I wish for once these men would provide a real challenge. I would love for them to surprise me. But no, Mr Eriwona is in one of those ubiquitous beer and meat gardens in Nigeria spreading like mould all over any available outdoor space. I wish too that he would have looked different, but he looks like every pot-bellied, leather-loafers-wearing, flat-capped, beringed, loud, leery man I have ever worked on. Of course there are other types of wayward men but he fits his group’s stereotype to a T.
I make sure to take an okada and to have the rider stop right at the entrance. When I walk in his eyes immediately swivel towards me, even though he has got about three other girls vying for his attention. Even though Oliver de Coque is playing so loudly that any normal person would be hard-pressed to notice anything not directly in front of their face. But I suppose Mr Eriwona is about as normal as I am, if tales of his nightly conquests are to be believed – never the same girl twice in a row.
I pretend not to see he is looking at me. I pretend not to notice that all four of his friends and their lady-friends are staring, drool and daggers all at once. I take a seat nearest to the bar and wait. It doesn’t take long.
“Excuse me,” says a voice. I turn. Ah. Boy-boy. Men like Mr Eriwona often have a boy-boy. Usually a graduate hanger-on who runs errands with the hope of making it into the inner circle. Mr Eriwona with several appendages in government contracts is a good master to serve.
“My boss wants you to join our table,” says Boy-boy. He jiggles a set of car keys, body language dripping insouciance.
“No, thank you.”
“What?” He stops jiggling.
“I said ‘No thank you’. Tell your oga that if he wants me to join them, he should ask me himself. I am not akwuna.”
He snorts. He scoffs. He stares. Slowly he walks back. A roar of laughter greets my ears and I know the message has been relayed. A bottle of Guinness big stout shows up next. I show my approval by drinking it down without a glass. It is followed by a whole chicken with fried potatoes. A bottle of palm wine. Some goat meat pepper soup. Two bottles of Gordon’s Spark. The grilled catfish with vegetables in tin foil makes my stomach roil. I reject it. In its stead comes a bowl of ngwo-ngwo and Fayrouz. I wash my hands and tackle the oily cow-foot and offal dish. By the time I look up again, half the girls at the table have counted their losses and disappeared and Mr Eriwona is smiling at me as if he has got my number.
“What kind of girl chops a man’s money without coming to greet him?” he asks, settling into the seat beside me. A toothpick bobs about in his mouth. His lips are as thick and dark as a roll of roasted tripe.
“What kind of man lets a girl chop his money without knowing her?” I counter.
“But I know you now. You are the girl that is going to sleep in my hotel room tonight.”
“Wouldn’t you rather go home? Don’t you have a wife?” I always try to warn them. No one can accuse me of not being fair. Mr Eriwona hisses, the sound of water hitting flame.
“Don’t talk like a small girl,” he says.
I catch his eyes and I smile. Immediately his anger dissipates. “You this girl,” he says, pinching my cheek playfully. “Oya, let’s go.”
He walks out without saying goodbye to his friends. His driver opens the door of his Jeep, looking me hard in the face. When I try to catch his gaze, he glances away and slams the door before anyone else can get in. Mr Eriwona immediately tries to raise my top.
“Ah-ahn. What kind of cloth is this? Did you sew it to your body? So tight.” His hands glide over the length of my leg. It tickles.
“It’s not cloth,” I say. Then as he continues to fumble,” I don’t show myself in cars.”
Mr Eriwona laughs. “You this girl,” he says again. He rests a heavy hand on my shoulders drawing me closer. He nuzzles at my neck. His lips make the ‘thuck’ sound of suction cups as they come off my skin.
“Not in cars,” I take his arm away.
We pass some suya sellers. Mr Eriwona notices me craning my neck.
“Shuo? You’re hungry?”
“I am hungry.”
“After all you have just eaten? You can eat o,” he laughs. “Driver, stop this car.”
“How much do you want?”
“I’ve been known to eat a whole cow in my day,” I reply.
Mr Eriwona laughs again. “Small pikin, big eye,” he says. “You are not made for poverty.”
“I am not,” I affirm.
“It’s good you know me now.”
He buys me a parcel of suya as big as my head. The onions are crunchy and the beef is hot and spicy and succulent. Mr Eriwona insists on feeding me bits of the meat and I let him, but he tries to get me to suckle his fingers afterwards.
“Don’t put your hand in my mouth unless you want me to take it off.”
“Take it, take it all. My hand, my body, anything you want, name it, you will get it.” His breath is beery, clashing with my aromatic suya. Still, I take note of what he is saying. An offering is an offering.
“Anything I want?”
“Anything, anything at all, my life, my soul is all yours.” He grapples with his belt buckle.
The driver gasps. He coughs to cover it up. In the rear-view mirror I notice the horizontal scars, one on the apple of each cheek, right under the eye. Two others on his temples. Now I know the reason for the hard stare. His third eye could probably see my true form.
“You know me,” I say to the ogbanje driver in Igbo. Mr Eriwona slobbers a snail’s trail on my chest.
“He does not mean what he is saying, sister. Please don’t take him,” the driver replies without opening his mouth.
We don’t do that anymore either, overrun as we are by hapless men who imagine themselves in love with us. However, before I can reassure the driver we pull into the hotel parking lot and Mr Eriwona’s rolls stomach-first, out of the vehicle. He clutches his loosened trousers in one hand and pulls at me with the other.
“I haven’t finished my snack,” I say.
“It’s just meat. I have plenty-plenty meat for you.”
I leave the newspaper which holds the remaining pieces of suya balled up on the back seat. The receptionists don’t even bat an eyelid at Mr Eriwona’s state of undress.
“Ah-ahn, let me touch sontin now,” Mr Eriwona traps me as soon as he closes the door. He breathes in my ear. Sweat from his forehead drips on my collarbone, smears the sides of my face as I try to slip away. “You say ‘Not in the car’, we are inside now.”
“Are you sure you would not rather go home to your wife?”
“Look, are you trying to cheat me?” Mr Eriwona is angry again.
“Cheat you how?”
“You think I was just buying you food for nothing?” His chest heaves. “Listen my friend, you cannot just leave here like that so better take off your clothes now-now.”
“It’s okay. Lie down,” I say.
Surprise eclipsed rapidly by elation. He starts to take off his clothes, getting tangled up in the legs of his trousers. His briefs are big and white and sag on his buttocks like an overfull diaper. I push him on the bed and I straddle him.
“Eh-hen, now you’re talking,” he says. He tries to clutch me to himself but I slide over the hump of his belly, down his sweaty, oily body.
“Ah, you these small-small girls,” he says when my intention becomes clear. “You will not kill me.”
I ignore him, facing the task at hand. His head whips about from side to side, he grips the sheets on either side of his thighs; he tries to grab my hair.
“Please don’t do that,” I say.
“Sorry, sorry. Oya don’t stop.” His belly obscures all but his eyes from view. I can hear him smacking his rubber lips, repeating words that have no meaning over and over, hissing, grunting.
Changing my form is blessed relief, like taking off a too-small bra. My spine tingles. Electricity breaks out over the surface of my skin starting at my toes. I can feel my limbs revert to their original state; strong, muscular, unified. Fin. A tail. I long for water. The tingling spreads all the way up my thighs, across my back and up my neck. I don’t need to tell Mr Eriwona to open his eyes. The clamminess of my skin does it for me. His eyes bulge as if he is choking and veins appear rope-thick on his neck.
“Don’t scream and listen very carefully,” I say.
“Yee!” he screams backing away.
“Don’t move or I will bite it off,” I say with my fish mouth. I can’t help that. He feels a bit wormy now.
Mr Eriwona vomits on himself, a sticky mess that runs down his ribs to soak into the bed. I drag myself forward on my fins so that he is looking me in eyes – two-hundred and fifty pounds of talking fish covered in shiny grey-green scales each the size of a saucer. His eyes roll up in his head. He starts to gag again.
“Awww com’on. It’s not that bad.” I can’t help sounding hurt. I am proud of my scales.
“Please, please. Yee. Please. Please. Jesu. Jesu. Blood of Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jeeeesus!”
I hate it when they scream ‘Jesus’. Jesus what, exactly? It’s as if it’s supposed to be a get-out-of-jail free card or something.
“You scream Jesus and I’m supposed to just go poof? It doesn’t work like that. Take your licks like a man, why don’t you?”
My unintentional pun makes me laugh. My tongue flops about in my mouth and the sounds I make are full of bubbles. Well, this mouth was not exactly made for speech. Or laughing. Mr Eriwona slaps his hands over his eyelids. He looks at me through sausage fingers.
“Ahhhhhhh! Holy Ghost fire! Fire! Baba God -!”
“Stop that racket!” I say in my sternest voice.
The noise stops as if I flipped a switch. He judders like a leaf beaten by rain.
“Your wife sent me.” I try to pull myself up. “First of all, you’re not leaving here with your penis. Your madam said she doesn’t need it and you sef, you said I could have anything I want…are you flippin’ peeing?!”
I don’t take the actual penis in the end. Just his ability to use it. And some sperm. Being overrun as we are by said hapless men who have fallen in love with us over the years has taught us a few lessons. Take the sperm, leave the dude. We do need to repopulate after all. Maybe not now. We don’t have enough resources to sustain the few of us that have not simply disappeared to wherever spirits go when people stop believing in them. But one day. One day when our powers begin to grow again. When we no longer need to freelance. When our waters will once again be filled with baskets full of offerings and red and white clad worshippers.
I for one cannot wait for that day. The whole Eriwona ordeal left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Grown men peeing in my mouth is just not on. I’m too old for that shit.