We value love not because it’s stronger than death but because it’s weaker.
YOU KNEW, in the half-second you saw Chisom standing at the university gates, that love does show up in dusty shades. She was throwing tentative glances about, apparently looking for someone. You wanted to call out her name, to raise your voice above the din of car engines and the noises made by the okada men who hustled about for passengers. There were clouds of dust in the air. Some of the dust seemed to envelope her in a halo. Either for the fun of watching her eyes dart about in that halo of dust, or out of sheer mischief, you watched her. Her face was without aesthetics, if that was the word for elaborate facial makeovers. The black of the tuxedo jacket she wore lost its significance the moment it blended into the blackness of the coats worn by most of those commercial cyclists, whose whole lives seemed to exist around the school gate shrouded in a haze of restlessness. One of them saw you, hailed and said, “Ịna-aga? Ebe ee? Bịa ka anyị pụ ozigbo.” You shook your head absent-mindedly, and he went on calling after a girl behind you.
She must have followed the okada man’s words because she was suddenly walking up to you, in slow, confident strides.
“Obinna?” She seemed ready to drop a quick apology and leave without a care if you said no.
Her voice as she said your name was the same slow drag you’d listened to during those late-night calls you had with her in the past few months. She seemed to weigh each syllable, rolling it on her tongue, letting one or two sounds stretch. You were used to people pronouncing your name with impatience as though they wished it had only two syllables and not three. Some even removed the b and it came out as Oinna. But with that delicate emphasis on the first vowel, Chisom gave the name a new birth.
“Chisom,” you said and smiled into her eyes, eyes that grew warmer when they blinked. They made you think of water and glass.
“I smell a jerk.” It came out abrupt, terse and full of mock judgement.
“A jerk. What was that? Why did you just stand here staring?” She widened her eyes to illustrate.
“You might not be wrong. I’ve actually never been certain I’m not a jerk.”
“That sounds like something I could have said.” She smiled for the first time.
“That’s your way of telling me you’re saucy, or?”
“I already told you on WhatsApp.”
“Yea. You did. But who says the truth on WhatsApp? You forget I was very nice on WhatsApp.”
She let out a short laugh.
“No, I didn’t forget. What I think is,” she started, looking down at the buttons of your shirt, and then fingering one, “you’re trying hard to be saucier than I am.”
You laughed, a wholesome sound that warmed through the nerves in your body. You put an arm around her in a modest attempt to make the best of this chemistry. You were almost desperate to feed from it and build on it before it fizzles out in long exasperated conversations. You could already feel the richness that seeped from her soul. She was a complex human being, a timeless specimen, and she was conscious of it, and she thrived in it.
You were walking down Nnamdi Azikiwe Drive, the part of it that ran beside Faculty of Arts. She was looking at the sculptures that littered the Fine Arts departmental block, concrete moulds of wrestling, half-clad men in a vicious if motionless stranglehold on each other. Another was of a hunter who had a bow without a string. The bow, had it an arrow, would have been targeted at the best of the works: a Dibia in a pose depicting incantation, his right hand clasping something that could pass for some charm and pointed to the heavens. Eni Njoku Hostel with its pale colours and sad countenance was already visible beyond the area that housed Akanu Ibiam Stadium.
Without taking her eyes off the sculptures she said, “So where are we going?”
“To my place.”
“The male hostels?”
“No. Dan Fodio.”
“A staff quarters. I live in a BQ there.”
“Do you dance?” you asked.
“Mmm, I do. If you meant whether I dance when I want to. Of course.”
“Ok. I meant, are you good at dancing?”
She chuckled. “Let’s just say, if we competed, I’ll beat you. And if I rock you, you’ll cry for mercy.”
“Hahahaha. See your mouth like you’ll beat me. How can you even be so sure? Look at her, you’ll cry for mercy. Holy Lawd! Ayaff suffer. Where is the bom bom that will make me cry for mercy?” You tilted your head slightly backwards to look bemusedly at her behind.
She maintained her half-smile and her pursed lips, brought up her hands and folded them across her chest, putting on a general look of mock indignation.
“Why do you think I can’t dance?” she suddenly began.
“You think because I do all these writing stuffs, I can’t possibly be one of those who can dance or rock at parties?”
“I never said that!”
“But that’s what you think. You deny it?”
“Yes I do!”
You thought that was too loud.
She kept silent.
You thought for a moment.
“I asked because I dance awkwardly. And, for no particular reason or anything, I just wanted to know how good you yourself are. My God! I can’t believe this,” you said under your breath.
Then she looked up at your face and her own face broke into splinters of wild laughter.
“I fucking got you, didn’t I?” And she went on laughing. It was your turn to wear a half-smile, purse your lips and put both hands inside the back pockets of your trousers.
The road narrowed into a street lined at the sides by an assortment of trees, fruit trees—mango, orange, cashew, and a smattering of jacaranda trees that shed their pink leaves to form a carpet that you’d never felt right stepping on.
You led her into a path between two compounds fenced by tall, sharply-pruned ixora. The moment you found yourselves concealed in the privacy of that path, you leaned sideways and put an arm round her neck, got her to face you and looked into her eyes. She blinked repeatedly; she looked more beautiful. Because you felt numbed by those eyes, you thought it better not to say anything. Your lips were only a bit-of-air away from hers when voices coming from the bend that led to the path jolted you. Disengaging, you left her flushed and balled into a standing body of disappointment.
And yet you saw in her eyes no dimming to that excitement. What you didn’t expect, however, was what happened next. At the very moment the owners of the voices sauntered into the path, she with a sudden turn pushed you against the wall of ixora and kissed you hard and long. It was a blind kiss, but you twitched open one eye to see the shocked faces of your lodge-mates in their Arsenal and Barcelona and Chelsea jerseys and their football boots. Ladai was wearing a Miami Heat basketball jersey and bouncing a ball, but he bounced it one more time and caught it in his hand to stare better.
You knew those moments would be the first in which you tasted love, edible love, mixed with the saliva in her mouth and the wet red of her tongue. In those several out-of-the-world seconds, you wished you could give to Chisom everything mysterious in the world, through your lips to hers, a buccal ritual, some sort of sacrament. You would be the means through which all those life energies in her became fossilized.
Then your lodge-mates disappeared at the other end, they with their silent quizzing eyes. She lifted her head, kissed you one more time, and later you locked yourselves in an embrace full of laughter and craziness and careless staggering.
She would go on to soak you both in more craziness from that Friday to the Monday morning when you saw her off to Peace Park. Craziness like comparing your dick to Patrick, her dildo. Calling it Patrick’s twin and renaming it Paul. Explaining that the only difference between Patrick and Paul was that the latter was fleshy and had real veins while Patrick was all rubber. And thanks to Paul, she laughed, she won’t miss Patrick as bad as she thought. And you would look on at her, amazed at this one human that bore your nemesis, acutely pleasurable nemesis, that threatened to prune the different parts of you into several layers of warmth, each independently satisfying. Like the feeling of bringing in washed clothes from the drying line, each bearing the trust of cleanliness and crispness. Or cutting through a loaf of bread with a sharp knife, metal slicing into its softness.
Or slitting a neck, hot dark blood dripping along the knife’s edge.
This last image proved more poignant in the following days when she wouldn’t pick your calls, or call back. You had, in the days you could still look into her eyes and wonder at how more beautiful blinking made her look, thought that you—you and your Chisom—were about to join forces against the world, a double entente. She would lead from the front—she had a more powerful spirit—while you supported from the rear. You did send her a message after the ninth un-replied call, on WhatsApp. You had wanted to ask her straight up: Did you use me? But you deleted that and sent another question, equally short, equally four-worded, but not as straightforward. In it was summed your confusion about those three nights you spent together: Are you even real?
You kept her chat-head open, kept looking at the interface as the grey tick below the message turned into double ticks, kept staring as ‘online’ showed below her contact name. Then the ticks turned blue and for the next few seconds before the word ‘typing…’ appeared, you felt thick with regret for confronting her. You should have acted more maturely. No, ‘pretend’ is the right word; you should have pretended to be the more mature one, the smarter one. You now discovered that you were over with what the world, sick as it is, thinks maturity to mean. Mtcheew, you sighed too audibly.
Then the messages from her came, and when you read it, the army you had formed with her collapsed, like some giant statue made of wax. Scenes from the first night you spent with her began to seep through your mind. Of you kissing her tiny legs and she teasing that you’re spending more time on ‘dem baby feet’ than you had on her ‘baby-pussy.’ You were unprepared for the first message as it came in: You’re smart already. I think you should get rid of that naivety of yours. What you really need is some maturity.
The second one threatened to tear you apart: You’re still very young, and ultimately a bore. But I think you have the time. I hope you don’t call me again.
You smiled, in spite of yourself, as you looked at the messages, wondering how they applied to you. Then the words started to appear inanely malignant, bored into their very etymology by a most extraordinary power to wreak havoc. More damaging, you thought, was that you never saw this coming. If you had seen the signs, maybe you could have been insulated enough to condition the impact. Maybe—just maybe—you wouldn’t feel as funny as you did now. While the side of you that claimed closer affinity with reality told you she meant what she said, there was still a more human part of you, and this you chose to hold on to, because of the promise it held: a faint hope of getting another message soon in which she would laugh it all off and say she had proved that when it comes to feigning a jerk, she’s the better cut. If indeed she was speaking out of her emotions, she wouldn’t be using words like ‘ultimately,’ a word too sophisticated to be used in moments as devastating as what you feared.
IT WAS now nightfall. Smudged in bed, a fragment of Obinna’s mind played with the darkness. And in one timeless moment, black became something else to him, something he could feel, smell, something with flesh and bones, peeping out of the dark. What he felt then was without definition, yet nonetheless real. It was a wild expression of something he hated to give a name. He would rather it remained nameless. It was too wholesome to be summed up.
The light bulb in the room flickered on and, from the next compound, a few kids shouted, “Up NEPA!” Whatever made him keep thinking about Chisom couldn’t be different from what made those kids celebrate NEPA each time power comes on after repeatedly going out. He almost immediately started to miss the dark. He had found refuge in it in the past hour of his loneliness. He felt too lazy to move himself to where the switch stuck to the wall and turn off the light. As he thought about it, he found it easier vindicating Chisom. Despite their many common interests, they yet remained on opposite ends of a world that was too bipolar. Chisom had been so wrong—it had nothing to do with maturity. But was it not Heraclitus who said that it is the opposite which is good to us?
About the Author:
Chinaecherem Michael Obor writes from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he is a final year student of English and Literary Studies/History and International Studies, and also Prose Editor for the school journal, The Muse. Michael writes to express and feel human but besides that, he plays PES and FIFA on PlayStation.