AND THIS IS HOW THEY BECOME BEAUTIFUL by Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba

AND THIS IS HOW THEY BECOME BEAUTIFUL by Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba

photo of daughter hugs her mother

AND THIS IS HOW THEY BECOME BEAUTIFUL

by Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba

First Runner-up of the 2021 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

The boy wants to cry. 

He sniffs in mucus for the umpteenth time, but his mother holds his arm and tells him that he will have to make a choice. He stares into her face, searchingly. Tears stream out of her eyes. And so he turns to his father, but his father stares into space. Hopeless, he turns back to his mother. “I want to stay with both of you,” he drawls.

His mother’s hand finds her face. She sniffs. She says she can no longer tolerate his father, and the boy shudders. But he cannot deny his mother’s words either. They are fact, and his memories are proving it. In recall, his mother’s wails are loud and raw. His father keeps lashing her. The cane in his hand comes down swiftly, eliciting pleas from her. He joins his mother, pleading, pleading. His father barks at him: “Get away from here, asongo!” 

The boy buries his face into his palms. His father might be wicked, but he still loves him. And his mother—ankara-clad, ginger scenting—he can’t part from her—his sweet mother who kisses his forehead and pinches away his nightmares.

He lifts his face. Breath raspy, his mind tears into a whirlwind. His mother’s countenance prods him and the thought that he will have to choose scatters shivers all over his body. He looks onward. The door is ajar. So he gets up suddenly, chest heaving, and bursts through the door. One thought in his head, he runs and runs. Runs through the sandy street. Past houses. Past Madame Ura’s puff-puff stall and takes a turn around the bend. A tarred road ahead of him, people scream. It teems with vehicles whooshing back and forth, but the boy’s body is no longer his own. Before he realizes, a massive force slams into him and he is not on the other side of the road but rolling and rolling over its roughened surface.

 “Jesus, Jesus!”

“Yesu terem ka tor!” 

“Check pulse, check pulse. Is he dead?”

Everything in the boy’s vision blurs. Mind muddled, he can barely decipher what people are saying.  A sharp pain blazes in his ear, but it is becoming mild because he is growing lighter and lighter. When his father and mother arrive, their faces hover over him, he, however, makes out their faces. He smiles. His parents are here with him and all is beautiful. 

He doesn’t have to choose anymore.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba (b.2002) is Nigerian. A 2021 ARTmosterrific artist-in-residence and an alumnus of the 2020 AFRIKA-WRITES PROSE WORKSHOP, his works have found a home in FictionWrit Magazine, The Shallow Tales Review, Arts Lounge, Eboquills and The Muse. He is an Editor at FictionWrit Magazine, wishes to attain the serenity of water, and enjoys watching TK and Carlos kiss. 

A MATCHING PAIR by Agbai Emmaterry Chinonso

A MATCHING PAIR by Agbai Emmaterry Chinonso

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

A MATCHING PAIR

by Agbai Emmaterry Chinonso

Winner of the 2021 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

“Good night mummy!” Benjamin calls as I walk past their room. 

“Sleep dear, you have school tomorrow.”

“Must we go?” Grace, the 5-year-old miscreant, whispered from the dimly lit room.

“Yes, you must go,” I answer calmly.

“What if Daddy says we can stay?” This time it was Benjamin, a 7-year-old, who always encourages his sister’s mischief a little too much.

“He won’t,” I say with finality. “Now good night.”

I walk away and head into our room. Easing the door open, you hurriedly stand to your feet, blanket and pillow in hand.

“Are they sleeping?” You ask carefully, your eyes watchful of my expressions.

“Not yet, wait a while.” Quietly, you lowered yourself into the couch in our room.

Even though it was more of my room these days. For the past few weeks, it had only acted as a storeroom for your belongings. My nights now end with you sneaking away to the guest room and the mornings had you crawling back in. 

It was a noisy process that always woke me up, no matter how quiet you tried to be. But the sounds of you ‘tip-toeing’ through the house had never woken the kids. That was the aim, to not let the kids know. That was why we were only true to ourselves under the hood of the night, only then could we drop our acts.

Turning off the lights by the wardrobe, I quickly begin to change into my pyjamas. I swing my head backwards to ensure you’re not watching. Testament to your smartness, your gaze is averted. Your eyes pointedly fix on the unplugged television, you understand that you lost the right to see me naked.

My eyes quickly go over your body before turning to unfasten my bra. It was a mere glance but I still noticed the difference, I have always noticed the little things about you. Your white tee, the one worn out from being a night-shirt, now hangs loosely on your frame. You had never been a very bulky man, but you were looking leaner within a month. 

A month of anger. A month since betrayal broke my trust in you. Since I donned on a unique shade of hypocrisy. 

Ben’s question echoes in my memory, “What if Daddy says we can stay?

How could daddy say ‘yes’ when he was struggling to appease mummy? How could he go against her after he had cheated? 

 *     *     *

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

One month ago, on a night like any other, my feet were folded underneath me as I worked on my laptop. I had managed to procrastinate another task until the dying moment and now scrambled to compile a report one hour before its deadline. 

‘You say I led you on, you sef dey follow me’ Ckay sang to Ayra Starr on their track – Beggie Beggie, on her new album. My head bobbed absent-mindedly and my lips sang along unconsciously; that was how much I had listened to the album. 

You stirred beside me, over and over again, making me wonder if the music was a disturbance. It never was, you always slept so deeply, only your biological alarm could wake you. But then you stirred again, 

“Maybe I should just turn it off,” I thought.

The silence that descended on the room was comfortable, leaving the irregular tapping of my fingers on my keyboard. But something was unusual, I couldn’t hear your snore. This was not the first time I noticed the absence of that light gravelly noise punctuating the air at night. After ten years of marriage, it was a sound I had grown accustomed to. I had come to even depend on it on some days, to lull me to sleep, my personal lullaby.

“Babe?” I called out lightly to you, unsure if you were actually asleep.

There was no reply. “Babe?” I called again, just to double-check.

“Yeah?” Came the reluctant reply.

“You good?” I asked, already getting distracted by the fact that my report was still waiting.

“Yeah, I am.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, my fingers skidding across the keyboard again, “You’re not snoring.” I added.

“What?” You turned slightly to look up at me.

“You’re not snoring,” I repeated, “That means you’re not sleeping well.”

“You know I’m not sleeping well because I’m not snoring?” You asked, your voice sounding surprised.

My eyes were fixed on the laptop as I answered, “Of course.”

“But I thought you hated snoring?” You asked, I could feel you watching me.

“I do, but not yours. I like yours now, I kind of even need it.” 

I smiled at the irony, remembering how I gave you grief about it when we had just started dating. The night I first slept over, it served as the subject of my playful jabs at you the next day.

“Oh.” Was all you said.

“So, what’s up, why aren’t you sleeping well?” I asked again as I flipped through one of the documents, I had brought home.

You were quiet for so long, I thought you had ignored me and tried to sleep again. But when I turned, I saw you blankly staring at the ceiling.

“Gozie what is it?” I was getting genuinely concerned now. Far off wonderment was not your thing, I was the ‘deep’ person in this relationship while you never got bothered or dwelled on one thing for too long.

You sat up and looked at me. Your left eye twitched, in some other people, that may be a sign of anger or dishonesty, but in you, it had always been evidence of nerves. 

“I-” You began to say then stopped, then tried reaching for my hand but stopped that too. 

“Gozie?” My interest was piqued. I set my laptop aside and watched as you sprang up from the bed and began pacing. 

With every step, the pending report slipped further into the back of my mind-forgotten. Your lower lip suffered between your teeth as you began to chew on it like a stubborn piece of ‘shaki’ – this was your other nervous tic. Whatever you had to tell me was big.

“Babe, I’m so so sorry.”

My heart began to slap against my ribcage. The broken look in your eyes tempted me to tell you to keep whatever you had done to yourself.

“What did you do?” I asked carefully.

“Babe, I’m sorry, I promise I love you, with all my heart. I love you, I love the kids, I love you.” You professed on and on until I raised my hand to stop you.

There was silence in the room, quite unlike the one I experienced earlier. This one was thick with unspoken confessions hanging in the air. An open secret I now suspected but you were terrified to admit.

“Did you cheat?”

My eyes followed you as you knelt beside me, holding my hands in yours. “Ebube, my love, please!”

I snatched my hands from yours and scurried away, “Oh my God!”

“How could you Gozie?!” I spat.

“She meant nothing to me, I promise you it was a foolish mistake!” Your words arranged like something in a nollywood script.

Sadness sank in my belly, like boulder thrown in a lake. My eyes glazed over as tears quietly ran tracks down my cheeks.

The kids could not wake up, I couldn’t risk having them witness this, so I swallowed my urgent scream. After what felt like an hour, but could’ve been 5 minutes, my voice croaked out, 

“Why are you telling me now?” 

“Uhm…” You paused, “She’s pregnant and threatening to tell you.” The words ran out of your mouth in one breath.

My head snapped up so fast, it’s a miracle I didn’t strain a muscle. “She’s what?”

“Pregnant.” You repeated quietly.

A peal of sardonic laughter bubbled in my throat and escaped my lips, then ended as suddenly as it began. 

“So, you’re only scared of blackmail, you’re not even sorry,” I stated flatly.

“I am sorry.” You emphasized the ‘am’, your eyes pleaded with mine. 

If there was one thing you knew how to do, it was how to be repentant, apologetic; you were always quick to be remorseful. So now that apologies easily fell out of your seemingly sincere face, it meant nothing.

“Get out.” It was almost a whisper, laced with intense anger and disgust. There was no protest, you slipped out quietly.

I immediately leapt towards the bathroom, the bile I had been suppressing now clawed its way out. The sounds of me retching into the toilet bowl echoed off the tiled walls.

Maybe you would feel the same, if you know that we deserve each other, cheats deserve cheats.

But mine was different. I cheated out of necessity, and that was why I knew your mistress was a lying whore. The child in her womb could not be yours.

The two sleeping angels in the other room were proof, no child could be. 

NNEOMA IKE-NJOKU’S NOTE ON CRAFT

NNEOMA IKE-NJOKU’S NOTE ON CRAFT

close up photo of gray typewriter

Nneoma Ike-Njoku’s Note on Craft

As part of the Notes On Craft series, I (Olakunle Ologunro) reached out to a number of writers and asked them to share a piece of work that is most significant to them, and what they think other writers can learn from it.

Here’s Nneoma Ike-Njoku’s pick: Atonement by Ian McEwan.

Atonement by Ian McEwan is one piece of writing that has greatly influenced me. The book does so many things so well, like weaving the bildungsroman structure with a war narrative and having a protagonist with a strong, distinctive voice. I first read it at around thirteen or fourteen and remember being deeply moved. At its heart, it’s a story about a writer, which perhaps is a cliché for a writer, but it’s also a story that gets to why many writers do what we do in the first place. We write to understand ourselves, our lives, our pasts, and our world. For what writers can take away, McEwan’s attention to language and sensory detail make this novel an easy one to immerse oneself in.

You can read an excerpt here.

workplace with laptop and opened diary

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nneoma Ike-Njoku was born and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Transition Magazine, The Winter Tangerine Review, The Kalahari Review, and NANO Fiction. In 2016, she won a Miles Morland Writing Scholarship.

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

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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