UNTIL THE LATE seventies, many houses in Lagos had no modern toilets. In many parts of the then Federal capital, what every house had for a toilet, was a bucket system. This simply consisted of a galvanized bucket that would be placed in a small room and a concrete slab built around it. A user would have to climb on a pedestal to squat on the slab. Subsequently, as the user proceeded to pass feces, the wastes would sail through a gaping hole and slammed into the galvanized bucket. This one toilet would serve the entire house.
Every evening, on major streets of Lagos, some masked men would be seen clutching galvanized buckets. They were called agbepo, which translated into potty carriers. These were able-bodied young men who were recruited by the Lagos City Council to empty the buckets of feces in every house in the metropolis.
And so, to make the work of these potty carriers less cumbersome, most houses in the city were designed to make the toilets easily accessible. To this end, every toilet had its rear access to the road. All an agbepo had to do was open a little door that was attached to a toilet by the roadside, empty the contents of the filled-up bucket into his own bucket and carry it to a nearby mobile depot. It was here, he would empty the feces bucket before returning to another house to repeat the process.
In view of the nature of their job, every agbepo was treated ignominiously by the people they served. It was commonly believed in the city of Lagos then, that only the shameless, grossly retrogressive men, with the lowest self-esteem, would undertake such an indecent employment. People of the Yoruba ethnic nationality who were in the majority in Lagos State were, in fact, ever eager to display their contempt for the agbepo who were indigenes of another section of the country. It was not uncommon therefore, to see some kids play pranks on the potty carriers whom they made mockery of. The consequence here was that, the angry agbepo would run after such kids in a bid to sprinkle some feces on their bodies.
In their apartment building, the Omidinas and their co-tenants had the benefit of a bucket toilet that was located in front of the house. Yet, they were always at the mercy of the agbepo each time one of them failed to show up on time to empty their filled-up bucket. On such occasion, none of the tenants would be able to sit in front of the house in the evening because of the stench that would assault their nostrils from the filled-up feces bucket.
Foluke was alone in the family’s sparsely furnished parlor this afternoon. She tried to kill time and boredom by reading a textbook. This was the day the doctor had projected for the expulsion of the fetus in line with the injection she had taken earlier. The doctor had estimated the time of the expulsion at the morning stage of the day. Yet, it was late in the afternoon already and there was no sign of it.
Some hours afterwards, the young lady suddenly felt a sharp pain in her stomach. Jolted upright, she dropped the textbook in her hand to grab her abdomen as a series of agonizing pain tore through her body. Even though she had been directed by the doctor to expect all of these experiences, she still felt completely unprepared for the searing pain.
At this same moment, she felt a rush of watery substance between her legs. Looking down, she could see a thin, snaky line of blood, tracing its way down her left thigh. Quickly, she reached for a bundle of toilet paper that she had put aside earlier and specifically for that purpose. Unable to stand erect due to the gripping pain, the young lady staggered towards the toilet, one hand holding the toilet paper while the other clawed at her abdomen.
In the process of being deflowered, Foluke felt as though the man was tearing her apart. As she perched atop the concrete slab of the toilet however, she was convinced that no other pain could ever equal the one she was now experiencing. This was the real torture.
As the fetus forced its way out of her tight vagina, Foluke felt as though her entire groin was being torn to shreds with a pestle. Yet, in spite of the terribly agonizing pain, not a single yelp escaped from her mouth. She could not afford to arouse the interest and suspicions of passers-by and the few co-tenants in the house. Foluke had achieved the muffling feat with the aid of a handkerchief that she had earlier stuffed into her mouth.
Soon, the young lady heaved a sigh of relief when the fetus came tumbling out of her trembling body. While the offensive fetus was dangling between her legs, she now had to wait for the placenta to also expel itself so that the two parasitic nuisances could be dispensed with.
In the meantime, she appraised the fetus, which was still attached to the umbilical cord, as it dangled from left to right like a pendulum. It was a morbid, grisly sight to behold. Indeed, the gory sight of the miniature baby was so emotionally deflating that the young lady was moved to shed tears of anguish and self-reproach. She removed the handkerchief from her mouth to wipe away the sweat and tears.
Suddenly, she was startled by a series of loud knocks on the door of the toilet.
“Oh no!” She groaned upon the realization that, there was somebody out there who wanted to use the toilet. She had not expected any body to seek the use of the toilet at such a time of the day. Yet, it was quite obvious that the person was anxious and desperate. Incidentally, the young lady recognized the other voice as that of an elderly co-tenant.
“Who is in there, by the way?” The elderly woman shrieked. “I’ve been waiting outside here for a long time.”
Foluke was too terrified to answer immediately. She looked at the dangling fetus between her thighs and then cast a glance in the direction of the banged door.
“Hey! Who is in that place, for God’s sake?” The old woman was almost pleading as she banged on the door again. “What’s taking you so long?”
“I’m sorry mama!” Foluke managed to say finally. “I’ll soon be out.”
“Ah! So, it’s you Foluke?” The old woman recognized her voice. “Please do come out quickly if you don’t want an old woman to excrete feces in public.”
“Okay!” The young lady answered. But not really knowing what to do, she tugged gently at the umbilical cord, even as she prayed quietly for the damned placenta to expel itself quickly.
Bathed in nervous sweat like a water-drenched fowl and with her hands stained with blood, Foluke tugged at the stubborn cord again. But, no luck! The placenta, it appeared, had some other intrinsic agenda as it was not prepared to obey any call other than that of the nature.
“Ah! Ah!! Foluke!” The old woman screamed again as she grabbed her bottom. It was as though she would excrete on the floor any moment. “Why are you doing this to me…don’t you have respect for elders anymore?”
This remark did the trick. Possessed by an impulsive anger, Foluke tugged forcefully at the umbilical cord with her left hand. But the placenta would not budge.
“Oh, my God!” She cried out in frustration. “What could have gone wrong in there?”
With her bloody left palm, she pulled forcefully again at the umbilical cord until it snapped. Subsequently, she dropped the blood-soaked cord, which, together with the dangling fetus, landed with a thud and sank, with ignominy, into the half-filled feces’ bucket.
“But…” A sweat-soaked Foluke gasped in horror. “…where is the placenta?”
Although she was now gripped by another fear as to the fate of the placenta that had become stranded in her uterus, the embattled young lady tore at the bundle of toilet paper, cleaned herself and tidied up the slab. A moment later, she rushed out of the toilet, almost colliding with the elderly woman who had been waiting to use the toilet. And when Foluke tried to apologize for the delay, the older woman merely hissed indignantly as she dashed into the toilet.
This is an excerpt from the literary novel, The Price of a Reckless Past by Femi Olawole. Although the primary theme of the book is sexuality education, it’s also an analysis of relationships, an insight into the institution of marriage and a grand excursion into the cultures, the traditions and the orientations of an African society. For more info on the book, please visit: http://www.freewebs.com/femibook or write the author at firstname.lastname@example.org