Metres of Threatening Space

My life is one big absence, John.

Like the neighbours went home and I’m still

playing hide-and-seek,

looking in the oven and under the sofa for

Mary’s blue dress.  

Drawn out seconds of searching.

And my heart still beats in two places

for you, John.

Our bed is only metres of

threatening space. You are not here

to warm my hands, my thighs, my insides.

I am blind in darkness,

my hands are outstretched before me.

I am looking for you –

but I keep slicing

through this damp nothingness.


I am afraid that my life will always feel

like non-living without you.


So it’s 7:30 and I’ve just stepped out of D’s car and into a Keke-Napep that will take me home; and there are three of us squashed up in the back seat and the man next to the man beside me is staring at me so I lean back into the seat and stuff my ears with my earphones.

And I pick Daughter to listen to, even though I’ve just told D that listening to her makes me feel ‘some typa way’.

And the music rolls in and rises and dips and Elena’s voice is like smoke, but not – more potent – and there’s two of her – and there are waves in my head and my chest – and I’m feeling that type of way.

It is on a high wave that I notice the man on my right and I are breathing in sync. In. Out. Our arms are pressed against each other and our shoulders rise and fall in rhythm. In. Out. While Elena’s whisper-y voice fills my chest with unidentified emotion. His warmth pushes into mine; settles. And we breathe in and the music dances around us like dark fairies.

How have I shared such a moment with a stranger? I don’t even know what his face looks like.

Oh, brother.

“I remember you and your brother 

were inseparable,

Where’s he? 

Why doesn’t he visit?”

But how do you tell an outsider

of depraved gunmen who

broke into your house,

your life

And made your brother

break into your body

or die.

How do you unremember

begging him to

just do it, 

just do it

So the gun pressed to his skull

would not go off 

How do you forget

the loud click of an empty chamber

that still resounds in your ears;

their loud laughter

as your brother avoided your eyes

and you avoided his. 

How do you learn to say,

when asked:

“He’s fine oh, he’s fine.”


I am cutting vegetables with the bread knife but you haven’t called me out yet. And then you say, or ask: Your sister is not back yet? as if she is my daughter and you are my sister. No, I reply. My response is clipped and in time with my knife against the chopping board attempting to kill the conversation. 

She went to see a man? You are insistent, but not like you usually are. Today is quiet, and maybe worried as opposed to the regular accusatory tone. Yes. This is my protection, these monotonous, flat answers. I am protecting you from her and her from you. But you do not understand this, you believe I am partisan in this democracy. 

I hope they aren’t there alone; I have told her not to be alone with a man in a house. And I chop a little faster so I do not laugh. Because you and father had me before you wedded, was there a chaperone? 

I do not respond this time. 

Or what do you think? Your voice has morphed into the one you use when gossipping with your friends; as if we are sisters now and she is our daughter. Or do you go to visit men alone? 

I drop my knife, stroll to wash the needy strips of ugwu off my hands. I think of the boyfriend I lived with for two months when I was in England. 

Yes, mummy. This is 2015, I say.

I have hurt you. You can not hide your flinch and even though I brush it away in the present, your grimace stays with me long after we finish making the soup in silence. 

It comes to me later. After my sister comments on her surprise that you didn’t scold her for coming in that late. 

It is a story you told us many years ago. Of an empty house and a male best friend. Of grasping fingers and a scuffle. Of a heart smarting with betrayal and a bruised knee in a groin. 

And I am ashamed. 

January Resolutions

January 1.

I didn’t drink today.
All the stores in walking distance were closed for New Year’s and I distributed all my unopened bottles of wine among the neighbours. Amos eyed my hands and said “No, thanks” so I gave it to the gateman. I should tell Amos sometime that I, also, am a Christian.

January 2.

I didn’t drink today.
I jogged to the Estate gate and back this morning. My thighs are beginning to ache. I plan to be healthy this year. So help me God.
The house was too quiet so I turned on the TV and scrubbed the kitchen floor.
Also, I washed my hair.

January 3.

I didn’t drink this morning.
I jogged this morning.
I cooked a meal. I used olive oil and fresh vegetables. Atoke’s Kitchen people called to ask me if I forgot to order food; the surprise in Mary’s voice when I told her I cooked was an insult to me.

January 4.

I didn’t drink.
I jogged.
I cooked again.
I sent clothes to the drycleaners.
Then I checked my mail.
No emails from him. No phone calls from him. No text messages from him.
I read my Bible. Some Psalms.
I sewed on a button.

January 5.

What else does he want from me? I’m healthy now!
I haven’t drunk in almost a week, I’m taking care of our home, I’m being a good Christian wife. I’m ‘putting in an effort’ as he puts it.
Why won’t he come home?!
All this is giving me a headache; making me crave.


January 31.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to stop drinking. I need to become healthy, get fit. Get my life in order, you know? So when he shows up to see how I’m doing, I’ll be in a better state than he found me the last time.
Tomorrow. I promise.


“P, call your grandmother.”

“Okay, mum.”

“Your grandmother called again. You need to call her soon. She’s always asking after you.”

“I will. Tomorrow morning.”

So, recently, a lot of semi-strangers have been sharing with me. People I wouldn’t call friends exactly. I get messages and emails from these acquaintances of whom I have very limited knowledge. In these messages, they share problems, frustrations, random facts about themselves and we talk about them.

Almost all of the time, these conversations are not initiated by me and I’ve been questioning their choice in confidante a lot. That is, what is it about me that made them feel comfortable enough to come to me? Most of these people know me only through Social Media, so I find it a tad puzzling.

But we talk. And I’ve found connections with these strangers. There are times I doubt my understanding of their situations and a lot of times, I doubt my response/advice to these situations. And all of the time, I’m afraid I’m saying something trite/useless/patronizing.

Is it okay to just say “Hey, I hear ya and I feel for you but I can’t help you here?” when I feel that way? Or do I have to come up with something wise backed up with a story of a similar situation I was in?

My grandmother is always asking after me. She calls my mother and says: “Tell P to call me. How is P? Greet P for me.” Thing is, she has two other granddaughters that don’t get asked about half as often. My grandma and my mum had a bit of a big tiff recently so I asked as a joke if grandma had transferred all her love for mummy to me since we look so much alike.

My mother came into the kitchen this evening while I was cutting chicken (who came up with the idea of putting the neck, gizzard and liver of the chicken into a clear bag and stuffing it inside the whole chicken? It’s spooky) and she told me, yet again, that my grandmother had asked after me. I spoke to grandma on Friday. Three days ago.

Then my mother reminded me of November/December 2012. I’d just finished NYSC. I was at home. Then my aunt died. My mother’s older sister. My grandmother’s first daughter. Everyone was distraught. (I wrote about it here.) Grandma was in our house that period. We did the funeral and everyone had to return to school or work. And it was just me and grandma at home.

She was quiet a lot those days. She did not take it well. She refused to eat or sleep. She spent a lot of time reading her Bible and staring out the window. Of course, I didn’t have anything to say to her. So, I’d hover about- urging her to eat, rearranging the curtains when the sun was high or bringing her a glass of water. That’s all I did.

But my mother told me this evening that when she told my grandma that my sisters were jealous of all the attention, my grandmother had said they shouldn’t be. She spoke of how I’d taken care of her in that period. Of how she owes me too much. About how good a kid I am. Guys, I didn’t do anything. But apparently, my nothing was worth everything to grandma.

So, I’m going to listen to these people talking to me. And I’ll remember when I’m tempted to go into some articulate speech rife with proverbs and anecdotes, that sometimes just being there is enough. An ‘mm’ and a *hug* may be all I have to offer; and it might be enough for somebody.


Some people like to rock,
Some people like to roll.
Baby loved to roll,
And roll,
And roll.
But I told him:
A rolling stone
will turn to sand
if it finds no place
to be still.

(A permutation of this and that song dancing in my head.)