I let Nigerian Highlife outwill my need to stay in bed. I get up, high on rhythm. I do not know how to call this the quickening of joy, and not be mistaken. I dance, possessed by something joyriding my body. Something that has evolved to thrive on noise.
My room smells like memory mixed with sunlight pouring in through my window. I stand before my mirror feeling beautiful in my father’s red, oversized cardigan. I wear it like skin, like his body — but without wounds fallen stars are named after. Tall, hairy, stocky man. A workhorse joined to a plough. A sleeptalker, too — my mother’s husband.
Before now, I do not recall ever rehearsing father’s risible dance moves; his potbelly shaking, as if to mix water and oil. I laugh as I dance, and it is beautiful to hear it. Beautiful, until nostalgia cast its old shadow on me. Makes me want to believe my laughter is an invocation to the darkness that should not be named. But still, I dance — in this hour I’ve sworn to joy.
In one flashback, Chief Osita Osadebe is singing “Sisi Kwanangida.” The radio is a replacement of the old. It is a used one, cheap, but alive. Its speakers are booming. The musician’s voice brings flashes of memory from a body I must’ve wandered in, in the early 1940s.
In another scene, there is light awaiting blackout. The ceiling fan whines as it rotates, tired — like an helicopter running out of fuel. In the air, the smell of boiled yam, roasted cat fish crushed in a black earthen plate of palm oil and fresh, green pepper. My father is seated on an armchair as mum sets the table.
I look at her feet as they move. Her gait is laboured, and I am the only eye staring. She turns to look at me. I agree and keep it a secret. I conclude that her feet has never left prints in the dancing arena. All these beats, and it doesn’t stir her?
Tonight, we are swallowing everything marked with her fingerprints. We are eating a harvest gathered from the salt flat on father’s skin.
The Music Stops
I dance through my chores. It is cold, but this music is heat. Overheated. My jam box is steaming with Fela Kuti’s “Shakara.” Sweating, I quickly create a playlist before leaving my room with two empty buckets. I walk towards a tap spilling from a broken faucet. As I fill my buckets, from the distance, I strain my ears to hear the song currently playing. I hear nothing but the market noise.
At my doorstep, I drop the buckets of water beside a heap of jeans, heaving a sigh that loosely translates to gratitude for the energy to scrub them clean. And then I notice the music stopped. In the silence, inertia calls me under my blanket. I look away. I look away.
The music stopped, and through my nostrils, I witness the world release its breath. I am not certain how long, except that the length of the played songs is summed. I rush to my phone to know why. There are six missed calls, and It’s from an unknown number. This call has to be returned, but after doing my laundry, I agree.
I replay a previous track, and return to washing. The phone rings. I let my thumb slide across the right side of my screen. This means, ‘call answered.’ This also means the first thing that will leap out of my mouth is a lie. A lie about wanting to return the call just before this.
In my call history, this would be my second, received for the month. [This is not the page of my diary to confess loneliness or isolation]. The first was when my dad called. My mum would later tell me he was skeptical I’d pick up the phone. It was his first call in two years, since I got into uni.
The voice is familiar, shaken. I imagine a pious man in a black coat, and a knotted tie pretending it’s not a noose. “Hello, am I speaking to Martins?” I ask who it is I am speaking to, and he identifies himself as “Your father’s district pastor.” “We just lost him. Return home. Please, you’re needed urgently.”
The call ends.
What is called back home has no wings. And the wind is blowing hard against its flightpath. This means, I don’t have transport fare, and even if I do, the state is on lockdown. Movement is highly restricted at this time.
“Return home” because everyone has. School is not on session. “Return home,” I mutter to myself. It is time to sever this placenta affixed to solitude. “Return home” because I am the firstborn, and today is my initiation rite as successor. “Return home” because there’s a cross stuck in your mother’s throat, and it is choking her already. It has to be on your shoulders she’ll cough it out upon.
The impact of the news was in the background. Mum is wailing. My mother is wailing on the floor. On this damp part of the script, there’s a dead man who’s more her husband than my father. I want to feel guilt sting me. I want to weep.
Weep for the wound open in my breast, son. Wring your tear ducts of saltwater. For many years, you’ve licked his salt to pour freshwater now. “Return home” so I can taste it when you embrace me.
On transit home, I shiver through a poem. An erasure poem, in which I spill everything I never told him when he was alive. I alight the bus, and a wind blew off — from my hand — the sheet of paper. I just let it go, lost in the crowd. Free. Like this paper, I imagine my father mingling with mists fading out through a fault in my memory of love.
(he/him) is a poet based in Kaduna, Nigeria. He is a photographer, digital artist, & currently an undergraduate student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He is a Pushcart nominee, & a Best of The Net finalist, ’22. His most recent works have appeared—or are forthcoming— in Magma Poetry, Strange Horizons, FIYAH, Barren Magazine, Lolwe, 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Fantasy Magazine & elsewhere. If he’s not out taking photographs, fantasising reincarnating as an owl after sniffing the pages of old books in a room he barely leaves, he’s on a newsboy hat tweeting @martinsdeep1.