A virgin’s quest

June 12, 2024
20 mins read

A Short Story by Bunmi Fatoye-Matory

Friday, June 28, 2024.

 

Somewhere in Rọ́lákẹ́’s childhood, she learned about Mercedes Benz, but not in a book, neither by sight nor on television.  Television had yet to arrive in her town when she was a child.  She learned about Mercedes Benz at the same time she was becoming aware of the world, and of her father’s rage. In their town and all the surrounding towns, in 1960’s Nigeria, no one drove such a car.  No one could afford to. The few people who owned cars in that area drove Peugeot 403, called Pijó and the ubiquitous Volkswagen, affectionately called  sọ-kí-nsọ̀ or ìjàpá.   The only man who drove an exotic car, called Citron, was a lawyer who lived in Ìbàdàn and passed through their town every month while going to see his family in the area. The road to the big cities passed through Rọ́lákẹ́’s town.  Many of the children, through their underground message system, knew the time of the month he would be passing and  gathered to wave at him.  He smiled and waved back.  Rọ́lákẹ́ took part in this ritual twice and stopped.  She thought the slightly green Citron was not pretty, although the boys talked excitedly about it.   Rọ́lákẹ́ would only learn later from her city-raised friends at university that Citroen  was an expensive French car.  In fact, one of her roommates in the second year said her father, a judge, drove it.   As for  Mercedes Benz, she never saw one in the years she attended primary and  boarding secondary schools in her area.   Not even the parents who visited their children during the monthly visiting days drove such a car.  Her father, like most teachers, drove Volkswagen, which everyone sọ̀-kí- nsọ̀.  His car was cream-colored.  His teacher’s  modest salary might be  high in their  agrarian region, they were not high enough for city-type luxury consumption.  She and her siblings had always been proud of her father’s Volkswagen until one classmate derisively said “Sọ̀-kí- nsọ̀ ni Bàbá ẹ ńgùn,” after seeing her with her parents on one visiting day.  Rọ́lákẹ́ later learned this classmate’s father didn’t even have a car, but Rọ́lákẹ́ for the first time became self-conscious about  her father’s car.

But her father’s dream of success was a Mercedes Benz.  He said this many times while whipping her and her siblings for one infraction or the other, or insulting their mother for any number of reasons.   “I would be driving a Mercedes Benz now but for you,” he raged. He blamed the children and their mother for this setback.  His financial responsibilities to them were a constant source of anger.  Yet, he stopped their mother, a teacher, from working. He complained bitterly about  paying school fees, feeding them, buying clothes, shoes, food, and other necessities. But for all these, he would have been rich enough to buy a Mercedes Benz, he reasoned.   Rọ́lákẹ́ was always curious about what this mysterious car looked like.  Other children who probably had never seen it either talked about it with reverence, and called it Mẹ̀sí Olóyè.  It was the king of all cars.

Rọ́lákẹ́ did not ride in a Mercedes Benz until her third year at the University of Ifẹ̀. She had seen a few driving past, usually with a man or woman sitting at the right corner in the back, the owner’s corner.  It always brought back memories of an angry father raining curses on them and beating them, her father’s face twisted with anger, saying hurtful things to her mother, implacable.   Rọ́lákẹ́ had gone to Sábó Market in town to buy some condiments for some stew and jollof rice she wanted to make for her birthday. She had already invited  her friends.  It would be her first time making jollof rice.  She finished shopping and stood by the roadside to wait for a bus going to the gate of her campus. She had enough money for a taxi, but she would rather take a bus to save some money.   Women spread their wares close to the road and she enjoyed the humming and buzzing of the market.  She was watching the bargaining between two women across the road when a yellow Mercedes Benz pulled up next to her.   It was spotless as if it had just been washed and polished.  A man in a maroon guinea brocade agbádá and blue f̀ilà asked where she was going, and  if she wanted a ride.   She told him she was going to the campus and yes, she wanted a ride.

“Ha, you are a student at Ifẹ̀.  Mo mọ̀ bí mo ṣe rí ẹ.”

“How did you know?” she asked.

“Because Ifẹ̀ girls look different. They look different from town girls.”   Rọ́lákẹ́ was puzzled.  She thought of herself as modest with simple dresses and  low cut hair.  She was a budding feminist.  Her membership in the male-dominatẹd paramilitary Man’O-War Club and the Marxist revolution-breathing  Alliance For Progressive Students (ALPS) attested to her political and personal goals.  She didn’t perm her hair, polish her nails and or wear lipstick.  Those were trivial pursuits.  As for Man’ O War, she joined to keep fit and to prove that what boys can do, girls can do as well.   She had often heard that male students teased each other when  town girlfriends visited.   They howled and shouted “bushmeat” as the poor girls walked along the corridors of Fájúyì or Awólówọ̀ Hall, letting them know they were considered unsophisticated, unlike university girls.

“Come in,” said the man.”  “My name is Báyọ́.  Kílo rúkọ ẹ?”

 “Rọ́lákẹ́,” she replied.  Rọ́lákẹ́ noticed the car was just as spotless inside.  The seats were made of fine leather which was the smell inside the car.  The man’s skin was smooth and his nails were clean.  He rolled up the window and turned on the air conditioner.  Rọ́lákẹ́ stole a look at the back and saw a leather briefcase and many files.

“What are you doing in the market?” the man asked
“It’s my birthday tomorrow and I came to buy condiments to make some food for my friends.”

“Am I invited?” the man teased.  Rọ́lákẹ́ only smiled.  She was going to turn twenty in a few days.   This was not the first time she would be given a ride by a strange man.  She was used to their small talk and flirtations, but they always dropped her off at  her destinations once she let them know she was not interested in the bed part of it.  Rọ́lákẹ́ had been taken interest in men lately.  They were different from the men in her pre-university days who were feared and revered like her father and her teachers.  As a university student, she found that she had lost that fear, but she still revered her lecturers.  She also discovered  men now treated her mostly with curiosity and respect.

 Báyò expertly shifted from one gear to another and told Rọ́lákẹ́ he was the head of a bank in the  area, that he had been transferred from Lagos, and had only been  in Ifẹ̀ for a few months.   His wife and children lived in Lagos.  He was transferred  so often he and his wife decided she should stay with the children in Lagos.  He lived in a guest house owned by the bank.

“What are you studying?” he asked

“Biology.”

“Ah, our young scientist.  I studied economics at U.I. and went to work with the bank after.  Rọ́lákẹ́ didn’t say anything but smiled, that smug smile that said Ifẹ̀ was a superior university.   He smiled too, and as if reading her mind said “Ibadan is better than Ifẹ̀.”  She looked at him and laughed.   He kept smiling and said he could tell what she was thinking because he had two younger siblings studying at Ifẹ̀ and he never stopped hearing  about how great Ifẹ̀ was, greater than Ibadan.   He asked if Rọ́lákẹ́ was hungry and she said yes.  He asked if she would like to come with him to the restaurant where he was going to have his lunch. She did not mind.

He drove to a restaurant called Food Is A Good Friend To The Skin.  On the menu booklet was a picture of a couple looking robust and well fed, dressed in lace materials and jewelry.  Rọ́lákẹ́ said it would have been better if they didn’t translate the Yorùbá saying into English ‘Ońjẹ Lọ̀rẹ́ Àwọ̀.’ “More poetic,” she said. He smiled and said, “I thought you are studying Biology and not Linguistics.”   Rọ́lákẹ́ said she wanted to study English but Biology was a compromise with her father who wanted her to study medicine.

He ordered pounded yam with ẹ̀fọ́ rírò and a bowl of fresh fish,  orísirísi-assorted meats, and goat meat on the side.  He also ordered a sweating Star Lager for himself and a Coke for Rọ́lákẹ́. The ẹ̀fọ́, fresh and green ṣọkọ leaves, was loaded with shrimp and other seafood.  The aroma  made Rọ́lákẹ́  drool as they brought the dishes to the table.   She ordered jollof rice and dòdò but he insisted Rọ́lákẹ́ should join him in the pounded yam feast, swearing this was the best restaurant in the whole city for ẹ̀fọ́ rírò.  Rọ́lákẹ́ conceded and washed her hands to join him.

They brought her two wraps of hot pounded yam and more plates of meat.  She shed her shyness and enjoyed every morsel.  The man did not engage in conversation while they were eating, he wanted both of them to enjoy the meal.   Rọ́lákẹ́ only ate like this during festivals or ceremonies back home.  Actually, never like this.  The best parts of the meat would have long gone to the older people, more to the men than to the women.

They finished and he paid.  As they walked to the car, the man invited Rọ́lákẹ́ to his residence.  He said he was alone and didn’t have many friends.  “Kò dáa kéyàn máa dá nìkan gbé.”    He said he missed his family, his daughters Fadékẹ́ and Oyin, 9 and 6.  He talked of how smart they were, just like their mother.  Their mother worked for an oil company, AGIP, in Lagos.  She, too, was a graduate of the University of Ibadan.  The guest house was cool and nicely furnished.  The draperies were heavy and  looked very  expensive.   He said a cleaning woman came in every day to clean even though the place was hardly dirty. The bedroom door was ajar.  Rọ́lákẹ́ could see the bedroom from the living room.  The bed was neatly made and from a distance she could see the sheets were of high quality.  It did look like a guest house, a temporary abode.  There were no photographs, books, or any personal possessions.  The refrigerator had beer, stout, Coke, Fanta, and a few bottles of Shandy and malt.  Rọ́lákẹ́ joined the man in the kitchen where he had opened the fridge to pull out some drinks, Gulda for him, and Malta for her.   The kitchen looked as if no one had ever cooked there.   All the appliances were new-clean, and the pots and pans looked as if someone just bought them from the store.   They went back to the sitting room.  Rọ́lákẹ́ who had been enjoying the coolness of the room was now beginning to feel chilly.  She shrank her body and hugged herself.  He noticed and came to sit close to her, putting his arm around her midriff.

“What do you want to do after you graduate?”

She took some time answering his question.

“Maybe you could continue and get your Ph.D. and become a Biology lecturer.”   Such a thought had never entered Rọ́lákẹ́’s head.  All her professors were male and there were just a few girls in her Biology class.

“Yes,” but I had never thought of becoming a lecturer.

“Why?”

“I don’t know any female lecturers.”

“Of  course, you can.  I always tell my daughters this. They can study anything they want and be anything they want.  My sisters were deprived of university education because our father thought they should stop at high school and get married.  He said their husbands will take care of the rest.   One of my sisters made Grade 1 but never got the opportunity to go to university.  Bàbá asked her to get married after School Cert.  She did and he set her up in business.  She’s doing well, but

I’ve always wondered  what such a brilliant person could have become.  I’m not as brilliant as she is.  I made Grade 2 and attended Ìbàdàn.”

His father was in the transport business.  He owned fleets of long-distance cars and buses.   For him, higher education was for boys only.

He asked Rọ́lákẹ́ about her family.  His mother was the first wife of his father, so was Rọ́lákẹ́’s mother.  He was the third child of his mother but the fifth of the nine children of his father.  Rọ́lákẹ́ was the first child of both her mother and father.  Rọ́lákẹ́ said her father married a second wife who had remained barren.  She blamed this on Rọ́lákẹ́’s mother and called her mother a witch.  Báyọ̀ smiled.

He held her hand and drew closer, gently stroking her right breast from the back.  She suddenly grew very furious and  pulled away.  She was surprised at her own anger.  The man was handsome. His skin looked like black velvet to her. His round glasses gave him an air of intelligence, as Rọ́lákẹ́ was partial to intelligent men.  His manners were respectful and he was kind to her.  He had done nothing to offend her. She had encouraged his flirtations because she secretly thought she might finally solve her problem.  Rọ́lákẹ́ was a virgin, and she hated it.

“Kí ló dé?”  Báyọ̀, asked, taken aback by her rejection and anger.

“I’m not that kind of girl.”

“What kind of girl?  I won’t waste my time with that kind of girl.”

He tried again, and she  slapped his hand. In a very cold voice, she asked  to  be dropped off on campus. Báyọ̀ saw the fury on her face and quietly picked up his car keys.

“Look, I won’t do anything you don’t want to.  I like you. You are a smart and pretty girl.  Here is my card.  You can  visit me anytime you want.”

She took the card and dropped it in her bag and they left the apartment.  He held the front door open for her and did the same for the car.

“Kíló n bí ẹ nínú toyi?  I will never force you to do anything.  You don’t have to be angry.”  Rọ́lákẹ́ stayed mute.  She was still angry.  She did not say a single word during  the long drive to the campus.  He, too, kept quiet.  Rọ́lákẹ́ had been planning to lose her virginity for some time.  She had been reading about sex, and listening to her friend and roommate, Ṣèyí, regaling her about her sexual adventures with a lecturer in Architecture Department.  Rọ́lákẹ́ knew him but had never spoken to him.  He was a very tall man who was said to be from some West African country. Rumor had it that his wife left him to go back to their country. Ṣèyí said they had sex in motels in town and sometimes in his office.  He had never taken her to his house in Staff Quarters, and she didn’t care. “It’s not as if I want to marry him.   It’s a part of my education to learn about sex.  The young boys think they’ve won a prize when they have sex with you.  They

tell their friends, or they change their behavior after sleeping with you.  We have sex on the table in his office, or standing up against the wall. You could hear people walking and talking in the corridor.   And you know what he did the last time?  I have never seen or heard anything like that.  He asked me to sit on the table, pulled a chair and put his mouth on my òbò.  Ó bẹ̀rẹ̀ sí jòbò mi.   I was shocked and I tried to push him away, but he held my hands firmly, and pushed his tongue deep and then started doing something to my clitoris. Ọ̀rẹ́ mi, I almost fainted from pleasure,” as Ṣèyí dramatically rolled her eyes in her head.

 “It’s called cunnilingus,” Rọ́lákẹ́ said.

“How do you know what it is called?  You are a virgin!” her friend exclaimed.

“Because I read about sex.”  Rọ́lákẹ́ had been checking out books from Hezekiah Olúwásanmí Library, another place on campus she dearly loved.  She took out books on Biology and various subjects of interest from the library, but she only checked out her sex books  from Mrs. Okeke, an older female librarian. She was too embarrassed to take out such books from male librarians.  The woman was always pleasant to her, but with a knowing look on her face.

Rọ́lákẹ́ had always thought her friend was slightly promiscuous but she enjoyed Ṣèyí’s sex tales. She, too, was a virgin when she entered the university, but she said she was determined to do something about it.  She told Rọ́lákẹ́ of the sexual life of her brother, Wọlé, and his wife Yétúndé.  They both graduated from Ifẹ̀ with degrees in Computer Science.  They did everything together on campus, studied together, went to the same parties.  In fact, they were like twins on campus.  But they never had sex.  She was a virgin, something that pleased Wọlé greatly, and made him pay extra attention to Yétúndé. They got married the year they graduated and settled in Lagos with great jobs.  After their second child, two boys  in quick succession, their marriage ran into trouble.

“Why?” Rọ́lákẹ́ wanted to know.

“She didn’t want to have sex with him anymore.  She moved to another room and rejected all his advances,” Ṣèyí said. Ṣèyí was not even aware there was a problem in their marriage until  one evening when she was spending her holiday with them. She and her brother went out to run an errand and stopped in the house of a woman in Àpápá. She was a nurse in the Navy and she was her brother’s girlfriend.  Even though she was polite to the woman, when she got to the car, she was very angry with her brother for being unfaithful to Yétúndé, and for exposing her to his bad behavior.  That was when her brother told her the sexual difficulty in his marriage. “We have not had sex for over six months.  It’s a cold war between us. Kíni kí nwá ṣe?”  Seyi thought about it for some time and decided she was going to learn about sex experientially, as she told Rọ́lákẹ́. On campus.

There was a time in the past semester when Rọ́lákẹ́ came close to losing her virginity.   She met Táyọ̀ who was studying Food Technology.  He was in his final year and Rọ́lákẹ́ thought he would at least be a little more mature.  They both loved movies and went to Oduduwa Hall regularly to see British and American movies.  They particularly shared a fondness for James Bond movies.  She also liked  romantic movies, but Tayo was not keen.  She went to the movies by herself at times, and felt uncomfortable watching  sex scenes when they were together. They also saw some plays, one of which was Soyinka’s Opera Wonyosi. It was the second time the play  was staged in Oduduwa Hall.  Rọ́lákẹ́ missed an earlier production the previous year.   She and Táyọ̀, like most students, sat at the upper levels of the theater, in the back.  Those with expensive tickets sat at the lower levels near the stage.  The hall had a capacity for 1,500 people but curiously, there were some empty rows between these two groups, the haves and have nots. Rọ́lákẹ́ thought of those sitting closer to the stage as the bourgeoise, that class of people she’d been learning about in her Marxist group, and the rest of them at the back as the masses.   Just before the play started, the Great Man himself, popularly known as Kongi, stepped on the stage and made a short speech in his stentorian voice, after which he asked everybody to move down and closer, upgrading the viewership of the masses.  The students all clapped and noisily rushed to the empty seats.  To Rọ́lákẹ́, it was a mini revolution, exactly what Nigeria needed.  She and Tayo discussed Ṣóyínká’s biting satire in Opera Wónyòsi, of Nigeria’s military rulers’ lack of vision, corruption and wastefulness. After the shows at Odùduwà Hall, Rọ́lákẹ́ and Táyọ̀ often strolled leisurely around campus, admiring Ifẹ̀’s beautiful architecture. Sometimes, they sat in the outdoor amphitheater behind  Oduduwa Hall.  If it was not too dark they walked all the way to the Botanical Gardens, sitting on one of the benches, or trying to identify the flora around them.   It was said that one student, not ever having seen such gorgeous horticulture, swore he would come back as a plant in the  Botanical Gardens of the University of Ifẹ̀ in his next life. Rọ́lákẹ́ didn’t mind that Báyọ̀  kissed her or touched her breasts.  There was even a time he dipped his hands into her pants and touched her vagina. It was as if someone poured some liquid soap between her thighs.  She loved the smell coming from there.  She saw the bulge in his trousers and pulled his hand away.  He looked as if he was in pain.

One evening, she went to visit him in his room, which he shared with four other  boys.  He knew she was coming.  The usually boisterous room was quiet. He was alone and was wearing his underpants.  Instead of sitting her on the chair near his bed, he asked her to join him on the bed.  She did.  He started taking off her clothes with urgency.  Rọ́lákẹ́ could see and feel the big bulge.  He was trying to undo her bra but was having difficulty.  “Duro, mii ti ready,”  Rọ́lákẹ́ said quietly.   She pushed his hands away.  He sat up and seemed to be angry.  Then he turned to her and said, “Wòó, mo màwon girls tí wọn nii mind.  I don’t understand you.  Ìgbà wo lo fẹ́ ready.”  It was as if someone slapped Rọ́lákẹ́.  She didn’t expect this ugly behavior from him.  She got up, pulled her dress down, and said with a measure of dignity, “Go to your girls who don’t mind.”  She picked up her bag and left.  She waited for him to come after her or visit her in her

room in the next few days.  He never did.  It took her some time to recover because she really liked Táyọ̀ and thought they were building a relationship.  She wanted to lose her virginity, but she wanted a boy who wanted more than sex.

Finally, the banker pulled up to the parking lot of Mọ́rèmí Hall and Rọ́lákẹ́ collected her bags of condiments from his boot.  He stood for some time and contemplated her as she was picking up the bags.

“O.K. Rọ́lákẹ́.  Má bínú.  I’m sorry if I offended you.”  He smiled and said “Let us be friends.”  She did not smile back.  She bid him goodbye and climbed the stairs at the Porters’ Lodge leading to the corridor of G & H block.

She stayed angry for some time until she saw her friend and told her about the incident.  Predictably, she asked “Kíló ṣe ẹ́?  What did he do wrong?  He wants you, you want him. Àbí?   And he treated you nicely.  Kíló wá dé?”

“I don’t know,” was all she could say.

The answer did not come until years later when Rọ́lákẹ́ who had become an accountant in Lagos was buying her own Mercedes Benz.   It was a used V-boot.  But she loved it.   It occurred to her that her anger against the Mercedes man was because of his car, not because of anything he did.  In fact, she thought if he had been driving another kind of car that day, she would have yielded her virginity to him.  Mercedes Benz was the car her  father lusted after and couldn’t get.  To him, it was the symbol of  success and status in the world, which he felt he never achieved.  Rọ́lákẹ́ associated the car with her father’s rage and  unjustified anger.  Part of her hated the car, and so she could not bring herself to sleep with a man who drove such a car.

Rọ́lákẹ́ climbed into her Mercedes Benz and adjusted her sunglasses.  Her car’s leather seats  were a little worn, but she loved the comfortable interior.  The speakers were excellent.  It was 6p.m. when she finished work at her accounting firm in Marina.  She slid  Ebenezer Obey’s cassette into the player and blasted “À Ńjáde Lọ Leni”, then turned the air condition to  the highest level.  She did not even notice the congestion on Ikorodu road as she headed home from Marina to her family in  Ìkẹjà.

Bunmi Fatoye-Matory is a columnist, essayist, and writer of fiction.  A graduate of Great Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria), University of Ibadan, and Harvard University, she enjoys reading, traveling, meeting people, and  learning about Yoruba cosmology.  A convert to Yoruba traditional religion, she is an initiated Osun devotee.  She lives with her family in Durham, North Carolina, USA..

 

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