Today at church, the pastor asked us to place our hands on any part of our body where we needed healing.
I placed mine on my chest and centred it where I could feel the loudest thumps from – my heart.
You see, our love was a bonfire. Everyday with you was like a ceremony inside me. There were drum beats of joy, butterflies fluttering and nestling in weird places; my entire system conspiring to excite me. It was magical.
The fire never ceased to burn. Day after day, we would fuel our wonder until we ran out of wood. Then I started to throw pieces of my clothing into the flames. I was going naked but I didn’t care. The fire was my warmth. The drums never stopped playing.
You were supportive of my sacrifice. You would sit next to me and fan my embers. The ignited passions were short-lived. The flames were thirsty and demanded to drink. I began to pour myself into it. Cups became gallons. Gallons flowed into drums. I was relentless. I gave until I had nothing left to give. The tempo of the drums had slowed down but the beat was louder than ever. It sounded like war.
The fire was growing cold. We needed coal. It was then I realised that you were still fully clad. You even had a helmet on. I became the fire and we were dying out.
I should have seen it coming. You walked away from us, complete and whole while the charred parts of me burned to ashes. The drums were speaking but I was too blind to listen.
It’s been months now but I can still smell the smoke. The stench of burning flesh, muscles and fat sizzling like grilled meat in an open fire.
The drums never stopped playing.
My heart never stopped beating.
The skies had been whispering all morning but I hadn’t been listening. They tried to tell me to stay indoors. They did. They even cried when I was trying to fit into my skinny jeans.
I was halfway to Ronke’s apartment when I saw it. Mallam Mudi’s son, or what was left of him, at the middle of the street; limbs separated from torso, eyes gorged out, tongue split in two. There was a perfectly carved gaping hole where his genitals used to be. I could only imagine the degree of composure and calmness his assaulters had. His body lay at the center of two neatly drawn concentric circles – one made with ash and the other with chalk.
I stood there, shocked to my bones at how malicious but organized someone could be. Was it an individuals work? Was it a ritual group?
“What do the inscriptions mean?,” I asked the man next to me.
“Igue gbe mtu lina,” he said, without turning to look at me.
The crowd had started to disperse slowly. The rain clouds still hung overhead.
“I’m sorry, I obviously don’t speak that language. English, please.”
I felt the grip on my wrists before I felt the pain. Two men held me and another two cut off my arms in a flash. My screams choked me. I fell to the ground, next to the body that made it there before me, heaving and breathing like my life depended on it before, wriggling.
I lay there, waiting to exhale; memories playing back in reverse with my neck hanging, throat slit and arms sliced.
I had never seen the moon shine the way it did that night. Each reflected beam made her extra beautiful where it touched her skin and the rest of the light congealed in her eyes.
“So what do you like about me?” I asked, breaking the silence.
“You.. you are sweet and beautiful and everything nice. I feel like a child in a candy store when I’m with you. I- I really don’t know how to explain it but you’re caramel chocolate, you, you are peppermint, shortbread and salted fries.”
She propped herself up on the grass, straightened her skirt and continued.
“You are pure, unrefined sugar my dear.”
My gaze met hers and I held it for a while before looking away at a distant star.
“But, I am diabetic and I can’t have none of you.”
My heart sank as I watched her start the engine of her truck and drive away into the cold night. In the wake of her perfume, I searched my pockets frantically until I found the box. The box with the ring. I was going to propose to her.
The journey home is surprisingly quiet amidst the street bustle from pedestrians and drivers. My father’s eyes are fixated on the road, body stiff and upright like he is permanently attached to the steering. I and my sister sit at the back with the elephant in the car squeezing our faces against the window. My mom is looking out her window. I can see her reflection in the rear view mirror from where I sit, tears gathering in her eyes. She is holding a lot of things; her chin up, herself from crying, the crumbling marriage; a whole lot.
My dad barks at the driver on his left. It startles us for a bit and my mom stirs in her seat. She is doing so well; I’d have burst out crying aeons ago if I were in her shoes.
She speaks to us in the silence that followed. I don’t know how but we hear her pray we don’t marry husbands that are like our father. She speaks of how she wishes she had run away while she had the chance. She tells us she is staying because of us, because she has nowhere to go.
Home. A misplaced destination. I like to think it is just a house where I can trade my peace in exchange for a bed and food. Sometimes it takes more, sometimes it gives more; you take what you get and keep breathing regardless. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I stopped breathing. Maybe my mom would take the blame. Maybe they’ll cry and say nice things about me that aren’t true, like how I was a good child and how I made them proud; lies like that. It would be nice. But today I’m a disappointment. Tomorrow I won’t listen to simple instructions. The day after, I might get a new bruise on my arm. I have stopped counting. The marks have stopped fading. I have gotten good at making sure I get hit in places I can cover so I don’t have to tell Ms. Ayo that I fell down the school stairs again.
She is a nosy woman; she wants to know everything. I don’t like how she looks at my mom – eyes glittering with contempt – like she’s happy she didn’t burden herself with marriage. I like to think she was doing yanga and age caught up with her. You can tell she was beautiful in her youth. I stretch her skin out in my head sometimes, placing curves and edges where they might have been. I would find out later that she lost interest in men after her fiance beat her to a pulp two days before their wedding. She never made it to the altar.
Ms. Ayo is weak. Just one beating and she ran away. I see how the other women in the staff room look at her, how the single women mumble prayers when she walks by, how she didn’t get invited to our vice principal’s wedding. My mom is stronger than her then. Nobody really cares about your state of mind and the quality of your relationships as long as you have a husband and children to show for your years of bondage or endurance, rather. She says love strengthens her. Love.
She is still looking out the window. We are close to the family house now. She reaches into her bag to grab her handkerchief. She wipes the tears off and dabs Vaseline onto her cheeks as my dad pulls into the driveway. I watch her laugh and hug her in-laws, greeting them in their native tongue, one I do not yet understand. She is so good at language learning and pretending to be happy. It must be exhausting.
I do not think I can be strong enough to love someone who makes me cry and still expects me to act happy. Will I forget the resentment when the tears dry? I wonder if he would scold her if she gave anyone the impression that her life was unravelling at the seams.
I don’t want her kind of strength.
I do not want to be strong at all.
I do not want love.