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.

images (47)

********

“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.

Advertisements

Her Eyes

Heat swarmed him. His body felt like a grill. He pulled the curtains up and took three long breaths. He didn’t roll his cuffs. He didn’t kneel and sing five worships – mandatory before any service in his fellowship. He didn’t recall a bunch of scenarios where Jesus healed. He just breathed in and out and spoke.

eye

“HI,” he would say to her.

“Hello,” she would say.

“There’s something I have to tell you.”

The lecturer would tap on his microphone, calling the students to attention. “I believe you understand why we’re having a mixed level class.”

A yell of “yes.”

“Say it now,” she would say.

“Can we be friends?”

She would look him in the eye, transporting him with the softness in her eyes. He would remember he once told her, “I have seen the depth of the oceans in your eyes.” He would remember her smile, her teeth shining through her lips, like a flower displaying pollen grains.

He would remember so many things…

 

CLASS ended early the day they met. He left the workshop with his bag, dirty from being flipped by the supervisor, as he took to the sidewalks. He wasn’t taking the commute today. Some days you just had to pause from everything and think.

It was the message of the banner hanging from a tree. Think, Learn, Do. How that slotted in as the theme of a power-packed revival he could not figure. Another print hung a bit above, the white inches of the material shielding the fellowship hosting the TLD program. This one was a street selfie something. There were too many things to do.

He walked slowly, taking his time, checking his watch for each passing bus. He was checking the fourth time when her voice cut into his brooding.

“Six pages to all these nonsensical philosophies, and just a paragraph for Theism. Imagine that.”

“It’s getting to you,” another said. Had be a friend.

“It should, Debbie It’s frustrating. And to think the textbook is mandatory is just…”

“Just what?”

He had spoken before he knew. Four soles screeched on the concrete walkway as two necks made a half-circle rotation. Saving himself, he said, “Sorry. The school’s just like that.” Befuddled looks kissed their faces. “Hmm, I assume you guys are freshmen.” Debbie just contorted her nose in the ‘who asked you’ manner.

“We are,” she said. Her voice reminded him of someone. He’d assume so at first, but now, it came back strongly, like the scent of brandy.

“Your voice reminds me of someone,” he said.

“Hmm,” she said. Her expression suggested more words, but Debbie’s fingers settled in her palm at that moment.

“I guess…” He walked some paces, then said, “Please, buy the manual.”

 

SHE bought it. She did not register it.

“That’s the point of the purchase,” he told her. They stood outside the wooden structure of his fellowship, staring at the inside as dim as a cave. He’d spotted her while transcribing unto the projector.

“How long –”

“Six months,” she said. “I’ve always watched you.”

“What!”

“It’s hard not to notice your group,” she said. The blush on her cheeks faded. “I hope you aren’t thinking, ‘what type of girl is this?’”

“No, what, no.”

“Good.”

He stood behind the fence as she stepped beyond, waved and walked away.

They saw again on Monday, and for Bible Study two days following. She was early for the Study, as usual. “I skipped tutorials,” she said when he later asked her. He noticed her face was fixed on the teacher – not the way a lady watches the pastor as she plots his seduction, but the way a daughter watches her mother and takes note while she prepares dinner. She would occasionally jot, or say deep, or nod along. Once, he projected a wrong verse. She whispered. He corrected himself.

When service ended, he sneaked outside before unit meeting and thanked her.

“Slip me some skin,” she said.

He swallowed for lack of words to express his wide-eyed surprise.

“It’s something I picked in a book.” Then she offered her hand for a shake. He mumbled “Oh” as they shook. At first, he associated it with the church. Had to be because of the church. But then, when he shook hands with his unit head, and with the vice president, he did not feel the same tingle. And no, bolts weren’t loosening in his head. This girl, whoever she was, possessed something he needed, something being involved in too much activities was depriving him.

And get it he did. Every Friday. They gathered in the park – the park with machines abandoned long before World War Two, the park with holes that caved in to the pressure of praying knees, the park with shrubs whittling with each passing day. She chose an open space and wore skirt for each meeting.

“It’s dangerous enough that it’s just you and me, male and female,” she replied to his probing. “God gave us a new heart, but he didn’t take away our brain.” He began to learn other things about her – how she prayed for everyone she’d ever come across, – she’d say, “Lord, give hope to the woman who sells zobo at ETF” – how she took time with Scripture. “Rush through the word, and it’d rush through you.” She shared and he shared. She believed being full and being empty weren’t opposite, that the latter could stir a longing for the former. As hours ticked into weeks, she invited Debbie.

“She was curious,” she told him. “Had to bring her.” The next week, he brought his friend. “Meet Bode,” he told her and winked.

At times, the quartet held hands – one male hand linked to one female hand to zap out any stray feeling – and tongued. He looked forward to each meeting like a baby anticipating suckling. Once, Bode asked if it was okay to tolerate problems.

“Spiritual terms,” he said.

“Since we have all authority in Jesus name, why do we still accept some challenges as God’s molding.”

He deferred the question to her with his eyebrow.

“Answer it,” she said.

“You’re the worker,” Debbie quipped.

He did. He talked about growth – the necessity – and how it was impossible to grow if something wasn’t stretching the skin. He quoted from 2 Corinthians, the fourth chapter. Though she did not smile and pump fists, he knew in his heart that he did well.

“We shouldn’t call down fire at every challenge,” he concluded. They all clapped. If only he’d known.

 

“SHE…” Debbie’s voice – thin as flakes of snow – broke again. He could hear his heart beat against the phone.

“Talk to me,” he said.

“She had an attack.”

His brain went off for an instant. Then he was jumping into jeans and a polo. Halfway to his house, he remembered he hadn’t asked where they were. He hit call history and dialed the last number.

“Don’t take her to the health center,” he said as Debbie picked.

“What?”

“I’m on her way,” he said. “We’d pray for her and she would be well.”

“What!” A higher pitch now.

He considered the absurdity of the statement and ended the call with one tap. He hit the road to be met by an empty park. Where were the buses when you needed them? Jogging now, he called Bode.

They met at her hostel. Not signing in, they hurried up the stairs, flew down Block A, B, and C, reached C128 and knocked. The door answered to their second rap.

“Are you sure –”

He dashed in, Bode close behind. “Shut the door,” he said. She lay on the bed, arms spread beside her, legs closely together, like a woman sleeping into the heavens. He didn’t have to lean to know she wasn’t breathing. Partial loss of consciousness. The third resident in the room was already by her side, muttering.

Thank God!

A heavy hand banged against the door.

“Don’t open,” Bode said before he could turn.

Heat swarmed him. His body felt like a grill. He pulled the curtains up and took three long breaths. He didn’t roll his cuffs. He didn’t kneel and sing five worships – mandatory before any service in his fellowship. He didn’t recall a bunch of scenarios where Jesus healed. He just breathed in and out and spoke.

“In the name of Jesus, rise. Your asthma is gone forever in the name of Jesus.”

His lips closed far slower than they’d parted. The silence in the room could scare a cadaver. It was as if Bode and the other girls had stopped breathing. Even the security man paused on his oddly-paced cadence and seemed to listen. Three seconds dragged into eternity.

“Are you –”

“Sing,” he said. He looked Bode in the eye. “Sing.”

They sang “Give Thanks.” He closed his eyes and followed the songs, his lips not moving. He knew it would happen, yet his heartbeat came faster, like the drumrolls before a martial arts fight. And now, let the weak say I am strong. Let the poor say I am rich. Because…

“Of what the Lord has done.”

“Whoop,” Debbie screamed.

He opened his eyes. She was upright in her bunk, her eyes straight on his, a smile etched into her face.

THERE were consequences. The committee responsible for hostel and its security wanted to know what could have provoked such audacity. Luckily, one of the men on the panel was a praying Pastor. Another woman, moral and friendly, asked, “How did a 300 level guy meet a 200 level lady?”

There were punishments at the fellowship too. For going into a female’s hostel, whatever the reason was. He had to skip projecting for one week and join the prayer department. Once, he would have complained, but now, his heart just hummed.

At their next meeting, they sang and gave thanks and Bode shared how he was actually believing Scriptures. When they held hands to pray, he felt another tingle, the type he felt at the fellowship that day.

 

“HI,” he would say to her.

“Hello,” she would say.

“There’s something I have to tell you.”

The lecturer would tap on his microphone, calling the kids from both level to attention. “I believe you understand why we’re having a mixed level class.”

A yell of “yes.”

“Say it now,” she would say.

“Can we be friends?”

She would look him in the eye. “I would surely pray about it.” Just as his head would focus on the board, she would quip, “But it’d be interesting.”

And he wouldn’t remember a thing from the lecture again.

They Never Came… 

Your phone rang again. Again, you let the tone fade. You knew what Mother would say. Rent was almost up. She cooked the last pack of spaghetti. The soap you brought the last time was cheap. Sometimes, you wondered if she kept a list of complaints. 

Having successfully mastered the temptation to put up a rushed writing in the bid to blog, I have finally found the perfect post. 

Or maybe not. That’s a debate for another occasion. 

The last few days, I’ve – read stories, written a handful, read Scriptures, watched one movie (not more), added another year and, slept. 

Today, I’m blogging fiction. It’s a first for this year. Hint me on your thoughts when you are done. Thank you for stopping by. 

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

II. 

He called on Monday. 

“Mr Cooke?”

“Wale,” he said, his voice thick, as if it was plucked from a bass guitar. “Good morning.”

“Morning. Is it ready yet?”

“Patience, Wale.” Your name came out as way-lay, like his tongue was pegged back. “Did you register the names?”

“Yes,” you said. Your heartbeat sounded behind your ear. 

“Perfect. All that’s left is the transfer.”

“Okay.”

“You have the details?”

“Sure.” Your head began to spin.

“I’d be expecting the cash.”

“Okay.” You set the phone down. You closed your eyes. Calm down. Calm it, Wale. One more step. Just one. You were so close now. 

The clock ticked 8. You snapped awake. Your eyes danced to the souvenir timepiece. You’d change the clock first. Then the velvet couch, the set of pots bent at the edges. So many things. 

You took another breath. 
III. 

The cashier stared at you like you spoke a French dialect. The thick frames of her glasses enlarged her black eyeballs, transforming her into a village witch. Those witches. You were escaping their clutches today. Not one more day. 

“I want to transfer via… No, I need to transfer via Moneygram.”

“And I said the network is teetering over the edge.”

“You don’t understand,” you said, barely keeping your curled fists under control. “I need to do this within the hour.”

She shrugged. Nothing. No seductive smile. No sorry from those full lips. You didn’t think. Your hand shot off, flew over the slab, cracked her lower lip. 

Only it wasn’t a lip, but a strong hand. The cashier squealed. Your senses came back. You stared into the face of a bouncer. 
IV. 

“Take two lefts, walk straight ahead, until you arrive at a pawn shop. The bank is a couple buildings away.”

You thanked the bouncer and hurried off, grateful your eyes were still in their sockets, grateful you only had to part with your hand-me-downs Rolex. Your head was throbbing. A wave of heat slapped your left wrist. It felt naked, that spot on the wrist where a watch once abode , like a celeb feels when paparazzi gets a picture of her in the tub. Naturally, she wouldn’t feel anything. But when she stumbles upon the front-page of Entertainment Today and is greeted by her nude torso, she realizes she, like every other species, goes naked. 

You found the bank, a tall building masked by red glasses. You heaved once and go in. 
I. 

One day earlier. 
You sat behind the laptop, your chins propped up on both wrists. The screen shuffled pages, displaying ads and stupid pop-ups. Stupid because you’d click on one and it’d automatically expand into six tabs, all repeating the same monotonous information. You stared for ten minutes, twice checking the time at the bottom right corner of the screen

Your phone rang again. Again, you let the tone fade. You knew what Mother would say. Rent was almost up. She cooked the last pack of spaghetti. The soap you brought the last time was cheap. Sometimes, you wondered if she kept a list of complaints. 

You ran your finger slowly across the screen, across the invitation link flashing twice in three seconds. 500k, ten days, eighty percent profit. It was risky, but heck, everything worthwhile was. 

The phone rang again. You opened the link. 
V. 

You called Mother. 

“Hello?”

“Mum, are you home?”

“Why do you ask?”

You stifled a laugh. “Had breakfast yet?”

“Warmed the rice from yesterday’s party.”

Bitter air seeped into your mouth. No more of that. “I’m coming over,” you said. 

A grunt filled your ear, then a tone that sounded like a warning signal. But you did not heed the warning. Instead, you bought wheat bread, two sardines, half a dozen tins of milk. She met you at the gate, as you alighted from the bike. The milk worked magic, her sour greeting instantly replaced by…

“My son, you didn’t tell me God had done it.”

“Cooke, not God. Cooke did it.”

You sat her on a wooden chair and explained. You were a bit afraid, yes, but all would pull through. 

Definitely, she said. She’d even fast if necessary. Everyone took risks, she said. 

You needed cold water. You dipped your hand into the fridge and brought out a glass. The water burnt your tongue. You spat into the sink and flushed, watching it go in a swirl. You arranged a mental list of things to change, starting with the fridge. 
VI. 

The sun stung your cheeks. You blinked and held its gaze, oblivious to the track of tears crawling down your face. A Camry honked and drifted by. Two joggers in waist-tight pants slowed and exchanged mumbles. They stayed for thirty seconds, then resumed. The female did not look away until she rounded the corner.

The sun grew hotter. The joggers completed three runs. The kiosk inches away opened and welcomed customers. Some of them greeted you with suspicious smiles, their noses folded over cheekbones. 

But you did not budge. You wouldn’t budge.

It’s been ten days, you’d told Mother. Ten days since your fat investment should yield. 

Your phone rang. You snatched it.

“Cooke?”

“Wale,” he said. 
VII. 

“Good evening and thank you for joining us on News at nine…”

The reporter’s words slipped from hearing range. You stared at the phone. At the laptop. One million and sixty thousand, your balance read. But that was on paper. Really, you had nothing. Nothing. 

The noodles you ate for dinner was from a neighbor. She wouldn’t give you anymore, she’d said. The phone rang. It wasn’t Cooke or Mother. It was the agent from the loan bank. You did not pick. It was a matter of decisions, you knew, and they’d be at your door. 

You dropped the phone and picked the Bible. Ecclesiastes. You picked the words one after the other, as if doing so would somehow dump a million in your account. 

“Cast thy bread upon the waters, for after many days, you shall find it again.”

You’d wait. You’d wait for the many days. Hopefully, you wouldn’t be six feet under by then. 

You slapped the Bible close and slumped on the couch, the same one you should have changed. You closed your eyes and waited for sleep, for death. 

But they, like the money, did not come. They never would. 

Walking In His Steps

It is oft said, “Standing on the shoulders of one who has been where you want to be gives you an edge.”

Certamente.

The principle cuts through sports, arts, and technology. The world best footballer according to awards and plaudits scored his first ever goal for his club with a lob. The pass that enabled the goal was played through by Ronaldinho – the world best footballer in that year. And you know how the footballer celebrated? He was backed by Ronaldinho. The then best player carried this rookie named Messi on his back and handed the torch.

Continue reading “Walking In His Steps”