The day my parents died, I knew.
I barely ever sleep at night due to my ever present insomnia, but that night was different. I wasn’t exactly tired but TV wasn’t doing it for me that night and I hadn’t updated my book collection, so sleep was the next best thing. It was unbelievable how easily the sleep came, and how that time it wasn’t dreamless. The dream happened in flashes, I can’t remember it coherently, because no one ever does, but I remember waking up and feeling scared. I remember seeing my mom and dad lying there motionless, and watching their auras rise from them. The last thing I remember seeing was my sister crying, and I couldn’t stand that defeated image of her.
Two weeks after.
My parents had to leave the house early to catch their afternoon flight, so the goodbyes were pretty much brief and breezed through. I hadn’t forgotten the dream, but I just didn’t know how to stop it. My sister couldn’t care less about anything I said, she thinks I’m a pest. It’s evening and I’m trying to have a conversation with her, but she’s too busy typing away on her phone. She eventually shuts me up, and tells me to go warm the stew for dinner. I could hear the buzz of the TV from the kitchen. I scoop the frozen stew into the saucepan as my sister laughs at something. I have a bad feeling in my stomach as I place the pan on the burner. There’s a loud gasp and she goes:
“Oh my God Toke, there’s been a plane crash”.
My heart stops and I don’t feel it start again. I’m there staring at the melted reddish orange of the stew turn a dark red and then brown, and I wonder if my life will transition in steady stages. The stew thickens but I keep stirring it; its the only thing I could do to not pass out. Maybe concentrating deeply on this will eliminate everything else from happening.
“Maybe if I stirred hard enough…” I think.
My sister’s phone rings, a few seconds pass then the scream. I knew.
Sunday morning service.
Don Moen’s captivating voice resonates through the lush interior of the Mercedes and I wonder why I feel obliged to play his CDs during my early Sunday morning drive to church from home. I check the watch Father gave me a week back just because-8:52am-mother will have a cow. I’m about to tell Akpan to hurry when he deftly parks in front of the church’s main entrance. People are scurrying about, rushing to get in and I feel I should hurry too but if mother heard of my doing such an abominable act she would disown me; my expensive George material wouldn’t even make it possible so I resist the urge. The usher spots me and smiles one of those smiles I can tell she only reserves for people that look like wealth and smell of royalty, I smile back. She’s about to direct me to the front pew but I wave her away and walk towards my usual seat, beside mother.
She looks at me and gives a disproving look that screams “One shouldn’t be late to the house of the Lord.” I bend to hug her and whisper my apologies; I don’t mean them. Mother likes to keep up an appearance in church and make people believe that we are from a humble family which God has showered his unending blessings upon, I go along with her charades but we all know better. She is always at church smiling from ear to ear, leading the women’s group to one function or another, telling everyone to call her “Sister Vero” instead of Chief. I wonder why she tries so hard because I can see through the plastic smiles and the forced hugs from the other women that they don’t buy the act, that they know about Father’s shady dealings in Aso Rock, that they know she has “special boys” everywhere that satisfy her feminine needs; but she carries on. Maybe she believes if she tries hard enough she can fool God with the delicious scent of her imported perfume.
The praise and worship session begins and I sing along but not too loudly so according to Mother “they won’t think we’re bush.” I watch a woman clad in threadbare and outdated Ankara screaming the worship songs at the top of her lungs, her arms stretched out towards the ceiling, her eyes squeezed shut, and the full length of her poverty stricken body extended like if she could, she would pull the ceiling down and snatch God’s blessing from him. I want to seem more reverent and stretch my arms out like her but I fear the expensive watch on my wrist won’t let me and Mother would lose her mind if I begin to scream the songs out loud so I resist the urge. The Pastor begins the prayer session and I hear the woman scream “Amen” from the top of her lungs, her voice sounds hoarse. She starts jumping up and down and then rolls on the floor, arms stretched out and palms wide open, as if the dust on the floor were infact God’s blessing and she wanted it all for herself. I can’t help but wonder at such open display of desperation but I admire her reverence. She didn’t care what people thought of her, it was just her and God. I imagined myself doing that and seeing mother pass out but I think against it because my perfectly tied gele and expensive George material won’t let me.
The following Sunday
I’m sure Akpan is curious why I didn’t wear any jewelry or make up today but I’m not obliged to explain anything to him. I rush into the church like everyone else and the Usher from last week looks at me, sizes me up and turns away. I guess she doesn’t recognize me in my old Ankara wrapper and plain black top looking like a commoner. I approach the front pew avoiding my mother’s direction but an usher directs me to the back saying the front is “reserved for dignitaries”, I guess he doesn’t know my father owns the biggest oil rig in this country but I follow his direction and find myself seated beside the poor woman from last week wearing the same threadbare Ankara. The worship session begins and I will my voice to be loud and my lungs to scream with abandon; I’m sure I sound crazy but I don’t care anymore. The woman begins to jump and I jump too, my arms stretched out without any watch to hold me back. The prayers begin and I’m screaming amen, I feel myself run to the front of the altar and begin to roll on the floor. Yes, I can feel it now. I hear my mother scream my name “Iruoma! Iruoma! What are you doing?! Iruoma!” She sounds scared but I don’t care. I want her to shut up and leave me alone, can’t she see that God is blessing me?
She was uneasy and the creaks the bed made each time she tossed and turned made that evident.
She closed her eyes and remembered those words that made her heart grow wings and soar.
That made her soul float in such a slow peaceful way.
“Ezinne you know you forgot about me.”
It was the way he said it; so innocent, so insecure and so unsure.
She remembered back then how she would hold him and make him feel better. She would heal him with soothing words like mentholated balm to tired feet. She would rock him like a baby if need be.
She reminisced of all these times until she choked with nostalgia and tears found their exit from her eyes. She didn’t cry because she missed him but because somehow when he said those words her first impulse was to cradle him in her bosom.
How she missed those days but not him. He ruined it all. They were perfect together but he wanted more, always. There was only so much of herself she could give until she could give no more.
Hearing his voice after all these months made her feel nostalgic for those days but that was all. She wasn’t sad or undone; she just missed those days.
Those days when she was madly in love and wasn’t afraid to show it, but these days she doesn’t feel anything.
She had been hurt badly and it was a horrible feeling but this emptiness, this unfeeling was even worse. She couldn’t feel and it was worse than anything ever felt.
So somehow hearing him say those words the way he said them put her troubled unfeeling heart at ease and she soared.
Because she never once forgot about him, not for a second. But knowing he felt that way and she was the reason for that gave her peace. She took delight in the knowing and she hoped it hurt whenever he thought about her and those long gone days. And the nostalgia from all the reminiscing not only choked him but left him pale and breathless.
Photo credit: Google
Imade the beautiful, Imade the flawless, Imade the intelligent, Imade the most wanted. Those were words that usually came after anyone said my name or spoke about me. Words of praise and admiration. I miss those words because the only words that come after my name nowadays are “Imade the trapped, Imade the helpless, Imade the victim.”
The darkness that my eyes have grown so accustomed to surrounds me and I feel around for anything that will make me feel grounded. So I would know I’m not floating in outer space and to certify that this isn’t a nightmare of some sort. I’ve lost count of the days and I don’t even bother with time anymore. Life inside this dank, smelly room hasn’t been life; it has just been existing. I can’t remember the last time I had the luxury of having a bath, feeling the warm water caress and run down my body and rid me of dirt and sweat. I miss the soft bed I used to lie on that usually takes me to my happy place; I miss my freedom. The smell of urine and stale air envelopes me and I can no longer tell if it’s me or the room that stinks so.
I lost my sense of being awhile ago when I discovered it was easier to drift off and know that no one would find me and that my captor would never set me free. I hear heavy footsteps grow louder and closer by the second and a male voice slurring “Imade the beautiful, Imade the flawless, Imade the intelligent, Imade the most wanted.” The last part sounds so lustful and dirty so I cringe after hearing that. The door opens and light fills the dark room; my eyes readjust and see his silhouette standing there with a sardonic smile on his face and I cower. I know what is about to happen so I prepare myself for it. I don’t fight him anymore because I learnt it ends faster that way and he won’t be forced to hit me, and even if he does it won’t be anything serious. I prepare my mind and I dream about what my life used to be, about what my life could’ve looked like. I block out what is happening and let my mind wander as my body goes limp by the first touch. Dreaming is beginning to hurt because it reminds me of what I will most probably never have and tears escape from my eyes, and just as he is done with his business he leans into my ear and sneers “Imade the trapped, Imade the helpless, Imade the victim.” I close my eyes and take the fetal position so he wouldn’t see me cry because I swore to never let him see me cry, to never let him know he got to me, and to never give him the satisfaction of breaking me.
The way we were
A toxic mix of passion and emotion
An uncaged explosion of desire
Pushing back and forth
Such dangerous chemistry
Lethal to both of us
One look at you and I knew how I felt
We had our emotions but we couldn’t have it all
Love wasn’t a constant in our variable ridden heist
I asked you if you were happy; you screamed yes
But there was a hesitation, ever so slight but still a hesitation
I knew I had to leave, it was the only way to prove my love for you.
Now, I see your pregnant self with your husband walking down the street
A beautiful little girl by your side and you are oblivious to my presence
I miss those days we shared but I know what happened was for the best
Maybe in our next life we could make it work
Maybe the next time our love will be infinite
Maybe but in this life we could never be
I watch you smile and all I really want to ask you is:
“Are you happy?”; “Are you really happy?”
A part of me hopes you are but the other part hopes not
Because I’m selfish enough to wish you’ll be sad without me.
I enjoyed going to Sabo market with mother because I enjoyed the smell of raw cow meat. It was odd but I liked it. Standing there listening to her haggle over the price of a slab of meat always interested me. Mother was a petty trader and a very ambitious one. She conceived me during her third year in the university and her parents disowned her. They didn’t disown her because she was pregnant, it was the calibre of man she chose that unnerved them. She had to discontinue her education because my father had just enough to educate himself and there was a plan for her to continue once we had a steady life. Mother had to adjust with living below her high class background but she never left her ladylike mannerisms behind. She always told me “Mobola sit like you have a secret to hide, walk like a proper lady, never slouch and never let anybody put you down.” I would try my very best to adhere just to see her beam with pride.
One day mother never made it back from her stall at Tejuosho market and father was worried. Then we got a call that there was an accident and mother died. The news broke my father. The job he had gotten as a bricklayer at a construction site because the job issue in Lagos was disheartening was lost because he had become an avid drunk. I sold wares whenever I could to put myself through school. I couldn’t afford the privilege of new clothes so whatever I had I tried my best to manage. My hips developed and my breasts sprouted so my clothes became tight. The other girls at school would gather and whisper about me and call me a slut because my uniform was always too tight. Parents advised their children to shy away from me because they tagged me as a bad influence.
Life wasn’t looking up for me. Father was getting more aggressive by the bottle and spirits; he began raining insults and hitting me whenever he got the chance. Then I met Ikenna. He was the new neighbor in our face me I face you. He would smile at me and compliment me. His arms became my hiding place. I spent as much time as I could with him because he shielded me from the troubles of the world. “Omalichanwa, see your ripe pawpaw face. God wasn’t tired when he made you oh”. No one had ever made me feel so good about myself in a long time. He promised to take care of me, he said he was going to America soon to get a job and that he would come back for me. Ikenna taught me how to kiss and for awhile that was all we did. Then one day he unzipped my skirt and I was shocked. He told me to calm down and he promised to take good care of me. I trusted him. I opened my secret up to him against mother’s warning and he entered me, I asked him about protection and he told me not to worry. “You only get pregnant if I enter when you are on your period”. Ikenna knew best. We were like that for three months until I realized I hadn’t seen blood for a month. I ran to Ikenna’s room and he reassured me. I fell asleep in his arms. The next day I left for school, I came back and Ikenna was gone. There was no trace of his belongings and I haven’t laid eyes on him ever since.
I dropped out of school while in my final year and gave birth to my daughter and named her Ayotomiwa – she was illegitimate but she was still my joy. I worked harder than I ever had. The other girls laughed at me but I never got weary. I own a bakery now, I live a stable middle class life, Tomi is 7 years old and I tell her the same thing Mother told me “Tomi sit like you have a secret to hide, walk like a proper lady, never slouch and never let anybody put you down.”
I wanted her back. I was so unhappy and everything made me think of her. Anytime Coldplay came on or it rained or I saw someone wearing a bright yellow T-shirt. They always reminded me of her. Damian Marley was right after all; how love truly was life changing and I was a changed man. Arinze tried all he could but I still couldn’t come to terms with the fact that the love of my life was no more. It hurt like a bitch but I didn’t expect otherwise.
15th November, 2013 – 8:46am
I could barely pay attention to the service going on. I wished, prayed and begged over and over again that all this wasn’t real, that it was all just some horrible nightmare that I would snap out of; that I wasn’t at the funeral service of my one and only. The pastor called me up to give my eulogy, I fumbled a bit. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her but this was the only chance I would get. I stepped up to the podium and began “’Lara was my everything, is my everything and will always be my everything…” My voice caught and I paused trying to recompose myself. “I apologize it’s all still very fresh for me. It happened less than six months before our wedding.” My mind was blank; I had forgotten my well planned out eulogy. I turned to look at the open casket where she lay peaceful and I walked over to it. She looked so at peace. The mortician and her friends did well to make her accident wounds invisible and she looked pale from the makeup but beautiful all the same. I looked at her face, it was a tight drawn out smile that must have been difficult to achieve. I kept expecting her to open eyes and do something spontaneous, anything at all. I wanted to see that smile that had made my heart melt the first time I saw her. The one that made me want to see it one last time; each and every time she smiled my heart would skip a beat and my mind would say to me “one last time” and I wanted to be the reason for that smile. I turned back to the podium and began “The day I met ‘Lara was the best day of my life. I knew there and then that she was going to be special to me. She had a special glow which she radiated. She illuminated my life and was my world. I fell in love with her in the most ‘Lara – like way ever; so spontaneous, so unexpected and yet so sincere.” I heard the droplets of rain outside and I smiled inwardly and remembered my promise to her. Even the weather agreed with her. “I miss her and she will always be a part of me.” I walked down from the podium and out of the hall. The rain had just begun but it was threatening to be a storm and I walked right under it. Head raised, arms stretched, tears streaming down my face I felt her with me. Her very presence made me want to talk to her . In slow hushed tones, I spoke to my rain. “I miss you and there is nothing in this world that would change that. My missing you is like an eternal longing for something precious I had that was cruelly snatched away from me. The beautiful way you smiled at me that kept me longing for the next time you would smile. The way you played in the rain, sang in the shower and danced to Train. I loved your everything, love your everything.” It felt like Drops of Jupiter by Train. Music had become my emotion too just like her. I held the air the same way I held her when I proposed, it felt surreal that moment. I imagined her smiling and as my mind promptly cried “one more time” I knew that forgetting her was impossible and I declared with everything in me “I will never forget you, my Omolara”.