Catfish

It’s easy to make a woman disappear. I should correct myself, it’s easy to make the woman you are disappear. In the age of information parts of us are drawn in and lost forever. It’s easy to become a large mass of nothing, no, not a large mass, a tiny speck of dust lost in insignificance. So forget it, these things don’t matter, you can become whoever you decide to be.

Life is too short to live just one life, you always wanted more.

It’s time to wrap yourself under layers, forget the mirror. Forget the mirror. Forget the folds when you pinch your sides, the days you spend wishing some parts of you will melt away, or disappear, pinch your neck, your arms, your thighs, take everything out. As a young girl you wished you could use knives to make it all disappear, you used markers on your body like you saw on TV, large straight lines around your belly, by the sides where your stomach stuck out. You even got a razor but did not make it past the first cut.

The more devastated you got with not losing it all, you turned back to food. The vicious cycle of frustration. You tried it all, eating meals in front of the mirror, your fingers deep in your throat, the end of your toothbrush, anything to take it all back out. Pretty could make you happy. Pretty will make you happy.

This was all before you discovered the internet, started avoiding mirrors, retreated into yourself, didn’t stick around with family except it was necessary. You found the internet, filled with strangers, strangers much like the ones in school. The people still consumed with their own worlds but this was different, here you controlled perceptions, they saw only the parts of you that you wanted. Nothing more. It wasn’t intentional, you put up a profile picture of some woman you found on the internet, then some admirers, then more pictures, more messages. More people laughing at your jokes, paying attention because beautiful makes things worthy of being heard.

You became a master at manipulation, like that one time you told Matt whom you met off the internet site about the film project you were working on at Koma hills, all made up, about the children in a forgotten primitive place, about the smile of the little girl. He was so excited, sometimes you think you are their gift. They live through you.

Everyone just wants to feel good, it’s like some sort of drug, they want interest. In this world of tedium we all deserve some escape, so you give it to them, you give as much as you possibly can, telling them stories of where you’ve been and what you’ve seen, and more importantly listening, you tell them they can do anything. In your defense sometimes you believe they can.

He tells you about his mother, you tell him about your father, you let a little out, build trust because that’s how connections are made.

The hard part is when they become unsatisfied with the woman behind the screen, with the perfect picture. We want more because we are human, or we are human because we will always want more. This is never enough, they want to meet up, to feel the person. This is the wish you cannot give, and you must know when to end this, know how to turn away the insistence, tune down the conversations.

It all thins out eventually.

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It’s been a year since you moved back home from the electrifying fullness of New York. You hated that city, so full of people, so lonely, a year since you last cried in a filthy subway. Metro cards to distant places filled with light, music and madness, full of empty.

You wanted to hear your name in a way you could understand.

That’s why you came back

Why you wanted back in your own madness

Abuja with loneliness, yes, but not enough to swallow you, familiar in a way you could navigate.

You went back to your old office and nights at strange bars, bars still filled people who seemed to be in exclusive groups whispering secrets you had to live without.

Then the bar where you met Dapo.

Dapo with a limp, Dapo who drove new cars to Cotonou every other weekend and was a life assurance marketer by day.

Who started the conversation in the bathroom?

The bathroom at a new bar lined with little figurines, Dapo on the corridor, you at the sink. You both look in the mirror. He doesn’t look at his reflection but at yours, you smile emboldened by vodka.

He smiles back and moves closer, there’s a pin in your hair, then your back on his wall, your hands on his back. He’s kissing the nape of your neck in his badly lit room, it’s easy to forget with him, taking off your bra, his hands feel good everywhere. Large hands, his finger in your hair, his fingers in you, Dapo whose name you just learned in between your legs taking quick shallow breaths.

You do not want to sleep over, you pick up your dress feeling a little raw. His room is littered with half-drunk bottles of water.

He begs you to stay.

You refuse but lie in his bed anyway, you notice scars on his hips, the bed is large enough so you don’t touch each other, and you wished he wanted to hold you.

It’s 6:30am when you leave, you didn’t get much sleep, spent most of the night staring at the paint chipping on the wall and counting his breath.

Dapo calls a cab and doesn’t say goodbye, he doesn’t make any plans to see next time, doesn’t promise to call, it’s awkward, you wish he hugged you or said something. Human contact. You held his hands, he didn’t even look and you got in the cab.

Dapo shows up in your tiny flat 2 weeks later, he has alcohol and apologies.

You tell him you understand and let him in. You get two glasses and he tells you about his trip from Cotonou last week, smuggling new cars into the country, something he did for the money, he narrates with an air of pride how he drove with the lights off at night to evade the customs police. You tell him it’s dangerous, he replies that that was obvious.

You ask about his limp, he tells you about his surgery, tells you that his bones were rotting from the insides, and tells you that his red blood cells are ill shaped, you get him water.

You tell him that alcohol dries up his insides. He laughs, just like the day you met and says that too is obvious.

You ask if he’s afraid. He doesn’t answer. He tells you he’s lost two brothers. You assume he isn’t

When he rams into you on your living room couch, you try to hold your breath, try not to ask what the fuck you’re doing. You have your hands around his neck even though you know he isn’t something to hold on to.

You ask him to stay after

He doesn’t.

Whispers

“No one will tell you but it’s louder than a whisper”

The men at the gate who chorus greetings when you pass by

The men smoking under the lime tree, the sour smell mixing with your name.

Chioma with the squeaky voice who keeps the office clean

They all believe it and no one will say a word

Maybe they don’t think you’d understand it

They say it’s the madness, it runs in your family like the dark on your skin

Your grandmother at 68 danced out of her husband’s house.

In exasperation, smiling with her wrappa loose under her breast

They said the madness made her leave

She argued it was the madness that kept her there so long

Let’s not talk about your mother

You know your mother

Let’s talk about the words you keep whispering to yourself when no one else is listening

The journal by your bedside where you’ve written the same word every single night

The same word in over a 100 languages

Over a 100 pages filled with “sorry”

What is wrong with you?

Sweaty Votes

Every Nigerian counts

I’m leaning against the window, in the back seat. Despite the air condition, the cruelty of Lagos sun is evident, my head pressed to the window, I feel warmth, mild, the harsh sun watered down. Watered down Nigeria. The Nigeria my children will know.

I despise being in Lagos, there’s no possible way to separate yourself from its desperation. The boy hawking biscuits, the woman in the silver earrings haggling over the inflated toy zebra. The unending traffic, the noisy vehicle beside me, the molue has a conductor sticking out through the open door. He wipes his face with his yellowing singlet, he’s shouting, I can’t hear him but I see the veins in his neck as his chest rise and falls. There’s a woman inside dressed corporately, probably heading to work on the island. A sweaty woman with a baby tied to her back, the driver is tearing through a loaf of bread. One sweaty face after another, different stories.

I wonder who they will vote for.