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.

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“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.

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How You Know You Are Busy 

The beep-beep comes again. Softer this time, because it’s WhatsApp. Your mum. She wants to know if you’ve completed the research she asked of you. Your fingers fly off the keypad and unto the phone as you punch a harried response.

I.

You wake with cramps in your biceps. You feel like you just pulled a freight train across a field stretching 1,000 miles. You lift your neck to turn at the window and hear a crack, like the nerve connecting your torso to your head just snapped. You run your hand slowly over the back of your head and bring it away wet. And clean.

No blood.

A sigh escapes you. You notice the wetness extends down the front of your arm, slipping over to your open palm. You shrug and roll off the bed and stop at the last second, just before you fall four feet. You remember then that you aren’t in the king-size bed at home, but a hand-me-down, please-manage foam, and you’d have landed with your head had you not halted.

You remember a lot of things too.

You remember that your tutorial manual is squeezed against the wall, the way a man’s face might be wrinkled if slapped by a door. You remember that the tick-tick-tick reaching you is coming from a clock your roommate found at the physics lab. He’d placed it over the slab above your closet to alert you when morning breaks. You squint through the glass panes and catch the sun scudding across a clear sky.

You jump.

You land with your palm facedown and breathe. Breath. You remember that you need to breathe often, that a pile of clothes is squeezed under the wooden doors of your closet, that the smell wafting into your nostrils is from the clothes, that you just sent a pot flying when you jumped, and the pot contained oil-stained water, that you still haven’t attended your assignment, that…

Breathe. You are remembering too much. You shut your eyes and breathe. Breath.

II.

You stare at the screen in shock. Two messages glow. The first is an alert. A credit alert. You know the fee just zoomed into your account, somehow. The whole shebang you charged the man. He surely crossed the border of your agreement. His words dilute with your thoughts: 60 percent upfront, the balance later. And here, he’s sent everything.

You scroll to the other text. You see the man’s name: Mr. Adebayo, and forget to breathe. Or maybe the room is drained of air. Maybe the woman hovering at the marker board has evaporated the gaseous content of the room with her incoherent explanation.

She’s saying something like, “Boltzmann’s constant is…” You lose the rest of the sentence. Her name is Laide. But you call her Dr. Laide, with the doctor boomed over the Laide. You are used to it, the weight tied to titles on this side of the globe. Your heart goes icy when she walks towards you. Her eyes are on you, as if she’s the mind-reader in X-men. She smiles, a grin that says, “I’d get you.” She walks straight past you like you are just a molecule.

You don’t blame her. There are over 500 in the lecture theatre. She probably would be incapable to place your face. You love it that way – the unknown student.

A beep explodes from your phone. Your reaction is reflex. Your left hand bolts and slams down on the speaker. You freeze in that posture. No one turns your way. Heaving, you review the text. It’s from Mr. Adebayo. He’s awaiting your response. But you can’t think up one. You don’t know how to reply this notification.

I need the design in three hours.

III.

The second finger of your left wrist is dead. Feels dead. You drag it across the mouse embedded in your laptop as you modify a circle. Get an external mouse, your friends had advised. You’d refused, the way a fly refuses to heed instruction before it ends up in the liver of a monkey.

The beep-beep comes again. Softer this time, because it’s WhatsApp. Your mum. She wants to know if you’ve completed the research she asked of you. Your fingers fly off the keypad and unto the phone as you punch a harried response. You are barely done when another one chirps. Class rep.

“Emmanuel, where are you? I’d be submitting the assignment by four.”

Your brain bursts.

Your eyes flit to the analog clock embedded in the top right corner of the laptop. 03:28. Thirty-two minutes before you mail the design. Exactly the same time you have to complete your assignment and get it across to the rep.

You race to your closet, grab the manual, rummage for a pen. You settle down by your workspace and scribble through. The answers come to you the way a newly-wed would go to her husband. You are done in seven minutes, saving three. You call a colleague and meet him at your doorway. He disappears with the assignment.

The time is 03:44. You work like a mad, irritated tiger. Another beep. You do not check. You flip your mouse to the pentagon tool and draw a star. You paint it with colors. You are still amazed at the wonder of graphic design and Corel Draw. You complete the flier design just as the last second dips into four pm.

Your phone beeps. It’s angry. Like a boxer losing control. You slide to receive. Mr. Adebayo rushes through his words, as if he’s in a mental institution and cannot be caught. You nod and close Corel Draw. A dialog box pops up and you press, ‘no’, absently.

Mr. Adebayo says, “Is it ready?”

“Yes. I’m forwarding it to your mail –”

A chirps ends your sentence. You scroll to the file containing a few designs and click the most recent one. A blue circle swirling informs you it is loading. You breathe. It feels so good to breathe again.

The page loads. Your eyes bulge. The design is incomplete. Your brain jogs down the last few minutes. And then, like the finger of God taking a peek at you in a stormy night, you remember…

You did not save the design.

****

P.S 1: This kinda reads like my typical day, save I still get a gob of things done. 

P.S 2: There’s no image. More on that in future posts.