Ripple Effects

I imagine briefly, how I would write that – the boy who sat on the left of the room, sticking the tongs of a serrated knife into a piece of yam was (insert name). I immediately think of Ted. Ted and his book full of Dekker-effects and Dekker-sentences. Sentences like, Dead by Billos. Sentences like, One of his many names. Sentences like, To say he was fat was an understatement. He was obese.

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I.

It is night. I am holding a letter in one hand. A note. A piece of paper stained with words. Debbie’s words. A bulb casts an orange hue on the white sheet. The blades of the fan creak with each rotation, jutting downwards and pulling upwards, and briefly, I consider leaving the room before the inevitable would happen.

But I do not budge.

I unfold the paper and smoothen the creases, lingering my finger on each edge, as if by doing so, the words in the paper would vanish. I settle on a stool and begin to read.

Dave,

It’s been a while. Scratch that. I’m angry at you.

How are you? How is home? How is writing? How was your semester result? Oh. Ayo mentioned you hadn’t seen it yet. Your school’s so… Sometimes, I’m glad we are only in the same institution, not in the same school. Well, I just wanted to say hello. I know your head is bobbing in disbelief, so I’ll just state my grievances.

How could you? We were close, Dave. Friends. Whispers of our relationship laced every dialogue, so much I had to pray myself into caution. We talked about writing and about family, goals, church, love, Father, everything. And you just vanished. Like a satellite hacked off the feeds.

That doesn’t work fine, Dave. It doesn’t (sigh). It’s break now. Holidays are good times to rethink and reorganize. The clothes are on the line. The smell of harmattan lingers in the air, thick as strong brandy. My mum’s cooking rice. She asks of you every morning, just after family prayers.

You know the implications.

Hmm. The hellos have been said. I should go now. Mum calls. Give your brother a wave for me.

Love, Deborah.

I hold the paper at a stretch and suspend breathing. The next few moments, I think, are important. Important in preserving her voice, the smile on her face, the scent of her words, the spoken and the salient.

The door opens and Brother peeks.

“Dinner’s done.”

I nod. “I’d join you.”

He catches the note but plays blind. When the door bangs shut, I ease up and tuck the note in a pocket of my backpack. The bulb fizzles. I fumble out of the room.

II.

“Christmas,” Mother says. “What’s your plan?”

I gaze at her. Gaze her over. “What else.”

She sets her spoon at the tip of the plate. “Seriously, Dave, you need to think about doing something tangible with your life.”

“Mum, please.”

She looks past me to Brother. Brother nods and forks a neatly cut yam. I imagine briefly, how I would write that – the boy who sat on the left of the room, sticking the tongs of a serrated knife into a piece of yam was (insert name). I immediately think of Ted. Ted and his book full of Dekker-effects and Dekker-sentences. Sentences like, Dead by Billos. Sentences like, One of his many names. Sentences like, To say he was fat was an understatement. He was obese.

A smile wiggles unto my lower lip.

“David.”

I sit straight. “Yes, I intend getting a job, if that works out. Also, I am sending samples of my works – not writings – to people, hoping they would be interested in hiring me. Also, I’m trying to see if I can mentor someone in writing. I have some books to study too.” Confusion fills her eyes. “Books of the bible.”

She smiles.

“And of course, there are notes to familiarize myself with. 200 level notes. How’s that?”

She picks her spoon and begins to eat. Brother rocks his chair. No one says anything for a while.

Wait. That was a Dekker-sentence.

III.

The clock strikes midnight. I tap a button on the phone and close my eyes. I do not say – Thank you Jesus for a new day. Instead, I say – Lord, I need help. I talk about the letter and Debbie, about writing, about how my fingers are growing and soon, my Sunday School teachers would be curious as to why I haven’t mentioned any plans for marriage, about the need to, yes, do something with my life?

“Should I stick with writing, Lord?”

A reptile hisses in the distance. I turn over and continue the reread of Blink of an eye. I consider the hero’s dilemma – having precognitive powers yet facing attacks from all angles. Midway, the precognition’s spell dwindles. What’s worse, he’s trapped on the road with a Saudi princess. And no, they aren’t eloping lovers.

They are just about to be.

Something about the story strikes me – the hero explaining the limitations of his precognition as, “Presently, I can see a squad car heading towards us from Fifth. But, the squad car can decide to turn right at the next junction, which produces another future.” His princess looks with blank eyes.

I too, for a trice.

But then, it connects. Ripple effects. Like a rock plopped into a pool, there’s one central action and surrounding actions. If, right now, I pick my phone and text Debbie – I am sorry. Can we meet tomorrow? – and she shows up and a month later, we are dating and on a night of wild drinks, there’s an exchange between us, the pregnancy that might result would not be because we drank too much, it would go back to the text I sent.

So, I should…

I snap awake. The phone reader glows. I tap the reader close and trail my last thought. Yes, Debbie. Central action.

I send her a text – Hi, Debbie. I have read your letter so much my head hurts. I will call tomorrow. Good night. Michael. I hit send and rest my head on the pillow. Puff a breath.

The sound of a ticking clock fills the silence.

******

Hi. Thank you for stopping by to read. There’s something else I have to share with you today.

Christmas was drawing close and the air was thick with carols. The neighbors chattered about chicken, rice, and what else. I, however, was thinking about writing. Another year was wrapping up and I was yet to hit that 10-pointer. In came CFW.

I remember responding to the call for submissions and how, weeks later, the two stories I sent were accepted to be published. The magazine came out in January and marked over a thousand downloads.

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This time, there’s a new magazine. Freedom Magazine, published by Creative Freelance Writers. The stories in these magazines are fresh, not because they’ve clinched some Caine, but that they are narrated with unabashed voices. You wade through the poems, the story titled Lotanna and the story told from the POV of a weapon, and you wonder how, indeed, some writers are willing to put in the work. The bonus is, there’s no charges on downloading. Just visit CFW and find the download link (it should be up here as soon as I can access it).

What’s more? There’s a second publication. An anthology. Long Walk To Freedom. Thirty stories with a central, salient cry – Home is where freedom lies. The price of freedom costs more than rubies, yet the editors have decided to put up the anthology at an affordable price. Hit us at CFW to find out more. Each download matters simply because, essentially, our stories are worth telling.

And worth reading!!!

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.

Diary of the Infrequent Writer

In the blurry moments that followed having my story on Brittle Paper and Kalahari Review concurrently, I intended to gloat in my next blog post. Well, just a tad of, “Yeah, finally…” But then, the publications are growing stale. It is time to move. It is time to shut my eyes against the rejection letters and pen something else. Here’s one of the little things I’ve penned. Enjoy.

journal

I.

Life, you write, is running. Life is running and you are pursuing.

You stare at the single sentence and shake your head. A pitiful, grateful shake. Grateful because at least, you are one sentence down. Grateful because the newly purchased sketchbook is no more the color of empty.

It is now the color of ink.

You close the sketchbook, set your pen beside it, gently, as if a more forceful way would shatter your muse. You push the chair back, flex your right arm, left, right, left, until they begin to ache. You press the bones in your finger and they pop.

You dress for lectures.

You put on gray trousers and a shirt baggy at the hems. As you stare before the mirror, you imagine what she would say – you and your large shirts – and what your response would be – well, what can I do?

You head back to the room, puff your backpack, head out. The sky is tinted with moody gray. You sigh at the ridiculous thought flirting with your mind and amble towards the shuttle park. An hour later, you nod off. You dream. In the dream, you are in a class and you are thinking about storytelling when your name pops out before the board. When the lecturer says, “Yes, you with a rock’s face,” you shake your head and do not budge from your seat.

You wake up then. But you are still dreaming. Only in this dream, you cannot refuse the lecturer’s bidding. Only in this dream, you are the target not because you are lost in storytelling but for the wanderings of your eyes. Only in this dream, she is there. She is looking at you. Her mouth is parted and her eyes are fixed, as if someone just snatched her okansoso.

You shut your eyes. You nod off.

II.

She is not talking about it. Actually, its – two ‘it’. You walk with her down the stretch of concrete, your sight blurring with each turn. She wears a cream skirt. She carries a bag. She wears sandals.

You note how low you have fallen, how you can’t string a couple active descriptions, how you can’t say – the hem of her skirt repels a soft breeze, how you can’t say – her footfall, suppressed by the lightness of her sandals, is barely noticeable, how you can’t say – a mass of hair slopes down her shoulders, firmed by a golden clip.

You reach the lab and pull the door in. The registration officer is in Nowhere Land. A note taped to his office presents this in simple, layman terms.

“We’d have to come back,” you say.

“‘Course,” she says.

You breathe. You breathe because trouble needs no more flavor to be edible. You breathe because the last time she said, ‘course’, she forwarded you a panoptic message on Whatsapp. Panoptic. It’s the word Soyinka would use. Shakespeare too. Real writers. Not writers of your niche that’d say…

Long!

She taps you. Her fingers blush against your skin. “Can we sit?”

You stare at the benches. “Sure.”

She walks ahead and settles on one the way a bluebird might settle when it’s about to whisper a dirge. You sit beside her. You do not hold hands. There are some times that hands do not need to be held.

“You have a problem,” she says.

“Certainly,” you say. The grin consumes your chin, the stupid grin.

“And we have to rid you of that problem.”

You keep quiet. Your eyes flit to her nostrils, sharp as Thatcher’s, and her lips, a speller’s lips. You feel a soft pat on your inside, a pat that says – at least, you know a little comparison.

“David,” the voice calls. The wind calls.

“Yes!”

“What did I say last?”

“What?”

She drills you her we-are-all-serious look. “I said something. I want you to complete it.”

“It,” you say.

Her eyes snap shut. Eyelids, rather.

“Debbie,” you say.

Closed eyes.

You dare to touch her. Nothing. You tingle the hair on her arm. She cracks up.

“Don’t do that, Dave. Stop it.” She clamps a hand over her mouth and parts her eyes. “Dave, stop. Stop joorh.”

“So now, it’s all done.”

“At all. It isn’t even near done.”

“At least, you are laughing.”

“We aren’t about my laugh here,” she says. “We are about your writing.”

“I would be fine –”

“So you said last week. I need you to write.” She suddenly cuts contact. “Our rent is due next week. Mum’s working herself up trying to pile the balance, and it irks all I can do from this side of town is chip in encouraging pills.”

“And pray,” you say.

She shakes her head. Does she not believe in the effectual power of prayer anymore?

“Dave,” she calls. She crosses her legs. “You should write, irrespective. Thing is, the problems around you wouldn’t subside because you need to pen the next Purple Hibiscus or Blink of an Eye. People would keep dying. Rejections letter will stream into your mail like there’s a purging in literary agencies. Lecturers would mark your face during classes and call you to the board, your writing sometimes would feel like cardboard copy… Bad things aren’t edging close to the end.”

Then she takes your arm, your right arm, and brings her lips to it. “You know what to do. Now, go do it.”

III.

Life, you write, is running. Life is running and you are sweating its butts in a chase. There’s no need to catch it, so long you can hit positivity off a few co-runners during the chase. You write for half an hour, series of not-so-sensible sentences, then close your sketchbook.

You call Debbie.

“She’s paying tomorrow,” she says. “She isn’t sending me money till the month draws out. I don’t know what I’ll eat.”

“That’s good,” you say. “That’s very good.”

“Dave?”

“Yes?”

“This you?”

“Sure is.”

“Wow,” she says. “You wrote.”

“Yes,” you say.

No one says anything for a while.

Who Am I

“Every single story,” the teacher said, “every story that has ever been written or is yet to be penned. From Shakespeare to Steinbeck, Dickens to King, travelling from African literature to American fiction, with settings in British colonies to the sea in China. All genres, all tales of romance and horror, revenge and justice, forgiveness and betrayals.

“They all look to answer three words. Who am I?”

who-am-i

A line in a movie a year back, expanded upon. Essentially, the greatest question we seek answer to isn’t why we behave the way we do. It isn’t conflicts and resolutions. The most important probe in the universe is unrelated to politics, sports, religion, race, and all other lines of divide.

It is simply: Who am I? Who are you?

Continue reading “Who Am I”

The Routine

There is a rusted coiled metal mounting the fence bordering my house. I’m told it has electric current and would zap out any intruder. I behold this guard more than anything else in my vicinity, likely because it’s just shy above a body’s length from my window, where I normally write.

The window is my favorite place. I sit there every day. Hardly does the moon retire without me visiting this spot. My textbooks are there. So are my writing notes. A dictionary with the cover torn off and some pages long missing. Past questions. Two bibles. Concurrent editions of devotionals.

Continue reading “The Routine”