HOW BODIES BECOME FLUID
by Ibe Obasiota
Shortlist (Top Six) of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)
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.
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.
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.