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.

Alone

You often wonder what people will think while scrolling down your tweets, the words that remain on the screen after your suicide. Will they feel pity? Sadness? Will they be irritated that you chose the football season? Will they pretend to know what you wanted or comment on how they just passed you by the market a year ago?

You think about these things. You try not to.

I try to forget the truth. I’d never leave this place alive.

Life happens when we don’t realize it, the days pass as we remain ignorant of what time steals from us, every second, every minute dragging our souls deeper into debt. A debt death always collects. I’ve seen death come around before, unannounced but focused. She’s always in our stories, gossip, the papers, and her weakness for the spotlight possesses her. The headlines. The news. The drama.

Shola says you think of death too much. How do you ignore someone so loud?

You think of you elder brother, who started shrinking, not like granma whose back curved as she celebrated her 80th year but in a way a teenage boy shouldn’t. Fat cheeks gave way to jaw lines. You grew tired of the endless days by his bedside. The thick smell of disinfectant, the white tiles, the nurses you knew by name who offered church pamphlets and unsolicited prayers. You just wanted to be free. Didn’t you? You wanted to leave that place. You loved him though, like no one else. The guilt.

The guilt will never leave you. Even when you pack a black bag and move 10,000 miles, it remains like smoke on your hair, the dark on your skin. The dirt on the coffin. Thick sand and the only reason you didn’t want to leave is so he wouldn’t be alone.

So you wouldn’t be alone.

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.”

Ronke (Part 1)

People obsess over things like justice or morality. I don’t have that luxury. What is right has always been about survival. So many fools try to sugar coat it, try to make us think there’s more, but in the end it is what it is.
I started this job maybe 5 years ago, it was an accidental employment. Maybe not that accidental; my father used to say a liar is also a thief. My point is that some professions are separated by blurred lines.

Akin liked to grope at my butt even when I wasn’t on duty. I mean it, the bastard would take trips to Ikorodu when he needed his fix. The motherfucker didn’t even pay much for the long sweaty nights he spent on top of me, his hands around my neck as he shook violently. I’d learned to stay put just as he liked. He was a bastard and I’d put a hole in him again if I have to.

Mother says bad things happen to wayward women. After my WAEC examination as if to help me cast my doubts the many E8s assured me I had peaked in education. I never had the head for school. My mother always prayed to God for first positions, I sometimes wonder why she didn’t pray for average. The excesses in her requests, for riches instead of food on the table, for dead enemies instead of apologies. It’s useless thinking about that now.
I have always followed my mother to the market for as long as I can remember, we own a big umbrella, a plastic chair and stool. It was my job to go about beckoning women to come fix their hair, which went full time after WAEC.
“Aunty please come, I fit braid well”
I stared at all the “aunties” passing by, trying their best not to meet my eyes as they ignored me. The haughtiness on their faces reminded me of how insignificant I must be to their worlds, no one remembers the market girl hungry for work.
It was in that same market I met Mr. Falade, it was already time for the market to close and I was going to return the bottle for coke I bought from Iyabeji. He was seating in his benz and honked as I passed by. I knew better than to answer so I kept walking till he stuck his head out and shouted
“You with the bottle please come”
I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t used to hearing please or maybe he looked like he had the type of money I could only dream of, either way I went to meet him. He asked for my name and where I was going, he spoke in a thick Yoruba accent, not pronouncing the H’s and switching between Yoruba and English. I knew what he wanted the way he looked at me, like he could see through my clothes, then straight in the eyes like it didn’t matter what I thought anyway.
I got into his car the same day, lucky mother wasn’t in the market. He took me home and made me wash in his bathroom before shoving his fat penis in my mouth. That was our formal agreement. No words and I left with thirty thousand naira afterwards.
I went home and tied the money in an old under pant. Tucking it in my wardrobe as mother brought down God’s wrath on me for coming home so late.
“USELESS GIRL. YOU WANT TO BECOME AN ASAHWO IN THIS HOUSE!”

I continued to make hair at the market then see Mr. Falade afterwards, each day he did something different, some days he just wanted me to touch myself as he watched, other days he would pound me senseless from my butt.
He didn’t talk much so after a while I started working out by myself what it all meant.
The large family portrait meant, he was happily married with two sons.
The fact that he was fucking me in his house meant that his family was abroad. I know some rich men do that.
After a while he got me a nokia phone and would text me the address of where to meet him; Maybe his wife was back visiting.

I began to stay out later and mother got restless, she began to hit me again, slapping sense into me. I didn’t mind all the beatings until she began looking through my things, then the time she found 50 thousand naira in my wardrobe and gave it to the church.

That was the last straw for me. I couldn’t stand this woman, I didn’t care she was my mother, we didn’t agree much on anything. Without really thinking it through, I packed a small bag and walked out on a Sunday morning.

Maybe Mr. Falade will help me, maybe not.

I had my dreams and I refused be contained…

Stench

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.

Happy

January 23

Dad took me to buy pick out some cartoon CDs for Chioma. She’s been talking about seeing Frozen. Maybe I’ll take her.

I’m happy we’re getting her cartoons because I didn’t stay with her at the hospital tonight. She looked sad I was leaving so I told her I loved her six times. One for each year.

There is new cinema open in Wuse, I heard Amina talking about it in class. I already told you about Amina, she’s the one who stole my former best friend, Saida. Saida and I barely talk now, she’s always behind the class with Amina, whispering away in Hausa.

I’ll talk to you later, I have to be up early tomorrow XOXO.

January 25

I’m home alone with aunty Oge.

I’m not sure where to start. Chioma closed her eyes and…

There has to be another way to explain what happened. Death is just one word for something so final.

I miss Chioma.

I saw it happen. It happened yesterday, Chioma was sleepy when I got the hospital. She wasn’t really asleep but she wasn’t awake either, it may have been the drugs.

She looked at me but I’m not so sure she saw me, she wanted to say something then closed her eyes.

I can still hear mummy screaming when I close my eyes.

February 19

I’m sorry I haven’t been writing to you lately.

There’s this game we play in class where you have to tell the happiest and saddest days of your life.

I’ve come to realize that you can’t explain sadness.

I wasn’t in school for a week and when I got back every one was quiet. Even Amina gave me a hug during break and then she kept speaking in English through that week, even with Saida, trying to include me in their conversations.

It’s nice that they try but I don’t have much to say to them. I can’t tell explain to them what I don’t understand. 

Dad came with a large bus and packed away all of Chioma’s things, her shoes, her bright pink dresses and even her blanket. I threw the cartoon CDs into the pile. It felt like one of those murder scenes on TV, cleaning up evidence, the floor shiny and free of blood, like she was never there.

I sometimes forget.

I wake up in the morning and I swear she’s walking into my room excited like she always is, and in that brief moment, that millisecond, I’m happy.

That is really on of my happiest moments.

Would that count?

Is that even real?