THIS TOO SHALL PASS by Jesutomisin Ipinmoye

THIS TOO SHALL PASS by Jesutomisin Ipinmoye

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

by Jesutomisin Ipinmoye

This Too Shall Pass – Second Runner-up of the 2020 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

To Peter.

 

Your mother, a woman of greying skin and brittle bones told me that was your first name today. We were eating rice for the first time since your burial, watching as the sun fell into the horizon, and she turned and she said it. That name, a name that carried the mark of a saint, fell off her tongue and lay listless in the soft earth. She asked me if I knew. I told her I did not. That I called you Sir, Oga, Uncle. That I called you other things like Animal, Dog, and Beast. Any word that would strip away the humanity you loved to sheath yourself in, the humanity that you draped over your sins, claiming them to be errors that everyone made. I wanted to tell her that we did not have that sort of relationship between employer and employee, which would allow me knowledge of your name. Or even knowledge of you as a person. 

Not even on the nights that you’d slip into my room and demand perverse things that your wife sleeping upstairs would not do for you. I wanted to tell her these things, but I could not. 

So I let her eat in peace. 

To Peter

Your mother is virtue. 

This is something I have struggled to understand in my months living with her. She is a woman with many hearts, a woman of much love. I have been unable to explain your specific brand of horror, your callousness, and evil, by looking at your mother. In the months after you died, where I searched for someone to blame, I looked for ways to blame her. I looked for signs that perhaps she watered a particular demon in you, gave it the earth, and the fertilizer it needed to grow. But I found none. 

Your mother is virtue. 

It only makes me curse you more.

 

To Peter

I started living with your mother because, after the funeral, your wife and daughter moved far away. Your mother says they’re coming back, but I know better. I know how people run. I remember how your wife held your little daughter’s shoulders tightly, as sand was slowly heaped unto your casket. I remember how she cornered me later that night and asked me questions. Do I still want to go back to school? Do I know how to find my family? Her eyes lingered in spaces above my head, as though making eye contact would legitimize me as another person she had to worry about. I told her what she wanted to hear. I was fine. I would stay with your mother until I know how to fend for myself. I remember the mist in her eyes. She was just about to leave when she turned back and whispered, I’m sorry.

To Peter

 

I don’t remember how to get back home. Sometimes, I sit under the guava tree in your mother’s yard, and I try to draw maps in the earth that lead to home. Perhaps it is the fact that I’ve never owned anything, so where do I start understanding what it means to own a place. Or maybe it’s the fact that I was five when a tall man with a shadowed face took me away from where I might have called home and into another world. 

I do know that I’m not from here. 

I remember there was a language in my mouth that my tongue spent years breaking into pieces, just so I could understand when your wife told me to wash plates, sweep the yard, and clean the car. I have come to learn that I existed in your lives, as a result of compromise. Your wife wanted help in the house but didn’t want another woman in the house with her. It fascinates me that she was so aware of the type of person she married, that she went out of her way to choose a little foreign boy, hoping it would dissuade you. Sometimes, I think she knows it didn’t. But of course, we don’t speak of such things.

We don’t speak of the violence. The cracking of leather belt on supple skin. We don’t speak of the loneliness. The countless hours I spent staring into space. We don’t speak of the abuse. The insults. The fact that all I owned, all that felt familiar enough to call mine, was the pain.

Now that you’re dead, I don’t remember how to get home Peter. 

And now, as the pain slowly calcifies int

To Peter

Your mother’s favorite thing to say when confronted with suffering is this too shall pass. She said it again just this morning when we woke up to find the poultry farm raided and the chickens missing. 

She said it when, as we cleaned the living room, I finally told her about everything. She was silent for very long, her eyes watering her cheeks. I expected her to say it, to try to swallow up the confusion with a promise of things to get better. 

But she said nothing. And I said nothing. And we both cleaned the room, sweeping away the silence. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels

A FEELING WITH NO NAME by Chiamaka Ejiofor

A FEELING WITH NO NAME by Chiamaka Ejiofor

A FEELING OF NO NAME

by Chiamaka Ejiofor

A Feeling of No Name – First Runner-up of the 2020 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

Maura sat in the therapist’s office that smelt of exhaust fumes and feminine cologne, and had the paint peeling off the walls like scabs falling off a dried-up wound. It made Maura think of healing. She looked out through the window, at the tarred road. The sun was high in the horizon, pouring down rays like streaks of pale fire, creating huge mirage pools on the tarred road. Pools of blood. Maura was sure. Her baby’s blood. 

“What a comfortable chair, isn’t it? To share uncomfortable problems” the therapist said, tittering, as though she was approaching a lunatic whose madness she knew was growing malignant. 

Maura smiled at the therapist who seemed to be hiding behind her large spectacles. Maura started to say something, but the sharp pain in her abdomen, just where her Caesarean section scar was, pressed her lips shut. She closed her eyes. She felt her head swoon. It was engulfing her, she knew, that feeling with no name, that feeling that catches her unaware, takes her in its palms and dips her into a pool of numbness. Like sleep paralysis. 

But this swoon, this feeling that makes her hands tremble, and her teeth clatter, until she bites her tongue, tasting blood; it did not start here. No. Not in the therapist office. Not on that tarred road with mirage pools of blood either. 

***

It started the day Maura turned eighteen. Maura, hot-blooded and a believer in anything with a romantic overtone. Marcel had told her on the eve of her birthday that Eighteen meant ripping oneself off the cloaks of childhood and painting adulthood on the canvass of one’s dream.

She lay on his bed, snuggled in his arms after they had eaten suya with cold Fanta at a local bar to celebrate her birthday. Her eyes following the haphazard dance of dust from where a thin beam sneaked in through the keyhole, as she listened to him saying how much he loved her, his eyes watery, and Maura thought of love as some kind of liquid emotions one could bottle up and place on shelves. As though Marcel saying “I will give you all my love” meant he had a shelf of these bottles and would anoint her with them, one after the other, until she felt a slippery ache in her groin. So when she felt that swoon, that numbness, creeping over her as he ripped her clothes off her lean body, she did not think of giving that feeling a name. 

She did not think of giving it a name also, a few weeks later when she realized that the smears of liquid love Marcel had anointed her with had coagulated into a budding being inside of her. 

She called his phone, her throat aching, a swirling sensation in her head, as though a turbine of regret was turning through her, to tell him that the pregnancy test strip had displayed the dreaded double line. But he called her stupid, his voice blending into the ache in her throat and the swirl in her head, that was when she felt that swoon engulf her again, with each of his words— Didn’t she take the morning-after pill? Didn’t she know he was a student and not ready to be a father? How was he even sure he was the one? Isn’t she a naive, cheap thing that never keeps her thigh shut, anyway?

That day, Maura realised that this liquid emotion called love that seeped from one lover’s genitals to the other, to soothe an aching groin, could also scald. Like water when it got heated up. 

And like water, love could also drown, when it flowed in torrents from the most ingenuine lips. Maura became sure of this when some days later, Marcel appeared outside her hostel gate and shoved a pill wrapped in too bright aluminum foil into her hands. It would be the last time she would ever see him.

At first, Maura was wary of taking the abortion pill. But she thought of the stigma of an unwanted, and worst of all, teenage pregnancy. Of her widowed mother breaking down in tears, lamenting how she had failed her, how she had come to the University to chase after things in trousers rather than chase after her studies. So she took it, praying the custodians of sins would forgive her.

Perhaps she was forgiven because after a week of cramping pain in her womb, the baby still nestled inside her. So Maura started to think of motherhood, to google topics that felt surreal to her. Pregnancy care. Labour. Breastfeeding. And later, she bought a book on single parenting.

The day her mother called, whining over the cracking telephone line, to disown her for bringing such shame, was the day Maura walked into a nearby hospital to register for antenatal care ignoring the sneer of the nurses who muttered malicious words about little girls who won’t keep their bodies holy. 

Maura planned her motherhood. She bought mosquito netting and shawl for the baby. She cut her old clothes and turned them into baby clothes.

After she put to bed, she would wake up early to feed and bathe her baby, before going to lectures with the baby strapped on her back. She would start a petty trade after classes and save enough to enroll him in a kindergarten when he turned two. 

But there were things Maura did not plan.

Things like giving birth through a Caesarean section, which was like wearing a permanent emblem of motherhood, tattooing her sacrifices for this baby on her skin.

Things like her mother forgiving her, the dimples on her mother’s cheeks sinking deep as she embraced the baby, saying “he is my husband come back. Eziokwum. He is your father come back, Maura”.

Things Like her baby dying, a few days after he turned one,after she had celebrated a little birthday party with the neighborhood children from the proceeds of her petty trade.

It happened on the day her baby, Obinneya, called her mamma.

That morning, after she had bathe him, and was kissing his wet, warm belly, making slurpy sounds with her lips that made him giggle, he called softly ‘mamma’.

So when later that afternoon she went to the market to get some goods for her petty trade, she got him a toy car, a gift for calling her the most fulfilling word, mamma. 

On her way back, the traffic was horrible. Cars blasting horns and drivers shouting impatiently at one another. Obinneya was whining. He was hungry. So she decided not to board a bus, and flagged down an okada that would take the one-way, to evade the traffic.

She did not see the trailer. She was sure the Okada man too did not, else he would have diverted into the pedestrian lane. It happened too quickly, that collision. All she heard was the screech of tyres and hoarse screams she later knew to be hers, and the feeling of being thrust in the air,then felt her back hit the tarred road with a thud. She did not notice the stickiness of blood on her forehead until she heard Obinneya’s voice, muffled, muttering from somewhere inside her, mamma, mamma. 

When she lifted herself up to look around for her baby, what she saw— a bloodied pulp distorted under the front tyre of the trailer— was not her baby. Her baby could not be that crushed figure with head split open under the tyre, and thick, cream-colored splatter of the brain splayed on the tarred road; and red, red fluid gathering into a pool and rolling lazily into the nearby gutter. That was not her Obinneya.

She pinched herself hoping to wake up. Yesterday, she had seen a spider crawling in her room, and had not killed it. Spider was an augury of bad dreams. This was a bad dream. But when she looked up at the sky and the blinding rays of the sun hit her, she knew it was not a dream. She had never seen the sky in her dreams. 

***

“Panic attack,” the therapist said as Maura opened her eyes. 

“What?”

“You’re having panic attack. What is your trauma?”

What I feel has no name. Maura wanted to say. But instead, she stood up and walked out of the therapist’s office.

Inside her, she could hear Obinneya calling, mamma. She started to walk, briskly, as if chasing the mirage pools that kept on moving further as she approached them. She kept on walking till the sun retired, stealing away the pools and replacing them with silhouettes of what Maura thought to be a toddler. She continued to walk into the darkness, ignoring the ache in her joints, chasing the silhouettes as she had chased the mirage pools.

Maybe it was a compass to direct her to wherever her child was. 

Maybe she would find Obinneya.

Photo Credit: Photo by João Paulo de Souza Oliveira from Pexels

SING ABOUT ME I’M DYING OF THIRST by Daniel Ogba

SING ABOUT ME I’M DYING OF THIRST by Daniel Ogba

young black man behind tree branches

SING ABOUT ME I’M DYING OF THIRST

by Daniel Ogba

Sing About Me I’m Dying of Thirst – Winner of the 2020 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

Everybody for Odogwu lodge hear am that night…

*

Eduboy first came to my room one sunny Sunday afternoon, a wry smile tugging the corners of his lips. Him dey prepare correct jollof for him babe, come discover say him Maggi don finish. Abeg, if I didn’t mind, I fit run am one Knorr cube?

He scratched his head, one foot inside my room, the rest of his body outside. He wore black-and-white checkered banana republic boxer, nothing to cover his muscled chest and abs. His upper body glistened with sweat. Omo, I was tripping, no lies. Normally, I’d have stood up from the bed, walked into the small kitchen, grabbed one cube, and passed it to him. But, e be like say something possessed me; a whole Eduboy was at my door, asking for what? Ordinary Maggi? Of course, I didn’t mind. I told him to enter inside the kitchen and take it himself, top counter by the right. He smelt of smoke and spices, and it pleased me. He didn’t waste any time. Just walked in there and, before I knew it, out.

I’d never imagined Eduboy the kind to near a cooker, no. 1 fresh boy like him, so I jokingly said, “Lord knows how your food go taste.” It was the first I’d spoken to him officially, asides regular guy hwfar.

Eduboy chuckled, then, before he left, replied, “you go confirm na.”

I did confirm, at quarter past 5p.m., when someone rapped twice on my door, Eduboy. He came bearing a full-lipped smile, with a covered plate of jollof.

 

“Dude, thanks for saving my ass,” he said. “I owe you one.”

*

Everyone in the Art faculty knew him. The Eduboy, everyone called him, including lecturers. Especially lecturers.

The first time I saw him inside school was after GS class. One of his goons was celebrating. They all rounded the guy, stoned him sachet water. But something stood out. There was this particular guy in the circle who, out of nowhere, popped a bottle of Andre and wasted it on the celebrant’s head. The crowd crazed instantly. We were just walking outside the building, me and my guy, when he popped the second bottle. I tapped Alain and asked who the show-off-dude was.

“You no know am? Him dey our department na,” Alain said. “Eduboy na a veeery big guy.” With an emphasis on very.

I’d never seen him, not once, in any class gathering. It was during second year. I would see him a couple more times in lectures hanging from a window or sitting on the boulevard outside. And then he’d disappear. Within that time, I watched him with the interest of a scientist observing a species – the way he bounced, his feet lifting off the earth with each step, the way his trousers slouched a little below waistline, exposing sparkling white underwear. Where he regularly lunched (mostly 11:45 restaurant ), the boys he hung out with (people I’d not occasionally find myself in their company; dudes with serious levels), and babes that gyrated to his honeyed smoke aura.

Eduboy never wore a shirt twice to school, I confirmed. He didn’t even overdress, just moderate senior man attires. But his drip was on a steady. From Calvin Klein to Versace to Burberry to YSL, all his shirts repped this or that brand. He changed clothes like nylon. It was his kicks for me, though. There was one time in 300 level he wore this molo-molo black Air Max 720 to class, for mid-semester.

He arrived late for the quiz. The lecturer, a moronic man, ordered him to the podium, wanting to disgrace his ancestors. He had his hair tinted brown, so it gave the man ranting material. Lecturer called him nincompoop, imagine. Eduboy’s eyes darted like a hawk’s, I know he must have felt like slapping that man. I did, too. But I was focused on his kicks. When the lecturer shaa dismissed him, Eduboy walked straight to his seat, picked up his bag, and bounced. He didn’t return for that class. He didn’t write that course. Energy!

Later I’d googled Air Max 720 price; I was shook, to God. The amount tensioned me. Somebody wore forty-f**king-five thousand naira just on his legs, me what did I wear? Kito sandals. Even the Season 7 I owned was secondhand pass-down.

 

What did Eduboy do that I couldn’t? G+? Prostitution? Were his parents ritualist billionaires? Lord knows. Me, I just knew I wanted to be his paddy.

young black man behind tree branches

*

I didn’t know Eduboy was from Aba, till someone casually mentioned it during football training. It was my team against his, they were whooping our behinds like mad. There was this courting he gave me, and I just tumbled like a brakeless Volvo.

Someone said, “Onye egwu, nwayo, na your brother be that.” He looked back and smiled. After training, he walked to me, asked if I was really from Aba. I said yes. And Eduboy threw his hands up, pulled me into his chest, his Arsenal jersey drenched with sweat. He embraced me tightly, and called me nwanne.

Eduboy would call me his nwanne that day and other days, and a refreshing calm would set over me. Perhaps it was the lightness with which he said the word. Nwanne. A renewed assurance that I was his own blood, his person. That he wouldn’t do me anyhow. I believed him.

We got really close and shit. He’d crash in my bed, I in his. A bit out of context but, I discovered Eduboy couldn’t sleep without his lights on.

*

In his room one night, he dragged kush while I played PES. A Kendrick Lamar song vibrated the walls, his favourite jam. He passed the joint to me, eyes a wild red. I said, thanks but no thanks. He did not pressure.

Eduboy started rapping along with the music. He leaned in to me, his face covered in smoke clouds and half neon-blue light. He put a hand on my face, and recited along with a woman’s voice on the track, dragging the words out of his throat;

“Young man come talk to me… /Why are you so angry?/ See, you young man are dying of thirst/ Do you know what that means? That means you need water/ Holy water.”

I got the chills. He was obviously high, but with his hand pressing my face, I wanted more. Next thing, he was passed out on the bed.

That night in my room, I went online, downloaded the song, and played it till morning.

*

Forget all that fancy hard man stunts, na smokescreen. Truth be say, Eduboy was lonely and scared sh*tless. But this our world no get use for soft men, so he had to man up, had to don the mask and be ‘fine.’ That’s how the world expected you to be. Fine. He invented versions of himself for our sakes, and because he was in such a desperate race against time.

When I asked about family, Eduboy said he preferred to not talk about them. Later he told me. His mother finally died two months back. Not like she did live even. But before then, his father left them. Dude remarried to get his life going, he was a public figure.

He told me — and he did warn me not to tell anyone — what took his mother was coming for him next. And, although he didn’t know how long he had left to stay, he knew he wouldn’t ever face it like his mother had; wilting, powerless, annoying box-machines ever beeping, counting down till the very here moment. No. He had decided his fate in his head. It wasn’t a pleasant one, but there was no alternative. Eduboy cried like a child when he told me.

It was new, the Eduboy I experienced that day. I didn’t know how to relate, so I just held him and told him we’d get through together. Nwanne to nwanne.

*

You fit change a man’s heart. But his head? You can try, only there’s so little you can do. And Eduboy get coconut head. True true.

 

I was in my room when I heard it that night. A pop sound, like somebody dropped raw egg. I ran outside to the verandah, other tenants too. Someone pointed a flashlight from the fourth floor, where Eduboy’s room was, and we all saw it. Omo, I was too shocked, even though I knew somehow he’d do it. I didn’t know what or how to feel. I only felt my legs sinking deep into concrete. My heart slipped into my stomach.

The only thing I remember hearing, before the high-pitched ringing in my head, was a girl screaming from across, oh my God oh my God oh my God what the f*ck?

Photo Credit: Photo by Blac Bear from Pexels

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT by Gordon Aywa Anjili

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT by Gordon Aywa Anjili

Christmas present boxes

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT

by Gordon Aywa Anjili

The piercing ring of the alarm awoke him. He forced himself on his back, raised his torso and rested on his elbows. He glanced at the clock. It was still dark and he could not read the time. He switched on the bed light and looked at the clock again. It was 5.30. Obviously, the alarm had gone off a little bit too early. He sat up. His beautiful wife stared at him dreamily. 

“It’s too early to go jogging,” she said.

“I know, I think I set the alarm rather too early. But I have to go out and jog. I have not done so for more than a week and I can feel myself growing unfit,”

“I know better,” she said coquettishly. “You are fit and as your wife, I am better placed to know.”

He laughed, kissed her and, with youthful zeal, leapt out of bed. He shed off his pajamas and scrambled into his blue tracksuit. He searched about for his sneakers and found them under the bed. He wore them hurriedly and trotted out of the bedroom whistling a Christmas tune. Though a devout Muslim, he loved Christmas in a Dickensian way. He loved the food, the presents and the merriment that went with it. There were even times when he envied his Christian neighbours and wished he was a Christian only during December. He had gone to a catholic school where most teachers were devout Catholics and his strong conviction that theirs was a calling to ensure their youthful protégés were molded into strong Catholics. He had for years imbibed and ingested Catholic tenets. But he had remained a Muslim, for his parents were strict (almost radical) Muslims.

Christmas present boxes

He lived in a modest two-bedroom house with a modest living room, kitchen, bathroom and water closet. On his way to the living room, he decided to open the door to the bedroom. He switched on the light. On the bed lay his two boys-twins who Allah had blessed him with ten years ago. He saw their innocent faces, serene and blissful in sleep and felt his heart skip with joy. He smiled. That day, on the eve of Christmas, he would buy each of them a bicycle. He promised them. That would be a perfect Christmas gift.

He left the house and jogged into Bakari, a street that fringed the housing estate and joined the main road to the city centre. Usually, there would be many joggers, but since Isa had risen earlier, he found himself the lone jogger. He began to run fast, enjoying the cool morning air. He heard some footsteps behind and instinctively looked back. Another jogger had joined him. He slowed down to let him catch up. 

“Good morning,” called the jogger as he jogged in step with Isa.

“Good morning,” Isa replied, trying to accelerate.

“I like your tracksuit. Is it Adidas?” 

“Yes, it’s a blue Adidas.”

“It’s a very good design.”

“Yes, it is.”

“I think you’re exhausted. You shouldn’t jog until the end of this year.”

“Is that so? Thought I could jog seriously tomorrow,”

“No, there are younger joggers who can run faster. You can reserve your strength for sometime early next year.”

Having said so, the jogger accelerated past Isa and went round a corner. Isa heaved a sigh of relief and jogged up to the main road. Then he turned and ran back to his house. He was greatly relieved. At least he would stay at home and enjoy Christmas with family. He pitied the unlucky young men who had been given the Christmas assignment. Maybe they did not have families. Maybe they did not have lovely boys like Karim and Jamal. Isa was a member of a local cell of an international terrorist group. “The Peace on Earth” (P.O.E). Its operations were so elaborate and intricate that one hardly knew another member. Communication was verbal. A cell member received a message from someone he had never seen before or one he was familiar with but never expected he was a member. Two days earlier, he had received a message that the new password was “blue Adidas” and that he would receive his instructions from a jogger. What the jogger had communicated to him was that no assignment had been given to him this Christmas. He would come at the beginning of the following year. And that was the cause of his relief. He had feared he would get an assignment like suicide bombing. So far, all his assignments had been “soft” — passing coded verbal messages to members within and out of the country. He travelled under three fake passports.

Although Isa relished his task, he had long sworn never to undertake a suicide-bombing job. Once a senior member had expatiated at length about honour, sacrifice and concomitant dignity and perpetual bliss in paradise. Isa had bluntly told him that he did not believe in Kamikaze style exploits. “It’s brave to fight, win and come out alive,” he had said.
 
His wife and children were out of bed when he went into the house. The boys jumped at him, and he hugged and tossed each one of them at a time. They laughed joyfully, and his wife laughed joyfully, and they were all a joyful family in a joyful home in a joyful season. He proceeded to the bathroom and had a cold refreshing bath. Then he sat down at a table to have a hearty breakfast.
 
After breakfast, it occurred to Isa that he should go to town and buy the bicycles for his boys before the shops become overcrowded with last-minute Christmas shoppers. He knew he would get good bicycles at the Globe Hyper. He knew that the reasonably lower prices would make the place unbearably overcrowded. And if he did not hurry, what he wanted could just be bought before he arrived. That possibility was just too disconcerting.
 
By 9.30, he was at the Globe Hyper. It was teeming with men and women, and children all eager to buy what would make their Christmas memorable. He looked at the innocent excited faces of children in the company of their equally excited parents and regretted not coming with his Karim and Jamal.
 
He walked to the bicycle section and began to inspect two bicycles he thought would excite Jamal and Karim. Next to him was a man also inspecting two bicycles.
 
“I wish I had come with my boys,” he said aloud for Isa to hear. “They would have chosen the bicycles they want. I’m spoilt for choice.”
 
“I too have two boys, but I think they won’t mind if I buy these two,” said Isa.
 
“Mine are too fussy. I think I should go back for them. It’s just five minute-drive.”
 
Isa started weaving around other shoppers as he made his way out. He picked the two bicycles and headed to the cashier.
 
There was suddenly a loud explosion. People and things were hurled in the air. There were organized screams and cries for help.

Isa opened his eyes and looked blankly at the face before him. He felt excruciating pain in the head, the limbs and back. He groaned in agony.

“Allah be praised! You’re alive.”

He looked at the face closely. He recognized Shafiya, his wife.

“Where is Karim… where is Jamal…?” he mumbled.

“They are at home and fine. They saw it on T.V. and cried. A father to their classmate did not survive. It appears he had also gone to buy bicycles.”

“Bicycles… where am I?

“In the hospital. There was a bomb at the Globe Hyper. Over seventy people died. It’s by Allah’s grace that you survived. I wonder what I would have done without you. At least Jamal and Karim have a father.”

“The Globe Hyper… bicycles… the cashier…”

“It was a bomb at the Globe Hyper. A terrorist group, the P.O.E., has claimed responsibility. Very evil People.”

“P.O.E…” he began to cry.

But it was not for the pain in his body he was crying.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In his fifty’s, he teaches English and literature at Njoro School, Passion for classics, once won the Nigerian Television Authority (N.T.A.) play-writing competition with the play ‘Eclipse at noon.’
BITS by Chantelle Makenwa Chiwetalu

BITS by Chantelle Makenwa Chiwetalu

Red Volkswagen Bus

BITS

by Chantelle Makenwa Chiwetalu

She wonders how the conductor will look dead. Bruised, battered eyes the size of coconuts. No, eye. She has never seen anyone with two swollen eyes. As she gets on the bus, she wonders what will happen if the passengers gang up on him. Will he laugh stupidly? What words will he say? How many blows before his heart gives out? She has just read Copacabana. Petina Gappah is a genius, really.

At Mkpokiti, a yellow man in a green shirt and blue shorts gets in. His toes are pretty. She discreetly moves her right leg so she can see them better. There is perfection in every line, every curve. His nails are pink crescents topped with white. She stares at hers. Unremarkable. Dark. In need of a pedicure. She detects a curious smell about him, and realises it is his hair gel. It smells like a mixture of sulphur ointment and vanilla. They struggle against each other; sometimes, the sweet clarity of vanilla wins and sometimes the rotten-egg pungency of sulphur dominates with a vengeance. She imagines both in a Coldstone cup, the biggest size, cream and white with sprinkles of wavy brown hair. She imagines her annoying roommate eating it, smacking her lips.

The man gets down at Okpara Square. There is a small garden outside Enugu State House of Assembly. On a bench, bold and white is written, ‘don’t enter our flower.’ She wonders, as she has several times, who wrote this, and if no literate person who works at the House has seen it. It is probably the gardeners. She imagines them clustered approvingly as one of them, armed with purpose, dips a brush in white paint and begins to write a lopsided D. 

Red Volkswagen Bus

They are at a red light. She stares outside. The driver of the car on the left looks imperilled by his seatbelt. It divides his overgrown taut-drum belly in half. The vest he’s wearing says Fitness for Days. He reaches under to scratch his crotch and then leans towards the glove box to retrieve a corn cob. She looks away.

They arrive New Market at 6:18pm. When she hands the conductor a 100 naira note, he sniffs and asks where she boarded the bus. ‘UNEC,’ she says. He makes to give her a 20 naira note but pauses and says, ‘UNEC? You don’t have change.’ She gives him one last look after she alights, imagines a tyre around his neck. She crosses to the other side of the road and takes a bus going back to UNEC. She does this all the time, takes the round-and-round-Enugu bus route to free her head and kill time. Her phone buzzes. A message from Nnamdi:

Babes, was looking at my table today and realised how we cud put it to gud use. I can almost hear you—

Delete.

‘Just negodu this idiot!’ The driver exclaims. He is talking about a driver who has recklessly overtaken him. He hisses. The conductor lets out a stream of invectives. He is short and slight, this one. A tire would slip right down his shoulders to land at his feet.

Twenty minutes later, she is at UNEC gate. Near Chapel of Redemption, a car pulls up and the driver winds down. He asks where she is going and she says ‘don’t worry, have a nice evening sir.’ He mutters something about girls that are faster than their shadows. When she continues walking, he tells her that her behind is the size of a saucer. She bursts into laughter, quickening her footsteps. 

The Prayer Secretary welcomes her with a smile when she gets to Freedom Square, asks her how her day went. She says fine. He says good, please lead us in the opening prayer. She stops, only for a moment, and then she smiles and says okay and smiles again. She picks her words carefully: appreciation and magnification, the plea for forgiveness, requests. Amen.  

When the vice president raises the prayer point, ‘anything that is hindering my service to God this year, scatter by fire,’ she imagines Nnamdi splattering apart,  his body parts plopping upon one another: kidney on lung, small intestines a ropey bed for his heart, ribs broken like tiny ivory tusks swimming in his stomach’s remains. She imagines his thumbs, his dirty, dirty thumbs that type dirty, dirty things, landing on the earth, their pads up in eerie approval. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chantelle Makenwa Chiwetalu is a law student at the University of Nigeria, Enugu. Where she can, she submits ‘The words do not yet exist’ on her bio. It is deep-seeming but manifestly lazy, and that suits her just fine.
THE SCREAMS IN THE SILENCE by Samuel Oladele

THE SCREAMS IN THE SILENCE by Samuel Oladele

THE SCREAMS IN THE SILENCE 

by Samuel Oladele

The get-together venue was two-hundred kilometers away. Slouched in the front passenger seat in Michael’s Audi, I pictured my obituary glued on every wall in my street. GONE TOO SOON. Perhaps I was seconds to my obituary with that cigarette smoke curling out of Michael’s mouth?

I gawked at him. Cigarette hanging between his lips, his cheeks sucked in. A gush of camphor-white smoke surged towards the windscreen—the smoke drifting towards me. I held my breath, watched it dance out the window. One, two, …, seven, I started counting until all of it was out the window, and, open-mouthed, I inhaled, the car air safe again.

“Remember I’m allergic to smoke,” I wanted to say, but he knew already—no need reminding him. I wasn’t ready to deny a man his latitude to smoke in his car. If he tossed out the cigarette after telling him, it would be because he pitied me. I never wanted pity. I’d rather die than be pitied. But I wasn’t ready to die.

I had people I loved too much, people who would starve themselves for months if I were dead. My girlfriend would surely have a heart attack and, for a year, cry herself to sleep. She would even die single. Our relationship was five years old. Letting go would be like cracking rock with one’s head. And Rebecca, my younger sister, would be left alone in this world. I was her only living family.

I was not ready to die. I yearned for a family, kids I’d watch cartoons with and watch grow, a wife I’d cuddle at night and share aspirations with. Until I achieved these, I was going nowhere.

 

“Tunde. Sir, T.” Michael darted me a glance. “You’re still that guy, that I-don’t-talk-much guy.”

I nodded and faked a tight-lipped smile.

He took the cigarette from his mouth. Out of the window went a dense smoke. “Anyone you can’t wait to see at the get-together? All those our babes have grown now… and married. Perhaps we can hook up with the singles.”

“No.”

“You and this your Reverend-Father-boring-attitude. I hope you don’t die like this.” He chuckled.

He turned up the car radio volume, and a rap song blared out. He rocked his head back and forth, gibberish pouring out of his mouth. Not once had I heard him rap—he was a good singer, yes, but not a rapper—in the three years, we shared a bunk in boarding school. But a lot had changed within the six years we had graduated from secondary school. Even smoking was new. His dark cracked lips too.

I edged my face toward the car door, breathing harmless air, eyes on the leafless trees sprinting backward, their leaves sprawling dry below them.

 

There were moments I had wanted death to swallow me. Moments I wished I had been nonexistent. But not this moment. This sad, sucrose-sweet life had cut me a thousand times. And more. I was never a happy person. Perhaps neither a happy baby too. My childhood was terrible, chunks of solitude and rejections here and there. On many occasions, my dad, a drunk, said to me, “I never asked for this,”—pointing at me—”but you came… with your sickness. Had to marry because you were growing in your mother.”

Once, my mum left me at a supermarket. She came back three hours later, said she was having a bad day. My mum was a sad woman. I must have inherited her sadness. The only time she was happy was when her only friend, Mrs. Ibrahim, this chubby woman who cried when she laughed, visited.

My parents were always traveling. Lagos today. Abuja tomorrow. When they were at home, they quarrelled a lot, Mum raining curses on him or throwing her high-heels at him, Dad calling her a prostitute. Because they were always fighting, the four of us were never in the same place. Either Rebecca, Mum and I, or Rebecca, Dad and I. Never the four of us. Mum took us to church on Sundays, the fun park on Christmas, Mr. Biggs on our birthdays, and Dad drove us to school.

I always prayed they leave the house so that it could be peaceful. But it was never peaceful, never felt like home. When they weren’t home, miss Seyi, the house help, took care of us. She was a small woman with a temper that broke into yells and insults if we went outside to play, or asked her to change the TV channel to a cartoon channel, and if she was having a bad day, she lashed our buttocks with her whip.

Only my room gave me peace. So I was always there, shunning the world sliding by outside my bedroom, studying my school books, reading Charles Dickens and J.D. Salinger, tucking away the rest of my childhood from my parents’ rejection, from their quarrels, from Seyi’s yells and whip.

 

The Audi slowed. The butt of a fresh cigarette was between Michael’s lips, lighter lighting the other end. Smoke spurted out. Cars dashed past us, vanishing beyond the horizon, where the sky rose into a stretch of blue and scattered clouds. A puff of smoke sailed towards me.

My silence scared me, for it would kill me. Like several occasions, I had chosen silence again. In boarding school, I once sat in class and watched three girls, who were my classmates, slap Rebecca. She was heading into my class to see me when one of the three girls standing by the door grabbed her wrist.

Couldn’t she greet? They asked her. And before she could answer them, each of their palms slammed against her cheek. Rebecca staggered, then held the door, before scurrying away. I wanted to stand up. I wanted to yell at those girls, but this was a boarding school. If I did, Rebecca would become a target. So I remained on my seat, updating my geography note.

Two days later, she grabbed my wrist as I was walking out of the dining hall. On her wrist was a small bandage. Those same girls had told her to frog-jump in the girls’ hostel, she said, and when she refused, they broke a tree branch and flogged her. She stared at me, perhaps waiting for me to act like a big brother to defend her.

“Sorry,” I said. “I will talk to them.”

But I never did. Rebecca kept telling me how they snatched her provisions, how they whipped her bareback, how they cursed her, yet I did nothing. My inaction vexed her. For a whole session, she shunned me. And gradually, we became strangers. Strangers tied by blood.

Another of my not-speaking-up moment occurred one August afternoon, a year ago, in the market. I was buying some foodstuffs. About three open-fronted shops from me, a lanky man in babariga stood behind a young lady checking out bunches of plantain to buy. The man peeped around, snatched a brown purse out of the young lady’s handbag, and trotted away. Thief, I wanted to scream. I wanted to run after him, to grab his neck, to wrestle him to the ground. I wanted to be a hero. But I was not a hero. What strength did I have? What if he had a knife in his babariga? What if he stabbed me as I’d try to grab him? What if… So I stood there instead, looking like a rabbit. Minutes later, the young lady fumbled through her handbag and scattered everything in it on the ground, searching for her purse.

 

Of all the times I had not spoken up, someone should have strangled me for this one. It happened two years ago after my parents passed away. The loss was hard on Rebecca, for she had forgiven them of their neglect. She was always at home on weekends, playing chess with Dad and cooking with Mum. She sent me pictures—she and Dad, cheek to cheek, a chessboard on a glass stool in the background; she and Mum in the kitchen, open-lipped smiles across their faces—thinking I would also forgive them and come home. She never stopped sending me pictures until they died in their house after a fire accident. I should have been there for her after their death. Perhaps if I had, she wouldn’t have attempted suicide. Thank God she survived.

 

There I was still sitting next to Michael, next to his cigarette smoke. I edged my face away from the car door and faced him. The aftermath of Rebecca’s suicide attempt invaded my mind again: how pale and gaunt and tearful she was when she told me she never wanted to lose me. I never wanted to lose her too. I had to speak up. I faced Michael.

“Michael,” I said.

He turned and blew a dense smoke toward me. The smoke curled into my nostrils, into my mouth, went through my airways. He was befouling my airways. I clutched my chest. I was drowning inside.

Air. I needed air. I started coughing. Wheezing. I fumbled for my inhaler in my jeans pocket. I pulled out. With trembling hands, I uncorked it, pushed it into my mouth. Thrice I pressed. Salbutamol flooded my mouth. I pressed thrice again—another flood of Salbutamol. I was still wheezing and still trembling.

Michael was talking, but I couldn’t hear him. I pressed the inhaler thrice again. Pain surged through my chest. Weakness quaked the whole of me. The inhaler fell. Michael held my wrist, and the feeling of his cold palm dwindled. The world around me dimmed, then blurred. Light petered out. The world vanished.

I woke up later to pairs of worried-looking eyes hovering over me at the roadside. The air was warm in my nostrils.

“Give him space! He’s awake!” Micheal was on his knees, his palm under my head. He held my arm, and I staggered to my feet.

Still feeble, I averted the strange eyes, my back to everyone. Michael thanked everyone as they went back into their cars, before leading me into the Audi, walked to the driver’s car door and climbed in.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He fastened his seat belt.

“But, you already know.”

“I forgot. You should have reminded me.”

I stared at my phone and double-clicked the screen. The screen lighted up—no mobile signal.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

He pushed the car key into the ignition, started the engine, which roared to life. We continued on our journey.

The Audi was now speeding like a hurricane wind, the trees moonwalking. Sun rays streamed into the car. The car air was now fresh and nontoxic, though the stench of cigarettes was still present.

Michael kept apologizing. He kept darting me, sorry looks, those looks I loathed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samuel Oladele, an Applied chemist, graduated from Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. His fiction has appeared on Virtual Zone Magazine.

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