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.

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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.

Imagine That. Now,.. Imagine This. 

​”As a writer, you read all books – good and bad. You learn what works from the good ones. You know the pits to avoid from the bad ‘uns.” – Stephen King (paraphrase)
First, in my opinion, there are no bad books. Badly written ones, maybe. There are books poorly crafted, books with a plot that has been fleshed in exactly the same manner a thousand times, books with grammar so poor you’d think they jumped from first draft to printing press. But there are no bad books. You, of course, are welcome to disagree. 
But that quote did factor into my decision not to read Imagine This by Sade Adeniran as I thumbed through the first pages. 
“It’s a diary?”
My host looked up and shook his head. “Written like one,” he said, and I knew it never would make my reading list. No amount of persuasion, not even having the novel in proximity for two weeks could change that. 


So, one night, when I walked in and spotted the book in a closet, the you-should-read-all-books guy in me said, “You are reading that book.” Sixteen hours on (plus sleeping and eating and tackling a few chores), I closed the last page and sighed; an interesting read. Here goes the review. 
I learned this week that reviews are intellectual and emotional. The intellectual considers the structure – grammar, flow, pace, setting, redundancies, cartoonist characters… The emotional delves into the emotions. Hence, I’d be dividing this in two parts. 
ONE

The best worst thing that could befall a writer is… not writers’ block. It is having to develop a novel through the lenses of one character, that is, one point of view. The author not only did it well, she made it enjoyable. There were instances where I longed to peek at the mind of another character – Lola’s father mostly – but the denial is why people read fiction. They want something. They don’t get it, and neither does the hero –  Lola. 
Lola starts the book at nine, ends at nineteen. She’s the typical I-was-born-in-England-but-returned-home-due-to-some-unpleasant-situations girl, save she doesn’t live with her father on arrival. She’s sent to fourth-finger-related relatives (uncles and aunts from my mother’s brother’s family). She starts the journey with a father and brother and an absconded mother and ends with no father, no brother, and a mother she speaks to in the last chapter. Amazing story. Plot, pace, style, voice, all awesome. I got reminded of some words – asinine, affable, sagacious, antepenultimate – because the hero had to learn new words. Maybe a few cliched events, but heck, there’s nothing new under the fireball that lights the day. 
I have a few issues, however. There are a bit too many deaths, the type allowed in thrillers and horrors but not Nigerian literature – except there’s a war, which wasn’t recorded. Two, as a result of one of the deaths, twelve or fourteen year old Lola fasts forty days and nights, drinking water for the first 23 or so days. Who does that? It isn’t impossible, yeah, but these are spiritual things, not what you do because you want your bro resurrected. And she did pull through. And she did get her wish. 
I’m not saying it’s unrealistic – emotions do get the better of us, but then, hmm… 
TWO
Now, my name is Michael. To be clearer, I’m a Christian. So, when I began to read serious fiction, I steered clear of anything not Christian fiction – Nigerian lit, genre fiction, cross-genre fiction, classics. Only John Grisham squeezed himself to my reading list, and I jumped over every sentence that started with ‘He smoke a pack of Marlboro’ and ‘The beach was warm and swarmed with bikini-clad women’.
Naturally, Nigerian/African lit was the last thing I opened up to. This is why: they have a way of leaving me cracked up. Fiction is supposed to answer questions, yes, but also give hope, joy, gratitude, excitement, encouragement, relief, maybe a little sadness. But if everytime you do something, you feel like you’re at the edge of a cliff and all you see are tracks of tears and you can’t just resist shedding them, you should be careful. 
It didn’t catch me as a surprise when I experienced the same emotions when I finished Imagine This. The character felt like me, too much like me, and she wasn’t exactly happy throughout the story. 
This got me the most – she let her boyfriend explore her for the first time the night before she broke up with him. Twas bad. Looking back, I see it was a literary pun, not to the girl’s life alone, but to the whole script. She gave up what she treasured most and got what she desired the most, albeit in totally different ways. 
Got me shaking my head pitifully. 
But that’s it. I’m done. I’m reading more genre fiction in the coming weeks. Now I can go back to The War is Over by Andrew Wommack and be my good self. Till we exchange again, keep reading. And yeah, there’s an excerpt:
11th August 1979

Dear Jupiter, 

Ronke and I got into a fight and I broke a bottle of ice water on her head. There was blood and water everywhere and Father and her mother have taken her to the hospital. I’ve locked myself in the room… (Page 96.)