matchsticks
Image: Pixabay.com

Bonfire for the Thieves: Fiction by Olurotimi Osha

matchsticks
Image: Pixabay.com

In a fetid, rectangular, seemingly cramped room, with only a Queen size legless box spring and a similarly sized mattress on top, an incandescent light bulb prevented total darkness in the dark, dank space. An oscillating standing fan generously circulated the smoky ambiance emanating from the crack in the slightly opened meeting stiles in the stained window, draped in greenish-white curtains. The bed linen was a lush green color. At first, when they entered the room, Kojo had wondered if the colors reflected the Nigerian innkeeper displaying his patriotism, but as he ejaculated his semen on the verdant green bed sheets twenty minutes after a thorough fucking, Kojo realized it was to hide the grime that oozed from countless dalliances such as theirs.

Kojo had ended it in a missionary position, although they had not started that way. He did not want to stain Olanshile’s spotless, impeccable fair skin with his semen. She had told him not to release inside her ten minutes after he pulled off the extra-large sized condom in a frenzy. Now thirty minutes after they first stepped into the room, Kojo notices Olanshile smile for the first time, as she clasps the hooks on her white bra. She no longer wore the initial forlorn look she had when it appeared Kojo was about to steal her purity. Kojo, who had always been embarrassed by his unusually large penis, and consequently only screwed prostitutes from nearby Ojuelegba, who evidently enjoyed fucking him, sometimes for free, had finally made love to a saint or a decent choir girl—the usher’s wife. He now schemed how he could steal more from the usher than just his wife’s purity. He wanted to steal her heart, too. He wanted her to be his woman for life.

As for Olanshile, who now rose to her feet to slip on her short flowing black skirt, she enjoyed sleeping with her husband’s creditor. It had been a long time since she had good sex. Too long.

***

“Brother Tunde, you have come again with these excuses of yours. The matter is simple. When will I have my money? This transaction was not a gift. I wek hard for my money. And my exertions are finite. I cannot steal to maintain you, brother Tunde. What do you do with your time, anyway?” asked the pedantic Ghanaian.

For the umpteenth time, Kojo the Ghana-man, touts his work ethic to Tunde, as he presses him to repay his debts. In the past, before the debts piled and they had been decently friendly, Tunde had mocked the Ghanaian’s pronunciation of work as “wek” with a cackle and the refrain “Ghana-man” as a friendly mocking reminder of Kojo’s alienhood.  But after fifteen years of knowing the hardworking Ghanaian immigrant, Kojo now had the upper hand. Sometimes, Tunde felt bitter that the foreigner was stealing everything away from the Nigerian born native. Tunde the tailor, felt Kojo, who was once a teacher, but now doubled as an accountant, was stealing his income and his job, by his presence in Lagos. Although Tunde, did not wish to be a teacher nor was he qualified to be a chartered accountant, like Kojo was, it had been explained to him at the union meeting that immigrants like Kojo were stealing their jobs. Tunde never bothered much about details. But knowing the message was sufficient for him: the immigrants were stealing their jobs and income. And soon, they would steal their women too, once the Nigerian-born is without a job or income to support a woman. Kojo was an immigrant, therefore, Kojo was stealing from him, and in time he would steal his wife, too.

There he was now shaming him in order to collect 200,000-naira pere—just 200,000-naira.

“My brother, I am sorry,” Tunde comes back with his usual expedient solution—begging the Ghanaian.

“Sorry for yourself, Tunde. Please don’t curse me by calling me your brother. My brother is a hard-wekking man. He is responsible and does not owe money like you.”

Finally, Tunde had had enough of the obnoxious Ghanaian’s insults. He has finally made up his mind. He will repay the Ghanaian.

“Come tomorrow. I will repay you tomorrow, brother Kojo. I promise you, I will give you all that I owe you tomorrow. You deserve it. Please, tomorrow is the final day.”

“Hey! You mean tomorrow? Not in two weeks or one month to buy time, like you normally do?”

“Yes, brother Kojo—tomorrow. Please come tomorrow, and I will repay you all that I owe.”

“Heh!” Exclaims Kojo, surprised, amused and curious by the impecunious Tunde’s new mysterious artifice, which fills the Ghanaian with an adventurous desire to unravel the mystery.

“You mean I should come tomorrow?” Kojo repeats Tunde’s words to him, as if the words had not come from Tunde in the first place.

“Yes, brother Kojo. Please come tomorrow, at noon. I will repay you all that I owe tomorrow afternoon.”

Kojo slaps his hands together, rubbing them in merriment as he simultaneously bounces to his feet from the apoti he had been sitting on. In amused glee, Kojo stretches his cramped legs, raising his arms in the air to stretch and shake out the stiffness in his limbs and joints. The Ghanaian is more curious to see if Tunde would really have his money available, than he is eager to actually collect on the long overdue loan made to his church co-worker seven months ago.

“Better give me my money tomorrow, then…or else…hehn.” The Ghanaian threatens in typical Lagosian bluffing, as he wags a finger and bores through Tunde with piercing eyes and a stern look. Tunde shuts the door of his face-me-I-face-you cramped apartment behind Kojo, with a creaking click of the door’s latch bolt against the strike plate. It was as if a gun had just been cocked and was ready to be fired.

***

“Please keep it,” Olanshile deliberately presses the gold wedding band into Kojo’s open hand and closes it, to form a balled fist.

“I have never done this before. You are the first man I have slept with apart from my husband since I married him. In my heart, you too, are now my husband.”

Kojo looks at the beaded sweat trailing down in between Olanshiles’s perky breasts. He stares in wonder at her delectable breasts as he feels his mouth fill with moisture that was starting to drip. The darkened areola and nipples on her full, firm, rounded breasts are the only dark spots on Olanshile’s lush expanse of sublime, soft, light, skin. Kojo reaches for a handful of breast which is remarkably buoyant even after four children. The beauty of a woman’s youthful twenties, Kojo mused, as he aspires to more lovemaking, this time hoping to be more sensuous, soft and less savage. Raw savage sex with the prostitutes of Ojuelegba was all he had ever known. But now with Olanshile, he wanted something more wholesome, gentle and pristine.

Olanshile stops the intrusive hand. She is irritated that he appears inordinately enthralled by her body, realizing he must not have had sex with a pretty woman before. He did not show the nonplussed mien of the cavalier young men she knew had slept with many beautiful women. That was in her teens, before her marriage—a union precipitated by an unexpected pregnancy with Tunde. She had been just seventeen years old when she was impregnated via a friends-with-benefits relationship, which she had carried on with her aunt’s security guard’s best-friend. Mama, Olanshile’s grandmother, had sent her to Lagos, to live with her aunt, Peju, Mama’s oldest daughter, soon after her mother died. Her mother had been a single-parent who had also dropped out of secondary school after getting pregnant for her riff-raff boyfriend, who was nonetheless the most popular bloke in school. Her aunt, Peju, had married a wealthy Colonel in the Nigerian army. Life had been easy, and she had been treated like auntie Peju’s daughter. But uncle Galadima, the Colonel, was arrested for being involved in a failed coup to overthrow the dictator, General Sani Abacha. Once Colonel Galadima was executed by hanging, and auntie Peju had emigrated to live in exile in America, Olanshile’s world started unraveling as everything spiraled out of control. After auntie Peju emigrated without her, leaving her with another less economically buoyant sister in Lagos, following uncle Galadima’s execution, Olanshile got pregnant for the good-natured tailor, Tunde, whom she had fallen for.

She had been disvirgined by the tailor, who was fourteen years older than her, when she was fifteen. Olanshile had been reluctant to have sex with the often spoiled and immature boys in her class, who always bothered her with requests to send naked pictures on her phone. She refrained from giving anyone of the brats her virginity.

One of the boys had recorded his girlfriend having live sex with him in the shower, and shared it with his friends, who posted it on the internet. Word got back to her dad, who not only gave her the beating of her life, but also withdrew her from the school. Nobody knew what happened to her after that. Eager to lose her virginity, her best-friend had done it with their security guard, who was not only mum about the whole affair out of fear of being imprisoned, if not killed by her father, but also was as gentle as a dove, although he fucked like a stud. She revealed all the X-rated details to Olanshile. It was an overprotected teenager’s heaven, Olanshile thought. So, she hatched a plan to screw not her aunt’s security guard, but his born-again Christian best-friend, the industrious and gentle tailor, Tunde. After two years of unrelenting and smooth fucking, the condom finally broke, just in time for the comedy of errors, soon to be Olanshile’s life. With the pregnancy, Tunde was emboldened enough to propose to Olanshile, whom he felt was way out of her league. He even went on bended knee, when he offered her the 18-carat gold and decently priced band, that doubled as the symbol of her abridged engagement and modest wedding.

And now, Olanshile pressed the gold wedding band that she had never taken off until then, into Kojo’s rough palm, which felt like sandpaper grazing her skin, when he rubbed his palms over her body during sex. It was as her husband wanted it.

***

Olanshile hated the life of hardship that her marriage to Tunde had consigned her to, but Baba, her uncle and village Babalawo had seen Tunde’s future in the calabash—he would be a wealthy man and continue to care for her. But she hoped Baba was not wrong this time. He had been wrong before. Baba had made the charms to protect her aunt’s husband, Colonel Galadima, who had participated in the abortive coup that cost him his life. This time Baba claimed that Tunde, would become a very wealthy man—a big-man—one day. And importantly, he would continue to dote on her as he did now. The sex that he had thrilled her with in her teens, had long since fizzled. It was now a one-off thrill in an interminable marriage to wretchedness. But Tunde still worshipped her, and he was a gentleman who was always kind to her and the children, although he could not adequately provide for them financially. She knew it was rare to find a man that adored her like Tunde. Until she had seduced Kojo, just as Tunde had instructed her to, as a ploy to escape Tunde’s debt to brother Kojo, their fellow church brother in Christ. It was hard, since brother Kojo, the accountant, was no oil painting.

The ruse was initially to blackmail Kojo with photos of him having intercourse with Olanshile. But Olanshile could not bear the thought of a man as ugly as Kojo sucking her breasts, eating her and pleasuring her, like her beau, Tunde, did. At least Tunde with his chiseled lean features, cleft in a squared jawline, buttressed by dimples on each cheek, perfect pearly white teeth on display with every smile, and everything held together in his 6 foot 3-inch frame, was a handsome man.

However, she had gasped, when Kojo had pulled down his pants, revealing a mighty phallus. It was a pleasure that he displayed exquisite skills in bed, too. She was initially perplexed because he fucked so well. Then she remembered what her friends had said in school, that ugly men who were well endowed learned how to fuck from prostitutes, who gave it to them for free. Olanshile had feared that they may have given Kojo, HIV too, but she was too enthralled when he pulled off the condom, and all she could say was, “Don’t release in me.” It should have been a stupid pointless request, since withdrawing before ejaculation was a difficult task for men on cloud nine. But Kojo obeyed, withdrew and spewed his semen on the verdant lush green sheets in the seedy room in the inn.

After consulting with Baba, Olanshile realized she could kill two birds with one stone: one blow would get rid of an embarrassing itch, while the other would eliminate her life of penury and make her filthily rich. Olanshile found it an inconvenient embarrassment that she enjoyed the sex with skinny Kojo.

***

Meet me at 12 pm. At the same place.”

Kojo was suddenly agitated by the text he’d just received from Olanshile, which instructed him to rendezvous at the same place for another thrilling marathon sex encounter. But the timing put a damper on his plans, since he was meant to be meeting her husband, at 12 p.m. to finally collect on his long overdue loan to brother Tunde, the usher. Kojo knew what to do: he would go over to Tunde’s place thirty minutes early to collect the money, he would then have time to meet his wife at 12 sharp, just as she requested.

***

Tunde smiled to himself as he heard the rap on the door, followed by Kojo’s inquiring voice.

“Good morning, oh! Brother Tunde. Is anybody at home?”

Kojo pushes the half-opened door, revealing a seated bare-chested Tunde, on the sofa—just as Tunde had planned.

“Brother Kojo, it’s you! But you’re a bit early. It is just 11:30 a.m. Did I give you the wrong time? I meant 12 p.m.

“No, brother Tunde, you told me 12 p.m. alright. But something came up and I have an emergency meeting at noon, so I realized I had to come sooner. You should have the money by now.”

“Haba,” exclaims Tunde in pidgin, “How do you do things brother Kojo? Unfortunately, Rasheed my boy, was meant to bring the money at 11:45 a.m. sharp. We were going to divide the funds, and I estimated that all the counting and necessary sorting out would be finished by 11:55 a.m. Then I’d be ready for you by 12 p.m. Please let us stick to plans.”

“Oh my God! More excuses brother Tunde? No, I will not take this…”

“What do you mean excuses? Is this the arrangement we made? You are the one not keeping to your end of the bargain. I said 12 sharp…and you will have your pay back then.”

“Hmm…It seems you are serious about paying me back today. But this timing conflict is the issue. Is there something you can do for me, to fix it? I must have the pay back today. It is long overdue.”

“Indeed, it is,” said the conniving Tunde, a bit ominously. But the double entendre is lost on Kojo, who is just too anxious, to rendezvous with his debtor’s wife.

“We can take a quick walk to get the money for you. It is just a 5-minute walk. Are you ready?”

“Oh sure! Thank you, brother Tunde. I am ready, my friend. Let’s go now.”

***

Tunde scuttles through the labyrinthine corridors, to exit unto a courtyard that burrows unto a back street—different from the path taken by Kojo, on his way down to Tunde’s. The delicate Kojo, struggles to keep up with the pace of the more athletic, and muscular Tunde. They turn into a street flanked by an embankment of mango trees.

As they hurry down the street, Kojo catches a whiff of burnt debris, like a putrid animal had been set ablaze. He glances to the side and he could see by the gutter, ashes, charcoal and a burnt misshapen tire, and soot-darkened stones that appeared to be the relics of vigilante justice. Kojo, felt his skin crawl, and his stomach churn in fleeting trepidation. Just over the gully and stationed as if in hiding behind the ripe mango tree, was a relatively new undamaged tire.

Tunde jumped over the gully, and simultaneously reaches out to pluck a mango from the tree.

“Do you remember this spot?”

***

At a little past midnight Tunde had jumped over the fence that barricaded the open-air mechanic’s workshop on the street adjacent to his, but just over a mile walking distance from his home. He knew Major, the mechanic, was one of the active executioners and vigilantes on the street. Their street had been regularly terrorized by armed robbers, despite being a low-income neighborhood. People like the middle-aged mechanic, nicknamed Major, had decided to take matters into their hands and protect the life and property of the community from robbers. The community was grateful to Major and the other vigilantes for their valor. Now in the dark of the night, Tunde “borrowed” one of Major’s tires. It was an action bound to infuriate Major, who would most likely go on a patrol of the neighborhood, armed with a can of petrol and his lighter, determined to ferret out and burn the culprit alive. After a band of robbers had raped the daughter of one of the neighbors that had been robbed, in the presence of her hapless parents, the neighborhood had come to actively support the establishment of vigilante squads to fight back, without police interference. The neighborhood police force was effete and ineffective. It was rumored that they often got wind of robbery attacks before they occurred, and conveniently disappeared during those times.

After midnight when everyone was asleep, nobody would be able to see the disguised Tunde, dressed in all black and a ski hat. Tunde was successful in stationing the tire by Okon’s mango tree. Okon was the leader of the neighborhood vigilantes.

***

“Do you remember when I saved your backside from receiving a flogging from Mr. Jonas, after you had plucked a piece of fruit from this tree?”

Kojo is taken aback, but he remembers some things vaguely. He had been hungry but was almost lynched for trying to kill the hunger by eating a piece of fruit. He’d been slapped violently in the face, so hard that he fell to the ground almost at the same time as the fruit he’d been holding to his mouth, but which was hurled down with the impact of the slap. He spat blood but reached out to pick up the sandy fruit. Tunde had stepped in to prevent another strike. Tunde had protected the vulnerable and indigent Kojo, when they were teenagers. But the tables were now turned, fifteen years after, only Kojo was not saving Tunde. As Kojo bows his head in shame, he fixes his eyes on the dusty ground.

“What were you doing with my wife at the inn?”

Kojo is instantly overwhelmed with fear, as hot beady sweat covers his forehead. His heartbeat races, his loins burn, and what should have been a fart soils his pants. As the stench of feces, reaches Tunde’s nose, he hurtles the mango he’d plucked from Okon’s tree, violently towards Kojo’s stupefied face. Instinctively, a startled Kojo catches the mango, as Tunde shouts repeatedly at the top of his lungs:

Ole! Ole!! Thief! Thief!!”

Kojo is transfixed but falls to the ground as the first plank of wood crashes down on his bald head.

As Kojo falls to the ground from the multiple blows destabilizing him and making his head giddy, Tunde lunges at the accused Kojo, and reaches for his back pocket as he yanks out his wallet. Tunde easily finds what he’s looking for as he retrieves his wife’s wedding band and lifts it in the air for everyone to see.

The crowd had amassed and descended on Kojo like a swarm of bees. He buckles under the severe blows besieging his weak frame and folds up in the fetal position.

***

Kojo feels the blast of cold gutter water and smells its toxic vapors as the second pail of stagnant putrid water is unloaded on him. His upper body is immobilized as a large tire had been hurled over him to pin him down, after he’d gotten up and tried to run.

He hears a voice that’s not Tunde’s interrogating him.

Oya, answer now. Where did you get this ring from?”

Kojo knew he was in trouble either way. He could not admit to receiving the wedding band as a gift from a married woman, in a part of town where the fanatical Muslim population, ironically, considered adultery to be a crime, in the city’s red-light district. He could spy a heavily bearded, skinny and tall man clothed in a white flowing gown, and a skull cap, covering his head; he was the Alfa, the cleric in the community. He had left his shed where he sold household goods and was now crouched conspicuously sharpening his long dagger, on a large stone next to his shed. The Alfa had participated in meting out jungle justice by striking and administering a quick death to an incinerated human being, condemned by the mob. This group had lynched and exterminated many accused robbers, pedophiles and adulterers in the area. Hearing the accented wails of a Ghanaian man probably drew in some xenophobes too, as the downtrodden of Ojuelegba blamed their increasing financial troubles on the foreigners who supposedly stole their jobs.

If Kojo could not confess to stealing he would still be condemned for the adultery.

Kojo lifts his bloodied head to gaze at the man, who now owned the mango tree; everyone called him Okon, and in the cacophony of violent words, Kojo came to understand that Okon was the son of Mr. Jonas, whom Kojo had stolen from as a teen, by eating his mango. The father had only giving him a slap, but the son was ready to give death for a similar offense fifteen years later. A Yoruba man had found his recently stolen “brand new tire,” but the tire stationed by the mango tree, which he raises as evidence, is fairly used. Nobody questions him, nobody challenges his conclusion that Kojo had evidently stolen the tire and was on his way to sell it. But the scarified Yoruba man does not hesitate to sacrifice his precious tire, which he loops over the condemned Kojo to make a worthy bonfire for a thief.

Kojo opens his mouth but can say nothing. A heavy slap to the face jerks his already dazed head backwards. Several stones and cement blocks had pummeled his prostrate body. The scarified mechanic grabs the rope that had been tied to immobilize Kojo, and drags the limp accountant on the hard concrete, hurling him over the gutter to fling him against Okon’s mango tree, and position Kojo, now reclined upright against it. Kojo now had a frontal view of the mob that had gathered to kill him. It was a multitude waiting for blood.

“Where did you get the ring?” Okon once again queries Kojo, as if the mob needed evidence that their prey was truly guilty of a crime before they executed him. As Kojo opens his mouth, wondering whether to confess to the crime of adultery, and at least be killed for the trespass he was truly guilty of, he hears a female voice pierce the crowd.

Mo r’ogo,” expressing shock in her native Yoruba. “Aah, it is mine. I have been looking for my wedding ring all day.”

It is Olanshile, who advances with a raised arm in the air, to reclaim the gold band she had asked Kojo, to keep in his wallet as a sign that she had given her heart to him. In that instant Kojo feels an intricate pain in his gut, close to his chest like a stab burrowing through his heart, and more severe than the pain from all the cement blocks broken on his bald head. In apparent self-pity, Kojo tries pathetically to look into Olanshile’s eyes. But her eyes are cold, evasive and nonplussed. Nobody asks her how her ring ended up in Kojo’s wallet. Nobody needed to know. Within seconds, Kojo is dowsed with petrol.

“Aaahh!” Kojo wails with all his might, in great dread, as he suddenly realizes what is about to happen. He is about to be burned alive. He struggles frantically, and finds a way to leap to his feet, although strung up like a chicken from the waste up in a rope and a tire without its metal rim, Kojo leaps over the gutter in a sudden burst of energy but he does not get too far. The plank hurled at him does not stop him, but Okon’s sweep to his legs forces Kojo to lunge forward, as he falls face down, prostrate before his executioners. As if they sensed that the petrol tortured his soul, they dowse him with more petrol. But his executioners appear to relish prolonging his cremation, as if they enjoyed seeing the visible hell in his face.

Tunde, eager to quickly end his part in the persecution of an innocent man, cover up his ruse and at the same time extinguish his debts, fumbles with the lighter he had carried on him. Whether it was the still breeze of the humid dry season, or the unsteadiness of quivering hands from guilty fear that prevented Tunde from lighting up, he did not know. But in the chaotic monotony, Tunde hears the crispy strike of a solitary match.  A spark induces Tunde to raise his head and he catches Olanshile deftly flicking the lit match. It arches, hurtling slowly in the air as if in slow motion so that everyone could catch a lingering view of the incineration of the condemned man prostrated before them. Kojo is suddenly silent as he sees the lit match stick traveling towards him in slow tortuous descent, and he squeezes his eyes in the split second before the flaming match lands onto his gassed-up body. Kojo’s body is engulfed in yellow and blue flames before the match even strikes his body. The body leaps to its feet with another loud shrill wail emanating from it that envelopes the entire neighborhood.

***

Olanshile sees her husband, Tunde, weeping, as he runs away from the scene. Kojo’s charred flaming body is still running wildly around, and the crowd parts and scurries away, dispersing to avoid being burned or targeted inadvertently by the vigilantes still dowsing the inferno. Olanshile feels grimly relieved, knowing that the more Kojo burned, the quicker her husband’s debts were obliterated. Many separate objects around have been torched by the body. The planks and tree branches used to bludgeon the man who stole her purity by sleeping with her, were engulfed in flames. In an instant, Olanshile briefly chokes up a tear. But she restrains herself, not allowing any emotion to overwhelm her. She had done what needed to be done to save her husband. She was a good wife. And Kojo was not an innocent man for using his financial position to sleep with an impecunious man’s wife. “O lo ola shile.” He had used his money to break into her home. Ironically, her Yoruba name, Olanshile means using wealth to penetrate a house; but to Olanshile the villainous Kojo had used his money to penetrate a heart, a body, and violate a home that did not belong to him.

Olanshile had parted her legs for Kojo to penetrate her, all because of Kojo’s money. Kojo was a hypocrite. “We are all victims,” she said to herself. The rising smoke from the torched objects in the neighborhood starts to dim the light of the sun. Olanshile waits patiently in anticipation of the dawn of a new day. In accordance with Baba’s instructions, Olanshile had made the sacrifice, to see her husband’s star rise. It was a blood sacrifice—made with Kojo’s blood. She sees Tunde still running uncommittedly, down the street. He is not headed towards their home though.

“He’ll soon get over it,” the gelid Olanshile quietly says to herself. She waits for the scampering festering torched body to settle down, as they all do. Curiously, she wonders where Kojo’s carcass and ashes will end up when it eventually serves a new purpose as it is comingled with the rest of the embers and debris, serving as a bonfire for the homeless and wretched in the putrid neighborhood of Ojuelegba, the vigilante community in Lagos. A community where there is always a bonfire for the thieves—and the foreigners stealing everything from them, including their women.

***

 

Image: Pixabay.com

Written by
Olurotimi Osha

I attended Columbia University in the City of New York, and completed an International Human Rights Law program at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom this summer. I am currently a Doctor of Law Candidate (JD) at The George Washington University Law School, in Washington, DC.

View entries by author
Got a comment?

Written by Olurotimi Osha

SUBMISSIONS

Follow us on Twitter