HOW BODIES BECOME FLUID by Ibe Obasiota

HOW BODIES BECOME FLUID by Ibe Obasiota

HOW BODIES BECOME FLUID

by Ibe Obasiota

Shortlist (Top Six) of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

I)
Love is a verb with wings; a free verb that makes itself into a ghost; a dark spectral that walks into our midst and sits. Love is the thing that catches our bodies between its palm and we lie there, dying out into new thresholds or dying altogether.
The first time Uju gives herself to Kachi, she says it is because she wants to satisfy a yearning; because for once she has found a man she has not outgrown, a man that is willing to think first. Kachi is not like Wole who says he fears for the man who would inherit her intelligence or like Francis who attributes her purity to her virginity. It happens in a discussion about a dead classmate and Bernth Lindfors’ criticism on Cyprian Ekwensi. They are in Kachi’s room. It is a dimly lit apartment with two small beds arranged side by side. The walls are painted a solid grey and there is only one window. Two louvres are missing but there’s a net coloured in dust. The other bed belongs to Kachi’s roommate Obiora who is never around or is always leaving when Uju comes around. Uju takes time to think about this and she concludes that Obiora is simply thoughtful. On the wall, there is a picture of Achebe’s carved from an old magazine. The picture is in black and white and there are little cuts on his cheek or put correctly, the paper. Below, there’s a quote that says: I believe the English Language is able to bear the weight of my African experience. The quote is written in Kachi’s cursive handwriting and he says it is a paraphrase of something Achebe had said. Kachi says it is one of the most brilliant things he has heard. Uju suspects it is him consoling himself. She suspects that his inability to speak his mother tongue would be the reason he terms it brilliant. Sometimes he says he is an incipient bilingual. Uju doesn’t know what he means and she doesn’t ask.
Uju lies on her back on Kachi’s bed. She looks straight to the ceiling of his room. She stares at the little black hole in it and she thinks it is a consolation of the fact that Kachi is a struggling man like every man out there nowadays.
‘I think Bernth Lindfors is another bitter white man who thinks he is wise enough to tell Africans what to write,’ Kachi delivers in one swift manner. It is like something he has rehearsed, something that he has said more than once.

‘I’ve only read Ekwensi’s Akin the drummer boy, Kachi,’ Uju says back.
‘Do you think it is a good book?’ There’s persuasion in Kachi’s eyes when he says it and it makes Uju bulge.
‘I think it is a fantastic book,’ Uju says back even though she remembers nothing from the book except Akin’s name that is of course in the title. She looks away from the ceiling just in time to see Kachi’s face break into a full smile. Another expression that slowly creeps into his smile is etched on his face.
‘Can I kiss you?’ He mutters quietly. He doesn’t wait for an answer when he claims her lips in a long kiss and she moans into his mouth. Uju hears him call someone that she believes is Obiora. He mutters something about Obiora not coming home and him making it up. 

II)
The second time she gives herself to Kachi, it is because she realises that bodies are like things that can be transfused for healing. Like saline solutions. Like blood. There is something about blood that scares Uju, that reminds her how weak bodies are; how bodies could easily become fluid; how a small wound that emits blood makes the flesh around it go away; how if our bodies are attacked by too much pain, it all becomes fluid and passes away.
It reminds her of the time her younger sister is hit by a stray bullet in Eight Miles Market and how she bleeds out from the doctor’s mouth into words that begin with ‘we are sorry’ and end with ‘the body’. She wonders how bodies could easily dissolve, how if she says my body, it holds so much life but when the Doctor had said the body, it was death itself.
This time she decides to transfuse some of her into Kachi because love to her is a thing that can be packed into tiny containers called bodies and placed on the shelf of another body. This time it is because Kachi is not the winner of a short story prize. They are in his room. One minute, Kachi is holding his phone and scrolling through his news feed and the next minute, he is throwing his phone to the edge of his bed. The picture of them on his home screen flickers off. If not the situation, Uju would think it was calculated because anger enough would send the phone off to the ground. Kachi picks up his pillow, flings it to his door and mutters something about how difficult writing queer stories were. He keeps pacing his room, occasionally rubbing his head and doesn’t decide whether to sit or walk.

‘ I didn’t get in,’ he says. His voice breaking.
Uju moves to hug him when she whispers a small ‘next time’ into his ears. She could feel his body convulse in her arms and she could also feel him shake silently.

‘I worked hard for this one,’ he says as his voice breaks into a sob. ‘You work hard for everything,’ Uju wants to add but she doesn’t. ‘I really did,’ he continues.’ I even had to borrow a laptop. I should have won it. I should have written better. I should have….’ His voice melts into a cry that rests on Uju’s shoulder blade. Uju does not know when everything moves from soft consolation to them testing surfaces. They are rolling off Kachi’s bed into Obiora’s bed and finally settling into a frenzy of wild kisses and scattered clothes. This is the time Uju’s body becomes a panacea for Kachi’s illness; the time when she gives up a part of herself on the altar of healing; the time when she subjects her body to perforation because love makes one do such things. Because scars are artifacts of love.

III)
When Kachi leaves a part of his pain inside Uju, that abstract thing called pain metamorphoses into a human. It becomes a living, breathing thing within her. But when a part of a person lives in another, the depositor would have to nurture it like tender elements and watch it hatch into fine living things. If the depositor doesn’t, that part of him becomes like untamed things. Things that do not metamorphose completely, that have missed a stage in the cycle. It is this thing that Uju tries to avoid when she decides to pull out the part of Kachi that he couldn’t take with him when he left. She decides to lose the baby.
Everything ends at 8pm on a Wednesday night. It ends with a simple phone call. It ends in Kachi telling her that she did not help him or that she was intellectually weaker. He says she doesn’t understand his interests. She was too unlike him. These words made Uju think only of loss. There are various things that follow a loss. Sometimes it is an instant death of parts of one’s soul. Other times it is the metallic taste of depression on one’s tongue. It could also be a desire to carry out an exorcism, to ward off all the memories that precede a loss.

Tonight, Uju tells the taxi driver to stop two streets before her house. This is the first time she does this. She finds that her heart wanders. She wonders whether the man approaching with the black hat could see her heart step away from her chest. She also wonders whether the boys who whistled at her as she walked past could see the evidence of the thing she was carrying inside her. She wonders whether when they hurled insults at her, they knew they were insulting the thing inside her too. She also wonders whether this strange man and his hotel room could feel the pulse of the thing inside her. She wonders whether the man she is lying on top this evening knew that two minutes before he entered her and she unconsciously called Kachi’s name, she had decided to abort Kachi’s baby.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ibe Obasiota Ben is a Nigerian. She is a graduate in English and Literary Studies of the University of Calabar. She has won the African Writers’ Award 2018(Flash fiction category). She is also a gender critic and sometimes an editor. One will always find her reading or writing.
TO PULL A LION’S TAIL by Boloere Seibidor

TO PULL A LION’S TAIL by Boloere Seibidor

TO PULL A LION’S TAIL

by Boloere Seibidor

Shortlist (Top Six) of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

Two days ago, there was another cold-blooded murder down Wellington Drive, riling up trepidation in the city.
What bothered him wasn’t the killings per sé, but the killer; a seemingly smart assassin. The victims—particularly ladies—were stripped naked before strangulation with their wrists slit open, and bore a neatly clipped paper, with a number inscribed on it, patched to their forehead with blood. These numbers, he’d surmised, bore a significance. What that could be, scared him too.
All these he’d narrated to his wife, Yemi, last night, made her neglect dinner. He understood her fears; they had a teenage daughter too.
His assistant, detective Rena, who’d been recently transferred down from the Uyo’s SCID, also lost her crave for nicotine, she stabbed her half-burnt cigarette in an ash bowl. Perhaps he should remind her this was the garden city, and to expect more, viler, mishaps.
His phone rang, jolting him from his disconcerted thoughts. A frantic Yemi was on the receiving end. He excused himself, and returned minutes later.
His expression, full of angst, gave him away.
“What is it?” Detective Rena frowned.
“It’s my daughter. . . she hasn’t returned.”
“From?”
“School.”
She chuckled and checked her watch.
“It’s 8:45, Bakpo. Something’s wrong.”
His skin grew ashen against the keen spikelets of the harmattan breeze. He quivered.
“I know. . .”

The drive home was incautious. He’d asked detective Rena to come along. . . just in case. He found his daughter by the veranda when he arrived. On seeing him, she sprung to her feet and rushed forward. She was safe!   His relief was insurmountable.
As she drew close, he noticed she’d been crying. On her forehead was a red blot, and her blouse was stained with blood. His pupils dilated as his body’s mechanism built a reaction.
“What happened, Rose?”
She cried in heavy torrents, shaking her braids.
“I’m. . . fine, daddy.”
“Tell me! . . .there’s blood.”
Detective Rena tried to calm him; an abortive attempt.
“Rose!”
She sniffed back sobs then finally conformed. She led him to the parlour where he found Yemi lifeless on the floor in a small blood pool. He grew ashen. Numb. Perhaps he died that instant. Detective Rena moved closer and retrieved the paper on her head.
“Number 8,” she said softly. She didn’t know when she offered him a cigarette; she didn’t know what else to do.
* * * * *
Four days later, with the intervention of officer Yakubu Jed, a police general, the killer was found. His last killing seemed hasty, and his DNA imprints were caught.
“If it’s any consolation,” the general said to him during a lunch he merely poked at, “he’ll rot in prison.”
He nodded and acknowledged condolences from nearby colleagues.
He looked up when he saw Detective Rena running in, covered in sweat.
“There’s been another murder.” She breathed.
The general froze, looking from one stricken face to the other.
She lifted a small paper, “number one.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Boloere Seibidor is an undergraduate at the University of Port Harcourt. Boloere was born, brought up, and writes from the city of Port Harcourt, where she still resides. She is inspired by virtually all things; from music, to paintings, to people.  
Her poem has been featured on SprinNG, and her other poems are upcoming on other online magazines. Her story was shortlisted for the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Writing Competition, where she won honourable mention.
When somber, she listens to Ed Sheeran and James Bay. And at the grimmest hours of the night, Boloere enjoys reading/writing suspenseful stories.
Meet her on Instagram @b.s_vinnie
THE FALLEN ANGEL by Ebeigbe Brian

THE FALLEN ANGEL by Ebeigbe Brian

THE FALLEN ANGEL

by Ebeigbe Brian

The Fallen Angel – Second Runner-up of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

The door let loose an agonizing creak as it slowly leaned open. Crumbled paint and what he could only assume to be mice droppings lay scattered the floor. It was funny to think that despite all that had happened, he could still return to this cave. A sanctuary that had sheltered him from the barrages of the unforgiving and unapologetic reality that was his life.  He switched on the mains only to notice the cobwebs. It was better to ignore the terrible state of the place. A sudden fluttering of wings as resident bats swarmed out due to the surprising presence of a new entity forced him to crouch in astonishment. Some things can’t be ignored.

A pen, some books, a broken pencil and a few notes scribbled on old pieces of paper littered the table. He sighed, dropping his satchel. Pulling out a dusty record case, he walked towards the vintage record player. Two things struck him as his eyes darted across the old machine, his record although taken with him everywhere he went was still as good as new and his bird bath seemed to house a new creature. As to what it was…that would be left for later. He dusted the record player and blew at the dusty record. It read “Viva La Vida and all the melancholy of the institution.” There was only the initial scratch, the coarse sounds eventually blended out into a harmony echoed throughout the orifice in the mountain.  Stripping down to just his tattered jeans, he sighed in relief as his broken wings clumsily fanned out creating all sorts of shadows that seemed to stun the little mice scurrying about. He lowered himself onto his seat next to the table. The old chair creaked and buckled but didn’t collapse under his familiar weight. Reaching into his satchel revealed three items. A cigar, a matchbox and a photograph.

No time was wasted in lighting the cigar.  A cloud of smoke enveloped his face although his glowing brown eyes were still visible in the mist. Looking at the picture the stitches in his chest began to bleed once again as he beheld once more what he wanted but couldn’t physically have. Turning the picture over he read again the note written on it.

“[4/27, 10:21 AM]: Let them hurt. Let them molt and wither. Then, when the time comes, let them grow. The muscles surge and the feathers strong. They will lift you again and the sky will be your friend

Signed

The Eleventh Gentleman”

Would the council find him before it was too late?
Would jealously consume him?
How many more demons would he have to face and seal in his scars?
Would she be worth it?
Thoughts like these and more struck his mind like a rain of flaming arrows. However, before the cigar would finally find that one neural path straight to his brain, he could feel his skin being branded with one more curse. Unlike all the others on his back

Pain

Loss

Grief 

This one was different.
…It was a name.
Overwhelmed, he dropped his head into the choking fog that was never just the smoke; it was pain. Pain searing and hot as his eyes shifted from glowing brown to smoldering red.
********

Elsewhere in a place just as derelict, a form could be seen kneeling in snow. A man dressed in a dark coat knelt amidst corpses. Corpses that could only have been victims of his wrath. Upon closer inspection anyone would tell you these three things; accompanying a truly terrifying groan, his eyes had slowly transitioned from murky brown to a vicious red. His coat seemed to burn, but from the inside and upon his kneeling he had spoken in a garbled tongue.

They would tell you upon his strange exclamation his then red eyes had cooled to an eerie green. They would mention that he had raised two fingers to hi temple and then spoken clear unmistakable English.

“He is slowly losing his grasp on the words of Power Merion. If we do not find him soon, he will be lost to us. I refuse to lose my brother to fate. I have only just regained my wings, so I leave his rescue in your hands”

They would tell you that he walked towards one of the corpses and slowly retrieved a sickle-like blade. Those strong enough to watch would recount how he cut an unforgiving gash on his neck, how he spoke without moving his mouth. Yes, if they were strong enough, they might even remember the words.

“To The Craftsman of Original Sin. Lord of Deceit. To the true Marquee of Snakes. To Lucifer’s Bane. Come forth”

Now for the rest of the story it would be best to visit the underworld, for if there were men foolish enough to listen to this chant. To watch the hand signs. They were undoubtedly dead. However, if you did manage to raise a witness, they would mention one thing before crumbling away into the nothingness. They would speak of the emergence of a dark figure that seemed to tug at their exiting soul. Whose aura foretold the song of death and the chant of anarchy. They would tell you of its sickening grin and hoarse whisper of a voice. Most importantly, as their soul was dragged to hell for whatever sin, they would scream on and on about how our unidentifiable winged killer had looked this being of darkness straight on and spoken only two words

“Hello Mother”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

From The Eleventh Gentleman:
My name is Brian as you now know and I’m a medical student at the University of Benin.
I’ve long-held dreams of either changing the world or setting it ablaze with my work. Childish and overly ambitious I’m sure. Writing and indeed the arts in general for me have served as an outlet for my erratic emotions. It’s been an honor participating in this year’s competition and I hope to try again next year.
I’ll push the line a bit to thank my Council Members: The Angel after whom this piece was fashioned, The Prince who is an idiotic yet heavenly Gift, to Percival and the Last Councilman… thank you for your wisdom. To naMe who even in absence pushes my pen. My last words will go to Sosa… I’ll continue to thank God for having met you.

BORN AGAIN by Tunji Akande

BORN AGAIN by Tunji Akande

BORN AGAIN

by Tunji Akande

Born Again – First Runner-up of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

My mother screamed nine times in one night, drawing fistfuls of her hair, cursing God, Eve and the earth that produced the fruit. She kicked the nurses and spat on the doctors. When she’d tried six hours straight and I still wasn’t forthcoming, the doctor said, ‘how about an operation?’ And my mother cursed my father because the doctor was asking him and not her. ‘He who is in me is greater than science, I shall deliver like the Hebrew women,’ she said. 

Of course, coming for the second time I had to be great— that’s what my mother said, but I’m not sure I believe her. 

There is my mother. She sits and stands. Back to the ground, legs up, breath held. The instructor passes bottles of water to the women whose bellies are pushed out in different sizes, sweat dripping down their dark and light skin. There is my mother pressing the yellow towel to her skin. ‘My second,’ she says to the plump woman to her left. ‘But it’s different compared to the first. ‘

‘Eh, this is my first,’ the woman says.

My mother says she knew happiness the first time I arrived inside her, but now what’s happening with me. The first and second me, all of me.

I do not have memories of the times I did not exist, but my mother wants me to remember. ‘Where did you go, when you were not here?’ She asks, and I wonder if there are people who know what it means to be dead even while they’re alive. I turn to my friend Google, our teachers say we should make Google our friend. Entry: where do dead children go.

Heaven, at God’s right hand.

No where.

They were born into this wicked, but couldn’t accept Christ, so hell.

They stopped existing.

Sent back to the world as other people’s children.

Entry:  do dead children come back.

Yes.

No.

Yes.

No.

Entry: how do I know I have been born again.

By giving your life to Christ.

Erase, new entry: how do I know I am born into the same or another body again?

You love listening to certain beats, drums especially.

Dreams.

You just know.

When reincarnation happens, you might and you might not know.
 

But this isn’t about reincarnation. I don’t think I’m taking another person’s body. And also, my mother believes this is me from the previous time. Same eyes and nose and complexion and hair.

During her first pregnancy, my mother was happy. She said knowing that another living being growing inside her made her feel like a god. Knowing that your actions didn’t only affect you, but also another tiny being learning to breathe, to live inside of you makes you feel that way. She went to the market and got clothes for the baby, accepted gifts from everyone who offered her one. She was planning to be the good mother. Had a crib made for the baby. Poor baby who wouldn’t stay.

The baby finally came out— no cries— with pale skin and eyes which were closed to the world. She had one look at this dead baby before it was taken away from her.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes.

When she became pregnant with me, my mother had learned how to avoid the sun and people.  Too much evil spirits lurking around, too much evil eyes piercing through her thin satin blouse. She kept me a secret from everybody who wanted to know if she had taken in again. She cancelled family meetings and took a break from her job at the law firm. She didn’t care that they threatened not to take her back. These evil eyes could be lurking anywhere.

‘How do you know I’m the same dead baby?’ I once asked her.
‘You were never dead,’ she said. ‘They tried to kill you, they will continue to try, but you are a strong boy, baby.’

When I was about five years old, I used to have this recurring dream that chased me out of sleep. We are all walking down the street, my parents and I. Maybe returning from church or a family friend’s place. Then we get to this junction were these women and men in long white robes are singing, drumming and dancing. They let my parents go and hold me hostage. My parents go without looking back and I scream my lungs out, screaming into wakefulness.

These dreams would come and go with my mother cuddling me, reminding me that I was strong, that I had done it before.

In school, I fought with other students so much they feared me. The teacher made me sit alone at the front of the class, repeating words I can’t remember. Back home, my mother asked, worriedly, ‘why do you allow this old spirit use your body like this?’

‘Tell me your dreams again,’ she asked. But these days, I hardly remember my dreams.

When my father wouldn’t agree that I go for deliverance, my mother called him a foolish man, and he called her a crazy woman. She took me to a church where the pastor asked me to close my eyes, praying and kept asking me if I could see anything.
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Just darkness.’

AYOMIDE by Nneoma Mbalewe

AYOMIDE by Nneoma Mbalewe

AYOMIDE

by Nneoma Mbalewe

Ayomide – Winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

My body craves water but I have none to give it. I have never stayed this long without water. It’s been forty-five hours or so and I really feel rotten. The human body can live for a month without food but three to four days without water can lead to death. We only have a few more hours. If not, we’d most likely die.
My sister has a higher probability of dying than me. I’m not a pessimist but I have been lying in her blood now for hours and she won’t make it if help does not get here today. The lower half of her body is trapped under rubble and she’s showing signs of shock. Her skin is cold and clammy; her breathing is shallow and rapid.

Masha’s whining pulls me out of my thoughts. I rub my dog’s fur, trying to comfort him. It’s dusty under the bed where we are and I know he really wants to leave. He would have done so hours ago but the truth is that we are trapped here. Not unless someone rescues us.

I remember exactly forty-six hours ago. It was dusk and my sister was preparing Eba and Efo. The healthy meatless, fishless Efo, as she liked to call it. Honestly, we were too poor to put meat in the food. The rain started suddenly and poured without mercy. We were about to eat when we heard something huge and loud fell on the apartment roof, the face-me-I-face-you apartment where we lived. That when everything came crumbling down.

The building was already falling apart but whatever that fell hastened things up and in seconds, the ceiling and the walls began to collapse. We were far from the door so the best thing to do was to hide under something sturdy like they do during earthquakes.

“Under the bed,” I screamed to Aramide, my sister as I grabbed Masha. I crawled under the bed, my sister following close behind. She was halfway in when the ceiling crushed her.

Now, my sister is struggling to stay awake. Thank God she knows that there is no guarantee that when she closes her eyes, she will wake up again. I don’t have to tell her that.

“It was the transformer,” I say. “It’s the only thing high and strong enough to bring down this building.”

“Ayo,” she murmurs. “The periodic table.” She ignores my statement. There’s no use thinking about the past. The future is the most important thing now. Sadly, the past is all I can think of.

I’m smart. I know I am. I’m seven years old and I can recite the multiplication table from one to fifty-seven by heart. I know all the 118 elements of the periodic table and I know a lot more than my fifteen-year-old sister. I help her with her assignments when she can’t solve them and I topped my class last year at grammar school. My headteacher calls me a prodigy even though in Nigeria, no one knows what to do with prodigies.

“Hydrogen, helium, lithium,” I begin. It’s dark but I’m looking at my sister, hoping that when I’m done, she will still be awake. When I’m done, thankfully, she still is. I need to get her talking. That will ensure she stays awake. Although, I think talking will drain the little energy she has left.

“Do you think Daddy knows what has happened?” Even as I ask, I know he doesn’t. He stays away from the house days on end, drinking around with friends. He’d only come back, sometimes, to eat Aramide’s food when he didn’t have enough money to buy food outside.

Aramide doesn’t reply. Her shallow breathing informs me she is still alive. “Don’t sleep, Aramide,” I tell her.

“I’m tired,” she tells me.

“Don’t sleep,” I repeat. I begin my fifty-eight times table. I am almost finished when Aramide murmurs, “You should be a doctor.”

“Why?”

“Doctors are smart. Like you.”

I shake my head, even though she can’t see me. “Doctors are underpaid.” I think back to the doctors who treated mama at the general hospital, who worked grudgingly and couldn’t save mama from her sickness. They never even knew what caused her death, they just left us with debt and my mother’s corpse after injecting all kinds of drugs into her body.

“What do you want to be then?”

“I don’t know. I have to think about it.”

In any other situation, Aramide would have scoffed and said something like, “You have to think about it? You know the answer already.” Now, she doesn’t even make a sound.

My eyes tear up. It is times like this, I wish we were living in a good country like the United States. If something like this happened over there, they would be busy in less than an hour and we would have even forgotten about it by now. However, we are in Nigeria where an entire building of fifty-two apartments collapses and two days later, no one is doing anything about it.

I wonder if other people were still alive. The first thing anyone would have done when the building began to collapse was to run outside. Those on the third and second floors would have never made it down in time. Those on the first and ground floor would have survived if they had gotten as far away as possible from the building when they made it outside.

We live on the second floor. I know people are trapped underneath the rubble like we are and I know that some people are dead. I know my sister will soon join them if we aren’t rescued today. I know I will be next, if another twenty-four hours passes by and I’m still here.

“It’s been forty-six hours,” I say.

“How do you know,” Aramide asks, like she does when I say something smart.

“I just know,” is my reply. The truth is, I have been keeping track.

“Are you hungry?”

I smile ruefully. She’s doing her big sister business even though she’s the one bleeding to death.

“No,” I answer. I know hunger- we both do. Since both parents are out of the picture, Aramide has been the breadwinner. She doesn’t tell me much but I know she gets money from her boyfriends, one of whom, lives in the building, two floors down. She also hawks after school. I don’t do much apart from helping her with her assignments and reading the library books. I help her when I can with the hawking but she never allows me to stress myself. “You will make us rich,” she usually tells me.

“I will be helping you after school to hawk,” I announce. That is, if we both get out of here.

She doesn’t answer. I have to listen closely to hear her breaths because I am fainter than ever. When she first got trapped, she would scream in pain for hours. The screams turned to groans after hours passed and now, I don’t think she can even feel her legs.

Masha whines again. He doesn’t know hunger like us because he is always eating any leftover he finds around the building. He can barely move at this point.

“I love you,” Aramide tells me, out of the blue.

Fear grips my throat. It takes me a while but I say the words back.

“I want to sleep now.”

 I don’t stop her.

I close my eyes and imagine us in a better place. A few days ago, Aramide washed clothes, and I read a senior secondary school textbook on physics. Masha ran around us, playing with the little puddles of water that formed around Aramide’s washing buckets. Sighing, she splashed soapy water on him and on a second thought splashed on me too. “Stand up and play with your dog. Can’t you see he’s distracting me?”

“I’m reading,” I told her.

She dragged the textbook from me and sat on it. “Abeg, go and play. You have your whole life to read.”

I open my eyes and I realize that I am crying. Not the small sobs like I usually do but noisy, heart-wrenching sobs. Neither my sister nor my dog move.

I rub Masha’s fur one last time. I remember two months ago when Aramide gave him to me. She had found him, a newborn puppy, abandoned on the side of the road. “I know how much you love dogs,” she said, as she handed him over to me.

I reach for my sister’s cold hands, the dried blood-forming hard flakes. “I want to be an engineer. I like physics and engineers are rich,” I say, in between sobs.

She doesn’t reply. She never does.

SHIFT, LET HER FAINT by Joseph Olamide Babalola

SHIFT, LET HER FAINT by Joseph Olamide Babalola

SHIFT, LET HER FAINT

by Joseph Olamide Babalola

She is in a taxi, almost reaching home, fingers caressing her old Android with screen cracks the semblance of the world map. Normally, other things being equal, this is Nigeria, SMS wishes should have started dinging since midnight yesterday. But now the D-day is almost spent, it is nine in the night, the moon has not surfaced, and only Access Bank ever remembered to say a Happy Birthday. Great, isn’t it? Ridiculously great.

She is not on Instagram, doesn’t do Twitter or Snapchat either, but she has two-thousand-plus Facebook friends who amassed over the years, who almost never said anything to her. She knows how things should roll on a day like this, has the full fantasy of how birthdays feel nowadays. She could visit a studio to do some solo photoshoot with the little money she earned from the salon and share it online with a scintillating caption. But she didn’t. Even though she knew the right noise to make to command multiple likes, reactions, and dope comments, still she didn’t. Today doesn’t mean much anyway—all that fun stuff that swells your head and catapults you to cloud nine are meant for her Facebook friends with the time and the means, not her.

Since heaven didn’t fall, she didn’t get today off. She hates today better. Mama G. refused to unhook her from the salon stress. It even seemed Mama G. blindly allotted her some extra work to celebrate her. She did many hairs and hers remain rough, partly combed, packed off-sight in a tight scarf—it was best not to scare customers away.

Someone would ask of her parents, ask what is their job sleeping and snoring under the public cemetery ground while she is here struggling to feed herself. And her only living relative, her Lagos sister, leaves her and returns twice in a year, thrice in a leap year.

Now she reaches home, alights, unlocks the door, switches on the bulbs, drops her bag on the table as though dumping refuse, and hits the sofa.

Who would time-travel her back to 1999? The music blasts, the set dining table, the arrival of august guests, the awesome gifts, the photo snaps, her precious red-and-white gown, the merry. But time rockets past and dumps her in the future, here. Now… no shopping, no outing, no cards, no ice cream, no candle to blow air-plus-saliva into, no cake to cut into sweet slices. Now none seems to care. It is a solo world, a strange one at that. Today lost its meaning years back, now just like any other Thursday in any other month of any other damn year.

She changes her posture and lies back down, trying hard to wade through, to take a nap if possible. But she hears a strange sound. It comes once, then stops. Whatever that is, she knows it can’t be that good. She hates cats but the sound isn’t cat’s. It is something else.

Everywhere remains clothed in deep silence—a silence so calm you can feel it. Now she listens, hears a faint breathing. She listens again and hears again. What?!

She springs up from the sofa as though performing a stunt. Breathing heavily, she mutters, “Who’s there?” and all the bulbs go off immediately. Startled, she takes two steps closer to the table, tries her hand blindly to reach her bag. But heck, it’s not there. Second attempt, the bag is missing still. Wait… is something toying with her sanity? She is sure she put it here the other time. She keeps turning and turning around and around, seeing only black and black and black darkness and nothing more. And worse, it’s hard to trace her way out without finding the bag housing her torch and phone. She stands stock-still, frozen to the heavens.

A gentle footstep creeps in from the dark. It sounds closer by the seconds. Her heart jumps, racing off-beat. No action no words, a concrete pillar is better than her. Things aren’t foreboding well. What if it’s a ghost or something worse? Her bones soften up like a biscuit dipped in a pool of milk. She develops a sharp headache, her stomach threatens to give way, and before she does anything, the footstep stops right in front of her.

J-J-J-Jesus! She screams and shivers, her hands grabbing her chest hard. One second, two seconds, the bulbs come on.

“Happy birthday, Titi!” echoes many voices. Damn! Her eyes fail, but in front of her is her Lagos sister, Mary, holding a birthday present. Kola, the cool guy with a dark acne-ridden face emerges from behind the curtains. Junior, her neighbor’s fifteen-year-old crawls out from under the sofa, holding an iPod. From the kitchen, Lizzy, Toyin, and Emma enter the living room with doughnuts and rolls. Tunde surfaces from under the dining table, pulling out a crate of Coke.

She stands on the same spot, mouth open wide, too stiff to fall. Tofunmi, the semi-friend from her workplace enters with a cake bearing her name and +1 written on it. Mr. Sam, the electrician living next door, enters with a package on his right and a kit box on his left.

Even if she wants to hug Mary tight and cry her shoulders wet till her eyes no longer produces more drops, she can’t. She is way too drained. She slumps backward like a sawn tree and Mary receives her and lays her well on the sofa.

As everyone comes around to check if she fainted, to know whether to pour water on her or not, or to just fan her up, she signals with her weak hand for the party to continue while she tries hard to digest the ongoing.

A soft music starts playing in the background. When Titi regains her strength, Mary would explain why she masterminded the whole scene, the heart-attack surprise—it is simply her creative attempt at making up for the lost days.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joseph Olamide Babalola is a writer and poet whose heartfelt love for literary creativity is unending. He loves to weld words to create beautiful masterpieces. He was shortlisted for 2018 PIN Food Poetry Contest and 2018 African Writers Award. His pieces have appeared in 101words, BNAP Anthology and Poetica Magazine. He lives in South-Western Nigeria.

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