© Sonia Boyce, ‘She Aint Holding Them Up, She’s Holding On (Some English Rose)’, 1986, conte pastel and crayon on paper

Fables aren’t hurled at us like missiles, or dumped on us like a rock plummeting into the deep sea, violently, forcefully and without a choice. At least not to me. They float into our lives like a distinctively haunting Aria. Or like an Orchestra that either takes us to a distant place or breathes life into dead histories creating the fundamental We. Vibrating like Falsetto sounds, they bounce off our souls, reverberating and sending different sensations to our hearts and minds. These words fall on our tongues and from our lips the stories begin.

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The music blared from the speakers placed at strategic parts of the street. The mild movement of the wind did little to drown the smell of liquor. Everyone was having a good time.

Adaeze had stepped away for some fresh air when the lights appeared out of the darkness. She recognized the car immediately. What was Ade doing here? Since when did he attend block parties?

He got out of the car and a woman ran up to him. Adaeze ducked so she won’t be seen. She could barely make out what he was saying to the woman but the hug spoke for itself. Even a blind man could see that was no ordinary hug. Didn’t he say he was born again?

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Hot, stinging tears trickled down her face. She put her hands behind her head and scanned the small crowd that had gathered to witness her predicament. All had been well; a serene afternoon of household shopping at the local supermarket had turned into a nightmare. After two hours of shopping, Atieno walked back to her car accompanied by one of the supermarket’s attendants, only to find it missing. She was a bit startled and maybe attributed a bad memory to the absence of her car. Where could she have left it? The guard, a tall, robust and dark man, who had been manning the vicinity, walked up to her and began to explain himself. He narrated to her how a man of Asian descent facilitated the whole process of having her car towed away. He emphasized on how he unceasingly begged them to at least contact the owner of the motor vehicle. They wouldn’t listen and he was left completely helpless.

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She was in the feotal position on the cold red cement floor. She faced the blood stained wall dazed. Her cheeks were stained with white tear marks; her lips were pale, dry and pursed. Her neck had reddish groove like scars. Her body was tense and she gave off a rhythmic wince. Her frock, looked like grandma’s; long sleeved and huge it was stained with patches of yellow, red and an occasional brown. Her toe nails were pale and legs looked dead and stuck in the curled up position she was in.

The lights flickered irritatingly with a distant dripping sound. About 5 metres from her in the opposite side of the room, in the pitch dark, a rat was gnawing at a human finger in a pool of fresh blood. Cockroaches scrambled up the wall. The walls had symbols drawn in blood, symbols that looked like an oriental language. One character seemed incomplete. The blood streaks off, a blood strained prolonged finger print moved from the end of the character to the bottom of the wall. And right at the bottom was where the rat gnawed at its feast.

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You talk about leaving town like it’s the easiest thing to do, like I would just get up one morning and leave everything behind without a semblance of remorse; I would leave my friends behind, well, these people I call friends; people who introduced me to this kind of life, who taught me to live like this, who taught me to survive. Like I would just get up and leave my parents ; parents who were never there , you see my mother she loved the company of men who were not my father and he loved the company of  women just not my mother. They were never in the house at the same time and when they were, I was never there. At least I tried my best not to.

You say things like “this is not the life you deserve” and I think to myself “if I don’t deserve it who does?” I’ve spent the better part of my life running, running away from the beer bottles that raised me, ducking from the beer bottles that were thrown at me. Running away from the sisters at the missionary school who always told me how dirty and tattered my uniform was. Who complained that I slept a lot during class, who threatened to expel me if they caught me stealing books from my fellow classmates again. In my defence, I wasn’t exactly stealing I would just take their books without their consent and return them when I was done. See on most nights I would read myself to sleep. But the sisters would never understand this so that evening when they told me to come with my parents the next day, or never come back, I never went back.

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Do you know what they call “The star at the center of the solar system? The star that the earth and all other planets revolve around? , The star that provides light and warmth to all these wretched beings and everything on their precious planet, Earth? ”, Sun. They call me The Sun. Sun…Such a short word for something so important don’t you think? Given the magnitude of the work that I do and the level of importance that I have, three letters is a bit of a rip off. I feel a bit short changed, quite literally but my name is the least of my issues so I’ll save that pesky jabber for another day.

Every day I wake up at the exact same time even on those days when I feel I just want to sleep all my troubles away, I have to wake up and serve them. I watch them as they move around in their hurried little footsteps trying to fix this and that, rushing here and there, worried about this and that, all this time unaware of the effort it takes to keep them alive.

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Your life stopped one day.

It was silenced by a telephone call right in the middle of a frenzied evening.

In the middle of asking rambunctious children not to throw Lego pieces at each other as you debated on what to cook for supper.

As you listened to the grave voice on the other end of the phone, you were reminded of the antique cuckoo clock inherited from your grandmother. Shortly after it landed in your home, the wooden bird was silenced forever as its bright blue head peeked out of the trap door.

It all began with lumpy breasts and shooting pain. Places you didn’t even know had muscles ached.

The barrage of tests led you to a hospital bed. To a new way of being.

Trapped, you listened to the clicks and beeps of the IV pump. Its noises had become the soundtrack to your life.

You gave the machine a scalding look as you wished that it and the army of mutant cells which fought to conquer your body would disappear.

A shuffling sound made you turn your head.

You were not alone.

Your husband Ade stood by your bed. His sweaty palm was wrapped around your fingers as he forced his lips into what looked more like a cry for help.

You thought of all the days you didn’t kiss him goodbye. Just because you were still angry at him for the myriad of small stuff fused into a giant blob by your hurt.

The feeble words forced their way through chapped lips. “I’m sorry.”

Ade’s brown eyes grew puzzled. “For what?”

You pointed at the IV machine. “All this.”

Ade gave his head a slow shake. “For better or worse, remember?”

You didn’t want to remember. “I should have said, for better, for better, in health and even more fantastic health.”

Ade sighed.

You both knew it was too late to take the other words back.

The door opened. Your nurse and the phlebotomist walked into the room.

Ade moved away from your side. Face transformed by a scowl, he looked out of the window as the nurse performed an oral and anal swab for super bugs.

It was when the search for a viable vein turned up empty and the tip of your index finger had to be sliced and squeezed that Ade told you he had to step outside.

You knew it was because he’d never been able to stand the sight of blood.

Yet, you became angry with him. On the scale of worse to worst, a sliced finger didn’t even make the cut.

You were silent when Ade came back. A part of you knew the anger which constricted your throat was really about the moments being stolen from your lives.

You continued to stare at the wall.

Evening came as it always did. Long shadows filtered into the room.

Ade cleared his throat before he announced his departure. Your children waited for him at a friend’s home.

You had decided that two hospital visits a week was enough for them. After being dry for two years, your youngest was bedwetting again.

Ade bent over and brushed his lips against yours. “I love you.”

Your eyes welled with tears. The anger receded. Not far, but far enough that you could say the words without a tinge of bitterness. “I love you, too.”

You laid your head on the sweatdampened pillow. You wanted to go home.

“For better or for worse,” you whispered to the air as Ade walked out of the room.

Her mother died on Monday, or Tuesday, you are not sure. Diabetes. For some reason they thought you would be the best person to break the news, never mind that it has been two years since you last saw her. So you call her and arrange to meet. At first she does not know who she is talking to, then a few awkward words later she recognizes your voice, and you listen to the excitement, and the Oh My Gods, and agree to meet on Thursday next week. She picks the venue.

She seems smaller. You hug her and feel it. She pulls away quickly, and then reaches for her chair. You follow, slowly and cautiously. She asks many questions about home, and you try to answer all of them. She doesn’t ask about her mother. After a short while you both go quiet. “I should have told you I was leaving.” Her eyes are fixed on yours, she caught you unaware and now you have to think of something to say, something that will throw her off the scent of your emotions. “It’s okay, I understood that you had to leave.” You manage, and then you reach out for your iced mocha, because suddenly your throat feels like you swallowed a thousand coins. Silence.

“How is the city treating you?” You ask, trying to change the topic, trying to pull her away from where she stands, a place where she sees your vulnerability. She doesn’t barge. “I thought about you every single day that first year.” You didn’t see that coming. You reach out for your glass, it’s almost empty. You swallow the last of your drink, and then the words gargle out of your mouth, “Let’s not talk about that, please.”
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People can’t help but stare when he walks down the street. It would be an understatement to say that he is easy on the eyes. But his magnetism goes beyond just a pretty face.

Within 5 minutes of meeting any woman, he charms his way into her heart.
Is it his smile? His bicuspids are white perfection.
His eyes? Chocolate heaven.
His silver tongue? He does have a way with words.
I can’t say its one thing in particular. It’s just. Him.

Ladies adore him and it is not just the young’ns. I’ve seen him make women twice his age giggle like school girls. They love him. Everyone loves him. Not just women, men too. Not love, love but… you know what I mean.
He’s a man’s man, shoulder-bumping, back slapping, I-don’t-wash-my-banana (the fruit, just so we’re clear ) kinda guy. The real deal.

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Old men sit in the courtyard, moving draughts pieces as local gin burns paths down their throats. The house sits like an old woman in the sun with faded clothing hanging loosely about her, wrinkles on her face telling her years, and her seldom open mouth, a dark, toothless cave. It has roof the color of coffee, the type one only ever sees when driving into Ìbàdàn. Layers of paint hang from the walls – blue from the last painting job 17 years ago, and beneath that, cream peeks.

I walk on inside, willing my eyes away from the white-tiled tomb close to the front door. Grandpa’s wooden reclining chairs are the kind that I had thought existed still, but only in old Polaroid pictures. I drop my bag on the nearest one and I am rewarded with such a loud creak that I snatch it right back, but not quickly enough, the rising film of dust tells me. A video cassette player, the type that went out of fashion about 15 years ago is in front of the room, a pile of video cassettes atop it – browned papers on their sides read titles; Ti Olúwa Nilè, Kiss of Dragon, Going Bananas. A black and white TV – in its own wooden house, complete with shutters you can lock – towers next to the cassette player as if to taunt it about its shabbiness.

I walk the dark, dank passageway, trailing my fingers along dusty cabinets that line the wall. In my head, I watch as a younger me ran along dimly lit corridors, shrieking with joy, heavy footsteps accompanied by the thump of a walking stick behind me; then the sudden halt to my Continue reading