santiwrites

…building a new world with words

An Olosho’s Story

 

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No girl dream to spend her day hoping a man would ask for a round or two. At least, those of us in this upstair-building. We don’t want to be here; life put us here. Like me, I wanted to do doctor; that’s why I left home and come to Lagos. Home is Oyo. I have just finished in Ladigbolu Grammar school that time. My friend, Sakiru, told me that I have gain admission in Lagos State University to do medicine but that I’ll do Biochemistry first. Everyone in my house was happy for me because I tell them I am going to do medicine. My mother, the second wife of my father – she told everyone that Kaosarat have gain admission to do doctor.

 

In my first year that the school put out a list in the school bulletin. Everyone in the list was sent back home for entering the school with fake result. I am surprised that my name was on the list. At first, I blame my father’s other wives – they must have been unhappy that I am doing well while their own children are not.

 

So, I left school but I did not return home – I couldn’t; after Alhaja have told everyone that “Kaosarat is in Lagos, doing doctor.” I want to do things right, fix everything, so I keep trying. A job here, a job there; and I keep trying but Lagos is expensive and I only made little money. It’s at a warehouse on the wharf where I work as a receptionist that I met Stacy.

 

I use to complain about not having much so Stacy told me about the night work. I did not want to at first but when things became bad for me, then I decided to try. You see, Sakiru was the first guy I had sex with. That’s in Oyo. He promised me that if I let him sex me he will ensure my admission to do doctor. That’s why I let him do it. It’s a few months later that he call me and told me about my admission. Since then, I’ve not been with any man.

 

The house where the night business take place is an upstair with dirty walls. The rooms are tiny and you can almost touch the ceiling. It was in one of the tiny rooms that I spread my legs for someone I don’t know. He said his name was Shina. That’s all I know. He came to the house asking for “fresh”. I guess that’s why Stacy bring me to him. He smelled of sweat and gin, and one of his front teeth has broken. I was crying astagafrullah throughout.

 

When we are done and he left, I rushed into the bathroom and kept pouring water on my private part; I wanted to wash all of him away from me. I was doing that when I break down and cried. Abeni came to meet me in bathroom and told me everything would be fine. After that night, I moved into the upstair-building with them.

 

IT WAS ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON; that a middle-age man came up the stairs to meet us. He said his name is Dr. Patrick. He looked just like Abeni use to love her men – big bald head and big stomach.
“There’s a huge, exclusive social event going down next week and we need your services, ladies, and we are willing to pay you well for it – perhaps in hard currency,” he added. Stacy’s eyes widen.

 

Our ears stretched out wide like a DSTV dish when he mentioned ‘hard currency’. We looked on – the three of us. Abeni did not take her eyes off Dr. Patrick; she continued to adjust herself on the chair where she sat, closing her legs and spreading them like hand fan. Stacy light a cigarette stick that was in her mouth. When I asked: “How much?” Abeni looked at me with a strong face. I am quiet. When the man left, Stacy said to me: “Dollar nor be Naira, no ruin market for us abeg.”

 

 

WE’RE IN A LARGE ROOM at Peaches Hotel. That’s where he tell us that they will give us the money. The room was filled with ladies like me and Abeni and Stacy. Some, we have met in the course of business. We greeted the ones we knew and took our seats. A group of men walked in. Just behind us, a girl tell her friends: “That tall man – the one with thick afro – that’s Dr. Patrick.”

 

One of the girls listening said:
“That’s not Dr. Patrick. The one that told me about this event is a young man, with glasses and no afro.” Another girl spoke – “The Dr. Patrick that came to our side was an old man with hair covered in white.” There seemed to be too many Dr. Patrick. I began to wonder why. They need so many of us at the same time and that worried me. Stacy already warn me that in this our business, questions always spoil market. The less you know the better.

 

 

I DON’T REMEMBER how many of them now, they cannot be more than ten. They were wearing Polo shirts with a name on it, it is a difficult name. A young man put down a travelling bag beside an old man who stood in front of us while the other men sat in the empty seats scattered among us. The old greeted us and introduce himself. He’s also Dr. Patrick. I adjust myself in my seat, feeling a bit uncomfortable.

 

He told us why we have come. He say that they are all doctors and they recognize and appreciate our role in society. That, that is the reason that they’ve called us together. He said something about what we do and the risk of STDs and that they wanted to minimize that risk. We’ve all came for the dollars; we didn’t care for the speech. The girls are bored. A number of girls chew gums lousily and begin to pressed their phones. He said that they will give us a drug that will kill any sexual infection within twelve hours of sex. Including HIV.

 

He reach for a blue pack from the traveling bag and waved it gallantly in the air. He talked on and on. “Is this your party? Where de money, biko? You no fit keep us here when business dey hot outside.” That was Stacy; she just talked loud like that. The money was what mattered. Dr Patrick open the big bag and waved dollars in the air. We all fell silent. “You will get your money for coming tonight, just stay with us a little while longer.” Seeing the money calmed everyone. This isn’t a scam after all.

 

 

THE TALK LAST A LITTLE LONGER and in the end, the other men rise to their feet to joined the bald man at the front. They began to hand us a pack each of the pills. They give us the dollar notes – five pieces of twenty dollar bills. We’re suppose to the hospital once every month, for six months. And for that period, we expect you to not use any protection whenever we have sex. The man said that that is the only way we can be sure that it works. Quickly, I convert how much a hundred dollars is in naira; then I multiply it by six. The green notes began to do things to my head. I am not thinking clearly anymore by then.

 

I am uncomfortable; something didn’t feel right about the whole arrangement. There are questions in my mind but I cannot ask. Why meet us in the night and why a hotel? And why is it that all of them are Dr. Patrick? It all smelled of fish – fishy. Something felt unright about everything. And why do we have to report every month, sheybi they said the pills are safe? It did not make sense to me. I was confused, I needed the money but I didn’t want the drugs. So, I decided to keep reporting at the hospital but I don’t use the drugs.

Stacy and Abeni did.

 

 

THE NEXT MONTH, we return home with dollars again; we are excited. She put her hundred dollars in the middle of her bible. “No one fit steal am,” she says every time she put things in it. She said her grandma had given her the bible when she went to live with her after her parents died in a fire. The fire burn her left arm.
“Na only God-Pikin fit survive that kain fire,” she always said.

That’s how we gave her nickname: God-Pikin.

 

 

THREE MONTHS INTO the whole arrangement, we went to the hospital and the doctors did not show up. On our way going home, Abeni hiss and then – sigh. Back at home, Stacy fell right into her bed. She shouted –
“Na when you dey broke that the devil wants to joke with you.”
“Walahi, I don kree so tey I don dey hope for the money.” That’s Abeni.
I say nothing. No one says anything again. The disappointment is heavy, the silence is thick. I am choking of it. I left the house to make my hair before work start at sunset. The next month, we go to the hospital and the story was the same – the Dr. Patricks don’t show up.

 

 

A FEW DAYS AFTER the doctors stop showing up, I was standing on the corridor, observing the street when Abeni march out with her yam-legs, to meet me. She asked me, afraid: “You don change your last dollar?” I tell her that I haven’t yet. “Mercy just send me message say the dollar na fake o.” I remember Mercy, she’s part of us at Peaches that night – four months ago; one short, dark girl like that with a brown teeth. I was surprised but I try to stay cool. “Maybe na error. Maybe dem wan swindle am of the money,” I answered.

 

Stacy strolled in and join us on the corridor. “Wetin dey happen?” she ask. Abeni told her about the news of the fake dollar. “Why you go dey believe that kain girl. You no see as telling lie don brown her front teeth finish?” She opened her purse and flashed dirty naira notes before our eyes. “See am? I just change hundred dols; dey never reject am.” Abeni appeared calmed by the news but just for a while. More stories went round, the dollars are truly fake. We don’t know how Stacy changed hers. When we asked her again, she just smile and said: “I be God-Pikin.”

 

 

THREE WEEKS AFTER the fake dollars, Stacy was down with fever. After she took agbo and she was still feverish, she got Coartem. The fever disappeared for a few days. By a week, she was down again – running temperature, headaches and she loss her appetite. Then, she began to vomit. Hospital will take all the money we have work for so we sick, we don’t go to the hospital. But when Stacy’s condition don’t get better, she went to the hospital.

 

Stacy returned to the hospital three days after her first visit. She had lost weight; and the bones around her shoulders are showing. When she came back, she did not say a word. She stretch out herself on the bed and slept. In the pocket of her jeans trouser there was a yellow piece of paper. I slowly pull it out and straightened it. It’s the result of HIV test. Stacy is positive. Oh my God! I folded the paper and put it back into her pocket. God-Pikin doesn’t cry, she hasn’t cried since the fire. That evening, as we prepare for the day’s business, Stacy cried.
Abeni wondered why.

I know why.

 

 

IT’S A YEAR SINCE THEN. It is difficult for Stacy to get ARVs. When she has ordinary malaria or even a common cold, it is scary. Abeni, still complains about the fake dollar and everything. She has six sinblings back in Ire. They are the reason why she come to Lagos once she finished her secondary education in a public school with a name that I haven’t heard before.

 

When the light go out and the heat inside the house chase us out to the corridor, Abeni laments – “I tell my father I’m working in a factory while running a part time program in Lagos State Polytechnic; he don’t know that I am sleeping around with man.” In those moments, I will try not to think of myself – how I ended up in the upstair-building. “I wonder if it worth it leaving Ire to come to this Lagos sef,” Abeni always concludes with deep sighs.

 

“I do the trial for my biz idea,” she said one afternoon as we sat to eat noodles. She says she’s hoping to start out a business if she got the whole six hundred dollars. “I think that with the six hundred dollars, I can begin my business – be selling cream and beauty products.” She adjusted the strap of her bra, “I just sad that I’m in this Lagos and I’m not making the money I think I will make when I leave home many years ago.” Her words are sad, I feel for her.

 

These days, Stacy – her words – they have become fewer and fewer.

I guess that’s how people die: their words fade till no word is spoke again

…and everything falls silent.

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A Sick Story of Shame

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A wave of urbanization had hit the area and had left it unrecognizable so that when I returned, four years after my last visit, I didn’t recognize anywhere anymore. The roads that led to the house had been laid with asphalt; new buildings – multiple floors with red zinc roofs – had replaced the old bungalow structures that once lined the road. These new houses had ornamental security lamps installed on their fences and a few had barb wires that crawled on their fences.

 

The rains began to sprinkle just as the cab pulled up in front of the house I had pointed out as my destination. The house used to be a bungalow with a rusty red gate but I was standing in front of a bungalow with a huge black gate and a fence with a mural of the Risen Christ mounted on it. The only way I was sure it was the house was the name carved underneath the mural – “Prayer Villa”. I paid the cab man and I got out of the car with my suitcase in my hand. The driver drove away, I waited with my suitcase, in front of the house. Doors opened from somewhere within the house, someone was coming for the gate, bouncing. I was thinking about mother, about the shock on her face when she opened the gate and saw me. No one was expecting me. The gate opened. It was Mother’s face but it wasn’t Mother.

 

 

The girl was almost as tall as I was but a lot younger than me. She beamed with smiles like I had saved her in a former life.

“Welcome home, big brother!” she said gaily.

“Big Brother?”

She looked like Mother – what she looked like in those old, black and white pictures. Thick, black hair neatly woven into thin cornrows. Cheeks that widened out when she smiled.

Her breasts bounced underneath the blue tank-top she wore; like they too were excited that I was home.

“What’s your name?”

“Olaitan,” she answered, tittering.

Mother mentioned her a few times during our telephone conversations and that was it. She was Mother’s secret, the same one that set the family down the path of divorce.

 

 

I stepped into the main house and everywhere was quiet. Like it had been deserted. The only sign of life in the house was a transistor radio that was set on one of the two single couches in the parlor. My eyes darted back and forth the walls of the room, scanning the several framed pictures of everyone that had been hung on the wall; before I travelled, these walls were bare. Olaitan returned with a bottle of chilled water (which I had requested for as I entered the house).

I took a gulp.

“Where is everyone?” I asked.

“Aunty Wunmi is in her room sleeping,”

“Mother?” I probed.

“Mom is busy…. praying.”

I looked at the clock on the wall, a big circular thing with a silver casing.

“Since when?”

“She has been praying since three.”

I looked at the time again. It was 6:43pm.

It was odd; everything – the girl with Mother’s face, the subduing silence of the house, Mother’s long hours of prayer, everything.

 

 

Wunmi emerged from one of the rooms a few minutes later. She dragged her feet into the living room, rubbing her eyes as she did.

“So you are back,” she said and yawned right after. No shock in her eyes, no excitement. Nothing in her countenance. I smiled. Wunmi was my blood sister, older than me by three years. I wanted to give her a hug and tell her how much I had missed her but I quickly cautioned myself. The last time I tried to hug her, she had wrested herself off my arms that tried to envelope her in an embrace. “Stop jor. All these skin touching; I’ll pass.”

I remained in my seat and smiled at her, holding her hand and examining her like a dress mounted on a mannequin.

 

She settled into the seat next to me on the couch and said: “I heard about everything.” I shrugged and smiled, unsure what really “everything” was. A few minutes passed between us and we ran out of things to say. Olaitan entered the sitting room just as Wunmi rose to return to her room. The girl’s gaze drilled into my chest, I thought I felt a pain in there. Then she said:

“Mom talked about it, I’m sorry. The engagement.”

Enough of the talk lace with pity. I had just returned from a very long trip; I just wanted to sleep.

 

 

Mother came in, waltzing over to consume me in her embrace. She looked older than she did four years when I last saw her.

“See how big my baby has grown,” she said with delight in her eyes.

I set aside the pain that grilled me from the inside and put up a grin. She held me in her arms for a minute or two then she eventually let go of me. She began to pray:

“It is well with you, my son. God will vindicate you. He will replace everything the devil has taken from you…He will restore unto you the years the cankerworm and the caterpillar have destroyed…”

I got bored of it.

 

You see, Mom did not used to be this church-church person. Whatever happened while I was away, I wasn’t sure I liked what she had become. The prayer was one that took forever, and she said prayers like she was knitting an item and mixing lint of wool. She would start out with a line and knit it with a bible verse till she was done.

“In Jesus’ matchless name we have prayed.”

I managed to wring out an “Amen!”

Olaitan carried in a tray filled with a plate of rice and chicken. I took a few spoons and then asked Mother to excuse me. I was too fagged out for any meal; all I wanted was my bed.

I rose, walking towards the direction of my room. Before I could open it, it gave way from inside. It was Wunmi. She stepped out of the room, standing almost right in my face. “This is not your room anymore,” she announced grimly. The look in her eyes seemed to say “you are intruding into my privacy”.

“Oh.” That was all I could mutter.

“We cleared up the next room for you.”

Her words were full of indignation; like I was unwelcomed.

 

 

My new room used to be Wunmi’s room. In it, there was a shelf with books neatly arranged in it. There was a reading table, a chair, a carton of books and a reading lamp. A book was wide opened on the table like it was still being read. A half-burnt candlestick in a candle-holder sat right next to the book. I dropped the suitcase and lifted the book. “Essentials of Geography” – a textbook. I dropped it. The bed in the room was a small one. I tried to fit in into the bed but it couldn’t contain me.

“This must be a joke!” I said almost audibly enough as I set my suitcase again the cartons of books. I sank into the bed; it felt like I laid on concrete floor.

This must be punishment…for Australia, I thought.

 

 

That night was long. My thoughts did not stay in my head as I had arranged them; they had become very riotous. I tried to deal with them one at a time but they seemed to spiral quickly out of control than I could deal with them. The door opened. It was Olaitan. There was something disconcerting about how she cocked her head, hurried across the floor towards the reading table and clearing it out, making no sound. She shut the door and I was left alone again. I was wedged in between memories of a horrid past and the discomfort of estrangement. It was hard to be betrayed by a lover and then be unwelcomed even in one’s father’s house. The clock that hung on the wall; it had no tick-tock sound.

 

My throat was parched, I wanted water to wash away my discomfort and paranoia. At last, I reached for the sleep charm in an orange bottle. It had always ferried me to sleep these past days – tablet of Lexotan. I plugged my ears and let Enya’s “May It Be” play from my iPod on repeat. The next consciousness I had was a tick-tock. The clock on the wall. It was 7:43am. Was I in a dream, no? I wasn’t dreaming, I was awake and alive! Sitting beside me, on my bed, was Olaitan.

 

“Uncle Yele, I am leaving for school.” I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and looked at her eyes: bright, sparkling, alive. I wondered if I was every radiant like that whenever I was going to school. I sat up straight. I tried not to talk – I had an awareness of my bad breath. “Mummy has gone to church for early morning prayers, but you won’t be alone. There is a voice in this house; it speaks. Mummy says it is God’s guidance; just listen,” she said. She made it out of the room quickly like we were playing Hide-and-Seek and she needed to be unseen.

 

 

With Olaitan out of the house, the gloom which had mushroomed over the house found its way into me. Edgy, I heard a voice. A slow growl like a rumble down a tunnel. It was subtle yet gripping. “Is that the Lord?” I thought. The Prayer Villa, the house of the Risen Lord, the house with the voice that guides. But I heard a still small voice and it wasn’t the Lord nor was it the voice of reason. It was Lanre’s – his soft voice, and his fragile footfall echoed through the house. I lived the next days in the consciousness that, somewhere in the house, there was the Lord. It was creepy. The voice of the Lord, the footfall of the dead. If this was the Lord, then I didn’t like the Lord.

 

 

“You need the Lord Jesus,” Mother said to me, one evening as we sat in the living room.

“Uhm, hmm.”

That was the only reply I could make. Mother carried on.

“After everything that went on with your father and I; the divorce, I mean.” I nodded. “And after Lanre, was convicted and hung, I was in a very dark place. But the Lord found me. His light reached me in the dark and saved me from myself.” The air that encircled us was muggy and it made it a little too difficult to breathe. “You’re in a very dark place, my boy. Open up your heart and let God in.” I didn’t say a word for a few minutes.

“The Lord found you, Mom; He hasn’t found me yet. When he does…maybe.”

 

Now I understood it. The Prayer Villa, the Risen Christ. They were the attempts to recreate herself after Father found out about Olaitan – the girl she had for another man while she was away in the U.S. doing her MBA and which eventually had wrought the divorce. Her religious profession was something ornamental – made of long hours of prayers, christianese salutations and frequenting the church for every service that there was.

 

They were the schemes to redeem her image as a failed mother after Lanre, my big brother, pleaded guilty to the murder of six mates in his school in a cult clash. After she had gone wild, explored her curiousities and had satisfied them, her past ate her up inside, and then God found her. Just like that. It was the reason for the long prayers and the religious façade that had mushroomed over the house that had completely crumbled within and so nothing would stick.

 

Maybe I was in lost, maybe it was dark all around me, but I wasn’t going to wrap myself in any fanciful religious apparel. I wasn’t going to pretend that home was home; a haven. Home had become a house filled with people I didn’t understand anymore; except a stranger.

 

 

I had spent a week in the house – I had lived through through the discombobulation, mother’s religious rituals, and Wunmi’s blank stares when she wasn’t locking herself up in her room. But I found light, and it was nothing supernatural. It was in the eyes of a girl, Olaitan. We would sit down in the sitting room in the evenings while mother was away at bible study and while my sister had locked every one out of her safe space. Olaitan, she had the curiousity of a desperate lawyer. She asked about everything. About Australia, about my fiancée, about why I came back after four years with just a suitcase. She was asking things that I was unsure if the truth would be the right answer. For starters, my return had nothing to do with everything she had thought it was.

 

How do you explain to a fifteen year old, in whose eyes you see light, in whose every muscle twitch, you draw your fascination, that you never had a job the whole time and that you’re fiancée had been your sustenance the whole time? How upstanding will I look, how much of pity will I evoke if I told her that I had been snitched upon and that the cops had found wraps of cocaine on me, hence, my deportation? For the sake of self-preservation, I kept mute. Many evenings passed that way between us.

 

Sometimes, she told me about her friends in school; about Chuks, the one who always left notes, neatly folded in her locker telling her how he could not sleep for many nights because he was always thinking of her. He had a terrible handwriting but I guess that’s pardonable. Love isn’t in handwriting but the words. She was not sure if she loved him; she was not sure of anything. The innocence of early pubescence.

 

 

One evening, she looked all over the house and found me in my room, packing the few things I had into the suitcase.

“Are you leaving us already, big brother?” the shock in her eyes was unconcealed. I smiled and sat on my bed.

“Just for a while,” I answered

“How long is a while? When will you return to see us again?”

“I don’t know,” I told her.

She sunk her head and grab her chest like something was about to fall out it. Crestfallen.

“Come on here,” I said to her after a few seconds.

She walked slowly into my embrace.

 

What started out as a simple hug to pet proceeded to be a protracted one and when all of the lights went out, our lips were locked in each other’s. I do not know how long it lasted. The door creaked and creaked again. I let go and there was a face in the door, Wunmi. Her face was frozen, the stares in her eyes spewed shock. Olaitan stood there, transfixed, trembling. Her skin, cold.

“When Tinuke told me, I didn’t believe,” Wunmi began. “I told her I believed the drugs but that you would never degenerate to the point of sleeping with underaged girls. I refused to believe her. I fought her for it. Then you come home and I find out that it’s true. You’re sick, Yele.”

Olaitan looked at me, the kind of look that said: “what is she talking about?”

I didn’t say a word.

“You,” she turned to the girl, “Get out of here now, you fool!”

Fidgety, she skedaddled out of the room.

 

Then it fell all so quiet. Sydney had found me in Lagos and once again, I was ashamed.

On The Ride Back Home

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Journal Entry

April 9, 2014.

 

It is Mahmud’s idea that we stop at this canteen before heading to Sabon Gari market, just a few buildings away from here. He has lived here all his life and he is my guide in this mission, he knows this terrain, like he owns it. “Once the Zuhr prayer is over, we can get the meal you’ve been talking about all morning.” I agree and wait for him. He is my guide on this mission. It is while I wait for him in the canteen, that I hear a big boom – the vibrations make one of the canteen windows fall and shatter to the ground.

 

Noise flows from all around, people are running away from a thick black smoke rising into the air and spewing all sorts. We all rush out to see what’s just happened. The thick black smoke gets thicker and blacker. It’s another bomb blast. I am rushing towards the rising flame, inhaling the pungent smell of tyres and charring bodies, when I hear gunshots fired. I duck behind a grey Honda Accord whose wind-shield has been totaled by the impact of the blast. The shooting; it goes on for almost ten minutes before two men on a bike zoom past, firing into the air sporadically. “Allahu Akbar!” they scream. This is why I came here, the bombs.

 

I have come hundreds of miles, away from comfort, to write about the spate of bombings in North East Nigeria. “Damaturu is less volatile, unlike Maiduguri,” my boss had said when she approved my pitch to do the story. A bomb went off a week before I arrived and today, this. Chaos distills into distinct sounds, each piercing the ears. I am choked by the smell of everything, a smell with no adjective for it. I rise to my feet, coughing and disoriented. I trudge towards the Sabon Gari market still. The Red Cross and the soldiers are first to respond. They labour under the scorching heat of this muggy April afternoon, attending to the injured: mounting them into the available ambulances and shoveling dismembered bodies of those who bore the greatest impact of the blast.

 

I watch as legs, arms, and other unidentifiable parts are shoveled with the earth and wrapped in black plastic bags. The smoke has begun to settle and light pours into the area. “Don’t forget this one,” one of the soldiers, pointing at a body ripped into two, intestines like long cords of analogue telephone wires spill out. Little dignity comes with these kind of deaths. No man should ever die this way. Die, by all and any other means, but not by the bomb. On the internet, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attack. Shekau, their leader, has a gun slung across his chest and he wears a smirk accomplishment like a makeup.

 

  • Journal Entry

April 10, 2014

 

It is the next day after the blast. Mahmud and I are here, at the ruins of the Sabon Gari market, to reconstruct the scene of the explosion. Because there are no black and yellow tapes to cordon off the area, we have access to the scene; it does not appear like much is being done there anymore. No one seems to be sure the sequence of events. The ones who know how it all went done had ended up, minced, by the blast. Or, perhaps, no one wants to talk.

 

We sit on one of the heaps of rubbles; the blood from the previous day has caked and has formed patches on the ground. “Are you from here,” one man asks me. I shake my head, “this is our loss, not yours, don’t claim it,” he chided and walks off, leaning heavily on his walking stick as he does. On the raised pavement of a house with a roof that has caved in, a lean man old man with a long neck and wrinkled face, a thick white beard that bristles as the wind brushes his face, sits alone singing: “you taught me to love but you did not teach me how to live on without you around.” Devastation fills the sonority of his voice, the dirge rips my chest open and leaves my heart bare, pumping blood into all the wrong places.

 

A young man appears from around the corner: “he will not stop crying,” he says to us, “he lost her to the blast. Not this one, the one from last week.” I am unsure what to say next. Mahmud is silent too. Then as he walks past us, the young man says: “Fear has taken over our joy, we don’t sing anymore. The moment we’re in might just be our last. We live like that every day.”

 


Bimpe did not approve of this trip. “You can’t do that, David; not when it’s five weeks to our wedding. Abeg don’t joke with me over this matter,” she had said and had stormed out of the sitting room into the kitchen. I followed her into the kitchen where she was washing already clean plates in soapy lather. I put one arm on her shoulder, the other around her waist. “This Boko Haram story might be it, honey; just one hit story that will change our entire lives – I will get more than a raise in my salary – the awards will roll in too. We can live the lives we’ve always dreamed of. She nodded.

 

Two weeks after, I am here in Damaturu.

Bimpe is unsettled, she has been restless since I came. She calls almost every hour. She has called me four times this evening, I am too numbed, too jarred to pick. Something foul about everything around here. Death follows you everywhere you turn. Even in your hotel room. I am staring at my iPad, reading her message. “M worried. Pls pick my calls.”

 

Post Script

 

It was the Monday, the 14th and he had remembered every word Mahmud had told him while they waited for the bus going to Abuja to get filled. “You need to get to Nyanya very early, Mr. David. The cars get filled very quickly and they set out very early,” Mahmud had said, keenly. At Abuja, David had passed the night at a small guest house. He had woken up very early, sent a few mails and, in the frailness of the dawn, he had made it to Nyanya in a chartered cab. The noise of drivers calling out to prospective passengers as they filed into park greeted him.

It did not feel like 5:13am, instead, it felt like it rush hour. A man stood by an army green Toyota Sienna calling: “Lagos by car; two more chance-Lagos!” A woman, in a floral patterned red and orange wrapper and a white George was directly behind the driver’s seat. Her hair was wound in a black scarf and around her neck was a white-beaded rosary. In front, next to the driver was a young man in a white and green tee shirt branded “NYSC” in green; his fingers tapped nervously at the screen of his Techno tab. The third passenger was a man in a stripped, long-sleeved shirt, he sat in the left back corner of the last seat. He leaned his head against the window, his hair was wavy like noodles left to simmer in one piece, unbroken. David, was the fourth passenger.

 

As the day began to get clearer, more activities happened upon the park – a man selling recharge cards from a purse strapped around his waist screamed at the top of his lungs to customers, those who sold Gala and other brands of beef sausage strolled by. A lady carrying a big box came over to the entrance of car, her eyes spoke of her skepticism about boarding the car. At last, she took her seat near the window. Few minutes after, someone else came by the car, stuttering as he made his enquiries. David, who had begun to type an email on his iPad, raised his head to see the stutterer.

 

He was a man of average height, narrow eyes like he was still half-asleep and he had a dark patch on one of his cheeks. He smiled a lot but he appeared confused; one minute he talked about Lagos, the next he talked of Ilorin. In his hand, he carried a black duffel bag. The man calling passengers into the Sienna pointed to an ash-coloured Camry, a few vehicles away, next to a tree where a group of men gathered, drinking shots of gin and laughing at one another. David shut his iPad to read the message that had just come in from Bimpe. It read: “Hv a safe trip home, love you.

It remained one more passenger for the Sienna to get filled. “Good morning, brothers and sisters, mummies and daddies…” it was a man in a faded, oversized jacket and a shirt that had dirtied around the collar. He carried a big black leather bible and a polythene bag. “I have brought you the word of the Lord. As you journey this morning, the Lord himself shall be your shield, every blood sucking demon waiting on the way to suck your blood and make your family cry endless over you, shall be silenced in Jesus name!” A few voices chorused “Amen!”

 

“You can give whatever the Lord lays upon your heart to give. Nothing is too small to support the work of the ministry,” he said as he handed tracts to people in the car. The driver began to collect the fares too. But the evangelist was wrong, the blood-sucking demons were not somewhere along the road waiting in ambush for them to drive past. They were a few vehicles away, zipped in a duffel bag, set against the ash Camry loading up passengers going to Ilorin. It all happened so fast. An explosion erupted and everything in the park went up in flames. Almost a hundred lives were lost at Nyanya, that morning. David was one of them.

‘Denike

bigstockphoto_african_american_couple_celebr_5750720-resized-600Ok guys, I first wrote this in 2014 and then I read the story again last month and I saw ways I could have written it. So, I rewrote the first part and inserted a link to the 2014 version. This is just to celebrate and embrace my own growth. I hope you enjoy it.

‘Denike and I were on two sides of an argument that had sprung up on a mutual friend’s Facebook wall. She was fierce and feisty. She came across like she was always short on patience and had a compulsive disorder. “What is always wrong with you men – you always think the kitchen is where we are supposed to end our lives or why else will a man who has been at home all day expect a woman to close from work and still come home to cook for him?” I replied, “And why didn’t she put something in the freezer before leaving for work – freezers and microwaves have saved marriages – except if you don’t care about your marriage would you not use these,” She called me a braggart while I called her a twat”. I deleted the comment from the thread a few seconds after I had posted it and proceeded to her inbox to apologize – I did for almost a million times that evening. When she replied at last, “apology accepted,” I sent her a friend request.

 

Getting along with Denike was easy, we chatted almost every day talking about things -from the mundane to the serious. On everything we talked about, we differed. “Rock music is for retards with hollowed voice boxes. That noise is one thing I won’t be caught dead listening to,” she had said when I told her that Rock music was my favourite. The resentment was fervid. She recommended classical music instead, “that’s music – Bach, Mozart and Tchaikovsky – sounds for the matured and the cerebrals.” Love crept in on us while we argued and pulled down the house. Our differences fanned our love into a glow. The first weeks breezed past us, unaccounted for. Many months gathered dusts in our memories as they led up to years of loving that were defined by long intellectual debates and erotic weekend visits.

“Vicky is getting married in October,” she said to me as she curled and put her head in my chest, me stroking her face. “This is my fifth wedding this year,” she added. I was not sure what she was driving at. “Remember Dr. Ojuolape – my aunty-” I nodded. “She says advanced research has shown that one of three prima gravida after the age of twenty five leads to a caesarian section.” She became obsessed with statistics that proved that a woman’s reproductive system has a shorter lifespan than the man’s. Talks of music, literartire and American ceased to be enough. One hot Sunday afternoon, she asked – “What is going to become of us? Where is this relationship headed?” Her questions are laced with fear and doubts. “Denike. I hope to marry you someday (soon). That has always been the plan now, abi?” she said nothing. “I just need that huge break – a publishing deal for my manuscript. That’s all.”

 

She said an “Ok” – it had no life in it, it was a word without weight or significance. Then, she began to despair. Her despair took its toll on me – I began to live in the consciousness of the rejection that the world threw my way and our love story began to go sour. We stopped talking about literature or music or America. We talked about what we felt for each other, that made her happy and that was why I indulged her. From then onwards, the things I could not afford began to define the parameters with which we assessed love – bigger apartment, posh cars, exotic getaways, expensive meals in overrated kitchens, etc. “we need money, love, at least we deserve little luxuries. I was bent over my laptop – my fingers typing as fast as it could, not wanting to be disturbed. One night, she told me our love was shaming – she explained that the greatest needs were the ones I could not meet.

 

 

One evening, we – Denike and I – sat by the window and watched the sun set in the cloud ripening with darkness. She sipped on the glass of lemonade in her left hand while she ran her well manicured right hand along my temples. They flitted from my right chest to the left; it felt like she was playing the keyboard distractedly. She curled around me and again recoiled. Something was on her mind – something she could not easily say. I looked on, soaking in the breeze. I had received a mail that day and I was eager to tell her about it but, also, I was patient.

 

Finally, she found her voice. Her words were carefully picked – like shard of broken glass that could break if she said them brashly or too quickly. “You’ve been a good man, Dele, and you have a good heart. I hope you don’t take this too seriously more than you should but the truth must be told.” I asked – “what truth?” She got into bed and propped her head on her hand elbowed on the bed, looking at me with a soft gaze, “We – this whole relationship thing – are a locomotive beautiful on the outside but running on a rusty engine that is about to come apart. She called us a partnership that was barely keeping up – that we had always being a disaster waiting to happen.

 

She talked about how difficult it had been to bring herself to say those words and how her frail heart couldn’t bear it to see me fall apart if I did not take the break-up well. “It’s fine, Denike. Happiness is all that matters – these things happen.” We were silent for a few minutes –
“Keep keeping, Dele. I’m sure you’d come out big on it.”
“And what is “it”?” I asked.
“What you do – writing,” she said darkly, “I can’t wait for that big thing to come.”
I wanted to tell her that the big thing had come in a mail earlier that day. But the wait had overstretched her and worn her thin like little butter over too much bread. I watched her tuck herself into bed and that was it. The new day broke and Denike ceased to be my lover.

Read the rest here

http://sankofamag.com/denike/

Small Hearts & Blossoming Flowers

photo credits: http://s5.favim.com

photo credits: http://s5.favim.com

 

Something stood by the hedge of flowers.

He could not make out what it was because the evening had ripened too quickly and there was a thunderstorm. With an umbrella that got upturned once he stepped into the gusty, howling winds, he walked through the pool of water that had gathered. He came close enough to see; it was a girl standing by the hedge of flowers, drenched. “What are you doing out, by yourself, in this storm?” he asked. She said nothing, her jaws grinding on nothing. “You can come in and stay till the rain is over,” he offered. She followed him, one of his arms around her and the other holding the totaled umbrella. They made their way quickly past an arch made out with crimson petals and arrived at a small house built of red bricks and covered with corrugated roof.

 

In the small room where she had been made to sit, a candle light burned on a stool beside her, she kept warm. The chair she sat in was woven out of cane and the coffee table too. Hand drawn pictures of popular nationalists hung on the wall. He had a tray with two mugs in his hands when he returned. He set it on the coffee table and sat in the chair next to her. “I am Audu,” he said, smiling as he offered her a cup. He was burly, good-looking, clean shaven and with a big flat nose. He smelled of old clothes stored in camphor. The girl oddly looked at him; her hands still trembling as she lifted the tea from the tray. He reached for the other cup and stirred the content. She took a few sips and answered, “I am Tunrayo.”

 

“What were you doing all by yourself in this inclement weather?” The girl hesitated, “it began to rain and I had nowhere to hide.” Audu got them started on a conversation, “Your parents must be worried about you; you’ve been out for so long now.” She said nothing. They resumed talking about the things that didn’t have heavy weights tied to them, little talks that made people giggle foolishly but meant nothing. Those kind of talks – she thrived in them. He was serious, he was about ideas, facts, and philosophy. He lived for the serious talks. So, it was only a matter of time that they did not have anything left to talk about. In silence, they stared into the darkness of the ripened night, then unexpectedly, her words stood out like a dot of light, “the street, when friendly, is home.” The downpour did not cease until midnight and before he was awake, she was gone.

 

She came by the garden every day, to thank him for the other day. On these visits, she always lingered around and watched him move from one part of the garden to the other, pruning the flowers. His meticulousness and dedication to them enthralled her. She wondered how such a man who paid so much attention to flowers would treat a woman. But she reminded herself that was not a woman, nor was she as precious as the flowers with the crimson petals. Whenever he was busy and there were orders for flowers, she made herself useful, she took the orders. Audu, despite his serious looks and weighty talks, made her laugh like she had never done since the fire that left her an orphan when she was seven years. She came to the garden just not for gratitude, she came to have a good laugh that his company offered too. And even though she found him attractive, she did not let him know because she did not know how to. Every day, as she came to the garden, her love for him grew strong till it became an incurable disease.

 

He liked it when she was there. He loved that she stepped in to fill a void anytime there was one in the garden – from taking down orders and sometimes, delivering the flowers. “Can you show me how you prune these flowers into these shapes?” she asked one afternoon as they sat under a big umbrella spread open in the middle of the garden. He chuckled, partly out of surprise. “It is a thing of the soul, the shapes come forth as my soul connect with theirs.” She nodded like she understood everything he had said but, really, she didn’t. It was the kind of heavy talks she always hated. “Open up your soul to all forms and shapes, and let the image guide you as you shear the flowers into those forms,” he explained, excitedly. But her soul did not see shapes, it only saw raging fires, it saw him too, but he was too big and too complex to be made out of flowers. On her first attempt, the flowers turned out shapeless.

 

Because he loved her, he could not tell her that the failed attempts were his losses. That the flowers had cost so much. She too became ashamed of herself, of the shapes she made of the flowers – how she turned beauty into ugly, shapeless forms. Then she stopped trying when he was around. She would sit in a corner, a pruning scissors in her hand. Sometimes, tears will stream down her face. One day, Audu had just returned from delivering some seeds to a family who needed them and found the shape of heart, made from crimson petals, leaning against the door into his home. It was not the perfect shape but it was not a mess either. He looked for her everywhere in the garden but she was gone.

 

A few weeks after, he found her at the market. She smiled at him. “You left without saying goodbye,” Audu said, his words stitched together by his hurt. “I was your loss. I was not one of your precious flowers yet, I ruined the precious things so I left,” she answered. He shook his head in disagreement, “can you come home with me and we’d have a talk about these. Here, this market,” he cast a furtive look to the left and right, “is no place for these kind of talks.” Back in the house behind the garden, he said to her, “You’re not my loss and you’re not a flower because you’re more than a garden of flowers. Tunrayo, choose your home, make it here.” She blinked a few times and said nothing. “It hurt to be away from all these,” she replied, waving her hand around the room. “Then stay,” he nudged, “stay.”

She smiled.

 

That night, on the floor of the garden, they made a carpet of crimson petals and laid on their backs, watching as the moon brightened the dark, insipid sky, slowly filling it with light till it breathed, and came alive. They said nothing, they just looked on, holding each other’s hands. But they knew they wanted more, she wanted him to fill her with life so that she could glow, like moon. Like he had read her mind, he lifted her over to himself and kissed her. He lifted her skirt and unfastened the zip from behind. She had looked forward to that day and it was unbelievable that that day had met her in a garden, and not under a bridge; surrounded by flowers and not filth. She had heard that the first time was always painful and so she had rehearsed how to be strong and not cry. That night, nothing prepared her for the pain she felt and as he tore through her, she screamed.

 

He petted her and told her that the pain would thin away. “Oh, he knows about the pain,” she thought to herself. She tried to smile, he smiled back. A few hours passed and they did it, again. She received him with pleasurable moans, her fingers restless, looking for something to grab as they meshed together into one. She loved him and she was unashamed. That was what love had turned them into – two small hearts in a garden of blossoming flowers. naked. Then, in his thick arms, she slept.

 

The warm pour of sunshine on her face woke her up. She was not on a garden floor, the sunshine was measure, contained. She remembered being on a garden floor and not a bed, the previous night. She saw the window, she recognized the walls, she sat up, cleared her eyes and tiptoed to the window. Then she saw his back and the big round hat made out of raffia which he always wore. He was watering the flowers, she smiled. “Flowers need love,” he had once told her. She needed love too, and she was being loved. Watching him, knowing she would never have to leave again was love.

Transference

Photo credit: New York Times

Photo credit: New York Times

October 2013.

Ibadan, Nigeria

When the plane took off at J.F. Kennedy, Bade did not realize that he was traveling to meet his end that waited for him in an asylum. All he knew was that he was obeying the voice in his head that had told him to pack his things and leave America and head to Nigeria on a one way ticket. He had fought the voice off for a while but when, after the things that had befallen him he realized he could not win the war with the voice, he had acceded. He did not know how the voice had stuck in his head but he remembered the night when he first heard the voice. It was not always a voice from the start; it was a creature – Anjannu. It appeared once and stuck afterwards in his head as a voice till he returned to Nigeria.

 

He had come to find himself, the him that had got lost in a shooting at Sycamore. Even though he had family – uncles, aunties and cousins – in Nigeria, they had become estranged and quite frankly, he did not care how they’d feel if they found out that he had returned to the country. His family members – uncles, aunties, cousins – no one knew that he had returned to Nigeria. He had not been in touch with them since his father passed on; and quite frankly, he did not care how his unannounced return to the country would make them feel. He remembered well the ones from his father’s line – a bunch of poverty-stricken, lazy men who had, when his father died, sat over a meeting where they administered his estate and they made sure that Bade did not inherit anything.

 

When Aunty Sade, his maternal aunt, approached them after the clans meeting, their response was a jab: “Iheama is our soon, howbeit, a prodigal son. But him,” he pointed his trembling finger at Bade, “we do not know him,” the Nna had said unapologetically. Another picked up from where the Nna had stopped, “see the boy; to us, he’s a bastard,” Iheama’s eldest brother spat out. It was at the funeral that it was revealed that he had kept on a relationship with a woman, Nkechi. The affair was never formalized but it had lasted almost a decade and had produced two boys. To the family, Nkechi’s sons were the heirs to the wealth, not Bade.

 

Iheama had, at the time, traveled to England to bag an MBA from the London School of Economics; it was in London that he met Sola, and what followed was a wild love, unapproved by his family. They had got married in a chapel in London but when Iheama returned home, he had come home with a son and no woman, for Sola had died a few weeks after she had Bade. “Of course, you can have the boldness to come here and negotiate wealth distribution, but was it not your twin sister that used ogwu ifunaya on our son and made him leave the girl he was originally affianced to? There’s nothing for you nor the boy here, we do not know him, ogwugwu uka.” Aunty Sade feel uncomfortable but much more, incensed as the old, poor, illiterate men spoke foul and spited the dead. It was certain nothing will come out of the meeting, the hate was strong and visible and fierce.

 

However, there was one thing they could not take away from Bade, an old house somewhere in a GRA in Ibadan that his father had purchased in Bade’s name. The house in Ibadan was thickly covered with overgrown grass, Bade made his way through the grass, juggling the keys in his hands. The door had to be broken down; this was easy because the hinges had grown rusty. The windows were stiff so that no matter how much he oiled them, they wouldn’t open. Thick cobwebs spun all over the corners, and the wooden furniture had been reduced to bits by termites. On the upper floor of the building was a verandah that opened to narrow road that ran in front of the house and led to nowhere. Bade passed the night in a guest house he had found in the GRA.

 

The next morning, he approached an old woman cleaning the car-park of the hotel if she could come by the house and clean up the house. She agreed, naming an exorbitant price as she flashed her brown teeth, and even though bade knew that he was being extorted, he did not seem to mind. She came by the house with a young man, her son; he spent the whole day cutting the grass and the old woman returned to clean the house. That house would be his home for the length of his stay in Nigeria. For the fear of spaces that he had failed to conquer, after the things that had happened to him in America, Bade moved into the boy’s quarter, where he lived quietly under the throes of disillusionment and unforgiving memories. The memories tortured him, and made him unstable in the head. Everything was fine in Bade’s life until that evening in a bar down in Queens.

 

June 21, 2011.

Sycamore Bar, Queens, New York

 

Bade was sipping on his second bottle of beer when a man took the seat right next to him, ordered a bottle of beer and turned to introduced himself – “I am Levi.” Bade had never been big in conversations and he certainly was wary of strangers who popped out of the blues and tried to show familiarity. He said nothing, instead he flashed a smile. Levi went straight into the heart of a conversation, talking about boring Jewish festivals: “long, boring ceremonies where we all gather at the synagogue and pretend like Yahweh matters that much than our business ventures,” he had said, laughing in between. Levi, after guzzling some more beer, got out of his seat and headed towards the gent.

 

A bald African-American man, quick in his pace from the door, filled the stool that Levi had vacated. He was dressed like one of those Wall Street people – longsleeve shirt, black pants and a loosened jacket. His eyes glistened with fear and he panted hard, looking over his shoulders every time. Bade looked at him, and began to feel uneasy. The man buried his face in his palms and then looked back at his neighbor in the next stool. “They come to take me home,” he muttered nervously. Bade could tell from his accent that he was an immigrant, perhaps Nigerian. “You know when people – evul peepu – from your hometown no like you because they know you in Amerika and they are calling your head?”

 

His eyes were focused on Bade, like he was delivering an important message, “they are calling my head, to come back home.” He sounded confident and yet confused at the same time. Bade pitied him but nothing he had said made sense to him. Then, Levi returned and ordered the usurper to “piss off”. He refused. Levi was not a man of patience, he drew out a pistol from his leather jacket, put a bullet through the usurper’s head he had fallen right towards him. Then the room fell into disarray and people scampered to corners and ducked under tables for safety. Bade, ignorant that the life of a man was in his blood, smacked his lips and tasted the wetness that had covered his face. He tasted blood, the blood of the dead black man that had spluttered over his face as he fell towards him. It all meant nothing to him; it was just blood.

 

Exactly a week after the shooting, something happened. Bade was in bed, watching a game when he began to feel thirsty. Just as he opened the fridge to grab a bottle of beer; a gusty wind flung the windows open. A noise, like rustling of dry leaves caught in a windy torrent, drifted to him. He rushed to shut the windows and that was when his eyes caught something odd; he rubbed a hand over his face and looked again. On the balcony of his apartment was a strange creature – female, dwarfish, skin brownish as the desert-dust, her feline-looking eyes were traced out with a white chalk and strands of hair seemed to sprout from all over her face. Her hands were short and covered with bracelets made of beads and cowerie shells and so were her legs. Her hair was long, disheveled and unkempt. She stood on two legs, stout, and when she smiled, she had no teeth.

 

That became the beginning of the strange appearances.

 

End of first part

God Is Angry

(for the girl-child that fights in silence)

 

Hafusa’s father was very enterprising, honest in his dealings; so when his feet swelled and his skin peeled very badly, people could not figure out why anyone would afflict him with such a strange illness. When his illness began, everyone rallied round to pray and provide support for the family because that was what he would have done. But when it prolonged without an end in sight, the strength of men grew weak because they believed that when an illness makes domicile in a home, bad things often follow. It began with friends and neighbours not offering their availability for their needs anymore; then there was a drop in the number of people who visited. One of the few who continued to visit was the cleric of the neighbourhood mosque – Alfa Najeem.

 

Monisola, Hafusa’s mother, had a shop where she sewed clothes and she was quite successful at it, just like her husband; but since the hard times settled upon the family, she had had to sell everything in the shop to raise enough money to take care of him. By the time she was ejected from the shop, her rent had become accumulated and she did not know how she would pay back. She was left to struggle for the reins and keep the family in one piece as it teetered on the brink of collapse. When, eventually, sewing became an impossible enterprise, she took to selling drinks along Owode road, under a giant yellow MTN umbrella. It was the busiest road in the town and it ran from Ibadan and led right on to Ogbomoso. After school, and whenever they were on holidays, her two eldest children – Hafusa and Taofeek – helped her hawk the drinks in the traffic. The other three – Simbiat, Aisha and Rukayat – were too young to take on the responsibility and risk of the road.

 

 

Before her husband’s illness, he was such a success and, perhaps it was why the people in the neighbourhood loved him and his family. Monisola and Ibrahim were the perfect couple, and everyone secretly admired them. He used to run an automobile spare-part shop and he was known as the best spare-part dealer in the whole of Oyo town. Then, in order to expand his enterprise, Ibrahim bought a parcel of land from an old man called Mogaji Adeyemi. Because he came highly recommended, Ibrahim took his entire savings and a loan to buy the plots of land. It was almost a year after that Mogaji Adeyemi died and a new Mogaji was appointed. The new head decided to take stock of what was left of the family estate and found Ibrahim on their father’s land; he issued him a notice to vacate the land. Ibrahim sought the elders in the community to intervene and help him fight his title to the land but when he began to sense that the elders were not fair in their mediation, he decided to explore the option of the court.

 

 

“You don’t contest land matters not especially with the elders,” one of the mediating elders had said when he visited Ibrahim in his house but he would hear none of it. It was in the middle of the tussle that Ibrahim contracted the strange, nameless illness. It started off as back pain and gradually took on a serious dimension. From back pain, he began to grow very weak. He coughed too often and his eyes continually discharged pus till his vision began to slowly give way. Then his skin began to peel and then he lost the use of his mouth. After six weeks, his feet swelled so much that he could no longer use them. Talks went round town about the land dispute being the cause of Ibrahim’s illness.

 

 

Ibrahim sold everything he had but still it was not enough to foot the hospital bill. His brothers and sisters tried to support him with what they had but they were a people with a history of wretchedness, so, whatever help they rendered didn’t go so far too. Within six months, things had gone from bad to worse till eventually, Ibrahim’s condition defied all medical interventions. At the hospital, he was discharged home and advised to explore more traditional options: “go to your roots and seek help, this illness is beyond modern medicine. It is more than meets the eye,” the bald doctor had told Monisola when he called her into his office. Through their journey on paths filled with bleak lights and when hope had become impossible, Alfa Najeem showed up. He had helped the troubled mother of five secure a loan from the mosque to start her business on the road that led through the town. Often, Monisola would send her eldest daughter to the young bearded cleric when they needed help money or spiritual guidance since no one else cared.

 

 

One afternoon, she had sent Hafusa to his house to get a loan he had promised her the previous day. When she did not return on time, she traced her to his place. The door gave way and she found him on top of her daughter; her gown was lifted like an upturned umbrella, and her thigh spread wide. The girl was pushing hard at the cleric’s sturdy frame that pressed her down. Water rushed down her eyes but she had a hand over mouth. Strong slaps against the neck of the Alfa made him lose balance and the girl struggled to her feet, shaking. The man, middle aged, with wiry tufts of hair for beards grabbed his neck and stumbled in his sagged trousers, sweating. For the first time, to Monisola, he looked really disgusting. “Olori buruku, a ba t’eni je, oniranu!” a riled Monisola spat out, her voice rising and filling the room: “So, you’re the Samaritan who saves me and also the burglar that steals from me!” Hafusa had never seen her mother in that state before. “I send my daughter to you to help us and you use my daughter to satisfy your urges.”

 

 

Back in their house, a face-me-I-face-you: two wings of apartments under one roof, divided by a corridor that led down into the bathroom and toilet which everyone in the house shared. Just like Alfa’s house. Hafusa walked past her father who laid in his usual spot, his feet twitching underneath the aso-ofi that covered him. In the only room of the house, still in her faded floral-patterned gown, which she had worn out, she sat on the bare floor, grabbed her Qu’ran and a pen. She had never thought he would do that to her. It was Alfa Najeem: the man who had been there when everyone deserted the family; the one person who always listened to whatever was on her mind and did not rebuff her just because she was a child, like everyone else did.

 

 

The sky grew dark; and somewhere not far away, the Muezzin’s voice travelled to reach her. Her mother appeared at the door and closed it. “I am dead today,” the girl thought to herself when her mother leaned against the door. She cast a long look on her and said nothing, her eyes were red and puffed from the tears she had cried. Her voice was strong and filled with disappointment when she spoke, at last: “omo adojutini gbaa ni e! Shameless girl! At your tender age, you’ve learned to seduce men. I send you to ask for money and instead, you decide to incur the wrath of God by spread your legs and letting a man of God touch you anyhow.” The woman removed her scarf and ran a hand through her hair. Throughout, Hafusa said nothing because it was hard to explain how a visit for cash and led to sex.

 

A few months after, a new evil visited the house.

 

 

 

Hafusa and Taofeek had gone into the major roads to hawk sachets of water on a Friday afternoon after school. The traffic that day was heavy: tankers conveying petrol and trailers moving herds of cows and baskets of tomatoes lined the road. Hafusa took one side of the road while Taofeek took the other. They joined other kids and shuffled through the heated engines and exhaust pipes to ensure they made enough sales. Someone in a blue commuter bus beckoned at Taofeek for water. Five passengers in the bus wanted cold sachets water. He looked into his bowl, there were only four sachets of water left. His sister just a few trucks away and there was a little space opened just in time to reach her to get the last sachet from her.

 

 

The lane on which the blue commuter bus was began to move faster; Taofeek needed to increase his pace. A bike man sped through the space that had opened just as Taofeek ran into it and hit him right back into the lane he had come from. At that moment, too many things happened at once and too fast. The traffic eased and anxious drivers began to lurch to close the openings. Because the man behind the wheels had not anticipated a bike knocking anyone back into his lane, he depressed the gas pedal as traffic eased. There was a scream as the thick rubber tyres ran over flesh and bones. He had run over him before he could slam the brakes.

 

 

Hafusa had seen what had happened but she did not know who had been involved. She made her way very quickly to the scene. It was as she joined the gathering crowd of sympathisers that she realised that it was her brother that laid under the trailer loaded with tomatoes, bleeding from every opening – the eyes, ears, mouth, every part. She dropped her bowl and began to scream his name. She bent underneath the truck, defying the heat of the engine to reach Taofeek. His eyes were still and he had a deep gash at the roundness of his head. She carried him in her trembling arms, and raced down the road. There was a clinic somewhere around. Word reached Monisola, under the MTN umbrella, about what had happened. She rushed into the clinic screaming her son’s name, refusing to be calmed but Taofeek was certified dead a few minutes after he was brought in.

 

 

The sun that evening set in Taofeek’s blood and his death sent the whole family back into the predicament that they had been struggling so hard to emerge from. Ibrahim, who had begun to recuperate, developed a stroke upon the news of Taofeek’s death. It was from then on that the fight for his life became vicious; and though everyone wanted him to recover, Ibrahim never prayed to. He believed that everything that had happened was God’s way of making him pay for the terrible things that he had done when no one watched. In the bed where he laid, having lost his speech functions, he would remember the very despicable things that he had done but could never tell anyone. He reckoned that all that had befallen him was judgement. After Taofeek’s passing, he lost his will to survive.

 

 

 

Monisola had just returned after a hard day at the roadside with no sales. In a few weeks she had grown so old – her skin had wrinkled, her eyes were sunk in and she smelled of stale sweat. Ibrahim laid asleep, breathing very raggedly. His nose appeared raised in the dimness of the light that shone from the kerosene lamp that sat in the middle of the room. “Ekaabo, Maami,” the girl greeted her mother, her younger sisters were already asleep. Monisola sank into a chair and tried to catch her breath. “Can I get a cup of water?” Tawaklitu rose to her feet and returned with a big stainless steel cup filled with water. The woman took a gulp and set down the cup. Neither of them said a word, their silence was intermittently disrupted by the movements in the ceiling.

 

 

Something was not right with Hafusa, she could see it in her eyes, in her silence, in the way she sat on the floor and watched her father breathe.

“What’s on your mind, my child?”

“Arike came to see Baami.”

“Oh, how is she doing?” Monisola asked, showing no emotions.

“She’s well, Maami.” Hafusa answered. She wanted to tell her about Arike’s hairdo, her make-up, her new classy wears and the image of a baby with an arrow aimed at a heart tattooed on her breast. She wanted to tell her mother everything but she was unsure that the news will sit well with her.

“I heard she changed her name,” Monisola said waving her hands in the air to disperse the band of mosquitoes that hummed over her head. Hafusa acted as though she had not heard her mother.

“Who?” she asked

“Your friend, Arike.”

“Yes, Maami,” she answered.

“So, what’s the new name?”

“Helen.”

 

 

After a few seconds of silence, Hafusa continued –

“She says there is an opening for a job in the big city, I was just thinking it would be helpful if…” Monisola cut her midway in her weak voice “can we have this talk some other time, my child?” They had been through that debate before and the last thing she wanted was to be caught in it again. She wanted to avoid the events that happened the last time they had that talk; how her daughter’s suggestion of moving to the city had made her think of men of the city, their recklessness, guile and their exploitation. She hadn’t trust her daughter anymore since that evening at the cleric’s house. She feared that going to the city would leave her to roam the world unchecked, doing things with men of the city; the kind of things that she did with Alfa Najeem.

 

 

Hafusa snuffed out the weak light that burned in the lamp, a whitish smoke spiralled up from the wick and quickly vanished. She rolled out the mattress on the floor in the usually corner where she always laid. The clock on the wall ticked noisily in the dark, punctuating her drifty thoughts. She tried to get her mind off the guilt that had overwhelmed her since Alfa Najeem. Somehow, she had become convinced that she was the cause of the tragedy that had befallen the house because it was after she first did it that things began to happen and her father took ill.

 

She remembered the first time that she did it, memories of pain and blood flooded her mind. As the night wore on, she felt that urge that she always felt inside of her. That was when she touched herself under and withdrew a finger, wet. She had carried around a burden since the first time she did it, she had wanted to tell someone about it and how she had been too weak to fight the man that first did it to her but no one would listen. When Alfa Najeem stayed while others turned their backs on them, the guilt of what had happened had pushed her to tell him about everything. But then, Alfa began to touch her freshly budding breasts, raised up her gown, telling her that he wanted to check that her Baami did not hurt her when he did it. When he pulled down his trousers and revealed his penis, he had warned her not to scream. “Everything is ok, this is the only way to know,” he had said, then he thrust it into her.

 

 

 

Ibrahim’s path to death was hard; he passed on seven months after Taofeek. It was a good thing that he died for his life had become full of unbearable pain, misery, and regrets. Quite unexpectedly, Ibrahim’s funeral was a simple and less honourable one. He was swathed in a low priced white cotton material that was got on credit. Someone volunteered an old raffia mat in which he was wrapped. Monisola did not shed a tear as the two pall bearers from the mosque, struggled with the weight of his corpse as they laid him in his grave, his face kissing the earth. Alfa Najeem read some parts of the Qu’ran and prayed for the eternal repose of Ibrahim’s soul. He said no word to the widow nor did he look towards them to comfort them.

 

 

It was in the night of the funeral, when everyone was gone, that it dawned on Hafusa that, just like Taofeek, her Baami was gone and was not coming back. For her, Baami had not only just died, he had taken a part of her with him to his grave and life would never be the same again. Not all things broken can be fixed; Hafusa was a broken girl in whose heart things she did not understand began to fester, like the need to touch herself

 

She was fourteen years old when her father died.

We’re Chests Bearing Deadmen

love-death-brokenheart-Quotes

Santi ‘Femi

I have just returned from Berlin. From being the young promising doctoral student, I have become a handyman with a bad luck with customers. I once had a wife, I am divorced now. Love took my wife and I on a journey, and abandoned us to figure life out without it. When I lost my job, due to the depression in Europe, I realized that we were two parallel lines that should never have met. We tried to make the most of the situation but it was all too imbued in chaos; Similoluwa was already with child and she was unwilling to abort the pregnancy. I tried to get a new job but everywhere I turned was a closed door. My wife was the only one with a job and so the whole burden of the house was on her.

At the restaurant where she worked, she got promoted to the position of the chief waiter. That was when she began the long night shifts that would eventually break the fragile peace I had hung on to. I took care of the child and did the chores; it didn’t matter much to me. However, it became a slap across the face when Similoluwa became uncontrollable and began to bark orders at me. For so long, I fought to earn back my respect but, at last, I gave up fighting and resigned to my fate – she was destined to be the man and I, the woman. My daughter became the reason I tolerated everything my wife threw at me.

I don’t want to remember any of this anymore but I can’t make it go away.

There has been a flood and I am sitting on this rooftop watching as the water carries everything in its way.

I have got company.

There is a woman on the roof, with me. She is Saseyon. Right from my roof, she watches as her husband, who had returned into the house to fetch their two children, struggles with the force of the surging water. She watches the water swallow him and set him adrift. She stares, helplessly, as her children cry and toss against the waves; and because she is without comfort nor strength, she has neither to give to them. Death makes her a witness as it snuffs life from them, one soul at a time. The flood has not just damaged our things, it has left us all with nothing else precious. A lot of the things I had, have been washed away by the flood, things that cannot be replaced. For me, it my greatest loss to the flood is a picture, the only thing that returned with me to Nigeria from Berlin. The picture is my greatest loss to the flood, it is the picture of my daughter.

It is hard to lose a child; it is a devastation to lose one under your watch, it comes with a guilt that defies redemption. I had been left to take care of Adeyinka while her mother was away at work. I slept off and only woke up to find that she had choked on her food. Her death was the one thing I could not fix and once I couldn’t fix that, other things that I had fixed, between my wife and me, disintegrated completely. That was when she filed for divorce and that was when I had nothing else to live for in Berlin. So, I got an expensive frame with cherubs ornately carved on its corners and slid an enlarged picture of Adeyinka in it. I had always thought that her picture will always, somehow, be a redemption; a way of saying I am sorry for letting her slip past this surly bounds called life, but it’s been a week since the flood washed the picture away and I realize that the picture will never be my redemption and that my guilt was only in my memory of her.

This flood has washed away the joy in Saseyon’s life and left an ominous presence. It took away glory and left gloom. Their funeral was a small one, there were no coffins just three bodies swathed in white and laid by their graves while prayers were said for their souls by a cleric. As they lower them into the earth, the young widow is not crying – she is just staring. So few people have come to help bear her grief and soon after, the few leave her for wherever they had come from. On the fifth night, after the funeral, she knocks on my door:

“I see them; around the corners; in the shadows” her lips quiver, her eyes are darkened with fear and she is shaking. “I hear them cry from their room and along the corridors too,” she says.

I let the young bereaved woman in, fate has been hard on her. I offer her tea but she refuses, “I don’t want tea,” she says “I just want it all to end.” She is sobbing now. I put on the light in the living room and put her head in my chest. “Tea is good for grief,” I answer. I lay her down in my room and make her a cup of hot tea. She sips and shivers. I wrap her in a wrapper and put my arms around her, but this grief that envelopes us seeks more. Comfort is incomplete in tea and cotton wrappers. Our losses make us frail and we admit that we are helpless about gloom. So, we make love that night and promise not to feel remorse about it. Later, at midnight, Saseyon would hold my hands tightly but not look at me. I am her shame and, yet, her strength. We are just a momentary comfort to each other: a gift of comfort meant for a season. Then, in my arms, naked, she drifts to sleep. Hours pass and finally, as the clock on the wall chimes and the first light of the day beams across the greyness of the dawn, Saseyon stands up and leaves.

After our last meeting, I do not see Saseyon and so on the fifth day, I go to her place. It’s the first time I’ll be in the house. The sitting room has just two plastic chairs, no furniture. No picture hangs on the wall; it is bare. The trails of the flood is visible through the paint on the wall that has begun to chip off and the patches of discolouring that line the wall from the floor, midway up. She breaks into a smile and hugs me, her face in my chest, as she opens the door to let me in. “I have waited so long for you to come,” she says. I rub my hands against her bare back. Her small breasts, like avocado pears, press against my lithe frame. “I am here now,” I whisper, almost unconsciously.

She let go.

“You will have tea, Mr. Afolabi. Tea is good for grief.” She says cheerily and I do not want to kill the joy. She bounces out of the room and returns, a few minutes later, with a jug and she pours us tea. In the emptiness of her house, she begins to pour her heart:

“I was eleven when I was smuggled across the Cotonou border in a truck filled with bales of cotton. In my village, we had heard stories about the wealth and greatness. One man who had visited Badagry returned and called Lagos the City of God.” I chuckled; her face lit up like an inviting fragrance had floated through the room. “So when I waved goodbye to my mother, I was convinced that my worst years were behind me and that my best were ahead of me in Nigeria.” She sipped her tea and poured me some more.

“I was delivered to a certain woman somewhere at Iyana-Ipaja, and in a few weeks I was brought to Ebedi to work for a rich family. I was lucky; my Madam put me through school till I completed secondary school; and then I enrolled at the college of education. It was there that I met Abeeb. Before him, I did not get so much attention from men and in the talks that went round the village in Benin, the stories had been strong about how Nigerian men spent money on women, and so I wanted a Nigerian lover, like the stories I had heard and the movies I had seen on t.v. In my second year, I met Abeeb. I had not planned to be with him for so long because he did not spend money on me. “My father is the poorest carpenter in Saki,” he always said and he would talk about going to school in rags and having to share a loaf of bread with his seven siblings. I soon discovered that the ones who spent the cash were not committed and Abeeb was caring and committed to me. Things moved fast and before the last year of school, I was pregnant. Abeeb insisted that I kept it, he said he had a plan.”

By now, we have finished our tea and it’s just the talks flowing.

“I soon realized that I had very little affection for Abeeb and as much as he tried to make me happy, I wasn’t. And even though he was a good man; he wasn’t the kind of man I had wanted to live the rest of my life with but I stayed on and then the second child came along. Then, you moved into the area. No one knew who you were except as the man with a drawn face and a frozen smile.” She sneezes and continues “I would look out of the window around five o clock in the evening when your gate rattled as you jostled the padlock, daily. I hated the weekends because your movements were unpredictable and there was my husband; always around. I felt terrible because I was never able to forget your face.”

Though I feel uncomfortable with the new topic, I figure that if we had made love once, then, she’s entitled to the right to confess.

“I lived with the pain of looking out for you and hoping that fate will bring us together. In my dreams, I had joy from our long walks along green shrubbed paths and crickets chirping in the undergrowth; but these joys were always short-lived as the noise of my children jolted me back into reality. And then came the flood.” I am wondering what to say over this matter but she’s not quite done yet.

“You’re full of too much grief, Mr. Afolabi. I felt it the other night as you made love to me, you mouthed throughout about your losses – you measure your life by them. You’ve let your past grow on you and you don’t see that God gave you a clean slate to start again a long time ago.”

I sigh.

“So you think my divorce was God handing me a clean slate?”

“When after we have got things wrong, God fixes us. He makes it all right again.”

“Like the flood and…” I hesitate “your family?” I ask. She says nothing. “It’s been three weeks since we laid your family to rest and you still see your kids lurking around corners of your house. Is that your idea of a clean slate?” There was a long silence drawn between us. “Dead men live in our hearts; they built their homes while they still walked with us here.”

We do not say much after that and after some minutes, I leave. For many days after, I do not see her again. No one does.

A foul stench in the flat causes the neighbours to break down Saseyon’s door and there she’s found dangling on a short drop to a sudden stop from the ceiling. Her tongue stuck out and her eyes popped. I am just returning from work when I find two police officers waiting by my gate. They greet me politely and ask if I know Mrs. Yusuf, the woman opposite me. I nod. One of them reach for his pocket and hands me a note.

 

“Mr. Afolabi, It is true, that no slate is truly clean. I guess I just tried to convince myself that the flood was a chance to get it right. Now, that you say it, I see it. The dead ones are truly not dead; they live in our hearts. But my heart is frail and cannot hold three people all by itself. Guilt keeps me awake. Abeeb was good to me, his death should be no respite nor should my living be joy. I hope when you find me, you will make room in your heart. I shall love to live in it.”

KING’S ORDERS

FD9N3P9GH8AGA7D.MEDIUM

990BC circa

I

Usually, David did not visit that side of the palace; but that late afternoon, boredom and a certain feeling of wistfulness had taken him over. He turned to Ashdod, one of the palace guards.

“I hear the grapevines have begun to blossom and it is not even summer yet.”

“Yes, my lord,” he answered, standing still like a long forgotten sculpture with a bronze helmet, a breastplate made of steel strapped around his torso and a sword sheathed and tucked by his belt. He looked gladiatorial. David swung to his fit and adjusted the cape of Purple around his neck and let out a deep yawn.

“Let’s go see the field,” he announced.

The leather boots of Ashdod rammed hard into the ground as he marched right after the king.

 

The palace: a stately structure standing on a large expanse of land, beautified by golden statues crafted by the best sculptors in the world and strange and beautiful flowers with exotic scents that came from Syria. Right at the extension of the palace lay a walkway that led to field of grapevines. It was late in spring and the field was swarmed with tenderers preparing for the summer harvest and hoping to make some dinari from the largess of the King. Just by the field of grapes were small houses; they belonged to men who were directly in the service of the king. They were called the King’s Men: palace guards, the butlers and the tenderers of the field of grapes. It was as they approached the roof on the extension of the palace that he spotted a light shone from a distance. Through the window left open, he could see the silhouette of a lady pouring water on herself from the roof where he stood.  “Who. Is. She?” David asked, stopping in his tracks and unable to take his eyes off the woman. Ashdod, retaining his face of steel replied: “she is Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, my lord.”

 

II

He laid on his back, panting, trying to catch some air. He turned to look at the woman looking half-naked woman in his royal bed

“You’re beautiful, Bathsheba. Your beauty called out to me through a tiny window and I could not resist” he said as he stroked her face. The woman said nothing, her eyes held a vacant stare. “For some time now, life has been without colour around here and just as you come into it, you have polished it and its magnificence radiates. Now, I can’t seem to have enough of you. I should have you come around here more often.” David confessed and he was honest. He planted a kiss on her lips and even though they parted, it was with reluctance. Bathsheba rose from the bed and ran her hand through her disheveled hair that poured over her shoulders, unsure of how she felt or how she should feel. She loved her husband, Uriah, but then this was upon the king’s orders.

 

 

She pulled her robe together and, not facing David, she began –

“You came unto me in my time of weakness and on the strength of royalty, my lord. It’s been five weeks since the crusade against the Ammonites and it’s been that long since my husband, one of your valiant men, left for the battlefield and I, desiring of a man.” She rubbed her eyes and stifled the tears that forced their way down her cheeks. A feeling of remorse washed over David. “Permit me to take my leave, my lord, and I pray that we do not meet again for I have betrayed Yaweh and my husband, Uriah.” David took a deep breath. “Most assuredly, ‘Sheba, I understand the conflict that rages in your mind. I shall see to it that this does not repeat itself.” He said a few more words, struggling not to let his guilt have the better of him. Then, he dismissed the woman.

 

But things were not to be as they had planned for four weeks after the affair, news greeted the king in his place – Bathsheba did not see her blood flow that month. The news of her pregnancy did not stay a secret, the rumour travelled very quickly from the palace and into the field of grapes. David panicked and lost sleep upon the news that ‘Sheba was with child for him. The problem was not that she was pregnant but that she was married to another man. Through the sleepless nights, David would pace around the chamber wondering why he had left the army with Joab and hadn’t led the war. It was on the third night that a solution came to him.

 

III

Joab, in whose charge David left the army, received a message from Uriah and it troubled him. It was not the fact that the king summoned Uriah from the war and had sent him back with a letter that bothered Joab. It was the content of the letter that did. Quite honestly, Joab had doubts about the source of the message. He had known the king for so long and he was not erratic or villainous to word such a message. As soldiers on patrol around the camp resumed their duties for the night watch, Joab marched through the vast camp to find Abinadab, the head of the Calvary which Uriah belonged. He found him in his tent, guzzling wine from a chalice. Abinadab sprang to his feet as Joab poked his head into the tent. He was the only one in the tent awake. The other two in the tent had begun to snore.

“I have a quick message from you.” Abinadab put his hands behind his back, the muscle around his receding hairline twitched. “Yes sir!”

“Tomorrow, I need you to rearrange the ranks, see to it that Uriah leads the calvary and when he is at the frontline of the battle, you’re to withdraw the rest of your men. Uriah battles at the frontline alone.”

 

 

Abinadab blinked like a fly had fluttered its wings in his face. His eyes flung wide open. Disbelief was all he could feel at his nerve ends. “Sir, to let him lead to the frontline and then pull back the troops? That will kill him!”

“That is an order, commander!” Joab replied sharply. He had delivered the message and there was nothing left. He began to walk towards the entrance of the tent, then he turned round to face him. “The frontline, Abinadab, the order is simple and clear,” his voice strong, cold and lacking emotions. Abinadab sighed.

“And whose order is this anyway?”

“The King’s order!” Jaob barked, staring icily. Then he stomped out of the tent.

 

 

Abinadab could not sleep. He took a walk with a few men of the calvary, relaying the king’s orders to them. They walked past a group of four men seated around the fire as one of them narrated events of his last visit home. It was Uriah, a short, muscular and very hairy young man with a chiseled face that a gash on his left cheek.

“I was surprised that the king would call me from the war just to have some time with ‘Sheba.” The men in his company stared at him. “He even tried to get me drunk when I refused to go home…” Abinadab, with his company, walked past the conversation but he held on to the words of Uriah. He was deeply troubled that he would have to comply with the king’s order and that Uriah will not return from battle with them the next day. He had known the king since the time when he led the fight against the Philistines and had killed the terrorizing giant – Goliath – with only a sling and a stone. If things that General Joab and Uriah had said were true, then, something must not be right in the palace and whatever it was had everything to do with Uriah.

 

IV

Even though everyone saw his death coming, he didn’t. The zeal to defend Jerusalem and fight for the king had blinded him so that he did not see that he was alone at the frontline when the men he led withdrew. He fought where the battle was fiercest and he fought till the end. He was hacked down by the enemy – gutted by the sides and stabbed in the heart. As he fell, the only memories that came back to him were those of his beautiful, faithful, dutiful and devoted wife who he would never see again. The king was right after all, he should have spent time with her but he didn’t and now he wouldn’t ever again. As life slipped from him so did the words –

 

Bathsheba.

Ireti

couple-holding-hands-polaroid

The first time I saw her face was in the KOPA magazine. In that picture, she smiled with her lips, curled and a few strands of her hair frizzed. The white and green NYSC shirt had its green faded but that smile and those eyes. I checked for her details and there was her name and her phone number. I began to muse over how I had missed this damsel all through the year of the corps program. I had served in Jos state just before the Boko Haram attacks became intense and incessant. I picked up a job in a pharmaceutical company, my job was to travel round the Southwest of the country, selling drugs. It was on one those weekends that I wasn’t travelling that I met Ireti in the magazine.

The phone rang a third time, it was going to drop if it didn’t get picked in a few seconds. My heart palpitated as I sat with the phone in my hand. Just in the nick of time, a voice came on.
“Hello”.
A shiver and a loss of words for a few seconds became my fate.
“I am Dele, am I on to Ireti, please?”

“Yeee-ee-sss, who did you say you were again?” she asked faltering for caution’s sake.
Fear finally let me be; I found my words and we spoke. She giggled most of the call and it ended with an agreement to call the next day. That was how it began, the calls. The calls ran daily till without them, our days were incomplete.

However, there was a problem: Bola.

Ever before Ireti or even Jos state, there was Bola. Omobolanle. She was my girlfriend. We had been an item for three years but at the point when I met Ireti, the relationship was being rocked by a storm. I had given my all to Bola but my all did not seem enough. She wanted the things I could not afford. With tension rising with the tides, Ireti and I built a strong bond very quickly. I informed Ireti about Bola and it caused a bit of a drag between us. All along, Ireti was in Lagos running a program at the British Council while I journeyed the whole of South-West marketing drugs.

A few months after Ireti and I became friends, I landed a new job. A bigger pharmaceutical company, a bigger position, bigger pay and more perks. Coincidentally, my workplace was at Falomo, Ikoyi, the next street after British Council. I got a better official car and the busiest life any human could have. I took that as an opportunity to find Ireti in Lagos and I took it. For the first time we saw, Ireti and I. There she was, sitting before me, very beautiful and very single. A war raged on in the inside of me – to start something with Ireti or to hope that things even out between Bola and me. I chose to remind myself that I had Omobolanle waiting for me in Akure.

I left the new job and returned to Akure. I left behind the memories of Ireti and every possibility of what we could be. It was like a quest for atonement. My return to Akure was a one way ticket to a new life after a broken and complicated one, I took it. Bola and I were not to be in the end, she broke up the relationship and left me to hang. Even after everything had turned the way they did, I never totally forgot Ireti. She popped up in my mind every now and then but I convinced myself that it was nothing. After a year that Bola left, I began a relationship with Jennifer.

 

It was a few weeks ago, as I was going through my WhatsApp contacts that I noticed that Ireti had changed her display picture. The new picture was her in a wedding gown, beaming all smiles and leaning over to kiss the groom – a lanky man in a black suit and a purple bow tie. In that moment, my heart crashed, my resolve to remain a ghost lurking in the shadows grew weak. I messaged her. She was surprised that I resurfaced

“I got married in October last year.” She explained, excited. I wasn’t sure if the excitement was for the fact that I reached out or for the marriage. I ask her how Lagos is and how it feels like having a family, that is when she says her husband isn’t based in Lagos. He is in Akure. She is with him in Akure. Ireti has followed me to Akure. Why? Why would she not stay in Lagos or marry a man far away. My kryptonite has followed me right into my hiding. She invites me over to her house, she says it’s been a while and that we should catch up on old times.

 

Her house is some place in town, a nice decent flat with a fence and a hedge of flowers. We are sitting next to each other, talking and laughing as we talk about the past.
“I really admired you, you know,” she begins in hushed tones.
I say nothing, the silence between us accentuates my loss. The clock ticks, I watch as minutes spin into hours and darkness descends. The more I stare at her, the more I wonder why I let her go in the first place.
“So, what happens now? It all looks too late now to fix, Ireti.”
She sighs.
“He doesn’t return until very late in the night, every day,” she says.
I have come too early on this visit; my finger taps at the center table.

Tap-tap-tap.

 

What should this young man do?