So, I turned 24, and nothing changed. I still don’t know how to knot a tie, or roll a blunt, or fix a bowl of custard, or take a good selfie.
I still don’t know how to say no when Suzanne calls me to come over, or how to not say I love you too when she says she loves me. I still wake up lost between Ayonette’s thighs, still have to pretend to her that my heart doesn’t lunge at the mere mention of her name. Still have to pretend that when I saw her dropping off that SUV with tinted glasses my heart did not break into many tiny bits. Still have to pretend that I understand everything that we are not, and that I have not failed to keep up with my end of the deal.
My handwriting is still sloppy, trailing off the lines of the sheet when I try to write a letter to Jumai telling her about how sorry I am for everything that happened, and didn’t happen. 24, and still haven’t found the courage to not eventually fold the sheet into a ball and toss into the bin.
Point is, I just turned 24 and there are a lot of things I still don’t know how to do, big and small.
But before I turned 24, I was 18 and in love for the first time. Heartbroken before 19. Got into school and got lost in the world before 21. Broke my mother’s heart when she stumbled upon a wrap of kush under my pillow at 22 and spent the rest of her lifetime lying to her with the promise of quitting. In between all of these were a series of failed promises, great and awful sex, unrequited love, bad grades, Jumai, weed, illegal chalk, a leukaemia that never left, Ayonette.
Ayonette, this was how she came to be:
Sister called, mother had passed. The very human thing to do at the demise of a close person is to shrink yourself into a corner, bury your head on your laps and bawl. But when your mother had spent the better part of the past few years fighting leukaemia and you woke up every morning with your tears dried in your eyes because you spent the night thinking about the helplessness of your once hyper energetic mother, you have grieved all your grieving and news of her death is no longer harsh enough to squeeze a tear from you. At least not at that moment.
On that day, fate took me by the hand and led me through a cycle of grief—the initial shock, the lucid interval, the settling reality, numbness—until I ended up in a stuffy room with loud music and a lot of people who were dancing with glistening bodies that reflected a potpourri of glimmering club lights.
This was how I dealt with grief: I buried it deep within rubbles of heavy concretes of distractions that came in the form of a strange girl from the club who ended up in my bed a morning after my mother’s death.
The details of the previous night are no longer clear, or important, but it went in the form of this: I wasn’t dancing. I just sat at a corner, watching, taking all of the moment in like a convict on death row contemplating his fate. My wandering eyes caught her the moment she walked into the club through the passage that led from the entrance, where she lingered a bit—like how you stand at the edge of a swimming pool on a cold day wondering if or not to dive in—before disappearing into the sea of bodies swinging here and there.
Not long after that, she was sitting beside me on the cushion, ruffled a bit, brown skin gleaming, clumsily pulling her gown over her knees. Her bardot gown revealed her slender, perfectly edged shoulders and her oval face transited seamlessly with her slim frame. Did not know when she got there, or how, but I felt the need to start a conversation for no other reason than to further deflect a lingering sourness.
“Tired already?” I asked, basically screaming so my voice could soar above the loud club music.
She shook her head, then said “just bored.”
“I wish I could do something else.”
“Like going for a short walk? Yunno, just a little stroll around and be back here.”
“Uhmmm”, she contemplated a moment, “okay then.”
We left, and didn’t come back.
The next morning I woke up to a girl in my bed who wasn’t Jumai and I did not feel guilty about it. I should, because you don’t cheat on a girl who got into trouble with her parents paying your school fees after you spent half of yours on coke and the rest on 3-odd games that didn’t work out without feeling guilty about it. But I did not. Not at that time, because the previous night I found closure in the company of a strange girl who could sing and roll perfect blunts and sniff chalk too. The sex had sparks but the magic was in the moments of pure careless joyfulness in between the rounds. Her name was Ayonette but at this point I didn’t know that yet. My head was banging and for a moment I was lost, trying to figure out where I was and what I was doing there.
A knock at the door and my room was familiar again. At the door stood a girl who’d had to endure all of my bullshit for the past eight months, who’d heard about my mother’s passing and spent the night grieving for me (the irony), who’d gotten out of bed at dawn and raced to my house to console the shit out of me.
But now she stood before a boyfriend who had another girl in his room, guilt in his eyes, and powdered chalk stuck in his nostrils. So she just stood there looking at me, trying to take everything in. Slowly, slowly. She exhaled, turned right around and walked away, dragging her crushed heart wearily behind her. Eight months and a lifetime thrown away, not a word exchanged.
I respected her enough not to go after her. Because frankly, what was I going to say? I just stood there, face down, listening to the flaps of her flip-flops get fainter and fainter until it faded into the distant humming of the morning rush.
I turned back into the room and walked right into the wide-eyed gaze of the lady in my bed. Sitting, her fitting-gown pulled up to her thighs, back leaned against the wall and long sleek legs crossed. Not sure I’d had a moment as awkward at that, because I did not know if or not she witnessed the debacle and now I needed to say something.
Couldn’t. Didn’t know what to say. So she said something in a throaty voice that was barely audible before clearing her throat and repeating herself, that I should pass the hardcover book on which dusts of chalk were still spread on. I did, and without saying anything else she folded the five naira polymer bill into a tiny hose and sniffed whatever was left of the white paste while I dumped myself on the bed just by her slender feet.
“Your girl?” She asked.
“Why didn’t you go after her?”
“Dunno. Didn’t feel like.”
Nothing else was said for a while. But then somehow I pulled up to her and we fucked again. And again, until I used the last rubber in the pack so we had to get up and wash up. I made bad noodles for us to eat and while we talked I told her about my mum and she looked at me like I was mad for shagging her sore on the night of my mother’s death. That, she said, was badass. She liked badass. Told me about her boyfriend who was fucking all her friends but she could not leave. I said my name and she said hers. Ayonette, but said I could call her Peace if her name was too difficult for me to say. I said I liked her name and I would like to call her that.
We talked some more. I took her number before she left. Because no intensity of fuck could suppress the soreness of one’s mother’s passing, I packed my bag and traveled home.
Ah-yor-neh-teh, I weighed the name on my tongue in the bus. Exotic. Said it again and again until I could say it fairly well. Then I shut my eyes and threw my head behind and for the first time stopped trying to fight it. The tears just came and I drowned in it.
As a matter of general principle, one didn’t strike a relationship of whatever consequence with a one-night-stand. Bad omen. Not even a name or a number, or were you to ascribe any sort of identity to her. You both just went away the next morning. Really, It’s a thing—a rule religiously adhered to by everyone. I knew this, abided by this, blew past countless nights with girls whose faces I no longer remembered, and yet I couldn’t move past this very one. She clung to my thoughts like an ugly mistiness, forking deep into my psych.
Maybe I was just lonely, or just desperately looking for closure. I was trapped in the cycle of looking for a closure to deal with a situation caused by the closure I sought for mother’s death. Jumai had literally obliterated me from her world was moving on fine. She was even on a diet and had lost that extra bulge on her belly. She wouldn’t pick my calls and had blocked me from everywhere one could. Not like I tried really hard anyway. I resolved to write her a letter. Nothing much. To say, sorry.
Still haven’t. Still can’t.
Ayonette, coffee-brown pupils in almond-shaped eyes, low-cut hair dyed brownish-red, tender brown skin, full lips, small but perky boobs (Lord, those jewels) and a respectable proportion of hips. Most of these features I did not notice on the first but second night. Two full months apart. In between both nights were a couple of bumps into her, both times with different guys in different places; chats stretching deep into the night; calls exchanged here and there. She was holding out, giving me a lot of her time and yet hesitant to actually spend it with me. We would have conversations that drilled into the farthest depths, talk about the first night (and boy that fueled the longing) without awkwardness and fiddle endlessly with fantasies of a possible rerun that never seemed to come. That should have, in the usual way, put me off. But if anything, it made me dig further, ever so desperately and helplessly, until she finally agreed to see me again.
On the side I’d been seeing Suzanne, or say, she’d been seeing me. Course mate, leech, spoke only English, not all that pretty but boxed up, did my assignments and let me fondle her boobs on Saturdays. She had always been there, but just at the side assisting Jumai in keeping my body and soul together. After mum died and Jumai left she figured out that her best chance to the middle spot was doing their jobs so she stepped in to fill the loop. Chubby teddy bear with cheeks that bounced when she walked. Nice, almost to a fault. Naturally the first person I fell back on after Jumai left and Ayonette stalled. She said she loved me and even though I knew clearly I didn’t feel that way I said that I loved her too but was careful enough to not define our relationship so I could always have an escape route.
Now Ayonette was here again and we were awake at night crushing caked chalk and laughing carelessly into the night again. When she laughed she reached deep inside of herself, shutting her eyes and throwing her head to the back, fully immersing herself into it. I had never fitted that seamlessly with anyone before. Wouldn’t let me kiss her until I learned how to roll a blunt perfectly but then gave up when it dawned on us that I would never be able to.
After we put the improvised ashtray away she perched in front of the TV watching reality shows and groaning about how mediocre they were while I reclined to my computer to attempt writing. It wasn’t coming so I joined her in front of the TV and had to endure her low attention span, watching her flip through the channels without commitment. I got bored and slept off. Woke up the next morning to her spooned to me. . . from behind. Said she was keeping me safe. So cute.
We would spend a lot of nights together in more reoccurring frequencies, laughing and talking and sniffing and fucking. Her boyfriend finally dumped her so she said she was a free agent now and could do whatever the fuck she wanted and that made me uncomfortable. But it was then that it came hard on me, the realisation that the hardest thing ever is to be with someone who’d so freely give to you their body but not their heart, especially when you wanted it most.
“Yunno,” she started on this night, “most times I have someone I’m fucking who I can’t talk to, and someone I can talk to but can’t fuck. I’m glad I can do both with you.”
Perfect arrangement, only I wasn’t the only one who was going in there. Mike down the street was. Suleiman with bow legs who we called Sly, was. A man who had two wives and an expensive SUV too, was. A couple of lecturers, her ex who dumped her, and a lot of other people I didn’t even know. She told me about all of them, how it went, if or not she liked it and if she had decided she was doing it again. I wished she didn’t tell me any of these, and yet when she didn’t I would find myself pressing her to. Mad torture.
She would nudge me to tell her about mine and I would try. But there was nothing really to talk about. Suzanne was the only one at my end giving me a steady shag and that counted as almost nothing against her own adventures. One night we got to the climax of our high so I let it slip that I really really liked her. She looked at me and giggled and punched my arm playfully before telling me coldly to not hurt myself.
On another day, in a rare moment of sobriety, I told her again. Then she cut it to me for real: “Don’t do this to us, Victor. What we have is too beautiful.”
I said nothing about it anymore. We smoked and fucked and I walked her home. Got back and had a bath again, like I was trying to wash her enigma off of my skin. I swore I would let her be, but that evening my phone rang and I lunged to it hoping it was her calling. Wasn’t, so I was gutted. Insane. I needed to pull the plug on everything. So I texted her and asked for a break. She replied with a solitary, ignominious “OK”.
That was a month ago.
I have since then fought the vilest battle against myself, holding on to everything just so I can hold my own without crawling back to her. The grief of mother’s death had now poured itself entirely on me and I had no shelter for refuge anymore. I bumped into Jumai twice since then. You should see her, she had the sweetest post-breakup glow. Not sure if it was just me or I met her on my two worst-looking days. She looked happy. Glad she is.
So, now, I’m 24. My birthday was a week ago. The first without mother.
It was a Friday and Fridays are free days. Suzanne was with me. She brought me a surprise birthday cake. We had drinks and music too. Nothing big, just the two of us. I realised I could finally be having a breakthrough with reciprocating her affections. She was putting a cake in my mouth when a knock cut in. Must be a friend armed with a bucket of water, the usual birthday ritual. I sauntered to the door and opened it.
Ayonette, of course.
“Uhmmm. . . Hey.”
“Come here you birthday boy”, she said as she pulled me to an embrace. I wished it lingered more. She went into her bag and pulled out a watch. Looked sleek but I knew it was cheap. “Here, got you this.”
“Oh wow. . . thank you.”
She leaned forward and without a word, pecked me on my lips. Dipped her head inside the room and said hi to Suzanne. Suzanne said hi back but Ayonette was already peeling away from my door.
“I’ll see you later,” she said as walked away, then blew me a kiss and disappeared through the gate.
Everything happened in a matter of seconds. Still holding the watch, I looked at Suzanne who was looking back at me with eyes full of realisation. I looked at the gate where Ayonette vanished through again, and right then, a thousand voltages of seemingly lost feelings came rushing back to me. Then I realised what had been so obvious all along, that she will be my karma.