IT IS LIKE STEALING from God. Like thrusting your hand in God’s orchard, yanking out a glowing ripened fruit, aware that He is somewhere watching.
Everyone in class is sitting in pairs; giving gifts, receiving gifts; love simmering from their couplings, diffusing in the classroom like lemon-scented camphor. Harold buckles a bracelet around Diboh’s wrist; Teng finds a cologne in her locker with a card that says ‘Be Mine’; Fonkeng and Fomenky eat white chocolate at the back of the classroom, red ribbons resting on their lockers, looking tired from all that tying. Even Ndive has a Valentine. A real Valentine. Last year, he wrote a love letter to himself. It opened with “Dear Baby” and ended with “Your Love, Sharon.” He stuck glistening heart stickers to the edges, addressed it to himself and gave it to someone to give Sister Theresa to read in class. He forgot that you would know his handwriting even if in a coma.
When Sister Theresa brings the letters this year, her white habit flowing behind her like grace, her veil tucked neatly behind her ears, you remember why you love her. It is the gentleness, the fragility of her wrists, her smallness. It is the way the veil covers her hair as if hiding a secret, the way her voice sounds like a song, the way the neckerchief surrounds her breasts like a holy shield. Sometimes, at night, alone on your bed, you imagine how they would feel. And then you hurriedly beg God to forgive your lust for His daughter. His wife.
“Kidze Benson,” she says your name. You fidget, take the envelope from her and toss it in your locker without opening. You already know it’s from Mayuk; she sends you a letter every month and you can tell her handwriting even if comatose.
You run behind Sister Theresa when she leaves the classroom. You have some problems with Literature, you tell her, but you know that she knows you’re lying. You caught the fleeting disappointment in her eyes when she said your name. The icy tentativeness. She would not ask you about the letter. She never does.
The convent’s living room smells of something sweet baking. Spirits are spinning your head, owning you. You brush off a cotton ball from her ear. She stands almost a head shorter, and even though she is in her twenties, she looks sixteen. Her veil is down now and you see all the secrets in her hair. Your head, without notice cocks to kiss her, but she stops you. Her fingers frail against your chest. She kisses you.
Later, you’re resting on the carpet beside her. It is your first time, and by the blood, it is hers too. Her gaze is fixated stiffly on nothing; silence floats in the air like a feather. You’re thinking: so what if she cracks up at your jokes and brushes your shoulders and acts like a jealous girlfriend? So what if you can’t sleep without thinking about her? Can’t be without her? This is like stealing from God. Like thrusting your hand in God’s orchard, yanking out a glowing ripened fruit, aware that He is somewhere watching.
The room now smells of something burning. She mutters something suddenly, and you half-hope she doesn’t say she is leaving the convent. You half-hope she does. The spirits are spinning your head. You say nothing but stroke her hair gently. You wait for God to strike you dead beside her.
About the Author:
Howard M-B Maximus is a PhD Microbiology student at the University of Buea, Cameroon. His work has appeared and is forthcoming in Howie Tell It, Art Becomes You, AERODROME and Afraase. His short story, “Ref 32,” received a Special Mention in the one-off Bakwa Short Story Competition. He is currently working on a debut novel.
Howard M-B Maximus’ “Something Burning” first appeared in Love Stories from Africa, a Brittle Paper-published anthology of flash fiction edited by Nonso Anyanwu and with an Introduction by Helon Habila.