This November, BellaNaija is proud to announce a partnership with Narrative Landscape Press, to bring you excerpts of Oyinkan Braithwaite‘s new novel, My Sister the Serial Killer.
Every Tuesday this month, we will publish excerpts from the book, and at the end of the series, we’re giving out five copies of My Sister the Serial Killer. Click here to read the first excerpt from this giveaway.
To win, you have to stay tuned to this series, because at the end of the month, we’ll publish the quiz questions and only people who’ve been reading dedicatedly will get a free copy.
#FemiDurandIsMissing has gone viral. One post in particular is drawing a lot of attention—Ayoola’s. She has posted a picture of them together, announcing herself as the last person to have seen him alive, with a message begging anyone, anyone, to come forward if they know anything that can be of help.
She was in my bedroom when she posted this, just as she is now, but she didn’t mention what she was up to. She says it makes her look heartless if she says nothing; after all, he was her boyfriend. Her phone rings and she picks it up.
Moments later she kicks me.
It’s Femi’s mother, she mouths. I feel faint; how the hell did she get Ayoola’s number? She puts the phone on loudspeaker.
“. . . dear, did he tell you if he was going to go anywhere?”
I shake my head violently.
“No, ma. I left him pretty late,” Ayoola replies.
“He was not at work the next day.”
“Ummm . . . sometimes he used to jog at night, ma.”
“I know, I told him, I told him all the time it was not safe.” The woman on the line starts to cry. Her emotion is so strong that I start to cry too—I make no sound, but the tears I have no right to burn my nose, my cheeks, my lips. Ayoola starts crying too. Whenever I do, it sets her off. It always has. But I rarely cry, which is just as well. Her crying is loud and messy. Eventually, the sobs turn to hiccups and we are quiet. “Keep praying for my boy,” the woman says hoarsely, before hanging up.
I turn on my sister. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
“Do you not realise the gravity of what you have done? Are you enjoying this?”
I grab a tissue and hand it to her, then take some for myself. Her eyes go dark and she begins to twirl her dreadlocks.
“These days, you look at me like I’m a monster.” Her voice is so low, I can barely hear her.
“I don’t think you’re—”
“This is victim shaming, you know . . .”
Victim? Is it mere coincidence that Ayoola has never had a mark on her, from any of these incidents with these men; not even a bruise? What does she want from me? What does she want me to say? I count the seconds; if I wait too long to respond, it will be a response in itself, but I’m saved by my door creaking open. Mum wanders in, one hand pinned to her half-formed gèlè.
“Hold this for me.”
I stand up and hold the part of the gèlè that is loose. She angles herself to face my standing mirror. Her miniature eyes take in her wide nose and fat lips, too big for her thin oval face. The red lipstick she has painted on further accentuates the size of her mouth. My looks are the spitting image of hers. We even share a beauty spot below the left eye; the irony is not lost on me. Ayoola’s loveliness is a phenomenon that took my mother by surprise. She was so thankful that she forgot to keep trying for a boy.
“I’m going to Sope’s daughter’s wedding. The both of you should come. You might meet someone there.”
“No, thank you,” I reply stiffly.
Ayoola smiles and shakes her head. Mum frowns at the mirror.
“Korede, you know your sister will go if you do; don’t you want her to marry?” As if Ayoola lives by anyone’s rules but her own. I choose not to respond to my mother’s illogical statement, nor acknowledge the fact that she is far more interested in Ayoola’s marital fate than in mine. It is as though love is only for the beautiful.
After all, she didn’t have love. What she had was a politician for a father and so she managed to bag herself a man who viewed their marriage as a means to an end.
The gèlè is done, a masterpiece atop my mother’s small head. She cocks her head this way and that, and then frowns, unhappy with the way she looks in spite of the gèlè, the expensive jewellery and the expertly applied makeup.
Ayoola stands up and kisses her on the cheek. “Now, don’t you look elegant?” she says. No sooner is it said than it becomes true—our mother swells with pride, raises her chin and sets her shoulders. She could pass for a dowager now at the very least. “Let me take a picture of you?” Ayoola asks, pulling out her phone.
Mum strikes what seems like a hundred poses, with Ayoola directing them, and then they scroll through their handiwork on the screen and select the picture that satisfies them—it is one of my mum in profile with her hand on her hip and her head thrown back in laughter. It is a nice picture. Ayoola busies herself on the phone, chewing on her lip.
“What are you doing?”
“Posting it on Instagram.”
“Are you nuts? Or have you forgotten your previous post?”
“What’s her previous post?” interjects Mum.
I feel a chill go through my body. It has been happening a lot lately. Ayoola answers her.
“I . . . Femi is missing.”
“Femi? That fine boy you were dating?”
“Jésù ṣàánú fún wa! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I . . . I . . . was in shock.”
Mum rushes over to Ayoola and pulls her into a tight embrace.
“I’m your mum, you must tell me everything. Do you understand?”
But of course she can’t. She can’t tell her everything.
I am sitting in my car, fiddling with the knob, switching between channels because there is nothing else to do. Traffic plagues this city. It is only 5:15 a.m. and my car is one among many packed tightly on the road, unable to move. My foot is tired of tapping on and off the brake.
I look up from the radio and I inadvertently meet the eye of one of the LASTMA officials lurking around the line of cars, watching out for his next hapless victim. He sucks in his cheeks, frowns and walks toward me.
My heart drops to the floor, but there is no time to pick it back up. I tighten my fingers around the wheel to still the tremor in my hand. I know this has nothing to do with Femi. It can’t have anything to do with Femi. Lagos police are not even half that efficient. The ones tasked with keeping our streets safe spend most of their time ferreting out money from the general public to bolster their meagre salary. There is no way they could be on to us already.
Besides, this man is LASTMA. His greatest task, his raison d’être: to chase down individuals who run a red light. At least, this is what I tell myself as I begin to feel faint.
The man knocks on my window. I wind it down a few inches—enough to prevent angering him, but not enough for his hand to slip through and unlock my door.
He rests his hand on my roof and leans forward, as though we were two friends about to have a casual tête-à-tête. His yellow shirt and brown khakis are starched to an inch of their life, so much so that even the strong wind is unable to stir the fabric. An orderly uniform reflects the owner’s respect for his profession; at least that’s what it is supposed to mean. His eyes are dark, two wells in a vast desert—he is almost as light as Ayoola. He smells of menthol.
“Do you know why I have stopped you?”
I am tempted to point out that it is the traffic that has stopped me, but the futility of my position is all too clear. I have no way to escape.
“No, sir,” I reply as sweetly as I can. Surely if they were on to us, it’s not LASTMA that they would send, and they wouldn’t do it here. Surely . . .
“Your seatbelt. You are not wearing your seatbelt.”
“Oh . . .” I allow myself to breathe. The cars in front of me inch forward, but I am forced to stay in place.
“License and registration, please.” I am loath to give this man my license. It would be as foolhardy as allowing him to enter my car—then he would call the shots. I don’t answer immediately, so he tries to open my door, grunting when he finds it locked. He stands up straight, his conspiratorial manner flung away. “Madam, I said license and registration!” he barks.
On a normal day, I would fight him, but I cannot draw attention to myself right now, not while I’m driving the car that transported Femi to his final resting place. My mind wanders to the bleach stain in the boot.
“Oga,” I say with as much deference as I can muster, “No vex. It was a mistake. E no go happen again.” My words are more his than mine. Educated women anger men of his ilk, and so I try to adopt broken English, but I suspect my attempt betrays my upbringing even more.
“This woman, open the door!”
Around me cars continue to press forward. Some people give me a look of sympathy, but no one stops to help.
“Oga, please let’s talk, I’m sure we can reach an understanding.” My pride has divorced itself from me. But what can I do? Any other time, I would be able to call this man the criminal that he is, but Ayoola’s actions have made me cautious. The man crosses his arms, dissatisfied but willing to listen. “I no go lie, I don’t have plenty money. But if you go gree—”
“Did you hear me ask for money?” he asks, fiddling with my door handle, once again, as though I’d be silly enough to unlock it. He straightens up and puts his hands on his hips. “Oya park!”
I open my mouth and shut it again. I just look at him.
“Unlock your car. Or we go tow am to the station and we go settle am there.” My pulse is thumping in my ears. I can’t risk them searching the car.
“Oga abeg, let’s sort am between ourselves.” My plea sounds shrill. He nods, glances around and leans forward again.
“Wetin you talk?”
I bring 3,000 naira out of my wallet, hoping it is enough and that he will accept it quickly. His eyes light up, but he frowns.
“You are not serious.”
“Oga, how much you go take?”
He licks his lips, leaving a large dollop of spittle to glisten at me. “Do I look like a small pikin?”
“So give me wetin big man go use enjoy.”
I sigh. My pride waves me goodbye as I add another 2,000 to the money. He takes it from me and nods solemnly.
“Wear your seat belt, and make you no do am again.”
He wanders off, and I pull my seat belt on. Eventually, the tremors still.
Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo, a Lagos-based publishing house, and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top ten spoken-word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam, and in 2016 she was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.Buy your copy of My Sister, The Serial Killer HERE.