08 June 2011

The Water was Hot by Binyerem Ukonu (Book Excerpt)


She charged him five thousand naira just to unveil her bosom, and when they finally made love he paid five thousand naira extra for it. She was one of the money-miss-road girls we had in Bonny Island, where men of different races were always seen working for the oil and gas firm, either as main staff or contractors. After hectic work days, we all gathered around them for yet another night of I-love-you-I-love-you-not. Most of the girls around here reclined themselves on one white man or the other. They called them boyfriends. I have no boyfriend, especially since Francis – my French man – ran off the island because the raging youths would not let them be. He feared abduction more than its ransom. He did not want that at all. Since Francis went back to France, I have not had the appetite for another expatriate relationship. These days I only trade my body for money, since it is better than giving it for free and having nothing in return. I have friends in this trade as well.

Ibifiri kept telling me tales of her adventures. She had been paid heavily to dance nude before a man who was a top official of the oil and gas firm. It was to be part of his welcome pack, since he had just visited the island on official duty. It was from the money raised from the dance that she paid for her mother’s medical bills, and sent her brother back to school. It was from such dances that she built a small house in the village, bought herself a small car, and paid her rent on the island for two years. Ibifiri had always been a terrific dancer, swirling her waist, always respecting every bit. She had on various occasions travelled abroad with her expatriate men. It was because of such dances. “Most of the times,” she said, “we ended up not even doing the main thing”. She would always giggle while saying this. She wanted me to be as successful as she was. I wanted to be as successful as Ibifiri was.

I met her at the Visitors’ Centre. The Visitors’ Centre was where the guests of the residents were housed for a brief period, so they could be signed in for proper identification during their stay in the estate. They would be signed in even if they were to stay for a second. Guests were signed in by their hosts who were residents. The lady officer who usually presided over the documentation of guests would always woo us with her smiles, while entering our bio data and photographs. After this, she would issue us our identification cards, stating clearly the names of our hosts, and the period of stay. That night, we had no host. We never had hosts. We only stood by, waiting for admirers to give us the pass into the estate. Girls who had boyfriends in the estate would brag about how their passes were always readily available, even before they arrived at the centre. I once belonged to their class when Francis was a resident of the estate. Although I have always had my way into the estate, I still felt like a wet chicken, because I usually found myself begging either the estate spy police, or admirers who were residents of the prestigious estate. Since Francis left the island, I have never been signed in to stay for more than a day.

Ibifiri wore a denim skirt which only covered her upper bum, and a top that told the true tale of how much she hated a bra. Her breasts quaked as though they were not filled to their capacity with milk. Ibifiri’s skin was glossy that night. No man who could breathe in air passed her without looking back to make sure her back-side was worth her front. It was worth it. Those who did not turn - out of shame - were those who walked in and out with their wives or with men whom I suspected were their pastors. A man whistled, and the sound dribbled in the air and then faded away. Everyone at the Centre was triggered into gossip. They were obviously talking about Ibifiri, and how her hour-glass shaped body may have persuaded their little man. Ibifiri knew that all the attention was draining towards her, so she made her way to where I was standing, close to the water fountain and the phone booth. She needed company, she said. I needed her company, not just any company. I got it.

“Baby you’re looking hot tonight,” she said. The way she said “hot”, forcing her head to dance to the rhythm, made me feel she meant it. She sang the word. Hot.

“Really,” I replied. I so wished she was saying the truth. I needed to look hot. I was smiling, but my lips were not so sure of the smile-signal they were receiving from my head. She gave me a hug, and left me. I wished she would stay a little longer. I wished the people at the Centre had seen us hug. I wished they could say I was Ibifiri’s closest friend.

“I thought you said you were not coming,” she said, breaking my thoughts into pieces.

“Oh, I changed my mind”


“I just couldn’t stay alone in the whole villa, while everyone was out searching for a nice catch.”

“Monkey Village, you mean”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Oh, I see,” she said. Ibifiri did not live in Monkey Village like some of us. She stayed in a well furnished bedroom flat along Hospital Road. “I’m out for Rao tonight. I got my eyes stinging him last night.”

“You mean you saw him at the Mojo Bar,” I tried hard to appear surprised.

“Yes, I did. And while they were leaving, he slipped a note in my palm.”

“Really?” I was surprised.

“Baby, no joke oh. I’m not kidding you.”

“How much?”

“Not money oh. He dropped a note,” she threw her hands into the air. “Here is the note”.

Baby, your so sexy.
We see tomorrow at happy hour.
Tracy travel tomorrow.
So, tomorrow we see.

“And what did you say to Rao?” I asked, after a few seconds of digesting those words. My tummy was burning.

“So you were not listening to me,” she laughed. “He was gone before I opened this note. I couldn’t have read it before Tracy. You know Tracy is a tiger, and she is Rao’s girlfriend.”

“But the note says she will be travelling. She must have travelled”

“Yes, she has,” she replied, “and that’s why I’m here with you.”

Every runs girl on the island dreaded Tracy. She was the beautiful girlfriend of the Indian, Rao, who danced alanta more than Terry G – the artist – could ever try. Tracy was biracial. Biracial was what we called half-cast. She was not only half-cast; she was a tall, light skinned and pretty half-cast, with long black hair. Tracy was not around that night, Ibifiri told me. She had travelled to Agbor, her hometown, to probably spray a little of the rupees on her family. Rao was to come to the Visitor’s Centre to sign Ibifiri in for four days. She was to be at the Happy Hour party with Rao tonight. Rao came to the centre around eight o’ clock in the evening, which was quite early. I caught a closer look at him, the closest I had ever caught. He was a dark skinned Indian, chubby, and had a black moustache on his upper lip, which seemed glued on. He was balding already. If Rao were Nigerian, he would have been mistaken for the popular TV comedy character, Papa Ajasco. That did not bother Ibifiri, who told me Rao was such a handsome guy. “He’s just in his mid-forties,” she whispered into my ears. “What a lie,” I whispered to myself. The Rao I saw was just a toe away from sixty. He walked into the centre with someone, a Nigerian. Rao introduced him as his friend, Henry. Henry was Yoruba. I could feel his tribe from the tone of his voice. He was as loud as a typical Yoruba man could be, and as we exchanged pleasantries, I noticed a few veins on his neck while he spoke. He seemed much younger than Rao, and more handsome of course. Ibifiri automatically handed me over to him. Maybe I was not officially handed over to him. Maybe I desperately clung to him, having no one to bail me out of the centre. I noticed the men spoke briefly. I also noticed they only spent a few seconds with a spy police officer, who signalled us to come along. We jumped into Henry’s white Hilux truck, and left the Visitors’ Centre, driving into the estate. There was traffic at the centre. That was why we were not able to get our identification cards, I thought to myself.

Henry was a rich engineer who was yet to find himself a wife. He was not like Rao, who left his family in Delhi for the love of money.

“Wives suck,” Henry said aloud. “I can’t stand my mum each time she calls me on the phone, asking me if I have found one”. He ordered a few tots of Campari for himself, two tots of Jack Daniels with a can of Power Horse for Rao, and some bottles of Heineken for both Ibifiri and me. I wanted to ask him if I could also have, at least, a tot of Martini Rosso, but courage failed me before we left the barman. We settled outside the club house, close to the beautiful playground. That spot was usually Rao’s best spot, Ibifiri whispered into my ears. I believed her. Henry said beer worked well with cashew nuts, and so Rao left to ask for some. It was then that I threw my eyes upon my man. Henry appeared well-educated. He was well-educated. The way he spoke - as though he was singing a hypnotic song - made me see him as one of those rich kids who studied at universities abroad. I wanted to ask him if he schooled in Aberdeen, because that was where most of our rich kids went for their second degrees. It was in Aberdeen that Geoffrey, my cousin, learnt how to pronounce Father as Farva. It was all because his father, my uncle, was a rich man who made sure his bag of money was well-tailored to avoid any leakage. Henry was a tall man. He wore denim jeans that slumped on a pair of red snickers with a clean white face. He smelt of Rock Night perfume, I guessed. Rock Night was what most of my men who had just come back from a vacation in the United Kingdom wore. Henry wore only a white body fit v-neck t-shirt that exposed his beautiful wrist watch. He did not only smell of Rock night. He also smelt of naira notes all over. It drew my senses away from Rao, Ibifiri, and the other man that later joined our table.

I am like one of those money-minded girls in Bonny Island who denied affection and always pronounced that they could never fall in love. To my surprise, I became hyperactive and lost my brains.

“And do you have a girlfriend?” I broke the silence. Rao had come back with a saucer of cashew nuts.

“Babe, you mean?” he inquired, running his tobacco stained finger through the ridges of his nostrils, and into them.

“Yes,” I said. Everyone on our table was watching and waiting for his word. Ibifiri was scratching her palms. Rao was drumming his wine cup with his fingers. I paid no attention to what the third guy was doing.

“Oh, hell no,” he said, saying nothing else thereafter.

There was relief in the air. Everyone was laughing at his answer to my question. I was laughing, but my laughter was that of triumph. Henry was single.

We danced so much that night. Henry held unto my waist, sometimes pressing so hard. He held me close to his belt. I felt him growing between his legs. All my senses ran down to my waist, wanting to feel him more. I imagined running a razor down the back of my skirt, so I could feel him on my skin. I smiled. But, of course, that could have hindered my night with him. I did not want Henry to smell that I was that cheap. I had to behave. I managed to push in my waist once in a while. It was all fun. It was the night we had a few celebrities in the island. Basket Mouth interfered once in a while and thrilled us with his rib-cracking tales. Wande Coal made me push in further into Henry when he sang Bumper-to-Bumper.

We left the venue at midnight. Henry was in a haste to have a taste of me. I was in a haste too, but pretended all I needed was his money. I pretended because that was all a girl like me would ask for - money. I sat in the front seat, with Henry driving the Hilux. Ibifiri sat at the back with Rao, doing some eighteen-and-above stuff. She was moaning already. It was not long before we dropped them off at Rao’s place. “Play safe, and make some dough,” she whispered into my ears. I knew she meant it. Those words were not influenced by alcohol, the way her other words that night were. They soon faded behind us as we drove away. I watched her through the side mirror and saw the beautiful, tall street lights increasing in number, vanishing, and shining above her head. Henry was still smoking, driving, singing jazz, and saying something about Bonny Island being very much like Paris at night. If only I could catch every drop of liquid that spat from his lip as he spoke, or maybe kiss those lips. No one kisses a hooker .

“I’m only three months on this island,” he continued. “I’ve been working in the UK for a year now. I find it more interesting working for the company on the home front. There’s so much fun everywhere you go. Can’t you see? It’s all fun”. He said “fun” as if he knew what I had planned for him that night.

Henry’s house was not a house. It was a self-contained bedroom. It was a port cabin. It had a bedroom with a well dressed bed that had the first bed-sheet laid (the second bed-sheet laid half way) and covered with a white duvet. His bedroom had a kitchen area, which was close to the convenience.

“This is my transit home. My official house will be ready in a short time,” he explained. “You know I just came into the island three months ago”. I was cleared of the doubts. I now understood why he lived in RA2, rather than RA1, which was where Rao stayed. Soon he would join the Indian at RA1, I said to myself, and I would be visiting or even staying there, if I’m allowed.

Henry wanted us to bathe together under the shower. I nodded a yes and he smiled, exposing his immaculate white teeth. His teeth had never tasted any meal made with red oil, I told myself. He ran into the bathroom and set the shower. By the time my man was out, I had already undressed, wearing only my g-string . I was sitting in the bed when Henry walked out of the bathroom. He stood and gazed at me for a while. He grew between his legs again, thrusting his boxer shorts towards me. I smiled. He smiled. He said the proper temperature had been set for our bath. I followed while he led me in. It was the best bath I had ever had with a man. Henry carefully painted me with lather, running the sponge from my neck down to my waist. When he got to my breasts, he made circular movements, which made me feel like asking him not to stop. I said nothing, so I could savour every tiny thing he did with my body. Henry was not like any of my customers, who could not care less about my body. They only cared about getting in and getting out. When he got to my privates he acted like the gentleman he was. He let me have the sponge, so I could do it my way. I did it my way. When it finally got to my turn to bath Henry, I did it my way too. “You’re such a beauty,” he said to me after I had completely bathed him. I felt this comfort in my temple. At that point, I became Julia Roberts, and he became Richard Gere. When the soaps left their bodies, Richard kissed Julia deep, their tongues wetting each others. I felt the relief. I had gone about eight years without a kiss. I have to think of money first before love, I told myself. It was then that I carefully drew away from his embrace. Henry wiped my body with his white towel before he wiped his body. I walked out before him, sought for his t-shirt, wore it quickly, and drowned in his bed, covering my legs with the blue duvet.

1:00 am. I felt his fingers walk from my belly towards my breasts. I loved the way he did it in rhythm. I let out a moan, and that was when I remembered why I had gone home with Henry.

“Henry, wait,” I cried, “I would really want to sleep. We could do this later”. That was all I could say at that point in time.

“You want to sleep?” he sat up, put on the side light, and frowned, forming ripples on his fore head. Little drops of anger dropped on me, staining my heart. I immediately sat up as well.

“What do you mean, Henry?” I bounced on him. “You think I’ll come to your room, and you’ll fuck me without an agreement. You must be kidding. If I need a fuck, I can get it anywhere. I can even get it from the road side mechanic in front of my house.”

“What are you talking about?” he sounded ignorant of what I was saying. Blood ran into my head, and I felt the weight. I wanted to offer him a slap, but it was too early for that.

“Twelve thousand naira,” I said. “Final!”

“Twelve what?”

“I said if you want to fuck me, you’ll pay me twelve thousand naira for that,” I started explaining in a harsh tone, “and if you don’t fuck me, you’ll pay six thousand for the kisses and touches that you have already received.” It became clear to him. He obviously thought he would have it free that night.

“Em em em,”

“My name?” I asked. “You don’t know my name. Shame on you! I’ll never let you know. And guess what?”

“Wha wha what?” his voice had gradually become unsteady.

“You must fuck oh,” I let out a loud cry. Henry tried hushing me, so the next door neighbour would not hear us. I knew at that point that I had sanitized him of the alcohol influence in him. “You must fuck me, cos I need it too,” I continued. “If you do, wahala dey! I’ll give you problem. Then, if you don’t, more wahala dey.”

“I’ll simply throw you out of my room,” he said. He knew it was a lie. He knew if he tried throwing me out, I could raise hell, and that would involve the neighbourhood, and even the spy police who would, in turn, take up the incidence. That could jeopardize his dreams of working for the company. I could even destroy the TV set, I let him know.

“You think I don’t know you let me in illegally,” I said. “Where is my pass card? I’m sure you know it’s a crime that you and your friend committed.”

“What do you want from me?” he pleaded. Henry was sweating. I picked the ac remote and set it at eighteen degrees, to reduce the heat.

“I’m here to sack you,” I replied. I drew the t-shirt towards my head, and threw it on the floor. “Come on baby boy. It won’t hurt in any way. You’ll enjoy it, and never regret the price. I’m even giving you a low price, because you’re new and the fact that I’m on sale”. I held his hands, caressed him, and kissed him so hard. Henry did not kiss me. I kissed him, but I did not mind. I let him go, and that was when he drew out a stick from his pack of cigarettes, and left the room. The truth was that I needed to feel the thrust of a man. I did not just need a man, I needed Henry, but I was not about to let him have me free of charge. If I give him free, Ibifiri will mock me tomorrow, and call me oshofree – free giver, I thought to myself. That was not about to happen.

2:30 am. Henry walked into the room at last. I was so cold, and needed him to hold me. He slumped by my side, held me so strong. I kissed him, but this time he kissed me back. He kissed my neck severally, and I moaned aloud. I felt his thrust in me, and I moaned the more. He was as good as I dreamed he would be. He was as good as sex itself. It took a little longer before he became light and collapsed on top of me. He was moaning. I moaned as well. I felt his heart beat. Henry was heavily tensed. He slipped from my body and rested by my side, snoring like a baby.

3:30 am. Henry was not a staff of the company. He only came for an employment interview, which would be that morning. He met Rao a few years ago. He was a corps member with the NYSC, serving in Enugu. Rao was a consultant with a construction company handling a dualization project at Nsukka. Both men met at a certain club, and became friends. Rao liked Henry for the way he brought women with ease. He had booked Henry into a room, and released his company vehicle to him. Henry really needed that job. He had already passed through the first and second stages. The third stage was just as good as the job itself. He told me all that while counting my money. He woke me up to plead with me to accept ten thousand naira from him.

“Young man, this is small,” I raised my voice again.

“Baby, please don’t do this to me,” he cried. “It’s all I have. I don’t even have any other note for my journey back home.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are,” I said. My voice dropped. “You bought all the drinks last night. You think I’m drunk? I saw it all.”

“Rao paid for all the drinks,” he said. “He gave me the money in the toilet at the club house. He said he wanted me to be the big boy of the house.”

“And how much was that?”

“He gave me twenty thousand naira”

“But you spent seven thousand”

“No,” he wept this time. “Everything was ten thousand naira. This is what is left”. Henry stretched out the hand with the money towards me, signalling me to accept. It was quite a temptation. TEN THOUSAND NAIRA IN A NIGHT. A good deal, I thought, but I could try pushing him a little harder.

“How much is a bottle of Heineken?”

“Three hundred and fifty naira,” he answered.

“Small ones?”


“And how many did the bar man keep on our table?”

“He brought eight bottles,” he explained. “You had three bottles each with your friend. I had two, with four tots of Campari. Rao had no beer.”

“You mean you spent two thousand eight hundred naira on the beer?”

“I swear,” he licked his sweaty finger. “Rao drank two cans of Power Horse with six tots of Jack Daniels.”

“And that’s how much?”

“Em - - em- -”

“Don’t you ever lie to me.”

“Jack Daniels is four hundred naira a tot,” he continued. “Rao had six, which means –”

“Two thousand four hundred naira,” I screamed. “I’m not a moron. Please go ahead.”

“Ok,” he followed my orders. “Eight hundred naira was spent for two cans of Power Horse. This means we’ve recorded about six thousand naira spent so far”. I could not believe how swift Henry was with summation of figures. They way he calculated the total amount spent that night sent shivers into my veins. He is going to come out smiling from that interviewing room, I thought to myself. We are still four thousand naira to go, I thought as well, and he must explain the shortage.

“Six hundred naira was for the cigarettes,” he said.

“How –”

“Two packs,” he cut in. He knew where I was paddling to. He smiled. He slid the knife through my throat, he thought. “I bought David Faghali some drinks,” he continued. “You know he’s Rao’s colleague and friend”.

“Liar!” I cursed him. I did not mean to curse him that way. I only needed to panic him.

“Sugar, I’m not lying in any way”


“Martini Rosso. Two tots and a can of Red Bull. Martini is sold for four hundred naira per tot, and I’m sure you know how much Red Bull is sold at the club.”

“Yes, I know. It’s the same with Power Horse,” I said. “That’s one thousand two hundred naira extra.”


“That must be all we bought. I’m sure, Henry.”

“Yes,” he said.

“Then, where is the two thousand two hundred naira left?”

“You mean?”

“Yes, I mean the balance. We only have ten thousand naira here. Where is the remaining?” Henry picked up his trousers from the floor, counted the money, and gave to me. It was complete. I had twelve thousand two hundred naira to boast of. I had beaten the record set by my friend, Ibifiri. Later today, when we meet, I’ll let her know what I was paid, I whispered to myself. I would never let her know how I got to be paid so much. She would call me a wicked bitch, and would never wish to be out at night with me again. All the other girls would curse me for being smarter than they. They would say I was desperate. I did not care anyway. I was just a broke ass, who only needed to have some good money. I only used my head.

5:30 am. I stood, dressed up and admired myself in front of the wall mirror. Henry was still asleep. He was sleeping like a baby. My heart fell for him. I only needed some money for my upkeep. I did not know how the money was meant to be made available. Maybe treating Henry the way that I did was the only way I could have been blessed. I was blessed anyway. I decided not to let him see my back. While I slowly shut the door, as I was leaving, my eyes fell on what was written on the door. It was a plastic carving. It was the room number. It was Room 18B. I read it aloud. I was the only one who heard my voice. No one was listening. Residents were still in their bedrooms enjoying the rest of the weekend. The birds were singing and a few cats were still waking up. I saw a lizard close to the door. It was a spoilt lizard; those that never thought of fleeing as soon as a human came close. It only lay still, and stared me in the eyes. I heard it call me a wicked woman. It was not the only thing that blamed me for what I did. The moon also did. It hid inside the clouds as soon as I looked into the sky.

I am not that wicked, I told myself. I gave Henry two thousand two hundred naira back, and left with ten thousand naira. I did not care that there were lies in his words. A small bottle of Heineken was not sold for three hundred and fifty naira as he said. It was only two hundred naira. There were also lies in the prices of the different tots that he mentioned. I did not tell him I knew he lied. The truth is that I felt guilty. He was asleep when the guilt hit me. I picked up his trousers, slid the money into his pocket, and smiled. That would be enough for him for a day. I wanted to be sure he had some more money, which was why I pushed and threatened him harder to confess he had more money.

18B was written by Binyerem Ukonu and is an short story excerpt from his collection The Water was Hot.
(Serene Woods, 2011)

Copyright © Binyerem Ukonu 2011.

Binyerem Ukonu is an architect, poet and novelist. He is published online, and in print magazines, such as Pyramid Magazine and Twilight Musings of the International Library of Poetry. He is a co-founder of The Literary Club, Owerri. Born in a family of six on the 11th day of July 1982, Binyerem is the only son of Sir Sydney and Lady Chinyere (late). He is the author of Ekwurekwu – a meal of verse (poetry). With a degree in Architecture, a diploma in Gas, and a diploma in Creative Writing, he is constantly working on widening his knowledge. He lives and works in Bonny Island, and is presently researching for his debut novel. He can be reached at binyeremukonu at ovi.com


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