Banji has been scamming for well over six months and he is not far from where he was when he began. His clients pay cheap money: two divorced women from Newton Abbot sent a fifty and a seventy pound itunes gift card, respectively; a fifty dollar card from a young woman who works in a mental health support group in Manhattan; a fifty card from a gay American man who likes Big Black Cocks. Banji wants bigger clients, bigger money.
“I want to roll a Benz too, gee,” he says in a voice to Jide.
They used to be as close as cursed things, Banji and Jide. They grew up together on that street of red dust in Bode Olude in Abeokuta. They attended the same school, dawning white shirts tucked into khaki shorts. They played football together. Jide did bad grades, chilled in School Two with other boys, smoking powdered leaves wrapped in white rislas or, when they could not afford a risla, paper torn from their school notebooks and making out with girls from other schools who hated school. Now the boy commands millions. He just bought a Benz. He recently bought and refurbished a house for his mother in Abeokuta. His WhatsApp status says it without noise: On God, caption for a photo of him in a classy bar, bottles of expensive drinks on the table, two fingers splayed: peace, eye clicked, lip fresh—perfect; Oluwa Na My One Support. OG, caption for a photo of him posing in front of his Benz, clothed in Valentino, Burberry on his feet, Gucci band—boy who has it all; photo of his wallet: $17xxx2.
“There’s no money in dating, only change,” Jide tells Banji on the phone. “You should try sugar baby. I go run you payment. You should be able to set up a cash app email now—you will just use a cash app photo, a soft variant of the cash app usual email address as your daub email address. You get?”
Banji meets Jide at Denero, one quiet hotel in Ladi Lak. Banji lives in Aguda but Jide is here to lay low, one stupid somebody in SARS is giving him headache.
“I can’t be giving him money all the time. He doesn’t fight my battles. I’m here to just chill a little jare,” Jide says. He sits on the bed. He is leaner, not like in the pictures he has been uploading on WhatsApp lately. There is a scratch on his neck.
“Sorry, man,” Banji says.
First they set up the cash app gmail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Then Jide forwards the payment, which can be edited to the effect, though there are particular features encoded into the whole thing that runs and runs, a link that enters the recipient’s cash app: it all looks believable.
“Believability,” Jide says. “Make them believe you have money and you can send it to them if they will let you love them and do them right. Ask them to send nudes, be commanding. It is a way to let them believe. If they believe they will pay.”
Banji spends nights and nights and days and days running the lines by the women, sending them dick pictures. My name is Henry McConnell, he introduces himself to each one. You have a really nice smile or Sorry about what happened to your son follows. It is necessary that a hustler studies his client. He is a writer but his father was a business mogul who left him an abundance of money. I just want to love somebody, he says. He tells them he can send them weekly allowance if they will let him have them. He sends the first payment.
On his other Facebook account, the dating one, he still chats white men who want to jerk off while watching him dip your finger in your meaty pussy. To them he is a lady from South Africa, thick body, huge behind turned to the camera, with head turned backward, finger in the mouth.
Dollars come in, but it is still change. Two hundred dollars from a man from Illinois who wants to hook, who says he likes to bundle his women like a bag of cotton. Will you like me to bundle you up, baby? he texts, following a photo of his dick the size of two candles, the length of a fifty naira sausage. When you are a hustler you say yes to the devil. A woman from the Philippines thinks she’s found her billionaire, golden key to the door that will alter her life for all the best. He sends her payment and she finds the hundred to let her two thousand dollars off the clutch of cash app. Still she gets no money. Banji sends her three thousand this time and she clears it with two hundred dollars, which she borrows from her boss. Aww. You will get your allowance soon, love. Sorry for the stress, baby. I love you to the moon xx, Banji texts. Make them feel good; a scam is a performer, an entertainer, only, some songs are entry points into terrifying testaments.
Banji wants more. Richmond, this boy they attended primary school together, who was so small back then anyone could tuck him into their pocket if they wanted, his client sent him three hundred thousand dollars, first allowance. Tope—who lived in the house opposite Banji’s I’m Bode Olude, whose sister was briefly Jide’s girlfriend—is now Tope Money, lives in Lekki, rides a Range.
“I will take you to this alfa, he’ll give you something to use,” Jide says, when Banji calls him. His voice is a little hoarse.
“What kind of thing?”
A brief silence. “I don’t know. A soap or stone.” He laughs. “Soap or oil or he would tell you to go and give some gifts to some people. Nothing serious. But please I won’t like it if tomorrow—” There is talking in the background. Jide is speaking with someone, but the other person’s voice isn’t audible. Please I am tired. Can we do in an hour? An hour. Please. I need to rest a little.
Banji hears the phone drop, he hears a muffled cry, the cry continues in his ears as the night falls outside. He cuts the phone after listening to the vague drama for about three minutes—out of curiousness, though also hoping that Jide’s voice will come back on.
Banji is worried but about what? It did not sound like Jide was in any kind of trouble. One of those girls who like you to do and do until your dick begins to ache, that was what it sounded like, Banji thinks. Jide likes women. But what is the statement Banji did not finish. If tomorrow—
“It is a soap that we will make for you. You will bath with it at midnight, oru oganjo. After bathing with it you will stay inside for three days. The day you bath with it will be the first day. Do you understand?” Alhaji Gold says, his Yoruba thick with an Osun accent. There is a lawani looped around his head. He is in a jalabya, a small man. There is a tray filled with clean white sand in front of him, on a polished table. Next to the tray is a chain of prayer beads. He looks at Banji and the boy who brought him, Jide.
Jide looks at Banji.
“You will bring seventy-two tousan,” he says.
“Ah, kini. Make Alfa no eat? I no get family? My pikin no go go to school? I no go wear cloth?” Banji thinks the man should be in his early thirties, around the age his own father kicked the stone. The Lizard’s stone. “You Yahoo boys that when you make it now you will forget the Alfa that did the work. That did nafillah, burning incense and dragging tesbiu while begging the ones who bear fortune to visit you. You forget.”
“Alhaji, I cannot forget you. Walahi,” Banji says. “I will not be ungrateful.”
“That’s what all of you say. There is one, Shina, I don’t know if you know him, they call him Shine Dollahposhi or something like that. He rides a green Big Daddy and one silver Venza. I did the work for him. Since the day he walked out of this place carrying his work in his hand, he went away and never looked back. No call, no alert.”
“Alhaji, your account number.” Jide sends seventy-five thousand naira to Alhaji, three thousand for card.
“This one now is my guy. Confamuni. This one knows the eyes of his helper. He sends me money for card everytime. He bought me one of the two rams I killed during the last Ileya. I hope you will be like him.”
This is Thursday. Never go to seek a plus on a Thursday. Alhaji Gold says the soap and other potions will be ready by Saturday. It doesn’t take long for money to come.
When they enter his car, everything chill and clean, Banji noticed another scratch on Jide’s neck. “Thank you so much, man. I am grateful. Ajeh,” Banji says.
“All good, man.”
There is silence. Jide loves to play music when he is driving, Banji wonders why there is no music playing. And then he wonders about the last time they were on the phone and Jide’s phone dropped to the floor and his voice was muffled.
“What happened the other day when I called?” Banji asks.
Jide looks in the back seat, as if someone is seated there. “It was just one of those shepeteri girls, she wanted us to go another round after like six. And she don trabaye at the time. She was in that space when we were talking on the phone and it was like there was fire burning between her legs—sorry, that’s not how I meant. I’m sorry.” He looks in the back seat.
Banji looks in the back seat too. He has never trabayed, the weed he does is usually , sometimes marley kush, and rarely, because it is not cheap, though it is his favorite, loud. Trabaye is a water he has never dipped his feet in; he’s seen videos of how the market ate people who ate it, this laced weed named after a city in the US.
“I don’t like to talk about the girl.”
They sit in the silence of the car, the world dancing past them outside. Banji keeps thinking of the first Benz he’ll buy when the big money starts coming. The girls. The life that is possible, the premium in this Lagos, this life that will be his soon.
“Yes. Please. I’m driving,” Jide says. “Please.” He glances at Banji, turns back to face the road, tries to look in the backseat. “Please. When we reach the hotel. Please.”
“Who are you talking to?”
“Somebody on the phone.”
There is an earpod in his ear but Banji is sure that Jide’s phone did not ring. It’s there on his lap, cold.
On Saturday Banji visits Alhaji Gold.
“Salamwalekum,” he greets. His mother, who raised him in a pentecostal church, would kill him for saying “Peace be unto this house” if she heard him right now.
“Alaykumwasalam,” Alhaji Gold responds. “Omo ori irin. Your work is ready, and I assure you that prayers will be answered. I am coming.” He enters his room.
While he is away Banji takes in the room: the yellow walls, the white long bulb on the wall, the table with the tray covered in sand carrying the manipulation of fingers finding secrets. The table, polished but old. There is a bottle of water on the table, Islamic pamphlets and the Quran.The chairs. The calendars on the wall, all of them testifying to Islam and the culture. The faint smell of incense in the room.
Alhaji Gold returns with a calabash that contains a dark mixture. “Ise ni yen,” he smiles. “Take.” He places it in Banji’s hand.
The calabash is slightly heavy.
“You will buy a pigeon on your way home. Slaughter it and spill the blood in the soap. Mix it with the soap. Buy native sponge too. By midnight go out and bath with the soap and the sponge under an open sky. As you bath tell what you want to the spirits that dance in that moment, and they will hear you,” Alhaji Gold instructs.
“You will bathe with the soap at midnight only once, today. Afterwards you will use the soap to wash your hand every morning before you start to hustle. You can use it to wash your face too,” he says. “Do you understand?”
Alhaji Gold shakes his head, picks up a tiny bottle of oil. “Take,” he gives it to Banji. “You will use this to rub your hand and face after you wash them with the soap.”
“Now to the warnings. You know everything has do and don’t do. Listen carefully, so that you won’t be in trouble. Things can go bad very quickly if you make mistakes.” Alhaji Gold pauses briefly. “That calabash in your hand must not break. If it breaks there will be trouble. We will not see trouble inshallah.”
Knock knock knock, a hand raps on the door.
“Who is that?” Alhaji Gold asks.
“It is Mrs. Chiwendu. Salamalaykun Alhaji.”
The woman’s voice reminds Banji of Mama Ejiro, the woman who used to sell rice in their school. Even Ejiro has lifted now. He thinks about the pigeon, what should he do with it after spilling its blood?
“Ah. Madamu. Good afternoon. Just wait small. I will soon finish and you will enter. Sulaiman,” he calls to one of his sons. Banji saw the boy when he first came here with Jide, a really small boy, maybe nine years old. The boy answers. “Give Madamu good chair to sit down.”
Alhaji Gold pulls off a cap on the bottle water and drinks. “Alhamdulilahi,” he says, refreshed. “Where did I stop? As I said before, don’t let the calabash break. I beg you with your mother’s orí, and your father’s. Also, don’t travel for the next fourteen days. Stay inside your house and sashe. Client will answer. Inshallah.”
“Alhaji. What should I do to the dead pigeon?” Banji asks.
“Bury it. Bury it somewhere not very close to where you stay. Cut its head off before you bury it. Bury the head somewhere far from where you bury the body. When the head is far from the body, wrecking rage is impossible.”
Rage. What am I annoying, Banji thinks. “Thank you, Alhaji.”
“All thanks to the Benevolent,” Alhaji Gold says. “Call me if anything if you want to tell me anything, or if anything comes up. And help me to greet your friend.”
Jide. Banji has not heard from him in three days, the last they spoke was the day they came here together. Banji has dropped him messages on WhatsApp, but he is yet to reply.
He steps out of the house into the dusk of a new life.
The calabash drops by mistake. It shatters, the shards cast all over the floor, a divination of disaster.
Banji has just finished bathing with the soap; water droplets are still scrowling down his body. It’s 12:43 am. He is returning to his room when his feet misses a step, and he hits his leg and the calabash dances out of his hands. Now he stands here, arms folded, staring at the shards on the floor, the soap spilled, red-dark raven shit on the cemented floor.
He took care with the calabash, did the rituals accordingly. He bought the pigeon for one thousand two hundred naira from an old Ijebu woman who shook her head and asked him to call his mother when he gets home and ask her to pray for him. She said it without any context, but the concern in her voice was clear. He thanked her. When he got home, he grabbed a knife and spilled the bird’s blood into the calabash, mixed it with the soap—though as he held the bird’s throat and ran the knife through it again and again, a violinist dragging bow over strings, life leaving the winged cottage, his hand shook and soon his entire body began to shake. It was as if a force coursed through him; but suddenly it all ceased and he was still and everything was still.
He wonders if to use a broom to sweep the shards or pick it with his hand. He can’t call Alhaji Gold now, in the middle of the night—what if the man is spending this time in a room of prayer: the small room at the back of his house or the body of one of his three wives.
Banji grabs a packer and returns outside. He bends and begins to pick, one shard after the other. Done picking, he grabs tissue paper to clean the spilled soap. He sweeps. He takes a bowl of water and washes the soap off the concrete. In the morning, he’ll call Alfa.
He wears a Vintage shirt smelling of Premier soap, fresh boxers, and a short. Twenty-four people are online; seven of them are target clients. These ones—he has found out from studying their Facebook timelines and doing checks on them—have good money. He chats with them. Usually, Paulo Bough does not respond to his messages—there are several Hey’s and Hi’s with no reply to them—but tonight he does. Three of the other seven are responsive too.
He doesn’t feel sleepy these days, when he just started hustling he would brew Nescafe and drink it with only sugar, no milk, to ensure he stayed awake. These days his eyes know the deal, they too want the money. But the body still has its ways.
He enters the toilet. His limp dick hisses urine into the WC. He will wash the toilet later today, it’s been three days since he last did.
It looks like a snake, the thing coiled there by his bed. It is a snake, glistening in the white light. The yellow and dark patterns that cover it look like patterns on ankara. Slick tongue slides out every now and then. Is it a python? Banji wonders. Or a boa? It does not move its body, only its head.
Banji grabs his phone and returns to the toilet. He dials Alhaji Gold’s number. It is 4:17, the man should be up preparing for morning prayer.
“Hello. Salamalaykum.” The voice is hoarse, the voice of a man who did not sleep through the night and closed his eyes to get some sleep only to be woken by a call a few minutes later.
“Yes, Alhaji. Good morning. There is a snake in my room.”
“Ehn!” There is a woman’s voice in the background; a hushed conversation is going on. “What did you say? How did snake enter your room; do you live near bush?”
“No, sir. The calabash broke.”
“The one you gave me, Alhaji.”
“O. You are Jide Money’s friend,” a brief silence. “But shebi I warned you to not let the calabash break?”
“Yes, sir. I don’t even know how I fell and it fell from my hand.”
“Ah. Agbako re o. Did you bath with the soap, did you add the thing?”
“Yes, I bathed with it. I added it.”
“That snake will not go anywhere. You have to live with it.”
Banji can hear Alhaji Gold mumble words in the background. “Alhaji, please. Is there nothing I can do? I don’t like snakes. Please.”
“There is nothing, bobo. You have to live with it. That is all you can do now. Don’t leave the snake alone in the house for too long, if you go and buy something, run back to the house. You can even take it out with you. You cannot run away from it. It is your companion now.”
“Companion how, Alhaji?” It is still very unclear to him that his life has changed, that the light has come to its brutal mirror and the doors are sealed.
“Toh,” Alhaji Gold says. “I want to go and pray.”
Banji hears calls to prayer coming from the mosque on the street that faces the one he lives on. The phone dies.
Now there is a young woman in his room. She is petite and pretty, fair skin, narrow eyes, and she is wearing a patterned ankara gown, the same colour as the snake: yellow and black. Right where the snake was, that’s where she is seated, next to the bed. There are cold moths in her plaited hair.
Banji does not know what to do or say, he stands by the door to the toilet, looking. He calls Alhaji Gold but the number is not reachable. He tries again, to the same response. He returns to the toilet. Stands before the WC, looks out through the small window at the dark light of dawn. Not thinking. Just there. He sits on the WC. He calls Jide. There is no response, the number is switched off. He leaves him a message on WhatsApp.
He sits on the bed and watches the girl. His mind blank. Thoughts fly in his head but he is not paying attention.
“I’m thirsty. Do you have water?” she asks. Her voice is clean, no hitch.
“Yes. Yes.” Banji stands up. “Lemme get it for you.” He hurries to the parlour, grabs a sachet of water from his small fridge and returns to the room. He hands her the water.
She drinks some of it.
Banji’s eyes stick to her. He doesn’t want to blink. He feels somewhat calmer, though the nervousness still weathers his body and the room, after hearing her speak and watching her drink water. But why is she here, he wonders, what business do they have together, this snake-girl?
And as if she can read his mind, she shapeshifts. The snake, unlike earlier, crawls around the room this time. Banji watches. It crawls on the bed, moves slowly toward him. He wants to jump off the bed and run out of the house, but beyond his will a force touches every ligament in his body and he is dreamily frozen. He knows what is happening right now, that the snake draws closer to him, that his life is altering quietly but not quite nicely, but he cannot move his body.
The snake crawls onto his lap, hangs its body over his shoulder, throws its body around Banji’s neck. It loops itself around his arm, coils in his lap and sleeps.
Once it falls asleep his body is freed, though he realizes that living with this thing might include having to let it sleep in his lap overnight and not drop it.
It is morning already, though. Outside, a pigeon is cooing, begging her dead lover to come home. I have prepared the peas as you like them. I can feed it to you if your beak is tired, it sings.
Inside the room, Banji is chatting with a client. He does not want to think about the thing in his lap, or the things that have happened this past couple of hours, at least he is alive; he’ll just chase the money.
Paulo is asking him how much she wants for her first wardrobe allowance. Banji wonders how much he should ask, how much is too much? He does not want to chase this client. But what do I have to lose?
$30,000, baby, Banji bills.
He watches the dots play at the bottom of the screen.
I’ll send you $40000. xx
The lights twinkle. Banji opens the calculator, punches in the numbers: 40000×467. The result pops: 18,680,000 naira. He smiles, and he does not stop smiling.
He forwards Jide’s picker’s details to the client. In his lap the body is heavier; the snake has shapeshifted, the light hitting her face making her glow.
“Hey. Good morning,” Banji says.
“Yes. Good morning.” She sits up. She yawns, her eyes briefly shut. Banji’s eyes do not blink. “I’m hungry. I want to eat.”
“Oh.” What will I feed this snake-girl? “What would you like to eat?”
“Anything. But add eggs.”
Banji thinks this won’t be a very bad suggestion, “Should I make you noodles and fried eggs?”
“Yes. Fried eggs are not bad.”
She eats very little. “There is too much pepper in it,” she says.
“Oh.” Banji says.
She stands. Gently she takes off her dress. She is naked, no pant or bra. Her breasts are small but the nipples are perky, the first things Banji’s eyes take in before he shuts them and turns his head.
“Why are you naked?”
“I want to be fucked.”
Banji opens his eyes and lifts his head. He wants to ask a question like “What do you mean?”, say something like “I can’t fuck you. You are a spirit,” and a snake, he won’t fuck a snake, what if she turns to a snake right in the middle of the sex, or what if his dick enters her and her vagina shapeshifts into a coven of ungentle teeth; but he doesn’t. He refuses to listen to the questions, everything inside him wants to fuck this snake-girl.
And he fucks her. And right in the middle of it all she begins to cry, her sobs deep and dagger-sharp.
Banji begs her to keep it down. “Should I stop?”
She ties her arms around him, her legs too. When he comes to shore and pulls out of her, lays down next to her, she bites him deeply in his hip. It will not cease to ache. And she blows him, slowly, then swiftly; and they go again.
“We all have battles that we fight, Banji,” Jide says. He saw Banji’s message and decided to visit; plus, Paulo has sent the money. “Nothing is free. Money is a spirit—to have it you must dine with that spirit. You have to dine with yours. I dine with mine. The first time I bathed with the soap, I fought with Death himself. He appeared to me as a skeleton, strong as nothing I know in this world, man. I fought him for hours. We fought with sticks. It was like playing Mortal Kombat, but it’s you inside the screen this time. The only thing I’m grateful for is that I did not let him kill me in the dream, if he did I would have died not longer than a week after. Or even right then in my sleep. I woke up bathed in sweat.”
“Does this have something to do with the thing you were speaking with in the car the other day?”
Jide rubs his face with his palm. “Yeah. I can’t talk about her, though. She’ll kill me because she can hear everything I say.”
“But why didn’t you tell me that the consequences could be like this?”
“I was going to. The day we were talking on the phone and my phone dropped. She dragged me into bed and the phone dropped. I would have said something about what it could be like.”
Banji remembers. “But after that time, when we were leaving Alhaji’s place for instance, why didn’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know. I felt you’ll figure it out.”
“Did your calabash break?”
“No. I buried it. I was told to bury it. You’ll learn to live with it, somehow.”
“We have had sex.”
“She requested it, but me sef want am bad.”
“How was it?”
“Feels like real honeycomb there, gee.”
“I’ll forward the money to your account. It’s about fifteen milli.”
“Gee.” Banji covers his mouth with his hand. He does not want to scream. I’m a millionaire.
“Congrats, man. More blessings.”
After Jide leaves, Banji calls his mother. He does not tell her there is a snake-girl in his room, millions in his account, he asks, “Mile, what are you having for dinner?”
Banji can only stare at this shapeshifting being. Snake now, lady the next. Pretty lady, crawling thing.
“Please can you tell me your name?”
“What is my name?”
“What are you called by?”
“I am called by nothing.”
“So you have no name?”
Banji thinks this is insane, spirits do have names, even orisas have names. “Can I call you No Name?”
“Yes. Call me No Name.”
“Or Nona, the first two alphabets from each word fused together.”
“That’s not bad.”
Banji thinks, says, “No, Nina. I’ll call you Nina. Can I call you Nina?”
“You can call me that.”
“OK, Nina.” He turns on his phone.
An alert beeps in his phone, a welcome note to his first millions. He goes on Jumia and orders orders two he gadgets has always wanted to have: a Macbook Pro; an iPhone 12 Max Pro. “Nina. Do you drink alcohol, I want to get some?”
“Yeah. I like alcohol,” she says. “Saltwater is what makes me tipsy and unabashed, though.”
“What kind of saltwater?”
“Any, could be tears. I like tears, saltwater of the eyes.”
They don’t sell it in any market I know, Banji wants to say, but he doesn’t. He orders bottles of André, too; a few bottles of Budweiser because beer is not his thing, though he likes the soft groove that he gets on after two, three bottles. He asks Jide for his dealer’s contact, and orders four bags of loud, two bags of colorado—he will trabaye today, probably with Nina, if she doesn’t mind—and packets of ref. He won’t have the devil’s ice. “How about pizza, do you mind?”
“I’m fine. Alcohol is okay.”
He sends his mom one million naira, under Buhari’s weather, this boy who is not even twenty-three yet, who doesn’t have any degree.
“I just saw alert, Iyanda. Somebody sent me one million naira, in this economy, out of nowhere, and that somebody is my son,” his mother says on the phone. “Oshe, okomi, oshe.”
“Mile, thank you too,” Banji says.
“May God continue to bless you. All that your father could not do, the world that he didn’t give to us, the places we never reached—you will manifest all our dreams and hopes. When are you coming home?”
“Very soon, Mile.”
“Drop the phone,” Nina says.
Banji covers the phone’s mouthpiece. “I’m speaking with my mom. Please just a minute.” He puts the phone back to his ear.
“Banji, did you win—”
The first slap trembles his face, his phone falls from his hand to the ground. The slaps continue, on both sides of his face. Pa pa — pa pa — pa pa.
His entire face hurts, as if pins were planted under the flesh. She pulls down his shorts and blows him; at first slowly, but then with rhythmic speed. She climbs over him and rides him.
Banji can’t stop thinking, right now in the middle of sex, about how, the way things are going now, bound already in this communion, he may not be able to go visit his mother any time soon. He may never be able to visit her again.
But there is plenty to gain, compared to what you lose, when you commune with the powers that reside in secrets, Banji thinks. The millions are climbing in his account. He has been cashing out money that make him smile and dance in the bathroom when he is alone, Nina not there with him. Those kind of days are rare, though—Nina likes to cowgirl in the toilet. She likes doggy in the kitchen. Missionary on the cold floor.
The mandatory three days of not going anywhere have passed. He has bought a Lexus RX 350, not a Benz because for some reason Banji is now less fascinated by the car. Jide recently bought a nice silverskin Dodge. Nina in the backseat, Banji drives his own car, for the first time in his life, to Hotus.
Nina won’t stay in the car, so she follows him into the supermarket. He grabs a basket and scrolls through the mall, picks and drops. The basket is almost full. What else do I have to get? Banji thinks. Condoms. He got seven packets of Durex—I have been fucking a spirit without protection.
“Dance with me,” she says. She has been standing behind him, dancing by herself. Olamide’s ‘Jailer’ is playing in the mall.
Banji doesn’t mind dancing with her, though he is not a good dancer, but they are in public and he’ll look like a mad man: this one man dancing awkwardly in a mall filled with lights and people. Nobody can see her. “Can we dance when we get home?”
There are two slaps this time. Banji gives her his hands, and they dance. Bella Shmurda’s ‘Upgrade’ is playing now.
He knew something could happen if they went out together. He thought, for example, that she’ll ask him to drop his pants, that she wants to give him a head. Or ask for a doggy while holding a shelf packed full with cereal and milk. But he did not imagine this.
A small crowd has formed, watching him do his dance, as they will do theirs, as you will do yours, as I am doing mine.
In the car, Banji asks, “Why are you humiliating me?”
“What does humiliating mean?”
“It’s getting a lot more complicated. I just bathed with a soap. I did not kill anybody.”
“You have killed many bodies,” she says. “Plus, you wanted money.” She spreads her legs and fingers herself.
Banji wonders how he’ll live with this snake-girl for the rest of his life. Will she leave at some point? For one, he’ll never go back to Hotus, he’ll avoid any public place, he’ll order everything. He’ll ask help from Jide for other stuff.
Her head on his lap, he hustles. Paulo wants to come to South Africa, to meet Amahle Lowell. She’ll love to meet him too, to have you fuck me till my body is burning bright, but, instead of coming, he could send her money to come meet him in Georgia. Amahle says she can fix the whole process in no time, with good money.
Another client, a middle-aged man working in Silicon Valley, divorced thrice, wants a video call. He wants to see her black vagina. He wants to see her big boobs. He wants to know Amahle is Ahmale when the body is bare before the camera. He won’t send any money until he sees her on camera.
But because soap, even this man, stubborn as he appears to be, sends seventy thousand dollars.
The snake crawls over Banji’s body, now frozen. It loops its body around his neck, and with its forked tongue licks a side of his face. It goes on licking.
It stops licking, narrows its eyes and watches his face. It pegs its head before his face and watches his eyes.
Banji’s eyes say Please, Please because language is lost to him in this moment. His teeth grit in his mouth. His tongue twists in his throat. He wants to break free but the spell is a locked padlock dumped, together with its key, somewhere in the mirror.
The first bite is at the back of his neck. Several bites on his face follow. It slams its head into his side and stabs the tiny knives in its mouth into his flesh. Again and again.
Banji is released from the hand that held him and he begins to tremble, and he does not stop trembling. There are iron spiders crawling inside his flesh, carving Roman numerals into his bones. He wants to scream but a hand pulls back the toad of his voice before it clambers out of his throat into the box of his mouth.
The spiders are carving with acuity. He begins to quake. He quakes in this light.
The snake goes on biting. The bites, alphabets of sorcery, map Banji’s face, his face sowing darkblue blood. With the blood comes the spiders, glowing red like embers of the Lord’s anger.
Banji quakes. He quakes. He dances to the spell. He writhes. He writhes. The spiders crawl out with the blood, the sheets are dirty with it. The spiders line his body like soldiers waiting orders—from his collarbone, past his belly button, to the balls of his hips, two lanes of glowing spiders, burning scars into this body. The spiders are so close together each lane looks like a long stitch.
The snake loops around his neck and strangles. The body tightens around the body. The curse comes to fruition.
Outside the window on the satellite dish, the pigeon is perched, watching the ritual of mangling. It has seen this scene a hundred times before.