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.

 

 

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Resurrections

She learned to live with mechanical precision. Each day dragging into the next, in the grand picture she was a speck of dust floating, unheard and unheeded by the universe. In her family picture she stood in the middle, gaze fixed on the camera, a wide smile.

To her she had always been a swimmer, in life’s murky waters, everything had an end.

The weekdays, holding breath under water, 1,2,3,4,5…. Then up to the surface, gasping for air

On the weekend she would become whoever she wanted, the woman searching for a nice flat on the banana island, particularly interested in a beautiful kitchen, telling realtors about her Italian boyfriend’s obsession with oregano. Then she was pregnant woman, the only child searching for love telling drunken strangers about her father who never returned, the banker about to lose her job, the upcoming actress willing to do anything for her big break.

She was all these women in quick succession, one weekend after the other, never fearing insanity. For the weekend, life was a book with blank sheets and she held the pen, treasuring each second in the company of strangers before disappearing, never exchanging contacts. There were 7 billion strangers in the world and not enough lies.

This weekend she was the hotel manager who fucked the owner. She was 21 again, her twist out falling down her neck as she told of Fridays at the hotel penthouse, licking her red lips as she gave details, his large palms, his warm tongue in her. He wasn’t happily married of course, a wife was just something of necessity even if it had been 35 years. She had no regrets, she performed resurrections and enjoyed being his savior. She told how he sounded most alive during orgasms.

Her drunken companion today had a deep northern accent, he talked about living most of his life according to God’s script, believed he was determinism’s little puppet. Today he just wanted volition, the ninth bottle, and his hand around a strange woman’s waist. The ring on his left rubbing against her dark skin. This weekend none of them would care.

Walls

The officer wasn’t making any sense, neither did answering questions in a bare, cold seem reasonable.
With a pen in his left hand and a thoughtful stare, the officer continued to make notes through my silence.
“When did you first notice the walls caving in?”
Mother used to say many questions had no answers.
“Don’t you understand me?”
I nodded.
More scribbling, I stared at the band tattooed around his index finger.
I thought of father’s hands, hard knuckled from scotch, cigarettes and lonely nights around town, sister’s singed fingers decorated with cuts from making sacrifices and my pale ashy hands.
Today, my house lay in ruins miles away, block separated from block, as though intentionally disconnected, I told the previous officer what I knew, despite his incredulous look.
I still recall perfectly the Tuesday morning in July when mother shook the dust off her feet and left a whirlwind behind. She had suppressed a tornado most of her life and then suddenly without warning ripped out the crosses nailed to her bedroom wall.
Father knew she wasn’t human, a daughter of Oya trapped in a body, she kept her Irukere and saber tucked away in the bottom drawer, he always knew there would be a price to pay.
As the walls crumbled I heard him vow in his dialect that he would love her in his next life.

Conversations about Home

Uju: How are you? You’ve been away for so long.
Kemka: 4 years last week
Uju: I hope I join you soon, I’ve written some exams
Kemka: I still dream of the long bumpy road with red sand, the one on the way to school
Kemka: Some mornings I taste home in my mouth while my pillows soak tears
Uju: What are you saying??? You don’t like America???
Kemka: I miss those long church services we slept through, I hated them but will give anything to be stuck somewhere with my family
Uju: Why are you talking like this? You never loved home
Uju: Papa still hits mama
Uju: He still gets drunk, there’s still unemployment and no electricity
Kemka: I feel helpless here, no one knows how to pronounce my name
Uju: I am helpless here
Uju: Mama dreams of leaving, of living in America
Kemka: Mama’s arms feel like home
Uju: Keep praying, we would bring you a home
Kemka: Amen

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.

Missed Connection

You were last seen beside the birch tree.

No

Commanding elements, causing the tree to sway towards you, yellow leaves dancing carelessly, throwing music to the wind

No

Ruling the third floor corridor, constructing symphonies out of laughter

Last seen floating on metaphors, on clouds of admiration stitched into a flying carpet

You wore too much, padded with the heavy words stuck in your chest. Those words you carried around because there was nowhere to put them.

I was the quiet smile at the end of the corridor, the one with too many fictional stories and you as my protagonist

The one who drew a different hue to remember each eye contact

No

The one twirling her hair while conjuring conversations too afraid to start

The conversation would be about the words around your neck, the secrets tattooed in invisible ink, I’ll begin by saying I’m a pensive you can pour yourself into.

A volunteer therapist who takes 3am baths with lavender just for you

I was the faux power walk at the opposite end of the corridor -watching you walk past me for the last time- with shaky hands and an unsteady heartbeat, same as the last 3 years, throwing out all the conversations I no longer needed as the door closed.

My grandmother had a farm that could have grown a birch tree. I could have learnt to speak in a higher pitch or tried cultivating my own garden.

There’s just me now and the endless list I carry around, I’m at number sixty-something. Meet me at the café near the city park. I’ll be at the end of the corridor with a script this time, a whole book I wrote for you that we’ll never have to follow.

Don’t forget to bring your smile and the gap in your teeth.

I still haven’t.

Footnotes

Infinite moments are deceitful. Perhaps between the rising and falling soprano of the choir and the steady bright light glaring on the class of 2009 we missed the angel swaying above sprinkling glitter of optimism on all below. Moments can be infinite when we misplace the truth or ignore fate sitting in the corner writing gory footnotes. 

Row 9, Seat three: Dead (Son and Friend, 1988-2010)
Row 13, Seat four: Missing, 2011
Row 16, Seat eight: Bomb blast victim, 2013 (hand found with engagement ring)
Row 23, Seat two: Insane, 2012, seen under Lagos bridge (Where are our psychiatric homes?)
Row 26, Seat three, four, five (2020): Missing, Raped, Deported.

Love in a coffe shop

When she finally looked my way, I had to struggle to keep my heartbeat steady.

“I don’t want you to leave” I yelled again.

The absurdity of the situation slapped my consciousness in vain, my lips kept moving, words tumbling out stupidly.

Even as she stared blankly, I contemplated whether my Nikon could capture a moment so beautiful, her large curls falling over lined brown eyes and how the red lipstick was suffocated by the glow of her skin

“You’ve sat in this same coffee shop for 14 days straight”

With no time to stop and think I added “and this might sound crazy but I finally understood the weight of the word ‘incomplete’ when you didn’t show up yesterday”

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”