A Landscape of Friendship

friends-landscape

 

Sotonye and I were friends first. I forget now, how we met, that memory superseded by memories of our friendship: the innocence of it. We walked around town and hopped on buses to places too far to walk like the old amphitheatre at the university. One afternoon, we sat together on a leather beanbag, shoulders rubbing, while we fiddled with the controls of my parent’s Panasonic sound system. We took turns to put our cassettes into the tape deck and listen to each other’s mix tape.

“Sit apart!” my mother’s voice startled us. Before I could understand the implication of her words, Sotonye had sprung to the chair farthest from the beanbag, and from me, in the living room. That day heralded the beginning of the end of our friendship, I think.

After I met his best friends, Charles and Karibi, I saw Sotonye less and less. He caved under my persistent interrogation and admitted that he had kept a distance because Charles had warned him that girls like me could derail a guy’s destiny.

I should have told him that I was hurt, but I did not. I could have pointed out that in his stead, Charles was now spending more time with me, the destiny-stealer, and Karibi was a close second, borrowing books from the library to feed my love for books, but I did not. Universities were on strike and Sotonye was convinced that his future lay in the United Kingdom. His plans to relocate consumed his focus.

Ten years have passed since the alliance—three boys, then two boys and one girl— we formed crumbled because we grew up and went to discover ourselves on the map.

Presently, Charles and I are having lunch after a chance encounter earlier in the week, and I am reminding him of how we met. He is laughing so hard, he begins to cough.

“That’s not how it happened, didn’t I meet you first?”

“You wish,” I say, rolling my eyes.

“I can’t believe I did my guy like that!” He slaps his thigh, still amused.

“Better believe it; do you know where Sotonye is now?”

“Last I heard he’s still in the UK, directing theatre productions or something weird like that. That’s what Karibi said when I bumped into him, last year.”

“Karibi . . .” I say wistfully.

“You always liked him. That traitor who swooped in when I left for school—”

“No, it wasn’t like that at all. He was like a big brother to me.”

“Yeah, right!”

“Go away joor. He was the sweetest boy I’ve ever known.”

“That’s because he didn’t shave your head. Abeg, leave that thing!”

“We all were great friends . . .”

“Yes,” he agrees, “but you did not understand boys.”

We distill years past by exchanging phones and swiping photos, who’s this and where’s that, make our puzzle pieces fit faster. But photographs cannot capture all. Suddenly, Charles looks down at his drink and admits to being a closet alcoholic.

“It’s not so bad,” he says, looking up at me.

I nod. In the movement of my head and the steady gaze of my eyes, there is no judgement.

“Why don’t you tell someone who can hold you accountable on the road to recovery—”

“What! You haven’t changed! You’re still naïve . . . like back then . . .”

I trace the rim of my glass with my finger, uneasy and unsure of what he means.

“You still think everyone is like you, and everything is black and white,” he answers my unspoken question.

“No not really—”

“You trust easily. Haven’t people hurt you . . . enough?”

I sigh. Maybe I should not have let him look at all my photos.

“I am no longer afraid of getting hurt. But this isn’t about me. Isn’t your secret too heavy to bear alone?”

“I’ll survive. I haven’t told anyone . . . I don’t even know why I told you.”

I know why he told me. In just two hours, we have travelled back to the road leading to my parent’s house, where, unable to stop his voice trembling, he confided in me about his parent’s impending divorce.

The moment passes and we reminisce about happier times, about the place near the overhead bridge where we met in the evenings after Sotonye left. Charles would arrive with a packet of cigarettes and after he dragged on a cigarette a bit, he passed it round. I took tentative puffs while Karibi backed away as if it were a snake, reminding Charles of his asthma and me of the dangers of lung cancer.

“I gave up smoking,” Charles says. “Best thing I ever did.”

I nod again.

“You were the glue . . .” he begins.

“Nah,” I say, “Sotonye—”

“It’s true, everything was centred around you.”

He signals to the waiter for another drink. I shake my head, no.

“Do you think . . . answer me honestly, Charles . . . that boys and girls can just be friends?”

His answer is slow to come.

“I don’t know,” he says at last. “Even back then, Sotonye, Karibi, and I, wanted more.”

 

© Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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Out on These Limbs

limbs

1.
I came to like football as a careful choice unlike many of my friends for whom the sport was a natural favorite. Growing up, the sport that came to me naturally was basketball. Of course, there was wrestling from TV that I tried out with my younger sibling, which earned me a chipped tooth and sprained wrist, but B-Ball was the sport I played in my sleep. I bought illustrated books on basketball and stayed up late during NBA Nights on TV. I watched movies like Blubber, Love and Basketball, and Like Mike endlessly. I became friends with Akin, the tall but otherwise uninteresting guy and later, Babs, the lanky Hausa boy who opened his mouth to reveal brown teeth and bad English, because of B-Ball.

 

2.
Akin brought the first basketball to school and made those interested practice in the school hall during mid-day breaks. In three weeks, our number dwindled to five. B-Ball proved difficult, particularly avoiding traveling, the game rule violation everyone but Akin and Babs committed repeatedly. Still, I stayed after school to practice throws, which I was good at, especially throwing from the left side of the hoop.

 

3.
“Maybe we should play with Loyola College sometime,” Akin said one day after break-time. He talked in an offhanded manner, leaving a listener to decide what was serious, and what wasn’t. I stopped coming to practice after that day. Babs cornered me to find out why.
“I don’t like how I have been sweating and having to wash my uniform all the time,” I told him, stealing glances at his legs.
He had spindly legs like mine, only fairer and straighter. I didn’t want to tell him the thought of stepping into another school in shorts—my legs exposed and defenseless—was enough to give me a migraine. It was not going to happen.

 

4.
I found I could play football with a pair of jogging pants if I wanted to. Then, I found I couldn’t play real matches with jogging pants, except as a goalkeeper. So, I became a goalkeeper.

 

5.
When I was called up to stand in front of my secondary school assembly and announced as the male senior prefect, I imagined that the sea of eyes staring at my bony legs, sticking out underneath my blue shorts, zoomed in on every hair follicle. The next week, I had two pairs of shorts made. The new pairs were a couple of inches longer than my former knee-length pairs. Everyone called me three-quarters head boy. Standing in front of a mirror, my legs, sticking out from mid-calf to ankle, did not look so thin.

 

6.
At NYSC camp, I always looked forward to evenings and weekends when I could wear my long, oversized, khaki pants. On weekdays, I pulled down my small shorts until they grazed the edge of decency. I sat in the middle row during boring lectures from NGOs and prospective employers and stayed away from crowded places like the mammy market, where a drunk corps member could spew remarks about my broomsticks legs.

 

7.
Earlier this year, a female friend saw my lower legs because I was reclining and stretching my feet.
“You should wear shorts, Akintunde, you have really fine legs,” she remarked.
That day, I ordered a wine pair of combat shorts in size 30. I drove to work wearing a gray T-shirt over the combat shorts and a pair of brown ankle boots the day after the shorts arrived. I strutted into every office and later in the afternoon, strolled down the busy road in front of the office, saying hello to a couple of people. I stared back at the faces whose eyes lingered on my form, their approval or disapproval notwithstanding, and smiled consciously. I couldn’t drive after work so I took a total of four cabs en route home, transiting at busy terminals. The fascinating glances I received from homebound commuters made me wonder if I hadn’t been saved by my car in the morning, if my comfortable denim pants wouldn’t have been the better choice. That evening, my youngest brother came home from school and threw me a mock salute when he saw my outfit. When he was leaving three days later, I gave the combat shorts to him, packed in the plastic bag in which it had come.

 

© Akintunde Aiki 2016

Akintunde Aiki is an engineering apostate who currently finds joy in beautiful writings. He thinks Friday is the best day and November the best month. He loves all shades of the color blue. If he can get off the internet more, he’ll probably write a book. He blogs at Koroba.

 

Photo credit: Unsplash/ https://pixabay.com/en/feet-boots-filling-cabinet-legs-1246673/

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Any Seven Stories From My Life [2]

masculinity

An Oblique Commentary on Masculinity

1.
The first fight I won wasn’t even a fight. A boy my age but many times my size made fun of my oversized head. I was hurt, so I swung my fist, connected with his jaw, and two teeth flew out. That December night was dry and we were at a Christian camp for kids, sitting under a tree on a carpet of brittle leaves. If his teeth hadn’t flown out after that punch, it would have been my whole set of milk teeth diving into the leaves.

 

2.
The first time I watched Mowgli in Jungle Book, I felt so bad for him I ran to my room to stem the tears that threatened to fall. How I went from that boy to one who would search for tears in moments of pain baffled me for years, because although I gained an understanding of the value of crying I just couldn’t do it. I’d convinced myself for years that it was a weak thing to do. It was a thing of pride in secondary school to withstand beating from the teachers without a hint of tears.

 

3.
In the first of the years I spent at home between finishing secondary school and going to the university, I obsessed over becoming physically fit. I did push ups, headstands, and even found a heavy iron bar in the old garage behind the house that I used to work my biceps. That was the same period when my siblings and I would, after a day playing soccer, lie on the floor of our room, and listen to Don Moen or Jim Reeves sing out of mother’s old cassette player. Of course the fitness fad didn’t last. I soon returned to my routine of playing soccer in the afternoons, watching movies in the evenings, and reading books and listening to music at night.

 

4.
I can’t ride a bike, swim, or lick my elbow.
I used to play table tennis, soccer, and lift buckets of water every morning up the hill in Nkwelle.
I now walk through Mushin on my way home, climb the stairs, and dream about driving everywhere but Lagos.

 

5.
While serving in Anambra, I had migraine episodes that would often last for a week or more. One evening, in the middle of one of such attacks, some students—boys—were shouting in front of the lodge. A corps member asked them to leave, but they refused. Their noise intensified, each sound amplified to pain in the sound chamber: my throbbing head. I went outside and shouted at them, but they just scattered and regrouped like marching ants in contact with a small pool of water. I saw a cutlass beside the door and flung it at one of them. They did not return.

 

6.
Going to the Gym is described in a New Yorker piece about Max Grief’s Against Everything, as buying into a “soul-destroying managerialism that has disguised itself as a means of enhancing “life.”” This, not laziness or apathy towards my body, will now become my reason for refusing to enter a gym. But my back hurts too much.

 

7.
After a month of trying to get a medical report that should have taken three days, the man in charge of reports at the university clinic finally brought out the two-paragraph letter I needed. When I pointed out a mistake in the letter, he shrugged and asked that I return the following week to pick it up.

“Are you sure I’ll get this then?” I asked.
“You know what,” he replied, “I can’t say. You just have to keep coming back.”
I wanted to knock him out. I needed the report to prevent losing a year of school. “What do you mean by that? Isn’t this your fault?”
He was elderly. His face looked like I really did strike him by questioning him.
“Don’t shout at me young man.”

Then I started to shout. The nurses tried to calm me down, and one of the doctors joined them too. They asked me to explain what was happening. I sat down and started to shake, for I knew to explain would be to start crying. I’d lost a lot in the preceding months, and the man was part of a series of human and non-human circumstances I couldn’t control. I eventually narrated the story, and got a corrected letter in fifteen minutes. And although tears did not come out of my eyes, I’m sure I cried that afternoon.

© IfeOluwa Nihinlola 2016

IfeOluwa Nihinlola writes essays and short stories and has been featured in online magazines such as Afreada, Omenana, Klorofyl, and Litro. He works as an editor and is an inaugural fellow of aKoma’s Amplify fellowship. He is a fan of Zadie Smith, is looking for a replacement for Pringles as muse, and blogs at ifenihinlola

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/shoe-sit-costume-tailored-suit-512133/

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Battle of Testosterone

Battle

At the Reunion, I see Emeka for the first time in twenty-five years. We jam shoulders and pat each other’s backs.

“Man, you’re not doing badly,” Emeka playfully jabs the flab on my belly.

“Emeka na you biko! Nna men, you wear forty-six well!”

His clean shave reminds me that my beard is speckled grey.

“I do my best. Lola and the girls nko?”

“They are well.”

You still don’t have a boy right?” His chair scrapes the floor as he moves it to sit.

I take a long sip of my Gulder.

“No boy?” He leans forward in his chair.

I take another long sip of my Gulder. “Not yet.”

Emeka whistles. “Are you guys still trying?”

We exchanged emails about twelve years ago. I’d expressed frustration about not having a male child to carry on my name. Twelve years ago! What gives him the right to poknose now?

Emeka fiddles with his BlackBerry. I stare at nothing as I tap my feet to the beat of Fresh by Kool and the Gang. We have both done well in our careers, why is a male child an additional index of success? Emeka shows me photos of his wife, two sons, and daughter.

“My last son is ten.” He says it as if he won gold at the Olympics.

I shrink in my seat and hum, conversation is going round people talking ‘bout the girl

“So, how do you keep in shape? You look really good.”

I look at his muscles rippling beneath his fitted t-shirt. I signal to the waiter for another bottle of Gulder.

Emeka pats my arm, “Lola is really taking care of you. She’s goo—”

“I run seven kilometres every weekend.” I brush lint off my shirt as if that’s the reason I’m annoyed. What’s the difference between three and half and seven?

“Really? Why don’t we run together this weekend?”

Four bottles of Gulder makes me say yes and give him the route in Victoria Island where I run.

I arrive early on Saturday and start my warm-up exercises. Emeka parks his Range Rover Sport under an ebelebo tree and promises the boys washing cars some money to look after his car.

Nna, ke kwanu? Good day for running,” he says looking at the sky.

I mumble and nod.

He looks like Usain Bolt and starts like him. I think this showmanship unnecessary but keep my thoughts to myself.

After about 700 metres, Emeka picks up speed. “Come on!”

I match his pace.

“I know someone.”

“What?”

“Someone who can help with your problem.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“No need for all this oyibo, na me Mekus, your man.”

Gini?”

“There’s this guy in Oworo. He has a powder—”

“Emeka, what in god’s name are you talking about?”

“To increase the Y chromosome na.”

When I was younger, my mother told me to be careful when I got angry because my yellow skin became red around my ears. “Remaining small and they will catch fire,” she would warn.

The fire spreads from my ears to my chest, and then down to my legs. I pick up speed.

“Man, slow down! Na so?”

The fire burning my legs gets hotter, but Emeka sails past me like a gazelle while his laughter stays behind to mock me. I feel more heat on my feet. Grunting, I overtake Emeka and try to maintain my pace. We pass the three-kilometre mark.

Emeka draws level. “I’m only trying to help because I care.”

He gives me a slap on the back that makes me lose balance. I steady myself and look ahead. Emeka resembles Leonardo Dicaprio in Catch Me if You Can.

“Sh*t!” I spit and the wind blows my saliva back on my face. The fire in my chest is hotter than the one in my legs. My mouth feels dry. I tuck in my head and draw from my reserves. Emeka’s yellow singlet is the prize.

Each time I near my goal, Emeka antelopes away.

Oga small small o!”

I ignore the meiguard carrying jerry cans in his wheelbarrow. My honour is at stake. My legs begin to give first. I stretch my hand to catch Emeka. I touch something soft.

“L . . . Lola?”

“Sssh . . .”

“How?”

“Ssssh . . .”

“I was only trying to help. There is no shame in this matter.” Emeka’s voice seems distant.

“He has always been stubborn,” Lola says shaking her head.

I struggle to sit up.

She laughs and places her hand on my head, “Lie down.”

She motions to someone. The meiguard looks down at me and smiles. Kola nut has stained his teeth like blood. I remember Dracula. He lifts his gourd. Someone tugs at the waistband of my tracksuit bottoms.

“Where am I?” my voice is weak.

“Oworo,” Lola whispers, “Stop fighting, let him apply the powder.”

“No o o o!”

 

“Wake up, wake up! Lower your voice. You’ll wake the children. You’re dreaming.”

The glow from Lola’s bedside lamp shows how rumpled our sheets are. I wipe my clammy forehead as I make out our beige curtains and mahogany chest of drawers in the corner. My heart pounds as I reach down to feel it. Her hand is there. I slap it away.

I sense her confusion as she reaches again and says, “What?”

“Traitor,” I mutter, grab my phone, and jump out of bed.

I check on the girls. The even rhythm of their breathing greets my ears. I go to my study and search for the reunion email. I type a few words and hit reply. I lean back on my chair; lift up my waistband, peek, and then pack. I close my eyes and vow never to attend a reunion until I die.

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.