Madam Matron By VICTOR EHIKHAMENOR Holding cell My fear is not of dying, but the madness threatening to take my mind. You probably think I am stupid to talk like this, but dying is better than going publicly naked in this cold floor. But I see the look in her eyes and I know something is very wrong. That look is familiar; it is that of new mental patients brought to Benin Psychiatric Hospital where I used to work. Something that started yesterday as a small talk followed by ordinary laughter has turned ugly. Gina, one of the girls in the cell with me had began talking to invisible people as if she was in Oba Market arguing with a wheelbarrow pusher who splashed mud on her Sunday dress. This afternoon, things have gone worse. Gina takes off her jeans right in front of everybody. Usually she undresses for the security men in the dark corner of our cell. But now that her madness has taken over her head, she doesn’t wait for darkness before flaunting it all, marching up and down. “Gina, lahorwowo wear your clothes you don’t want everybody to see you naked or catch cold, not like this. Please na.” 6 “Gina what is all this na? You are disgracing us o, can’t you relax and wait for night when your white boyfriend comes?” I tell her. She looks at me briefly with her sunken eyes and says nothing. She concentrates instead on the empty grey wall at one side of the cell. Gina’s faded jeans lie crumpled on the floor; the buckle of her belt rests by a red sweater she slept on. The other girl, Eseosa, is staring at her as if she is watching Genevieve act madness in African Magic. Gina has always been the noisy one, even a little crazy ordinarily to begin with, but this behavior has gone too far. I ask Eseosa to help me get her back into her clothes before she catches cold. “Na me take the clothes comot for her body? See me see wahala o. If she wants to be naked, let her be naked. Na me bring am come here abi you want make I catch her curse? Wicked people,” Eseosa hisses and goes to another corner where she coils up and fiddles with her dirty braids. Ignorant goat, she thinks madness is contagious. Besides she has not forgiven Gina for telling one of the white women who came here that we were all ashawo. I too was angry with Gina that day and I screamed at her that I was not an illiterate cow like her. I was going to a nursing school in Venice and I had all my admission papers and receipts to prove that I have paid my school and accommodation fees in the envelope seized by the immigration officers, thank you. The white woman, Gina thought, would get her out of detention never showed up after she made her talk senselessly. That was also the day I knew she too went to Ipoba River to swear oath and offer sacrifices before traveling. When Gina started talking she became possessed like a caught witch, even I was shocked at the words that tumbled from her wide mouth. And Eseosa believes that is why we are stuck in this place.