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.

Sisí Èkó: Fight Friday

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

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

Eseroghene

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

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

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

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

No one likes the messy stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one wants to see brokenness.

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

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

                                                            ~

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

Damon Salvatore

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

                                                                                *

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

                                                                                *

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

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

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