phone rang. She checked to see who it was and her face brightened. She pleaded with her arms for Mama and I to be silent then she took the call.
It lasted all of one minute during which she said ‘baby’ intermittently: fondly, at first, then gradually in the manner of pleading and trying to get a word in.
When with the last, ‘Baby? Baby? Baby?’ it was obvious that baby had said what he had to say and ended the call I asked her what the matter was.
“He said he’s coming here,” she said.
“He knows this place?”
“Yes?” But she looked distraught.
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know. He said he wants to talk to me.”
“He said he would tell me everything when he arrives.”
“Did it have to do with the picture?” It was a longshot but she was giving me little to work with. Clearly some sort of yanwa had gassed, and if he was bringing it to our home I wanted to know what it was and how to prepare for it.
Mama was working with another theory. “You steal for him house?” she asked.
Kike didn’t even bother answering her.
We heard a key turning in the lock. The door opened and Janet peered in. She looked shocked to find us still awake.
“Ashawo, you don return?” Mama greeted her.
Janet nodded at Mama, nodded at me, saw how Kike and I were facing each other and she asked “What happened?”
Mama brought her up to speed: “Her bobo said he’s coming here. The girl don go shit for him house.”
“Ehn? He’s coming here? Kike, he told you he’s coming here?”
Whatever it was, I didn’t want Kike to share it with the rest of them. I told her to let’s go outside and talk.
“When did he tell you he’s coming?” Janet asked. “Did he tell you why he’s coming?”
“I told you, the girl has gone and shit in his house,” Mama said.
Kike got up and started getting dressed, obviously in anticipation of her man arriving.
Janet kept prodding wanting to know why he was coming.
“Abeg, leave her jor,” Mama told her. “At least we will all get to see the man she has been hiding.”
“He’s coming into the house?” Janet asked.
I’d not thought of that but at that point I decided to put on some clothes. Whatever had happened, Kike might need me to sort it out with him. I wished I hadn’t woken up when I did.
“Ashawo, wey you dey go?” Mama asked.
Janet, still clutching her handbag, had opened the door and was about stepping out.
I immediately thought she intended to join Kike and me outside.
“You don’t have to come,” I told her.
Just then the beam of a car’s headlamps hit our faces and Janet withdrew into the room.
“That’s him,” Kike said. She pushed past me and I let her go after hurriedly telling her to call me if she wanted me to come out.
As soon as she left Janet locked the door and started getting undressed.
Mama had wanted to see the guy and she didn’t take kindly to Janet’s action. She queried Janet but Janet brushed her off saying she needed to sleep. She packed her braids into a hairnet and onto that she wound a large scarf then she got into bed and covered herself up to her face.
“Please, off the light,” she said.
“Wetin dey do this one?” Mama said.
Indeed, what was wrong with her? I wondered. A moment ago she had been wide awake and eager to know what’s up with Kike and her man. But I was too worried for my cousin to pay her much notice. I stood by the window trying to catch whatever conversation Kike was having with the man.
Someone tried to open the door, found it locked, and knocked. Mama, still in her pant and bra, quickly undid the lock.
In stepped a yellow, tall, slim built man in a pair of True Religion jeans, Gucci sandals, and white, blue, and red Polo shirt with a golden crest. He was handsome, if young. And he smelt good. So this was Kike’s hot catch. Not bad at all.
Kike was quick behind him, her face contoured into a frightful snarl.
The boy gave Mama a quick once over, appeared unimpressed, looked at me, then looked around the room.
Kike walked past him to the mattress and started pulling the cloth off Janet. Janet held on tight and refused to bulge. Kike called her name repeatedly and pushed her violently on the mattress but Janet did not stir. Janet, who a minute ago was wide awake.
Kike left Janet and stormed out of the room. Janet lay still on the bed. The boy shook his head and started sniggering.
When Kike returned she had a pail of water. She poured it over Janet before Mama or I could stop her. Only then did Janet ‘wake’ up.
I had never seen Kike look so wild. The pieces were falling into place but the drama still had a lot of explaining to do.
“Bastard!” Kike shouted. “Oya, stand up! Where did you go? Where are you coming from? Oloshi! Ole! Omoale!”
Janet stood from the mattress with a look of indignation on her face. She was drying water away from her face with a piece of cloth but Kike snatched it from her.
“What is all this embarrassment for naw?” Janet asked.
“Hello Janet,” the boy said but Janet showed him her palm without looking at him.
“So you stole his number from my phone, abi? Ashewo bastard! You stole his number? Shey? Talk! Ashewo! Talk!”
The way Kike was bouncing on one leg I knew slaps and punches were about to start flying. Mama got between them before me, thankfully.
I looked at the boy. He wore a smug look and seemed to be enjoying it all.
“Please, what happened?” I asked him.
He obviously didn’t think I was worth talking to. He motioned to Kike and I asked her the same question.
Kike burst out in fresh expletives before she got down to explaining all the drama.
“This bitch sent her picture to my man. She stole his pin from my phone and started sending him naked pictures. She lied that she met him on a flight to Abuja. Ashawo!” She lunged at Janet but Mama held her back.
I was still lost. So, Janet had stolen the pin; sent naked pictures of her to him; hooked up with him; etc., etc. But what was he now doing here? And how did it come out that Janet and Kike knew each other?
Mama shouted as if a snake had bitten her.
“Ewo! So that is why you asked me to help you take your picture!”
She was talking to Janet, and at that point the penny dropped.
Kike confirmed my theory: “When I sent him my picture he recognized the room. That is how he knew she was lying to him. Now he thinks we are playing game with him.”
I looked at the boy. A lot of everything still didn’t make sense. So, he realised that Janet and Kike knew each other, and he thought they were conspiring in some way to do what to him? Didn’t he sleep with both of them? What did he expect? Unless…
I suddenly felt terribly bad for Kike, and at that moment Janet’s treachery felt exponentially viler. Kike likes the boy; we all knew that. But the boy had also fallen for her.
The first slap was so loud it would have woken up Sleeping Beauty, but Janet knew better than to fight back. The boy stepped in before Kike could land a second.
“There’s no need for that,” he said. Kike held her arms up to him but he gently brushed them away. He looked her in the face as if he was searching for something, then he looked at Janet and shook his head.
He had made it to the door before Kike dashed to stop him from leaving.
“Baby please, I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t give her your pin,” she pleaded.
The boy turned round to take one last look at Janet, Janet boned, then he looked at Kike.
“I didn’t know you were an ashewo like that,” he said. And with that parting shot, he left.
That night Janet did not sleep in the room (till today she denies spending the night in Baba Gori the gateman’s shed), Kike was inconsolable, Mama BBed everyone to let them know what had happened, and we turned the mattress over but it was wet through so we slept on the floor.
As I drifted slowly into sleep I kept going over his words; there was something peculiar about what he’d said: “I didn’t know you were an ashewo like that?”
Like how, exactly?
Are there different types of ashewo? Did he, from time, consider her one - but of the type he found acceptable? Had she now shown him that she was the type of ashewo he took exception to? What makes a girl an ashewo, in the first place?