My Word Against Yours

He ran as fast as his legs could carry him. Sweat was pouring down his body and he was breathing heavily. He rounded the street corner where he knew the tarred road ended and a thick bush began. Without thinking, he ran into the bush. He did not look back. She was probably pursuing him for all he knew. He would not risk being caught and trapped. He kept running. His chest began to ache and burn as his heartbeat accelerated rapidly. He felt fire between his ribs with every move, yet he did not stop. He knew his body was revolting the insufficient oxygen it was getting, but he ignored the throbbing in his chest and kept running. He ran until he was sure he had outpaced her by a wide distance, then he hid behind a large Iroko tree, panting furiously. He was grateful for the bush at the end of the road. He knew that with the way she cared for her body, there was no way she would venture into the thick bush in search of him. But that woman can be crazy, he thought to himself. Today was especially bad. She was hot on his heels as he ran from the house. He thought she would give up once he ran out of the gate but she did not stop. That was when he decided to head for the bush. He shook his head. Which kain wahala be dis one? He asked himself. There was ruffling of leaves nearby. Instinctively, he crouched, hiding himself further behind the tree. His eyes swept his surroundings. His ears were attentive, hoping to hear footfalls. He held his breath for a few seconds. He heard nothing but the chirping of birds. Maybe the breeze, he thought. He sat on the grass, his back resting on the coarse trunk of the tree, and examined himself. No footwear—he did not have the time to wear one as he ran out of the house, torn shirt, claw marks on his right arm where the blood was starting to clot, a missing belt. He shook his head again. His breathing was returning to normal and the sweat was starting to dry from his body, leaving him slightly cold. He contemplated his current situation. He couldn’t go back to that house, to that crazy woman. His master was not due back from a business trip for another day, but he couldn’t sit behind a tree in the middle of a thick bush for a day either. He would be hungry. He had no money with him. He would be cold at night, and there was no telling what insects or dangerous animals lurked about in the dark. He was ill prepared to stay there and he knew it, but he shuddered at the thought of being alone with Madam Justina. She had torn his clothes, and her long fingernails had dug into his arm as he tried to wiggle from her tight grasp. He remembered how she pressed herself against him, telling him how handsome he was and how she couldn’t resist him anymore and how she needed him to satisfy her and how her husband would never find out about it. He was terrified of her massive breasts with which she tried to suffocate him, and her large arms with which she held him in a vise grip. He shook the dreadful thought away and focused on the present. He decided he would wait for nightfall, then sneak out of the bush. He did not know his way around the area, since he had been brought from the village only 2 weeks ago. He only knew his way to the nearby stalls and market where he went on errands. He reckoned he could sleep by one of the stalls. He could endure without food, but he vowed to only return home when he knew his master would be there. The breeze dried what was left of the sweat on his body and he drifted off into a troubled nap.

Something startled him from his sleep. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness of dusk, he quickly assumed a crouched position. He had heard voices. Yes, he had heard voices that startled him from his sleep. He listened. Were the voices in his dream? He kept listening. Nothing. Only birds and crickets. In the distance he could hear other soft sounds—nocturnal animals rising—but no footsteps, no humans. A mosquito rested on his shoulder. He thwacked it with his palm, making a loud slapping sound in the process. Suddenly, he was surrounded by blinding flashlights and shouts of “Don’t move, don’t move!” Several men in police uniform pinned him to the ground, put his hands behind his back and handcuffed them. He tried to speak, “What did I do? Wha—” He felt sharp pain on the back of his head and groaned loudly as one of the policemen hit him with a blunt object.

“Shut up, you criminal.” Another police man shouted.

They dragged him up and shone their flash lights in his face. He squinted, temporarily blinded by the harsh lights. “Madam, is this him?” He heard a gruff voice ask.

To his utmost shock, he heard Madam Justina’s voice reply, “Yes. He is the one. He stole my expensive jewelry.”

A hard slap. “Where is the jewelry?” An officer asked.

He tasted blood in his mouth, “I…I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Another slap. He felt dizzy. His head fell. “Do we look like jokers?” The same gruff voice asked.

“My husband will be very displeased when he returns. He bought me that jewelry at a high price. This thief only came to live with us two weeks ago and has taken my prized possession. I don’t know what to tell my husband,” Madam Justina cried. She sounded distraught.

“Don’t worry, Madam.” Another officer spoke, “He will confess by the time we are finished with him at the station. We don’t care if he’s only sixteen years old. These young boys grow wings fast.” With that, they carted him away, kicking, slapping and hitting him with their batons on the way. They reached the tarred road and shoved him into the back of their van. He was unconscious.

Madam Justina took out some Naira notes from her purse and gave them to one of the policemen, “Buy drinks,” She said.

He laughed heartily and collected the wad of crisp notes, “Madam, don’t worry. We will do our jobs well. If he refuses to confess, we know what to do.”

“My husband and I will have to look for another house-boy.”

“Madam, try to get one who is very mature. These small boys can be dangerous.”

“I certainly will,” Madam Justina smiled a wry smile and the policemen drove off with their prey.

As she walked back to the house, she called her husband from her cell phone. It rang a few times before he picked. “Hello Honey?”

She feigned a panicked voice, “My love, that useless boy has just been arrested.”

“What?”

“He stole my jewelry. Remember the one you bought me from Dubai? It’s gone. I had to call the police. He is in their custody now. I don’t want him near our home anymore. We need a new boy.” She burst out crying, “I’m so sad. I loved that jewelry!”

“It’s OK dear. I’ll be home tomorrow evening and we will sort it out. Just try to stay calm.” He reassured her.

“I love you,” her voice was syrupy.

“I love you too, bye.” He hung up.

She smiled a satisfied smile and walked into her house.

When Things Are Not What They Seem

I really like him, at least I think I do. I sense that he feels the same way about me, but right now we’re just friends. I feel my heart flutter when he’s near. When we’re at a gathering with other friends, I want to see him smile. Oh, he has an amazing smile. His eyes get all squinty, they’re really cute; black beads set in a handsome face. He smiles, I smile (inside that is, I try not to let my feelings for him show.) I also notice how careful he gets around me. It’s like he wants to please me to his own detriment. Besides, he looks at me funny, like he’s helplessly smitten by me. I catch him staring at me from time to time. He looks at me with intense longing, but I pretend not to notice. I’ve observed how he subconsciously seeks my approval. He tells a joke at a gathering and his eyes immediately fall on me to see if I laugh. When I laugh, I see his eyes light up. I giggle (Inside, that is, I try not to let my feelings for him show), I’m happy that he’s happy. He brings food to a potluck supper and wants to know what I think of his cooking, and never fails to tell me how he enjoyed my contribution to the potluck. One evening, we spent time alone; without other friends around. The atmosphere was charged with desire, I wanted to blurt out my feelings for him; I guess he wanted to do the same, but we didn’t. There were awkward silences throughout our conversation, and again I caught him staring at me a few times with that ‘I’m hopelessly in love with you’ look on his face. It was adorable (the best part is, he is unaware of the fact that I know he looks at me that way. I always pretend not to notice, and I’m pretty good at keeping a straight face while my heart is doing cartwheels.) We shared a bowl of ice cream and spoke about random things. None of us touched the subject we desperately wanted to discuss, because we’re friends. It was a nice evening though. Every time I spend with him is nice, whether in the company of other friends or not. We took a long walk another time. I thoroughly enjoyed it. We were being friends, walking and talking, laughing and sweating and then somehow his hand touched mine, and he apologized excessively for it. I laughed. It was nothing. The touch wasn’t even intentional, but the way he kept apologizing, it was like he had offended me in the worst way by allowing his hand brush mine. I laugh now as I remember it. He fell ill and my world turned gray. He was hospitalized for a long time. He missed a semester of school. I went to see him at the hospital as often as I could. I met his mother and father and sisters several times. I met his only brother once. We bonded because we shared a common wish: that he get well soon. It was heartbreaking watching him suffer, seeing all those tubes go in and out of his body, watching him fight for his life. I missed our long walks and gatherings with other friends. They came to see him too, but not as often as I did. I missed his approval seeking and excessive apologizing. I missed the look of longing in his eyes (His eyes were hardly ever open at this point.) I promised myself that if he survived, I’d proclaim my feelings for him. I wouldn’t wait for him to make the move. If only he would get better. He got better. What a miracle! At some point we didn’t think he’d survive, but he did. Boy, was I glad. He resumed school, a semester late, but happy. He couldn’t attend gatherings much with others but he and I hung out regularly. I reneged on my vow. I lost courage and didn’t tell him how I felt. He didn’t seem to have much courage either, and things were the way they had always been. We were still friends. He complimented me a lot more after the illness. He noticed more too. He noticed when I changed my hair, he noticed when I put on an earring he had not seen before. He noticed when I was happy, he noticed when I was gloomy. He asked deeper questions. Our conversations were not so random anymore. He asked questions about the future. What kind of house I’d like to spend the rest of my life in, what I thought about having a family, things like that. It never got beyond the questions though. He never confessed how he truly felt about me. I decided not to say anything too. I told myself that if this continued till my graduation, then I’d make the move. Graduation came. When I went up the podium to receive my certificate, his cheering voice was the loudest. I looked beyond the sea of faces present at the auditorium and caught his eye. The look on his face was…words can’t accurately describe. He looked at me like I was some highly valued treasure, like he couldn’t live without me, like he needed me, really NEEDED me, like I was his oxygen. I melted (inside), I smiled (outwardly). I walked off the podium and he embraced me, swirling me around like I was a little girl, I couldn’t help but joke about how unapologetic he seemed after holding me. Wasn’t he the excessive apologetic? He smiled that squinty-eyed beautiful smile and uttered the few words that shook my world: You’re now my best friend. Best friends don’t apologize for holding each other. My smile evaporated, my eyes teared up. Best friend? He just referred to me as his best friend? I ran to the bathroom. He pursued, rushing into the ladies restroom with little regard for the fact that he was not supposed to be there. I locked myself in one of the stalls. He knocked and knocked. I sobbed uncontrollably, wailing as I felt my heart shatter into a million pieces. He sounded perplexed—not knowing what he had said or done wrong—pleading with me to exit the stall and talk to him. I couldn’t speak. Wave after wave of grief washed over my body. I shook and quivered as all my dreams collapsed before me. Best friend? I couldn’t understand it. He didn’t leave. He kept pleading with me to unlock the door. After what seemed like a long time, I sniffed, dried my tears, gathered the last remains of my dignity, opened the stall and walked out. He was on one knee, an opened box in his hands. He had been crying too. Tears streamed down his face. My family was there. His family was there. Our friends were there. They all beamed. Some gently wiped tears of joy away with paper towels. As I stepped out, an applause ensued. At first I was puzzled, then it dawned on me. HE.WAS.PROPOSING. “Sandra,” He said, “You don’t know how hard it was hearing you cry like that. I don’t want to go out with you Sandra. I want to live with you. Will you marry me?” I smiled, then laughed, then fell on my knees and hugged him. “You just broke my heart, but yes, I’ll marry you. Don’t ever break my heart like that again.” We shared a passionate kiss. Everyone in the bathroom applauded enthusiastically. “Never, my love.” He whispered. “I’ll never break any part of you, much less your heart. You’re my life. I break you, I break me. I’m sure you can tell.” “I can.” I kissed his tears away and stood up. He slid the ring down my finger. My smile was from ear to ear. My joy could not be described. My mother walked up to me and gave me a tight hug. The rest of my family joined. His father hugged me next and whispered in my ear, “Sandra, welcome to the family.” His brother hugged me and said, “I know you love my brother, I didn’t know you love him this much. You should have heard yourself wail.” He chuckled. I hit him playfully on the chest, “If you guys didn’t plan something so heart breaking I wouldn’t have cried so much.” His eldest sister also hugged me, “Congrats Sandra. Welcome to the family. I recorded your sobs, in case you care to listen someday.” She laughed. “That’s not fair!” I exclaimed and laughed, “You guys ambushed me!” It was all joy and excitement in the bathroom. Afterwards, we made our way to the elaborate graduation/engagement party both families had planned. So, ladies and gentlemen, this is the story of how I graduated and got engaged to the man of my dreams in a ladies restroom on the same day. How fortunate can a girl get? P.S: I tell our children that their father proposed to me in a public bathroom and that we never dated. They always find it unbelievable, especially how we went from being friends to married. It makes great dinner conversation when they pay us visits.

Image Credit: Flickr

Daydream

In my daydream, he is perfect. He knows the right words to make a girl swoon. He knows what to do to make me laugh, even when I’m having a very hard day. He’s strong, always happy to lift me off the ground and swirl me around. He always gets the effect he’s looking for. I’d squirm and scream in delight and fear at the same time. His smile lights up my world. We are perfect together. In my daydream, he lives to make me happy. He always says that. He once told me I was the best thing to happen to him besides giving his life to Christ. He says I am Gods precious gift to him. He is a mentor, a fan. He calls himself my number one fan, which always makes me laugh. He never scorns me, never yells at me, not even when I deserve it. He corrects me lovingly whenever I make mistakes; and when I drive him crazy, he usually takes a long drive, comes back home and wraps me in a tight hug. No words. I try not to drive him crazy too many times.

I love him in my daydream.

He is witty. Whenever we are out together, he introduces me as his best friend, then sits back and observes in amusement as other men try to ask me on dates. One time, his friend kept asking him over and over, “You’re sure she’s your best friend?” It was hilarious. I don’t know how he managed to keep a straight face and answer, “Yes, Mark. She is.” Mark would once again attempt to entice me into going on a date with him. It would fail. I would exchange knowing smiles with my man that Mark would pick up, and ask the question again. He was so confused. I felt sorry for poor Mark.

In my daydream, I have the perfect relationship. He loves my family. My parents love him. They call him ‘prince charming.’ It’s so funny. His parents adore me. It’s all a girl could wish for. He always comes up with the best ideas for dates and trips. We have so much fun together. We are wrapped in our own beautiful world.

In my daydream, I am happy.

I never want to leave my daydream. It has become my reality, my solace. Somewhere deep in my head, I know it’s not true, it’s not real, I’m not this happy, but I push that away and bask in the comfort of my daydream. I don’t know how to come down. I don’t want to. I was lost, but with the daydream, I feel found. I feel whole. He found me, and my life has been colorful ever since.

The therapist stopped the voice recorder. The room was quiet. He spoke up, “What’s his name?”

“W—what?” I asked as I sat up from my supine position on the couch.

“You never gave him a name. His friend Mark has a name. What’s your husband’s name?”

“Oh. His name is…he has different names.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you think will happen if you give him a permanent name?”

“I—I think he will cease to be such a joy giver.”

“And you say daydream, not daydreams.”

“It’s a daydream. It’s one long, continuous daydream that has become my life.”

“Why did you come here, Lucy?”

There was a pause. “I want to join him. I hate the gaps in my daydream when I’m forced to come back to this world. It’s too painful. I miss him so much.”

“That’s why you tried to kill yourself?”

I shook my head. “No. I tried to kill myself because everyone thinks I’m crazy, and I don’t think I fit in here anymore.”

“Lucy, your file says you are suffering from pseudologia fantastica. You’ve been forced to visit six mental health facilities. I’m your seventh. Do you think you live out your daydream in real life?”

“What is real life?”

Dr. Morgan nodded. He walked over to the couch and sat next to me.

“Lucy,” He whispered, “I want to help you, but I’ve been doing this for a long time and I have come to realize that my patients have to be willing to be helped in order to be helped. Do you understand this?”

I nodded.

“So, do you want me to help you? Are you willing to be helped?”

“I want you to help me join him.” I whispered back. “Can you do that?”

Dr. Morgan was quiet for a very long time, his brows furrowed and all the lines visible on his wrinkled face. “No.” He finally said.

“Then I have no business here do I?” I asked, stood up and walked out of the office. Dr. Morgan did not try to stop me.

I gave my wristwatch a quick glance. 7:50 pm. He would be home, preparing dinner. I smiled. We had agreed to watch a movie tonight. Depending on the movie, I would cry sometimes. He would kiss my tears away, caress my face softly, and whisper sweet nothings in my ear until I fall asleep in his arms. I was looking forward to tonight. It would be a very good night.

Image credit: Britannica Kids

I have included some links to scientific research articles in case you want to know more about pseudologia fantastica.

I’m Listening To Music

What do you do when you watch the person you love shrink continually before your eyes? How do you feel when someone who was once bursting with life and love is now withered, worn, young, but looks at least two times older, fearful, unsure, tired, sick? What do you do when there is an ongoing struggle within you; you want to give everything up, but you can’t? What of God? What of the struggle there? What of the struggle to keep believing, or just forget it altogether?

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,

And never settle for the path of least resistance.

Easier said than done. I really want to breathe, but even that is hard. I’m very uncomfortable watching her shrivel. I’m also fearful. I don’t want to be, but it’s hard. This is someone I love, for Pete’s sake!

Living might mean taking chances, but they’re worth taking,

Loving might be a mistake, but it’s worth making.

Is it? Is loving a mistake worth making? She has loved all her life. Too much, maybe. And it has cost her every time. Betrayal from family she sacrificed her life to help, abandonment from friends when the going got tough, heartbreak and the ultimate deceit from a man she dedicated her life to loving and nursing. Yet she still cared, yet her heart was still large—is still large—yet she shrunk all the more. She grew smaller and smaller in my eyes every day, and I was worried, and angry, and unsure, and tired. Why does she have to go through pain without respite? Are there really people born to suffer? Will she ever enjoy life? When? All she did was be good and caring and loving. Makes me want to be none of those things, yet I can’t help it. I learnt from the best.

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, dance.

I wish I could dance. I want to. But I can’t seem to move. My legs are stiff, my hands are heavy, like timber. I’m becoming a statue, unfeeling. Nothing moves me anymore. I can be momentarily happy, but joy? I don’t know. She looks too small, when she should be larger than life. I remember who she used to be. I learnt many things from her, like how to be daring, and never settle for less, how to be bold, and strive for what I want, how to be hopeful, how to break down doors and pave a way for myself, how to love without conditions, how to be good to people you know and people you don’t, how to accept people; idiosyncrasies and all. She was all that and more. She was an amazon. Now, she is a shadow of herself. Gosh, she has become someone else altogether. My goodness! How did things get this bad? She shrinks every day.

I don’t want to fear the mountains. I want to dance. I want to love. I don’t want to be bitter. I want to hold on to hope and I want to believe. I just don’t know if, or when I’ll be able to do and be these things. I used to be better than this, but as I watch her shrivel away, as I watch her dry up, as I go through the turmoil of watching someone I know become someone I don’t, I know I need help. I’m losing my sense of wonder. I’m losing my spark. I’m shriveling too. I’m withering too. My heart is bending and twisting into a contorted shape. It is becoming unrecognizable. I’m becoming a shadow of myself. I’m becoming someone I don’t know.

I hope I find myself, even as I know she has lost most of herself.

 I still believe in miracles.

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,

Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens.

I hope so too.

What Breed Are You?

The moon visits me.

“It’s a messed up world you live in,” she told me on one of her visits.

We talk about many things, from the universe beyond our earth to how we humans have succeeded in breeding hate and destruction to the point where we no longer have control of our pets.

The moon is beautiful.

The first time she visited, I was lying on my bed by the window. I could see the full moon that night. I had developed a habit of watching the moon every night before I slept. I would turn off the lights and lie on the bed staring at the moon through the bedside window for the longest time and reflecting on my day. The moon was usually the last thing I saw before sleeping. The nights that she was nowhere to be seen, I would just close my eyes and wait for sleep to come. This particular night, my window was open and the cool breeze drifted in. As I watched her glow, she began to grow bigger and bigger. I sat up and rubbed my eyes with my fists. Perhaps my mind was playing tricks on me. I opened my eyes to see the most beautiful being standing by my bed. Her hair was long and black and when she smiled at me, the white of her teeth shone bright in my dark room. I shivered in fear as I quickly drew my blanket above my face. I must be dreaming, I thought. I shut my eyes tight and heard her giggle.

“I’m not that scary, am I?” She asked in a voice that sounded like notes being played on a piano. It was like music to my ears. I was soon to realize that her melodious voice changed with her emotions. The notes were high and sweet and delightful when she was happy, but turned melancholic, like jazz blues or ethereal neo-soul when she was sad.

I slowly moved the blanket below my face and stared at her. She was wearing a white robe and the breeze blew her ankle-length hair in smooth tufts. Her face was brown and smooth, angular. She had the biggest eyes, long, pointed nose and lips as pink as the roses growing in my little backyard garden. My first instinct was to look out of my window, and sure enough, the moon was no longer hanging in the sky. I must have looked terrified because she giggled again and sat at the edge of my bed. I moved my legs close to my chest reflexively. “Y—you are the—the,” I could not say it.

“The moon? Yes.” She smiled. There was something preternatural about the way she spoke. She picked her words, yet they came out sounding majestic and full of power.

“But, I don’t understand?”

“I’ve come to pay you a visit. You seem to be quite interested in me. I watch you watch me night after night.”

“I do enjoy watching you change.” I was becoming more comfortable. It was as if she sensed my initial alarm, and changed the aura around me to one of peace and calm.

“Yes, it’s flattering.”

“But,” I was confused again, “Won’t people notice that you’re missing? And when you grew bigger, didn’t anyone else see that?”

She chuckled, “Not many people watch me as intently as you do Sharon. So, not many people will notice my absence. The ones who do will be bereft of an explanation. It will quickly be tucked away into the extraordinary phenomena folder.”

After that first night, she became a regular visitor, and I thoroughly enjoyed her visits. She taught me a lot about the great beyond and the vastness of space and all the strange and scary experiences associated with the universe outside my tiny world. She told about how areas in space would sometimes light up with supernova events and implosions and explosions of matter and gases. She told me about black holes and worm holes and singularity and the dimensions which lay beyond event horizons. It was fascinating but scary to hear these things. However, she constantly spoke of space with a deep sense of reverence, telling me that none of it was scary, but exciting, pure. She never failed to let me know that my world was just a speck compared to the rest of the universe, and that our galaxy was only one of very many.

The conversations I anticipated the most were those that had to do with earth. One night, it was raining heavily outside, and I asked her what she thought about earth.

“I think it is a beautiful pearl. Small, but exquisite nonetheless,” She responded.

“And humans?”

“Unfortunate.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because it’s true, Sharon. They have mutilated the earth and themselves. It’s a messed up world you now live in. It wasn’t always like this.” She sounded like a slow, sad song. “An altered dawn is fledgling, and that’s good to observe. Things may get better. Not soon, but soon. The neophyte must grow.”

“What do you mean?”

“A new breed of mankind is emerging, Sharon.” She smiled her brilliant smile. “Humans are being born, who understand that different does not necessarily mean negative. Humans are being raised, who tolerate one another in love, who cooperate instead of nastily compete, who protect and preserve the earth, who care, period.

You see, from where I’m positioned, up, up in my zone, I can see so much. I have watched over millennia how hate, greed, mistrust, disappointment, egomania and other destructive elements have caked the human heart. Like tar. The heart is now completely covered and it is hard and dry. The damage will not easily be removed. It started small, but it was bred. It was your pet. You fed it constantly instead of fighting it. It has become a monster. It is now so big that it cannot be controlled. The pet is now in control of its master. It was sickening to watch the transformation, but I am hopeful.”

I bowed my head in shame. She was right. “There is hope,” I repeated.

She placed her palm over mine, and our fingers entwined. Her palm was cold and dry, but very smooth to the touch. “Yes,” She smiled. “For some, like you, it’s not so much negativity as it is numbness. Your heart has been numbed to the extent that nothing moves you anymore. People are killed and there is no empathy. You lost your family in that auto crash. Your husband and your two sons died on an icy road, and you ceased to feel. So now, you watch the news and you simply shrug your shoulders and move on as if the genocides, the plane crashes, the collapsing buildings, the flooding, the earthquakes, the election violence, the mass retrenchment, the crashing stock market, the diseases, and everything else plaguing earth means nothing. In a sense they mean nothing to you don’t they?”

I nodded. “I don’t care. I don’t even care if I’m affected anymore. I just go through the day doing what I think I should be doing. I should be sad, seeing people die of Ebola in Africa, or the young wasting their lives on drugs in the States, I should feel something, but I don’t.”

“You’re not alone.” She whispered. It sounded like wind-blown leaves. “There are many like you. So many you won’t believe it. Many humans are living statues. No soul. No heart. Their lives are buried under the weight of the earth itself. It wasn’t always like this.”

“But, there is hope,” I reminded her.

She smiled and embraced me. “There is, Sharon; there is. Maybe not in your lifetime, but certainly in mine.”

“But, that is a long time. Don’t you have an infinite lifetime?”

“Not soon, but soon. Don’t worry, the neophyte will grow,” was her cool response.

She left, and I slept.

The next night she did not show up in the sky. She did not show up in my bedroom either. I knew she would return before long, and we would resume our enlightening conversation. I couldn’t wait for her next visit.

The moon visits me, and different does not always mean negative.

Chitchat

When Pamela walked into the restaurant, she was fuming. She had an ugly scowl on her face and as she sat next to her friends Noel and Pat, they could hear her panting.

Ah ah, Pam Pam, what is wrong? Noel asked.

Pamela sighed, obviously trying to calm herself. “Please, I need a drink before I talk. Order me two bottles of Harp immediately.”

Noel quickly motioned for the waiter and placed the order. Soon enough, the young man reappeared carrying a tray on which sat two sweating, ice-cold bottles of Harp lager and a tall glass.  After filling the glass tumbler, he walked away. Pamela grabbed the open bottle instead and took a long swig, swallowing as gulp after gulp hit the back of her throat. Noel and Pat watched in awe.

“Will you talk to us or what?” Pat was getting impatient.

Pamela sighed again, “My dear, don’t mind that useless Oluchi girl. I just finished pounding her before I left the house to meet up with you guys.”

“Oluchi? You mean your house-help?” Noel asked.

“Who else?”

“And why did you pound her? What did she do? Is that why you stormed in here breathing like you just carried ten bags of rice up a flight of stairs?” Pat asked, laughing.

“Pato, stop laughing, it’s not a funny matter.” Pamela insisted, “I have been looking for an opportunity to give her a lasting scar. The useless idiot! Can you believe that the rat I brought from the village is now looking good because she has seen good food to eat and good clothes to wear and is enjoying air-conditioner in my house? She now earns a salary and can buy body cream. Her complexion now glows. In my house!”

“But you have not told us what she did,” Noel said and took a sip of her malt drink.

“It is a long story.”

“We have time Pam Pam,” Pat replied, looking amused.

“Well, it all began two weeks ago.” Pamela started, then took another long swig from the bottle before she continued, “I don’t know where the sudden affection came from, but my husband insisted that Oluchi should get a raise.”

Pat and Noel burst out laughing. Pat especially laughed so hard that she almost knocked down her glass of beer.

“And what is so funny?” Pamela shouted. “What kind of friends are these sef?”

“No, no, Pam, take it easy,” Noel responded. “We are only laughing because you overreacted. So what if your husband asked you to give Oluchi a salary raise? You should have simply said no and that would be the end of it.”

“Hmm, wait let me finish before you conclude that I overreacted.” Pamela said, “I said no. Why should I give her a raise? Raise for what? What does she do that deserves a raise? I already pay her for the work she does in the house including caring for the kids. So, I told my husband no. He then said that if we will not give her a raise, we should make plans to send her to school, after all, she had been with us for 4 years and was yet to be enrolled in secondary school.

I asked him for the rationale behind his thoughts and he said that since our kids have started school and Oluchi spends most of her mornings and afternoons at home doing nothing, enrolling her in JSS 1 would be a good idea, and if we did not want her in school, it was only fair that we pay her more. He even had the nerve to say that her clothes deserved changing because most of them were old and torn.”

“But didn’t you once tell us that you purposefully underpay her so that she won’t have too much to spend?” Noel asked.

“Of course.” It was Pamela’s turn to laugh. “See this Noel o! So you expect me to pay her well so that she will glow even more, and no longer wear the rags I give her? She already eats in my house and lives with me. I shouldn’t even be paying her but my husband won’t hear of that. I even suspect he likes her.”

“So continue to the part that made you pounce on her.” Pat said.

“Yes. Imagine my shock when I came back today and found new clothes on Oluchi’s bed, and a wad of money next to the clothes. I immediately asked her where they came from and she said, ‘daddy came home early and gave them to me. He went to the supermarket and will be back shortly.’ My blood boiled and I gave her the hottest slap of her life. Now, I have no doubt that that fool has been seducing my husband. How can he buy her clothes and give her money after we argued about it two weeks ago and my no was final? Who brought her from the village? Was it not me? What is his business what I do with her? I beat her black and blue. I even put pepper in her eyes and I made sure I left marks all over her body, especially on her face, let me see the face she will use to seduce my husband again.” Another long drink from the bottle, and opening the second bottle with her teeth, she gulped that one down too.

“You did well,” Pat said. “In fact, I need to order you another beer. Those house-helps can be so useless. That’s how I caught mine massaging my husband’s feet in our bedroom. In her defense, all she could say was that my husband had asked her to do it. The stupid man even agreed to it and was trying to stop me from beating her. Thank God the girls were sleeping over at their friends’ place, I beat both the useless man and the stupid girl. The next day, she was out of my house and my husband was apologizing like a puppy. Hahaha.”

“Yes o.” Pamela replied, “When my husband returns from the so-called supermarket to see his lover battered and bruised, he will know not to play with fire. Is that not so Noel?”

Noel hissed, “I don’t know, because I don’t have such issues since my help is a boy, not a girl.”

“Well, that’s because you have 4 boys and no girl child. It’s convenient to get a male house-help. I can’t risk doing that since I have girls; not with all the news of rape and child molestation going around these days.” Pat said.

“But aren’t boys worse? They steal when no one is around. Can boys actually look after children as well as girls?” Pamela asked.

“Akpan is a good boy.” Noel answered. “We have never had problems with him. We don’t send him to school but we pay him well. He has never stolen from us.”

“Well, pray he does not. I don’t trust male house-helps. I’d rather get a girl and give her a lesson if she tries rubbish.” Pamela replied, “Anyway, that’s it o. I’ve finally succeeded in damaging her fair skin. It was getting too much. She was starting to look too good for comfort, even in tattered clothes.”

“Are you going to send her away?” Pat asked Pamela.

“For what? She will stay with me, scars and all. My husband will see what he has caused. Rubbish! Imagine buying clothes and giving money. Not while I’m still alive.” Pamela finished her second bottle before finally draining the glass. “I have to go. It was nice chatting with you ladies. Let’s do this again next Tuesday?”

“Next Tuesday. Come with an update on Oluchi.” Pat said, smiling. “Pam Pam! You no gree o.”

“I have to go too,” Noel got up. “See you next Tuesday.” She walked away briskly, feeling uncomfortable.

Pamela and Pat paid for their drinks, and walked out of the restaurant, happy that they had been able to chitchat for a few minutes.

Of Held Breaths and Skipped Heartbeats

I heaved a deep sigh.

I felt lighter, like a ton had been lifted off my shoulders. As I watched the coffin being covered in earth, I was happy. Finally, I thought, he can rest. I let out another sigh. I could finally breathe. For a long time, it was as if my life was one long held breath. Living between hospitals, having him near death, only for him to fight hard and recover—albeit temporarily—and then watching the cycle repeat itself, made me feel like breathing would bring everything crashing down. I remember how my heart would skip a beat anytime my phone rang and I saw that it was from my cousin. I must have braced myself a million times in the past 8 years to receive the bad news each time my phone rang. I had a near heart attack once when I went on an errand without my phone and returned to 50 missed calls from my cousin. My fingers trembled as I dialed her number. I swallowed hard and dried the perspiration forming on my forehead as her phone rang, all the while whispering to myself, be strong, be strong, be strong, you can take this. My cousin tried calling to remind me not to forget to bring his favorite shorts to the hospital. To say I was terrified before the call is a gross understatement.

My cousin Dawn and I took turns staying with Mr. D at the hospital. Whenever I had to be at work, or run errands, Dawn would watch him and update me of any new development. I knew Mr. D’s extended time in and out of hospitals took its toll on her too, but to me, she dealt with it better. I would sometimes walk into his hospital room to find Dawn telling a joke to an unconscious man. She would end up laughing alone at her jokes. Regardless of how well she took Mr. D’s illness, I could perceive the relief that washed over her and the look of gratitude in her eyes whenever I came in to take over from her. Nathan, be strong, she would encourage me with her hands on my shoulders, and give me a hug before leaving. I will, I always said, but I was never sure how I would accomplish it.

The good times were when Mr. D would recuperate, and we were allowed to take him home. Even though Mr. D became a shadow of his healthy self, the gaunt, bald, shaky, wrinkled person he had become still knew how to be the life of the party. He would attempt to dance to his favorite tunes while Dawn and I teased, and these were the times he would laugh so hard at Dawn’s jokes. Some days, he would be somber and reflective. I will leave soon, he would say, but I think I will be happier when I leave. We never argued when he made such comments, or tried to stop him from thinking along those lines. He was telling the truth, and we all knew it. There was no point pretending about it. He would die sooner than later, it was only a matter of time. However, even though I knew that at this point, death was inevitable, I was not prepared for it. My heart still raced when he relapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital yet again; I still deliberately refused to answer my phone sometimes, especially when I guessed it was Dawn calling from the hospital. Many times I put my phone off altogether, just to have some moments of peace; some moments without the fear of a phone call or text message that may bear bad news.

One long held breath.

The times that Dawn would spend the night at the hospital, I would cry myself to sleep. Crying helped me. I felt sane afterwards, and the bubble of fear that constantly surrounded me abated each time I allowed myself to cry. The nights I cried were the nights I slept well. I never cried around Mr. D, not even when he was unconscious, nor around Dawn. It was my duty to be strong for them. Meanwhile, the bubble of fear never went away for too long. Soon, it was back, surrounding me, haunting me, sucking the life out of me like a black hole.

One long held breath.

His demise was beautiful. It was during one of the remission periods and he was home. I had just arrived from work. It was a perfect night. Whenever Mr. D was home, he liked to sit on the veranda and take in the air. This particular night, it was a lazy breeze that blew. The moon was full and the stars twinkled brightly. Not one cloud was to be seen. It was a clear night. We all had dinner together on the porch. After dinner and drinks—Mr. D still liked his wine after every dinner—he told Dawn and me a story:

There was once a man, who thought he had everything he needed in life. He was wealthy, he had good friends, a good wife, and happiness. He was respected and greatly admired by the community. Then he fell sick, and all his wealth went into paying his medical bills, his friends disappeared because the parties stopped and the money dwindled. His wife left, because she could not cope with caring for an invalid and because luxuries were no longer available. Happiness slowly diminished, and depression started to set in.

Not long after the sickness hit; after spending heavily on the best medical therapy available, he began to feel better, his strength returned, and before long, he was healthy again. However, he never forgot a lady who would always come to his bedside and crack jokes. She was good! She always got the man laughing hard. At a time when everything the man had placed his hopes on had failed him; at a time when he was starting to slip into depression, this young lady, who looked not more than 14 years old, would joke by his bedside and provide respite from his pain. Since he was now alone, without friends or family, he found himself thinking more and more about that young girl. One fine day, he went back to the hospital to inquire of her. All the hospital staff knew her as ‘the comedienne.’ She was a cleaner; and as she went about her duties she would spend time with the patients who were awake, making them laugh. This middle aged man met this young girl again, and invited her out to dinner. Imagine! Mr. D chuckled at this point; Dawn and I smiled. He continued: In fact, it was the best dinner of his life. They went to a fine dining restaurant, it was very formal, and they talked and laughed from about 7 pm till near midnight. When the man dropped her off at her ‘home,’ he couldn’t believe his eyes. It was a rundown shack of a building in a dirty slum. He asked her who she lived with, she said her cousin. Where were her parents, her family? Dead, she had said. It was then that the man decided to adopt this young girl and her cousin.

Fast-forward to 10 years. The girl and her cousin are his pride and joy. The sickness returned a few years after they were adopted, and this time it seemed as if it was having the upper hand, but the man is no longer happy, he is joyful. It’s as if he’s back to the beginning, having everything he ever needed. Perhaps he was relieved from the first bout of his illness to experience true joy. Perhaps he was struck with the first bout of his illness to meet true joy. For that, he is satisfied, and eternally grateful.

He wiped a tear from his face with his shaky hand as he finished his story. Do you know why I renamed you Dawn? He asked, that’s what you were to me, it’s what you still are. You are the dawn of a new morn for me. Both you and Nathan have blessed me in ways you may never know. Dawn and I drew closer and hugged him, and we remained in that tight embrace for the longest time. I love you both. You have no idea how much. Thank you for bearing with me these many years and carrying this burden with me. He whispered to us.

He slipped away in that embrace. He was gone.

One long held breath, finally being let out.

He was at rest. Dawn and I were extremely sad at his passing, but we were happy that he would never have to feel pain again.  Relief flooded my entire being. It was over. There was no reason to be afraid anymore. There was no reason to live in constant anticipation of the worst. The man who brought us into his life, and transformed our lives was at better place.

I heaved a sigh.

One long held breath, finally let out of the lungs in a gust of air.

So, as the earth was shoveled over his grave, I was happy, I felt lighter, freed. I held Dawn’s hand and we looked at each other, Dawn’s eyes glimmered with the tears she was holding back. He wouldn’t have wanted me to cry, she said, he would have wanted me to crack a joke.

So, don’t let the tears flow, I said. Don’t let the tears flow.

 

Image Credit: Madamenoire