Feeble Words

Yet, when he looked at Peter again, his heartbeat ceased and something nibbled at him, something dangerous, like a tiny virus waiting to explode.

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tomato

“It will be in your third year. On a Wednesday, the third day of the week, three girls from your department will ask you to come pray for a roommate who’s fighting a headache. And by the next morning you will begin to reconsider the word pure.”

Bolade had not expected the response and when Peter did not smile and say it was a joke, he hit his roommate and said, “You are joking, right?”

Peter smiled. “Scared already?”

A small smile formed on Bolade’s lips and his breathing returned to normal. He smiled at Peter’s smile and moments later, a gentle air had settled into the room. They talked about the remaining exams and about the windy break. Peter wanted to see some movies, visit some girls, make some money. In that order.

“You are crazy, right?”

“Not half as you,” Peter said.

Bolade cut his gaze and stared at the walls, at the scriptures emblazoned with black marker. Romans 6. Romans 8. The last verses of the opening chapter of Ephesians. Verses he wrote to ward off evil spirits and temptations lurking at the bend. Yet, when he looked at Peter again, his heartbeat ceased and something nibbled at him, something dangerous, like a tiny virus waiting to explode.

That evening, he left Bolade in the room and went to church, wearing a white shirt. At the entrance, where he logged in his name on the worker’s form, he stared at the usher with dimples and wondered if she too had engaged in a dialogue similar to his, if she too had reconsidered pure. The usher sighted him and smiled, a harmless expression, but in her face were dangerous stones, as if she would rather be alone with him.

A numb headache seized Bolade’s brain. He closed his eyes and breathed, telling himself he was having the strange thoughts because of Peter’s words and that he should not have listened – he should have shut his ears and prayed in tongues.

Later, when the President spoke on the importance of praying in tongues, the microphone firm in one hand, the free arm flailing at the end of each word, like a virtual stamp, Bolade turned his back to the church and squeezed his eyes the tightest and prayed.

He did not wait for Tope after service and, on his way out, the usher smiled at him again.

He did not smile back.

*

He stood on Stateline road, edging towards the junction, studying the night traffic. The moon was in hiding and the air had a mustiness to it, like wine abandoned in a cellar. He watched as humans drifted by, male and female, young and young, old and young, the stupid and the more stupid, and after many minutes, he began to feel like just a number, as if his purpose was just to fill up one more hole.

A boy hawked moinmoin, the transparent container perfectly balanced on his head, like it was his conjoined twin, reminding Bolade of the couple he’d seen earlier, fingers linked as if they were born like that. He closed his eyes and opened them only when a hooter drummed into his hearing.

The driver yelled from inside the cab. “You fool.”

Bolade started to respond then choked on his words. He faced the other side of the road and watched the approaching van, a white van with no plate, and for a brief spell, he considered rooting his legs in the middle of the road, and how Mama would cry that the village people had finally gotten to her, taking her only child, her okansoso.

The word lingered in Bolade’s ears long after the van had faded. Okansoso.

His phone buzzed. Tope. He watched the call fade into voicemail and heard her voice, soft, warm, fragile, suitable for the usher she was, and he imagined if she too had been told to sell out. Like the usher who smiled at him.

A couple walked by. Bolade noticed them because as their shadows covered his, the guy hit the lady on the butt. Bolade’s eyes froze. Stopped moving. He watched as the lady looked over her shoulder, a grin consuming her features, as if she just won a major feat, and the guy whispered, and then they walked on, nonchalantly, like hitting someone’s butt was tradition.

He realized the meaning of the word, impure then. Impure was hitting someone’s butt in the middle of the road and laughing over it while you bought fried yam and potatoes. Impure was plastering a poster with a lady clad in bikini at the main gate. Impure was thinking about an usher’s lips.

His phone buzzed again.

“Hello.”

“I’ve been calling you since eternity.”

“Sorry,” Bolade said. A soft hum filtered into his hearing. “Are you at home?”

“Yes, I am in my lodge.” Pause. “No, you are not welcome.”

“Wait outside,” he said and ended the call.

Minutes on, he stood in front of the gate and listened for the creak of the lock. A flashlight shone under the gate. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again, lights blinded him.

“Sleep-standing?”

Tope hit him. Her hand was soft. Her skin was soft. He told himself it was wrong to think of a worker’s skin as soft, but then she touched his cheek again, in a way that surprised him, in a way that he assumed she felt was perfectly normal, in a way that tingled his nerves and set his hair on an electron-charged path.

Slowly, he removed her fingers.

“I couldn’t see you in church.”

“Yeah,” Tope said.

Bolade wanted to tell her about his roommate’s statement, and how he felt so odd and so weird, and how odd and weird felt so feeble to describe how he actually felt. He held her fingers because he was beginning to feel cold, and she wrapped her skin around him.

“It will be fine,” Tope said. Bolade nodded, his head bobbing like a pendulum fitted to a thin limb.

Tope drew him into a hug. He did not think about the coldness of her skin. “I wanted to bleed my skin,” he said, his voice cracking, like the surface of an icy pond. “He was saying all stuffs about sex and I should have hit his face but I did not.”

He drew away from Tope’s hug, stared at her face highlighted by a dull moon. “Imagine. He thought it was ridiculous I hadn’t kissed anyone at nineteen.”

Tope smiled. Something sparked in Bolade’s head then, when Tope smiled, her lower lip and her upper lip blending together like they would if they were locking on watermelon. And he knew. He just knew.

“You. Too?”

He suddenly wanted to puke. He ran backwards till his head smacked a fence and turned and punched his stomach, the points below his navel, but nothing came out. He heard Tope come towards him and he ran, his rhythm uncertain, with a dangerous swagger, like someone who had drank too much stale wine. He ran past the main gate with the naked poster, past the sheriffs controlling the flow of cars. He ran to his room and flung himself on the bed and began to cry.

*

That night, he dreamed. He sat on a bench with weak limbs, his bible spread open before him, his eyes sullen from a truckload of tears. The door to the church drifted open and Tope entered. She reached him in four strides and sat on the bench, their knees touching.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

And then, they began to cry.

 

P.S: Try to think of purity as a tomato fruit. A chunk, however minute, off the smooth, succulent skin would leave the fruit deformed till kingdom come. Even if you are justified in taking the chunk. It’s simply logic to wait till the time when you can have the whole fruit to yourself.

Jesus would say this to the multitude. Parables. Go figure.

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…

By Way Of An Apology

sorry

The story goes of a woman who stumbled upon a tape of her husband and another lady. She narrows said lady, sends her a mysterious invitation to dinner, and meets at the restaurant. While waiting for the meals, and with the lady still racking her senses on how she knows the woman, the woman shows her the video.

The lady pushes her chair back and falls to both knees, fingers clasped. Her words come out incoherently. Dinner that day ends with the woman finding a friend in the lady.

Not so for the woman’s husband. Husband, after discovering he’s been found out, takes it upon himself to practice a new routine of gifts buying – necklaces, chains, shoes, sneakers, cooking utensils. He buys the globe for the woman.

A month on and without a word from the woman, someone asks her, “Why did you forgive the mistress and not your husband?”

No eyelids batted, the woman says, “The stupid guy couldn’t even say sorry.”

Story ends.

Point of the story, one should never assume people understand one’s method of saying sorry. That I send you a truckload of gifts without mouthing the words, “I am sorry,” might, more often than not, mean I’m not sorry.

So, guys, I am sorry. Yeah, I said it.

The easiest thing a writer could do is offer excuses for not writing – I had series of tests and now I am preparing for exams; there was no light; I felt sapped out, like I had emptied and I needed a refilling; there was no new read, and books are the writer’s fuel; Debbie broke up…

Did you get that? Debbie, dearest girlfriend, broke up… Almost broke up. Wanted to break up with me. But, it did not occur. The village people played an offside here.

Thing is, there is really no reason for not writing. Excuses has never, and will never live up as a synonym for reason. A thousand excuses might abound, but not one reason. Good, solid, reason. I recall the beginning days as a blogger, how I posted twice a week, struggling once a while to meet the demand. Months wore on and I settled on a weekly sharing. School crept in and weekly took a cut. Even at once in two weeks, I haven’t exactly churned out really interesting, hooking content.

Until Debbie.

Exams are rapping the door now, intent on breaking it down. Exams mean – no writing, no graphics design, praying with one eye closed and the other on the course outline, spooning rice with a calculator, waking and feeling a bang in one corner of the head. Exams mean many things.

But, exams this time mean something different. One of those is write. I will write and write. I will write about Debbie, about the close breakup, the rekindling, about winning a short story competition (low budget), crying at the laptop, writer friends, the dusty academic track, about everything worth hearing.

About the few short stories I read in September and October, maybe.

Now, I sit at the laptop, looking at this post that’s just shy above one page, listening as faithful, faithful explodes into the air from a friend’s phone, and I’m asking, what’s the best way to end a post that’s supposed to be an apology. The bees are buzzing, here’s what they are buzzing. Here’s what I’m leaving you, dear reader, with, till the next post (should come in a number of days).

I am sorry.

On the Sixth Sense and Other Things

Smile

I.

“That’s how they behave, those hundred level students.”

The speaker holds off your stare as if he expects a retort but is certain you can’t offer one due to the years between you. Four years, you recall. Four freaking ones between you and the speaker who has more wrinkles on his face than wisdom in his brain, and suddenly, you wish he didn’t make the statement.

Later, you told Debbie. “The best he could have said was freshmen.”

“Freshmen?” A small laugh. “Why? What difference does it make?”

You shrug, certain she can’t see your shoulders lift. “There’s something about the word. Freshmen, kind of hedges you into a box in which some certain attitude are expected of you. No one blames a freshman who discovers, a minute to class, that he neither knows what course he’s having nor the venue. Hundred level student means, ‘you are now a part of us.’ Like you’ve been accepted into the pack and have matured from the box.”

“I assume this is purely objective? Not relative?”

“Simple words, Debbie.”

Another small laugh. “I mean, it’s your own opinion? Not a universal idea?”

“Not like they use hundred level student in the states,” you say.

“Wait, you didn’t say what you did.”

“What?”

“What’s what? You had to have done something wrong.”

“Well…”

“Well?”

“Get to school first,” you say.

“Cheeky.”

“I’m serious. When are you coming?”

“Soon.”

“Could be –”

“Anytime. You are a writer and a science geek. Draw an estimate of when soon would be.”

“That’s not –”

“Talk to you later,” Debbie says. A tone chirps. Call ends.

You set the phone at the edge of the bunk and set your arms parallel to each other, your eyes glazing over the textbook, your breath as even as the pace of a brakeless sedan. You begin to hyperventilate. I’m hyperventilating. I’m gonna have a heart attack. Not that sweat is breaking off your face or you are twitching, but you just know. It’s something the writing maestros call…

The sixth sense.

Goes like, Jack could swear he heard the door hush open as he poured a glass of drink or when the boy woke, he knew tragedy had struck. Yes, his roommates were all asleep, their snores a symphonic melody, and his fingers had not been chopped off, but he knew something terrible had happened. He just knew. Said boy then climbs off his bed, lands with one palm facedown, lifts the palm to see it’s soaked up blood, bulges his eyes as he spots a trail of blood coming from the window, holds back a scream, and checks his nearest roommate to find a pool of blood around his neck.

When said boy would be asked how he knew someone had died, he wouldn’t say, “I just knew.” Instead, he would say, “I woke like it was a normal day, got down, yawned, whispered a few prayers, made a mental note to call my class rep, noticed a pen was on the floor, bent to pick it, and lifted blood.”

It is so easy to lie, to twist statements in reported speech. It is so easy to dodge out the sixth sense.

II.

It’s half an hour since you started thinking of the sixth sense. Half an hour since you denied your MTS textbook a touch. Half an hour since you called Debbie and told her about the curmudgeon final year brother.

Your phone chirps. You know it’s Mother. You just know.

“Hello.”

“Something bad happened.”

“Ma?”

“How are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m alive. You were saying –”

“Are you in a class?”

“No ma,” you say.

“How’s school, fellowship, friends…?”

“They are all good. Ma.”

Only when she keeps the questions rolling do you realize something bad did not happen. It was just a play on your mind.

“I’m feeling a bit somnolent,” says Mother. “Can I call back?”

“Yes,” you say and end the call.

You climb down the bed like the fictional boy would have done. Inside your backpack is a book. A higher education note. It’s filled with over five hundred words, dating back to the days you never assumed you’d be a hundred level student, days when you didn’t know zilch about writing and Debbie. You slap a page open, then another, until you arrive at the word.

Somnolent. A bit of drowsiness. Whoa. A surprised air settles into the room. You trace down, to curmudgeon. A crusty, irascible cantankerous old person full of stubborn idea.

Not allowed. You hold the book and silently say, not allowed, because you’ve read a few many blog posts by professional editors who often speak about writing in simple, comprehensible terms. They normally end with, “the adverb – and adjective – is not your friend. Except you intend producing a potboiler.”

So, silently, you remind yourself that you cannot, in any event, slot in the word curmudgeon in a piece of writing because it has three strange qualifiers in it.

Slowly, you return the book and crawl back to the bed, suddenly moody, and totally not intending to wash it off.

A minute later, you count the number of adverbs you used. Five. Very good, writer.

III.

When Debbie picks, you say, “You are on your way.”

A pause. “How do you figure?”

“Sixth sense.” You can be honest with Debbie.

A small laugh. “Hmm.”

“Seems you plucked off a habit during the strike period.”

“Which is?”

“Small laughs.”

“Hmm. I’d mull on it.”

“Mull.”

“Means meditate. Can’t believe you don’t know the word, a writer.”

“I’m a writer, not a litterateur.”

Silence. Static air creeps into the call. “A writer of literary works,” Debbie says.

“You cheated,” you retort. “You checked the word on your phone.”

Another small laugh. Guilty, guilty.

“How about excogitate?”

“No idea,” she says.

“Means meditate. Mull.”

“Touché,” says Debbie. “Sacrilegious.”

“Synonym of blasphemous. Cretin?”

“Idiot. Arcane?”

“Meant to be secretive. Same as –”

“Esoteric,” Debbie says. Her voice drops. “I think we should stop. I’m beginning to get this weird looks from passengers, like I’m Soyinka’s distant niece.”

“Uncanny would be a suitable word.”

“Yeah, definitely. Creepy. Uncanny. Weird. Outré. Gotta go,” she says.

“Yeah. See you in a trice.”

“Get off,” she says. She laughs.

You end the call and start laughing. A roommate pokes his head and watches you, his eyes twisted in a way that suggests uncanny. Yeah, definitely uncanny.

P.S: Thank you very much for reading. What do you think about the picture? Does the emoji justify the absent M in smile? There’s a micro post on my Instagram page where something’s said about it. You can check it out here

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.

The Little Things

Hello. It’s been a while. Thirteen days. I’ve been a bit lazy, I admit. But then, the one constant thing about life is that it changes. While I was preparing for this next post, I visited Brittle Paper and saw that, surprise, surprise, a story I sent in three months ago had been published. Perfect timing. You can read the story here. So, as you read the story I put up here, do well to visit the Brittle Paper story too. Two birds in one swing. Enjoy.

download40

I.

“You are not writing,” she says. I tilt my soles. “Again.”

“I am,” I say.

“Then you aren’t sharing.”

“They’re not shareable.”

Her eyebrows twitch. “Hmm.”

We walk down the lane, legs at a steady rhythm, arms swinging by our sides. We love swinging our arms.

“So…”

“No,” I say.

“Yes,” she says.

“I can’t,” I say.

She hits me in the tummy and jogs off before I can react. I pause, smiling, before racing after her. I notice the awkward stares of passersby. “It’s weird,” I want to say. The way we talk is weird. But I love the weirdness.

I catch up with her just at the end of the lane and pull her by the arm.

“Stop, before I do something that’d hurt you.”

“You won’t,” she says. She stops all the same and turns, such that her torso is steadied by my arms. Sort of romantic, except that I don’t like thinking of our relationship as romantic, but as something more.

“Don’t place a bet on it.”

She winks her left eye. “I know you won’t. You won’t,” she says. She hits me and starts running again.

I smile and shake my head. I run after her.

II.

We sit opposite each other in the café. An off-beat song blares from the TV. The artiste’s voice is like a toad’s; to say he’s an artiste is to abuse the noun. The table beside houses a group of freshmen – it is easy to identify them, the way they talk in mumbles, each unable to keep his grandiose idea to himself. The chairs are arranged in a hexagon round a round table. There are six of those tables, thirty chairs.

“I love the arrangement,” I tell her.

“Makes thirteen,” she says.

“I know,” I tell her. We’ve been here thirteen times, and I compliment the sitting arrangement each visit.

The freshmen are arguing about a question. A question in MTS 101, under a topic called Mathematical Induction.

“Mathematics should not even be induced,” one says.

“I agree,” another responds.

One small boy, so small you’d think he was a bagboy, raises his finger, raining silence upon the group.

I turn to my partner. She’s as shocked as I. I hear the boy say, “Our purpose here isn’t to argue about the validity or illogicality of induction under Math, but to determine if the equation –” reads off the equation – “holds when m is 2k and when m is 2k+1.”

Hardly does the boy wraps his non-Nobel winning speech when his peers descend upon him like a pack of wolfs attacking a stray lamb.

“He’s right.”

“He’s wrong.”

“I’m not doing the assignment until I know the concept behind MI.”

“And the man who thought of Mathematical Induction.”

I exchange a smile with my partner. “Get ready to sleep,” I say in response to the last comment.

My partner shakes her head. “They don’t know the water in which they’re swimming.” Her eyes are soft as she speaks, as if she would go over and talk wisdom into their heads, as if it’s her kids arguing over a stupid point.

“I should write about this,” I say.

“Yes,” she says.

I draw my pen and pad. Open. See my last story. Didn’t do so well with me, huh. I shut my eyes, take a breath, part them. I begin to scribble. My partner engages herself in a book, New Creation Realities. Minutes later, or maybe it’s half an hour, but long enough for the newbies to have quieted, I lift my head and close the pad.

I shake my head.

“Nothing?”

I slip her the pad. I haven’t counted sixty when the sound of pages ruffling against one another reaches me.

“This is beautiful,” she says.

“They are,” I say. “They aren’t.”

“Now, you are confusing me.”

I breathe. “Let’s walk.”

III.

The room is quiet when I enter. I catch a roommate sleeping, his mouth gaping like a ready-to-bite whale. I edge towards him and touch his face. He slaps the nothingness away, correcting his posture in the process. I turn around, unhook the strap of my bag and place it on the bed. I flop on the lower bunk, close my eyes, and whisper.

Then I call her. The phone rings. Rings. Rings. I toss it aside and walk to my closet. I reach for my wallet, unzip, produce a single brass key and insert it into the keyhole. Turning the key, I tap my feet softly against the tiled floor and wait for the crack. I pull the closet door back and wait for the creak.

I notice a thousand other feelings – the faint tap, tap emanating from the back of my block, the puff in the air as I inhale a breath, the growl of a body as my roommate turns in his sleep, the indistinct sound that comes just before some books clatter from my closet. Making a mental note to arrange them properly, I take a new breath. It feels so good, to finally be able to notice these little things.

My phone chirps.

“Hello,” she says.

I hear the sound in the background, like metal grinding against metal.

“Are you in a workshop?”

“Nope,” she says. “Grating pepper.”

Yes. Pepper. The grater. Metal against metal.

“Wow,” I say. I give her a rundown. “You know, over the last two months, I’ve had this feeling that everything I write isn’t good enough. It’s like I’ve set a standard for myself, and anything that doesn’t meet it, not minding the beauty, is not good.” I pause, letting her catch a breath. A door opens.

“Gimme a minute,” she says. Her voice mellows as she addressed the visitant. Seconds later, “Hey.”

“Still here,” I reply.

“You deserve a flogging.”

“But you won’t.”

“No,” she says. The softness of her voice, barely noticeable, pricks my heart. It’s refreshing, scary, intimate. Yes. That’s the word for our relationship. Intimate. “Who cares about standards? What matters is that the story transforms. Are you happy when you write it? Does it resonate? Do you shed tiny drops of tears?” She pauses. “These are the things that matter.”

“The little things,” I say.

“Yeah, like the sound of metal grinding against metal, like the flapping of a bird’s wing, like the color of the sky just before sunrise.”

“Hmm.”

“Now, if you don’t mind, I have a freshman to attend to.”

I know immediately it’s from the group in the café.

“That’s a story you have to share,” I quip.

“Not if you can write it first,” she tells me.

“I take that as a challenge.”

“And don’t forget –”

“The little things,” I say.

“The little things,” she says.

P.S: When I wrote the first draft, my characters dictated some conversations into my head (e.g. “So…”, “No,” I say). At the editing phase, I had forgotten my intentions for including the dialogue, but I decided to leave it anyway. Though I did not entirely understand it. If you don’t also, just… Pardon!

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.