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Friday, June 29, 2012

NEVERLAND


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Many of us had that childhood friend of the opposite sex that all the adults would declare our husband or wife. When it first starts, we’ll protest loud enough for the world to hear, shed a tear or two even. But after some time we’ll kind of accept it and it’ll stick. I had mine. Let’s call him Tade. Tade and I were always in the same class throughout primary school, and we always shared the same seat. We were different in many ways – he was Yoruba, I was Igbo; he was dark, I was yellow; he was talkative and quick witted (at least as much as a seven-year-old could be), I was quiet; he was Muslim, I was Christian.

Our chemistry was about fights, competition and the rare ‘awwww’ moment; it was our own special blend. We didn’t share any late night dinners, but we did examine each other’s lunches during break at school. He’d sometimes bring this beans-maize-garri combo and I’d just stare in awe. Instead of romantic evening walks, we had the walk home from school every afternoon. For sweet nothings, he would call me yellow pawpaw, and I’d say he was black like amala.

We weren’t hung up on sex and kissing and all that other messy stuff. Having birthday parties, fancy stationery and high scores, those got our blood pumping. And it was understood that whoever finished writing out Uncle Daniel's assigned fifty Ugo C. Ugo questions first had bragging rights for a whole week. I took my victories quietly; he always bragged. But it was okay since he hardly ever won.

We didn’t know all the terms, but we understood the basic rules of our relationship; like we were allowed to have other friends. Some days he’d seem to want Male Bonding, so he’d stick with the guys and I’d make attempts to blend in with the girls. I wasn’t the jealous type. He was allowed to talk to other girls, even share his weird food with them if he liked. But, permissive as I was, even I had to draw the line at some point. That point came one day when he needed to sharpen his pencil and didn’t have a sharpener. I stretched forth mine just at the same moment that Prisca, (the yellowest, most girly girl in class) who had the seat in front of us, offered hers. For an interminable moment, he looked from my plain purple sharpener (Made in Taiwan) to her Voltron (Defender of the Freakin’ Universe!) sharpener and back again, before smiling and taking hers. I was shattered.

“It’s Voltron!” he whispered to me when Prisca faced her notebook again.

I smiled my understanding. Yes, dear.

He finished using the sharpener and placed it on the desk between us. Moments later, I asked Uncle Daniel for permission to use the bathroom. I did, and I returned to class feeling physically lighter. After a while, Prisca turned to Tade and stretched forth her palm for her sharpener. Tade glanced at the spot where he’d dropped it and, what do you know, it was gone! Me, I was really supportive as he rifled around, shook out his notebook, shook out mine, turned over our desk. When he asked the class: “Who took Prisca’s Voltron sharpener?!” I helped echo it louder. The class stared back; nobody responded. But the silly girl wouldn’t let it go, and soon the whole class was on a Voltron hunt. She even insisted on a body and bags search for everyone. If they had asked, I might have told them they’d never see Voltron again.

Tade and I walked back home together after school that day, me quiet because I almost always am; him quiet because the wheels in his head were turning.

“I know what you did,” he decided finally. I kept my mouth shut.

We got to the kiosk on his street and he stopped and bought me five wraps of *baba dudu, which I accepted graciously. We continued walking.

“Yellow pawpaw,” he muttered.

I smiled and sucked on my sweet. His apology was complete.


*baba dudu: dark, oblong shaped, locally made sweets that were popular when I was a child. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

DEATH IS A HAPPY FACE

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To celebrate Short Story Day Africa, the 2011 Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop participants got together to write short stories 100 words or less. (Not an easy thing, I tell you.) Here's what I wrote.

With eyes and blade glinting, they come at me. I strain against the ropes, try to bite as she unties me and asks the evil child to hold me down.

I feel my blood run as the woman slits my throat. She drops the knife and they stand back, satisfied.

Surprise!

I spring up and bolt, my head flailing about, painting the ground red with life and defiance. They clap and squeal their enjoyment. My eulogy?

I fall. The last thing I see is the child. She is peering into my face with a smile.

"Mummy, it has died!"

The End.


Please visit our group blog, Linguistic Playfulness, to read more 100-word stories from other participants. Maybe leave a comment or two?

Happy belated Short Story Day Africa! 

Friday, June 15, 2012

THREE LITTLE PIGS


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It didn’t take them long to realize they were lost. Three little sisters, walking the streets in their matching Three Little Pigs pajamas, fingers clutching the Lego bags their mother had given them to store their underwear in. Nobody wanted to be the first to say it, but as surely as they could still feel the welts from mummy’s lashing last night, they knew they were lost.

“See! See that bus there! Let us enter and tell them to take us to grandmother’s house,” the youngest squealed.

The second sister, the troop leader, considered this for a moment. Deciding it would not be a bad course of action, she pulled her sisters’ hands. They walked toward the bus and its screaming conductor.

“Ago Palace Way, Ago! Wole Ago Palace Way!”

The second sister tugged at the conductor's faded black shorts, and he scowled down at them. “Wetin!” he croaked.

“We are going to our grandmother’s house,” she said, looking in his red eyes.

The conductor was a little taken aback by the audacity of the girl. In a slightly more civil tone, he asked, “For where?”

“In Ikot Ekpene,” the oldest one said, with more certainty than she felt.

The conductor pulled the few strands of hair on his chin. Ikot Ekpene? That wasn’t one of his bus stops and he was sure he hadn’t heard of any such place along his route. If he let them in, where would he drop them? But passengers were scarce at that hour. Maybe take them in, let them out at the last bus stop?

“Ikot Ekpene? Do you children know where you are going at all? This is Lagos; Ikot Ekpene is in Akwa Ibom State.”

The owner of the voice, a wizened old woman, poked her head out to look at the children. Then she moved to sit closer to the door, squinting at them with murky eyes. The two other passengers on the bus looked on.

“Young ladies, where is your mother?” the old woman asked.

The first sister was about to speak; tell the woman they were running away. But the second gave her a timely pinch. The oldest yelped, but otherwise her mouth remained shut.

“I said where are your parents, eh? Can’t you talk again?”

The conductor had lost interest and resumed yelling his destination to attract passengers, and the old woman looked like she might jump down from the bus to get them. The second sister looked at the third, and then at the first. As if responding to some inaudible cue, all three took off running from the bus stop, down the street. And they ran and they ran, only stopping when they could no longer hear the voice of the old woman calling out behind them. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

COMPANY


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I come out from the dream clutching my neck, my mouth open in a soundless scream, and I don’t know where I am. I look out into the blackness that fills this place. It’s the kind of thick, malignant black that feels like it could swallow any light. I can still feel it throbbing in my neck, the bottle the madman had stuck in it, and so I cannot take my hand away. I blink, trying to make out a wall, a window, but the darkness won’t let me. So I close my eyes, take deep breaths and count the numbers off in my head till the pain stops. I count to forty.

I open my eyes and I remember where I am. The darkness hasn’t given way, but the pain in my neck is gone now so I can hear his gentle snoring. It was the last thing I heard before I fell asleep last night; that whisper of a snore that had begun almost as soon as he’d rolled off me. I grope on the floor around me in the dark. When I find my phone I press a button for light. It’s one forty-five. I slide off the bed and to the floor and notice that my head is pounding. I crawl onto last night’s condom just as I reach my hand bag. It sticks to my knee and I brush it off with an impatient motion. Still holding my phone for light, I rummage through my bag till I find my lighter and pack of cigarettes. There’s only one left. It will have to do until he wakes up. I light it with shaky hands. I shine my phone light towards the bed and I can make out his figure splayed on it. I smoke my cigarette and try not to think. I pretend not to hear the voices in my head; those mocking, probing voices that know my past, that tell me about my future.

My cigarette is gone and the fool still isn’t awake. I crawl to the bed and slap his thigh hard; once, three times. He grunts and rolls over, and the snoring continues. To hell with this. With my phone light I find the pile of his clothes on the floor and go through his trouser pockets. The weight of the smooth leather wallet is promising in my palm. I open it and rifle through the naira notes. There is much more in there than the fee we had agreed on. I take it all, stuff it in my bag. I find my clothes and get dressed, and I walk out of the room and through the gates of Paradise Hotel.

The air is hard and nippy, and the street is wet. It must have rained sometime during the night. It should be rowdy here, even at this hour, with men and wannabe men drinking manpower, smoking weed and dancing swor, baiting me and every other female in sight with sneered promises of money or unspeakable pleasures. But the street is empty.


My feet move on, taking me to the place where I will buy silence. But till then, the voices in my head rule.

Friday, June 1, 2012

BROKEN IMPRESSIONS II


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Continued from last week...

I was glad I’d worn the heels. I noted with satisfaction the stares that followed me as I strutted down the street of my office. As I walked, I imagined meeting Jumi. He would probably be doing something when I walked into wherever it was we would meet at Lafayette Mall; maybe talking on his phone, or typing something. He would glance up and see me, and he would be unable to look away. I imagined his eyes lighting up, the smile that would curve his lips. I saw the envious looks I would get from other girls as he met me with a kiss on the cheek and told me how stunning I looked. It was a beautiful day.

As I turned into Grove Street, I felt a pinching sensation in my right foot. I tried to ignore it, but the more I walked, the worse it got. A tingling started in my left toes, and both my heels began to ache. By the time I got to Oloyede Ibrahim Street, where Lafayette Mall was located, my legs had started to wobble. I hailed a passing okada, then waved him off as I remembered I could never mount one in that dress. The okada rider bade me waka as he sped off.

I felt beads of sweat forming on my Mac-powdered face. I took out my handkerchief from my bag and dabbed gently. Pain or no pain, I would not smear my makeup. I wobbled all the way to Lafayette, gritting my teeth but still confident that the heels had been the right way to go. When I got to the doors of the mall, I stopped and took in several deep breaths. I steeled my calves by sheer willpower, smacked my lips and smoothed the fabric of my dress down over my hips. With a quick glance at my reflection in the tinted glass doors, I opened the doors and walked, head high, into Lafayette Mall. I felt my phone vibrate in my bag and took it out.

“Hi, Jumi.”

“Hi. Where are you?”

“I just walked into Lafayette. Where are you?”

“I’m right in front of Cuban Café.”

“I’ll be there in a moment.”

I ended the call, noticing absently that I could no longer feel the pain from the shoes. I smiled. Soon, Jumi. Soon. I turned right at the bookstore and saw Cuban Café ahead of me. And Jumi standing right beside the doors, hands in his pockets. In slow motion, he raised his eyes to glance up at me, and then he couldn’t look away. I saw the twinkle come into his eyes, saw them widen in wonder, saw the smile on his lips. I saw his eyes widen even further, saw his lips part, heard him scream my name as though from the depths of a well, even before I felt my ankle buckle and my body fall to the tiled floor in an untidy heap.

Awele was right. With the spectacle I’d just made of myself, there was no way Jumi would ever forget me. He helped me up and asked if I was alright. I nodded over and over, desperately brushing my weave back from my face and straightening my dress. Jumi picked up my broken shoe, took the other one off, held my hand and guided me into Cuban Café. I could feel several pairs of mocking, malicious eyes boring into my back, and I imagined their owners sticking their tongues out at me. The doorman held the door open and muttered, “Sorry, madam,” but I knew he was dying to laugh. Jumi didn’t hold back, though; even as he led me to a table, I could feel his body shaking. I was too busy licking my wounds to scold him.

After a miserable lunch, through which Jumi kept bursting into bouts of laughter, only to catch himself moments later and mumble a half-hearted apology while I glared at my food, he left me at the café to search the mall for flip flops that I could wear back to the office. He found a pretty, bright green pair and we walked to the office in a silence which was only broken by Jumi’s unsuccessful attempts to stifle his giggling. I held my shoes in the small carrier bag the flip flops had come in, my lips stiff. As we walked into the office building, Jumi stepped closer to me and rubbed my arm in a way that would have been comforting if I couldn’t still feel the sting of his laughter.

“I’m sorry about your shoes,” he said. “You looked nice, though… before…”

My throat was hot with embarrassment; I could only nod. We got onto an empty elevator and I was grateful when the doors slid shut. I just wanted to get on my floor and slither back to my work station and never see or think about Jumi again. He probably didn’t want to see me again either, and that was just fine. I sighed and blinked back tears.

“Jennifer?”

“Hmm?”

“Can I call you again? See, we didn’t really get to talk, you know. With all that… happened… If it’s okay, I’d like to take you out again sometime. No pressure.” 
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