Shifting Gears [5]

adrift

Adrift

For the most productive parts of my year, Marilynne Robinson’s words were my Mantra: “Frankly, you get to a certain point in your life where you can do unusual things with your mind. So then, I think, do them.”

What Marilynne doesn’t explain is that doing stems from being; that our being is tied, irrevocably, to our interactions, our relationships; that in reinvention, we shed our pasts and people in them to emerge into new forms of ourselves. There is something visceral, violent even, in leaving friends to gain new frontiers.

In August, I was added to a WhatsApp group of my secondary school classmates. My first comment was a rant. Someone asked why I was speaking as though I did not attend the same school like everyone else. Even I am a stranger to the boy they used to know.

It was easy to severe secondary-school ties. I used to be good at that. The secret is to avoid nostalgia, excise memories, and dull the mind with new experiences. I did this without guilt. I often say I am content in solitude and enjoy being an island, but when I entered university, I made new friends who showed me friendships are not just bridges that can be burnt at will and reconstructed. They are anchors that prevent me from drifting.

Trying to describe the loss of friendship, Murakami wrote of the titular character in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage:

“The pain he felt was, if anything, more intense, and weighed down on him even more greatly because of distance. Alienation and loneliness became a cable that stretched hundreds of miles long pulled to the breaking point by a gigantic winch. And through that taut line, day and night, he received indecipherable messages. Like a gale blowing between trees, those messages varied in strength as they reached him in fragments, stinging his ears.”

Towards the end of the year, my life began to imitate art; Tsukuru’s story came alive with vivid intensity. In striving to be the kind of person who can do the things I now think my mind is capable of, I was drifting away from my friends.

Last month, I spoke to one of my best friends. I asked her about work.

“You are so out of date,” she said with laughter in her voice.

We spent hours trying to fill the yawning void between us, trying to get back to the way things were (the way they should be?).

Time is the tie of friendship, affection its strut, and these I do not possess in infinite quantities.  Having severed, at will, friendships in secondary school and anchored myself to friends in university, I’m learning as a young adult that it is okay to drift away from some friends without angst or guilt.  To build new bridges some of the old ones have to be dismantled.

I walk through the phantom space where bridges used to be, hoping there is enough muscle memory to take me past the awkwardness of encountering old friends; you know, matching faces to places and names to dreams. Nonetheless, I am grateful for friends—past, present, future—who anchor me to reality and to whom I owe bountiful debts of love.

© IfeOluwa Nihinlola, 2015

Ife blogs @ ifenihinlola

 

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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Shifting Gears [1]

shifting gears

 

Human clay finds its moisture in relationships and will evaporate into dust without them  – Beth Moore

 

When I arrive at Tamali’s house, she holds my arm and turns me from side to side, and then she sighs.

“How do you do it?”

She knows how I do it. Her eyes sunken, her voice nasal, her walk without bounce; she coughs as she leads the way. The aroma of sautéed bell peppers and tomatoes hits me. On the gas hob sits a stainless steel pot. Underneath the glass lid, I spy something white; rice, pasta?

“Food?” she gestures towards the pot.

“No thanks, I’m good.”

She opens the fridge and brings out Amaris’ cake. I recognize it from the photo she sent me on WhatsApp. The Barbie doll, which sat atop is gone as is half of Barbie’s pink-layered flowing gown. She gets busy with her knife.

“Too much,” I protest.

She eyes me, “You don’t have to eat it all at once.”

Her neck is lean and last week was tough for her. So, I take the knife from her and halve the portion she set aside.

Back in the living room, she offers me the stubby bananas that Kwame brought from Uganda.

“Very sweet. Not like the ones from Costa Rica in Albert Heijn.”

“I’m full.” I bend and hug my stomach.

“You never eat! I can’t count how many of them I’ve had,” she spreads her arms and looks at her torso; “I’m always eating!”

She is not always eating. It is her frustration speaking.

“How did I get from there to here?” She points at a framed photo by the TV and then digs out more photos from the shelf next to the TV stand.

This is what you do for a friend with flu. You stop by her house after work with a packet of Day & Night Nurse and explain how to take the capsules. You eat cake when you’d rather not. You pull your chair closer to hers and hunch over hundreds of photos. You listen as she reminisces about her days at Makerere University and her time in London, the jauntiness of her late teens and early twenties—that period before we tell ourselves, I’ve got to get serious and settle down. You see a girl you did not know, who helps you understand the woman you now know. 

She appraises each picture by size, interrupting my flow.

“Oh, look at this one, I was slim here.”
“You think I look good there? No way, I resembled an elephant.”
“This one was taken earlier in the year. See me in the same dress later that year; the dress is bursting at the seams! What did I eat?”

And you mourn with her, the loss of youth. Because flu makes you delirious. It makes you want your mother who is 6000km away; although you left home at twenty and you are now in your early thirties. It chains your legs so you miss the gym, stay at home and raid the fridge, and feel fatter than you are.

A pathological nostalgia has seized her and you cure it with kindly indulgence, not once looking at the clock. 

I recently read an article about why female friendships are fraught with infighting. Sitting here with Tamali, I cannot relate. Have my friendships always been this supportive?

There was that time Ada stayed over and borrowed my jewelry while I was at work, leaving me a note to dispel panic in case I looked for it when I returned. I stayed mad for months and ignored her overtures and peace emissaries. My anger was toxic, contaminating anyone who would listen. One day she braved my rage and showed up at my doorstep.

“Yes?” I filled the door space, arms folded across my chest.

“I’m sorry. It broke. I couldn’t return it until I fixed it.”

I blocked her advance, spreading myself wider.

“For crying out loud Timi, it isn’t even 24-karat gold. It’s costume; that’s why nobody could fix it!”

“Beside the point! You shouldn’t have taken it without asking!”

She edged passed me, pushing me against the doorframe. She dropped the broken piece of jewelry on the dining table on her way to the kitchen.

“Do you have any food?” she asked one hand on the door of the fridge.

I sighed and smiled. You cannot poison food if you are going to eat and share it. That was twenty years ago. Ada and I are still smiling.

My girlfriends and I congregate around food. We eat; we do not eat. Thighs and hips feature in our extended conversations. Size is important and relative. Beneath this shallowness is affection, deep and strong, binding us as tomatoes cleave to meat in stew.

When I was younger, I made war. Now I’m older, I make peace. 

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

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.

 

Twice Played

twice played

 

I thought he was a nutter. But it was either him or the girl spooning rice from a white paper bag with wagamama embossed in black. The smell of fried rice caused the contents of my stomach to heave. I turned away from her and walked towards him.

He was leaning back, one shoulder edging the window. Two fingers formed a V beside his head, while his other hand went to work in rapid movements. He set his face this way and that.

“May I?” I looked at the rucksack on the seat.

His eyes met mine and blood rushed to his face. He mumbled something and gathered his rucksack.

I sat down and resisted the urge to judge. People take selfies all the time. Outside the window, the fields and rivers rushed by. I stretched my legs and closed my eyes.

“Cou . . . could you do me a favour?” he rubbed my arm.

I swallowed my irritation and produced a sitting-next-to-another-homo sapiens-in-the-train smile.

“Please can you take a selfie . . . with me?”

“What?”

“A selfie together . . . I . . . I just want to make me girlfriend jealous . . .”

Behind his glasses, his eyelashes were long and straight, reminding me of the fake lashes Sharon wore. Dark curly hair and full lips, a geek like the one I had once loved.

“Will you, please?”

“Eh . . . How old is your girlfriend?”

“I’m twenty-four and she’s your age, twenty-one.” He held out his phone and leaned towards me.

I leaned away. He looked twenty and I had guessed his girlfriend was eighteen. I am twenty-seven. Numbers mean nothing. I remembered twenty-one and pleasure stroked something inside me. That geek from long ago. I leaned in.

“But, why do you want to make her jealous?”

He put his head on my shoulder. Before I could blink, click.

“Ssssh!” A silver-haired woman sitting across us put one finger to her lips and gestured to the silence icon on the window. Her frown finished her sentence.

We muffled our laughter like teenagers reveling in our youthful secret. His right hand snaked along my shoulders, drawing me closer. I started to protest, but the woman looked up from her book and glowered at me. So I stuck out my tongue at her and mouthed, “Twenty-one forever.” His left hand worked faster—click, click, click.

As we disembarked, he said, “Thank you so much.”

“For the optics, right? Good luck!”

He smiled. I waved.

Two days later when I saw his friend request, I hesitated. Then confirmed. He messaged me immediately.

hi

hi…

it’s me

i know

how do u know?

ur photo? duh?  🙂

oh  🙂

how did you find me?

ur name on ur train card

oh hmmm. K. was she jealous?

ummm

?

change ur rship status

y?

so she’ll believe

believe what?

brb …

I tapped my foot, perused my news feed, liking this and that, willing the message icon to turn red. After forty minutes, I sighed and liked one more cat photo before going to bed. The next morning, I had 107 notifications; likes and comments on a photo I was tagged in. My heart raced as I clicked on the post. The caption: my girlfriend likes it hot. I screamed. Just then, one new message.

hi  🙂

WTF is wrong with you? Take down d photo now!!!!

y? u don’t like coffee?

that’s beside the point!

everyone likes starbucks.

I.Am.Not.Your.Girlfriend.

brb …

I called in sick and seethed through a day of brb-conversations; dead ends that made me curse. I fielded unhelpful comments in response to the disclaimer I put up on my Timeline. The Support Team recommended untagging myself, since the photos did not violate their community rules. Meanwhile, they would investigate. Every spare minute, I lived on his page. Five hundred and twenty-seven comments. Who the hell was this geek!

Sharon believed in shaping destinies. “Good things don’t come to people who wait. Sh*t does,” she said.

She asked around and found this guy from Serbia. People whispered that his large hands, which now tended roses, had done things during the war. We met him in the alley where the back doors of restaurant kitchens opened and rubbish bins stood in rows of twos, three figures bathed in darkness. When I handed him the cash, he didn’t count it.

“Just teach him a lesson . . . no more.” I looked up, but not at his eyes.

He didn’t reply.

That night, I slept sitting up in bed with my laptop on my thighs. By the next morning, the post had disappeared. I returned to work.

Two days later, my boss called me to her office. Two men in black suits sat at the small conference table. They introduced themselves before escorting me to the police station.

The man from Serbia was already there. He crossed his arms and wore a scowl. My tormentor stood a few feet away, a gash on his forehead and one eye swollen shut. I glanced away. The detectives offered me a seat.

“Wait here,” the taller one said.

I wondered if I would wake up to my life and tell Sharon about my dream, but someone tapped my shoulder. I shrieked and jumped. She was five feet two with slanted eyes under a black fringe bob. Twenty-two maybe, but numbers mean nothing.

“I, Anita,” she stretched her hand.

I paused and then took it. Could it get any worse?

She pointed with her chin to the man from Serbia. “You not his type. Why you do it?”

Who was she? Leather jacket, skinnys, knee-high boots—

“I writing a book. My life f**ked up now. Photo on internet and Instagram. Tell your story. We make book; sell to publisher. America publisher? Quick money. Or Kindle.” She shrugged. “Which you like?”

Wait; hang on, internet, Instagram? “Your photo is where?”

“Yours hot. More likes. Men like blonds.”

Images of my head photoshopped on a body with huge breasts and captioned, Date Girls from Russia, floated in my mind. No way!

She stretched her phone towards me and I grabbed it. Compared to this, the photo of me drinking coffee on geek’s lap was timid. I was lying in a bathtub. Red rose petals tried to make me decent, barely. I shook my head. The account belonged to one Don Serbia. Hang on, the profile picture. His f**king profile picture! I looked at the man from Serbia, rage seizing my heart.

“This one pretty. You see more?” She retrieved her phone and began scanning.

I backed her and called Sharon. Sharon listened and then said, “Don’t panic. I know of a guy from Armenia—”

“Very funny! Is he on Pinterest?”

I closed my eyes so my tears didn’t fall. My promotion was due in two weeks—the first person under thirty to make senior manager.

Slanted eyes tugged my sleeve. “Why you do it? Evly publisher want know . . . what’s your story?”

The detective returned and motioned to me. I stood and swept my hair to the side. She looked at my wool-blend coat and fingered the Armani label as though she had found gold.

“I wait for you. You smart; speak English like native. We make good team—coffee and cream. America publisher, yes?”

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

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.

Small Spaces

SMALL

 

You pointed at the students outside the library and complained their chatter rose and filled the apartment like steam. I said the apartment had charm but did not say what we knew; you would not be around to hear the noise during the day. I swept my arm at the blue wall-to-wall carpet that flowed like an endless sea and goaded you to take in the view of the lake.

“It’s doable,” I whispered.

“But you don’t have a job . . .”

Those six words imprisoned my mouth.

Therefore, we rented the other apartment. The front door opened into the living area, which opened into the kitchen, which opened into the sleeping area. The bathroom was an afterthought of clever masonry, tacked to the right wall of the sleeping area and cordoned off with a curtain that reminded you of Joseph’s coat of many colours.

We squashed our belongings into the interstices the landlord called rooms, but we could not squeeze our personalities past each other. When I turned, I bumped into you. When you turned, you bumped into me. And so a hurricane brewed.

The problem with your invitation to that argument was not our disparate points of view, but my overwhelming desire to win at something, anything, and the knowledge that I could. You bade me sit, so that neither of us had comparative height advantage.

We had agreed that we would always start with bad news and end on a high note by delivering good news last. But you reversed the order. I hardly heard your praise because it was as short as a one-minute foreplay. Your accusations were long and resembled the leading questions attorneys ask in American soaps, stunning the defendant and then finishing with, no further questions, Your Honour.

I adjusted my frame on the narrow bed, one of two pushed together. Small spaces should have sparked chemistry not tension between us. Was it too late? I rehearsed my new strategy: be quiet, don’t try to win, acquiesce, and retreat. No matter what happens, do not win this argument.

“On the charge of not rinsing my teacup and plate after coffee and donut, I plead guilty Your Honour.” I smiled, “I am very sorry.”

I saw the dilemma in your eyes. You had not expected to win in this manner, closing arguments defused. So, I pled with you, “Let it go.”

Instead, you looked at the window, which we opened with fear because the broken glass mocked the sellotape that held it in place. You stood and stabbed me in the thighs and buttocks but excess flesh dulled your blade. Then you selected a garasuki knife, those six words, which imprisoned my mouth, and plunged it into my heart, twisting for good measure.

I reacted from the gut. My words were like arrows with poisoned tips. They were so many your shield gradually slipped. Then weak and bleeding, we both staggered to the ground.

“Words matter. You should know,” you coughed and spat.

I knew. My six hundred unpublished pages lay on the table.

“Bloody hell! No one should attend an argument after only three hours of sleep, two coffees, and paracetamol,” I gasped.

You laughed and I laughed.

But that summer, for the first time, you only paid your share of the rent.  Then you moved to the first-floor apartment opposite the library. The one you said we could not afford.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Photo credit: Unsplash/ https://pixabay.com/en/alley-pavement-houses-narrow-urban-336539/

 

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The One-Night Stand Conversation

conversations

 

Emma introduced us, but fate made us exchange phone numbers. Although I liked you and felt drawn to you—tenderness accompanied my memories of you—I did not expect to hear from you soon. When my phone rang at 10:33 p.m. and I saw your name, warmth tickled my face into a smile. To my “hello,” you responded with sobs and to “what is it?” with, “I’m leaving him.”

I knew who him was.

Two weeks prior to your call, you and I chatted that evening, as we stood near the balcony sliding doors. Bunched-up voile curtains escaped their brass holders, lilting whenever the breeze beckoned. Behind us, opinions on politics and football clamoured for superiority. If I had to pick a winner, it would have been the music, a persistent fusion of hip-hop and jazz. Fear of losing our voices propelled us outside.

It was as if we knew time was short. We dispensed with pleasantries and raced to your heart. The story you told had many holes and so I averted my eyes so you would not need to avoid mine. Did you know that I had once been fragile too?

When him came to check on you, you replaced your shadow with sunshine. You introduced us, listing my credentials first, and I saw what his approval meant to you. Him was impressed, just as you had hoped, and then he whisked you away to the music we feared.

I knew who him was.

That day, your sobs unleashed mine. But, I put ice in my voice and said sensible things like, are you alone? What about the kids? Don’t make decisions while emotions are high. Should I come over? I had my hair in huge rollers under a net and two white spots on my face marked my struggle with acne.

You did not want me to come over. Instead, we sampled the height, depth, and breadth of your anxieties until 1 a.m., when exhausted from reasoning, you let me go. But not before agreeing to check in later in the day.

I did not sleep. I turned your problems over in my mind. I prayed. All day long, I waited. I debated whether to reach out. I sent a couple of texts. I called. You didn’t respond. Later never came, not that day or the next or the next month.

 

I am watching you and him in the supermarket. He leans so you can whisper in his ear. His eyes light up and you both laugh at your secret. I choose this moment to bump into you and him, and I wear my surprise well. The three of us make small talk but you overcompensate for lull with details. Your voice is on display, bouncing off the shelves and rolling down the aisle. When him leaves us girls to catch up, awkwardness settles over us and silences you.

“How are you?” I ask.

“Everything is fine, very fine, and you?”

I believe you because you radiate sunshine. I wait for your explanation so I can stop editing your manuscript in my head, no in my heart. I have been reading it since that night. Question marks and ellipsis muddle its chapters.

Nothing.

Him bursts in and whisks you to even greater sunshine and I am left with the music I fear, strains of bewildered happiness.

Perhaps I was to escort you around your shadow and no further. Did I assume a role that wasn’t mine? Was shame the unintended consequence of our sudden intimacy? Or did you need to find your way yourself? No matter, every book deserves an ending, and you cheated me of my slice of the sun.

I should not have left things unsaid.

 

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Photo credit: longleanna/ http://pixabay.com/en/talking-phone-mobile-telephone-560318/

 

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 Hook

The Hook

 

“The first time . . .”

“Ahn-ahn, it’s enough, you’ve said it before.”

“Geez! The first time they invite us to their house—”

“Stop exaggerating, these things happen—”

“What were you even thinking?”

“How was I to know—”

“Ssssh! Ssssh . . . ssssh! Someone’s coming . . .”

“I think they’ve gone can I—”

“Ssssh!”

“Can I talk now?”

“Lower your voice, I think they’re still around. . . ”

“Why don’t we just ask them for help?”

“Are you crazy? I just wish I had something bigger . . . like a stick to push it down . . .”

“Should I go downstairs and look?”

“And leave me here by myself?”

“It’s not like I’m adding value—”

“You should have thought of that before dropping the bomb. Why didn’t you try to break your—”

“It’s not my fault! We’ve been here for twenty minutes, nothing is working. Maybe they have a handyman—”

“Do you know how much that would cost? At this time of the night? I just need something—”

“I still think we should ask for help.”

“Hmmmm . . .”

“But what’s the big deal about asking for help?”

“Move back! Move back! The water is rising! Is there a mop or rag?”

“I don’t know . . . no, I can’t see any—”

“Phew! Thank God! The water is receding . . .”

“I told you not to flush again. These American toilets are funny—”

“The tissue settles at the bottom . . . something is blocking . . . it can’t move . . . How can something so big come out from someone so small?”

“I’ll just pretend you didn’t say that.”

“Pretend all you want, that won’t make your shit disappear!”

“Peju, let’s just ask for help.”

“Can you imagine me going to say, ‘I’m sorry, my wife blocked the toilet, please can you call the plumber?’?”

“Yes, I can. Everyone uses the toilet!”

“Everyone doesn’t block it!”

“If you’re not comfortable with your friends, why did you accept their invitation to stay—”

“I have an idea . . . pass me the hanger.”

“Stubborn man.”

“What did you say?”

“Their bathroom is lovely. I love the way the ivory tiles and oak—”

“Please pass—”

“This one?”

“No, the wire one.”

“Here.”

“Thanks.”

“What are you doing?”

“Ssssh someone’s coming. Turn on the shower—”

“Why?”

“So they’ll think we’re taking a shower! Just do it!”

“We can’t stay here forever.”

“Turn it off. I think this idea will work. See as I’m sweating because of you!”

“Sorry, let me use a magazine to fan you, your highness! What are you doing?”

“I’m bending the hanger into a hook then I’ll use it to fish the tissue out. Pass the bin.”

“Here.”

“Goddamn! How much tissue did you use?”

“You’ve started again!”

“Damn! If we stretch them into sheets I’m sure we’ll make two rolls.”

Na you sabi. Please be careful—you almost dropped it on my feet!”

“Yes ma. Madam Bomber.”

“Night soil man!”

“I think I’ve got it all out. Flush—”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes . . . yes, yes!”

“Finally!”

“Please we’re only staying two nights. Hold yourself. Can you try not to shite until we leave?”

“You’re not serious!”

“First night at their house . . .  I’ve suffered! You and this your small yansh. Small but mighty!”

“Your mouth is sharp now abi? From now on, Small-but-mighty is closed for business!”

“Ahn-ahn, can’t you take a joke again . . .”

“Do not touch me with your shit hand!”

“Come, come, coooome, abeg stop forming jare, I’ve seen the size of your shit!”

 

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

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.

For Coloured Girls Only? No, I think not . . .

 

Hair hair

I refused to get into the natural hair “debate” because, because, hmmm . . . , because, the fear of backlash for unnatural hair is the beginning of wisdom! Moreover, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, is still lying on my bookshelf unread. What can I add to the conversation biko?

My friend wears her hair natural. I wear weaves and extensions on top my relaxed bone-straight hair, but you figured that out already. When we meet,  she oohs over my hair-do and calls me, hot mama. I look at her kinky-do, and say, “You’re gonna kill someone today!” Then we share what we’re doing in our respective spheres to change the world, buying and selling in serious currency—ideas. We talk about the kids, our men, and all the things that went wrong in Grey’s Anatomy. In other words, we revel in our friendship.

I wish this were true with all my natural-hair friendships. With some of them, after “the sermon,” I want to say, “I am not less of an African woman for choosing Brazilian, Indian, Peruvian, or synthetic hair, and I have nothing to prove or disprove. Touch my hair and I’ll touch yours. Oya, let’s be friends who agree to disagree.” But I keep mum. If age has conferred any wisdom on me, it is this: choose your battles wisely; hair may fall or may grow, turn brown or turn grey, but relationships transcend it all.

Nkem Ivara captures some of my sentiments. I won’t reinvent the wheel, I will just hide behind her natural hair . . .

I read a post on one of the natural hair forums on Facebook yesterday. The lady posted some photos of her hair and claimed she had been natural for 36 months. Turns out she started transitioning in September 2012.

Now I realise Maths is not my strong suit but even I noticed the numbers didn’t add up. My first thought was to point out that she has actually been natural for just 24 not 36 months and I was going to say as much when I stopped myself. I stopped because I had visions of all the comments that would follow. Comments that would accuse of me of not being supportive of a fellow natural. Continue here . . .  

So, while I’m at it, I might as well share this: I am tired of this hair, hair, everywhere.

 

Take lemons, make life & jump for joy!

timi