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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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.