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

leaving-the-addict-that-you-love

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.

tomato

“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…

By Way Of An Apology

sorry

The story goes of a woman who stumbled upon a tape of her husband and another lady. She narrows said lady, sends her a mysterious invitation to dinner, and meets at the restaurant. While waiting for the meals, and with the lady still racking her senses on how she knows the woman, the woman shows her the video.

The lady pushes her chair back and falls to both knees, fingers clasped. Her words come out incoherently. Dinner that day ends with the woman finding a friend in the lady.

Not so for the woman’s husband. Husband, after discovering he’s been found out, takes it upon himself to practice a new routine of gifts buying – necklaces, chains, shoes, sneakers, cooking utensils. He buys the globe for the woman.

A month on and without a word from the woman, someone asks her, “Why did you forgive the mistress and not your husband?”

No eyelids batted, the woman says, “The stupid guy couldn’t even say sorry.”

Story ends.

Point of the story, one should never assume people understand one’s method of saying sorry. That I send you a truckload of gifts without mouthing the words, “I am sorry,” might, more often than not, mean I’m not sorry.

So, guys, I am sorry. Yeah, I said it.

The easiest thing a writer could do is offer excuses for not writing – I had series of tests and now I am preparing for exams; there was no light; I felt sapped out, like I had emptied and I needed a refilling; there was no new read, and books are the writer’s fuel; Debbie broke up…

Did you get that? Debbie, dearest girlfriend, broke up… Almost broke up. Wanted to break up with me. But, it did not occur. The village people played an offside here.

Thing is, there is really no reason for not writing. Excuses has never, and will never live up as a synonym for reason. A thousand excuses might abound, but not one reason. Good, solid, reason. I recall the beginning days as a blogger, how I posted twice a week, struggling once a while to meet the demand. Months wore on and I settled on a weekly sharing. School crept in and weekly took a cut. Even at once in two weeks, I haven’t exactly churned out really interesting, hooking content.

Until Debbie.

Exams are rapping the door now, intent on breaking it down. Exams mean – no writing, no graphics design, praying with one eye closed and the other on the course outline, spooning rice with a calculator, waking and feeling a bang in one corner of the head. Exams mean many things.

But, exams this time mean something different. One of those is write. I will write and write. I will write about Debbie, about the close breakup, the rekindling, about winning a short story competition (low budget), crying at the laptop, writer friends, the dusty academic track, about everything worth hearing.

About the few short stories I read in September and October, maybe.

Now, I sit at the laptop, looking at this post that’s just shy above one page, listening as faithful, faithful explodes into the air from a friend’s phone, and I’m asking, what’s the best way to end a post that’s supposed to be an apology. The bees are buzzing, here’s what they are buzzing. Here’s what I’m leaving you, dear reader, with, till the next post (should come in a number of days).

I am sorry.

What It Feels Like To Die

lonely beach

Before you begin, be informed this story was written over two weeks past, entered for an impromptu competition which it won. It’s the last story I’ve written. When you are done, kindly read the postscript. Gracias.

*********************

“He’s dead,” Kemi says.

We take even strides, kicking dust and disproportioned stones, noting the houses with mallams and the ones secured by German Shepherds, counting the palm trees sprouting along the road, saying a thousand things without saying anything. Gray clouds scud along the sky.

“What does it feel like to die?” Kemi asks.

I stop and look up just as the sun reveals itself.

“Look up.”

She angles her view.

“What do you see?”

“Huh, depends.”

“Look at it, whatever you see,” I say. I watch as her eyes twitch at the heat. “How does it feel?”

“Like embers,” she says. “Like pepper and fire.” She looks away. “What was that for?”

I start walking. “That’s what it feels like to die. Like pepper and fire. Peppery fire.”

She spots a stone sends it sailing down the road. We arrive at the house, typical to all the other big houses in the street. A black gate, coiled wire chiseled into the fence, a guard with accent as thick as suya, tiles running up to the entrance, a woolen carpet with an animal stitched into it – this one’s lion.

Kemi taps me. She points her gaze to a stool, a wooden stool with a framed picture, a note with two pages open, a flower vase, a pen. I stare at the flowers stuck into the vase, at the dried up petals. Sometimes recently, the flower was vibrant and drew butterflies. It was alive. Breathing.

It is dead now.

I tell Kemi I do not want to write my name. I idle at the entrance till she’s done and we step in. Inside, a woman slouches on the largest sofa, her arms set on her thighs in a way that makes me wonder if the arms have blood in them. Her eyes are closed, her lips sag below her jaw. She’s flanked by two women. They wear black too. Their eyes are partly open like they’re afraid a kid would sneak in and pilfer money off the bowl on the center table.

“Good afternoon ma,” I say.

“We are sorry about the loss,” Kemi says. Her voice cracks as if she’s afraid of pressing further, as if the tiles on which she stands have suddenly become ice and an extra syllable would cave her in.

The woman, Jide’s mother, nods. She does not see us. One of the women calls Jide’s brother.

A minute later, we stand in the compound. I look at Martin and he looks at me and we begin to cry. I look at Kemi and she looks at me and she joins. Soft balls of tears travel down our faces, towards our lips, staining our shirts. I reach for Martin’s palm and press. Kemi takes the other.

“He shouldn’t have,” Martin says. His voice is blunt, like the blades of a machete from the Civil War. “He wouldn’t have died if we’d left,” Martin says.

I nod and Kemi nods because we know what he means. Martin nods along, and his neck bobs as if it would rather be severed. And then, I remember Jide and his severed arm and cry again.

.

This is how Jide died. The eyewitness – a man who wore kaftan seven days a week, whose beard was long enough to sweep the street – said Jide was returning with a friend, a backpack on his bag. They were talking and laughing with their lips curved. He heard them make comments about the Social Studies assignment and how they didn’t care if Nigeria was celebrating independence or if the President wasn’t in the country and how the teacher was simply punishing them.

The murderers came from nowhere, Eyewitness told us. E be like those things for naija movies, he said, wey person go just appear. Jide’s friend saw them first. He’d yelled before he ran. He hadn’t been too fast, Eyewitness said, not fast enough for him to escape anyway, but the murderers had not come from him. They cornered Jide to a dustbin, said something in thick Hausa, and swung the cutlass.

The Eyewitness recalled seeing the arm fly away like a limb snagged off by a ferocious lion. He was running before his legs lifted.

.

“I don’t believe it,” Kemi says. The gates shut behind us. “The eyewitness account.”

We start walking again. The sun settles on the house, and for a moment, I imagine it spitting fire at the occupants, at Martin and at Jide’s mother and at the two women who came to mourn. I imagine the flowers cracking up in intense heat, imagine Jide’s picture weeping as it was reduced to ashes.

He was in jeans in the picture, Jide. I was there then. I, Kemi, Martin, Jide, and a few other friends, teasing the sands bordering a beach, throwing handful of sands at one another, laughing at the funny lines the writer in me conjured about our visit to the beach.

“Say cheese,” Martin had said, just as Jide lunged himself at me. Later, Martin told me, “He’s a naughty boy.”

I imagine now, how Martin would say, “He was a naughty boy.”

Holding back the urge to cry, I fumble for Kemi’s arms, link fingers with her, ignoring her surprise.

“Would you write about it?” Kemi asks.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I don’t know what I want to do or what I feel right now.”

“I understand.”

“You can’t.”

“I do,” she says.

I let her hand slip away. Her face twitches in a frown.

“You are angry now. I can’t say, ‘I know how you feel when your boyfriend stops holding you.’ I’m not you. I can’t be you. I can’t have your experiences or feel your pain.”

We link fingers.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

“Jide. Was one good chap. Clean ambitions. Gentle kid. Loved Port Harcourt. Do you know he was the first person I heard use the word, pogrom? He was reading up the Civil War and spotted it. Pogrom.”

Kemi nods. She knows, of course. I’ve told the story before. Only then, I said, “Jide is a good chap.”

A bicycle trots past us. A scar curves towards the rider’s left chin. I nod at him and he dips his head and in the brief moment, I feel a spark, a strange familiarity, like he’s Jide’s reincarnation and the scar on his face means he survived.

“He’s going to pay his condolence,” Kemi says.

“What? Why?”

“They were friends.”

“The rider’s over forty years.”

“They were friends,” Kemi says again. “Used to tell Jide about the war and about the fact that the Igbos attacked first, killing five leaders, known as the Coup of the Five Majors. Most of it was second-hand memory though. Things his parents had told him, told he Jide.”

“He would have been a kid then,” I say.

“Yes.”

“No wonder Martin always thought another war was impending and that it was better for them to leave Port Harcourt.”

“It’s too late now,” Kemi says.

And because I am in complete agreement, I say nothing.

.

At home, I listen to Yanni’s tracks. Nightingale. I search Civil War on Google and read the Wikipedia account. Twice, I cough and make mental notes. Under a section, Persecution of Igbos, one Charles Keil recounts – Col. Gowon could be heard over the radio issuing ‘guarantees of safety’ to all Easterners, all citizens of Nigeria.

I push the chair back and walk to the door, phone in hand. Guarantees of safety. Suddenly, I feel a twitch in my stomach, as if by blaming the Igbos for starting the war, I joined in the emboweling of the tribe. As if I once lifted a cutlass too. As if my name, Demola, means – come with a sword. As if Jide’s massacre is justifiable action.

I pick my phone and dial Kemi.

“Go outside,” I say.

“I’m outside,” she snaps back.

“Look at the sun. Please.”

I hear a heave, static air filling the background. I lift the phone off my face and stare at the sun.

“How does it feel?”

“Hot. Blandly hot,” she says.

“That’s how it feels when someone dies.” I tell her about Civil War – “No, it’s not Captain America’s Civil War” – and how it’s easy to identify with the death of the Majors because of tribal relations and silently approve the death of the Igbos and how it is all mistakes.

“So, no one knows,” she says.

“No one knows how death feels.”

“I’m sorry,” she says. I know she means the deaths. Jide’s. The Majors. Everyone.

“I’m sorry too,” I say.

We begin to cry.

P.S: What do you think about the story? The dialogue, pace, setting, and the story itself. Writing that was a bit tedious because the plot had to grow from real life events and had to be as living as possible, hence the pidgin English. Did I try? Did I not? Thank you for reading.

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