123. Water

Water is not always a sign of life.
When the back of your boat disappears between the jaws of the sea and you have to cling to the other end with your life, it’s not life. It is cold, saline death, filling its belly, life after life.
You hear your heart beat with clarity even with all the screaming around you.
You cling tight as the water takes in the boat, till it swallows you. Whole.
You feel the cold salty sea burn your nose, your eyes, your lungs. It is the desert all over again, crossing with holes in your shoes, in August last year.
A knot in your chest is getting tighter, taking all the air, and with every muscle in your body, you push upwards, again, and again, till you hit the surface.
Air, precious air, with fear hanging low like a fog.
You feel something hit your back gently, it’s a baby drifting free, a dead one. You find something floating nearby. It looks like a large log, but what matters now is it keeps you afloat. It doesn’t save you from what is biting you now though — the cold.
You feel all the warmth in your body struggling to keep it out like you struggled to make a living back in your country. You fear you might lose this war too.
Minutes feel like lifetimes, and each passing moment is your journey from motherland across the Sahara all over again.
You start to lose to the cold, limb by limb.

By the time someone screams “the boats are coming”, you don’t hear, because you’ve become your dreams — dead and drifting hopelessly.

It’s because your mouth filled up with water again, like Africa, but motherland is filled with the wrong things, and it swallows people whole.

122. Rain

​Mama can smell rain even before the clouds begin to gather.

She starts singing that song she always sings, and makes her way to the door.

I used to try to stop her, but I don’t anymore. 

She tightens her wrapper firmly against her chest and stretches her arms feeling for the door.

I try to guide her, but she brushes me off. Always. 

She does not stop singing. 

She reaches the door and opens it. Light floods her little room; the one I shared with her, as I bathed her, and cleaned her, and fed her. I did everything for her, except this one ritual of her singing, and getting up, and adjusting her wrapper, and heading for the door. 

As she reaches the centre of her compound. The rain starts to pour, like it has poured every time she stood there for the past three years. Every time it pours, she stops singing, and she stands still. 

Watching her old and frail body stand firm in the biting of the million drops of cold rain is always a wonder. I fear for her, but what good is fear for one who does not fear for herself? 

The rain stops and she starts to shiver. I go and cover her in a blanket as I lead her back into her room. 

“Did you hear him,” she asks, “did you hear the things he said?”

She’s the only one who ever hears him. I wish I could hear him too.

That day, when he bled out in the rain, in her arms, and my seven-year-old self stood beside her, she sang to him that song she always sings. I was there, just like she was but why does he speak to her and not speak to me? 

121. Dinner

Dinner is almost served.

I don’t want to keep them all waiting, she says to herself. The chicken is burning perfect in the oven. The Jollof Rice is almost done. Even though she is the only one home, the aroma from the kitchen swirls through the rooms and brings life to the entire house.

All is well with the Universe.

It’s just past six pm. Thank God they’re running late, she says. Just enough time to get the table sorted out. She presses some fresh juice. Mostly Passion fruit, with an orange or two for some sour. She hums a ninety-ninety-something classic from King Sunny Ade while she’s at it.

It’s not until six-thirty that everything is set. She picks up her phone to call them one by one and ask where they are, then she drops it again. They promised to come, she says to herself.

“Mummy, don’t worry, all of us will come this Saturday,” her first son had said.

Maybe they are stuck in traffic, she says. She looks at the table, all spread out. Pours herself a glass of juice.

She really wants to wait, but her stomach is running out of patience, so she serves herself a small portion of rice, just a few tablespoons. In 10 minutes, she’s serving another small portion, and another, till she can barely get off her chair.

Her phone beeps, but she doesn’t check. She knows it’s a sorry-we-couldn’t-make it text. An I-promise-we’ll-come-next-week, with a really cute heart sign.

She is already clearing the table. The chicken goes into a plastic bowl, then into the freezer. The rice follows. She sees another bowl there, opens it. The Jollof Rice is one week spoilt, no thanks to the freezing and thawing from the power cuts.

Into the trash it goes.

120. Up All Night 

​The past eight days had been the best days of her life. 

Finally, someone appreciated her. Loved her. Respected her. Said all the right things. Did all the things that made her feel good. Even though she was only seventeen, she knew this was real. 

Everyday during school, she’d spend class periods looking forward to seeing him after school. 

And when night would come, she’d rush to bed so morning could come quicker. 

By the eighth day, her heart could wait no more. 

“Will you come and see me tonight?” she asked.

“I don’t understand,” he clearly looked confused, “how is that even possible?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll leave that backdoor open,” she added with all confidence. 

They went back and forth on the plan till they had a foolproof tactic. 

And so she went home and waited. Made dinner for the folks. Made sure daddy got extra. Just enough yellow eba to knock a grown man out. 

One by one, everyone went to bed Except her of course. 

At 12am, her heart couldn’t take it anymore. She sneaked into the kitchen, sat in the tiny corner beside the refrigerator, and waited. 

She didn’t have to wait for long. 

The door open gently. A leg came in first, then an arm, a left one. 

She jumped in quiet excitement. 

Then a head. Not her fair skinned lover’s head. 

No no. Its a masked head, with only the eyes and mouth visible. 

She froze.

That’s not all. Someone else came in. And someone else. And someone else. All six someone elses. All armed. 

She knew she was in for the longest night of her life. 

119. Blur

He went through life like a blur, seeing everything, but not really taking it all in. It was like living at 200 kilometres per hour. Moving fast, living it all behind as quickly as it comes. Not truly holding on to anything.

This is us, many of us. But as with most people, one day, he stopped. And slowly, slowly, the image became clearer.

“You’re here,” he said.

She just smiled.

And there she was, bringing everything into focus. And life started to move more slowly, not because it was boring, but because the beauty he found in her, he wanted to find in everything.

And once again, life came with all the purpose.

118. The Watch

The Salesgirl.

You can tell who can or can’t afford to buy whatever it is they keep staring at in the display. Even at the moment they enter the store.

This one, he’s clearly just here to stare. Look at his shoes. They look like everything he’s been through. Why do we have to do this courtesy thing? Why can’t I just kick him out? What’s that smell? Must be him.

He’s asking me now about the price. Ridiculous. His whole family probably can’t afford the watch if they put all their savings together.

Aha! It’s a good thing he knows I’m running out of patience with him. Yes son, leave. People like this are just a waste of my precious saliva. Having to put up a useless smile while trying to explain a watch he clearly won’t pay for. I wonder why my boss thinks we shouldn’t screen people before they enter.

Anyway, as long as he’s leaving. I want to tell him to go to Hell, but then again, customer care. Rubbish.

 

The Window Shopper.

Just look at this watch. Lord knows, this is worth four plots of land in my village. I doubt my entire family can contribute to buying this watch. Of all the things in the world to do with money right now, this watch? Hell no. Let me even get money to change my shoes first.

This salesgirl. I wonder how she feels. I know she can’t afford it too, but having to stand over it every day. Say the price over and over. Explain. Explain so much about something she can’t afford. Defend its quality. A tragedy, I must admit.

I better get back to miserable job before my situation gets even worse and I end up like her.

117. A Bedtime Story

She flung the book. Two nights in a row she flung the book when I tried to read her a story.

“They are boring,” she said.

“You want me to tell you a story you’ve never heard before?” I asked her.

“Yes!” her eyes lit up as she sat up in bed.

“No,” I said as I put her back in bed and threw her duvet over her.

“You need to close your eyes for this story,” I said, “and stay quiet”.

So I started:

“Your teacher taught you that light gives life. It gives life to the plants which in turn gives life to the animals we eat. They didn’t tell you darkness too, gives life. Everything you imagined, comes to life in the darkness.

When you stare in the dark for too long, you start to see them, standing in the corner. You see them from the side of your eyes, but when you look, they are already gone. They are much faster than the things light gives life. And stronger too. When they stand behind you and tickle you, you’d feel the hair at the back of your neck stand. Remember that time you woke up, and your storybook wasn’t where you kept it? It was them.

The end.”

 

“Will you open your eyes?” I asked her.

“No-o.” You could almost taste her fear. I could see her duvet trembling. She believed every word of it. That meant she’d stay in bed every night without me having to check up on her.

Good.

So I went to bed.

It’s been one hour and I just heard her scream. I run to check on her, but I freeze at the door, hand trembling.

What if I open the door, and the they of the darkness have taken her?

116. Memory Is a Disease

You made sure he took everything when he was leaving.

All his clothes. His books. That toaster he always obsessed about. His toothbrush. The flower vase that never had flowers in them.

You delete his number.

When he was done, and gone, you scrubbed the entire house with disinfectant. Everything he had touched made you sick.

By the time you were done, even the house felt lighter. You swore to start afresh. Leave the past behind you.

5 days after, you were picking a dress for a party. You chose that dress at the end of your wardrobe, and as you pulled it out, a white vest fell out. It’s a singlet. His singlet.

You wanted to pick it and trash it immediately, but you held back. You couldn’t touch it. You couldn’t touch anything of him. So you shut your wardrobe quickly, hoping it will be gone when you get back.

Silly.

By the time you got back, it was still there. You ignored it. You tried to pretend it didn’t exist, but it was all you could think about. 3 days. One week. Two. A miserable singlet is all that stood between you and moving on.

So you said fuck it.

You picked it, went past the trash in your kitchen to the main trash outside.

Done.

Now, as you walk in, and you try to brush your hair from your face, you catch his smell on your fingers. It’s stale. Perfume and sweat. 2 in the morning. Panting and moaning.

Everything comes rushing back.

Your eyes are bleeding saltwater.

You pick up your phone and try to call. You change your mind and text instead. There’s no need for a phonebook.

Heck, you know the number by heart. The text is sent in seconds.

“I miss you.”

115. This Is My Wife

​You know that moment when you see a complete stranger and just go, this is my wife?

This is his moment.

He’s never seen her before now, and as she walks toward the door he is standing beside, she looks so familiar, like he’s known her his entire life. 

She’s dark, and it’s hard to understand why her skin is so shiny. Almost surreal. 

Maybe it’s the sun, giving her melanin all that finesse.

She’s still about twenty steps away when her perfume hits him. Suddenly, he’s thinking about the great things they’d do together, the names they’d give their children. 

They make eye contact now, and he can see his future in her eyes, all figured out. In the black of her eyes, he sees the hard times that will come, but the wet of her eyes reflect hope.

They will survive. They will conquer. Together. 

He feels the sweetness at the back of his teeth. 

You know that feeling in your stomach when you set eyes on the one you love? Forget the fairytales, its only adrenaline. 

But today, he doesn’t care. My biochemistry degree be damned, he says to himself. 

Today, he shall call them butterflies as their wings flutter to the happy ending. 

She’s close enough for him to see her skin properly now. 

She doesn’t look like she’s ever tasted suffering, something he’s very familiar with. 

He wonders what she’ll have for dinner. 

“Silly,” he says to himself, “of course she came to buy dinner”. 

Everyday, the aroma hits him from the kitchen. He knows that’s how far it will go, because his pocket will never let it hit his belly. 

He laughs at himself. 

Idiot.

He adjusts his lousy beret.

“You’re welcome to our restaurant,” he says as he ushers her in. 

114. Pee Time

​It’s weird how I know everyone’s pee time. 

Tola wakes at ten minutes to three. Lulu gets up at three-thirty-one every night. I know because the blue tick on her Whatsapp says she read my message.

Abu lives a world away from Jenny, my Londoner friend, but they still wake up the same time to pee. Three-o-one. They have nothing in common, but they manage to wake up around the same time.

Every single day.

“Why are you still awake?” Dami asks as he has asked every night for as long as I can remember. 

“lol. you know na. I can’t sleep.” No one smiles when they say lol these days. 

“lol. You need bae in your life.”

It’s amazing how everyone thinks finding a lover is the solution to everything. You just find a person and all your problems disappear. Does it disappear or does it just go into hiding and then resurfaces six months later when you can no longer stand the person you once thought you loved?

“If I don’t reply, it means I’ve fallen asleep.” It’s routine. Everyone falls asleep on me.

“Don’t worry, my battery is almost dead so that would be two of us.”

He lols again. I dunno if it’s because he has nothing to say or he knows I have a full battery and I’m only lying.

“Goodnight.” Morning is almost here but I say it anyway. 

Day slips into night, every day, and I’ve slipped from wakefulness to sleep, till I can’t even tell the difference.

I start to think about Tola, Lulu, Abu, Dami, and everyone else. I wonder what their plans for the day are, because if you have nothing of your own life to fill your mind with, why not fill it with everyone else’s?