THE DEARTH OF HUE
It is often said that blind people have a heightened ability of the other senses. Love as we knew was blind but these classy ladies’ noses were specially crafted in sniffing the minty goodness of Naira notes. Affection for the moderate or struggling became obnoxious and disappointing. Achievement was no longer what you could afford yourself but what you could get someone else to purchase for you. It somehow added to your worth, made you more commonsensical. What a thing of pride it was to bask in the joys of such feats!
The men could in turn feel the smoothest skins, curviest silhouettes, most luscious lips and flattest stomachs. Their blindness made the lack of melanin and discoloration, the deficiency of zeal and the complacency in these women desirable. Each satisfying the other one's vainest needs; all were at equilibrium.I
The vestiges of drowsiness sleep carried, rolled away gradually as you open your eyes to the fluorescent lights that filled the room. The intensity of Alhaji’s snores increases slowly until it balances to the dragged whirring nasal sound you often heard and refused to get used to. It is one of the perks of this profession which loosely interpreted as an unconventional sort of human affiliation.
Letting out a yawn, you climb out of the orthopedic mattress that serves the Eko Hotels Presidential Suite, head to the window butt naked except for the strap on you have around your waist; gazing fixedly beyond the window pane. You are some hundred thousands richer, consequent of the unwholesome activities that transpired the previous evening. It does not seem as exciting anymore, the possibility of things you could achieve with your earnings. It surely will go into buying clothing items to equalize the Instagram girls you impliedly are in competition with.
The emptiness will be less ethereal with each passing minute however the points you scored. It was this void that made you resign to spending the night with him even when you did not have to. You fancied being wrapped around the throaty noises that vibrated his pharynx. On those nights when insomnia and being insatiable teamed up in your head, you will imagine these sounds as the conversations needed to make whatever this was, a tad healthy. Alhaji could barely speak at normal pace, he decides most times not to speak at all. He delicately holds each word in his throat letting it settle on his tongue until they meet air forming words. This tiring process gives his speech an expecting importance which almost always disappoints. His snores sounds as a better alternative to wandering in your luxury Lekki apartment that still astonished you a year after Juwon rented it. You have nothing else to do but strut around the building holding a glass of red wine you never drank but felt strongly the need to hold while running your right hand through the upholstery.
From the height from which you stare; the sixth floor of the building, not only did the people in the street look like goblins; they also appear unaware that a dark sky is synonymous with sleep. They move so briskly as though the earth would give way and swallow them if they remained in a spot more than seconds long. You can hear their voices faintly, disturbing the serene ambience that the night brings.
These are the sort of mornings your mother fervently says prayers in proxy for you, her only hope. She prays you would graduate, find a good job but not as good as scaring suitors away. You are certain she will devout a substantially larger amount of time on the spouse prayer point than on that of the job. It is scary sometimes the fact that the curses Alhaji’s wife stacked on his mistresses and your mother’s prayers were to the same God. You wonder if it’s a dilemma for him to pick whom gets priority. In your belief of selective equality of sexes, it is absurd to see extra marital affairs as solely the woman’s burden. On the other hand, the witches that enforce karma’s laws cannot know what feminism is or care to understand it.
The room is tacit except for the pulsating sounds made by the air conditioner. Alhaji had rolled over to the side stopping his snoring. You wonder whether the comfort Buchi said would come in due course will ever arrive. The rush of emotions they advised constant sex would bring is clearly long overdue. Two years after, of being his play toy, you are still thankful for the bulge of his stomach and how much it took away from the thrusts he frequently made, rubbing parts of your body that irritated more than aroused. You enjoy the times you have to whip him for being a ‘bad boy’, - it is therapeutic for the frustration of being an unsatisfied concubine. He seems to enjoy it too because there are perfume gifts and surprise trips following those particular intense sessions.
When you took the decision to thread this path, you intended to gather enough for a master’s program abroad. Hours later, you will ply through Adaeze, the hair vendor’s website and make a purchase for two Bohemian curled weaves. How lost you were in thought by the window made you unaware of Alhaji, twitching his feet, sitting up. He calls out ‘Alexa’, you become conscious of the environment and the routine such name demanded. You adjust the strap on, ready to pleasure a man in body parts you never imagined a man desired to be pleasured.
Juwon will visit the orphanage bi- annually not because he remembers it but because he wishes to be reminded of youthful beginnings, memories closer in range to the tabula rasa state of mind. The only memory he has of this lonely vicinity is the story Mommy had related to him upon his turning 22. He would always tell the story to you in a particular reverence like he gave too much credence to it, making the little red boy Mommy saw sitting amongst the adorable toddlers seem like he had a halo that set him apart. He would describe the way he opened his arms to her and you would think he had witnessed it. You listen to him fervently even though not liking most of the words he used. You always saw the strain in his face each time he said the words and you will know he wishes he remembered even a tiny detail. You see him as being ungrateful. Mr. and Mrs. Jadesimi had given him a good life. They had showered him all the parental love a growing child could possibly require. His zeal to relate with his biological parentage was a little too hungry.
St Agnes’ Motherless Babies home looks like an architectural joke, as though the builder realized too late that what he wanted was a closed auditorium and not a stadium. There is a big staged hall with plastic chairs clustered around the elevated podium. The big hall multitasks as the visiting area, children’s school, church and hall for the seldom parties non-governmental organizations threw. It smells like a sewer; at first hitting you, making your stomach churn until you adapt and it, seem like normal oxygen. Whilst empty, the hall is bare of emotions. You could get unnecessarily curious about the inconsistency of patterns in arranging the chairs and the distant swishing past of cars on the express road that links the orphanage to civilization.
Madam Gay is the rotund matron of the orphanage. Just one stare at him isn’t enough to decipher his gender. Such feat is convenient because he bears double function as father and mother to the children. The ineptitude in his acting skills are glaring, trying too hard to feign glee and achieving a bare minimum of it. He keeps smiling even when the bigger kids act naughtily. Reprimands are buried in his iris, the stare he gives the children are louder than screams. It is obvious the older kids know too well the grave consequences of not paying attention to the baleful eyes when it set in their direction. The younger ones are too busy enjoying the euphoria resulting from strangers who found them interesting enough. There is a thing about the way Madam Gay knows the infants, a way he pays attention to their cries that make you ashamed of gender roles. His inclination to what people tagged feminine earned him the nickname, Madam Gay to start with and from what you heard, people had used the name so often, they forgot his actual name. You will notice the special way Juwon held the infants as if he saw himself in them. He dramatically breathes on them like he was exhaling his good luck in life on them. His pale skin will redden, diming to a deep shade of orange. His eyes will wring like someone poked a fingernail in them. With an excess show of joy, he will begin to dish out the Jollof rice you took no pleasure in cooking because it cost you your recently manicured nails. He sits in their midst laughing too frequently that you doubt its genuineness. You can make out how hard he tries to identify with each kid on a first name basis, His mood turning sour when an infant in his arms burst into tears or when a child rejects his acts of affection. He makes attempts to involve you in his eagerness to please her
*** “Babe, touch her, feel her skin. She is beautiful, isn’t she?”***
You have used the smile you returned so much, it’s a template on your face. He does not seem to mind if it’s a hoax because he carries on poking at the kids, licking the spot where oil from the chicken smeared his fingers.
Your favorite time is when you read books and sing songs to the children. You will feel all your voices raise love into the air wearing thin the emotionless aura that was your first impression of the hall in the orphanage. You decide that they are realer than the reverence Juwon has for this establishment; for his supposed brothers and sisters by association.
You feel a bit of relief upon leaving there but know better than feeling too comfortable because it never ended with the orphanage. Juwon will call Madam Gay from time to time forbidding to ask after the children’s welfare collectively. He will carefully list out their names and listen aptly when Madam Gay complained about one who misbehaved or was lagging behind in academics. You hate that you had to bear the aftermath of this, his brainstorming to remedy whatever situation that came from his phone call, the brooding that followed a child determined not to make him a favorite adult and the lack of attention this meant for you. It is in moments as this, that you take time out to respond to Alhaji’s text messages.
School did not bore you as much as it did now when you first got your JAMB admission letter. On the contrary, the zeal to excel academically burned within you. Even when your post UTME scores could not secure your desired discipline, by the second year you had aligned hook, line and sinker with Art Appreciation; your current discipline and would hardly turn down an opportunity to enlighten whoever cared to listen how arts were the future of the world. But as you climbed higher and made certain life decisions, the oxygen in the fire slowly seeped away and the only thing left of the flame was a flicker which sparked occasionally.
Juwon left his car at your place hence you decide to take it instead of yours. There is a joy in not taking your car. The vehicle reminds you too much of Alhaji, makes you too grateful, too dependent and revere him with more intensity than you would have wished.
You respond to the security man’s ‘Good Moring Ma’ in which he paid excess attention to the ‘r’. He takes a salute form and says smiling wildly,
“Aunty Mi, I hail o. anything for your boy?
You smile, reach into your purse for a crispy #500 note. He exchanges a gate tag for the naira bill. As this transaction is being negotiated, Tola takes the opportunity to catch up with your vehicle and climbs into the passenger’s seat.
“Babes, they said there is a surprise test today o… did you hear?” she says still panting from the little jog she had done in her attempt to catch up with the vehicle.
You look at her appearing stunned wishing she would say more, drown you in the information resulting from of the bulk of school days you have missed but she says no more, flapping her right hand vigorously trying to redirect air to her face while exhaling heavily.
“Should I increase the air conditioning?” you ask, right hand already on the valve.
“Yes o, the sun in this school is something else. You sef are lucky, you have AC tight moto. All the bike men in this school are terribly disrespectful.”
You chuckle, look at the frustration in her face before bursting into laughter. Tola joins you, laughing hysterically and slamming her hands on her laps. Later, you will reflect on how lucky you are and decide you are not. You miss the times when you had friends you walked to class with under the sun while the heated gravel covering the earth dealt with your feet, you longed for the miserly amounts your mother sent monthly and your impressive ways of surviving solely on it. This comfortable life you now have is accompanied with too many complexities which is compulsory to deal with, the option of your former life no longer existed. You will tolerate girls who loathed you, flocking around you because going back to that communal life meant you made all these sacrifices for nothing. Processing the thoughts that comes with this life is far easier than letting go of it so you continually push your real personality in and keep up the façade of an accomplished campus big girl.
“How’s Obobo”, Tola asks smirking.
"Hauntie, my boyfriend’s name is Juwon and I do not like this name that you dubbed for him. Which one is now obobo again,” you reply in a stern voice you are sure Tola will not take seriously.
She replies still cackling, jerking forward while the seat belt stays fast determined to keep proximity between her and the seat,
“Don’t worry, I don’t want to yab a fine girl like you for dating an Obobo. As it stands now, I need me some of your obobo in my life. Introduce me to his friends na.”
The both of you resume your laughter, you can hear Tola’s overpower yours and murmur in gratitude under your breath as though if she heard it, she would immediately know that it was fake. You walk into the classroom navigating the space with your eyes for a good back seat. You sight the friends you cannot have any more because you have moved on to bigger things, clustered in the eastern part of the room. They put their heads together, whispering upon sighting you, though not without sending killer stares at Tola and yourself. You do not even imagine the vicious things they say about you anymore, they were under the pedigree of those you branded haters.
The class is extremely hot but the air conditioning is running. It is comical that a classroom that can hold approximately 500 students has two air conditioners that are stingy with job efficiency, burdened with the absence of ceiling fans and the body heat of the lot that feel class attendance is necessary. You ascend the hall to the back row and pick the chairs less affected by students’ vandalism. It irks you that final year students who are obviously adults are extremely devoted to disfiguring tables and chairs with ink.
Not long after you are seated, a short carelessly dressed man saunters briskly into the classroom and dramatically shuts the door. He pulls out a chair and begins to speak,
“Good morning class, please settle down if you are for this class. If you are not, exercise patience and enjoy this class because no one enters or exits after I come in. We would be treating ‘Criticism of the Visual Arts’ after which I would drop the internationally acclaimed paper I wrote on it with your class prefect. It’s available for purchase at #2000 and special treatment will be given to those who have procured my materials when examination comes. I must add that it is not compulsory to buy this material or pass this course.”
He raises a piece of paper and begins to read from it, putting stress on some words he assures the class will come out during the exams but from experience you know better than believing. You pick your phone up and peruse through it, - you already regret coming for this class. Juwon sends the picture of a T-shirt he intends to buy for Madam Gay, he also wants you to come over and make Banga soup tonight. You look around the class and realize the course of the lecture has changed. You cannot hear what he says over the thunderous applaud that erupts but you can guess he is speaking about his impeccable character. Mr. Kofo sees himself as a highly intelligent individual, it is a pity he is yet to deduce the sarcastic applause the students always offer. He is fond of making his life feats, standards thereby underestimating students because he is less than an average individual. It is a miracle he got the job of impacting knowledge when he hardly had any. You sit and go through an extra hour of a man blowing his trumpet; how many super models threw themselves at him in his youth and enumerating reasons why his wife was the luckiest woman on earth to have married him, and wonder how all these related to criticisms of Vincent Van Vogh’s; The Starry Night. He packs his books together, histrionically fixing his spectacles in its case addressing the class as he slowly steps out,
“That’s where we round up our discussion of today. Please remember A is for God, B is for the humble lecturer, C is for the best of the best, the bulk of you can make do with what’s left. Good day.”
You arrive at home earlier than Juwon even after you spend ages in the market searching for cotton seeds. There was magic brewed inside of the kernel because it totally transformed Banga soup from the peppery light broth that it is ordinarily, to a perfect blend of unrecognizable spices that exploded in the mouth. While stirring the Banga, you flash back to your estranged friends and the immediate tete a tete they had upon your arrival. You want to be angry but your mind flashes back to the gossip that spewed in the hostels while you were in your sophomore year. There, in that gathering yourself alongside with them have had a lot of opinions about other people’s decisions, that the wind was steering in your direction did not make them wrong.
Juwon returns from work and you both have supper. He sits in the living room gazing at the television while you are at his side busy with your phone and unconscious of everything around you. You could hear the newscaster’s heavily amplified voice recounting how elderly men with suspiciously huge sums of money attempting to buy votes for an election were arraigned and how the ruling and opposition party points accusing fingers at each other for this particular instance. Suddenly, you hear the awful gasp and it’s not just in the voice, it’s in the air. Each breath you take becomes harder, like your nasal holes are caving. You feel the weight on your chest. You recognize this feeling, fear. You look up to the screen and see the watermark that flunks at its attempt to reduce the effect of the gruesome photographs. The shock that comes from it just makes the screen to continuously get dimmer and all you could pick out is ‘magical powers’. You see through the horror as it takes accommodation on his face. It’s a peculiar situation but you know it’s wiser to tread with caution.
“Babe, there is no need to worry about this sort of thing, you reach out to rub his head but he retreats, you ignore him and continue, ‘it happens among uneducated people, they are not like you. Surely, nobody will want to harvest your body parts for magic.”
You will wish in seconds that you had not shared any input because he turns his attention to you looking deeply as though to find the truth on the top layer of your facial skin. He breaks contact with you to look at himself, turns to you again and says in a whisper,
‘Kiki, why again are you in love with me?’
You roll your eyes and let out no words that the television’s ‘Not Every medical graduate can be a consultant, some will be farmers’ feel the room. You stay put trying hard not to blink too much. He is still staring fiercely into your face. You concentrate on the freckles under his chin to avoid his gaze. His face contours a little tighter, he is waiting for your disastrous or reassuring words. You know the drill so do not respond to him. You feel the tightness in your chest turn into fire. You hear your breathing increase and feel rage building, then rise from the chair and retreat to the bedroom.
You are lost in thought but aware of the liquid that wets your face while the blowing air conditioner dries it up almost immediately. You wonder if your stare had sold you away. The truth he seeks is one you intentionally do not wish to clarify, either to yourself or to him. Uncertainty helps to wane the guilt, not totally but enough to process. You know you are ashamed of Juwon. Your skin crawls whenever you step out together. Whenever it’s more than the both of you in a room, you become too conscious, stealing glances at their faces trying to make out whether they are confounded by whatever would make the joining factor with the both of you. You met an albino man in your campus, obliged him because it was sweet that he had guts to approach you considering his difference. Now two years after, you are stuck in a relationship because you fear that if you leave, the world inclusive of Juwon would feel it’s because of how he looks. Despite the lack of pigments in his skin, you feel home under his breath whenever its dark and you feel him moving on top of you.
You do not want to admit the magic that you both make and at such you continually fuel your hunger for Alhaji’s wealth, wanting at least to create an imperfection to the relationship you share with him. You are concerned more than you admit to yourself. On numerous spells, you would strip him naked in your sub conscious and run dye all over him, slowly reaching each of his body parts. He becomes perfect then, your ideal partner. You do not like to let go of such thoughts, you savor it as long as your brain likes to hold it.
You come back from ruminating over your thoughts when he bangs the door shut behind him. He sits beside where you are curled up on the bed, runs his hands over the meeting point of the sheets and the duvet and raises his hands to hold up your face. You say no words to each other but by merely staring at each other’s eyes, they have said a thousand words to each other. You can see that your glare satisfies his curiosity. He draws his face closer to yours, brushes his lips on yours as though asking for permission. You drop your lower lip down a little and can’t tell the specific part of your mouth his tongue is touching because somehow it’s everywhere.
The idea to visit your mum was yours but Juwon’s excitement was over the roof. He reminds you of those girls that liken a visit to their partner’s mother as a prequel to a wedding ceremony. He asks constantly what Mama likes, and even with your silence he comes back home with a trunk full of instruments your mother will not even have the slightest idea to operate.
“Babe, I bought mummy an iPad so she can video chat us.” He says with a shrill voice, his usual questionable smile across his face.
“Nice”, you reply not even looking in his direction.
A night before you both journey to Asaba. He comes back home with black dye sitting on his head. He walks through the door and stands in front of the television, hands akimbo and eyes asking for your comment.
“Huh, huh,” he urges.
“You don’t need to dye your hair, I liked the way you ordinarily look”. You reply biting into the Guava that was in your hand when he came in.
He scoffs while you burst out laughing. In your chest, you couldn't make out what you felt. Does he really hold magic in his skin? Did the magic enable him see the fetish you enjoyed with dye in your subconscious. He comes to sit beside you, resting his head on your bosom and says,
“I love you very much babe.”
Mama looks excited when you stepped out of the Mercedes C300 you came in. She runs to hug you, singing songs and dancing. Juwon alights the car rushing to the trunk to take out the things he bought. Mama stops dancing and her eyes follow his movement. Stunned, she stares at you but you run over to where he is standing to help him take out the bag of rice he is now struggling with. It takes about twenty minutes to get everything out after which you both stand next to each other, looking at Mama. Juwon reaches out to hold your hand.
“All these for me? Aaah Okiemute, you should not have. How will I ever finish all these things?”
She takes you both into the house where there is an already set table for one. Clearly, you failed to inform your mother you were coming with company. She attempts to run into the kitchen to balance the situation but Juwon stops her.
“Don’t worry, Mummy. We will share.”
“God bless you, my son,”
After the meal, you all sit in front of the television watching a woman on the television talk about gay rights. Mama tightens her face and says facing you. You see she had not paid any attention to Juwon since you arrived,
“Why will these people say things like this, do they not have the fear of God in them?”
“Because they are atheists ma,’ Juwon replies hurriedly.
Mama looks up and stares at him for the first time after they arrived into the house. She shakes her head before she speaks again,
“Etteh, Etteh….” She repeats weighing the words before she says finally,
“That they come from Calabar does not mean they have to lack common sense.”
An awkward silence fills the room and the sound of the television blears around the room. Mama is starring at the pack of the iPad Juwon placed in her hand while you both ate the Starch and Owho she prepared to commemorate your arrival. She raises her head and speaks again,
“My daughter, you have not introduced this wonderful creature made by God, with the most anodyne of faces.”
She would have said ‘man’ but apparently it would be erroneous to look at him without acknowledging his deformity. You look at the black dye in his hair again. You are certain now that you hate it. It ruins the fetish you gloats over in your thoughts, interposes its surrealism and makes it look stupid. You look up as though addressing space,
“Mummy, his name is Juwon, he is my boyfriend.”
You expect her to react, to look angry or better still wail. Anything for you to be sure your mother too like everyone is stunned by the caliber of man you have chosen in spite of your ravishing beauty. She says nothing, moves in her chair and begins to look at you intensely, smiling.