2015

"Her beauty was unfair, un-fair, an ebony thing, but that wasn't the reason I loved her. It was not the way she curled her finger around her hair when she was nervous or how she flicked my nose when she was upset with me.

It was not her voracious appetite for trouble which seemed to always have a way of finding her, nor the way she always made me late for work with her morning shenanigans.

It was not even the soft feel of her hands when we touched or the butterflies I felt when kissed.

No, it was that I had fallen for her at all. I wasn't sure if I had fallen all at once or if I had like a thousand crystal shards of broken glass. It was the way she made me feel things I had never felt before. Love. A strangeness. An uncertainty. Yet, my love for her was a jumping thing, never stable, like her. And that was why when her cupboard was bereft save for a note, I already knew what it would say.

She was gone."

"I cheated death tonight. The third time in the 1, 390 weeks, 5 days and eleven hours I have spent on this planet.

A sedan, headlamps off, was doing no less than 80kmph in my direction. I leaped. A screech, as rubber fought asphalt then a loud thud and a crash, followed. I was safe.

The cretin! What on earth? My body was shaking in wondermentäóñand alarm. Sweat broke out on my crown while my heart, pounded with tumbadora intensity. I was grateful to be invincible!

The first time, I was seven months old. Mother told me I was prone to lurching. I did that one day in the maidäó»s arms. She was only seven, with no experience in those matters. I fell and hit my head on a slab. I suffered intracranial haemorrhage and was in a coma for 10 days.

The second time was after final exams in the university. Stress and exhaustion had reconfigured almost everyone in our clique into images of kwashiorkor onsetäóñprotruding heads, sunken eyes and bony frames. A picnic was prescribed.

The lagoon, our destination, was nearby. The idea was eat, chat and laze. At some point, we, mostly the guys, decided to swim. And swim we did. When the others came out of the water I didnäó»t. A fisherman rescued me; Iäó»d gotten entangled in a net.

Since then, my lifeäó»s been relatively without incident until tonight.

I looked beyond the gathered crowd. The car had come to rest against a concrete pole, bonnet twisted in agony, engine emitting steam upwards and dripping water below. The driveräó»s seatbelt-less torso had borne the impact. My wife was pushing through the throng. My gaze followed where her attention was directed.

There was something, no someone, lying unnaturally on the ground. It was me."

“Madness in Degrees 

“What’s wrong?” Dr Ogbe asks our patient, Naturi.

 

“Nothing!” Naturi snaps back. 

“Something’s wrong, but I won’t force you to talk” 

“Just leave me alone!” 

“Fine,” Dr Ogbe replies, and ignoring Naturi’s petulance, her fingers tap away at her keyboard. 

Both women subsequently lapse into silence and Naturi’s full lips curl into a hard line. 

Silently, I watch the drama. I am, after all, assistant psychiatric doctor, and I have come to understand the thinness between sanity and mental neurosis. Naturi is a beautiful 19 year old girl, a vivacious creature with a head filled with things you wouldn’t believe. Once, she claimed a voice had told her to dance; and did she dance? 

Really, I believe we are all mad in degrees, but only become patients when overly ambitious in our pursuits.  Naturi’s face goes from indignation, to scorn, and finally to misery. And maybe hoping for solace in a man, our eyes lock, and with tears trickling down her face, she cries out, “I am in love! But my heart is broken.” 

Dr Ogbe looks up at her now. 

“I met him at Sophie’s,” she says softly, heart-bro“ken. “His name is Chizzy.” 

“What is the problem?” Dr Ogbe asks, with practiced patience. 

“He keeps staring at another woman.” 

Puzzled, Dr Ogbe hands her a tissue and books her another appointment. 

After work later that afternoon, I see Naturi standing in front of Sophie’s boutique, eyes fixed on the lovely clothes displayed in the show glass. 

Curious, I linger and watch her gapping at the clothes, or so I thought at first until I drew closer. 

Two exquisite pale mannequins are displayed; one male, the other female, plastic arms touching, and both staring eternally into each other’s eyes. 

Embroidered on the male’s shirt is the name, Chizzy!"

2014

Why did you burn yourself, Ana? Sister Clara, the nurse at St. Mary’s girls’ secondary school asked me, as two matrons tightly restrained me to a bed in the school infirmary.

“Babu told me to set him on fire,” I whispered with a shaking voice.

“He said he wanted to feel the flames lick the folds of his wrinkled skin like orange tongues. This morning, when I looked at myself in the mirror I saw him again, the elderly neighbor with wrinkled skin and no front teeth, wrapped in a blue quilt.”

Sister Clara, with a big cross hanging on her chest, peered at me from above her wire rimmed glasses as if her gaze would burn Babu’s soul inside me.

I told her that Babu hated the cold, but I could tell that she didn’t believe me. She thinks I am crazy.

My mind drifted to a time when he found me in the outside kitchen house stoking the fire. I was ten years old. The house was a round brick hut with a single window, a door and a thatched grass roof. The inside was mostly empty, with a single wooden hearth made of three bricks and firewood that was sloppily arranged between the bricks. The walls were covered with black soot, and the smell of smoke stung my eyes. Babu said he was cold, and forced me to lick the folds of his wrinkled skin until he was warm. He said to touch him until his skin was on fire. When he touched me, I burned.

A sharp needle startled me as it pierced through my scorched skin.” Noooo! “I cried frantically as Sister Clara injected more liquid inside my veins. “ Relaaax!” She cooed, and my eyes slowly dropped as I drifted off to a blazing oblivion.

That was my wife, Chiamaka, approaching. People thought her puerile and naïve but I deemed her exquisite. She was blithe and permissive, carefree and lax.

We’d been married for five months through the declarations of our parents and other adults. I was seven years old and she, just six. Her mother declared her my wife because she’d been my favourite playmate. I never knew her father’s opinion. We cherished our union and understood the unspoken words, we always chose a spot away from other playmates on those days parents allowed their children play outside. I didn’t want other children playing with my wife; she didn’t want them eating her soup.

During one of those wonderful days, I couldn’t find her. She was obviously missing. I was worried. Jennifer, another playmate had stopped looking at me from afar. She was standing close now.

‘Come and help me grind these leaves,’ she pleaded. As they’d be used in her mock soup cooked in a tin and eaten with moulded mud.

I had ground the leaves half way when I saw Chiamaka. I stopped. My guilt stricken face refused meeting her questioning eyes. She left. I just broke our marital vows.

Later, I saw her with Ebuka who didn’t like sharing his toys. I was devastated and jealous. My heart raced faster than my toy-car. I felt divorced.

I glanced at her periodically all the while but she never looked my way. I waited until play time was over. Instantly, I picked up the tin for cooking and went to her.

‘Take, I cooked this for you,’ I muttered with stretched arms.

She stared at me and collected it.

‘Thank you,’ she replied, smiling. ‘See you tomorrow.’ She entered her house. I smiled. I just saved my marriage.

The air shuddered in the overbearing silence.

“I know you’re probably thinking it’s your fault, Gare, but mommy left because she wanted to, okay?”

Gare sat quietly on the edge of her bed. She was a most peculiar child. Her class teacher had remarked on her last report card: She does not mingle with other students, and when her parents had read it, they had shared a hearty laugh. “Of course, she didn’t mingle. She’s Gare!” her father had laughed.

And he had laughed a little at first when he broke the news to her. When he sat by her bedside and said, “Your mommy’s run away, Gare. She didn’t even leave a note.”

It had been a most peculiar laugh, too. Gare hadn’t thought it an appropriate thing to do, laugh while telling her that, but she was not given to words.

In fact, she hadn’t said a word since she had been born seven years ago.

“Drink your juice, Gare,” her father cooed and he rubbed her hair affectionately. She took a sip, then a gulp. Soon the cup was empty, and sleep wrapped pervasively around her like a bristly shawl.

“Go to bed,” he said, and he turned off the bedroom light.

What Gare didn’t know was that daddy had been under a lot of stress lately, and that a long time ago, since before she was born, daddy had burned down his foster home.

What she knew, however, was that her mother hadn’t run away.

She knew her mother was under a pile of earth in the backyard.

But she was not given to words.