Gucci Sandals

gucco samdals

‘My mum’s favourite,’ he says. ‘She would be mad if I didn’t wear it today.’

He’s standing against a slab, his eyes gazing the laboratory. His legs are drawn together as though responding to a military command. It’s easy to spot him when you enter. These days, it’s easy to spot people. You only need a snippet of their physique – the guy with half-burnt hair, the lady who wears blue mascara, always. You are imagining this lady, with a blue mascara, pink shirt, the type that screams, ‘Queens are born in March.’

Our guy doesn’t wear mascara. Or burn hair. His black shirt is likely sold, buy one get one free. He’s wearing a Gucci sandal; a quick scan reveals five other students donning the sandals, they’ve become viral, those sandals with red and green straps, a tawdry mimic of the original brand.

You were vexed the first night you stumbled upon a conversation involving those sandals. It went somehow like:

Boss o.

Ha, egbon mi. Good evening sir.

Who is the egbon? Your boy is gentle o. See as you dey fresh. Gucci sandals.

You visited a cobbler the next morning and beheld the sandals, and you returned home thinking how rotten the world was getting.

So, sandals are not it. It’s not the guy’s backpack too. Yet, when you entered, you smelled him, the way a hen on heat smells a cock many miles off. He was making some payments, compelling you to linger some rows back until he was done. You waved him over and asked how much the dues were, and he, been the type of person he was, said, ‘We are paying #3,500.’

You smiled and said his shirt was nice.

‘My mum told me to wear it,’ he said.

.

‘I don’t understand. Do you stay off campus?’

He meets your eyes. ‘No. I was given hostel space. Since last week.’

‘That’s nice.’ He nods along. ‘How come your mum told you to wear a particular shirt?’

A frown digs into his face. You think, perhaps, this is the point where you retrieve your backpack and head the other direction, only for him to produce his phone. They are the big ones, with silver cases. He taps quickly and says, ‘Here.’ You know it’s a timetable. Sectioned into rows and columns. You marvel at the combination of attires – blue jeans and a white shirt, shorts and sandals (make sure it’s the Gucci sandal).

‘Your mum sent this?’

‘She’s a fashion designer,’ he says, simply.

You peel the expression off his face and analyze. He’s not defending his mother. He’s not endorsing it. He reminds you of Kambili, robbed of innocence, naïve, beautifully naïve. You think of days when Mother suggested you wore this to an event, and how you revolted, and how you both almost fought.

‘That’s nice,’ you say, again. You are beginning to repeat words. It’s time to go. ‘Well, in case you need anything, you can always holla, okay?’

He shifts. ‘You are in what level?’

‘200. David.’

‘Posi,’ he says.

You are learning few things about him, how he’s the student who doesn’t complain if the lecturer throws a class for 7pm, how he’s not fully established in what he wants and what he does yet, how he’s not a fan of the name, Posi, but because he still lacks roots, because he has not been washed with messages like feminism and freedom, he cannot call his dad and say, ‘Give me another name or I kill myself.’

.

‘I’m afraid,’ you tell Debbie.

‘God has not given us the spirit –’

‘Of fear. Do you ever change?’

‘Not for you,’ she replies. Her smile blooms. You head towards the bus-stop, hugging the morning silence. She brings her lips to your ear, ‘I missed you.’

‘Words, words, words.’

‘I’m serious.’

‘Obviously. I wasn’t talking about us, though.’

She stops walking. ‘What happened?’

A soft wind sweeps past you. On the other end, two guys barrel down the sidewalk, folders wedged between armpit and chest. Their breath reeks of freshmen. You think, how just a year back, you were barreling down a similar sidewalk, your breath the stench of naivety, your pocket jingling with currencies that was yours but not yours.

‘I met this guy today, and he’s what seventeen, eighteen?’

‘Did he steal your money?’

‘That would have been easy. No, he did not steal my money. He was robbed though. Of his privileges.’

‘I’m not following,’ Debbie says.

‘I saw him with Gucci sandals, so I said, ‘your sandals are nice.’ He says he had to wear it today, that they are his mum’s favorite. He explains his dressing timetable, and the consequences of not sticking to the timetable.’

‘His mum instructed him to wear them?’ You nod. ‘And he’s a student? He stays alone?’

‘Hostel.’

‘That’s bad,’ she says, finally.

‘That’s bad,’ you say.

You walk on.

.

At night, you lay on the bed and drink in fractured noises – hoots of boys just sweeping into the hostel, choking smells of burnt soups, whirls of a generator powering the printing shop some blocks away. Your eyes fall on the polythene at the foot of the bed. You call Debbie.

‘Guess.’

‘You bought the sandals.’

‘Yes,’ you say. ‘I don’t know why. Did I tell you I’m struggling with writing again? I wonder if it’s laziness on my path.’

‘You mean part?’

‘Yeah, part. Path works too, though. Laziness on my path, broken into parts.’

‘Laziness on my part, broken into paths. Dave, is this you?’

‘Yeah, it is I. Be not afraid.’

She laughs. ‘I think we both are drunk.’

‘Me, maybe. You? Not so much. Perhaps it’s the sandals.’

‘Perhaps. You wear it tomorrow, yes?’

You sit up. ‘What’s happening tomorrow?’

‘You don’t know?’

‘I don’t,’ you say.

‘I don’t too,’ she says.

‘Really?’

She starts to respond. The door opens and a boy enters, wearing Gucci sandals.

Collapse

“I’ve washed the plates,” you told him. You spoke Yoruba, because only then would he understand the unspoken message – it’s your job, brother, to sweep.

That was why it was good to try Yoruba, once in a while.

I-SAID-THESE-WORDS-KUKOGHO

You collapsed on Friday.

When you recovered, you told no one. You went about with business, as if such occurrence was not a rarity. You did not give it much thought as the weekend slipped away, not until Monday when you woke to a text on your phone. Your phone was on Ultra Power because there had been no light the previous night, so you did not read the message immediately.

You went about chores, joking with Mum as she prepared for shop. Your brother was sleeping.

“He slept late,” you told your mum.

She snickered as though she did not believe your brother had spent the night reading but was not pressing because it was you, not him, that said it.

Later, when she left, you attacked the dishes. They sat in a pile in the sink, plates with strands of leftover spaghetti. The leftovers sat like frozen worms, surrounded by drops of red sands. These drops were bits of pepper your brother did not eat last night. You washed and thought of the break, of December.

Of your collapse.

It’d come like a thief in the night, a thief who did not wear shoes so as not to alert the sensitive neighbour. Had you received a call from your pastor with the warning to be careful because of a collapse, you would have discarded the admonition without a second blink. You felt, at that moment, like Goliath, shocked to the bones at the audacity of the tiny shepherd to challenge him with a sling and a stone.

After washing, you did not sweep, rather stepping into the compound. Everywhere was quiet. No kids playing catch. No late morning worker hurrying to the workstation. That brittle quiet that comes with insecurity.

You set yourself in the middle of the compound and angled your neck so you were staring at the sun. A minute later, you looked away, disappointed it hadn’t burned your eyes. A soft breeze tossed the mass of hair rocking your skull the way a player tosses basketball across the court – with much attention.

“Dave.”

Your brother stood at the entrance, his lips stretched in a yawn. He looked like a hunter ravished by hunger, in desperate need of something heavy.

“What time did you sleep?” you asked, in your native tongue.

“4. Mum asked?”

You nodded. “She didn’t believe you stayed up late.”

He had left the entrance. You noticed his height wasn’t dwarfing you, the way he had some three years ago. It struck you, the fact that you were growing too. A young man.

“I’ve washed the plates,” you told him. You spoke Yoruba, because only then would he understand the unspoken message – it’s your job, brother, to sweep.

That was why it was good to try Yoruba, once in a while.

A name popped into your thoughts. Debbie. She’d always encouraged you to speak the language. “Don’t sacrifice your dialect on the altar of civilization,” she would say. She knew French too and even though your fingers had almost glued together once while begging her to teach you, she’d opted to converse in Yoruba.

You made a mental note to pop her a message.

You remembered the text. You ran inside.

*

You sit on the smaller of the two sofas and nurse the word, sofa. You check the dictionary and find that sofa means: an upholstered seat for more than one person. You manage a small smile at your brother.

“Don’t tell me,” he says.

“You’re right. As long as it can host more than one butt, it’s a sofa.”

“I still haven’t forgotten basic words,” he says.

You nod. Your eyes return to the phone. The text message is still open. You run over the words again and tell yourself not to attach anything to it. They are just words. Somewhere inside, the small black man shakes his head in pity. It is the same man that whispered the words late Friday night, the words that made you do the things you’d vouched to never do again.

Hate balloons in your heart.

“Hope you’re good,” brother asks. A collection is opened before him. The cover design sports I Said These Words, and underneath the caption, a man screaming into the universe. A subtitle reads, poetry for the deaf.

Wait, is that a subtitle?

“How’s she?” he is asking.

“Who?”

He nudges at your phone. “You’re reading her message.”

“She’s fine,” you say. You adjust in your seat. “Hmm, there’s something I need your opinion on o.”

Your brother perks. The way you said o, that way peculiar to you, is what bonds you both together. The freeness of your dialogue.

“Something happened Friday night, and no, it’s private. So, I wake up this morning and find that Debbie has sent a text. I ignore it for hours, and when I finally stand up to it, I realize it’s like a recap of what went down on Friday.”

Your brother gives you the wait-up-bro-I’m-lost-here look. “Okay?”

“Thing is, what happened was private.”

“You said so once.”

“Just listen. I mean, personal. No one saw it happen. It was a mental collapse and I alone took part in it.”

The stare on his face rebirths. Now, he’s rising. He’s dropping the book and he’s closing the space within you.

“I’m not telling,” you scream as he approaches.

He presses you to the chair and slaps the phone away. You try to duck but his arms, the length of a point guard, draws you back with the ease at which one swabs away a fly. Your neck is under his arm and he is pulling at the flatness of your cheek. “You better talk.” You’re wiggling under his weight and pushing away and he’s smiling until you pinch the side of his midsection, tingling so much he lets up.

“I’m not…saying…a word,” you say, your breath coming in rasps.

He rests at the edge of his seat as though he’d be glad to launch another attack. “You are wondering how she knows, right?”

“Yeah.” You add a nod, just so he’s convinced.

His eyelids flap close and you think they’re shut, but then, you can see his eyeballs again. “Well, I know how.”

Your shoulders droop. “How?”

“Tell me about the collapse,” he says.

You smile and pick your phone. You look at him, smile, then stand. He settles into the chair and resumes reading. There’s silence again, that dangerous silence of insecurity, as you return to the room and prepare to reply Debbie’s text.

 

P.S: The image included in the post is in no way a form of advert. I included it because I felt like. December’s halfway gone and I’m just putting up my first post. Apologies for the inconsistency. Perhaps I’d write more. Perhaps.

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.