If someone had asked Zara to describe Asaba, she would have said it was a town that lacked character. At twenty-four she had been around. Abuja reeked of affluence. Lagos, of the hustle. Port-Harcourt was the birthplace of bole. Kano was a seat of pre-colonial West African civilization. Benin was both ancient and contemporary, juggling culture and academia like a skilled acrobat. But, Asaba? Asaba, where everyone was lax, had no personality. It was bland, like white agidi eaten alone, palatable only to pregnant women and old folk. And it had a penchant for disappointing her.
The flight from Lagos to Asaba was smooth and uneventful, just the way she liked her flights, and since the wheels of that second-hand plane touched the tarmac, up until she almost choked on pepper, she had been giving the town a chance.
That first night she hung out with her new colleagues; one of them was celebrating his birthday. Eseoghene’s girlfriend had shown up at the office with a cooler of jollof rice and packs of can beer. Blushing as his photos were being taken, Eseoghene blurted out, ‘Karaoke, tonight!’ Everyone cheered. By close of work, he had sent out the address of the karaoke bar where everyone was to meet. The party was to begin at seven.
At 7:02PM, Zara was dropped off at Delight Lounge by a cab. This was her first mistake. She walked in and the lounge was empty. Even the celebrant was running late.
‘Where una dey?’ she posted in their work Whatsapp group.
‘Ah, Zara, you don reach? I never even baff,’ Chioma posted.
‘LOL,’ Chike posted.
‘I’m on my way,’ Abigail wrote.
The group fell silent, for the next twenty minutes. Then, it came alive again.
‘Where this Delight Lounge dey sef?’ Emeni asked.
‘Near Kingdom of Salvation church,’ Abigail posted.
‘Na club wey near church we dey go?’ Emeni asked.
‘LOL,’ Chike posted.
‘I’m there now,’ Eseoghene wrote.
‘I’m inside. I don’t see you here,’ Zara posted.
‘LOL,’ Chike posted.
Eseoghene walked into the lounge just then, with an entourage trailing, half of whom Zara did not know. Zara breathed in relief. At least, now, the party would begin, she thought. It did not. The only DJ who could work the karaoke machine was not in. Zara cursed under her breath. Eseoghene pulled the manager to a corner for a tete-a-tete. By the time the DJ and other colleagues arrived half an hour later, Zara had lost all enthusiasm for the night. She simply drank some liquor and watched everyone else dance and sing numbers.
Her second bad experience was during the advanced screening of Black Panther. She had been looking forward to seeing Chadwick Boseman reprise the role of T’challa since seeing him in Captain America: Civil War. She had seen the trailer of the movie on YouTube and had been blown away by Michael B. Jordan. She was early at the cinema that day. Asaba cinemas didn’t keep African Time, she knew that much. The movie was in 3D and the theatre was filled to capacity. When the Sambisa Forest scene came up, she howled with the rest of the crowd. When M’baku rendered his lines in a Nigerian accent, she howled again. She was having a good time. Then the screen went blank and the movie stopped playing. Complaints rent the air. Some less courteous customers cursed out loud. The cinema attendants scampered about like they were on something. The girl who addressed the theatre had a brittle voice that contrasted with her huge frame. She apologized for the inconvenience and said that the 3D machine was overheating.
Zara could not believe this. She had never heard about something like this. The girl with a brittle voice began appending her signature on tickets and asking members of the audience to come back the next day. Zara left without having her ticket signed. Later that night, after dinner, she vented on Twitter about the cinema’s flagrant ineptitude. Her tweets hit a few hundred retweets.
Her third misfortune was a date. A guy from her gym had asked her out. This was in April, when the rains had just come and the petrichor lingered in the air on most afternoons. Her date was a wild chap. He took her to a beer parlour where they played local Highlife music. She did not get to choose her own meal. He ordered a bowl of catfish peppersoup and a bottle of Budweiser for her.
‘You will like it,’ he said, cracking a wide grin.
Zara did not like it. The soup was hot and spicy; it made her sweat, and made her guzzle her beer. When the guy called the next morning, she ignored every single one of his thirteen rings.
After that, Zara gave up on having a social life in the town. She collapsed into a triangular pattern of work, market and church. To avoid her horrible date, she stopped visiting the gym; she jogged around her area instead.
Zara had lived away from home for five months before she got the call. It snuck up on her. When her mom rang her that Saturday morning, their conversation was as pedestrian as that of any other weekend; nothing in Momsi’s tone gave her away. Zara was in the kitchen when the phone rang. After complaining about how Ugonna now drove her car without permission, Momsi told Zara about Mrs. Tokunbo, a member of her social club who was pressuring her to buy an expensive lace material she had imported from Dubai. Zara knew Momsi was asking for permission in her signature roundabout fashion.
‘You will carry a debt that you cannot pay for. Don’t buy it,’ Zara said.
The line went quiet.
‘Hmmm. Okay, I hear you,’ Momsi said. ‘So, when will you invite us to come to Asaba? You need to host us.’
Zara rolled her eyes.
‘I want to. But what’s the point when I haven’t found anyone yet,’ she said.
‘Hmmm. Is it that hard?’ Momsi asked, her concern evident in her tone.
‘Well, it’s hard sha,’ Zara said.
‘You’re a beautiful, smart, young lady. It shouldn’t be that difficult.’
‘I will try, Mom.’
When Zara hung up, her appetite was gone. She hated that she had just lied to Momsi; she had not been looking. She placed the yams and eggs she had been making into a plastic container and tossed it into the top drawer of the cabinet. She put on her headphones and played Nas and Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives. The songs in the album usually soothed her. This time, they did not. She decided to take a walk. She walked from Eagle Square, past Midwifery market and the legislative quarters, towards Ekwumekwu roundabout. At NTA junction, she saw a group of women in lilac aso-ebi and matching geles. Evidently, they were headed to a wedding. Their sight warmed Zara’s heart, and she found herself thinking about collective nouns. A school of fish. A brood of chickens. A parliament of owls. What were women in aso-ebi called? A gallery of umunwanyi, maybe. The thought made her snigger. A man was inflating his tyres at DBS junction. She had not noticed the vulcanizer’s stand there before. The man working the machine had bushy facial hair, a beard that reminded her of pictures from My Book of Bible Stories. At the Zenith Bank ATM after DBS junction, the long queue made her grateful she had activated her mobile app a few months back. The app made her spend easily, but it saved her stress. She continued walking. She noticed a new LG shop next to the police headquarters. She crossed over and stepped inside. The attendant was a polite youngster with a gap-tooth. The teen smiled at Zara and asked how she could help her. She called Zara madam. Zara felt flattered. She adjusted her frame from the slouch she’d been in, looked around the shop, pointed to a big deep freezer and said she wanted to buy that.
The idea to go on personal outings came to Zara the same way all brilliant ideas come to millennials these days: through the internet.
For days, after she had spoken with Momsi, she pondered their conversation. Her colleagues at the office were keen on introducing her to their brothers, cousins, friends, even exes, but she did not want to meet someone that way. It was too risky. The evening the idea came, she was sprawled on her mattress, in satin nightwear, following a conversation on Twitter about a girl who had been ditched by her date in an expensive restaurant in Lekki. The girl had tweeted out an SOS, being unable to pay the bill. The matter was trending.
‘Guy-man go don look the bill, see say na money for small land for Ogun state. #LekkiDate’ @RuggedRoland tweeted.
‘Stuff like this is why as a chic you need to always hold vex-money. You don’t know when you will jam a fuckboy. #menarescum #LekkiDate’ @mzpinkleberry tweeted.
Zara retweeted @mzpinkleberry.
‘The funny thing is that as we speak, some guys have slid into this lady’s DM, asking to send her money to offset the dinner bill. If you know, you know. #LekkiDate’ @AnotherUchechi tweeted.
This tweet already had eighty retweets. Zara opened the comments. Lots of folks were agreeing with Uchechi.
‘The game is the game. #LekkiDate’ one @jamesthiking commented.
‘How are we sure this thing even happened? Doesn’t the guy have Twitter? I’m waiting for the other side of this story before saying anything sha. #LekkiDate’ @Hazeleyes tweeted.
The conversation went on and on like this, apportioning blames and birthing wild speculations.
‘Drama, drama, everyday on this our Twitter NG, #LekkiDate’ @paulwall70 wrote.
Zara liked @paulwall70’s tweet. She was thinking of logging off and heading to Instagram when she saw a tweet from @gurl_independent.
‘I think ladies need to take themselves out more often. Know where you can afford. Never go out with someone to somewhere you’ve never been to by yourself. #randomthought #LekkiDate’
Reading this was a eureka moment for Zara. This was how she was going to meet someone, she thought. She retweeted and liked the tweet. Then, she cancelled her retweet and quoted it.
‘Wise words, sis,’ she wrote.
The next day, after work, Zara went on her first night out.
By the third month of her outings, Zara had visited hotels and lounges, restaurant and eateries, sharwama stands and noodles joints. She rarely visited the same place twice. Most of the places she liked were on DBS road: Roof Top Bar, Barnyard, Grillhouse Café, Elomaz Hotel, Orchid Hotel, Y2K and Good Fellas. She wondered why the road had so many hospitality outlets, until Eseoghene told her that the area had been so zoned by the planning authorities.
Zara noticed that people did not look at her funny when she walked into these establishments alone; something she knew happened a lot in Lagos. The men who approached her here, though, were mostly married. They did not hide or lie about their marital statuses. There were bold and daring. She concluded that this was peculiar to Deltan men.
Zara did not want a married man. The consequential hurt was not something she wished on an unassuming wife or innocent kids. So, she sipped her glass of Cranberry juice and told them off. There was always something off about the single guys who approached her. They were either too big, in which case, she worried about carrying them. Or had company, in which case, she worried about collateral exposure. However, the night she met Kamso, or rather, the night Kamso met her, she knew instinctively that he was the one she had been waiting for.
That night, she’d gone out to Compton Towers and Spa. She ordered for a plate of Semovita and egusi soup, and a bottle of Chardonnay. Halfway through her meal, the guy she’d come to know as Kamso walked up to her table.
There was a morsel in her mouth. She sized him. Average height. Caramel, smooth skin. Clean-shaven. She nodded.
He pulled the chair back and sat down opposite her. His cologne was musky. He was dressed in a plain white kaftan.
‘The food is nice, yes?’
She nodded again.
‘My name is Kamso. Couldn’t help but notice you,’ he wore a confident smile.
‘So, what’s your story? You go to restaurants to notice people eating?’
He chuckled, ‘You know bachelors; we eat out a lot.’
‘Mom didn’t teach you how to cook?’
‘Do they ever?’
‘University must have been hell.’
‘I had girlfriends.’
‘And you don’t right now?’
‘I don’t right now.’
She took a gulp from her glass. Then, pointing to the bottle, said, ‘Join me.’
He asked for a glass from a waiter. Their conversation flowed effortlessly. He was an estate surveyor. He had lived in Cameroon for a while. He was at the hotel dropping off a client who had come from out of town. He liked smooth jazz, listened to Kenny G. Zara liked what she saw. She thought about taking a bite of his smooth skin. After her meal, and when they were done with her bottle, she asked if he’d like to go home with her.
A wave of surprise flashed through his face. He stuttered.
‘It’s okay, if you don’t want to. Some other time, maybe.’
‘No, no. Of course I want to,’ he said.
She smiled. Fortune was smiling on her. He offered to pick up her bill. She thanked him. As they walked into the car park, Zara stopped short. She hadn’t thought this part out, she realized.
‘You can’t take your car to my place,’ she said.
‘Why not? Bad road?’
‘You just can’t,’ she insisted.
Kamso stood between her and his car, his confusion evident on his face. ‘Okay, I come here all the time, let me tell the security men that I’ll come pick it up later.’
Relief flushed through Zara.
They took a keke to her place. During the ride, she rested her head on his shoulder and he pulled her close with his right arm.
She had hardly closed the entrance door behind her when she began kissing him. Kamso grabbed her waist and they found her sofa. He nibbled at her neck and caressed her breasts. She let out soft moans and slid her hands down his center. He was already hard. She stroked him through the fabric of his trousers. He made to unzip her gown. She stopped him.
‘I want to drink something,’ she said.
She stood up and walked into the kitchen. She found a pack of orange juice in her freezer. It was chilled. She shook it and got two glasses out of her cup rack. She opened the spice compartment of her cabinet and took out a sedative. She pinched some of it and flicked into one glass before pouring the juice into both glasses. She stirred the altered drink. When she returned to the living room, Kamso was in his boxers and singlet. She smiled and handed him his glass. She drank from hers. He drank from his.
She sat opposite him. He moved towards her. She stretched out her right leg and stopped him. ‘Drink,’ she said.
Kamso gulped everything in his glass. Zara started taking off her clothes. She was gentle, sensual. Watching her aroused Kamso. Then, he began to feel funny. She doubled in his eyes. He tried to stand. He swayed and staggered. He fell back onto the sofa and fell fast asleep.
Zara was beyond excited now. She dashed into her room and put on her overalls. A pair of plastic gloves hung by her waist. She took his phone and turned it off. She removed the sim card and smashed it with the heel of the shoe she had worn out that evening. She went into her bedroom and came out with a box of tools. She found a socket and plugged her clipper. She shaved his armpits, his pubic region and his legs. She bound his hands and legs tight with ropes. She bound his mouth with duct tape. She went into the kitchen, took out a large plastic tarpaulin from a cabinet and spread it all over the kitchen floor. She went back into the living room and pulled him into the kitchen. She placed her largest pot over her cooker and put a pot of water to boil. She brought out a trash bag from behind her cabinet and placed it by her side. She placed two large stainless bowls beside it before retrieving her Santoku. She placed his head into one of the bowls, raised it so that his neck was bare to her knife, then she began to cut. He started to struggle when the knife was skin deep, but the binds were firm and his movements futile. Zara stayed on course. She drove the knife all the way through until his throat was cut and his blood poured into the bowl. Then, she picked up her cleaver and hacked the head off from behind. She put the head into the trash bag then flipped the body over. She changed knives again, this time using her boning knife. With it, she tore open his torso and removed his insides. The edible organs like the liver and the heart, she kept in the second bowl. The penis and testicles, too. Non-desirables like the intestines, she threw into the trash bag where the head lay. She returned to her Cleaver and chopped the body at its ankles and elbows and knees and hip. She split the torso into two large halves. She put everything into the second bowl. She brought down the large pot from the cooker and poured the hot water into the bowl. She took a sachet of salt out of her spice compartment. She put four spoonfuls into the water, put on her plastic gloves and washed the body parts. Then, she put them into three fresh plastic bowls. She opened her big deep freezer, and put the bowls in. Her deep freezer was finally serving its purpose, she thought. She sealed off the trash bag and kept it close to her door. She retrieved another trash bag, then folded the bloodied tarpaulin that had been on the floor and put it into the new trash bag. She took Kamso’s clothes, wrist watch, wallet, sandals, smashed sim card, and phone from the living room and put them into the trash bag, too. She swept up his hairs which she had shaven off and tossed them in as well. She placed this trash bag by the door, beside the other. She was panting and sweating now. Tomorrow morning, she would burn the bag with Kamso’s effects and bury his entrails in the other bag, she thought. She pulled a kitchen stool and sat down for a few minutes to catch her breath. When she regained her strength, she continued. She poured the blood and the water in the bowls into the sink and washed them with liquid soap alongside her knives. After she had rinsed the pot which she used to boil water, she went looking for her phone in the living room. She found it and dialed Momsi.
Momsi picked up on the second ring.
‘Good evening, ma,’ Zara said.
‘Chizaram, do you know what time it is?’
‘I have found someone, Mom. I can host you people now,’ Zara heard herself say. A tired smile played on her lips.
‘Oh, nwa m! I knew you would! How does he taste?’
‘I haven’t cooked yet, I just finished with cutting. I’m tired.’
‘I know, my dear. I will tell your dad and Ugonna first thing tomorrow morning. We will be in Asaba tomorrow.’
‘Thanks ma. Good night.’
‘Good night, my darling,’ Momsi’s voice transmitted her pride.
Zara heaved a sigh of relief. She was really happy with herself. She imagined everyone dining in here soon, devouring their special family delicacy. She imagined Ugonna fighting with her for fingers. They always fought for fingers. She chuckled and walked into her bedroom. Then, she took off her gloves and overalls, and stepped into the bathroom for a cold shower.
Nnamdi Anyadu is a joint-winner of the inaugural edition of the Reimagined Folktales Prize. His works have appeared on Brittle Paper, Omenana, Ebedi Review, Kalahari Review and the Ake Review. His short story, The Mask and the Woman, was longlisted for the Afritondo Prize 2020. An alumnus of both the Ake Fiction Masterclass Workshop and the Farafina Workshop, he resides in Asaba, Nigeria.