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.