READING

The Things We Carry | Deborah Oluniran

The Things We Carry | Deborah Oluniran

Introduce yourself, please.

(Her horn-rimmed double lens spectacles try to hide her displeasure, but I am quick to notice it. I slouch on the chair opposite her and begin to pick my teeth noisily. She looks like she is about to say more but the thing is this, when people suspect you are not well, they let a lot of things slide. At this point, if I tell her I am not in the mood to sit on the chair, I know she will not force me to. I plan to frustrate her, as much as I have been frustrated in this life.)  

I wake, pick my new King James Bible and think about where to read. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are men I don’t want to think about during my time with the Lord. So, I open to the book of Revelations because these past months have been just those. And the thing with revelations is, they keep coming. That is why when you peel a tuber of yam and leave it for a while, it forms another back for you to peel again. You’ll understand what I am talking about, in the period we’ll be interacting. 

All the men I have slept with always leave something behind.

Jerry left two used condoms under my bed. Please, please, I don’t even have the strength to think about it because we only did it once. How did I feel? Insulted eh! What else? To think the man I choose to cheat with is cheating on me with another woman who is probably cheating on her boyfriend whom she caught cheating with another woman too! Ah, now I have to talk about my own boyfriend, right?

You see why Solomon had 300 wives and 700 concubines? It’s because he was bored. I think boredom is a Solomon thing. Because when my Solomon decided he was bored, he started sleeping with strange women. 

Our wedding was supposed to be in three months. 

I was on my own in church one Sunday, singing “praise the lord, oh sing oh sing oh, praise the lord when a man tapped me and said, “sorry sister but the song is, praise the lord, my soul will sing on, praise the lord.His voice was slick and warm like things I should not think about on Sundays.

Three services later, we were talking about God, beauty, and happiness. We had to talk about love too. We just had to. And before I could warn either of us, we were already falling in love with each other.

I have been good for long, avoiding men and sex because the marriage bed should be undefiled, but when Solomon showed me a flashlight, I saw the sun; in less than a month since we broke up, I have slept with:

 

  1. Daniel, the chief usher in church who left behind his Revised Standard Bible. 
  2. Oke, from work who left behind his blue tie. 
  3. Ayo, my neighbour’s oldest son who came to charge and left behind his iPhone charger
  4. Michael, who left behind his manuscript and reading glasses.
  5. David, –

 

Have you slept with older men before?

David who- don’t do that, I don’t like it when people interrupt me.

(I don’t like how my voice sounds. I know she knows now that I am hiding something from her. I sink lower into the chair and place my feet on her desk before continuing.) 

  1. David, who was supposed to be our best man left behind dirty boxers.
  2. Matthew, the guy from Tola’s wedding left behind his suit jacket.

 

Why are we even here? 

To talk. And you know you have to listen to me! You promised. Abi is it one hour already? 

(She does not answer. I follow her stare to the clock behind me.) 

 

We can reschedule. 

But I am not done. I have not even started. Okay, okay, let me tell you about my mother.

(I do not like how she is looking at me. I wish she would remove her double lens glasses so we can see each other’s eyes. I tell her so.)

 I wish you would remove your glasses. I want to see your eyes. 

(She does not say anything. She looks away but not before I catch her lips quiver. I know there is a story in her eyes, behind the glasses.) 

Will you listen to me or do you want us to talk about your glasses? 

(she turns to me) 

Good. 

You see, neither of the men my mother sleeps with is my father or her husband.

 

Tell me about the older men in your life.

Strange, but I have memories of how my mother would lock me in the house and go to work. I was old enough to reach for my feeding bottle by the bed and feed myself. And if for any reason, my bottle fell off, I would cry until I fell asleep, until she came back in the evening. Lord have mercy on me if I soiled my nappies.

 Sometimes, I think she would come by for lunch break but she would not come to me. She would press her face to the window, looking lost and homeless, gleaning sympathy from me as if it was my fault. As if anything was my fault.

 I know what they say about memory; how after a while, you’re no longer sure.

 I also know that I may not remember my surname, I may not remember the face of my father, or the taste of my mother’s food but I remember that she started leaving me locked in the house before I started crawling. 

From the day I caught her peeping into the house from the window, I learnt to wait for the time when the sun would be above my right hand, casting a shadow on my left. I began to look forward to seeing her.

The first time I caught her peeping, I kicked in excitement, throwing up my hands, trying to leap from the bed; calling to her, but she quickly ducked. I stared at the window for a while, wondering where she disappeared to. When I looked away, I saw her from the corner of my eye, looking at me again, but this time, I pretended I did not see her.

 Soon, I got bored of her games. I started ignoring her whenever she came to the window. I started ignoring her whenever she came back from work; there was only so much heartbreak my tiny heart could take. 

Now, when I think of my mother and the days I spent by myself, I imagine her by the window and I imagine her with tears on her face as she tells me goodbye every morning. I imagine it was difficult for her, leaving me like that. 

See, I beg you, don’t make me talk about what I don’t want to talk about. Don’t ask me about my father or older men. 

(She nods and reaches across the table for my sweaty palms.) 

 

Why don’t you want to talk about him? 

(I bend my head, letting out ragged breaths and hot air, letting out hot tears. She doesn’t get it. Nobody does. 

When life has already shown you more than you should see, people should leave you alone in peace, to mend your body and repair your soul. You deserve to be left alone. But is it not people I am talking about? They are too selfish to do something as simple as that.) 

Can I get water?

(I feel smaller as I walk to the fridge. I hide behind the door and cry with abandon. I know she can hear me but can’t see me. So, I cry without dignity or shame.

I do not drink water because I am not thirsty.) 

 

Older men… 

I know. See, this is not even about Solomon anymore or Jerry or the other men I have slept with who left something behind.

This is about how somebody can ruin your life and have the guts to still leave it with you. You don’t understand? I mean, when a man ruins your life, he should take it with him because tell me, what do you want to do with your life now? Who wants to play with a broken toy?

My mother’s husband, the one who begged for her hand in marriage, the one who called his uncles and fathers from America to come to her village, because he had found a beautiful flower in her father’s compound. That’s the one. 

Three months after their marriage, I learnt he wanted my mother but she said, “no no, we agreed to wait until I get a better job so I can watch the baby. If you must do, ngwa, go out and get condoms.” 

But you know how men are with this thing. He told her, “No. no, I cannot hold it. Do you want to kill me?” He asked her with pleading eyes. 

That night, God in heaven allowed it to rain. Two points for him, zero for her.

You know how women are, she allowed him and they had me. 

He had to work. 

She had to work. 

I had to live. 

He lost his job and started drinking. She employed him to watch me after I returned from school. He agreed. 

He loved his new job because he could drink and watch me at the same time. If he wanted, he could bring friends over and they would watch me do my assignment or wash my uniforms, while they drank. 

He would pick a chair and sit opposite my bed. Two chairs if he had a friend over and they would watch me together. As though I was a pigeon no hawk must touch or a caged finch that mustn’t fly away. 

One night, she didn’t come home. Maybe she didn’t know that when you’re asked to watch a thing, you face the temptation of touching the object too. I know what you are thinking but the truth is, you are wrong. 

He slept off, drunk. 

A friend came over and decided to watch me. And according to their tradition that dared not be broken, he drank while at it. 

We all slept. 

We woke up; the friend and I and- 

Wait, what the friend did was not as hurtful as what my mother’s husband did. He slept all through! He snored. Imagine! The man they call your father sitting in front of you, sleeping and snoring while his friend touched you in the most unholy way and did terrible things to you. Did he not dream? I believe if he did, he would have dreamt about what was happening right under his nose. 

A bottle broke. He got angry. He moved me to the ground, on the bottles and did it again, sealing my mouth with his palm as he went up and down. 

Pain doesn’t like familiarity or the disrespect that comes with it, I learnt that night, because when I thought I was beginning to adjust to the heartbeat of that particular pain, it got offended and shocked me with a rhythm I didn’t see coming. 

No, no, don’t touch me. I am fine, really. I am not even crying. 

He left before my mother’s husband woke up. 

Since I had been ignoring my mother since the window days, I did not tell her anything. 

Neither of them noticed anything. 

Or maybe my mother noticed something because she started talking to me and with me. She started buying longer skirts and oversized trousers for me, even though nobody in our church wore trousers. She started asking me if there were things I wanted to tell her. 

I had nothing to tell her. So I only listened while she talked about how she met her husband; how our neighbour forgot to greet her, how rice was now more expensive than beans and how the daughter of the garri seller who was roughly around my age got pregnant for a man old enough to be her father. As if any of these things concerned me.

I cannot tell you how old I was but know that I was at the age where I thought children came from God. I was at the age where I didn’t know blood would ever come out of the place urine comes from. I didn’t know a lot of things at that age. 

Until I knew a lot of things at once, that night. 

 

What did he leave behind? 

Me. This body. Nwa. 

 I would have loved it if after everything, he looked for a black polythene bag to squeeze my tiny self into and dump me somewhere. 

But what did I say about people being too selfish? 

(Silence. I wait for a while and it is then I realise she has not been answering any of my questions, that I am sitting at my dressing table, talking to my mirror and the woman in it.

I remember now that before I sat down, I have just stepped out of the bathroom, tying a towel and wearing my horn-rimmed double lens glasses.

I do not cry. I do not wear clothes. I do not remember where I was going to go. I go back to bed, holding close the bag that holds everything all the men I ever slept with have left behind. Holding me close.) 

 


Deborah Oluniran Agbowo Art African Literary Art

Deborah Oluniran

Deborah Oluniran is interested in mental health and the intricacies of the human mind. Her works have appeared on Kalahari Review, AyambaLitCast, Live Stories from Africa and others. She is an alumna of Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop and YELF Creative Writing Workshop.

 

 

Photo by Elina Krima from Pexels

 

 


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