He was the man next door, with skin the blackest blue, rosebud lips, and a slender physique. I found him attractive; always imagined his bones stood inside him like a dryer.
He was my neighbour’s cousin, the neighbour—Shunom, thirteen-years-old like me. That holiday, beneath the listening ears of love’s stethoscope, my heart began beating madly for him. This unique attraction became crystallized.
The mango tree on the side of my father’s house, bridging the fence between Shunom’s house and mine, came to be the iconic symbol of our friendship. He met me on that tree. I’d climbed to the topmost branch, plucking mangoes; I’d reached so high that I was scared to come down. Then, there he was, standing by the balustrade of his home; his form, a sandy thing staining the air with dribbling sweat. He’d just come back from a run.
“Help me, sir,” I yelled. “Help me, or else I’d fall!”
My hands swinging down the branch tiredly as my head blood-clotted and my eyes turned to water, I fell and found myself slumped in his soiled arms, in his cherry-scented sweat.
“Next time don’t climb the tree when no one is around,” he said. “Better to have company than none at all. What if you’d landed on your head? Consider how devastating it would be for your parents.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said. “I’ll be more careful next time.”
He was a lover of cars (I knew this because I sometimes accompanied him and Shunom to the grocery store in Shunom’s mother’s car). Peugeot 505, that’s the car Father gave him to drive me to my sister’s school one day. On our way back, through the deciduous trees, sloppy roads, and hills on every corner, he sped. We screamed—elated, overjoyed; our excitement knew no bounds. I thought we’d have an accident, but reckoned I’d rather die thrilled than anything else, so I encouraged him to speed on!
Later that evening, Father and Rachael, my sister, were having dinner, same time I knew he would be in the bathroom. I knew this because I’d often heard him sing in the shower, from the backyard, around the said hour, so I excused myself from the table and hurried there.
Peeping through the window, I watched him; tall, little boxes on his belly like cubes of sugar; his chest, almost flat, but neatly outlined; the water, running down his midnight skin like ice-water on chocolate. Many nights afterwards I dreamed of his cherry lips, tiny eyes, and bass voice. Oh, that bass voice!
Three months into my holiday one summer, resumption date three days away, Father said to him: “Kyomnom, my young friend,”—he patted him on the shoulder—”I am ill; have come down with terrible malaria. Will you be so kind as to take my daughter to school in three days time?”
“It’d be a pleasure, sir,” he said.
Riding through the express, over the bridge to a market that resumption day, “Where are we going?” I said.
“To a slaughterhouse,” he joked. “Remember how Abraham led his son, Isaac, to the slaughter?” He smiled at me.
Confused, I half-smiled and followed him like a deer stepping into a noose.
“Do you know what they call this place?” he said, fondling my chin with his fingers when we arrived.
“No,” I said.
“A-ba-ttoir,” he said slowly.
We came down the vehicle and walked between pink, red, and white flannels of animal flesh, with flies buzzing everywhere. The ground was muddy, my plimsoll soggy, with butchers yelling, “Buy one kilo for two-hundred-and-fifty naira!” as their handsaws chopped, chopped, and chopped the meats on their blood-smeared wooden tables.
Through a narrow course, we arrived at a dilapidated flat.
“Come in,” he said, standing half-way through the door.
My feet froze.
“You don’t trust me?” He sighed after a moment. “I thought you liked me.”
Hesitant, heart thumping, I looked in his eyes and realized whatever he was up to had to be for my good, as he had Father to answer to, so I let him take me by the hand and walk me in.
In a dank room, a mattress on the floor, “Wait here, I’m coming,” he said before leaving, and I stood in the centre, my skin crawling with imaginary spiders.
He returned and handed me my school box. “Feel at home,” he said.
Father. Sister. School. Schoolmates. Friends. I headed for the door.
“Let me out,” I said, hands on the knob. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
He clutched my hands and struck me in the face. Ears ringing, I touched my cheek and stared at him in shock. His bright, brown eyes turned cloudy, and with a smirk on his face he approached me.
“Now, lie down. Rest,” he said. “If you’re good to me I’ll be good to you.”
I unstrapped my sandals obediently, slid into the mattress, my head resting against the wall.
“I didn’t say sit up,” he said. “Lie down.”
And lie I did, for several hours—scared to move—until I fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, a sharp needle awoke me. Light-headed, I raised my head, and there he was, between my legs, disposable gloves on his hands, a syringe between his fingers. He thumbed the plunger, and blood spurted out of the lid.
Days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, as I slept throughout and couldn’t keep track of time. He fed me through a tube. My once able and teenage frame became enfeebled. My growing breasts disappeared. Once, I strenuously raised my head to notice myself; my fingers, like a goat’s, had turned clawed.
An entire twenty-four hours had passed since I’d last seen him. In the morning, he walked in dressed in a white lab coat, see-through lenses on the bridge of his nose. He knelt by my bedside and, as if reciting something he’d memorised, said, “Move the carcass to the designated slaughter area.”He pulled the mattress I lay on to the centre of the room. “A dry, dust-free, and well-drained area.”
I began coughing, as the feeding tube occluded my oesophagus.
“Behave yourself now,” he said sternly. “I’ve promised to make it painless.”
He spread a leather bag the size of a king-sized bed on the floor and dragged my legs. My head slid down the mattress and hit the concrete. Then he lifted me onto the leather bag. Beneath his feet was a handsaw. I began blinking ferociously, my numb fingers twitching, attempting to pull his sleeve so he could see the sadness in my eyes.
Straddling me, he picked the blade behind him. “Insert just above the breastbone at a forty five degrees angle towards the head,” he said, looking into his phone, “and make the cut outwards and away from you.”
As his blade cut through my neck, severing my carotid artery and jugular vein, my blood squirted rapidly, my legs jumped and kicked, and a blob of his sweat dotted me on the forehead. In that moment, his bright, brown eyes locked with mine and, right there and then, I remembered the mango tree between our houses and how his sweat, one time, scented of cherry.
Image: Suraj R (Unsplash)/cottonbro (Pexels) modified