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.

Timeline of Separation

Shola is nothing like her mother, no sturdiness in her knees, light and frail you wonder what keeps her on the ground. There was something lost in conception as if her mother spilled more of her guts into the thick red blood on the theatre bed, something was washed away forever.

Shola doesn’t stand up for herself in primary 2, nothing like her mother who raised a child alone. Her mother who slapped her uncle when he gave thanks that it was not a male child, a daughter we can find a man but how can a man be raised without a father? Where does a man belong without a father?

Shola cries in the bathroom when she gets her first period, she can feel it coming out of her and only wants it to stop. She soaks in the tub for 2 hours while her mother holds the towel. Her mother who stands conflicted comes from the time when women were gutted, had the dirt peeled out from between their legs to keep them pure. She has to open her shop early in the morning, but her eleven-year-old won’t leave the tub and that night she lets Shola sleep in her bed, warm towel on her stomach and still shaking in her sleep.

When Shola turns 15, she buys lipstick with her pocket money and kisses the neighbor who is to resume at Unilag in September. He leads her upstairs to his tiny bedroom where the wardrobes are brown and ajar. Shola sits awkwardly on his bed and they make love, not because they trust each other but because it’s something for curious teenagers to do.

Shola returns home late, sore between her legs and eats nothing for dinner. Her mother does not notice or maybe she doesn’t want to, she finds the lipstick in Shola’s bag months later and throws it away without a word.

Mother and daughter grow and the secrets grow too. Shola doesn’t get out of bed for three days when the neighbor forgets to call, he didn’t need to say it, but she knew the thing they had was over. Shola stays in bed too long, says she’s tired all the time, but never leaves her room. A doctor says something about depression and her mother tries to discipline it away because that is the problem with her generation, terms and labels and evading hard work. Because she wants the best for her daughter in the age of bright screens and too little reality.

When Shola goes to university, she misses her mother, calls almost every day in her first year and this reduces as each year that passes till calls are only made from necessity. Her mother misses the scared eleven-year-old who slept in her bed, but Shola wants independence.

Shola is nothing like her mother but also returns with a heavy belly from her final year. The two women who are nothing alike from time to time catch traces of each other when they least expect it.