The conductor’s tribal marks – three long horizontal lines across each cheek – along with his wild eyes and scraggly beard, make him look like a tiger. The bus is full, so he supports himself against the door frame while collecting money from passengers. He does this as the bus speeds down the expressway, all the while calling out as we near every stop.
When I came to Lagos, I was always amazed – and worried – at how fast danfos go along this road, especially when there are bus stops every few hundred meters. Everyone else ever seemed to be used to it. The possibility of accidents definitely didn’t frighten them as much as it did me. The fear of labelling myself an outsider is the only thing that kept me from screaming every time a bus I was on shook or lurched, or almost crashed into another vehicle. With time, I got used to it, and I learned the most valuable lesson: Lagosians are all mad. Especially the drivers.
I am sitting in the front row, squashed between two people on both sides. The men on either side of me are speaking recklessly in rapid Yoruba and spit is flying onto my face. The man behind me is caressing my ass with his knees. I am uncomfortable, disgusted and incensed but I say nothing. I say nothing because talking will not change anything.
As we approach Jakande, a couple of people behind me shout “o wa”. The conductor bangs the top of the bus to alert the driver, who slams his foot on the brake. The smell of burnt rubber fills the air as the bus grinds to a loud halt. Passengers begin alighting and the conductor starts calling for passengers headed towards CMS.
Two minutes later, the bus is moving again. I’m alone on my row, so I drop my bag beside me and stretch into a comfortable position. I imagine my mother’s reaction if she were to see me sitting like this. She’d have a fit.
“Adesuwa, you’re a woman,” she would snap. “You cannot be sitting like a prostitute.” Then she would force my legs shut and berate me some more, as if parted legs are invitations to every man to come lick from my honeypot.
I thank God she’s all the way in Edo, too far away to make me trade my comfort for decency.
I get off the bus at Lekki Phase 1 and climb the pedestrian bridge. There’s a woman sitting at the foot of the other end of the bridge. She’s always there, begging with her three daughters. The youngest one spots me and starts approaching. I shake my head vigorously but she perseveres.
“Please, aunty, help me. I never eat today.” She rubs her belly with one hand and, with the other, points at her open mouth. She tugs at my skirt but I brush her off.
I can tell that her entire existence, at this point, is geared towards inspiring emotions in me that will provoke some form of charity. But no emotion, no matter how strong, can compel money from an empty purse. That is alchemy beyond the chemistries of sentiment.
She struggles to keep up as I increase my pace and eventually gives up. I want to apologize as she returns to her mother’s side. I walk this way every day without giving her or her sisters anything and suddenly I feel a need to tell her why. I want to tell her that I don’t have any money to give because I only ever carry how much I need, that that’s the only way I keep myself from spending money inordinately. I’m only an intern, so I don’t earn much.
But I don’t owe her an explanation, and, even if I did, it would neither put food in her belly nor put new clothes on her back, so there’s no point in giving one.
Later, I tell Tolu I wish I could’ve helped her. We start talking about poor people in Lagos and end up discussing our general broke-ness.
“You women are lucky sha. You can sleep with rich men and get money.” Tolu always brings this up when we talk about money. He’s told me many times that he doesn’t understand why I live in struggle when I can fuck my way out of it. He is quiet for a moment, then he continues. “If I were you, I would’ve knacked that man since. I don’t get this holy holy you’re doing.”
We are lying in bed, talking. It is too hot to do much else. There’s a soft breeze blowing through the open window but all it does is tease rather than provide actual satisfaction.
The man he is referring to is Kayode Olagbaju, a justice in the Supreme Court. Before he approached me, I never believed the stories of old men soliciting sex from young nubile women. It’s not that I hadn’t seen girls around my age with men old enough to be their fathers. I just refused to accept that there are men who casually toss their vows aside and chase girls generations younger than them.
One thing I’d learned to expect from men is their sly approach to getting what they want, especially when it comes to sex. Whether it’s something that goes with age, or something that money drives away, I don’t know. But Mr Olagbaju blew my naïveté out of the window the first time I met him, along with everything I’d learned to expect.
He walked up to me as I walked to the supermarket opposite my office.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty,” I answered.
“You’re so beautiful,” he gushed. He told me that he lives in Abuja but comes to Lagos once every week. As I wondered why he was telling me that, he started talking about how much he wanted me. Then he promised to take care of me if I took care of his needs.
He didn’t give up after I shot him down. He started sending gifts to my office every week. Each gift had his number scrawled on it.
When I told Tolu about the gifts, he said: “Open your legs, so he can open his wallet.”
I have fucked for free countless times, so fucking for money can’t be difficult. The only thing that’s keeping me from doing it is the fear that, if I do, my husband will end up chasing girls relentlessly. If he was single, there would’ve been no problem.
Tolu only wants me to fuck the man so he can get a “commission for hoe support”.
“The way you talk Tolu, it’s like you don’t know you’re a fine boy. I’m sure, if you look, you’ll find enough politicians willing to put your nyansh to good use.”
“But I’m not gay,” he says, matter-of-factly.
“You don’t have to be,” I muse. “Just think of it as taking a banana. And you know what they say: a banana a day keeps poverty away.”
“Nah, I can’t do that.”
“I just can’t.”
I chuckle. “Holy holy.”
We both go quiet.
The loud hum of the generator fills the room but none of the power it provides reaches our rooms. Our landlord told us that all he provided was rent-free accommodation. The boy’s quarters we share had been disconnected from the primary power meter and another one was installed for just this building.
I’ve lived here for two months now. I stayed with my mother’s childhood friend before. With him, I didn’t have to worry about any living expenses but I had to deal with his incessant sexual solicitations. After a month, he tried to rape me. Luckily, his wife came home and rescued me after hearing my screams. She’s the one who helped me get this place.
Tolu has been here for much longer, almost a year. He told me our landlord is his uncle, which made it strange that he didn’t live in the main house until he explained that they’re more of distant cousins, and he only calls him uncle out of respect. He also told me he’s had two housemates before me. Yesterday, he told me I’m his favourite. I’m not an expert but I think his preference is due to what we do on my bed when it’s not too hot.
I wipe a few beads of sweat off my forehead and new ones replace them instantly. I toss and turn, trying to find the least uncomfortable position, until sleep eventually comes.
I am in the backseat of Kayode’s Prado. His driver, who introduced himself as Garba, picked me up from my office ten minutes ago. I called Kayode earlier and accepted his proposition, and he told me he’d send his driver to bring me over later. He sounded cocky over the phone, like a man accustomed to his money getting him what he wants. I don’t imagine I’m the first girl to sway after rejecting him initially. I know I won’t be the last.
When I walk into his office, he’s sitting on his desk with his hands in his pockets. The first time we met I didn’t take him in properly but now I can. He’s tall, with a face like a rat’s, a bald head, and a grey-speckled beard. He’s wearing a pinstripe shirt and brown chinos.
There are two pictures beside him. One is of him and his wife at their wedding and the second was taken more recently; at a birthday dinner probably. In the first one, he looks slim and dapper, and she looks slender and beautiful. In the second, though, they look old and tired – tired of their lives, tired of each other. The smiles they wear don’t go further than their lips and Mr Olagbaju’s arm around his wife doesn’t hold her as tightly as it did when they got married.
Something has visibly cooled between them and, looking between both shots, I can tell what exactly snuffed out their fire.
Mrs Olagbaju is the kind of woman, who after a few children, gained a lot of weight and lost all her husband’s desires. She doubled in size and he became a wild dog, willing to bury his bone in any woman that’d let him.
“Come,” he beckons. He kisses me when I get close. The kiss is slow and awkward, with very little technique. His tongue wags about inside my mouth and I struggle to contain my disgust.
I quickly realize that the thoughts I came here with, of finding a benefactor capable of satisfying me sexually and financially, were too lofty. Too romantic. As he slobbers on my face, I wonder how long I have left to endure.
He eventually turns me around and pushes me against his desk brusquely. He hikes my skirt up as I bend over and part my legs. I want to ask him to wear a condom but I also don’t want to annoy him, so I say nothing. He unbuckles his belt and lets his trousers fall to the floor. Then he grabs my waist and tries forcing himself inside me. I’m not the slightest bit aroused and his penile barrage is not helping matters.
“Wait.” I put my hand on his chest to keep him still. I take his dick and rub it against my pussy. I close my eyes and think hard and, eventually, it is Tolu I have in my hands, not Mr Olagbaju. He pushes slightly as I tease myself and holds on to me even tighter. When I am wet and wide enough, I guide him inside me and he gasps loudly.
He starts thrusting mechanically, trembling as he slides in and out of me.
My recently-reduced expectations do not save me from disappointment when he comes half a minute after starting and I wonder whether this is what old age has reduced him to or if he has always been this bad. As his semen drips down the inside of my leg, I shudder in disgust.
He pulls away from me and pulls up his trousers. I push my skirt down and run my palms over it, smoothing out the creases. He stands opposite me, sweaty and flustered. He is looking away. Perhaps he is embarrassed by his poor performance.
I ask if his driver will take me home. He shakes his head, pulls out a thin wad of one thousand naira notes from his briefcase and hands it over to me. Money for an uber, he says.
He thanks me for my time and I leave.
Later, when I’m home and Tolu is inside me, he texts me. I know it’s him because I hear the alert I set specifically for his number.
I read the message when Tolu falls asleep.
What’s your account number?
I’ve been seeing Kayode for three months now. We fuck in his office whenever he’s in Lagos. Sometimes, he takes me to a hotel. Once, we went to his house and his sister-in-law almost caught us. He had to invent an excuse on the spot. It wasn’t a very good one but she seemed to buy it.
He meant it when he said he’d take care of me. He sends me money every week. I plan on asking him to increase my allowance, so I read a sex blog and picked up some tips, and bought Viagra for him, so he’ll last long enough for the tips to have an effect.
He texted me earlier today to meet him in this restaurant. So I left work as early as I could and changed into something he’d like.
A lady wearing a tight white dress with black lace patterns embroidered on each side walks in. She joins a grey-haired man sitting in the middle of the room. With smooth yellow skin and bountiful curves, she is the type of girl old men swarm to. Minutes later, they walk out and leave in a range rover.
In Lagos, loving and lusting are inexplicably tied to money. But for her companion’s bank account, I know she’d never willingly go anywhere with him. But for Kayode’s, I would not be waiting here for him.
I look at the time. He should be here anytime soon. I hear the door open and I look up hopefully.
It’s his wife.
A smug grin is plastered across her face as spots me in the corner and sees the shock on my face.
A million thoughts run through my head at once.
What the fuck? Did Kayode plan this? Why the fuck would he do this? What is she going to do? Does she know about me and him? Should I run? Should I stay? Fuck!
My mind screams those thoughts and more as she walks over to my table. I quickly think through my options and decide to stay and see this through.
She is wearing a sleeveless Ankara dress that’s far from flattering. As she gets closer I notice how much bigger she is now than she was in the picture in her husband’s office. If she was big then, now she’s massive. Her neck has disappeared into her body and she has multiple chins. Her arms are like huge pieces of ham and have fierce stretch marks that snake along the exposed parts. The rest of her body is covered by the dress but I can see the outline of her huge stomach popping out.
She sits in the chair opposite me.
“You are the girl sleeping with my husband.”
A statement. Not a question.
I cannot bring myself to say anything.
She giggles. “You’re smart. You didn’t bother lying like the other girls.”
A waitress who introduces herself as Tosin, with features that struggle to fill her clothes, saunters over with two menus and waits to take our orders. Mrs Olagbaju waves her away. I note, as she walks back to the bar, that the waitresses here have a look – light-skinned and skinny, with long weaves. Clearly, the aesthetic the owner aimed for went beyond the decor all the way to the staff.
Mrs Olagbaju flips the menu open and starts scanning through it through her large spectacles.
“Would you like anything,” she asks while turning through pages. Her eyes fly upwards from the paper in front of her and settle on me, taking me in, before they return there. I wonder if she can tell that her husband paid for the clothes I’m wearing.
After a minute of deliberating, she gives up. “I can’t decide abeg. I’ll just get the same thing you get.”
She takes off her glasses and looks at me expectantly. I look at my menu and try to forget the fact that I am the sole focus of her attention. I flip through it, searching for what I’ll like most.
I close the menu when I decide and she calls Tosin over.
“What will you have?” She asks Mrs Olagbaju first out of respect but the old woman shakes her head, points to me and says, “Give me whatever she gets.”
They both face me expectantly. I ask for a chicken burger and fries. Tosin writes it down and asks what drinks we want. Mrs Olagbaju orders a bottle of water and I order rum and coke.
She scurries off with our order and promises to deliver our food in twenty minutes.
The twenty minutes go by slowly, with Mrs Olagbaju staring and smiling at me wordlessly and me keeping my eyes frozen on the television to avoid any accidental contact.
I remember Mr Olagbaju telling me that his wife had never and would never catch him. I believed him. But now, sitting before her, seeing her so calm, I know that’s not true.
So far, she’s neither said nor done any of the things wives say or do to their husbands’ mistresses. Still, I’m scared. A wife who gets angry when she finds out you’re fucking her husband is scary. A wife who doesn’t is absolutely terrifying.
Our order arrives on time. After her first bite, Mrs Olagbaju tells me I have excellent taste. I cannot understand why she is so calm.
“Why are you so calm?” I blurt.
She chuckles. “Should I be angry?”
She continues when I say nothing. “I am not one of those wives you see on Nollywood. I am too lazy to slap you or threaten you. See my size. The most I can do to you is sit on you.” She chortles at her self-depreciating joke. “I won’t call you a husband stealer. You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. He, like your president, belongs to no one and everyone. But I don’t hate him for it. I’m just happy I know the man I’m married to.”
“So why’re we here?”
“I have a story to tell you.”
She takes a few more bites from her burger, nodding her head in appreciation after each one.
“I used to love Kayode so much. I still remember how I felt when he proposed. The sex had never been good – I’m sure you know that – but he was kind, caring, thoughtful and funny too, so I was quite happy to marry him. We got older and sex stopped being for pleasure. After our third child, it stopped completely. I didn’t really mind because I never really enjoyed it; I enjoyed making him happy. While my friends joined churches and prayed for God to keep their husbands away from you Lagos girls, I stayed home, convinced that mine would never cheat on me.” She says ‘Lagos girls’ like one might say ‘whores’. This is the first time I’ve ever been addressed as such and it hurts that it’s not false. I guess this is what Lagos does to you if you let it. “He did and I was clueless until one girl came to me with a story that made me see the man I was married to. She told me that he got her pregnant and was pressuring her into an abortion.” She pauses and gives me a measured look. “That wasn’t the worst of it; she said he gave her HIV too.”
I stop breathing and I think my jaw must’ve dropped and crashed into the table because she burst out laughing. “Don’t worry, she was lying.”
I breathe a huge sigh of relief and down my drink to calm my nerves.
“She wasn’t actually pregnant but Kayode sha gave her HIV.” She gets up and, before she leaves, says: “It’s a good thing I’m not lepa like you. If I was he would’ve given me the HIV siiiince.”