The people outside, who had come hoping for a celebration, looked on in despair. Twins were an abomination in Efik land, they would be cast into the sea and the land cleansed of the ill luck they bring. The midwives had dusted their slippers and left the palace in a hurry, no one would call them for midwifery services, and they would live forever with the stigma of delivering twins.
The Obong lay on the floor of the hut and cried, life had dealt him unfairly, the thing that had come from his loins, was an abomination.
Abasiama: “I am sorry, please forgive me” she cried, because in this patriarchal society, the woman would be blamed for bringing an abomination to the land. The Obong left the hut and went to his throne room; he slumped on the throne, like a drunk. Truly he was drunk in pain.
Seven days after the childbirth, as the culture demanded, Abasiama walked naked round the village, carrying two big baskets on her head. She was to go round the village seven times; her naked body was covered in cam wood oil, her hair was in big braids. She had given birth to a boy and a girl, this would have been a blessing to her, because the goddess had blessed her with two children, but in this land, it was a curse, and such children were not allowed to live.
The villagers danced behind her, as she walked in front of them, with the weight of the burden on her head. They followed her, all the way to the Kwa river, as she walked in, slowly to where the water was deep and dumped the baskets which were tied together, on the river. She watched as the baskets flowed down the river, and the babies cried out in loud screams. The queen made to go after the baskets, but men jumped into the water and held her. They pulled her out of the water, to the land, where the Obong covered her with a white loin cloth.
Obong: “Sorry my wife, it is going to be alright. Awasi will give us another child” he said and held her to his chest. The villagers escorted them back to the palace, where the priest was waiting. Abasiama was taken into a room where no man was allowed to enter. There, women washed her body with water from the Kwa river, and smeared the burnt herbs the priest had given to them, on her body. While doing this, they chanted an Efik song, begging Awasi to have mercy on Abasiama and give her a good child.
The baskets in which the babies lay were tied together with a rope so that the same fate would befall them. It was expected that the fishes of the sea, which they believed would be messengers from Awasi Isong, the god of the earth and the waters, would devour the babies. But the babies sailed in the baskets for days without getting devoured, they wailed for their mother, as the cold bit into their tiny bodies.
On the third day they had sailed into the Calabar River, where they met a great storm that ripped the rope tying the baskets together. Each basket sailed to a different direction.
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*Twenty years later*
Kaylah woke up to the sunlight streaming in through the curtains; she had been having a sweet dream. In her dream, she wore the crown for the most beautiful girl in Nigeria. She smiled as she remembered how she had felt when the crown was placed on her head, in her dreams.
Kaylah: “You will get there Kaylah, just a little more effort” she said to herself, and turned to see another girl lying on a separate bed in the room. She was not at home; she was at the camp for the most beautiful girl in Lagos beauty pageant. Her roommate, Nadia, was one of the strongest contenders, she worried. She really needed to win, it would bring her closer to her dreams, and it would give her a platform to reach out to children in foster homes. She had nursed this desire since she was five and had visited an orphanage with her parents, in her hometown of Akwa Ibom.
There she had met a small boy who was same age with her. He was named Ifiok, and was wise beyond his years. In his little voice he had told her how he wanted to change the world, and remove sadness and pain from the world. He told Kaylah that he cried every night to sleep because he was not lucky like Kaylah and had no parents.
Kaylah’s little heart broke, and every month after that visit, she cried for her parents to take her to the orphanage. So it became a ritual that, every month’s end, Mr. and Mrs. Assanga would take their Kaylah to Akwa Ibom, so she could visit the orphanage. The friendship between these youngsters grew into a bond. But one month, a year later after they met, Kaylah visited with her parents, but was told that Ifiok had been taken to another foster home, and the details could not be revealed to them. Kaylah begged her parents to adopt Ifiok, as that was the only way the details of his new home could be revealed.
When they got to the new home, however, it was found that Ifiok had run away. Kaylah cried and refused eating for days, it was only through the help of a therapist she could start being normal again. But she carried the desire to make the world a better place and saving the children in Orphanages, her life’s mission.
Nadia; “Earth to Kaylah” she said as she tumbled out of bed. Kaylah came out of her reverie, and realized her roommate was awake already, while she was lost in the past.
Kaylah: “Don’t mind me jare”
Nadia: “Today is the grand finale, may the best girl win” she said and winked at Kaylah.
Kaylah: “May I win” she said within herself.
It was in the evening, the event center of the prestigious Eko hotel and suites, was filled to capacity, people had come to watch the girl that would be crowned the most beautiful girl in Lagos, she would go ahead to represent Lagos at the most beautiful girl in Nigeria. Mr. and Mrs. Assanga watched as their daughter strutted on the stage, in different attires. They were both academicians , but this was the path their daughter had chosen, and they were going to support her, most especially because, they knew the motivation behind it.
After an evening of fun and laughter, which featured jokes from comedians like Basket Mouth and Teju Babyface, it was time to announce the winner and the runners up. The girls were all pensive as they posed side by side on the stage. Fifty girls vying to be queen.
Host: “First and foremost, before we call the winners. We have a NGO in our midst, they are one of our sponsors and they were impressed with one of our girls. I call on Mrs. Anyaegbusi to come up to the stage” the female host said and a heavily built woman rose from the VIP table and walked to the stage amidst cheers from the spectators.
Mrs. Anyaegbusi : “I am the founder of SAVING GIRLS INITIATIVE, and we look out for girls who would do exploits and be an encouragement to other girls. We listened to Miss. Assanga’s speech, where she talked about her passion for the orphanages and people who had no one in the world to speak for them, and we knew she was going to be our voice. We make Kaylah Assanga the face of our NGO. We will give her the platform to realize her goals. Of course this comes with a remuneration package, and she would travel the world to meet girls of like minds. Thank you” The hall burst into cheers, as Kaylah was ushered to take pictures with Mrs Anyaegbusi and other board members of the NGO. She was all smiles and blushes as cameras flashed, every reporter wanted a piece of her. She told herself that even if she did not become a beauty queen, she already had the platform to share her ideas with the world.
Host: “Now, we call on Mr. Ben Murray Bruce and Governor Ambode, to call the winner” she said as the two dignitaries walked up to the stage.
At this point, Nadia was feeling jittery, seeing Kaylah become the face of a notable NGO, she was wondering when the beauty pageant became more intense, when did they start caring about soul talks and saving the world, weren’t they all about beauty? She asked herself. She told herself that if she won this, she would smile into their faces and kiss any orphan they wanted her to kiss, she would pretend to care about these things, even if she did.
The dignitaries announced Kaylah as the most beautiful girl in Lagos, and Nadia as the first runner up. The ex queen came up to transfer the crown to Kaylah’s head. Her mother, Benita Assanga rushed up to the stage and embraced her daughter.
Benita: “My pride and joy, the day you came into my life was the most beautiful day” she showered her daughter with kisses, as tears rolled down her cheeks. Behind her, the banner for first runner up was placed on Nadia, she eyed Kaylah and wished something bad would befall her right now, so she could be made the queen.
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Somewhere in Eket, particularly in Ibeno, a group of militants sat together, smoking Marijuana. They had heavy machine guns lying beside each of them, their leader, popularly known as Stinger had girls sitting on his thighs.
Stinger: “We have to kidnap one of these big shoes. We need money to fund our next campaign against Exxon Mobil” They agreed that, since it was festive season, they would wait for the rich sons and daughters of Akawa Ibom to return home for the festivities. Then they would kidnap someone with clout who would fetch those millions, which they needed.
After they had concluded their plans, Stinger separated himself from the others; he walked a few miles to the beach, and sat by a coconut tree. He thought of his life, militancy was his way of shielding the pain he had carried from his childhood. No one cared about him, even his parents had not cared for him.
He remembered that fateful day, when one of the administrators in the new foster home he had been taken to, had told him how he came to be in the foster home. After being removed from the old foster home, where he had formed a friendship with a little girl, whose name he could not remember, he had no one else to cheer him up and make life colorful. So he became unruly, and the administrators were not ready to tolerate his unruliness. Sometimes they would punish him by withholding food from him, sometimes they flogged him mercilessly. So he ran away.
From the age of six, he lived on the streets of Uyo. No one knew his real name because, from the age of ten he got the name “Stinger”. He had been bullied by bigger boys, because he had a small stature, but one day he sprang on his oppressor, and pummeled him to a bloody mess. People began to defer to him, and gave him the nickname. Till he grew, he had borne the name.
Sometimes, in his quiet moments, he wondered what turn his life would have taken, if he had parents who had not thrown him into the river. Yes, his administrator at the last foster home he was in, had cruelly told the six year old, that he was found at the river bank, he had been thrown to the river, and he was hospitalized for months before he bounced back to health. So, he should stop acting like a prince, because he was just a reject. So Stinger had poured his annoyance on the whole world, his life was forfeit, but he would unleash terror on the world.