…across the room…

She looks across the room again. Her heart hungers to wrap her hands around the thin, fragile neck and squeeze the life out of the grey haired woman. It wasn’t a thought of wishing she could just release her of the pain, it was a thought of erasing her from the surface of the earth as soon as possible. This thought had, for more than half of her life, been her best dreams in the midst of her cruel reality.
‘Adunni!’ her voice betrayed shadows of anger and aggression yet she remained poised, ‘you will do as I say! I did not give you any options my dear child, I have told you what you will do. Go and get dressed you are going for dinner’.
Her eyes welled with tears, tears that her mother never acknowledged. She fixed her eyes on the large portrait of her father, a gap tooth was displayed as he grinned. She remembered him hanging that picture on the cream wall a week before he died. She had told him she hated her dentition and wanted braces as she watched him try to perfect the position of the frame.
‘Get braces and close that gap tooth? Hell no! Don’t you know you are the image of your father and I don’t want that to change? If no one loves you that way I do baby’, he said jokingly as he stretched to place a kiss on her cheek.
‘Adunni I said go and get dressed!’ her mother screamed pulling her out of memory lane.
Now in the room brightly lit by the proud sun, she looks as the pastor holds her mother’s hand with finger nails the colour of red roses and fails to respond to every ‘in Jesus name’. The last ‘amen’ is said and her eyes meet the apologetic eyes of the woman who birthed her, the same eyes that silenced her.
Morolayo looked at her daughter with all diligence, making sure the dress was tight enough to reveal her curves. She wanted the best for her daughter, every mother wanted that. And so the best for Adunni was to get her married to Abioye, a young man of social status and wealth. For four months she had planned dinner for the three of them and sometimes his family had been invited. Dinner, however, was meant for just the potential couple that night.
‘Stay there till she’s ready to leave’, her instructions were clear to the driver dressed in a red and orange African print shirt and jeans which longed to retire.
‘Yes ma! But madam you no dey go? Dat boy no look like good pesin o’, his eyes widened as he spoke.
‘Shut up and do as I have told you!’
‘Yes ma!’ he stumped a foot on the fancy light blue tiles and stood erect, raising one hand to the top of his forehead as he threw a salute.
Silence. That was all she was expecting for the night as the vehicle left the gate. Morolayo welcomed the thought of a fancy wedding for her daughter. She envisioned her smiling and mouthing a ‘thank you mum’ as she took her first dance with Abioye and yet she felt the very presence of fear and disapproval. Managing to dispose of the guilt of what she had planned for the night, she closed her eyes inviting the peace sleep brought with it.
‘Mummy!’ her wailing became louder as mother ran to child just past midnight. Her eyes fell on the torn dress and the laps of her child generously greased with blood. ‘Mummy he raped me!’ Adunni waited for the warmth of her mother’s hug.
Morolayo stood across the room, her eyes full of emotions Adunni could not explain as she looked up and let out quieter sobs.
‘Mummy I’ve been raped’, a puzzled look fell across her face. She wondered if her mother stood in shock, she wondered what action she would take next.
‘Shut up Adunni!’ Morolayo’s eyes portrayed anger, ‘you were not raped. Abioye is your husband and has every right to make love to you. Did you hear me?! He did not rape you he made love to you!’
With blood shot eyes and the throbbing pain in between her legs, she walked upstairs to get clean as her mother had commanded and as she settled in her bath tub, steam rising from the foamy hot water, she wished her mother nothing more than what she deserved, she wished her…
‘Adunni’, Aunty Lara’s high pitched voice comes bursting through her memory bringing her back to the moment, ‘you’ve stood across this room all this time. Won’t you at least come and greet your mother?’
Her aunty moves towards her reaching for her hand and trying to pull her out of the corner where she’s stood all morning.
‘I’ll rather stay here aunty…let me know when you’re ready to leave and I’ll drive you home’, her words are enough to let her know she’s fine with where she’s been.
‘Adunni’, the voice of a frail, sickly woman calls…
‘Adunni go to your home’, she remembered her say to her with those eyes that never showed any emotions.
‘You’re not listening to me!’ her throat seemed to crack betraying her emotions of fear and sorrow, ‘he beats me till I pass out, he dictates what I wear, where I go and who I talk to, I’ve become his whore and not his wife!’
‘Your marriage is what you make it!’
‘Your husband should treat you right! The bible says husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church!’ boldness began to slip through Adunni’s tone.
‘The bible also says wives be submissive to your husbands. Now go to your home and do just that’.
‘I’ve lost three babies because of him…I’ve lost two babies because of you! I want out of this marriage… daddy never treated you this way, I won’t be treated this way too…at least not anymore!’
‘You take your boxes my dear child and go back to Abioye and if you do not go to your home don’t you ever come here again’, Morolayo said calmly yet firmly.
‘This is my home mummy, please, you can’t let him keep hurting me’, tear drops formed patterns on her cheeks down to her aching chest.
Morolayo stood and walked to the door without sympathy for the one she called child, the one she had forced into a marriage of slavery. Opening the door she said, ‘Abioye is a good man, he doesn’t cheat and he provides everything a woman could ever need and want. You are the one who gets him all worked up and angry, do as he says and you’ll be a happier woman. You either go to your home or you chose to live this life on your own’.
‘Adunni’, she calls again unintentionally drawing her from the past, ‘my dear child…’
‘I am not your child!’ Adunni shoots back in anger.
‘Don’t talk like that Adunni’, Aunty Lara says as she tries to convince herself that Morolayo deserves some form of respect but fails to.
‘Aunty meet me in the car when you’re ready’, her heels begin to click as she walks towards the door, calmness ensuing her at the voice of the only woman who had ever truly cared.
‘Adunni, I thought I was doing what’s best for you’, Morolayo begins to cry, ‘please you can’t leave me like this at least let me spend my last days knowing you were here, please don’t…’
‘Did I tell you how Abioye would wrap his hand around the thick mass of my ponytail and drag me into the bathroom? He would command me to get into the bathtub and I would because, as you said, I had to do as he said. Maliciously, he would stick a hanger inside of me, twisting and turning till my growing baby would come into this world as nothing but blood. And then he would bathe me, giving me all the reasons why we weren’t ready to have a baby, telling me he knew what was best for me. You two seemed to share a lot in common. You will die a lonely woman, you will spend these last days knowing I’m not here with you and thinking about how I just stood across the room. See, you’ve always left me in that position, standing far from me and never caring, now I’m leaving you in that position. You’re the one across the room with no child to care’, her voice clearly shows hatred yet is camouflaged with perfect calm, ‘Aunty, meet me in the car when you’re ready’.


‘Argh!’ the shovel gets lost in the earth again. Deeper and deeper, faster and faster, your heart beat follows the movement of the metallic tool.

She walks out of the light green painted bungalow on to the patio, tears in her eyes and beads of sweat lavishly embracing her face. Her sweat and tears are replaced by the heavy drops of rain as her feet touch the interlocking bricks. Closer and closer, louder and louder, your heart screams as she draws near.

‘Lola, you can’t keep treating me like this’, you said to her just an hour ago.

‘Treating you like what? Oh please shut up!’ she screamed back.

‘You’re my wife Lola, I deserve to be re…’

‘Don’t even say it. Respect who? Would you have respected me if I was the one sitting at home taking care of the baby? Would you even treat me like a wife? I would have been your maid Muyiwa!’

‘I have never turned you into a maid, I have been nothing but supportive. What’s got into you? Why are you so defensive these days? All I wanted was for you to ask for a leave at work. I need to be in Abuja next week… I told you Emeka’s finally got me a contract, a contract that could finally take the financial weight off you, so you could spend more time with our son, spend more time with me…’

‘And then spend more time in the kitchen isn’t it?’ she laughs scornfully, ‘Muyiwa I have taken care of our financial needs in the past few years, you’ve never heard me complain. You want to go to Abuja? Fine, I’ll sort out who will look after the baby. I doubt you’ll come back successful, you’ve never really had the brains for business’.

You grabbed her arm as she started to walk off.

‘I cook, I clean, I take care of our 11months old son. I do the laundry… I do your laundry!’ you held on to her arm tighter.

‘Muyiwa fi mi sil’, her eyes showed the pain as she tried to break free from your grip.

‘I’m a man who has a building material shop that isn’t progressing, with a wife who works for an oil company and makes a lot of money! And so what?! I didn’t ask for this Lola. You are my wife! You are supposed to be responsible for the things I’ve taken responsibility for…my responsibility is to love you and care for you…to help you out with those responsibilities. You’ve become the man Lola!

‘You’re hurting me Muyiwa’, she whispered in more pain as your nails dug deep into her skin.

‘Shut up!’ you yelled, pushing her to the black leather settee, ‘this isn’t marriage Lola…this isn’t marriage’.

She scurried to her feet, her eyes fixed on the blue vintage ceramic plate on the side table. She picked up the plate, letting the knife which was on it slip to the floor.

‘I’ve taken the responsibility of providing for you and this baby’, you kept moving towards the kitchen, ‘I’m talking to you Muyiwa, Look at me when I’m talking to you!’

‘I try to provide for you Lola, I try to get us the basics’, you turned, deep sadness in your voice.

‘And yet the basics aren’t sufficient enough!’ just like a puzzle, pieces of the plate were created as she threw the plate at you. Deji started to cry at the sound of the plate hitting the well-polished cream tiles.

You stared at her in shock for a few seconds and choosing to pretend she hadn’t done anything, you moved to the baby, taking him up in your arms as you tried to calm him and moving towards the kitchen again.

‘Coward!’ she said, pushing you forcefully to the ground and bringing an end to the cry of Deji as his head hit the ground and embraced the blood drawn by the broken pieces of the vintage ceramic plate becoming part of his skin.

Now she holds the lifeless body in her arms and you wish it was her you were digging this grave for, not your son. You snatch Deji from her, without thinking again you drop him in the earth and your shovel starts to work again. Murderer, murderer, your heart cries as the heavens cry louder and greater at the death of your son.

‘Write your resignation letter tonight’, you say to her as you move towards the bedroom after all the digging is done, ‘and clean up this mess you’ve made in my living room!’

…windows and rings…

I looked through the glass window of the fancy restaurant and started to wish I never agreed to come along with Yetunde. In fact, I wished I planned my trip for a later date if only I had known…

‘Ola, you need to stop dragging your feet yeah and walk with me, we’re already late! I don’t want anyone looking at us saying “Africans and their African time”’, she said pulling my arm and forcing me into the restaurant.

‘Well not only are they going to be saying that, but they’ll also be saying how it’s so African of you to bring along an uninvited guest’, I rolled my eyes.

‘You’re not an uninvited guest. He told me to bring my friend along and that’s what I’m doing, bringing you along’, she walked up the stairs laughing.

We both knew he meant Uzoma who was meant to be with us but ended up in Paris for the week, looking for a house to buy.

Three years after graduation and a lot had changed as was expected. Yetunde had stayed back in England with her fiancé and Uzoma got a job in America and was being sent to Paris for a cross posting. I, on the other hand, went back to the fatherland, Nigeria, even though I barely got any support going back. I needed to start a new chapter, I needed to forget about…

‘Look who we have here! I can’t believe it’s you’, I heard a familiar voice say as I turned to see who was speaking.

‘Hi Jackie’, I said as I leaned in to give her a hug.

‘I’m so happy to see you! It’s been three years right?’, I couldn’t tell if she was honestly happy or not, Jackie never really liked me and she had made that clear on several occasions during our time at the university, especially on the day Jordan left.

‘Yes, yes it has. How have…’

‘Excuse me everyone, may I get your attention’. His voice.

I looked at the tall figure standing beside a young lady with hair the colour of leaves dried up in autumn. My eyes fell upon their fingers knotted tightly and at that moment I could feel my heart being knotted painfully as well.

‘I want to say a big thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate my birthday with me. I want to thank this princess too standing right by me, for setting up everything. I don’t know what I would ever do without her and so…’ he got on his knees.

He got on his knees! I wanted to scream and faint at the same time and as I looked around the room to see if anyone would stop what was just about to happen, all I could see were faces lit up with smiles, including Yetunde. My eyes settled back on the ring in between his finger and as if wanting approval from the gathering of people he looked around with a smirk as people begun to chant ‘c’mon man! Ask her already’. He showed off a white set of good dentition as he tuned his head from left to right and as if being smacked suddenly, his eyes displayed shock as they met mine.

‘Stop playing tricks Jordan!’ she said laughing and bringing him back to the moment.

‘Will you marry me Nana?’ the excitement in his voice had gone. He managed to get to his feet and kiss her as she said yes.

I wanted to run out, to pack my bags and go home. I was hurt even when there was no reason to be hurt. He owed me nothing…at least not his love.

‘Hello stranger’, he said finally walking up to me while his bride-to-be showed off her ring to her friends.

‘Hello groom-to-be! Congratulations!’ I managed to fake excitement, ‘I’m so happy to see you! I’m even happier you’re getting married’, I leaned in, responding to his hug. He hugged me tightly, like a child who had just found its most cherished stuffed toy. I pulled away quickly.

‘I had no clue you were around’, he said ignoring my comments on his engagement, ‘I’ve missed you, you know’.

‘I came to see Yetunde, she’s getting married soon so I thought I’ll come help out now that I got some time off work’.

‘You’ve been gone for so long’, he glared at me and I could tell he hadn’t heard what I said.

‘It was nice seeing you again Jordan. I should get Yetunde we have a lot to do tomorrow and should really get home to rest’. This wasn’t the day or the time to talk about the past.

Placing a peck on his cheek, I walked off to get Yetunde, giving him no chance to pull me back or speak. The past belonged in the past and his future was different from mine. My heart had been right from the beginning…we just couldn’t be together.

…hair and windows…

‘You found yourself a girl’, she said as her eyes slowly went up and down looking at me with pure disdain.

‘Actually we’re not dating’, I managed to say avoiding her eyes and wishing I hadn’t been in the room at that point.

‘You’re not?’ her eyes finally pulled away from my image.

‘No, we’re not Jackie’, he said as he stood and gave her the book she had come to collect, ’here’s your book and this is Ola, Olaedo….the priceless one’, he quickly added as he turned and looked at me with a smile.

‘Jordan has never told me about you, but it’s nice to meet you’, I could hear some sort of victory in her voice as if Jordan not speaking about me meant I was a filthy secret not to ever be told.

‘It’s nice to meet you too’, I had taken the open hint that I was not liked by this tall, slender girl with lips the colour of strawberries.

‘You two should really come for the African Students Union “let’s talk night” this Thursday, I’m sure everyone would like to meet Jordan’s new friend’, her stress remained on the word friend as her fingers played with strands of her dark, kinky, afro hair.

‘I don’t think we would like to come Jackie, I need my space at this period and I don’t want you or any other girl trying to intimidate Ola because I’m not there’, I guessed Jordan must have noticed her dislike for me.

‘You sound like I’m mean, I’m just trying to be friendly’.
‘We should go Jordan, you need to get out of this room sometime. If you don’t want to it’s fine, but I would love to see you outside again’.

Jordan had become like me after his mum’s death. He preferred the comfort of his four cream walls and looked at the sky from only his window. He refused to open his door to his flatmates or anyone else except me. Today though, Jackie had managed to get herself the opportunity of meeting him after weeks. I could only imagine how Jordan felt after the death of his mum and I wanted to mourn with him for as long as possible but each passing day only seemed to change the happy, outgoing guy I knew and each day I longed to hear him laugh again, to ask me out for dinner or to see a movie, each day I longed to see him looking through his window amusing me with a silly dance or a mime as he used to.
‘Ola says we should come so we’ll come’, he said and I knew those words triggered her dislike for me even more.

I didn’t see Jackie till the African Students Union day and as we walked I secretly prayed that she would be struck with some sort of acne infestation on her face so she wouldn’t come. Jordan had taken time to tell me about Jackie and how they grew up in the same neighbourhood and went to the same church, until Jackie turned 15 and her parents decided she was going back to Ghana for at least 3 years to get some “proper discipline” after she was suspended from school. My heart dropped as she saw us walking in with our hands stuck together, my prayer had failed.

‘Jordan’s here!’ Jackie yelled, getting everyone’s attention. Soon he was surrounded by friends, friends who had missed him, missed his presence in this ‘African family’.

‘Hey man, I’m so sorry’, ‘it’s good to have you here again Jordan’, ‘you got us all worried’, ‘God knows best Jordan’…the condolences kept coming till everyone had hugged him or shook his hand, or made him smile. I could only wonder what was going through his mind.

‘Thanks guys’, he said as we all sat on chairs that had been put in a circle, ‘I appreciate it and let me apologise for the unanswered calls and texts I haven’t replied, I promise I’ll keep in touch’.
I didn’t like gatherings like this, they made me nervous. I always had to write a script in my head as soon as I saw chairs put in circles, because then I knew at some point everyone would be asked to say something about themselves, or a game would be played that would require someone being singled out and I hated that someone being me.

‘beautiful lady right next to Jordan’, someone said, taking me out of my prayer of invisibility,’ we would love to know you’.

‘Hi everyone’, I said in a low voice and then cleared my throat to speak louder, ‘I’m Ola, I’m Nigerian and I’m in my second year studying Law’.

‘Girl where have you been all my life?’ a guy with hazel eyes said flirtatiously as he smacked his lips with his tongue and people begun to laugh. I begun to thank God that I was in no way light skinned else I would have betrayed my shyness with my skin turning into shades of red or pink.

The evening went by and I became more comfortable as games played a role in me talking to others. Jackie then called for everyone to come back into the circle and have their seats.

‘Last time the boys dominated the ‘let’s talk’ topic so today the girls are taking over with their discussion on hair. So let’s talk, what do we think about keeping our hair natural and putting a relaxer into it?’

I looked around and noticed that half of the girls were ‘team natural hair’. After a few comments had been made Jackie called her friend whose hand had been up, she too was natural.

‘ A lot of African women want silky hair that they can run their fingers through and flip while the breeze blows’, she swayed her head from side to side acting like those women I had seen in adverts when they flip their hair, ‘the thing is we are beautiful with our natural, thick, kinky, curly hair. I’ve heard so many people say the reason they relax their hair is because it’s easier to maintain, I think the sooner we learn to embrace our natural hair the easier it becomes for us to maintain it.’
The hair argument, I thought. Recently it had become a personal dislike for me.

‘Can I just say that relaxing your hair does not in any way make you less of an African than you are?’ I started, even though I tried so hard to stop myself from talking, ‘I mean, take for instance, a lot of us were born here in the UK and not in our respective countries of origin but we still say we are African and come together as Africans. True, a lot say it’s easier to maintain your hair when relaxed or texturized, like me I would admit to that, but just as every girl with natural hair has to take care of their hair and treat it like gold, girls with relaxed hair have to do that as well. let’s be honest with ourselves, some girls did the big chop and became natural because relaxers ruined their hair so they needed it to grow which means relaxers don’t work for them, others turned natural because they had friends turning natural and not because it gives them the sense of embracing their roots as proud African women with natural kinky or curly hair. Natural or relaxed we still remain Africans…beautiful African women’.

I sat down realising I had spoken too much. Jackieforced a smile on her face and kept telling everyone to calm down as the clapping became louder. Even though I had officially gained an enemy I also knew I had found my confidence somehow. As we walked home, holding hands again I wondered if Jordan was shocked at my speech, he hadn’t said anything all evening. We got closer to the accommodation gate and it felt like the night we first talked.

‘You’re my African princess whether they like it or not’, he whispered in what seemed to be a Ghanaian accent trial which was almost perfect. I laughed and heard him laugh too and for a minute I felt my heart beat like never before. As his lips rested on my right cheek I prayed that this wasn’t what love felt like. I could hear my heart say we just couldn’t be together…

…his window…

‘Why do you keep looking out your window?’ Yetunde asked, her eyes fixed on the tiger head ring she had just bought.

‘She’s looking for her British-Ghanaian bobo’, Uzoma replied taking a second apple out of my fridge.

‘Is this how they communicate?’

‘She hasn’t seen him in two days’

‘So what happened to calling and texting… social networks?’

‘She’s in love with the good old fashion letter writing and face-to-face meetings’,

‘How did they meet again?’

‘Windows’, Uzoma said in a dramatic expression and I could feel Yetunde roll her eyes behind me.

‘First of all, I haven’t seen him in a week and secondly I have tried calling him and texting, his phone’s been switched off and the texts aren’t been delivered plus how many times have I told you not to call him my bobo, we are just friends’, I said looking away from the window and facing the only two friends I had managed to make since first year at the university.

‘Did you go over to ask his flatmates about him?’ Uzoma said with more seriousness and genuine curiosity.

‘No, every time I’m around they look at me with amazement. They give me the creeps’, and that wasn’t an exaggeration, they made me scared with the way they looked at me.

I avoided going over to the flat as much as possible, especially after my first visit. Jordan had practically dragged me to his flat.

‘You’re so reserved, you’ve got to meet my flatmates at least. You’ll love them’, he said as we walked out of my building.

I sat on the black, leather couch, looking at the posters of half -naked women showing off perfectly white teeth and matching bras and thongs. Aunty Chinwe, my mum’s sister, would have shook her head in dismay and quietly said’ ‘na agba akwuna, prostitutes, may another woman’s husband not die in between your legs’. Jordan walked in with his flatmates, one with freckles resting on his face and the other one with his skin too pale to be called white.

‘This is Alex, his from London and this is Michael from Sheffield’.

‘It’s nice to meet you’, Alex, the freckled one said.

‘Jordan’s been spending a lot of time with you lately, but we’re happy he’s spending time with someone at least’, Michael said with a wink, ‘do you live close by?’

‘Yes I do, just the building facing this building’, Jordan looked at me with surprise and I realised I had spoken in my British accent and not my usual Nigerian accent.

‘Where do you come from?’ Michael spoke again.


‘I mean where in England do you come from?’

‘I’m not from here I’m from Nigeria’.

‘How come you speak English so well?’

‘Uhmm that’s probably because English is our first language in Nigeria’. I thought of that as a very silly question, it made me think of the British colonial rule in Nigeria and I begun to wonder if this young man never knew about his country’s past domination over African countries.

‘Is it?’

‘Yes it is’

‘And you just came here to study?’


‘Are you on a scholarship?’

‘No my parents are funding my education here’

‘you’re parents must be one of the rich ones, I know Nigeria isn’t doing so well in terms of finances, they shouldn’t make students from countries like yours to pay so much’.

‘Guys Ola and I should be leaving now we have plans for dinner’, Jordan said quickly bringing an end to the questions and pity speech for Nigeria.

‘You guys just got here’, Alex said, he had watched his friend in silence while he talked, shaking his head once in a while and giving Jordan signals to stop the blabbing Michael from saying anymore.

‘Well we’ve got to go before his mouth opens up again’, Jordan begun to lead me to the door.

‘I’m so sorry Ola I didn’t mean to be disrespectful in anyway’, only then did Michael’s skin become blush red and I couldn’t help but smile.

‘It’s fine, it was nice to see you all’, I managed to say before I was pulled by Jordan.

As we left I begun to think of his words. At first they hurt me but it was true, a lot of Nigerians, even those who claimed to have been to the university, couldn’t say a sentence without mixing tenses and using Pidgin English, and the country was overflowing with people whose companion was poverty. I felt hurt from the truth, a truth we tried to hide in our ‘I’m proud to be Nigerian’ speeches, a truth we all knew made us think of not settling at home after our education abroad.

‘I’m sorry about Michael, he can be stupid sometimes’, Jordan was always careful not to get me hurt with words.

‘It’s fine’, I looked at him with a smile, somehow a year of knowing each other had taught us what our smiles meant and with that smile he breathed with relief.

‘Where did that accent come from?’ His tone suddenly changed.

‘What accent?’

‘The British one’.

I gave no reply, I didn’t want him to think of me as fake.

‘You never have to change your accent for anyone you know’.

‘I know, I’ve just become so used to switching to the accent when I’m not speaking to Africans’.

‘You’re perfect with the Nigerian accent’, he said and winked at me.

His love for his roots, it was one of those things that made me want to be around him even more, one of those things that made me want to be the…

‘Thinker, somebody is at your door!’ Yetunde yelled, drawing me from my flashback.

I walked to the door, wishing my friends would leave I was in no mood to entertain anyone, all I had thought of all week was Jordan. As I opened my door there he was, his eyes fluffy and red. He looked at me with eyes full of confusion and sadness and as his arm fell to my back, pulling me into a hug, his tears dropped with freedom. He didn’t cry when his mum was diagnosed of cancer in the final week of our first academic year, or when they told him she has a year to live. Now, six months before the predicted date, he let it all out. She was gone.

‘Let me make you some jollof rice’, I said as he lay on my bed watching me clean up after my friend’s had gone.

‘I’m not hungry’. We had sat in silence for 45 minutes, his head resting on my thighs as my fingers brushed the warm tears rolling down his cheek.

‘You don’t need to be hungry, you’ll love it’, I heard his tummy growl.

He took the plate of rice from me, put it on the table and closed his eyes

‘I know I don’t know how you feel right now, but even though you can’t feel her physically she will always be here’, I wasn’t expecting that to make him feel better, I just wished I could bring his mother back.

He picked up the plate again and as he put the first spoon in his mouth he said, ’it tastes like hers’ she would have loved you’.

Jordan finally finished his food and lay his head on the pillow. I watched him slowly drift into the arms of sleep and with tears in my own eyes I kissed his cheek praying that God would heal his heart, hoping that I hadn’t lost the boy from across the window.



… her window…

This is the first part of the windows series….



I met her from across the window. She was dressed in a light blue, flare, midi African print dress, her black and oxblood box braids rested at her waist and her unpainted finger nails fitted perfectly in the beds of her slender fingers. Slowly she twisted the halved orange in her right hand, using the other hand to hold down the juicer, and then when all the juice had found its way out of the fruit she dropped the empty carcass into a bowl and took up the next half, and as if feeling the gaze of unknown eyes she looked up, her eyes meeting mine, her lips curving into a smile and her curtains closing to end our first meeting.

I never saw her curtains opened. The two buildings stood facing each other divided by a little pathway, each room only having the view of the opposite window. I had seen drunk flatmates pre- drinking and naked bodies forgetting that one could see through the windows. Some windows told well of the occupier while others displayed the lazy and messy life of a student. Her window, covered with the red and blue cotton curtains, only showed the going off and coming on of lights and even when her windows were opened, only her slender fingers would be seen as she would carefully ensure that the curtains were never opened.

It took a week before her curtains were opened again and this time I waved, forgetting my senses. She giggled and waved back and soon we became comfortable with waving. Twenty-three waves, we had waved at each other twenty three times on twenty three days.

‘Excuse me’, I said, walking quickly to catch up with her, ‘excuse me please!’

She turned.

‘You’re the window girl right?’

‘I’m not sure anyone’s been giving such name’, she said as a smile appeared on her face and her accent told that she wasn’t British.

‘I apologise’, I said with a small laugh and a heart beating too fast.

‘Olaedo, call me Ola’

‘I’m Jordan…’

‘The stalker’, she said jokingly.

‘Yes Jordan the Stalker, it’s a hobby I’ve taken up in the past twenty three days’.

She laughed and goose pumps invaded my arms. Her laugh was amazing and so was the close-up image of her face.

‘I saw you at the till in Tesco and I thought I may never get another chance to actually talk to you in person so I ran as fast as I could when I saw you leave the shop’.

‘How did you know it was me though?’

‘The braids. By the way I think they look really nice’.

She laughed again and I could sense she sensed my lack of words.

‘Thank you. Uhmm, I should probably start heading home, it’s a bit cold tonight’.

‘O yeah. I’m sorry for keeping you out in the cold. Is it alright if I walk you to the gate?’

‘Yes, I guess so’, hesitation in her voice.

‘Where are you from?’ I said breaking the silence after a few minutes of walking. She hesitated, ‘I’m really not a stalker, I mean I seem like one and I know it’s creepy having a guy looking into your window waving to you, but I’m not a stalker, and…’

‘I’m Nigerian’, she interrupted with a giggle, ‘and thank you for the reassurance on you not being a stalker, even though I’ve never thought you were. I’m just a really shy person, plus I try to follow my mum’s rule on…’

‘Don’t speak to a stranger’, I said before she could finish.

‘Actually her rule is don’t speak to a guy who counts how many times he’s waved at you’.

‘Your mum’s a smart woman for telling you that’, I smiled uncontrollably and she giggled again, ‘so your parents live in Nigeria?’

‘Yes they do, I’m just here for studies. I guess your parents are Ghanaians’.

‘How did you know that?’

I’ve seen a small Ghanaian flag hanging somewhere in your room’

‘O yeah. Actually my grandfathers are Ghanaians but my parents were born here. I guess that makes my parents Ghanaians and I guess that makes me a Ghanaian. But apart from being Ghanaian I’m from Nottingham’.

‘Have you ever been to Ghana then?’

‘No, I hope to go soon, may be with a pretty Nigerian girl’, I said hoping I hadn’t messed things up. Her smile seemed to cover up any thoughts of me being stupid or clumsy.

‘I’m going through this gate’ she said pointing as we got closer to the student’s accommodation.

‘I’ll have to go through the other. I’m glad I got to speak to you tonight’, I stopped myself from asking her out for a dinner as I believed I had proven to be creepy enough.

‘It was nice talking to you too’, she said as she pushed the gate, ‘I don’t know when you would have the time, but you can come have tea with me anytime, I make cupcakes and it would be nice to have someone to share them with’.

My heart did a dance and I struggled to keep my mouth from singing. In a voice that I only heard when something really excited me I told her I would love to.

‘Great! Whenever you’re free give me a wave and I’ll come open the gate for you. Goodnight Jordan’.

‘Goodnight Ola’. I watched her till she couldn’t be seen and a deeper craving to know this girl began to nibble my heart, a deeper craving to watch her window.









…Guns and Stories…

‘Where is your husband?’ he whispers loudly, his voice as firm as the gun in his hand

‘I have no husband. I live alone’

Kai, na so this life be. How woman go buy this kind house for herself when she neva marry. Madam na you get that car outside too?’ the shorter man says almost becoming comfortable with the scenario like it was a friendly visit to the neighbour’s.

‘Shut up!’ he says to the talkative illiterate, irritation arising in his tone and impatience creeping into his heart.

‘You say you live alone, alright we know there is money in this house now get up and take me to where the money is. If you try anything funny I swear I will shoot you without thinking twice. Get up now!’

Boss, abeg make I follow her collect the money, this girl for sweet to chop o

She begins to feel her heart beat faster and faster, she looks into the eyes of the ‘boss’. All she can see are the dark brown pupils and pink, moist lips of the masked man with a gun pointed at her. Her eyes plead for mercy, ‘boss’ looks at her from head to toe, taking in every detail of her large waist and small breasts rising and falling to the wild beat of her heart. He looks at her eyes and he reads fear, one he has seen before, one that he never though he would plant in someone.

‘We are not raping anyone, we are here for the money’, his voice softens, ‘now move!’ he switches to his firm voice

She reaches out for her bag. With hands shaking she brings out the crisp pound sterling notes and places them in his hands. He looks at them, like some sort of miracle, slowly his lips begin to curve into a smile.

‘You sound educated’, she whispers

‘What did you say?’ he snaps out of his amazement and points the gun to her head

‘You sound educated’

For a minute he stares at her wondering why she would have so much courage to speak to a man who could harm her

‘You have some guts to speak to a thief during an operation’

‘You’re not a thief… I mean you stealing tonight doesn’t make theft your career’, the fear is heard in her voice.

‘I’m going to walk out of this room, don’t think you can scream for help or call the police, no one wants to take paracetamol for another person’s headache, and I’m sure you should know by now that the police is as useless as the dead man in the grave. Welcome to Nigeria ma’am’, he turns to leave

‘tell me your story’, she bursts out, her fingers brushing his shoulder and her eyes still filled with fear yet pregnant with curiosity.

He turns around to face her, his finger slips to the trigger, she watches him closely and begins to wish she had never opened her big mouth, her mother always said she would get in trouble one day for being nosey, today was probably that day. She shuts her eyes and prays that God forgives her for not being wise, she shuts her eyes and counts three…two…one….


[To be continued…]

…the land of the rising sun…

In May, 1967 I watched the red, black and green flag with a golden rising sun over a golden bar in the middle, dance to the rhythm of the wind. Udoh had squeezed my hand gently as we stood side by side, our eyes both focused on the rising sun imprinted on the flag, the rising sun that told us that there was hope, a better day, a new dawn, a new nation. He turned to me with so much excitement and gladness in his eyes, one I had not seen in the past six months. I hoped for nothing more than this spark within him to remain forever. He deserved to be happy; he deserved to finally feel safe.

‘We’re home’ he whispered into my ears and I couldn’t agree more.

Nnem, my mother, used to say, ‘home is not where you build your house and make a family but where you find peace and comfort, and where you know is a safe haven’. That was Lagos city for us; the busy city which over flowed with human beings, a city which played the disturbing music of many voices, like the buzzing sound of flies hovering around ones ears, that was where we called home. Udoh was one of the many literate Igbo men; he was a lawyer who had been opportune to study at one of the universities in Britain. It wasn’t uncommon to see many Igbo men who could boast of such extraordinary educational achievement. Somehow the easterners of Nigeria had managed to take over every form of business and job in the country and had taken education very seriously.

It was a Sunday morning when Udoh stood in his dark green khaki uniform; I woke up to the humming of our new anthem ‘land of the rising sun’. The night before had been our very first night we slept in anger for each other.

‘It’s our nation we are talking about here…’

‘and it’s your life I am speaking of Udoh, what do you want me to do, celebrate that you want to leave and fight in a war, a war where so many have died’.

‘Which war is fought without the death of people Uju? Other women will stand behind their husbands and bless them as they decide to create a new life for their people, they would crown them brave men, why must you be different?!’

I kept silent, quietly sobbing in the dim room. I focused my attention on the burning candle which stood at the corner of the room, just beside the only bag we had filled with our clothes; the clothes we had managed to pack before we became prey to the monsters in human form. Just like that candle our peace and happiness had burnt so fast overnight.

The image of Kelechi’s body lying on the street had never been flushed out. It was the street which we had once called peaceful, where we had first laughed at a fight between a prostitute and her mother, where we had first become friends. She was one of those women who never got involved in fights and had a way with words; she trained her daughters well and taught them to be respectful. She was what we would call Ezinne, good mother. As her third pregnancy developed each day I always teased that she would have another girl.

Mba, no’, she would reply with all certainty,’ this one is going to be the opara, first son, of the house’.

Like a cow being killed without remorse or feelings, Kelechi was cut opened by her own security man and his friends. Her foetus was yanked out of her belly, her daughters ganged raped by these northerners who had gathered hatred for us- the people of our identity.

People would say it was the jealousy for the prospering Christian Ibo people, especially, which led to the bloody violence by the northerners. It was more of a political and economic tension between the east and the north. The coup d’état by some eastern military offices and its counter coup d’état executed by the northerners which had taken place in the past one year had spoilt the taste ofan already soured soup. In multitudes we were slaughtered, eyes were plucked off, arms chopped, human beings clothed in kerosene and painted with the flames of fire turning us into ashes, girls were raped and given to gangs of lepers to be raped as well. We, the easterners, had become nothing but human sacrifices pleasing the anger of the others. We were no longer welcomed as Nigerians; in fact Nigeria had become an enemy to us, it was no longer a safe haven… and so we the survivors journeyed to our new home, the land of the rising sun –Biafra.

‘I’ll be back for you’, he finally said in a calm voice, ‘Uju, you’ve always been a strong woman, you’ve always believed that we will conquer, you’ve always said that in our home we will find happiness, but this won’t be so if we, as men, don’t stand to fight for our land. Please let me go, let me fight for us, for the likes of Kelechi and others who were brutally murdered. Please’.

That ended the discussion for the night and in the morning Udoh hugged me as he sang the words of the Biafra anthem ‘but if the price is death for all we hold dear, then let us die without a shred of fear’.

Days passed, and months went, each day had taught me to enjoy the taste of thin air and water as food. Children were starving kwashiorkor became their playmate, mothers were weeping. Our ‘great currency’ could do nothing for us. People had turned to unlucky lizards, which couldn’t flee so fast, and used them as meat. We became walking corpses, endowed with rib cages fighting to run from our inside as they clearly displayed they’re shape. But we still called ourselves Biafrans till the war had been called off.

On the 15th of January 1970, I waited for Udoh to return as he promised; night after night I had heard his voice in the cold, invisible air singing the Biafra anthem. He never came home, neither did his body. Udoh was gone, just like that burning candle, just like the red black and green flag with a golden rising sun and a golden bar below it, just like his favourite song ‘the land of the rising sun’, Udoh was gone.  After all these years I still hear him sing that song and I smile…for even though we had lost the war, we had kept our pride. The land of the rising sun, as we knew it, had somewhat become a safe haven.


…his story…

The deep ugly scar sits right across his face, starting a race from his fore head, crossing  his nose and then settling at his once, gorgeous dark cheek. Somehow his right eye had managed to be saved from blindness. He sits at the bank of the river, yes right there where he looks into the flowing mirror called water, staring at his reflection with not a single expression on his face. Big bottom women come to the river everyday gossiping about him in loud whispers. These amebo women, with huge basketballs as buttocks and few strands of thread as hair, would call their sons at night and tell of a story they do not know, a story they think they know. He can’t be bothered by their wagging tongues or silly tales; he says it’s their story.

Dele; the man at the river bank, with no expression, his skin as dark as amala, his hair curly and full; that’s his name- Dele. People use to think he was Oshun’s son sent to earth because his broad, well formed chest and bright dark eyes, thick strong legs and gentle, muscular arms brought too many suspicions that this young man could not be a normal human being. Definitely he was a son of Oshun, the goddess of love and beauty; only she could make such a beautiful being.

‘But how could a son of Oshun be punished in such a way?’ they would ask without needing an answer, ‘obviously, the gods must still be punishing him for what he did in his past life’.

You see, they didn’t only speak of his scar, but of the misfortune that had befallen him ever since he was a child. He lost his parents at age three to a strange illness within two years. His grandmother had raised him ever since and finally died before her grandson’s graduation. His life was full of so many tragedies, tragedies that were considered not to be normal.

‘This young man had decided to get involved with the wrong gang’, these parrots would continue, ‘a cult! And so he had failed to pay his own human sacrifice and they had, in turn, given him that mark’. Their children would look, eyes wide open, fear in their hearts, and a promise said that when they moved to the city they would worship God with all truth and sincerity. Some other stories said he was a thief, who had been caught and instead of being killed, the people wanted him to live with such shame forever. These were their stories, stories they formed in their head, stories that made no sense. No one cared to know his story, the true story.

He was a final year student at the university one of those who knew why he was in university. Even though life had frowned on him and showered him with misfortune he remained honest, diligent and happy. His university days had been hard for him as well, searching for money to pay fees and a place to lay his head each time a friend threw him out from their accommodation, but things would change, he had always told himself.

The last week of his degree had been full with nights of gunshots playing music at a distance. The university cults were at it again, fighting a war between each other, a war which most times did not make sense. The new war had started when a member of one of the two rival gangs had slapped a girl who happened to be the girlfriend of a member of the other rival gang. He had thanked God that soon; he would leave this jungle of unreasonable wild beasts. As he went on his knee talking to God who had become his only family, they had forcefully found their way into the room which he shared with two of his friends. They had threatened him with a machete, asking him to tell them where one of his friend’s was. He had no clue of his whereabouts he also had no clue that, this seemingly quiet roommate which was being searched for was part of the rival gang. His answer had angered the blood thirsty students.

He could hear the neighbours scream, and in seconds, clear images had become blurred, loud cries had faded away, his white t-shirt had become a tie and dye print with blood. They had used him as a message to his friend, they had used their machete to dance on his face leaving that scar, and they had broken his ribs with thick blows and kicks.

That’s his story, the untold story. Their stories have become unpublished novels of a bad example of a young man, their stories are all lies. But he doesn’t bother about their story; he bothers about his future, he bothers about the pride of Lara, who sits right beside him at the river bank where they have laughed together, believed together, prayed together, and first fallen in love with together. He wonders how she would cope with gossips and mockery when they get married. She reminds him that she has always been there with him, through all the bad misfortune, she says it has never been about the sad stories in his life, it’s always been about the love she has for him, and as she slowly, but gently places kisses on his scar starting from his forehead down to his once beautiful cheek, she tells him that they would write a new story, one that speaks of love without second thoughts.






In loving memory of my sweet sweet uncle…

The day uncle ken died, I saw a huge part of my family die as well. I remember the news like it was yesterday. I remember the strange quietness and empty compound. My cousins had trooped out of the house one by one, making me wonder if my mother’s poultry had been set ablaze or if a close family to us had lost their own. I stared into Aunty Evelyn’s eyes begging to please tell me why my brother had also been summoned to join my trooping cousins.

When you begin to plan the future and see the people that you see usually in those plans, you forget that life has no particular expiry date that it can end at anytime, that you may never see another birthday the next year. Yes, I sat on my bed that Moring after everyone had refused to tell me what was going on, even after my mother had also been called to the other house. I smiled as I remembered my uncle coming home promising to buy suya for us. It was a secret we hid from mum because she had never encouraged roadside cooking, but still, my uncle enjoyed having this little secret with us, the four of us. I was going to leave the country in a few weeks and I knew that I would get a call from my uncle saying ‘Emigelo, be good o, study hard, make us proud. In God’s time you’ll find a good man, and I know you’ll marry a white man’. It was something my uncle always told me. I always planned that wedding in my head, I always saw my uncle trying to get things arranged for the wedding, he had always been our help, he had always been the happy man willing to do such without a pay.

As I sat on the bed my new blackberry phone rang, and like always it was my daddy, who for some reason I enjoyed his constant calls. But he didn’t call to ask me how we were, or what information he needed to get for my preparation to travel, he called with a closed throat and a sad voice and then I knew that I was summoned as well, summoned to help my weeping mother who had just lost a man more than a brother but a son, I was summoned to know like every other person that my uncle was lying cold and stiff, lifeless and pale. I had never seen my mother cry the way she did, and I had never heard the voice I heard from my father that day. I had never thought that my uncle won’t be coming home to give us suya, or jokingly call me a fish when I made my baby sister cry. I held my tears  for my mother and as the first child I was expected to be strong for my parents and siblings.

I knew I couldn’t be hurting more than my parents who had loved this young man as their own son, but I was hurting, I was hurting more than anyone could believe. I thought of all the days I never called my uncle, and all the times he called and I would not say a proper goodbye, instead I would just tell him ‘uncle come and see us soon o’. I thought of the times when I should have been glad that he made us watch the discovery channel when he came around. I thought of his hairy body, his eyes, his laugh, his red shirt, that red shirt I saw him in so often. And then I thought of the time my uncle went on his knees, with only me in the room, and he told God to please give us long life and sang till I finally fell asleep.

My uncle was shot, and telling that story is a whole new chapter, but I could picture my sweet uncle bleeding, my sweet uncle leaving us. It’s 2013, and my uncle isn’t around, but sometimes I see him walk in the lobby of the village house, I hear him laugh so hard, I see him with his beard and his red shirt.

My uncle will never be forgotten, his life was short but it is being celebrated. I miss him everyday and for some reason I have refused to say goodbye.