As the sun crept above the horizon, the sky flushed a bright red-orange, like the feathers of a flamingo in a mangrove swamp. Bode felt a sensation on his face like a cool breeze, prickling his skin, carrying with it the evidence of a joyous day ahead. He knew what the hues of the sky meant. A knowledge that radiated a bliss that shook his soul. Bode lowered the window and the breeze met the glass in a forceful embrace. He pulled off his nightwear with only one thought plastered on his mind as he got under the shower. Today was the day of the dead.

A day reserved for the demised to be remembered. A day for the world to be defunct for the sake of the loved ones rudely plucked from the earth’s pouch. He exited the bathroom, his lower torso shrouded by a yellow towel, water tracing a smooth path down his chiselled chest. The gym was his secret, after all, what was a man supposed to do around here? His life was a stinking monotonous one that involved going to work and coming back home. He picked a smaller towel on the bed, stroking it against his body, the fabric absorbing the moisture. He hung the towel over the door. Bode looked around his small room, anchored with only a single bed, an emblem of serenity in the form of a standing fan and a plastic table scarred with scattered books, stationeries, a bottle of Nivea’s lotion and a tin of Kiwi shoe polish. God, he was disorganized. Lara, his fiancée didn’t like cluttered spaces.

He picked up the Nivea container and applied pressure. The lotion seeped out with a squelch sound, the shea butter fragrance engulfing the room. The resounding slap of palm against skin captured his ear. Ah, he was taking his time. On this momentous occasion, he was determined to look very good and smell very nice. Every day for the living, one day for the departed. A day to pay their homage. He dolled himself up by getting into a black suit purchased from a store he scouted up in Oshodi market.

Today was not the day to present himself as a mere secondary school teacher. Today, he was to look extra good. The great remembrance day had arrived, marking a full year since the previous “Day of the Dead” when Lara had weighed in on his choice of outfit, a simple ensemble of plain t-shirt and jeans. Her eyes had bulged like her sockets were spacious while her mouth grew thin, “Why, Bode? You mock the dead, you fool. This grand occasion and you wear this. May the Lord forgive you.” He was aware of the fact that she knew he would never show disrespect to the lost souls. So, on that bright day, he met her gaze with a smile so tender, “I love you. I won’t do it again.”

He primped his suit in front of the mirror, a soft hum of John Legend’s “All of Me” escaping his lips—a melody reminiscent of his fifth date with Lara. Oh, how he couldn’t wait to see her reaction, the angelic smile that would grace her face when she sees the suit. He vetted himself for the last time and made his way to the standing booths. The location of the booths proved a long trek, distant from his face-me-I-face-you apartment. It was only sensible to board an okada but even the well-known motorcycle taxi riders couldn’t overlook this great and joyful day. A puff of November wind snuggled his skin and his insides tingled. The long, tiled road stretched ahead. Shops were shut and people in the street were clad in great, beautiful attire. Ladies in bright Ankaras and stylish Geles, girls wearing lace with long, shiny braids. Men dressed in shirts and trousers, and kids looking like they were headed to a birthday celebration. Complete silence prevailed as everyone walked together – all heading towards the standing booth, the obvious destination. It was indeed a day of joy for everyone.

With added determination in his steps, his heart beating faster, excitement reaching a peak, sweaty palms, and an empty feeling in his suit, he knew deep down he couldn’t outpace anyone here. Ahead of him, a woman in a wedding gown, some distance away, was sprinting towards the booth. Did he honestly think he could out walk her? No point in running, Lara despised the smell of his sweat, found it musky – definitely not her preference. The booth was now in sight and he groaned at the extensive still-filling queues at the three blackish standing booths. Opening at 8 am, and now just five minutes to 9, yet the lines were this lengthy? It’d take an all-night long wait to reach his turn. Honestly, you’d be surprised how many people had someone to talk to today. He chose the middle queue, impatience growing as the person ahead moved forward.

Despite the booth allocating five minutes to each person, it felt slow for him, stuck waiting for everyone in his line. Five minutes went by, then the next, and another after that. He groaned, hissed, and went through all the motions of someone stuck in waiting, but the queue didn’t budge any faster. His sympathy extended to those at the back. The booth closed at midnight, and if one couldn’t use it by then, next year was the only alternative. Finally, at 2 pm, it was his turn. He scrutinized the buttons with letters on the side of the booth, ready to type out the name of the person. This was it. The moment was here. He straightened his tie and brushed away invisible fluff from his suit. Bode punched in the L-A-R-A letters and waited. Lara materialized in the booth, dots of white sparkle connecting to form her vibrant figure. Her natural hair neatly in a bun, the puffy ends exuding majesty. Fresh skin, immaculately ironed clothes, just as he remembered from two years ago. Before her hair turned matte with others’ blood and her clothes crumpled with the injuries that eventually took her life.

Lara smiled, soft and warm, like a sunbeam. He mirrored her smile, remembering the duration of his wait to witness that smile once more – a smile that held sway over his heart, capable of both starting and stopping its beats. “Bode, you surprise me. The suit. I love it. Where did you get it from?” The suit wasn’t the first topic he wanted to discuss. Five minutes was all he had and he yearned to embrace her, to kiss her, to inhale her lemon scent. To tell her he loved her yet he hesitated. How dare he, a living, tell her, a dead woman, what to talk about?
Lara was still smiling when she raised an eyebrow, “Please tell me you weren’t ripped off and there was a negotiation. I taught you well enough.”
“You are beautiful,” he said instead. Not because he had truly paid the initial asking price, but because he genuinely marvelled at her beauty. Even in death, she was still the most breathtaking woman he’d ever seen.
Her eyes closed and opened to reveal slow, terrifying tears, “Oh, I miss you, Bode.”
“I miss you too. A year is so long. I almost forgot how you sound like.”
“Never, Bode. Never forget how I sound. This voice must linger in your memory.” There was a paralyzing tone of fear in her voice.
“I would never.”
Her face turned red, “Promise me, Bode. The day you forget my voice, is the day I die for real. You keep me alive, my joy.”
“I came here for that voice, didn’t I?” He took her hand, “Never will I forget it.”
“I love you, my Bode.”
“I love you, my Lara.”

Oh, how he missed her. He missed her soft voice that lit up his whole life, her face… her whole existence. This was the year they were supposed to be married. She shouldn’t be here, she was meant to be his wife. But in just one day, all his dreams had been snatched away. “I wish you didn’t enter that bus. I wish you didn’t go to work that day,” he thought. But he knew his Lara well. She was an independent, optimistic, hard-working lady that wouldn’t miss a day at work so instead he said, “I wish you had fallen sick and didn’t go to work that day. I wish you had only lost a body part in that accident. I don’t care if you had no arms or legs. I’ll take care of my Lara.”
“And I believe you, my love. But death doesn’t work with schedule. If I didn’t go that day, it would have claimed me another day,” she said.
“But still, I wish you were here.” She needed to understand the difficulty he faced every day – waking up to the harsh reality that she was gone. No more dinner dates, outings, or sleepovers.
“And so do I.”

Lara stole a glance at the time meter. Only three minutes lingered. A sigh escaped her lips, her once unwavering smile now faltering, as the realization dawned that she would soon be a relic of the past. “How is my mother?”
“She remembers no one, Lara. Your absence changed her.” Pondering the drastic shift in Lara’s mother’s health following the loss of her only child, Bode couldn’t throw blames. Lara had been a unique blessing to them all.
“Death changes everyone. It changes the fate of the departed and also everyone around. It scatters plans with no warning. What concerns death that you were planning to get married next year? If he wants you, he wants you.”
Tears pricked against the back of his eyelid, “I miss you.”
“I miss you too.”

And so he talked to her, weaving between trivialities and meaningful topics, as time relentlessly advanced. Cherishing every fleeting moment, they now had just a minute remaining. Her smile waned, revealing the weight of pain beneath her exquisite beauty.
“Five minutes is too short,” she muttered.
“Too short,” he echoed. “But I shall see you again.”
Her eyes lit up, “You’ll come next year?”
“I’ll come every year. Every year to see you. I can’t live without you. I need to see your face.”
She withdrew from his touch, a fragment of her dissipating. A smile, though faint, paused on her lips, “I’ll wait for you next year, my love.”
“And I will come, my darling.”
And then, she faded away.

Bode stepped back from the line, making way for the next person to occupy his space. Seeing Lara again was a source of joy, so he promised to hold back tears on his journey home. Next year, they would meet again, and he vowed to tell her all over again how much he was in love with her.















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