Brat Memories

There’s something about wounds that do not leave scars, something about pain that refuses to be made evident, about glass that chips and cracks but does not fall apart. The seemingly almost perfect story that belongs to so many it’s no longer just one story, the story that spans across cultures, individuals, noticeable in phrases like “I’m fine” (muttered on the way from visiting a sick mother). The single story of being okay, a story that truly does not belong to anyone but lives on all our lips. Cracked, refusing us the tremors of an absolute breakdown.

There isn’t much about you that you like to share, you could have had a good story, we all know there’s no such thing as a perfect story. You had comfort, not the kind you ran mad from and poured out of the space between your fingers, but you had enough, you had enough to feel it rip through you when it went all away.

It happened the way most things in life do, the new and shiny turning into the ordinary, flames waning, rain quieting, there are no accurate metaphors for describing how chaos slips in, in every case it’s different. The thing about everyday human stories is that they do not quite reach the extraordinary yet they can never be perfectly duplicated, your story is something like that. Born of a man and woman that were reaching for something else, nights when your father pressed into your mother and all he could think about was a woman he had met years ago and could still recall. He tried to find her between the legs of others and when he finally gave up, settled for closing his eyes right before an orgasm. Your mother who settled for duty like her mother and your great grandmother, the receiver of her duty always shifting, from siblings to mother, settling on daughter for many years. She was reaching for safety, “I do this for you” steadily on her lips.

The cracks started as far back as you can remember, at least you think so now, but you know how it is with the past, we obsess over it and give every meaningless turn significance. Now your memory is populated with suspicious looking evidence. The time you stood at the top of the stairs and heard screaming downstairs, the times that duty and closing of eyes didn’t seem sufficient to hold the pieces together, the times you were away with your grandmother for weekends and could hear her praying in hushed tones, you established a pattern, that the women in your family were always quietly reaching for something, living on so much hope and compromise that they swelled from the insides. The only child, so you spent nights awake imagining what would spill out if their skins were pierced. The age of curiosity where you tried to find what was on all our insides, where you ripped teddy bears and pierced plastic dolls. Evidence you were always searching for something, perhaps the answer to why we always felt so empty.

As a teenager you learned the value of hate and malice and used it generously, screaming matches against your mother where you admitted to hating her and she corrected you that you hated yourself. Teenage years where you shaved your eyebrows in front of the mirrors you had always avoided, where you loved the boys who barely took notice. When you started to hate your father who had resumed his search like a day never passed, simply woke up one morning with the determination to find the woman that had eluded him, he must have seen her in a dream, maybe one where he had questions and she was the answer, and he woke up with only the questions, you can only speculate. He searched hard, in the rooms of strange women, in bars filled with liquor, through the darkness, till he could only make it home in the morning. He never took notice of all your hate, he didn’t consider it a reckonable enough force, there was obedience left and that was what was important.

Another thing about wounds that refuse to make themselves known is that you can never tell exactly where you’re hurting or how much. There was food, water and an education, even enough left over for the things that were not necessary for survival. To the goal of duty, much had been accomplished.

Through the university there was much to learn, there was a flight away from home, an hour of anxiety brewing in your belly to the unfamiliar rowdiness of Lagos, to crammed roads littered with yellow and black, hawkers with wares that stretched the imagination under an angry sun. Lagos felt like bearing witness to all the stories in traffic, it would all become familiar, the long rides, the cussing, the blistering heat.

You learned a lot from the university, like how to fill and empty your insides in an attempt to find the thing that had eluded you, that had eluded those before you. You learned to fill your insides with so much smoke it came pouring out through every hole, how to fill yourself with another body till sounds escaped your lips, with liquor till you were dancing on tables. There was also the emptying that was improved with each act, demanded a degree of precision, how much water to get in before a meal, the perfect time when it could get back out. The years were spent doing almost everything except what you were really meant to do, you got on well enough, met your dodgy first-year roommate, Ibukun who remained a constant for years after, fell in love with Segun in your first year, David, Wale and Dapo in your final year.

There’s a story you’re trying to tell through all this remembering, it’s something about how you ended in this present place, in a room in Wuse that feels like a million miles from home though it’s only a few kilometers. Far away because you can’t return even if you wanted to, far away because you’re still trying to find yourself and making a million mistakes, the story probably leans a lot on your father and his evidence you still have no access to. There’s always a backstory. Yours is about how hate grew and nothing ever completely healed, through meaningless “I love yous” uttered and prayers that never left your lips with sincerity. There always remained bile between father and daughter, punctuated by a clueless mother who had maintained peace for most of her life it was an instinct. You remember the small acts of rebellion that started with simple tasks.
A party your father insisted you attend, you disappearing in the morning and texting back

“you no longer tell me what to do” because it was the truth

Your father livid. Because it was the truth.

A malice because of this, more silence from the time you called him a lousy man whore and he slapped you hard across both cheeks and took out his belt and you slept over at Ibukun’s for 2 weeks. You always came back, to longer periods of malice for many other reasons, your father with the uneasy temperament of one who was never refused, you with all the foolishness and stubbornness of a young adult. You survived on your mother for long periods of time, your father attempting to snuff you out with hunger. Teach you to come back. Father and daughter soon learned to cultivate a relationship similar to a war zone with a promise of mines, each needing something, an offspring, some money, for society, for security.

The story you’re trying to tell does not end well, at least not yet, you’re still trying to figure out if you should have inherited more compromise, been more quiet, less aggressive, more forgiving. What you’ve learned being here is that a lot of people have survived more horrible bizarre stories, desperation got them here and among these women, Ekem who had desire cut out from between her legs at an early age, Lisa who never revealed her real name but made her way alone from Calabar at 15, battering sex for transport, Reena who sent back money to her mother and 3 sons, women escaping situations that stretched your imagination, among these women who earned less than you, because education is still levied in a sex transaction, among these women, you will always remain the privileged ungrateful brat who threw it all away.

Smoke

I was an idiot a year ago. When I try to evaluate how time has gone by, I’m not sure I consider the things that matter. I turned 27 and there’s a subtle you’re running out of time as permanent background noise. Over every phone call, at every visit. It’s become embarrassing. The well-meaning relatives who spill out prayers, I remember Mama Dele, prayers oozing from her belly, her hands around mine, she smelled of ginger, her powder caked around her wrinkles, age fighting beauty and winning.

I wish they were more concerned about the fact that I’m a freelancer and still living off my parents, or that I make a lot of fucked up decisions, quitting jobs all the time.

A year ago I was an idiot. You think 26 would tell me that I’m no alchemist. I tried to create love, tried so hard. You’d think at 26, I would search for the responsible man, a room in one place, a house to sleep in. No, I had found a 24-year-old gym instructor.

His body promised what mine never could. It was just the sex at first, then I started wanting more, longer phone calls. A night over, a weekend over. I assumed he did too.

For love, I’ve made a lot of fucked up decisions and there’s the fact that I fancy myself a liberal cultivated on Lagos soil. There was Dare at 21 who decided after a year that he could still see all the men I had been with when he looked at me. Fucking Dare. I stayed up that night searching my body for fingerprint, scars, anything these men left. When you stare for so long all you see is why no one wants you, the parts that stick out, for years I tried to tame my body into beautiful, a finger down my throat, living off lemon and water. I never felt enough.

Back to my recent mistake, I tried to create love from nothing but yeses. Yes to his stupid suggestion to turn my balcony into a studio, to stay up for nights and nights on nothing but liquor. He didn’t say a word, but he could locate all the desperate tucked under my lips, and when he kissed me it came pouring through. I said yes to the liquor, the strange women he fucked while I was away, the times without a condom. The last yes was with the other woman, her breath down my neck, her lips on my stomach, he watched us for most of the time, till he was with her and there was no me. I felt like smoke in my own damn bedroom and I realized that he had been looking through me the whole damn time, the whole two years. I was with a man who had barely seen me.

Turning 27 was the right time to clean out my closet again, he came with questions and all I had left were Nos. So he kissed me and that was all that poured out. He didn’t leave any apologies, didn’t try to find what parts of our picture ripped, he was gone.

Stay

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.

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.

Comfort

Itunu was born an escapist. Three dead siblings, the third made it to four. Itunu arrived quietly on a rainy Sunday night along with rumbling thunder and her mother’s scream of pain. A midwife gently tapped under the newborn’s feet, one after the other, willing her to cry.

Her mother who swore God was present at her last child’s funeral named this one Itunuoluwa: ‘Comfort of God’, but she would grow to escape God too. Her father couldn’t stop staring at the quiet newborn, her eyes as large as her mother’s, another fragile thing. When Itunu gets home they would pray for many more sons, a daughter was enough.

Two years after their  “Amen” had been said, Motunrayo came to stay, her name a fulfilling prophecy.

Motunrayo was nurturing and kind from a tender age but Itunu always demanded greater attention. Escaped childhood at thirteen, stubborn as a man, ill-mannered and talkative. She refused to be quieted by her teacher’s chastisement and often got in trouble for skipping mass.

The final straw was when she started to ask the nuns who created the nothing God transformed into earth, she went on for weeks searching for answers. Unsatisfied she grew curious, drilling holes and picking inconsistencies from sacred teachings.

Two suspensions later Itunu was sent to military school where she first felt lust, she often thought of Kanayo the boy 3 levels above who had started growing a beard and liked the warm feeling it gave her between her legs. Months later she would kiss him underneath the staircase, his breath heavy and arms wrapped around her waist, she moaning without guilt.

Years later she meets Laura, a sophist with a head full of red hair and shelves full of books, but when they kiss it’s something different. Laura fills all the holes inside of her and drills new ones.

Itunu calls her mother by 6 pm every Friday, she never tells her she’s in love.

Noise

“The problem with men is that they do not listen”

Chinazom is holding out her phone to the woman weaving her hair. Mama Tope smiles at the picture, four girls with their mothers light skin and a dark boy, his arms over his mother’s shoulder.

“Your family is very beautiful”

Chinazom smiles “I wish men would just listen to their wives”

Omada who is slowly picking the attachment agrees, “Them no know say women sabi see certain things”. She shakes her head violently and makes clucking sounds from her throat

“When something bad wan happen I dey feel am”

Omada talks about her dream of packing her father’s things a week before he died

“For the dream I just dey help am”

She looks to the sky in the open market

“I remember him favorite agbada

I ask am “Papa you dey take this one? And he just say make I fold am well”

Mama Tope sighs and says something in Yoruba, her mouth turned down the sides, her hands still working, weaving

“The doctor dey treat him for malaria but na hypertension kill am”

Chinazom is still smiling at her phone, now holding it for Omada to see

Omada smiles “Ehen! See how the girls resemble their mama. Bride price go plenty”

“My husband died when my son was 12” Chinazom was still looking through her pictures, scrolling, her voice plain and void of emotion

“I told him to go to the hospital, he didn’t listen.

I told him to go for weeks”

She heaved a sigh, a hint of resignation in her voice

“He convulsed the day before. There was no light when he died, I remember it well. It was almost 1am”

“Ahh! Why you no force am go hospital?” Omada’s face is contorted, she makes the clucking sound again

“Big man like that? How will I carry him?”

Omada falls silent, there is only the buzz of the market

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”

Never love a woman who doesn’t fear hell

Never love a woman who doesn’t fear hell, this single piece of advice will save you light years of heartache. I sincerely hope you find redemption through your own forgotten story; it was another lifetime when you met her.

Her name was Tola and she had whole galaxies in her eyes, nebula collapsing and stars being born. Perhaps that was enough to make anyone unstable, the extent of destruction that had already taken place within them. It sometimes seeped through her pores and settled on her skin like oil, and in that very moment of realization you wondered how could you love such a shimmering and terribly ugly woman. The moment was immediately followed by the same rational decision, the packing of several bags only to abandon them at the door. So many times, again and again you tried to leave; your room became the door at her house. The last time you packed your bags was when her father died; one look at her sinister smile and you were sure she was incapable of loving you.

There were also mornings after the night rain in which she could only be described in unknown beautiful colors, she would get so close and put your hands under her bra, there was the one time you made love on top your bags, filling her filled the holes in you.

You tried to save her, to warn her about hell and eternal damnation; you even burnt her finger, a lighter and burning skin without logic. Something about her turned people into beasts, even words escaped wickedly from her lips

“If you burn my finger, I would learn how bad hell could be”

You tried to help her if only to let go of all the wickedness tucked under her lips, to abandon her worship of Oya who pulled structures from their root, -like Oya, Tola didn’t have problem with pulling out roots- she shaved her head staring at the mirror one hot afternoon as her long dreadlocks fell on the cream tiles.

On the last day of your life she called you her angel and convinced you to fly off the building. That life didn’t end well.

Souvenirs

Home could be a strange place with familiar faces and distant memories. For a while I’ll need you to forget all that talk about having your heart at home, and imagine that you are capable of venturing far away and also forgetting bits of yourself in different places- like phone chargers, toothbrushes, and underwear- each becoming a sort of hocrux. Finally without planning or realizing, our hearts are spread across continents, across families, across friends and we return home with empty ribcages that would exhaust themselves from relearning how to love.

Amaka moved back home a week after graduation, she had spent  10 years without permanence (6 years in boarding school and 4 in university), she had spent Christmases at home- where the heart is -with her lovely family, never fighting or stepping on each other. There was always enough calculated love to last 30 days, trying to pick up from last year’s fond memories.

Moving back was different as she brought home souvenirs of expectations and experiences which couldn’t fit with that of the lovely family. Too much was expected from both sides- respect, responsibility, maturity, -same word with different meanings.  Amaka noticed the nag in her father’s voice, the injustice of being expected to cook all the meals and do the dishes. Amaka’s father discovered his daughter would never make a good wife; he should have kept his daughter close to home.

All stories have a moment of inception; these are the moments that would someday explain why Amaka ended up in the stranger’s parlor in Amsterdam.

Morning Rue

Her shivering body shrunk and wrinkled in the warm water. Salts and fragrances mixed with the disappearing mist as they clashed against bizarre thoughts; the bathroom was stuffy and incredibly filled with inanimate guests. Present were inexpressible anger, stale vomit and anguish all contributing to the unpleasant stench of resignation. Witnesses to a tired life, she contemplated many options, viable and ridiculous, the end of her life, time travel to the past, magic to turn his hands to tree stumps.

Her body was plastered and stained in places she couldn’t see; all she could feel was the pain in her groin and throbbing headache.

 

The first hour was muffled silence and senseless crying, recalling dark walls and blurred faces, settling on his face and more senseless tears.

 

The second hour was more silent tears, contemplation and reason and the stupid party, the empty bottles littered on the floor. Dancing on tables, inhaled a blunt from a stranger. Waking up alone, how badly she needed someone to hold her, her mothers disapproving face “good women served alcohol not drank it”. Fragments of a blemished memory.

 

Third hour was imagining his hands everywhere, the build-up of hate and irritation, thinking of were exactly he put them, then lining him up behind past lovers. Did he hold her close? Did he kiss her passionately? Maybe it meant something.

 

Googling each possibility, every outcome.

 

“How to recall a blackout”

“Where lost memories go”

“Possibilities of pregnancy after drunken night”

 

Never quite the right answers. What she really wanted to learn was who could listen with without judgment and how to wipe invisible scars.