In the car, Stacey had apologized for not trusting him more and for doubting the depth of his love for her.
It had ended in a kiss that wasn’t showing plans of ending, but Richard really had to offload his heart, so he pulled away, went to the kitchen and returned with a bottle of water for her. He actually pushed her tenderly to sit on his bed while he paced.
Stacey knew he was about to expose himself, his past; she was about to know exactly what made her man tick and she was excited, and moved and grateful that he was hers. She had to tell him she loved him, was in love with…had always been, but first, he needed to say what he had to say.
And then he just plunged into the story.
“I’ve been resentful at a lot of people in my life. At my birth mom, Wana when she disappeared for years, Big Mama when she got ill and died, the community that our orphanage was, rich people in general, you at some point…”
Stacey’s eyes softened when he said this but she nodded in understanding, and he sighed wearily and continued.
“I shouldn’t have been resentful, I shouldn’t have despised them, since I’ve realized they made me what I’ve become.”
He cleared his throat, “When Wana disappeared we were left floating, not really knowing what to do without her since she’d practically been in charge of the orphanage. Big mama worried and tried her best to find her and then the community, neighbors started suggesting that perhaps she’d become fed up with the hard life and had run away with a man.”
Big mama didn’t believe them, somehow, I didn’t either, but I was a kid that had lost the only mother he knew without explanation, the weight of it just settled,” his eyes were unseeing but his hands moved, demonstrating how the weight had settled in his heart.
“I wasn’t reacting outwardly but I wondered if maybe she’d left because of me, just like my birth mom must have felt.”
Stacey wanted to go to him and hold him but she realized he had to do this on his own. She was sure he hadn’t told this version of his life to anyone else and she felt special that he would choose her.
“Even when Big mama got ill and died and the community chased us out of the area because some of us were extremely unruly, I couldn’t stop following Wana’s rules of survival, couldn’t stop reading and learning; she had instilled that in me from birth.”
“Some of the kids went separate ways and some of us, about eight, stayed together. It was hard…” he stopped reflectively, “Sometimes, we had to steal to feed, at least, once a day.”
Stacey swallowed her sob and tightened her hands on the chilled bottle of water.
“So, it was fortunate for us that the man, everybody called him Chairman, sent out one of his workers to call us to his house. He was smart, I give him that; Chairman didn’t immediately offer us abode which would have made us suspicious, he fed us, sometimes three square meals.”
“All he did was ask us to come to the house when we were hungry. At first, we did suspect and were scared, but we soon overcame that and were getting food everyday from Chairman’s house. All we had to do was arrive as a group, knock on the big gate and a maid was called to bring food for us in disposable containers.”
Oh my God, Richie, Stacey wanted to cry, almost did but she tightened her lips and only allowed a tear to drop. No wonder he’d been prickly about his past, he’d been ashamed.
“Soon, though, Chairman met us face to face again and asked if we wouldn’t want to live at his house. He said he had enough space to spare and really, he was just worried about us sleeping on the streets.”
“I worried, because Wana had always warned against trusting people; anyway, the other boys were excited, happy, I couldn’t imagine being on the streets alone on the word of a person that had abandoned me. So, we lived in Chairman’s palatial house, we shared a big room at the boys quarters, we were fed as much as we wanted, clothed, it was way better than the orphanage.”
“We were given chores, nothing serious, plate washing, cleaning cars, sweeping the compound, cutting grasses. I went a step further though and joined the workers at the new building close to his house, I earned a couple of thousands which I saved and the other boys couldn’t understand why I bothered working since they were having it good.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I was having it good too, but I felt better for having a little over two thousand naira in savings,” he took another deep breath, “One day though, I overheard some of the laborers talking about how some rich guy apparently gathered boys on the street, homeless children actually, and sold them to some diabolical Alhaji in the North.”
“They stopped discussing when they saw me hovering. Another time, they were describing to a coworker how some rich men liked to sleep with boys. I knew what it was called, Wana had taught me, since we’d practically been reading the dictionary when she’d been around.”
Stacey managed a small smile because she recalled his first time in class at their secondary school. He had made a sentence with a word the teacher hadn’t expected that he’d know and she had fallen for him even then.
She recalled the tall boy that had walked into that class with the principal with a belligerent frown, as though he dared anybody to mess with him. Stacey hadn’t been friends with any of her classmates but she’d instantly wanted to talk with him and she had and they’d become awkward friends from day one.
“Now, I was afraid and alert, which was a good thing. I became suspicious of Chairman, I analyzed every insouciant thing he said and in the long run…it saved my life.”
“Long story short, Chairman was keeping us for a Lebanese man. Wana had described that homosexuals were attracted to other men, so when we were paraded for no reason but to say ‘hello’ to Chairman’s white friend, the other boys were excited.”
“There were even hopeful conjectures that the white man would take someone abroad. I couldn’t stop being afraid, and then I saw how he gazed at us. His eyes settled on me more than once and I felt like a girl because, we were teenagers, and hanging with laborers, I understood how a man looked desirously at a woman; this was how he looked at me.”
Stacey had stiffened when the Lebanese man had been mentioned. She’d been thinking the man wanted the boys as slave laborer, but to use them for homosexual pleasures was just…horrid.
“From when the man arrived, we weren’t allowed out of the gate, our freedom was suddenly cut off. My suspicion increased, but the other boys thought I was too scared, they said Chairman explained to the security guy that he was trying to protect the white man, so, they had to keep the gate closed at all times.”
“It sounded like bullshit but I so wanted to believe it was true. I didn’t want to go back to the street but I didn’t want any one fucking my arse either,” he sighed audibly, “A week later, a truck arrived and we were told we’d be going for a little journey with the white man to visit his house at Lagos, my suspicions were confirmed.”
“I didn’t care how kind they men sounded, I knew something was up. I talked to my closest friend then, Uboho, I told him we had to escape before morning but he wouldn’t go. I went to the fence but there was no way I could climb off it with the electric wiring on the top.”
Stacey’s heart thundered as she listened, feeling as though she’d been there, feeling the dread of a teenage boy with no one in the world, feeling how alone he must have felt with none of his friends believing him.
“I thought it was luck when Uboho was sent to give the white man tea in his room and he overheard the man speaking on the phone. Even his heavy accent didn’t stop Uboho from understanding that he was telling someone he had seven beautiful boys for his pleasure and that one was solely his and he wouldn’t share.”
“Oh my God…” Stacey finally whimpered, unable to hold back any longer.
“He raced to me, he told me he believed me and wanted to tell the boys but I knew…” he sobbed, choked and took a deep fortifying breath, “I felt terrible afterwards but I knew if we told the other boys, who had disbelieved me the whole time, I knew they might call attention to the men that we knew something.”
“It would have been terrible for us. At least we weren’t tied up, so there was hope for escape. Some burly security guys that had arrived in the night, obviously working for the white man, rounded us up with our luggage, and marched us to the pickup truck that had a covering, on the back. Nobody would ever know we were in there, being transported to our doom.”
“Uboho was terrified, I was terrified but I kept begging him not to be obvious. He kept asking how we would escape, I told him I’d jump out of the truck if possible and he nodded.”
Richard took another ragged deep breath, cleared his throat and continued, “I’d shoved my savings into my pocket, my heart beat so hard I could hardly breath. The security guys were so scary, one of them even had a gun…”
And suddenly Stacey was recalling the feel of the gun and how it had jerked in her hand when she’d shot the giant more than a month ago on ‘Fright Night’.
It didn’t really connote with the story but random things triggered that night for her. And when it did, she recalled not just the feel of the gun but the bone numbing terror she’d felt when being dragged by the hair, the wet, warm feel of the giant’s blood splashing on her face, the discorded palpitations of her heart when Cecil’s gun erupted…
Stacey shuddered at the memory and that reaction connoted with Richard’s story. He saw it and instantly went to her. He had to unclasp her fingers from the bottle of water, dropped it on the table, sat by her and held her because he understood how she was feeling.
He understood because even after these years, he felt the same shudder of unease and dread and terror. And though he held her to give comfort; he also held her to equally get comfort.
“Should I continue?” he asked considerately as he settled his chin on her head.
“Do you want to continue?” she asked worriedly, “Because if you can’t talk about it now, Richie, it wouldn’t be a problem, I’d understan…”
“I want to get it over with,” he whispered and she nodded, scooting closer and wrapping his middle with her arms.
Richard took a deep breath and continued.
“So, both of us are shaky and are the last to climb into the dark interior of the truck. The burly security guys, two of them, climbed in after us and conscientiously pulled up the truck’s back and locked it.”
“The other boys chattered excitedly with each other while Uboho shook uncontrollably beside me. The idea we had was to pretend we wanted to urinate and then run if they stopped the truck. But if they didn’t, we were supposed to pee out of it while the truck moved and that would give us the opportunity to jump out.”
“It was a stupid plan,” Richard sighed as he felt Stacey shake, he held her tighter, “The truck turned into a busy street and Uboho anxiously asked to urinate. The look we were given from the guards was even scarier than they idea of them having guns on their person.”
“Uboho panicked and started crying and then lunged at the space between the closable back of the truck and the top. He could have made it but the guards caught his legs and he dangled half out and half in.”
Stacey could feel the heavy palpitations of his heart as it thundered against her head on his chest. He was reliving the horrible past and she wanted to tell him to stop, to take it all away but he continued before she could speak.
“Everything happened in a blur, Uboho was screaming, probably attracting too much attention, they guys were shouting, and all I wanted to do was to save my friend. So, I used my cellophane bag of cloths and hit the closest guy on the head continuously. I have no idea what happened, but they suddenly let Uboho go…”
“Oh…” Stacey whimpered unconsciously.
“He fell head first, smashed his skull and the truck never stopped. While the guards still looked through the flaps of the truck covering, I wriggled suddenly between them and dived out of the speeding truck…”
“I was lucky, unlike Uboho, I was lucky to land on my side and rolled instantly out of the busy road. I tried to stand, I think I sprained something, but I was shocked to see the truck stop a distance away. I panicked, though I wanted to go see if Uboho could possibly be alive, when I saw the truck stop, I struggled up and limped into the crowd that was quickly gathering.”
Stacey turned and sat astride him on the bed and held him tenderly, “I’m so sorry, Richie, for everything you’ve faced,” she said solemnly and kissed his brow.
He nodded and held her to him, inhaling her soft, comforting scent, “Severally, after that, I’ve come across wealthy people accusing one poor person or the other for something they didn’t do. I’ve seen them cheat laborers out of the right amount of wage for their labor, and they can’t do anything, because it would be the rich man’s word against the poor. And whoever pays the police is right.”
Richard shook his head at the unfairness of it all, “From then, I despised and suspected every rich person, even the clan. I was only with Debbie because Wana took me there but I never relaxed…I relaxed with you though,” he murmured, his nose nuzzling her neck.
“I relaxed and then I begun hoping and dreaming and assuming that it could be better, but then you announced you were leaving to some far away school and my world crumbled. I couldn’t understand…I refused to understand any of it; I was so angry with myself for letting down my guard, for wanting you…”
DUCT SEASON 4 continues
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