The restaurant’s owner was ready to lock up for the day. She grabbed the key and began to leave. I asked the girl if I could use her phone to make a call as I didn’t have any credit remaining. I read out the digits to her. A few long seconds later, the voice of an automated answering machine replied. “Thanks for trying” I sighed.
I got up and left, clutching my Primark paper bag that contained the socks, gloves and jumper I bought earlier. I paced in front of the restaurant to keep warm, not sure where to go or what to do.
The owner and Yoruba girl came out, slid the metal gate closed and locked up. As the girl began to walk away, she noticed my presence. “You’re still here?” she asked. “Yeah, I don’t remember how to get back to Fatima’s when it is dark. I am scared I will get lost” I explained.
“You don’t have the address?” she queried.
“No” I replied, “I only know the bus number and the area but not the address. I only moved in with her recently.”
“Hmm…I see” the girl pondered, “I do not usually do this, but I guess you can come to my place for tonight. This area is not a safe place to be at night, especially as a girl.”
The bus journey was mostly silent except for when she questioned my age, or whether I had family in the UK. My replies were met with more silence; she was more interested in her phone than what I had to say.
The girl lived in a high-rise estate not too far from the restaurant. There were six box-shaped towers in the estate, and the flats looked tiny. The girl raided her bag for keys. She opened the main door and led the way into a narrow squeaky elevator that ascended slowly. With every floor we passed, I felt increasingly anxious about the situation; however, I was still relieved I had somewhere safe to rest for the night.
The flat was narrow and had a faint aroma of African food. My host led the way into a stuffy bedroom with pink walls. She directed me to the Inflatable mattress on the floor in the corner. I eased onto it, took off my coat and shoes and placed them neatly next to me as I settled in.
I laid down and let the day’s events replay in my mind. I continued to wonder why Fatima abandoned me. Perhaps there is an explanation, and it would all make sense. After all, she had served me food and welcomed me with a smile. As I began to doze off, thoughts of my family slipped into my mind.
My eyes sprung open; I almost forgot my most important ritual. I rubbed my eyes and quickly recited my surah and dua into half-open palms. I felt a bit anxious and needed my protective ritual to cover me. Satisfied, I let myself relax.
As thoughts of my family returned, sadness began to take over me, but I managed to shrug it off and, eventually, I fell asleep.
I had terrible dreams that night. I was being chased by two giant cobras. I was desperate to get away, but, in one sudden move, they closed the space between us. I screamed, calling out for my papa. They charged at me angrily, hissing and bearing their venomous fangs. I was swiftly knocked to the ground before I could get away, then one of them was on me. As it coiled itself around me, I felt my body crumble under the giant beast. I tried to say a prayer and muttered a dua to myself as its grip became almost unbearable. Suddenly, the pressure was gone, and my lungs refilled with air. They had disappeared.
I woke up from my nightmare to the girl’s grandmother glaring down at me.