I bet you didn’t know that bleach masks the smell of blood. Most people use bleach indiscriminately, assuming it’s a catch-all product, never taking the time to read the list of ingredients on the back, never taking the time to return to the recently wiped surface to take a closer look. For bleach will disinfect, but it’s not great for cleaning residue; so I use it only after I have first cleaned the bathroom of all traces of life, and death.
It is clear that the room we are in has been remodeled recently. It has that never-been-used look, especially now that I’ve spent close to three hours cleaning up the life spilled out unto the vinyl floors. The hardest part was getting to the blood that had seeped in between the shower and the silicon encasing it. It’s an easy part to forget.
There’s nothing placed on any of the surfaces; his shower gel, toothbrush and paste are all contained within the bathroom cabinet above the sink. Then there’s the shower mat – a black smiley face on a yellow rectangle in an otherwise white room.
Ayoola is sitting on the toilet seat, her knees raised and her arms wrapped around them. The blood on her dress has dried and there is no risk that it will drip on the white, now glossy, floors. Her dreadlocks are piled atop her head, so they don’t sweep the ground. She keeps looking up at me with those big brown eyes, afraid that I am angry, that I will soon get off my knees and lecture her.
I am not angry. If I am anything, I am tired. The sweat from my brow, drips unto the floor and I use the blue sponge to wipe it away.
I was about to eat when she called me. I had laid everything out on the tray – the fork was to the left of the plate, the knife to the right; I folded the napkin into the shape of a crown and placed it at the centre of the plate. The movie was paused at the beginning credits and the timer had just rung, when my phone began to vibrate violently on my table.
By the time I get home, the food will be cold.
I stand up and rinse the gloves in the sink, but I don’t remove them. Ayoola is looking at my reflection in the mirror.
“We need to move the body,” I tell her.
“Are you angry at me?”
Perhaps a normal person would be angry, but what I feel now is a pressing need to dispose of the body. When I got here, we carried him, wrapped in an old towel, to my boot. Then I spent the next fifteen minutes throwing up in a gutter – it wasn’t the blood or even the way the eyes just looked at me. It was the way the skin felt, the elasticity of it; the fact that what was once alive has turned into an inanimate object.
We return to the boot and he is still there, waiting for us.
The third mainland bridge gets little to no traffic at this time of the night. And since there are no lamplights, it’s almost pitch black; but if you look beyond the bridge you can see the lights of the city. We take him to where we took the others – over the bridge and into the water. At least he won’t be lonely.
Some of the blood has seeped into the boot. Ayoola offers to clean it out of guilt, but I take the liquid from her and pour it over the stain. I don’t know whether or not they have the tech for a thorough crime scene investigation in Lagos, but Ayoola could never clean up as well as me.
“Who was he?”
I scribble the name down. We are in my room. Ayoola is sitting cross-legged on my sofa, her head is resting on the back of the chair. I set the dress she was wearing earlier on fire and she took a bath. Now she wears a rose coloured t-shirt and smells of baby powder.
“And his surname?”
She frowns, her full lips pressed together and then she shakes her head as though shaking the name back into the forefront of her brain. I should have taken his wallet.
I close the notebook. It is small, smaller than the palm of my hand. I watched a TEDx video and the man said that carrying around a notebook and penning one happy moment each day had changed his life. That is why I bought the notebook. On the first page I wrote – I saw a white owl through my bedroom window. The notebook has been mostly empty since.
“It’s not my fault, you know.” But I don’t know. I don’t know what she is referring to. Does she mean the inability to recall his surname? Or his death?
“Tell me what happened.”
She tells me.
This story is an excerpt from Thicker than Water, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. (@). Oyinkan is a writer-in-transit who suspects that the moment she lands a bestseller, there’ll be nothing left to life. She writes novels, short stories, scripts, poetry, articles and notes to herself. She has had work published in anthologies and has also self-published work. You can find her at writeratwork.com.
Thicker than Water is available to purchase on Okadabooks.
Related country: Nigeria