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Inked Ghosts

I was 11.

A little younger than some of my classmates; and imaginarily less “attractive” than girls who had convex flesh bracing their nipples, or the area between their waists and legs. That was all that mattered then. How old you were. How much fawning attention of the opposite sex you got. How well you could dance. How many people were in your “crew”, the weight of your social traction. Your grades were those things that made your parents buy the things you wanted. Or caused them to compare you to your siblings and other kids.

I was only 11.

And all I had were an interesting mind, good grades, and the ability to strings words and sentences together pretty enviably. So one day I wrote. But it wasn’t what they wanted to read, so they tore it. They also made fun of me. Dancing round me in circles, they chanted. And chanted. Till days became nights which faded into weeks. Till my nights became silent sobs into unyielding cotton sheets.

 

I was just 11.

And I’d finished writing two novels. Short stories, we would now call them. The unpublished beginning of dreams, nightmares, fantasies and frustrations. They became the last novels I ended. Books I’ld write in future became placations. The half-loaf cliché pronounces to be better than none.

 

One day Beau said writing owns me.
I kept quiet. Hated how close he’d hit home. I’d  tried occupying life with other things, to spend time not writing the novel in my head. So I can just stay with my articles and story pieces. The things that don’t cause stirs. That don’t cause anyone to sing my name in lines of derisive chants. That don’t shed pain in bunched pillows…

barton_fink-typewriter1A chapter a day. That’s today’s resolution.

And this is for you like me, with great dreams and haunting fears. Here’s my challenge to us both. That we do not live in fearsome shadows of adolescent mishaps. Because life needs us. It needs our dreams and our tales to truly be beautiful. To reach inked fingers and widen a stranger’s view. To widen their lips till their teeth flash at the sky, soothe their pains, resonate with their spirit… Name your fear and the shadows holding you back. Life is short. Too darn short to not live your dream, and there’s  no better time to start than today.

 

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Humans of Abeokuta Episode 4

I was the little figure on the road with shoes in her left hand, a handbag in her right hand, walking almost lifeless, the sun just over her shoulder as it sunk beneath the horizon.  Bad boys whispered dark promises in my ears and my lower lip was grazed by my teeth, cheeks lifting in decadent smiles.

“I’m an addict

Every piece of your body I gotta have it

I’m strung out, so far gone

Girl you’re in my veins…”

Something tapped me; a rude intrusion of nirvana. I spun around in broken motions, startled yet too weak to execute a smooth turn. A young male smiled awkwardly behind me, clothed in sagged tight jeans, a tee-shirt, fashion glasses, and a punky haircut. I lifted my left hand to press the pause button by the side of my headphones, shoes taking advantage of the position to kiss my cheeks. Mr. Awkward Smile (MAS) didn’t say anything so I asked what he wanted.
barefeet-jeans.jpgMAS: “You are beautiful”
Me: *Quirks eyebrows quizzically*
MAS: “I’m Kunle. I study at Moshood Abiola Polythecnic. I’ll like to get to know you better. We can be friends. I think…”
Me: “Why?”
MAS: “Why? You asked…”
Me: “There are shoes in my hands and headphones over my ears. And you want to toast me right now. Are you for real?”
MAS: “Sister, I…”
Me: *Looks harder at his too-tight jeans. Shakes tired head*
“Today is not the day. And I am not the one”
*Reaches up to press the play button, continues trudge down the hill; a lone swaying silhouette in the darkening, breezy evening*

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I traveled to Lagos one weekend, and my head did an immediate switch; happy to have malls, ice-cream, and pizza within thought distances. Then I returned to Abeokuta and the first thing I noticed was a strike by members of the Union of Road Transport Workers. The cause of the strike: an over hundred percent increase in taxation had been placed by the State Government. That, in a city where passengers perennially haggle for the lowest fares conceivable, and some plead to pay twenty naira for some distances! It was simply impossible. A deliberate act of cruelty which could neither be allowed nor accepted. For a minute I stood at the garage and just stared at people walking down the long road; a vision of colours, luggaged backs, and stretching legs.

At the bus-stop, there were some parked cabs. There were also men beside them occasionally in conversation with people as they walked. The people often walked past them shortly after. On rare occasions, the people got into the cab. I guessed that some few routes were bereft of protesting Union staff; hence safe for cab drivers to ply. Hoping my route was among the ‘safe’ ones, I took contemplative steps towards them.

“One-fifty ni”

“Shey nitori strike? Sebi awon egbe yin naa l’on fa wahala? Ibo ni k’a ti ri? Ko ni da fuun yin. Ebi l’o ma pa yin ku. Shey thirty naira ori e yen lo ma je ke la? Oloriburuku oko asewo…*”

I felt my jaw fall, but couldn’t lock it back. A woman had gotten to the cabman I’d heard calling destinations along my route just before me. And she was cussing him out because of a thirty naira increase in the fare.

Is she bloody joking?

My mind couldn’t grasp it. I had mentally prepared to pay a hundred percent increase in the fare, and she was going crazy over a less than fifty percent increase. When the financial risk he ran for operating at a time his union members were protesting was –at the least– over ten times the fare he was requesting. I was shocked!

You see enh, in Lagos: when anything happens to cause a driver any inconvenience -whether or not there’s a risk attached to it- passengers compensate with higher fares. Rain falls; you pay for the inconvenience of his being on the road, instead of cuddling in bed with his wife. At rush hour, you pay for the ribald tales, pepper soup, and bobbing, laughing stomach which should have been his at any of the many bars sprawled all over the city; if he hadn’t been driving you. On any random day, you pay extra if you’re too impatient to wait for another vehicle, and he needs money to make up his children’s school fees… or give his woman for that fashion accessory all her friends want/have…. The list is maybe endless.

While the woman’s tirade and my thoughts debated, I slipped into the cab. The people already in the cab were divided; some empathized with the driver, others lamented the increase. I looked at them closely; then smiled. The ‘lamenters’ had tribal marks that proclaimed them from Abeokuta; while the others bore travelling bags, and soon began to speak of other cities.

Aah, I thought, case dismissed.

*Translation:

“Is it because of the strike? Isn’t it your colleagues who are causing the trouble? From where do you expect me to find the fare you request? It would not be good for you. It is hunger that would kill you. Is it the thirty naira increase that would make you successful? A no-good person, husband of a prostitute…”