Ojúolápé

04/08/2015
(Sometime between the middle watch and the hour of the crow.)

Little One, I promise you this one thing, we will never go through this again, ever.
We’re shedding the very last tears, we’re breaking for the very last time. We might have done this a million times before, but it stops now, here, today.

So grieve, and cry, and mend, and heal as best as you can because tomorrow we will rise up, shake off the dust, wipe off the tears, put on our face and conquer the world.

Sisí Èkó: Fight Friday

I doubt that I can enough just how tired I am of danfo drama. Sometimes, it’s entertaining when you’re retelling the tale. Sometimes it’s outright entertaining while in the middle of it. Sometimes, it’s I-want-to-tear-out-my-hair-right-now infuriating (especially when it involves you being in a give-me-my-change situation with a crazy conductor). Sometimes, it just simply leaves you bone weary and all you can think is Dangote o lori meji, Baba God answer my call…

Today, after a long and tiring day at work, I dragged my tired body onto a bus headed for Ajah at Oniru bus stop. All I was thinking about was surviving the traffic and getting home and probably sleeping right through the entire weekend. If wishes were horses ehn, I guess a lowly Lagos girl like me couldn’t even dare wish ride. The drama started tonight with the typical change shebang. Conductor says fare is one fifty bucks, dearest passenger brandishes a 1000 naira note. Conductor, who couldn’t have been more than 13 or 14 grumbles but collects the money from the passenger.
          “Abeg, I no get shange oh!” he warns the rest of us and passes the 1000 naira note to the driver so the driver can break up the money at the Toll booths. Luckily, the attendant at the Booth didn’t add her own drama by insisting she didn’t have change or by giving the driver torn notes. We passed through the Toll Gates without any issues. When the driver passed the change to the conductor, the errant passenger who was sat in the first row grabbed the money before the conductor could and quickly counted out his change before passing the rest of it to the conductor.
          “Oga, na wetin be that nah?” the conductor fired at him, affronted.
          “Na wetin be wetin?” the passenger retorted. “No be my change I take?”
          “Why you go just collect the money like that?” the conductor asked.
          “You think say I be mumu.” The passenger said. “The next thing now, you go claim say you still no get change.”
          “But you no suppose take the money like that.” One man said behind me. “That was uncalled for.”
          “Oga abeg mind your business oh!” the money grabber said to him. “Na for your hand I collect money?”
          “No mind am.” The conductor said to the other passenger. “He no get sense at all.”
          “Na who you dey say no get sense?” Mr. money grabber demanded, his voice rising. He turned in his seat to glare at the conductor. “Ehn, answer me!” he demanded and before we could all say jack, he reached across the woman sitting beside him to slap the conductor. The conductor who had been perched precariously at the edge of the door lost his balance and fell off the moving bus.
          “Jesus!” the woman beside Mr. money grabber screamed. “He don kee your conductor oh!”
The driver slammed on the brakes and the bus screeched to a stop. The driver jumped down to go check on his conductor, probably wondering what story he would tell the boy’s mother if anything happened to him.
          “You are an idiot!” the man behind me shouted at Mr. money grabber. “If that boy gets injured, I will make sure you sleep in a cell tonight.”
Mr money grabber, rather than show any remorse for his actions stood up in the bus and tried to face the man.
          “Who are you calling an idiot?” he demanded.
By now, there was chaos in the bus with different parties taking sides and a few concerned people wondering if the boy was fine.
          “You’re an idiot for acting that way. Why did you have to slap the boy?” the man shouted back at him.
          “You’re calling me idiot!” Mr money grabber demanded and then he reached over my head in an attempt to hit the man on the third row. The other man was by this time incensed and the two started a fist fight, right over my head! Instead of trying to make them see sense, my other dearest fellow passengers egged them on, everyone supporting a side.
When I saw that the fighters didn’t seem to know the difference between my head and their opponent’s face, no one taught me before I jejely crawled my way out from the boxing ring. When I finally succeeded in getting off the bus, I realized that even the supporters had gotten into their own fights over who was wrong and who had over stepped their bounds and another fight had broken out at the back of the bus.
Oga driver and conductor were both nowhere to be found, probably wisely keeping a safe distance until the fights fizzled out. Knowing just how the drama was going to play out, I resignedly waited for another bus to come. After what seemed like forever (of course still no-show from the driver and conductor and the fighters were still going strong), another bus finally stopped to pick up the few passengers who weren’t involved in the fights. And of course I remembered as I got on that junior the conductor owed me 350 bucks in change. Great. Just another Friday night in ‘Giddi!

Eseroghene

          “Hi! My name is Sarah Parker.” She says and you smile at her.
          “I’m Ese Osemwenke.” You reply, trying hard to stop yourself from asking her if her middle name is Jessica.

She is pretty, with shoulder length hair the colour of corn silk and eyes that are very blue you can tell their colour from across the room. You try not to feel too self-conscious about the pimples you noticed on your chin this morning but your hand trails to your face all the same. You reckon that just like you, she’ll be speaking at the United Nation’s CEDAW Session; she has that confident and assured air around her that you recognize so well because it’s like looking in a mirror.

          “Your name is beautiful.” She says to you in the deep sultry voice you find hard to believe belongs to someone with such dainty features. You would have expected her voice to be wispy and bird-like.
          “Ese.” She tries it out on her tongue. “It’s beautiful, just like you are.” She says and you feel your mental shutters coming down with a loud clanging sound that threatens to burst your eardrums. You fight the burning urge to clamp your hands over your ears, to shut out the clanging, to shut out her beautiful contralto.

You’ve heard those words a million times too many and you know just how quickly they can turn ugly as soon as people see what’s beneath the carefully painted façade. You have learned the hard way how fickle and fleeting acceptance and respect usually are. You know that no matter how forward thinking the world thinks it is, biases still run deep in the DNA of the human race.

No one likes the messy stories.

No one is comfortable with wounds or scars or the not-perfect lives. So your smile widens, showing your straight, white teeth with the tiny gap between your incisors. Yes, you smile and even offer inane comments here and there, but you push all thoughts of the sexual abuse, first from the house girl, then from uncle Ighenegbai, into that place you have sworn will never see the light of day.
You imagine how the easy rapport she has built with you in so little time will disappear if she knew. You know how she will flounder, try not to show how uncomfortable she is with being uncomfortable with your damagedness, how she will try not to make too much of it and then wonder if she’s making too little of it. You know that whether she judges you or feels sorry for what you’ve been through, it will distance her from you because you’re the broken toy.
She is saying now that she has seen a bit of the world and you hope she doesn’t ask if you’re from Africa and what the country is like apart from all the starving children and the safaris.

          “I have been to Cape Town. Your accent doesn’t sound South African.” She says and you’re impressed.
          “I’m Nigerian.” You say but you don’t tell her that your life had been far from the pictures of emaciated children the media is filled with. You don’t say that you were born with a silver spoon shoved down your throat and that you had been expected to live a stereotype because of it. You don’t talk about how no one took you seriously, especially because you were a girl-child and that you were told to enjoy daddy’s money until a rich suitor came along. You don’t tell her that you defied daddy and got that job anyway, or that when you refused to sleep with the boss, he fired you and told everyone you were just a spoilt brat who was clueless on the job. You don’t tell her that growing up, you were not expected to have a mind of your own and most people either labelled you spoilt for taking advantage of daddy’s fortunes or spoilt for not.

          “I have done a fair share of travelling too.” You tell her.
          “Great! Whereabouts have you been?” she asks, her eyes lighting up with excitement.
          “I lived in Scotland for a few years.” You say, but you leave out the part of fleeing two weeks before the wedding your authoritarian father had planned for you. Of course you don’t mention the fact that your father had chosen your suitor without consulting you, or that your would-be groom had been almost twice your age.

          “I visited Edinburgh, spent a few days there.” She says. “What was it like living in Scotland?” she asks and you tell her about the beautiful landscapes, the enchanting way the brogue rolls and sloshes off the tongues of the natives and the amazing landmarks. What you say nothing about is how difficult it was to fit in and how you were the one with the weird accent. You say nothing about the veiled racist remarks or the time ‘Niggar Whore’ was spray painted on your car. You don’t tell her of the lecturer who refused to answer your question because you said ‘Eh-din-borg’ instead of ‘Eh-din-bu-rah’ and how the entire class had dissolved in laughter.

          “I returned to Nigeria after eight years.” You say.
          “Wow, you must have missed home during that time.” She replies.
Yes you did, every single day of those eight years, but you had been trying to find yourself and you hadn’t been sure how best to do that, and the days had just continued to roll into each other. You don’t tell her that despite missing home, you hadn’t been able to return because your father had cut you off and had forbidden you to come back. You can’t tell her how much you regret not reconciling with him before he died and how at the funeral, you had still been the outcast.

          “After that, I lived in Brisbane for a few years.” You continue.
You don’t mention how finally going back home had only made things worse. You don’t say anything about how the people you had left back home either envied you for having flown the coop or resented you for leaving. You don’t bring up the people who consider you selfish and self-serving or those who call you unpatriotic, the ones whose eyes scream traitor.

          “Then work took me to Perth and then Auckland for a couple of years.”
          “Did you return home to Nigeria often?” she asks.
You give a non-committal shrug and say yes, a few times over the years. You don’t say anything about how you never felt like you belonged there anymore and how home felt even stranger than all the places you’ve been to. You gloss over the fact that you started to experience a new kind of discrimination, one even worse than what you suffered at the hands of foreigners. You don’t tell her how you’ve become the outsider everywhere you go, how you’re not even sure of where home is anymore.

No one wants to see brokenness.

You share with her instead, your adventures and all the glamorous places you’ve seen. You both bond over your shared cities, two strangers who are clicking on the surface. Two strangers who will likely become friends without getting to the messiness beneath. You know this very well because you have learned to play this game like a pro and have perfected the fine art of creating charades. It is the only way you know to survive; you paint on your face, wear your picture-perfect masquerade like an armour and plough on through life.
You see her eyes flick to your hands which are in your laps and you self-consciously pull your sleeve over the scar on your left wrist before you can stop yourself. The scar is old and belongs in another lifetime but you know from bitter experience that people will always define you by it. You’re not interested in anyone’s pity or judgement. You look up at her defiantly and what you see in her eyes surprises you.
She leans over and lays a hand on your arm.
          “I’m a survivor too.” She says with so much tenderness and you are surprised even further when you burst into tears.

Maybe, just maybe, you don’t always have to be the strong one.

                                                            ~

*This story was originally published in the 2016 edition of the Ake Review*

Damon Salvatore

          “Where the hell have you been?” Solape demanded as soon as I walked in the back door. I cursed under my breath. So much for hoping I could go in quietly and avoid this confrontation until morning. It was going on four o’clock already so technically, it was already morning. I cursed under my breath again, wondering how I’d gotten myself into this situation in the first place. I’d never stayed out this late before, not in the two years that we’d lived together before getting married or the 18 months since then. I wasn’t that man, I’m not that man. Sure, there was usually a little flirting here, an escapade or two there, but I always came back home to Solape. Last night, I had no idea what happened or how time had slipped away from me.
I’d left work early and had planned to spend just a couple of hours with Cynthia, the hot youth corper who’d joined the IT department six weeks ago. I should have been home before ten, counting traffic and all, but somehow, I’d started awake in the room at Four Points at past three in the morning. Cynthia was already gone by then and a part of me was almost doubting the whole night had happened at all. I couldn’t really remember much of it. Yeah, we left work separately and met up at The Four Points. We’d had a few drinks and then everything else after that was a blank.
          “I’m so sorry.” I said, my mind spinning. All through the 22 minutes it took to get home, I’d racked my brain for a plausible excuse to give her but maybe I’d had a little too much to drink because I’d felt woozy and hadn’t been able to think.
          “I got caught up with work and didn’t…” I started lamely. Even I knew just how ridiculous I sounded.
          “You’re such a liar!” Solape screamed. “I saw you, you bastard!”
          “Stop shouting, you’ll wake the neighbours!” I said reaching out to calm her.
          “Don’t touch me!” she slapped my hands away. “I saw you drive off with that dumb slut!”
          “Solape…”
          “You think I’m stupid? How long has it been going on? How many more are there?”
          “I didn’t…”
          “You didn’t what, sleep with her? So you were busy discussing how to help Buhari salvage the naira in that suite at Four Points, bah?”
Shit!
I bet my stunned silence gave me away, that’s if she’d believed anything I’d said anyways. Seeing the caught-with-your-hand-in-the-cookie-jar look on my face made her go from angry to livid in a heartbeat.
          “You’re just a man-whore!” she spat. “
          “I…I’m sorry…” I didn’t know what else to say. I truly was sorry. I’d had no intentions of sleeping with Cynthia, at least not so soon, not to talk of spending half the night with her. Sure, there had been a lot of flirting going on between us for the last few weeks, nothing harmful, just a bit of fun. I honestly have no idea what came over me, I really don’t.
          “Sorry?” she narrowed her eyes at me. “That’s all you have to say?”
Funny how the weirdest things come to you in the weirdest moments. Right then, all I could think was how really beautiful my wife was and I was reminded of all the things I loved about her; her feisty spirit, her leggy 5’ 9’’ frame, her intelligent mind and how deeply passionate she can get. I guess you can say that my life was sort of flashing before my eyes because my very passionate wife grabbed the wrought iron skillet from the top of the cooker and took a swing at my head. I had another stunned moment and I didn’t react quickly enough to dodge the blow. Vegetable oil that smelled like dodo flew onto my shirt a split second before the skillet connected with the side of my head. I didn’t feel a thing. My lights just winked out, like a switch had been flicked.

                                                                                *

Instantaneous death by severe trauma to the head might be painless, but I tell you, coming back to life after a wallop like that hurts like a bitch. My heart starting again felt like a lorry ramming into my chest. I felt the blood pushing through my atriums and ventricles and forcing its way through collapsed blood vessels. Next was the indescribable pain from all the pressure in my brain. Think of your worst migraine magnified a thousand times over and then some. When the skillet had connected with the left side of my head, it had sent a crack through it (damn, Solape does pack a good wallop!) and ruptured several blood vessels in my brain before sending it on a waltz towards the opposite side of my skull. My brain continued that dance back and forth a few more times, during which blood and cerebrospinal fluid started to leak through the crack in my skull. I felt every single bit of that process in reverse waking up, probably because I was gaining consciousness rather than losing it, and let’s just put it this way: there’s a good reason dying was designed as a one way street.
As my brain came to life and sent signals to my lungs, I took in a breath of moist earth and that caused me to choke, taking in more sand. My eyes flew open and it was dark around me. The panic that engulfed me escalated the excruciating pains already in my head and chest and in almost every reawakening cell in my body.
I tried to scream but my mouth became filled with the same moist earth that was burning through my airways. I grappled and grabbed at the earth all around me, desperate for escape. I kicked my feet beneath me and pushed myself into a half standing position and then finally, my face rose out of my shallow grave and I gulped in lungful after lungful of air.
I crawled out of the ground and discovered that I had been lying in my backyard. Someone had dug the patch of dirt in which the neighbours’ children usually played about four feet or so and dumped me in it. The grey pants and light blue shirt I’d worn to work on Wednesday were filthy with dark soil stains on them. I had no idea what day of the week it was. I’d come home in the early hours of Thursday when I’d had the confrontation with Solape but had no clue how much time had elapsed since then. It was dark and quiet in the backyard and there didn’t seem to be anyone about. I pulled myself out of the ground my mind reeling. I expected to wake up at any moment and discover I’d had a really bad dream, talk of a really wacky episode of The Vampire Diaries or any other one of those soaps Solape loves to watch so much.
I stumbled to the back door, my banging head in my hands. Weirdly, the one thing on my mind was the bottle of Jack Daniels in the cabinet above the sink. My throat was parched and I felt a thirst like I’d never felt before and it was like I would lose my mind if I didn’t have a drink immediately. I pulled the back door open in desperation and then rammed into an invisible wall. What the heck? The barrier stunned me and sent waves of pain through my entire body again. It was like there was a force field in the way stopping me from walking over the threshold to my house.
Damn, when am I gonna wake up from this weird dream?
          “Lara?” Solape called out from the living room.
Lara is Solape’s sister who by the way hates my guts. Always has, always will. Lara lives in Abuja and I didn’t know she was in town. Just great, like I wasn’t having a bitch of a day already.
          “The door is open, come in.” Solape said.
I heard her footsteps rapidly approach the kitchen.
In an instant, the invisible barrier seemed to melt away and I practically fell through the doorway into the kitchen.
“I’m so glad you’re finally here.” Solape was saying. “I’ve been so scared…”
She trailed off and froze when she saw me. Her eyes went wide with disbelief and her lips started to tremble. I started to understand for the first time what ‘looking like you’ve seen a ghost’ really must look like. The look on Solape’s face was one of such incredulity it was almost comical.
          “Kayode?” she gasped, one hand clutching at her chest like she was on the verge of a heart attack. “You’re…it can’t be…what…you are dead!
I pulled myself from the floor grasping at the chest freezer that sat by the door.
          “What do you mean dead?” I croaked and spat sand out of my mouth.
She seemed to recover from her shock at the sound of my voice and she stumbled away from me, her face now a mask of raw terror.
          “I…you were dead…I…”
I shook my head to clear it.
          “What are you talking about!”
          “You were in there for over 24 hours, you couldn’t have…”
In where!
          “You buried me in the backyard?” I said in confusion.
Solape turned and fled then and I went after her, more out of confusion than to do her any harm like she seemed to believe I would. I still didn’t understand why my wife would think I was dead and then burry me and then be terrified of me. I guess coming back from the dead does scramble a few of your wires.
          “Stay away from me!” she screamed and ran for the stairs.
          “What is going on?” I asked making a grab for her.
Damn, I really needed that drink. Could she just stop this drama long enough for me to have a little chat with Jack, pretty please?
She screamed again and tried to kick at me and lost her balance on the stairs. She fell and hit her head on the bannister.
          “Oh my God, are you alright?”
I ran to her and helped her up. She had a little gash on the side of her head and it started to bleed down the side of her face.
She started to scream hysterically and tried to fight me off. She kicked and scratched and kicked some more and all that just made me thirstier and it felt like if I didn’t have a drink soon, I would explode. I felt the blood rush to my head and my pulse quicken. My heart started to pound until the sound of its thudding filled my head, drowning out Solape’s pleas not to hurt her. Through the haze in my head, I looked at the blood dripping down her face and I could feel its salty, metallic taste on my tongue. I felt a sweet ache in my gums and an euphoric sense of exhilaration filled me as I sank my now protruding canines into her neck and took a deep, deep drink.

                                                                                *

I tried to stop. I honestly did but the thirst was too strong for me. I really didn’t mean to drain all five litres of blood from Solape’s body. I meant to have just a little drink to quench that awful thirst but once I started, I couldn’t seem to stop until she was all dry. Even then, I went ahead to lick off every last drop from her face and head wound.
I was aware that my heart had stopped beating and my lungs had ceased to function. I didn’t need them to anymore. I was finally undead. I guess that first drink of blood from a living human had been the final step in my transformation. I had become a creature of the night, an abomination of the natural order of life, a vampire. The thought made me want to whack myself on the head, hopefully un-cross my jumbled wires. A vampire. How ridiculous. That’s just some hocus pocus writers and TV producers made up to captivate impressionable viewers like Solape. Everyone knows such nonsense doesn’t exist. I’m a vampire. The notion is so ridiculous that I almost burst into laughter. But Solape’s lifeless body in my arms sure wasn’t finding the whole thing funny.

Everything came back to me then. The little rendezvous with Cynthia, how a little fooling around had turned into the night that would change my life forever. I remember telling her it was getting late and that it was time to leave and that we would meet up again soon. She had smiled and looked directly into my eyes. I remember her big brown eyes being so hypnotic and how I’d felt like I was drowning in them. I’d felt light headed looking into her eyes and I’d felt, rather than heard her voice in my head.
You won’t remember any of this she’d said as veins bulged around her bloodshot eyes and her lips pulled back to reveal fangs. You won’t be scared of me and you’ll do exactly as I say.
All my fear and confusion had melted away then and I’d felt safe and secure with her. At that moment, I would have slit my own throat for her had she asked. I felt a twinge of pain as she bit into my neck but that was alright. I wasn’t scared at all. She fed on my blood several times during the night and it seemed like the more of it she had, the more breath-taking and exquisitely beautiful she became.
Do you think I’m beautiful? I haven’t done so bad for a girl who’s going on 180 and has moved around a lot.
Even though I knew that this beautiful creature would most likely kill me, I was calm as a cucumber, just like she’d asked me to be. I didn’t seem to have any will of my own, I was a puppet on a string.
No I won’t kill you sweetie. I like you very much and I think we’re going to be really good pals.
I must have passed out at some point, maybe from exhaustion or the loss of blood. I woke up to find Cynthia kneeling over me, a syringe in her hand.
Don’t worry sweetie, just a little bit of my blood to help you get your strength back.
I’d smiled at her. I felt more alive than I’d felt in my entire life and the dull throb that had been in my busted knee for over four years was gone.
Yes Baby, I might be dead but my blood can heal you puny humans. Just make sure no one wrings your neck in the next 24 hours. We’d both laughed at her joke and I hadn’t understood then what she meant. I guess dying with vampire blood in my veins guaranteed that I wouldn’t stay dead.

I sat on the floor at the foot of the stairs with Solape’s limp body still in my arms. I realized belatedly that had I stopped myself before she died, my blood would have been able to revive Solape. Looking down at her horror death-mask, I ignored the urge to check to see if there was still possibly any dregs of blood left in her body. Just a little taste to rid me of the dryness at the back of my throat. The curtains in the dining room to my left were pulled back and I watched the sun start to rise through them. I made no attempts to run for cover as my skin started to sizzle and blister. Knowing I’d failed Solape in every way possible, I dropped a little kiss on her grey lips just before I finally burst into flames.

The Princess Diaries:Enraptured

Dear Mr. AJ,

First and foremost, I think congratulations are in order so from one Princess-Daddy to another, welcome to the club of the Elite!
I’m sure you know by now that this changes everything. From that first amazing moment you hold a Princess in your arms and look into that beautiful and seemingly helpless face, the power-shift happens and a new Boss takes over.
She will bring sunshine and colour and texture and flavour into your life and only then will you become aware of all the grey, flat plains that were in it before now (especially if you were a self-absorbed wuss like I was). You’ll be amazed at all you’ll learn from your tiny little tot, about life, about yourself, about mundane things you didn’t even know existed. Best of all, you’ll learn a new kind of loving, giving and receiving it.
You’ll learn anew the meaning of vulnerability and how utterly beautiful and fulfilling it can be. You’ll discover the hero in you, not just for your Princess but for yourself. You’ll get more than just a few grey hairs (oh yes you will!) and come to see each one as a badge of honour that you’re immensely proud of.
Each day will bring its own little treasure and I wish I could possibly put to words all the wonder and adventures that await you but I couldn’t possibly do it if I tried. And even if I could, nothing, absolutely nothing can compare to actually unwrapping each precious treasure for yourself. You are in for a great ride my friend, congratulations!
I know as the days roll into years, you’ll start to collect your own Princess-Diary memories. They will become some of your most prized possessions so treasure them, savour them, luxuriate in them. I hope that we can get to share our treasures with each other and I hope our precious Princesses get to know each other as well.
Till we meet again, probably in another dressing room with your little girl in tow, I remain yours’ Knightedly,

SB

Scars: Metallic Yellow Ferraris

          “Stop picking at it!” my sister Esther says. “You’ll get a really ugly scar.”
I ignore her and continue to worry the wound that sits just under my jaw. I look at the purplish skin surrounding it in the mirror above the dresser. The almost two inch long gash that is beginning to itch as it heals fascinates me, and contrary to my sister’s fears, I think the scar it will leave behind will be beautiful, the most beautiful one I wear.
          “I’m just so happy you finally made it here.” Esther says, giving my shoulder a squeeze. “I’m proud of you.” She says and starts to tear up.
I smile at her through the mirror and lay a hand on hers.
Thank you I mouth to her and she smiles.
          “Get some sleep.” She says. “You’ve had a tough couple of days.”
That is true. I am thousands of miles away from home, farther than I’ve ever been before, and I am drained, both emotionally and physically. I caress my wound one more time as I get up from the dresser. It will add to my eclectic repertoire of scars. I got it a week ago, but I’ve been collecting scars the last thirteen years. This scar I know I will wear like a badge. This one I know will make my head stand high.
My very first scar was a trilogy of 9.25 carat diamond stones. They sit in all their queenly glory atop a band of white gold on whose inside is inscribed mine and Káyòdé’s initials, always and forever. That scar I got the day we got engaged – the very first time he hit me. That time was a mistake, he reassured me of that. He had been going through a really tough time at work and had been very stressed out. I didn’t have to go and ruin the engagement moment by running off to call my sister whom he dislikes very much with the news. That day he broke something in me even though I didn’t realize it then and that beautiful rock-scar sits smack on the very centre of my ego.
Àrínolá Fernandez is the scar disfiguring my self-esteem. We’d been married two years when I found out he’d been cheating with her. When I confronted him, he’d sneered and thrown it in my face that I was so lucky he’d married plain, ordinary me when he could have had any girl he wanted. He’d pointed out that it wasn’t anyone’s fault but mine that Àrínolá was more sophisticated than I was and looked at least a decade younger even though we were best friends and had grown up together in Ìkòyí.
My mother is the scar that used to be hope. Truly, there is no real despair without hope. When he broke my wrist following the confrontation about Àrínolá, I moved back home to mother in righteous indignation, hoping to get a sympathetic ear in my corner. Why would he cheat and then still knock me around? Mother had cut me short in my rant and had told me to wipe my tears and stop my whining.
          “Life is no bed of roses.” she’d said. “And marriage is no exception. You have to be strong because men will be men. Questioning his authority is not the way to go. The true strength of a woman is in her ability to still keep her marriage despite all these things. What will people say if they hear that the daughter of Chief Osemwemke left her husband’s house? Do you know how much I’ve had to put up with and all I took from your father, all just so you and your sisters could have a good life?”
One of the biggest scars I wear is thirty-five hundred pounds of metallic Yellow perfection. A majestic beast at just 47 inches high, with a twin-turbo engine packing over 600 horse-power, reaching 100mph in 6 seconds, one of Ferrari’s most exquisite creations. This was for the Baby we lost because he’d lost a great deal of money when the value of the Naira plummeted against the Dollar. That had been a very difficult time for him and he had been a little frustrated. He really hadn’t meant to hurt me or our child, he would never even think of it! I was his entire universe and our unborn child had been the very best thing that had happened to him. He had tried to prove that to me when he presented me with the keys to the car while I was still in the hospital. That car has its coveted position snug under my breast, where my heart used to be; it died along with our child that night.
A few weeks after I lost the Baby, I left Káyòdé for the first time. Or tried to. He’d found me after all of 13 hours and he’d reiterated what my mother told me, a woman’s place is with her husband. He told me the beating that came afterwards was totally my fault and that one was all on me; why did I go and provoke him that way right after he’d bought me such an expensive gift? How ungrateful could I be?
As I snuggle under the covers in the guest room of my sister’s Town house, I tuck my hands under my chin, not minding that my wound is still very sore. I know my face still looks stunning despite the discoloured skin and the bruising. In all our time together, Káyòdé never left a mark on me, not to talk of scars. Yes I’ve broken a few ribs, my wrist, my collar bone and my ankle, but nothing that left a permanent mark on the surface. He was always very careful about that, no matter how angry he was. He was a man who loved beautiful things and his wife could be no different. Heaven forbid that I didn’t look perfect along with his cars and designer suits and houses and his 140 ft. yacht.
A little smile relaxes my lips from their characteristic hard line and I heave a contended sigh. Two weeks ago, I left him again, right after I’d seen the lines on the stick. I’d known it was no longer just about me and that had given me the courage to get up and leave. Of course he found me, just like he’d warned me. But this time round, I fought back. I let him know I was done being afraid of him. I told him he might as well kill me right then because I would keep leaving until I was well rid of him. He’d lost it then. I’m not sure if it was rage at my audacity to talk back at him, or if it was surprise that I could actually stand up to him, but something snapped in him and he attacked me right there in the lobby of the hotel I’d been holed up in. That was the first time he would hit me in public, the first time he would do it without a care. The terrifying thought of losing my Baby again turned me into a crazed woman and I fought him. I scratched and bit and kicked and screamed and scratched some more. Until two policemen were pulling him off me. I didn’t care that the crowd around us was gawping. I didn’t care that he was still spitting threats and curses at me as the policemen took him away. I didn’t care that my face was puffy and bleeding and that my eyes were swelling shut. All I cared about was the little life growing inside of me.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I declined the policeman’s offer of a ride home. I declined his offer to call my mother on his mobile. I took what little belongings I had with me and got on a cab to the airport. I bought a ticket, got a plane and didn’t look back.
Of all my scars, this is the only one I will wear visibly and I will wear it proudly because it is the one I got fighting back. It is the one I got getting my life back. It is the one that will make all the others fade away.

The Executive

          “Daddy?”
I looked up from my computer at my daughter, Téní who was perched in the leather seat across from me. The seat was large enough to hold at least three of her but she still managed to sit majestically in it.
          “Yes Princess.” I answered, smiling at her.
          “Can it be pink?” she asked, scrunching up her brows.
          “Can what be pink?” I asked.
Téní was waiting for me to finish up with work before we headed home. It was just a few days into her school holiday and she had spent the day shopping with my Best friend and her second favorite person in the world (I hold the coveted first place of course), Ese. Ese, who’s a writer, had dropped her off at my office about an hour earlier in order to go cover an event for her latest article.
          “The Mac Book I’m getting for my Birthday.” Téní replied. “Let’s see, I think Barbie pink will be perfect.”
I stopped what I was doing and stared at her perplexed for a few moments. Sometimes, I really wonder at the things that go on in that pretty little head of hers.
          “You’re just eight years old, what do you need a Mac for?” I asked.
She stopped contemplating the color spectrum for a moment and looked at me.
          “But you said to ask what I wanted.” She said.
          “Yes I did but that doesn’t answer my question.”
Her eyes went mournful on cue.
          “But daddy, you promised!”
          “Yes but what on earth do you need a laptop for…”
          “Mac Book.” She corrected. “I don’t want any of all those other ones.” She said making a face and waving a dismissive hand.
          “You’re not getting a laptop for your Birthday.” I said exasperated. Whatever happened to bicycles or pretty dresses or even trips to Disney Land?
          “Daddy please!” she implored.
          “I’m sure they don’t even make Pink Macs!”
          “Daddy you’re SB, you can get whatever you want.” She said equally exasperated. I stared at her, marveling at how much she looked like her mother at that moment.
          “Stop trying to be difficult Daddy, you managed to get me a signed limited edition copy of the first Harry Porter book last Christmas, so a pink Mac should be a piece of cake!”
          “What…”
Oh really!
          “Well if you want a Mac, you’ll have to work for it!”
          “Okay.” She said without batting an eyelid.
          “Yes. And it will take you a whole lot more than the three weeks before your Birthday to earn that much money.”
          “So I’ll just keep working after my Birthday.” She said. “So when do I start?” she asked looking down at the papers on my table with all the seriousness of a business executive and I couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped my lips.
Sometimes, I’m unable to put to words just how much I love the slip of a girl sitting across from me. I know there is the bond every parent feels with their child but for me, Téní is the nucleus of my entire world. Having said that
          “You can start by doing the dishes from now on.”
Yeah, I love her to pieces but still, she has to know she can’t get away with murder.
          “Mum already tried that one. Didn’t work.” She said pushing papers around the desk. “Besides, that’s just silly. What’s the dish washer for?”
          “Young lady, you do realize you will have to do actual work one day and not have everything handed to you on a platter?”
          “I know.” She said with a shrug. “That’s why I’m gonna be smart and rich like you when I grow up and I’ll do lots of important work.” She said smiling at me.           “There won’t be time for dishes.”
I threw up his hands in exasperation. Did I mention that she drives me up the wall sometimes?
          “Daddy used to wash a whole lot more than dishes when he was young, you know.” I said.
          “Well now, daddy knows better.” She replied.           “How much am I going to earn daddy?”
          “Sweetie, you’re just eight, you have lots of time to get all grown up and worry about grown up things. Just enjoy being daddy’s little Princess for now.”
Yeah, I know, so much for you’re going to have to work for it. But in my defense, see how she just turned the whole conversation around on me!
          “But how am I going to get the Mac Book if you don’t let me work?”
I sighed in resignation.
          “Okay, I’ll check if they can possibly make a pink one.”
          “Barbie Pink.” She corrected.
          “Yes ma’am!”

Meetings and Dressing Rooms

          “Mr. AJ, what do you think?”
He looked up from his phone at the yellow dress with multi-coloured stones on the neck line.
          “This shade matches my complexion better and I just love how it flows easily without too much drama, simple and elegant!” Mrs. AJ was saying.
She made a half turn and smoothed her hands over her hips, arching her neck to see the back. He opened his mouth and then shut it again, wondering if he was actually expected to give an answer. Truth be told, he couldn’t see how this shade of yellow was different from the last one she’d tried on.
          “What do you think?” she asked again, still inspecting herself.
He didn’t mind going shopping with the Mrs (well not too much) as long as he wasn’t expected to know the entire colour spectrum or which style fit which body shape or any of the other weird things women worried about.
          “Err…well, I think it’s okay.” He replied.
She paused her inspection to stare at him.
          “Just okay?” she asked, arms now akimbo.
          “Well…it’s okay…I mean it’s good!” he floundered. What was he supposed to say, that it wasn’t an okay dress?!
She shook her head at him, giving him her signature look and went back into the changing room.
What did I do now!
          “Never ever describe a woman as okay.”
          “Sorry?”
          “You’ll never live that mistake down.”
He vaguely recognized the guy who’d spoken to him. He’d seen him around earlier that day at Ikeja City Mall, first at Mango and probably at MRP as well. The guy seemed to be in the same shoes as he was, tagging along with a woman on a shopping spree. Unlike him though, the guy looked unruffled and had the sort of confident poise that could only come from several years of experience.
          “But I said it looked good!” Mr. AJ replied defensively and his new friend tsked.
          “That’s even worse.” He said, juggling several carrier bags from one hand to the other. “Common rookie mistake.”
          “But it was a nice dress!” Mr. AJ spluttered.
          “Another forbidden word.” He said with a shake of his head. “I have a twelve year old so I’ve been in this business long enough!”
Mr AJ raised an eyebrow. How can he possibly compare shopping with a twelve year old to shopping with a grown woman!
          “As a rule, everything is beautiful or stunning or dashing or amazing.” He said. “Sometimes, they’ll take pretty but that one is a bit dicey. You should read the situation before dishing that one out.”
Say what!
          “If you’re ever caught off guards and can’t think of an appropriate word quick enough, just go for ‘Wow’”
          “O…kay…
          “Trust me on this one.”
          “But what if the dress looks hideous on her!”
          “Diplomacy, my friend. You think the politicians are the ones with the tough jobs?”
          “Omo mehn!”
          “Rule number two: it’s always the fault of the dress. The colour doesn’t flatter her eyes. Who made that dress, a carpenter? That dress isn’t doing her amazing figure enough justice. Catch my drift?”
          “How do you even wrap your head around all that colour shade and style nonsense?!” Mr. AJ asked in exasperation.
          “Take it from the man who had to hunt down a Barbie Pink Mac Book Air, you learn!”
Just then, the door to one of the dressing rooms banged open and a girl who could have easily passed for sixteen flounced out, clad in a pair of pencil jeans, a silk shirt and Louboutin’s.
          “Daddy, how about this?” she asked, arms on her hips.
          “Look at my little Princess! I think it’s perfect!”
          “Really?” the girl asked uncertainly. “I’m not so sure of the shirt. I think peach will go better with my new purse.” She said pulling at the shirt at the edges as if that would miraculously change its colour.
          “Peach? But this one…”
          “I just knew beige would be too far off. I’ll go ask them if they have this style in Peach. If they don’t, we’ll have to go somewhere else.” She said going back into the dressing room.
          “Rule number three: sometimes, even saying the right things doesn’t work.” Simon said on a resigned sigh.
          “You could say that again!” Mr. AJ replied. “By the way, I’m Mayowa.” He said closing the distance between them and proffering his hand.
          “I’m Simon, but everyone calls me SB.” Simon said juggling the shopping bags again to shake his hand.
          “SB?” Moyowa asked.
          “Oh yeah, my initials. I can’t really remember how it started but at some point, even my little girl called me that.”
          “Oh well, SB it is then!” Mayowa said smiling.
          “Nice meeting you.” Simon said returning his smile.
          “Pleasure’s all mine!”
          “Mr. AJ, what of this one?” the Mrs said, coming out of the dressing room again.
This time, she was wearing an A-cut midnight blue dress with a high neck which stopped just above the knees.
          “Oh wow!” Mayowa gasped. “It’s….wow!”
The Mrs beamed from ear to ear and Simon turned away to hide his smile.
 
 
 
Here’s raising my glass to my new, amazing friends, Mr. and Mrs. AJ. The pleasure was all mine!
– SB.

Serenity

I looked into the eyes
of a mad woman,
and it took me into her mind,
and it was oh so beautiful,
and serene,
with tender and soft places,
offering comfort
from the crazy world with-out,
and it begged to linger,
take a rest,
put my feet up,
cushion my head,
forget my worries,
and for just one tiny, bitty moment
pretend that the world was normal again….

 
 
This short piece was written by my good friend Ese who always tries to help me be a better person. Thanks Ese, keep being you.

– SB.

Sisí Èkó: Na Me Carry Last!

I have come to master the fine art of jumping bus in Lagos. Believe me, it is an acquired skill, which requires lots of strategies.
This morning, I went into stealth mode. When I got to the bus stop in Ajah, even I was shocked to silence by the size of the crowd. Kai, which kain Monday morning wahala be this one like this? And it being Monday meant that I had the dreaded weekly meetings at eight o’clock, so I had to hustle my way onto a bus sharply.
Which brings me back to stealth mode: When you’ve scoped your fellow hustlers and you realize you’re no match for them, both size and scowl-wise (some people’s faces ehn!), you wait for the crowd to surge towards the next available bus and when they’re locked in the human body wall, look for any crack in the press of bodies and Jejely pull them apart, preferably around the knees or mid-thighs, and what you get is a red-sea-moment. QED!
Some chick who was already on the bus gave me a funny look but I ignored her while I patted my hair back in place. She can like to mind her business oh and not be judging somebody biko.

 

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FYI, I’m not the lady in blue with her legs all over the place. Just saying. Besides, remember stealth mode?
As if the struggle to get on the bus was not enough, the conductor announced that the fare was two hundred and fifty bucks instead of two hundred. When we protested he didn’t even hesitate to ask his driver to park so we could get off. The guy no just send us at all. That’s how all of us just used style to swallow our protests without losing too much face.
There was peace or some semblance of peace (a few people still continued to grumble under their breaths about the fare hike and the conductor continued to ignore them) until we got to Lekki and our driver decided he wanted to turn around and head for Ajah instead.
          “Abeg make una come join another bus.” The conductor said
See how people just vexed and practically bit the conductor’s head off. We that our bodies were still chooking from the extra 50 bucks. On top all our noise, the driver simply parked the bus and the conductor started calling passengers for Ajah.
          “Shey una no go come down, abi you wan make I carry you go Ajah?” he said insolently and that started off a fresh round of abuse which of course got us nowhere. When we were done ranting, we sha kuku got down from the bus. Rather than give us back the balance of our fare, he of course decided to put us on other buses. I doubt I’ve ever seen any Lagos conductor part with money. The money exchange process is like a pipe with a one-way valve, it flows in and never comes out.
Finding buses for all of us was another drama entirely, coupled with the fact that Uncle Scrooge the conductor argued with all the other conductors over how much he would pay them to take us on. With all of this, time was ticking and I was going to be late. Finally sha, I was sat on a bus and on my way to work.
Right after we went through the Toll gates, my dearest new conductor’s phone started to ring and get this, his ringtone was the Christmas song, in August. Like who even still uses that?! The guy ignored our laughter and snide comments and whipped out his Nokia 3310 (where did he even dig that out from?) with a lot of demo and picked the call.
          “Pilot.” He said to the driver after he got off the call. “Yellow niyen oh! E be like say traffic dey Bonny Camp.”
I sniggered. I couldn’t help it. Afi Yellow naa!
          “Ah, na wetin him talk?” the driver asked.
          “E don block finish oh.”
          “Wo, we go pass Falomo be that.”
My ears perked up at that.
          “Falomo bawo? I’m going to Kofo oh!” I said.
          “Which kain thing be that, na Onikan I dey go!” someone else protested.
          “Shey you no hear say traffic dey Bonny Camp?” the conductor retorted.
          “So because of that, I should carry my head and go to Falomo abi?” I fired back.
          “You wan make I carry everybody go siddon for inside traffic because of you abi?”
See as the other passengers just carried face at that point. They weren’t going to show any solidarity. This was Lagos after all and it’s each man for himself.
          “If you no wan go Falomo, make you come down for Law School niyen.” the Conductor said.
That’s how I was ejected for the second time this Monday morning. There’s only so much rejection a girl can handle oh. Like that was not bad enough, when it was time to get off, the conductor gave the other passengers who got off fifty bucks each. Me he eyed from top to bottom and informed me that my first conductor had given him just fifty naira at Lekki and that my fifty naira had already expired. Before I could say jack, he and his driver zoomed off onto Falomo bridge and left me at the side of the road with my mouth hanging open and my hand still held out for my money.
Welcome to Lagos Baby!