ODE TO OUR BODY ON FIRE
by Anthony Okpunor
Ode to Our Body on Fire – Winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Poetry Category)
by Anthony Okpunor
by Chizoma Emeka Joshua
You are sure if you entered a bus from your house at Ajah and stopped at the general hospital at Obalenede, if you let the doctors there run their tests and flip through their big books, they’d find a suitable title for what ails you. But you would not. Because you have learnt that when a man gives a disease a name, he breathes life into it and lends it the ability to become a thing that could be like him. Or become him. You are afraid that in your case, this now named thing would cling to you, move into your flat, try on your new shoes, and begin to go with you to the bank where you work as a cashier. It would become as conspicuous as the yellow dress you wear to work on Fridays and everybody would notice and point and laugh.
At one point you had taken the symptoms to Google. Google was better than doctors. Less intrusive. It did not ask if your family had a history of mental illness or whether you had been under a lot of stress lately (Both useless questions because doctors were always embarrassed to ask the former, and the latter was just plain silly, I mean, what banker is not under a lot of stress daily?)
But Google provided no solution. Perhaps the problem had been with how you typed the question. In the search area you had written:
1: is sadness a person?
2: what condition is it that makes one feel like oceans are threatening to spill through her mouth whenever she is alone?
For a long time after Google had spewed articles about ocean animals that left you the more
With time, you teach yourself to manage the storm. At nights when you feel most
Other times what you mutter is the twenty-third
But there are nights this storm would refuse to be caged. It will hit against your barriers with such intensity that your affirmations would be ill-prepared to stop it. Nights when you lie awake in the spare bedroom because you got into one of your frequent fights with your neighbor who had then hurled her insult of choice: barren woman, and you needed a safe place to hide from your shame. Or the nights when your husband had used his fist to communicate his rage at your childlessness or any other of
You are lying on a hospital bed. You are tired. There is a hand in yours. Smooth, little hands. Baby hands. They are the reason that even though you feel sharp pains in between your legs from where you had just pushed out another human, you are content, proud of yourself. On your lips is the taste of joy, and it takes like nothing you’ve ever had before. It is foreign in the way a lot of things are foreign to you. You would nibble at it. Careful not to gobble it up, so there’d be some for next time.
It is this joy that you visit. The feeling you felt in that moment. It is a safe harbor where physical pains cannot break through. Where raging storms cannot reach across to place their hands on your heart. Where you feel most worthy of things you do not deserve. In that house called joy, you are everything, and everything is you.
Those nights, you are also careful not to go beyond this point. Because past it, there is another picture of you. In that one, you are two years away from sixteen. Your parents are standing behind you, a scowl on their faces. The camera clicks shut as you are handing your baby to a man who in return hands you an envelope within which you would find, over the course of 8 years, a university degree, a job at a bank and a flat where you lie on cold nights with an aching heart and a resentful husband to keep you company.
by Chukwuebuka Ibeh Leonard
She would wait for him to come home from football practice, to have a quick bath and come downstairs for dinner together, to lead her to the bedroom and make love to her swiftly and ferociously before she tells him she’s leaving. She plans to make it undetailed, a simple, self-explanatory sentence. I’m leaving, Nedu. She pictures his expression; impassive, as though uncomprehending. He would tilt his head sideways to get a good view of her face and then pull the covers up as though she had not spoken. And she would smile and say nothing.
But when he comes home, smiling and smelling faintly of alcohol, she finds her voice is gone. The routine follows it’s course, except in place of a break-up, she tells him her name; Kamnelechukwu. He tilts his head to watch her face, his eyes a question, and she knows she is supposed to smile and brush it aside, but instead she sits up and repeats her name. It’s Kamnelechukwu, she says, not Ngozi, not Bisi, not Maria. She would appreciate it if
He is different, her man. She had known that the first time she saw him, at the club in GRA where they both sat facing each other at a corner of the dimly-lit bar. She watched the strippers twirling on the pole with startling expertise, declining offers from eager, bright-eyed men, offering her to buy her a drink. She had been in the process of turning down one of such offers -the insufferable man would not take a direct no for an answer- when she looked up, bored, and saw him for the first time. His features were striking; chocolate skin and oval face with lips curved slightly to the side in what could have been a smile, but it was his eyes that particularly got her attention, something about the directness of his stare that was disconcerting, and made her -strangely- shy. He did not look away when she met his gaze squarely and arched her brows for an explanation of sorts. She smiled at him already think of the best polite way to shut the man in front of her. It had to be the alcohol getting to her. The bar was getting too hot and her vision slightly blurred, and on cue, she stepped out for a smoke knowing he would follow her, and he did. They stood side by side on the veranda, quietly overlooking the still, serene pool in front of them. He reached out to touch her face, running his fingers over her lower lips and it did not occur to her to stop him. She did not stop him too when he took the cigarette from her fingers and held it in between his. She expected him to take a long drag from it and probably puff the smoke on her face, but he held it mid-air for seconds before he tossed it into the pool. She would later come to learn that he was allergic to cigarette smoke, but that night she thought him, of all things, brave, and a little rude. It did not stop her from typing her number into his phone, did not stop her from letting him drive her home and kissing him in the car in front
The first time he called her by another name, she was not sure what she felt. It had been six months since they started dating, a few weeks since she moved into his apartment, and she had never had cause to question his fidelity, and yet he had called her by another name. She waited for him to realize his grave error and be horrified, to stutter in his attempts at justification and end up confessing and apologizing. But he sat there smiling at her, totally at ease with himself, and it took her a moment to realize it was not a mistake. He genuinely thought she was someone else. And so when he called her by a different name the next time, she knew it wasn’t just his tongue slipping, and to her surprise, she replied.
It was the same way she would come to accept him, his flaws and his idiosyncrasies; same way she would listen to him go on and on about things they had done in the last six years ago even though they had barely been together for two years. It was the same way she indulged him when he talked about using cuffs and whips during sex even though she longed to tell him that the mere idea of using those eliminated the intent of the act in itself, which was
Her friends think he is erratic, unstable, psychotic? But she knows he’s fine. He just needs someone who gets him. When they see a man who’s bipolar at best and outright crazy at worse, she sees a man who’s broken and easily misunderstood in a world that thrives on convention; a man who’s stuck between two selves, a man who needs saving.
by Sobur Olalekan
Sometimes she was a child of six or seven, fashionably dressed in a pink gown that stopped at her knees and gave way to a pair of black leggings. For her wrists, there were always a plastic bracelet and a pink watch. In the last image of her that’s left in my memory of her childhood, of our childhood together, she wore that same gown, she wore the watch and the bracelet. I remember. It was at an international airport and only a pair of toy glasses that made me laugh so hard at her were missing in the dreams. Sometimes she appeared as an adult, as the beautiful adult I had only seen on Facebook. And because she always stood in total silence, her sad brown eyes staring at me with an unblinking stare while her eyebrows slowly reddened until the they became like a lump of solid blood, both of her appearances were equally scary.
Both of her appearances – as a child and as a beautiful grown lady – made me break out in sweat and on waking up, drained of all energy. Both of them made my fingers tremble so fast I had to muster all the energy left in me, ball them into a fist, sob uncontrollably into the pillow, and wait for my late father’s voice saying “The greatest sin in this world is the theft of all things that cannot be returned. A man’s life, his honor. Anything that cannot be returned.”
I stole things that cannot be returned. Her name was Aneesah. I was nine, she was four. Then, ten and she was five. Then I was eleven and she was standing with me, her mum and my parents at the departure
The therapist watched me as I sobbed into my hands and choked on my words. She waited patiently through the silences that came between my words, silences cold and hollow, dense with a special kind of guilt, of shame. Silence, icy cold and heavy against my chest, in my lungs, on my tongue. Silence like a cloud filled with rain that never fell. Sometimes, the psychiatrist asked a question or two, carefully, and I had to ask myself in my own words, to feel the trembling of my voice as I scavenged tiny moments from my memories to find answers.
I saw Aneesah for three days after I saw the therapist. And in those three days, after I had woken up and finished sobbing silently into the pillow, I remembered the therapist’s words and planned my escape. I would write a book. I didn’t know about what, or how I would, but it would be for children. For children who would not have known what abuse was until they had their
On the eighth day, I held my daughter and brought her to my chest, sobbed silently into her shawl and gave her my cousin’s name. I called her Aneesah, and repeated my final words to the psychiatrist: I do not want to forget.
by Angel Nwobodo
Your mother shows you pictures of her – the honey-gold beauty that is her skin, the thick docility tucked in her small body and your Father’s gaze lost in the fiery brown pits that are her eyes. You trace the line where their hands fold into each other, their bodies enclosed in a familiarity that confuses you, bewilders you. Your Father whispers something in her ear and she lets out a shy, mechanic laughter, something that rings in your ears later because you keep comparing it with the unrestrained summer that is your mother’s. Your mother sticks a knife where her mouth opens and you know she is carving a home for silence.
You see the next picture as you head to her shop at the mall, the one Father pays for each month with a cheque addressed to the manager, the one she pays for with his cooked meals and his starched suits and her wild-summer laughter behind closed doors. You see them with little moving pictures of themselves, three little boys with her honey-gold skin and her fiery brown eyes and your mother
This is the new woman in our lives, Ada. This is the solid proof of my shame.
Her voice is a deep shade of sorrow and you realize she has lost this war even before it started.
You will learn that girls with no homes tucked beneath their skin are like birds who never
You will learn that the truth changes nothing- each day your mother will appear with his cooked meals and his starched suits and a smile on her face like old paint peeling from walls because any fire can be quenched by the silence of a man’s face.
You will learn that you can surrender your consciousness for the taste of a man’s mouth, for the feeling that loving gives
You will realize that girls like you were not made to find love, that they are like ghosts, looking for love and for names and for histories in strange faces just to come to life. That your mother was one of these girls. That like you, she has no claim over your Father. That like you, she was only meant to fit her body in small spaces of light to get rid of her own darkness.
You will realize then, with grief so palpable your chest splits in two, you are the echo of your mother’s shame.
by Abu Bakr Sadiq
She forgets she’s from a land of ashes
Where women are unfinished novellas
Written without titles
By sages who only spoke in silence
Some days, she unfolds into a song
Bottled deep in her throat
On the circled edges of my heart
Until her voice is the only tune in my ribcage
She forgets the names tied to her neck
Answers to every noun too strong for vessels like her
Weak; she forgets her shadows in the kitchen
Allows her body to freely entwine
With the frozen smokes treading the skies
Some days, I want to envy her
But envy is not a song for men like me
The boys who taught me how to be a man
Said men are rap songs
With sounds of gunshots of their hooks
And lyrics jiggered by the rhythm of their messages
Who forget everything their bodies
Were never meant to be, and go chasing after
Women who’ve forgotten they are women
Some days, she cries her body to sleep
And calls it an act of bravery at dawn
Says that’s how women become men
Without asking who took the who
Out of the
Was ought to be defined by
A lot times, that’s how she forgets she’s a woman