Sunday, September 27, 2009

the chosen one

we met when i was young. just a child. for my part, there was no attraction: i found his long hair distasteful, and there was a greasiness to his skin that repelled me. but he loved me still with a fortitude that belied his innocence. on the back of his steadfastness, our friendship was formed. and it was perfect.

there is more than one way to fall in love.

we kissed at a new year's eve party. drunk, i repeatedly threatened to strip for the crowd. it was the new millennium and public nudity was the only frontier left to cross in the asinine clamor for popularity or, at the very least, renown. he stopped me. his firm, gentle hands grasped my wrists at my waist and when i struggled in protest, he drew me close to him and held me there. i realized for the first time that he smelled at once like the small white flowers that grew in my mother's garden and the tobacco that lingered in the fibers of my father's shirts. i wondered what he would taste like.

because i was suddenly still, he could feel my heart beat a little quicker. were i more sober, i might have felt his. but the heat is what i remember: hot breath against my ear and right shoulder, hot chest warming mine. our groins touched first, and then our lips. his lips were warm, supple. i think he was surprised to find that mine melted against his: he gasped a little. perhaps he was shocked to find that i was returning his kiss. i was actually returning his kiss. and the room - to us - was silent.

the courtship, like what came before, was perfect. nothing changed, but the discovery that we could extend our playfulness into another realm: the sexual. spoken communication transformed itself into a kinetic energy that transcended intellectual understanding. we knew each other. we came to know each other well. when he walked in a room, my hairs stood at attention. my breasts did too. our favorite thing to do was kiss each other goodbye when he left for morning. exhilaration was finding a reason to walk with him to the station, ride with him on the train, and kiss again just before one of us darted out between the closing doors.

our mothers watched us from afar, amused. they had seen the inevitable, and for reasons best known to them, embraced it. they themselves had a bond. neighbors, friends, then sisters, they related through a mutual dissatisfaction with their respective marriages. and yet they wanted us to marry. i remember with sharp clarity - abnormal, for me - the day his mother drew me into her kitchen to ask when i would be ready to join their family. i laughed: the thought had crossed my mind, but surely she understood that it was not a choice for me to make. because i was honest, and because she preferred me that way, i told her to address her questions to her son. i'm not sure if she ever did.

time went on, rosily, and our comfort grew. i had eyes for no one else; he spoke daily of his devotion to me. we should have known.

we made love one night, and it was spectacular. twitching and convulsing after what we had managed to do to one another, we fell asleep in each other's arms, assuming it was a night like any other. but it wasn't. that night, our firstborn was conceived. oblivious, we continued to enjoy each other as always: lazy weekend days strolling through museums, nights at comedy clubs on the strip. one night we went dancing, and drank until we could barely see. groping each other in the darkness, before we fell into bed, he commented on how beautiful my breasts were and proceeded to devour them in ecstasy. the next morning, he looked at me thoughtfully as i slept, then got ready for work, still pensive.

i was cooking when he came home. as his key turned in the lock, i ran to meet him with my usual kiss...but his face was different. i kissed him anyway. but i frowned. he took me by the hand and led me to the bathroom, gave me a brown paper bag. i opened it: there was a pregnancy test in it.

i said, you can't be serious.

i just want to know for sure, he returned, in his usual calm way.

there was only one stick. downstairs, the chili i was making for his favorite meal, dirty rice, was coming to boil. because i didn't want to argue, and because i was secretly also afraid he was right to worry, i drew down my underwear and peed as he watched.

one line. then two. positive.

rubbish, i said. but he was already stroking his chin, which he always did to delay panic. we'll just run to the corner shop and get another one, i said. my tone was clipped, matter-of-fact, trying to convince myself as much as him. we were 23 years old, old enough to take care of a child, yes. but entirely too selfish to want to. he went back to the store, i returned to the kitchen and turned off the range. there was no telling when our appetites would return. i drank one tall glass of water, then another.

when he returned, he brought a double-pack and i peed on both tests. pregnant. and pregnant.

i don't know why, but i started to cry. irritated, he snapped at me: is that how you're going to react? how can that be how you react? were i less dazed, i might have returned his insensitivity with a withering look, a slap on the cheek (we fought and made love the same: with passion). instead, i fought to control my tears but could only manage to wipe each one away as it fell. and try as he might, he could not hide his disdain. i'm sorry...i'm sorry, is all i said. all i could say.

he walked out, leaving me to pull myself together, alone. he thought i was stronger than this, this weepy person who could not react sensibly nor help him make sense of an unexpected situation. it was the first time since our love affair began that we didn't feel a part of one another. it was the first time he had left me.


romancing the keys: an ode to my compaq

ah, how i have missed you.

the words come to me slowly. i have been out of practice.
these fingers: they move more quickly than before, but clumsily. i do not remember you as i once did.

this is our last hurrah.
soon it will be the last time.
i have fallen for another.

three years we have known each other.
you have brought songs out of me, poetry. stories.
of discomfort. soreness.
new beginnings.
unexpected ends.

the tale is complete.

and now your turn has come.
discarded onto a heap of electronic garbage, perhaps.
pulled apart by the deft fingers of the impoverished,
experts at discovering hidden value.
exploited for needing and knowing so little.

or handed down to one more needy, also lacking,
though more privileged in many ways.
little brother.
distant cousin, learning you in a ghanaian village.

you are magic.
but your sparkle has dissipated.
it is time to move on.

but for now
you remain
to tell the story of a closing chapter.

of romance that bloomed only to disappear sharply into a void of 'once-was'.
i am grateful.
of misery that tugged and pulled at itself until it discovered the hard seed of self-fulfillment.
my eyes have been opened.
of friendships, both quick and long-lasting.
i will cherish them. all of them.
of that which is new and will continue to reveal itself.
i will explore.
i have explored.

there is much to offer, and you have shown me this.
at once a tool and confidante,
you have served me well.
with fondness,

i bid you adieu.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

sitting solo

The quiet moments are the worst. Minutes, hours spent gazing out an open window, deep in thought. There was a time when I always knew a call would come. A text, maybe, to disrupt my revelry right when I was on the brink of a definitive discovery. Infuriating at times, welcome at others, I knew it would come and I waited for it. A skipped heartbeat. Anticipation. A need satisfied.

Now all that remains is the wretched sting of knowing that there is no one who is obligated to care what I am doing this quiet, quiet, unending moment.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

love on july the fourth: through a slit in the drywall

we will wake in poor man's luxury, a soft wind blowing through my subterranean window. on these summer days, i can peer out from underneath it to see the sun, hot and yellow, gleaming off the emerald leaves of the trees. the window's position does not permit those rays to warm me, instead letting in a smooth chill that hovers cozily above my eiderdown quilt. it will do.

he turns heavily, and in his sleep, his lips search for me, to kiss the first stretch of brown they find: a shoulder or its blade, the apple of my cheek. in these moments, i quietly enjoy being the center of his world. were he awake, i would swat him away and roll my eyes. but here, when i know i'm too far away, i nudge myself closer, hoping he will throw an arm around me or encircle me with his legs.

when i am sated, i will free myself from the custard-and-ivory tangle of sheets to lounge on the sofa and do a few crosswords, my newest obsession. or i will make myself a bowl of bran cereal with sliced bananas and only the smallest sprinkle of pure cane sugar, and read soyinka, levy, saro-wiwa or lahiri. i will not be wholly in the moment. i will be waiting for him to wake up.

if i am impatient, i will wash my bowl noisily, as the kitchenette sits but three feet away from my bed. he knows what i'm doing and i catch him smiling, eyes still shut. even in sleep, his eyes are beautiful. i am envious of his eyelashes, which are thick and dark and rest too close to his cheekbones when he blinks, but i'm grateful that i can look into them every day, where they frame a profound love for all that i am.

we play "whose breath smells more like manure?" for the umpteenth time, and though he always wins, he also leaves the bed with welts and scratches on his body, proof of my indignation at being pinned down while he tortures me, seemingly without end.

now we shower, now we change. the temptation to just sit and watch television in our underwear is strong, but we resist: it's the fourth of july and all sorts of american traditions await. he wants wings and beer; i want a burger and mojitos. we fight over lunch about how much of elvis's act was 'borrowed' from african american culture and, in anger, i stalk off and abandon him at the table. by the time i get to the door, i instantly regret my action, but i'm part leo and have committed to the drama. thankfully, he calls and tells me to stop walking - he's coming to get me so we can continue to enjoy our day as planned.

as the car pulls up, i fight the grin threatening to rend my face apart. i'm trying so hard not to meet his eyes, which i know will be laughing at me, forcing me to laugh back. in the end, i have no choice: he pokes me in the neck, and i have to turn to retaliate. inevitably, i break into a fit of laughter and lose my third fight that day.

much of the day is lost as we drive from one spot to another, in search of anything interesting but atypical to participate in, finding nothing. not that it matters: we have each other.

in the end, we find MF and his beautiful KR on a dark rooftop with belgian beer and an assortment of cheeses, encircled by the exuberance of a capital city celebrating 233 years of national independence, if not freedom. 360 degrees of explosive lights and sulfur: the national monument stood as always in phallic erection, its own fireworks more splendid and enormous than the rest of the city's combined. the climax was impressive. partly in jest and for my american comrades, i belted out a pitchy rendition of the star spangled banner. MF and KR, unable to withstand the poetry, kissed repeatedly. i avoided CB's amorous looks, but let him hold me from behind. pda embarasses me.

the night was full of ladders. we climbed one to get atop MF's roof. then we took a taxi a few blocks to scale another. it was splendid. fifty, sixty people spread into the night, tamping the tar roof sheets of their neighbors unknown, drinking (yet more) oaky wines and vinegar-and-malt beers. exotic elixir of the night. we could barely see each others' faces; the sky lit up only briefly and sporadically, as more roman candles exploded above us, showering us with fiery bullets and ashy debris. i knew but two guests, but felt peaceful, at home. their stories kept me amused for hours.

it was over for us too soon. we left at midnight, as the call of duty grew louder and we could no longer ignore the imperativeness of a good night's sleep, lest the next day be spent between my cotton sheets at someone else's expense. CB could barely find the energy to undress before he collapsed on the mattress, falling asleep almost instantly. as i always do, i turned off the light and slid in beside him, traced the waves in his soft, soft hair with my right index finger. my eyes were heavy, but before i succumbed to sleep, i succumbed to my obsessesion: the NYT crossword, a classic from january 16, 1998. early sunday morning, i fell asleep on the uncompleted friday grid, after his arm found its way to me and began to stroke the skin above my navel.

Friday, June 05, 2009

the divorcee

amaka rose early on a sunny monday morning, not requiring assistance for the first time in a long time. the furthest thought from her mind was that she would marry that day. and yet, like it or not, that is precisely what would happen.

she rubbed the crust from her her eyes and looked across the room at her younger sister, chisom, who was still asleep and drooling quietly onto her care bear pillowcase. satisfied that she could finally enjoy an unprecedented amount of freedom, she hopped down from her bed, tiptoed carefully past the crucifix that hung over the armoire and glowed eerily in the dark of night, opened the door and left.

at this hour, the house was quiet save for the hum of electronics and a thunderous snore down the hall. her older brother's, no doubt. she turned away from the bassoon and walked round the corner to the bathroom. reaching up, she turned the knob and entered: she was going to get ready all by herself today and shock everyone.

the response to her display of independence was better than she could have imagined. her mother high-fived her, her sister sulked. her brother, contrary to his usual indifference, rubbed the top of her head and messed up her afro puff, but she didn't even mind. as she chewed on her creamy golden morn, she couldn't help but feel that today would be a good day. the girls at school would let her play ten-ten with them, even though she didn't really know how to play; and that one girl who was bigger than everyone else wouldn't punish her for coming first in class last year by ripping up her art projects and denying her her "friendship".

it didn't matter as much that her mother once again chose to give her the grown-up coffee flask with brown stripes instead of the my little pony one she much preferred. it was some consolation that chisom didn't get a flask at all because she was still too young to drink consistently from a cup, unsupervised, without ruining her clothes. she would have to suffer the indignity of sucking her juice from a box of ribena. she, chisom, wasn't having it and let her discontent be known as loudly as she could. children! amaka shook her head, already weary of dealing with those so much younger and more immature than she. to her, chisom was the most foolish person she had ever encountered in all her years on earth, all six of them.

at her desk in school, which she shared with five other boys and girls, she became engaged in a staring match with chinedu, a long-faced boy who, for some inexplicable reason, caught her fancy today like never before. the feeling appeared to be mutual, because he didn't once look away. the air was virtually prickling with the sparks from their unvoiced attraction.

the ceremony unfolded in an organic manner, seamlessly and without announcement. as the other children looked on, stupefied, amaka and chinedu lowered their heads in near-unison below the table top and exchanged looks in lieu of the customary rings - at each other's underwear. hers bore pink pastel flowers; his were navy blue with a white, elastic band. it was a rite performed speedily and without pomp - overly simple, she would one day recall. but beautiful in its own way.

their marriage now sealed, they proceeded to spend the rest of the day in a version of holy matrimony, performing all requisite acts like seasoned professionals. they switched seats with some of their cohorts so they could sit side by side while they colored by numbers. at lunch time, they shared their jam sandwiches equally and each politely insisted that the other's was more delicious. they declined to split their beverages, but only because chinedu was not in the mood for amaka's blackcurrant ribena, preferring instead to sip on his orange-flavored capri-sun. and when it was time for siesta, the elderly mrs. singh amusedly watched them clamor to share the same mat.

alas, all good things must come to an end, and end they did. perhaps it was the forty-five minute nap that erased chinedu's memory of the rich morning that had transpired between him and his new bride. perhaps it is true that, as they say, all marriages are not meant to last. but as they rose from their siesta mat, amaka eager to behold her handsome partner with her eyes and embrace him with her arms, chinedu gruffly pushed her away as he rubbed his eyes and tried to remember where he was. proud as she was, amaka could not stomach his rejection. she stalked off.

and just like that, their actions signaled the end of a beautiful romance that had barely begun. by the time the mothers, drivers and house helps came to pick up their respective wards, the boy had teased the erstwhile love of his life mercilessly on more than one occasion, leading her to pummel him with her bare fists in order to save face. that day, she was accompanied home by a note in her school bag that was addressed to 'mama amaka', admonishing the little girl and cautioning her parents to ensure her ill behavior was not repeated lest she be sent to learn her sums elsewhere.

to this day, amaka claims that the tongue-lashing she received was worth every punch she laid on chinedu's fickle horse face. he insists that he does not remember.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

woman scorned, woman burned vi

3:41. Stanley is standing behind the glass of the balcony, squinting up the street, at nothing in particular. His hands are in his trouser pockets. He stands perfectly still. In the nursery, the girl whimpers again. Calmly, he turns away from the street and peers into the blackness of the hall, then turns back. He's been thinking. Playing back time: a year ago, two years ago, twelve years. Trying to recall the feeling of happiness.

Once upon a time, happiness was a young bride with laughter like sun rays. New lovers spending lazy mornings in clean, cotton sheets that smelled like a spring breeze, charting previously undiscovered erotic zones on smooth, soft flesh. Leisurely strolls on the high street, shopping for the latest fashions. Quick trips to the supermarket, buying produce for a salad-for-two.

The whimpers have gotten louder, quickened. She cries now. He's surprised by how cat-like she sounds. He sneers. Beastly, he thinks.

She shows no signs of stopping. Stanley looks at his watch. 3:52. Leslie has been gone nearly half an hour. In the street, he sees no indication that she is on her way back. There is milk; he has no idea what to do with it. Best to quiet the child himself, then. He'll have to pick her up. He turns away from the balcony after a final hesitation and marches to the nursery. Turns on a light. The child is howling, her tiny face is hot and red. The sight of her, her volume alarms him. He goes to pick her up. She starts to go quiet, but resumes after a moment's respite. In his confusion, Stanley drops her back in the crib, picks her up again, puts her back down. Leaves, comes back.

Shut the fuck up!, he screams. She does not.

Happiness never looked like this.
It is now 4:04. And he's standing over the crib with a pillow in his hand.

"I missed you," he says. The warmth of his breath in her hair creates dewdrops that are quickly camouflaged by the dark.

She pauses, gathering herself, her thoughts. They tumble out of blackness, quick and fast: a culmination of the hopes she had placed on her relationship with him, the ways he was supposed to make her feel. In the first weeks of their romance, he bit into her neck, licked the inside of her thigh, and she remembered craving. He moaned when she teased him, not too stiff to show satisfaction, and she recalled the joys of giving pleasure. In the weeks that followed, she laughed more, danced more, played more, sang more. Tired from making love to him, she slept more. And she began to feel more like who she knew she was and how this man, her friend, had saved her from a hell she didn't know how to escape.

But the friendship is over. She left him, but he had abandoned her. Coming back now is merely an insult, an unforgivable rubbing of salt into the still-bleeding wound of a months-long absence. She can see him for what he is: a mere lover of passion, whose only desire is to play the hero, feeding off the desire of others to idolize him. A narcissistic parasite.

Her legs are trembling. She's cold. Putting her hand on his shoulder, Lolia straightens herself and takes a step back. I have to go. And without another word or another glance at his face, she starts to walk away.


The shadow of the pillow crosses over her tiny hot face, purple with anger, shiny from her tears. Stanley's breath quickens, his grip tightens. Logic deserts him and stands aside, watching from the doorway with wry, smiling intrigue. Will he or won't he? The beast will decide. As the first muffled cries fill the room, he feels calmer, relieved. She doesn't struggle, or yet grow stiff. Quieting her is easy. Killing her, Logic chimes in. Yes, killing her, and the ease of it. Because he has never so much as scratched another human being, he is surprised by how little effort he requires to snuff out a soul, even one as new as hers. He can barely hear her choking.


"What? Why?" John runs after her, grabs her by the arm. "Where are you going?"

She slaps his hand, then his face. Oh, you're so fucking stupid, she spits. She is wild, furious with herself and ashamed for chasing an illusion into the cold of February. He is momentarily stupefied, wondering what changed, why she is so angry. That he is so obviously confused only annoys her more. You're a fucking idiot, John. Just piss off. Leave me alone.
He stops her from turning away again, grabs her by both arms and shakes her because it's as much his illusion as hers, and he is not yet ready to let go. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he growls.

And so they struggle, one to hold on to a past dream, the other to escape it.

Let me go.
She screams. Let me go!
They ignore or don't notice the wet spots forming on the front of her blouse, a visible reminder of the call of a child.

Logic pushes himself up from his position, leaning against the door frame, and strolls over to Stanley: trembling, in a cold, foreign sweat, as he suffocates his wife's bastard daughter. Casually, Logic taps his shoulder from behind and asks a simple question: What are you doing? When Stanley looks around, there is no one there. And when he looks back, he sees that it is his own rigid hand holding a pillow over two tiny feet, wretchedly still. He snatches his hand back, in fear and shock. The pillow rests on Francesca's face.


"Everything all right?" A faceless man hobbles out of the fog, cautiously because he sounds old, and would not be able to help if the answer to his question were no.

John drops his grip, hurriedly, guiltily, and Lolia flees, leaving him to tell the lie that all is well. He turns in time to see the hem of her dress flutter and fade into the night. He starts to call to her then stops, sensing finally the futility she could not convey.

He will not see her again.


She's not moving. And he is too frightened to lift the pillow and see what remains when life leaves the body. Panicking, Stanley backs out of her room and for a few surreal moments, contemplates running away. Imagines what will happen when Leslie returns from her lovers' tryst to find her judgment. The thought evokes a twinge of pleasure from which he recoils in disgust. What the hell is wrong with me, he wonders, in helpless dismay. He is pacing again, confused again, but the eerie silence that fills the flat is starkly different from what caused him to do the same mere minutes ago.

He knows he will have to go back in there eventually, and so he does it now. Stanley has never been one to shy away from a task, no matter how fearsome or discomfiting. The room feels different: the shadows created by the dim nursing lamp are gloomier, heavy. When he sweeps the pillow off Francesca's face, the first sight to greet him is her bloody nose and mouth. The blood, dark and thin, smells fresh. Her eyes are puffed closed. He reels, overcome, and stumbles backwards, crumpling to the floor. He is heaving, unable to breathe. A moment later, he realizes it is because he is sobbing.

As he struggles to get back on his feet and clean up the infant before her mother gets home, he hears a familiar voice behind him say, What have you done?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

the fallen one

Well, it’s official: I’m not a Christian anymore. We had a good run, me and religion. Two years, full of dedication and spirit. It took a while to get there, but after a mere six months of testing the sacred waters of the church, I never missed a Sunday. It is of no consequence that the main attraction for me was the cacophonic choir. They never disappointed. I was there from its inception, when a handful of elderly women decided to lend their hoarse voices to praising the works of the Lord, until it blossomed to include the younger though no less tonally-challenged voices of enthusiastic college students.

I remember the moment I realized that the choir held the key to my commitment, like it was yesterday: I was sitting at the back of the church as usual so I could slip out before the ushers had a chance to finally give me a visitor’s card. It was my third attendance but I had stubbornly refused to identify myself when the pastor asked new people to stand up and be welcomed – with a song, no less. It seemed ludicrous to me that I would let myself be known when I had no intention of coming back. Or so I thought. On this Sunday, several weeks since I was last coerced to attend service with this tiny, Nigerian congregation, I wasn’t hung over, which was a definite plus as I could pay closer attention to my surroundings. I had, of course, arrived too late to catch the opening prayer and the praise-and-worship session. But I settled in just when the ‘special number’ was about to begin. For my non-Christian readers, allow me to describe this distinctive moment in any church service lovingly referred to as The Special Number.

The Special Number takes place between ‘praise-and-worship’ and the sermon. I am yet to understand its relevance or necessity, but maybe that’s something you learn in year 3. Clarity notwithstanding, this is the portion of the church service when a congregation member gets his or her chance to shine. The spotlight is solely on this person; they get to serenade the Lord with a solo, and touch some souls as an added bonus. In most African-American churches, where actual talent is a prerequisite for holding a microphone, this time can be a very special, heartfelt one. At my church, the experience could range anywhere from pain to hilarity.

On this Sunday, The Special Number was a purely hysterical moment, since the sound guy was a volunteer, a recent immigrant from Nigeria whose day job was spent behind the counter at a drug store. It was very clear to all present that he was having great trouble figuring out what to do with all those plugs and wires in the makeshift sound booth. While the poor man struggled to get the soundtrack to play for Mrs. Akerele’s Special Number, she shifted her weight from one meaty leg to the other as she held the mic and scowled at him. He was ruining her moment.

To distract us, the pastor said, “Praise da Lawd!” to which the congregation heartily bellowed, “HALLELUJAH!”

It seemed to work. Along with Mr. Ojo banging around at the back of the church, we could hear the faint strains of Christian alt-rock. If he could figure out how to plug the CD player into the amp, we would be in business. He started flipping switches, plugging and unplugging things. It was like he was Doc in Back to the Future, only there was no Marty and he was only trying to get sound to come out of a speaker, not fix a car so it could drive back in time. He flipped one switch, and the music disappeared again. Mrs. Akerele said *mtschew* and shot daggers at him. The pastor stepped in again.

“Praise da Lawd!”

The response was less than enthusiastic, but still we answered, “Hallelujah.”

In the back of the church, a slow grin was spreading across my face. I was intrigued. I wondered: what are we all going to do now? Will the pastor ask Mrs. Akerele to sit down for a while until Ojo got his bearings? Will he ask her to perform a capella (God help us)? Will we have a special number? Personally, I felt Mrs. Akerele was over the whole thing and just wanted to sit down and move on. Had I been leading the service, I would have put her out of her misery.

Meanwhile, chaos was lord in the sound booth. Pastor decided to get his hands dirty at this point. He hurried to the back of the room and exchanged a few muffled words with Mr. Ojo. A moment later, he walked back to the front of the room and stood beside Mrs. Akerele, saying, “Children of God, we as’ you to please be patient wid us. We will ‘ave some music soon. You know patience is one of di fruit of di Spirit. Praise da Lawd!”

This time, only the most faithful could be arsed to respond, with a disinterested “Mmlelmmya….” A deeply uncomfortable silence settled over the congregation once more.

Suddenly, sound exploded from the speakers in the church! You could tell we were utterly caught off guard: everybody jumped, Mrs. Akerele shrieked, “Blood of Jesus!” She sounded like a macaw. And I fell to pieces. I literally had to leave the church in a convulsive fit of laughter. By the time I came back, the Special Number may or may not have taken place and there was a group of women standing in front of the altar, making noise about something good the Lord had done. I was hooked after that. For every Saturday night I spent at the club, I made sure that I was up and out the door in time to catch any of the musical segments of service, it didn’t matter which, every single Sunday.

But it wasn’t meant to last. Like all my relationships, the kulu-church connection ran its biennial course and came to its predetermined end once I went to grad school. It was worth every moment.

But now I’m a heathen again. I figured this out a couple of days ago at work, talking to my boss. I’m not sure how we got on the topic seeing as we were initially talking about narcolepsy, but somehow religion took the floor. Religious extremism, to be specific. We’re the same sarcastic person, so we toss facetious jokes back and forth regularly, like verbal tennis. I was halfway into it before I realized what I was doing. She said something about people who see the Shroud of Turin in a teacup; I came back with people who see Jesus in melted candle wax and cat fur. Before I knew it, we were suggesting Jesus didn’t really die, he just had a long bout of a strange narcolepsy that had him out like a light for three days; and that his post-resurrection appearance was really him returning after a long trip to India.

The guilt is eating away at me (damn you, missionary school!). For two days, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I’ve lost favor with God and that I’m definitely going to hell. Mostly because it would probably take a whole bunch of repentance to get back in His good books after something like this, and I’m not ready to give up some stuff. Mostly sex, to be honest (and specific). There is always the chance that I can somehow reject logic and learn to live by faith. But I will never, ever learn to live without pre-marital sex. So now the question is: how can I get God to forgive me for messing about while I was bored and tired at 4:30pm at work? D’you reckon I can just say, “My bad,” and He’ll take me for my word and we can just dap up and be pals again? Or is it just going to be awkward now that He knows I’ve got some serious questions about Jesus’ mysterious behavior back in the day?

I don’t want to go to hell *whimper*.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

writer's block

been sitting here for hours, trying to write.

tried to finish my series. i'm not doing it justice right now.

moved on, tried to write an article about the new wave of nigerian hip hop artistry. went on youtube to do research, got distracted for about 45 minutes trying to learn timaya's ridiculous but entertaining yankuluya dance. now i can't remember the original point i was trying to make.

thought i'd make a break for it, dash back to the past, and write something reminiscent of my more adventurous/procrastinatory days. but i think i'm getting...private. how fucking boring.

it was going to be titled "my vagina is dying" and even though it has nothing to do with death (or even vaginas, technically), i still can't write it.

i fucking hate writer's block, i really do. it comes at the most inopportune times. like, when you have a deadline. when people are counting on you to get something done. when you'll look most stupid if you don't finish something you started.

did i mention i'm developing a feature animation? my boss is expecting something great from me this week. i've figured out who the protagonists are, and that's about it. i'm so getting fired.

Monday, April 27, 2009

food for thought

when a man happily gives his daughter away in marriage, what he's essentially saying is, "i'm cool with the idea of you having sex with my daughter. and possibly knocking her up. godspeed."

this is quite possibly why he cries during the first dance at his child's wedding, watching his new son-in-law caressing his little princess's now-buxom bod with gusto and impunity.

Monday, April 13, 2009

woman scorned, woman burned v


Evening creeps over London in a gray, darkening fog. Lolia pulls her coat more tightly around her, crosses her arms over her thin chest to trap in warmth, as she walks to the corner. She takes quick steps, then slower ones. She tells herself she must hurry, because the sooner she gets there, the sooner she can return to the baby. She tells herself she must slow down because she mustn't appear too eager. In the first instance, she believes she's telling the truth; in the second, that she does not look like a woman hurrying to see her lover in the coming night.

He is at the corner, as promised. Hair tousled, face ruddy in the chilly wind. In unison, their hearts cavort in their chests as they spot each other. Lolia slows down. John walks briskly to her. They stop just short of an embrace, each close enough to feel the other's warmth. It is unexpectedly quiet. Behind John, droplets from the afternoon rain glisten on the phone box, under the shine of a nearby lamppost. Lolia shifts her weight from one hip to the other, and the pavement crunches somewhat loudly under her soles. She quickly looks down, surprised and distracted by the sound and realizes she has forgotten to wear stockings. It is too cold not to wear stockings.

He speaks first. "You came."

The timbre of his voice startles her out of her vapid reverie. She looks up, into his eyes, where he hoped her gaze might fall. Yes, she says.

They fall quiet again. It's awkward now, and she's starting to get angry because he's not saying anything and the wind has picked up again. Her feet are cold, and now she realizes she's not wearing gloves either. So she breaks the silence, even though she's not sure what to say. She says, Did you think I wouldn't?
"Yes. I mean, I didn't know. I hoped-- I'm glad you're here. Lolia."

He had always insisted on calling her by her native name, even though his English accent took all the sing-song out of it. When they were younger, she would tease him, saying he may as well call her Lola ("and that's Copacabana, John, not the Yoruba") and be done with it. Better still, Leslie, as all the British at the country club had re-christened her. But he persisted and, over the years, never got any better at making her name sound like a song.

She smiles at how blandly he says her name. A wry smile widens to an amused grin. Relieved, he laughs. So she laughs too, a little too hard. Touches her hand to his chest to steady herself as her body shakes. He clasps it, holds it in place with one hand. With the other, he gathers her close and leans down to kiss her brown lips. In the first, tender moments, they revel in the passing of tension that has built up from a year without these kisses. When finally they pull away, it is only to stand cheek to cheek, swaying gently from side to side, now oblivious to the cold and occasional inquisitive passerby.

3:34. Now she starts to forget. But not for long.

Behind her closed eyes, John clears his throat. "I'm going back to Nigeria next week." Her eyelids fly open, she leans back to take in his face.


"We're drilling. I should have gone months ago, but I wanted to see you. And...and the baby."

Reality crashes down on her like a waterfall. She has a baby by the man in her embrace. A sweet illegitimate girl whose name is Francesca Ibinabo. She remains married to a man who once renamed her Leslie and, with that, changed her life. Now, out of guilt and selfishness, he keeps her in his care. To gloat over her disgrace, and to punish them both for their respective iniquities. And he is at home with her child, watching the girl, waiting for her to return. Back in the real world, Lolia/Leslie is uneasy.

"Can I see her?"

I don't think now is a good time, John.

"No. Of course not. But I'd like to, Lolia. Really. One day soon. When he's not home, maybe?"

Yes. Maybe. She suddenly wants to go back to the flat. What was she thinking, coming here like this? An impossible situation, made even more so by the outcast father who suddenly wants to play his part to a daughter who does not know him, however briefly. Of course he cannot see her. Stanley would never live it down. And, if that were the case, what would become of them?

"I wanted to be there when I heard that you were...err...that you were, we were, going to have...a...err. Well. You know. A baby, I suppose. But I wasn't sure if you wanted to speak to me. If he'd let you speak to me. I didn't know what to do."

Yes, of course. I know that. It's fine. We're fine. She can barely keep up with her part of the conversation. Something is beckoning to her, pulling the hairs at the back of her neck. She struggles not to succumb wholly to the distraction.

"I had to see you. I have to know that you forgive me." His voice drips with poignancy, sincere if disillusioned.

Finally, she snaps, angry at his carelessness and lack of foresight. There's nothing to forgive, all right? I left you, remember? I left you. The weight of what she has done - the daughter she has left behind, the foolish dreams she has chased into the cold, winter night - causes her to crumple, as she moans, Why have you come here, John? Why?

He is startled by her reaction. Her dry-eyed anger, how quickly it drains her. As she folds unto herself, he catches her and holds her, still.

"I missed you, Lolia. And I want to meet our daughter. Or did you give that right to him too?"

They are crouched on the pavement now. Lolia trembles, from cold and confusion, a desire to disappear. In the back of her mind, she recalls that she has to be somewhere. But for now, she cannot move.

3:41. Stanley is standing behind the glass of the balcony, squinting up the street, at nothing in particular. His hands are in his trouser pockets. He stands perfectly still. In the nursery, the girl whimpers again. Calmly, he turns away from the street and peers into the blackness of the hall, then turns back. He's been thinking. Playing back time: a year ago, two years ago, twelve years. Trying to recall the feeling of happiness.

Once upon a time, happiness was a young bride with laughter like sun rays. New lovers spending lazy mornings in clean, cotton sheets that smelled like a spring breeze, charting previously undiscovered erotic zones on smooth, soft flesh. Leisurely strolls on the high street, shopping for the latest fashions. Quick trips to the supermarket, buying produce for a salad-for-two.

The whimpers have gotten louder, quickened. She cries now. He's surprised by how cat-like she sounds. He sneers. Beastly, he thinks.

She shows no signs of stopping. Stanley looks at his watch. 3:52. Leslie has been gone nearly half an hour. In the street, he sees no indication that she is on her way back. There is milk; he has no idea what to do with it. Best to quiet the child himself, then. He'll have to pick her up. He turns away from the balcony after a final hesitation and marches to the nursery. Turns on a light. The child is howling, her tiny face is hot and red. The sight of her, her volume alarms him. He goes to pick her up. She starts to go quiet, but resumes after a moment's respite. In his confusion, Stanley drops her back in the crib, picks her up again, puts her back down. Leaves, comes back.

Shut the fuck up!, he screams. Still she overpowers him.

In his anger, all he can think is: happiness never looked like this.

Now it's 4:04. And he's standing over the crib with a pillow in his hand.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

giving him something he can feel

permit me to paint you this picture:

i am sitting on my ikea loveseat. it is "natural" in color, with a blue velour blanket covering stains from red wine spills, CB's dried up spittle and dried-up spaghetti sauce. a new one will cost me $19.99, but i don't think i want this color again. if i decide to get red, i have to shell out nearly 70 bucks. fuck it, even the couch isn't worth that much.

the tv is on channel 60. bravo. law and order: criminal intent is on. love that show. i can never seem to follow the storylines - don't pay enough attention. but i like looking up just when the crook has been discovered, to listen to vincent d'onofrio sermonizing and trying to rile him/her up. can't remember the last time the criminal was female though. what's up with that? women aren't smart enough to plan the perfect not-so-perfect crime?

i'm in my favorite pink fluffy robe. it's warm as hell and makes up for the lack of heating in my basement digs during the winter. spring is sort of creeping into the city now, but i still wear it. it's pale, a sharp contrast to the hot pink fluffy slippers i constantly wear, no matter the weather. my hair is in rollers: the grey ones are smaller than the white ones. an oversized pair of purple aviator sunglasses balances on the tip of my nose, there's a menthol hanging from my lips. it's unlit. can't remember the last time i smoked a fag. but i enjoy the way the mint makes my lip burn and tingle, so it's staying.

i'm getting in character.

today, i got all dressed up and went to the beauty shop to buy these rollers. i wore yellow sandals with weak soles that i had to re-glue last summer because i didn't want to buy new ones. waste of money, i thought. but now it hurts to walk in them. all my shoes hurt. i wear them anyway. i probably deserve it.

i wore a sexy t-shirt that reminds me of sailing, even though i've never sailed. unless that one boat ride to my mother's funeral counts, but that was a motorboat. not quite as sophisticated. and it wasn't a festive occasion - sails would probably have been inappropriate.

the rollers cost me less than $5. the zipcar cost me around $10. all in all, a badly planned excursion. but it got me out of the house, which i was grateful for. on the way back, the man at sweet mango with the gold tooth stopped me again, to ask me why i didn't come to his party last night. i said i was busy, even though i wasn't. i was watching family guy with CB and his 19-year-old cousin visiting from connecticut. he's thinking about moving here because he's bored. can't blame the kid. i just hope he learns to be responsible. right now, he's calling himself a rapper, writer and producer. he made me/let me listen to one of his songs. it was disgusting, explicitly all about fucking some broad - while i tried not to listen to it, i had to scramble for something positive to say so that when i took off the headphones, he wouldn't be disappointed. but i couldn't bring myself to bop my head while i listened. that would have taken my deceit too far.

i promised the man with the gold tooth that i'd come to his next party. maybe he'll give me free patties whenever i pop round with no cash and an unwillingness to spend $10 just so i can use my debit card.

CB is at work. i realize with a sinking feeling that i haven't seen anyone except him for several weeks now. not in general: obviously, i see the folks at work and some of the same commuters on the train. but i have no friends. nonetheless, i don't go out of my way to find anyone: they don't answer their phones anyway. i alternate between sitting and lying down on this uncomfortable loveseat, flicking between lifetime, bravo, oxygen and tlc. there's this new show on (at least, new to me) called candy girls that i get pretty engrossed with. but mostly, i'm bored. my brain is turning to mush, and though i'm trying not to admit it to myself, i'm just biding time until CB is off work so i can have someone to talk to.

finally a text comes in from him. my phone is on the kitchen counter so i can't see it, but i know it's him. and i'm right. i half-run, half-shuffle to the counter, pretending to myself that i'm not excited to know he's coming home. but he tells me he stopped at the sports bar to catch the game and asks me how i am. i type back, fine. roll my eyes, and go back to the couch. waste of my damn time. but then i remember it's not his fault i have no life, so i tell him that i wish i could come, but i've got rollers in my hair so i can't. then i put the rollers in my hair. and i turn the tv to bravo and absentmindedly watch law and order.

he text me a few minutes ago to say he was coming over. i couldn't allow that to happen without conditions. he expects them now. so i say don't come if you're drunk or smelling of booze. he says he's sober but smells like cigarettes because he's with K and K has been smoking in the car. i say that's cool.

then i get into character, so i can give him a good laugh when he walks in the door and so he'll think i'm nuts and worth all the drama.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

he loves me...he loves you not...

Nigerian men: do me a favor and stop telling me that my boyfriend doesn't love me. Seriously, it's annoying. Even if it were true, I wouldn't want to hear it. But as it happens, for once in my life, this isn't the case and I would really love to be able to enjoy it without your negative remarks clouding my sun-filled love affair!

Every conversation starts off the same:

NM: How's your sex life?
K: What?!

Maybe being in America is turning me prudish, even though in my heyday, I was a little bit of a freak. But my Naija people seem to really enjoy talking about sex. I mean, really. I can't count the number of public conversations I've had that turned to sex, and not just in general terms. This guy I was dating once took me to meet his friends and family. During after dinner drinks, he thought it would be appropriate to announce to everyone present that I thought he "didn't know how to do it well". And everyone just laughed like it was perfectly acceptable! Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to work out my sexual dilemmas in the privacy of a bedroom. Preferably with only one other person in it. I was mortified. Suffice it to say, we didn't hook up anymore after that.

But back to the conversation.

K: What?!
NM: It's a simple question. How's your sex life?
K: I don't believe you're asking me this?
NM: It must be quite bad.
K: What?!
NM: If it were good, you would have answered without hesitating.
K: Oh sweet Jesus...
NM: There's no need to bring him into this. Is your sex life any good or not?

It was time for a little deflection, I thought.

K: I mean,'s your sex life?
NM: It's OK. Not great. The girl I'm with isn't making my man stand up as much as before.

I was cringing.

K: Oh.
NM: Yeah, and you know what that means?
K: You have to get another girlfriend?
NM: Exactly. Well, she's not my girlfriend. But yes, she's boring as hell. And my man can't be deciding for me when he's going to stand and not stand.
K: Right. OK.
NM: So now that I've answered you. How is your sex life?

It was clear he was prepared to persist until he got his answer. So I decided to give some semblance of an answer.

K: Um. Same as yours, I guess.
NM: Same as mine, eh?
K: Well, you know how this relationship thing is. Sex starts to dwindle...
NM: Sounds like your man has the same problem as me. Better be careful, make sure he's not stepping out.
K: Stepping out?
NM: I'm a guy, I know these things. Consider it friendly advice.

This is where I started to take offense. First of all, I've got major issues with men to begin with. It hasn't mattered who I'm dating: I'm filled with a venomous distrust that showed no signs of abating until I met the man with whom I currently share my life. Despite all my efforts, he has refused to let me get the best of him, and has mulishly continued to show me that he, frankly, truly, cares. The first time I realized that he meant it, that he really meant it, was...refreshing. I have since learned to love the feeling of knowing that, under no circumstance, was this person going to do anything to dishonor our partnership or bring disrepute to his name.

And here comes this joker, trying to compare my ray of sunshine to his putrid, misshapen carcass of a human shell! But I didn't get mad. One major bonus being with someone like CB is that he makes me so very happy - I nearly don't deserve the "kulutempa" moniker anymore. Nearly. So I didn't jump down NM's bitter throat immediately. Instead I said:

K: What makes you think he's like you? You're different men with different beliefs and different ways of doing things.

And NM lost his shit. I don't really remember the details, but basically he decided that I was being bitchy and overly sensitive and that I could go and suck an egg. I, in turn, decided the conversation was over and hung up on him. So much for cooling my temper.

Why do they do this? Why is there always someone waiting at every turn to tell me that the life I'm living doesn't exist for me, simply because it doesn't exist for them? I'm as jaded as they come; there was a time when I wouldn't have believed that men like CB existed. Then I stopped dating Nigerians and was forced to change my mind. And before you other brand of naysayers step out of the woodworks: I'm not saying that non-Nigerians don't cheat or that all Nigerians cheat, or that only Nigerians cheat, for that matter. But I am saying that there is an accepted behavior amongst Nigerians that doesn't exist in the non-Nigerian circles I run with, and that I haven't had to put up with since I started hanging in those circles.

First it was G; now it's CB. And both have balked at the mere suggestion that they would stray, mostly because they are very sensitive guys with no ability to lie. I can dig that. Plus, CB and I are currently joined so firmly at the hip that I don't see where he'd find time to run around on me, even if he were so inclined. God knows I don't have any!

But more than anything, I would really appreciate it if you people who are still living in what I will call The Dark Ages would please stop hounding me with your bitterness, dismissing my current satisfaction as so much balderdash; just accept the fact that I'm living a life you haven't been lucky enough to experience yourselves! God don't like ugly. And neither do I.

The End.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

woman scored, woman burned iv

February 22, 1968

It is 3:17pm and much has changed. Lolia is Leslie once again, the exotic dark-skinned wife of Lord Stanley, and has birthed a child. A daughter. Her skin is the color of curds, her eyes the green of sea foam and as piercing as a lioness’s. She is beautiful. It has been three months since Leslie and Stanley welcomed their first guests, gossips posing as well-wishers; for weeks, their home has been overwhelmed by the stream of clothing and heirloom toys for the baby girl, insincere concern and post-dated promises of highballs at the club for the new parents.
It is not clear how they are adapting to their new life, this troubled couple. When Leslie’s face suddenly crumples and tears begin to pour down her face, it is blamed on postpartum depression. When Stanley disappears from their bedroom in the middle of the night, one is sure to find him sitting in a wicker chair on the balcony, wrapped in a tartan blanket, chain-smoking cigarette after unfiltered cigarette. He is yet to reveal what is on his mind.
Leslie feels as she always has in this world: lonely. The child is of little comfort, being unable to put her mother before herself. Though she tries not to, Leslie cannot help but yearn for her own mother and sisters who, she knows, would have been there from the first day of her difficult birth and remained glued to her side until they stilled the blood flowing out of her like a crimson stream, until she had learned once again to eat and nourish her body, until the bell-like sound of her unique laugh spilled out of her once more. She knows: they would have brushed her hair gently with almond oil and tucked it away in five strong plaits, rubbed her skin with their powerful yet soft palms to dispel the aches of brand-new motherhood, begged and cajoled her to fulfill what she naturally yearned for anyway and feed her child. Instead, she is by herself, shunned ever-so-discreetly by her husband, forgotten by her lover and the father of this child…and who ought to care? She did, after all, bring this upon herself.
It is 3:17pm and Leslie is afloat in a sea of thoughts like these, when a familiar sound rings through the flat. It is the telephone. They have come to loathe this sound, Leslie and Stanley, and neither hurries to answer. What for, the unpleasantly light conversations, the pretense that either is happy to be stuck at home with this innocent newborn? He is pretending to read the paper at the kitchen table, a half-smoked cigarette hanging limp from his forefingers. She is swirling the dregs of the glass of brandy she has supposedly been drinking to help her sleep. The child, Francesca Ibinabo, is asleep. At the last minute, Leslie decides to break the monotony of the day and springs up from the lounge seat to answer the phone.
She recognizes his voice immediately. “Don’t hang up. Is he there?”
Her breath catches, nearly imperceptibly. Back straight, she turns to a corner, as though to shield her voice as she responds. Yes. And Stanley instantly knows who it is.
“I want to see you. Please. I need to see you.” John’s voice sounds as disheveled as she imagines he must look. She is suddenly, painfully, struck by a piercing desire to finger his hair and suck his lip, as greedily as their child pulls at her bosom. She says nothing.
“I’m on the high street, in the box at the corner. Meet me here in five minutes. Please.”
She remains silent, afraid to speak lest she is betrayed by a quavering voice. Behind her, Stanley stares through the gray pages of the paper. His cigarette has disintegrated to a fragile column of ashes that threatens to fall on the kitchen table in a fine spray. He pretends not to, but he is listening: listening to the sound of her unsteady breathing, her heart racing. He cannot see her, but he knows that she is sweating the way she does when she gets excited, droplets gathering on the tip of her nose. He clenches his jaw in anger and jealousy.
“Please say you’ll come...Lolia…. Are you there?”
Yes. All right. With that, she drops the receiver. Licking her lips nervously, she turns to Stanley. From where she stands, she can only see the side of his face. She is spared the sternness of his eyes, and the hatred spewing from them. I’m just going out for a few minutes. I won't be long.
“And the baby?” His voice is even, cold. If she notices, she does not show it, nor does it make her concerned.
She shouldn’t wake up before I’m back. But if she does, there is a bottle in the fridge. You can…will you…I mean, if it’s not too much trouble—
“I’ll feed her. Go on.” Stanley extinguishes the remains of his cigarette and rises from the table, pulling another out of the pack. He walks toward the balcony.
Leslie is still standing in the parlor, fighting her guilt. It doesn't escape her that he hasn't asked where she is going. There is no reason not to tell him the truth, but she cannot. The truth would conjure memories of that night, the first night she said to him, “I’m going out with John.” So instead she tries to make a shaky peace, saying, It’s cold out. Do you want your bl—
Stanley slams the sliding glass door shut between them, cutting himself off from her concern. She swallows and bites her lip. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, spins on her heel and hurries into their bedroom to change. Her clothes are simple; she decides not to wear any makeup. She looks younger, almost fresh. On her way out, she stops in the nursery to look at Francesca, daughter of John. The child is still asleep. Lolia walks to her daughter, puts her nose to her cheek and smells her. She understands in that moment why the world agrees, unreservedly, that babies are angels come to earth. And with a kiss, she is gone.
Stanley hears the front door shut. It is 3:24pm. The glowing embers of his cigarette cast a dull, orange light on his chin as he drags from it. Below him, he sees Lolia trying not to run up the street. Her breath trails behind her in wispy clouds of vapor. He cannot see up the street – there are too many trees in the way – but he knows who she is going to meet. He can even bet he knows where they will meet. In the chilly darkness, he torments himself with his imagination, wondering: will they embrace? Surely he will kiss her – will she want it? Will she like it? When was the last time she has wanted to kiss me?
He pondered the possibility of her leaving him again. Again! To be with that impoverished toad, that lecherous bastard – what could he possibly have to offer her? After all is said and done, laughter and lust were no match for prestige – the speed with which she crawled back to him said as much. And yet…off she ran. Again.
He dragged on his cigarette a last time before flinging the stub onto the garden path directly below. He is back in the flat before it hits the ground. The silence within is eerie, but not foreign. The only thing that has broken it in the past weeks is the sound of the child crying. When she is quiet, he sometimes forgets she is here. This is the first time Leslie has left him alone with her. Left him alone with another man’s child while she runs off in pursuit of her heart’s desire. It should be me, he thinks.
He is pacing the corridor in front of the nursery, going from their bedroom to the living room and back, his injury growing with each step, feeding his rage. How dare she, he thinks, after all I’ve done for her. Taking her in, her and her bastard child. Pretending to all who know better than this object of shame is mine. Ungrateful bitch! His self-loathing is palpable; for reasons we may never know, he ignores his willing hand in creating this situation.
He stops. The girl is whimpering. Because he has promised, he looks into the nursery to check whether she is awake. He approaches the crib, scowling. Inside, Francesca squirms in her sleep, then is still. He is hypnotized by her face. It is the first time he has seen her this closely, watched her for this long, alone. He notices, with some degree of shock, that she looks almost exactly like Leslie. The contour of her lips, the slight upward slant of her eyes – those were the things he noticed about Leslie when he first met her, when she was Lolia, the young happy girl from Bonny, whose laughter drew him like the notes of a Siren song. What he would give for the simplicity of those days. What he would give to hear her laugh like that for him, and only him, again.
His throat tight, eyes wet, he rushes away from his wife’s baby before he is forced to notice the features of his best friend. Leaving the door open, he sits in his favorite leather armchair and lights a cigarette as the winter evening falls outside.
It is 3:31. And Lolia has shed her upper-class crust to be with John.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

"love your tits. where'd you get 'em?"

now that i'm back at the gym (yes, again), i'm going to need to tame my bikini area on a more consistent basis. takiroroff, if you will. because women strip at the gym. they strip totally naked. and i kinda want to fit in.

but i have a dilemma: these women are obviously comfortable wearing skin and nothing else. i'm not there yet. but their nudity intrigues me. and not just because i'm curious about what's out there, but also cuz i want to know what i'm up against, not just at the gym, but in the real world where we compete for all kinds of attention. so here's the question: when is it ok to look?

last time i was in the locker room, i took a huge leap and got topless. i also took a locker close to the entrance, so i was the first person the women would see on their way in. that was a miscalculation. i kept trying to dive into my 1x3 locker every time i thought i heard incoming footsteps. but i was going for incremental denuding, you know: start at the edge, take your top off, work your way to the middle where you can get butt naked with the other girls. anyway, so this girl comes in while i'm getting dressed and goes to her locker, which is only separated from mine by one. and her clothes come flying off. i mean, i turn away to put on my bra, turn back around and her ass cheeks are spread out in my face. in my hurry to look away, i smacked my elbow on the locker door and heard my deodorant clatter to the floor. awkward!

what was she bending down to get that she couldn't pick up with her toes?? why didn't she pick it up while she was still wearing underwear? was she showing off? these were the questions i asked myself as i fought vainly to wipe away the image of her vag that was now burned into the forefront of my memory. i wondered about other things too. such as: when a woman does that, she wants you to notice her, right? so would it have been appropriate for me to settle down to the show and give her a critique afterwards? "nice trim. who's your stylist?"

there needs to be a socially acceptable outlet for those who must respond to what they're seeing in the locker room. i need to be able to react more gracefully, more naturally, than bruising my elbow while i panic internally. what i really want to do is stroll around and pass silent judgment without having to feel like i'm infringing on privacy. and what privacy? you're showing your ass to strangers! there is not one private compartment in the entire locker room, which means nobody should expect to be spared the scrutiny. even when you're the only black chick there, your different-ness just begging to be noticed. beware the unleashed me!

i also have to try not to take it personally when a girl has nicer tits than i do. there was this one chick with the most be-yoot-iful breasts i've ever seen. i wanted to shove her into the dirty towel receptacle and make her eat one. until she swung around to pick up her towel and they didn't move. score one for me! they may be on a southbound trip to hell, but at least they're real and my man is still excited to touch them. i hear the fake ones just don't bring as much to the table. bed. whatever.

the end!

Monday, March 02, 2009

woman scorned, woman burned iii

9 March 1967

I'm pregnant. And confused. Twelve years of marriage, seven years of resignation and several weeks of reckless, ecstatic renewal...and I'm pregnant. I am bewildered, anxious. Afraid.

I had to tell Stanley. After the first night, when he came back home, disheveled, rough-faced, eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep and peace of mind - he looked the part of a man who had spent the night roaming the streets, looking for his wife, refusing to let his legs take him to the one place he knew she was but couldn't believe her to be. When he burst through the door, he saw me in my dressing gown. I smelled like soap and talcum powder, the proof of my adultery lathered away, swimming down the drain in creamy suds. But he saw the guilt in my eyes, he saw that I no longer belonged to just him. I was sitting on the sofa, smoking. He collapsed at my knees and sobbed like a lost child. I couldn't bring myself to touch him, to soothe him, but I let him put his head in my lap. My stray tears dropped onto his gray hairs where they lay, and they grew slick from the moisture.

When we had gathered ourselves, he apologized. I'm not sure what for. For breaking our trust? For momentarily thrusting decorum and manhood aside to weep at my feet? I didn't respond. What could I have said? I didn't say anything until he thanked me for coming home and said he was glad. He was rubbing the back of his neck, wiping my tears off the nape of his neck where they were tickling him, when I said I'm not going to stop seeing him. I don't know where it came from. I hadn't given it much thought until then, but once the words were uttered, I assumed they were true. And they were, despite - or perhaps because of - his rage and the beating he gave me. While John tried to soothe my bruises with ice, I thought with regret about the color of my skin and how well it masked injury. Even the wounds invisible to the eye: why is it so easy to assume that my blackness makes me stronger?

I told Stanley I was pregnant when he came to John's flat, looking for me once again. It was odd to see him there; it's been some time since he deigned to visit. I wonder if its modesty, John's modesty, surprised him. He came to beg - so out of character. He begged for forgiveness, for me to return. I was determined to resist his cajoling. I broke the news defiantly, hoping to hurt him, to throw his insecurity and insolence back in his face. As hard as I could.

I wasn't expecting him to grow still. He glided to the settee and cautiously lowered himself on it. And granted, I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but my hand held a firm grip on a nearby empty brandy bottle. Just in case. When eventually his eyes fell on me, blue and tired, they mirrored my own awe and wonder. There is a child in me. Half me, half our best friend's. His best friend. His brother. The only man alive who has known him from the days of his youth, the one person who was his partner in the discovery of this elusive thing called manhood.

Let me raise it. That's what he said to me. He wants to be a father to my child. John isn't stable enough, he says. He travels too much. One month in London, six months on the rig. Let me raise it. He can provide a home, money, education. Love even, one day. This child, my child, is innocent and no, it's not exactly the one he has always wanted, but nonetheless, it can be our child, he said. Brown-eyed like me, fair-skinned like John...or him. Nobody had to know.

He made his case. John wasn't home. So, coward that I am, I re-packed my small bag and wrote him a brief note to let him know that I had gone home (what home?) and that he wasn't to follow. My head was lowered the whole way back - I felt weak. I feel...powerless. What is the point to a life like mine? I have no say - running back and forth from one man to another, always expecting to be taken care of. Part of me wishes he would come, that John would look for me, but how many times can one woman's heart be pursued? It's been three days and he hasn't even called. I know because I haven't left the house; I haven't wanted to miss his calls. At the same time, I dread having to hear his voice. Will he think I used him, that Stanley and I connived a contrived plot to achieve the fruit of our marriage? I can't bear the thought of pain I have caused him, the blame I will surely hear in his voice. He brought me back to life, however briefly, and I could find no better way to repay him for helping me find redemption. What kind of person am I?

I am reminded constantly that he doesn't know about our child. What would possess me to tell him now, about a child that I've ensured he will never see? Tongues will wag, that much is certain; twelve childless years, suddenly ended, won't go unnoticed and John and I didn't go to any lengths to be discreet in our indecent romance. But I suppose this is my lot. I've made my bed. I now have the future to contend with, an unrecognizable one, filled with nappies and first steps and first words (stretch marks!!). A face, perhaps, that will remind me of John. A face that will remind Stanley, too.

When you have sinned so thoroughly, so willfully, does God still answer your prayers?


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

woman scorned, woman burned ii

14 February 1967

Stanley isn't here. You'd think the bastard would have come up with something contrite, even a clumsy romantic attempt, to apologize. But I arrived home this morning to a cold flat - the hearth had never been lit. Three days ago, I might have cared. But now... I asusme he's with his whore.

It's just as well. I needed the time to myself. To think about things. Last night's things. So I lit the fire and put on the heater, preparing - reluctantly - to wash away last night's smells. Smells of champagne, the stale tobacco from John's lumpy couch, his cologne...

My lips are still soft, even a little sore. He couldn't bring himself to stop kissing me. When was the last time I kissed a man first thing in the morning, with no regard for sour morning breath? It was...delightful. I woke up to the feel, then the sight, of his pale fingers entwined with mine, his other hand playing with my tight curls. He was breathing deeply, even though I could tell he was awake. I smiled before I knew why. I'm not turned off by his paleness or ruddy splotches of skin, perhaps because I've seen him in the summer - he has a deep tan that matches my cocoa complexion quite nicely. Those summers on the yacht, bobbing lazy in the Lagos harbor, a cool breeze calmly wafting away the day's humidity. But for decency's demands, who knows what we may have done and allowed the ocean to wash away?

Our love was frantic last night. Desperate. We clawed at each other, as though it were our last chance. This morning, we took our time. It was...perfect.

So why do I feel so guilty?

Since I left John, beneath the exhilaration, I have felt slightly dirty, unwelcome, even to myself. I'm so angry for feeling this way. Am I not justified? Can I not enjoy the pleasure of finally feeling wanted by someone?? I was wronged! A man marries you, takes you away from your home, where you have never wanted for anything, where you knew where to go when you needed a yard of fabric, a juicy piece of gossip, a hot bowl of fish soup - he marries you, and brings you to his home, over rivers, seas, desert dunes. He has been estranged from his family for years; they hear about you, the native bride, and find more reason to maintain their icy distance. My responsibility to fit in, my duty to ignore the whispers, the ignored invitations to our dinner parties, with grace and dignity. I thought I left my happiness in I think my happiness may be with John.

Maybe. I told him I'd see him again, though we never agreed when. And though we both know we shouldn't.

The bed wasn't slept in. Where could he have gone? What will I do when he gets back? What will I do if he doesn't?

I will draw a bath and inhale last night's smells one last time. And let tomorrow come and handle itself.

9 March 1967

I'm pregnant.


i feel sadness in my hand. like a heart attack, despair shoots down my left side and tingles in my palm. which means if i shed a tear, if i dwell on this sadness, i will conjure my own death. so i don't. i will scream, i will bite, and i will throw things. i will kick, i will slap, and i will say things. and none of those things can be taken back. they will build on each other, mounds of insults atop a foundation of hurt, until they create this enormous wall of animosity between us. and then, just like that, we won't be friends anymore.

then. only then. will i cry.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

because i just can't seem to post every week...

25 random thingumajigs about kulu

1) I have 20/20 vision, but i squint when i look at objects at any distance.

2) This is due to a phase of my life when I envied people their various disabilities, no matter how temporary, and wished I were astigmatic, asthmatic, and diabetic with a couple of broken bones and braces. what a sight I would have been to behold...

3) I color-coordinate my wardrobe, down to the hangers that the clothes hang on, and I HATE it when anyone ruins the order. HATE it.

4) I detest water stains, so I wipe down everything that gets wet after I've used it. I only recently trained myself to stop wiping down the shower curtain, because it was making me late for work.

5) I have unabashed love for Janet Jackson. She is the only celebrity that could get me to stand in rain, sleet or snow, waiting for a concert. And she can't even sing!

6) Dimples...I love dimples. I love a man with dimples. And I love dimples so much that I have tried to create a dimple in my own cheek by smiling really hard with my forefinger poking my face. I don't have a dimple.

7) I'm unbearably shy, and it's not getting any better. I now RSVP to events I have no intention of attending, simply so I can seem more outgoing than I am, but I hate being around strangers. I really do.

8) I still wish I were a mermaid. For a 3-month period after watching The Little Mermaid and Splash (I was 8 years old), I would go to the Shell Club swimming pool in Port-Harcourt and swim like a fish, with my legs together. If wishes were mermaids...

9) I still bear scars I've had since my father took me and my sister to the village in 1991 and LEFT us there for a WEEK! I refused to go to toilet that whole week, and got so many sand fly bites that ALL got infected, and then I went to school at Hillcrest and, following a fateful history lesson, the boys used to call me "Battle of Wounded Knee" behind my back. My aunt, who we lived with, wouldn't let him take us anywhere for more than a day after that.

10) I don't like insects or pictures of insects. If there's a picture of an insect (or an amphibian for that matter) on a page, I have to hold a part of the page that doesn't have the picture touching it to turn it, or if it's a full page picture, I have to shut the book and try to continue reading from the other side.

11) I forgot how to dance. The 2-step is my new best friend.

12) For a very long time, I didn't want to touch or be touched by white people cuz I had managed to convince myself they weren't clean or something, I dunno. I was nearly 17 by the time I got over it, and 20 before I got over it fully. To commemorate the occasion, I made out with this Italian guy.

13) I don't like physical affection - kisses, hugs, etc. And I'm dating the most physically affectionate person in the entire world - it's exhausting, but I'm calling it 'therapy'.

14) I didn't know how to cook until I came to America and lived here for a couple of years. The first time I made stew, I tasted it and thought I was subconsciously trying to kill myself. But I kept at it, and now I'm a badass! You don't believe me, ask about me!

15) How can I only be on #15??? I don't like long questionnaires. Dammit.

16) I don't sleep in the dark. OK, OK...I can't sleep in the dark.

17) I never ran a whole mile until I was 22 years old.

18) I wish lesbians would hit on me.

19) I have to contemplate my death - or rather, people's grief at my funeral - in order to cry real tears.

20) I HATE - oh my God - I HATE people who smack their lips when they're eating food or chewing gum. I have moved train cars, pumped music into my ears and crossed the street to get away from their crass incivility.

21) I wish I could dress like Erykah Badu. But I don't have the tits. Or the ass.

22) I love driving long distances - a 7-hour drive is pure bliss to me (if I have enough CDs). And I prefer not to have company.

23) I want to be a screenplay writer, but I don't really like movies. How's that for irony?

24) I develop drug-resistant insomnia when I'm stressed out.

25) I wish I had more friends and a bigger living room so we could play Taboo. I love Taboo.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

had it to Here

The one question that followed me after the week I've had was: can you get fired for telling off the CFO where you work?

Not for the first time, my inability to hold my temper has given me cause for worry. At the same time, however, I have to wonder: how many times should I be expected to hold my tongue in the face of unbearable disrespect? The stamp of my organization is disorganization. The folks who run the programs work on the second floor, and carry out their responsibilities very differently from the people who support them: the operations team, the finance team, the HR team, i.e. the folks on the third floor. It can create significant tension, most of which I avoid in my usual way: by keeping to myself. But I understand the frustration that gets passed around - part of my job, as a left- and right-brained individual, is mediating between my free-spirited supervisor, who has no regard for accounting principles or receipts, and the exceptionally patient senior accountant, who only ever does her best to comply with this company's ever-changing standards and requests with a smile.

The week started with one of my team members snapping at me. She, like many of us, is frustrated because she doesn't think she's being allowed to do her job. She is also, apparently, one of many people who is frustrated specifically with my supervisor. When my boss is away, I'm her mouthpiece. So, by extension, I got snapped at. I wasn't offended, because all she said was, "I don't fucking know what to do about this," and apologized immediately after. In fact, I tried to talk her off the ledge. But when the senior accountant went on a diatribe the very next day, I started to wonder whether it was 'shit on kulu' week. Little did I know: it was. She berated me for a full five minutes, ending with the inflammatory "it's not you..." speech, and if I didn't see her as a mother hen at the office, I'd probably have found some way to lash back. It's a very simple concept: if I'm not the one you're mad at, don't yell at me. But I chopped it, which was probably where things started to go very wrong.

I went home on Tuesday night, very confused and upset. For the first time in a long time, I didn't want to go to work the next morning. And unfortunately, Wednesday was no better. I had my first run-in with the CFO when I went to ask him a very simple question about creating a new internal budget, based on the ever-changing policies of the 3rd floor, and got a 15-minute demonstration, complete with marker and whiteboard, that didn't even answer my question! And the whole time, he's talking to me like I'm an idiot. The last straw was when he said, "Now, what's 90 plus 10? 100, right?" I refused to answer, partly because I was afraid of what I'd end up saying, and partly because I was sure he didn't expect me to answer. Would you believe this motherfucker actually TURNED AROUND, looked away from the whiteboard, and said, "It's 100, isn't it?"

Sweet Lord who created everything that is good. Several thoughts sprinted through my head at that point, including the one that reminded me that he is, after all, the CFO and that it would behoove me for the meantime to just get past this very awkward moment. So I choked out a very restrained Mmhm! and prayed for him to move on. I was doing well, I thought, until he was demonstrating how to multiply 100 by 25% and asked me if I understood how he did that. The rage that had been simmering in my gut shot out of my mouth in five terse syllables: I understand, Jack. Even he had to pause. He turned to me again and said, "Is there something the matter? Did I do something to offend you?" I forced a smile (I doubt I did it convincingly) and mumbled something about being totally fine. Then he switched tracks. He makes it a habit to speak in a falsely self-deprecating, run-on manner he obviously learned at some seminar; he thinks he's playing on your psychology and that you can't see through the act. It's infuriating. "Oh, well, you know, I know you know this, but you know, I'm an old guy, so I have to talk through the whole thing, just for me, you know, because my brain doesn't work as well as yours does, since you're younger than me, and I know you're smart as a whip, young lady, but just be patient with me while I go over this step by step, OK?" Wink, smile.

Slap him, said the devil on my left shoulder.

Slap him, said the angel on my right. But not right now.

They were hard to ignore (But when can I slap him, angel? When?? I busied myself thinking), but by some stroke of luck, I made it through Jack's torture without pointing out that he didn't even answer my question. Presentation over, I went over to the senior accountant's office and got the answer to my question in 3 seconds flat. Then I made the budget and sent it in to be approved. I don't often make mistakes when it comes to something as straightforward as math, so I was surprised to receive an email from the grants & budget manager that said, "Kindly be sure to use the following form when you turn in your budgets. NOTE: Your budgets will not be approved if you don't follow proper procedure." Now, I'm already having a fucked-up day, on top of a fucked-up week. The very last thing I need is this bullshit. No, the very last thing I needed was to scroll down (why, God, did I scroll down?) and see the email Jack wrote to the g&b manager, which said: Could you please make sure she understands the way we want to see budgets?

She? She?? I have a name, you bastard! And furthermore, I used your damn form! Is it my fault the form changes every month?! Maybe if you had a central place where one could go to submit their budget forms, we wouldn't have this problem! And frankly, I was just tired of being talked down to. Tired of having to deal with a bunch of yokels who barely know how to tie their own shoes, and are managed by a liar and a thief. Any peanut-brained moronic fool can do accounting at the level they're expecting to do accounting in this organization, and wouldn't have a problem doing it if we weren't presided over by an iron-fisted man who so happens to have no respect for the money he is granted by donors, big and small.

Whew! You think this is where I exploded at the CFO, don't you? Think again. I thought all this silently to myself, alone in my office for a welcome change because my office buddy was home sick. And then I re-submitted the budget using this most recent form, and went home to bitch to CB and plot my escape from that nonsense. I was already patting myself on the back for having come a long way on my journey to self-control and evenness. Little did I know the ingredients for my internal ticking timebomb had already been mixed. All they needed was a spark.

Enter Thursday: spark. My feet were like lead. It was all I could do to drag myself through the elevator doors to my desk. I just didn't want to be there. I heaved a huge sigh as I sat down at my desk and opened Outlook to check my emails. 25 new. I sighed again, and got up to get a cup of coffee. On my return, I noticed an email from Jack, subject line: Approved. I should have stopped right there, I really should have. But noooo, kulu has to read shit. Opened it up, skimmed the email, which was pleasant enough: Your budget has been approved. I just made a couple of changes. Could have stopped there too. But I opened the attached file and noticed he added some columns and numbers that just didn't make sense to me. I suppose I could have said anything else in my response, but I like to know things and understand things, and so I asked Jack another question instead of just saying thanks and keeping it moving. But my stupid ass decided to ask the jackass (pun not intended) why he added the numbers the way he did, and if he wouldn't mind calling me when he got a chance to let me know.

The day rolled on, and all the little things that take up my time quickly swarmed in my email and my door. So it was hours until I got back to my desk and saw Jack's response to my question from the morning: Oh, well, I'm certainly happy to help you fix this as well. Though I'm surprised, because I thought you'd be smart enough to know what to do here. I should tell you, though, that it's not my job to fix your mistakes so you should take more time to go over your work before you send them to me from approval.

Spark. Light. Fire!

I remember I tried to do several things at once in the following moments. I tried to smash my computer, while hitting Reply. I tried to type a scathing email, while trying to leave my office and never return. In the end, the adrenaline pumping through me proved stronger than any other act requiring thought. Before I knew what I was doing, I had picked up my phone, dialed his extension and was telling him how rude and inappropriate I thought he was. Enter Seminar Jack: "Oh, well, I certainly didn't mean to offend you, but I really have to say, I think you're a little angrier than I'd expect you to be over something as trivial as this. Is there something going on in your personal life that's triggering this reaction?" To that, I said, "Well, just how angry do you think I should be, Jack." Exclamation point.

It took a little while, but he eventually apologized. And because I felt it was the politically correct thing to do, and because the chilling reality that I was arguing with a senior manager was starting to break through my anger, I said that I would come upstairs to his office when I was feeling better to apologize to him. In retrospect, I'm glad I did that because I needed time to figure out what I could apologize for. Otherwise, my insincerity would have no camouflage and I'd almost certainly be on probation right now.

Lead re-entered my feet as I made my way up to the 3rd floor. I came to a complete standstill outside his office door, which was a shock even to me, so rarely am I physically overpowered by my visceral instincts (outside of anger, that is). When I walked in, he had that look on his face, the one I hated seeing, knowing that I had brought it on myself: that smile that said I pity you, lowly peon, overly emotional female, who would be so classless as to lose her temper at work. I felt so wretched, so mad at myself.

He invited me to sit down; I politely declined and launched right into the apology I had practiced at my desk and perfected in the stairwell. We went through the motions of formal apology, I guess. It was odd enough, given that I've never had any sort of confrontation in the whole year I'd been working at that office, but the conversation really took a weird turn once we'd determined that we were, in fact, sorry for our respective roles in the decline of decorum. Seminar Jack showed up, once again, and stuck around for the next half an hour. If you're counting, that's thirty minutes. "You know, and I don't know whether you know this, but I just really like to help people. And I'm very, very good at sensing when a person is going through some personal...distress, and you know, if you're having some personal problems, you should know that you can always come and talk to me in the strictest confidence."

I was shocked. What manner of blatant busybody was this? At the same time, I couldn't help but feel the tide shifting; I'd found his weak spot.

"Well," I said, "thanks for that, Jack. I appreciate it."

"Yeah, cuz you know, I used to work in a church. And one of my responsibilities there was just to listen to people and try to help them, because you know, I really just love to help people. So you can always come and tell me if you're going through anything. If you just woke up today and said, Fuck, I don't want to go to work today, you know, you can always come to me and say that. Or if your neighbor said boo to you, or your car didn't start, or someone cut you off, or you lost a parent, or a sibling, a child. Or if your coffee just didn't taste right. Or maybe you lost a bunch of money over the weekend. Or someone yelled at you. Just...anything. Because there has to be a bigger reason why you'd get so mad over something so trivial."

Apparently all that time at work didn't have any effect on his vocabulary. I was going to enjoy messing with this guy. "You know, I really should think about that, Jack. I'll go back and have a think, but ultimately, anger is a subjective thing. And frankly, I think it was enough that you would choose that response to what was an innocent question."

His play. "Yeah, I'll admit I was being a little bit of a bitch, you know, but y'know, I still think you are going through a little something that you just don't want to share."

We did this for half an hour, folks. Half an hour. Eventually, I got bored with it and started moving towards the door. "Thanks again, Jack. Really glad we could handle this professionally and thanks for accepting my apology."

"I know there's something you don't want to tell me!" he squealed.

I laughed as derisively as I dared. "Don't worry Jack; as soon as I can think of what the problem is, I'll be right here, knocking at your door." With that, I left.

Now I'm avoiding him. But I'm hoping I really have dodged that bullet. If they fire me, though, I might be grateful for the possibility of a life change, forced though it may be.

And now, I must run and catch the last quarter of the Super Bowl. Adieu.