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Of Souls and Shadows

I’m sitting here

In the middle of this debris

Of blood and jagged muscles

Pulsing the beat of the drunk man’s trudge

The demons race

Debating pain and hurt

Whispering dreams and hopes

Madness tethers on this unspeaking frenzy

 

Your eyes tell that story

Of empty bottles and drowned soul

Mine speak primitive tongues

Of broken groans and rising throes

Don’t say tomorrow

That pregnant dream reminiscent of nightmares

No. Don’t shed light

It casts shadows too

 

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Dear Widow…

Her voice was that quiet confidence that spoke volumes. It echoed the graceful direction of sound by grandma; directing you, telling a story, or lovingly scolding you. I smiled in my head, the kind that only appears as a slight lift of eyelashes in an otherwise unperturbed face. I was being interviewed for a job, she my potential employer. I wasn’t sure she would appreciate being told I was thinking of her in poetic terms. Women can be unpredictable like that. Years of trying to break through the glass ceiling have made some of them sensitive to the slightest nuance. And while I wasn’t sure I wanted the job, I knew I wanted to spend some time in her company. She exuded that unmistakable cool aura of strength and confidence. Call me what you please, but I think those are the most attractive things a person can possess. For some reason, she chose to like me. Perhaps for same reason or another, she chose to tell me a little about herself. I was the interviewee; but I daresay I learnt more about her than she did about me. We spoke, ignorant of time’s passage, unwilling to track it.

“I am a widow”

I felt my jaw drop. Unconsciously my right hand rose to perch my glasses closer to my eyes; it seemed I was seeing things wrong. Some minutes and discreet up-and-down gazes after, I noticed my tongue unwilling to move, felt my eyes grow bigger. My brain was interpreting what my eyes were seeing through the ‘widow’ filter, and getting “error404 Page Not Found” response.  She was exquisite: a dress that curved her body while leaving room for your imagination, a dark jacket with a bright red emblem just above the curve of her full bust, and blood red stilettos. For the love of God! Stilettos!!! I watched her gait when she walked to bridge the gap between us and could only think of a cat. Her last of three sons had just finished from college, and she looked just about 20 years older than me (and I look like I’m 16 years old). She was at the top of her career, and managing two homes; continents apart.

***

Today, on International Widows Day, I empathize with every woman who has ever had to bury her husband. Every woman who felt her world shift because the centre of her universe stopped breathing. Every woman who felt pain so deep she thought her heart would physically shatter. Every woman who hoped her heart would literally shatter so its pieces might fill the emptiness she felt inside. For every woman who lost her sense of identity and/or belonging in the world because her husband left it.

I also iterate the words of that amazing woman who gave me a glimpse into the world of widowhood:

It’s okay to be broken. But don’t stay broken too long. You don’t know why who might pick your pieces if you stay afloor too long.

When the world hits you down, when your world is a chaotic jumble of ill-meaning others, when pain is all your heart can feel and your spirit is a wilted flower, when you can’t breathe because memories of a happy lifetime ago suffocate you, when you’re talking but there’s no one to listen and all that’s left are sounds in your head, when you wake from dreams and the pillow is soaked with tears… remember those words. Accept your broken self and heart, then build it all back together. Piece by bleeding-tear piece.

P.S:

I’ll be tweeting about widowhood @DupeKuku between 4 and 5 p.m today; Nigerian time. Dear Reader, kindly direct your network that way; let’s make today memorable for every widow on cyber space.

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Love you. But…

I love you

Really love you. But

I’m done

I can’t do this. Anymore

You don’t hear them

The words

You don’t see them

The tears clogging my throat

I love you

Really love you. But

I’m done

I can’t do this. Anymore

I repeat the words

I need you to hear

The hurt is deep

A knife twisting in my heart

I love you

Really love you. But

I’m done

I can’t do this. Anymore

My eyes lock on yours

Pleading you see the tears

“I will hurt you”. Words. Yours

“You already have”. Words. Mine

I love you

Really love you. But

I’m done

I can’t do this. Anymore

These words

Screams in my head

Not granted passage

Past my unmoving lips

I. Love. You

Really. Love. You. But

I’m. Done

I. Can’t. Do. This. Anymore

You never hear them

The words

You never see them

The tears clogging my throat

 

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Hello!

Hello!

It stabs my heart, the swift prickle of a double beat. It steals my breath; my lips part, I inhale and exhale through the space between them for a bit, long breaths to steady my heart till my nose remembers to breathe.

It’s the smile that lifts your cheeks to egg-shaped bulbs, the strength of your arms when they hold me so close I can tell the perfume of your shower gel apart from that of your body spray, the textured tenor of your voice that sings a lilting laugh… just before it fades to teasing chuckles, the hazel brown of honey irises set in clear white cornea… shaped like a cat’s.

“Can we be together”

“I love you”

Blushing words, yours, before I needed that space that broke your heart. And mine.

“How do I fix it?”

It’s the earnest whisper of you, over the phone. The breath, slowly exhaled, stalling a tear, or many. The hands in your pocket; fisting. The piercing stare that took a picture of me as I stood calm, and didn’t see my bleeding heart. It’s the measured step of your legs; right first, then left… As you walked into oblivion.

It’s these little bits of you. Memories.

They stab my heart, the swift prickle of a double beat. They steal my breath; my lips part, I inhale and exhale through the space between them for a bit, long breaths to steady my heart till my nose remembers to breathe.

They’re ghosts that tip-toe in the recesses of my mind. They slip into dreamful nights, tease random unguarded moments during the day. They flash glimpses of a past life, cast shadows on events and places; we’ll call them déjà vu.

This is hello from the other side. The one that’s open… and broken.

 

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A Little Bit of Magic

Have you ever watched a city from its heights, at night?

Last night I sat on a cabana set atop a rock, and saw magic.

Magic was red and yellow lights, piercing the darkness, moving to unknown destinations. It was orange bulbs set at mathematical distances, lighting the roads for users. It was the shaded white house in the middle of bushes with a lit porch just behind me, like the scene from a fantasy film or a cartoon. Aah, Cartoons. Did you know of a long time ago, when media was black and white, and the fair lady always got the loyal knight? When programs started at 4p.m with the national anthem, and the television was a box of happily ever afters?

Last night something snapped, deep within, released acceptance of myself. It felt like peace; the confident breeze that caused the trees to dance and bow. I knew I couldn’t return to disgusted judging eyes, loaded salvos, hands that wouldn’t touch me, lips that slandered me. So last night I enjoyed the last bit of magic in my life; including the knowledge that I can take my own life by shutting my eyes and letting my feet jump off the cliff. The magic that I could smile while a rock split my skull into open dead shards of bloodied brains; because it was less painful than the discrimination I had lived with up until then.

When I coasted above earth a free soul, I saw a baby being brought forth out of its mother; innocent, precious, bloodied, priceless, beautiful. The best of simply awe-inspiring unadulterated magic. Then I realised how much more magical a smile through the discriminatory pain my life was, would have been.

#StandOut for #ZeroDiscrimination today; it’s a sparkle you can put in someone’s life. Your little bit of magic.

This Morning

She smiled at me last night; chubby cheeks, toothless mouth, and bright eyes. She gurgled too; that nice-to-meet-you-whoever-you-are thing that babies have about them. For that minute I forgot the ache on my shoulders; consequent of bearing my backpack through one hundred and fifty metres of barely tarred road. I also forgot the headache that had started burning up my forehead: traffic had been bad, and the driver had stuck to loud, unpleasant noise -music, he’d called it- all through the 4 hour drive. She was the baby whose naming ceremony I’d missed 4 months ago.

I was awakened by sobs this morning. Torn from the heart, piercing my restless dreams, forcing me to wakefulness before it was dawn.

I was told that some minutes before then, while the crowds of Lagos woke in lazy stretches, the Baby had made her way back to heaven. All of us sleeping sentries, she had slipped past us; little spirit slithering through the silent house.

Death and Fatima Tumsah

Dear All,
It is with deep sorrow and a heavy heart that I regret to inform you on the departure of Dr. Fatima Tumsah….
“What the fuck?!”
I felt sweat break out on my forehead and absently wiped it off with the back of my hand. I adjusted my glasses- it was a new one, and I was sure that thing was happening when I read too fast for my brain to process correctly. So I closed my eyes, tried to calm my restless being for some seconds. In those seconds I heard the gushing of blood to my eyes, the rapid caffeine-infused tick of the pulse at my jugular, the insistent beating of my heart causing steady flutters of my lacy black shirt. I also heard my voice- the inner, quiet, prim and proper one- telling me to calm the fuck down. Too soon, I think, I reopened my eyes. I think, you see, because the words I saw were same as the ones I’d read the first time. That was not right. That could not be right.
“Dupe what is it?”
A far voice sounding alarmed; a little scared. Shuffling feet from somewhere in the distance I couldn’t hear clearly; blood was pounding in my ears. I stared at the letters of the opened mail on my computer screen, reading them over and over; willing that my interpretation of the words change. It didn’t.
Hands shaking me. Rude unwelcome hands interrupting the monlogue I was having with the mail on my computer screen. It forced me out of the fog of deafening comprehension.
“This doesn’t make sense. It can’t be. I can still read. But this can’t be right. Doesn’t make sense”
I was talking to the intruder; only not quite. I was talking with myself. Me and myself were orally voicing which to believe between the reality of the mail and the comprehension of my senses. It seemed at that point one of the two had to be wrong.
“Someone is d-d-dead?”
I began to really hate the intruder. She was not welcome to the debate. We- myself and I- were congruent on that nobody was dead. There was just a mistake that was making it seem so. We just didn’t know the source of the mistake- the mail, or our senses. But I began to shiver, and goose pimples started to pop over me. My fingers started flying on the keyboard; navigating to twitter to find the lady who had sent the mail and ask the clarification.
“She might not be online now”
I was seeing that she hadn’t posted anything for some days; and I knew I needed immediate answers. So I picked my phone, shaking fingers missing my pattern twice.
“God please somebody’s contact should be here”
It was the first time I was sincerely praying in so long I’d lost memory of how long. My phone had been stolen earlier in the year, in the time just after I had found Google contacts, just before I had transferred all contacts on there. I was begging God really bad that at least 1 number of a member of the National Youth Family Planning Network should be on my Google contacts. 1 number was; and shaking fingers pressed dial. In the space between that and the ringtone I bit my lips; scared to hear the voice at the other end and what it could say, yet sure it would say the mail had been a scam.
“Dupe… Yes… On Friday”
I became a blubber of stuttering words. It didn’t make sense. Did she know it didn’t make sense? Why, we just chatted last week. The week before then there had been some thing we had been tagged on. How was she dead? Did dead mean dead; as in dead as in dead dead deeaad?
I think she understood my confusion because she just kept quiet while I went on until I disconnected the call. My space was confining; I was feeling suffocated. I got up, loosening my top buttons as I did, fanning my face with my right hand, breathing through my mouth to get air through to my lungs. I looked out the window to the happy birds fluttering around Moringa branches, to school children running around in the playground. None of them was having an accident. Esther– the lady on the phone- had said Fatima had an accident. But nothing in front of me was having an accident. Even the birds perching precariously on thin branches were not.
Too little seconds later I was back to reading that mail. The whole mail; not just the first line. Fatima was really dead. Had been dead since Friday. Must have been buried on Saturday while I was bemoaning my flu, sounding like an old man with his tonsils torn out, and steering off social media. The more I thought about it the more surreal it seemed.
Only last year, two months and six days from now we were in Abuja; she and I eyeing fiesta 3-in-1 till we agreed to share a pack while our colleagues teased. We were mapping youth inclusion in family planning; the different caveats, angles… Debating, arguing, marshaling, smoothing rough edges, and  agreeing to the #doroyouth stand.
tums
 God! Words fail me Fatee. I came home to a mad work out staring at the walls till all I could see was your face and my lungs threatened to burst. Drenched in sweat, my playlist set to “Dark”, I can think enough to write now. And even now I cannot refer to you in past tense.
We did not imagine this Fatee; not in our wildest imaginings. You were one of the best: friendly, lively, intelligent, and alive. Remember us teasing them Olumide and Lekan about the last night club and how they were just ‘making mouth’? Fuck?! Remember the pre-conference; the noise, the silence… the everything. I have no words. I didn’t expect this. I couldn’t have.
Fatima Tumsah, as the yoruba would say;
Farewell
We shall now see only in dreams
When you get to heaven, eat what they eat; drink what they drink
Tell of our wars and stories
Till we meet to part no more
We will miss you. We already miss you. And we wish this wasn’t happening; that this didn’t happen. But no one asked our opinion or our permission. We are just those left to stare into empty spaces; seeing times that passed. Of your smiles and laughter. Of your voice and person. Of your passion and strength.
Lord! Rest in Peace Fatee.