THE HOUSE CALLED JOY by Chizoma Emeka Joshua

THE HOUSE CALLED JOY by Chizoma Emeka Joshua

THE HOUSE CALLED JOY

by Chizoma Emeka Joshua

The house called joy – Winner of the 2018 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

What you have has a name.

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.

You are afraid that if you name it, you would acknowledge that maybe you are a broken piece of pottery that needs fixing.
You do not remember when it started. Yours is a relationship whose beginning has no footprints, and you have gotten used to this lack of history like you would an annoying sibling. What you do now is prepare for the red flags, the little incidences that set you off: a woman leaning in towards you over the counter to hand you crisp notes, her hair smelling of talcum powder, a baby turning to flash you a dazzling smile right before you do the sign of the cross in church, a newscaster saying that the price of pampers had risen.

 

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 confused you had sat staring at your laptop screen, wondering if perhaps Google was not as smart as people gave it credit for.

With time, you teach yourself to manage the storm. At nights when you feel most vulnerable, when the minions carry out their onslaught and there isn’t the armour of work to keep you safe, you whisper affirmations to yourself. You are a Christian so it is easy for you to pick from the armload of cheesy statements that fill the Bible. Your favorite is from Ecclesiastes 9: 4 – a living dog is better than a dead lion. You like how you think yourself as the dog, you don’t know who the dead lion is. You would chant the verse like a prayer, wield it like a sword, till you emerge on the other side, victorious.

Other times what you mutter is the twenty-third psalm. You repeat the words over and over again, hugging your knees, your back against the wall. You repeat it till you actually find yourself beside still waters and smell the freshness of the rivers on your skin.

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 his many problems that he thinks you are the cause of. Those nights, you do not give affirmations, because words would not do. You rather reach into the recesses of your mind to that sunny place where you store happy memories. You flip through the pages: your graduation from primary school, that time you had an A in government, the time that boy in the choir smiled at you, you skip all these pages and rest on a particular one.

In it you are sixteen: too young to be carrying dead dreams around but not too old to receive seed from a man, nourish it and present him a flower.

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.

What you have has a name.
Sorrow, loss, the aftertaste of longing you have on your tongue. These are not what your doctors would call them. These aren’t the names of sicknesses. You are afraid that if you submit to the doctors that they would flip through their big books and actually find a title for what ails you; a different name from the ones you have chosen. Then you would no longer be in doubt that you are unhinged. Next the doctors would then try to find a cure, because that is what they do – find a cure for every sickness. You do not want to heal. You like sorrow’s company. It is your penance.  You like looking out from your glass house to see the storms billowing, knowing that there is the possibility that one day it would drown you in it.
THE SKIN OF OTHER WOMEN by Chukwuebuka Ibeh Leonard

THE SKIN OF OTHER WOMEN by Chukwuebuka Ibeh Leonard

THE SKIN OF OTHER WOMEN

by Chukwuebuka Ibeh Leonard

The skin of other women – First Runner-up of the 2018 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

Stay away
from men who peel the skin
of other women, forcing you to
wear them.
-Ijeoma Umebinyuo.

  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 her calls her her name. He laughs that strange laugh of his and says he is sorry, Angela.

*

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 of of her apartment, with a delicate intensity that made her feel a new warmth in between her thighs. It was only when she took off her clothes in the bathroom that she realized she did not even know his name, did not know why the thought of his fingers on her cheek only a few minutes ago made her heart beat five times faster.

 

*

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 pleasure. And he may be confusing her again for Chinwendu, or is it Jessica now?

It made sense when she found the diary in his drawer, flipped through the pages, absorbing the brief accounts of the lives of Maria and Ujunwa and Kosarachukwu, all the women who have shared his bed in the past, who have been in her place, all the women whose skin he scrapped off from time to time and made her wear.
The thing really is, she knows she’ll never leave. Even though nowadays, she no longer feels like herself. Even though she takes a deep breath, not sure it is hers. Even though she looks into the mirror, not recognizing the image that stares back at her. She knows she will never leave.

 

*

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.

ANEESAH by Sobur Olalekan

ANEESAH by Sobur Olalekan

ANEESAH

by Sobur Olalekan

Aneesah – Second Runner-up of the 2018 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

When I had my first daughter, I saw Aneesah in my sleep for seven days.

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 longue of an airport, holding her mum’s hand – my aunt – while she laughed and said to me “Baba Aneesah. Aneesah doesn’t want to leave you. Thanks for being a good cousin to her. I hope we can always visit Nigeria. We’ll miss you.”  

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.

When I learnt that what I was doing was wrong? When did this guilt start?  Had I seen her in a dream before I had my daughter? I didn’t know it was wrong, or didn’t have time or a reason to think about it until the guilt started, until I saw her again ten years after she left. I saw her on Facebook, and by the time I saw the third picture, I couldn’t look any further. In the following days, the shame washed over me like some warm sticky liquid – it still does. Some days, I can feel the guilt rising from me, like steam, and forming a cloud around me. A cloud I can never find my way through. This is the first time I would see her in a dream.

Sometimes she nodded – the therapist – said I didn’t deserve the shame, I didn’t deserve the guilt tormenting me, I was only a child, but I was sure she didn’t believe herself. That was only what therapists are supposed to say. I thought about all the sexual abuse victims who would have sat on the seat I was occupying and now, here was the kind of human who caused their suffering. I searched behind her glasses and I thought I saw hatred, disgust. I think I saw what I expected to see. She finished “You’ve been this way for five years. I do not think you can possibly forget this part of your childhood anymore. This would take a lot of courage, but I think, at this point, that you need to see her and talk to her. It could help you. It is evident you can’t forget.”
I do not want to forget.

 

 

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 daughters, until they had their guilt, had their own dreams like mine. Then I would call Aneesah. I would tell her I needed to talk. I would still my body for whatever came after then.

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.

CRIMSON by Uche Osita

CRIMSON by Uche Osita

CRIMSON by Uche Osita

October 2008

Adaeze,

Do you remember the way I used to hold your hand? Do you recall how I kissed you the day you told me that your father had finally left your mother? How tender our lips; rubbing off the loss that you knew could only be stayed for so long. Do you remember how we used to hug and hold on for eternity, not wanting, not needing anything else in the world? Do you remember the faint scent of chocolate that filled the room each time you visited? Adaeze, the rhythm of fate’s music has played far too loud and now I am scared. I fear that I am holding on too much, to these things, these feelings, and these memories. Maybe I am unfortunate. Or maybe Mama’s admonitions finally made manifest.

Do you remember the time when you said you would never leave me, was it all a lie?

It is true all I see now is darkness, it is also true I may never be able to live out all the dreams I talked about when there was light but Adaeze, the only darkness I truly see is the one that I know your absence has caused.

****

Adaeze, I love you.
****

I believed in God when I was little. When all Mama could talk about day and night was how wonderful God was, how grateful we were to have a father that stayed home and how kind God had been. Papa stayed home alright, but only because he was jobless. He also had a ferocious temper that hit Mama hard, all the time.

When I finally got a scholarship to study at the University, I felt a deep relief that I could not express in words. I promised Mama I would never let her down. She saw in me, hope, a reaffirmation that her belief in God was not unfounded. She, however, warned me against girls, no girls she insisted, not until you are done. I had agreed. It was so easy agreeing to something I had yet to give serious thought.

I kept her promise until the day I met you. When I first saw you I knew I would never keep her promise. You were so happy and carefree and I was burdened with my background and expected responsibilities. But you accepted me for me. You did not mind that I had quaffed kai kai with the boys in the slum. The fact that my father was jobless, that I had eleven siblings and a breadwinner mother whose only source of livelihood was selling matchboxes, cheap biscuits and sweets.

****

Adaeze, did you know that I have been waiting for 2 years to reach you? You blocked me from calling and you have not been in town all these while. I have been learning to deal with this new condition our love has bought me. Quite frankly it is not half as bad as I imagined. I do not speak as much since I can’t always tell whether I am being spoken to, but I also think a lot. I now take slow measured steps, and I am vaguely aware of time from the heat intensity of the sun and Mama hasn’t completely forgiven me since then.

I started learning to write with an old typewriter papa used to work with in his early days as a typist. It was a very trying experience, having to feel and guess and feel again. I have persevered mostly because I wanted to one day write you this letter. I am sure that you are reading and partly because I suspect that this curse may well not be the end. Adaeze, I am going to become a writer. Ever since I learnt how to type, I have been practicing, day, noon and night. I have written and rewritten ever since and I have strong thoughts to take some of my products for appraisal. Even though for me, there would always remain a vague memory of light -past, this new hope brews a thick fire in my heart and I am determined to guard its flames.

How have you been? I sincerely hope that life has served you a better dish than it did me. But perhaps you suspect my motives. But I assure you, 2 years is a very long time. And writing you is my way of moving on, of trying to forget. I woke up this morning feeling mildly grateful, Mama just got better, she has been down with a fever since last week and the doctor just called. I have in consequence come around to thinking about how much I have undervalued the little things that I have had; life, peace, family. Though, I wish I could have more, still I suppose I should be grateful for the little I have.

The world has changed a lot and me with it. And I have chosen not to allow our past to dictate whatever happens next.

****

How can I blame you? All you did was love me. And sometimes when I remember the times before; the times when there was light; I grope around in the darkness searching for hope, for you…

****

Still, when I sleep at night my dreams are crimson. There is an indistinguishable shadow that I suspect to be you, it reaches out and I come forward. Then I am forced back by another shadow, this one I know to be Musa. It reaches for me, I raise a hand and try to stop it, but it is quicker. It reaches for my eyes and then there is darkness.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Uche Osita is a creative writer. His works have been published in Kalahari Review, African writers, Mu-Afrika journal of African literature, The crater library, Nwokike literary journal, and Pulse.ng.

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Imole by Olakunle Ologunro (1st Position – Flash Fiction Category)

Imole by Olakunle Ologunro (1st Position – Flash Fiction Category)

Imole by Olakunle Ologunro (1st Position – Flash Fiction Category)

Flash Fiction Category

1st Position –  Imole by Olakunle Ologunro

1.
Here you are, on a mat in your mother’s small, dark living room, wet with your own sweat, burning with an interminable fever. But it doesn’t begin here. Not really. So how does it—this dampness in your soul, this fading of your memories, this pain—begin?
1a.
Let’s say it begins your mother. Your mother, belle of the ball, wanter of things your father cannot provide. If it begins with her, then it must include your father, too. Your father, acquirer of things beyond him, husband of an exotic woman whose maintenance tag his clerk salary cannot settle.
Your parents said that it was love at first sight, that they met each other at the lobby of a banking hall in the nineties and had simply fallen in love with each other and married months later, but you learned later that this was not totally true. “It was your father that fell in love with me first,” your mother told you when you turned fourteen, when she flung a bowl of soup at your father because he could not buy her the imported Carossi shoes that was the new craze among Lagos socialite women.
She held you as she wept for the things she could have had, things your father could of course never afford, your father who answered Yessah! to boys he could have given birth to if he’d married early, your father who owns three shirts, two trousers and one tie, clothes he wears with the pious devotion of a Jehovah Witness persistently knocking on doors that were slammed shut in his face.
1b.
“You are the light of my life.” Your father’s first words when he held you the day you came into the world. But you did not know this, little baby that you were. You did not know that you were, to your father, everything your mother never was.
You, named Imole seven days after your birth, were an avenue for your mother to need more, to stretch your father thin, like elastic. Baby clothes from Macy’s or Kingsway, or nothing. Thirty thousand naira to buy diapers and wipes, or nothing. All these your father provided, sinking steadily into debts.
And then your father, neck-deep in debt, could not afford Carossi shoes to make your mother stay, your mother who was already one leg out the door. So she left, with a bag full of the things she’d bled your father to buy. With you.
End of your father’s chapter. Now, your mother’s.
2.
To leave a man because of a pair of shoes was silly, yes, but your mother didn’t care. She’d always wanted to be set free, to fly, like a bird. So she flew, with you in tow; mother hawk teaching her daughter to walk. She flew straight into the bed of Alhaji Owoseni, pot-bellied, with rings of fat for a neck. And you followed her choicelessly, like a lady-in-waiting for the queen.
Alhaji was, as they say, rich as sekere, and this he clothed your mother in: Yards and yards of expensive lace. Imported hair so soft, so out-of-this-world. Jewelry enough to tempt a robber. Brassieres and panties so flimsy it seemed cut out of mosquito nets. And all these your mother soaked herself in, while your father pined for you, his happiness. And for her, the love he never stopped loving.
And then, Alhaji died while in bed with your mother. They had been going at it that afternoon, your mother yes-yess-yesssing, Alhaji ah-oh-ahhing. All of a sudden, Alhaji began to shiver violently, foaming at the mouth, white froth of saliva and things unknown. Your mother’s scream called you in, to see Alhaji’s penis, short and fat, standing up, like David on a fallen Goliath, to see her too, naked, her vagina fenced with wisps of curly black hair, her breasts already taking the downward slope home.
Your mother picked the nearest dress she could find: her boubou, and fled. The rest of the news you heard in bits: Alhaji was epileptic. Alhaji almost died. Alhaji’s wives would rip your mother apart if they ever set eyes on her. Your mother with her vagina like burial food. Ashewo olobo saara.
2a.
One question: How do you come crawling back into dirt after months of affluence?
2b.
Your mother swore she would not return. Never. So she became a street light, heavily bright by night, and sleepily unadorned by day. Your mother became a woman who pleasured other women’s men. With the money in her account from her time with Alhaji, she got herself a small apartment in town. This you stayed in and waited while she slept by day. And at night when she morphed into a streetlight, you began your own dreams.
3.
Now, you.
You, sweet sixteen, with breasts as round as sweet oranges. You, flower-pretty, a carbon copy of your mother. You swore you would not be her, but would go out and, like your name Imole, be a light unto the world. You would be an actress or a singer or a writer. You would have fame and money so much that even a wave of your hand will rain money. You would bring your father back, make him become the man he had always wanted to be. You would fix your mother too, seal up the hunger in her belly with enough money and she would have all the things she wanted. You would be a light.
4.
Until Sir.
That was what your mother called him the day she brought him home. This is Sir, she said simply. You thought she meant Sa as in Samuel but she said no, Sir as in Yes Sir.
4a.
Sir had legs as thick as tubers of yam. On his chest and up his neck was hair so dense, you could make wigs out of it. Sir enrolled you in college, paid your school fees and bought you underwear and earrings that brought out the glow in your eyes. Sir called you Delight and when you complained, he said that Light, which was the English form of your name was still there. You liked Sir. At least you thought you did, until the day your mother told you while Sir was out that Erm, she needed a car and Sir had promised to buy it for her, but … but he wanted something else in exchange.
What?
You.
4b.
Of course, you would not do it, you said to her and walked away, angry. But your mother, wanter of things beyond her capacity, never take no for answer. You ought to know this.
4c.
It happened while you slept. Your mother herself ground the tablets and poured them in your soup. And when you woke up to the sharp pain between your legs, dried semen on your thighs, you felt your light begin to dim, to fade.
5.
Your mother got the car and you, a pregnancy. All of a sudden, the car didn’t seem to matter anymore. Your mother wept and tore at her braids and said, “Yeh! Temi baje.”
You wanted to stab her with a kitchen knife until your fingers were sticky with her blood.
Afterwards, Sir came and said he was sorry, that perhaps the condom tore or something. Your mother screamed, a scream that died when Sir wrote her a cheque. Minutes of whispered discussion passed, and then, Sir said he would be back. Your mother cuddled the cheque. You waited. One hour later, Sir returned with another man.
He smelled like stale bread, this man. He pulled down your eyelids and gave you a multicolored selection of drugs that looked like sweets. You swallowed, and while you were resting, lumpy blood ran down your legs. Pain shot up your belly and you screamed. Your mother herself drove you to the hospital, where it was said that Sir’s man gave you an overdose of the wrong drugs and these drugs would begin to corrode your womb. They would try their best, they said, but if only you’d not taken those drugs, perhaps things might not be complicated.
A medical way to say: begin to make funeral arrangements.
6.
You lie on a mat in your mother’s house now, your belly too sore to hold anything down. Your dreams are slipping away. You are your own light, but in the harshness of your pains, the world is too dark to see anything. Beside you is your mother, you know that. Your mother, belle of the ball, root of your calamity. “You will be fine, my baby,” she says. You know you won’t. She has called your father, the same man she once swore she would never go back to. Your father will come rushing in thirty-eight minutes from now, eleven minutes and two seconds after you are dead. Your father will not meet any light. He will, instead, meet nothing but darkness.
END
Isolation

Our third issue ever, "Isolation" is out. We had thought-provoking conversations with Alexis Teyie and Tobi Nifesi. It's a collection of works from some of the finest minds out there -- poetry, short stories, interviews, and creative essays.

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Racing Stars by Okhuosami Umar (2nd Position – Flash Fiction Category)

Racing Stars by Okhuosami Umar (2nd Position – Flash Fiction Category)

Racing Stars by Okhuosami Umar (2nd Position – Flash Fiction Category)

2nd Position –  Racing Stars by Okhuosami Umar

For as long as I can remember, my mother had two wishes; to hold my hand on my wedding day and marry me off well- preferably to Abubakar; our Imam’s first son. Humble, handsome Abu who always had on giant specs and stood so tall, most people had to raise their heads to make eye contact.
By all definitions Mama was extra; her happiness as infectious as her anger, terrifying. She and Papa were on first name terms and spoke to each other only when necessary. She complained about everything; money, food, clothes, even his family. In times of anger, the veins in her neck popped up and her facial wrinkles deepened. Papa knew then to be quiet. As I got older and understood biology, I often wondered how they managed to make me; this frigid mismatched couple.
That Abu and I end up together was desired and ordered. As often as she could, Mama admonished me to pay greater attention to make-up and house-hold chores. “Bend properly and hold that broom. Your waist is not made of iron is it?” Other times, she’d look me over and take off my wrapper, retying it to the left: “It goes to the left. Nobody can say I did not teach you.” My complaints against this odd betrothal got weaker with time until I was wholeheartedly enthralled. Every Friday with a fast-beating heart, I wore one of my favorite jellabas and stayed behind for Muslim Students’ meetings. With all my heart, I wished someday, Abu would notice me even with as little as a nod but repeated stolen glances confirmed my suspicions. He did not fancy me.
***
Papa died in his sleep on a cold September morning two days before my fourteenth birthday. A vicious sandstorm caused formalities to be postponed till the next day. I don’t quite remember which was worse; the whirling, blinding haze or Mama’s insufferable theatrics. We had to show a proper level of grief. “Bring my scissors and mirror Hafsa” she ordered. I sat on the tiled floor between her corpulent legs, eyes shut and careful not to enrage her by any form of disobedience. Masses of rich black curly hair caressed my face as they fell enveloping me in an aura of what I considered naked ugliness. Quivering with sobs, I took off my pink flowery gown and covered the thin frame underneath in an oversize wrapper. Waves of hot harmattan air blew into our dimly lit room provoking a cough spasm and leaving brown dust on Mama’s favorite blue coverlet.
“Allah, be quiet. Your hair will grow back.” she hissed with disgust. Dry weather always put her in a rage. “You should be angry with your father, not me. What did I ever do to make him treat me this way?”
The words hung on my lips. Did she really expect him to defeat rabies? If she had not demanded pap at all costs that night, Papa would not have jumped our new neighbor’s fence and bang repeatedly on the deaf trader’s door only to get bitten by her mad dog. She should have insisted on taking him to the hospital even when family and friends said native herbs worked best. Dying is better than ceaseless barking anyway.
***
“Your classmate, Amina is getting married this weekend” Mama said shifting her stool so she could face me square, her face enclosed in a frown. I was home on holiday from university. She continued the speech, apparently reassured by my silence while I chastised myself for not making my visit shorter.
“Her mother invited me last week. I have sewn my aso-ebi and told my union people to prepare, that you and Abu are next.”
I grunted okay but my mother will never back down.
“Everybody is already talking about it. I keep showing up for people. When will they show up for me too?”
“Mummy I will not marry Abubakar.” I stared hard at her, eyes narrowed to slits.
If my warning was perceived, it had no effect as she simply ignored it. “And why won’t you? What is wrong with him? He has graduated, is working and Muslim.”
“Why? Perhaps, you can force him to marry me” I shouted, angry in spite of myself.
“Who do you want then? It is not as if you tell me anything. I have not heard you on the phone with a man since you came back despite my careful watch. Nor has one come calling. Do you think it is your books you will marry?”
This was my cue. I returned to school and cannabis. I was no addict. Only a little now and then to keep body and soul together.
Mama was ecstatic when she learnt I had graduated with my mates. She hugged me, crying and laughing at the same time. Her old, puffy cheeks against my youthful skin felt made a dream of heaven. For a moment, I imagined what it would feel like to stay this way forever; this old woman happy because of me. “You get your brains from me” she repeated over a dozen times. We invited friends, hired a caterer and bought souvenirs for the induction party. A night to my big day, Mama threw herself into hysteria.
“It’s nothing my dear” she said wheezing while I pleaded with her to confide in me.
“Your father should be here. First your brother- Ismail was stillborn and Mama had never mentioned him, now him. I cannot do this.”
“You can’t what ma?” I could hear my heartbeats and the unsolicited excuses I’d be making to friends on her behalf with a fake smile the next day.
“Sorry Hafsa but I am too tired. I must be ill. Oh, I am so unlucky” she wailed.
Nobody whistled loudly or clapped too long when the Head of Students called out: “Yakubu Hafsa.” That day marked a turning point in my relationship with Mama. We wouldn’t talk for years.
***
Time flew by and in June 2000, she texted me her diagnosis. We had a cold, formal relationship in place by then. I journeyed back to meet a withered lady in dirty, tattered clothes. When she smiled, the mouth sores were painful to see. The stench from her diabetic foot ulcer gave me goose bumps. Massive cobwebs dangled from the ceiling everywhere in the house. Rodents lived amongst her unsold wares.
I cleaned, burned the stock, washed Mama’s clothes, cooked her a healthy meal, dressed the wounds and drove to see a specialist. The town’s general hospital offered me a post which I accepted. At first, I missed the hustle of the big city terribly but soon came to appreciate the ordered, predictable nature of my work. Mama stayed on admission for four months. Following her discharge, we sat on the porch every evening and gossiped; about Abubakar and his three wives, the new set of stalls being built for which she will be named: “market Chairlady,” my promotion to Chief Laboratory Scientist and my future husband- our Imam offered his hand and I said yes although, Mama thinks he is too old.
The wedding held two days before eid. My friends from the city attended. I asked for the Qur’an as dowry. Mama wore a flowing brown jellaba and matching silver shoes. Her grey hair rolled in a knot, uncovered. I wore a maroon-purple jellaba and veil encrusted with tiny, shiny stones. My unruly hair was carefully oiled and combed into a bun. Black medium heels completed the ensemble. We did our make-up, she designed shapes with red henna on my fairish skin and held my hand as we trekked to the nearby mosque in a small group of family and friends. I became a married woman within minutes.
***
At the outskirts of our village far away from areas inhabited by men and crops, accessible only through a narrow path lined on both sides by frightful shoulder-high weeds, lies a patch of land ever so slightly undulating. There are no visible markers of any kind but my cousin swears he can point at both spots blindfolded. It often worries me that I will never know where Mama and Papa rest in their final sleep. I supplicate to The Merciful One on their behalf as I hope somebody would for me, when my turn comes. The moon will be a silvery orb tonight, glimmering from its fortress in the sky. Who knows, I might see those two chase each other again; the twinkling stars I can’t help but think, are Mama and Papa.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Okhuosami Umar Faruq is a biochemist who has a passion for writing fiction and essays in his spare time. He sometimes writes for microcosms fic and has works under consideration across several journals/magazines.

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