This is a paved road. One that has been worn over time and in desperate need of a new coat of asphalt. On both sides are green and brown bushes amongst trees that are all too foreign. It is hot but then it gets cooler as the sun is covered by some dark clouds. I am standing on the better part of this road looking ahead. There are no signs of life ahead, no signs that a car would maybe pass by. On my side of the road are upturned cars, some of them burnt. There are also some tires stacked atop one another, and some sacks filled with sand. All of them are being used as a blockade to whoever may dare to emerge from the other side of the road. On my side there are young men carrying guns as precautions against the ‘insurgents’. They don’t see me. Only one of them does. He always sits on the unburnt station wagon, rifle by his side and his bloodshot eyes ahead and alert. He is shirtless and sweaty despite the constant dabbing with a wet cloth. His name is Akpo and he could not be more than 17. He had told me what was going on. Why he and the other boys had to sit there everyday, watching and waiting. He spoke some form of broken English but I understood every word.
“The matter start small. Oil company people discover oil for here. Them help us build primary school, build water tower even give us generator and our chiefs give them free pass to work. When time reach to con work, those Oteri people, our neighbor town say make the oil company people no drill for the land.”
This was where he paused to laugh like he just remembered something funny.
“Them start to claim land wey no be their own. Because na land wey oil dey. Before you know na so fight start. Them kill one of our own, we kill one of their own. Them think say we be pikin wey no get sense? Say we go just lie down meek meek as them they pour san san for our garri?” Then he did something to his gun, moved a part of it and frowned so that part of his upper teeth showed. I had asked him about school and he shook his head rreplyin, “forget that marra, forget that marra.”
I look up at him now and his bare feet which are extremely dusty. He dabs his sweaty chest with the cloth a few more times.
“Hey you don come back?”
“Yes,” I reply him. We never talk about how I always come and go. He never truly asks me anything serious. I think I like it that way.
“No insurgents today?” I ask.
None has ever passed through that blockade ever since it was mounted on the boundary between Akpo’s town and Oteri.
“What if they come?”
“Person wey no wan hear person word no be die e go die? We shoot all the baggers down no time.”
“Hey offspring! What are you doing there staring into nothing?”
I blink and realize where I truly am. Sitting on the bench across the street from Ariel’s house where she is having a party with the few people from school she invited. Why did I even come here? Oh I remember. I had decided to take a walk and ended up here. But why did I stop here? To lament my exclusion from a party? Or to see if Benedict would come out and I would get to see him just for a bit. Could I be more of a stalker?
“My name is Risette mom! Remember?”
I walk to my mom’s parked car and enter the passenger seat. She hugs me with a huge smile on her made up face and kisses my cheek. She is obviously happy and cannot help but take it out on me.
“I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“What is it?”
She drove away from the curb and headed down the street.
“What were you doing sitting there anyway?”
“Were you at the party?”
I look out the window and roll my eyes. “I wasn’t invited.”
“Oh don’t worry offspring. You’ll get invited to other parties.”
“So what are your plans tomorrow? It’s Saturday. Wanna spend some time at the library? Or the aquarium?”
“I don’t know. I’ll call Jazz later to see what we can do together.”
“Oh alright. Does she still wear her pink bob?”
“She loves the hair and will never get rid of it.”
The time is five past seven when we get home. The wine bottle decorations on the porch we made ceremoniously together clink against each other. A subtle reminder of the brief time my mom turned to alcohol for comfort after my dad died and she lost her job.
I help her take out the groceries and put them on the kitchen table. There are a lot of things I take out from the bags which makes me wonder how she got the money for them. She had told me she found a job but would not tell me what the job is. Unlike her last temp job at a warehouse, she is not extremely tired when she comes home and for that I am happy.
“I got you this.” She hands me a box. I open it and see a V Neck pink tulle dress inside. I gasp when I take it out and feel the texture.
“Mother!” I nearly faint with excitement. “This is so beautiful!”
“I know, try it on.” She places one hand on her hip.
“Isn’t this expensive though?”
She frowns. “Oh come on. It’s nothing. Go try it on while I get started on the spaghetti sauce.”
I go up to my room to change. My room is just like any regular teenage girl’s room; bed, stereo, ACDC, Aerosmith and Bruce Lee posters on the wall (my most priced possessions which I inherited from my dad), a dressing table and a brand new computer on my desk which for some unknown reason I have refused to start using. I wear the dress and feel like a million bucks.
When I come down the stairs my mom takes a picture of me with an instant camera. The picture comes out and we wait for it to clear up.
“Oh you look so beautiful Risette.”
“Thank you mom.”
She hands me the picture. “Go change and let’s cook.”
Jazz meets me by the lake where the ducks like to come together to plot world domination. Or so Jazz says. She too cannot hide her anger that she had not been invited to Ariel’s party.
“That girl be tripping,” Jazz hissed. “Acting like she own everything.”
“She may be an entitled biatch who treats people badly but she throws some good parties,” I state.
“I heard from Richie that she had the pastries and liquor imported and the party favors were home spa packages from a Korean spa, in Korea.”
“Can’t cry over spilled milk.”
“What happened to us? We used to be the three female musketeers.”
“Well Ariel’s father moved up in life and we both became commoners unfit to be a princess’ friend.”
“That’s messed up.”
“Yeah it is. Look at this.”
I show her the picture my mom took.
“Girl you already got a dress for homecoming and I don’t. My mom be all like ‘you ought to go get a job’ when I ask her for some allowance. Other moms be buying nice things for their daughters and she there painting her nails all the time,” she says in one breath and laughs. I chuckle and look our into the water.
“Rizzy, what’s up with you?”
“Is it about your ghost boyfriend in Africa. Are you still seeing him?”
“He’s not my ghost boyfriend.”
“Well he is something. You think you might be going crazy?”
“No I do not,” I snicker.
“Then why you keep zoning out and going to another continent to see a boy? Think he’s God and he’s trying to tell you something?”
“Oh come on. It’s about my mom. I’m worried about her.” I do not want to tell her I’m worried about where she’s getting all the money for all our new stuff.
Jazz moves closer to me. The smell of her guava shampoo wafts into my nose.
“Is she sick?”
“Then why are you worried about a perfectly healthy woman?”
“I have no idea.”
“Your mom is an amazing woman. She’s a good person too. You worry too much.”
We both stare out into the water, watching the ducks make splashes until Jazz nudges me to let me know Benedict and his best friend Alan are coming. I turn to look and see them approaching from the wooded area. Ben looks so darn good looking in his jeans and t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His coal dark hair had been expertly cut away from his face so that his blue eyes are easy to see. I take a deep breath and squeeze Jazz’s hand.
“What are they doing here on a Saturday?” I whisper to Jazz, my heart beating rapidly. “Shouldn’t they be in an arcade or something?”
“I don’t know.. Hi Alan, Ben, what are you guys doing here?” Jazz asks while I try unsuccessfully to hide my face underneath my curls.
“We’re going to see some deers,” Ben answers. “You guys wanna come?”
“No thanks,” Jazz replies. I look up at Ben and he smiles at me and I smile back in bits and pieces. “Maybe some other time then. Bye Risette.”
My heart rate steadies as I watch him walk away.
“The boy is so into you he doesn’t know what to do with himself.”
I giggle. “You think so?”
“Yes. The question is what are you gonna do about it?”
I think about Jazz’s question as I lay on my bed that night. And I think of Ben and the way he had smiled at me. What if Jazz is right? What if Ben is truly into me?
I want to sleep but I cannot. I suddenly feel very hot and take off my covers to stand near the open window. I look back and behind me is Akpo swinging his long hairy legs and staring straight ahead. He is wearing a plaid shirt with the sleeves cut off and khaki shorts. Still no shoes.
“Oh you are here.”
“Yes I am.”
“No insurgents today?”
“No. But them go come.”
“What were you thinking about before I showed up?”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about my life too recently. Well I’ve been think about my mom. I’m worried about her. But I’m sure my problem is nothing compared to yours.” I lean back against the station wagon .
He looks down at me with an expression I cannot fathom and says, “everybody get their own wahala. Whether rich or poor.”
“Tell me about your life, how was your childhood like?” I quickly ask knowing I may not be able to be with him for long. Sometimes I am there a few seconds and I am back to wherever I had zoned out from. The first several times I had come here was during Spanish class and Senor Suarez had been so pissed for my lack of attention.
“Nothing too good about it,” he answers.
“What do you mean?”
“My mama she marry my papa. Born three children. All boys. I be the last born. We happy for a few years but then my papa die and my brothers die too. For our culture if man die e brother fit choose to marry his wife.”
“Yes na. So my papa brother marry my mama join e first wife. My mama become second wife. But things still hard for us. My papa brother stop to pay my school fees so I drop out for primary school.”
His voice is clear and without any emotion. As if he is telling a fictional story.
“Why did he stop paying your fees?”
“I no know for am. Evil mind? But e stop so I join my mama for farm you know. Man’s got to eat. This work,” he holds out his rifle, “it will give me and my mama money so we can find house of our own. The oil company people will give chiefs money, the chiefs will give us our share. Na so e be.” He pauses. Then he begins to speak again with emotion in his voice. “And the oil land is our land! I must protect wetin belong to us by fire by force. No small pikin mind here.”
His face speaks for him the depth he is willing to go to protect his land. To kill or be killed.
One of the young men walks toward Akpo and speaks to him in a local language. By the look on his face I know trouble is brewing.
“I dey go,” he tells me.
“What is happening?” I yell after him.
“I no know yet. I hope I see you again.”
I find myself standing next to my window with the cold wind chilling me to my bones. I close it, run up to my bed and hide underneath the covers. Now I had two people to worry about. And one of them might just be a figment of my imagination.
“Ben has looked this way several times now,” Jazz tells me munching on a particularly green apple. The cafeteria is less crowded than usual, with the glee club kids beat boxing in their designated corner.
“Yeah. Don’t turn your head, just use your eyes. Subtlety Rizzy, subtlety.” I carefully angle my body and use the corner of my eyes to see Ben and his friends sitting at their usual table. They laugh at something he says then he looks up and winks at me.
I look back at Jazz with my eyes almost popping out of their sockets. She leans back on her chair and nods.
“Yes. He’s going to ask you to homecoming.”
“Oh my god Jazz. Wait what about Ariel?”
“What about her?” Jazz asks taking another bite, one brow raised, one shoulder raised also.
“I mean they are close. And she’s very pretty.”
“You’re more beautiful than Ariel. She doesn’t hold a candle to to you. Look at all that melanin,” she gestures at me. “You know she ain’t gonna ever have curves like yours even if she tried.”
“You always know what to say to make me feel better. What about you? You think Rodriguez will ask you?”
“If he doesn’t I’ll ask him.”
I shake my head in awe of the person that is my best friend. “How do you do that?”
“Be so confident.”
“I was born this way,” she declares.
I brave one more glance at Ben and find him talking to Ariel. My spirit dampens again but I hope he still asks me. I wait for my mom one hour after classes end but she does not show so I start to walk home. My mind becomes filled with thoughts of her and what she must be up to. Thoughts of Akpo and the look he had on his face as he left with the other boy still haunted me. Was that goodbye?
“Hey Risette!” I hear my name and turn to see the jeep next to me. Inside is Ben in a new set of clothes waving me in with a big smile. I get in and my discomfort doubles. His eyes search for mine as he resumes driving.
“You were really deep in thought back there weren’t you?”
“Yes I was.”
“Your mom didn’t show I suppose.”
“Yeah. Thanks for the ride.”
I concentrate on tracing one finger over another.
“I love your shirt,” he says. I look down on my shirt with the word Aerosmith on it.
“Thanks. You listen to them too?”
I smile unconsciously and relax. Ben is a human boy I like I think to myself. He doesn’t bite. A conversation won’t be so bad.
“So did you find your deers?” I ask.
“Unfortunately no. I think we spooked them the last time we were there.”
“Well I hope they come back. For you.”
His gaze lingers a little and I feel those butterflies again.
“There’s something I want to ask you. Would you be free to go out tonight?” He’s going to ask me to homecoming!
“Alright I’ll pick you up at seven.”
“Ok,” I chuckle.
“Alright it’s a date.” He chuckles back.
I see the police vehicle before Ben pulls up at my house. I get out of the jeep as quickly as I can fearing the worst. I hear the driver’s door open and close and know Ben is not going away very soon.
A policeman is standing on the porch next to the swing chair. He is tall and muscular but not in a threatening way.
“Are you Risette Cameron?” he inquires
“Yes I am.”
“Your mother is Eliza Cameron?”
I fear his next words would bring my world crumbling down to a pile of dust.
“I’m lieutenant Dan. Your mother was arrested an hour ago.”
Ben comes to stand beside me. “Yes,” the policeman carries on. “She was dealing with some shady people who sold illegal drugs.”
“No, you’ve got the wrong person. My mom doesn’t sell illegal drugs, she…”
I try to recall what my mom does for a living and come up short. I sit on the swing chair and continue to think very hard. Maybe she had mentioned it to me once before and I had forgotten. I try and I try and nothing
“She has asked that you stay with your best friend and her parents until she can post bail.”
Ben sits by my side and takes my hand in his. His hand is warm and soft and comforting.
I close my eyes and open them to see the station wagon had been flipped. There are bodies on the ground, some injured and some dead. I look around but I do not see Akpo and my anxiety triples. Ahead on that bad road is an army truck parked by the side next to a bush on fire. At the back of it is Akpo and three other boys with their hands tied. Some army officials with big guns walk around surveying the damage. Akpo smiles when he sees me.
“Insurgents came. I kill some. Those baggers no know say we set trap.” He sounds genuinely happy telling me he killed some people in his condition and I fear for him. For his psyche.
“Where are they taking you?”
“I no know. Maybe to kill me. But I see you again so all ok.”
“My mom was arrested,” I tell him quickly seeing the army officials making their way to the truck. “I don’t know what to do.”
“You know na.”
“I don’t know,” I tell him with tears running down my cheeks. I walk with the truck as it begins to move slowly.
“Akpo,” I call his name like it will save me or save him.
The truck begins to move a little bit faster so I run after it. “I don’t know Akpo!”
“Take care of your mama,” he says to me. “Take care of your mama that is all.”
Erhu Kome Yellow
Erhu Kome Yellow is an Urhbo writer. She is also an Otaku and a local guide. Her work has been featured in literary magazines, anthologies, and as a Google Ad. She mostly writes speculative fiction for young adults. Her debut novel, ‘Dawsk’, is forthcoming from Love Africa Press.
This entry appeared in The Limits Issue