Hearts and Flowers: by Zainab A. Omaki

Photo credit: Mariana Cabral via Flickr

Seni cut out her heart, intending to give it to someone worthy, but accidentally flushed it down the toilet. She watched it swirl and swirl, thinking she could reach in, pluck it out, and dry it off with a towel. Instead it disappeared down the hole with a rather definitive whoosh and she was left staring into the white bowl at still toilet water.

She left the bathroom numb, went into the kitchen and sat on the counter. Her friend, Idara, whom she lived with stood at the stove frying eggs while singing along to the music playing on her phone.

“I lost my heart,” she told her Idara.

Her friend didn’t hear her. She kept dancing and singing along.

“I lost my heart,” she said louder. This time Idara heard. She stopped moving, put off her music and turned around.

“You did what?”

“Lost my heart.”

“Where?”

“Toilet.”

“Well,” Idara said, her forehead crinkling. “Well, that’s disgusting.”

***

Seni’s heart traveled the world through the sewer. At first it and Seni lived separate lives, her drinking coffee in the mornings, running errands, clicking around her office building in stilettos. It, floating down pipes and pathways, pushed by currents and rubbish in all directions.

But as time passed, things began to change. Seni would be in the parlour of the apartment she shared with Idara, listening to her mother berate her obvious resistance to the institution of marriage- it must be obvious, her mother said, because she resisted it so artfully- and her heart would feel it and constrict painfully. In reverse, every time her heart got stuck in portion of sewer that was particularly clogged by faeces, Seni would go through her day feeling crappy. It would manage to get loose, and float down to cleaner waters and she’d be left feeling refreshed.

Her heart soon grew tired of going round in circles. It pushed out of the sewer line, into the bigger pond of the waste management system but realized quickly that that wouldn’t do at all. It found a small gap in their facility and escaped through it, down a pipe and into a river and followed that into the open ocean. Only when it was there did it relax. It leaned back and enjoyed the cool water washing over it as floated. Mostly, it was alone, but once in a while it would spot another heart floating by and it would wave at it in solidarity.

Seni’s heart floated for a while, never allowing itself to become too involved and never finding anything that interested it. It took that time to think about life. What did it mean? What was the point of it? What should it do with its remaining life span? Should it make its way back to Seni? Weren’t they better off without each other? Hadn’t she relinquished her rights to it when her slippery fingers flushed it down the toilet?

Completely by accident, it wandered too close to land. It was a beach, it realized. From its position, bobbing in the water, it watched people walking along the shore, playing with balls, holding hands, digging their feet into the water. They seemed so happy that it too wanted to be happy. It began to move, but not back into the middle of ocean. It kept close to shore. It began to interact with people. It ventured onto land. It would sit down with curious strangers while they had fruity drinks. It would ask about their lives, laugh with them as pointed out its rather strange countenance. It met people with long hair, short hair, wavy hair, dredlocks, blond hair, natural hair. It met a lot of people in shorts and sleeveless shirts and commented on people who had particularly well-built muscles. It learnt a lot from them about fitness and healthy eating. Seni would have to cut down on oil if it was going to live a long time.

It traveled to cities with skyscrapers and glitzy resorts. It rode camels in the deserts and climbed the tallest building in the world. It met Arabs in the Middle East and donned scarves to talk about religious beliefs, making jokes about all that oil money. It found good friends and went dancing at nights, returning laughing in the early morning, sweaty in a deliciously euphoric way. It did everything it wanted to do and exhausted itself in the process.

Happy and tired, it realized it was time to say goodbye to all its friends. They followed it to the beach, linked hands together, lights shining brightly behind them, casting their shadows across the sand. Seni’s heart waved one last bittersweet goodbye, and they watched it step into the water and float away.

***

Seni attempted to fall in love without her heart.

She met a nice young man with a crew cut who usually dressed in dapper suits. She chose him from a list that her mind put together.

Many nights they spent in front of her house, sitting in his car, talking. He could speak about a great many things with a fair amount of knowledge and in a voice she thought was lovely. They would talk and laugh. She would go inside after he was gone and tell Idara about him.

She told her mother too, which made her mother ecstatic. Finally, a man who was good enough for her. Seni met his friends. She went out to weddings and parties with him. They would stand in groups, drinking from tall glasses and conversing enthusiastically. During weekends, they would spend all day together, either at her place or his, and at night she would kick him out. He’d walk away from her backwards, reluctant to leave and from his car he would wave at her as he drove off.

Seni didn’t notice how entwined their lives were becoming. She began to leave things at his place and he at hers. It was a natural progression. While she was watching TV she’d spot a pair of glasses buried in the corner of the chair, and she’d immediately dig them out and send him a message to let him know that they were here. She had found them!

They became so entwined that it took Seni a while to realize that there was something off. It was just a dull pang, but something was missing. She knew that it was because her heart wasn’t in it.

She attempted to make contact with her heart. She lay on the couch in the parlour and shut her eyes, trying to connect to it. She willed it to cooperate with her. It didn’t even have to come back, it just had to put in a little effort concerning him. Her heart refused to respond though. It was having too much fun. She felt it thumping to music, God knows where.

Seni returned to her life and tried to go on as she had before, but once she was aware of the emptiness, it seized hold of her mind and remained present, no matter what she was doing. Soon her boyfriend noticed and asked her if anything was wrong. She wanted to lie but couldn’t. He was such a nice guy. There was no doubt that her mind had chosen well. She told him the truth. “You deserve better,” she added.

They sat in silence for a long time. Finally, he rose, loosened the tie around his neck mechanically and walked out the front door of her house, leaving Seni sitting on the couch with her back to him.

***

Somewhere in Asia, Seni’s heart was caught in a fishing net by a nice man. He was a lone fisherman. He immediately turned his boat around and headed back to shore where he navigated the crowded coastline back to his quaint home not far away. He dried off her heart and sat with it, him drinking tea and it with a towel draped around it.

Seni’s heart looked around. The entire place was overrun with books; books about places, books about real people, books about imaginary things, books on shelves, stacked on the floor, on the side tables and centre table. Books everywhere. Seni’s heart began a conversation about books and they ended up talking until well into the night.

The fisherman, full of hope, invited Seni’s heart to stay for a while and it agreed. It got its own room. Each morning it would come down while it was still dark outside to talk with him before he left for sea. In the evenings, it would wait for him to come back so they could talk some more.

Sometimes he was gone for days on end. During that time Seni’s heart wandered around the empty house, and later, the countryside getting to know people. When he returned Seni’s heart would become so full that it felt that it would burst all over the floor.

They had many interests in common. Music, for instance, and a penchant for obscure card games. It told him about its family, about where it came from, what the place was like, painting a picture so vivid that he could actually see it in his mind. He told it about his own people, their more peculiar customs and taught it to speak his language.

He organised a gathering at the back of his house and introduced it to his family. It got along famously with them, especially his forceful, loud sisters. That night, they sat together, in the silence, realizing that they were in love.

They spent the next few days in domestic bliss- it would perch on the counter while he swiveled around the kitchen, talking enthusiastically, throwing up pans and skillets, frying and grilling. At nights, they would lie together in bed, facing each other until they both fell asleep.

Finally, it was time. They made the arrangements. The fisherman set out first thing in the morning. Before he set off he stood outside his house, staring up at it for a time. It was the first time he would be away from it. He told it a temporary goodbye, patted the walls fondly and started off for his destination.

The fisherman traveled all the way to Nigeria and arrived at Seni’s doorstep. He stood in front of her door and fiddled with the collar of his white shirt nervously, trying to make himself respectable. He knocked on the door and waited. Seni pulled it open and faced him, apprehensively. She had been expecting him. Or rather, she had been expecting something.

Seeing her, some of the tension left his body. He smiled at her and pulled something out of his bag. It was her heart. He didn’t offer it back to her. Instead, he held it tenderly and carefully in both hands.

 


Zainab A. Omaki (@ZaynabOm) is a Nigerian journalist who lives and works in Abuja, Nigeria. Her work has appeared in Brittle Paper, the Kalahari Review and Bahati Books have recently published her short story collection, Side Babies, which can be purchased on Amazon and Okadabooks.

Related country: Nigeria

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