Mornings in Selemku begin with the discovery and lynching of another boy-girl. Their bodies are dragged out on the street, scraping against the coarse tar. Through the sheathed glass of my room’s window, I see the stern faces of the men who tie up the boy-girls and wound old tyres around their necks. I can almost scoop the sweat dripping from their chest in the cup of my hands as they whack iron rods on any burning boy-girl who tries to run. I don’t know why but my teeth sink deep into my tongue anytime the rod smashes a boy-girl’s skull. The crowd jeers, glorying in the inferno that purged the undesirable elements. By noon, the mangled charred bodies lie in haphazard poses. A blackened arm here and a bruised ankle there.
Pa says it served them right.
“Why man go nyash ‘im fellow man? Man anus dry like Sahara!” Papa hollers when I place his breakfast tray before me. He laughs, thumping his potbelly. He turns to Mama and I. On cue, Mama nods in agreement and I smile. But my smile is not full. It gets in the way of my bleeding tongue and I taste the saltiness of my blood. My tongue will heal sometime in the afternoon after eating Mama’s peppery egusi soup.
The corners of Mama’s eyes are purple- the purple of a cow’s vulva on heat. I know why the corners Mama’s eyes scream purple; the pressing iron still smelt of her burning flesh. But I don’t think about it for long before Papa sees the thought in my eyes.
I test my tongue again. This time, it stings.
Sadiq kisses my left ear again and whispers; “Audu, lemme make sweet love to you.” My heart bangs against my chest like it wants to rip my rib cage and wander off to a place, far away from Selemku, where Sadiq can make sweet love to me. I giggle and tell him to stop that someone may be watching. We are strolling past the bush behind Mallam Suya’s place.
The air is heavy with the aroma of grilling pork and onions and danjarawa. Sadiq tries to kiss me, this time in my mouth. I push him away because I can hear voices from Mallam Suya’s shed telling him to put a little more pepper or a little less onion. Sadiq is defiant. He pulls my shorts. His right-hand gropes at my boxers. I stiffen but soon let myself go.
“Stop. S…t…o…p.” I try to tell Sadiq but my voice trails off.
Sadiq’s tongue is caressing my member when a torch flashes on us. Then the voices. “Mai Murna!” “Fara’a” Sadiq tells me to run that he can fight them off. I don’t believe him but I still run because it’s the only thing I can do.
Sadiq’s scream pierces the darkness.
This morning seems different. The mingled stench of burning tyres and flesh did not hit my nostrils when I wake up. The street is bathed with an uneasy quietness. Maybe there is nobody to lynch, maybe petrol has not come to town, maybe no Alhaji wants to donate his spare tyre.
Noon. Still no lynching. I am walking on the street like someone treading on eggshells. I feel pairs of blood-shot eyes piercing my back. I try to minimize my catwalk. It is as if I have “The Next Man To Be Lynched” emblazoned on my forehead. I try hard not to look at the men with rippling muscles that cram the street-side, smoking weed and drinking akpeteshi. The memories of last night loom above my head. Sadiq’s face replays in my memory.
Run. R-U-N. The pain in my chest feels like spike ball slamming against it.
The dusty spirals start to rise. The hullabaloo intensifies. “Na the guy be that,” a man says and another concurs. In the distance, another boy-girl is about to be lynched. This one fights death. He runs to a nearby sewage pit and plunges his burning body. They scoop out his blackened frame and set him on fire again.
Why is this lynching different? Why am I the one smouldering into a thick smoke of burning sewage, bones and skin?
Gripping from the first line. Merciless and raw. Tragic. Polished and shining in its execution. Well done.
Photo credit: The Series: The Carthaginian (Warrior), 2017 – Marcia Kure