What It Feels Like To Die

lonely beach

Before you begin, be informed this story was written over two weeks past, entered for an impromptu competition which it won. It’s the last story I’ve written. When you are done, kindly read the postscript. Gracias.

*********************

“He’s dead,” Kemi says.

We take even strides, kicking dust and disproportioned stones, noting the houses with mallams and the ones secured by German Shepherds, counting the palm trees sprouting along the road, saying a thousand things without saying anything. Gray clouds scud along the sky.

“What does it feel like to die?” Kemi asks.

I stop and look up just as the sun reveals itself.

“Look up.”

She angles her view.

“What do you see?”

“Huh, depends.”

“Look at it, whatever you see,” I say. I watch as her eyes twitch at the heat. “How does it feel?”

“Like embers,” she says. “Like pepper and fire.” She looks away. “What was that for?”

I start walking. “That’s what it feels like to die. Like pepper and fire. Peppery fire.”

She spots a stone sends it sailing down the road. We arrive at the house, typical to all the other big houses in the street. A black gate, coiled wire chiseled into the fence, a guard with accent as thick as suya, tiles running up to the entrance, a woolen carpet with an animal stitched into it – this one’s lion.

Kemi taps me. She points her gaze to a stool, a wooden stool with a framed picture, a note with two pages open, a flower vase, a pen. I stare at the flowers stuck into the vase, at the dried up petals. Sometimes recently, the flower was vibrant and drew butterflies. It was alive. Breathing.

It is dead now.

I tell Kemi I do not want to write my name. I idle at the entrance till she’s done and we step in. Inside, a woman slouches on the largest sofa, her arms set on her thighs in a way that makes me wonder if the arms have blood in them. Her eyes are closed, her lips sag below her jaw. She’s flanked by two women. They wear black too. Their eyes are partly open like they’re afraid a kid would sneak in and pilfer money off the bowl on the center table.

“Good afternoon ma,” I say.

“We are sorry about the loss,” Kemi says. Her voice cracks as if she’s afraid of pressing further, as if the tiles on which she stands have suddenly become ice and an extra syllable would cave her in.

The woman, Jide’s mother, nods. She does not see us. One of the women calls Jide’s brother.

A minute later, we stand in the compound. I look at Martin and he looks at me and we begin to cry. I look at Kemi and she looks at me and she joins. Soft balls of tears travel down our faces, towards our lips, staining our shirts. I reach for Martin’s palm and press. Kemi takes the other.

“He shouldn’t have,” Martin says. His voice is blunt, like the blades of a machete from the Civil War. “He wouldn’t have died if we’d left,” Martin says.

I nod and Kemi nods because we know what he means. Martin nods along, and his neck bobs as if it would rather be severed. And then, I remember Jide and his severed arm and cry again.

.

This is how Jide died. The eyewitness – a man who wore kaftan seven days a week, whose beard was long enough to sweep the street – said Jide was returning with a friend, a backpack on his bag. They were talking and laughing with their lips curved. He heard them make comments about the Social Studies assignment and how they didn’t care if Nigeria was celebrating independence or if the President wasn’t in the country and how the teacher was simply punishing them.

The murderers came from nowhere, Eyewitness told us. E be like those things for naija movies, he said, wey person go just appear. Jide’s friend saw them first. He’d yelled before he ran. He hadn’t been too fast, Eyewitness said, not fast enough for him to escape anyway, but the murderers had not come from him. They cornered Jide to a dustbin, said something in thick Hausa, and swung the cutlass.

The Eyewitness recalled seeing the arm fly away like a limb snagged off by a ferocious lion. He was running before his legs lifted.

.

“I don’t believe it,” Kemi says. The gates shut behind us. “The eyewitness account.”

We start walking again. The sun settles on the house, and for a moment, I imagine it spitting fire at the occupants, at Martin and at Jide’s mother and at the two women who came to mourn. I imagine the flowers cracking up in intense heat, imagine Jide’s picture weeping as it was reduced to ashes.

He was in jeans in the picture, Jide. I was there then. I, Kemi, Martin, Jide, and a few other friends, teasing the sands bordering a beach, throwing handful of sands at one another, laughing at the funny lines the writer in me conjured about our visit to the beach.

“Say cheese,” Martin had said, just as Jide lunged himself at me. Later, Martin told me, “He’s a naughty boy.”

I imagine now, how Martin would say, “He was a naughty boy.”

Holding back the urge to cry, I fumble for Kemi’s arms, link fingers with her, ignoring her surprise.

“Would you write about it?” Kemi asks.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I don’t know what I want to do or what I feel right now.”

“I understand.”

“You can’t.”

“I do,” she says.

I let her hand slip away. Her face twitches in a frown.

“You are angry now. I can’t say, ‘I know how you feel when your boyfriend stops holding you.’ I’m not you. I can’t be you. I can’t have your experiences or feel your pain.”

We link fingers.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

“Jide. Was one good chap. Clean ambitions. Gentle kid. Loved Port Harcourt. Do you know he was the first person I heard use the word, pogrom? He was reading up the Civil War and spotted it. Pogrom.”

Kemi nods. She knows, of course. I’ve told the story before. Only then, I said, “Jide is a good chap.”

A bicycle trots past us. A scar curves towards the rider’s left chin. I nod at him and he dips his head and in the brief moment, I feel a spark, a strange familiarity, like he’s Jide’s reincarnation and the scar on his face means he survived.

“He’s going to pay his condolence,” Kemi says.

“What? Why?”

“They were friends.”

“The rider’s over forty years.”

“They were friends,” Kemi says again. “Used to tell Jide about the war and about the fact that the Igbos attacked first, killing five leaders, known as the Coup of the Five Majors. Most of it was second-hand memory though. Things his parents had told him, told he Jide.”

“He would have been a kid then,” I say.

“Yes.”

“No wonder Martin always thought another war was impending and that it was better for them to leave Port Harcourt.”

“It’s too late now,” Kemi says.

And because I am in complete agreement, I say nothing.

.

At home, I listen to Yanni’s tracks. Nightingale. I search Civil War on Google and read the Wikipedia account. Twice, I cough and make mental notes. Under a section, Persecution of Igbos, one Charles Keil recounts – Col. Gowon could be heard over the radio issuing ‘guarantees of safety’ to all Easterners, all citizens of Nigeria.

I push the chair back and walk to the door, phone in hand. Guarantees of safety. Suddenly, I feel a twitch in my stomach, as if by blaming the Igbos for starting the war, I joined in the emboweling of the tribe. As if I once lifted a cutlass too. As if my name, Demola, means – come with a sword. As if Jide’s massacre is justifiable action.

I pick my phone and dial Kemi.

“Go outside,” I say.

“I’m outside,” she snaps back.

“Look at the sun. Please.”

I hear a heave, static air filling the background. I lift the phone off my face and stare at the sun.

“How does it feel?”

“Hot. Blandly hot,” she says.

“That’s how it feels when someone dies.” I tell her about Civil War – “No, it’s not Captain America’s Civil War” – and how it’s easy to identify with the death of the Majors because of tribal relations and silently approve the death of the Igbos and how it is all mistakes.

“So, no one knows,” she says.

“No one knows how death feels.”

“I’m sorry,” she says. I know she means the deaths. Jide’s. The Majors. Everyone.

“I’m sorry too,” I say.

We begin to cry.

P.S: What do you think about the story? The dialogue, pace, setting, and the story itself. Writing that was a bit tedious because the plot had to grow from real life events and had to be as living as possible, hence the pidgin English. Did I try? Did I not? Thank you for reading.

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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

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.

images (47)

********

“It’s your job to figure that out,” she tells me. She taps a button, minimizing the document, and hands over the phone. I stare at the device, her face, the device.

“You could be a little nicer.”

She walks ahead. “Nice isn’t for writers.”

“Who says we don’t need to be treated nicely?”

“Well,” she glances around, “when you decided to delve neck-deep into this path, no one promised you a couch of hibiscus.”

I breathe. I consider informing her it wasn’t exactly a decision. More like a call – the type that comes softly, softly, like a mockingbird’s whisper, until one day, it settles in your heart with the weight of a mountain.

“Besides, when the royalty starts flowing in, you wouldn’t remember people who cheered you on when your legs weakened. People like us.” She winks.

“Not if we are married, Debbie.”

Her lips part. I braze my mind for the worst, the ‘It’s over, dude. Who even told you we would be a thing.’ Instead, she smiles, complete set of teeth beaming in the early morning sun, her hair draping down her shoulder like twigs sloping down a wet hill, her cheeks dimpling, her eyes warming the freckles of my heart.

She steps close. “Convince my dad first.”

“Oh,” I say. “Him.”

“Yes, Him.” She studies me until it clicks. Not her dad, like dad. But Father.

“Oh, Him?”

“Yes, Him, Elohim.”

It strikes me then how intonation and punctuation really matter to sentence, speech, dialogue. A story forms in my head – not powerful enough to make me go Eureka, but something still, like a fragment of a fragment of a bestseller.

We resume our walk. A zephyr drifts pass us, disturbing the hem of her skirt. She wears a yellow skirt today, with flowers dotted in no regular pattern. A white blouse hugs her skin, tucked into the waist of her skirt. She carries her favorite bag, the one with long leather straps.

“You are beautiful,” I say. She strides on, like I just said, “It is morning.”

We arrive at the shop. An older woman’s engaged with the boss, haggling the price of a cloth material sliding down her arms. “Mama Deborah, Ko gba iye ti mo so ni,” the woman is saying. The boss shakes her head, then adds no, like the shaking of head isn’t a strong enough response. Said buyer eyes the cloth once more, then flings it against the pile, hisses, steps out, brushing us aside. “They don’t know how much it takes to run this business,” the boss says, in Yoruba.

She spots us and, just as I start to greet, says, “You look like them.”

“Ma?”

“You look like a writer.”

“Mother,” Debbie quips.

The boss smiles. “Ki ni? What? Should I not speak what I see?” I blush. “See, I was right. You people like to blush.” She eyes Debbie. “Invite him in nah.”

Debbie climbs the step of stairs spitting into the shop. “You don’t have to come in,” she says over her shoulder.

I enter. The air is warm, a different warm; clothes arranged in different patterns across wooden shelves, racks, and hangers; native materials clog the west side of the rectangular office, making everything look like a Beethoven’s orchestra.

“The arrangement is beautiful ma,” I say.

“I heard you observe a lot, writers.” I look away, at her. “So, you want to marry my daughter.”

Debbie’s lips fly open, in shock this time. “Mother!”

“Let the man speak for himself,” her mother says.

“Ha, no. That wasn’t my intent for coming ma.” She nudges her brow. “I simply wanted to meet the woman who was strong enough to survive a bout of sickness and still meet the payment of the rent of both shop and house whilst keeping in touch with her daughter.”

“Humph,” Debbie’s mum says. “And here I was, thinking you would dazzle me with some pun, metaphor, oxymoron.” Pause for effect. “Smart moron.”

“Wealthy paupers,” I quip.

“Quick snails.”

“Rhythmic free verses.”

The scalp on her forehead furrows as she considers. “Dull yellow.”

“That doesn’t count,” Debbie says. Her mother shoots her a look. “Who sought your opinion?” to which Debbie responds, “Yellow could be dull. It’s not an oxymoron.”

“Open secret,” I say.

“Cliché,” the woman says.

“Dry mists,” Debbie comments, saving me.

“Perfect flaws,” her mum retorts.

“Lengthy micro fictions,” I say.

We continue, serving one oxymoron after the other, like rallies in a tennis match.

“Serious gabs.”

I pause. Debbie pause. We exchange a look. She reaches for her phone and punches the word. “Gab,” she reads, “is a light informal conversation for social occasions. Also means chit-chat?”

“Whoa,” I say.

“Who’s the boss?” the woman winks.

Debbie pockets her phone and closes the space between us, sort of segmenting the winner and the others.

“Anyone could have done that,” she says. She faces Debbie and I. “Anyone who’s a buddy of the dictionary is capable of stringing oxymoronic phrases. So, why do you write? If your intention for writing is not to communicate a message, a belief, your belief, you should really drop your pen and come work in my shop.”

“Oh,” Debbie says, eyes swarming with pity, as if I’ve considered the option and consented to it.

“My point,” her mum says, “is that God has a reason for prompting you to be a writer. You should sell out, but not to God. To the world, to your self. Let your writing exhale God’s breath, sing Jesus.” She locks stares with Debbie. “Hope your boyfriend prays often in the spirit.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

She ignores Debbie. “You speak in tongues, don’t you?”

“By God’s grace ma.”

“Yes is yes. E ma tan rayin je. Don’t deceive yourselves.” She mimics Debbie. “He’s not my boyfriend. So, what is he then? Your friend that is a boy. Maybe guy-friend?”

I don’t hold back the smile.

A rap jerks us out of the moment. A Generation X man lumbers at the entrance, fingers balled. The boss stands. “Think on these things.”

Debbie says, “Now, that’s some story prompt.”

“It is,” I say.

“It is,” she says, again. And then, we say nothing.

*******

P.S: I enjoyed writing this scene, mainly because of the oxymoron. Tasked my brain a bit. Did you notice this – introductory epilogues? Oxymoronic. So, here’s one more for meditation – perfect blemishes. Add yours. Gracias.

Diary of the Infrequent Writer

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

journal

I.

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

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

It is now the color of ink.

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

You dress for lectures.

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

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

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

You shut your eyes. You nod off.

II.

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

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

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

“We’d have to come back,” you say.

“‘Course,” she says.

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

Long!

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

You stare at the benches. “Sure.”

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

“You have a problem,” she says.

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

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

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

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

“Yes!”

“What did I say last?”

“What?”

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

“It,” you say.

Her eyes snap shut. Eyelids, rather.

“Debbie,” you say.

Closed eyes.

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

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

“So now, it’s all done.”

“At all. It isn’t even near done.”

“At least, you are laughing.”

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

“I would be fine –”

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

“And pray,” you say.

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

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

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

III.

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

You call Debbie.

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

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

“Dave?”

“Yes?”

“This you?”

“Sure is.”

“Wow,” she says. “You wrote.”

“Yes,” you say.

No one says anything for a while.

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!

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.

How You Know You Are Busy 

The beep-beep comes again. Softer this time, because it’s WhatsApp. Your mum. She wants to know if you’ve completed the research she asked of you. Your fingers fly off the keypad and unto the phone as you punch a harried response.

I.

You wake with cramps in your biceps. You feel like you just pulled a freight train across a field stretching 1,000 miles. You lift your neck to turn at the window and hear a crack, like the nerve connecting your torso to your head just snapped. You run your hand slowly over the back of your head and bring it away wet. And clean.

No blood.

A sigh escapes you. You notice the wetness extends down the front of your arm, slipping over to your open palm. You shrug and roll off the bed and stop at the last second, just before you fall four feet. You remember then that you aren’t in the king-size bed at home, but a hand-me-down, please-manage foam, and you’d have landed with your head had you not halted.

You remember a lot of things too.

You remember that your tutorial manual is squeezed against the wall, the way a man’s face might be wrinkled if slapped by a door. You remember that the tick-tick-tick reaching you is coming from a clock your roommate found at the physics lab. He’d placed it over the slab above your closet to alert you when morning breaks. You squint through the glass panes and catch the sun scudding across a clear sky.

You jump.

You land with your palm facedown and breathe. Breath. You remember that you need to breathe often, that a pile of clothes is squeezed under the wooden doors of your closet, that the smell wafting into your nostrils is from the clothes, that you just sent a pot flying when you jumped, and the pot contained oil-stained water, that you still haven’t attended your assignment, that…

Breathe. You are remembering too much. You shut your eyes and breathe. Breath.

II.

You stare at the screen in shock. Two messages glow. The first is an alert. A credit alert. You know the fee just zoomed into your account, somehow. The whole shebang you charged the man. He surely crossed the border of your agreement. His words dilute with your thoughts: 60 percent upfront, the balance later. And here, he’s sent everything.

You scroll to the other text. You see the man’s name: Mr. Adebayo, and forget to breathe. Or maybe the room is drained of air. Maybe the woman hovering at the marker board has evaporated the gaseous content of the room with her incoherent explanation.

She’s saying something like, “Boltzmann’s constant is…” You lose the rest of the sentence. Her name is Laide. But you call her Dr. Laide, with the doctor boomed over the Laide. You are used to it, the weight tied to titles on this side of the globe. Your heart goes icy when she walks towards you. Her eyes are on you, as if she’s the mind-reader in X-men. She smiles, a grin that says, “I’d get you.” She walks straight past you like you are just a molecule.

You don’t blame her. There are over 500 in the lecture theatre. She probably would be incapable to place your face. You love it that way – the unknown student.

A beep explodes from your phone. Your reaction is reflex. Your left hand bolts and slams down on the speaker. You freeze in that posture. No one turns your way. Heaving, you review the text. It’s from Mr. Adebayo. He’s awaiting your response. But you can’t think up one. You don’t know how to reply this notification.

I need the design in three hours.

III.

The second finger of your left wrist is dead. Feels dead. You drag it across the mouse embedded in your laptop as you modify a circle. Get an external mouse, your friends had advised. You’d refused, the way a fly refuses to heed instruction before it ends up in the liver of a monkey.

The beep-beep comes again. Softer this time, because it’s WhatsApp. Your mum. She wants to know if you’ve completed the research she asked of you. Your fingers fly off the keypad and unto the phone as you punch a harried response. You are barely done when another one chirps. Class rep.

“Emmanuel, where are you? I’d be submitting the assignment by four.”

Your brain bursts.

Your eyes flit to the analog clock embedded in the top right corner of the laptop. 03:28. Thirty-two minutes before you mail the design. Exactly the same time you have to complete your assignment and get it across to the rep.

You race to your closet, grab the manual, rummage for a pen. You settle down by your workspace and scribble through. The answers come to you the way a newly-wed would go to her husband. You are done in seven minutes, saving three. You call a colleague and meet him at your doorway. He disappears with the assignment.

The time is 03:44. You work like a mad, irritated tiger. Another beep. You do not check. You flip your mouse to the pentagon tool and draw a star. You paint it with colors. You are still amazed at the wonder of graphic design and Corel Draw. You complete the flier design just as the last second dips into four pm.

Your phone beeps. It’s angry. Like a boxer losing control. You slide to receive. Mr. Adebayo rushes through his words, as if he’s in a mental institution and cannot be caught. You nod and close Corel Draw. A dialog box pops up and you press, ‘no’, absently.

Mr. Adebayo says, “Is it ready?”

“Yes. I’m forwarding it to your mail –”

A chirps ends your sentence. You scroll to the file containing a few designs and click the most recent one. A blue circle swirling informs you it is loading. You breathe. It feels so good to breathe again.

The page loads. Your eyes bulge. The design is incomplete. Your brain jogs down the last few minutes. And then, like the finger of God taking a peek at you in a stormy night, you remember…

You did not save the design.

****

P.S 1: This kinda reads like my typical day, save I still get a gob of things done. 

P.S 2: There’s no image. More on that in future posts.