I stared at the the fishermen in their boats, sitting down and chatting. Laughing away like fools, like there was no pain or sadness in the world. They didn’t have what to do anyway, they didn’t catch any fish even after long hours of fishing. I wondered how they expected to fish in that dirty water and to think people had their baths there. Iyama. The water had always disgusted me, right from the moment I knew it was water. Too bad I had to live close to it and perceive the odour everyday. I kind of got used to it anyway, being so close and all. I lived under the bridge with the other children. We had built it into a home, we were practically a family of our own. I never really had a parent figure except the old woman who catered for me till I was 5 years old and then she died.
She said my mother had dumped me under the bridge when I was about a year old, she had left me there wrapped up in a blanket with just a few clothings and a photograph of a young woman, dressed in blue jeans, a brown top and brown ankle boots. Of course she could just dump me there, nobody would have known. Third Mainland bridge was really busy anyway. I should really have hated her but I didn’t. I was rather indifferent about her. I didn’t have the strength for that. My strength was used for better things like running from Agbo and his boys at night.
Agbo came every fortnight, chasing us and in the morning after, we would find that some of our peers had gone missing. We would then find Agbo laughing and drinking with his friends in a bar, throwing fifty naira notes in the air and he would look at us cunningly as if to say ‘I would get you next time’, or maybe it was just my imagination. I was always in a hurry anyway to avoid our madam’s palaver.
That was my everyday life basically and with the two hundred naira I was paid daily from hawking, I would buy two sachets of water and ‘bons’ worth eighty naira and save the remaining hundred naira. My savings so far was eight thousand, four hundred naira. I didn’t go to school but I understood the money mathematics. After eating, I would play with my peers. Some of the older boys could be seen smoking at a corner. In fact, Agbo was very popular for that when he was younger so he could hang out with the older boys. At times when Agbo came, we would run for safety, most times under a car but we were soon discovered as it was rumoured that some little boys were offered bottles of coke to snitch on us.
I had just finished eating and went to join in the gist with some girls when a boy far off shouted, ‘Agbo dey come o, tear race, scatter!’
Everyone was thrown in a frenzy and I ran for my dear life. It was every man to themselves, no friend nor foe. I had no destination but I just kept on running. My slippers weren’t helping matters either as one was already coming loose. I kept running anyway, stepping on broken bottles and plastic bags and then I saw, a battered Volvo vehicle. I quickly ran to hide under it. I was safe at last or so I thought. Just a few minutes of me being under the car, trying to breathe silently so I wouldn’t be caught, someone grabbed my legs from underneath and pulled me out. I screamed so loudly that whenever I remember that incident, I could hear myself still scream but no one came to my rescue. That had to be the end of me, I didn’t know how I would end up.
Late into the night, I found myself amongst five other children. We had all being caught one way or the other. We were three girls and two boys, all tied up. A ‘big’ man came in and was negotiating with Agbo, I didn’t quite get all was said but I know he said something about one of the boys not being complete and so he took the other and left. Later on, a woman who looked like she was in her later forties came in. I admired her outfit so much even though that was not the right time to do so. She took a good look at me and the two other girls.
“I’ll take these ones”, she said, pointing to me and the other girl opposite. We were forcefully pulled up and taken away. We were put at the back seat of her jeep and told not to say a word to anybody. We arrived at a bungalow house in the middle of nowhere. The painting was already wearing off and I wondered how such a woman could live there. ‘All na packaging’, I thought.
We got in and I saw a lot of girls, they looked older than I was and were all dressed up in fancy clothes. The other girl and I were taken to a room and told to have our baths. The bathroom wasn’t a decent one but that was my first time using the shower since I was born so I enjoyed the moment. Never knew when it was going to be taken away from me. After that, we were given two plates of white rice to eat but no meat or fish, I was grateful anyway. For a second, I thought we were being adopted for us to be treated so nicely. But that was for a moment…
I was shocked to my bone marrow when the lady who brought us called us the next day to tell us what we were there for. We were to pleasure anything and everything and she didn’t care what, whether it be beast or man. I was terrified, I had never thought I would end up like this but it was either that or I died.
That whole experience went on for years, so many times I lost count. I just wanted to be done paying her and leave, I had just 3 months left and I would be out of that hell hole. Then something happened that I never expected, one day, I was told to bring a document from the pigeon hole in my madam’s car when a picture fell out. At the back of the picture was written, ‘Obudu 1999’. The same woman in the picture that was found with me when I was little. Something in my head went loose, I wanted to go mad and just lose control. Her own child? She hadn’t even bothered to search for me after all these years and here she was, using other people’s daughters including hers. It had to be the highest for of disgust.
I decided to keep it all a secret and when those three months were over and I was ready to leave, I had learned something new. I had learned to hate.