February, in Retrospect

language

February some say is the month of love. Work that should have been finished in January dragged into February and filled February with editing and late-night reviews. It meant that I put new projects on hold, but who was keeping tabs when love was in the air?

“How old are you?” I asked the man who seemed smitten by me.

“Thirty-six.”

“And you’re not married?”

He started to explain the difficulties of finding the girl of his dreams, and I realized he had read my question wrong.

“I just wanted to know if you’re married,” I said softly when he paused for air.

“Oh?” he said, and then smiled, reminding me of the way he looked a few days earlier, when he had accosted me at the supermarket with, “Let me help you, you look tired.”

I had been dragging my feet behind my shopping cart as though the sum of the hardships of living in Lagos, sat in it. He charmed me into small talk and out of my phone number.

Later when he called, his many compliments and my thanksgiving done away with, there did not seem to be anything left to say. I was surprised that a man, who had used a shopping cart effectively, could not find his voice. He must have interpreted my silence as a semi-colon because he said, “Your driver seems nice,” referring to that night when my driver retrieved my shopping cart from him and loaded its content into my car.

My driver is not nice; my driver thinks he should be my boss, but I did not tell him that. I asked him about his line of work instead of putting a full stop at the end of his sentence.

I persevered to get to know him because I am curious about people, not because my friend had said, “You never know, why not give him a chance?”

But I knew. A woman knows. I knew that I did not always want to be the one to steer conversation to a place of interest for both of us. I knew that I could not continue receiving SMS messages like this:

Gud mrn pretty. hw waz ur nyt. u r sum1 worth reely lykng. deres just sumtin abt u. hapi Sunday.

I would not, and none of my friends, would abbreviate their text messages like that. It would take too much brainpower.

“I think he lied to me,” I said to my friend, “about being thirty-six.” 

I replayed several incidents for her to decide. They revolved around language, or rather the lack of it.

“Or maybe he is thirty-six, but his brain is nineteen.”

We laughed; it seemed altogether plausible.

When our laughter subsided, I accused her of being cruel. She quoted Chavez, “Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.”

I was troubled by her inference. Wasn’t the shorthand way he fashioned text messages a positive measure of his ability to adapt to a mobile culture? Weren’t his text messages a genre of contemporary poetry; language is fluid, after all? Or, was it not more likely that the eight years between us equal a generation gap because as some have said, a different language is a different vision of life?

“Let’s keep it simple,” she replied. “It is either he’s nineteen or you are a grammar snob.”

In March, all my delusions will fall off.

 

© Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

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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.

A Fading Glory

fading glory

Standards of beauty change from time to time and country to country, but when I was a young man, much younger than I am today, I was considered good-looking for my time and place.

I remember the heads of female employees turning as I walked the length of the office to my destination. On more than one occasion, women driving by whistled and catcalled as I walked on busy city streets. All these things I found very amusing and gratifying on some level.

Because I have been objectified—I have been on the receiving end of unwanted attention, been hit on by both men and women and made to feel very uncomfortable—I understand and sympathize with women when this happens to them. I’m not complaining, just explaining.

Growing up, I never considered myself good-looking; instead, I was self-conscious about my looks. As I grew older and had more success with girls and women, I began to gain confidence. This boost led to success in other areas in my life—man’s greatest adrenaline rush is a beautiful woman. Many doors opened for me because of my good looks. I have always attributed it all to good luck. It is a matter of good luck, I suppose, to be blessed with the beauty gene.

But beauty can be a double-edged sword. Plain women are jealous of beautiful women and don’t trust their men around them. In the same way, men often feel insecure in the presence of a good-looking man.

Recently, a younger man worked at the same dealership with me. Every time I saw him, I felt uncomfortable and didn’t really know why. He was extremely handsome and moved with grace, literally dancing around the dealership. I got jealous every time he attended to an attractive customer or even one of our young female associates. I knew it was foolish to feel this way, as if I was in competition with him, even though I am much older and in a fulfilling relationship. When he quit and moved to Miami, I was very happy to see him go.

There is a downside to beauty. To be consumed by it, to waste away like Narcissus from Greek Mythology, is a mistake. Beauty fades and as I age, I sometimes feel like the invisible man. However, the words of Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez are poignant, “Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but … life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” To reincarnate beauty, it must be tempered by grace, compassion, and love for others.

 

© Benn Bell 2015

Benn blogs at Ghost Dog
He wrote this piece as a rejoinder to my post, Beauty A First Class Ticket.

 

Photo credit: Pezibear/ http://pixabay.com/en/journal-leaves-brown-road-kahl-636462/

 

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Think Like a Man, End up Without One [2]

couple

 

The Guy’s Girl

When Yetunde asked me where to meet up the following day, I didn’t hesitate before suggesting Babs, a sports bar. Calling Babs a ‘sports bar’ was dignifying the seedy, open-air joint in a backstreet in Surulere that sold cheap beer but also screened live football matches. I knew Yetunde wouldn’t have any qualms about hanging out at a beer parlour, surrounded by a crowd of raucous, sweaty, beer-guzzling men. I’d started giving her directions, when she cut in. She knew the place. I wasn’t surprised.

Yetunde was the quintessential guy’s girl. She loved video games, argued about politics and football and drank Guinness Extra Stout. But it was more than that. She understood men in a way that was uncanny. Whenever my girlfriend and I had a bust-up, Yetunde was my go-to-person. Majority of the time, she sided with me. I don’t think it was because we were friends. She would subject me to a grilling; she only wanted to hear the facts but didn’t want any important detail omitted. She would analyze the issues—a painstaking process that usually ended with her concluding that my girlfriend, Funmi was at fault.

Then she would laugh and say, “But you better go and apologize to Funmi. Forget about my analysis o; all that is English. I’m sorry, that’s what women want to hear.”

It was easier to apologize to Funmi after my conversations with Yetunde; that Yetunde agreed with me was enough vindication.

We had to raise our voices to hear each other above the din at Babs, but there was no lull in our conversation over the ninety minutes of the game. I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. I asked her, half-teasingly, if she now had a boyfriend.

“How can?” she laughed. “If I had a boyfriend, would I be here with you?”

“Come on, be serious. How about that tall, skinny dude I saw you with a couple of times at the cinema?”

“It’s always the same,” Yetunde replied, her voice dropping a notch. “He didn’t want a relationship.” The expression on her face suddenly became serious. She went on, “It doesn’t look like it would ever happen, Akin. I’ve started preparing myself for a lifetime of singleness.”

I faltered, unable to come up with an appropriate remark.

“Why are you looking so concerned?” Yetunde quipped. “Are you my father?”

I doubled over with laughter.

As I drove back home that night, light-headed from the beer and the euphoria of Arsenal’s victory over Chelsea, Yetunde’s remark about bracing up for a lifetime of singleness came back to me. It made no sense why a girl who got along so well with guys, shared our interests, and reasoned the way we did, seemed incapable of being more than just friends with any guy. Would I date her myself, I wondered, as I turned into my street. I chuckled. The thought was ludicrous. It was a question I had never considered, not even fleetingly.

It wasn’t that Yetunde wasn’t attractive. Far from it; boy, she nearly caught me staring at her behind on our way out of Babs that evening! I was also certain it had nothing to do with being friend-zoned or any such nonsense. Then why did the idea of dating Yetunde seem so incongruous? This was a girl I loved to hang out with, a girl who always cracked me up. Why would I not want to be with her?

Then it struck me with sudden clarity that defied the wooziness in my head, as I arrived at the entrance to my house: was it because Yetunde was too much like men that successful romantic relationships with them continued to elude her?

I haven’t been able to answer that question; neither that night nor in the six years that have passed. I am now married and I have two daughters. Yetunde is still single.

 

© Olutola Bella @ Bellanchi

 

 

Photo credit: SnapwireSnaps/ http://pixabay.com/en/couple-laughing-happy-people-598315/

 

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Grief: When Words are not Enough

grief

I am a strong woman and I let my tears fall as often as they like. However, when I pull up in front of his house, I repair my eye make-up and then smile twice to drive sadness away. Tears are not welcome here, I remind myself as I get out of the car.

I let myself in and grief meets me in the hallway. The post lies in a scattered pile on the doormat. Blue envelopes, white envelopes, shiny envelopes, and magazines and periodicals, he does not read. I sort them in three groups: the urgent I place on the console table, the trivial I put in the drawer underneath, where he keeps his car keys, and the rest, the magazines, periodicals, and shiny envelopes, I dump in the dustbin, in the kitchen.

Here, grief is loud coaxing me to chide. I clear dirty plates, a half-empty sardine tin, and stale bread in the semi-darkness.

In the living room, the curtains say no to the sun. The light from ESPN’s classic football on TV illuminates his form. Grief is quiet inviting me to converse. Grief is still but I am not one to fill the silence as if I am a child colouring with impatient hands that cannot stay within the lines. It has been two days since he heard the news.

When pain overwhelmed my reasoning, my sister sat beside me, squeezed my shoulders, and remained quiet. When disappointment visited me on a Monday morning, my cousin sat beside me, a box of tissues separating us. She hunched her shoulders in sync with mine, let me cry, and kept quiet. When I exhaled the last bit of hope in my heart, a friend sat beside me, numb we stared at CNN, and then he kept silent vigil as I channel surfed.

So, I sit on the settee, careful to maintain distance. I sit until my nose attunes to the smell of day-old perspiration and until I can breathe in the stuffy air circulating in the room. Grief is hypnotic calling me to sleep. I sit until I awake. His head lies heavy on my lap. My skirt is damp and the soft sounds are not from the TV. They are from a man beaten by life, his hopes shred by the finality of death.

“My father, my father, oh my father.”

Grief feels like roulette. Sometimes touch is enough. Sometimes presence is enough. I know he knows that if we pull open the curtains, sunlight will burst through and in the night, the moon will give us light. But right now, words are unnecessary. This is the first time I have observed a man cry.

I have only ever seen two men cry. The first time must have lasted less than five minutes. Ten years passed before I saw another man cry. Perhaps it is because this occurrence is rare that each time I glimpsed a man’s vulnerability, I loved him more.

If we show our weakness, we may lose the ground we have secured and the advantages it conferred, but if we don’t show that we are weak sometimes, we may lose much more. We may lose the opportunity for others to love us for our humanity.

I wonder, at what age does a boy “man up” and decide to stop crying?

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

Photo credit: Pixabay

Original image URL: http://pixabay.com/en/candles-tealights-soft-209157/

http://pixabay.com/en/clapping-hands-shadow-poor-light-189171/

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