Growing up on Azikiwe Street as a young boy, was filled with memories of the good, the bad and the bloody. The only good thing being the 24-hour electricity we enjoyed, while the bad and the ugly were mostly from the chaos caused by Gladys, a tomboy who terrorized the street with her clique’s notoriety.
Parents warned their children to be wary of them but that didn’t stop those whose description fit to join the gang. Those girls never missed looking intimidating.
It was as though the criteria for selection included a height of 6’ 1” or more, the complexion of raw carrots -a generous mix of albinism and filthiness- and their hair, dyed purple and cut very low on one side while a red fringe loosely hung across their forehead covering a portion of their eyes and nose but held in place by a thin metallic clip extending from an obnoxious nose ring.
While the rest wore a pair of white knickers and a black polo with the impression of a red skull, Gladys was dressed in a pair of ripped jeans and a red polo with a similar impression, but in white colour.
I didn’t quite understand how dangerous they were until one sunny Tuesday afternoon when Kola, my class mate, and I were stopped in our tracks by an angry mob of tattered looking girls. Kola was visibly quivering like a dry leaf being tossed by a whirlwind and afraid that we might not get home in one piece, I asked in an albeit surprisingly calm voice, ‘wetin?’
Gladys, who was taken aback by my boldness made a peace sign and a smile, as soft as the rising sun, started playing on my lips but I stopped almost as quickly as I had begun when one of her girls landed a deafening slap on my right cheek.
Unlike the breathtaking celestial ensemble illuminating the heavens at night, the ‘stars’ accompanying her slap were dark and hideous like Lucifer himself. I could swear that I had lost the ability to hear and a stream of tears ran down the sides of my face.
A smile of satisfaction settled on Gladys’ freckled face when another girl swept my unsteady feet off the ground with a smooth slide that made me land on the laterite soil with my buttocks and bruised my palms and knees.
Kola quickly assessed the situation and took off in a twinkle of an eye while two girls followed in hot pursuit. Being a sprinter, he outdid them by several metres and to take vengeance, they took out their anger on me. I was barely recognizable when they finished with me.
It ended critically for I was hospitalized for a fractured arm and a cracked skull. But the ringing in my ears didn’t go away until after a week had passed. After that incident, whenever I sighted them approaching my way, I would either make a U-turn or take a diversion and save myself the headache of knowing whether they would spare me or not.
Gladys finally got a dose of her own medicine one evening after Benediction. Her cup don full. As the congregants were flocking out of the Cathedral, they deposed the security team and positioned themselves as gatekeepers, collecting money from people before they are allowed to pass.
The Reverend Father who was invited, amicably pleaded with them to allow his parish members go as dusk was already fast setting in. But all his pleas fell on deaf ears and they seemed to enjoy their exploitation and often made snide remarks at the decently dressed girls calling them names like ‘Mary Amaka’ ‘Nwa Mary’ ‘Holy Nweje’ and so on.
When it got to my turn, our eyes locked and I hastily searched the back pockets of my trousers but each time my hands brought out pieces of paper, groundnut shells and grains of sand. I hated to be at their mercy again. Beads of sweat started forming on my face and I swallowed a lump at the back of my throat and futilely tried to hold in the tears that were forcing their way out of my eyes by batting my eyelids. Chai!
Gladys who was infuriated by my inaction, dragged me by the collar of my shirt and pinned me with her elbow against the wall and was about to throw a punch at me when another feminine hand stopped her. I was addled and couldn’t imagine a human like me, nonetheless a female, stand up to a monster like Gladys. I never got to know her name. Let’s call her Angel.
She had the look of a young banker: the edges of her relaxed hair were well laid and its tip held up with an artificial ponytail longer than a mermaid’s, her ebony skin was comparable only to that of Beverly Naya and her Italian silhouette gave her feet a rounded guise.
Angel made some karate moves and dealt Gladys a blow which sent her crashing to the ground. Before she could wrap her head around what had happened, Angel clutched her neck causing the veins on the face of my tormentor to be engorged with blood as though they would tear through her skin and splash blood on us. Gladys made click click sound with her tongue and tried to pull Angel’s hand away but could not muster enough strength.
Just when we thought we had seen it all, Angel let loose and Gladys fell like a bag of potatoes to the ground while we stared in disbelief. But Angel wasn’t done yet, she tightened her fist and hit Gladys on the chest wall breaking four of her ribs. Its cracking sound was like that of a person crunching bones with his molars.
We all pulled back and watched the fallen devil, whine in pain. Ahh! When Angel was through with her, I knew deep within me that Gladys had undergone a transformation without even knowing and I was right because she lay low for a while and resurfaced months later to denounce her evil ways.
However, her clique had grown stronger and were out of her control and could not be disbanded. Angel walked away from that fight, our heroine. As for Kola, we are still very close friends but I don’t fail to remind of how useless he was when I was in dire need of a saviour. Last I heard, Azikiwe Street had become a ghetto and several other mushroom groups have sprung up to join in terrorizing the neighbourhood.