They called it Magodo K.
One of the most notorious slums deep in the heart of Lagos, by day it was a riotous pool of sweaty hustlers and traders, stomping along its wooden paths and ducking into makeshift buildings to conduct transactions both fair and unfair. But by night the collection of wooden houses, held together by straining lengths of rope and flapping tarpaulin, became somewhere else, someplace a lot more dangerous. No one knew what the K in the slum’s name stood for, but given the muted whispers of its penchant for taking people in at night and not spitting them out in the morning, a few people had decided it meant ‘Kills’.
It was a depressingly familiar scenario playing out.
A pretty girl, with pert breasts jouncing beneath a small top which showed off her navel with each step she took, the typical high heels made her steps wobbly. Each tap of her heels seemed like a small nail hammering her fate to the night as she stumbled along the darkened street. A small purse was pressed against her side and although her strides seemed relaxed, her eyes were opened as wide as they could go. Perhaps it was fear, or maybe she was just trying to adjust to the gloom through which she walked as she hurried toward a distant, lone streetlight. It was past midnight and she had seen no cars, bikes or people for over thirty minutes.
That was about to change.
The three boys who watched the girl with the perky breasts approach were another familiar fixture along many darkened Lagos streets. They lounged against a wall, just shy of the only working streetlight on the empty stretch of road, spiders waiting for the orange light to draw in a beautiful butterfly or two. Their dirt-stiffened peaks of browned hair, rugged jeans and reddened eyes spoke volumes. Marijuana butts idled between stubby, dirty fingers, white exclamation marks declaring their identity, the fiery points promising bad things to whoever crossed their paths at the wrong time.
Àwọn ọmọ ilẹ̀.
The ground they slouched on was theirs, they believed. Everything they could take without consequence was fair game. Including pretty girls who wandered about unescorted.
One of them raised the small fragrant cylinder to cracked lips, a pull illuminating the tribal marks on his face. The boy beside him snapped the fingers of his right hand impatiently- an admirable feat, considering he had no thumb. An angry bus conductor had bitten it clear off a few years ago.
“Guy, pass that thing na.” Four Fingers growled, voice roughened by years of hard living. “Na kuli-kuli?”
They both chuckled at the joke, but the third boy was silent, clutching his own marijuana butt with a propriety that would obviously not be challenged, as he intently watched the girl walk towards them. His face also lit up as he took a long considering pull, features almost pretty, reminiscent of the renowned Fuji music crooner, Pasuma, who every tout in Lagos adored.
“Meehhn, this girl make sense o.” Tribal Marks whistled softly. “See Manchester na. Attack things.”
Pasuma Face frowned. The boy was right. The girl, loudly clopping her way toward them, was very pretty. Her fair skin gleamed in the midnight dark, and her breasts jounced as her rolling hips, sheathed in skin-tight jeans, danced their way to where they were waiting.
Too pretty to be here, he thought. Probably just left a late party. Obviously very stupid.
Just as the thought crossed his mind, she reached them. There was a slight hesitation in her step as she noticed the boys, then she breezed on, her pace quickening. The smell of her perfume filled three sets of marijuana-tortured nostrils and there was a simultaneous sniff. All other thoughts disappeared, save for one.
This one, we must taste.
“The Arsenal follow tight o.” Tribal Marks muttered, eyes glittering with lust as they roamed over her backside. He raised his voice, a mocking falsetto. “Baby girl, how far? Won’t you say hi?”
The girl with the perky breasts clutched her purse tighter and said nothing as she walked past the boys, and past the pool of the last working streetlight. The orange light fell on her braids flatteringly, inviting pin-points of light bouncing off the glitter she had liberally sprinkled on her head. Just before she stepped out of the nimbus of comforting light, she threw a look over her shoulder.
Her eyes were wide and frightened, a silent scream that sent a come-hither message to the loins of the three touts she had just passed. With shared looks and meaningful smiles, they traded hi-fives and gave in to the call of opportunity.
Frayed flip-flops flapped as they began to follow her.
The sound alerted the girl and she looked back again, a modern-day Lot’s wife, salt looming in the unshed panicked tears that made her eyes shimmer. Her heels tangled and she almost fell, generating a muted cheer from the boys following her. Her step quickened further and as the tempo of their slipper orchestra matched the canter of her Aba-made Louboutins, she broke into a tottering run.
Four Fingers and Tribal Marks whooped happily and increased their pace, but Pasuma Face followed grimly, his expression tight. One thought cycled through his mind. She was a pretty thing and he wanted to have her.
He wanted to break her. He NEEDED to break her.
With another wild look, the girl broke left and fled into a darkened alley, running towards shadowy buildings that loomed in the dark.
The boys barely paused as they reached the corner and plunged into the darkness after her, but Pasuma Face had time for a new thought, and the smile that crossed his lips was part triumph and part worry as he followed his friends deep into the heart of a barely familiar darkness which seemed to throb in welcome.
Why did the stupid bitch have to run into Magodo K?!
The running girl dashed along the wooden planks that made up the thoroughfares of Magodo K, traitorous heels telling her pursuers each corner she turned.
The boys followed confidently, eyes wide in the gloom. They were more familiar with the slum, as they spent most of their day winding through its warrens, picking pockets and looking for buyers of the stolen phones and watches that lined their tattered backpacks. But with each step they took further into the heart of the slum, their confidence dimmed.
It was general knowledge that Magodo K grew strange at night, but the boys had lounged on its outskirts a few times and never thought much of the rumour. As the girl led them further in than they had ever ventured at night before, they began to understand what had birthed those tales. The familiar surroundings had become odd under the weak crescent of moonlight that glowered down at them. Planks, leather and plastic creaked and flapped as they ran past the empty shops and enclosures, rods and twigs reaching out to tug at their feet.
“Jesus!” Four Fingers cursed as a sheet of damp tarpaulin fluttered around his waist. For a moment he was reminded of a foreign horror movie he had watched as a child, wide-eyed, peeping through the window of a neighbour’s one-room apartment. He fancied he was being engulfed by some slimy, bulbous, alien monster that would slowly digest him alive.
“Where’s that ashawo?” he grunted harshly as he wrenched the sheet of plastic away, heart thudding at the vividness of the forgotten childhood memory.
Pasuma Face stopped abruptly, one arm out to halt the other boys, his body tense. He also felt currents of unease run through him, but he ignored them, only one feeling pulled him along- His desire to catch the pretty girl and make her ‘unpretty’. He did not recognise the emotion for what it really was- a desire to deny others of the soft things of life he had been starved of by a prostitute-addict mother and a tout of a father who died of syphilis. His hate for beautiful things was directly related to his yearning to be a beautiful thing living a beautiful life.
“Keep quiet.” He hissed.
The other boys stopped moving and waited, silent, as the heat of the night settled an almost oily film of sweat on their faces. For a few seconds the night was filled with the sound of settling wood and skittering plastic, and then what they were waiting for came to them again.
Heels, tapping frantically on old wood.
They burst into motion again, chasing the sound, legs pumping and hearts thumping with excitement. Tribal Marks and Four Fingers drew steadily ahead of the third boy, their teeth glinting in partly-opened mouths as they seemed to drink in the scent of their prey. Pasuma Face took in a shaky breath, his head filling with the loveliness of the perfume. He would lick that smell off her skin.
The girl ducked into a ramshackle building, but not fast enough. The boys grinned at one another and made a bee-line for the place she had entered. It was a comfortingly familiar spot to them, an anchor in the weirdness that Magodo K had become at midnight. The popular Iya Monsurat plied her trade there in the daytime, her wide buttocks spread over a long bench as she stirred pots bubbling with assorted foods and sauces which her similarly heavy-bottomed daughters dished out to hungry customers.
The boys ducked into the enclosure after the girl, grinning at the thought of how they would grab her and spread her on Iya Monsurat’s bench. She could yell as loud as she wanted. Magodo K was empty and deaf.
Pasuma Face paused at the entrance to the empty space. The other boys converged on the corner where they could see the girl standing, the edge of her right shoe caught in the slash of moonlight that lined the edges of the door where the third boy stood. Her smell wafted out to them enticingly, and their bodies were turgid and ready, their own musky scents already taking over the enclosed space.
The boy with the almost-beautiful face frowned, hands gripping the opposing edges of the door. Something nagged at him through the clouds of his desire to break the girl. She was quiet, her silhouette in the dark corner unshaken by trembling or other obvious signs of fright.
For a moment, he felt an impulse to tell his friends to back off. The tiny hairs at the back of his neck stirred and he opened his mouth to say something.
The words were interrupted by the meaty clunk of a large piece of wood meeting the back of his head.
Pasuma Face’s eyes rolled up and before his body reached the ground, the man who had hit him stepped forward. The plank swung around smoothly with a whistling sound and Four Fingers was down. Tribal Marks wrenched his attention from the girl, his eyes widening as his eyes took in the hulking figure standing before him. The marks on his cheeks stretched and writhed in a rictus of fear. Another silent whoosh and his head met the business end of the man’s truncheon with a solid thunk.
There was a brief silence, broken by the tap of the girl’s heels as she stepped forward into the light. She looked up at a face fashioned to give nightmares.
The man was talk and hulking, shoulders and neck writhing like a mass of tossed, mouldy boulders. Hips jaw teemed with half-ripened pimples and his bulbous lips hung open, held apart by jutting yellowed teeth. To crown it all, he had only one eye; the empty socket was a mess of wrinkled skin and scars.
His good eye glowered down at the girl for a moment, and then skittered away like a surprised bead of water falling on a hot pan.
“Are there any more coming?”
The girl sighed and leaned against a wall to slip off one high-heeled shoe. She ignored the question.
“These shoes are killing me. It’s not easy being a girl; heels are evil.”
The man said nothing, but his eye jumped in a nervous tic as he watched her. She was a petite creature and her waist was so tiny the hulking man could wrap one hand around it and snap her like a twig if he chose to. But a close observer would have noticed one strange thing.
The man was afraid of the girl.
She bent over to slip the shoe on her foot and limped to the door, unmindful that the pointed heel dug into the bodies of the unconscious boys. The man watched her, eye narrowed.
“Tie them up and keep them in the other shed.” The girl ordered, glancing at a slim watch on her wrist. “Three boys by midnight. Hmm. Mr Stone will be pleased.”
Again, the man wondered about the identity of the enigmatic Mr Stone.
According to the girl, he was the one who paid for the people they lured into Magodo K at night. The man with one eye had accepted the story. As long as she paid him for his part of the work, he would tie up her victims and deposit them in the other shed. He had decided not to wonder where the people went to before dawn broke. He had never seen anyone come to get them, but as sure as the sun would rise, they were always gone before morning.
And yet, something instinctively told him the girl was lying. He suspected the buck stopped at her pretty feet; there was no Mr Stone and she alone wanted…needed…the people he helped her catch.
What does she do with the people? a scared voice screamed in his misshapen head.
When she moved past the hulking man, he shied away from her smell.
The girl paused at the threshold and took a deep breath of the rancid night air. She seemed to glow in the rotten light that bounced off the stagnant pools that surrounded them. He watched, certain somewhere deep down in his murderous heart, that whatever the girl was, although she….it….looked beautiful, she was uglier than he was. His huge hand tightened around the length of wood in his hand, but he knew…he just knew… if he swung it, he would be dead before he could touch her.
She is the pulsing, maggoty, hungry heart of Magodo K, that scared voice whispered in his head. And one day, she will take you too.
“Time to go for another stroll, handsome.” The girl sighed. She turned around to look at the man, her eyes gleaming in the moonlight, amused as though she had heard what he was thinking. Her hips swayed as she walked away, heels tapping out a deadly sound. “I won’t be too careful.”
She melted into the darkness, off to prey for Magodo K.