The crying has stopped and for that above all else, I am thankful. I thought it would never end. I am beyond grateful that it finally did.
I walk on egg shells, saying little, for fear that my words will set off the time bomb that is the woman I loved.
Loved. Past tense.
If love is now a thing of the past, what then beats against my chest when I catch a glimpse of the worry lines etched on her face? How do I explain the way my heart misses a beat every time Adunni brushes past me?
‘Which of the books do you want?’ She asks. I am taken aback. She hasn’t spoken a word to me in days now.
‘It doesn’t matter.’ I say after recovering from the surprise of hearing her voice. ‘You love books more anyway. You can take them all if you want,’ I tell her, finding that I am even more uncomfortable with her speaking than I was with her silence.
Left to me, I would take nothing with me as I set out on this journey to nowhere but she insists that everyone takes their share of the memories from these past two years.
‘I don’t want them all, Seni,’ She says, and I wonder if she is referring to more than just books. ‘I don’t have the space.’
‘Take the ones you do want then, and I will take whatever is left.’ I tell her, and her face registers her disappointment at my acceptance of defeat before she ever got a chance to win.
In the past, I would have kissed away the sadness etched in those high cheekbones.
Today, I make my way to the living room where my bags are packed and focus on making space in my suitcase for my share of books and memories.
The suitcase came from a set of luggage we had purchased together in Milan last year. We had stayed with my grandparents on their farm just on the outskirts of the city. It had been our second anniversary.
Our third anniversary would have been next month. I wonder where we would have gone to celebrate if we had made it.
Jamaica? Barbados? Somewhere where people didn’t stare at us as much as they did in Milan? Somewhere where her burnt black skin didn’t stand out proudly and where my mixed racial features didn’t seem to straddle the lines, refusing to choose between her and them?
I sit on the couch where we first made love and what has served as my bed this past few weeks.
I could forgive Adunni. It would be the easiest thing; to forgive, to love and cover not a multitude but one wrong that has accomplished what a thousand wrongs could not…
Forgiving would be easy. It is the forgetting that I can’t seem to navigate.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to banish the pictures that I never saw but that the camera that is my mind has somehow photographed and photo-shopped.
Snapshot one: His full and proud lips sucking on breasts that were the platform from which I launched every morning.
Snapshot two: Her hands working their way through his thick curly hair.
Snapshot three: His burnt brown skin melting into hers as they make love.
It is hard forgetting how the color of his skin is a closer shade to hers than mine is, than mine ever will be.
I have never fitted anywhere. I was too pale for Nigeria, my father’s country and too dark for Italy, my mother’s. So I settled in Brooklyn where even shadows are welcome. Then one day, whilst I searched for home amongst trinkets from around the world at the flea market, I found Adunni. She was not up for sale, but there was something about the way she leaned into the sun, the way her dark skin sang that wouldn’t let me be till I found out her name.
With Adunni, I was no longer out of place. I fitted with her, and in her; and all the insecurities that showed up as freckles inherited from my Italian grandmother became beautiful when I was with her. She was home.
It shouldn’t matter but it does. Actually, it matters a lot. It matters that when she decided to break my heart, she found a man sure, a man with no insecurities written on his skin, a man who knew where he belonged…a man so unlike me.
Would it have hurt less if it was someone like me? If his skin was a shade closer to mine than hers? If his hair was black some days, brown on others and outrightly red once in a while just like mine? I do not know. It shouldn’t matter. But it does.
I cannot forget the color of his skin, and so it is that I cannot forgive. There will be no third, fourth or fifth anniversaries. No trips to some island in the Caribbean. No wedding on the sands of Zanzibar. No little girls with Adunni’s smile, my grandmother’s freckles, and my sometimes aquamarine, sometimes brown eyes.
‘Here are your books.’
I look up. Her face is swollen with unsaid words and I have the sudden urge to say something to make it alright but hurt clogs my throat, so I grunt instead and take the books.
She goes back to her packing, and I make a decision.
To leave with no goodbyes.
It is Sunday, and I am lucky. The train is almost empty. There is an older woman seated a few seats away from me. Her soft gray features whispers tales of Asian ancestors, but her skin has the hue of Africa. Wrinkles weave in and out of the tiny brown freckles that dot her frail hands.
She is asleep, but if she were not, I would ask her how to forget, how to forgive, how to be comfortable in one’s skin for she seems to have mastered the art, sleeping so effortlessly here, unperturbed by who is watching…
But she is asleep, so I stare at the nothingness instead and listen to the emptiness as the train chugs loudly away from the woman I once called home.
Post image is by Ghanaian artist, Duke Asidere and is titled “Ijeoma I & II.” Via Art Black Africa
About the Author:
Kiah is a Yoruba girl borrowing Swahili names as pseudonyms. ‘Kiah’ translates into ‘A New Season’. Her favorite things are Brooklyn in summer, green grass, FC Barcelona, her brothers, Thai food, books, the color yellow, Nadal, Google, shopping at thrift stores, BMWs, and Seye.