‘I loved the voice of Ama Diaka’s story – the starkly beautiful honesty, the humour, the irreverence. It is both familiar and new, cleverly circumventing the expected. I hope it finds the many readers it deserves.’ – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
When I was twenty-two I met a man with skin so dark you could capture a shot of it for a colour palette, and hair so soft it was almost sinful to touch. Within 10 seconds of meeting him, he scratched his balls and stuck out the same hand to shake me with. I hoped the bewildered look I wore would shrink his hand back to his side, but he looked up at my face, looked at his hand, and turned to me, “Don’t worry my balls are clean”. It was the ridiculousness of his entirety, from his ashy knees, to his 6’7 frame, too tight shorts, dusty old shoes as if he had been trekking for miles, boyish grin jumping out of a man’s face to his my-balls-are-clean-so-you-can-shake-my-hand-hand that tickled the giggle out of me. A few months later, I was sitting on his bedroom floor and switching channels like I paid half of his rent.
One Monday afternoon, we drove from Awudome roundabout to East Legon so I could audition for a role in an indomie ad. I wasn’t much of an actor, I wasn’t an actor at all, but he had spoken about me to one of the agents like I brought out little pellets of gold after every shit so I went ahead anyway. We climbed up a narrow staircase to a red door, where he rubbed my back and wished me good luck.
The smell of coffee was the first thing that greeted me when I stepped in. A woman in an oversized yellow shirt smiled at me, told me her name was Amonua, asked me what my name was with a slight lisp (which I found sexy) and handed over a sheet with 5 short sentences for me to read out loud.
“Brilliant. Read it again, but this time, with more attitude” she said after I had read it, still smiling.
I had to pretend a taste of heaven had been evenly distributed on my taste buds and smile continuously and gesture wildly. After 6 takes, I was ready for it to end. My cheeks were beginning to hurt. She politely told me I would hear back from them. I smiled back and told her I would expect her call, but we both knew that was our last smile.
There are different ways to notice that you love someone. Rose from the Business class fell for Adams because he unashamedly pronounced issue as “eye-sue”. Abie in my Programming class said the day Kuuku gave her a lap dance was the day she knew she had found “The One”. And Pinamang swore she would marry Osei because he felt no shame farting around her on their first date. On the drive back, we passed over a pot hole that jiggled my whole body; even my palm-sized breasts vibrated. Opoku looked over at me and apologized for the bad road like it was his fault the country had shitty roads. That was the moment I knew I was hopelessly in love.
There’s something about brokenness that makes you want to pass your fingers on cracked surfaces and trail on their sharp edges; you know? Just to be able to tell how truly broken they are. Opoku was the poster child for a lost boy living in a man’s body. His refusal to forgive a father who was absent left me unsettled. It was like a stain he refused to clean. A stain he wasn’t even interested in getting out. He wore it loudly. And his brokenness called out to me; it yelled my name out loud in silence and begged for salvation. I felt like, if I loved him hard enough, I could save him from himself.
I have always carried a cross of salvation for people that have never wanted saving.
The sex was like discovering that there was more than one way to enjoy a mango fruit, like you didn’t have to only make a small hole through the skin of the fruit to suck out the juice, that you could gently peel off the skin and sink your teeth into its sweetness. The way our bodies fit into each other. A never-ending want for skin and teeth and the harmonic movement of bodies.
We lay naked in my bed on a lazy afternoon, bodies juxtaposed on each other and legs staining an already stained wall. Besides the shadowy outline of our naked forms on sky blue sheets, the room’s stillness was absolute. An unexpected knock on the front door jolted my knee. I had locked the door and left the key sticking in as he pulled my panties off earlier. I could hear my mother’s voice calling out impatiently to open the door. She had a key of her own, but with my key stuck in she couldn’t get in. Gripped with fear, I suddenly couldn’t find a piece of clothing. It must have taken just about a minute to find a dress and pull it over my head but it felt like hours of frenzy. Opoku, slightly terrified and trying hard not to show it, slipped into his clothes, rushed to the hall and stretched his long body in the sofa, assuming a position as though he was fast asleep. I don’t know what it is about the fear of being caught that makes one act even more stupid. The minute my mother walked in, she knew. She could smell it in the air even before she looked at me. It was the disappointment in her eyes that caught me off guard. Like I had given something away that she was counting on me to keep. It was pointless telling her he just came over to take a nap.
“Abrantie, wo firi he?”
My mother’s voice, shook with anger as she drilled him. Asking him where he was from, who his mother was, what his father did, what church he attended, what intentions he had for her daughter. As though she was about to marry me off and was mentally making notes to make sure I wasn’t tied to the devil. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life, I wanted to become one with the sofa. After he left, mother didn’t speak to me for 7 long days. Months after, Opoku and I would laugh about it, and create alternative scenarios, somewhere he hid under the bed to avoid my mother altogether, somewhere he told my mother the truth about his wavering belief in a one true God and blatant animosity towards Christianity, hence his no-church rule, instead of telling her he was a staunch member of the Methodist Church.
When I was 17, I laughed at Worla till I peed on myself because she thought BJ stood for bare jokes. I didn’t think it was possible for one person to be this monstrously naïve. So I was a bit thrown off when I became the one to be laughed at the year I turned twenty three.
It was a quarter-past 6 in the evening when I got Dzidzor’s text. I remember because the lights had been off for 24 hours and the kids in the neighbourhood broke into a chorus of “light aba oooo light aba!” the minute electricity was restored.
“which contraceptive is the best to use to avoid pregnancy right after sex?”
“Um, I dunno” I texted back
“really? You guys use condoms all the time?”
“Um…no we don’t. we used to, but not anymore”
“If you don’t use condoms then what contraceptives do you use?
“Aren’t contraceptives for married people? We don’t use condoms, his pull-out game is strong”
“OMG! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Boatemaa! Pull-out game strong? Oh my god! Contraceptives for married people? Which era are you from?”
Dzidzor never forgot or forgave my ignorance. She laughed at me for an entire year.
In late April we are fighting too much. He kisses a black girl with a south London accent right in front of me and tells me the mere fact that he did it right in front of me should tell me it means nothing. The first reaction to pain is always shock. Not anger, not hurt, but disbelief. Disbelief that 1+1 could possibly equal 0. Disbelief that people can be unapologetically disappointing. Disbelief that you’d stick your hand out to rub a butt and instead of getting a satisfying purr, your fingers are swallowed whole. And then slowly, it shape-shifts into anger. The kind of anger that festers like an open wound, needing just one more touch to transition into fatality.
I notice the familiarity of another girl’s name on his lips. He tells me it is a name he has given to his imaginary friend, a make-believe friend whose presence he escapes into to release all burdens. He tells me it’s the same thing I do with keeping journals. I wonder briefly what I would call an imaginary friend if I had one. The fighting doesn’t stop much. I know I should leave. I know I don’t belong here. But somebody etched hope into my palms and tricked me into believing it would save me. I had gone and subjected my heart to a belief system where giving resulted in getting. And so I stay.
I stay silent despite the ache of wanting to talk things out, the want for simplicity, for newness and going back to the feeling of being apologised to because of potholes. I’m miserable and I want to call mother and have her figure out everything from just the weak hello I will offer. But it doesn’t get any more adulthood than 23, so I ignore the want. I am nauseated all the time. Everything tastes like betrayal. He hasn’t called in 10 days. I want to say that I’m a strong independent woman who respects people’s space that’s why I haven’t called him, but every time I see him online, I die a little inside.
I run to the bathroom to throw up. I am certain it’s not my period. I had it less than 3 weeks ago, although it had been lighter than usual, it hasn’t been 29 days yet. Plus he pulled out so it’s fine. He always pulls out. I’m just heartbroken. My body is grieving. I haven’t been eating well, a combination of poor diet and a broken heart so my body can’t even keep to schedule. Besides, I was taking antibiotics for an ear infection. Everything was just making it so hard for my body to keep up.
Three weeks later and it’s not fine. It’s 2:16 am and I’m awake and in pain. I figure I’m about to get my period hence the pain, so I just suck it in and attempt to fall back asleep. But the pain gets worse by the hour. It’s 5 am now and the pain is so bad I can barely walk from my room to the bathroom. I lie still and take deep breaths, naming each inhale after an alphabet, hoping I fall asleep before I hit the letter Z. On the letter P I feel a gushing sensation. I crawl to the bathroom, pull my pants down and that’s when I see the blood. I call my sister in a fit of tears, she shows up in 15 minutes and takes me to the hospital.
I’m not sure if it’s a combination of disinfected floors, a swarm of sick people and the intermittent pain invading my body that’s making me dizzy and nauseated. My sister is convinced food will make me a lot more stable so she leaves to go buy Hausa koko. A nurse with a friendly smile calls me in a few minutes after she’s left. A homely looking doctor with a toothy grin and a deep resounding voice does a pelvic exam and an ultrasound. He rubs my back gently and tells me I’m having a miscarriage.
I look back at him with a mixture of shock and terror.
“How?” I blurt out.
“15% of pregnancies end in miscarr- “
“How am I miscarrying? I haven’t missed my period in 2 months. How?”
He looks back at me..
The word is rolling itself in my head. Over and over. Miscarriage.
He rubs my back again and asks a series of questions. I can’t get the word out of my head. After what seemed like forever he tells me I can wait for nature to do its thing or I could have a surgical procedure. I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. I want it to be him, but it’s just my sister telling me she’s at the waiting area with hot Hausa koko. I want to ask her what to do, I want to ask her how I became this clueless girl, I want the world to stop spinning for a few minutes so I can make sense of everything but I’m too confused to form sentences in my head. So instead, I tell her the doctor wants to keep me for a couple of hours, and to come back after noon
I opt for a surgical procedure because it sounds like the easier way out.
In the operating room, I lay flat on the table, eyes firmly fixed on the ceiling. As the anaesthesia began to work, the doctor squeezes my hand gently and mumbles something. Everything goes black.
Back home I crawl into bed and finally allow myself to cry. I try to think my way through the pain, but nothing prepares me for how much it hurts, how it aches so much when I didn’t even know which decision I would make if I had known I was pregnant. I’m not sure I’m allowed to grieve. But I do.
A week after, I finally send a text message. It’s a short message and it has only one sentence. “I’m angry with you”.
I’m hopeful I can squeeze some questions and emotions and pampering out of him. I’m not prepared for the silence that follows. It infuriates and confuses me, and I’m convinced he needs to see me for the silence to end. But there’s more of it when I show up at his door. I’m so in need of sound or speech or reaction that I fling a plastic gift bag across his face so swiftly it cuts him right on the eye. The guilt that immediately followed took a long time to leave my body. He wore his wounded eye like a badge, and I spent months wondering if the folly I committed in my moment of anger nullified my pain.
I’m 27, I still weigh 59kg and in my head I am taller than 5’8. I’m sitting beside the window in a small blue bus; with my face pressed against the dirty windowpane, allowing the air to baptize my face. There are two teenage girls sitting beside me. It’s hard not to eavesdrop. One is telling the other what makes a kiss a good one. My eyes meet theirs and they lower their heads. I look away and smile at how much they remind me of myself. I hear one call the other Selina.
Selina. It reminds me of him. And his given name for his imaginary friend. And how imaginary friend turned out to be a full-blown girlfriend, with bones and flesh and blood running through her veins. I try to suppress it, but the laughter bubbles out of me like boiling water. Everybody’s looking at me like I’m mad. How do I tell them that we are all mad?
*Olisa Blogazine Literary Supplement is Selected and Edited by Chimamanda Adichie*