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.

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Ninety Eight

I did not deserve you.

I was a coward. I didn’t give you any explanations because I couldn’t face the truth. I couldn’t face that I had betrayed you. That I was such a disappointment. I was so ashamed. I had no excuse for leaving like that, I failed you.

I got married in 2004. Her name is Elizabeth, I don’t think she’s happy, she treats me as one would regard a houseguest, formal but polite. Perhaps I’ve failed her too.

I remember what early 98’ felt like, and I realize that being with you is the only time I ever felt alive. I often remember when you started teaching History at the government school, when I stayed home most of the day filling out applications, the evenings we laid naked in bed for the heat. The memories still create a dull ache in my chest. I long for every moment we had, even the not so good ones when you complained about the school for hours. How you hated when the principal called you a liberal extremist. I’d give anything to hear you complaining while I held your hand one more time.

I’m sorry I left like that, I thought of you often, I still think of you. How you saw me as much more than I was or ever would be. I could not bear watching your dark eyes fill with disappointment. I’ve not been able to forget the days we spent under the birch tree. The first time your lips touched mine, the confusion, and the denial. The realization that we craved the forbidden. I long for the past.

Life has taught me a lot of things but I can’t get over the regret, the feeling of going on so long without what I truly wanted. I must sound ridiculous hurting for 16 years ago. This isn’t the first time I’ve written to you, there have been hundreds of letters, written and destroyed. Perhaps I would destroy this too.

I wonder why you never got married, if you ever had another lover. I wonder if you still think of me.

I’d give anything to get you back but I know that isn’t fair to you. I’m sorry I didn’t have the courage to stand up for what I wanted. What we wanted.

I wonder how things turned out for you. You were always the bigger man. I once came across a paper you wrote on Abacha’s foreign policy on the internet and I remembered the day you took to the streets celebrating his death. Sometimes I think the universe is chuckling at his own brilliance.

I’m not asking that we pick up from where the past but…I’ve been unhappy for a long time

I don’t know how to explain that the worries of yesterday pale in comparison and I can’t help thinking “What if?” I’m constantly haunted by the things I wanted most and ignored.

You may think me crazy but please I’d love to hear from you.

Maybe one day you could forgive me.

Your Old Friend,

Dapo.

Bush Bar

Madam Tinuke’s backside was one of her most prized possessions, it swung proudly behind her as she moved from stall to stall on hot afternoons. On a good evening in Labake’s bush bar, if you were lucky she would retell the story of how she shook her ikebe to Fela in the 1970’s. She would tell it after 2 or 3 cups of palm wine.

The deeper the keg went the louder she spoke, her deep voice and laughter mixing with the various tales of other drunk customers.

Cup 4 was for her son in America, why he hasn’t returned.

Cup 5 was for the 20 thousand he sent last week, how she was hard working and didn’t need the money.

Cup 6 was for her daughter who spends more time with her mother-in-law, doesn’t have her own money, how her child has been bewitched.

Cup 7 is for her dead husband, how she doesn’t remember how to cry.

Labake never served eighth cups.

Eden

God repented of the evil man committed. The former world was a regret, an earth filled with hopelessness and despair.

It was Bishop Aaron who predicted God’s mercy, the day the bombs would stop falling. The day is still remembered every year, the afternoon ash fell like rain from the skies. The thick dark smoke covering us with an endless night.

The church of Eden in Area five was the only building standing in the new world. The choir’s song welcoming a new beginning,

“The Mercy of God is endless

A million fell by my right hand

Two million more by my left

God is mercy”

Humanity had dwindled, a desert of people had become a handful. The radios had stopped working, the brunette reporter engulfed by the western explosion on live TV.

We were the last ones, alone in the church auditorium. Strangers bound by survival, no familiar faces or recollections of their lives before today. God handpicked his survivors. This was the last world, there would be no mistakes.

Bishop Aaron read out the only commandment.

“A life for a life”.

The only sin was ingratitude. God had promised a fair world from now on, whoever kills his brother loses his own life.

Once again, we were back in Eden.

Order

All screams sound the same at 2am. They’re here to take again; the Institution wouldn’t stand for indiscipline. We were privileged to have Divinity and morality already lay down life laws, all we had to do was follow. Women were lucky, a straight road and definite rules to paradise, a man had no master on earth, this made his path harder, his life overly complicated. The Institution protects us until marriage.

The screaming only gets louder, I close my eyes hoping to block out the ringing in my ears. I’m sure no one is asleep, nevertheless, no one will make a move, and we stay mute except for the loud screaming. That could be Nene or Bridget, I can’t tell. Probably Nene, all that shuffling of feet and painful groaning could only come from a foolish woman

I warned her

Women aren’t supposed to have voices like angry storms, even now she refuses to leave in peace.

                                      *************************************************

“These men will rip your bones out if you let them” she told me over dirty dishes “they are afraid of us”

“Shhhhhhhhh” I hissed looking around

“This institution is created by fear, you ever ask yourself why we can’t have the same opportunities? Why we need masters?”

She made short disapproving sounds from her throat

I stared at her dark hands, burned and scarred all over, you would think she would have learned to stop playing with fire, but instead she had gotten flames into her system, hot tongue dripping coal and ember.

She noticed me staring “I do get burned a lot” she responded and then started reciting the creed in a high-pitched mock voice “we gather strength through submission, Every ship needs a captain”

I tried to explain to her that submission doesn’t mean inequality, that it only ensured an order, hierarchy, but even in my head it didn’t make any sense so I remained silent.

                                              ***************************************************

The struggling stopped to the sound of a body hitting the floor, I imagined the fire burning under Nene’s closed lids

“Filthy Cowards” I screamed out loud

Little Kindnesses

The click-click of slides presenting charts with red lines was the only sound in the conference room. Founder, editor and newly hired creative director all watched the projector in silence, some kind of mourning for their failing magazine. The once-popular 50 year old magazine had lost it’s public appeal, even its name “Hero” had transformed in recent times to an obscure word of little value.
The fourth creative director this quarter was hired as a last resort, what the hero magazine needed was a hero.
“That’s not the prettiest chart” the director spoke up attempting a chuckle
Silence followed
He cleared his throat; he didn’t spend the last 48 hours wide awake to be put down by silence.
He flipped forward a few slides to the sales charts of the first 10 years. The era of fascination where the Hero magazine came into a boom
“The first 10 years of the magazine experienced over a 70% rise each quarter”
Another slide forward showed the covers of earlier edition and their bold headlines
Hero clears out the sambisa forest
16 year old hero detonates bomb
He waited a minute for any effect
“What has changed in the last 40 years?”
He skipped another slide reading out an excerpt from a recent edition
“Today’s hero Mr Oluwole demands justice behind his silver MacBook Pro”
The magazine’s executives were leaning forward, listening intently at this point
“There’s been a paradigm shift in the hero scene from daring schoolboys to anyone with internet access”
His voice grew confident
“These new heroes have something in common which is that they already blow their horns, the Hero magazine loses the opportunity to introduce a fresh hero everyday”

The director could feel their silence surrendering into interest

“We need to find the small heroes now, erase grand gestures or #savetheworld. What will save us are the small stories, the man who gave up his bus seat for the old lady, the designated driver and his bottle of coke, heck we could interview a child who learnt to spell his name”

There was admiration flowing from the eyes of the founder.

“Let’s step back from the lit screens, It’s time to honor little kindnesses”

Oceania

My third day at the dreadful university is hard to forget. It was the morning we were woken up by a deep blaring voice on the public address system, the speaker had no sense or respect for time kept chanting salvation songs in a voice that was clearly not meant for singing. I rolled to my side on the thin mattress and almost fell off, -all night my cold feet stuck out the edge of the short bed- clicked my phone screen, 4am, quite frankly I was fed up with these people. Day three and I was ready to board the next flight home, I would even smile through the “We knew he wouldn’t last’s” from my siblings.
The place wasn’t worth an effort I realized on day two, this epiphany came after a morning in hell with a redundant registration process. That obviously wasn’t hell enough as around 3pm we were driven like farm animals into the university chapel to be oriented. The chairs most have been a little comfy, I took one look at the bald man with the microphone and fell asleep.
“No mobile phones” the man screamed into the microphone. I woke up and in a “what the fuck?” moment reached my pockets to feel my phone. There was a list of other ridiculous rules and some funny acronym for them I didn’t bother learning.
“pray often”
“compulsory church services”
“you do not have the option to leave the school premises”
“No intimate relationships”
At the fourth rule I assumed I was at some Kevin Hart show and laughed out loud, (the speaker was obviously trolling). He wasn’t. Long story short, I got into trouble and was prayed for by some pastor who obviously needed his own prayers, he was the one working for big brother and all.
Back to my third day, it was my first class and dressed in a TM Lewin shirt for this occasion, I walked to the Science college with my roommates. Already in small cliques and chattering excitedly, the lecture hall was dizzying with boys and girls dressed impressively. The names of their previous secondary schools were floating in the air and everyone seemed to be speaking their way into who they would become. That was when I first noticed her, only a seat in front of me, she had dark skin, too dark to compare to coffee or chocolate and smelled like earth, familiar soil on a rainy day, the girls on her both sides were engaged in a conversation but she just sat there in the middle awkward with lost eyes. I didn’t even know I was staring till she smiled at me, a glint appeared in lost brown eyes.
That very moment I decided to give my Oceania a chance.

Reception Heroes

Hotel receptionists are hardly ever acknowledged. This is a hole in the universe no one cares to fill, we could have a receptionist’s day sometime in between thanksgiving and christmas but no, the world cannot recognize all heroes. It is the way things have always been and will be.

Inem, the receptionist works diligently behind her concrete desk in Cranium Hotel. She begins her day by cross checking registered guest and spends the day accurately entering the names and information provided by new guests on her white desktop. Today begins like any other, the checking out of hungover girls still in yesterday’s clothes and new reservations made by horny young men.

11:30am is filled with lots of guests pulling out their luggages before the 12pm daily count, their determination to use the room completely at last fulfilled. This is when Inem hears the strange chanting. A young lady with unkempt weave and tired eyes has her hands down her pant, eyes closed, itching and chanting. Inem immediately recognizes the problem, it is after all another election season. She takes the girl by the hand and leads her to the inner office
“Where is the man you checked in with?” Inem asks
The lady continues itching, mutters inaudibly then laughs
“Can I get you anything?” Inem tries again the lady smiles “two bottles of beer and fried egg”.
Inem leaves the room, takes out money from her purse and pays for the 2 beers.
The waiter delivered it to the inner room as Inem picked up the telephone and dialed the number of their policemen (it is important for all reliable hotels to privately own policemen). She told them there was a mad girl who had to be taken off the hotel premises, they responded that they would be there soon.

Inem went back to her concrete desk, the situation was not uncommon after all. Her employer wouldn’t take that as an excuse, it was after all the fault of the many young ladies who wanted easy money from old politicians. The politician ended up using dark magic to steal the young girl’s sanity and promote his campaign instead. It was the way things were. Laws didn’t apply to dark magic.

The policemen arrived and hailed a taxi for the lady. She muttered some address, no one cared if she knew the place or not. She simply needed to leave. Inem paid the cab fare and watched the unaware cabman start the engine. There was nowhere to send mad people in their country. That was the way things were.

Fate is stiff and uncompromising

Fate is stiff and uncompromising. An angel whispered this in my sleep. I couldn’t have loved someone else. This is predestination. I need to make her understand. She needs to understand she’s mine and no one else’s. Her long legs and tender voice, all mine.

It’s hard to make people understand. Sometimes I think they’re all stupid. I’m the exception of course. They keep running away from their paths and dragging around impossible fantasies. They dream of freedom, the antithesis of life. It wears them down eventually. The cause of many suicides. Humans. Fickle creatures. Free choice, democracy are all illusions. The only true freedom is the acceptance of your bondage. To look at your shackles and kiss them is the only true acceptance.

She’s locked in my basement now. Eventually she would come to love me.

Practice

I spent the year I turned 20 practicing. I practiced my reaction for when my husband would eventually leave.  When he’s had enough of my self-destructiveness. When he walks out without a word. I wouldn’t be caught unawares like aunty Hauwa who roamed the streets for years or my mother with suicidal tendency and unstable female children (the high priest said there were no males in her womb).

In my marriage our destruction will be calculated. Precisely 8 years and 3 months into the marriage. I would practice the high-pitched screams and yell curses staring at the mirror. I would cuddle in corners and wonder where the good years had gone. Run my hand through my thick hair. Stare at the bills I couldn’t afford. I would turn to religion. Turn to alcohol. Anything that would make me feel less alone.

Still staring at the mirror I pray that he will never leave me.