I move to where the principal sat. I need to hear this. Has Bisi been here before? Why was nothing ever done? The love of my life, I am more concerned for her safety now.
“Sir, you said this happened before—”
The old man must have been waiting to pour it out. “Three years ago, a boy’s body was found at the bank of the stream. He had suffered a deadly machete blow on the head.” I gasp but allow him to continue. “I can never forget him. His name was Babatunde Ajala. His parents were poor farmers. Had lands with Bisi’s family. Quiet people. They only wanted the best for their children.” He sighs. “For months no one knew what happened to him. The police station charged with Abagboro is at least thirty minutes trek away. When they finally came to investigate, the boy had been buried by his parents. Counted their loss and moved on.”
“How did it concern Bisi?”
Mr. Ojo turns to us. “Bisi was interrogated because she had been at the stream with Babatunde Ajala. It was rumoured they were lovers.”
I gasp. “She was only fourteen.” A quick glance at Bisi and I notice she has tucked her head between her laps but her shoulders shudder like she was in tears.
“As you can see, she’s the most beautiful girl in the village. All the boys want her.” Mr. Akande hisses. “But she had a special likeness to Babatunde. He was eighteen, in his final year in the high school. A great potential. Quiet, smart, handsome boy.”
I feel a twinge of jealousy, which is quickly squashed.
Mr. Ojo sighs. “I think they both knew the danger in being lovers because they were very discreet. They met at the stream at odd hours in odd places.”
Maybe they met in that awkward corner Bisi liked to bathe, I think.
“Well, one of Babatunde’s friends knew about the affair and in the moment of pain and anger, blurted that Bisi knew Babatunde’s killer.” Mr. Akande sniffs. “We took her to my office and described to us what happened.”
When Mr. Akande did not say anything further and Mr. Ojo too kept quiet, I yielded to the urge to prompt them, but Jang beat me to it.
He frowned. “What happened?”
“Bisi and Babatunde were at the stream alone. Ade came with two of his friends. One had a whip, the other had a machete. They asked Babatunde to follow them, he refused. Bisi promised the wild boys he will never see Babatunde again if they just go.” Mr. Akande opens his mouth to continue but nothing comes out.
Mr. Ojo takes it up. “The boy with the machete strikes Babatunde. They carry Bisi and leave.”
Fortuna whispers. “Where did they take her to?”
Mr. Akande shrugs. “She said they took her home. They did not hurt her. But Ade warned her she was his. Anyone he catches with her will follow Babatunde’s footsteps.”
No wonder she is so reserved. I look at her just less than a meter away from us, seated on the ground, her hands wound over her head. What pain she must feel, knowing Babatunde died because of her.
Jang raises his voice. “And what was done to the Ade?”
Mr. Akande sighs. “What could be done? He was Babatunde’s classmate at the time. We expelled him from the school. But the police didn’t do anything. Said they didn’t have any evidence against him except for what Bisi said. And Bisi wasn’t willing to make a written statement at the police—”
Bisi’s head shoots up. “He said he will burn my father’s farm.” She sobs.
“What an animal,” I mutter.
Pastor shakes his head. “He calls her the princess. Gives gifts to her family. He paid a dowry too.”
I gasp. “A dowry!”
“Yes.” Pastor snickers. “The only reason she doesn’t live with him is because she’s still in school. Her father made that deal with Ade. Pleaded to let her finish school.”
I look at Bisi. She’s technically married if the dowry has been paid. A furious anger wells up in me. Was high school education enough? What next after? She’ll be the wife of the village prince. When the village head dies, she will be the queen, married to the meanest a@#$%^ words cannot describe. She will be the most miserable of all women.
And my heart bleeds for her.
“But what is the Babatunde’s family doing? I mean what did they do? Their son died for nothing?”
Fortuna’s question irritates the intellectual in me. “What do you think they could have done? They are poor farmers.”
Fortuna rasps. “So?”
“Ade is the richest boy in the village. Even his father is terrified by him. Lets him get away with anything,” Pastor says softly.
“Exactly. He’s the prince. He has money, he has influence.” I hate to say it. “And he has the prettiest girl.”
Fortuna hisses. “Rotten riches.”
“More than anyone else.” I shut my eyes.
I want to believe this is a nightmare. I should wake up in my bed, my diary clutched in my hand. I should laugh at how feverish I am because of a kiss with Bisi. But this is a reality.
Everyone has walked on eggshells around Bisi because of Ade. He has turned her into a shadow of herself by the evil he has committed because of her. Much of her timidity now makes sense to me.
How come no one warned us? As visitors in the village, no one ever gave a hint. Bisi kept to herself most of the time, and out of trouble. The only friend I ever saw her with was Foyeke, Ade’s sister. Maybe she assumed Ade would not hurt his own sister and so believes it is safer to be friends with her.
But an animal will always be an animal. What was it like being betrothed to such a mean person? I can’t imagine but yet still, I see. Bisi is not a happy girl.
Everywhere is quiet again. I imagine we will be here till the hospital’s administrative staff report to work and reports made, and the NYSC coordinator arrives, and Toro’s family too.
It is such a long day ahead.