He says he will force it inside if it won’t enter with ease.
She forces herself to laugh as Bolu lies next to her, hands still resting on her thigh. A few hours earlier she took a Diazepam pill to make her muscles slack, with little success. Even the bottle of cheap South African white wine she downed all by herself failed to do the trick.
I’m serious, Bolu says through a defeated smile. His left front tooth is shorter than the right and discolored. This is the first thing she notices about him when they met, the perfect symmetry of his mouth, except for the left front tooth. You might have to, she replies, feeling her hips tense at the thought. She takes a deep breath. His room, like all the others, smells of too much cologne. Men in Lagos and their ridiculous fear of having body odor. The walls of his bedroom are bare; he moved in a few months ago from a much smaller place just a few minutes away and hasn’t had time to decorate yet. She has a feeling he’s waiting for her. She lifts her head from his chest, her cheeks eager to be released from the scratchiness of his hair and moves her mouth to his, distracting them both from what didn’t happen the evening before.
The only light in the room emanates from the blue screen on the television in front of the bed. Their shadows take shape as one wide mound, and the only body parts she can make out are their toes, wrapped around one another. She does not know yet that this is the last time she will lay in his bed and let fingers that feel like they’re wrapped in scotch bonnet peppers burn her from the inside while forcing tears into laughter for his comfort. But she can already feel that she is (maybe) willing to remain perpetually behind.
A few weeks later, her therapist gives her a journal exercise. Write about anytime you remember thinking about sex as a child. Let the memories come to you. If the memory of a past trauma comes, just know that we can deal with it, she says. She wants to tell the therapist that the exercise is a waste of time - there is no trauma, just a woman or two, stuck inside her cervix.
1. His hand shouldn’t have been there, done that
3. The magic patch
4. Hot dog in a keyhole
She is no longer sure that the memory is real, what it has to do with any of this anyway, but she is certain that even writing it would be an invitation, so she does not bother. She considers sacrificing her pinky finger for even the idea of the memory to leave her, but as she holds the knife a few inches from her hand, you convince her to be patient and leave her fingers intact.
I’m ready to be bad, sings her friend, dancing beside her.
She is swaying from side to side, not quite dancing. It’s been a year since she danced in this club with her backside pressed closely to Bolu. But she is not thinking of him now with a Hennessey and Coke in her hand, offered by the older gentleman to her right at the bar. As yet another man grabs her friend from behind, she feels a man’s hands at her waist pulling her firmly to his groin.
I need a bad girl! Get at me bad girl, he sings, leaning in closely as his beard grazes her cheek.
Hey, she shouts inaudibly over the music.
She loathes when men do this, feel comfortable enough to touch her, grab her, and even speak to her without permission. But as she turns ready to give the bearded stranger a piece of her mind, he has already loosened his grip.
She and her friend are celebrating her last day at a structured 9 to 5, and a new venture into a more creative life. She’s been in Lagos on and off for three years, yet still unable to ease into a Lagos morning, typically awakened by the loss of another day she did not seize. Then a guessing game to accompany the thing (a rat, a bird, maybe a cat) that no matter how many times the house help assures her is cleared from the roof above the room, returns to remind her that this room is more their home than hers.
They leave the club a few songs later. A couple of steps into the crowded parking lot, she sees him again, leaning against a black Jeep, cigarette in left hand, lighter in right.
Can I borrow her for a minute, he asks her friend, without really asking.
His name is Chudi. He stands over six feet tall with broad shoulders, perhaps the most boyish smile she has ever laid eyes on, all surrounded by a thick coarse beard her fingers yearn to attach habit to. They soon realize they lived in London at the same time when they were teenagers, attending schools a few minutes away from each other. She was an exchange student, Chudi, a law student amidst the expansive community of young Nigerians in ‘Jand’ and for A-levels, and then university.
What’s your oriki name? he asks out of the blue.
Kemi…, She says without certainty, knowing she can blame her tipsy alcohol induced state for a wrong answer.
Kemi is of course, not an oriki name, something Chudi tells her, and she nods in agreement pretending to know with certainty in the same way that he does. They part ways that night after exchanging numbers and she’s terrified he will consume her.
A few days later she calls her father, pestering him for her oriki. He reminds her that it is Aduke, beloved, the same name that Chudi suspected so knowingly. A search on Google befuddles her as she looks for more meaning behind Aduke and the logic behind his certainty. She soon stumbles upon Addy, one of the American Girls from the series she loved so as a child. Addy, the only black American character is named after her grandmother, Aduke.
Chudi is the first man she meets in Lagos that makes her want to stay. Lying on his back has become her favorite sleeping position. She likes that he can hold the weight of her, without a complaint. He prides himself on knowing her names. She feels lighter, can feel the tight of her hips loosening each day. She waits impatiently for the other shoe to drop, but also convinces herself that when it does, she will never let him leave. And when he grabs her hips early one Saturday morning, you begin to crawl out, inch by inch, to the sound of Chudi’s deep voice. She thinks you will return. Does not occur to her that he will take something she can never get back.
After he finally leaves, she does wake in the night around 2am, other times just before dawn, thinking of you scattered everywhere. No longer stuck in between her thighs, but stuck nonetheless. She imagines your fingers raking through his coarse beard, still unable to kick the habit. She likes to think of you tormenting him, waking him in the middle of the night, his heart pounding as he feels a gnawing itch underneath his jowl that makes his skin crawl. A cruel thought, she knows.
The Point of No Return.
This is where people come to forget something they do not know and it is the weight of the unknowing they come to shed. Visitors walk through an uneven sand path unpleasant to the soles of their feet. Only a few seconds pass in between exhausted sighs and shared drops of sweat that are then covered over again by unsettled coarse particles. The palm trees rooted on both sides of the path are too far to offer cover from the relentless sun. Eventually, exhausted tourists meet the running “Original Slaves Attenuation Well” and here the tour guides will respond to those that ask if the well still contains the same elixir originally designated to subdue even the most strong-willed slave in shackles. Eh try a sip, if you like.
Like Omar. The tour guide says that a man of his size would be forced to take double if not triple the dosage to ensure the swell of his arms would sag, losing their ability to flex, taunt, intimidate. This makes Omar laugh, as he always does covering his open mouth with his hand, willing only to share the sound and not the sight of his laughing mouth.
She takes a picture of a single plaited braid extension that appears delicately placed in the sand as an offering. It is smaller than the long braids that rest on the right of her shoulder, with no wind to sway them. Omar does not ask why she takes a photograph of the synthetic hair on the path, rather than the sign in front of them. He is no longer curious about the strange that catches her eye.
Most of the sites they have seen this day in Badagry are unfinished. They hold hands as they visit a small museum whose walls are sparsely covered with thin pieces of paper bordered by cheap plastic frames, and a few iron structures that do not quite seem to be able to hold the necessary weight. They can see the attempt to make tourism out of horror is a massive failure, and she thinks maybe this is a good thing.
But at the Brazilian Barracoon, the stench of remembering nearly burns the blood vessels in her nose. It is the sight of the descendants of Seriki Williams Abbas living behind the black iron gate where Williams Abbas exchanged bodies for umbrellas and booze that does it. That memory still rests on the dirty white walls, cloth tattered but nonetheless intact.
They do not know yet that they have come here both to celebrate her birthday and finalize their ending. Just eight days before, Omar told her that they should separate because he does not consider her to be the ideal African woman. She did not respond as upon hearing this, it became clear to her that unknowingly, this is what she has spent months with him trying to prove herself to be.
It is in the Barracoon compound that one of the eldest descendants of Abbas observes that they are the exact kind of pair the English would have separated. You look too good together, he says. Almost ideal.
Omar takes her photo in front of the sign, “Badagry Slave Route Point of No Return. Journey to Unknown Destination,” and refuses when she asks him to join her. As they reach the end of the path, she walks ahead toward the ocean, the final point of no return while the bark and sight of a stray dog causes Omar to run away.
You come to her in a dream. It’s not about Omar, or Chudi, or Bolu, and you already know that in the way that everyone knows it.
In the dream she is standing in a bare room with a single mirror resting against a white stucco wall that would feel rough against her palms if she touched it. She’s alone in this room that feels familiar, maybe of home or something like it, but then the sanctity of the space is invaded by voices. She hears them loud, folding on top of one another, some recognizable, some unfamiliar. Some young, some old. Some high pitch sounds, some low.
Dance! Dance! Dance! Dance, they yell.
There is no music to guide her hips and the room feels so full she can barely find the space to move. She looks in the mirror and there you are. Dancing in her reflection to the beat of the voices. Looking before her with hips moving like water, circling, gyrating, locking.
As you continue to dance the voices begin to fade away, until the only sound in the room is the sound the air makes when you rock your hips back and forth, slowly and steadily. This is when she wants to tell you that she feels too light - empty without your mask. But you do not stop dancing, so she begins to yell, scream, and cry, snot dripping down the indent beneath her nose until the mucus joins the spit already circling inside of her mouth. She wants you to say something, anything - scared to wake up to your absence all over again.
She awakens the next morning, exhausted as if she has birthed a set of twins. She finds the strength to move her hands from her waist, in search of wet on the sheets, stretching her fingertips as far as they can reach, feeling nothing other than dry cotton against her skin. As she sits up, facing the mirror in front of her bed, she remembers that while you were dancing, when her head was down as she tried to catch her breath, plainly you said to her - pick up your head. It is time to dance.
She is always, already, late. They keep saying that a beautiful dress awaits her. Actually three. One should be some shade of white, the others sea green and coral. In your absence, she no longer bothers herself with the task of explaining to the elders why she is will postpone wearing the beautiful sea green lace that will itch against her skin.
Maryam Kazeem is a writer based in Lagos. Her work consists of experimental writing and video. By exploring questions around the archive and memory, her work seeks to unearth the possibility of speculation as both an artistic and writing practice. Maryam's work has been published in platforms including Al Jazeera, Literary Hub, Vogue Italia, Catapult, and OkayAfrica. She is currently a Truman Capote Fellow at the School of Critical Studies Creative Writing program at CalArts.