The Blind See Grey

There was no sound in the house. The clock in the sitting-room continued its descent towards four. Or, ascent. It should be ascent, moving from a quarter past three to four in the evening. I couldn’t be sure.

rain

EVENING

It rained today and Brother’s mood worsened.

 

Later, I waited in the compound, my finger stretched to catch thin drops of downpour, I concluded his anger was justifiable. Brother stood with his face so close to the window I thought it was wedged between the bars. His cheeks rose like leavened flour and when he looked at me, there was a distance in those eyes.

I tried to smile at him. My pant was wet and sliding down my waist. I scanned the yard for fireflies or dragonflies and spotting none, I trudged in, backwards. Brother did not say, ‘You know you shouldn’t be walking backwards. It’s bad omen.’

There was no sound in the house. The clock in the sitting-room continued its descent towards four. Or, ascent. It should be ascent, moving from a quarter past three to four in the evening. I couldn’t be sure.

These days, I’m not so sure of anything. At times, I tell myself as a writer and a student, I must write. As a creative being, I must stir and mix and bake words, filling the air with desirable scents. I often sit before the writing board and grab the writing tools. Then I go blank.

Like an astronaut suspended in space.

On astronauts, we often say the world is viewed in black and white. No grey lines. I attempt to enter the mind of an astronaut. He’s draped in this spacesuit fashioned from unknown materials (not so unknown, in a way); his respiration is anomalous – dependent on a cylinder tank attached to his attire. Half of the time, he moves like a fish thrown into the air. A fish trying to fly, flapping its fins against air waves, ignorant of the contrast between wind and tide.

astronautThis astronaut has forgotten the taste of rice and murder. Often, he sits in the spacecraft and runs routine check on the computers. There’s a routed device by his computer for delivering updates to his superiors on the other side of the globe. He doesn’t know how to sleep again, just narrows his eyes and try not to think.

Breathing for him is not reflex.

So, this astronaut is browsing on his special tab – this tab can access a box of information about satellites, a feat normal tabs would suffer explosion if attempted – and while browsing, he stumbles on a page on Mother Earth. His eyes pop as he devours the news. He scrolls to the heading again and reads: Twenty-year old clubbed for opening up on his identity. The astronaut reads a gory report of a poet whipped till he breathed his last after said poet acknowledged he was gay.

The astronaut sits up and stares at the pictures. The victim’s head looks like a mangled egg, those eggs thrown into the crate just to avoid waste. One arm is detached. His legs are splayed, the ankles facing equal but opposite directions. Just below his navel, a gash the size of a pothole runs to the waist. The astronaut takes in every image and almost savours them.

Then he begins to read the comments.

Stupid comments and smart ones. Old and young. Male and female. Straight and bent. Writers and readers. It seems the world has flocked to the page to drop a comment. The astronaut squints as he tries to analyse a statement: Yeye person, trying to be who he was not creative to be.

A gentle headache seizes the astronaut. He falls into the seat and grabs one side of his head, the tab on the table. He’s trying to cry and laugh but he cannot do any because he does not know if it will come out right. He thinks on the statement again and realizes the commenter is saying – the poet deserved to die for becoming who God did not create him to be.

Two things strike the astronaut: First, that jungle justice could be delivered without a raising of eyebrows from the government or law. His eyes flit to the flag embedded in a top corner of the spacesuit, the colourful stars and stripes. A flutter warms his tummy. He knows in America, the poet would still be alive. He stops from crying then because the poet was born and bred in Nigeria, not America.

The astronaut realizes too how all comments can be fitted into one of two boxes – black or white. Black, he deserved to die. White, those who killed him deserve to die.

Feeling uncomfortable, the astronaut slips off his seat and paces the spacecraft. As his footfall echoes the spacecraft, he thinks about grey. Grey lines, between white and black. What happened to the grey? What happened to loving without deception? Yes, God did not fashion humans to lust after people of the same sex. Also, God did not create human beings who loved people of the opposite sex and whose delight was in wasting the blood of the former category.

God did not create homophiles or murderers, the astronaut thinks. The words of Jesus reaches into his thought with the volume of a public address system – love like yourself. Whoever you can help is your neighbour.

Layers of anger and fear and panic settles into the astronaut’s heart as he sits again, the tab before him, his mind engaging his heart in a debate of grey lines.

NIGHT.

A cricket is chirping behind the fridge. I assume it is singing a dirge, remembering the images that floated around social media early in the day, images of victims of jungle justice. The clock is still ticking. I sit opposite Brother and hold his gaze. He’s holding a collection of poems and his eyelids are puffed.

I want to tell him not to cry, that there’s nothing he could have done to prevent the death of the poet. Knowing the opinion is false stops my lips from speaking. Moments of condemnation on social media floods my head, just as I recall the apostle’s words – God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself…

Brother sighs. I raise my head. Together, we close our eyes.

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