He tells me, “Sit down,” and I do, amused by his politeness and the direct power in his words. But, this living room is his kingdom and even though he’s broken, he is king. And here, in this room, smelling of dust, where he thinks he has lost so much, he tells me about his pain and how that pain has claimed his soul from him, and left him like a coconut with no core. I listen silently until he asks, “Am I mad?”
“No, not really,” I say.
It’s my truth. I do not think he’s insane. But I know that if he walks down the road being built by his pain, insanity will be the last thing on his list of worries. So, I tell him that his pain is a cloth, not a noose. It is not choking him, but it is blinding his soul from seeing anything else. “I’m still here, you know. You still have me.”
He looks away. Irritated. Hurt. Ashamed. “I know you’re here. I can feel you. For Christ sakes, I’m talking to you. And I hate it so much”. He sighs. “I think I hate you”.
I laugh. I do not mean to, but I do. And I enjoy it. His words are honest and he doesn’t mean to insult me, but he has. It’s been centuries since a human insulted me so dumbly.
There are four bottles of beer on his table. Each is a lie telling him he’s okay.
Three are empty. He started the third several minutes before he saw me.
Hours ago, when he began drinking, he assumed, like many humans, that the pain ruling his mind and body would let go of him and drown in the sea of lies.
He is a man who doesn’t know his pain.
“Why did she leave?” He asks.
“People leave. It’s what you humans do. You people leave. It’s why you’re human. Time forces you to either move or stay. Most of you move and you move well. All that inconsistency can be beautiful”.
“No. No. No. There’s nothing beautiful about that. That’s rubbish”.
I’m not sure he has a point but I nod. “You’re drunk”.
“I don’t sound drunk”. The words tumble out of him. Each lending certainty to the next. But certainty, like anything people feel, can be false.
“Do you want to talk about her?”
He tells me her name was Cynthia Nnaji. But that’s not where he begins. He begins, rather oddly, with her choice of deodorant. “Sure body spray,” he says. “Do you know it?”
“Everybody knows it.”
With a nod, he leaves the sofa and sits on the carpet. “And if you know how much I love scents, you’ll understand why that’s important to me”.
“Because you’re you.” He laughs but his amusement is tainted. It comes out and falls flat. “I think I’m crazy.”
He describes Cynthia like she’s seated across him. He says she talked to him first. He tells it like he was the unsure boy meeting the girl defined by surety. She asked him if he understood what an anaphora was, and he, although embarrassed, told her he didn’t. Her response was a smile and the words, “At least, I can teach you something new.”
I do not challenge his story. I wasn’t there for this part.
Then he sinks…
- Our love makes sense.
- My nose. She loves tickling my nose.
- Her eyes laugh a lot. I swear, it’s so fine.
…and sadness is how he refuses to use the past tense.
When he gets to when he began falling in love with her – outside a restaurant, on their second date, when she laughed and told him she never learnt French because her first French teacher had a thick Yoruba accent – I stop him.
“That wasn’t it,” I tell him. I am leaning on the wall, close to one of the windows. His curtains, a bit of silk and brown, feels soft. I inhale.
“Wasn’t what?” he asks.
“You fell in love way later. In March. March 24th.” I move away from the curtains. A sneeze was enough.
“Are you trying to tell me when –.”
“I’m telling you I was there from March.” He clearly doesn’t believe me. “I’m only there when it’s real.”
He nods. “Whatever.”
I say nothing and he makes no attempt to harm the silence. He might even like it. I don’t. Not really. Silence is a fertile ground, and most times, the wrong things grow in it.
“Do you want a drink?” He asks.
- She loves hugs. You know, those tight ones.
“Does she still love me?”
“Does it matter?” I feel like singing but, I don’t. We don’t love the same songs and I don’t know what song to sing.
“I don’t know,” he replies. “Does it?”
“It doesn’t,” I tell him. “Not right now. Not if you want to burn through all that pain you’re carrying”.
What song? I can’t get the idea of a song out of my mind. Songs are interesting things. I know too many songs.
“You sound like a book,” he tells me.
I smile. A book is new. I’ve never been called a book. Never a book. Why a book?
“No, I don’t.”
He gives me a look.
“Ok. Maybe. If I was a book, what would you call me?”
He thinks about it for a while. “I really don’t know.”
“That’s a terrible name.”
“I have a friend like that.”
What song? What song?
“Like that. Terrible with titles.”
A song comes. “Cause they will run you down, down ’til the dark
Yes, and they will run you down, down ’til you fall
And they will run you down, down to you go
Yeah, ’til you can’t crawl no more
And way down we go
Way down we go
Say, way down we go”
Right now, he isn’t thinking about his future because his past stomps on the present, and the future is only the dust raised.
“What happened with the woman on the bus?”
He looks away. “You were there?”
I shrug. “Around.” He narrows his eyes but says nothing. “So, what happened?” I ask.
He sighs again. “She asked for my number. I didn’t give her. Come, if you were there, why are you asking me?”
“Why didn’t you give it to her?”
“I wish I had gotten more bottles,” he replies.
I say nothing. I wait. I am good at waiting. Once, I was told I was too good at it.
Several minutes later, he replies, “Because there was no point.”
“She loved your tie.”
“My tie. That’s just stupid. They can all go to Hell. A tie.”
“Thunder fire you.”
“It’s a sound.”
“What? Stop smiling.”
“Thunder is a sound. It can’t fire you or anyone. And certainly not me. And yes, a tie. Everything begins somewhere.”
“I sound childish,” he complains.
I shrug. “You sound childlike.”
“Is there a difference?”
“There always is. Words are siblings, not identical twins.”
“She said she’d never hurt me.”
I smile. Humans are tedious things; always employing absolutes for a future they never see coming. It’s both arrogant and ignorant.
“Yes. She did,” I tell him. “I heard her. And she actually meant it.”
“Then what happened?”
It’s the right question to ask.
“She stopped meaning it.”
“Will I heal?”
I search his eyes after he asks this and he doesn’t look away.
“Do you want to?”
“I don’t know,” he replies. But, it’s a lie. He wants to heal and I understand. But he also wants the kind of healing that’s impossible. He wants to forget, to go back to the way things were before her. It’s the kind of cute, but senseless thing that makes me smile.
He looks away.
“Why me? If you truly are whatever you said you are, why me?”
I smile, go back to the window, and keeping my nose a safe distance away, I gently pull aside his curtains. Nothing but a fence and the night there. And rain clouds. The rain is coming. The rain always comes.
“I was curious about you.”
I shrug. He has squeezed his pain and his love into the same space and, surprisingly, the limits of who he is, still hold. But I do not tell him that. There would be no point.
How do you tell a human that the two feelings he hates, are the things keeping his soul from being plain and frankly, boring.
“You’re different,” I tell him.
“No, I’m not.”
“Different is good. Believe me, I know.”
He nods. He doesn’t believe me. He empties the last bottle into his glass. He drinks it all.
I am ripped away.
Michael E. Umoh (lurielx) is a graduate of Mass Communication from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. A lover of rock music and most things written, he thinks his friends are right when they call him weird.
Related country: Nigeria
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