The project we’ve all been waiting for, False lives shall start tomorrow on AFROSAYS.com . Get a sneak peek.
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The project we’ve all been waiting for, False lives shall start tomorrow on AFROSAYS.com . Get a sneak peek.
And don’t forget to subscribe!
@readjerome shares a laconic piece with us today. Share warmth.
Twin fruits of the clime, both to savour. But I suffer one.
Night is my comforter, boy. For I have lost my eyesight, and it pleases me more than a little to know that it would’ve served me no purpose when the Sun goes home, and the shadows stop following man’s step. When light is but a small fire, an occasional firefly or glowworm to tease the darkness, of what use are your eyes than to frustrate you? To tickle your desire to see and mock your inability. My old ears and nose can fare me better through the night than your eyes, boy. Night is the leveler.
But Day son, the day, I cannot stand. I hear your voice, the voice of a man, yet I vision the face of a boy. I hold unto your thick arms and think how muscular they must be, but all I remember is the look of your tiny hands clasped in mine. I smell the perfume of your wife; I hear the jingle of her anklets and the songs she sings for fallen warriors, and yet all I recall is the tiny girl I brought home after her father was slain in battle. It is then I need my eyes, son. To visit your mother’s grave, to pull out the weeds with my hands, and replace the flowers. The Day is the torturer.
The sounds of blotted ink that can’t be erased. And of efforts to repair damages. Of efforts. And picking up the pieces.
You stare at the black tiles under your feet; at the contrast your fair feet and pink nail polish make against the dark shiny floor. Your shoes are outside the room because that woman had stared at your red shoes with scorn before shifting her gaze to the line-up of shoes on your right. You had silently obeyed.
You will obey. And wait- wait for their verdict, hope that they believe you and pray that you do not leave this house alone.
You had only wanted to numb your pain- press a cloth to your seeping wound. You only wanted to forget; to blur it out a little; it was only solace you sought. And the concave bottoms had promised to leave you deadened; abandon you comatose. But they had broken their promises- one and all. Not unlike Lanre.
Lanre had vowed you forever, you remember! In that crowded church with the famous pastor leaning over you. Your corset had imprinted lines of pain on your ribs but your heart had fluttered and skipped as Lanre promised to be with you- forever. You remember his nervous fingers pushing the gold band half-way up the wrong finger before correcting himself to the sound of jocular laughter. You remember.
So when he had gone, one minute here, next minute gone- like peekaboo gone wrong; you had known that you were over. It had felt like your chair had been pulled out from under you in the middle of musical chairs- one second dancing cheerily, the next- a crumpled crying mess on the floor. And it took you a while to regain your balance, but you have- it is why you are here.
You look up at the old clock making faces at you from the opposite wall. Five past three. You have been waiting for thirty-five minutes. Thirty-five minutes and the restlessness has relayed to your left foot which is involuntarily tapping itself against the floor. But you will wait.
Because waiting is not new to you. You had waited an extra month before the baby boy you and Lanre had created decided to make his appearance. You had waited through hours of labour as your son’s head crowned, then receded severally- ambivalent even in the womb. You had waited while they bathed and clothed him in the carefully-selected blue wrap before returning him to you as you smiled up at Lanre in that beatific way that said- “Look what we’ve done!”
So, waiting is your buddy. An old buddy that has a few shirts in the bottom drawer of your guest room. It is fifty minutes now but you pretend not to count; you catch your eyes returning to the peeled wooden door behind which your existence lies. Yes, existence, because if you leave here alone, you are ready to leave your body behind.
Your chin falls to your chest and you whisper another prayer. They need to give you this- so you can pay penance. So you can pile up plenty good to tip the scale over. If you could use one of the time machines Lanre had been so interested in, you would never have picked the first bottle of gin. Or the second or third.
You would never have left your son crying in his room in hunger because his mother’s head had a glorified position on the toilet bowl. You would never have passed out on the floor of your son’s bedroom to wake up to his wet dark eyes peering at you in question. You would never have locked him up because his crying aggravated your headache.
No. And when they came for him- Lanre’s family, you wouldn’t have screamed and broken things. You wouldn’t have sat there, afterward, staring as they packed up his things, your glassy eyes unfocused in inebriated disinterest. You would have crawled and groveled at their feet and promised to change. You would have sworn on Lanre’s grave to put aside your bottles and personal hell to focus on the living, breathing gift Lanre had left for you.
But it is why you are here now. It has taken you four months but you are here now- to pledge and promise and vow and swear an oath if need be- that you will never return to the despicable mess you were when they saw you last.
The door creaks open and your eyes widen as you take in the smiles on the faces of the men and the stern looks on the women’s faces. Your heart begins to contract and you fear you will have a heart attack but the small nod on Lanre’s uncle’s face makes you dare to hope some more. You scan the faces again and… ‘Junior’, he calls into the room behind him, ‘your mummy is here.’
This is where the light must not fall.
That sound again, it rings from behind me. It comes.
It mustn’t get to me – I have to make it to the whatever-it-is-called before it reaches me. It’s faster, stronger and would soon be on me.
The sound is getting closer, it’s a chorus now. The other ‘it’ has joined the first. I’m running as fast as I can, so fast that I’m struggling not to fall. The floor thunders behind me, four claps apiece. The chorus is louder and more urgent.
My goal is before me, beyond this place. It is where I must be; this I have been denied, over and over again. I don’t care what it would cost, the whatever-it-is-called is a secret that must be partaken of. It is their secret, but soon, it shan’t be anymore in the exclusive.
Of course, they’re too late. With the last of my desperate spunk, I throw myself at it, with fingers strained to the fingernail.
No! I cry, No!
It grabs me and lifts me effortlessly from the presence of it that which they were to keep me from. Pain is my friend, I know him personally. Their secret was pain.
I scream and tears fall from the sky.
They are gathering now, more of them, making different sounds, low and gloomy. But one sound that they make, it’s the same as the sound that it made, that the other ‘it’ made – the sound that they all seem to agree on whenever they’re not away from me. I know this sound, but I do not know its purpose. But, this sound is a secret that they want to share.
The sun shines.
The secret that they tell me to my face with their big fangs out in a smile; the secret they shout at me in alarm whenever I rush to partake of one of their other secrets, just before they leap over to deny me; the secret that they call loudly whenever I escape from them to enjoy my own privacy. What is this secret?
It seems to be what they call me.
It is, it is my name.
She’s been scheming, she has. Now she’s ready.
THE RIGHTEOUS MAN
When I woke up this morning, the world felt like a dark oil stain around me – normal. All the righteous men that have lived in this world have felt this huge blemish on her clothes, the corrupt imprint of human consciousness on all existence.
I am in a small room that is really a naked concrete floor except for a leaf-thin mattress that takes up half the space. There is a tiny barred window very close to the tall ceiling, beyond one’s reach. The door is a garden of parallel iron bars. The walls were recently painted a lazy white when a team from the state department came to visit. I wasn’t in the room then though, but even when I discovered the white to be more preferable to the rotten, old grey, I immediately began to miss the old stories left behind by those who had had the privilege to use this room before me. Though the wall was still wet, I traced out whatever I could still see under the weak paint with my fingernails. The memory of a man, no matter how insignificant, should never be erased.
It seems that I would be leaving here tomorrow. I might miss this place, I do not know. Here, the heaviness of the blemish of the world is not as dense as it is among the people who seem to think that they are the best of it. Here, among the worst, there is a lighter weight on my shoulders and I wonder why. I had thought that the consequence of sin would be fall upon me heavily in this place, for after all, it is a collection of the vilest sinners. But it is not so, the peace here, I would liken to the peace I would feel whenever I wandered into the wild to detoxify my spirit whenever the weight of sins of the world became too much to bear. Maybe this was why the righteous man of Israel made his bed in the company of sinners.
Thirteen months have passed since I was here, and three months before I came here, I was somewhere else like this. They put me here because two little girls died but I’d be leaving here tomorrow because they cannot hold me any longer with good reason. The world knows what happened but it cannot be explained to a courtroom in the way it did. Even the eyewitness accounts had to be amended to individual taste; the people who saw what they did still doubt what they saw. Consequently, all their testimonies were incongruent. The video clips online are still being debated as hoaxes, but that doesn’t change the autopsy results.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’d done the right thing. The modern man in me asks that question everyday but I cannot answer a moral question with my own moral judgement; the scriptures on my mattress have been thumbed wretched and I still am not satisfied. I know that the power of God is his and if he chooses to lend it to me, it must be righteous, what I do. That is my logic. If he lends me his power to heal broken bones, it must be right to do so; If he lends me his power to straighten bent backs, it must be right to do so; if he lends me his power to open blind eyes, it must be right to do so.
I replay it all in my head, their screams as birds fell out of the sky, crashing through the windows to tear them to pieces, as rats ran out of their hiding places on my command to join in bringing the wrath of God to pass. The church was horrified to witness divine vengeance from the days of Elisha. They had watched as laughter had turned to screams and then silence with shock on their faces, as they sat immobile. All that was left was dry bones, there had been no blood. They would have gone home to warn their children never again to make cat calls at a righteous man because he is uneducated, because he can’t complete fancy grammar sentences to their taste.
However, I still wonder, if he lent me his power on that day, was it righteous, what was done?
Be wary of Monty.
If trees could not carry flowers and birds could not sing, Monty would do both on their behalf for she wants to help everyone. We do not all want her assistance. When the river grew tired of running, Monty asked to run in her place. Now even though the river is rested, Monty wouldn’t let the river run again.
Monty has no place in this world.
Monty has no place but to take the place of others.
Today, I beat the gong of sweet itching and an all-consuming desire.
This is the beginning of our love story.
I am watching you watch me with a smirk on your face
Because you can see me cringe whenever
My boyfriend puts his arm around my shoulders
Or presses his hand into the small of my back.
And although the hairs I decided against shaving
All bristle in indignation;
I am not able to unlock my gaze from your face.
This is the beginning of our love story.
You follow me to the tray of spring rolls
And stop my hand from selecting
That golden-brown one with some stuffing sticking out.
You brush your fingers over my hand;
As if testing for my response.
One which isn’t long in coming
Because those traitorous bastard hairs on the back of my palm,
All rise to your touch- like they’ve been waiting forever.
And this is the beginning of our love story.
The escape to the back room- and you follow.
You follow and shut the door behind you.
You lock the door behind you then stop
When I can see the tips of your shiny shoes
Opposite my black-covered toenails.
And I move forward till we are touching.
My toes against your shoes.
Your shoes against my toes
that stick too far out of my sandals.
This is the beginning of our love story.
Heavy breathing, tongue clashing;
Head rolling, back. Hands seeking, forward.
My back against the wall. Cold fingers kissing my spine.
Heart palpitations. Throat constrictions.
No words. No thoughts.
Feeling; then some more.
Lust. Wanting. Pining. Yearning.
This is the end of our love story.
My phone vibrates and my eyes snap clear.
Clear of the riotuous emotions
That only just threatened to drown me.
This is the end of our love story- I think.
I straighten my dress and walk away from you.
You, my first love.
Because though you remain clueless,
You are the first man,
Who has made me feel.
Tis’ a speech to you, King, Queen.
Beware of such and such schemes, AfroSays,
THE FAIST-NUGGER’S SCHEME
May you be as loved as the pussy in the hands of an old woman, may your light shine over the people like a solemn balding spot under the sun, may your wisdom lead us forever and whether it be into prosperity or peril, may we be subject to it.
I stand here before you today as prefect of statistics and measures to give you the gross and the net of countings and weighings under your lordship and tell you whether it is better or worse than the last year. I know that if it is better, you will be pleased and there will be a feast in the evening for all the prefects and their captains and captainesses because gold is being spun and cows overflow the barns and soldiers are in the arms of young mothers. Because, it is well deserved. The evening feasts have never failed because, if this humble prefect shall be honest, it is why we work so hard all year, to please your majesty so much that we can dine with him during the harvesting season, neglecting our sons who lie under the stars on our abundant farmlands in exhaustion form the day’s work, getting drunk on your honeyed ale and sharing risqué jokes amongst ourselves.
Forgive my laughter.
But I fear to admit, your pompadour, that this benevolence which you extend to your servants has not been deserved these past five years. In times before now, peradventure there were not enough soldiers born, or not enough horses in the sheds in the country-side surplusing to the year before it, there would have no feast in your courts but vigilant accounting and auditing and a thorough investigation into the mal-affair. Perhaps I should remind you that Your Grace would require a head or two on the exalted spears at the city gates on occasion, but such remedies have not been taken for the past five years even though there has been a steady decline in the prosperity of the royal purse and the people. My grace, we have merried in the most riotous fashion, despite the economic circumstances.
Pardon my inner child.
Your grace, we are headed towards calamity; the accountings speak to the fact that there are no surpluses to be found under your rulership. We have been lucky that the gods have not struck us with a taste of the foul moods that find them on occasion. We are at peace and the rains keep to time. Your throne would be correct to agree with me that good fortune is a harlot and she only belongs to a man for a night or two or three, or a week if he is rich. I fear that she might leave us soon and if we are not prepared…
I am loath to laugh while presenting this matter!
It is not secret that we have all been happy overmuch. This happiness is the cause of our problems and the one who is called The FaistNugger is the cause of this happiness that will ruin us. He wandered into your courts while we were still a hardworking people and you granted him audience.
The joy that bubbles inside of me!
He was an alchemist, yes he was, but he is a wealthy man now. Out of his weathered cloak, he had retrieved a glowing potion that we could apply to our rivers every time our three moons are full – every thirty-seven years. He swore on the purity of all science that the populace would wear a grin, just like the moons do, when they are not round, while they are not round. He only asked for a place to stay.
Oh! Good spirits!
Oh! Gladness of heart!
He, The Faist-Nugger, his alchemy did work as he promised. I recall clearly, as I have been commissioned to, that we acquired this scheme to better rule the people. Your lordship and the council of prefects were convinced by the Prefect of the Police and Armaments that it would stop the few crimes that were brought before the court and we assumed likewise but really it didn’t. We, as a people, and as a council began to consider offences in exceedingly good nature.
We’ve been all too happy to beat our sons when they pinch from our purses or our daughters when we find them in the barn kissing Tedder, the Blacksmith’s son. The bastard has kissed all of our daughters, Your Grace, even Her Delightfulness, the princess too.
Give me a moment to recover from this deep mirth.
But we are too happy to do anything about it. Citizens are killed in joyous fashion. Women are raped and they laugh about it, even returning to the evening dances to be swung around by the same boys that defiled them. These daily evening dances have drained the surplus we’ve gathered from the time of your father till now.
I find this hilarious.
We are too happy to work. Your people are to happy to…
But the alchemist does not drink of our rivers. He collects our gold and loves our women but he does not share this crazy spirit with us even though it was his bewitchment. He is the organizer of these dances, he invites jesters and fire-eaters and bards and poets and an assortment of entertainment and collects our own gold on our own land. Ha-ha!
If the Faist-Nugger cannot cure us, let him create a new river right by the old one.
Haaaa! My ribs ache! My ribs ache!
Let him bring us another river from the springs in the mountains.
Let him… Faist… Ha-ha! The Faist..
He rolls into a laughing, coughing fit.
The seasons come and go and leave remnants of us.
OLD TOM’S WORDS
I never took the walk back home alone.
Even from the first day I started mixing drinks at Tom’s, he would leave the night’s accounting to escort me.
Actually, it wasn’t inconvenient for him because I stayed only two short streets away from the bar; I guess that it really was therapeutic, for good old Tom never said much as we dragged our tired feet along – mine tired from tending his garden of bottles for the quarter of a day and his from welcoming all comers with a handshake and a fatherly inquiry into their affairs. Tom genuinely cared about us all. It seemed that this nightly walk of ours was a form of catharsis for him because he always kept the burdens of the small town on his mind. He’d walk by my side with his head bowed, and shoulders mellow, smiling and humming an old tune I would never recognize. The same tune every night.
We would avoid shallow puddles on those cold evenings and walk like father and daughter. Once or twice, he had told me about the wild days of his youth, how he met Janet, of whom he was widower-ed three years ago, how they had never had children, how life had passed so quickly. “Titi” he’d say, “It’s all gone too soon.” I would smile and squeeze his hand and he would laugh a weak one.
I only worked at Tom’s through the fall of 1996. I think I stopped mid winter because my degree eventually earned me a better paying job. most of that year remains a Gaussian blur to me but I’d never forget old Tom’s words.
I was twenty three years old, January the following year. I remember because that was the year I fell in love. The fall did not last too long and I landed on the cold hard floor; in my moments of bitter tears I remembered old Tom’s words.
Life skipped along and happy times found me and abandoned when I began to feel entitled. The pains of sorrow would eclipse the bright times and just when my breaking point was near, the sun would shine again. Friendships came and went just like love did, until I eventually found a lovely friendship. I am widowed of Joe now, a heart condition tore him away from my hold. Too soon.
My parents decided to get a divorce last year because they both decided that it would be more peaceful to die alone; they both still hope that I’d take a side. I’m too old to care.
I had my life planned in the beginning and I haven’t done bad for myself. I am not where I planned but I am in a beautiful place, beautiful because I choose to see all the good things around me. Although, I can afford a lot of the simple things I want but I don’t enjoy them as much as I thought I would, except maybe when it’s a new experience like my first full body massage at the inexplicably expensive Shirley Buddha.
I’m turning forty soon and I still have half a full life to live and to enjoy as much as I can. Sometimes I think back to those walks with old Tom and his hollow laugh brings a smile to my face. He darn sure was right, it’s all gone too soon.
So why not enjoy it while it lasts?
Betty beats a gong of riotous sounds. Listen.
Sheila and Dayo were an odd quiet couple. They lived in their quaint bungalow at No. 4, Adeniyi street. The house had been Dayo’s father’s and Dayo being the only child, had inherited it upon his father’s death. Sheila and Dayo could be seen huddled together as they took long walks or just looking straight-ahead as Dayo drove them to church or the supermarket.
They were the couple that other parents warned their children to stay away from and a topic they shared with visitors when the couple passed the front of their gates. They had eyes only for each other and had no friends save colleagues and other parishioners.
But this little family lost their silence when Sheila had a baby. Her pregnancy had mostly gone unnoticed as she had quit her job at the Primary School teaching Art in her third month, long before a bulge was evident. It was left to Dayo to provide for their family from the funds from his furniture shop.
They named their daughter Annabelle Ayomide after both their mothers who were both too dead to witness the little naming ceremony that a few friends from the Furniture shop, the Primary school and the church attended. Anna cried through it all. She cried when her the pastor lifted her up for blessings; she cried when the well-wishers gathered around to coo at her strong lungs and she cried when her mother tried to stuff her nipple in her mouth in an attempt to quiet her.
This became the announcing symbol that Sheila or Dayo was near- the lusty crying of their daughter. She cried at the supermarket, inviting evil glares from other customers. She cried at church, until Sheila began to spend her services outside, under a lone speaker the church had set on the street to attract lost souls. She cried at night, while her parents would wrap themselves in each other’s arms in the next room and pretend not to hear her for one hour.
Sheila, or Dayo, would then march to the baby’s nursery, hit the light switch and glare at the baby. Sheila would pick Anna up, try to feed her then return her to her cradle and proceed to sleep through the noise. Dayo would gather Anna into his arms, rock her a bit, throw her into the air, make funny faces and then give up to join his wife in sleeping through the noise.
Sheila or Dayo, when seen without the baby, could be seen sporting dark eyes, laden with eyebags. Pitying looks were cast their way where wary glances had been thrown, before Anna.
The breakthrough came a night when it was Sheila who got out of bed. The electricity was out so she lit a candle and placed it on a high chest of drawers on the other side of the baby’s cradle while she settled in the armchair. But Sheila missed it because it wasn’t until the next morning, when she woke up with her neck hurting from sleeping off in the armchair, that it occured to her that her baby had stopped crying.
Dayo and Sheila rejoiced but the next day and the day after saw them back in the feeding-tossing-sleeping-through-the-noise phase once again.
Sheila figured it out eight days after. She lit a candle and set it on the chest of drawers then went off to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. She returned to see an amazing sight. Anna wasn’t silent, but she wasn’t crying either. She was cooing and making baby noises while smiling and stretching her little arms towards the candle’s dancing flame. Sheila ran to wake Dayo and they did a little jig in Anna’s nursery before going to sleep soundly for the first time since she was born.
Candles were placed at distances from each other and heavier curtains replaced the flimsy ones there to keep out the light. Anna became a happy baby. Her little eyes shifted from one flame to another; her hands flailing about while her legs kicked happily. Everyone was happy again.
Sheila and Dayo could once again be seen taking walks, huddled into each other, without their daughter. They went to church without their daughter. And went to the supermarket without their daughter. Anna was happy in her sanctuary of candles, giggling and waving.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Dayo and Sheila were interrupted in church with cries of “Your house is on fire!” But it did. Dayo and Sheila rode home in a frenzy, their thoughts hopping about the place, never dwelling on the horrible visions their minds conjured.
No one else knew how it happened except the boisterous rat and Anna, who had watched it run into a candle that fell to her diaper bag which was leaning against the curtain. She had watched with amazement and her widest smile yet as a fire bigger than any she’d ever seen enveloped her. But neither Anna nor the rat could relay this story as they were both burnt to crisp by the time Sheila and Dayo arrived.
The neighbours, those who weren’t at church, had tried to put out the fire- but it hadn’t occured to them that a baby had been indoors, alone- perhaps they would have put more effort.
Dayo and Sheila rebuilt the house. Neighbours say they became a little crazy, if they weren’t before. They still went on about on their huddled walks and supermarket visits and church services but whenever asked about their crying daughter from a clueless curious or about their general wellbeing from a kind curious, they would look behind them- as if haunted- and whisper: “But the fire made her quiet.. The fire made her quiet..”