‘you’re gonna get raped,’ he said and laughed hysterically at his own funny, funny, funny joke.
silence from the other two. what had been a lovely meal up until that point took a strange turn.
‘thanks for that.’ the eventual response.
‘oh and what about the hiv? you’ll get that, too!’ hyena like laughing again.
the three sitting round the table were, no doubt, an unusual mix. well, one of them was weirder than most others. beth and beth, close pals with the same name, were joined by an in-house outsider, sam. he had been dating one of the beth’s for ages. the interrogated beth often wondered what drew the attached beth to such a man.
sam consumed the rest of his meal at lightning speed once his solo laugh riot ended and he caught his breath.
he then quickly scampered off like a small child, heading back to his work; he actually referred to it as work. in reality, he was swindling lonely and drunk americans out of their money by being an exceptional online poker player. he had recently quit a well paid job to pursue this work full time. it was easier than a nine-to-five and he was making huge cash. a few days before he boasted about taking home $ 40 000 in poker earnings in the last month.
the beths were alone again and had the all clear to speak freely.
‘i’m sorry about that… that outburst. you know how he is.’
‘yeah, no surprise there.’ it was dismissed in the customary manner. ‘we’re going to be late if we don’t make a move.’
the beths had priorities and were meeting some friends at a comedy club. their habit had become one of eating a home cooked meal prior to departure and there were always more drinks to be had than the recommended daily intake.
comedy was tradition. a way to celebrate anything from birthdays to a tough day at work to introducing a new person to the coping mechanisms comedy club. this occasion was single beth’s leaving do. she was moving to nigeria. even though she put on her brave face and displayed indifference to sam’s remarks, she couldn’t help but thinking she was taking a serious risk. she had read that nigerian men could be aggressive, but smiled enthusiastically over at beth as they paid for their tickets at the basement door of the club. best not think of that now.
‘i’ll get the first round in, what’re you having?’ devoted beth asked.
‘let’s go with best. it will be a long time before i get to have it again. i’ll get us a table right near the pole seat, we’ll be sure to embarrass lise by being within point blank range of the comedians.’
the friends had a great time. laughing so hard their sides and face and everything hurt. after it was all over the larger group climbed the stairs and went out into the night. the city air smelled like cereal and beth knew at that moment that she was really moving away from a place and a friend that she loved dearly.
the night ended when they dropped beth off at waverly to join the night train down to manchester and then catch the flight to lagos with a transfer in frankfurt.
hugs were tighter than usual and there were no dry eyes. though each and every one of them held their tears back from falling onto their faces.
once she made it to her assigned seat, beth looked out the window to see her friends waving. only then did a tear or two drop. it was really happening.
the train ride was tough for the first while. the seats were filthy and beth felt she needed more to drink. there was this exceptionally drunk man sitting in front of her being particularly obnoxious to all. you could hear the audible huff and puff styles polite protests happening from throughout the car because the man was having trouble controlling the volume of his voice and had also been unaware that the drink had made his internal dialogue fit for public consumption.
he decided to turn round and include another in his conversation. ‘where you from, dahlin’?
‘mars.’ she lied.
‘oh, i think i’ve been up that way before.’ passing himself off as a sober man, pretending to understand. the senses were not too sharp. ‘what has you..’ pause to emit alcoholic wind. ’round these parts.’
‘on holiday. visiting friends.’ disinterest could be sensed by others in the car but subtlety was not going to work in this situation.
the shit chat went on for some time until the mr t strongs were too much for the man, he had some whisky on the go as well.
he passed out and all was better in the world again.
beth slept what felt like a nanosecond and arrived at the airport train station at the turn of the witching hour. a single serving friend was found in a middle-aged woman heading to spain on her lonesome for some heat.
the rest of the night and the short flight to frankfurt were a blur. it was that kind of half-drunk fatigue that leaves a person frustrated yet indifferent to the difficulty found in making the simplest of decisions.
in germany, coffee and something to eat was priority number one. anything else could wait.
in the usual passenger fashion: once beth ate something and procured the largest coffee available; looked around and hit up the toilet to use the facilities; washed her face and brushed her teeth, she made it over to the gate which matched her ticket.
she sat down and began to read. a friendly faced stranger approached.
‘do you mind if i sit here?’
she took her headphones out, some can’t read with music while beth can’t live without it. ‘sorry?’
smiling. ‘do you mind if i sit here?’
‘not at all.’ he sat.
headphones back on, book resumed from the last sentence read.
‘hey, where you from?’
headphones out. this was getting annoying. couldn’t a person get the usual privacy in a large crowd? ‘pardon?’
‘where are you from?’
‘the uk.’ the mars joke would not work on such an attentive questionnaire.
‘are you heading to nigeria?’ more questions.
beth screamed ‘leave me alone, already!’ inside her head. she when into her spiel: ‘yep. i just got a teaching job in lagos.’
‘what school?’ another question, likely not the last one.
‘cie school, lagos.’
‘i know it. it’s near the hibiscus centre.’
not knowing what that was, beth nodded and smiled in the standard chat with a stranger when you’d rather be alone method.
‘what do you teach?’
beth was now at dealing with randoms breaking point. ‘oh, you know. a bit of everything.’ the obligatory request for reciprocation was next. ‘what do you do?’
‘i’m a chemical engineer. i work for shell.’
‘anyway, if you ever need anything in lagos, i could help you out.’ he takes out a pen and writes his number down on the page of the novel she was reading. the gesture was so invasive that beth was in a state of shock at his audacity. ‘my number. my name is kole.’
‘thanks.’ she put her headphones back in while he began playing around on an ipad.
at one point, he asked her to watch his gear while he went to the toilet. she obliged. his behaviour toward her was as if he had known her all his life.
after what felt like aeons of an uncomfortable moment, it was time to board.
‘all passengers in rows 35 to 40, please come forward for boarding.’
beth checked her ticket. row 37. she got up and so did everyone else. apparently the entire plane would be filled from rows 35 to 40. she came to call what she experienced in that very instance, the funnel queue. everyone rammed in instead of making an orderly line. beth was squeezed out by a number of people that were bigger than she was and that had no problem getting in other people’s space nor with others being in theirs.
kole was lost some where in the mix and beth was sure she’d never see him after the flight. lagos was a big city. the largest in africa, having beaten cairo in recent census statistics.
when she finally stepped onto the plane, she noticed she was one of about half a dozen white folk. the majority, she presumed, were nigerian.
she sat away from the far too comfortable man, he was more than ten rows in front. they caught eyes a couple of times after one or the other’s toilet breaks on the 6 hour journey.
that particular flight had been the most comfortable leg of the journey. the staff were lovely, the food was edible and the beer was cold. beth managed to sleep a bit, too.
getting off the plane was like stepping out of a fridge and into a sauna. jumpers came off, hair was a mess, everyone looked rough.
while beth had backpacked all throughout a number of countries in africa, nothing prepared her for its most populous nation. many westerners lumped africa as one place with one sort of people but until you had been there, it was impossible to truly see the incredible diversity within countries, let alone between them.
in the customs queue a man approached her and stated her full name. beth acknowledged the man but didn’t remember seconds later if it had been verbal or a facial movement.
‘give me your passport.’
she gave it up and immediately thought of how stupid she was to relinquish it without even asking the man for identification. she reflected that she didn’t even know if she spoke to him at all.
tired, semi-drunk decision making. panic ensued. the heat rose in her face and she could feel the creeping sickness in her oesophagus. beth worried she was visibly a newbie and thus an easy target.
this would be just one of many bizarre situations involving a lapse in judgement. despite her intelligence, beth was completely out of her element. she was the most foolish person in a 1000 mile radius.
the principal who interviewed her assured her he would be there to meet her at the airport. it was the first in a series of lies she would identify in the first week or two, before they became so high in number she was unable to keep count.
the unknown man returned the passport and escorted her out of there. not a word was spoken. they walked a long distance through paved and dirt surfaces. they arrived at a coaster bus with advertising and the school name on the side she saw. there were four men on the bus: the driver, the security officer and two others whose job descriptions were not yet clear to beth. their names were mentioned and forgotten immediately. it was too awkward to ask for an introduction repeat.
‘we have to wait for your sister to come from her flight before we go.’
a statement acknowledged facially. beth was overwhelmed and taking in all the things.
it was too dark to read but just seven pm. beth listened along with the men to the radio instead. it was a talk show about whether or not it was acceptable to cheat on your spouse if you knew they had cheated first. the callers’ comments were both hilarious and ludicrous.
an hour seemed like several and the colleague finally arrived. the bus ride was the same length, literally and figuratively, as the hour waited prior to departure.
‘so, where you from?’
‘the uk. you?’
these two would be lumped together as the same brain, personality, lifestyle and experience for the entirety of their exact same contract. one hired to teach biology, the other to teach art. neither ended up teaching anything close to their contracted subject.
one disappointment after another made it difficult to cope. more than all of that, beth felt completely and utterly alone. she should have been careful what she wished for in that blasted german airport.
the learning curve was steep and every time beth thought she had it sussed, she would get the proverbial slap in the face. she would sharply find herself back in that skewed reality.
after a few weeks on the job and in a moment of drunken weirdness, beth searched for and found that intimate stranger’s number. she sent a text:
hey. hope all is well with you. was nice to meet you the other week. beth.
let’s go out.
hesitation. the crazy making she was experiencing had caused her decision making skills to dissipate entirely. it was far worse than any half intoxicated idea she had had before. it was far from the temporary blip she would experience after several bottles of gulder.
in de hibiscis @ mean bean
i know where that is
see you then
tuesday was still a few days away. beth didn’t really have much in the way of expectation for the event but she told a few co-workers about it for safety reasons. the man seemed calm and kind enough. she had already been burned by a small group of colleagues and planned to keep her wits about her.
the coffee date came and beth joined kole who was already waiting. they ordered and it was awkward for a short while. beth wasn’t sure what to say and was beginning to think that she had made a mistake. the uncomfortable interaction was disrupted when a man approached kole, shook his hand and asked ‘how far?’; the discomfort returned when the unnamed friend winked at beth. the man quickly moved on with his life and exited the coffee shop.
it was a chit chat situation. they spoke about the usual stuff: siblings, backgrounds, birthdays etc. he was from jos and his parents made their money publishing text books for nigerian universities. she grew up in a predominantly white town, one of which he’d not heard. she had a brother she no longer spoke to.
they parted ways innocently with a vague plan to meet up again. thank you texts were initiated by kole that night and reciprocated.
a week later he called her to invite her out for some lagosian culture, a play followed by dinner. the performance started at three.
she waited at the gate of her school as security men smiled and laughed, presumably about her or her situation. he collected her in his car. he was dressed well and smelled delicious. all seemed safe and clear.
the play was animal farm, done naija styles. though the farmer was named onabanjo instead of jones. it was excellent. beth paid as a thank you to kole for taking her. she was glad she went and felt she was finally warming up to the man she had been so unsure about initially.
though they had not planned beyond the performance, they agreed the date would continue with a meal. beth suggested a place close to the school that she knew. kole agreed that it was a good idea, though he was reluctant to walk as beth preferred.
they walked along the dirt road to their destination. upon arrival they realised how busy the wee restaurant in this dodgy hotel was complete with mood lighting and a dj playing the greatest hits of artists long forgotten in the western world. at least long forgotten by beth’s generation. it was hit after hit of cheesy love tunes from the likes of michael bolton, luther vandross and celine dion. each new song made beth wonder if she was living in some weird surreal state of her subconscious.
the dinner conversation was not memorable but the aftermath certainly was…
beth brought enough cash to cover her meal. a move typical of her. kole on the other hand hadn’t bothered to bring any money and it became clear immediately that he was unable to contribute. the strangest part of all was that he did not seem bothered.
the two agreed to pay what beth had and walk back to beth’s place to collect the remainder of the money and return to pay.
mortified, ‘can we pay the cash we have like a sort of deposit and return with the remaining cash?’
the waitress responded with a nod. she was unwilling to bring herself to reply verbally.
the two left and made the fifteen minute walk back, collected beth’s cash and completed the third leg of four in their walking journey to dinner.
upon returning to beth’s flat, the mismatched couple added to the drinks they had already consumed. this time with nigerian guinness. it was like rocket fuel and blew her head off.
they talked for an indeterminate amount of time. again, the conversation was not memorable. it soon became clear that kole was not leaving any time soon. he kissed her and she reciprocated. without the drink this situation would never have come to fruition.
he pushed her back on the couch, knocking the bottles off the table with his feet. she knew she was in trouble and simultaneously felt ridiculous for putting herself in the situation. before she had time to finish that thought or react to the broken bottles and spilled beer, he began ripping her clothes off.
‘if we’re going to do this, can we move to the bedroom?’ she was more surprised than anyone for asking such a fucked up question in the middle of this obvious violation.
his reply was to silently get up and drag her down the corridor by the hand. a new opportunity to push her down was taken. it wasn’t long before the condom was on and he rammed himself inside of her. she knew if she just took it, he would be finished soon.
kole didn’t like the noise the rickety old bed was making. he lifted her, while still inside, and slammed her down a third time. she hit the cold tiled floor spine first and let out the sort of cry she figured an animal in distress would.
when he was done he went to the toilet. she left the room and collected herself in toilet off of the living room. she stepped in the broken glass on the way back to the bedroom and lost it again. silently crying she returned to the toilet and cleaned up.
she washed her face. her naked body was coated in goose bumps and she shivered in the moonlight entering through the window.
back in the bedroom, kole was asleep. she got dressed in sweats and climbed in next to him.
he left at 4:00 am, mumbling something about work in the morning.
beth hadn’t slept a wink but got up from her bed at 6:55 with the intention of getting ready for work. none of her colleagues noticed a change in her but she knew she was not the same. she fought the tears all day and was consumed with the thought that sam was right.