Dear Dakota

Dear Dakota

It’s not that I didn’t hear the stories, I did but myths are not real. They’re takes made up by people to scare other people.

 
It’s been a full year since I moved out to my apartment on the mainland. If it was my choice I wouldn’t come back to this place. I heard a sound, it was like a displacement between a soft growl and a gushing wind. My head turned with sleek agility I didn’t know I possessed.
 
My mother and her friends told me stories about these horrible creatures that came out at night. They did ceremonies to cleanse the land of any criminal injustice in the community.
 
I should have believed them. No, I did believe them when I was 10 years old. But 10 years after, I stopped believing. And now these creature has made it its mission to engrave this false myth into my skull.
 
Aunty Jola used to tell me and her kids the story of one of her friends. He escaped a near-death experience when these beings attacked him.
 
It was gory. He had cannibalistic nightmares and night terrors for weeks. No therapist could break through to him. He died 3 months later.
 
I had a sickening feeling pooling up in my stomach. The whooshing sound grew closer to my hiding spot. I seized my breath. I couldn’t see anything at this point. It was pitch black.
The moon had decided to restart its revolving cycle around the earth. And the stars went into hiding because of the gloomy clouds that covered the sky.
 
Even the usual crickets that whispered into the night were quiet. I was the only one who didn’t get the memo about what was happening.
 
Wait, mama said I shouldn’t come home this week but she didn’t tell me why. See me now with my big head. Hiding from a diabolic entity I didn’t believe existed.
 
“A yi n wo. A yi n wo. Ti obinrin ba wo Orò, Orò a gbe” A male voice sang out, the voice had a certain strain.
 
Shit, he was speaking Yoruba-my native dialect- but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Intuition tells me it’s a warning. They know there’s a stranger who shouldn’t be outside.
 
I’m sorry, I left out a part of aunty Jola’s story. Her friend was almost used as a sacrifice. To cleanse the land they used human blood to appease the orisha Orò for his mercy.
 
They preferred the blood of an ignorant stranger over the blood of an indigenous virgin girl. I remembered when I arrived at Ikorodu.
 
At the central road, there was this huge statue of the Orisha Ogun, coated in black paint. He was the god of iron and hunting. The statue even if I don’t know if that’s what the great god looked like, was standing atop a dead elephant. Beside him was a small dog, and around his neck was a rifle.
 
The statue didn’t emit any aura of dark powers. The orishas were tales I reminded myself.
 
Drowning my thoughts I raised my head when a soft breeze caressed my forehead. Shit, they’ve found me. I was preparing my final prayers when I heard another person’s voice. It was a woman who spoke this time.
 
Don’t these people understand English?
 
“Jọwọ mo bẹbẹ kthesei o jẹ ki a fi I silẹ. Alejo ni”
 
I knew what a few of the words meant. Jọwọ please, silẹ alone.
 
“Rara, ọmọbinrin ni. A yoo lo rẹ” another voice challenged.
 
They knew, all this time I thought my play dead act had worked. They knew and they wanted to use me for something. Anger brewed in me. I wanted to curse the keke maruwa guy that put me in this predicament in the first place.
 
A place can change so much in 12 months. The motor parks had moved away. The community had finished building the central mosque. It was a major landmark, sitting in the middle of the garage.
 
“Ijede, Illupeju?” I asked one of the keke maruwa guys when I finally found them. They took shelter beside the filling station opposite the mosque.
 
The guy turned and scanned me from head to toe. He knew I was a stranger. You see, these Ikorodu indigenes had the ability to tell when you’re not one of them.
My skin is fair and I have this Igbo look. Anytime people see me they assume I’m from the eastern part of Nigeria when I’m actually from the west.
 
My maternal grandmother’s genes were very dominant in shaping my physique. The Nnewi women were tall with beautiful chestnut skin tone. At least my grandmother’s family had that trait.
 
“You get change?” He asked still looking at me as if I was the sumptuous meal he had been waiting for all day.
 
“How much?”
 
“N250.”
 
“Ahhh for wetin? Last time na N150 I enter am.”
 
The last time was a year ago. I know but it’s reverse psychology. I used it to play on the intelligence of these keke drivers.
 
“Which time you enter Ijede N150.” He hissed and looked at the busy road for more passengers. “You get change abi you no get?”
 
He was getting irritated. The sun had gone away now. Smoke rose from the lantern the night market women used to illuminate their goods. A suya man was blowing the hot coal he uses to roast the meat to reduce the waiting time of his customers.
 
“Oya I get change. You go tell me when we reach there o.”
 
He nodded but didn’t say a word. I knew I didn’t have change so I bought popcorn and Fanta. I couldn’t risk him abandoning me in the middle of nowhere because I refuse to pay him complete money.
 
The keke was complete. I always sat at the edge. It was a precaution, in case anything happened I would be able to get down and run for my life.
 
The night breeze was cool. One of the reasons why I hated keke maruwas is because they never go fast. The three wheels were more of an impediment than a help.
 
Up ahead the road, cars started pulling to a stop. I put my head out of the keke to see what was happening. When I couldn’t see anything I tucked my head back into the safety of the tricycle.
 
“Na LASMA. By this time, they will stay on the road and cause traffic for poor people coming back from work. All because they want N50 or N100 mtcheww.”
 
The plum mother who sat in the middle of me and the other guy passenger started rambling. It was no secret. In fact, it’s a normal thing now.
 
At every checkpoint, you had to pay a token to either LASMA or the NURTW guys, that’s the fancy name for them. You might know them as agberos or hoodlums for further relatability.
 
Our keke moved closer and finally, we reached the checkpoint. The LASMA official’s uniform looked faded as the umber light from the keke shone on it.
 
I could make out the recent and older patches he had an obioma (roadside tailor) fix. I heard working for the government didn’t pay well so most civil workers had to improvise.
 
The LASMA division decided to collect fees for roads our taxes built. The funny thing is these officials are also citizens like us. Even when you go on to report these extortions, you’d land in a court with a bias corrupt judge and jury.
 
The law in Lagos Nigeria had no meaning for the people that’s why it was easy to bend. No policies in place to keep the government and law in check. And the people have adopted this fear of the government narrative.
 
The transaction was swift. The keke maruwa guy hissed as he drove on from the checkpoint, he had lost N100 from his income for nothing.
 
I was feeling sad for the guy, he looked like he had a family to feed. My phone buzzed inside my backpack. I’m a light traveller, I hate anything that will stress me in this life, to be honest.
 
The screen poured its light into the dim insides of the keke. The mother looked at me with the side of her eyes. The other guy at the other edge of the keke had an earpiece plugged throughout the ride.
 
It was 10 pm. My mother will swear for me this night.
 
“Olurunwatobi wa o.”
 
The mother proclaimed with her thick ibile Yoruba accent. She tapped her sleeping son without mercy. He stirred and looked around the keke like a drunkard.
 
We made eye contact, I smiled at him. He stared for a moment before the keke screeched to a stop and his mother pulled him and her sack of ugwu out of the keke.
 
It was now me, the earpiece guy, and the driver. I paid for the ride and the driver smiled at me for the first time since we left Ikorodu garage.
 
It took me 1 hour 30 minutes to leave Surulere and get to Ikorodu garage, but it’s taking me almost 2 hours to get home. Another reason why I don’t like this place, it’s cut off from the rest of Lagos.
 
Two bus stops later, the earpiece guy got to his destination. I could see my junction a few feet ahead, at least the signboard hadn’t changed over the years. Except rust now coated its surface and few letters had scarped off.
 
“Oya o, I don reach.”
 
Wait, what? Reached where? Omo no follow me play rough play this night. I muttered in my head.
 
“Where? You suppose enter na. I dey go police station.”
 
“Police station? Ahh you for don enter Itamaga con drop for that Triple Starrs hotel, enter police station. I no dey go that side. In fact, curfew go soon reach once 11 o clock knack.”
 
It was my fault I should have asked. Be vocal I always told my reflection every morning. But the roads of Lagos made me swerve back into my shell and become a JJC (jolly just come).
 
“Oya na. Thank you.” I said to him.
 
He nodded and bid me farewell. The road had potholes here and there. It was even hard to see because the street lamps were off. Why put street lamps if you won’t turn them on?
 
Rubbish people, the local government development association officials. I walked a solid 10 minutes and I was still nowhere close to my street talkless of my house. My phone’s time read 11 pm.
 
My mother would still be awake, I’m sure of it. I wanted to listen to music, I dipped my hand into the pocket of my backpack to find my earpiece.
A giggle rushed out of my mouth as I remembered the earpiece guy. Thinking about him now made me realize he was actually kind of cute.
 
The road was dark and lonely. Only the trees that looked like masquerades brushed against the moving wind. My street signboard was close. I could see the first letter. But something was standing beside the post. It was tall and had ruffles at its edges.
 
It wasn’t a tree, my heart raced up trying to get to the finish line to see what was standing there.
 
“A yi n wo.”
 
Woosh Woosh the wind became restless. The figure moved and I almost released the urine I had held throughout the ride to my house.
 
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ. What is happening? What is that thing?
 
I took a step back and made a quick observation of my current predicament. I could see torches flashing at objects and buildings miles away. The singing became louder and the figure crept closer towards me.
 
I didn’t think twice. I knew what was happening. I had entered it today, no way out. The uncompleted building was the only open house willing to shelter me.
 
The noise died down for a while. The voices became hushed whisperers.
 
“Obinrin, jade nisisiyi. A mọ pe o wa nibẹ.”
 
A heartbeat passed away. It was silent again. The only sound was my heart pounding hard against my chest. I didn’t understand what the voice said and I was too scared to go out.
 
The uncompleted building was a room and parlor apartment. The roofing was almost finished. The owner covered the entrance with a makeshift door made from tied bamboo sticks.
 
“Ṣe o ye ohun ti a n sọ?” The familiar woman’s voice from earlier patronised the man that had been talking.
 
I felt relieved, at least someone wanted me alive. They argued for a few minutes before the man said some words in another dialect. It sounded like Yoruba but a twisted form of it.
 
She kept quiet, my hope slipped away. The man etched closer to the building. The wind hadn’t died down, if anything it became more restless.
 
I was hiding inside what I assumed would be the bedroom of this apartment. I was squatting and my weak knees refused to help me today. I wished I did more workouts, I’m so far from being a fit person.
 
About five people entered the building. I wanted to run but I couldn’t move. Something was happening to me, it was like I had lost control of my motor functions.
 
“Kini o n wa lode?” One of the men dressed in white wrappers asked me.
 
He wore white ceramic beads on his neck and wrists, about three layers of them on each side.
 
There was a slim woman among them but she had her back to me. She looked like she was shaking or the flashlight enjoyed playing an optical illusion on my eyes.
 
I looked at them confused at first. There was a language barrier here. Would they even believe me? This was the Orò festival aunty Jola told us about. It’s not as scary as she made it sound. You know what, I spoke too soon.
 
Two men- with nothing but white wrappers covering their genitals- grabbed me. They lifted me off the ground, my backpack obeyed gravity, and fell to the floor.
 
The old man turned and went out of the building, the woman followed. Outside was chilly but I was hot. Fear was boiling my skin and bones. This was not the time to enjoy the cool weather.
 
They threw me down without any mercy. I scraped my knee, serves it right for failing me earlier.
 
“Ki ‘ni oruko re?”
 
Finally a sentence I understood. But of course, my confidence became a battered rage doll at the sight of the men and women in white staring at me.
 
“Dakota.” I said.
 
They began to murmur among themselves. The woman offered me a reassuring smile. I knew the stories, I knew my fate. I was going to be a sacrifice and nobody will ever find my body parts if there’s any left.
 
“What are you doing outside by this time? Did you not hear about the festival tonight?”
 
The old man whose grey hair looked so fragile that the wind threatened to pluck the strands out asked me.
 
“No sir. I didn’t hear about the festival sir.”
 
So he speaks English now. How was I able to joke at this point. Was this how Aunty Jola’s friend felt when he faced them?.
 
The man raised my face with his wrinkled hand under my chin.
 
He turned my face from side to side looking for a sign of my truth on my acne-infested face. He sighed and looked back at the other men and women.
 
They concluded my future without my own opinion. At least the woman with cowries sitting with pride on her shuku hairstyle would remember me.
 
My mind wandered to my mother. I left home because we fought a lot, now I would be gone forever.
 
The two men from earlier picked me up again. This time they pulled me closer to the black figure.
 
When did it get so close? It was huge. It was a masquerade. The growling sounds I’ve been hearing were coming from it. What was happening? What was behind the black masquerade?
 
My face was wet with my salty tears. They threw me to the floor in front of the masquerade. The men and women turned their backs and looked away.
 
This was it, my inevitable end. I should have listened and stayed at home. I should have visited my mother during the day. I hate myself for never listening.
 
The wind blew harder, I was afraid it would displace us from the earth. The black masquerade bent down and I saw its face. Even after three months, I still remember its diabolic face.
 
It had a square-shaped face with sharp thorns extending out of its four edges. There were two hollow spaces like an empty eye socket of a person’s skeleton. Except this was no human.
 
Its cheeks had a scarlet shade with white zig-zag lines running from its eyebrow down to its brown lips. It parted its lips and put its razor-sharp teeth on display for anyone who was careless enough to take a peak.
 
The flashlights of the men and women in white helped me make out its face before the light went off. They moved away from the masquerade and me.
 
I knew the tales about the Orò festival. I knew that women should never look upon their masquerades. In fact, women caught would become sacrifices while men got off with a warning.
 
How I wished I was a man, then they would be lenient with me. The masquerade danced forward towards me.
I could hear its growls inside my head, I wanted to scream but tears and fear choked me.
 
The men started singing in loud voices while the women knelt down and prayed with shaky hands. My death drew near and I couldn’t help but remember aunty Jola’s words.
 
“Orò is not a religion. It’s a system for ensuring peace and harmony in the lands. Yorubas may now practice Christianity and Islam. But the indigenes didn’t stop their so-called sacrifices to purity the land.”
 
The old man who I finally figured was the Orò priest moved closer to me and the restless masquerade. My neck was slippery with sweat and my eyes were heavy from crying.
 
He had a knife in his hand. He stalked me like I was prey. My blood rushed to the dry ground of my street. I screamed out but no one was brave enough to save me.
 
As my blood drained out of the stab wound, the Orò priest began his incantations.
 
“A rubo. Wẹ ilẹ wa mọ ki o mu alafia ati aṣẹ pada sipo.
 
A rubo. Wẹ ilẹ wa mọ ki o mu alafia ati aṣẹ pada sipo.
 
“A rubo. Wẹ ilẹ wa mọ ki o mu alafia ati aṣẹ pada sipo.”
 
The other Orò worshipers joined in the incantations. I began to lose my grasp on life. Every prayer the priest called out, images of horror flooded my mind.
 
Women who had died in the name of cleansing the land. Children who had gone missing days after the Orò festival.
 
No one believes me but I know I died that night.
 
The woman who wore cowries stood up without warning. Everyone gasped. She stood between me and the Orò priest, then she called out into the chaotic night.
 
“Mo fi ẹmi mi fun tirẹ.”
 
“Eyi ni ohun ti o fẹ?” The Orò priest asked her.
 
“Beeni.”
 
She’s saying yes, but to what? I wanted to speak up but she knelt down beside me. Caressed my forehead and placed a quick meaningful kiss on my sweaty skin.
 
The woman helped me to my feet. She whispered into my ears. I had to strain to hear what she said.
 
“Run and don’t look back. Run no matter what don’t look back.”
 
I am an opportunistic woman. Given the right conditions, my adrenaline pumped and gave life to my dead body. She screamed and I took to my heels.
 
All I heard was a thud after her scream. She died for me. She took my place. I would not look back no matter what.
 
The black masquerade was as fast as light, but I was an injured animal, I would do anything to survive.
 
I was running for what felt like hours. The masquerade and the Orò worshipers only grew motivated to capture me. The death of their own meant nothing until they killed me.
 
My hope bank was empty. My stomach ached and I was hallucinating. My body was gliding the ropes of shock. I had lost a lot of blood from the stab wound. I was about to stop and catch my breath when I saw an open gate.
 
I didn’t know the owner of the house but all that mattered was their gate was open. I rushed in without thinking and jammed the gate, snapping the padlock shut.
 
The house had its security lights on, I looked around the compound and spotted the garage. I’ll be safe in there. I have to be.
 
My body was weak and drained of any strength. I collapsed on the floor and gave way for my subconscious mind to take charge. The last thing I heard before my eyes closed. Was the impatient growls of the masquerade running around the house.
 
A beeping sound woke me up. It was an annoying sound. Where was I? How am I alive? I should be dead.
 
“Doctor doctor she’s waking up sir.”
 
My vision was blurry. I tried talking but I couldn’t, there was an oxygen mask over my nose and mouth.
 
I was in a hospital. How did I get here? I looked up and saw a drip connected to my forearm. The beeping sound was coming from a machine that had tubes attached to my chest.
 
“She’s awake you say. It’s a miracle o.”
 
A man entered the room. He wore a white lab coat with a printed logo and name tag. I couldn’t read the words because my eyes still had blurry vision.
 
“Can you hear me?”
 
He asked. I nodded in response.
 
“Good, oya squeeze my hand with your hand.”
 
I did as he asked, I winced and my mind took the liberty to replay the reason why I was in a lot of pain.
 
“Good. We don’t know your name yet.” He paused and stroked his stubble on his jaw. “You’re at General Hospital Ijede. Mr. and Mrs. Balogun found you half dead in their garage two weeks ago. They come in every two days to check up on you.
 
Thank goodness you woke up.”
 
Two weeks?? I was in a coma for two weeks. My mother would be so worried. She would have been trying to call me.
I tried to adjust my posture but the pain in my abdomen advised me to lie down back on the soft bed.
 
The doctor continued talking. He figured even if I understood I wouldn’t be able to reply because of the oxygen mask.
 
“You lost a lot of blood. We had to give you plenty of blood during the operation. Mr. Balogun paid for your bills. Nurse Adisa will help you with anything you need.”
 
Hearing her name, the nurse stepped forward so I could see her. Her scrub was blue and looked a little too tight for her thick thighs. Her face was rigid, even when she tried smiling it looked forced.
 
The doctor checked the beeping machines around me and adjusted something on the drip. I succumbed to the sleep that was calling me.
 
The next time I woke up, the mask was no longer on my face. I was breathing well on my own. Nurse Adisa was opening the curtains. Light rushed into the room making me turn my head to shield my eyes from the sudden brightness.
 
Nurse Adisa noticed I was awake.
 
“Ahh you’ve woken up. How are you feeling?” She asked.
 
I cleared my itchy throat as I prepared to talk for the first time in two weeks since my near-death experience.
 
“I…l…I’m fine.”
 
A harsh cough freed itself as I spoke interrupting me. My chest felt tight. Nurse Adisa had to patronise me to calm down and speak only when I felt comfortable.
 
Later that afternoon Mr. Balogun came to visit. He was a robust man that was well fed and well-taken care of. He looked around forty-ish. He said a few things to the doctor and nurse Adisa before entering the room.
 
I owed my life to this man. His garage and his money saved me from death.
 
“Dear, how are you feeling?”
 
“F…fine sir. T…thank you s…sir for taking care of me sir.”
 
I stammered out my gratitude, it was hard to talk when your chest felt like an anvil was living rent-free on top of it.
 
“Oh, no worries. It was my wife who found you around 5 am bleeding. She called me and we rushed you to the hospital.” He said.
 
I nodded and pushed my body to a sitting position. I knew he wanted to ask me more questions. Even if he was generous enough to save my life he wanted to know why he had to do it in the first place.
 
“What happened to you, dear?”
 
Curiosity is a strong stimulant and Mr. Balogun enjoyed the stimulation. I didn’t mind telling him what happened. But anytime I tried to narrate the story of how I almost died. I remembered the masquerade’s diabolic face. The pictures of death and dead women and children.
 
I couldn’t talk about it. That is why I wrote it down for someone to find and do something about it.
 
Mr. Balogun and his wife contacted my mother and she came as fast as the keke maruwa drove to the hospital. She was a lost soul until Mr. Balogun called her.
 
After they removed my oxygen mask. I told the doctor, nurse Adisa and the Baloguns my name, address, and next of kin- my mother. They contacted her immediately.
 
I wouldn’t be here without the woman with cowries sitting with pride on her coal-black curls. She gave her life for me, I don’t know why she picked me after so many deaths of other women.
 
What if she was sick of the meaningless killings? I didn’t understand.
 
Like most of my culture, I still don’t understand it. The brutal killings and deaths that hover over the Yoruba lands. I need someone to explain it to me. Why did the gods accept the blood of their own creations?
 
What is the truth about our culture and traditions? The Orò festival has pushed me to ask these questions. I’m doing it for the cowries woman who died for me or am I stimulated by curiosity to find the truth.
 
My name is Dakota Akinwinmi-Jakande. I will find the truths about my heritage one day.

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