The August Lover

Last August, I published The August Meeting; the August before, it was The August Proposal. Now, this.

*

The rain fell on the roof with steel, impatience and rage. For three hours the rain fell with torrents of urgency and a whiff of destruction. It was Saturday; Yvonne should be sleeping like she normally did during weekend rainfalls. But it wasn’t a normal Saturday for her, it was still less than a week since Nosa sent her that cruel break-up text. Her sleep was full of breakups, heartbreak and Nosa. So she chose to remain awake and sleep only when she had to.

She had her nose on a burglary railing on the window watching as the water bashed the roofs, houses and the earth, covered the street with thick brown water, watching as the water level continued its ambitious rise.

The rain, like everything she came across or happened to her these days, reminded her of Nosa. No matter how hard and ambitious the rain fell, it would stop, and the earth would get rid of the water within hours. That was what it felt like loving a dog like Nosa. Yes, he was a dog, must be a dog, only a dog could send you this breakup message: “See, I never loved you. I tried my best but you are not just the one for me. I feel wasted having spent this past one and half year with you. Good luck.” It took Yvonne two days of tears and starvation and torture and nightmares to make sense of this. She had now come to terms with the message but

It took Yvonne two days of tears and starvation and torture and nightmares to make sense of this. She had now come to terms with the message but her ego was still in shreds: like a broken mirror, you cannot possibly gather the whole pieces and patch them back to shape; you might try but the scars remain, forever.

Yvonne left the window and walked the short passage, past the curtain into her room. The room was in semi-darkness but her legs, already used to the room, found their way. She sat down on the bed. The bed reminded her of Nosa; he had been on this bed with her, by her, under her, on top of her, inside her. She stood up. She reached for her phone on the fridge. This, too, reminded her of Nosa; she had spoken to him with this phone, teased him, laughed with him, shouted at him, texted him, cursed him; loved him. She dropped the phone and walked back to the window to watch the rain.

This time, the rain fell from her eyes as well. She bit her lips and fought the rain from within but it was futile; it was like trying to stop a falling tree by wedging its shadow. She was so consumed with the tears that she didn’t hear the knock on the door. She only became conscious of her environment when she heard the door opening. She quickly damped her eyes with the sleeves of her gown and made a sharp work of arranging her dishevelled braids. It must be one of her close neighbours, Uju or Joyce, checking on her. She was grateful it was dark and they wouldn’t tell she had been crying. She entered the room.

The first thing she noticed was that the visitor wasn’t Joyce or Uju, wasn’t even someone she knew. Second was his height and the feeling of dominance and masculinity around him. Now she wished there was enough light to look, to study and to explore the hunk of flesh before her. Then he spoke and his voice vibrated in the room and hung on the air. It was a bold, musical, baritone that soothed the heart and knocked the knees. “It’s raining heavily and I thought I could come shelter here for a while,” he said. She said nothing. “Silence, consent?” he added.

Welcome, she made to say but the lump in her throat. She stealthily cleared her throat. “Sit down.” She turned away, walked rather briskly to through the passage to the kitchen. She came back to the room with a battery lamp that she placed on the fridge. He was still standing. She looked at his face. V-shaped, fair, soft lips, arresting eyes, thin sideboards and rich beards. She looked away, shy. She sat on the bed. “I’m Yvonne.”

“You are beautiful.”

Thank you, but she failed to say it aloud. Electricity on spine.

“I’m Barry,” he said.

“Nice name.” She stole a look at his lips, those lips. Shivers.

“It’s not actually my name. It’s short for barrister.”

“You’re a lawyer?” She was impressed. She looked at his chest, what the tight polo he was wearing did to his chest did a lot to her stomach.

“I’m not a lawyer. I left the university in my third year.”

“You’re a soldier then.”

He smiled. Amber white teeth. “Why should I be a soldier?”

“You have been standing there for ever.”

He chuckled. Music. “You are a beautiful liar.”

Electricity on spine. Butterflies in the stomach. “What’s your real name?” she said.

“Call me Barry.”

“Why did you leave the university.”

“I didn’t leave. I was taken away.”

“How? By whom?”

“A car hit me.”

Needle in the heart. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s okay, it was a long time ago.”

“How old are you?” She knew. He was twenty-nine or thirty, three or four years older than she.

“You know my age.” He winked. “You have beer?” he shifted his gaze to the fridge.

“Erm… No… Er… My boyfriend–ex-boyfriend–drank the last one.” Trembling voice.

“You are single then?”

She said a happy yes.

“Shame. He doesn’t know what he’s lost.”

“He’s a fool.” She rose to her feet. “Let me serve you Fayrouz.” She opened the fridge. Weakness in the knees. Fire in the stomach.

“Don’t worry. The weather is too cold for that.” He placed a warm palm on her wrist, as though to affirm the point. Tiny flood of current ran through her body.

“Why don’t you sit down?” She pointed to the only chair in the room. He led her to the bed and they sat down. The feel of his body cured a large amount of her heartache.

The rain hammered on the roof. Her heart hammered on her chest.

“Where were you heading to before the rain began?”

“The Mortuary.”

To do what? But she didn’t ask out. She was just grateful to have him here. Her bra straps were burning her shoulders.

Silence in the room, storm outside.

“As teenagers, we used to tag this kind of rain ‘weather for two’,” she said.

“As adults?”

“We place our head on his lap,” and she placed her head on his lap. He placed that warm palm on her neck and she sighed with excitement, then he caressed down her collar and up the mould of her breast, and she died a little.

Yvonne always said that everyone has a human machine in them, separated from them but a part of them. This machine takes over when there are important jobs needed to be done but the body is lacking in requisite energy; the spare body takes over the job while the body was subconsciously detached, do the jobs and let the normal body take the glory. Yvonne believed this, but she never really experienced it, before today.

Today, Barry’s touch, like the tap of a switch started the madness. Her body got crushed by sensations and pleasure, gave way and her machine body took over. It was her second body which tore off her clothes and attacked him and got entangled in a match of passion, sweat and joy. Her real body just lay back and suck the orgasmic delight.

Rain fell on the earth. Hurricane happened on the bed.

“You are sent from heaven,” she said after the insane pleasure and she was now in possession of her body.

“I was passing by, saw your outrageous beauty and I couldn’t resist having you.” He was dressing up.

“Why don’t you stay some more.” Her voice shook with untamed desire.

“It’s no longer raining. I need to get home.”

“You said you were going to the mortuary.”

“I live there.”

Yvonne was confused. “You work in a mortuary?”

He said nothing, wearing his jeans and polo silently. Done dressing, he said: “I live there. It’s my home.”

She searched his face. He was teasing. Was he?

“How can you, a barrister, work in a mortuary?” She just couldn’t bring herself to say he lived there.

“I am not a barrister,” he said. “I was hit with a car in my third year.”

“Why didn’t you continue when you left the hospital?”

“I didn’t leave the hospital. I died.”

The walls began to close in on her; her world took a sharp twist 180 degrees towards nowhere. She fought to repossess her voice. “You ar-are a-a d-dead person?”

He smiled, blew her a kiss, turned and walked through the door without opening it, just past through it as though the door was a transparent nothingness. He was gone from her, for good. An emptiness filled her, consumed her and mocked her. She was out of herself, floating in her emptiness, shock and disbelief. Then reality hit her and she fell on its mat of rude consciousness. She began to scream.

Tweets to @Oke4chukwu

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What Hunger Did to Chief Kalu

Kalu is not a chief. No kingdom, chiefdom, council, traditional or orthodox, autonomous or dependent, directly or indirectly, gave Kalu a chieftaincy title. The title ‘chief’ was a nickname, half-mockery and half-praise from his polytechnic days. He was in Oko Polytechnic where he could spare a few naira notes after feeding himself and photocopying materials, so he decided to become a chief, he bought the form to contest for chief of Orumba.

Orumba is the host community of the Polytechnic; they have a sizeable number of students so that the gathering of Orumba students to elect their leaders usually attract the attention of the entire campus. Only the ultra-rich or ultra-popular dared. Kalu lost the election, 814 to 174 votes, a miracle, so many people couldn’t have voted for Kalu under normal condition; it was amazing, to get 174 votes, it was a miracle.

But Kalu came out of the election, his ego bruised, a red cap of humiliation on his head, but he earned something, he got the title of chief. His friends called him chief to commiserate with him; his detractors called him chief to mock him. By the time he was done with his HND he was a chief to everyone. At NYSC and beyond he was a chief to everyone. He forced everyone to call him chief and would sulk if you called him just Kalu. Even Mark Zuckerberg knew him as Chief Kalu on Facebook; his Gmail account was chiefkalu@gmail.com or something of that nature, and that unnatural.

Since no one would hire a chief, Chief Kalu was self-employed. No, not the type of self-employment which is a veneer for unemployment and underemployment that many accounts on Facebook carry like an unfitting hat; he was truly self-employed. He was a half-decent graphic designer, and since nine out of every ten who require designs are blind to what real design looks like, people took Chief Kalu’s seriously and he prospered.

Half of his money went to buying clothes, from tailored senators wear that revealed his pot belly and made him look like an old-fashioned Rochas, to suits that half-covered his conceit mixed with inferiority complex in nearly equal proportions. There were also shirt sleeves, T-shirts and a countless assortment of jeans, chinos and cashmere trousers. The other half of his money goes to women—he was not handsome, he was not smart, he wasn’t a poet; his only weapon was money. He spent on them as much as he had to for as long as they were the biggest fish in his net; he thought of women as fish and himself as kingfisher, and he changed women as much as a randy CEO changed ties.

Then came the drought. As a freelancer, he frequently had small droughts, sometimes for a week, sometimes for three weeks, times in which not one customer came to him. He usually survived on his last earnings until the next job came. But only once, before now, had he experienced two months without earning a kobo. Then he was a youth corps member and it was during the 2015 elections and because he served in a state where money fell like rainfall, he had so much and didn’t feel the draught. Now he was on the third month without earning anything off his trade.

He had no savings. At first, he sold his refrigerator, a Double Door HRH, he bought online for 76 thousand naira, for 25 thousand and the buyer still owed him 5 thousand. ‘The fridge is with the mechanic,’ he had a ready excuse for any prying girlfriend. Then he sold his LG Home Theatre, which cost him 60 thousand, online, for 15 thousand. He didn’t get any business; he went on to sell a suit, a senator’s wear, then pairs of shoes. He tried to manage on the paltry fees his goods bought. Garri cost a ton and he wasn’t a good cook; he always boasted that he ate out, now that he had to eat in, he was feeding himself concoction and purging like Agric fowls.

Then he ran short of things to sell—actually he ran out of buyers—and began to borrow. Then he ran short of lenders and hunger began to draw close. He ate in his friends’ place and once in his uncle’s place—paring or ignoring stylishly dished insults. He withdrew to himself, working the system, searching for clients and harassing his debtors. Hunger began to press in on him, now in the eighteen yard box, and for the first time in his life he was staring at the possibility of starvation.

Last Saturday, he had endured 48 hours without real food save for groundnuts and half a bag of sachet water. He was not hungry, hunger was him.

There are three stages of hunger. The first stage of hunger is the call to eat. It is lunchtime, or time for breakfast and your belly gives out pangs of pain, nudging you to get food. If you eat, it goes away, if you don’t, maybe you are immersed in work, or queuing up before an ATM, it goes away. This is the minimum stage.

The second stage is the medium stage. You have a riot in your belly. Maybe you skipped two meals and it is now getting towards the time for the third meal. This riot is relentless. It bites, your intestines, and the other particulars in the abdominal cavity are hurting as though your stomach is a mass of open wound and a bowl of pepper mixed with salt was poured on it. This hunger affects reasoning.

Maximum hunger is the third stage of hunger. It is hunger that is beyond a riot. It is the base for annihilation. It weakens your body and makes concentration impossible, and reasoning an insurmountable task. One can sleep through the first stage of hunger and, in a time of great exhaustion, the second stage. There is no sleep for maximum hunger. You just drift in and out of nightmares where a group of witches are gathered, feeding on your body parts and you don’t mind joining them.

For Chief Kalu, maximum hunger was a school of humility. Vanity upon vanity, all is vanity, said the chief, he kept muttering in his thought as hunger ruled in his middle belt. His next door neighbour was frying turkey; the aroma slipped into Chief Kalu’s room and covered him like a blanket of inaccessible hope. His next door neighbour was a nurse he once asked out who not only rejected his proposal but insulted him over it a few weeks later when they disagreed over the contribution for Nepa prepaid fee. I would rather die than to ask her for food, he swore.

And he was dying. ‘Using your ears for pepper soup’ was a metaphor for being in deep trouble. Now Chief Kalu understood this metaphor in plain words. Hunger was using his ears for pepper soup and was trying to force the pepper soup down his throat. He lay weak; his belly on fire, his head knocking with a faint headache that never went away nor became a full-fledged headache. His hands were so weak, moving them about on the bed caused him so much energy. His fingers were in a steady state of unsteadiness, dancing even, like a small fire in the wind.

The crust of the hunger, however, was his collarbones. His collarbones felt as soft as biscuit, as though a carpenter had done a job on it, full treatment, hammer, saw, chisel, bar, nails, all. His ribs hurt as if someone had placed a hot rag on them. His vision was faint, blurred; it felt like his room was a bucket of water and he had placed his head in it. His lips were dry, nearly baked with want. His salivary glands had stopped working and his mouth was dry except for a few drops of saliva, like a hurried afterthought.

He was dying. Chief Kalu was dying of hunger. And he knew it. But he was dying as a human being, as Kalu, hunger having stripped him of his chieftaincy title. He had never heard of anyone who hunger literally killed, he was sure he would be the first; but he was happy for one thing, he would die humble. Very humble.

Tweets to @Oke4chukwu

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