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.

Ronke (Part 2 of 2)

I took a bus to the island and tseexted Mr. Falade from a small supermarket off Idejo

“Please I need your help sir”

His texts had become erratic and less frequent, from meeting every night to just weekends.

Perhaps another clue for me, maybe he had found someone more satisfying.

There was no reply after an hour.

I debated returning to mother, I imagined her going through the compound screaming “Ronke!”

Maybe she wouldn’t notice today. I wondered if her eyes would swell with tears when she found my empty wardrobe or if she’d say a prayer and move on.

The sun was setting accompanied by panic. I started walking home, walking slowly, what was I thinking going this far. I thought of mother gloating loudly in my ears, screaming her testimony about how God arrested me found a cheap hotel halfway home.

The receptionist eyed me and my belongings suspiciously but decided to slip me his number whispering “In case your body cold for night”

The next day Mr. Falade texted where to meet him as usual, my prior text unacknowledged.

He didn’t acknowledge the text in person either, demanding I turn my face away this time. He barely ever looked at me. As he thumped into me from behind I kept my eyes fixed on the red curtain, it didn’t hurt anymore. I felt myself in the room, then far away. I wanted a way out, all my life I just wanted to escape. When he finished, I began speaking still looking at the curtain.

“Sir please I don’t have anywhere to go from here. Please help me”

Silence

Tears filled my eyes, how did I get here? To this red curtained room and then he spoke, not hiding the irritation in his voice

“How old are you?”

“16”

“What do you think I can do for you? Don’t I already pay you?”

He was right

“I just thought…” I trailed off… I didn’t think

“I can give you somewhere to stay. In Ikorodu, one of my businesses, you’d work for your rent and we won’t have this arrangement anymore. You’d deal with my manager”

I agreed with silence the way we always had.

That was how I met my first family, Oga Salim who was like a father, making sure we got paid in full. Chioma in the opposite room who taught me to count my money before sex. Lade gave me a pocket knife. Cynthia borrowed me her shoes on my first night out.

I didn’t see Mr. Falade anymore but once in a while Mr. Salim would give me envelopes with cash from him. No notes attached, the silence that assured me he hadn’t changed.

Akin was my real promotion, randy as they come. Years later he picked me from the roadside, slipping his hands into my skirt as soon as I got in his car. He was a real bastard

He liked to talk about power and how he owned it, snorting drugs off my stomach after I undressed. The world was divided into hunters and meat for him and I was just another bush rat, some days brought ropes and whips, binding me before fulfilling his appetite. He was an insatiable man.

I tried to stop him, begged, begged Oga Salim who screamed that I was ungrateful.

Lade dabbed my bruises and handed me a gun one night, shouting in pidgin

“Ronke! Off that bastard!”

The last night Akin hunted meat was in his own bedroom, he was demonstrating how he was going to choke me with his belt, the white powdery drug around his nostrils. I sat in the middle of his bed, clutching my bag, my hand on a gun I had never fired. I was shivering.

He must have noticed my fear, I remember his cackling laughter

“Don’t worry the belt will only make it more enjoyable. You’re a common ashawo, this is the only thing you’re good for”

I aimed straight at his head.

I can still remember the panic in his eyes as I pulled the trigger.

Oga Salim visited my room not long after handing me two hundred thousand naira

“We were paid good money for Akin. Tomorrow you’d meet Charles Ekeh.”

Bad Omen

Hey Toyosi,

How have you been doing? I hope you hear from your family often? On a lot of mornings when I’m staring out my window I can see a car from your house pass by, it’s probably your little brother being taken to school. Most days I wish you were still here so you could make me breakfast while we discuss how more women should rule the world. I know you’re busy with your exams and I always remember you in my prayers, one day you will be one of Texas’ finest lawyers and then you’d move back so we can be neighbors again.

This morning I remembered a day in boarding school, maybe SS2, when you were lying on my bed complaining that you never got any written letters. That was 6 years ago but somehow you’ve never really changed so I decided to write a letter to explain my job hunt you’re curious about.

Shebi you know it’s been 5 months now since I started looking for a job, I already told you about the several banks I applied to. I have written maybe 6 tests now, and 2 interviews, most of which there is never any feedback. No sorry or Congratulations, just waiting for months until you realize you’ve been forgotten. Anyway I got another invite on Tuesday for an interview on Thursday. You know Trusted Nigerian Insurance shey? The interview was at their regional office in Surulere. I was very disappointed the moment I got there, the office looked in bad shape, files scattered everywhere. It was so unattractive and somehow! Their staff looked funny and unkempt (you know how people say that the way employees look tells a lot about the company they work for). The woman who interviewed me a lot of eczema from the sides of her face, down her neck. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. When I wanted to use their toilet, the receptionist told me to pick the key in a dirty looking bowl so I told her not to worry. Luckily for me, I found a mirror somewhere around there.

For the interview part… she asked plenty of irrelevant questions. When she was through, she told me “Congratulations! Welcome to our company” and that I needed to go to the opposite office for the next stage. When I got there, the lady took my CV and then told me to pay six thousand Naira for insurance and that my training would be for a week. Imagine! I didn’t pay sha. When I refused to pay, she told me to meet their Boss in the next room, entering the next office I was happy it wasn’t another woman. I questioned the man very well, asked him why the company isn’t responsible for its employees Insurance. He said a lot of nonsense I didn’t understand. Then I asked him about the position I was invited for ‘Risk Advisor’. He told me about the target thing and how salaries would be based on commission. I was irritated man… dusted my shoes, never to return there again. My family has been laughing at me here at home : (

I forgot to mention. On my way to the place in the morning, there was a corpse on the road. The head was covered with a carton and the woman’s leg was missing. Very sad. A bad omen.

So you see, I’m still searching for a job and hopefully God has something good to reward me for all my waiting.

                                                                                               

                                                                                        Your Best Friend,

                                                                                                 Atinuke.

 

Bombs and Breakfast

Chin and jaws moving in circle as his lips remained sealed, fathers chewing always made me uncomfortable. With the phone screen raised on his left hand, he paused to read out the morning’s bout of fear

“Everyone who loves their life should stay home from today till Friday, our enemies are planning an attack, be cautious and very prayerful. Do not ignore this message as it is from a reliable source, a repented terrorist”

Father finished reading and turned to us, watching for impact, the family did not disappoint him, and mothers hand went straight in the air, silently begging Providence to intervene while my elder brother bowed his head low.

I tried to stop my eyes from rolling “5th message this week, its only Tuesday”

It had become part of the family breakfast, this desperate gamble for life.

5 hours later, while the ground shook, I remembered the morning conversation

“One more day” I prayed

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

Immigration

“Are you coming home today?”

“I doubt it, there’s this thing, seminar, work. I can’t. I need more time”

“Wole turned 5 last week, he’s got your thick bushy hair, sometimes I show him your baby pictures, the ones in the old album by your bedside”

Heavy breathing “don’t”

“It’s been 3 years, he doesn’t remember you. Don’t you want to see him?”

“This isn’t easy for me”

“Then come home” A sniff. “I still make you dinner”

“I can’t”

-Because sometimes immigration is a black hole

Found

‘You whole life could learn to balance delicately on 4 inch heels’

She was wrapped in a peach hijab that only made her uncovered features scream, eyes dark as deceit. Her face a little more plump, maybe darker, she had obviously matured, and probably gained a few pounds but her skin looked softer than ever.

My mind began to gamble on the unnecessary, unsure whether to stare as she approached or to look away.

‘I don’t want to scare her away by being too eager’ I stared at my fingers on the raffia table mat, studying the intertwined little boxes.

For a second I became 21 again, walking across the campus contemplating if she would like my new haircut.

‘I don’t want to seem nonchalant either’ I flashed a nervous smile while raising my eyebrow

I couldn’t think anymore when she smiled back, warmth flowed from her intimately, her eyes embracing every inch of me, 18 lost years, my failing marriage, receding hairline, my overpriced red neck tie. In that very moment I could almost explain why I spent over a decade searching for her, ignoring common sense.

 ‘Everyone has those past lovers that are harder to forget. They are the deep ugly scars’

If she was a scar, she was definitely a revered type giving superpowers. I had to reconnect with my mirage, to feel again, to watch the ugly and unwanted pieces of my existence turned beautiful in her eyes.

I held her in my arms, eyes shut, she smelt like blue grass and Jasmin, her voice came out wispy

“I’ve imagined this moment in a thousand different ways”

Maybe we had another chance.

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”

Bring Back Our Girls

I wish we were taught more important things in school, like how to stitch the insides of your own soul; cross stitch, basting, blind stitch, back stitch (we would call it Heart Economics). There are so many things I wish for these days and just enough time to wish, it’s the end of road for us, just like the skinny man with the gun shouted. He’s probably right, that same night we were distributed easily, dividing garri among siblings, everyone knows men have needs, men at war become hungrier, they develop insatiable bellies.

As a bride life is different, I can’t explain why I keep dreaming but it’s all I have -to dream I will be free and laugh again- for survival. If these dreams have no viability then I inherited it from mama who stares through the cracks in the wall, touches my face and says “one day this one will be a great president”

(For over two weeks over 234 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from school to be sold as brides to the Boko Haram sect. We demand that the government bring Back our Girls)

Theatre

If there were other options, they crept through the tiny holes in the windowless room. There were no choices, only an easy decision to be made; the probability of life or death. The operation theatre had an acrid smell, the stench of blood of the many others not willing to be forgotten, a large “I was here” sign diffused in the air. She prayed to God there had been many successes, then maybe some inevitable loss, the ones who left the theatre with rotten insides or new organs like forgotten scissors , breathing corpses, forgotten spatulas, half sewn incisions. These stories were not uncommon in this part of the world. Operations were a gory affair that followed endless suggestions

“Why don’t you fly to India for the operation?”
“I can’t afford it”

She swore her body was a fighter while staring at the small hands of the surgeon, neat and delicate -maybe all surgeons had brown delicate fingers-He closed his eyes to say a prayer for the third time. The anaesthetist with large eyes asked if he could insert another cannula in a soothing voice. She wondered how anyone could ever refuse those large eyes as she drifted into unconsciousness.