She took a walk straight down the road into the past. In 1985 a girl with a large afro and a matching smile in the garage making lunch for Leenah, Peenar and Chinaar, a mash of sand and water and stones in empty Bournvita tins cooked, and in their beaten-up lids served.
Motherhood was supreme, ruling with a cooking spoon the fate of mortals and with a satisfied smile observing the signs of their happy gluttony. The clamor for an extra piece of meat, tongue-smacking lips, oil stains on shirts by protruding stomachs distended were like confetti on a heroine, the stuff of an eight year old’s dreams. She reveled in the power, her tiny voice reverberating in the garage, loudly, like a choir’s clanking instruments, the children looking on quietly, their eyes big and inquisitive, drawn on in a permanent surprise.
Occasionally the family would need a husband and off a tree she would pluck a leaf and with a twig poke rough holes in it, holes for eyes and a small holey nose, and alongside the children he was entrenched under her rule. She fascinated them with stories when lunch was over, far into the day until in its passing the leaf withered and had to be discarded. She soon tired of replacing husbands, husbands were not of the same stuff as children made, resolute sticks those were, that in the sun never shriveled or died.
Further down the road she found the dynamics of relationships a jarring contrast from her little girl thoughts. In 1997 boys smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol and had sweaty late night trysts, a girl nursing the same ambitions considered uncool and by random men in the streets labelled a slut, a slur cutting, like a slit in your throat. She wondered what Leenah, Peenar and Chinaar might say if they knew their mama could be called a slut for sipping alcohol at a bar by midnight.
1999 saw her under a boyfriend, hands locked on top of her head, her moans suffocated by his screams as he pounded feverishly into her, his cum a hurricane that broke her waist and the bed beneath it. He had no job and no plans but spoke instead of children and marriage. With dreamy eyes she let him, and in the clammy wake of their lovemaking she told of Leenah’s shiny tummy and Chinaar’s quiet greed. That evening he left and never returned. For a moment he was missed but in the morning the ache was gone. Peenar had better odds she suspected, of becoming a real boy than he ever would.
The 2000s were a blur, of sex and of lost identities. On her face she bore the look of twenty million women, on her tongue she carried the voice of fifty million more—a cackle with a lot of prattle; and the dry smarts of a billion people. She folded herself into the world, finding rest in a new anonymity. She learned to want what everyone else did, her desires in a bland synchrony lost, nose powdered and weave straightened, religion’s grateful mistress, and in her conformity banishing forever all thoughts of Lee, Pee and Chi.
Her feet had started to ache as she crossed into 2006. She had met him at the corner store where every other week she had gone to get a pack of apple juice. With a bottle of red wine he stood, and when he spoke he reminded her of one of her leafy husbands just before it withered, the green vibrant still that signified a happy fleeting permanence.
He was kind and sweet, and when they had sex it was a snug fit, like a ring for a finger made. A good sign that he would be there always to fill the emptiness down the road.
She carries her shoes now in her hands, her feet sore in her travels on this long winding road to nowhere. She recalls the paper aircrafts swirling around the garage; taking the kids on many trips. She remembers the first time she picked Peenar up, and like a microphone, sang life into him. The dreams nursed of drumming to vast crowds achieved by hitting Cheenar on an empty milk tin, the crowd, a bunch of biscuit wrappers and plastic bottles, wild in their fascination. Those moments of horses and castles; and dreaming things noble, like being an engineer or an architect.
It’s 2008 and in a dimly lit church she is getting married to the man from the corner store. They’ve been together two years now, two years of doing the right things, in her tiny cackle-with-a-lot-of-prattle voice, saying the right things. They haven’t done badly. With templates borrowed from the swelling masses they have cut out the little shapes of their grave decisions. And though from neighbors and friends come accounts of broken skulls and dead bodies, they have managed to scrape happiness from this bottomless vanity.
She tastes home on the horizon. Her shopping basket is empty, the can of beans she was supposed to get, now past all the stores, remains unbought. She’s been gone for about two hours and she wonders if they’ve missed her, if she can retrace her steps to that garage where Lee, Pee and Chi are waiting, her mistakes unwound, to be a child again. She howls at the moon and at a youth so swiftly gone, squandered chasing things she never really wanted. In sorrow at a life unlived, the sexy curl of smoke from cigarettes she never had, the sway from cheap liquor she never imbibed; the right to be reckless and hasty, her existence a frilly manicured rehearsal for a dance she’d never found its rhythms.
She is weary, her strength on the empty road behind her bled. To continue this path surely is madness, this path back to a husband and three boys, to a reality now needing adjustment, like a radio crackling static, and to sacrifices she is no longer willing to make. To what end, this ghastly existence, these ceaseless chores that by society, define her essence?
A choice to be made. The safe road straight-ahead leading home, or the long treacherous walk into the unknown.
Her heart beating faster, she closes her eyes and floats back to the garage where first her dreams were given life, a wooden spoon in her hand, the world at her feet, and none other to challenge hers, a voice loud and resounding, forging from leaves, twigs and empty Bournvita tins; a world of unbounded possibilities.
Post image by Simon Harrod via Flickr.
About the Author:
Joy Isi Bewaji rants on Facebook and talks on www.radio.happenings.com.ng. Her happy place is Manhattan. Her angry place is Lagos. She thinks “Being Mary Jane” deserves a whole bunch of Emmy Awards. Her latest crush is Trevor Noah.