Ripple Effects

I imagine briefly, how I would write that – the boy who sat on the left of the room, sticking the tongs of a serrated knife into a piece of yam was (insert name). I immediately think of Ted. Ted and his book full of Dekker-effects and Dekker-sentences. Sentences like, Dead by Billos. Sentences like, One of his many names. Sentences like, To say he was fat was an understatement. He was obese.

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I.

It is night. I am holding a letter in one hand. A note. A piece of paper stained with words. Debbie’s words. A bulb casts an orange hue on the white sheet. The blades of the fan creak with each rotation, jutting downwards and pulling upwards, and briefly, I consider leaving the room before the inevitable would happen.

But I do not budge.

I unfold the paper and smoothen the creases, lingering my finger on each edge, as if by doing so, the words in the paper would vanish. I settle on a stool and begin to read.

Dave,

It’s been a while. Scratch that. I’m angry at you.

How are you? How is home? How is writing? How was your semester result? Oh. Ayo mentioned you hadn’t seen it yet. Your school’s so… Sometimes, I’m glad we are only in the same institution, not in the same school. Well, I just wanted to say hello. I know your head is bobbing in disbelief, so I’ll just state my grievances.

How could you? We were close, Dave. Friends. Whispers of our relationship laced every dialogue, so much I had to pray myself into caution. We talked about writing and about family, goals, church, love, Father, everything. And you just vanished. Like a satellite hacked off the feeds.

That doesn’t work fine, Dave. It doesn’t (sigh). It’s break now. Holidays are good times to rethink and reorganize. The clothes are on the line. The smell of harmattan lingers in the air, thick as strong brandy. My mum’s cooking rice. She asks of you every morning, just after family prayers.

You know the implications.

Hmm. The hellos have been said. I should go now. Mum calls. Give your brother a wave for me.

Love, Deborah.

I hold the paper at a stretch and suspend breathing. The next few moments, I think, are important. Important in preserving her voice, the smile on her face, the scent of her words, the spoken and the salient.

The door opens and Brother peeks.

“Dinner’s done.”

I nod. “I’d join you.”

He catches the note but plays blind. When the door bangs shut, I ease up and tuck the note in a pocket of my backpack. The bulb fizzles. I fumble out of the room.

II.

“Christmas,” Mother says. “What’s your plan?”

I gaze at her. Gaze her over. “What else.”

She sets her spoon at the tip of the plate. “Seriously, Dave, you need to think about doing something tangible with your life.”

“Mum, please.”

She looks past me to Brother. Brother nods and forks a neatly cut yam. I imagine briefly, how I would write that – the boy who sat on the left of the room, sticking the tongs of a serrated knife into a piece of yam was (insert name). I immediately think of Ted. Ted and his book full of Dekker-effects and Dekker-sentences. Sentences like, Dead by Billos. Sentences like, One of his many names. Sentences like, To say he was fat was an understatement. He was obese.

A smile wiggles unto my lower lip.

“David.”

I sit straight. “Yes, I intend getting a job, if that works out. Also, I am sending samples of my works – not writings – to people, hoping they would be interested in hiring me. Also, I’m trying to see if I can mentor someone in writing. I have some books to study too.” Confusion fills her eyes. “Books of the bible.”

She smiles.

“And of course, there are notes to familiarize myself with. 200 level notes. How’s that?”

She picks her spoon and begins to eat. Brother rocks his chair. No one says anything for a while.

Wait. That was a Dekker-sentence.

III.

The clock strikes midnight. I tap a button on the phone and close my eyes. I do not say – Thank you Jesus for a new day. Instead, I say – Lord, I need help. I talk about the letter and Debbie, about writing, about how my fingers are growing and soon, my Sunday School teachers would be curious as to why I haven’t mentioned any plans for marriage, about the need to, yes, do something with my life?

“Should I stick with writing, Lord?”

A reptile hisses in the distance. I turn over and continue the reread of Blink of an eye. I consider the hero’s dilemma – having precognitive powers yet facing attacks from all angles. Midway, the precognition’s spell dwindles. What’s worse, he’s trapped on the road with a Saudi princess. And no, they aren’t eloping lovers.

They are just about to be.

Something about the story strikes me – the hero explaining the limitations of his precognition as, “Presently, I can see a squad car heading towards us from Fifth. But, the squad car can decide to turn right at the next junction, which produces another future.” His princess looks with blank eyes.

I too, for a trice.

But then, it connects. Ripple effects. Like a rock plopped into a pool, there’s one central action and surrounding actions. If, right now, I pick my phone and text Debbie – I am sorry. Can we meet tomorrow? – and she shows up and a month later, we are dating and on a night of wild drinks, there’s an exchange between us, the pregnancy that might result would not be because we drank too much, it would go back to the text I sent.

So, I should…

I snap awake. The phone reader glows. I tap the reader close and trail my last thought. Yes, Debbie. Central action.

I send her a text – Hi, Debbie. I have read your letter so much my head hurts. I will call tomorrow. Good night. Michael. I hit send and rest my head on the pillow. Puff a breath.

The sound of a ticking clock fills the silence.

******

Hi. Thank you for stopping by to read. There’s something else I have to share with you today.

Christmas was drawing close and the air was thick with carols. The neighbors chattered about chicken, rice, and what else. I, however, was thinking about writing. Another year was wrapping up and I was yet to hit that 10-pointer. In came CFW.

I remember responding to the call for submissions and how, weeks later, the two stories I sent were accepted to be published. The magazine came out in January and marked over a thousand downloads.

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This time, there’s a new magazine. Freedom Magazine, published by Creative Freelance Writers. The stories in these magazines are fresh, not because they’ve clinched some Caine, but that they are narrated with unabashed voices. You wade through the poems, the story titled Lotanna and the story told from the POV of a weapon, and you wonder how, indeed, some writers are willing to put in the work. The bonus is, there’s no charges on downloading. Just visit CFW and find the download link (it should be up here as soon as I can access it).

What’s more? There’s a second publication. An anthology. Long Walk To Freedom. Thirty stories with a central, salient cry – Home is where freedom lies. The price of freedom costs more than rubies, yet the editors have decided to put up the anthology at an affordable price. Hit us at CFW to find out more. Each download matters simply because, essentially, our stories are worth telling.

And worth reading!!!

A Bit Of You

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I am going to miss you. It was the first thing you wanted to say. Because he was a guy and you were a guy and the admission felt bland on your lips, inappropriate, you said, “So, what do you plan to do during the break?”

He did not stop packing. “Man would find work, of course. Work.”

You nodded as if it was norm and leaned into the wall, watching him fold one cloth after another, then throw the small bucket you normally fetched drinking water in. The bucket sat sideways in the bag, like a lopsided treasure box, its lid smeared with dirt that had accumulated over the session. A second bag rested before his closet. The closet door swiveled in the morning breeze, its inside cleared save a nylon bag and a junk of a textbook.

You thought how funny that some weeks back, the textbook was a treasure. The bunk on which you sat was close to the entrance. Your roommates occupied their space, each lost in a floating activity, and you looked at them and thought they were all engaging themselves because, in the smallest way, they felt as if they were floating away.

“Finally, Jos,” one said. He kept a beard. His face was arguably as clean as freshly plucked tomato, with that redness and that evenness and that succulence. His eyes danced like two rings. A bible spread open on his bed. You smiled. Church was not his favorite place to go.

“Have you missed your mum?”

He stopped packing. He towered above you. “No. Not really miss.”

“In ten months?”

He shrugged. You shook your head and looked away.

*

There’s a laptop on the bed. Not bed. Bunk. Steel bunk. The mattress was cleared off it hours back, folded into bends, like a rolled metal sheet, and dragged to a lodge off campus. The laptop is on the bunk, you are on the bunk, a book is on the bunk. The laptop is opened to a document and you stare at the pages, lingering on Times New Roman and font size, praying silently that inspiration would come.

Kevin is in no need of inspiration. He’s longed stop packing. His legs are folded atop the bed now. Arms to chest, like a nine-year old flogged to silence, to solitude. In his eyes are lost circles, as if those eyes have travelled the desert, journeyed the forest, and are now in a community sparkling with life and are wondering how to adjust, to blend in. Kevin is watching a film. A Chinese movie.

No. It isn’t Chinese. It’s Korean. And Taiwanese too. It’s a sort of rerun. The movie is playing on another laptop. The laptop’s owner wears a striped shirt. He has beards too, unlike Kevin. He watches a lot of movies.

Kevin watches without grunting, without blinking, without breathing. It is so alien to him you wonder if he still exists, if it is only a clone sitting on that bed, a travelling bag at his feet, a Chinese movie before his eyes.

You talked about clones today with a departmental mate. How it’s such a stupid, illiterate idea, though executed by a bunch of scholars. “How many gigabytes of data would it take to code emotions?” the mate had asked.

You look at Kevin now and see the answers in his eyes. In the lost circles. Never.

Five minutes later, you haven’t added a word to the Term Paper. Kevin has spoken some words. Passive comments. This is not the Kevin you know. Kevin, naturally, would not speak except when watching movies. This Kevin is as mute as a mute.

Mute as a mute?

You begin to wonder if the silence is intentional on Kevin’s part, if Kevin is choking on the words because he is trying to hold back himself; maybe the old rule, the words you speak show who you are, is playing in his head and he does not want to reveal what is coursing through his nerves now, hence the silence. Maybe he is thinking of home already, of work, of stretches of hours in steep darkness and eerie quiet.

Maybe he is thinking of the past eleven months.

Someone roars.

Yes, roars. Like a lion. He turns in his sleep and mutters inaudible phrases. A moment on, his breath steadies. You want to draw close to him and pat his neck and say, “You don’t have to talk in your sleep, if only you would talk to God.” But then, you remember his hours as your roommate are numbered.

So you shrink in the bed and continue to watch the blank laptop screen.

The sun warming the louvers remind you it’s noon. You tap a few more words and hit the save button before walking out. Outside, you stand under the walkway, staring out at the deserted concrete field. Someone walks by and talks of the football match showing in the evening, and slowly, images filter into your memory. Images of hostel residents running after a leather ball. Images you shot when you were thinking about dinner and the next days. Images you shot when you had to pray and the room was suffocated with noise. Images expressing your first year as a student.

You stare so long you feel tear snakes towards your eyelids. So you blink off the tears. You turn around and walk back to the room, taking even, equal, measured steps, thinking of the term paper.

The movie is done. Kevin is talking with the erstwhile roommate and there’s a small smile on his face and a fragment of light has crawled into his eyes. His sight catches you as you enter and he offers that small smile. You flatten your cheeks and resume with the paper. Your topic borders technology, but you begin to write about goodbyes, about roses that wither for hours before blooming again, about rain and sun, about being a student.

There’s a silence in the room. No one is asleep, and you wonder if the silence is a mutual, unvoiced agreement, if everyone feels there’s a sacredness in the next few hours of being together, and the sacredness must be revered. You stop typing and set the laptop on the edge of the bed, even though it might topple over.

You clasp your hands together and look at Kevin, at the sleeping roommate, at the one who doesn’t miss his mum, and you think of pushing out a lengthy exhale. But because the silence hasn’t been broken, because you feel everyone feels there’s a dangerous teeter in the next few hours, because you think you all have realized there’s a bit of you in the next person.

Because of all these, you stay silent.

P.S: The session is done. Home looms in the distance. How do you feel when you finally have to say goodbye?

Thank you for reading. Thanks.

Feeble Words

Yet, when he looked at Peter again, his heartbeat ceased and something nibbled at him, something dangerous, like a tiny virus waiting to explode.

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“It will be in your third year. On a Wednesday, the third day of the week, three girls from your department will ask you to come pray for a roommate who’s fighting a headache. And by the next morning you will begin to reconsider the word pure.”

Bolade had not expected the response and when Peter did not smile and say it was a joke, he hit his roommate and said, “You are joking, right?”

Peter smiled. “Scared already?”

A small smile formed on Bolade’s lips and his breathing returned to normal. He smiled at Peter’s smile and moments later, a gentle air had settled into the room. They talked about the remaining exams and about the windy break. Peter wanted to see some movies, visit some girls, make some money. In that order.

“You are crazy, right?”

“Not half as you,” Peter said.

Bolade cut his gaze and stared at the walls, at the scriptures emblazoned with black marker. Romans 6. Romans 8. The last verses of the opening chapter of Ephesians. Verses he wrote to ward off evil spirits and temptations lurking at the bend. Yet, when he looked at Peter again, his heartbeat ceased and something nibbled at him, something dangerous, like a tiny virus waiting to explode.

That evening, he left Bolade in the room and went to church, wearing a white shirt. At the entrance, where he logged in his name on the worker’s form, he stared at the usher with dimples and wondered if she too had engaged in a dialogue similar to his, if she too had reconsidered pure. The usher sighted him and smiled, a harmless expression, but in her face were dangerous stones, as if she would rather be alone with him.

A numb headache seized Bolade’s brain. He closed his eyes and breathed, telling himself he was having the strange thoughts because of Peter’s words and that he should not have listened – he should have shut his ears and prayed in tongues.

Later, when the President spoke on the importance of praying in tongues, the microphone firm in one hand, the free arm flailing at the end of each word, like a virtual stamp, Bolade turned his back to the church and squeezed his eyes the tightest and prayed.

He did not wait for Tope after service and, on his way out, the usher smiled at him again.

He did not smile back.

*

He stood on Stateline road, edging towards the junction, studying the night traffic. The moon was in hiding and the air had a mustiness to it, like wine abandoned in a cellar. He watched as humans drifted by, male and female, young and young, old and young, the stupid and the more stupid, and after many minutes, he began to feel like just a number, as if his purpose was just to fill up one more hole.

A boy hawked moinmoin, the transparent container perfectly balanced on his head, like it was his conjoined twin, reminding Bolade of the couple he’d seen earlier, fingers linked as if they were born like that. He closed his eyes and opened them only when a hooter drummed into his hearing.

The driver yelled from inside the cab. “You fool.”

Bolade started to respond then choked on his words. He faced the other side of the road and watched the approaching van, a white van with no plate, and for a brief spell, he considered rooting his legs in the middle of the road, and how Mama would cry that the village people had finally gotten to her, taking her only child, her okansoso.

The word lingered in Bolade’s ears long after the van had faded. Okansoso.

His phone buzzed. Tope. He watched the call fade into voicemail and heard her voice, soft, warm, fragile, suitable for the usher she was, and he imagined if she too had been told to sell out. Like the usher who smiled at him.

A couple walked by. Bolade noticed them because as their shadows covered his, the guy hit the lady on the butt. Bolade’s eyes froze. Stopped moving. He watched as the lady looked over her shoulder, a grin consuming her features, as if she just won a major feat, and the guy whispered, and then they walked on, nonchalantly, like hitting someone’s butt was tradition.

He realized the meaning of the word, impure then. Impure was hitting someone’s butt in the middle of the road and laughing over it while you bought fried yam and potatoes. Impure was plastering a poster with a lady clad in bikini at the main gate. Impure was thinking about an usher’s lips.

His phone buzzed again.

“Hello.”

“I’ve been calling you since eternity.”

“Sorry,” Bolade said. A soft hum filtered into his hearing. “Are you at home?”

“Yes, I am in my lodge.” Pause. “No, you are not welcome.”

“Wait outside,” he said and ended the call.

Minutes on, he stood in front of the gate and listened for the creak of the lock. A flashlight shone under the gate. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again, lights blinded him.

“Sleep-standing?”

Tope hit him. Her hand was soft. Her skin was soft. He told himself it was wrong to think of a worker’s skin as soft, but then she touched his cheek again, in a way that surprised him, in a way that he assumed she felt was perfectly normal, in a way that tingled his nerves and set his hair on an electron-charged path.

Slowly, he removed her fingers.

“I couldn’t see you in church.”

“Yeah,” Tope said.

Bolade wanted to tell her about his roommate’s statement, and how he felt so odd and so weird, and how odd and weird felt so feeble to describe how he actually felt. He held her fingers because he was beginning to feel cold, and she wrapped her skin around him.

“It will be fine,” Tope said. Bolade nodded, his head bobbing like a pendulum fitted to a thin limb.

Tope drew him into a hug. He did not think about the coldness of her skin. “I wanted to bleed my skin,” he said, his voice cracking, like the surface of an icy pond. “He was saying all stuffs about sex and I should have hit his face but I did not.”

He drew away from Tope’s hug, stared at her face highlighted by a dull moon. “Imagine. He thought it was ridiculous I hadn’t kissed anyone at nineteen.”

Tope smiled. Something sparked in Bolade’s head then, when Tope smiled, her lower lip and her upper lip blending together like they would if they were locking on watermelon. And he knew. He just knew.

“You. Too?”

He suddenly wanted to puke. He ran backwards till his head smacked a fence and turned and punched his stomach, the points below his navel, but nothing came out. He heard Tope come towards him and he ran, his rhythm uncertain, with a dangerous swagger, like someone who had drank too much stale wine. He ran past the main gate with the naked poster, past the sheriffs controlling the flow of cars. He ran to his room and flung himself on the bed and began to cry.

*

That night, he dreamed. He sat on a bench with weak limbs, his bible spread open before him, his eyes sullen from a truckload of tears. The door to the church drifted open and Tope entered. She reached him in four strides and sat on the bench, their knees touching.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

And then, they began to cry.

 

P.S: Try to think of purity as a tomato fruit. A chunk, however minute, off the smooth, succulent skin would leave the fruit deformed till kingdom come. Even if you are justified in taking the chunk. It’s simply logic to wait till the time when you can have the whole fruit to yourself.

Jesus would say this to the multitude. Parables. Go figure.

To Tell A Story

I.

“We should talk,” I say.

She rolls her eyes. “You know how much clichés don’t settle with me.” She sits and places one leg over the other in a go-ahead manner. “Let’s talk.”

I lean against the wall and stare at her. “So, first, I was thinking, maybe I should quit writing.”

Her lips flatten and she pulls a smile. Not the reaction I was expecting. “Second?”

“That’s all.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, I thought you would react and there would be something else to say in argument or defense against your statement and the second and third points would originate hence.”

“Okay.” Debbie opens her bag and brings out a note which she sets on the table. Bracing her jaw with two elbows, she flips a page and pores over it. She wears a black dress with pink belt. I notice she doesn’t look too good in black. The silence grows uncomfortable.

“You aren’t saying nothing.”

“Hmm.” She gives a small laugh. She turns another leaf, mouthing words. I drift closer and read from the page. Altruism and Egoism. Philosophy junk. I feel a tiny bite in me, as if by condemning the course I am writing poor grades for myself. For Debbie.

“Are you an egoist?”

Blink. “What!”

She looks up. “You are an egoist.”

“I don’t practice self-love.”

“Self-love doesn’t make you an egoist, dude.” She is finally talking. A low hum settles in the room. The door creaks as a student enters, backpack slacking down his shirt. His hair is a combed bush. He looks like those who would do something because they felt like, not because it’s tagged right or wrong. Some egoist.

“Who is an egoist?”

Debbie closes the book and stares at me, haunting black eyes. No lipstick and no foundation. She looks like a pallbearer’s spouse.

“I don’t want to talk about it again.” She hangs her bag and heads down the stairs at a steady pace. Doesn’t look back once. I watch as her form shrinks till she gets to the door, turns sideways and slips out. I am still watching when something snaps in my head, like the jolt one feels when he’s running from a monster when there’s a loaded handgun in the pocket of his jeans. Some jolt.

The air outside is strangely cool. A ball of sun travels southward. Sun doesn’t travel southward. I reorient my view and look again. It’s headed west, just as Debbie. I remain frozen for seconds, then shout her name.

A thousand eyes look around, among them, Debbie’s.

I approach her with my hands swinging and experience a flashback to the mornings we walked down the hallway with our arms swinging by our sides and a soft breeze tossing, teasing our hair. Days when I wrote a lot and showed her the lot I wrote. Days when my muse was not at the base of a cash box.

I reach her and, lost for words, say, “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t need you to be sorry.” A pair of sights linger on her. “This ain’t the cinema,” she says. The two guys look on. Debbie shakes her head, starts walking, dragging me behind. “Perhaps I should jog your memory.”

We turn a bend.

“You started writing even before you came to school, before you dreamed of meeting me, before –”

“I have always thought for you.”

Smile. “Be focused on the point,” she says. “You wrote then because you felt the burden to, not because you wanted to write well or teach others the craft or earn some wads. You read strictly and you wrote strictly.” Pause. “All of which crumbled when you became a student. So now, you want to quit writing.” She curves her lower lip. “Like it’s an internship.”

I stare blankly.

“I’m not the writer, you know. You settle it with yourself, if the burden you felt has released you. Or maybe it is you who released the burden. You settle it within yourself.”

She resumes her walk.

“What about us?”

Without looking back, she says, “You know my room.”

II.

The laptop screen is split. Not literally. I view two different screens, one possessing a blank document, the other showing a folder. In the folder are thirteen stories, all penned since the year broke, more than half of which have gone to submissions or competitions, only a handful succeeding in turning necks.

I maximize the partitioned section such that the document with a page as white as angelic robes stares at me. I stare back. A thousand thoughts flow between us, but no words. No, the words haven’t come for a while. The left corner of the screen shows the time, half past two in the afternoon. By four, I would begin to prepare for church. An hour later, my gaze would lock with Debbie’s and I would tell her, “I couldn’t write again.”

I take a puff and scroll to PDF reader, settling for a novel. A reread. I realized recently I had exhausted my collection of books. Perhaps I should write one.

I pick my phone and punch in a text. Hi. Thing is, I don’t know exactly what is eating the sense in my head. At times, I think it’s a lack of similes and metaphors. Sometimes I feel my characters are too abstract. Other times, it’s as if the story was called back from the dead and is yet to find fresh air. Okay, that’s a simile. I’ve prayed and, not like I’m open to answers…

The reply comes almost immediately. Go to the nearest house around you with staircases. Climb to the balcony. Stand at the top of the railings, close your eyes, spread your arms. Jump. As you fall, just before your body hits sand, think of all the things you would have loved to say before your death. Go tell those stories.

For a moment, I forget to breathe. The background light on the laptop fades. The clock strikes three pm.
P.S: See that picture above? That’s the idea of a blank screen, the page we face and attempt to conquer in every single story…