On the Sixth Sense and Other Things

Smile

I.

“That’s how they behave, those hundred level students.”

The speaker holds off your stare as if he expects a retort but is certain you can’t offer one due to the years between you. Four years, you recall. Four freaking ones between you and the speaker who has more wrinkles on his face than wisdom in his brain, and suddenly, you wish he didn’t make the statement.

Later, you told Debbie. “The best he could have said was freshmen.”

“Freshmen?” A small laugh. “Why? What difference does it make?”

You shrug, certain she can’t see your shoulders lift. “There’s something about the word. Freshmen, kind of hedges you into a box in which some certain attitude are expected of you. No one blames a freshman who discovers, a minute to class, that he neither knows what course he’s having nor the venue. Hundred level student means, ‘you are now a part of us.’ Like you’ve been accepted into the pack and have matured from the box.”

“I assume this is purely objective? Not relative?”

“Simple words, Debbie.”

Another small laugh. “I mean, it’s your own opinion? Not a universal idea?”

“Not like they use hundred level student in the states,” you say.

“Wait, you didn’t say what you did.”

“What?”

“What’s what? You had to have done something wrong.”

“Well…”

“Well?”

“Get to school first,” you say.

“Cheeky.”

“I’m serious. When are you coming?”

“Soon.”

“Could be –”

“Anytime. You are a writer and a science geek. Draw an estimate of when soon would be.”

“That’s not –”

“Talk to you later,” Debbie says. A tone chirps. Call ends.

You set the phone at the edge of the bunk and set your arms parallel to each other, your eyes glazing over the textbook, your breath as even as the pace of a brakeless sedan. You begin to hyperventilate. I’m hyperventilating. I’m gonna have a heart attack. Not that sweat is breaking off your face or you are twitching, but you just know. It’s something the writing maestros call…

The sixth sense.

Goes like, Jack could swear he heard the door hush open as he poured a glass of drink or when the boy woke, he knew tragedy had struck. Yes, his roommates were all asleep, their snores a symphonic melody, and his fingers had not been chopped off, but he knew something terrible had happened. He just knew. Said boy then climbs off his bed, lands with one palm facedown, lifts the palm to see it’s soaked up blood, bulges his eyes as he spots a trail of blood coming from the window, holds back a scream, and checks his nearest roommate to find a pool of blood around his neck.

When said boy would be asked how he knew someone had died, he wouldn’t say, “I just knew.” Instead, he would say, “I woke like it was a normal day, got down, yawned, whispered a few prayers, made a mental note to call my class rep, noticed a pen was on the floor, bent to pick it, and lifted blood.”

It is so easy to lie, to twist statements in reported speech. It is so easy to dodge out the sixth sense.

II.

It’s half an hour since you started thinking of the sixth sense. Half an hour since you denied your MTS textbook a touch. Half an hour since you called Debbie and told her about the curmudgeon final year brother.

Your phone chirps. You know it’s Mother. You just know.

“Hello.”

“Something bad happened.”

“Ma?”

“How are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m alive. You were saying –”

“Are you in a class?”

“No ma,” you say.

“How’s school, fellowship, friends…?”

“They are all good. Ma.”

Only when she keeps the questions rolling do you realize something bad did not happen. It was just a play on your mind.

“I’m feeling a bit somnolent,” says Mother. “Can I call back?”

“Yes,” you say and end the call.

You climb down the bed like the fictional boy would have done. Inside your backpack is a book. A higher education note. It’s filled with over five hundred words, dating back to the days you never assumed you’d be a hundred level student, days when you didn’t know zilch about writing and Debbie. You slap a page open, then another, until you arrive at the word.

Somnolent. A bit of drowsiness. Whoa. A surprised air settles into the room. You trace down, to curmudgeon. A crusty, irascible cantankerous old person full of stubborn idea.

Not allowed. You hold the book and silently say, not allowed, because you’ve read a few many blog posts by professional editors who often speak about writing in simple, comprehensible terms. They normally end with, “the adverb – and adjective – is not your friend. Except you intend producing a potboiler.”

So, silently, you remind yourself that you cannot, in any event, slot in the word curmudgeon in a piece of writing because it has three strange qualifiers in it.

Slowly, you return the book and crawl back to the bed, suddenly moody, and totally not intending to wash it off.

A minute later, you count the number of adverbs you used. Five. Very good, writer.

III.

When Debbie picks, you say, “You are on your way.”

A pause. “How do you figure?”

“Sixth sense.” You can be honest with Debbie.

A small laugh. “Hmm.”

“Seems you plucked off a habit during the strike period.”

“Which is?”

“Small laughs.”

“Hmm. I’d mull on it.”

“Mull.”

“Means meditate. Can’t believe you don’t know the word, a writer.”

“I’m a writer, not a litterateur.”

Silence. Static air creeps into the call. “A writer of literary works,” Debbie says.

“You cheated,” you retort. “You checked the word on your phone.”

Another small laugh. Guilty, guilty.

“How about excogitate?”

“No idea,” she says.

“Means meditate. Mull.”

“Touché,” says Debbie. “Sacrilegious.”

“Synonym of blasphemous. Cretin?”

“Idiot. Arcane?”

“Meant to be secretive. Same as –”

“Esoteric,” Debbie says. Her voice drops. “I think we should stop. I’m beginning to get this weird looks from passengers, like I’m Soyinka’s distant niece.”

“Uncanny would be a suitable word.”

“Yeah, definitely. Creepy. Uncanny. Weird. Outré. Gotta go,” she says.

“Yeah. See you in a trice.”

“Get off,” she says. She laughs.

You end the call and start laughing. A roommate pokes his head and watches you, his eyes twisted in a way that suggests uncanny. Yeah, definitely uncanny.

P.S: Thank you very much for reading. What do you think about the picture? Does the emoji justify the absent M in smile? There’s a micro post on my Instagram page where something’s said about it. You can check it out here

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Playing with Oxymoron

Introductory Epilogue:

I recall with precision the first time I met Debbie. I was in my hostel room, a laptop balanced on my taps – despite the advise not to expose the cooling fan to my legs. I stared at the screen for three, four minutes, thinking of something, anything, to pen. The blankness greeting me was not a stranger, having courted my yard for two weeks counting.

And then, she came. Not fully made or with a smile or with a list of do’s and don’ts. Yet, she came. And I started to talk to her. And here she goes, her fourth feature in a blog post. Read the story. Then share comments later.

images (47)

********

“It’s your job to figure that out,” she tells me. She taps a button, minimizing the document, and hands over the phone. I stare at the device, her face, the device.

“You could be a little nicer.”

She walks ahead. “Nice isn’t for writers.”

“Who says we don’t need to be treated nicely?”

“Well,” she glances around, “when you decided to delve neck-deep into this path, no one promised you a couch of hibiscus.”

I breathe. I consider informing her it wasn’t exactly a decision. More like a call – the type that comes softly, softly, like a mockingbird’s whisper, until one day, it settles in your heart with the weight of a mountain.

“Besides, when the royalty starts flowing in, you wouldn’t remember people who cheered you on when your legs weakened. People like us.” She winks.

“Not if we are married, Debbie.”

Her lips part. I braze my mind for the worst, the ‘It’s over, dude. Who even told you we would be a thing.’ Instead, she smiles, complete set of teeth beaming in the early morning sun, her hair draping down her shoulder like twigs sloping down a wet hill, her cheeks dimpling, her eyes warming the freckles of my heart.

She steps close. “Convince my dad first.”

“Oh,” I say. “Him.”

“Yes, Him.” She studies me until it clicks. Not her dad, like dad. But Father.

“Oh, Him?”

“Yes, Him, Elohim.”

It strikes me then how intonation and punctuation really matter to sentence, speech, dialogue. A story forms in my head – not powerful enough to make me go Eureka, but something still, like a fragment of a fragment of a bestseller.

We resume our walk. A zephyr drifts pass us, disturbing the hem of her skirt. She wears a yellow skirt today, with flowers dotted in no regular pattern. A white blouse hugs her skin, tucked into the waist of her skirt. She carries her favorite bag, the one with long leather straps.

“You are beautiful,” I say. She strides on, like I just said, “It is morning.”

We arrive at the shop. An older woman’s engaged with the boss, haggling the price of a cloth material sliding down her arms. “Mama Deborah, Ko gba iye ti mo so ni,” the woman is saying. The boss shakes her head, then adds no, like the shaking of head isn’t a strong enough response. Said buyer eyes the cloth once more, then flings it against the pile, hisses, steps out, brushing us aside. “They don’t know how much it takes to run this business,” the boss says, in Yoruba.

She spots us and, just as I start to greet, says, “You look like them.”

“Ma?”

“You look like a writer.”

“Mother,” Debbie quips.

The boss smiles. “Ki ni? What? Should I not speak what I see?” I blush. “See, I was right. You people like to blush.” She eyes Debbie. “Invite him in nah.”

Debbie climbs the step of stairs spitting into the shop. “You don’t have to come in,” she says over her shoulder.

I enter. The air is warm, a different warm; clothes arranged in different patterns across wooden shelves, racks, and hangers; native materials clog the west side of the rectangular office, making everything look like a Beethoven’s orchestra.

“The arrangement is beautiful ma,” I say.

“I heard you observe a lot, writers.” I look away, at her. “So, you want to marry my daughter.”

Debbie’s lips fly open, in shock this time. “Mother!”

“Let the man speak for himself,” her mother says.

“Ha, no. That wasn’t my intent for coming ma.” She nudges her brow. “I simply wanted to meet the woman who was strong enough to survive a bout of sickness and still meet the payment of the rent of both shop and house whilst keeping in touch with her daughter.”

“Humph,” Debbie’s mum says. “And here I was, thinking you would dazzle me with some pun, metaphor, oxymoron.” Pause for effect. “Smart moron.”

“Wealthy paupers,” I quip.

“Quick snails.”

“Rhythmic free verses.”

The scalp on her forehead furrows as she considers. “Dull yellow.”

“That doesn’t count,” Debbie says. Her mother shoots her a look. “Who sought your opinion?” to which Debbie responds, “Yellow could be dull. It’s not an oxymoron.”

“Open secret,” I say.

“Cliché,” the woman says.

“Dry mists,” Debbie comments, saving me.

“Perfect flaws,” her mum retorts.

“Lengthy micro fictions,” I say.

We continue, serving one oxymoron after the other, like rallies in a tennis match.

“Serious gabs.”

I pause. Debbie pause. We exchange a look. She reaches for her phone and punches the word. “Gab,” she reads, “is a light informal conversation for social occasions. Also means chit-chat?”

“Whoa,” I say.

“Who’s the boss?” the woman winks.

Debbie pockets her phone and closes the space between us, sort of segmenting the winner and the others.

“Anyone could have done that,” she says. She faces Debbie and I. “Anyone who’s a buddy of the dictionary is capable of stringing oxymoronic phrases. So, why do you write? If your intention for writing is not to communicate a message, a belief, your belief, you should really drop your pen and come work in my shop.”

“Oh,” Debbie says, eyes swarming with pity, as if I’ve considered the option and consented to it.

“My point,” her mum says, “is that God has a reason for prompting you to be a writer. You should sell out, but not to God. To the world, to your self. Let your writing exhale God’s breath, sing Jesus.” She locks stares with Debbie. “Hope your boyfriend prays often in the spirit.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

She ignores Debbie. “You speak in tongues, don’t you?”

“By God’s grace ma.”

“Yes is yes. E ma tan rayin je. Don’t deceive yourselves.” She mimics Debbie. “He’s not my boyfriend. So, what is he then? Your friend that is a boy. Maybe guy-friend?”

I don’t hold back the smile.

A rap jerks us out of the moment. A Generation X man lumbers at the entrance, fingers balled. The boss stands. “Think on these things.”

Debbie says, “Now, that’s some story prompt.”

“It is,” I say.

“It is,” she says, again. And then, we say nothing.

*******

P.S: I enjoyed writing this scene, mainly because of the oxymoron. Tasked my brain a bit. Did you notice this – introductory epilogues? Oxymoronic. So, here’s one more for meditation – perfect blemishes. Add yours. Gracias.

Diary of the Infrequent Writer

In the blurry moments that followed having my story on Brittle Paper and Kalahari Review concurrently, I intended to gloat in my next blog post. Well, just a tad of, “Yeah, finally…” But then, the publications are growing stale. It is time to move. It is time to shut my eyes against the rejection letters and pen something else. Here’s one of the little things I’ve penned. Enjoy.

journal

I.

Life, you write, is running. Life is running and you are pursuing.

You stare at the single sentence and shake your head. A pitiful, grateful shake. Grateful because at least, you are one sentence down. Grateful because the newly purchased sketchbook is no more the color of empty.

It is now the color of ink.

You close the sketchbook, set your pen beside it, gently, as if a more forceful way would shatter your muse. You push the chair back, flex your right arm, left, right, left, until they begin to ache. You press the bones in your finger and they pop.

You dress for lectures.

You put on gray trousers and a shirt baggy at the hems. As you stare before the mirror, you imagine what she would say – you and your large shirts – and what your response would be – well, what can I do?

You head back to the room, puff your backpack, head out. The sky is tinted with moody gray. You sigh at the ridiculous thought flirting with your mind and amble towards the shuttle park. An hour later, you nod off. You dream. In the dream, you are in a class and you are thinking about storytelling when your name pops out before the board. When the lecturer says, “Yes, you with a rock’s face,” you shake your head and do not budge from your seat.

You wake up then. But you are still dreaming. Only in this dream, you cannot refuse the lecturer’s bidding. Only in this dream, you are the target not because you are lost in storytelling but for the wanderings of your eyes. Only in this dream, she is there. She is looking at you. Her mouth is parted and her eyes are fixed, as if someone just snatched her okansoso.

You shut your eyes. You nod off.

II.

She is not talking about it. Actually, its – two ‘it’. You walk with her down the stretch of concrete, your sight blurring with each turn. She wears a cream skirt. She carries a bag. She wears sandals.

You note how low you have fallen, how you can’t string a couple active descriptions, how you can’t say – the hem of her skirt repels a soft breeze, how you can’t say – her footfall, suppressed by the lightness of her sandals, is barely noticeable, how you can’t say – a mass of hair slopes down her shoulders, firmed by a golden clip.

You reach the lab and pull the door in. The registration officer is in Nowhere Land. A note taped to his office presents this in simple, layman terms.

“We’d have to come back,” you say.

“‘Course,” she says.

You breathe. You breathe because trouble needs no more flavor to be edible. You breathe because the last time she said, ‘course’, she forwarded you a panoptic message on Whatsapp. Panoptic. It’s the word Soyinka would use. Shakespeare too. Real writers. Not writers of your niche that’d say…

Long!

She taps you. Her fingers blush against your skin. “Can we sit?”

You stare at the benches. “Sure.”

She walks ahead and settles on one the way a bluebird might settle when it’s about to whisper a dirge. You sit beside her. You do not hold hands. There are some times that hands do not need to be held.

“You have a problem,” she says.

“Certainly,” you say. The grin consumes your chin, the stupid grin.

“And we have to rid you of that problem.”

You keep quiet. Your eyes flit to her nostrils, sharp as Thatcher’s, and her lips, a speller’s lips. You feel a soft pat on your inside, a pat that says – at least, you know a little comparison.

“David,” the voice calls. The wind calls.

“Yes!”

“What did I say last?”

“What?”

She drills you her we-are-all-serious look. “I said something. I want you to complete it.”

“It,” you say.

Her eyes snap shut. Eyelids, rather.

“Debbie,” you say.

Closed eyes.

You dare to touch her. Nothing. You tingle the hair on her arm. She cracks up.

“Don’t do that, Dave. Stop it.” She clamps a hand over her mouth and parts her eyes. “Dave, stop. Stop joorh.”

“So now, it’s all done.”

“At all. It isn’t even near done.”

“At least, you are laughing.”

“We aren’t about my laugh here,” she says. “We are about your writing.”

“I would be fine –”

“So you said last week. I need you to write.” She suddenly cuts contact. “Our rent is due next week. Mum’s working herself up trying to pile the balance, and it irks all I can do from this side of town is chip in encouraging pills.”

“And pray,” you say.

She shakes her head. Does she not believe in the effectual power of prayer anymore?

“Dave,” she calls. She crosses her legs. “You should write, irrespective. Thing is, the problems around you wouldn’t subside because you need to pen the next Purple Hibiscus or Blink of an Eye. People would keep dying. Rejections letter will stream into your mail like there’s a purging in literary agencies. Lecturers would mark your face during classes and call you to the board, your writing sometimes would feel like cardboard copy… Bad things aren’t edging close to the end.”

Then she takes your arm, your right arm, and brings her lips to it. “You know what to do. Now, go do it.”

III.

Life, you write, is running. Life is running and you are sweating its butts in a chase. There’s no need to catch it, so long you can hit positivity off a few co-runners during the chase. You write for half an hour, series of not-so-sensible sentences, then close your sketchbook.

You call Debbie.

“She’s paying tomorrow,” she says. “She isn’t sending me money till the month draws out. I don’t know what I’ll eat.”

“That’s good,” you say. “That’s very good.”

“Dave?”

“Yes?”

“This you?”

“Sure is.”

“Wow,” she says. “You wrote.”

“Yes,” you say.

No one says anything for a while.