Aribo hill, a popular haunt for hasty lovers and those who think reality is best left to those who can’t cope with drink and drugs. But there are no lovers or losers tonight, not at two o’clock on a Wednesday morning. An old Toyota squats like a metal crab come to a halt on the edge of a precipitous drop. It has yet to acquire the good sense to do the obvious thing and retreat.
In daylight, the steep hill it overlooks is littered with rubbish – broken, rusty appliances,
cardboard and paper, plastic bags, faeces, bits of metal, even the occasional dead and decaying mammal. The car is parked on a spot known to the local police as ‘the condom car park’. Aribo hill is a dump; but tonight, in the blackness, none of the detritus of human infestation is visible and so long as one doesn’t look too closely at the ground it is a place as beautiful as any on earth.
The car squeaks as it shifts on its suspension. The wild dog that had been approaching, sniffing nervously, tucks its tail between its scrawny legs and scuttles away. There are people here after all. Two men sit inside…
…From the hilltop above the shantytown the city spread out like a glittering black tapestry, knit seamlessly into the blackness of the heavens and challenging the stars for a man’s attention. Olu thought the city looked lovely, and considered Aribo hill a wonderful place because it afforded such a magnificent view. He kept his thoughts to himself. Akin wasn’t into beauty, art, music, or the wonder of the world. Akin thought the world was shit, and wasn’t shy about saying so.
Olu felt an urgent need to know how much time he had left to wallow in the beauty of the night. It made him reckless.
‘So how long?’ he asked.
‘We just got here. Whassamatter with you, do you need to shit or something?”
‘Yo! Back off my friend. I just wanted to know how long you thought we’d be here.’
‘Thought, thought? Stop thinking about what I thought. We’re here. In a while we’ll go. That’s it.’
Olu gave Akin his best hostile glare before lighting a cigarette. There was no need for the implied suggestion he was afraid. He stopped the nervous tapping on the glovebox and found something else for his hands to do. Cigarette! He lit one, took a long drag, and rolled the window down a fraction to let the smoke out. Akin tapped his arm.
‘Got more smokes?’
Olu looked into the packet without taking it out of his top pocket, like a gambler shielding his cards. There was one left.
‘Nah,’ he said, and offered Akin a drag of the cigarette in his hand.
‘Lying shit,’ said Akin, taking the cigarette.
‘Yeah, well if you know I’m a lying shit why ask?’
‘Dunno. But I’m not passing this back, so if you want a smoke you’d better take another one out.’
Olu tossed the packet onto Akin’s lap.
‘Eat it dickhead.’
‘Oi! What’s eating you?’
‘Look,’ Akin always said ‘look’ before he tried to get a point across. ‘It’s like Joker said - Anna’s a bit sick, know what I mean?’
‘No. I don’t. What’s wrong with her?’
‘She’s got diarrhoea.’
‘Whassat supposed to mean?’
‘It means her shit’s going in some random directions.’
‘And that’s her sickness?’
‘I think so. Mind you, I don’t smell her shit. Do you?’
Olu hesitated a fraction too long. Akin’s smile was cold.
‘Oh I see,’ said Akin, ‘you bin sniffing round and got a scent eh?’
‘I beg your pardon.’
‘Oooooh! He begs my pardon. Don’t air your overeducated teeth at me, Mister I Went To University. We do the same work for the same money, so you can say ‘what’ to me, like everybody else.’
Olu looked away. Akin was trying to read him. ‘How long we here before…?’ he said, repeating his original question.
‘An hour. Maybe.’ Akin’s tone softened.
‘An hour. And then the doctor…’
‘Cures all ills,’ Akin said, finishing Olu’s sentence.
‘Pass me a smoke,’ said Olu.
Akin looked in the packet on his lap and saw the lone cigarette.
‘Shares,’ he said, stubbing out the lit butt end he was smoking.
Olu watched the smoke rise from the stub; the grey juju spirit of the ashtray, dancing her dance of slow, cancerous death.
‘Shares? How can it be shares? They’re my cigarettes. And you just smoked one.’
‘S’mine now,’ insisted Akin, holding up the packet to prove it. ‘Shares?’ He offered the cigarette and raised his eyebrows.
Olu recognized the identical nature of this moment to one an hour earlier, when they shared kola nut and palm wine at the shrine. Their venture required the blessing of a Babalawo. It was a rite of passage for the soul. A soul could get lost on such a journey. He fingered the tiny gourd around his neck. Akin had one too. Their eyes met. Yes, they needed a blessing from the Babalawo, but also they needed brotherhood. After tonight they would be forever bound. Their likes, loves, ambitions, dreams, would all fade into insignificance when that stronger bond came into being.
‘Shares,’ Olu said, taking the cigarette and lighting it. He took a drag, leant back and looked out of the side window. Soon they would go down into the town where Anna, in whose warm, bare embrace he’d found succour only yesterday, lay in her bed. She’d have finished her night’s work and he and Akin would do theirs. He hoped she wouldn’t beg, prayed she wouldn’t refer to the thing between them. He set his mind to be fast, too fast for her to say a thing. He pictured the moment – the door opens, they’re inside in a flash, maybe Akin has instructions to question her, but he won’t let him. His blade flashes. Where? Where indeed to despoil that lovely smooth flesh without causing pain…
He feels the tremor of the engine starting, hears the low rumble as Akin presses down on the accelerator and the car backs away from the edge. Time jumped while he was lost in thought. A sliver of golden light now slices the glittering tapestry in two. Dawn is coming. It is time. His hand moves across his face in feigned weariness, as if the thing that stings his eyes is the lateness of the hour. He burns an image of the world, just as it is right then, into his memory. He knows that no matter how many times he comes back to this spot, if indeed he ever will, the city lights and twinkling stars won’t shine for him again. By the time the car swings onto the path, like so many others he will conclude that Aribo hill is a condom car park; just another ugly dump.