The Periwinkle List

​9.58am.

Victoria Garden City, Lagos.

It was an unusual time on a Monday morning to still maintain the affinity between my back and the multi-coloured bedsheet that I had been too lazy to wash over the weekend; I should be in my slave plantation of a workplace, dazed by the grueling traffic from a few hours before, responding to threatening office mails in servile fashion and flashing plastic smiles to customers with an unnecessarily huge sense of entitlement…..but today was different. The ones who worshipped on Fridays rather than Sundays had their version of December 25th going on, so the federal government pleased all 9-5ers as it rarely did, by announcing a two-day public holiday. Left to me, I would have loved that a search be conducted for another missing moon thereby causing an extension of my days away from the plantation, but no horses were going to have beggars riding them. I scrolled down my phonebook (in vain) for the phone numbers of friends who would have me partake in a binge on those juicy ram parts, and finding none, I opted for another outlet to search for company: my social media timeline.

Being a creative comes with the urge to express your art on social media, being active on social media while displaying expertise in your craft translates to a significantly huge following, and from that ultimately springs up a dedicated fan base. I did not necessarily rate my prowess by social media approval, but if the likes, comments, retweets and shares were anything to go by, I was pretty good with my pencil and paintbrush. Creativity attracts enthusiasts, and sometimes enthusiasm evolves into devotion, some of which would usually flow from the opposite sex…..which allows for flattery…..and flirting…..and the tendency to confuse curiosity with genuine admiration, and in extreme cases, a mix-up of art appreciation with emotional attachment. 

I was aware of the complicated procedure involved in creating new e-bonds; the witty lines, the comebacks, the need to avoid corny statements, the necessity of keeping out small talk, the continual steering of the conversational wheels so they remained in a particular direction (especially if your intentions were not exactly noble, though there was no real way to gauge that), the need to conduct due diligence on the timeline to get a clear picture of their views on issues (like ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and feminism), the rule of typing in full (relevant in this age of Grammar Nazis), carefully negotiating the line between straight talk and douchey behaviour, the silent prayer to avoid the ones who made every inbox conversation the subject of a status update…..so I opted to direct my sliding tackles to familiar terrain instead. There was no way I could get a new social media acquaintance comfortable enough to pay me a visit in hours. 

I figured that it would be futile convincing Temi to come over; she often complained that I replied her Whatsapp messages after three business days, and only chatted her up when I felt like having her around. Oge was eight hours away, and even a free flow of “extensive physical interaction” with her was not guaranteed. Somto’s crush on me had faded, her calls and texts no longer streaming in like they used to, my uploads of landscape drawings no longer “captivating” enough for her to publicise like she loved to do five to six months earlier, though I admittedly complicated things with my unresponsiveness and mental shut-outs which (coincidentally) began after that two-day visit. I was left with the option I felt would be the easiest, the tempo of our curiosity ride still good enough to secure a rendezvous…. 

********

Cathy was a graduate of Economics from the University of Lagos stuck in that limbo between the end of national service year and that first contract of employment, as well as an art enthusiast…..or at least that was what I could gather from her Facebook timeline. I slid into the fast-flowing river that was her inbox, just at the same time her situationship with Tunde, a writer famed for his cheesy poems often published on rainy nights, had hit the rocks. Being a creative gets you surrounded by similarly wild minds to the point that it feels like a cult, so the friend request was always a question of “when” rather than “if”, and if seeing that we had about four hundred e-friends in common was not going to get me comfortable, Lord knows what would. 

The popular story was that Tunde had got into a heated e-scuffle with online personality Hymar David over a post which the former had perceived as a subtle dig at his craft, and Cathy had unwittingly clicked the like button one of Hymar’s incisive comments. Tunde had gone ahead to unfriend Cathy, who responded with a post about “nursery rhyme scribblers who lacked depth”. Tunde, nursing a bruised ego, composed a long poem on “paper dolls and blondes clothed with dark skin”, and Cathy hit back by uploading screenshots of the many conversations they had, from the downright corny to the ones laced with smut. 

I was aware of all this, and from the first “hello” I knew I had to impress. A long chat history laced with wit and sass evolved into a back-and-forth texting marathon, then the likes on every single sketch I uploaded, then the Instagram mentions, then the 2am voice notes, then the exchange of photos involving mounds of flesh (though I was careful not to send out shots of my ‘German machine’ in sheer over-excitement, who knew where those could end up?) 

A request to stop by and check out some of my new furniture was met with some reluctance from her. Her words were:

“James, you live at VGC, and I in Ketu. See the distance? ”

“Geography means nothing where Desire is involved”, I replied. 

“All these mushy lines you artists use. By the way, I think we’re going too fast, we only started talking three weeks ago.”

“Cathy, I think it would be unfair of you to try dictating the pace of this thing between us, let’s go with the tempo, why interrupt the flow? ”

And when I slowly pencilled out her features on a white cardboard paper while she lay totally unclothed on my mattress, she inquired:

“James, you’d better make sure no portion of this sketch leaves this room. ”

“Baby, you want us to sign a non-disclosure agreement? ” I answered, making a derisive face. 

“Hmm…. you called me ‘baby’……how many of your female fans on social media have you addressed by that term? ”

And midway through our joint bath, before which she had tightly wrapped her legs around my hip, clutching my head as I nibbled at her breast and mouthing unintelligible statements as I ploughed the moist mangrove swamp with the German machine, deciphering the texture of her butt cheeks with my palms, she implored:

“Jamie, none of this makes your Facebook page, even in the most subtle of posts, ok? ”

“I am not a writer, Cathy, only writers kiss and tell….and by the way, it’s ‘James’. Let’s clean up, dress and sleep.”

We didn’t find our clothes, at least not until she left the following evening. We had no need of them anyway. 

*********

12:19pm.

Victoria Garden City, Lagos. 

According to the general “missed calls rule”, I made it a point of duty not to dial a number after two attempts without a response, but I had broken the code for Cathy’s sake, and even after the fifth attempt, all I got was the “no answer” notification, accompanied by that tone which meant that the human at the other end was unable (or unwilling) to pick up. Determined to not appear too “thirsty”, I refrained from dialling for the sixth time. I wouldn’t have lent much thought to all of it if the two text messages from my phone had been met with a reply. Cathy was usually the first to trigger the text-a-thon, so this was unusual. 

I swam through the waters of my newsfeed into her Facebook inbox to drop another chat message (I had sent out a random “hey miss” by 7.52am), and I found that not only was she online, she had seen the words from few hours earlier. She had also posted three updates within the past hour, shared a video, and commented on two short stories. Yea, i caught all the details in totally insecure fashion. 

Cathy was ignoring me. 

There was no need to make a fuss out of it, but I wanted the company.  Cathy’s company. I could feel her butt cheeks all over my palms, and with that flash of thought, I grabbed my phone, scrolled to my Facebook messenger and typed:

“Not quite good at multi-tasking, are you? ”

It was read within minutes, with no reply given, but shortly after lunch which comprised of bread and egg sauce (I couldn’t stress myself to conjure an actual recipe or visit Nigerian Lazy Chef’s Instagram page),  I scrolled down my newsfeed to find a recent status update from Cathy. It read:

“Ultimately, we’ve got the right to choose where we want to be, who we are comfortable with, and for how long.”

I got the message. The novelty had worn off.

 I ceased all communication with Cathy. It was not a conscious effort, but the texts dried up. She withdrew her likes from a few of my sketches, and pulled down the photos of us together taken at The Palms from her wall.

In the following weeks, the social media pages of a young man named Mickey felt the effect of Cathy’s keypads. I knew Mickey, affectionately known as Mickey Strings; he had shared the stage with promising Nigerian rock acts Johnny Drille, Phrance and Nathmac at a number of gigs, played the guitar as well as the harmonica, and the pseudo-elite girls who frequented Bogobiri Lounge couldn’t get enough of him. I stumbled on a video of him rendering a cover of Mumford and Sons’ “Believe”, and while I felt he was trying too hard, I couldn’t deny the talent. Cathy clicked the ‘love’ button on all his posts, shared his videos, reposted his practice sessions on Instagram, gave glowing reviews of his songs (I particularly liked the guitar solo on his hit track “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone”), and was quick to upload photos of them smiling together at Hard Rock Cafe. 

I shrugged inwardly whenever I saw those updates. If i had invested my emotions in the positive social media feedback, or expected anything meaningful to spring from soft-copy affections, then a short scroll down Cathy’s timeline would have got me clutching my chest in agony. It was not that deep, no, it never was. Everything ran its course, from high-octane crushes to weather-induced company, and this was no different. 

“Sometimes you are reluctant to translate e-acquaintance into real-life familiarity because of the difficulty in gauging the level of depth (or lack thereof), as well as the particulars of intent…..and other times your thoughts run in the lines of ‘oya coman feed your curiosity and be going to your house’ ”

*********

7.21pm.

Freedom Park, Lagos. 

“Dude, why aren’t you up there performing tonight? ”

It was the Lagos State International Poetry Festival, and while we were waiting for the headlining acts, we had to make do with a few performances from two “cold-weather poets” who had opted to sacrifice meaning in order to achieve rhyme schemes. Sure enough, there were no rules to poetry, but I just found the renditions abysmally poor. The atmosphere of the event was getting lost on me, causing me to take solace in a glass of Heineken, but I only just spotted Tunde, and I set about to teasing him. 

“Oh, you want me to perform, so that someone will run to her wall and do an editorial on nursery rhyme scribblers”, he cut back. 

I laughed. We both knew who he was talking about. 

“Oh, where is that one by the way.” I was eager for some gossip. 

“I should be asking you.”

“No, we should be asking Mickey Strings.”

No information. This meet-and-greet was getting boring. 

“Talk of the Devil! ”

Tunde had seen him first. I turned. It was Mickey alright, on one of those rare public appearances without a guitar. Dressed in a navy blue turtle-neck t-shirt, beige-coloured trousers and black sneakers, he walked up to us, leading to an exchange of “bro” hugs. 

“Why are you here alone? ” I inquired, wasting no time to put him on the spot. 

“What do you mean? ” Mickey asked, confusion finding home on his face. 

“Usually, you would be here with….”

“Oh!!!! ” Mickey exclaimed. He had finally got where I was driving at. “We don’t talk anymore. As a matter of fact, she blocked me on Twitter.”

“Wawu! ” I blurted, feigning shock. 

“Guy wetin happen? You guys were the IT social media couple.” Tunde was hungry for some gossip too. 

“Well, we had this argument. She wanted a song written for her, and she wanted it on her birthday. My muse deserted me at the time, and I couldn’t deliver, so…..one subliminal diss, then another, then one day I go to her Facebook timeline and see “Add Friend. ”

“Na wa o….. ”

“Oh well….. I hear she is crawling all over Femi Laniyan’s feeds nowadays.”

“Who’s that one? ” My ears were now more alert than ever. 

“He is one guy who recently joined the cast of Tinsel, same time as Falz”, Mickey responded generously. “He is tall, dark, team beard gang sef. Played ‘waka pass’ roles in Phone Swap and The CEO.”

“Cathy sha! ” Tunde cut in. “Should we tell him? ”

“Where’s the fun in that? ” I retorted. “Let the girl have her fill. I’m sure we were all just part of a long list.”

“Waking up next to very male creative on your timeline is a pretty tall ambition, but who says a woman cannot dream? ” Mickey was getting salty now. 

“The way they treat some of us creatives like periwinkle ehn….pick, suck and move ahead”, Tunde interjected. 

We giggled.

“The worst part is when they show up, seeming all genuine, and then you make the mistake of pouring your heart out to them. You are left with the feeling of being naked”, Mickey added. 

We slowly nodded in agreement. Poor Mickey, he probably thought he had found someone he could be honest and comfortably vulnerable with when he met Cathy. 

I poured some more Heineken into my glass from the bottle and dutifully observed the bubbles. It was amazing, really, how the foam would appear so thick for a few moments, and then settle back into the glass without warning…..just like social media relationships. I thought about the “hey James, I really like your drawings, they have so much soul” inbox message I received earlier in the day from a lady whose friend request I recently accepted, grinned and took a long sip. 

Five Mornings And A Shiver

​(This isnt a hit, nor will it earn shots at any festivals. Save your scathing reviews, I haven’t written in months) 

.You try so hard to leave your bed, but you can’t recall the last time you were this scared. You cling to your blanket, not necessarily to shield you from the preying winds, or to aid you in processing the loneliness, but because you just feel that the slightest contact your toe makes with the cold floor would trigger an alarm in your (typically) uncoordinated mental space, an alarm that signals the beginning of a new day, a day with the same old routine, a routine that clips another feather off your dreams, those dreams that have lost their ability to fly.

The structure of this slave plantation disguised as an office building disgust you. One short look around, and you find people whose lips are sore from making firm contact with every butt cheek up the organogram, people whose eyes betray resignation to a life devoid of any real aspirations, and zombies who briefly raise their heads up at the sound of that credit alert late in the month, before slipping back into their mentally comatose state, their chains in form of neck ties and scarves fitting all so tightly, the jackets making for a lovely slaving outfit….or prison uniform….. the appellation never mattered really. On these corridors, there is no process that calls for any real genius, as a matter of fact you are thankful for errors that allow for some remote creativity, errors that your co-slaves live in fear of, fear that gets them having nightmares of workplace drama (because you cant see such as dreams), because they cant afford to lose the only thing that gives their existence any form of meaning (they are not living, they lost the right to use that word long ago)……and you never felt so out of place, so different, so non-blending. You resisted every urge to conform, every inclination to come to terms, every move to break you to acceptance….. 

.

Or did you? Did you resist, really……or you are simply unwilling to admit that you have caved in? Haven’t you lost your ability to imagine, to create, to even think? Isn’t it the case that you cannot even process your thoughts properly to have any sort of meaningful conversation, let alone the kind laced with that spicy wit you were once known for. Remember the other week when Chiagozie, the slender lady from the other department, passed by your desk, and your attempt at a conversation was so lame, you had to repeat yourself thrice before she understood  you, and you wondered why, but then you replayed the words you let out and found that you weren’t making sense to even yourself. You are like them now, heck, you are worse off. On more mornings than one you wake up feeling retarded, unsure of when to cross the highway, talk about mental short-sightedness. 

.

Mama says you should ‘man up and quit being lazy’,  as if subjecting yourself to brain damage day after day is one of the features of adulthood. Daddy reminds you that truancy is for kids, citing the economy which is on an amazing freefall, and telling you about how Sennacherib doesnt have a job six years after graduation, or how Mordecai and 600 others got fired the other day……as if the wars in your head are of no consequence, as if you need to start thinking of the woes of others in a bid to make yourself feel better. He reminds you of the bills you have begun to pay, but you also want to ask him if it doesnt matter that sometimes you do not know what you just paid for, that there is a possibility of you not even having clues as to where you are at the time. 

You want to tell a doctor how you feel, but you remember that people still die from malaria in these parts, you think of Mayowa, and you imagine him suggesting bed rest…..at least you’d fare better with him than an older relative who would insist that you visit a pastor. “What is this nonsense about mental health these days?” you imagine this uncle yelling with his eyes and facial contortions,  “this is Africa, you probably offended that old woman who sits by the old grammar school on your last visit to the village. Go back, make amends, and re-dedicate your life to Christ.” Nothing close to what you need, but shrinks are few and expensive, and even when you crave for Xanax on many nights, you don’t know how to resort to pills to become less sad or less anxious. Yea, ‘less sad’,  because the idea of achieving happiness by swallowing a few substances doesnt make any sense to you. 

Barbara’s crush on you has faded; she has stopped calling. Whether it’s her being fed up of your perennial unresponsiveness, or the fact that her curiousity has worn off and she has moved on to the next creative genius, you are in no mood to figure out, at least not now…..but it’s better for her that she scrolls past when she sees your phone number or display name on her screen, because the person she would be conversing with at the other end isn’t you, but a shell with flesh and bone who looks and sounds like you, heck, even the voice reflects that disconnect between mind and body. You grab your phone and dial a few people whom you feel your insecurities are safe with, but then you wonder what you even want to say to them, so you clutch the red button, and when one decides to return your call, you nod along to the ringtone, your thoughts unable to gather themselves properly to have any kind of coherent phone conversation. 

It is hard watching yourself fade away slowly….yea, you dont want to use the ‘d’ word because it sounds too extreme, too resignatory, too much like a strong fling of the towel. In any case, suicide doesnt really trend anymore, and even if you wanted to end it all, you would want to do it in style; your suicide note should be able to cart away all kinds of posthumous awards at the following year’s literary festivals, then there is the unresolved debate of whether logging out from the planet by yourself is the ultimate selfishness to the ones who love you, so you choose to be indifferent to the idea of painkillers and slashed wrists. 

The economy hits everyone hard, so you cannot afford to print invitation cards, let alone host a befitting pity party, so you resort to the all-purpose “fine” when asked about your health by people whose sincerity of inquiry you cannot gauge, or resort to silence when it becomes too hard to fake. Why, why would you want to bore people with your tales? Didnt you know that it is unmanly to whine, and when you made the mistake of trying to find solace in Sharon and let her in on your days of uncertainty and your Sunday night jitters, didnt she blow you off and throw your honesty in your face, your ‘selfishness’ and ‘penchant for always talking about yourself’ becoming insufferable? 

You dont feel like you have the authority to tell people to live their dreams because you are caving in to the fear of failure, fear of being perceived as fragile, fear of hunger, fear of being regarded as unstable, you sold out, you embarrassed the non-conformists you once dared to identify with, the treachery is unforgivable…..and the beautiful thing about it all is, the place you traded your soul for will never accept you. It’s hard to tell whether your brain cells put up a defense mechanism by shutting themselves down, or you’re actually dumbing down and going through mental progeria, but you simply cannot fit in, you cannot keep up with being told what to do without asking questions while having to smile through it all, and frequently you are reminded that you are not good enough, that you are pretty much expendable, that you are not in any way valuable to the scheme of things. Not sane enough to blend in perfectly, but not crazy enough to stand out either, you are nowhere, and you are no one……and it’s best that your friends forget you, it’s only right that your admirers move on to wilder minds. It’s easier that way, really; unable to do what you love, unwilling to settle for what you don’t, the days witness your eyes lose their brightness, and you flirt with ulcers as your alimentary canal loses every sense of time. Dave Matthews was wrong with those lyrics in “Broken Things”: nothing about the road is crystal anymore, and you’re losing grip of your entire mental landscape. 

Certain antiquated bestsellers talk about a supernatural being who fixed everything in place with a little spoken word session, and you dial up this famous Being now and then, but His line is always on Call Waiting. You really can’t blame Him though; there are 6,999,999,999 other souls to look after…….so it doesn’t take long for you to go off the rail, plunging rapidly and finding a new home in the darkest pathways. No, this is not a tunnel, with hope of little rays somewhere further up. This is an ocean, and you are sinking deeper even beyond the Benthic, that region so dark and so cold even for sealife, your heart frozen, your soul numb……but not too numb for the droplets from the showers, which cause shivers that run beyond reaction to water. You will dress up for another day at the slave camp, you will knot that tie, and you will head out to serve up more torture to your mind….or what’s left of it. 

“Now and then

I pace my place

I cant retrace how I got here

I cheat the light

To check my face

And it feels slightly

Harder than last year

Still got dreams

But they arent the same

They dont fly as high

As they used to

And those wild imaginations 

Look me in the eye

As if to say, 

‘You dont remember us, do you?’

But I turn away, unable to face

Memories of what I wont be”

Slackening Ties

image

It’s nearly nine hours into a day whose novelty is slowly wearing off, but it’s still three hours into yours. PHCN in emotionally unstable fashion restores power after another brief hiatus, and like a serial heartbreaker cum perennial flirt, you know that they will go away again, but you bask in the fleeting moments, switching on all the (functioning) bulbs and putting your fan on full spin. Half of your heart wants to tell your neighbour to save his hard-earned petrol, but you remember that he did not have your apartment in mind when he did the wiring, and you shrug as you head downstairs.

Continue reading

CHURCH IN VERSE: A Tale Of Four Days (by Kolawole Oluwanifemi)

I was alive
Until the struggle to remain ended
Then I slipped into nothingness
Death has pangs
Never believed until my soul bore them

The tussle begun
Light and darkness contended
To have a bargain with my soul 
How I prayed for a halt
So my spirit could rest in peace

Continue reading

Sinistrals Anonymous (by Winnie Izuogu)

“Your parents let you use your left hand? They did not flog you? No child of mine will try it. I go beat am comot for em body. ”

“Wait O! Na that hand you go take cook for your husband?” “If I marry u eeeh, I will break that hand and tie it to your back!”

“Are any of your parents left -handed? No? Then who come take am resemble?”

“Them still they talk say you be Lawyer, u come they use left hand on top. This girl u sure say u wan marry?”

It is 2016 and when some people find out I am left handed, they look at me as if I am a creature from outer space or a hydra headed monster they have not come across before. There are those who like it and want me to teach them how to use theirs, there are those who admire it, there are those who want to marry me because of it. These people as few as they are, are not the problem.

Continue reading

Veinticinco (Or “Showing Up”)

31st July, 1990.
Warri, Bendel State.

“Isn’t the food here yet? ”

“Nna’m,  calm down, it’s almost ready. ”

Nna’m. That was how she addressed her husband. No sugary nouns, no shallow sweet-nothings, no expressions whose paper-thin weight you could even feel from the voice pitch. She loved him (dutifully at the very least), he protected her, she knew what she had to do around the house, he knew when to reach for his wallet, and that was it: the vintage West African couple, none of that Hollywood reality show faux gloss.

Continue reading

The Detached

(The following is a narration of true events that took place in the wee hours between 27th and 28th March, 2016.)

27th March, 2016.
Lagos, 10.22pm.

I kept my gaze on my smartphone, waiting for the Airtel network to convert the little spiral lines into a green tick, and send my message across hundreds of kilometres to the heart of the East. It was a late Easter message to Ugochi, with the extra gloss of “I’ve missed you a lot” and “I really want you around”. I didn’t have faith in achieving any kind of positive outcome with those words, but I had nothing to lose by typing them out either.

Continue reading

Catching Up….Or Not

image

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have had any business in the banking hall that day; i did not operate any account with them, and I had no deposits to make on anyone’s behalf, but the phone dealers across the street had shamelessly failed to get their POS machine functioning properly, so I had to make a withdrawal at the nearest ATM available (yea, ATM, not “ATM machine”)…..but a number of the notes that popped out consisted of “oil money” – literally, stained with palm oil – so i elected to step into the hall and ask for substitute notes. Afterall, the erring papers came from them.

Continue reading

THEY SHOULD HAVE KILLED CHIVALRY

image

(The next lines you will read are inspired by true events that transpired in the final few hours of January 31st, 2016.)

“Bros, abeg help me check time. ”

“It’s eight-thirty right now. ”

He nods in acknowledgment of your response and places his foot a little more firmly on the throttle. It’s Sunday night in Lagos, few hours separating you from that month in the year where everyone becomes a poet and the prices of flowers and chocolates skyrocket. Lekki is the destination, and the roads look free enough to conduct a Grand Prix…..except for the Ajah axis, that is; you could end up in a traffic jam at eleven forty-five p.m in that part of town. In any case, you both are sure of getting to her place in less than forty minutes, where same would have taken one hour and a half on either of the five days of certain gridlock.

Continue reading

Confetti

It’s finally here.  After years of hits and misses, reminders of promises made to a dying father, a gradually receding hairline, and fielding questions as to ritual oaths and even sexuality,  he finally takes a plunge into the deep and wavy sea called Marriage.  Yes,  it’s the day he finally decides to share his last name with someone,  the day he bids adieu to his youth,  the day evening hangouts lose their place to intimate family time.

Continue reading