Binta should have been back at her hostel by 10pm, when the scrawny caretaker locked the gates – and never opened it until 6am, no matter who you were, or where you went, even though you were on the verge of death and the only thing that could save your life right then was inside your room in the hostel.
So, Binta should have been back sooner, but she had gone to see Tijani and he promised to drop her off in his newly purchased Corolla (2013, you know, and Customs nearly seized it at Cotonou, imagine that?). But they had another stupid fight (this time about an insensitive post he wrote on Facebook about Arsenal fans) and she left without saying goodbye. The whole way back to the Mainland, she wondered why she was still with him and if she could not just set up shop with somebody else (who actually had sense) and allow him keep the virginity, since that was all he had that belonged to her because, really, he did not have her heart.
It was 9:48pm when she got to Costain and the traffic was mammoth and she knew that taking a keke wouldn’t get her to Shitta on time, so she hailed an okada, climbed on and the okada man sped away, darting between cars and weaving in and out of traffic, with an efficiency that both impressed and frightened her.
She remembers – when she later narrates the story to her worried mother and to a Tijani who wished he had taken her home in that stupid Corolla – that they were on Eric Moore when two motorcycles pulled up along either side of the okada. Traffic was light and at first Binta wondered why these two bikes were riding so close to them, and then she heard “You there! Park!” and a prey’s instincts kicked in and the okada man accelerated. The sudden jolt nearly flung Binta off the bike.
Before she knew what she was doing, she was holding unto the man’s waist, her head buried in his back. What’s happening? She kept asking, but he wasn’t responding, he was increasing speed with each second. She heard the revving of the motorcycles giving chase. She looked back and saw the two sharp headlights approaching. It was like a nightmare.
You can live in Lagos for decades and the stories of robbery are only that until it happens to you and your life flashes before your eyes.
As soon as the okada man veered unto a poorly lit, bumpy road, she knew that he had made a terrible mistake. The terrain of the road drastically reduced the speed of the okada and the gap between them and their pursuers began to narrow in.
The okada man suddenly parked the bike and she started to scream, terrified that this was all part of the plan, that he was in on it. He got off the bike and wanted to help her down, but she was struggling with him, hysterical, slapping his hands away, frantic. He told her to run. It was only then that she really saw his face and noticed that he was such a young man, probably about her age, with a deep gash that ran from the corner of his left eye down to his jawline. He repeated, Run. And Binta took off. She did not look back even when she heard the thuds and a painful cry that rang high into the night.
She couldn’t stop thinking about him.
It had been a week. She thought he might have been killed.
For the first time, it dawned on her what the Christians say Christ had done on Calvary – giving his life for her, that she might run and be free from bandits.
Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his face. She had slept at Kate’s house that night, because after the ordeal and having found herself at Adeniran Ogunsanya, she had missed the caretaker’s stupid deadline, which is why she had taken an okada in the first place.
Kate could not believe her ears; it sounded like something out of a movie, that a man who did not know her from Adam could choose her safety over his own, over his very life. Binta thought about going to Randle Hospital, perhaps he would have been taken there. But what if he had been killed? Where would she start from?
Tijani was so worried, so much broken emotion in the aftermath of his anger. Suddenly, he wanted to be a better man for her, and suddenly, he wanted to be present because, what would he have done if she had been killed or raped. And how convenient that her sexual assault or murder would have him transfixed in the middle of it all.
It was a year later that Binta saw the okada man again. She was still meandering with Tijani and was writing her final year project. But when she saw him outside Shoprite, one half of his buttocks perched on his bike, joking boyishly with a fellow rider, her heart stilled and she knew what she would do.
As she approached him, he glanced her way and she saw the recognition in his eyes. There was another gash on his face now, this one deeper than the first and above his right eye.
You remember me.
I didn’t know where to look for you. I thought you were dead.
I survived. Thank God.
You saved me.
Sister, it is only God that saves.