Bola discovered early that death was a shameful thing, and not just because the day after Biodun died, mother came home and threw out her belongings, it was mostly the prayers, the endless rejections of being cut off from respiration. Biodun was just another instrument God had created. Mother fainted in the same hospital, her knees buckling as they wheeled Biodun’s cold body past. The next morning Mother ripped off her IV line and headed home, red eyes swollen shut but she’d be damned if she did not accept the will of the almighty.

Comforters came in flocks, many pastors too but that was a long time ago.

Bola witnessed many more deaths, learned to smell it on the living, it was her curse, and she could tell when one was called by the inevitable.

It started with the neighbor, Mama Pelumi who wore expensive lace and fortified her marriage with tithes, the pastors saw the young witch who wanted to break her home but did not foresee the heart attack; maybe it wasn’t what they were looking for. But Bola heard it when she spoke, the resignation she tried to cover in prayers, the misplaced restlessness, the stench.

There was also the boy in class who always carried extra bottles of water, he had a loud voice and played ball as much as he could often missing classes. Bola imagined he knew he was going too, maybe he also recognized the stench in his sweat.

Bola tried to dismiss them as coincidences at first, then she told her mum who bathed her in oil and brought down fire from heaven.

“Don’t say such things! Only God knows our end”

Then she tried to live with the stench but ended up living despite it. How could one learn to live as death’s gossip buddy? It wasn’t specific, she couldn’t tell exactly when or how they would die. A useless talent, she couldn’t warn anyone. She once told a boy from the other school, Dozie, who ran the 100metres on inter-house sports to “Stay Safe” and he threw back his head and laughed.

Years passed by, sometimes the stench went away, returning briefly, from the woman with the engagement ring at the cinema, from the bus conductor ilupeju, who she slipped five hundred naira before walking away.


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