Whenever you see stars in the sky,
Whenever you see chickens or birds fly,
Whenever you see cars drive by, horns honking,
Whenever you see an action movie; guns shooting,
Whenever you see grown men gathered, watching wrestling,
Whenever you hear our dear politicians stressing,
Whenever you hear a pastor call for tithes and offering,
Whenever you see a bro calling a sister, whistling,
Whenever you get that good old feeling,
Whenever you see a fan still somewhat attached to the ceiling,
Whenever your hear that ice cream truck playing that tune,
Whenever you see cobwebs in that same corner in the same room,
Whenever you see every day stuff; know the truth:
As I do every day; I just thought of you.
For the first three of my four years in the university, I lived directly in front of one of the busiest spots in Ado-Ekiti. At that time, there were only two fast-food cafes in town. Danke’s; further down Adebayo, the street I lived on, and Friendly’s; the one I lived directly opposite. In the evenings after school my guys and I would sit on my house’s low fence and observe people – mostly students – coming and going. Because Friendly’s also doubled as a cybercafé – at a time in which cafes were still somewhat of a rarity – and hotel, the traffic was quite heavy. As a result we knew who was with who, who was cheating on who with who, who the new girls in town were – forget it. Whether it was worth knowing or not, we knew. We minded our business, but we knew.
You can imagine.
Early evening Valentine’s Day 2004, I was in the cybercafé making the regular jokes about the date and about how I consider(ed) it evidence of the successful commercialization of romance, just like Christmas is the successful commercialization of you-know-who/what.
But I digress.
Anyway, there I was standing beside this couple I had seen come in earlier – or rather, go into the fast-food earlier and were now in the café. The girl was checking her mails, the guy was checking the girl and I was just…watching.
After a while, the girl finished – or maybe they ran out of browsing time. Whatever happened, they rose and the girl straightened her dress while the guy fidgeted and contemplated his hands. And then, when he saw the girl was done, he asked;
“So – em, what now? Where to from here?”
This was around seven or so in the evening. It was afternoon when they came in.
The girl looked at him and smiled; a smile that managed to combine sensuality and pity. And then, she answered;
“Your house now.”
You know how an entire neighborhood goes from a mass of darkness to distinct houses when NEPA restores power at night? That’s the only way I can describe the transformation the guy’s face went through. He looked like you and I would look if we checked our account balance and instead of the one thousand naira we left there last night, the ATM display is showing a solitary one standing ahead of six zeros.
He couldn’t hide his surprise. “Ehen?” was the only thing he could say.
I couldn’t help myself either. I burst into laughter.
For a moment he looked like he couldn’t decide whether to ignore me or not, but before he made a fool of himself any further, the girl took his hand. “Let’s go,” she said.
Meekly, he followed her.
I wonder what brings that memory to mind now. Maybe I’m thinking about how priorities change over the course of one’s life. Or maybe I’m thinking about a time I looked at romance and could only reconcile it with stupidity. Or maybe I’m just wistfully thinking about how the most meaningful things are sometimes the simplest things – and how that makes them easier to forget.
Or maybe I’m thinking all three. Good morning. Make good memories.
Going through the motions,
Shocked awake – rude emotions
A kiss so great
Quantities measured – memories treasured
Trust fragile; completely fractured
From duct to ticker tape to surgery scars
Picking shards of what was once a heart;
I’m not complaining. Not really.
There’s just a certain kind of mood that comes on me at certain times of the year. You know, those nights when it seems all you can do is look over the neighbor’s roofs at the lights winking in the distance and wonder what exactly is happening on the other side of where you are.
The times; oh those oh-ah times you remember a face, a smile…a name (if you’re so lucky), and smile wistful smiles that are beautiful in a sad way. Smiles that suddenly take you from the ‘now‘ back to the ‘then‘ – and you beat your head; actually pound it a few times better than your momma ever could.
And you ask yourself why you left.
Have you ever noticed how more often than not, the reasons don’t sound as convincing as they used to?
Those nights you cannot help but wonder if there’s someone else somewhere else, someone so far yet so close – someone you’ve never met yet someone you know almost as well as your mother (we all have mothers; no?), someone who – at that exact moment, you feel one with?
So many people have come; so many have gone. So many people will still do both. I realize that a lot of times, in trying to hold on too hard you lose. And sometimes, letting go is not the best thing. Because what you think and what actually is are hardly ever the same.
The trick is finding that delicate balance.
Another February 14 looms, and I am caught back in that loom; that unstopping machine weaving the fine fabrics of time and events. So many questions. So little answers. I stand at my window and look over the horizon at the winking lights in the sky.
And then…I feel a lightening of my spirit.
Maybe someone just wrote a letter in a bottle and dropped it in the ocean – and it’s headed my way. Maybe someone on the other end of my position just read a text I sent some years ago in the heat of one of those moments, and laughed happily. Maybe someone just thought about me – thought about ME; and smiled. Maybe God just put my face to the image of a husband someone has been asking Him for.
Maybe ‘it’s time’. Who knows?
I’m not so alone after all.
I turn the floppy disk in my hand and stare at the inscription; ‘Baby Shower 09:11:04’.
Wow. I set aside the box I picked it up from, sit behind my desk and hold up the diskette, staring at it as though I can see the contents. Superman’s X-Ray vision or something.
Yeah. The ghosts get bad around this time of the year.
Dust hovers in the air for some seconds as I send them from their abode with a puff of air. I’m sure I have the files on this disc backed up somewhere but I cherish things like this because of the memories they hold. Not the pictures.
This disk represents a moment in time. A snapshot of my life – of life; as it was at a particular time.
I wonder if the baby whose pictures are in here knows what a floppy disk is.
A smile adorns my mustached lips as I see her there; eyebrows wrinkled in concentration trying to answer the question I just placed before her young intellect. After some minutes of raking through files and files of memory data, she’ll look up at me with a disgruntled look and say accusingly; ‘daddy, you haven’t taught me that!’
A burst of laughter turns into a sob as I cover my mouth in horror. What am I doing?
It is the retort that came into my head in response to her response that has me crying.
“Daddy, you haven’t taught me that!”
I would have chuckled and said ‘What have I been teaching you then?”
What have I been teaching her indeed?
That love is a myth? Or that men usually don’t know what they want till it’s gone – and then they spend the rest of their lives chasing shadows because they let go of substance in a moment of weakness? That fear is more powerful than love – and that it makes no sense loving someone because no one is good enough to fight for?
I’m a thirty-something year senior executive in one company like that – yet I cannot stop the water faucet that suddenly opens behind my eyes. I imagine I look like one of those burst Water Corporation pipes, water leaking all over the place. I laugh at my own joke and the tears stop.
I wish my mother was still around. I see her look at me, shake her head and say ‘darling, what do you call someone who knows what’s best for everyone except himself?’
My voice echoes in the dark room as I audibly answer a question asked in my head. ‘A hypocrite?’
I hear my mum’s chuckle loud and right in my heart. ‘Lonely and confused.’
I remember Ibi telling me a while ago; “I can’t stay here and watch you kill yourself. You’re going to drag me along with you – and I…we have a child to care for.”
Now it’s done. Everything – she’s gone.
Or is she?
That’s my daughter talking. We spend time – more time than ever these days, but I avoid her eyes every time I say goodbye. Because I know what waits in them. I know what she wants to see happen – and I’m not sure it’s the best thing for all concerned.
Have I learnt anything new? Am…I…learning?
“I don’t know what to do…” Steam dissipates in the cold air as I stare at the ceiling in frustration.
Mother lowers her glasses and looks at me with a smile. ‘Oh yes son, but you do.”
I shake my head as though that would make her go away. “But…but mum, I’m so scared.”
“But you’ll know. You’ll know – and then maybe you’ll finally have some peace.”
Peace. Where did that go?
I pick up my phone and though it is 1:17 on a Monday morning, I call my ex-wife.
That’s what it was. That’s the only way I can describe it.
Imagine waking up on a Saturday morning…stretching and looking forward to a day characterized by washing, cooking, eating, sleeping and maybe a movie or two…ALL IN YOUR HOUSE.
And then less than three hours later you’re on your way to see your friend whose boyfriend had battered her close to death.
Which kain life be dis?
At least that’s what I was thinking as I boarded the BRT bus on my way to Igho’s house. Which kain life?!
We all thought Dele was a sweet and innocent guy. We all thought he was made for Igho when she finally said yes to him and they started dating. They looked so good together…even I was a bit envious. I was jealous of my friend.
But I loved her a lot – I still do obviously; so I made her joy mine. I encouraged and advised and supported her – even though I was single and hurting myself. She deserved to be happy.
So when did this Dele of a guy become a boxer – beating my friend to a pulp?
I won’t lie to you; I was scared witless. I did not know what I was going to do once I got to his house in Ajah…I just knew I wanted to be with my friend. Her voice…when she called me that morning was like a whisper.
Suddenly I was crying. I did not want to lose my friend…not that way at all. It was not the best way to say goodbye to her…and I was not ready to do that just yet.
“This BRT bus should hurry jo,” I mumbled under my breath, wiping my eyes with my scarf and hoping none of the other passengers would notice. It did not look like they did.
I had dropped at CMS before I remember the okada ban. I was in a hurry – so I just took a cab down to Ajah straight to Dele’s house. It was with heart in mouth I paid the cab man and walked towards the compound.
The gate stood open.
A forebooding kind of silence enveloped the compound and it was with knocking knees I stepped in. A sprawling duplex, I was not sure exactly which was Dele’s apartment but I recognized his car – a red Toyota Avensis. I looked for the gateman to ask which was his apartment but there was no one in sight. Walking carefully, my heartbeat pounding loud in my ears, I walked towards the only door I could see – one in the side of the house.
I knocked – and then the door opened under my hand.
That was Igho. I swear my eyes swam. I think I might have fainted for a bit, because the next time I came to myself, I was half-sitting half lying on the couch with Igho holding a glass of cold water to my lips. I looked at her face closely for signs of battery but all I could see was shinning teeth and sparkling eyes set in a glowing face.
I took a small sip of the water before I could speak. “Igho…what’s going on?”
My friend hugged me firmly. “I knew I could count on you to come running. I’m sorry I tricked you like that, but I needed you to come as fast as possible,” She grinned impishly. “And there you are.”
I sat up, feeling a bit better. “Why the deception?”
And then I noticed there were two people standing in a doorway. Two men.
One was Dele. I could not see the other guy clearly…but he looked vaguely familiar…
Oh no. Not him.
For Days and A Night, my first book coming soon. Get ready.
I was listening to Tupac yesterday (don’t ask your mum who that is; I promise to tell you next time I see you) and I started crying. Yeah, daddy’s been crying a lot lately. I hadn’t realized I had that much water in my body.
But I was crying because I was thinking about you. And while they were happy tears because I’m proud of you, they were also sad tears because I realized I haven’t been there as much I as ought to have been – or as much as I promised to be. I was crying because it feels like it was only last week I and your mum were choosing names for you – and suddenly overnight you’re six years old. That’s scary.
I am not the best father a child could have, and if there’s one thing I wished for that morning the doctor gave you to me, wrapped and wailing so loudly (he said you should consider the opera; such lungs!); it was that you came with an instruction manual. Because, although these hands of mine have done a lot of things; are capable of a lot more, they are not in any way hands to mold a life. No.
But I did promise to do my best – and I know better than anyone that I have nowhere near kept my word. And I’m sorry for that. Apologies don’t cut it though; I taught you that, so this is the first step in correcting that.
Allow me apologize for the times when you came around and you wanted to sit on my lap or just play around with your father and I would snap or lose my patience and say ‘darling, daddy is working.’ Yes, it usually is true because whether I’m scribbling in a notepad or punching away furiously on my laptop – it is work. That’s what I do.
But no matter what, I should always make time for you. I should. And maybe I should sit you down and say these words, but baby – as much as a writer as I am; it’s incredible to note that speaking; saying things like this…putting words like these in a sentence is next to the hardest thing for me to do. It’s true, you see. You ask your mum how I asked her to marry me.
Which brings me to this: it has come to my attention that some kids at your school tease you with the fact your parents are no longer together and that somehow it’s your fault. Before I come to burn that school down, let me tell you this: Nothing your mother and I did or do is in anyway your fault. It’s important to me that you understand this: I did not marry your mother because she was pregnant with you; I married her because I loved her and she loved me. She got pregnant six weeks into our marriage (daddy’s impatient I know!) and for two years we raised you together. In fact, if there’s anyone to blame for the separation, it’s me. Your mother tried. But as you well know and I admit; I am a handful.
I know your mother has also told you this but it’s important you hear it from me too; I did not cheat on your mother. I was not an unfaithful husband neither was she an unfaithful wife. We were crazy about each other; in a world where marriage has all but become a joke and love is just a thing to say when it’s convenient. We loved each other.
And we tried to make it work – no; I should be honest and say your mother tried to make it work. But in a head where it’s mostly noises and gory pictures, it gets hard to tell what really matters and what does not. And no woman deserves to watch someone she loves slowly kill themselves, so your mother had to leave me. She had to.
She would ask me then why I had married her because it seemed to her I needed no one; and instead of being honest with her and telling her how I felt, I would keep quiet because I couldn’t find the words. Hence I lost her.
But I won’t lose you.
I am sorry I asked not to see you when grandma died. I guess it’s the same thing about not needing anyone; not wanting to bother anyone with my wahala. I fell apart baby, and it scared me for you to see me that scattered. But I’ve also come to understand that sharing your worst moments with people who care about you is also a way of telling them they matter. I’m still learning; you see, and as strange as this may sound, I am learning a lot from you.
Baby, you’re beautiful. I swear it’s like you took the best parts of your mother and I (your mother; now that’s a babe!) and made it in your own signature. I wonder how many hearts you’ve broken in your class; I wonder how long it will be before they start kicking my door down to ask for your hand in marriage. And while it’s a day that sort of scares me; it’s a day I earnestly pray for and about because it’s not about me. It’s your day, baby. Though it’s coming later it will come – so allow me say some things.
You are beautiful – but that’s because there’s more to you than your dreamy eyes and milky-white teeth. Someday soon those things won’t be as they are now, so don’t waste too much time trying to make them look better. Of course take care of them, but what you should nurture are those things that cannot be seen or touched. Those things that are only felt, those things that express themselves through words and actions; those are the things you need to spend time with because those are the things that define you; those are the things that will never go away. They make you you.
Watch what you wear, because it might be misleading. People who watch you walk by have no idea what goes on inside your head, but your dressing influences their perception. Before you talk about your mother; she’s a model. She wears clothes for a living. Dress how you want to be addressed baby. Never forget that.
Boys are not bad. They’re naughty, spoilt, confused, childish but essentially they are not bad. I mean, I’m not bad now am I? Boys just need firm hands and a heart that knows what it wants and won’t settle for anything less than. They automatically want to disrespect women – but show them you deserve their respect and they will give it to you. I know I messed things up for your mum (I love talking about her don’t I?) but I did not fight the divorce because I knew she deserves better. I’m trying hard to be better.
Find love because it’s real. Only God could have made a miracle like you, and God is love. Why believe in God if I don’t believe in love?
There’ll be times when your heart will argue and disagree with your head, and there’ll be other times when your head will dissent with everything your heart says. No matter what you do baby, always try as much as you can to find a middle ground for those two warring guys. Balance is so necessary.
Remember to always smile. Baby, I know that makes me sound like such the hypocrite because those lines on my face didn’t come from smiling a whole lot. I know; but truth is truth whether I practice it or not. And who says you have to make the mistakes I made? I made so many just so you won’t have to, but make mistakes. Learn for yourself. That’s the only way you learn anything of value.
I know mummy takes you to church and daddy goes to church. We’re training you that way because that’s the only way we know. But while I was born a Christian, I had to come the point where Christ found me for myself – just so I could have a relationship with Him. So baby, go to church and practice what you’re taught; open your heart and find Christ for yourself. As much as your mother and I love you, you will have to stand before God all by yourself.
I’m not preaching, dear. I’m just talking to you from my heart. And I know this should not be in a letter – but I doubt there will ever be a time when I’ll be able to sit you down and talk to you about these things. It’s a letter; so you can always come back to read this and know undoubtedly that I love you. I really love you. You’re the best part of me.
All I do is to give you wings. But you have to fly for yourself. Go to school and study hard – but read other books. Watch movies. Learn – go at knowledge as hard as you go at your skipping ropes. You can do anything.
You’re my little girl and I love you.
Words from a father to a daughter.
Below is the second poster heralding the coming of For Days and A Night. Coming soon. Be ready!