“I know you know I need you to save face, and you need me to pander to your whims.”
I am staring angrily at your parting lips as sounds escape them. I am asking questions in my head. Can I have just a little piece of yourself, since you’re so full of it? You’re spilling at the sides; can I scrape the top off? How about the side with too much cream and too little sugar? What do you say, you conceited fish?
It isn’t even about nights like this, when I starve myself of sleep just to listen to you strum your ukulele in my ears, telling the same stories from days before, drunk on my silence and the devotion in my eyes. It is not about the cold long walks that leave me with chattering teeth and frozen gum that force out laughter at your mirthless jokes. It isn’t about those times I go out of my way to cook, to watch flying black particles of burning wood find rest in my eyes and darken them just to make jollof rice you end up passing on for Chinese cuisines from your restaurants with vanilla names. It is not about all of these. I mean, who am I to complain? You are a gift. Or at least, you should be.
You. Thirty-one. Fresh, fine, rich, perfect. Maami says I should wake up every morning and place both my hands on my head and worship, because you have chosen me. She says people like you don’t just come to people like me, and that now that I have gotten your attention, I must do all to keep it. She means well, I know this; everyone means well. I hear as the girls beside my flat whisper to each other, clasping their hands together and looking towards heaven when they see you. I hear them greet me loudly when I pass, as if to say, Lucky you, we see you finally have a man. I see it in their eyes, the way they judge me as being too inadequate for you. Ill-fitting. Isn’t that what I am?
When Maami called from the village to know if you had asked for my hand three months into our relationship, I knew the matter was serious.
“Maami, it’s only been three months.”
“Ehen? Is three months not enough for a man to do what he needs to do?”
I sighed. I could have told her then that I didn’t particularly like you, but she would have thought that I had run mad. She would say it is the demons, or that my step mother and her coven have started work on my destiny. Destiny. She uses that word a lot.
“Mope, it is your destiny to find a husband. He will not be like your father. He will love you as you are and take care of you. The devil is a liar.”
“But I can take care of myself….”
“Ta! Don’t say that again. There is a different kind of care that a man gives. It is a type you can get from no one else, not even me.”
And this is why when you showed up in my life and said you had seen something in me—something; it was that vague—I held on to it like grim death. I covered it with both my palms, before raging winds would blow and snuff it out. I preserved it with warmth from my bosom. With an affection I had to conjure, I watered it so it wouldn’t die. I guarded it from prying eyes, went lengths and heights. Remember, that time, you said you thought jollof made with firewood was food for gods? In minutes, I made you into a god with the sacredness of my cooking pot. I became everything to keep you.
Me. Twenty-nine and tired. Patterned on the outside like roast plantain. See, these patches are not mine. They are life’s. It gifted me when I was too timid to turn down gifts, too little to fight grown-up wars, too pained to scream as fire licked through my skin. People treat me as though the patches are mine, as though I went to the market and said, “Hey, I love those patterns. I want them on.” No. I did not. I do not want them, but it’s too late to give them back. Have I told you about my late father? He was drunk that night; heck, he was drunk every night, hitting things and hitting people. That night, he barged into a kerosene lamp and sent it crashing down on me as I slept on a mat on the floor. I was three when he conspired with life and gave me this gift that has continued giving over the years; scars that have gifted me names and stares and sneers, that have gifted me you. But you? You’re so full of you I can’t even get a piece. You say I am lucky you tolerate me with my scars.
It is me I am angry with. I am the one you run to for the good meals and nice lay, for the pampering and ego-stroking. I know you know I need you to save face, and you need me to pander to your whims. So this is what I get: a gift wrapped in shiny papers that cannot be removed, a colorful piece of cake that must not be eaten, an egg that cannot be cracked. You’re there for me to have something to say when Maami calls. She says it’s my fault that you have not proposed after one year. She says I am not giving enough, that my cooking is not enough, that the sex is not enough. She doesn’t know you will never stop taking. She doesn’t know you don’t plan to give, that you’re gift enough. I cannot tell her these things. I cannot tell her that I fear I may never be enough. I do not want to break her heart.
And this is why I am angry. Because, till we both get tired of these lies we’re living, I will silently live it. Because these crumbs you leave me would humor you. Because I deserve better, but better is held up in traffic, so I’m stuck here with your arrogant perfection, smiling at your self-aggrandizing speeches as you sit on my bed in your boxer shorts, as I rub your hairy leg and wait at your feet. Because I would watch you leave when you have had your fill, and take you back when you need me. Because you are a gift, or at least you should be, you conceited little fish.
Post image by Marco via Flickr
About the Author:
Ife Olujuyigbe is a Chemical Engineer and a lover of all things written. She is an occasional poet, an artist and painter when she gets the chance, a music buff, and a Scrabble champ. She is the winner of the 2016 flash fiction tournament, The Blackout. Her works, which include flash fiction pieces, short stories, reviews and topical articles, are published on various online platforms, and she currently does movie reviews for True Nollywood Stories and blogs at ifekleva.com.