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!!!

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.

To Tell A Story

I.

“We should talk,” I say.

She rolls her eyes. “You know how much clichés don’t settle with me.” She sits and places one leg over the other in a go-ahead manner. “Let’s talk.”

I lean against the wall and stare at her. “So, first, I was thinking, maybe I should quit writing.”

Her lips flatten and she pulls a smile. Not the reaction I was expecting. “Second?”

“That’s all.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, I thought you would react and there would be something else to say in argument or defense against your statement and the second and third points would originate hence.”

“Okay.” Debbie opens her bag and brings out a note which she sets on the table. Bracing her jaw with two elbows, she flips a page and pores over it. She wears a black dress with pink belt. I notice she doesn’t look too good in black. The silence grows uncomfortable.

“You aren’t saying nothing.”

“Hmm.” She gives a small laugh. She turns another leaf, mouthing words. I drift closer and read from the page. Altruism and Egoism. Philosophy junk. I feel a tiny bite in me, as if by condemning the course I am writing poor grades for myself. For Debbie.

“Are you an egoist?”

Blink. “What!”

She looks up. “You are an egoist.”

“I don’t practice self-love.”

“Self-love doesn’t make you an egoist, dude.” She is finally talking. A low hum settles in the room. The door creaks as a student enters, backpack slacking down his shirt. His hair is a combed bush. He looks like those who would do something because they felt like, not because it’s tagged right or wrong. Some egoist.

“Who is an egoist?”

Debbie closes the book and stares at me, haunting black eyes. No lipstick and no foundation. She looks like a pallbearer’s spouse.

“I don’t want to talk about it again.” She hangs her bag and heads down the stairs at a steady pace. Doesn’t look back once. I watch as her form shrinks till she gets to the door, turns sideways and slips out. I am still watching when something snaps in my head, like the jolt one feels when he’s running from a monster when there’s a loaded handgun in the pocket of his jeans. Some jolt.

The air outside is strangely cool. A ball of sun travels southward. Sun doesn’t travel southward. I reorient my view and look again. It’s headed west, just as Debbie. I remain frozen for seconds, then shout her name.

A thousand eyes look around, among them, Debbie’s.

I approach her with my hands swinging and experience a flashback to the mornings we walked down the hallway with our arms swinging by our sides and a soft breeze tossing, teasing our hair. Days when I wrote a lot and showed her the lot I wrote. Days when my muse was not at the base of a cash box.

I reach her and, lost for words, say, “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t need you to be sorry.” A pair of sights linger on her. “This ain’t the cinema,” she says. The two guys look on. Debbie shakes her head, starts walking, dragging me behind. “Perhaps I should jog your memory.”

We turn a bend.

“You started writing even before you came to school, before you dreamed of meeting me, before –”

“I have always thought for you.”

Smile. “Be focused on the point,” she says. “You wrote then because you felt the burden to, not because you wanted to write well or teach others the craft or earn some wads. You read strictly and you wrote strictly.” Pause. “All of which crumbled when you became a student. So now, you want to quit writing.” She curves her lower lip. “Like it’s an internship.”

I stare blankly.

“I’m not the writer, you know. You settle it with yourself, if the burden you felt has released you. Or maybe it is you who released the burden. You settle it within yourself.”

She resumes her walk.

“What about us?”

Without looking back, she says, “You know my room.”

II.

The laptop screen is split. Not literally. I view two different screens, one possessing a blank document, the other showing a folder. In the folder are thirteen stories, all penned since the year broke, more than half of which have gone to submissions or competitions, only a handful succeeding in turning necks.

I maximize the partitioned section such that the document with a page as white as angelic robes stares at me. I stare back. A thousand thoughts flow between us, but no words. No, the words haven’t come for a while. The left corner of the screen shows the time, half past two in the afternoon. By four, I would begin to prepare for church. An hour later, my gaze would lock with Debbie’s and I would tell her, “I couldn’t write again.”

I take a puff and scroll to PDF reader, settling for a novel. A reread. I realized recently I had exhausted my collection of books. Perhaps I should write one.

I pick my phone and punch in a text. Hi. Thing is, I don’t know exactly what is eating the sense in my head. At times, I think it’s a lack of similes and metaphors. Sometimes I feel my characters are too abstract. Other times, it’s as if the story was called back from the dead and is yet to find fresh air. Okay, that’s a simile. I’ve prayed and, not like I’m open to answers…

The reply comes almost immediately. Go to the nearest house around you with staircases. Climb to the balcony. Stand at the top of the railings, close your eyes, spread your arms. Jump. As you fall, just before your body hits sand, think of all the things you would have loved to say before your death. Go tell those stories.

For a moment, I forget to breathe. The background light on the laptop fades. The clock strikes three pm.
P.S: See that picture above? That’s the idea of a blank screen, the page we face and attempt to conquer in every single story…

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.

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.

The Writer’s Block

Writer's Block_Mind

I.

“What exactly do you want?”

“To write.” The words carry an intensity about them, enough to have her wrap her fingers around me and smile.

“You can write,” she says. “I’ve read your works and… they are beautiful.” She stares into my eyes. “And you know it.”

“Yes, yes, I do.” I drift my gaze away. “That’s the past. A writer’s worst enemy is his last story.”

“Did you steal that?”

“Did I?”

“That line – your worst enemy is your last success.” She breaks our hold. “You stole it. Plagiarism. You just stole that line.”

I’m smiling now. “It’s not so bad a thing.”

“Oh, it is.” She sidesteps to allow a student go into the hostel. “A writer’s not supposed to steal a line.”

“Hence the word, modify.”

She slaps my hand. “That’s not fair. You being a writer doesn’t mean you can just bamboozle me with words.” Her lips are twisted in a funny grin. “Bamboozle.”

“A big word,’ I say.

She nods. Our eyes are trained on each other. She spreads her arms. I sneak in. She pats me, working her hands towards my back, like a masseuse taking the pain of a day’s labor away. I feel my heartbeat steady, my blood thin. The stone that’s been tied to my chest slips off.

“Thank you,” I say.

I hear her nod. The sun begins to settle.

“You will write,” she says. “You will write many beautiful stories for me. And for…”

Then she lets go and walks in.

II.

The class isn’t holding. I idle at the second of many steps ascending up the lecture theatre and sweep my eyes along the rows of foldable seats. The students disappear few minutes later, leaving a handful of zealots perched on seat, textbooks before their faces. I unzip my bag and walk towards the socket.

It takes seconds to set up, and I’m entering my fear landscape again. The blank screen. It’s been blank for nineteen days now. Every morning, I wake and only manage to say, “Thank You Lord” before I repeat the I-will-write-today mantra. Every night, just before I say, “Thank You for today, Lord,” my mind sniggers, “You did not write today.”

I position my fingers on the keypad and stare at the white board at the theatre’s frontage as if my muse is tied to it. Nothing comes. My head is blanker than the page before me. I tap a word. Two words. Many words. A paragraph shapes. A scene. Then, before I can process, I wipe everything off.

I stare at the blank page again and nurse how easy it is to destroy. And the pain of creation.

My gaze flips to the top left corner of the screen. Half past 10. One and a half hours before she comes – not adding the minutes she’d expend trekking from LT1 to Bancroft LT. I consider the students lost in different worlds – Physics, Organic Chem., Logic and Philosophy. Their faces are grim, sober, in the way an employee gets when her buddy is handed the thank-you-for-your-services letter. I identify with them, with the staidness.

If someone came into scene now, he might comment, “The boy behind a laptop must be very serious with his work, considering he didn’t spend up to a minute ambling his eyes before refocusing his attention.” But if he leapt to the laptop, he would say, “Oh, he’s just lazing about.”

It is so easy to switch opinions.

III.

“What did you write?”

“Nothing.”

She doesn’t stare with wide eyes. She simply nods and maintains her pace. “You just sat for two hours and wrote nothing.”

“Not really.”

“Okay.”

We trek in silence. Silence has been a fragrance in our relationship. The night I asked if my friend, Dave, was her boyfriend, she was silent for a minute before she said no. When I suggested we take permission from Dave before we proceeded, and Dave in turn shook his head, it was his quiet laugh that let me know he was joking. The previous semester result had me doing 120mph, but it was her silence and her warm fingers that kick-started the miraculous.

The silence this time feels different. It’s like what’s exists when two friends visit with each other a day after one was raped while the other was flogged, like what happens when your ex’s partner dies and you pay the obligatory condolence visit.

It’s dangerous. It smells like fire.

IV.

“That’s it?”

“Yes,” the other girl says. We met her outside the lodge. She was wearing a skirt, her hair packed in a bun.

“Is that why you dressed to the nines?” I ask.

The girl smirks and runs in, leaving us alone.

“So…”

I turn and face her.

“What are you gonna do about it?’

“Nothing,” she says.

“Nothing? Your mum’s sick.”

“I heard the first time.”

My lips part in reflex. I stutter steps backward and eye her. I want to yell at her for being so passive, for not considering her friend who was waiting for her return.

“I should go,” she says.

I say nothing. She draws near and hugs me. Her body is stiff, as if enclosed in a transparent glass box.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Say it,” she says.

“It just feels like I wasn’t made for this. Like all I learnt about writing and storytelling has been vacuumed. Like I don’t know how to show again, and all I can do is tell. I read a book last year about writerly expressions. How you’re supposed to spin some sentences only writers are capable of. I hate my mother, but I would kill my father before laying a hand on her. That’s writerly. These days, writerly expressions evade me like I’m contraband. And… and…”

She sniffs the air on my neck, till my breathing matches her. The air begins to get cold.

 

V.

I call her before bed.

“I’m going home tomorrow,” she says. “I should be back in time for 207.”

“How’s mum?”

“She would be well.”

“Okay.” The walls of the room are festooned with words. I find a suitable sentence and read to her.

“Sometimes, silence is golden,” she replies. “Failure too. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” I say.

 

P.S: It’s been a long time since I blogged. In the period of hiatus, I’ve been learning design. Do you see the fading ‘block’ in that image, replaced with mind? That’s the motivation. Positive words. Thanks for reading.

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.)