Throw Back Thursday: My Lover and I

May 2015
This last weekend, I made it to my fifth month of being back here after five years. It’s been an interesting time (for a lack of a better description) and I can’t believe the amount of re-adjusting I’ve had to do, I mean, it’s just been five years!
Someone asked me the other day how Lagos has been treating me and my reply was this: Lagos is still like the lover who plays games with my heart, she’s sweet one moment, ruthless the next! And really, that’s how it’s been, Lagos sure isn’t the easiest damsel to court! I’ve had some, well, interesting experiences and I realized that if I couldn’t learn to laugh at them, then I would simply find myself picking up my two legs in my hands and running like a mad woman was at my heels!

My first week at work (about three months after I got back), I remember bussing home from work for the very first time on my third day or so. Luckily for me, there was a colleague who lived close to me and we made the journey together. Everything was going fine, like piece of cake really, even the transit through good old Obáléndé didn’t seem so bad. That was until we got off the bus at Berger and my colleague said we were crossing the road! I looked at him like he was crazy, like cross this road?! It was either that or he was pulling my legs and catching his trips at my expense. This was Berger, with all them massive lorries zooming on like they just don’t care (in Nelly Furtado’s voice), and this guy was telling me that we were going to run across the road, right in front of those lorries and the crazy danfo drivers, with our tiny chicken legs! Add to that the fact that that morning I’d dressed in a nice little dress and these dainty heels, hoping to impress on the new job and all. There was NO chance of an ice cube in hell that I was crossing that road, no Sir! Poor dude, he being the sweet gentleman that he is and me being the crazy, spoilt brat that I was, I made him make the loooong walk down the over-pass and then under the pass and all the way to the bus stop at the other side. A journey that would have taken us two minutes (yeah, the crazy run across the road) took almost thirty minutes. Dear Tomi, I know you still hate my guts for making you take that walk, but I’m soooo sorry! :”(

Me and Tomi, spoilt brat or not, have had our fair share of adventures together. There was the time we were sat in traffic at Toll Gate and saw someone get robbed, in broad daylight! That was a chilling experience for me. There was also the time two cab men fought over us and I almost had my shoulder wrenched out of its socket! I remember the day we were so excited about being the ones to get the coveted front seats in the bus at Obáléndé. You need to understand how big that was for us, we had graduated from being squashed and hunched up in the uncomfortable back seats (if you’ve never been on those buses, you can’t possibly imagine how awful they are, especially for Tomi who is rather tall, and well, a spoilt Brat like me) for the journey that sometimes took as long as three hours (we’ve had a record breaking five hours once) to sitting like royalty in the front seats. So, here we were, cruising along on third mainland bridge (by some miracle, there wasn’t traffic on this fateful night) feeling fly, when some crazy dude just cuts in front of our bus. I don’t know about Tomi oh, but me, I matched my imaginary brakes sharply! He’s always as cool as a cucumber anyways, so I’m sure he didn’t even move a muscle, which is okay. What wasn’t okay however was the fact that the driver of our bus, whom we were rather quickly going to find out was high on cheap booze, also didn’t match brake! Next thing I know is that we’re slamming smack into this other crazy driver’s backside. You know what they say, that your life flashes before your eyes? Big fat lie. The only thing flashing before me was this very bad movie in which I was about to go flying out the windshield like an under-paid stunts actress! Everyone in the bus chorused their shouts of Jesus! Blood of God! Jésù! Yéèpà! Etcetera, etcetera. There were even a few shits and craps thrown into the mix. What was the first thing our crazy driver did when he finally woke up from his zombie-don’t match-ya-brake daze? He gets down from the bus and goes after the other driver to get in a fistfight with him. Fine, I understand that the other driver was at fault, and that he must have been high on adrenaline on discovering that he’d escaped the accident unscathed, but this was third mainland bridge at ungodly-o’clock at night, we were sat smack in the middle of the bridge with other vehicles zooming past us on both sides. We were sitting ducks for any other crazy driver whose leg wasn’t connected to the adrenaline-triggered part of his brain that would make him step on the brakes by reflex. Plus this guy was trying to cave the other guy’s face in, right in the middle of said road. Ah, see my life outside for inside this very bad home video! How we got off the bridge? By some stroke of luck (scratch that, it was simply God), our bashed-in bus still worked fine and our high-on-cheap-booze driver managed to drive us all to Berger in one piece.

Next on the list was the day that Tomi left me behind and crossed to the other side at Berger! (yeah, yeah, even this spoilt madam had to start crossing the road at some point. Trust me, I developed a technique where I would hide behind Tomi and not have to look at any of the lorries zooming towards me. The really bad part of the crossing is the lane barrier at the middle. That thing is high and FAT and due to the fact that you have about a three second window within which to scale it before the next truck gets to you, there ain’t no time to do it like a lady. In essence, you have to learn to scale it hurdle-style! Believe me, I learned real fast!). So, on this fateful night, I carried Lasthma for two seconds and the next thing I know, Tomi is on the other side and I’m stood there with my mouth hanging open in horror. Honestly, I was ready to start bawling out my eyes! This was the stuff of nightmares for me! You don’t want to know how much crossing that road terrifies me, and that’s with hiding behind someone oh! The thought of doing it on my own sends me into a panic. Luckily for me, some man walks out into the middle of the road and actually stopped all the traffic! I have no idea who he was, probably a soldier, or why he needed to stop the traffic, I was just so, so grateful for that little miracle that saved this girl from making an utter fool of herself. Honestly, if the guy hadn’t done that, I would have jejely taken the thirty-minute walk, shikena.

There was also the time the keke Napep I took decided to take on a flat bed in a battle for territory (in good ol’ Berger. Me and that Berger ehn?!). I was so sure the thing was going to ram into us and I have no idea how we managed to get out in one piece. And the time I took a bike (against my better judgment, but in my defense, I was running late) and just as he took off, the wind blew his ògógóró breath in my face! At 5:30 in the morning! Who manages to get skunk-drunk at 5:30 in the bloody a.m?! And of course, no Lagos story is ever complete without an Agèbrò! I was in Obáléndé one day, trying to figure out where to get my next bus from. The Agèbrò took a look at my bewildered face and was like “Fine geh, ibo lò ńlo?” he then went on to take my hand (yep!) to help me cross the road (those crossings, eh) and he personally put me on a bus! I can just imagine the picture we painted, the Agèbrò holding the girl by the hand like an eccentric uncle and his jolly-just-come niece! And the time I totally freaked out and ran (almost screaming) from Égúngún in Sábó (really, those guys terrify me)! Then there has been my dearest NEPA (I’ll never forget that weekend I was home alone and the GEN packed up on me), the gropers’ committee at Computer village (as in seriously, am I supposed to be used to having some sleazy stranger cope a feel?), the bus conductors (it’s like those guys can smell me a mile away and always try to swerve me), the plenty, plenty times I have missed my way (it seems some of us have our internal compass screwed on the wrong way!).

There have been lots of good times too. I remember the lovely evening I spent at Terra Kulture with my uncle, my aunt and my cousins. There was also the wedding that involved a convertible rising out of the stage (!!!). And the time I got my first Lagos wax?! Ah, that’s another story for another day! But I just have to say that Your Spa and Fitness at the Four Seasons was absolutely divine!!!

These five months have been a crazy roller-coaster ride and there have been many times (okay, maybe that’s more like many raised to the power of infinity) that I have wanted to cry and tear my hair out (and maybe start my own trek across the Sahara). But I survived. I came out at the other end in one piece and I think this ruthless lover of mine is beginning to grow on me. Hmmnn, five months under my belt, let’s see what the next five will bring! ;D

The Personal Confessions of a Mad Woman

These things take time. I’m fine for a few days, a couple of weeks, two odd years, three even. Then one day I come undone, and start all over again.

“I don’t feel my laughter inside anymore…so what do I do? I keep going back n forth, ‘cos I know I have felt it before, I’ve heard it before, and it’s part of me. It is me. And once this tunnel is past, I’ll hear it again, ‘cos it was never gone. Not for one second…”

That was my friend’s status on face book the other day and it felt like she was yanking the words from my mouth before I could even form the thoughts.
I was in that place again. Sometimes, it’s as simple as feeling like I’m sitting on the side-lines, watching life flow by, not exactly sad or anything like that, but neither happy nor joyful or live. At the other extreme, it’s like having this deep dark empty hole, like having this intangible entity in your head, all around you, sucking you in from the outside in and the inside out, it’s like having spiders crawling around in your head. Sometimes it’s this inexplicable desperation, this deep sad you can’t explain, it’s like looking out from a shattered mirror and all you see is a distorted reality. Sometimes, I feel like I totally understand what J.K Rowling was trying to describe when she came up with the idea of Dementors that suck the soul out of you. I have my good days too, my almost manically happy days that just like their sad counterparts, I really can’t explain. The only cloud that seems to hang over those blissfully happy days is the thought that I’ll eventually come down from the high and the crash is usually as bad as the good-feel high was.

I have often wondered if I was crazy (I probably am) or if there was something I was doing wrong because I look at everyone else around me and they all seem so normal, they all seem to have it all together in ways that I can’t seem to be able to. It made me wonder if, just if, everyone else was faking it, I mean, how do you manage not to get swallowed up by that intangible entity in your head? How do you stay sane every single day? How do you balance things out instead of living on the extremes?

Then my friend’s Facebook status goes,

“maybe they just think or hope that if they laughed longer or harder, it’ll banish all the sad from their lives… or maybe they just know something we don’t!”

So I ask myself, what could they possibly know? I wonder if we could trade our muddy spectacles for their rose-tinted ones so we could see the world as they do, see the magic they see, feel it, live it…

I remember quite vividly the first time I experienced a mood swing (at least, it’s the first episode I remember) and I was five. I remember playing with my sister one minute and the next feeling this overwhelming sadness and the need to cry and hide away from everyone. I’m not exactly sure of what triggered it, if anything, or why it started out at all but I know I’ve lived with it off and on for the last twenty some years. I’ve heard studies show that in a lot of cases, a traumatic experience could be a trigger. I have rather traumatic memories of sexual abuse also from the year I was five (what I can’t really remember is which came first, the abuse or the episode). Well, that offers me some hope because it means whatever this thing is, there’s a chance it’s not hereditary and my little girl will stand a chance of living her life whole…

I know that naturally, when we go through some life altering situations like the death of a loved one, the breakdown of an important relationship or the loss of a job, we might experience some depression to varying degrees. What I can’t explain is the unravelling that happens just because. It’s the nothing-ness that just comes for seemingly no reason. It is having twice as much difficulty getting over these life-altering occurrences as everyone else seems to. It’s getting weepy for absolutely no reason at all and being unable to stop the crying. It is living on that edge, knowing you don’t have the strength to be strong, wishing you didn’t have to have to be strong. It’s walking on this road that seems too long, thinking you don’t want to go on, thinking you can’t. It’s thinking you’ve finally gotten a grasp of this horrible thing in your head, only to circle back to the place where you don’t understand a thing. It’s the weariness that comes with fighting the same battle every day and the defeat of giving up on waiting for the day you’ll be fine, realizing it may never come, realizing ‘this really is me’. It is catching yourself thinking about doing it yet again, wondering how you’re meant to do it: right across or a thin straight line down the middle. It is trying to stop the hurting in your head and your mind and wondering why you didn’t just get it over and done with, why you didn’t just put an end to it because you’re going crazy with desperation and all you can think is please, please, Dear God please just let it stop. It is wishing you didn’t have to have to do it. It is the mind numbing fear that you might actually do it one of these days, tumble over that thin line you’ve been threading for much too long into nothingness, a week or a year or ten years from now.

That seemingly ordinary Saturday in October was one of those unravelling days for me. It’s like a wool sweater unravelling from the hem, up until the breast pocket, but not all the way. I still have the wool all around me, in swirly whorls, waiting for me to un-undone it. It was one of those days that the sweater unexpectedly got snagged on something – a nail, a sharp table edge, a memory, a song maybe, – you never really know what exactly it is – and I came undone. It didn’t make sense really.
It was the same day that I completed a Book that I’d been working on for a really long time. This was huge for me, it’s my first complete book project and I’d been working like crazy the last few months, working a full time job, weaving this intricate plot, seeing things through the characters’ eyes, laughing at silly things they were thinking, bonding with them, feeling their rush of adrenaline as they meandered through the plot, I had done tons of research (I became lawyer, marks man, Jason Bourne, gyno, ballistics expert and even Ismaila the mechanic all rolled up in one), scouring the internet (if there’s some secret service agent monitoring my browsing history ehn, they wee soon send a SWAT team to my house), writing every opportunity I could get, editing, writing some more and putting everything into the project. The writing process was a truly magical time for me and at the point that I finished, I should have been ecstatic, I should have been on a high, I should have been popping the champagne, I should have been doing cartwheels! Instead, all I felt was this deep, crushing depression.
This wasn’t just a case of exhaustion, it was like being thrown into a vacuum with the flick of a switch, it was like taking a next step and just tumbling into nothingness without warning, it was like everything you have been, just ceasing to exist in a split second. I spent the weekend crying and almost unable to get out of bed. I just didn’t get it, I still don’t.
Even now, I haven’t been able to bring myself to go back to the finished book, not to read or do the editing or anything. I wish I understood why at least, it would make not knowing what to do about it a little easier to handle. I got unravelled inexplicably, but I didn’t go all the way. That’s something, I think. It gets better. Next time, maybe the sweater will stop at the bottom pocket. Or maybe just around the middle. It does get better, until one day I wake up and maybe realize I’m all fine and this too has gone away. I’ll wake up and not be so tired and weary.

In my twenty eight on-again off-again (I’ve had my good times, I even went sober for about two years at some point without even a little ‘sad’ episode) years of living with it, I’ve discovered some things that help with handling it. One is music. I really can’t describe how worship soothes my mind when I have an episode. It’s not how you would imagine it, not like break out the Tranquillity playlist and poof, it’s gone. It’s a little hard to describe, maybe quite like the saying that peace isn’t the absence of trouble or storms but finding your calm within the storm, something like that. God bless Hilsong United, they’ve been my go-to fix of late, especially the acoustic versions of their Empires and Of Dirt and Grace Albums.

Writing has always been therapeutic for me and it helps to just write out what and how I’m feeling, pour it all out, like bleeding out the poison from my veins. Sometimes, I don’t even necessarily have to write what I’m feeling. Writing almost anything at all helps. Sometimes I write these long, incoherent letters to God (these help because, call me unspiritual if you like, but these are the times that it’s hardest to pray the words, so writing God long crazy letters are my way of talking to Him in these crazy times. These are times when it’s so dark in my head that the notion of God loving me seems ludicrous at best. It feels more like a cruel mockery on some really bad days and on others, I’m absolutely sure He must hate and loath me). Sometimes I write the long crazy incoherent letters to myself or maybe even a good story. Writing just about anything helps and I’m almost always happy when I’m writing.

I’ve kept journals over the years and this might sound counter-productive but writing down all the bad actually helps me look back and see how far I’ve come and how well I’ve done. For me, it’s like writing down your prayer points and then looking back over them and seeing how God has answered them over the years. (If it still doesn’t make sense, remember that these are the confessions of a mad woman, so go figure).
Sometimes, my therapy is losing myself in a book. If I can just pick something up to read, it’ll help me forget my present twisted reality for a while. So, whether I’m writing it or reading it, a good story usually soothes me.

One thing that I’ve found invaluable is my support system; that is people who to an extent know about it and who I usually talk to about what I’m feeling or going through. I see them quite like an Alcoholic’s sponsor. Having a support system is an amazing thing, it helps you share a tiny bit of that burden and it keeps you accountable, sort of. Unfortunately, I have found out that getting that support is one of the hardest things, especially in our culture where it’s almost taboo to even mention anything relating to mental health issues, not to talk of coming out of the closet and saying you’ve got them issue thingies. It’s just not done. We’re all sane, strong, healthy people, God forbid that we’re associated with any such thing! And the Christian community, I’m afraid to say, is even worse. I’ve found it harder to talk to Christians about it than I have other people. Even when I do get to talk to my Christian friends, it’s usually in a ‘non-Christian’ setting.

People have implied (and even said outright) that I’m definitely not really saved or filled with the Holy Spirit if I have mental health issues and at some point, it started me doubting my salvation and everything I know and believe too. Someone’s said to me once “How can you call yourself a Christian and be saying you’re depressed?” This someone (who until that point had been an important part of my life) cut me off totally because he couldn’t handle it and couldn’t imagine what people would think (his words) if they knew I was struggling with depression.
Immediately you even start to say the ‘D’ word, people start to scabbash and bind and cast and I’ve often been left wondering if I’m the evil spirit that is so repugnant to them. We Christians are quicker to judge and slap labels on things we don’t understand. It’s easier than trying to explain how it fits into our ideals of God and Christianity and most times, people with mental health issues do not really feel like there’s a place for them within the fold (okay, maybe I’m speaking for just myself here, but this is from painful experience) so we try to fit in, we try to fix our un-normalness, try to fake it until we make it, but believe me, that might work everywhere else but when it comes to the mad in your head, it just doesn’t!
It’s been extremely hard getting a support system going and I’m ashamed to say that I’m still in the closet to a large extent (who am I kidding? I’m in the closet in the closet!) and I doubt that the few friends in my support system even know just how bad I have it.

I remember my mum once catching me reading a book by Tim LaHaye, ‘Overcoming Depression’ and the alarmed look that came on her face as she asked me why I was reading such a book. I looked at the fear and terror written all over her face and I knew I couldn’t bring myself to tell her, I couldn’t do that to her, couldn’t do it to me. I just couldn’t bring myself to share this with her, my mother. I’m not totally sure of what I was more afraid of; breaking her heart and shattering the picture perfect illusion she has about our lives (I mean, where do I start from? The abuse from all those years ago? The crazy episodes and the baggage they bring? My lowest, ugliest moments?) or making myself vulnerable, opening up my deepest, most painful wounds? Maybe deep down, I was just terrified that I would see that look of revulsion and repugnance on her face as well, that look that said I was damaged and broken, that look that said I was weak and weird and crazy and didn’t fit in. Irrational maybe, but well, that fear was there as it has always been and I took the coward’s way out and told her some dumb story about how it was just a Christian book that I’d picked up at the book store in Church. Coward!

Believe me, it gets really emotionally draining trying to make people understand, dealing with the judgement, especially that which you know isn’t coming from a spiteful place, that which comes from a place of love (and getting over that rejection in itself is usually a trigger for an episode, so it’s just way easier to avoid it). People tell you to snap out of it and stop being such a cry baby, and oh, how I’ve tried! I wish more than anything else that it was that simple. I am going to have this published anonymously (if it ever gets published that is!) because a huge part of me is still very afraid and wary. I’ve learned that no matter how understanding or forward-thinking we think we have become, biases still run deep in our DNA and it’s hard to let go of notions and ideas that have been ingrained in our thinking. I know just how fickle and fleeting acceptance usually is. I’ve seen the unveiled derision, I’ve watched the walls go up as soon as people know. I’ve watched well-meaning people flounder and stumble, trying not to show how uncomfortable they are with being uncomfortable with my damagedness, how they try not to make too much of it and then wonder if they’re making too little of it. You know that whether they judge you or just feel sorry for you, it will still distance them from you, you’ll still be different.

Then, there’s the resentment that creeps in from handling all that judgement and snobbery and misunderstanding, and in a way, I’m starting to pass judgement of my own on people for not understanding (the irony, eh?). It’s a constant, conscious fight not to let these other negative emotions in and not to take the path of offense (see? This thing messes with you on so many levels).

I must confess that in recent times, I’ve sub-consciously started to pull away from my support system as well because a part of me just wonders if, you know, even they are getting tired of my wahala because me sef I have tire. I find myself wondering, what if they’ve had just about enough of these bouts of crying for nothing and the long winding conversations that seem to make no sense. I wonder if they just might think I’m just a spoilt brat seeking attention. Sometimes I wonder if my burden is getting too heavy for them to carry and if it’s starting to drain them as well (kai, sometimes, I worry for the sanity of my Therapist, the things I have told her ehn!). An irrational part of me wants so much to be perfect for them, I want them to see me as whole and healthy and smart and inspiring and intelligent, not the broken toy who constantly needs their help. I want to be giving and adding value to people’s lives, not just needing and taking all the time. I’m trying to work on this but it’s hard because again, those notions and ideas that have been ingrained into our minds by our culture and society.
This road can be a very cold and lonely one to walk. I’ll never ever take for granted the power of someone just being there with their love, even when (maybe especially when) they don’t really understand what you’re going through. Sometimes it’s all that’s needed and it makes a whole world of difference, just knowing you’re still accepted despite everything. It makes the fight easier to fight. Sometimes, it’s absolutely everything because it just might be the reason someone walks away from the edge.

Another thing that keeps me off that line is remembering, even in my deepest, darkest moments, the things that matter, the things that are worth the fight. I remember during my last episode, trying desperately to hold on to something, anything just to keep my sanity. I remember starting up two lists, one for the reasons I just wanted it all to stop, reasons why I needed this overwhelming hurt in my head to end, this was my aye list for silencing the screaming in my head, getting away from that intangible entity that’s sucking the essence out of me once and for all, reasons why I had to end to it all. I do not write this lightly and I know how hard it must be for anyone reading this to understand why anyone would have the audacity or the state of mind to make such a seemingly selfish and self-absorbed decision or to even think of it. I doubt I can adequately put to words or paint a picture of the reality of such a state of mind or how totally you can get pushed over the edge or all the muddling that’s going on in your head and mind. I really can’t. But I’ll say this: it takes more than strength or will power or even a moral or religious code to walk back from that edge each and every time (at least for me).
So, after I finished my aye list, I started out on my nay list and the first thing that came to my mind was my nephews. One of them turns ten in January and I recently started up a project to write him a book for his milestone birthday (he’s already an avid reader too) and in that moment, I burst into tears and became overwhelmed with all these emotions and memories and the elaborate plans for his birthday and the letters we write each other back and forth and the silly things he does and says and the storyline I’ve been working on for his book and how we love to read together and how he tells me stuff that he’s read and how naughty he can get and….that brought me back from the edge. I abandoned my lists and I knew I had to fight one more day, just one more day this time because I just couldn’t afford to give up, not just yet…

Well, it’s been a journey. It’s been twenty eight years since that first day I ran and hid in my mother’s wardrobe and I’ve learned a few things here and there. I made a conscious decision to have a relationship with God when I was about nine and I know my faith has been at the core of my still being – well, – being. In Taya Smith’s voice, my Soul knows well You’re here. Even in the middle of the broken glass shards that is sometimes my mind, He’s always right in there, getting cut and ripped along with me. In the midst of the spiders crawling around the corners of my mind, He’s there, holding me through the worst and the best of it (hey, I have my good/sane/normal days when I’m just the girl next door!). And I know that if while I’m in this broken, damaged body, I never get to be rid of this thing, I can draw comfort from knowing that He’ll always be right here in my crazy head, through the times that I’m aware of Him and the ones that I’m too far lost to even feel Him. I know (even in the times that my circumstances say otherwise) that He’ll always be right there with me, every single time I walk on that awful edge, every time I sit on that thin line, wondering if I should simply silence the roaring, end the emotional torture, He’ll be there through each one and whether it’s a week or a year or ten years from now, He’ll be there through each one until maybe one day, the edge becomes a distant, fuzzy memory too. Through it all, I can say “Even when I have no song, even when the fight seems lost, even when it hurts like hell, even when it makes no sense to sing…” I know that His love surrounds me when my thoughts wage war. I’m taking comfort from the fact that if one day, the wool sweater gets unravelled all the way and I have no idea how to put me back together again, He’ll be there to make sense of the mess and maybe He’ll even decide to make something entirely different from the wool…who says I always have to be a sweater!

And oh, if there’s anyone reading this who is crazy just like me, please know that it does get better, just hang in there…

Sweetdreams Darling:Dreamcatcher

Ifeanyi was having a nightmare. Not even the fact that he knew with certainty that it was only a nightmare lessened the cold, heart stopping terror he felt.

He was standing in front of his childhood home, the house his family had lived in since before he was born up until three weeks ago. The front door was standing ajar and he could see into the living room with the faded red rug and cookie-brown sofas. Even though it was the very last thing he wanted to do, he found himself taking a step forward and walking through the door.

It looked just as it had up until a few weeks ago: the family pictures hanging on the wall, the cream flower patterned curtains and matching cream side-tables, the Samsung flat screen TV against the wall facing the door and the comfy recliner chair at an angle to the TV. If this were Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment, the recliner would have been Sheldon’s “my spot”. It was placed such that you didn’t have to crane your neck to see the TV. The glare of the sun from the windows also missed you totally and it wasn’t in the path to the door so that you never had anyone walking back and forth across the living room, annoyingly blocking your view. You could also tuck biscuit and crisp wrappers into the spaces between the arms without getting an earful from his mum because she never bothered with the recliner.

He could see the top of his sister’s head sticking out from the back of the chair. Ijeoma knew how much he loved sitting in that chair but she always bullied him out of it. Even when he’d been first to get to the chair, she always made him get up for her. If he refused, she threw him out of it without a single thought. All because she was sixteen and he only ten, she lorded it over him at every opportunity. As if snatching the “my spot” from him wasn’t enough, she never let him watch any of his TV shows. It always had to be her dumb soap operas on Telemundo.

He knew the very last thing he wanted to do in the world was go to her but he did it all the same. A part of him figured that this was that weird thing that happened in dreams, you know, when you seemed to have no control over anything, not even over yourself, and the dream just plays out how it wills.

I’m only dreaming. I’m gonna wake up any time now.

The TV was muted but he saw images flick across the screen. He recognized the show, Jane The Virgin, one of Ijeoma’s favourites and he remembered the last big fight they’d had, just the day before they moved. The new Star Wars movie had been showing but Ijeoma had wanted to watch her recorded episodes of Jane The Virgin. When he’d told her she could watch the episodes later since they were recorded, she’d told him to record the movie and watch it later because she wanted to watch her show NOW and she’d proceeded to throw him out of the “my spot” recliner chair.

He was now standing beside her and he could see her silhouette. He head was angled to her left and her hair obstructed her face. He started to reach out to her.
Don’t do that! he screamed but of course, that was only in his head. In this awful dream which he knew without a doubt was a nightmare, his tongue was as heavy as lead and his hands reached forward to brush Ijeoma’s Peruvian weaves from her face.

Her pretty face was un-pretty. He remembered all the times he’d looked at her stunning features and had thought she was just a mean siren, beautiful and cruel all at once. He’d felt really smart coming up with that bit of comparison. He’d found a book of Greek mythology in the school library and had read the story of Odysseus and the sirens and it had fascinated him. He’d bet her royal haughtiness had not thought he could be that smart. That was why she always treated him like crap.

In this nightmare, her siren face looked more like that of a grotesque sea kraken. It was bloated and her milk-chocolate skin was discoloured. The bit of her weaves he’d touched came off her scalp still attached to a patch of corn-rows. Her eyes were almost swollen shut in her bloated face and they squinted at him blearily.

No, no, no, no, no, no!

He crouched before her and tried to push her weaves back in place. It was as if the nightmare had finally decided to give him control, after it had unveiled its gruesome centre piece.

No, no, no, wake up please…

As if someone had given her a poke from behind, Ijeoma started to topple over. Reflexively, he reached out his arms and caught her. Her face fell smack against his and they both went sprawling. The smell of rot and decay filled his nose and mouth and he let out a scream, again in his head. When he pushed her off him, strips of flesh from her face stuck to his. She landed on the floor with a soft splat and he saw a dark greenish fluid start to darken the carpet around her head. He tried to scream again but it seemed the nightmare had not given him control of that bit.
He felt something sticky and heavy in the crock of his neck and he brushed if off onto he carpet. He looked in horror to see it was Ijeoma’s blackened, swollen tongue. Unable to help himself, he looked into that kraken face and saw the cavernous, dark O of her mouth, like a deep dark hole that was going to swallow him up. Her gums were a brackish red and some of her teeth had come loose. He saw worms crawl out of her nostrils and the corner of her eyes. Then without warning, one eyeball popped, spraying him with a sticky, jelly-like fluid.
Like a trigger had been tripped, she started to come apart. Her bloated skin started to blister and burst open, releasing more of the wriggling worms. Greenish blood oozed out of her open skin, washing the worms down like little streams in the sides of a mountain. Her mid riff split open, exposing her gas bloated stomach and in horror, he realized it was going to pop. Frantic now, he tried to get away from her but one of her legs was lying across his and he was trapped

No, please…stop…wake up!

But this is what you wanted. The voice that was his but wasn’t his said in his ear. This is what you always wanted. You said so yourself.

That was how he sounded in his head when he was thinking mean little thoughts, but everyone knows no one ever means those thoughts.

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

He’d read that clever line in another story from the book in the library.

I never wanted this, I love my sister!

That last day before they’d moved, almost everything in the house had been packed up in boxes. All the furniture in the sitting room and been loaded onto the moving truck and even the red carpet had been rolled up. The only things left were the TV and the recliner chair. Their mom had been packing up in the kitchen and their dad was loading the trunk of his car with boxes. Ifeanyi had settled into the recliner chair, shaking with the anticipation of seeing The Force Awakens for the very first time. He had gotten as far as the opening credits when Ijeoma sauntered in and took the remote control from him.
          “Hey!” he protested when she changed the channel. “I was watching that!”
She’d ignored him in her usual condescending way and had grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out of the recliner chair.
He’d been tongue tied with fury, shaking from head to toe. ijeoma meanwhile settled into the seat and tucked her feet under her.
          “What’s your problem?” he stuttered out when he finally found his voice. “What’s your fucking problem!” he shouted even though he knew he had used a forbidden word and would definitely get a good hiding from his parents if they ever heard him. But he was just so, so furious, the word had flown out and he really didn’t care in that moment.
Ijeoma had spared him just one look of disdain.
          “Do you mind? I’m trying to watch TV here.” She said and went back to Jane The Virgin.
          “But it’s recorded, you can watch it any bloody time you like!”
Another forbidden word but he was much too livid to even realize he’d used it.
          “Well, you should have set your stupid movie to record!” she retorted not looking away from the screen.
          “But…”
          “Shut it and get out of here!” Ijeoma had snapped and he’d really lost it then. Why was she always so mean to him, the hateful thing?
          “I hate you!” he shouted, his lips trembling and angry tears starting to fall from his eyes. “I hate you, hate you, hate you!” he shouted.
She looked at his teary, snot filled face with disgust and rolled her beautiful eyes.
          “I hate you and I wish you were dead!” he said and ran to his room.

I didn’t mean it!
Too little too late dearie.
I didn’t mean it, please wake up…

The bloated stomach finally popped and instead of bile and decaying matter and maybe even more worms, giant black spiders crawled out of Ijeoma and started to feed on what was left of her.

To get back at her, Ifeanyi had left a tiny spider under her pillow in her new room. He knew that her royal haughtiness feared all things creepy and crawly and she had been unable to bring hesrelf to sleep in her bed for the three weeks they’d lived in the new house. Instead, she’d slept curled up on the recliner chair.

You can sleep in it forever for all I care. Ifeanyi had thought with a grim satisfaction.

Mr Nightmare finally gave him full control and he screamed until his throat almost tore.

                                                                                *

Ifeanyi started awake with a croak. He swallowed convulsively trying to ease the soreness in his throat. He looked at the backs of the heads of his mum and sister and wondered how it was possible that they didn’t hear his thumping heart. He was seated in the back seat of his mother’s Toyota Corolla and his mum was driving while Ijeoma had the passenger seat. As usual, Ijeoma had bullied him out of the front seat even though he’d called shotgun. She always did stuff like that and… his eyes snapped to the back of Ijeoma’s head and his heart rate tripled. It looked alarmingly like it had looked in the dream when he’d stood at the door. He tried to say something, call out her name but again, his voice failed him.

No, no, no, no, no! Please God, no!

As if reading his mind, she turned in her seat and turned those beautiful eyes that had only just exploded all over him, on him.
          “Ah, Mr drool-face is finally awake.” She said and snickered.
Ifeanyi heaved a huge sigh of relief and almost burst out laughing. Or maybe, more like almost burst into tears.

She’s alive! It was all a nightmare!

He didn’t care if she was right and he had drool all over his face or if he had crusty eye boogers. He didn’t even care if she brought out her iPhone and took an embarrassing picture of him and put it up on Instagram (she’d done that a few times before) and all her friends laughed at it. If they hadn’t been in a moving vehicle on Third Mainland Bridge at that moment, he would have thrown his arms around her and hugged her and…

Just then, the pick-up truck that was in front of them braked suddenly. Their mum gasped and stepped on the brakes, throwing all of them forwards in their seats, especially Ifeanyi who hadn’t been using a seat belt. The pick-up was loaded with scaffolding rods and had a dirty red handkerchief tied to the end of one of them. Mrs Ezechukwu’s reflexes had been spot on and the Corolla stopped about three feet from the pick-up truck. That was no mean feat, considering she had been doing close to 120. However, the driver of the Prado Jeep behind them wasn’t so fast and the Jeep rammed into them from behind, throwing the Corolla forward another few feet. Ifeanyi, who had been thrown onto the gear stick watched, as if back in the nightmare, as the scaffolding rod with the red handkerchief, which had been hanging too far out of the back of the truck, shattered the Corolla’s windshield and pinned Ijeoma to the back of her seat, straight through her long and graceful neck.

Taming The Hummingbird

I first met her three months after I arrived in Calgary. We’d both attended an employability workshop for new immigrants at the Calgary Central Library. She’d arrived late, flushed and flustered and had made her way to the back of the room, hurriedly slapping on the name badge one of the organizers handed to her and shrugging off her winter coat. Even before I spied the name on her badge, I knew she was Nigerian too. It’s like Nigerians wear a neon sign on their heads that sets them off from other black people.
I stole a glance at her and quite liked what I saw. She was pretty and after she’d peeled off the layers and layers she’d had on under the jacket, my interest piqued. Not bad I thought. Despite all that, I might have forgotten all about her after the program. In fact, the chances of our paths ever crossing again in a city like Calgary were about 2 in 100 at best. Hey, I come across pretty women everyday so this wasn’t just about physical attraction, far from it.
Towards the end of the workshop, we had mock interviews and the facilitator called for volunteers. I was one of the volunteers and I can say that my responses were some of the most articulate of the bunch. I didn’t get too many critiques from the other participants and the facilitator also had few corrections for me. What can I say? Seven years in the cut-throat banking industry in Lagos does prepare you for almost anything and sets you a notch above the rest. I noticed that during the exercise, she kept pretty much to herself, not offering any critiques or comments. She kept scribbling in a little pink notebook and pushing her glasses up her nose in an absent minded way that made you think she wasn’t even aware she was doing it.

          “I have just one more question.” The facilitator said. “Does anyone want to take it?”
The hand of the Indian guy in the front row shot up. He’d answered three already and had had an opinion about everyone else’s response. An audible groan went up through the room and I realized I wasn’t the only one who was tired of the guy.

          “Hmmnnn, maybe we should throw it to someone who hasn’t answered any today.” The facilitator said with a little smile. “Do you want to give it a go?” She said looking to the back of the room. We all swiveled in our seats and she found about 24 pairs of eyes trained on her.

          “Me?” She said. You can’t be serious the look on her face screamed.

          “Yes, give it a shot.” The facilitator said. “Remember, this is a safe and respectful place and we’re all here to help each other.”
Somehow, it sounded more like that was directed at the class know-it-all.

          “Oh okay.” She said resignedly, giving her glasses another poke and then getting up.
When she took the seat at the front of the room, she smiled shyly at the facilitator.

         “Okay Low-lah,” the facilitator said, reading her name tag. “Here goes: you are applying for the role of a Technical Writer. Can you tell me what influenced your current career choice?”
She cocked her head to the side in contemplation for a few seconds and then took a deep breath before she swept the world right out from under me.
She spoke with such passion and drive and it was hard to believe this was the seemingly shy and introverted person who hadn’t uttered a single word all day. She became animated and her face shone and I saw through the shy façade to the strength and determination underneath. I can’t explain it but it was like she cast a spell on me and I knew she was what I wanted.
The entire room sat mesmerized for a few moments after she ended and it was like her passion was still echoing and bouncing off the walls.

          “Well” the facilitator said finally. “Any comments?”
No one had anything to say to that, not even the self-appointed head boy.

          “I think you answered that beautifully. There’s really not much I can add to it!” The facilitator said.
She smiled the most beautiful smile then and poked at her glasses.

          “Thank you.”
As soon as the workshop broke up, I went straight to her.

          “That was really good.” I heard one of the organizers say to her. “Came straight from the heart.”
She smiled again, a look of mild surprise on her face, like she wasn’t really sure the compliment was directed at her.

          “Hi!” I said and struck out my hand. “My name is Kunle.”

          “Hi, I’m ‘Molola.”

                                                                                *

That was five years ago and we’ve been married four years now. Well, I like to think that I have impeccable taste and I always get what I want and I’d wanted that deeply passionate, driven and creative woman like I’d wanted nothing else in my entire life.
After that first day, I came to see a lot of that drive and ambition that had attracted me to ‘Molola. It was magnetic and it held you spell bound. It was also the thing I loved the most about her. She was creative and smart and had a way of bringing life into any space.
A few months after that first meeting, I got a job with Suncor Oil and her with FLIPP as a copywriter.

          “There’s this line I want to pitch to Brian for the Florex campaign” She said to me over coffee one day. “I think we’re going too floppy with it, we need more oomph and…”
She was gesticulating with her hands and her eyes were animated behind her glasses.

          “That might not be such a good idea.” I said.

          “Why?” She asked, a tinge of doubt clouding out the light in her eyes.

          “You might come across as a bit…arrogant…”

          “But this is Brian, he’s really down to earth, besides, this will reflect well on the whole team when management…”

          “You’ve just been there four months and you’re the junior copy writer, I’m sure Brian’s experienced enough to know what’s best.” I patted her hand. “The realtor called. He wants me to come in tomorrow. They’re probably done with my credit check.”
She gave her head a confused shake and the light flickered out. I ignored it and talked about my plans to take out a mortgage instead. We never spoke about the campaign again. Case closed.

                                                                                *

About a year after we got married, we started to talk seriously about starting a family and I suggested to ‘Molola that she should think about stopping work. I was earning more than enough for the both of us and even two or three little ones, so we didn’t need to worry. Of course she argued with me about it. I hadn’t expected anything less. She loved her job she said, and her work was flexible enough to allow her time to take care of any children that came along. She was even ready to work just part time, anything but quitting outright. I let it slide that time, not just because we didn’t have any children then, but because I knew that she would quit when the time came. I always had my way.

                                                                                *

By the time the recession of 2015 hit, she had become an editor at FLIPP. At the time, it seemed that the worse the economy got, the more companies tried to entice customers to part with their non-existent cash, hence, the Advertising Agencies were raking it in. I was not so lucky. The direct opposite was tearing through the oil industry and I was in the first batch of lay-offs at Suncor. The layoff hit me real bad. I’d never been laid off before in my entire working life and it was hard wrapping my head around it. But being the resilient man that I am, I was determined to jump right back on the horse. After almost seven months, I finally got a call from a little company in Halifax. They wanted me to take up their foreman position for less than a third of what I’d been earning before I got laid off. I didn’t think twice about it. ‘Molola quit her job at FLIPP and we moved to Halifax.
When we got to Halifax, I got my wish and ‘Molola became a full time house wife because she couldn’t get a job.

          “I think I’ll start writing my book.” She said trying to muster up some optimism.
I grunted a non-committal reply. She’d been talking about writing a book for as long as I’d known her and had never gotten around to doing it. I doubted very much it would ever happen.
Maybe it was because she had little else to do (apart from taking care of her working husband of course), or maybe it was that focused determination that had seen her rise through the ranks at FLIPP, I’m not sure, but she spent the next few months pecking away on her laptop working on her book.

          “Are you even taking the time to fill out job apps?” I asked her one night. “Dig your nose out of that laptop and face the real world. You need to engage in something that actually brings in money.”
It had been a really long day at work, and there had been another wave of lay-offs so I was a bit cranky.

          “Huh, what was that?” she said absently, still pecking away at the damn thing.
I was this close to throwing the stupid thing at the wall.

          “A job.” I said through gritted teeth. “Are you even trying at all?” At helping to support this family, at having a baby, at everything!

          “Oh that. I’ve got an interview on Monday. It’s a part-time receptionist position but it’s better than nothing.”

          “Good.” I grunted.

          “I also sent out a query letter to a Book Agent today. The book isn’t finished yet but I have enough for a good pitch.” She said. “If she replies…”

          “How much are they going to pay you per hour for the receptionist job?” I asked.

          “16 dollars.” She said and her shoulders drooped a little lower.
She went back to her laptop and didn’t even realize the soup she’d been cooking was burning until the smoke alarms went off. I didn’t complain or say a thing even though I had to eat burnt soup that night and the burnt smell made it almost impossible to sleep. When she went to bed, I logged into her computer and scanned through the book she’d been working on. She had a folder with over 20 word documents, each one about 15 pages long. Form the little I read, I knew the story was good. I hadn’t expected any less anyways, this was ‘Molola after all, she is talented. I also saw several other folders with other story ideas on the laptop. My beautiful, talented and ambitious ‘Molola. I felt that strong wave of attraction I’d felt that first day at the library and I smiled wistfully, feeling lucky all over again that she was mine.
Then I formatted the laptop.

                                                                                *

‘Molola practically went crazy when she found out all her work was gone.

          “How is this even possible!”
I shrugged. “These things happen.”

          “What? Just happen?! I feel like my entire life’s work is gone!”

          “Get a grip and stop being such a drama queen! It was just a silly old laptop anyway.”

          “I’m going to take it to Memory Express, maybe they can do something about…”

          “And then charge you an arm and a leg abi? You’re not earning any money yet, remember?”

          “But…”

          “Look, we have more important things to worry about. You’re not Chimamanda for crying out loud! Focus on smashing this interview on Monday instead of chasing some silly dream!”
She looked like she was going to say something but her lips trembled instead. I saw her eyes lose what little lustre they still had and then went dead. You know, that light that had drawn me to her like a magnet, I’d followed it like the wise men seeking the Messiah and then I’d put it out. All that was left of that woman was a pretty little box with all the life gone from it.

                                                                                *

I told myself I’d done the right thing when she got the receptionist job. She was a changed person but that didn’t matter. It was probably good in more ways than one. She became distant, and the quiet, introverted girl I’d first seen behind the boxy glasses five years ago came to take permanent residence. She seemed to just float around, going through the motions, like she’d given up on life itself. She’ll get over it I told myself. She just needs time to put things in perspective. And maybe a Baby.

          “HR asked me to apply for an internal vacancy.” She said one night. “It’s for an Executive Assistant position.”

          “Oh really?”

          “It’s a full time position and I’ll probably earn up to 30 an hour.” She continued.

          “What makes you think you’ll get it?” I said absently. I was already dismissing the whole thing from my mind. “It’s a big jump from receptionist.”

          “Well, the head of HR recommended me himself. He’d gotten such great reviews for me and…”
I scoffed. “The guy is probably just hoping to get in your pants. Tell him to dream on!” I flipped the page of the Metro Halifax I’d been reading.

          “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she asked in a quiet, steely voice.
I looked up at her, surprised. I’d not heard that tone in a long, long while, longer than the light had been gone from her eyes. I saw a hint of that light now, a tiny bitty spark of it in her dull, brown eyes.
My momentary surprise was replaced by anger which I tried to tamp down. I hated it when she talked back at me. I thought she knew that, knew how much I hated it.

          “Well” I said giving a disinterested shrug. “Think about it, why else would he recommend you for the position? You just joined the company as a Temp worker and you don’t even have any experience being a whatchamacallit. Stop getting ahead of yourself.”
She had stood and stared at me for the longest time. And then she’d spat a single word at me before walking out.
Bastard!
It was my turn to stare. With my jaw hanging open. Hanging to the floor, that is. She’d never ever stood up to me before. Never. She hardly ever argued with me even.
          “’Molola?!” I yelled after her, livid, but she didn’t come back. She just walked out of the house without a backward glance and I haven’t seen her since. The next evening when I got back from work, her things were gone. Every last bit of it. Not even a toothbrush was left behind. I’m still trying to process it, where the hell would she go?! I’m all she has here in Halifax, heck, in all of Canada! When we’d moved from Calgary, she had lost touch with the few friends she had there and I hadn’t really encouraged her to mingle with too many people here. Her family was all back in Nigeria and every time she’d brought up the issue of her mother visiting, I always gave reasons why it was not the right time. So where the hell did she go? I was her everything and she had nothing and no one else outside of me. I told myself that she would come to her senses soon enough and come crawling back, but when I didn’t hear a word from her in two weeks, it started to occur to me that she really might be gone for real.
I went to the IT Company where she worked and found out she’d turned down the promotion and quit as well. Of course I didn’t know any friends to call and the last thing I wanted to do was call her mother and ask if she’d been in touch. Her number kept going to voice mail and she never replied any of my emails, not the ones threatening blue murder nor the ones begging her to please come home.

                                                                                *

I still wonder what had happened, how it had happened. Sweet, quiet ‘Molola just upping and leaving like that. Not in a million years would I have seen it coming. How did a person just snap and do something so drastic like that? I guess if you push them far and hard enough, they will. I know I come across as a selfish, manipulative bastard, but you need to understand that I loved and still love my wife very much. She’s the only woman I’ve ever felt such deeply intense emotions for, and how could I not? She’s the most amazing woman I’ve ever known. Her passion and drive and spirit are such a breath of fresh air. You can’t be in the presence of such essence without being smitten. I can’t explain it but those very things I loved about her, the very reasons I wanted her and stopped at nothing until she married me, those qualities that made her who she was, I had to squash them, I had to kill them. I needed to take them from her.
It’s been 15 months since she walked out on me and today, I saw a tweet from her old boss, Brian. He was one of the people I was too ashamed to call to ask about her but whom I stalked online in case anything about her slipped out. Today, I got my break. Not a single squeak in 15 months, then this. He’d tweeted about ‘Molola’s debut novel being released on the Kindle store. She actually did it I thought. Truth is, I always knew she had it in her. Maybe that was why I put her down at every opportunity. She’d blocked me on Twitter and Facebook donkey years ago so I couldn’t even get to congratulate her.
They say good things happen in threes, and I am a firm believer in the omne trium perfectum. Well, that was until today. I received a snail mail just as I was reading the reviews ‘Molola’s book had already garnered. I tore open the big brown envelope, curious. When I saw the contents, I realized that ‘Molola had finally reached out to me like I’d known she would all these months. She had served me with divorce papers. My beautiful hummingbird was not only singing, she was breaking free as well.

The Green Sofa

It is early February in Calgary and it is freezing. Thankfully, there hasn’t been much snow in the last few days, but what little is left from the last storm has become a slippery film on the roads. I pull the hood of my mammoth jacket further down, almost covering my eyes. My breath is misty in front of me as I wait for the white walk-man so I can cross the street. When he finally makes an appearance, I hurry across the road, head down, shoulders hunched and I almost go flying on my backside.
Oops, backsies!
My hands that have been buried deep in my pockets spring out and flail while I fight for balance. Will I, will I not. The odds seem to swing both ways for a few heart stopping seconds before I regain my balance. I catch the eyes of the lady behind the wheels of the Subaru at the lights. I see in them every Calgarian’s worst winter fear. She is still dazed from my little waltz, I guess I still am too but the cold shocks me into movement. There will be time to thank my lucky stars when I get into a warm room.

When I finally reach my destination, it is almost totally dark and the cold has deepened several notches. Gratefully, I climb the wooden stairs and push open the double doors. The door is stuck and I have to heave for a few moments. The building is probably as old as the city itself but as soon as I step in the doors, I feel a sense of arrival. It is like returning to a warm, familiar place. The lead ball in my stomach doesn’t disappear in a puff of smoke, no, but I sorta feel fortified to face it from the outside in.
From one of the rooms on the main floor, I hear children’s voices, high-pitched and happy. There is the comforting smell of something in the oven, probably the kids preparing for a bake sale. I hear voices from everywhere and it is like the building is alive, bursting with vitality.

The lady on the phone had told me to go up to the third level and after one long look around the lobby, like Paddington at King’s Cross station, I start the climb up the stairs. The stairs are carpeted in an old dark blue colour that has faded over the years. I hear the echo of each footfall and the creaks that accompany them. I keep hearing those lively voices, spilling out of closed doors even though my ascent is solitary. Somehow, it is soothing, adding to my fortification. On the third level, I turn right as she had directed and walk down a short corridor. There, almost at the very end of the corridor, about three feet away from a window looking out onto the plumbing of the next building, is the Green Sofa. It looks just as old as the building and I wonder if it will collapse under me if I sit in it. Like the carpet, its upholstery is faded and it has bum grooves on its seats. I stand and stare at it for a few long moments, wondering if I want to sit in it. I can imagine what I look like, a waif with long spindly legs sticking out of the bottom of the mountain that is his over-sized and over stuffed jacket, with the Aztec backpack sloshed down his back, staring at the Green Sofa like he expected it to jump up and bite off his arm. One Of Stephen King’s stories comes to mind. It is about a car that eats people up, and I imagine the Green Sofa yawning open at the joints where the back meets the seats and sharp, jagged white teeth showing up and…

Feeling really silly, I take a seat. No shark teeth. No creepy, slimy claws. Just softness and comfort. Oh, it is so, so comfortable. I heave a contended sigh, my previous dance on the ice and the cold that awaits me outside like a jealous lover totally forgotten.
          “Hi! You must be Nnedi.”
The voice jolts me out of my little content-bubble. I look up to my right at the lady and I smile. She’d pronounced my name as Neddy and I’m mighty impressed. It is the closest to the real thing I’ve heard in almost three years.
          “Hi! You must be Lauren.” I reply.
I’d made the appointment to come see her over the phone with someone else, probably an assistant or receptionist and this was my first contact with her. I look up into her face and I go through one more moment of battle, wondering if.
Oh crap, can I actually go through with this?
Last chance to get out, just walk out, go back home.

          “It’s great to finally meet you.” She says. “Do you want to come with me this way?” she asks, half turning towards the direction she must have come from.
I hesitate for just a moment but in that space of time, I engage in a huge argument with the village that is my head. I doubt that she even noticed the hesitation because she is already walking down the corridor.
Do you realize the amount of crazy you’ve just invited in I ask her retreating figure silently.
Resignedly, I leave the comfort of the Green Sofa that has now become my new best friend and I follow after her

The Princess Diaries: New Papa

Mr. AJ replied my letter, and I’m happy to share his beautiful reply below:

Dear Mr. AJ,

Hey SB,

First and foremost, I think congratulations are in order so from one Princess-Daddy to another, welcome to the club of the Elite!

Thank you so much. This is indeed an elite club (this I’ve found out in the past weeks) not for the weak hearted!

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.

Things have not only changed, I vaguely remember my life before the first beautiful Wednesday in November ’16. I wonder what I’d been doing and what my life even comprised of! Yep! That’s how much Oluwamayomikun took over! She was brought out immediately after delivery and handed to me. It took a lot to hold the tears, my eyeballs were just floating in tears. She was so tiny and big at the same time. Like, human beings come this tiny and don’t break?! And, wait! All of this was in The Mrs’ womb? I’ve always said babies are not born beautiful, this one was an exception. I literally felt a tug and a squeeze at my heart, I ran out of breath just standing and looking at her and saying a prayer of gratitude to the Most High.

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.

Colour and sunshine she did bring. Colour first though, never imagined a room could be so full or colours and not hurt the eyes, but The Mrs worked her magic and I absolutely love her room. It’s even comforting in itself. I’m sure you know how even watching a baby cry can be a beautiful experience! Sleeping, playing, crying, smiling, laughing, whatever she’s doing, she’s just captivating. You know, saying I love her so much doesn’t even convey the feelings. I’m not sure anything I can say or do can fully express the depth of love I have for her. I’m just always in a state of ‘what else can I do for her?’, and how? Or when? Gosh! Someone said I’ve been softened. I scoffed to form macho, but me I know, I’ve become butter.

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.

Grey hairs! I have ‘em. I know exactly how many more strands I’ve gotten in my beard since November 2, ’16, and I’m immensely proud of every mm (if you guys do imperial, read: inches) of them.

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!

“Treasures in earthen vessels” has just been redefined for me. Each moment is a treasure in itself. Sometimes, I think I will pass out from being full of joy at the littlest things she does. I’ve had my sleep cut drastically, I should be upset, yeah? Hell no! I wake up and wait for her to wake up so I can ‘rush’ to her room and bring her to The Mrs to nurse. Sometimes, I think I mentally wake her up sef 😀 This has to be the best ride life has to offer!

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.

I’ll confess this right now, I’ve never taken as many pictures of anyone as I have taken of Oluwamayomikun. Mostly solos of her, sometimes with dad selfie :D, or the whole (that sounds awesome) family ussie :D. Opened an email for her, I plan to leave emails now and then and of milestones of her life. I’m like gathering every info and moments I can of her and trying to store them. Sometimes, I feel silly, but the good kind – not like there’s any other kind 😀 Absolutely looking forward to another ‘run in’ and sharing more of these moments, while watching our treasures play and probably do girl stuff.
Here’s Mayomikun in her car seat. I love that she loves being in the car seat, so we can easily hit town.

Till we meet again, probably in another dressing room with your little girl in tow, I remain yours’ Knightedly,
SB

I do have to run and get outta the office and head home to this awesome lil lady.
New Papa

Red Robot

Damn! I shoulda taken the contraceptive pills!!!

I bet you’ve figured out my story, it’s not that difficult right? Picture me at 3 am, scrubbing away at my soaked mattress even as I feel a fresh flow of blood trickling down my legs…

Well, it all started a few weeks ago when I got a sudden outburst of pimples. Pimples everywhere, my face, neck, earlobes, back, chest, everywhere. Plus they were no ordinary pimples, they were big fat painful meanies! Mind you, I’m not 18 so I’m soooooo way past the puberty thing and believe me, I had my fair share back then.
This post-puberty thing had me flummoxed. I had no idea why or from where they had come! So I finally took a trip to the GP out of pain and embarrassment, I probably looked like pickled peas or something equally gross. The GP took one look at me and said the creams and ointments wouldn’t stand a chance, I was going on medication! Just great! Stupid tabs just because of pimples, egbàmí! He went on to say that I had two options for the tabs. One was to go on antibiotics for 6 months (what?! 6 months nítoríi pimples! Àríì!!!), the other was to go on the pill. He then said that that had the added advantage that it would help regulate my periods and also help keep the flows moderate, yada, yada, yada. Errrr, contraceptives for pimples! Antibiotics for 6 months! Na who I come vex so oh? I took one look at my pickled-pea face in the mirror and decided I was going to kick ass! So this silly girl picked the antibiotics ‘cos to her machine-knuckled brain, the antibiotics sounded more kick-ass than the contraceptives, I mean, whoever took the pill for pimples?!

Sigh. So here I was, three weeks later when the red robot came calling. As uninvited as she was (isn’t she always?), she brought her baggage with her (the bloody thing, every pun intended), the worst MP ever! I guess we all know whose ass was getting kicked. Add to that, the fact that it seemed nothing our dearest Always has or will ever invent could handle the flow. I’d gone through all my pairs of jeans and was running low on dry knickers as well. I shoulda saved myself the trouble and just locked myself in the bathroom! Woke up from a fitful sleep at 3 am and the mattress was soaked through. So, as I vented my frustrations on the poor mattress, all I could think was Damn, Why didn’t you just take the pill?!

This Little Goldfish

June 23, 2007

01:25 hours
The fog in my head clears slowly and the masked and suited policemen swim into view. I’m sitting on the floor of a Piccadilly train car, my back against a blue and yellow seat. I look around the car in utter confusion, disjointed bits of information registering in my brain haphazardly: the dot matrix display showing the train was at Finsbury Park Station; the half a dozen or so ninja-looking coppers in full assault gear spread around me; the ‘Going to Heathrow?’ Ad on the wall; the spilled fries that are starting to turn pink from soaking up the blood from the grey linoleum floor; the cackling of the radio on the shoulder clip of the policeman crouching a few feet from me; the drawn assault rifles that are trained on me; the blood that has soaked through my brown coat and navy-blue tweed jacket; the canary-yellow of the sweater the lady whose head is sitting in my lap is wearing and how matted with blood her blonde hair is; the bloody kitchen knife in my hand.

The knife…

          “Drop the weapon and put your hands where I can see them!”

Weapon?

I look at it, dazed, trying to figure out why it is in my hand and why both it and my hand are almost completely covered in blood. Then it slips from my numb fingers to the floor with a clatter.

          
          
                                                                      *

00:34 hours
The lady’s iPhone fell to the floor with a clatter, missing the edge of the platform by just a few inches. She was propped up by the crutches under her arms and her right foot, which was cocooned in a cast, stuck out awkwardly in front of her. She cursed under her breath and tried to hobble towards the phone.

          “Here, I’ve got it.” The man in the brown trench coat said, picking up the phone and handing it to her.
          “Thank you.” She said, giving him a relieved smile and he nodded at her.

The train arrived then and he stood aside for her to get on. At that time of the night, the usually busy Leicester Square Station had quietened down and there was only a handful of passengers waiting on the platform to board the train. The man took a seat adjacent to the doors and absently registered the other occupants of the train car. There was the young kid, who looked no older than 16 or 17, in a hoodie and with Beats headphones clamped on, two seats away from him. He wondered what the young boy was doing out that late. Further down on the other side of the car was an old couple, holding hands. Beside them, a blonde woman dozed, her head starting to loll towards the man. A quick glance at his wrist watch told him it was 12:36 a.m. He had just six stops on the train and he hoped to be home by 1 a.m. He picked up a discarded copy of the Evening Standard from the seat beside him and started to flip through absently….

          
          
                                                                      *

02:21 hours
….Shhhlapppppp.
The sounds the papers make as the Police Detective flips through them yanks me to the present. I shudder, imagining this is what it must feel like to teleport from one dimension to another; disorienting and utterly confusing.
          “Mr. Adewale?”
Her voice sends another jolt through me and I swallow to push down the bile in my throat. She pronounces the name as Ah-dee-wally and it takes a moment to realize she is addressing me. I shake my head, trying to clear it. My mind feels woozy and I can’t seem to gather my thoughts.

How long have I been sitting here in the hard plastic chair?

I look down at my clasped hands on the table. They look raw and grey, like I’d been scrubbing at them real hard. There are still traces of blood around my finger nails.

How did I get blood on my hands?

The hand cuffs are cold against my wrists and they look so out of place, like ill-fitting bangles. I stare at them, unable to find a logical explanation for why they and my hands have anything at all in common. I’m wearing a pair of grey joggers and a black sweat shirt. I have no idea whose they are because they are several sizes too large.

What happened to my clothes? Why am I wearing these things with someone else’s body odour on them? Why have I been cuffed like a criminal? What exactly is going on?

I rack my brain for answers but come up blank.
          “Do you want to tell me what happened on that train?” she says giving me a patient look that I do not trust.

Sarah Burns. The name jumps out at me. I’m not sure how I know that’s her name. She has probably mentioned it to me at some point.

Why then don’t I remember her telling me?

I look away from her and my eyes hit the clock on the wall above her head. It is 2:24 but I have no idea if it’s afternoon or the middle of the night.
          “I….” I started.

What train is she talking about!

I clench my eyes shut and try to concentrate. Everything is fuzzy.
          “I…Leicester Square…” I shake my head.

Come on, remember!

          “I got on the train at Leicester Square…”
          “Okay. Then what happened?” she asks.
I look from her to her partner who is leaning against the wall, arms crossed across his chest, with an open look of mistrust on his face. I reckon he’s the bad cop in this crappy movie that I have found myself smack in the middle of.
          “I…there was a…”
I look at the little recorder on the table between us. It is making a quiet whirring sound which is rather distracting to me. I look away from it to DCI Sarah Burns and try again.
          “After I got on the train, I …”

I what?!

I want to tell her what happened after I got on the train but for the life of me, I can’t remember. It feels like it is just there, on the periphery of my mind and that if I can only just stretch far enough, I’ll be able to reach for it!
She raises her eyebrows and leans in slightly towards me expectantly.
          “What happened after you got on the train?” she asks.
          “I got on the train at 12:34 a.m.” I say, gripping the edge of the table, desperate to remember. “She was asleep, at the other end of the car, beside the old couple.”
          “Who was?”
          “The…” dead woman.
My heart starts to pound.

Oh my God, there is dead woman.

          “Who are you referring to Mr. Ah-dee-wally?”
I do not want to think about the dead woman, I can’t bring myself to.
          “We arrived at Covent Garden at 12:37.” I say instead, ignoring her. I vaguely remember seeing the time on the dot matrix display as Julie Berry’s voice announced the station.
          “Then…”
I hit a brick wall. There doesn’t seem to be anything else after that point. It is like my entire existence has been whittled down to those moments between 12:34 and 12:37, an entire lifetime reduced to a mere three-minute window. I grip my face in my cuffed hands, the metal cold against my lips, and will myself to remember.
          “Tell me about the woman who was asleep on the train.”
I raise my head and look at her.
          “What woman?” I ask.
          “You just said there was a woman asleep on the train, beside the old couple.”

When did I tell her that?

A frown creases her brow and I wonder if she thinks I’m crazy. Her partner motions to her and I look at him, my hands starting to shake. My eyes hit the clock again, and the long hand is between five and six. 2:28.
What is it about the clock that draws me so much?
I try to think but everything is a jumble, plus the blasted whirring of the recorder was getting in my head. Whirrrrrrrrr….

          
          
                                                                      *

00:40 hours
Whirrrrrr went the motor of the mobility scooter at Holborn Station. The man in the scooter fidgeted around a bit after getting on before he could get it to rest against the wall. The lady with the crutches got off through the other set of doors and just as they were closing, two young men jumped in, bringing the smell of stale beer and sweat with them. Their football jerseys barely covered up their sagging denim pants and one of them had a horn which he tried blowing but was too drunk to.
          “Hey matey, care’t gimme a blow?” he slurred thrusting the horn in Adewale’s face. He had a scraggly ginger beard that looked like it was home to more than just a few creepy-crawlies.
Adewale turned his face away from him, ignoring him and the other drunk guffawed.
          “Sure he’d love to give you a blow!” he bellowed, his face and bald head going almost tomato red.
          “Shut yer face numpty!” Ginger snapped.
Baldy only laughed some more and started to sing tunelessly. Ginger put the horn to his lips again and tried to blow, but he only succeeded in spraying Adewale with his spittle. Adewale wiped his face in disgust and luckily, Ginger left him alone and stumbled down the car.
          “Care’t help?” Ginger asked the man in the mobility scooter, trying to push the horn into his hands.
          “Get off!” the man snapped, slapping the horn away.
          “Aw come on, don’t be such a Nancy!” Ginger said, pushing the horn back at him.
          “I said get off!”
He slapped at the horn again and it knocked off his bag of Mac Donald’s fries from the top of the scooter.
          “Now see what you’ve done!”
          “You’re not gone cry, are ya?” Ginger sneered and kicked at the fries.
          “Idiot!” the man spat at him, really pissed.
Ginger laughed and then put the horn to his lips and….

          
          
                                                                      *

02:32 hours
          “And?” Sarah Burns asks.
I look up from the table top at her.
          “I can’t remember.” I whisper.
She shakes her head in frustration. “You’ve got to help me here.”
          “He…he must have blown the horn again and…”
          “I don’t want you guessing.”
          “I…I need a trigger.”
          “What?” she frowns at me.
          “I need to trigger the rest of it.”
          “Mr. Ah-dee-wally…”
Acting on a whim, I push back the plastic chair I’m sitting on and it makes an awful scrapping noise, almost like an inebriated man depositing a mouthful of spittle in a horn….

          
          
                                                                      *

00:44 hours
The sound from the horn made Adewale cringe and he looked up impatiently as the train pulled into Russel Square Station. The old couple got off hurriedly and he doubted very much that that was their stop.
          “Have a lovely evening!” Ginger called after them and he blew into the horn again.
Just three more stops he thought to himself.
Baldy went down the car and took the seat beside the blonde woman.
          “Hey Luv, would ya like’t give my friend here a blow?” he asked her and he laughed at his own dumb joke. She got up and swapped seats and he whistled at her. Ginger went over to sit beside her.
          “Come’n now Darl’n, don’t be like that!” Ginger said to her and when she attempted to get up from beside him, he grabbed her arm and pulled her down.
          “Hey, leave her alone!” Adewale said. He’d had enough of the two idiots and to hell with the unwritten ‘mind your own business’ tube rule. They were taking things too far and it was high time someone stood up to them.
          “What’s it to ya?” Ginger asked.
          “Yeah, what’s it to you?” Baldy added, walking up to where he sat.
          “I’m calling the police.” The man in the scooter said, driving towards the red help button.
Adewale stood up and Baldy shoved him back into his seat.
          “Mind yo damn business Black Boy else, I’ll mind it for ya.” He said grabbing Adewale’s jaw in one hand and giving him a shake. Adewale knocked his hand away and they stared each other down, both breathing heavily. Finally, Baldy sneered at him and started to walk towards Ginger and the blonde woman. Adewale jumped up then and grabbed Baldy in a choke hold from behind, putting pressure on Baldy’s carotids with his biceps. He started to count quietly under his breath.
          “Oi! What you doing?” Ginger said in a shrill voice but he didn’t dare go near Adewale. Adewale kept a steady gaze on him with his arm still around Baldy’s neck. Baldy went limp on the count of seven and he let him slip to the floor in an unceremonious heap. The blonde woman screamed and the kid took off his headphones and got shakily to his feet.
          “Hello! Can anybody hear me!” the man on the scooter said, jabbing his finger at the red button over and over.
          “What you done man? You choked him to death!” Ginger gasped, deathly pale.
As if to answer him, Baldy let out a low groan and started to stir.
          “You crazy man! You crazy nigger!” Ginger screamed.
          “Oh God, oh God!” Scooter man muttered, still jabbing at the red button and the blonde lady started to whimper.
As soon as the train pulled into King’s Cross St Pancras Station, Ginger grabbed a hold of Baldy’s feet and dragged him off the train, yelling obscenities at Adewale.

          
          
                                                                      *

02:38 hours
          “So, you fought off the trouble makers?”
          “Yes…I…” I rub my face wearily.
          “What happened after that?”
          “I don’t remember.” I say. “I need something to trigger the rest of it.”
          “What do you mean?”
          “I don’t know!”
I take a deep breath. “I don’t know.” I say in a calmer voice. “I’m having these spurts of recollections and they seem to be triggered by things…” I look at her earnestly, willing her to understand. “I need to figure out what the next clue is.”
          “You can cut the bullshit!” he partner says, coming to stand beside her and she holds up a hand.
          “So, you’re saying you’ve got some sort of amnesia that’s dependent on recreating the events of the evening?” she says.
          “No! I mean yes, it’s not…”
          “Stop with the BS and just tell us why you killed her!” her partner said, leaning towards me to glare at me, his hand flat on the table.
          “I didn’t kill her!”
          “John…” DCI Sarah Burns tried to interrupt her partner.
          “Why did you do it? What did she do to tick you off that bad?”
          “I didn’t…”
          “Were you afraid she would come forward to accuse you of killing the drunk dude?”
          “No! I didn’t kill anyone!”
          “Were you…”
DCI Sarah Burns lets out a shrill scream, startling both I and her partner. Then, the…

          
          
                                                                      *

00:46 hours
… blonde woman screamed and the kid took off his headphones and got shakily to his feet.
          “Hello! Can anybody hear me!” the man on the scooter said, jabbing his finger at the red button over and over.
          “What you done man? You choked him to death!” Ginger said, deathly pale.
As if to answer him, Ginger let out a low groan and started to stir.
          “You crazy man! You crazy nigger!” Ginger screamed.
“Oh God, oh God!” Scooter man muttered, still jabbing at the red button and the blonde lady started to whimper.
As soon as the train pulled into King’s Cross St Pancras Station, Ginger grabbed a hold of Baldy’s feet and dragged him off the train, yelling obscenities at Adewale.
          “Is everyone alright?” Adewale asked shakily, looking around at the bewildered faces around him.
          “Oh man, what did you do to him?” the kid asked.
          “He’s gonna be alright.” he replied. “I just knocked him out is all.”
          “Hello?” a voice said through the microphone above the help button.
          “Oh thank God!” Scooter man gasped.
          “Is there a problem in there?”
          “There was a couple of drunk dudes messing around with everybody.”
          “Okay, please stay calm. I’m going to make a call for help to the next station. Are they being violent?”
          “They were causing a lot of trouble then this man knocked one of them out, chocked him or something.”
          “Did you say choked? Is he…”
          “He just went down like that!”
          “Sir, do you know if he is still breathing?”
          “He is, I mean he was. He was muttering when his friend dragged him off the train.”
          “They’re off the train?”
          “Yeah, the guy was screaming blue murder!”
          “Alright Sir. Is everyone else okay?”
          “Yeah, I guess. It was real crazy man!”
          “Okay, can everyone please try to stay calm? I’m going to call the next station so there will be security personnel to attend to us over there.”
          “Alright, cheers mate. So glad all that is over!”
So much for getting home before one, Adewale thought with a resigned sigh. He sat quietly while the kid and Scooter man rehashed the events of the evening over and over. The blonde woman was obviously still in shock. She stared at him with a dazed expression on her face, her hands clamped over her mouth. He wanted to say something reassuring to her but couldn’t think of any appropriate words, so he looked away from the haunted look on her face apologetically.

          
          
                                                                      *

02:50 hours
          “We continued to Caledonian Road without anything else happening.”
          “Then what happened there?” DCI Burns asks.
          “The driver came into the car to speak with us. A guy in a TFL vest joined him. He must have been security or something.”
          “And?” This from John what’s-his-name. He really is living up to the Bad Cop image.
          “They asked us to go to the station office to give statements. Our train left but we were promised there was one last train for the night.”
          “What happened afterwards?” John asks.
I look apologetically at DCI Burns.
          “I need something to put me back on the train.” I say.
          “You can stop wasting our time now, you do know we’ll have the evidence as soon as we get the coverage from the cameras?” John says and I look at him.
I am both relieved and terrified at the realization that there will be CCTV footage from both trains. At least, I will get answers and this nightmare in my head will be over. But what if I really did kill that woman? I can’t let myself consider that possibility, so I look back at DCI Burns. Please… my eyes plead.
          “This is Caledonian Road….” She begins in a not so good Julie Berry imitation.
          “This is ridiculous!” John says, throwing up his hands.
DCI Burns clears her throat and starts again.
          “This is Caledonian Road. Please mind the gap…”

          
          
                                                                      *

01:12 hours
…between the train and the platform. This is a Piccadilly Line train to Cockfosters.
Adewale got on the train with just the blonde woman. The kid’s mom had come to pick him up from the station and Scooter man had called a cab. He said he’d had enough shaking up for one night. Adewale had just one more stop on the train, so he didn’t mind getting back on. Besides, he’d seen a whole lot in his eight years of living in London, so he really didn’t think there was much else that could faze him. The blonde looked like she had calmed down a bit and he was relieved. He hated to think that he’d spooked her out the way he’d tackled the drunk guy.
A feeling of Déjà-vu washed over him when he noticed the spilled fries on the floor.
Can this night end already!
He closed his eyes and let out a breath. It had been a long day at the University and he couldn’t wait to get home and zone out. His Graduate Research Team had had some huge breakthroughs with their work on Goldfish and they were gearing up to present their Paper to the Faculty.
          “You killed him.”
His eyes snapped open and he gasped when he saw she was standing over him. He wondered how he had not heard her approaching.
Crap, maybe she isn’t so calm after all.
          “No, he’s not dead.” he said gently, sitting up straight.
He imagined Chen, his Chinese housemate who’d taught him the move, having a good laugh when he recounted the events of the evening to him. Chen was the kind of guy who would find something like that funny.
          “I simply knocked him out. I’m sure he’s at some Pub getting even more wasted right now.”
          “I knew this would happen, I just knew it!” she muttered, swaying on her feet.
          “Are you alright?” he asked.
          “I knew it! I should have taken the dog out, but I never listen. This is all my fault! I’m such an idiot…”
          “Hey, do you want to…” he reached out a hand towards her.
She slapped the hand away and started to cry, still muttering incoherently.
Oh God, please help me!
          “You leave me no choice.” She said, swiping at her running nose.
          “What?”
          “I don’t have a choice, I have to do it now.” She said.
          “Do what!”
          “I have to…”

          
          
                                                                      *

02:54 hours
          “Damn it!” I mutter in frustration.

Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Why can’t this bloody nightmare just end already!

          “Have to what?” DCI Burns asks earnestly.
I can feel her frustrations too. So close, yet so far.
          “This is a waste of time.” John says. “I’m gonna go check on the status of the videos.” He says and leaves the room.
          “What else was on the train?” Sarah Burns asks.
          “There wasn’t anyone else, it was just the two of us…”
          “Anything you can remember, a poster, a soda bottle, anything!”
          “Err… there was a diet coke can wedged between two seats….” I clench my eyes shut and try to think. “Her sneakers squeaked….I…there was a Tesco AD on the wall and…”
          “Tell me about the research.”
          “Huh?
I open my eyes and stare at her.
          “The research you’re doing with the fish, tell me about it.”
What on earth is she on about? What has that got to do with anything?
          “What exactly were you working on?”
          “The memory span of Goldfish.” I say and she prompts me on with a nod. “We performed a series of experiments where we exposed Goldfish to different stimuli over a period of time and then we took away the stimuli. We separated the fish into different batches and then re-introduced them to the stimuli at different times, some after just a few days and others up to six months.”
I look at her, wondering if I’m making any sense. She nods again and I continue.
          “We discovered that fish that had been trained to respond to certain sounds while in captivity were still able to respond to those sounds up to about five months after being released into the wild. Further study also showed that they can distinguish shapes and colour as well.”
          “So, basically, you debunked the three-second Goldfish memory myth?”
          “Yes, but not just that. We proved that fish are more intelligent than they’re given credit for. This could have huge implications for …”
          “The fish were able to respond to sounds, months after they’d been exposed to it?”
          “Yes…”
          “A particular sound that they associate with an activity?”
          “Yeah, usually feeding times, lights out…”
She leans in close.
          “That means if we can reproduce a sound associated with that exact moment when she died, you’ll be able to remember all of it, not just a few minutes’ worth.”
I go cold all over. Is she saying I have somehow become a metaphorical goldfish with a three-minute memory span? But that doesn’t even make sense!
          “What else was on that train!” she asks again, emphasizing each word with a light thump on the table with her fist.
Oh God, help me…
          “Err… there was… I… the train jolted and the soda can fell to the floor…”
She flies out of her seat and goes to the waste bin in the corner. She fishes out an empty Sprite can and tosses it to the floor…

          
          
                                                                      *

01:15 hours
The soda can hitting the floor startled him and he took his eyes off her for just a moment. That was when she whipped out the kitchen knife from her hand bag.
What the hell…
He dodged as she lunged at him with the knife.
          “What is wrong with you!” he shouted, terrified out of his mind.
She took another stab at him and he caught her wrist, wrestling with her for control of the knife. He marvelled at her strength, considering how slight and frail she looked.
          “You killed him!” she said through clenched teeth. “You killed him and I need to make it right.”
Up close, he noticed her wild and glassy eyes, and her dilated pupils. Her lips were pulled back into thin, white lines which contrasted the red sores around her mouth.
The train went around a bend and they both lost their balance and went sprawling to the floor. The blade hit a pole with a teeth chattering clang and flew out of her hand. They both sprang for the knife at the same time but the train’s momentum pushed it down the car, out of reach.
          “You killed him and it’s all my fault. I have to make it right!” she said, clawing at his face and digging bloody furrows in his cheeks.
          “Stop it!” He grabbed her shoulders and tried to shake some sense into her. The sleeve of her sweater rode up to the elbow to reveal needle track marks on the inside of her wrist.
Oh dear God! How much longer to the stupid station?
As soon as the train stopped, he thrust her away from him and lunged for the doors. She made a grab for his foot but he kicked her off and jumped off the train.
Her blood curling scream made him whip around and he looked on in horror as her whole face contorted into an unearthly mask of rage. She raised her hands and pulled at her hair, like she wanted to yank her head right off! Before he could even recover from the frightening sight, the bum, who’d appeared to have been asleep all the while, dug the knife into the side of her neck. The bum looked at a stunned Adewale and gave him a wide smile, displaying brown, toothless gums. Adewale didn’t think, he jumped back onto the train and caught her falling body. He tried to clamp his hands over the gash in her neck to stem the bleeding but the blade sliced through his palm instead. The pressure of his fingers caused her flesh to relax against the knife and it slid out, causing the bleeding to increase.
          “’Ave a nice night.” The bum said, forcing the closing doors open with his hands and getting off.
Adewale pushed his fist against her neck, an irrational part of him hoping to save her life. Even as blood spilled from the gash, she still continued to let out that nightmarish scream, blood frothing out of her mouth, as if possessed by some unworldly force. The sound filled the air and his ears and his head until it felt like it was ringing in every last cell in his body, spilling into every pore. Just when he thought it would burst his head right open, everything went black.

          
          
                                                                      *

03:00 hours
I try to clamp my hands over my ears to shut out the sound, but the cuffs won’t let me.
          “Are you alright!” DCI Burns asks, her voice alarmed.
I hear her voice as if from a great distance. My chest tightens and I start to gasp for breath. I feel the pressure building in my head and my chest as my mind is assaulted by a myriad of emotions and sounds and smells and feelings, each one piercing through me, each one threatening to tear my mind apart:

   the deafening chug-chug-chugging of the train on the tracks;
   the flowery scent of the old lady’s perfume;
   the wetness of Ginger’s saliva on my face;
   the police swarming down on me, pushing me down to the floor;
   the thumping of the crutches on the linoleum floor;
   the kid’s high pitched voice and his Irish accent;
   the bum sitting by the entrance of Leicester Square Station;
   the knee in my back as my hands are cuffed behind my back;
   Baldy’s tuneless rendition of ‘God Save The Queen’;
   the blinding flash of the camera as picture after picture was taken;
   the flecks of green in the blonde’s blue eyes; the ride to the police station, sirens blaring;
   my clothes being bagged;
   the horrified look on the train driver’s face when he found us;
   the tweezers picking hairs from the scratches on my face;
   DCI Burns asking me if I want my lawyer present;
   the bum slipping off the train after the drunks;
   the over-powering smell of blood and how I can still feel its coppery taste in my mouth;
   the bum asleep at the other end of the train car when the woman and I got on;
   that last violent shudder as the blonde woman breathed her last;
   the deafening silence as her scream is cut off abruptly, like someone flicked a switch.

The chaos in my head dies out finally, its red-hot intensity fading out slowly until all that is left is the faint coppery-gold of a lone goldfish in the dark.

I wrote this for the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I’m bummed I didn’t make the shortlist but well, I thought I’d share 😉

The Chickens in Ajah Have No Heads!

Yes they don’t. Or wings or legs for that matter. All they have is fùrò!

So, we just got a spanking new caterer at work (I’m one of those lucky people who get a meal at work ;D ) and everyone, including me has been very excited about her. She’s nice and sweet, and we get loads of variety on the menu instead of the standard different shades of rice.

First day of a spanking new lunch adventure, she arrives with our food and staring right at me from the top of my delicious-looking pack of fried rice is this chicken’s backside. The first thing that came to mind was Bart from the Simpson’s and I could almost hear the chicken saying “In your face, girl!” I chalked that first incidence up to coincidence and maybe a bit of bad luck. Next day, I waited in anticipation for my meal, my mouth watering almost to the point of drooling. What do you think was siting on top of my rice and curry sauce? (even in the curry sauce, that fùrò still sought me out). And the funny thing is, each time, the chicken is always strategically placed such that the bum is always in my face, like the headless chicken is sticking out its tongue at me! After about four consecutive days, I got the brilliant idea to stealthily switch my food pack with one of the boys’ thinking maybe the lady just didn’t like my face and always deliberately gave me the chicken’s yansh. Yeah, you guessed right. That was the one time she decided to give me something other than fùrò, and the pack I stole? That fùrò adìye sure as hell found me!

You know, growing up, they used to tell us that if we ate the chicken’s bum, we would end up doing òfófó. Now, don’t ask me what that really meant because I had no idea then, I most definitely don’t have any idea now. I just know that the way my mother used to say it ehn, it always sounded like the most awful thing in the world that could happen to you. Having a very active and somewhat crazy imagination (even as a kid) didn’t do me any favors in this case because my mind cooked up the most outrageous and outright hilarious things. So, whatever it is my mother set out to achieve with that story, she more than succeeded because it put the fear of fùrò in all of us and we stayed away from it like it was the plague itself.

After about two weeks now, I have given up and resorted to requesting for beef with my meals because, call me a slacker if you must, or even Lasthma like one of my friends does, but I just feel like it would be very impolite to ask her why the fùrò always found its way to my plate. I can just imagine how that conversation would go:

Me: Errr, can I have a word please?
Caterer: (smiling her sunny smile) Yes, sure!
Me: Err, well…why is…err…you…ahem…I…you know…emmm…
Caterer: Are you okay? You sound like you’re choking!
Me: Yes I am, on fùrò!

The other day, I over heard her saying that she lives in Ajah and does her shopping from some market in Ajah and now I can’t get the picture of headless, armless chickens fluttering about in Ajah out of my head. Someone please remind me NEVER to move to Ajah!

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.