There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. That was what Abiola Ajirebi concluded as he gently applied the Ketoprofen ointment on the bunions blighting his left foot that stood out, red and hard like the tip of budding carrots. He looked out through the dusty window and saw how perfect the evening was set up: the large orange bowl dancing coolly in and out of the clouds on its way to the abyss of the horizon, the gentle breeze that brought to him the chirping of sparrows perched on the luxuriant almond tree that guarded his house, and that smell, the overly diligent digger of nostalgia, the wafting scent of familiarity that distilled beyond description; the same one that had welcomed him home when he’d alighted the lorry six months ago after a decade plundering for the country.
He picked up the notepad and stared at his scribbling. It was yet another random attempt at poetry, an exercise he dived in for cover when the mallets of his bloody past in the fields of Sambisa threatened to bend him to shape. The first four lines had surged from his trembling fingers with force:
A lost vessel and burning scars,
loneliness and its many shards,
redemption came in the form of her,
small and bright like a shining star.
Weak, tasteless, a stridently poor imitation of art. He tried again to will his mind to whisk his fingers to yield better lines but to no avail. He was dried up, bereft of muse, and left with an aching heart and a burning left foot.
He collapsed into bed and shut his eyes to sleep, hoping it would quicken the steps of time and dusk would give way to a new dawn, a fresh window of time hopefully less generous with pain; one that would allow him take his walk and enjoy the freedom that comes with the priceless additive of the evening air. And there was also the girl he yearned to see, the one he had first seen as she packed her long black hair into a bun on the balcony of the white duplex that ended the street about three months ago. Her face, small and shiny like a coin, and her teeth, when she laughed, reminded him of the delicious pap he’d slurped during the war, the one served in ugly sooty bowls that looked like parched skulls when turned over. She was tall, slim and abundantly curved. Their eyes had met and in that moment, a squeeze had threatened to detach his heart. He’d whirled and ambled away, fighting a great deal not to look back. All the way to the fern-colonized pond that was usually the apogee of his walk, he had felt the burn of her intense gaze bore holes into his hunched back.
It continued that way for days until she had called out in a shrill voice one typical evening: “Shy man! I don’t eat people you know.”
Ajirebi stopped walking. He turned his stiffened neck in her direction and flashed a weak smile.
“Anyways, you have a great evening.” She’d said smiling, her left hand hoisted as she waved slowly.
Ajirebi waved back, his hand heavy and foreign, like a strange growth that had no business with his body. His silhouette, laid before him on the asphalt, was slanted from feet to waist and straightened upwards. He’d seen his outstretched waving hand, that it had resembled a huge phallus. Gasping, he’d dropped his hand. He’d looked up and caught the naughty glint in her eyes; she had shared his thoughts.
“You are funny.” She’d said, shaking her head.
A friendship had quickly developed, not because he was handsome— war wasn’t so generous to spare looks, it had to leave a mark, or several in his case, neither was he chatty— she did most of the talking, her voice inflated with the excitement of a child while he stared and nodded, his mind beneath her clothes. One of the few times he had initiated a discussion was when he’d tried to appreciate her beautiful red gown that exposed a significant portion of her chestnut thighs. Her gaze had shifted to his pants and words immediately deserted his mouth minutes later when he had felt a tortured movement. He’d sighed and shook his head as his body had failed him.
He planned to take things up a notch today but the bunion had other intentions. It frustrated him, made him hiss again and again. Now was the time to discard the carefulness, to halt the lateral steps. His friendship with the lady had left the confines of the balcony and had slithered into her peach coloured bedroom. He’d seen the possibility of something more: a relationship, a marriage, anything, who knows? It was palpable in how she let her body brush against his repeatedly, how she kept on talking for hours, her face holding his, refusing it respite; how she was always eager to show off dance moves, teasing him mercilessly, his entire soul mired in a sticky pool of pain and pleasure.
Ajierbi’s eyes were still shut when he felt the temperature hike suddenly. The darkness he was in exploded into a conflagration. There was fire everywhere, red dancing tongues high like reeds. The ground was littered with bloodied bodies, some lifeless, some convulsing, others crawling and rolling in the sand, wailing in pain, struggling to escape the fire. He saw a baby crying beside a headless female body, its voice strained and on the brink of collapse. He inched closer to the baby, his arms stretching to pick it up. The baby looked up at him and a strange frown fell upon its face.
“You killed her.” It said with a voice violently deep. Ajirebi opened his eyes and sat up.
The depression his frame had caused on the bed was drenched and stained a dull brown. This wouldn’t have happened if he had taken that walk. The walk was the counter to the reminders of his dreadful past. Avoiding his past was the reason he started the walk in the first place. Relief had come in the form of breeze, the blue sky, the pond and the refreshing smell of green nature. The lady simply capped it up. He picked up his notepad and made for the exit, his left foot vibrating and protesting in pain. He grated his teeth as he pulled the door open and limped out of the room.
Upon arriving at the balcony, he saw from the distance, to his utter surprise, the lady kissing a man like she wanted every bit of his soul. He expected, desired even, to be broken, to wail or weep or break something, but he didn’t feel a thing. He felt stony, unable to feel. More lines dropped in his head at that moment:
but stars die with the morning
for redemption is only running
running from pain
till you’re too fast and wild to tame.
Ajirebi turned back and headed towards the pond, his mind already decided on what portion of the ceramic bench he was going to sit on to finish his poem and perhaps, if he felt like it, a quick swim in the pond would follow. That wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Isaac Ayodeji is a physiotherapist and budding scriptwriter based in the south western region of Nigeria. He has works published on several online literary journals and runs a blog.
Related country: Nigeria