The first day you met him, you couldn’t quite place what it was that drew you to him. Was it the whiskey brown of his cat-like eyes or the childish roundedness of his pink lips? Perhaps, it was the way those lips thinned into a smile that morning or the way he said excuse me dear in that foreign accent. Well, you finally met the new boy; the one every girl in school was talking about; the one with the intriguing Jamaican accent. Smooth and sieved.
But, he wasn’t Jamaican like everyone thought. He was partly American and partly Nigerian but had grown up in Jamaica. That morning, everything about him yelled Jamaican to you until he was called upon during the choir rehearsal to back you up. You weren’t only shocked that he had joined the school choir, you were also shocked that he didn’t exude any Jamaican vibe when he sang; he didn’t give off that reggae vibe. You were expecting him to channel Bob Marley or Majek Fashek at least.
He shot you that same smile at the end of the rehearsal as though he could read what had been going on in your mind. But you didn’t reciprocate. You grabbed your stuff and left like a child sneaking away from Egúngún.
That thing your mother usually said echoed in your head.
And two days later, when you all were called upon during another rehearsal to say one or two about your lives and then sing, he revealed he was an orphan when his turn came. He sang with so much emotion; his fists balled up, his legs spread out, and the veins on his neck surfacing when he went highpitch. He went down to the floor at the end of the song, one knee on the floor, the other, slightly bent with his hands placed on the floor.
He said singing helped him heal.
Though that thing your mother always said echoed in your head, you felt somewhat sorry for him. You discovered you both had quite a lot in common. You would reciprocate his smile now. One thing led to another and you both started bonding.
You knew you had fully bonded when he took you to his newly found favorite place—the Leye mountain, the one that overlooked the Leye forest. You both sat atop the mountain. The forested landscape glistened brightly in the newly rising sun. The rust red cliffs seemed to radiate their hues down on the lush green valley below, creating the vision of fall colors on the leaves.
With a cute smile, he asked if the sight was beautiful and you nodded slowly.
He said, back in Jamaica, he loved going to the mountains, taking a walk in the woods and, that he had only found out about Leye forest and its fine mountain few days back.
The full splendour of the sun was finally revealing itself now and soaking Leye forest with the effulgence of its smile. The serene quiet of the forest was occasionally broken by the gentle blowing of the wind upon the leaves. He slipped out his drawing of an eagle from his backpack. Your eyes widened. You said the drawing was magnificent. Art. You said you didn’t know he could draw and do it so well. He half-smiled and said that he had more back home. He told you that this was another way he found strength when his parents died. You found yourselves clinging to each other, and later that day—after school hours—you waited for him in the classroom.
That thing your mother often said had vanished from your head now. You must have shut it out.
While you waited, you swung one of the windows that overlooked the school garden open. Your mouth broke into a smile. This garden was one of the things in the school that took your fancy; it was surrounded by short hedges of aloe vera and fuschia, and had flower beds worked in geometrical patterns. You watched as some butterflies fluttered through the air with their multi-colored wings and nestled in the lilies there. The roses dropped petals that looked as large and smooth as saucers, flame-red, moon-white, and unwrinkled. Cobwebs were shimmering and as the breeze blew, the grasses seemed to be whispering like a classroom full of students all saying ssssssssh. Avocado-green grasshoppers bounced off flowers onto the grasses like leggy trampolines. You stretched out your arms as the lullaby of the breeze swished through the little trees in the garden. The warm air was filled with the scent of geosmine and flowers, and also full of the gentle, soothing whisper and murmur of insects. But the most soothing of scents in the air to you was the spearmint aroma. You caressed the climbing Ivy just below the window and inhaled deeply and then turned back around to the classroom.
Even in your tight boulder grey uniform, you forced yourself to do the Zanku Zanku dance, stamping your feet—with your knees slightly bent—to the hard tiled floor that had white hibiscus designs; placing your left hand atop your right hand and moving them as though they were trying to slice into each other. With your lips curled inwards, you ended the dance with the normal jump and kick in the air, and your uniform split apart at the buttocks part. You broke into a fit of laughter and asked yourself, “What is wrong with you, Abidemi?” But you knew the very answer to that question—the new boy. You had developed something for him; something you had yet to fathom; something you were yet to fully embrace.
Maybe that thing your mother usually said was starting to make whispers in your head. Again.
Your teacher Dele’s desk and chair were positioned, at the front, right of the classroom. There were rows of seats on both sides of the white-painted classroom; they were smallest at the front and largest at the back, attached at their bases by metal runners like the toboggans you saw in those Hollywood movies where kids used them during a big snowfall to zoom all the way from the top of a hill to the bottom. The wood of the desks were smooth and mahogany brown, save for some extra designs of blue and black writings done by some of your naughty schoolmates.
You pulled out your dashiki sweat shirt and tied it round your waist so that it covered that tear at your buttocks part, then you dragged teacher Dele’s special chair to the middle, in front of the rows of seats. With your left hand on your waist, you circled the chair for some seconds then strolled up the small aisle that separated the rows of seats. When you reached the extreme, you turned around and started heading back down to teacher Dele’s chair, walking majestically like a runway model, the sleeves of your sweat shirt that fell from the knot swayed from left to right. You pictured teacher Dele’s chair as the new boy—the groom actually—and you, the bride. You pictured him stretching his large strong hand and you, sliding your slender soft hand into it as the wind blew flowers from the garden towards both of you. You laughed hysterically and slumped into teacher Dele’s chair. “You must be possessed or something,” you said to yourself, with your hands on your chest.
Maybe you were.
Still on teacher Dele’s chair, you crossed your legs and narrowed your eyes at the whiteboard, your hands were off your chest now and you were rubbing your palms together. The Nigerian flag that hung limply at the far right of the whiteboard drew your attention when a warm breeze sneaked in—through the window you had left half open—and softly brushed against it. When the flag stopped billowing, your gaze shifted back to the whiteboard and you noticed the almighty formula that teacher Dele had taught earlier. You pictured it as a family. Your family. The first b was your husband—the new boy. The second b raised to the power 2 was you. The 4ac were your four sons and four daughters. Then the 2a were the other ones— 2 sons—that you decided to have later when your hairs had almost turned grey. The x represented your family as a whole. You neglected the positive and negative signs, and even the square root and division sign.
You were so engrossed in your nutty fantasies that you didn’t hear someone walk in.
It was none other than the new boy though.
He apologized for startling you and then for his lateness; he said he had to handle one or two and that his uncle often came late in his car to pick him.
You both sang, told jokes and laughed. And for the second time that day, you clung to each other, then he looked into your oil-slick black eyes. He could read your desire: the desire to touch and be touched. This minute, you felt his lips locate yours, and the next minute, you felt his tongue dancing atop yours. He tasted of mint. You didn’t reciprocate the kiss at first until his tongue searched deeper and danced faster as though your mouth held the sweetest flavour he had ever tasted. You ran your hands through his curly raven-black hair; it was bouncy, just like the fillings of a pillow and he caressed your soft virgin midnight-black hair, running his large fingers in between your Alicia Keys cornrows.
And then, he suddenly drew away and asked if it was okay.
And for some seconds you wondered if anything in your body movements had suggested otherwise. Perhaps it was your hesitation to reciprocate the kiss when he started or you might have seemed bad at it when you eventually did. Well, what did you care? The answer in your head wasn’t in sync with the one that was about to emerge from your mouth. It was as though you had lost control over your mouth. Before you knew it, your mouth quivered a yes; it came out as a sigh though. He nodded and pulled off his shirt and undershirt at a go. His body was a dance of well-toned muscles; a pecan brown, dazzling like the golden rays in Leye forest. You gulped. You didn’t know what to do next and when he helped you untie your sweat shirt and pull off your gown, you were relieved. You had forgotten that tear behind. Did it even matter now?
You both were totally unclad now.
He ran his warm fingers along the full landscape of your face, the hills of your cheeks, the tip of your nose, your neck, and when he arrived at your chest, he pushed you down slowly with just a finger. Your heartbeat drummed fast as though you were running up a hill. The tiles were stone cold but you warmed up in time when his broad chest graced your full chest. His body smelt sweet yet spicy, powdery yet metallic, heady yet clean and airy, as though infused with hints of sweet vanilla and whipped chiffon musk, and a subtle blend of refined leather, bitter almond and tonka bean. He kissed your naked chest and you tingled with ecstasy. And then when he slid into you, sending sparks of electricity up your spine, you gasped. You tried to move, but it felt as though your body had been tied down by invisible ropes. So you lay still.
He started bouncing on and off atop you. Rhythmically. He felt so warm and you could feel his erection growing larger and harder. Beads of sweat dripped down his bare chest and you thought he looked like a god as he danced atop you. You thought he appeared too well-built for a secondary school student. You shut your eyes to savour the sensation. To savour this moment well. To soak it all in.
At the end, he kissed you softly and you both lay side by side staring at the burnt-orange chandelier, the one that never came on. It was your first time but you didn’t tell him; he didn’t ask. Perhaps he had perceived it.
That thing you seemed to have for the new boy started to grow each new day. It blossomed like tulips in spring. And each hour spent with him was like a second. Too short. Never enough. And now, girls began to sing your names like music.
The day your mother found out about the new boy wasn’t that day your mother went to work and you sneaked him into your house and he had some of the Ẹ̀fọ́ riro stew you had made. He licked his lips and fingers every so often and asked what you said those round tiny things were and you said Iru. Locust beans. You clung to each other yet again. Then you suddenly stood up and started heading for your room, ordering him to follow behind and he obeyed like a fool, trailing behind like a little child being cajoled with candies as he watched the steady sway of your ample hips. And for the umpteenth time, you both played the bedroom game. The one that had you screaming his name. And he taught you another style, yet again.
It wasn’t that day he followed you to Iya Bisi’s shop to grind beans and for the first time, he exuded some real reggae vibes, singing to the cacophony of noises that the grinding machine made — a griiingriiingraaangraaangkpokpokpokpo sort of sound. He swayed his nappy curls back and forth, playing an imaginary guitar and occasionally doing the Zanku Zanku dance you had taught him. You were amused. You rolled your eyes at him to stop and furrowed your thick brows. Your mouth swelled with laughter but you deflated it because of passers-by. And Iya Bisi called you both Oko ati Iyawo. Husband and wife.
It also wasn’t that day his uncle didn’t show up and you accompanied him halfway home; you both stopped at Agbalumo street, the one with a sandy road — tree-lined — with Agbalumo trees and face-me-I-face-you houses tucked behind them (the trees). You both joined the little kids you met there to play the suwe game: the game where multiple squares are drawn within a big rectangle on the ground, then each player hops on one leg after throwing a pebble in a square. The goal is to avoid stepping on the square with the pebble in it but you laughed a hohuhohu laugh at him — your shoulders vibrating — when he failed woefully and the little kids beat him to the game irrespective of how tall he was and how little they were.
You called him Ajebutter. Ogi.
Was it even that day both of you did Boju Boju (hide and seek) in Leye forest or that day you sat unclad and he drew you as though rehearsed from the movie ‘the Titanic?’
No. Neither was.
It was that day he bought that delicious roadside tapioca pudding paired with strawberries, puffpuff, groundnuts, banana and evaporated milk and he fed you and himself. Then you taught him ten-ten, the game that involves a lot of hands and legs movement; clapping your hands against his in a fast rhythm while moving your legs in opposite direction to his, trying to outsmart him.
This time, he beat you to this one, though.
It was the same day — later by noon — you were helping yourself to a plate of amala and gbegiri soup, and when the message “I might be returning to Jamaica soon. I want to see you” popped up, your phone slipped off your left hand and fell flat on the amala. You wondered why he hadn’t brought it up earlier on, during your tapioca time or even your ten-ten time.
You were back now and that same amala you had left was staring up at you as your mother yelled at you. The green window blind with white polka dots design cast tiny circles of shadow on the plastic dining table then over the amala. You stared back down at it as though it held answers to the questions your mother were asking you. You didn’t know how she had found out about the new boy but you had known though, that sooner or later she would. You didn’t look up. Your eyes didn’t leave the amala. The shape your phone had created on it combined with the circles of shadow made it look like those natural soaps you and the new boy now used. All you could hear your mother say was “your father your father your father” and the hurt in her voice too; you could tell by the coarseness of it as though she had Catarrhal inflammation but she didn’t. This was always she when severely hurt. At some point you feared she might choke but you were ashamed to look up at her; yet you weren’t ashamed when those words flew out of your mouth like bees provoked out of their hive.
“Mother, not every man is like father. I love him.”
You didn’t wait for her response and you ran out, back to the new boy, to your school where he had told you he would be for lessons.
You wiped your tears when you got to the school gate and Afolabi the short dark gate man with pot belly and drooping cheeks let you in. You strolled down to the normal classroom where you both did your thing; where no one came after school hours. The rough-hewn wooden door was ajar and the classroom was filled with moans, filled with the alien scent of cigarettes. You tried not to give in to what your mind was already registering.
Then you froze when you peered through.
The new boy was down on the floor and a young fair lady was athwart him, riding him recklessly like a crazy horse wheeling a caravan. You tried to move but it felt as though your feet had been glued to the floor and a fist of thorns was tightening around your heart. You couldn’t come to terms with the reality of what you had just seen. You heard him shouting YES YES YES as she rode faster. The same YES he usually said when he backed you up during the school worship session but the slight difference was that this time he said this one with so much strength and a HMMM UUUH followed behind like a woman in a labour room being told to PUSH PUSH PUSH.
You tried to fight back those tears but one fell across your cheeks down to your ombre-colored lips and spread out, and then the other, right down to your chest, on your white gown. She rode faster and faster atop him as though demon possessed and his YES YES YES HMMM UUUH got more intense. Her hands were over her head; her nail polish was red. She ran those fingers along her long burgundy Brazilian weave in ecstasy. Her groins were thick and slapping sounds echoed through the classroom as she bounced atop him energetically, twisting and whining every so often as though he was some sort of food she was stirring.
Perhaps he had yet to teach you this style.
Somehow you finally regained momentum and turned around. Perhaps, if teacher Dele were to ask that question again on WOLVES IN SHEEPS’ CLOTHING, you would do much better this time. Your tears had ceased and you moved away from the rough-hewn wooden door. You flung your Gucci slippers away, the one he had bought you the day before, as though they had suddenly been stuffed with needles. You flung them off your feet and when they almost landed on an aged agama lizard, it ran for dear life. You flung them the way you usually did before you entered your neighbour, barrister Chioma’s flat to watch Game Of Thrones. That neighbor of yours obsessed with neatness. You always tiptoed into her flat dramatically and she’d laugh but right now your feet touched the ground so well as though you wanted the earth to have a feel of your pain too.
You walked past the gate, past Afolabi who kept calling out to you. You ignored him and walked into the street, which was clogged with a line of clamoring Okada men. Some of them called out to you FINE GIRL YOU DEY GO? but you didn’t answer. You kept walking. The yellow sun scorched you relentlessly. On the tips of your ears and nose, it stung like mosquito bites but you kept walking. The heat that was oozing out from the ground was enough to roast a toddler’s palms, knees and toes. Your white handless silk gown glistened in the sun. You just kept walking; you dared not go back home. You knew where to head to; Bimbo the girl from the next compound had gone there and never returned; Abike the girl from your church had gone there and no one heard anything from her ever again.
You went down there and was glad that they hadn’t instituted restricting people from entering there yet as you had heard sometime ago. The coconut trees there were lined after one another the way you queued during lunchtime in school but one tree was out of line and you thought you had something in common with this particular tree as you often fell out of the queue when you got bored of waiting your turn. You smiled weakly at this thought as you sat in front of that tree. You looked down to the sea, the one Bimbo might have plunged into without thinking twice. The warm salty air blew your unplaited hair away from your neck. The waves rolled along the shore in a graceful, gentle rhythm, as though dancing with the land.
Not far from the sea was a bare earth house in traditional style with brown mud walls and two glassless windows at the front. It looked abandoned; without life. Some parts of the walls showed red decay by neglect. A thick blanket of dust lay still on top of the house, and it was partly covered with Cobwebs and tiny black spiders threading towards their preys.
Perhaps Abike must have walked into this house. You had heard stories about the house; it had been there for a very long time. You heard there was a certain woman named Afẹfẹ. Some would rather refer to her as ‘Queen of the air and sea.’ Some called her ‘the lady in black’ though and some, even, ‘the lady with medusa braids’. You heard she lived in the house and that she was a medium to Labẹ aye. The underworld. No one walked into the house and walked back out. You often wrinkled your nose at these stories. But what did you care now? You were going to try your luck. It was either the sea or the house.
Tears began to flow from your eyes abruptly, like a river, uncharted. The sudden melancholy in the air hung like a thick wool blanket, wrapped around your body. And just when you made up your mind to head down to the sea, you felt a hand on your shoulder. The hairs on your arms and at the back of your neck stood on end.
Was it Bimbo? Was it Abike?
Had they come to accompany you? To make it faster?
Trembling, you slightly turned your head and when you noticed a black dress, you could barely feel your legs.
Was it Afẹfẹ, herself?
Perhaps she had read your mind and found out you chose the sea over the house but they said she oversaw the sea too.
Either way, you were ready.
When you turned completely and risked a stare up to her face, your eyes widened.
It was your mother but you weren’t convinced though. Perhaps Afẹfẹ could also shapeshift.
But when your mother spoke, you knew it had to be her. A voice you had gotten used to. A voice you could never mistake for another. You fell to the ground and started to weep.
Rays of mellow sunlight filtered through the coconut tree, penetrating through its leaves and casting an unnatural–green luminescence over your white silk gown. Birds were twittering, chirping and calling in distant melodies to their kin. A faint rustling of leaves could be heard as small rodents scampered through the foliage, though it was drowned out by the greater rustling of the leaves in the gentle breeze. Some of the birds flying from tree to tree stopped to stare down at you as though in pity.
Your mother told you she followed you from the school. You wailed and told her you didn’t deserve this; that you had betrayed her. You stared at her velvet black gown; it was undersized. She told you it was what she had on when your father abandoned her. You wailed in anguish and said the new boy seemed different, as though created with a special ingredient. You thought he was an angel.
Your mother hmphed deeply and said your father even appeared to be more and that you should have seen him. She lifted you into a warm embrace; that no matter what, a true mother hen doesn’t just abandon her chick. Her own mother had abandoned her though; perhaps she knew how it felt and didn’t want that for you.
The sun was evanescing now. Little by little. You both held each other, almost coiled up. Her chin above your head. Her velvet black against your snow white, like yin yang. Streams of tears flowed down your cheeks.
Later you would find out that your belly would be taking a new shape soon. Thanks to the new boy, history would be repeating itself.
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