Night is coming. Why is he not here yet? Why has he not called? Fuck him. But waiting for him is slow.
The pain comes and sits. It stares at me as though daring me to say something. It stares and stares until all I feel, hear, see, and smell is its presence. There is a scamper in my head. Alcohol is reeking. Mama’s whimper cowers under Papa’s bark. His hands drum their fists on her body.
Then I am trapped in the dark. Papa’s face is hovering over mine. His weight is burning inside me, between my thighs. I am ten. Twelve. Thirteen. My voice is lost in the jerks of my breath, in the sea of his grins and grunts of wicked pleasure.
Papa goes and comes. When he is smiling, his voice is soft and smooth. The phone is strapped to his right ear. Mama has called that number and rained rebukes on its owner. And Mama called her Rose.
Then Papa goes and comes. And never goes again. Mama feeds and washes him. His body doesn’t move unless Mama moves it. His eyes become two balls of mysteries. His voice squeaks like regret. His presence recedes like old memory. Until the day he sleeps in Mama’s arms and never wakes.
Where are my cigarettes? I want to smoke away. Where am I? 0h. I am here, in this place. I am floating outside of myself.
But night is coming.
Six hours later
I’m behind the closed doors of my eyes, soaping myself in the bathroom. The drain is blocked. Water begins to rise, up around my ankles. A white-grey mist pours in from nowhere, and licks the water dry. I’m numbed and strapped to this stillness, then enclosed into a capsule – while the floor gives way to a deep, yawing blackness.
Now, me, a capsule, sinks into the darkest depths, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, fading away, slowly.
I’m sinking as though I’m not sinking. My eyes knock upon their sockets. They open. They blink. My hands flail like feathers. My legs, an immovable pair, struggling to stand me up. My voice yells. Noiseless.
Then, I’m awake, bare and ruffled in bed. The Doctor’s words stab me: There is a great chance of survival if we begin immediately.
Today, all I want to do is sit down here in bed and smoke myself away. I am on the seventh stick. I puff the smoke out through my fat lips, through my tiny nostrils. The mass gathers and swirls before me, as if writing a death sentence, in a language I cannot understand. I stare at it. It lingers – a reminder of this pounding in my chest.
A ball of sweat rolls down my left cheek as I puff out smoke again, in defiance to fate, and I stare at it, telling it – the smoke – to tell whomever it is going to meet at its destination not to interrupt this moment. My moment.
I reach for my phone with unsteady hands. I log on to Facebook. No friend requests. No notifications. No Nothing. There is nothing on my mind either. If there is, I don’t want to know. I scroll up and down taking interest in this picture or that post. I am bored. I need to detox myself of something. I log off.
I want to log in again. I log on. There are comments on my wall for my selfie which I recently posted.
“You are beautiful.”
“Your smile is lovely.”
“Oh, your boobs.”
What about them? I ask.
“I want to hold them.”
Another commented, “You ugly bitch, God will judge you.”
“Oh, please. Thank God you are not God. Fuck you,” I reply.
I log out. The phone drops from my hands.
The red light of the phone winks at me. I check the message. The dude, that husband of a faithful wife, sends greetings. He never misses to message me. New. Every morning.
The sheets still smell of him like he is here. I rest my hand on the side of the bed, the left side, his place, where he would have been if he were here. I feel him responding to my touch. He holds my hand and rests it on his chest. The left side. It’s beating. It’s for me. He looks at me. I look at him. We say nothing. We smile. I close my eyes.
Last night, we went hard like animals. Starved ones. He pumped into me. I shook like a dangling object, groaned in furious ecstasy. I yearned for more. He gave me more. His clammy right hand forcing its fingers into my wide open mouth, muffling me. Under his manly chest I was crushed. We wanted to disappear into each other. We wanted it to end. We didn’t want it to end.
I hold the rumpled mass of sheets tight to myself, the way I would have held him. Yes. I want him to myself. Here. Always. Now, I shudder at the very thought that he is not here.
He says my dreams are just dreams. Nothing is going to happen to me, to us. He assures me. I need to be calm. You are stressed, he says. I believe him. After all, don’t I work more hours these days? Sixteen hours daily. Don’t I need some time off?
I dump the cigarette butt into the ashtray with a thump, like a frightened fugitive. It doesn’t get the rats scurrying in the ceiling. They no longer get startled when I come home from work at night, and open the door. They are not prisoners, after all. The grinding of their teeth has become background music to our lovemaking – a seamless synchronization. It didn’t even occur to me until recently, when he said:
Do you hear those? They are happy. They approve of what we are doing.
The door squeaks a lot these days, on its hinges. I need to apply some grease. And the bathroom? A sticky concoction of hair, threads from the sponge, dust, and tiny soap particles must have clogged somewhere in the strainer. The window in the bathroom has accumulated much dust, and is now a screen of opaque brown, as if that were the world outside. A haze of brown.
He doesn’t reproach me, but he can bring to my attention such things. Like when he wrote, ‘I love you,” on the dust-stained window.
I take up another stick. The last. My chest strains. The pain begins to pulse. I choke. I cough. Dry jerks. Dry. It stops. My lips quiver. The stick between them dances like a bird on a rope. The husband tells me that my buttocks dance the way his heart dances for me. Sweet. I like sweet words. He has a plethora of them for me. They come free. And ready, he says.
For me alone.
I inhale a smokeful. Tentatively. I enjoy this sensation. Something is happening in my head. My brain. Dizzy, not dizzy. The in-betweeness of it. Foggy.
I love it. I don’t want it to end.
I delay its end.
Then I exhale. The smoke shoots out. I watch it – a long stretch of thin cloud. It scatters lazily. I watch it still. Fragments of cloud. It clears out. I watch still.
Now I see nothing but myself, in the photo frame, smiling into the camera. He says my smile makes me, him, dreamy. And I smile a lot when he is here.
I cough again. I cough myself out. I want to become forgetful. Forgetful of the report from the doctor. Yesterday. I have refused to look at it since. Sealed. Still. The doctor says the tumour needs to be removed. And chemo might be necessary afterwards, to prevent further growth. Chemo? It’s a joke, right?
I have not told the husband of a wife. But he will come tonight. And I want him to come. I want him to stop coming and going like the seasons. I want him here. Now. Always. Let him come. We will be dreamy.
The paper. Let it be. Let it lay there on my reading table, stuck between the pages of the book I am yet to read: Marquez’s Love In The Time Of Cholera. My last birthday present from him. I have come to expect nothing but books. The last one was Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Oh. I like Kitty. I love Anna. But I feel sorry for her. Oh dear.
Schedule. Surgery. Tiny growth in my breast. I can hear myself whisper.
I don’t want to think about that. Not now. Now is for nothing. And nothing will remain in my memory anymore. And I will be at peace. I will not bother about the lymph nodes under my arm. No more prescription. No more drugs. No more doctor visits. No more schedules.
I search the pack for another stick. It’s empty. I know. Don’t I? I search anyways, as if I am scaring something away, something inside of me. Yes, I am scaring it away.
I turn the pack.
I shake it to be surer. How surer do I need to be?
My breath skips past me. My heart pounds against the walls of my chest as if it wants to find a safer place, far away from me. I shiver as if I am cold. I want some warmth, his warmth. I want some presence, his presence. I want him here.
The knock on the door must have sounded centuries ago. He is standing on the threshold like a silhouette of a fading memory, of a first-year dissolving into the folds sophomore, of a penultimate year gathering her blanket around us. Our eyes linger on our faces when we say hi, hello. We steal glances between listening to the lecturer and pretending to read our books.
The sun is sinking in the sky; a canopy is spreading across the university compound. Birds are chirping the singsong of our hearts. Twilight is fanning our sizzling bodies. Our faces are locked in each other’s eyes. Our lips embrace, sucking out the tiredness of the last metaphysics class. What was Descartes saying? And Hume? And Kant, did he have to write that big book and call it, Critique of Pure Reason? Well, in the jubilance of our suckling lips, what they say doesn’t matter.
We shouldn’t be doing metaphysics in the afternoon.
The frenzy of final year carries us away in the folds of exams, grades, supervisors, projects-writes, rewrites and deadlines. His whispery voice is an echo, slicing loaves of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return, or Hume’s Causation or Locke’s Theory of Identity, or whatever, in my drums.
His smell, his shy eyes, and lazy smile loiter about me. The smoothness of his lips still oils mine.
I see him. He doesn’t look my way. He comes to class. He goes away.
We graduate. I’m sliced on the altar of yearning, and sprinkled with silence. I feel. I don’t feel. I don’t know how not to feel. Blank. Blunt. Why doesn’t he call? Or just mail me. Not even a how-are-you text. Should I write him? Should I call him? What does it mean? What if this is just a fickle feeling?
Life robs us away into the courtyards of her vicissitudes, serving me a stew of uncertainties. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I don’t want. Work. Don’t work. Go back to school. Don’t go back. Job hunting embraces me. CVs birth me no replies. I wait, and get tired of waiting, and tired of tired of waiting, until I’m tucked away in the bookshop of a college as an administrator.
Open shop. Take inventory. Sit. Customers come. They don’t come. They come. They don’t buy. They buy. They throw questions like darts. I answer as though their questions are lifelines. Stand. I don’t want to be bored. I yearn for Olu, a regular who I no longer see, except in my mind, his hair sitting on his head like a patch of mowed lawn on a globe, his lips coiling and uncoiling, slowly, eyes blinking to affirm the importance of every word, saying he has combed for jobs and the possibility of getting one is receding into the foils of a faint hope redeemable only be traveling out of the country.
You are lucky you have a job, he says.
Read something. What should I read? I’m nursing a hangover after reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Interest flees me. The morning is young and draped in brightness. Her sun is slipping in, in the company of gentle air, breezing through the nets in the window. There is a trickle of customers. I walk about the shelves. The smell of books crouches in my nostrils and nourishes my breath.
Do you have Achebe’s trilogy? The hardcover edition? A familiar voice asks, shattering the glass of boredom roaming about me. The owner’s eyes are holding mine. Silence blankets us for an eternal minute. What are you doing here? I want to say.
Evening welcomes us in the woods of our first kiss. The chilly air saunters in and strikes our skin. We fold into one another beneath the warmth of our gazes. Our voices like trumpets, sounding to the beat of our hearts.
Things happened faster than I could control. There was you, my grades, and then… What now? I love you. And I want to be with you. What about your wife? I don’t know her. I know you.
Now he walks up to the bed, drapes his arms around me. Drenched in his smell and soft breath, I want to hate him. I don’t know how to. I don’t know how not to. I want to tell him to go away, to leave me alone.
My lips part. Nothing comes out.
We will be fine, he says.