Laos Street

He had stopped to take notice, maybe if he hadn’t glimpsed of the small miracle that day, his life may have gone on unchanged, he could have gone on to become whatever, be whoever, but he found one of these infinite possibilities, he stopped on the long winding road and decided to pause.

The settling was done on a cold night in Laos street, under the shaky orange glow of street lights. Chuka could feel everything ten times as intense, the orange glow had red and yellow in it, the music was loud, electrifying, the music had a taste in his mouth, a thump in his chest, there was a woman dancing at the middle of the plastic chairs, a beer in hand, taking drags of her cigarette, waist in rhythm, sweat pouring, clinging to her breasts

“For today, it’s free”

The strange man giving out heaven for free had a scar across his right eye that shrunk its size until it was barely open. He went by the name of one eyed killer. Chuka did not remind the him that he had paid fifteen thousand for protection. He did not even ask what he needed protecting from, one eyed killer found a man on his street in expensive shoes past midnight and they both understood without much bargaining that this was reason enough.

Reason was not one of his strongest pursuits, his new protector walked over to dancer woman, he whispered something in her ear then whispered in Chuka’s. Five thousand naira later, they were on a corridor, blue lights flickering above, pants down as she worked her way. She was as good as advertised, he had his back on the wall, head raised, he could feel the blood going through him, through his groin, the warmth of her mouth, the night breeze on his skin, all building up to something, he was there and not really there.

She handed him a tissue when she was finished, wiped her hands with a handkerchief and walked out silently, till then, he hadn’t realized that he had no idea what she sounded like.

He found his protector with a group of men outside

“Big boi” was the name bequeathed to him for the night

He offered to pay for a round of drinks, it was accepted with loud cheers.

He slumped into one of the chairs, his feet had begun to feel sore,

One eyed killer handed him another pill

“My brother, you need another ride”

He replied with a question “Why not?”

More cheers from the other men on the table, Samo being the loudest, Samo looked maybe 19, but with large eyes that gave away hunger, not just for food, the look that told you he was desperate for a respite he would die for.

There were many boys like Samo around, stuck on the pill, they had taken odd jobs and were controlled by one eyed killer.

Tee was shouting at dancer woman, shaking his head violently to the loud music, smelling of sweat mixed with beer. Dancer woman just kept on dancing. Tee had lost his last job from passing out too many times on site. The owners called him an unnecessary liability and let him go without a salary.

One eyed killer was talking too loud, battling the music, battling the urge to close his eyes, his hands toward Chuka

“You are not the first person coming here like this, looking for a taste of our life. Wanting some sort of rush,”

He let his eyes close, a swig of beer, a drag of nicotine, silence

“but the truth is that your experience is incomplete”

Another pause, he’s staring around, more women have joined dancer woman. There’s a light skinned woman, her weave falling down her back, her skirt transparent so you can tell exactly where her underwear stops and laps curve out, her large breasts tilting downward. Tee is staring and leaning towards Samo, saying something, laughing.

One eyed killer occasionally picks up where he left off

“There’s something missing that makes all the difference, the inability to escape is the experience. The desperation.”

Silence

“Look at us all here, my father was nothing, I will die as nothing. Many like you come here, they return to their lives tomorrow. They can’t understand what it means to float, to understand what it means to be truly reckless, because they have control over something, they can imagine tomorrow, they know what to expect”

Another pause

“Here God saves us, god-willing, there will be food tomorrow, God-willing my son will make it out of here, wear shoes like you”

He hands Chuka the cigarette. Chuka sees the blood on the staircase, the body at the end of the staircase, he takes a drag, feels it in his chest, relaxing him.

He dwells on the word escape, how it is everything he wants, he imagines himself floating.

“God-willing” he repeats as crushes the cigarette on his ID card.

Roadside visions

Mama Biola settled in a red plastic chair, on the pavement, right beside the intersection leading out of Florence street. The street had grown and taken up a distinct character over the years. Driving in, you would find brown brick three-story buildings, the spaces between them uniform and precise, that existed before the owners started to tweak and tweak until some balconies were made of glass. A particular balcony stood out, as it was on top of a makeshift hairdressing salon where a dark woman sat, braiding and wiping sweat on her wrappa, her laps spread apart. Below the glass balcony was another makeshift barbing saloon, old white towels spread on the balcony, showing that as time passed some wages expanded faster than others. The children played in front of houses in mid-august when the schools were closed, their dirty feet and tangled hair coated in dust adding the feel of a community. The street reminded one of where you drove into and settled, where your lives twisted then intertwined with the neighbors until you become unsure of whose business belonged to whom.

Mama Biola had been sitting there, wide awake, when the intersection started taking up souls in broad daylight, when the men who smoked in front of the nearby shops spent the evenings hitting buttocks as women hurried by, when the drunk man drove right through the walls of the boarding school, when housewives settled with trays and sold fruits in front of the shops, when the task force came with cudgels and overturned fruit trays. Every morning she appeared promptly, bubba neatly tied around her large waist, there was a time when her waist was something men had fought to wrap their arms around but five children, including Biola, had made sure she expanded and never returned from the first child. Mama Biola, like the street, could never return, so she had settled on this intersection with a mission.

The mission came to her when her last son, Tolu, was off to the university. She found herself chasing this man right through her university campus, into the classroom where she took LIT 411, trying to tell him something. Every step was a step backward, doors leading further down the past, opening more doors, the second door took her to the large hostel where she spent her first year, 12 matrasses, with small spaces in between, littered across the room. Opening the third door she returned to the government school in Ekiti where she signed, “I was here” on the walls, watching the man slip through yet another door. She finally caught up with him in a small abandoned building on the field where the girls scout met, she opened this door to find the man, a knife in one hand, second arm around another stranger, his back to her. She was not able to keep moving, not because she was tired and out of breath but because she recognized the second stranger in the room without seeing him completely. She tried to make a sound, tried to move but could only feel her breath constricting, her chest tightening as she fell to the ground and woke up in her own sweat.

She stayed mute for weeks after, abandoning her shop, only going to the church fifteen minutes away, getting up at 6am and taking a keke off Florence street. She spent her days on the stairs of the elevated stage, lying on the red rug before the wooden cross, she ate nothing, not even when Biola came with large bowls of amala and ewedu from Iya Sade, and allowed her hunger pangs to go up with prayers. She stopped only when Tolu was home from the holiday and cooked his food in the special oil given by her pastor, she took him to the pastor too, watched and nodded as he knelt as the pastor brought down freedom upon him.

“Freedom from what?” Tolu always asked.

She could not bring herself to tell Tolu anything explicitly, she followed him out when he met his friends, she complained that his jeans were too tight, she invited young women from the church over. Somedays she stared and stared at him as if trying to wax a confession from his lips, he caught her pleading eyes and looked away. If Tolu was perturbed by his mother’s attitude, he did not show it. He retained the lightness he had carried from birth, taking morning strolls and greeting the neighbors, betting over matches at the garden in the evenings. He ignored how heavy and insistent she had become until the day he was visited by Sam.

Mama Biola was walking home from her shop when she met them under the large fruit tree across the road, Tolu had his hand on Sam’s back and his loud laughter was ringing in her ears. She ran toward them, dropping her bag on the floor, screaming, she spat on Sam and it landed on his black leather shoe. Tolu tried to hold his mother, pull her away, take her home, his eyes never meeting Sam’s.

That was the moment things started to change, when his mother spent the night crying loudly, when Tolu stopped coming home for breaks. Mama, at first, did not relent on her mission to exorcise this despicable thing, she visited his school often times and was told by his roommates that he was away, there was the time when she waited the whole night at his bedroom door and he did not come. She tried what she could, deprived him of money, deprived him of her, begged him in small notes to come home to a woman she would find.

Tolu, in his final year, graduated and did not invite his mother. By this time, she had become stubborn, she refused her urge to take a bus and head to Lagos, it was 7 months since she spat on Sam. She waited and waited but the distance only widened. She had support now, Biola, Demola and Simi had equally stopped speaking to their brother, she also had the proof that God abhorred that. What other rationale was needed? She sent Tolu a letter saying that he should consider himself motherless.

Tolu sent letters 2 years after his graduation, Mama Biola refused to open any of the, she put it under the fire and it crumbled under the soup she was making.

She had more dreams since then, for more strangers she would later run into at the intersection, dark cars with secrets she had learned to ignore, she always tried to put them out of her mind with more prayers. What finally drove her out of her home was the news she received from Biola, right before the Easter Sunday, when Biola came in crying, head scarf in hands and whispering to mama, “He’s gone”

She had seen it in more dreams but this did not in make it any lighter, any softer. It wasn’t so much that he was gone, but also the way he left, falling from a bridge in Lagos, drowning, falling without being pushed, jumping into the water, leaving more notes for his family, ones where he did not forgive his mother, ones where his words will forever remain bitter, there was no softening. No assurance that he had given up what he was.

Days after the burial, Mama Biola found the red chair and settled on the intersection at Florence street, she spoke about the visions she had seen to the strangers who would listen as they passed, bubba tied neatly around her waist.

Let me tell a story now… (After Bessie Head)

We are at a wedding, there are beautiful white lights sparkling from the floor, the fountains also seem to be pouring white light with the water, and the white tablecloths are lined with gold. There are over a hundred people in the large hall, most of which are holding champagne flutes. Men are dressed in white agbadas, women in tight dresses and expensive geles. We sit close to the stage, on a table seating 10, a card reading friends of the groom is placed beside the centerpiece. The white plates have gold on the edges, I wonder how expensive all these would have been. I recognize most of the people on my table, though I would not call myself a friend so easily.

The bride has her veil swaying behind her as she dances, her skin I would write about as olive, so pure, it’s also giving off a glow in the dark, the skin of a woman who has held enough in her hands to truly know what plenty feels like. We all move to stand by the stage while the newlyweds danced to John Legend’s All of Me, phones raised, capturing the couple in slow-dance. I wish I could describe how beautiful it seemed in that very moment, there was no light in the room except for the stairs leading to the stage and the ceiling lit with stars, I look over my shoulder to find my boyfriend watching them, smiling, I wonder if this is what he wants for us too, a wedding, some sort of happy ending. Calling him a boyfriend is inaccurate, more like he is this man who picks me up every other day, I feed him on other days and we have sex as often as we like. He often mentions how he would always want to be alone, I say the same, I wonder if we both mean it. When he says he cares about me I don’t doubt him.

I should also mention that I’m 25 and never find a good enough reason to leave my house since I quit my last job 2 years ago and decided to do something I love. My boy-friend is the one who knows the groom and insists on taking me to many of these occasions where I have to put on dresses and talk to other people. I’m not sure why we’re so different and still together but he accepts my melancholia and this has been enough for me. I put my hand on his shoulder and he brings his head closer, his arm around my waist, I have to shout so he hears me even though he’s so close. I tell him, I’m going to the bathroom. He squeezes my waist gently and nods his head, there’s music by Brymo playing now, I can’t help smiling because I know he loves this.

The thing about attending so many of these events is that I have to frequently come up for air, find a bathroom and exhale. I head back to our table and sit, staring at my new heels, wondering if taking them off before they squeeze the life from my toes is a socially acceptable thing to do. Bayo is staring at me from across the table, he works with my boy-friend, I smile at him and his date Ada reaches for my hand and whispers

“it’s so nice to see you again”, we went to the same university.

“it’s been what? Four years now”

“Five” I correct her, trying hard to smile.

“Yes” she smiles back, “You used to be so odd”

I wonder in which world odd is a compliment. She still doesn’t let go of my hand and tells me about how my body looks great. She says that she wants my secret, she has a piece I should try on. For most of the night she has been talking about the new boutique she opened, it’s over a year since she returned to Nigeria after business school or fashion school. I wasn’t paying attention.

More people are returning to the table now, Adura is talking about her role at the investment bank. Her red lipstick is so perfectly lined that I do not realize that I’m staring at her lips until Tolu asks what I do for work.

There is another reason why I hate these occasions, people talk and talk and want to know the socially acceptable ways of making money we engage in. The other people on the table fall silent, I wonder if they’ve discussed this before. You see, it’s hard to answer these questions when you’re not sure exactly what you’re doing. The thing about a career is that you can’t avoid becoming what you do for so long, and so, this has become some sort of superficial shortcut for knowing more about a person. You say engineer, and we find some sort of precision, Lawyer, and we assume you know a lot about something, you own a store and we notice the red under your shoes, suddenly we are made aware of your expensive looking material, of your free spirit. What you do is used to validate you, and the other thing about careers is that I can’t keep one. I want to call myself a writer, but the truth is that I’ve truly never written anything. I haven’t submitted to any journals or online publications and my only validation is from my own mouth. I once wrote an entire manuscript which I submitted, and I still cringe with shame when I remember. The manuscript now sits in my junk folder on an old laptop where it truly belongs. I get by day to day expenses with a customer care job at an unknown online store. The thing about saying I’m a writer is getting the awkward questions that follow’

“oh, who do you write for? Published any novels”

“I mean what do you do for money?” the laughter that follows.

“I used to write, I mean I still have some old journal with my scribbling, I mean in a way, we’re all writers”

I just laugh off the snarky comments and pray they move on to something new. The truth is that this isn’t undeserved, the truth is that in between procrastinating and waiting for a story to arrive, I haven’t written in months.

I spend time imagining the type of story I would like to write, but the details fail me, I do not understand the characters, cannot find the setting, I do not know enough about politics or anything. I read and I read and read the wrong things. I would like to write a story about a man who lived in a small town and found a girl down the street, whose life also converged around this area, and when he kissed her for the first time, he felt this thing, this urge to make a promise that he would always love her. The neighbors in the small town all knew him and they shouted greetings as he drove by in the morning. I want to imagine that as age and time passed a yearning grew in his heart and like for most of the children who had grown there, this town was not enough anymore. He goes on a Monday morning to an agent instead of his office, I want this man to sit at the table of a darker, short man with eyes so large he wonders for a moment if it disturbs the owner. The big-eyed man passes him some brochures and tells him that he can leave, find the unknown, chase opportunities, change his life. The man turns it over in his mind, even as he drinks beer with men from the office after the workday. The idea has been planted in his heart, that he can leave this town where he was born. What the man does not understand is that the town left him first when everything started to change. He tried to make a future and it felt like building sandcastles in the wind. When he kissed his wife, he promised her that he would always love her, when he opened his eyes in the world it made no promises, he made no promises too, only the tears. The tears were a mere formality, meant he was here. The town started to change too, children went missing, his wife had a miscarriage from careless health care, men were thrown out of their jobs without warning and there was the subtle “leave while you can hanging in the air.”

The man started on a hot afternoon to look for buyers, he started with the furniture in the spare bedroom, spread to everything, the TV in the living room going last. There came a time when most of the furniture was gone, so, it was just the man, his wife, and the food on the floor and 9’o clock news on the TV, and they would cuddle under the blanket on the living room floor where they now slept. On another afternoon in August when the house was gone too, they stood with bags in the front of an airport when an older neighbor after dropping them off in his white hilux, sighs to say “there goes another man that could have changed our trajectory.”

The man proceeds with his ticket through the gate of the airport because he knows the truth, that his father died waiting for this miracle and that he too is just one man.

So there it is, if I could write a story, it would be one about a successful escape, but for now, I wait for my boy-friend to rejoin the table and pray the evening passes and that one day, this disorder of writing would bring me something worth having.

Brat Memories

There’s something about wounds that do not leave scars, something about pain that refuses to be made evident, about glass that chips and cracks but does not fall apart. The seemingly almost perfect story that belongs to so many it’s no longer just one story, the story that spans across cultures, individuals, noticeable in phrases like “I’m fine” (muttered on the way from visiting a sick mother). The single story of being okay, a story that truly does not belong to anyone but lives on all our lips. Cracked, refusing us the tremors of an absolute breakdown.

There isn’t much about you that you like to share, you could have had a good story, we all know there’s no such thing as a perfect story. You had comfort, not the kind you ran mad from and poured out of the space between your fingers, but you had enough, you had enough to feel it rip through you when it went all away.

It happened the way most things in life do, the new and shiny turning into the ordinary, flames waning, rain quieting, there are no accurate metaphors for describing how chaos slips in, in every case it’s different. The thing about everyday human stories is that they do not quite reach the extraordinary yet they can never be perfectly duplicated, your story is something like that. Born of a man and woman that were reaching for something else, nights when your father pressed into your mother and all he could think about was a woman he had met years ago and could still recall. He tried to find her between the legs of others and when he finally gave up, settled for closing his eyes right before an orgasm. Your mother who settled for duty like her mother and your great grandmother, the receiver of her duty always shifting, from siblings to mother, settling on daughter for many years. She was reaching for safety, “I do this for you” steadily on her lips.

The cracks started as far back as you can remember, at least you think so now, but you know how it is with the past, we obsess over it and give every meaningless turn significance. Now your memory is populated with suspicious looking evidence. The time you stood at the top of the stairs and heard screaming downstairs, the times that duty and closing of eyes didn’t seem sufficient to hold the pieces together, the times you were away with your grandmother for weekends and could hear her praying in hushed tones, you established a pattern, that the women in your family were always quietly reaching for something, living on so much hope and compromise that they swelled from the insides. The only child, so you spent nights awake imagining what would spill out if their skins were pierced. The age of curiosity where you tried to find what was on all our insides, where you ripped teddy bears and pierced plastic dolls. Evidence you were always searching for something, perhaps the answer to why we always felt so empty.

As a teenager you learned the value of hate and malice and used it generously, screaming matches against your mother where you admitted to hating her and she corrected you that you hated yourself. Teenage years where you shaved your eyebrows in front of the mirrors you had always avoided, where you loved the boys who barely took notice. When you started to hate your father who had resumed his search like a day never passed, simply woke up one morning with the determination to find the woman that had eluded him, he must have seen her in a dream, maybe one where he had questions and she was the answer, and he woke up with only the questions, you can only speculate. He searched hard, in the rooms of strange women, in bars filled with liquor, through the darkness, till he could only make it home in the morning. He never took notice of all your hate, he didn’t consider it a reckonable enough force, there was obedience left and that was what was important.

Another thing about wounds that refuse to make themselves known is that you can never tell exactly where you’re hurting or how much. There was food, water and an education, even enough left over for the things that were not necessary for survival. To the goal of duty, much had been accomplished.

Through the university there was much to learn, there was a flight away from home, an hour of anxiety brewing in your belly to the unfamiliar rowdiness of Lagos, to crammed roads littered with yellow and black, hawkers with wares that stretched the imagination under an angry sun. Lagos felt like bearing witness to all the stories in traffic, it would all become familiar, the long rides, the cussing, the blistering heat.

You learned a lot from the university, like how to fill and empty your insides in an attempt to find the thing that had eluded you, that had eluded those before you. You learned to fill your insides with so much smoke it came pouring out through every hole, how to fill yourself with another body till sounds escaped your lips, with liquor till you were dancing on tables. There was also the emptying that was improved with each act, demanded a degree of precision, how much water to get in before a meal, the perfect time when it could get back out. The years were spent doing almost everything except what you were really meant to do, you got on well enough, met your dodgy first-year roommate, Ibukun who remained a constant for years after, fell in love with Segun in your first year, David, Wale and Dapo in your final year.

There’s a story you’re trying to tell through all this remembering, it’s something about how you ended in this present place, in a room in Wuse that feels like a million miles from home though it’s only a few kilometers. Far away because you can’t return even if you wanted to, far away because you’re still trying to find yourself and making a million mistakes, the story probably leans a lot on your father and his evidence you still have no access to. There’s always a backstory. Yours is about how hate grew and nothing ever completely healed, through meaningless “I love yous” uttered and prayers that never left your lips with sincerity. There always remained bile between father and daughter, punctuated by a clueless mother who had maintained peace for most of her life it was an instinct. You remember the small acts of rebellion that started with simple tasks.
A party your father insisted you attend, you disappearing in the morning and texting back

“you no longer tell me what to do” because it was the truth

Your father livid. Because it was the truth.

A malice because of this, more silence from the time you called him a lousy man whore and he slapped you hard across both cheeks and took out his belt and you slept over at Ibukun’s for 2 weeks. You always came back, to longer periods of malice for many other reasons, your father with the uneasy temperament of one who was never refused, you with all the foolishness and stubbornness of a young adult. You survived on your mother for long periods of time, your father attempting to snuff you out with hunger. Teach you to come back. Father and daughter soon learned to cultivate a relationship similar to a war zone with a promise of mines, each needing something, an offspring, some money, for society, for security.

The story you’re trying to tell does not end well, at least not yet, you’re still trying to figure out if you should have inherited more compromise, been more quiet, less aggressive, more forgiving. What you’ve learned being here is that a lot of people have survived more horrible bizarre stories, desperation got them here and among these women, Ekem who had desire cut out from between her legs at an early age, Lisa who never revealed her real name but made her way alone from Calabar at 15, battering sex for transport, Reena who sent back money to her mother and 3 sons, women escaping situations that stretched your imagination, among these women who earned less than you, because education is still levied in a sex transaction, among these women, you will always remain the privileged ungrateful brat who threw it all away.

Smoke

I was an idiot a year ago. When I try to evaluate how time has gone by, I’m not sure I consider the things that matter. I turned 27 and there’s a subtle you’re running out of time as permanent background noise. Over every phone call, at every visit. It’s become embarrassing. The well-meaning relatives who spill out prayers, I remember Mama Dele, prayers oozing from her belly, her hands around mine, she smelled of ginger, her powder caked around her wrinkles, age fighting beauty and winning.

I wish they were more concerned about the fact that I’m a freelancer and still living off my parents, or that I make a lot of fucked up decisions, quitting jobs all the time.

A year ago I was an idiot. You think 26 would tell me that I’m no alchemist. I tried to create love, tried so hard. You’d think at 26, I would search for the responsible man, a room in one place, a house to sleep in. No, I had found a 24-year-old gym instructor.

His body promised what mine never could. It was just the sex at first, then I started wanting more, longer phone calls. A night over, a weekend over. I assumed he did too.

For love, I’ve made a lot of fucked up decisions and there’s the fact that I fancy myself a liberal cultivated on Lagos soil. There was Dare at 21 who decided after a year that he could still see all the men I had been with when he looked at me. Fucking Dare. I stayed up that night searching my body for fingerprint, scars, anything these men left. When you stare for so long all you see is why no one wants you, the parts that stick out, for years I tried to tame my body into beautiful, a finger down my throat, living off lemon and water. I never felt enough.

Back to my recent mistake, I tried to create love from nothing but yeses. Yes to his stupid suggestion to turn my balcony into a studio, to stay up for nights and nights on nothing but liquor. He didn’t say a word, but he could locate all the desperate tucked under my lips, and when he kissed me it came pouring through. I said yes to the liquor, the strange women he fucked while I was away, the times without a condom. The last yes was with the other woman, her breath down my neck, her lips on my stomach, he watched us for most of the time, till he was with her and there was no me. I felt like smoke in my own damn bedroom and I realized that he had been looking through me the whole damn time, the whole two years. I was with a man who had barely seen me.

Turning 27 was the right time to clean out my closet again, he came with questions and all I had left were Nos. So he kissed me and that was all that poured out. He didn’t leave any apologies, didn’t try to find what parts of our picture ripped, he was gone.

Reincarnation

Taiye is as much as a man as he is a cartographer, it may be a weird way to describe him, but his large hands are skilled, slowly moving down your skin like he was taking coordinates. Taiye a twin, yes, but the only child. He lost his father to a bottle, his mother to the water and his twin in a hospital that already lingered with the smell of death.

Taiye was a man unmoved by tragedies and when his hands went around you, you’d imagine the vacant look in his eyes and curse yourself. You had become the woman who your mother cursed from her belly, everything around you growing wildly like trouble. It was your second year at an investment firm, he was the client, with bad jokes and a smile intent on pleasing.

You became that woman without notice, a reincarnation of the snake that tore your family apart. In your younger years, your mother would wake up in the morning and ask if she wasn’t enough, you swore never to be this, the cause of this question.

Taiye with wild hands told you that in his life had ever stayed, he vowed you were the only thing he cared about. You tried to avoid it, you tried to not to believe it, but you were convinced it was inevitably true. It’s not that he hated his wife, it was just that he was with her from duty, when he was with her he had to be this person, this person whole and stable. With you, he was messy, from the friendly beginnings and long phone calls. You don’t remember how you got here, through staying careful, through the warnings from Tolu “There is only one thing men want.” To which you would have retorted that she was small minded, if she wasn’t your only friend.

There are things people like Tolu, who act like it’s cut and dry do not understand, that people grow, people change, need evolve. Maybe marriage shouldn’t be so inflexible, possessive. Men may be liars. but when Taiye told you he was alone you felt it, you felt the man who had lived mostly to obligation.

You knew that for him it wasn’t just the thrill of still being adored or the pride of a man with the virility to keep a younger woman.

He swore he would leave her, if not for God and everyone else, he swore he knew what he wanted.

You told him that was a really stupid thing to say

And he just asked what I would do if no one else existed

The two of you had mostly those type of conversations, hypotheses and thought experiments because there was nothing final for you, nothing possible. It was a painful dream that dampened reality.

You ignored it all, through the rains, your neighbor’s questioning gazes, his car parked down your street by 1am.

You honestly never imagined it being more than it was, but you both knew what you wanted and there was comfort in that.

All his hypotheticals ended with fictional question marks, maybe a question, a hint, a plan to run away.

He let you take his son out on weekends and you could feel the curse growing in you

Your mother’s words blocking your ears

Her prayers specially customized by her pastors of Fire Ministries

“Something bitter and ugly will always live in her, she will have no home”

You feared for months and even imagined flinging yourself out the window of the 7th floor, to stop it from growing.

Last month, you held the baby in your hands and named him Kehinde.

You hadn’t seen his father in 4 months.

Exchanges

The man sitting alone at the end of the bar doesn’t remind me of anyone I know, it’s important he’s a stranger, he had been staring for a while, sent a drink over. His pale skin gives him away as a foreigner, I wonder what he’s searching for, what he had to leave to find it. I walk to take a seat beside him, place my glass on the counter, lean in and whisper “Look at this body, it’s for sale”

He furrows his brow, looks down at my lap, rests his eyes on my breasts. He reaches for my waist, wedding band gleaming, right hand never leaving the liquor, eyes never meeting mine “How much?”

“It depends on the day, some days for a message, some days the rent”

He pauses, his gaze meets mine and he laughs “What kind of message?”

All kinds. Somedays it helps not to think about it, other days it’s reminder that I’m reckless and nothing matters, or just my faith in strangers being better than a home.

He takes a swig, “I’d rather pay the rent. You’re a strange salesperson”

“I’m not working today, just hate drinking alone”

“You talk too much for this business”

I laugh “I’ve been told”

He’s back to staring me in the eyes “I can ask you anything”

“yep”

“How long have you been doing this”

“Went full-time a couple of months back, but somehow my whole life”

“Hmm okay”

“In a way we’re all in this business, going full time taught me it’s never truly a one-sided exchange, even when I get the money. Sometimes the buyer sells much more to me; fidelity, loneliness, grief, guilt, loss, heavy stuff.”

“You’re fucking with me” he leans forward, hand on my neck, placing his lips on mine.

I don’t stop him.

 

 

Catfish

It’s easy to make a woman disappear. I should correct myself, it’s easy to make the woman you are disappear. In the age of information parts of us are drawn in and lost forever. It’s easy to become a large mass of nothing, no, not a large mass, a tiny speck of dust lost in insignificance. So forget it, these things don’t matter, you can become whoever you decide to be.

Life is too short to live just one life, you always wanted more.

It’s time to wrap yourself under layers, forget the mirror. Forget the mirror. Forget the folds when you pinch your sides, the days you spend wishing some parts of you will melt away, or disappear, pinch your neck, your arms, your thighs, take everything out. As a young girl you wished you could use knives to make it all disappear, you used markers on your body like you saw on TV, large straight lines around your belly, by the sides where your stomach stuck out. You even got a razor but did not make it past the first cut.

The more devastated you got with not losing it all, you turned back to food. The vicious cycle of frustration. You tried it all, eating meals in front of the mirror, your fingers deep in your throat, the end of your toothbrush, anything to take it all back out. Pretty could make you happy. Pretty will make you happy.

This was all before you discovered the internet, started avoiding mirrors, retreated into yourself, didn’t stick around with family except it was necessary. You found the internet, filled with strangers, strangers much like the ones in school. The people still consumed with their own worlds but this was different, here you controlled perceptions, they saw only the parts of you that you wanted. Nothing more. It wasn’t intentional, you put up a profile picture of some woman you found on the internet, then some admirers, then more pictures, more messages. More people laughing at your jokes, paying attention because beautiful makes things worthy of being heard.

You became a master at manipulation, like that one time you told Matt whom you met off the internet site about the film project you were working on at Koma hills, all made up, about the children in a forgotten primitive place, about the smile of the little girl. He was so excited, sometimes you think you are their gift. They live through you.

Everyone just wants to feel good, it’s like some sort of drug, they want interest. In this world of tedium we all deserve some escape, so you give it to them, you give as much as you possibly can, telling them stories of where you’ve been and what you’ve seen, and more importantly listening, you tell them they can do anything. In your defense sometimes you believe they can.

He tells you about his mother, you tell him about your father, you let a little out, build trust because that’s how connections are made.

The hard part is when they become unsatisfied with the woman behind the screen, with the perfect picture. We want more because we are human, or we are human because we will always want more. This is never enough, they want to meet up, to feel the person. This is the wish you cannot give, and you must know when to end this, know how to turn away the insistence, tune down the conversations.

It all thins out eventually.

Timeline of Separation

Shola is nothing like her mother, no sturdiness in her knees, light and frail you wonder what keeps her on the ground. There was something lost in conception as if her mother spilled more of her guts into the thick red blood on the theatre bed, something was washed away forever.

Shola doesn’t stand up for herself in primary 2, nothing like her mother who raised a child alone. Her mother who slapped her uncle when he gave thanks that it was not a male child, a daughter we can find a man but how can a man be raised without a father? Where does a man belong without a father?

Shola cries in the bathroom when she gets her first period, she can feel it coming out of her and only wants it to stop. She soaks in the tub for 2 hours while her mother holds the towel. Her mother who stands conflicted comes from the time when women were gutted, had the dirt peeled out from between their legs to keep them pure. She has to open her shop early in the morning, but her eleven-year-old won’t leave the tub and that night she lets Shola sleep in her bed, warm towel on her stomach and still shaking in her sleep.

When Shola turns 15, she buys lipstick with her pocket money and kisses the neighbor who is to resume at Unilag in September. He leads her upstairs to his tiny bedroom where the wardrobes are brown and ajar. Shola sits awkwardly on his bed and they make love, not because they trust each other but because it’s something for curious teenagers to do.

Shola returns home late, sore between her legs and eats nothing for dinner. Her mother does not notice or maybe she doesn’t want to, she finds the lipstick in Shola’s bag months later and throws it away without a word.

Mother and daughter grow and the secrets grow too. Shola doesn’t get out of bed for three days when the neighbor forgets to call, he didn’t need to say it, but she knew the thing they had was over. Shola stays in bed too long, says she’s tired all the time, but never leaves her room. A doctor says something about depression and her mother tries to discipline it away because that is the problem with her generation, terms and labels and evading hard work. Because she wants the best for her daughter in the age of bright screens and too little reality.

When Shola goes to university, she misses her mother, calls almost every day in her first year and this reduces as each year that passes till calls are only made from necessity. Her mother misses the scared eleven-year-old who slept in her bed, but Shola wants independence.

Shola is nothing like her mother but also returns with a heavy belly from her final year. The two women who are nothing alike from time to time catch traces of each other when they least expect it.

December

It was not only the strange blue bird that came tapping on the window in December. There was also harmattan dust pouring in through the mosquito net covering everything. Dust left undisturbed.

December was the month your mother woke up with a prophecy, the picture frame in the living room breaking open and spilling acid on the tiled floor. She had premonitions nearly every week, but this one was an attack on the family. She knew it wasn’t literal, God was never literal, working through strange but easily deduced metaphors since creation.

December was the month mother fired the cleaner who told the driver that father followed “small small yellow girls”. You did not ask how she heard this, you said a prayer because that was what she wanted. The month mother started buying night creams, her skin whitening with the season, growing pale because that is what older women do, fade.

December was when you met Amina at the pool, someone called her dolphin, you liked the way her body curved and dipped underwater. Amina borrowed your goggles to see what the bottom of the pool looked like, you had a racing competition and became fast friends. Later in December, you heart raced while you placed your hands on her curves in her dark, sparsely furnished room, eyes closed like some kind of prayer, her lips warm and soft. It felt different from Osiye, tender and strange. You will later pretend like it never happened.

December is the month you turn 25, when your boyfriend, Osiye, tells you he needs more time. Osiye’s face lights up when trying to explain vastness, he believes there are some hundred billion galaxies. Osiye knows everything but what he wants or maybe he doesn’t really want you.

December is a prayer filled with sentiments, hope for a new year with rain.