I hate the sound of my alarm so much that I always wake up before it goes off, then I spend the last few minutes of the countdown checking my messages and facebook. I was doing precisely this, still under my cover cloth and eyes still unhappy with the glow of the screen, when the phone began to ring. It said ‘Number withheld’ and so I hesitated.
There are very few reasons to withhold your number: You may be trying to speak to someone who is avoiding you, you may be using your aristo’s phone to call someone and you don’t want that someone to get your aristo’s number, or you may be trying to do someone 419.
One idiot once called me – on a withheld number – and told me he was my uncle calling from London. He made me guess who it was and when I said Uncle Segun, he went “Ah ha! I thought you wouldn’t recognize my voice!” He then went on to explain why he had called me after all this time. He had a favour to ask of me. He wanted to send some dollars to a friend of his who was overseeing the construction of his duplex in Surulere - but he didn’t trust the friend. He wanted to know if he could send the money to me via Western Union.
Now, apart from the fact that they spend pounds in London, not dollars, I didn’t have any Uncle Segun or any Uncle anything in London or anywhere beyond Seme border. The scam was so old that people had stopped trying it; but not this fool, apparently. If I chopped, he would send me the details to go and collect the money and I, mungunfied, would start dreaming of what to do with the plenty dollars that some stranger who had mistaken me for his niece was sending to me. Of course, at the bank they would tell me the money hadn’t cleared, and when he called later to ask me how-far, he would be disappointed at the delay and he would suggest I bribe someone he knows at the branch so that they can release the money on time. They once ran this exact scam on Mama. The silly girl was doing kurukere for us, not telling us anything and emptying her savings account to pay 50 k to someone who would facilitate the release of $23,000 to her. It wasn’t until her 50 k and the ‘banker’ had vanished before she rushed to the BQ to tell me they had used juju on her. Juju my yansh. It was her greed that they used on her. Me, I didn’t even pity her when I realised she had 50 k in her account all this time while I had been begging her for money for school handout. She rained curses on the ‘oloshis’ and ‘omoales’ for the next three weeks.
I left the phone to continue ringing until someone whose naked bum had been pressed against mine, stirred and said “answer the phone, naw.” She wasn’t even one of us. I pulled my ass away from her and tucked the cover cloth deep between us. The phone stopped ringing, and just as I cleared the ‘missed call’ away from the screen, it began to ring again.
The girl hissed and pulled her cover cloth over her head. I answered the call, ready to curse a scammer or spark at a friend for calling with a withheld number.
“Hello, Juliet? Juliet? Is this Aunty Juliet? Aunty Amaka that they call Juliet?”
I didn’t recognize the voice. “Yes. Who is this?”
“You don’t know me. I got your number from Emex.”
Emex. Emeka Ejiofor. I was ready to end the call. He was a mistake I made several years ago, long before I entered University. He was doing DJ then, hence his guy-man name. He was a stupid, irritating, loud mouth, broke ass, jerry curled, fake idiot. He had also disvirgined me. He disvirgined me, got me pregnant, then used his late father’s double barrel gun to chase me out of his mother’s house. That was years ago. Since then, he would have me believe, he had grown ‘more mature’ and he now realised that how her treated me was bad. This was actually what he said! He didn’t give me money for the abortion, he didn’t follow me to the clinic, he didn’t check on me later: Bad doesn’t even start to describe it. He even tried to redeem himself by saying that the gun he used to chase me away wasn’t loaded. Wasn’t loaded! He pointed a gun at me and said he would blast my head off if I ever showed my face in his area again. He didn’t even stop at his house; he said his area! All of Oshodi! And I’m supposed to forgive him because the gun wasn’t loaded? Bastard!
Over the years he tried to make up and start all over - as he put it, but I knew he just wanted to ‘hit it’ again. No way. Compared to me, he was now a small boy. Last I heard he was doing music promos or something, that’s what his junior sister told me; she was the last emissary he sent. I took the scrawny looking thing to Mr Biggs and fed her, then I bought takeaway for her to take home. I gave her money for transport back to their place and made sure she got a cab. I told the driver to make sure he dropped her right in front of her house. I told her to tell him to look for someone on his level. He seemed to finally get the message then. So, who was this girl calling me and why had he given her my number?”
“Yes?” I said to her. My voice was so strong that it seemed to snatch her next words away from her mouth. She stuttered a false start then in one breath she explained herself:
“Me and brother Emex come from the same place,” she said. “I have just come to Lagos and he said if I contact you, you will hook me up.” She paused. “With men.”
Something like electric shock went through my body in a wave and left me weak. I don’t even think I said another word before I ended the call. Then, after a few seconds, I switched off the phone and placed it far from me.
I lay perfectly still under the cover cloth, my body feeling somehow all over. Shame. That’s what it was. Shame. Embarrassment. I had been found out. Emeka had learnt the truth about me. And what was worse, he had sent some girl to me - to learn prostitution. What else did he know and who else had he told? How did he find out? Who told him about me now? I felt sick in my belly; almost as if I was going to throw up. What a way to start the day. First, the shenanigans of the night before, now this. Perhaps that was all the warning I needed to keep me in bed. As it turned out, it would have been better for me if I hadn’t left the BQ that morning.