No one knows how their minds reached this point but it is agreed they came on foot. Callused feet and calves that looked like yam tubers bore testament to journeys. The woman came first, hauling her world into the building abandoned to rumours that its owner had promised the devil six souls for each storey. Workers fled after a freak accident claimed lives and it was left to look like a mouth filled with broken teeth. Every day she joined the throng trudging the streets for survival. She was different, simpler. A wrapper constructed with banners that announced from behind, Jesus is Lord, and in front, Power to the People was her favourite outfit. However, it was her accessories – empty tins tied around her ankles, waists and wrists, dangling from her neck – that gave her the name ChakaChaka. These clanged and jangled on the move, magneting attention. It was not strange to see her being trailed by street children like a Pied Piper. She was known to break into a dance at their prompting, one that eventually commandeered the attention of adults who were hitherto overwhelmed with worries that drown only sane minds.
ChakaChaka is performing for her children. They cannot hear the music in her head but they watch her waist wriggling, feet stirring up dust storms.
A woman runs out of the bus park. ‘Help!’ is the word that springs from her throat. No one responds. Gaining on her is a naked man with engorged penis like a compass pointing him in the right direction. Onlookers point and laugh and say:
“Look at the short dress she is wearing”
“Shebi na man she wear am to seduce?”
“Why won’t he chase her?”
“Ehen! She don see man begin run.”
See as im prick long, Conji don hol’ am wellwell.”
ChakaChaka senses the shift and opens her eyes to see her spectators have withdrawn, called away by something more potent. She surveys the scene for seconds and breaks through the ring of disloyal audience, eager to stake her territory. Dipping her head like a bull, she charges at the man who is still screaming, “Baby, it’s me, JonJon. You no remember?” A collision of flesh and bones; they crash to applause from the audience and begin to fight.
ChakaChaka is dressed differently today. Lost in the territorial tussle, her banner-cloth has been replaced by an oversize, iwasoncewhite top that skims her buttocks, its graphics bragging: My friend went to California and got me this! She giggles as the event unfolds in her mind. Her hands flail, throwing punches and suddenly she drops to the ground with a shriek, hands covering her privates, mimicking her opponent. She stands, dusts her buttocks and strolls forward, surveying faces and smiling till she spots him in front of her building – naked and stroking his clump of bird-nest beards. ChakaChaka tosses her bag and hurtles towards him, shrieking: “Go way! Go way!”
He doesn’t fight back or attempt to yank off her breasts like he had done the last time. Instead he lets her hit him till, exhausted, she collapses against him. He wraps his arm around her, feeling his excitement grow. He knows he has found her. From the moment he heard the voices say his wife was close to the Niger, he had dusted the sands of Lagos off his buttocks and tramped through states to meet her. He laughs at the memory of all the women he mistook for her and who had run away from him. She is the only one who ran to him, twice, for assurance. She is laughing into his chest. Eyes focus on them, heads shaking in mirth and wonder but he doesn’t care. She shoves him suddenly and returns to her fallen goods. Gathering them, she sidesteps him and draws on the sand with her foot, a line across the entrance that says, don’t cross!
ChakaChaka sits cross-legged on the refuse dump surveying the world and laughing. A woman strolls past clutching her child nervously, but the boy turns to wave at ChakaChaka who starts following them, smiling and waving back. The woman’s pace quickens, her skirt flapping behind like wings. A figure walking towards the dumps catches her attention. Him! ChakaChaka shrieks and tears at her hair. Picking stones off the ground, she lobs them at the intruder. “Go way! Go way!” JonJon goes to lean against an electric pole some feet away, scratching at his pubic hair and making faces at her. They stay this way till he disappears and returns with a loaf of bread. He halves it and offers a piece to her while she giggles and looks away, palms splayed across her face. He approaches; bread extended, hope in heart. When she eventually snatches it from him, she throws a broken plate at him and snorts. He returns to his spot with a smile.
Henceforth, this is how they meet: ChakaChaka steps out of her kingdom to find him waiting. They do not talk and she never lets him come close. When they go scavenging, he ignores the better things for her. Sometimes he picks and throws them into her portion. When he rescues a lipstick, she smears it on her lips and flashes a purple smile at him. One day, he is absent so she sits on a heap of abandoned gravel in front of her house and waits. Even when it begins to drizzle, she waits, chewing the ends of her hair. All day she sits, throwing stones at passersby. For days he does not come and she stops wearing lipstick.
One rainy morning, she finds him waiting, wearing only a smile. She looks him over, disappears inside and returns with a trouser split halfway up like a skirt. Grinning, he pulls it on and twirls before embracing her. At first she stiffens and attempts to push him off but he holds on tight. Gingerly, her hands creep up to clutch him and they stay this way rocking from side to side, oblivious to raindrops and stares.
Screams bounce off walls, announcing their love from the building. When they come out giggling and holding hands, people sneer: “Mad people follow dey do love?” They stroll through traffic and horns go off madly as motorists swerve to avoid them, cursing. They are deaf to everyone, lost in each other. When they reach the Central roundabout – their newest hangout – he leaps over the foot high stakes and reaching for her hand, leads her over and situates her beneath the shade the sculpted dance troupe throws. They are traffic-watching when she points to her belly and he leans over it ears cocked, a smile breaking his grime-caked face into bits.
It is raining. Blocked by debris, unsettled by shoddy workmanship the gutters overflow, tightening traffic at the Central roundabout. Pedestrians hurry past underneath umbrellas, some stand beneath shop awnings, waiting for a lull. Amidst the sculptures located within the roundabout, JonJon and ChakaChaka dance around in puddles and laugh, ignoring the raindrops and stares. Whenever lightening crackles or thunder rumbles, they cheer and then embrace.
ChakaChaka chases JonJon down the road, pelting him with empty cans and stones from her bag. She is screaming: “Go way! Go way!” He darts between people that shy away from his appearance and stink. Glancing behind at his pursuer, he streaks across the road. ChakaChaka’s shriek accompanies the thud and screeching tyres. She races towards him while the car driver cuts around JonJon and drives off. People stop and stare; some point and laugh as ChakaChaka stands on the road, hands raised, bringing traffic to halt like a warden. People watch her drag JonJon to the concrete demarcation on the road. Leaning against a streetlight, she clutches his bleeding head to her bulging belly and screams, a sound that shocks the people out of their momentary stillness. Around her, the road returns to life with people and vehicles coming and going. For two days, she leans against the streetlight warding off people who attempt evacuation. She does not dance for the street children who gather to sing for her. She keeps watch, talking and cackling. On the third day, JonJon’s bloated corpse is finally alone, fingers curled around a lipstick tube.