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Silence is Conflagration – Anifowoshe Ibrahi...

Silence is Conflagration – Anifowoshe Ibrahim

Silence is Conflagration - Anifowoshe Ibrahim Agbowo Art African Literary Art

She enjoyed simple moments.

A certain stillness engulfed her as she slowly clipped her nails. The quietness in her large room spread out around her. Unhurried. Ta! Her nails broke off. A gentle breeze dawdled into the room occasionally. She watched as her hijabs danced like ghost masquerades. Ta! They broke off. A sudden surge of blood gathered around the tip of her cuticle. She felt a tinge of pain. She dropped the nail cutter and placed her right ring finger on the spot. A small splurge of blood painted her finger tip. She raised her finger to her eye level as if to examine the redness. She grinned. Then, dipped the finger in her mouth. She felt oddly satisfied. 

The house opened to her sullen countenance and there was a temporary rendezvous between them. She picked up the nail cutter to continue cutting. A brief image that appeared to flash non-stop in her mind stopped her. It disappeared like the fickleness of a camera’s flash. Every time, she was sure that the image of this event had occurred. Every time, she wasn’t sure if it was true. Every time, something nudged her and again she was faced with this great question. 

She watched the ceiling as if in a trance. As if in trying to remember there was a storage squared into her asbestos. Again, the image flashed. A staircase and the ray of sun spotting from a window. She blinked slowly, trying to delay its disappearance but she was too late. It was gone. 

Tired, she continued. Ta! Another broke off. The small gathering of blood had stopped. She tried to distract herself. The details of her room were becoming more apparent. The inexistence of sound except her own breathing and the ticking of the clock startled her. It was 6:30pm, it should have been back. The clock hung from the wall above the bed as if to make a statement.  In a corner was the mat she prayed on. A bedside drawer sat close to her. She put her cut nails on it. There was a solemn consciousness in the coldness of the house. The green colour of the room grew in her, she shuddered. Her husband had chosen this colour. Men, their lack of sense of colours, she thought. A rug spread through the length and breadth of the room like the overlapping of a map. Whenever she vacuumed this room, she was sure there was something the rug was trying to say to her. 

She continued with her nails. 

A sudden clatter of plates jolted her off the bed. Startled, she rushed down the stairs into the kitchen. A surge of breeze wheezed past her face as she reached the kitchen door. She felt it. She didn’t pay attention as she swung the door open and found broken china plates lying disproportionately around the floor. The shards scattered all over like cigar ashes clustering on an ashtray. She felt an instant urge to check around to ensure she was the only one at home. This was not the first time this was happening this week. Two days ago, her small garden at the backyard was attacked. A flower pot broke and a sprouting hibiscus was cut and strewed around the ground. When she had told her husband, he had laughed it off and told her it was the rats. Previously, it was the bathroom shower being left open. It was the TV being switched on. 

But rats don’t break plates, she was certain. She pulled out the utensils drawer and took her turning stick. First, tiptoeing, she checked the corners of the sitting room. Then, the bathroom. Then, the guest bedroom. Then, the kitchen again. Satisfied there was no one inside, she opened the door opening to the compound and stepped out. A car horn blared from outside the gate. A deep sigh reached her throat and she dropped the turning stick on the pavement around the entrance. It was her husband. 

*************

Slow creak. Prayer place. A small gathering of blood. The clatter of plates. The gentle moans emanating from matrimonial noises. The successive horn for the opening of the gate. People, humans, I was there. 

A throttling of a throat is how I hold myself in. She never sees me but I’m always around. Holding her hands, under her rug, a shrug of her consciousness. I watch her cut herself and I hold on like bandages. Women who are quiet are a living place, a slow fire waiting to conflagrate. It’s why I enjoy her body. 

You might not understand. I enjoy the anatomy of silent things. I enjoy things I can trace my hands around. Like dust. Like sharp sand. Like a body. A woman’s body. 

*****************

When he had settled in and taking a shower, she had tried to talk to him. 

She wasn’t much of a talker so she always had to wait. 

Her husband, who had married her in a bid to silence his mother, was forty-five years old. He had a bulking physique and an onerous face that carried a perpetual smirk. The smirk exaggerated into a grin whenever he tried to smile, which he did so rarely. He carried a mean look. Spotted a small goatee. He wore a singlet and a short around the house but when he was outside he was that lawyer, that property law expert, bursting with gators, combed afro, polished suits and free-flowing long ties.  

“Okay, so you want to tell me what is on your mind this night?” 

The way the word rolled out made her feel like she was in an inquisition. Nothing came at first. She didn’t know how to start, how to bare herself before him in a way to make him listen. A little courage and she spilled. 

“I don’t know what happened today in the kitchen but our plates were broken.” The words, the way they spun on her tongue like they were red carpet guests posing for a quick shot was a norm. She was scared of him. 

“Okay. So?” The dismissive response was sharp. She heard it and swallowed. 

“I was hoping you could call the fumigation man,” she said this almost whispering, “maybe he could send these rats away”

“Rats?” He raised his face to her for the first time. A line of worry was drawn on his forehead. On a second look, it was a line of confusion. He squinted. “What do you mean rats? Rats don’t break your plates. Never heard of that.” 

Because he was now staring directly at her, she felt the need to be more careful with her following words. “I don’t know what happened to the plates,” she said, “they were in the drawers. I was upstairs when I heard a loud noise. I came down and I found them broken on the floor” 

“And you were sure nobody was in the house?” 

There was a pause. “Yes,” came the meek response. 

“Okay, can I see the pieces of the plates?” He asked. 

She wasn’t sure what to make of the question but she was sure he was doubting her again. “Why?” 

He looked sternly into her eyes and gave a smirk. “You know why.” 

“I don’t.” 

“You do.” He paused to see if she would give a response. When she didn’t, he continued. “Everyday there’s always a new story about something happening in this house. The last time it was the garden. I went there after you told me, I didn’t see anything broken. Everything was in place. No broken flower pots or cut flowers. Nothing.” 

“What are you talking about,” she retorted, shocked. “I cleaned the garden this morning.”

“No, you didn’t. Yesterday night, I went to the garden and there was nothing there” 

“Are you calling me a liar?” She asked, her voice cracking as if they were sore. 

“No, I’m not. I’m just saying I didn’t see anything when I checked.” He affirmed. 

There was silence for a moment. The sitting room cradled in the mechanical sound of the AC coming from outside the window. She took a deep sigh and stood up. 

“Where are you going?” He asked. 

“To bring the broken pieces you want to see.” 

“Oh good.” He dipped his hands in the wash hand bowl, washed and used the back of his right hand to wipe clean his mouth. Then, he stood up too. “Let me follow you. Let’s see it together.”

**************** 

What you might begin to ask is why I settled for this body? 

I know this because many have asked before. And I have told this story a thousand times. You have heard it a thousand times too. It usually goes like this: 

Two good friends, who grew up loving each other like brothers fall in love with a girl. Yes, I am capable of love. That I’m not human doesn’t mean I do not relish the little beauty of life. This girl, involved in this gentle love story does not know of this communal love. We were also not aware of our shared interest. Life goes on with both sides. Making moves at a person. The double entendre is unleashed at us.

To clear off this steam, we ask her to pick. She picks him. Him? Him! When I asked her why she picked him. She said, “You rarely ever talk, you are too silent.” 

Silent?

********************

They reach the kitchen. The cabinet and floor sparkled. The pleasant smell of the air freshener she hung on the window bars flowed between them. The arrangement of plates and cups on the tray in a corner showed her vigor for tidiness. 

He surveyed the kitchen quickly. Smirked, then reached the conclusion to ask the question. 

“Where are the broken pieces?” He asked, confused, because he wasn’t seeing anything. 

“Here,” she pointed at the corner she had swept them earlier. “Look at them.”

“Where?”

“There,” she looked at him and pointed with a strange throw of hands. 

“I can’t see anything,” he paused and raised his hands and shoulders as if to say I don’t understand what you’re saying. 

She stood blank, unsure of what was transpiring. For a moment, she was unmoving. Then, she bent down to pick the pieces. She stood up. “Here,” she pointed a piece at him, “take it from my hands.” 

He watched her movement with careful consideration. What was she getting at, he thought. He couldn’t see anything. So where are these pieces? What’s she pointing at me? Is this a charade? “What are you doing?” He asked, perplexed. 

“Nothing. I said take it from me.” 

“I said I can’t see anything you are pointing at me, woman!” He said, shouting. 

“What do you mean you can’t see? Are you blind?” She searched his eyes for a moment.  Satisfied, she continued, “Just take it from my hands.” 

He reached to collect the pieces she was holding in her hands. All he touched was her skin. He pinched her. 

She retracted her hands quickly. “Why did you do that?” A frown on her face. 

“Nothing. Where is the piece you’re talking about now?” He raised his hands for inspection. There was nothing there. 

The broken piece clanged on the floor and shattered a little bit more. She was startled by the sudden sound. He didn’t move or flinch. That was when she saw it, she was the only one who could see or hear the broken pieces. 

“Woman, you haven’t given me any children to play hide and seek with. Get yourself together.” He said and burst out of the kitchen, angered by the pageantry.

****************

Eka pada Sirsasana. The yoga pose. The foot-behind-the-head pose. I practice every morning before I visit her memories. She doesn’t meditate, but I am her meditations. There’s a subtle awareness that I take from it. To reach this pose, you have to allow for endurance. Reach gradually for the pose. Watch your body concoct with strains of pain. Let your legs stretch out of their thresholds, your head bent beyond recourse. Rubber-elast your body with the knowledge that at the end, when for months you have practiced, your body will relax into this pose. It will be as easy as picking your nose. 

With her, I had practiced this for months. I sprinkle a little clip of this event on her. She catches a glimpse and I make it disappear as quick. Make it like a camera’s flash. I was sure she would cross this threshold. And when she does, she would be able to see it all.  What better way to own someone than to hold all that they remember in your hands? Be the foot behind their head holding them down?  

****************

He had gone upstairs to pray. She was in the kitchen recovering from the pain that came with the words he said. 

****************

I looked at her the way you look at a baby when a sudden rush of cuteness ravages their eyes. She was approaching tears. She was close to the one thing I never wanted to see fall from her eyes. So, I repossessed her body. 

******************

She froze. Her eyes closed for one long moment and jerked open wide. Something in them looked like the white part had enveloped the small darkness. She grinned. Pulled open the kitchen drawer and took out a knife. 

*****************

Men can be cruel. How she fell in love with him is still a mystery to me. I love this woman who has never seen me. She has never loved me. 

But I can make her not love anyone.

**********************

She walked into the room and found him in a bowing position. His head to the ground while his back arched upward. Something in her tingled at the sight. She wanted to lunge forward and reach for him but she had to wait. She was powerless now. She looked around the room briefly and settled to sit on the bed. 

She could see it now. This event that flustered and disappeared, it was hers. It was his. In her eyes, the event replayed itself in slow-mo that she watched it unfold like it was a walk through a panorama. Like VR was placed on her and she saw everything. There was no reason to blink slowly now. The montages flipped scene after scene. 

******************

This is what I played:

Yells and moans. The thumping of the floor. The air dense with the taste of sea-mist. A solitary ray of sunlight seeped in from a window at the corner of the spiral staircase. Her foot clambering up, right before the left. A splash of red on the montage for effect. The silence of the house as SFX. She climbs further up. Listening to the thumping. She’s unsure where it’s coming from. The nearer she closes in, the clearer the sound. She can hear a gasp now. Then another scream. It’s clear this is not a scream for help. Maybe a scream of pleasure. Maybe something else. 

She reaches the top of the stairs. The sound is clearer now. There are four doors here. She listens carefully and determines it’s the second door to the right. She moves forward and pushes it open.

There’s a loud creak. The screams stops. The moans stops. As if there’s an interruption of an ongoing conversation. She sees him now. He sees her too. There’s a bewilderment in her eyes. There’s a surprise in his eyes, his mouth wide open like a zoologist seeing an animal for the first time. She sighs. Turns her back at them, her husband and this woman who is watching her, and she leaves the room. He calls after her. She hears but does not respond. Her legs shaky, her fingers twitchy, her soul hurt. She walks down the stairs crumbling under the weight of her body. She holds the rails for support. When she reaches the ground, she walks into the kitchen. 

 

*******************

He was still praying when she stood from the bed. She looked past his shoulder into the green wall as he recited Suratu-Fatiha again. His bulky figure stood firmly while he stared down at the prayer mat, her prayer mat. Something in her tingled. She made a calculated move.

She thought, why not do it now. You can’t handle him when he’s not praying. It’s when he’s at his weakest. 

The knife on the bed snaked out from behind her. She reached over, grabbed it, and waited carefully for a good posture. She thought it was best he prostrated again, his back arched to the rest of the world. His face to the ground blindfolding him. 

He was bowing now. His body forming the number 7. She remained vigilant. Her eyes patrolling the length of his body. Something prickled her again and the image of his opened mouth flashed again. Her eyes reddened and once again she felt her legs shake as if they were Spaghetti sticks breaking into themselves. 

As soon as he went into prostration, she lunged forward as quickly as her body allowed. She studied his back for a quick moment and plunged the knife into the right side of his back. She pulled it out as fast as it went in. He gave a howl and fell over his back. She sat atop him. He was trying to fathom what was happening when she dug the knife, already red with his blood, into his heart. It was fast. He tried to hold her hands. His face lightened. Realizing what was happening, he pushed her away with the full weight of his body. She fell, hitting the floor hard, but the thud was muffled by the rug. She reeled in pain as she watched him attempt to stand in pain. He couldn’t. His chest spurted blood and his white jalabia soaked as if dipped in red paint. He crawled away from her. 

“Where’s she?!” She shouted the question at him. “Who’s she?!”

He could see there was a strange rage in her eyes. The kind you saw in an animal going for its prey. Was she the woman he had married? He rested the back on the wall. “who?” he asked almost whispering. The blood streamed down. He put his hands on the knife and struggled to pull it out. He wriggled in discomfort and the strain of pain ran through his body. He screamed and reclined. He was weak. 

“Who is she?!” She asked again. This time, the question came like a bark. She grabbed the stool beside the bed. She leaped towards him with a devilish rage. This time, she was determined to end what she had started. Before he could recompose himself, she hit him repeatedly three times. She howled in blind anger. She whacked the stool on his head and he slumped a little further off the wall. By the fifth time, his head hit the floor with a thud. He was lying flat on his back. She dropped the stool.

He wasn’t moving. His eyes stared blankly into an empty space. Drool ran down the corner of his mouth. She kicked him twice to confirm. When he didn’t move, she bent down, and without recourse to caution, she yanked out the knife. He gasped. Half here, half disappearing. 

Her eyes returned to its normal state. She saw the room differently now. A pool of blood had formed around him and gathered around her feet. She pulled back from him. Her body recoiled. 

She dropped the knife. Blood dripped from her fingers as she tried to process what had just occurred. A gentle breeze seemed to leave the room. She felt the silence she was used to as it flooded in.  

 

******************

I watched in awe and horror of her unfolding ruthlessness. As she dug into him. As the squirt of blood formed a puddle around him streaming down like his consciousness. There was a certain gnash of terror that superceded my possession. She stood there and her performance of abhorrence for this man, her husband, submerged my predictions. It was the images, not me, I realized. When she had dropped the knife, I abandoned her body to seek refuge in a quiet place. Bodies like hers housed loud terrors. Tonight, the deed was done. Maybe, I could make new images, new montages and new memories. Maybe, I could love her the next day.

 


Anifowoshe Ibrahim Agbowo Art African Literary Art

Anifowoshe Ibrahim

Anifowoshe Ibrahim is from Lagos, Nigeria. His works have been published in The New Ink, Kalahari Review, The African Writer, and The Republic. He’s been longlisted for the Punocracy Prize for Satire, Kreative Diadem, and Poet in Nigeria Top 100 poets.

Twitter: @ibankhanwrites

This entry appeared in The Memory Issue

Photo by Zino Bang from Pexels


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