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.

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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.

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?

Bush Bar

Madam Tinuke’s backside was one of her most prized possessions, it swung proudly behind her as she moved from stall to stall on hot afternoons. On a good evening in Labake’s bush bar, if you were lucky she would retell the story of how she shook her ikebe to Fela in the 1970’s. She would tell it after 2 or 3 cups of palm wine.

The deeper the keg went the louder she spoke, her deep voice and laughter mixing with the various tales of other drunk customers.

Cup 4 was for her son in America, why he hasn’t returned.

Cup 5 was for the 20 thousand he sent last week, how she was hard working and didn’t need the money.

Cup 6 was for her daughter who spends more time with her mother-in-law, doesn’t have her own money, how her child has been bewitched.

Cup 7 is for her dead husband, how she doesn’t remember how to cry.

Labake never served eighth cups.

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?

Finding Happiness

Is there a particular moment we begin spiraling down the bottom? I used to wonder if life snapped in clean halves bending at the exact moment we departed from who we knew into someone strange and inexcusable.

I had always been incredibly selfish, it’s hard to tell when I went too far

First Mama’s heartbreak, I just wanted to be happy.

The voice in my head whispers “Maybe this is peace at last”

A phone call by 3am.

He never sounds this tired, slurring his words, breathing deeply into the receiver

“Where have you been? Please come home”

“I’m still searching for home”

“It’s been two weeks, you’re hurting me”

“I was lonely, desperate for someone else”

“I love you”

“I never did”

A pause

“You’ve been my life these past 2 years. You made me want to live again”

“Don’t do this”

“You said I make you happy”

“You’re a good man, I’m sorry I settled”

“Come home”

“I feel grounded with you”

He’s sniffing loudly now

“Please, I don’t know how to be without you”

I hung up the phone. This time I wasn’t going to settle, there is magic in this world and I was going to find it. I want a different town, a different dream and I was going to find true happiness.

Nothing is going to stop me, not the call from the hospital an hour before my flight

“Tell him I’m sorry”

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.

Dear Diary

Dear Diary

I’m sorry I’ve neglected you for a while now; I placed you at the bottom of my locker so my nosy side-mate wouldn’t read you. You know her, Ada, the fair girl with dreadlocks who thinks every boy is in love with her. The silence is worth the wait however because a lot has happened in the last two weeks.

Remember I told you that you do not mess with the pupils in SS2 Gold; not the girls with their sharp glossy lips and tight skirts or the boys with hanging trousers and starched shirts. Their seniors do not tell them off for wearing their shirts too tight or skirts too short. It isn’t just a matter of their seniors anymore; there is a rumor going around that the math teacher, Mr. Wale, was assaulted by Otonye’s bodyguard. No one is saying anything about it, but I swear I saw Mr. Wale curtsy when he passed Otonye.

Otonye does get in trouble a lot; (I don’t know why) he’s really very nice. Last week Wednesday, during night prep, Loretta made me kneel by her seat for “being rude”, her many friends kept butting in, even some foolish ones that I’ve barely ever said a word to

“This Lola girl again, she’s so rude”

“The other day she walked out on me”

And all that stupid talk, I knelt for over an hour, after which I was on the verge of tears. Loretta didn’t even glance at me, she left me there to rot until Otonye came in; he grabbed her pen smiled with the left side of his mouth (that was the most pleasant 30 seconds of my day).

“Loretta don’t you think she’s been here long enough”

The foolish Loretta smiled stupidly and said “You can go because of Otonye”

Otonye helped me up and made me promise to respect my seniors, his hands felt very warm. I think this is what love feels like.

It’s already lights out, I promise you details later.

Good night xx

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.