The midday sun was beginning to go down but the intensity of the unbearable heat that came with it still showed no signs of cooling off. The curtains were drawn and the louvres were wide open to allow fresh air into the tidy but sparsely furnished sitting room. Even the open sliding doors did not do much to quell the heat. The weakness of the breeze outside could not penetrate the layered mosquito-netting. The net was the only way to keep out the legendary Lagos mosquitoes which were at their most active as the evening descended slowly. The net carried out its function dutifully and in addition, kept out any cool air that attempted to come in.

The beautiful young lady that lay on the couch used a makeshift fan of hardcover paper to herself furiously. Power had been off for the past three days so there was no hope to power the air conditioner which would have offered comfort from the hellish weather. Her only hope was to wait till much later when it got darker to put on the power generator and make use of the standing fan. Fuel was a scarce commodity this period and quite expensive too as it could only be bought on the black market. So it was important the remnant be rationed wisely for when it was really needed. She had had a cold bath and had hoped to sleep for a bit after she finished making dinner for herself, her mom and Nene who helped at the shop but sleeping proved impossible. Flashes of that familiar nightmare kept coming up so she abandoned all thoughts of sleep. Her mind was in turmoil; she had been struggling for the past few minutes to read a novel but the unbearable heat wouldn’t let her. She was irritated and short tempered. Everything seemed to irritate her of late but she knew why.

Nkechi was a tough young lady and she knew it. She wasn’t sure if it was as a result of her Aries zodiac sign or some form of gene which was obviously recessive in her parents but she knew that “toughness” was in her blood, same as her sibling, Nnamdi. But where Nnamdi was impulsive, she was thoughtful. She had just turned 14 when word of her father’s unfortunate death came. She was paralyzed at first, but immediately swung into action consoling her mother who had become a miserable heap, rolling from side to side on the floor while screaming at the top of her lungs. Little Obiora, just nine years of age couldn’t really comprehend that daddy was gone and not coming back but he was so alarmed when he saw his mother cry so hard that he cried too. So did Nnamdi, when he returned from boarding school. Nkechi had the emotionally straining task of being the only fully functional person during that difficult period. The presence of other family members made it easier though. It was only in her private moments that she shed quiet tears.

It was when the vultures circled in to feast on her father’s properties that she eventually broke down. That was when Nnamdi took over. He was fierce in his defense of the family interest but he could only do so much as he was just 13 at the time. When Uncle Dike suggested after the burial, that they move into a rented apartment while the extended family decided on what to do with the house, Nnamdi surprised everyone when he ran into the house and re-appeared a few seconds after, brandishing a well-sharpened cutlass and chased his four uncles present out of the house. They never returned.

Nkechi wiped the sweat off her neck with her yellow face towel. The hard paper back was barely doing the job. She wondered where the plastic hand fan in the house was. She had searched everywhere for it. Had Rachel taken it again? That neighbour that would never keep her hands to herself. She sighed in exasperation. It was sometimes tough for her few friends to believe she was actually 16 for her mental ability resided on a much higher plane they were yet to attain. They often referred to her as “old woman” because she seldom made the mistakes most of the girl her age did. She reasoned for one beyond her age. She wasn’t carried away by the “girly” fads that rocked the world of her friends. It was currently the in-thing for her friends to have graduate workers, especially bankers, as boyfriends so they could show off gifts from shopping trips but not Nkechi. She’d never had a boyfriend all her life…except for that pretty half-cast boy with an adorable British accent. Clark was his name; he was her classmate in JSS 3 and she had a wild romantic relationship with him in her head (thanks to those foolish romantic novels she used to read). She went all out to let him know she liked him but he was shy and gentle. Shortly after JSSCE, he traveled back to England leaving her severely heartbroken.

The numerous advances she received from all kinds of men, both old and young didn’t faze her one bit. She had vowed to keep her virginity till she was married; a very old fashioned notion in today’s world that she steadfastly believed in, till the abominable happened. It all began with Emeka. Emeka was a handsome, polite, soft spoken and advanced in age compared to hers. He had this unconscious, easy going air of confidence that fascinated her. After several visits to her shop, she could hardly believe that he had not taken more than a perfunctory notice of her. It was unbelievable! She was so used to and almost bored with that look of adoration that crossed the face of almost every man she came across; but not Emeka. He never stole a second glance and the few times they spoke, he seemed totally impervious to her beauty and her charms. She couldn’t understand why he hadn’t paid her a single compliment or why she cared so much that he hadn’t! Her first reaction was to write him off as “gay” but deep down, she knew he was not. She wanted to figure him out so she became friendly with him and that turned out to be her undoing as she fell helplessly in love. She convinced her mum to make him her tutor when she found he was a sort of an intellectual genius and soon they were spending more time together than was necessary.

She was such a perfectionist with high standards and he seemed to be immune to the flaws she disliked. Even worse, he never gave out any signals of intimacy that may have developed between them as a result of proximity. He was always so polite and professional. Things continued until she could take it no longer. She defied her strict curfew to be with him in a different environment, rather than the charged one they were used to under the watchful eyes of her mother. She found out where he lived and paid him a surprise visit bearing a cooler of her very special cooking. His face lit up when the shock wore out and she saw a smile she had never seen before. It gave her hope; a hope that was dashed when he still wouldn’t make any move. She didn’t know what she expected but she was ready to accept anything. He crowned the evening with a kiss on her forehead; an act that infuriated her even more.

“That’s all I get? A kiss on my forehead? What the hell was that?” She fumed to herself later that evening.

She came had to come to terms with the fact that he considered her a little girl. A realization that angered her greatly. She made a decision to profess her love outrightly to him and the opportunity presented itself a few days after. Her mom had traveled with Nene to Onitsha on saturday morning to buy supplies for the shop and would be back on Monday. Coincidentally, so had Emeka’s cousin Obinna for work related reasons. Being home alone on saturday night, she thought to herself, why not give him a surprise? She prepared a fantastic meal and was on her way to his place that evening when it happened.

Her street was usually dark by 8pm but not usually this deserted but her mind took no notice. The walled compounds in the estate all vibrated with the all too familiar sounds of power plants and generators. So none of these “big” men had the good sense to install security lights to illuminate the street, she thought. Just tiny reflections of light from spaces between the gates and fences spilled onto the dark street, barely enough to light her way. She never felt any sense of ill or mishap. Her thoughts were filled with every possible fantasy as to how the evening was going to go when she heard fast approaching footsteps behind her. She turned and saw two men walking fast to catch up with her. In a flash, the stupidity of her intentions and rashness of her actions became glaring. What the hell was she doing perambulating the streets so late? She doubled her pace and so did they. She panicked and broke into a run. The game was up, she thought as their footsteps pounded the sand beneath them. She was going to get robbed. As she rounded a bend, they were upon her. When she opened her mouth to scream, she felt the hot sting of a slap from behind, numbing her right eye. She let an ear-piercing screamed as two sets of hands wrestled her to the ground but she couldn’t even hear the sound of her voice as it was muted by the sound of many generators. The cooler of fried rice and its condiments hit the ground and rolled into the putrid water-filled gutter. Her mind became blank as her survival instinct responded. She clawed at the right eye of the first assailant, feeling her sharp fingernails dig into his flesh just beneath the eye as she realized what was about to happen and he backed away as he grunted in pain. As she struggled to get back on her feet, now crying and screaming, very much aware of the danger she was in, she felt bright lights dance before her eyes as something metallic crashed on her head. She dropped to the ground in pain semi unconscious. She was dimly aware of the first assailant, his bleeding face becoming clear for a second as her eyes became used to the dark. He lifted her skirt and ripped her pants off and shook her off hands as she tried weakly to fight him off. She cried and pleaded in God’s name but it earned her another numbing slap as the guttural voice ordered her to be silent. She was aware of a heavy metal belt buckle that glinted in the dark with the name “Texas” drop to the ground and an unbelievable probing pain as her hymen broke before she passed out.

Her ringing phone shook her out of her reverie. She was sweating profusely now as her hands shook uncontrollably. A glance at the persistent ring on her phone showed her mother was on the line. She muted the ringing and closed her eyes in deep concentration and tried to will the evil images away. It was all that hounded her dreams every night since the incident. Now she was carrying the child of a criminal. But it was hers too, she reasoned. It was the reason for her sudden bouts of rage. She was torn. She was afraid of an abortion but she knew she didn’t want to keep this…over a month old abomination growing inside her. She massaged her stomach unconsciously. She had never imagined herself getting pregnant. She still had a long way to go in life. Worse still, she could feel a growing attachment, a bond. She had to do something soon before it weakened her resolve. No one would understand; not even her mother. Wouldn’t God understand why she had to kill this baby? The child would never be a gift but a constant reminder of her shame and a clog in the wheel of her future. But Emeka did. He always did, despite voicing divergent views. She longed for him, for his comforting words. Would he dare come this evening, especially as he was a wanted man? She hoped he would. She sincerely hoped he would.

Malcolm.

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