NIMISIRE

THE LITERARY LAB

A Mosaic of Torn Places | Read the New Diverse Anthology of Young Nigerian Writers | Brittle Paper

http://brittlepaper.com/2017/05/mosaic-torn-places-read-anthology-young-nigerian-writers/

BLOATED 

Cut. Some hoarse voice soused in fatigue, I anticipate its saying it. This scene I didn’t rehearse before acting, these lines I read out of a slipping-into-numbness-where in my head.  

They’ve forgotten about a break. Well I need a break. Whoever they -director- are. I don’t remember our agreement on terms of work, but no one works non-stop, except, well, God. 

God. Cut. Is he the one to say that? The director? 

He is.

Of course he isn’t. There is no play. 

This is real. This chaos is no goddamn play.  

To commune with everything the knife ever cut, for my insides to have a taste of everything it ever sliced, is what I want. A cut deep enough to hush this howl. 

Deep sleep. I told you that the only time I am at peace is when I’m asleep. That waking up, and remembering this is me, that happened, I feel like going back to sleep.

Everyone wants an escape from a nightmare that snuck out of otherworld to feast on them. It has never been music. It will never be a spike of epinephrine. You’ll wake from this deep sleep to find your intestine in its grip, your colon wound round its neck as it has its fill. You’ll watch, helpless. Knives, ceramic plates, picture frame, TV, arm chair, android phone, laptop, armless chair; you’ll hurl none. Instead, you’ll wish it dead, or that you could be anywhere you have to be, in a deep sleep.

Depth. People have messed with your priorities. What they believe in is deep, so deep that you have to embrace this religious depth too. Semiconscious, you’ll consider their convictions, employ their eyes. And take yours back later, but what you have now are not your eyes. You carry a pair of lenses in each pupil and it’s difficult to undo this amalgamation (it’s not like you’ll even try to). 

The worst part? You don’t know this. You’ll only realize when you look for what is killing you and discover you’ve been seeing the world through mixed sight, living in a depth that was never really yours, walking around bloated. 

But to know no depth is to be comatose; everything just has to have more meaning than the ordinary, you have to look deeper. The sky has to be more than a thing that hangs over the earth. The moon isn’t only full, crescent, or a luminescent body; it has to remind you of folklores, of faith in light amidst your overwhelming darkness; beauty in your pound of ugliness. A river doesn’t only flow calmly; you must drag it into this business of pressing your lips into a smile, or tearing up after remembering the jagged memories bruising your every present.

Someday while you sleep, I lay in the depth of the blood that escapes the gash in my belly. 

They will say God didn’t say cut.

 I did.   

MIRAGE 

You will look for me everywhere- places I can’t be reached- because everywhere is only where

your eyes can behold,

but I am everywhere, like air,

and beyond these wheres,

and like air your eyes can’t behold me.

Your eyes will take on searchlight for lens,

your body rubbing against luminescence to hitch

a bit of glow

“I have found a course” you’ll assure yourself,

but all you cling to are ashes mirage has fleshed.

You will troll for murk amidst your new found

beam,

your soul is miles away from your body-

You will search for the temple where it’s being

conjugated with your darkness.

GLE 2017

 *

I am at the park. Inside the bus I will travel to Lagos in, there is a couple at the front seat; the only passengers. There is a commotion beside the bus. From the flakes of conversations of the women who sell snacks and soft drinks to passengers, and a pricking gloom that has lingered in the air since I got here, I deduce that a woman, who had been a passenger of a bus that stopped here, had run mad. Pity is bold in these onlookers’ eyes and it is vivid that they are more worried about the woman’s wailing little boy than her. I too am. 

I am thinking of how to help this boy- how to get him help. But there is barely anything I can do.

 

This is one of those helpless situations that remind me that saving the world ought to be canceled in my list of feasible. 

Day 1

Sunrise at the lagoon.

6:45am
I am in Unilag hoping to get the location of the hall without asking anyone. I call a friend who is at the university teaching hospital, but he doesn’t answer his phone; probably still asleep. I ask a lady where the hall is and she hurries a direction which after using, I realize that not interrupting her urgent steps would have been a better choice.

I am lost. I ask a janitor sweeping dirt by the street for direction, and from the way she speaks so assuredly like she knew this place the way she’s familiar with the broom, I know I will get to the hall without having to ask anyone else. 
8:45am

I am at the hall, and late because I went to the lagoon with my friend and lost grasp of time. There are three women at the registering table, smiling. I get my tag, the woman behind the computer asks for my name and clicks away on her keyboard and then… I could go have my seat.

I sit at the second row and pretend to read Helon Habila’s measuring time, when in fact my eyes are scanning the hall.

One of the women comes to the front and introduces herself as the chairperson of the conference and gives a brief talk about the organization. She enjoins everyone to take few minutes in meeting other participants in the hall. 

Reluctantly, I stand and remain fixed at a point watching the concurrent introductions and catch some names and schools. 

When I’m on my way back to sitting, a guy comes to me and there is a cursory introduction. 
The woman asks us to tell the person by our side the reason we are here and what we hope to achieve from the conference.  
I needed a break from home because my school had been on strike for eight months, so when a friend sent the link for registering for this conference, I didn’t hesitate applying. That’s why I’m here, I say to the girl beside me. 

She says her brother registered for her and she really doesnt know what the conference is about.

We both at this moment are two clueless individuals who at the end of the conference would have given everything up to be here now. 

 

I don’t know what I hope to achieve. My best friend said -in verbatim- leadership conferences are crap, no one can teach you how to be a leader. I agree with him, no one can teach you such thing as leadership; it is like being taught how to live. 
After breakfast, we are split into groups and I’m the only female in my group. Our activity is reading the message on each allotted share of cards and putting them in a chart -with agree, disagree, no idea, and no consensus boxes- based on our conviction or non-conviction. 

The next stage where, as a group, there is a repositioning of cards in the chart is interesting and argumentative. I amuse myself a lot; I believe that I’m quite vast in knowledge and almost always right about things, perhaps it’s because it’s been eons since I had been in the midst of intellectuals who are sophisticated and well-informed, so I am surprised when more than a person doesn’t agree with my stance and with valid facts are able to win me to their side.
Today, I have achieved:
Now I know that when amidst people, it is pertinent to learn from them if one repels deafness born off ego and listen without constantly interrupting their speech.

There is a clear difference between baseless arguments and constructive arguments. The latter leaves you changed- of beliefs or convictions- or as a changer, and the former often leaves you frustrated and bitter.

Everyone has something to say, while you may not agree with their opinion, you should learn to respect it.    

From the chairperson’s speech, I learnt that cultural diversity isn’t limited to ethnicity as I thought; it could be a difference in age, professionalism, or specialization. 

Day 2

A quick selfie before the day weighs in.





We meet the community evangelist of New generation Africa and he gives us a warm welcome. From him, I learn these:

When you want to start a NGO, you first should identify the problem you want to solve and target a locality.
What problem do I want to solve?

I remember the mad woman and her boy. The problem of shelter for the homeless, and lack of mental facility in Ibadan.

 The globe itself is a cluster of problems, but if so many humans can choose one problem each and work towards solving it, the world may lean towards being saved. 
Create your own unique solution after problem identification. 

Seek partnership, advisably from firms whose objectives align with yours. 
Build a formidable team. As a leader, know your members’ skills and help them in being more versatile- send them to seminars or workshops, for example. These skills besides being self-developing can be harnessed in bringing the goals of the organization to fruitfulness.  

Day 3

​​

G for… Ganglion ?

I went through a quite devastating experience yesterday, and because of this I’m cold and withdrawn today. 

I have a new group and we are to come up with a project that fosters civic engagement in Lagos. 
Ideas?

 

I am unprepared for this. I’m abashed and mad at myself because this isn’t a good day for mood swing and the surfacing of a rookie self. 

Everyone talks about thier project ideas. I am silent  and completely passive, talking only when all eyes at the table are on me, expectantly awaiting my opinion. 

I channel my reservedness into productivity, conform it to becoming a tool I learnt from a session yesterday- observation: 
A group of people from different cultural backgrounds, with almost equaling level of knowledge coming together to reach a consensus on different ideas provided by same members are like the vanes of a fan that in a non-functioning state are apart, but when connected to electricity rotate to work for common purpose and appear to be one.   
We don’t reach a conclusion on what project to work on till our mentor steps in to redeem the day and makes us realize that our lack of oneness has kept progress away, and that we should never let the fear of rejection keep us from speaking up our idea or opinion. 
Suppressed thoughts and reactions come afloat when he leaves; each person unloads their mind and we move forward. 
I’m wondering who/what our source of electricity is- our mentor or goal? 

Day 4

GLE 2017 alumni, Nigeria.

Presentation of projects takes place today. We brainstorm on the form our presentation shall take and there is a suggestion to add a short play. I am not sure its not going to be distracting, I eventually speak up when the drama rehearsals are ongoing. I await a colossal of angry reactions -because I should have spoken up earlier, while we all hadn’t agreed on adding the drama- but no offense is expressed. We talk about it and they convince me that its not going to be distracting. 

It takes mature minds to make a strong and productive group, people whose focus is directed towards results and won’t let anything remind them of an ‘I’ instead of ‘us’. People who can put away differences, preferences, and embrace selflessness. 
I’m awestruck at the sight different projects, the ideas behind them, and the manner with which the presenters deliver.
There are stunning young minds, great brains and beautiful hearts in Nigeria. I am sure of this now, more than ever.

*

On my way home, I think of what my friend said about leadership conferences. And again, I agree with him. For me, GLE was not a mere   leadership conference; it was four-day soul-searching, self-discovery, and all I learnt about leadership, I did by listening, observing, talking, commenting, and being open-minded. 

Leadership can be learnt.

SIFTED MEMORIES 

JAN’17

I wrote nothing about living 2016 at the end of the year because I would be too overwhelmed to finish whatever piece I started out to write. But if I had made it past few paragraphs, certain entries would have taken seats amidst the introspective sentences:
“I felt guilt in its unrefined form, watched my fears take on flesh, crawling at first and then as if on cue, in the last months flood my life like 2017 would be wearing cologne with a repelling fragrance.” 

Some guilt made it into this year; guilt about not downloading any Sia’s song I stumble on (did I make an undocumented agreement to have her every song?). I wonder if there is a more intense guilt lurking till it is safe to walk out of the dark. But I just wonder, not worry.

“My insecurity lured me out, not to shame me, but to show me how stupid it was to be afraid of it.”

And like that guilt, this insecurity made it here too, and I amuse myself this time; I’m done fighting it. 


DEC’16

Contrary to what was assumed by those I met during my first and second years in the university, I used to wear make-up. I told a friend I was more religious than Christian, this- though never said this curtly when the topic surfaced in conversations- was why I stopped using make-up, and denied my second pair of piercings earrings for some years. Leaving my house today with my face fully made up, I feel something a tad similar to what an individual coming out about being gay would feel. But I’m uncertain if this is something I want to keep doing. Before recently, after I must have emboldened myself that I could go out like that, the reflection in the mirror with jagged edges would do the summation of the number eyes that would be on me and give a result of ‘all’; the required conviction to wash the cosmetics off my face.
I knew I needed the sort of courage I wore to compete in debate tournaments to get over my insecurity and step into the open looking different. I got it, months after losing the courage I wore to compete in debate tournaments, and a debate tournament. 

    

NOV’16

When I was two years younger, I had a team mate who made cussing seem cool; working with him on few projects was all it took for me to reel to the same lane. 
He left, I stopped. 

For some months, I was friends with someone who cussed, and I’m swearing again albeit in selective situations; I’m a female in my twenties- old enough to man a home, my family often remarks to disapprove my mediocrity in the kitchen- and a Nigerian who lives in Nigeria, and who cussing, just like her having more than a pair of piercings, passes off as ungenteel and un-African to the society. But then, just like my IMs are filled with wannas and trynnas- which paints me phony- and my music folder of about two hundred songs has less than thirty African songs, acting African doesn’t have my care. 



OCT’16



I lose platonic relationships almost as often as I make them. It is when I remember that I am still friends with my best friend of three years that I’m relieved; there’s nothing wrong with me.
I once heard amidst my sister’s conversation with her friend that “… someone may want to be all by one’s self sometimes, and cry just for no reason because no one would understand if one told them one cried for nothing” , I don’t remember the subject of their discussion; perhaps something in the genre solidarity. I like to believe that I’m a lone star, that I prefer being all by myself, I do, but I know I would rather be around certain people than be alone. I think of them as daylight. 

Every time, I lose these daylights to the dark and I don’t know if to unlearn this civility of not meddling with the way earth orbits round the sun.  


SEPT’16
I sometimes indulge the thought that if I groomed my interest in mathematics, and pursued a degree in the course, I would do something different; I would carry out mathematical experiments in relation to words. I am quite obsessed with ‘if’; I would record how and the number of times my test subjects used the preposition for a period of time.
The goal of the experiment would be to explicate that ‘if’ ought to be extricated from the unnecessary burden it bears. I’m convinced that at the end of the day, what we would do ‘if’ we had something has a specific probability of never getting done when we have the needful, which often is greater than the probability of being done. 



JAN’17

For some two years after I graduated from high school, I was a teacher. Four months, I worked at a primary school and left to prepare for exams (I was going to leave anyway; when the term was over. I doubled as a teacher and babysitter, ran errands and did petty jobs; things I was not informed of till my first day at work. When I remember working at this school, I try to convince myself that I left because I was taken advantage of, that I could have been told the school lacked a janitor after my interview) and worked as a home tutor in the remaining months before I started at the university.   
I got a home tutoring job yesterday. As I teach the kids today, I feel a part of me break off aestivation, and it feels so good. I marvel inwardly at the beauty in a small world of quantitative reasoning, fractions, realization, bemusement and occasional nods from the kids when a puzzle pikes out of their way.   

WE NEED NEW NAMES- THE REVIEW.

After the first two pages of We need new names, I thought it was speculative fiction; that Darling and her friends were inhabitants of this surreal world called Paradise, and they could fly to Budapest chanting Vasco da Gama. I thought these kids with awkward names were actual birds. I’m abashed. Jumping into conclusions has never been a game with a pleasant end. But then, Darling made it easy to think she was anything but a ten year old. I mean her perception of Paradise! Who would have thought that it is just a village in another scarcely populated country in Africa? And names such as Bastard, Fraction, Godknows, and Mother of Bones certainly aren’t what you read in everyday African stories.

In We need new names, NoViolet Bulawayo writes in fonts so bold a long-sighted person won’t need visual aid to see, “This is nothing like what you ever read”. It is only apt that her veracious imagery of a preteen’s life reminds one of Maggie Harris’ Commonwealth prize winning story, Sending for Chatal where Maggie brilliantly captured a dyslexic girl’s pathetic life, and Uzodinma Iweala’s exceptional Beasts of no nation.

The child’s voice resonates throughout the book in a way that remembering it is written by an adult occurs only when you’re not reading.

 Mother would kill me dead if she found out…

They are silent when they go, none of that talk-talk of the days before…

Over every page, Bulawayo rolls the brush of literary devices to paint an endearing piece. She is quite fond of simile. There is a beaucoup of the word like in the book.

We need new names explores Darling’s interesting, adventurous and despairing preteen years and her transition into teen age. She is an extreme extrovert who loves playing out, hunting for guava with her friends, and stirring calm rivers (take upsetting a guard for one). She, her mother and overly religious grandmother live in a shack having lost their brick house to the new government’s bulldozing. Her father who had left home for South Africa finally returns with a strange illness. Darling has a pungent contempt for him because hanging out with her friends has been overruled by the duty of caring for him and he forgot all about Darling and her mother while away. Her father remains bedridden till he dies. Here, Bulawayo shows that children are capable of such weighty decisions as despising their parents.

My boy, he says again. I do not look at him because I don’t even want to look at him. He keeps saying my boy, until I finally say, “I’m not your boy, are you crazy? Go back, get away from your bed and go back to where you come from with your ugly bones and leave us alone”, but I’m saying it all in my head…

When Paradise deteriorated in the hands of AIDS, illiteracy, poverty, into a hamlet daily emigrated from, Darling’s crave to join her aunt in America heightens. One day with a rainbow-colored string- this supposedly will fight off evil- belting her waist, she leaves for the states with her aunt Fostalina. The next half of the book, set in Detroit, continues with Darling’s struggle with acute cold and snowfalls, and reminiscence of her Paradise home. She also discovers that this place which she had so much longed for isn’t all she expected it to be and that having no papers, visiting Paradise is but a pie in the sky. Her aunt is more concerned with fitness than looking after the family like an African woman should, and her cousin TK is an unfriendly fat teenage boy.

In order to fit in, like most immigrants do, Darling learns words and mannerisms of the white man and trades her accent for the American fluidity, dumping some African mentality along the way.

I have decided that the best way to deal with it all is to sound American, and the TV has taught me just how to do it…

I also have my list of American words that I keep under the tongue like talismans, ready to use: pretty good, pain in the ass, for real…

I know I will never forget those faces, and I know, looking at them, that I will never hit a child again, no matter how bad he is…

When people make no attempts to rid their relationships of distance’s proboscis, it feeds on them, and sucks till the relationships wither off like dead scales. With diminishing interest in writing home and staying on long calls with her friends in Paradise, having new friends in the U.S, sorting out cans and bottles at work for many hours, Darling’s bond with her childhood friends wears out. Towards the end of the book, Darling’s initiation into adulthood, marked by sharp sensual sensitivity and decision making, begins.

Tony’s body was pressed tight behind me like it would take saw to separate us, his hands up and down my sides, groping my stomach…

I haven’t figured out exactly what I want to get into, but I have zero passion for what Aunt Fostalina wants me to do.

We need new names is a story that unfolds without as much as a semblance of a plot, but out of the blue pushes one to the surface.

If you love stories written by authors who explore their creative liberty to the maximum, delivering keen details, We need new names is just what you’re looking for.

NO SURPRISES

It amazes me how one could smile and cry simultaneously. This completely discordant outburst of emotions is happening to me  right now; something that happens often enough to pass for norm. Most times, people cry and smile at the same time when they are overwhelmed with joy; walking into a beautiful surprise that had never crossed their mind, or maybe it had couple of times , but they waved it off- nah, just exactly how will I get that? Or maybe it’s not a surprise, they were expecting it and can’t just contain the “oh yes! Finally” that is happening to this person that must be them.Or maybe they are about falling off the brink of sanity.  Crying and smiling for me hasn’t been about surprises, not since my twentieth birthday.

Yesterday night, I told my friend that I missed some people who I shouldn’t miss, in ways I shouldn’t miss them. The thought of my half-brothers certainly didn’t cross his mind, so he told me to visit these people I miss. 

” I lost all the fight in me ” this is the English interpretation of my status on Whatsapp. Because I had lost all the fight in me, I tucked in my ever-disagreeging, not-giving in, and honest self. I didn’t tell him I couldn’t visit them, that I have no passport not to mention visa, and even if I did, I just couldn’t go visit them. Like what do I say after about ten years of not seeing them? Hey bro, I’m your little sister, remember me right? You used to like me. What exactly do I say?

Today, I was in bed till noon. This seldom happens if you go by my first and last names and stayed up midnight seeing pretty little liars till five am. I woke up to a familiar feminine voice telling my mum she forgot her child’s birthday. My brain was on the move without reaching its pedals, like it had calendar on speed dial: 12/12. It’s Bororo’s birthday. It’s my half-brother’s birthday too. 

So I’m crying and smiling. I can’t tell him those two words I would rather say to people on their birthday than write long messages.

I miss people who shouldn’t be missed in ways I shouldn’t miss them and this is how I deal with it.

Certain “professionals” say writing shouldn’t be your escape. If there’s anything I love about rules, it’s the fun that comes with fracturing them. 

This is the lengthiest piece I’ve written in a while. So yeah, writing is my escape. It’s my frenemy. Serves as lever for rolling stuff off my brain, and sometimes, acts funny, dares me to severe the umbilical. 

UNTETHERED 

“I’ve waited so long for this day. For today when I will listen to you g-rh-h-on…” BOOM!

A bullet plunged into my rib cage. Then I heard the gunshot. 

Bullets must travel at the speed of light

My chest burned. I reached for my pistol from under the pillow, clutching my chest with the other arm.

“…the day I will watch you suffer like I did…” 

BOOM!

My right arm. Pain impaled the arm as the bullet tunneled through its bone. The gun fell off my hand.

The shooter walked closer, pistol pointed at me.

“…the day I will look into your eyes and see mise-h-rh-hy…”

BOOM!

BOOM!

Both legs. They were staked to the bed, immovable. I lay still, paralyzed.

The shooter was by my bed now. Sweat trickled down my face.

“pl…eee…s”  

“…when you will beg for mercy and wish I’m God, because you will find none…”

BOOM!

The bullet stormed into my heart as my shuttering eyes met the shooter’s fiery ones canopied by a black hood. The eyes glowed with such rage that the room seemed to be ablaze. 

“…For today when the last you’ll see will be this face.” Hood lifted. 

It is her. 

I knew it was her from the moment she spoke. How wouldn’t I recognize that voice? Saying “r” with such difficulty that spittle loses say in how much it gets spattered into the air.               

I made to clench my chest but my arms felt detached. Pain sprung from my heart and sped through every nerve. Somewhere in the room, a voice screamed. The voice dropped a memory into my mind: I am ten. I am walking by a road. A green car swerves off the road and races towards me before my legs can messiah. I hear a bone break in my side. I scream at the ensuing pang.

The carpet received my weight as I fell off the bed with a resounding thud. Breeze lifted the red curtain of the window at the end. It raised the fabric, ran through and beneath it to tour the room and press my kaftan against my – blood and sweat – sodden body.

A blanket of chill settled over me. I began drifting; my eye lids were too heavy to keep from sliding down.

“Bastard” She stood over me.

You’re a grown woman now.  

Her silhouette faded as my vision thinned and the words I wanted to say to her melted on my lips. 

She hit the right places. She hit all places. 

I would die in a few seconds. I wasn’t afraid. A soldier is always ready to die.  

I remembered when all that was in her mouth were premolars poised at the center of her jaws. And the first time she fired a gun; how she staggered at the recoil – a blend of shock and fright animated her face. I remembered why she loathed me. It all began seven years ago, here in this facility.
   *  *  * 
I slid into her tardily. Each thrust punctured my soul, tore my innards apart. I pretended it wasn’t her, that she was one of those sluts who warmed my bed on Friday nights after I left the joint wasted. But Instead of moans of pleasure, muffled sobs filled the space. And in place of looseness, she was tight. Blood seeped between her thighs onto the bed. She was no slut. She was Rachael.                                                                                                                                                                        

She wriggled beneath me like an earthworm struggling to escape a perimeter bestrewed with salt. She fought hard to scream through the tape I gagged her mouth with. I thrust into her again and more teardrops fell from her eyes, taking separate routes down her pimpled face. I looked away, my eyes scouring for something- anything- to bestow my focus. 

The small window above the bed permitted rays irradiating from the full moon perched on the dark sky outside, illuminating her cell albeit dimly. Her room was messy: brown crumbs of foam, dead insects, footwear and clothes littered the floor; cobwebs hung between ends of the walls. I recoiled in disgust. 

“If you mention a word about this to anyone, you’re dead.” I was done. I peeled the tape off her mouth and dropped it on the bed. She nodded, trembling. I didn’t want her talking about this to anyone.  

Seeing her fanned the embers of anger in my head. I was unsure who I was mad at: The Boss or myself. You both, a voice whispered in my head. I climbed off her and almost cringed at the sight of the red patch on the bed. 

 “But why? Why…” She cried when I got to the door.

“It’s part of your training” I didn’t look back, didn’t want her to see the lie in my truth or doubt that sex would make her stronger.

“What about these cords?” She screamed as I made out of her cell. I locked the door and walked away. She had to put what she had learnt to practice and I was unsure she wouldn’t lunge at me if I cut the cords.

Her grunts followed behind me as I strolled past a soldier, alcohol reeked in his breath as he stuttered a greeting and saluted. He was a D2, five ranks below me. I turned to shoot him a jarring look. On other nights, I would have punished him for drinking while on duty, but I was shattered tonight. And I knew The Boss probably stationed him there to give report of my deed, just like he would request for Rachael’s bed sheet tomorrow. I wanted to kill the D2- another eye of The Boss watching me. But it wasn’t his fault, he was chosen. And here, being chosen meant having an apartment in Hades. The one who really deserved a cough of bullet from the pistol at my waist was The Boss himself.

I walked by other cells and heard whispers. They aren’t asleep, bloody goats. I resisted the urge to go into the cells where the whispers breezed from. The lights had been out since an hour ago, before I came to the C3 dorm and went into Rachael’s cell.                                                                                                    

Her roommate had been locked in the Dark room for stealing from the kitchen but my instinct said it’s all part of The Boss’ scheme to make sure I defiled Rachael undisturbed, just as he had made me come here without having a drop of liquor. He wanted me to remember every detail. 

I was at the stairs now.

In my mind, I saw Rachael sweeping all her energy into her hands, reaching for her ankle knife as she bent her leg towards her head. The fear that she might employ the knife in hurting herself crossed my mind. But she was trained to survive against all odds; she had been put through a lot worse. She was strong, unlike the others whom we kept on close watch because of their previous suicidal attempts. 

Rachael was special. 

Fifteen years ago, I fell in love with a woman. Her name was Blessing. I was on a mission in Benue, working undercover as a cashier at a popular feed mill at Konshisha owned by Mr Agu. 

I had an affair with Blessing even though a client had paid The Boss for the ruination of Mr Agu, Blessing’s father. I didn’t know why the client wanted Blessing’s father destroyed. I didn’t have to. My instructions were to: get close to the family, get enough information on how he ran his business and orchestrate something implicative enough to destroy him. 

Blessing took in few months after we started seeing each other. When she broke the news of the pregnancy, for a short-lived moment I forgot about the mission, we were so happy. But when I remembered what I planned to do to her father, my grin vanished leaving enough surface for gloom to settle on my face. Blessing had thought that I changed my mind about the baby, that I didn’t want it anymore. I quickly lied, she bought it and smiled. We agreed to keep the baby. 

With words that felt so alive, we painted our lives together, with the baby: We got a three-bedroom flat in a serene area, painted the house orange, no, Blessing wanted cream, we argued, we argued over fiddling things like that. We concluded on orange and cream for the sitting room, cream for the rooms except the baby’s. Blessing painted baby’s room pink-she was so sure it was a girl- and bought her fancy hair ribbons, dressed her like a princess. The house had a large compound where I parked my Evil spirit, and baby – I wanted a boy- and I played football when he was older. 

We kept painting on the canvas of love and hope. We even painted dying together. 

We were crazily in love, so crazy that one day I picked the phone and dialed The Boss’number. I wanted to quit the job, quit being his soldier. But his hello had been so frightening that all that I had rehearsed while roving the perimeter of my room disappeared.

The boss inquired about the progress of the mission; he was not happy that I was taking too long to execute the so facile an assignment and moreover the mission had changed – the client wanted the man and his family dead, staged like Mr Agu murdered his family and killed himself. Mr Agu was contesting with our client in the election taking place the following year. 

The phone burned in my hand as he spoke. He ended the call that night after he told me he knew about the thing growing inside Blessing; he trusted me enough to remember my allegiance to him and not to risk being disavowed over the stupid mistake. 

That night, Baby became stupid mistake. Who had I been fooling? There was no way I could have the kind of life Blessing and I had dreamt. I wasn’t that kind of guy. I sold my freedom long ago. It was this day that those words died, that I burnt the canvas.

I killed Blessing’s parents, Blessing too. It was four months after breaking up with her, the month Baby was born. Baby was bawling in her crib that evening. And when I pointed the gun at her, she stopped crying. I couldn’t kill her. I couldn’t kill Rachael.

Sex was a tool; men’s doom. Rachael was at the stage of mastering how to exploit this, so The Boss enjoined me to deflower her. He could have sent someone else but my punishment for sparing her wasn’t over yet.

It was important that the female soldiers knew how to please men; their body was their most puissant weapon. Male trainees were made to sleep with the females and most times, horny trainers raped the girls. Before Benue happened, I violated the girls too. Most of them were used to it and tried all the moves they had seen in the sex tapes we made them watch in the common room while some would lie still like a fallen tree while I had my way. 

Rachael would make a great soldier and a beautiful assassin. The Boss found out I spared her and ordered me to kill her but I couldn’t. I brought her here instead because there was no hiding from him. He was a god with eyes everywhere, on every soldier here and outside. He had connections both in and outside the country; a phone call would be enough to never hear Rachael’s cries again. I begged him to spare her. He agreed and to my dismay, put her among the trainees when she was of age.

I swore to never tell Rachael about her paternity and keep our contact minimal. So I watched her grow from afar. And for years, to her, I was just another cruel teacher they all despised. And I couldn’t stop it –the father-daughter bond that was never there – from severing into ashen pieces as it biked on the scraggy terrain of nights that turned into days, weeks, and months that rolled into years.

 * * *

….Hail Mary full of grace

Our Lord is with thee 

Blessed art thou among women….

Sometimes words are lazy cyclists, they ride all the way up into your mouth but get stuck to your tongue. 

When my body feeds the earth, these words “Rachael, I’m your father” will rot along with their place of birth.

….And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus 

Holy Mary 

Mother of God….

Voices and footsteps echoed from afar.

“Oga. . .oga. . .” a panicky voice called.

I made to talk but my lips felt glued and when I tried to move, a strange force pinned me down. 

“E be like say oga don peme oh” another voice said, sounding more distant.

“Oga. . . og. . . abeg go wake The Boss” the first voice said.

The Boss. His last word resonated in my head as I breathed my last. 

The voices stopped and a thick fog of darkness consumed me. 

…Pray for us sinners

Now and at the hour of our…death.

A PLACE TO CALL YOURS. {A POEM}

You mined your dynasty out of a blotched name,

Ignited frozen stones to start a fire that would be a flare.

They exhumed your heart, stripped you of humanity

and you stood numb,

spectating the birth of the beast that is you.

 

 

Now you seek wholeness in a land of broken bones.

You troll for peace in the path between burning breasts.

They never told you?  Home is the hamlet you gave up

in pursuit of mansions to call yours,

mansions that now have crumbled.

 

 

 

THE WALK THROUGH IWO ROAD 

THE WALK THROUGH IWO ROAD

Ibrahim,

Flexibility, swiftness, stern look, sharp tongue; these are the requisites for making it through Iwo road untouched. And by untouched, I mean uninjured, not robbed. Your legs must move faster than you blink to avoid being pushed, or hit by a crazy driver (note ‘crazy’, not ‘drunk’. These people are crazy liquor or no liquor).

You need to bend, twist; the hawker doesn’t care if the edge of her tray makes straight for your face. If eventually there is a collision – perhaps, your legs moved faster than your optic nerves travelled and you hadn’t mastered flexing your muscles enough to swerve as she hurried towards you; she will call you blind and grab your collar.

Just pay her and leave. Please.

Who is the most uncouth person you have met?

You remember indices, don’t you? Now, uncouthness of the most uncouth person you have met is variable a, a^10 = uncouthness of Iwo road folks, which is to say everyone who is in that sphere because they belong there.

It is easier for you to walk through Iwo road without nail imprints on your wrists; you are a man. But you will be held and pulled. Those boys selling Akube shoes and menswear, conductors shouting one more passenger” when the bus is only half filled will. The stern look and sharp tongue step in here, to ward them off.

Fatima, Bose, Mariam, Sade. I’ve been called these names. I’ve been held against my will till I fought off their grips. The miscreants found me attractive and force is their mother tongue.

Yes, the harassment is utterly infuriating but there’s nothing to do. Recently, I almost slapped a rascal but stopped short because hitting him would depict my level of reasoning parallels with his and his clutching my wrist in the first instance would be submerged by a deluge of rancid mouths justifying the reciprocating beating I got. Because, “why would you hit an area boy!”

You know what I want? A renowned feminist trekking through Iwo road, held, butt-smacked (the scoundrels wouldn’t know her anyway). She might have to figure out how to stop this.

Sensitize Taxi drivers, conductors, and area boys on equal rights and penalty for molestation under law. That would be her solution (or she could surprise me), which is no more useful than threatening to castrate them.

“What do I suggest?”

Leave them be. If there are people you can’t change, it is these rascals. These are men who own their wives, grew up believing that all moving in skirts are for the sole purpose of sex. And you want to wipe that from their brains? Well, good luck with that!

Sometimes it is not people who must be changed, it is one who should understand that life is a crone who won’t grant one all requests. One has to adjust, be more tolerating. As much as this is a guide for you, it is also a self-talk for me. I have wanted a sermonette on this subject since the day I almost slapped that guy.

And oh, add the Niger kids who beg for alms too. You will have to give them money because they seem not to understand that you have a choice in this matter. They will tug at your pant till you give in. The other option is: stern look, sharp tongue. You might need to push them off, but gently. See, just give them Twenty naira and save yourself the drama.

I was at the market today to get a new shirt but bought a pair of shoes after I had entered and exited too many stores to not see my dream shirt. In the bus back home, I sat with three older women; two were obese and refused to stop talking. The third woman couldn’t have been a little older than forty. We made faces with each other, the third woman and I. In that moment, our eyes chatted.

Hers said: Ibadan women sha!

Mine replied: Yeah right.

Then we smiled.

This birthed our short messages: The conductor gave one of the obese women her change, short of ten naira. She complained that he’s so stingy he wouldn’t even buy her a bottle of Pepsi if she asked for one.

Ibadan women sha!

Yeah right.

Yesterday, I got the mail that you will be here next week. The IMs still don’t meet your standard of what genuine communication ought to be? It is okay. This forewarn was only necessary.

So dear (youve always wanted me to call you this, I know) master the skills, practice them every morning till you leave Abuja and you’ll be surprised at the good it will do.

It is raining here now. I must go out to read what message the drops have left in the clouds.

PS:

THE ATTACHMENT IS AN ILLUSTRATED DESCRIPTION OF MY HOUSE FROM THE CAR PARK IN IBADAN. HASSAN, MY YOUNGER BROTHER MADE THE SKETCHES YESTERDAY EVENING (I GAVE HIM A TIP) AND BECAUSE OF HIM, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO FIND MY HOUSE WITHOUT SWEATING.

Give my love to your sister, Zahra (oh how I love that name!)

Till we see (which the mere thought of is as exciting as the event itself (should be?).)

Love,

Aisha.

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