Fifty seven minutes ago I burnt your picture.
That was fifty-six minutes nine seconds before I started writing this
Sixty four minutes from when I realized I had lost all peace
And I hate repeating myself; but what is this?
How was that; who dares to speak?
My fingers are typing while my mind says ‘hold your piece’
Forty-four minutes ago I hurt those fingers
I hurt them because I was burning your letters
Your cards; all those little pink flowers
All the sparkles and confetti showers
But could not burn the memory of reading them hour after hour
I burnt my sheets two minutes after that
Because I wanted to get rid of your perfume
My sister looked at me and laughed; I looked at her and fumed,
Then asked for vinegar with which to scrub my room
Thirty-nine minutes; thirty nine minutes of hearing you speak,
Two hours of seeing your fingerprints on my walls
Your scent is driving me crazy; I want to run,
But no matter where I go you always seem to come
Twenty-one minutes ago I burnt those shirts;
The green one and the yellow; and also the vest
Then fifteen minutes ago I wanted to rest,
But went and got a Calypso bottle first
My room looks like a war zone; smoking and bereft
Scattered; looking lonely like graves of green berets
The walls are clean though; sparkling and new,
Seems like I burned the last thing I could find of you.
I just wish I could burn my heart…
A MATTER OF HEIGHT II
In all fairness to her, Chinwe was a practical girl.
She was not prone to flights of fancy like most of her peers, neither was she interested in marrying an ‘oil millionaire’ or some politician’s offspring. She just wanted to be happy.
But then; her happiness came with ‘terms and conditions’ – just like everyone else’s.
Like for example, she really didn’t want a millionaire. But then, she did not a broke dreamless guy either; and while she firmly believed clothes do not make the man, she also did not want someone who wore jeans that stuck to his legs like a second skin and definitely not someone who did not understand the significance of the ‘under’ in ‘underwear’.
And while she never really thought about the height thing, she really did not mind someone who was taller than her. So when she saw Gbemi the following day, romance was the last thing on her mind. Or so she thought anyway.
She had snuck past his store despite her craving for the same ginger biscuits she had gotten the previous day; deciding instead to get some snacks instead because she did not want to be seen as a freeloader. So she had walked a bit further down to the TFC just round the corner and bought herself some snacks; chicken pie and scotch eggs to be exact, and then a pack of Chivita Active juice.
She was on her way back and almost in front of Gbemi’s store when the door opened and he stepped out, squinting in the sharp midday sun and walking towards her determinedly. She lowered her head, feeling as if she had been caught stealing something. There’s no reason I should feel guilty; she told herself.
‘Hi,’ she said and smiled at him. He grinned back, staring fixedly at the TFC nylon she was carrying. Chinwe felt heat rush into her cheeks and playfully pushed back her braids, in an attempt to cover the blush. And then he spoke.
“The biscuits couldn’t have been that bad na – so bad you would avoid them just after a day. Or were they that bad?”
She thought about acting as if she did not understand the question…and then decided that he knew she knew and so there was no point.
“No o. I just wanted something different today so I…” her voice trailed off as Gbemi’s grin got wider. “What?” she asked defensively even though she knew the answer.
“Something different – because food you did not pay for does something to your belly,” he said, looking straight at her as though daring her to refuse.
“Well, that too,” she snapped at him; realizing at the same time she almost had forgotten how short he was. It has to do with his dressing; she thought. He was wearing a grey long-sleeved sweatshirt and black jeans over white sneakers. Somehow, the overall effect made him look tall and wide.
She softened her voice. “Em…Gbemi, I’m grateful for…you know,” she paused shyly and then continued. “I just don’t want it to be a habit.”
He looked at her, and then smiled. “I understand,” he said. “Allow me walk you back to your office.”
As they walked, Chinwe found her mind wandering in several directions. She wanted to ask him what he wanted from her but then decided against it; thinking to herself that was pretty obvious. And then she smiled, wondering exactly what was ‘pretty obvious’. For all I know he just wants to be friends; she thought.
“I sincerely hope I’m the reason for that smile,” he said in his slow drawl, interrupting her thoughts. “There’s something about it that made me go – wow; what won’t I give to be able to make her smile like that.”
She looked at him, and still smiling slowly shook her head. “And why would you want to make me smile ‘like that’?” she asked, mimicking Gbemi’s speech pattern at the last two words. He burst out laughing.
“Wow! I was almost convinced that was me speaking. How did you do that?”
“Well…I was a good mimic when I was a lot younger; I could speak like my mum and dad. Of course, the voice was a lot lighter but the pitch and inflections would be correct. Over the phone, it was almost undetectable,” she paused.
“I got in trouble regularly; mimicking teachers and members of staff in school. And then mum -” she stopped and bit her lip. And then she said, “You haven’t answered my question,” she asked Gbemi.
He looked startled at the sudden change of topics but recovered quickly. “Well, that’s what friends do isn’t it? Make each other happy?”
Before she could answer, he muttered a low ‘excuse me’ and darted across the street to a bolé seller while she waited in front of an aboki’s kiosk. He spoke to the woman, and then handed her some money before coming back and smiling apologetically.
“I noticed it was almost ready so I made an order,” he said. “Hope you don’t mind.”
She shook her head. “Not at all.”
They were almost at the office, so as she made to thank him, he spoke.
“Err…Chinwe, if you don’t mind, I’ll admire to take you to lunch tomorrow.”
She looked at him suspiciously. “Why would you want to take me to lunch?”
Gbemi chuckled. “Is that even a serious question? Why not?”
Chinwe blushed, realizing she was sounding paranoid. “I’ll think about it,” she answered. “Thanks.”
Gbemi looked at her, the smile gone from his face. “It’s just lunch o, Chi. It’s not even a date -”
She interrupted him. “I said I’ll think about it,” and walked into the office gates, leaving Gbemi staring after her in confusion.
“Was it something I said?” he asked no one in particular.
A MATTER OF HEIGHT
Chinwe ducked as she entered the store, a reflex she had yet to get rid of since a nasty incident at a similar mart. She had taken it for granted that the overhead would be tall enough for her to get through without incident…till she had found herself on the floor, stars blinking in front of her eyes.
She laughed gently to herself, stretching to her full five foot six. It was not like she was that tall…but she was usually the tallest female in any company. Her love for stiletto heels and slacks made her mother and elder sisters exasperated at times. “Chi baby,” her mother would say, arms akimbo, “how are you going to find a man to marry you if you go around looking intimidating?”
She would laugh and hug her mother. “Mother, if he’s scared so easily then he does not deserve me!” They would all laugh and that would be the end of that.
She felt some moisture gather in her eyes and she impatiently brushed it away, eying
the shelves for what she could snack on. Lines and lines of chocolate bars greeted her eyes and she reached for several – before squaring her shoulders and placing them back on the shelf.
“No chocolates for now Ama,” she chided herself gently using her mother’s pet name for her. It was odd, realizing she would not be hearing that name again. Not for a long while.
Frowning at her thoughts, she walked towards another aisle where she saw biscuits, plantain chips and several other stuff. She choose some Ginger biscuits and some Pringles. And then, stopping at the fridge to pick up a pack of Hollandia juice, she carried her purchases to the pay point.
A cute-looking girl attended to the customers while giggling at the jokes of a dark-looking man who stood a few meters away from the cash register.Chinwe placed her purchases on the desk and was reaching for her purse when a voice stopped her.
‘Watching your weight, right?”
She looked up to see who had spoken, and found the cashier and the dark-looking guy staring at her. He had a small smile on his face, so she assumed it was he.
“Excuse me?” she asked, hand pausing at the open mouth of her purse.
He waved his hands innocently. “Don’t mind me. I noticed you pick up some chocolates – and then put them back down. And when a lady does that, she’s usually ‘watching her weight’.
Chinwe smiled. “Oh that. I’m not exactly watching my weight – though that would not be a bad idea by itself. It’s just…” she hesitated, and then continued, “it’s just I promised someone I was going to stop eating them so much.”
He nodded and smiled at her, and she could not help but notice how his face went from being ‘plain looking’ to being pleasant – almost handsome. He bent over and started packing her stuff in some yellow polythene bags. He had long slim fingersbut it looked as though his arms were short. Something was wrong with his proportion; she thought, because he had to be tall to be that visible over the counter and yet…
“Eight hundred and sixty-three, miss.”
Chinwe started guiltily and reached into her purse to pull out a thousand naira note. She stretched it towards the cashier but the man; reaching across the counter, pushed her hand away and gave her the bag.
“It’s on the house. You’re that new artist at Tunji’s…abi?”
“I…I can’t…yes, I am…” she stopped, embarrassed. The man just smiled and looked away, waving disarmingly. “We have a business arrangement; Tunji and I. And even if we did not…” his voice trailed away. “I’m Gbemi,” he continued, stretching his hand over the counter again.
Chinwe hesitated for a moment. “Chinwe,” she said and smilingly took his hand. “Thank you.”
Gbemi, still holding on to her hand said, “You do look like a Chinwe”. He looked over his shoulder at the giggling cashier, “doesn’t she look like a Chinwe?”
Chinwe coolly and firmly withdrew her hand from his. “And what do ‘Chinwes’ look like?”
He leaned back. “Don’t worry. I’m sure there’ll be some other time. I’ll tell you then,” he grinned hugely as though at some private joke and turned away.
Chinwe sighed as she leaned back in her chair. It had been a long day, but finally it was over.
Standing up and stretching, she hastily cleaned biscuit wrapper and crumbs off her table and into the bin beside her desk before shutting down her system.She slung her backpack on her shoulder and headed towards the exit.
“See you tomorrow,” she said to the cleaner as she stepped into the main corridor. Her mind wandered over her day; and then stopped at the guy she had met in the store.
You’ve been single for too long girl; she thought, smiling as she walked. Maybe I just need to get out more.
She was close to the exit before she noticed the two people almost blocking it. One was her boss and the other…he looked familiar but something about him was all wrong. She took a few steps closer before everything became clear to her at once. It was the guy from the store…Gbemi.
They looked up as she approached and her boss started smiling at her. “Hey Chi, I’d like you to meet…” then he noticed the way she was staring at Gbemi, who was looking up at her with a small smile.
Yes. ‘Looking up’ was the only way to describe it, because his head rose only a few meters above her shoulders as she stopped beside him and stared in mock horror.
He was short.
I stand at a bus stop of love covered in sweat;
The reason is pretty obvious; I’m naked
Naked because I allowed this girl I fell in love with,
Strip away all my clothing; I’m just vulnerable, really
I stand at a bus stop of life, confused and bleeding
Really the reason is not farfetched; I’m naked
Naked because everybody makes it all about money
Salaries I left to pursue my dreams; who will clothe me?
I stand at a bus stop of sin, ashamed from within
By now you can tell why; I’m naked
Naked; I feel their eyes burning holes in my skin
Though fully clothed I’m naked under unforgiving glances
Slept with a prostitute last week; don’t know why I did
Sat with her after and smoked a whole pack of cigarettes
Trying to remove; erase the bitter taste of defeat;
Or at least replace it with the better taste of nicotine
I stand in front of her; of you and them
Those aligned to judge me because I’m naked
I look into angry eyes; owned by those I called friends
I feel despair too deep to comprehend
I stand at her bus stop; an object of ridicule
Fully clothed, but again my garments are invisible
She and her pals, laughing and pointing at my manhood
The same ‘me’; once the toast of her neighborhood
My fault; I didn’t have five grand to take her out;
Show her my Lagos; impress her with the sights and sounds
‘She too like moni’ ‘forget her’ I tell myself; fronting
But deep inside lies the truth; I’m hurting
Too many times I feel all alone in this world
I have ‘friends’, but they don’t understand this one
I hope they read this; I hope they understand this once
This ends here; right now I’m singing a new song
I was, but I am no longer naked.
So there we were; me and her, me seated on the sofa, her seated beside me, head on my chest.
She was asleep.
There were many thoughts running through my head at that point, but I keep avoiding the obvious ones. You know, the ones that involved thinking how soft yet firm her breasts were…mashed against my chest, the ones about the sheen of her hair in the candlelight; the ones about how close her lips were…and how they glinted pinkly…
I swallowed loudly and bent my mind to other things.
I remembered Wale and a smile curved my lips. When I’d met her, I had no idea she was with him. I mean; it was at the Club of Wit – and they had been sitting so far apart…
And she had not even told me she had a man. And that’s all I ask.
Obviously, she was bored with him.
I remembered again; the frantic and frenetic warnings of the pastor – though I wonder what a pastor would be doing in a club…even though this club was different from most. I smile wryly as I remember a phrase the pastor had used; “he who finds something and wants to die over it; how about the person who lost it?”
I definitely did not feel as though I had ‘found’ her; I feel it was more a case of us finding each other. I mean, like I said I had no idea she was with anyone – and when I asked the lady herself she had given me a non-committal answer. What was a man to do?
I was not trying to gloat – but it seemed to me the other guy had cut himself out of the running. He definitely hadn’t tried that hard to fight for her. I always thought and still think that if a man decided to take a woman for granted, he deserves to loose her.
I’m not trying to justify anything. It just is what it is.
She stirred gently, moaning indistinctly and then going back to sleep. I was tempted to run my fingers through her tresses – but I liked having her there and I didn’t want to give her an excuse to leave. I looked down and felt my chest clench tightly at the small smile that was playing around her lips. It was definitely a far cry from the haunted look I had seen the first time I saw her, only a few days ago…
A few days ago. Things were moving so fast.
A small wind blew and the candle spluttered and almost went out. I imagine you must thinking ‘romantic’, but the candle had nothing to do with romance. PHCN had done their usual thing, and I had told her not to bother with the generator.
I looked around the sitting room, silently complimenting her taste. Her house was…I was interrupted as she moved suddenly, raising her head. I looked down, intending to say something…anything; to keep her there, but our lips touched accidentally, and then stuck intentionally.