linger in hidden spaces
drawing maps only I can read
The raffia hat tilts to the right, and your brows bunch beneath beads of sweat; fingers dig, weed, pot, and water behind the bungalow that is home. The touching of petals and leaves, examining junctures where stems kiss the earth, goes on as the path of sweat down your back disappears into the waist of the faded jeans shorts. Beneath the curtain of liana, surrounded by petunias, hibiscus, lilies, yellow trumpets, daisies, and rainbow fluorescents in large planters, you minister to each one.
Each one is a tale. The one you locked eyes with while transversing the conservatory, red petals glistening beneath a diamond dome. The one carrying yellow ringlets beside a cluster of cilantro. The one whose scent drew you like a sleepwalker till you stood behind slender limbs, quivering and taunt. The one whose buds left a fiery trail, whose lavender scent lingered, a second skin. You didn’t tire bathing each stump, branch, leaf, and root from your pores.
She was tall, with dark, shiny skin and thick black hair in twelve thick cornrows, ropes over her shoulders. I can’t remember when she arrived, only that she stayed longer than others and draped you like the lianas did the walls. Her laughter was effervescent, light-piercing familiar darkness. Laughter.
It’s been a while since we’ve had that here. It’s been a while since we heard a tinkling bell; it’s been a while since honeycomb disappeared on the tongue. I liked how her voice drew me to your hummings to Victor Uwaifo and Orlando Owoh, your spooning her, and your skins becoming one. I liked watching you sashay around her weeding and her hosing roots in the shade of your smile. I loved hearing you laugh, dripping torso trembling when she turned the hose on you, daffodils swaying in unison to the chorus of mirth, music in my ears. Hope.
It snuck in and stretched its hand, prophesying a future. I ignored it. But its voice grew louder, beckoning while I tried unsuccessfully to push it out. It didn’t budge; instead, it laid diamonds at my feet till I thawed… began to feed it, and watched it grow. I became a convert. This one will be different. This one will stay.
The stranger was birthed through short bursts of quiet, drowned in long intervals of passion. This strange silence was impenetrable, with prickling borders signalling an uncoupling. It was a reminder before her when it was quiet and warm. When your limbs scurried against your shorts, when soil gathered against the slivered teeth of a shovel, never roused me from sleep. It reminded me of when flip-flops slapped the marbled floor, ground stones and kissed the lush green, images that filtered into my dreams. I didn’t mind our silent and familiar cohabitation before her. I didn’t mind the cushion-bearing memories of where limbs lay in the blanket of our home.
But, I minded this.
I minded the raised voices—the arguing. I minded the tears—pellets, shattering glass. I minded holes ripped through windows as resentment grew in my search for sweet residues as hope played hide and seek. The shards and nails were everywhere, cutting and stabbing, drawers of gore, painters of blood. This stranger returned like clockwork after the melding of skins with a growing, turgid, one-sided longing, each deeper than the previous. It blotted your lenses, rendered you blind, with lips, unable to speak. It anchored a boulder around your waist, sealed our fate to drown if I didn’t rescue you… if I didn’t rescue us. Hate.
I hated the pendulum between now and before. I hated the torching of my cobbled path with diamonds. I hated my now desperate search for the familiar I denounced hope for. I hated the weight sagging your shoulders, heavying feet across spaces that once circled dancing. I hated couch-bearing weights through lonely, endless nights.
Most of all, I hated the repetition of dread at the dawn of each day.
I wanted, no need, to get back to before. Before her. To do so, I focused on how longing swallowed laughter and how hope abandoned its convert.
Írantì ni oogun àgbà
Írantì ni oogun àgbà
Írantì ni oogun àgbà
Írantì ni oogun àgbà
The chants spin a web—chains of hieroglyphics, sequences of our past, played and replayed. To birth a vigorous plant, you look for a good seed. You care—hide it in enriched darkness, selectively expose it to light, nutrients, and touch… you must never forget to connect. It grows like others, energized by the sun, carbon dioxide, and water. It gives you a sweet reward. You search for signs of peaking when seedlings emerge; when maturity looms, you harness the strength to fertilize from your pores.
I play and replay the oceans and mountains we conquered to garden our home till the chants and images jar you awake from the wetness of sleep. It’s time for flowers and fruits. I kiss your crown and rock you in my arms. Do you remember? You nod. Now, all I need is to wait.
She stands torso strung, veins pulsating, arms puncturing the air above her head over your kneeling as you pulled weeds around a hibiscus bush. “I’m tired of this! All you care about are these fucking flowers…” You don’t miss a bit while she continues railing. She wants a child, to be married, not a hole you bury in at night. Her voice is a tolling bell, piercing the quiet. Why did I ever think she was beautiful? She is going to leave, she screams. Her mouth drizzles spit. “Do you hear me?!”
Tensed shoulders are hunched over, muddy fingers continue pulling and clawing out dead leaves, and the hair at your nape curls as sweat pools at the base of your skull. “Do you hear me?!” her scream shatters the door.
“We can all hear you!” She jumps back, palms to the chest, eyes saucer wide. I see myself reflected in her orbs briefly before it darkens. Fire. Tongues of fire. Only then do you slowly rise, slap your palms together, and rub them over your shorts. I shapeshift back to your mirror image. You step away from her rigid frame, link hands with me, lift the raffia hat off your head, and wipe your beaded forehead with the back of your other hand.
We watch her cornrows sprout buds, then leaves.
We watch her torso shrivel, then separate into several stems.
We watch her feet desiccate to spikes, become several roots, and dive into the earth.
We watch her limbs become chandelier branches, then sprout bright red, wavy edge petals. Fire lily.
As her face becomes one with the bark, I pull a stem still sprouting fluorescents from the closest branch and sniff, “I liked her.”
A smile spreads across your lips, “You liked the others too.”
We wait till the transition is complete. The flame lily stems sway in unison with others as the crickets start their mating song, and a whisper of wind tugs at your hat.
The sun descends, and we return to the familiar arms of dusk.