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Rating: PG-13

Her face was droopy. Whatever hit her delivered the death blow quick enough to have left her hopeless. She had no energy left to fight. She was a walking thousand fragments of herself. She came back in wreckage.

She looked like a fly caught in a spider’s web; strong yet powerless. You could see the look on its face, just like her face now. An image of discouragement and disappointment were painted in no colors across her palette of a face. It seemed like she had been famished for decades.

She had not gone for long. Whatever transpired inside that room in that jiffy of time appeared to have left her in the shattered debris of herself and her dreams.  

We have been sitting together on a wooden bench on the veranda of the kitchen. Leaning against the mud wall, I observed that the mother hen was carefully calling her chicks home. They were about five or so, pale yellow, speckled brown and other eccentric hues. They were beautiful and comely. And I think they walked very gracefully that close to the ground.

“When the mother hen returns home, dusk is on its tail” Grandma would always say. Her name was Grace. We never heard anyone call her an Igbo name, except of course in the village women meeting where she has to register with a native name. They called her Nwannediya, the sister of her own husband, only in their roll call.

I had sat with Ijay several hours; I came to see her just after breakfast. I was lucky she was the only one at home. Not as always. Her mom had gone to the market with Chidi her last child who is almost fifteen now. I still wonder how they got him to the market. “I am not a girl” he would always say if asked to go and sell vegetables. “I want to be a chief.” Her other siblings were long gone in search of places to squander the day.

I can’t recall all the things we talked about, but this was the best day I spent in their house. She was busy though, washing utensils, going to and fro in the kitchen and chasing unseen reptiles and insects gnawing on the thatch above us. I never entered the kitchen it was dark and smoky. I think she was smoking fish or bush meat. 

But I recall the warmth of her palm on mine. It was soft. I felt like a stream was gently flowing between our locked fingers. Something from her hand was crawling up my arm into my stomach. It was creamy. I couldn’t stop it. I never wanted to. I remember moving my arm to brush against hers. The feel was heaven. I have never felt that supple and tender skin before. And the butterflies in my belly were like the convergence of lightning bolts.  All I wanted was more. With her calmness and redden face, I knew she longed for more too. We have always yearned for it.

She was fair, far fairer than I. Sometimes the sun tanned her arm and you could see the tan line on her upper arm. Comely: I have always wanted to use that word since I learnt the meaning. She was comely, avenant. 

I guess my brain stopped working. I could only see her. She was there. And I was there. That is what I have always desired; to stay alone with her. At school Christiana and Chidinma her twin friends would always call her away when we stayed back from recess. I never liked them myself, but I liked them anyways.

We didn’t speak to each other alone in the empty class. All I could do was simply stare at her. She could only afford to glance at me. Everything was said with the eyes. I didn’t know what to say and my mouth was not trying to help. Good enough she never asked me to say anything. And she said nothing also. The eyes have it.

She would lock her eyes on mine for about five seconds and a tier and then shyly look away. I wouldn’t look away. I would look at her hair. It was dark gold, just the one my mom wore.

All the hair do I saw my mom wear was her hair coiled on perforated rollers with plastic pegs. I was the one to return them to some woman I can’t remember again.

Ijay’s hair was not long and not too short either. It was long enough to adorn her fourteen years old girl face, however. My mom’s were longer and always hung from her head like the tendrils on her vegetable stakes. They caressed her shoulders which was always bare when she returned from market and begins to share groundnut and biscuits among his children. I preferred Speedy to all other biscuits and she knew it.

When she turned back for another look, my eyes were still there. They would still meet hers. The way she looked away time and again, it appears she only bites what she can chew per gaze. I don’t know why she can’t lock her gaze long like me.

“Your eyes crush me” she had told me once when I asked why she never looks steadily at me. “I can’t look at you for long, I will explode.”

Once, we were returning from school and she was holding the other handle of my bicycle as we strolled. I wouldn’t pedal off until we arrive at the crossroads where she would take her thirty minutes route home. And I couldn’t ride her on my bicycle, we cannot handle the rouse such feat would cause among the students.

There was a day we had gone to our separate playgrounds during recess. The break period is usually not long enough to accommodate our numerous play activities, or satisfy the spirit of play itself. We call it egwuregwu. When the unfriendly bell rang, I ran with the other boys and girls, some were friends, back to the class. It was a race to see who would enter first; I was obviously not the first. Neither was I first to notice the sketch of a drawing on the board.

Throughout this week, we have been reading Soyinka’s Lion and the Jewel in our Literature classes. You remember Lakunle and Sidi. They were standing face to face on the chalkboard. Lakunle’s hand was even placed across Sidi’s shoulder. She was clearly a figure of the number 8 with straight line for arms and feet and smaller circles in the upper circle for eyes and mouth. You could see her arm line pass through Lakunle’s, whose trousers were obvious, like a two-leg cylinder with a stick pinned into it. So was our names thickly labeled under each of figures. A whole stick of chalk had gone into the inscription of each name I presume, they were written so boldly that you can’t help but notice them.

The uproar began in my class drawing more people into the small room we stayed for classes. Ijay was not in the class yet. I wished she would not be back because the girls were beginning to look for her.

The crowd was increasing with children whose hunger for egwuregwu was not yet satisfied. One boy from another class shouted atop the maddening overexcited crowd “Bright loves Ijeoma.” That was the title of the terrific drawing. Monalisa would be acutely jealous over the excitement that echoed back. Then she just walked in, obviously in a marvel, the girls have caught her and are now pulling her in to see herself on the drawing and to give her a whooping laughter. It was not amusing for both of us.

Since that day many of the children took the incident to heart, many played it away. The whole thing gradually dripped away from the playgrounds as water drips dry from an earthen water pot with a tiny hole on the base. One school friend of my mine from JS2 class would tell me days later “I can show you how to make her happy.”

“How?” I asked curiously.

But I would never do what he suggested, I can’t even say it.

The many that rather took it as their personal business to never let us be were Christiana and Chidinma. You know how much I like them.

Christiana walked and behaved like a boy. She was also as strong. She fights with boys every week. Chidinma had numerous incisions on her left leg that forced her to wear long skirts to protect herself from ridicule. Both of them pestered me and Ijay.

 “Oh, you asked her ‘How are you?’ and just waved at us. Okay oh.” As though how are you is anything special. But it was. And I really wanted to know. 

They would come during recess to tell me “We have been looking for Ijay?” so that I would run off with them to search for her. Most of the time they just wanted to bring us together; she would be at the end of my search, standing there, shy, staring at her feet and smiling heartily. I suppose now she arranged those meetings or it could be they talked her into accepting to play along. Maybe they were just catching fun watching us stand face to face, speechless, like dumb people. 

“Touch her Bright, touch her hand” Christiana would often command pushing me towards her.

I wouldn’t know how to do that. When I stagger close enough to where she is, I would call out to her “Ijay!” and run off again.

I still regret running off like that without touching her. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t stay either. The force of her presence was too weighty and extremely delightsome to endure.

That gesture of looking down on her shoes in my presence was lethal. It was so appealing. Now I think she just surrendered her whole being to me willingly. Nothing was so pleasant. Nothing was so captivating. I wanted to give her myself too. I have never felt anything like the force she radiates in that posture. I have been electrocuted once when I dipped my hand in a bucket of water with plugged boiling ring in it. The effect in comparison is candle to the sun. It pales a thousand times to the energy Ijay’s transmitted to me. It was so compelling that I wish I could dissolve into her and she meld into me. Yet I cannot stand it. Still I never wanted it to stop.

One reason I most times ran away from her presence was the thought that if I stayed longer the effect would die away. I was afraid of standing before or beside her without those feelings. If I lose them, there was no more reason to come to school. There would be no meaning to strolling with my bicycle without pedaling even though I had over three miles to get home.

She had this scarf once tied in a band around her head. It was so beautiful. Or so I deem it. She was strolling beside me, her left hand on my bicycle seat.

“Your scarf is fine. I like it” I said after a long silent trek.

There were many other children following the same path home. There was the loud and uncensored shattering and occasional pseudo fight that lands someone into the bush and out again in animated exhilaration. But our world was different. It was serene and encompassed. There was a mesmeric and enchanted field around us, us alone, surrounding us like Merlin’s spell.

“Take it and keep it” she offered.

“No thanks.”

“I know you like it, you can have it.”

“You are so beautiful with it” I submitted.

I can’t remember saying that out loud, but I said it. I wanted it because she gave it to me. I didn’t want her to feel hurt that I rejected her gift. But I wouldn’t take it. The difficulty was what to answer when my dad’s choleric voice would ask me “Who gave you that scarf? Have you started stealing Bright?”

Who then would I say gave the scarf to me if I didn’t steal it? Who would I say she is to me? 

Sitting beside her now, arms brushing, palms locked together I know we belong to each other. Everything is just so perfect and horizontal.

I could perceive her. I don’t know what that scent was. A bouquet of roses could not be so soul-deep; neither could the cologne of Elizabethan perfume. The scent was mind blowing; the scent of a woman. It all made her more feminine and attractive to me. And for the first time, I noticed that her chest were far bigger than mine, and firm.

My breathing increased pace. I needed more of her inside me, whatever she was exuding. It was charming. It was not the fresh evening breeze gliding out of the nearby bushes. That too was fresh and rather cooling. It brushed over us. I felt goose bumps on my chest and arms. It tempered my rising temperature, but my nostrils perceived her. I wanted to cross my hand around her shoulder but I reasoned that our clothes would restrict so much. I wanted more not less. So I drew my right leg to her left. The touch was eruptive and just what the doctors would prescribe. I know we were talking, but I can’t remember anything of everything we discussed.

“My hand, it’s hurting” she complained.

“Oh, sorry, doo.”

We have held our hands together for long and I never realized my arm’s weight was pressing the back of her palm to the wooden bench. The rings on the seat have impressed the pattern behind her palm. We laughed lightly as we saw it.

She would occasionally enter the dark kitchen. The few steps into the dark space offered me great opportunity to see her rear. I saw everything behind up close. Her legs were a bit curved out at the knees.  They were open enough just to meet again at her pumpkin waist. And she was straight from there up. I was just inches taller than her. I guess her head would comfortable rest on my chest if we hugged. And I would bury my face on her hair. But we have never hugged. We have never been this close alone.

Time was inconsistent. At times it moved with great speed, other times it was sluggish. I preferred the later. It had only been a few hours after I had my breakfast, but now the night is riding in. I was not in haste anyways. I was not perturbed for time, or ready to leave her any soon. I didn’t know how long the day would last, yet the moment was all that mattered. I know at the back of mind that her family would soon be coming back home but for now, we are the only ones here.

The mother hen and her chicks were home already. She kept chuckling and gathering them together. She was apparently apprehensive and was fluttering her wings.

“She wants to go inside” Ijay’s voice came from the kitchen.

I looked into the kitchen but she was hidden in the smoky darkness. I glanced at the birds and then under my seat. There, under my seat, was the hole of a door that leads into their resting place. I stood and moved into the compound.

The breeze was gently rustling through the pear and orange trees which mounted guard around the compound. The tunes from palm fronds were somewhat rhythmic and the clothes on the line tied between two uha trees were dancing to it. The moon-yellow orange balls decorated the tree which now appears like an abstract painting. I have eaten a lot of them already.

“Do you want more oranges?” Ijay asked still invisible. She was obviously looking at me from wherever she was hiding. I didn’t reply. I didn’t want to eat again.

“What are you even doing inside that dark place?”

I was going to enter the kitchen at this point. The birds have found their way inside while more were coming home and retiring in twos and ones. She burst out of the kitchen, smoke rising from her body. The frightened birds fluttered everywhere. One cockerel nearly got me on my hair but for a quick duck.

She gasped briefly for air then coughed slightly.

“Do you want to roast yourself?” I queried.

“I’m getting things ready for dinner.”

There were smoked speckles on her hair. I tucked them away gently, coming so close to have hugged her. Just then the kitchen lit up. Cooking has begun; the fire has come ablaze under the pot of what I don’t know. Until we heard her name from the living house, I never knew someone else was at home.

“Someone called you” I supplied her.

“My father” she gave me back.

“When did he come back?”

“He has been at home since morning. He is off at work today.”

From where we stood I could see us distant in the glass windows. I now noticed that the door to the living house has been open all the while, except for the cotton that draped the door. The breeze was bustling through it unapologetically while the cotton impenitently comes back to its position now and again.

She goes to answer the voice that called her. It came from the house with aluminum roofing and unpainted walls. I sat back at the bench rather astounded. How could he be at home since morning and never showed up outside? My thoughts questioned me.

He is a kind and good looking man, the much I know. But Ijay obviously inherited her fairness from her mother. You will seldom hear his tenor voice. I only hear it when he responds to my greetings or when he calls out just once to his children. His daughters are never excited to answer him, especially the two younger one to Ijay. Chidi never answers at all; he would only walk to wherever the voice came from. They would say to Ijay whenever he calls anyone “Daa, your father is calling me again. What is it this time?” Minutes later, the one would return with face like a child denied meat in the soup. The others will laugh at the forlorn misery.

I didn’t want to think of what the look on Ijay’s face would be when she returns. She is already used to it, I know.

As soon as she stepped out of the room banging the cotton behind her on the air, I knew that Okay is not okay. The melancholy of her gait pierced through the waves of the vigorously temperate evening breeze and poisoned the atmosphere. It poisoned my peace. Her once redden face was now red hot, her forehead folded in ridges and her irking arms followed her lazily hanging off her shoulders. I was as afraid as a rat facing a watchman’s flash torch and as confused as the rat too. I tried hard to keep the composure I lost seconds ago, hoping that when she spews out the venom, everything would be perfect again.

“He is calling you” she threw at me in no way stopping to look at me or answer the questions on my face. I watched as she disappeared into the kitchen.

The fire has gone down under the cooking tripod and the breeze abhorring the compound took a different route on its course. The rain we have hoped for over a week now began to pour heavily under my arms. It was streaming down hot rivers through my sides. My v-neck shirt had contact only with my shoulders. I could feel my torso begin to shrink like a plastic bottle in fire. The throbbing left my heart and entered my head. I could hear it with my ears. It was viciously metrical. My eyes were shriveling into their holes like snails.

I stood there, lost of thought and action. I wanted to ask Ijay why he was calling me, but the way she disappeared I didn’t know if I could find her in the kitchen. Racing cars could screech in my mouth. It had no words either. I knew that I opened the cotton and peeped inside first, how I got there was beyond me.

No one was there in the sitting room. How? I peeped again. The room was two steps lower inside, cool and quiet and obviously empty. A replay football match of clubs I couldn’t identify was buzzing on the TV. The players were having a good day. The ceiling fan was swiveling busily, the blades chasing each other, slicing through the air. And I was there standing on the vehicle foot-rest that now welcomes everyone into the room, thinking of how Ijay got me on that trick. 

Then I heard “Come inside” from the right side. That voice that calls only once. One leg on the first stair, there he was pouched in the largest cushion.

His bare chest has a hundred or few more hair strands than mine, but is doted sparsely with grey hair. The cushion drew me in immediately he motioned for me to sit. I sank into the cushion beside him, and then pulled myself up again to the edge. It was rather too comfortable for this moment. The loose spring under me squeaked as though protesting my rejection of them. This instant is best with my legs fully feeling the ground, I thought. Maybe so I know when the earth under me gives way.

And he spoke.

Ijay came out of the room down in the dumps; I came out of the room dangling on my bones. Straight to the bench I sat down. Any mother or father-hen that is yet to go in should kindly find a new settlement. I needed to sit as quickly as possible; my femurs and tibias were limbless. I peered into the kitchen by moving my neck only; the other parts of me have refused to move. Ijay was blowing the fire. The glow each time she blew into the firewood smoldered at the very quintessence of my soul. And the fire went up again.

She stood, inclined on the door post, now looking as the crow flies at me.

“What did he tell you?” she asked.

“Is it the same thing he told you?”I could only answer her with a question.

Ijay and her eldest sister, Thonia visited me the first time. I had just returned from Campus hopeless. My admission to study Computer Science had been withdrawn on the premise that was entirely not my fault. The faculty had failed to update their requirements with JAMB and I had no Chemistry to fulfill the new requirements. I applied for deferment of admission and was told I had no admission at all. I was even fortunate the old woman answered me after over eight hours of hanging around the office, waiting patiently. The others were obviously very busy doing God knows what. I applied for the refund of the non-refundable acceptance fee. I hope the university senate replies any soon after these ten years at least to explain the meaning of non-refundable to me.

As bright as my name, fresh from secondary school with Distinction, I knew the universities were ready to clamor for me, so we were told. “Graduate with Distinction and you would have Universities calling to admit you.” Six year later, I was still a school leaver with four attempts at JAMB and aptitude tests decorating my profile. The lowest of my scores all time was 210 but my bright name refused to appear on any admission list. Not once, my Dad advised me to seek admission into a seminary, “They would surely admit you,” he said. I knew where he was going.

I returned home with that disappointment, realizing for the first time that there were many different worlds in this world, the thing I realized again after I answered Ijay’s father.

I was miserable. My so promising future has received its first hard-knocks’ lesson from the school of real life. I locked myself up in the room and refused food. “Why would they withdraw my admission, do they even know how brilliant I am?” I searched for the answers across my rain-soaked ceiling until I was hauled to my maternal home, afraid I would die of depression.  

It was at my maternal home that Ijay and Thonia visited with me; one, my friend, the other something a mile deeper than just friends. I was fast asleep in one of the rooms that would later be a bathroom in my uncle Eaglet’s unfinished building.

The roof was sitting majestically on the walls like firewood resting on our heads while returning from farm. It was silvery and reflected the moon gaily at night. My uncle specifically asked for it. He found it amusing that bats would bump into the roof at night because it was as luminous as the sky each night and they could not tell one from the other. There were no windows either. But it was at all times cool during the day and unnecessarily cold at night; I however found it comfortable for afternoon nap.

I would lull myself to sleep with any book. The scam always worked; lying on the back and holding a book up pretending to be reading. It is still a good sleeping therapy.

 “How did you get in here?” I asked them as I woke up from a dream that flew out of my mind right away. Whenever I woke up unexpectedly from a dream, I never recall anything.

“Your grandma showed us your little hideout.”

“It is not actually a hideout, but it is cool as you can see.”

In my world you can see everything. You can see how the weather feels just as you can see what the food tastes like. If the different senses have different words of expression, I learnt that very much later.

I was topless and shy. My chest was not as muscled as I wanted her to think. And then, there were no abs.

As I saw them off after we have spent about two hours, the corridor was too narrow for three to walk by sides. Thonia took the lead, I followed. I felt a chill run through my spine. It seemed like an eerie touch, it felt like gold bars in a gold box. Her hand ran through my bare back. The feeling was warm and wet. I looked back at her, her face was plain. She was deliberate. She had moved back to make the most of this moment. I relish every second her hand sluggishly crawled and lingered on my spine. But it was short-lived; the corridor was not as long as a subway.

The sisters were gone now, but she had left something behind. She had rubbed in a great deal of ecstasy into my spine. That swipe she left on my back, the sensation of her touch was still with me. Her hand kept crawling behind me. And I didn’t want it to wear out.

Grandma Nwaugo was sitting on her recline chair dipping her boiled yam in palm oil. I brought a wooden three-legged chair to join her in the meal. I like the vegetable in the oil, but not the fresh pepper and fresh onions. I salivate a lot at the manner she chews and swallows the food but I carefully avoided some contents in the oil bowl that would upset my taste buds. I supposed her words were true; the sound of kola in the mouth is not how it tastes.

This combination of fresh vegetables I have come to accept is good for the body. Grandpa says it is medicinal. Grandpa, daddy’s father, from whom I inherited the likeness for bread and wine, savors this kind of dish. He says our ancestors lived long on herbs, roots and vegetables not all the sweetened stuff we devour. 

“The younger one” Nwaugo spoke out.

“They are sisters” I defended involuntarily. 

I had nothing else to say. I could not even chew the chunk of yam in my mouth properly; I swallowed hurriedly. I don’t know if it was a question or a statement. She was not looking up; her face was buried into the plate. Her illness-sullen eyes were following her hoe-handle hands in continuous transit up and down.

Still chewing her bite of oiled yam, she continued, “They are from Umunwaohanso, the brother kindred of Umunwoke and the two villages don’t give themselves in marriage.”

“Okay, then their great grandfathers were brothers, I suppose.”

 “Yes. And your mother was born in Umunwoke.”

That was the part I didn’t understand; how the birth of my mom got into the dialogue. I thought of it momentarily. My mother was born in one of the villages.

I ventured to ask rather skeptically, “So my maternal home is Umunwoke?”

“Yes” and no other word.

The silence returned. You could hear the sound of the yam descending down her throat. I was biting small chunks and chewing with caution. She looked up at me and steadied, it was cautionary. It was then I realized I was the one making the flushing sound with my swallowing.

“The younger one” she said again.

I looked up at her, stopped chewing my mouthful bite curious to hear what she wants to say next.

“I know the eyes of a young lady who is in love” she said with a sense of experience all over her voice. 

I smiled childishly. I know Ijay had deep feelings for me. They were so obvious whenever we were together or whenever she talked about me.

“She is always super excited whenever she hears your name Bright” Thonia has confided in me once. “She comes alive and euphoric, jumping around like a small girl.”

The same thing was happening to me.

Over time, my meticulous Home Economics teacher, Miss Catherine would walk over to my seat in class. Her vigilant eyes have caught me several times staring passionately at Ijay while she explained how to prepare cleaning agents with ash and crushed snail-shell.

“Bright, where is your mind?” she will inquire.

“My mind is on the board” I would blurt.

“So what did I say last?”

“You said that… you said… that” The entire class would burst into ridiculous laughter. I always noticed Ijay didn’t laugh at me.

I have this canny attitude to attempt every question; it makes me feel I am not dumb. Or so our teachers have always said in class “Don’t say ‘I don’t know.’ Try to answer the question. There is no shame in trying.”

The next thing grandma said hit me like Wun Wun’s large arrowshot at The Watchers. It pierced through my chest to the sixth sense of my heart, shattering my spine and disconnecting all the wires in my nervous system.

“You cannot love her. Two of you are related by blood” her eyes were stabbing my senses and her voice like a needle, pinned at my soul.

Soon it began to choke me. I excused myself at once and entered the room. I needed a drink of whatever will wash down this hard pill.

“I know the eyes of a young man who is in love” Ijay’s father began to speak, not looking at me. His attention was fully on the replay match.

His other words sounded like “I have seen the way you look at her, I can understand. I have noticed the manner you prance around her, I once did the same.”

I was not sure what I was searching for looking around the room. Maybe I was looking for the nearest escape route our merely observing the fairly comfortable sitting room.

Up in my mind, I was standing outside looking at the glass window again. I couldn’t see myself in it. My eyes hit the glass panes right behind me. You could see through it from inside. It turns out that we have not been alone all the while we have been alone.

I nodded to his words more like the lizards that have been in live performance on the thatch roof. I wanted to leave, but it was clear he was not done with me yet. “Ijay didn’t stay long, why will I stay long?” my thought queried me. I sat tight; my fortitude was already at the door.

“Just be careful” he admonished. That was more encouraging and patronizing than I was expecting. 

“I will sir, thank you sir.”

His lips stirred again as I wanted to stand up and leave. I sat back again.

“Just know that you cannot fall in love with her” he declared rather wickedly emphatic.

 His eyes were ferociously on me now.

“You are related by blood” he concluded with a note of brutal finality.

As I walked out of the room, I couldn’t rejoin my wits. I sensed my flesh dry up finally. My bones mustered courage to walk me back to the bench, but not enough to keep me on my feet. My ears were catching some whoosh deafening sound. All my body fell on the bench as though there was zero gravitation. Only my neck could move to stare my face into the kitchen, if only Ijay has reappeared.

There she was bent, stoking the firewood with her back fully to the door. I saw her face again in my head. A lonely child who saw a ghost would have been less terrified. I wondered if that is how my face looks like now. The last time I looked at the glass I couldn’t see anything.  

She blew up the flames, inclined on the doorpost weary from her despair and gloom.

“He said we are related by blood” she managed to recap. “Is it true?”

Her voice was excruciating. Her sullen look gave away her helpless disappointment. My answer could either grind us irreparably or give away my own confusion. I didn’t know the answer she was expecting. Her pessimistic demeanor lacked the slightest makeover of expectancy.

I had never wanted to believe my grandmother. I excused her words as a mother’s protection on his growing son. Now that her father has spoken, our mesmeric world floating down the ocean of our velvety affection has hit Titanic ice.

When Nwaugo’s words choked me, I escaped through the front door and ran to the road. I longed to see Ijay to find meaning in her eyes again. The words of mom’s mother were nibbling at my heart like a mouse.

The sisters had already disappeared into the fading distance. I began to look for her in my mind.

When I first saw her I was enthralled. Her essence imprisoned me. I couldn’t understand it. She has always been a classmate, her locker two rows away to the left on the row just in front of mine. She was in class more often than me. I guess now she never missed many classes at all, her notes were always complete. She owned these textbooks I have never seen before with Free Education stamp of the State Education Board on them. No one else had them. And she always gave them to me to read. Most of my books were in her locker; in my frequent absenteeism, she would always copy notes for me. She knew how to open my locker.

After we graduated, I still had one of her literature textbooks.

Becoming aware of her took my guts. I have always seen her more or less, however, the way I saw her from then was beyond my indulgence. I had the impression she was coming out of a Ferrari factory or was just minted. She was so new or maybe my eyeballs adjusted whenever I saw her. I kept looking at her hoping she would just turn back and look at me.

I was actually whispering her name in my mind. I believed she will hear me. I have seen people speak to people in movies. I tried it and it worked.

The moment she turned to look at me, everything about us changed. She had looked at me, not on anybody or anything else. In that split second that held our gaze, I ascended the seventh heaven. 

I squirmed at that first time. What if she felt my heart throbbing for her? What if her hear hears my whispers? What if she feels this sensation on my neck I feel for her? What will I do now? What will I say to her when we go out for break?

Not long after, she looked at me again. Our eyes met. That instant, all the portals of passion flung open and these feeling came rushing into me. My pen fell of my hand, I didn’t know. I must have started writing with my finger when I felt someone tap me. It was the boy sitting next to me. I picked up my pen.

Her presence became glaring to me. For the first time I realized that there were girls in my class and they were different from me and the boys. I noticed Ijay had pinkish lips and her voice was very soft. I noticed that her navy-blue skirt and her yellow-checkered shirt were ironed, unlike mine which never embraced ironing even at the tailor’s shop. Everything about her was different. I saw her everywhere I looked; I looked in one direction only, hers.

The Agric teacher was saying so many things that were fading sluggishly with his voice at my ear lobes. He was preaching on something called stomata in green leaves and how it opened to receive food from sunlight, imagine. I was not interested on how green plants made food from sunlight; I was interested in this girl swimming in my bloodstream. My head was occupied with better thoughts; thoughts of Ijay.

I tried so hard to concentrate on these memories but Nwaugo’s voice kept piercing through my mind. I wanted to cry. Tears effortlessly studded my eyeballs. Everything I look at appeared magnified and maleficent.

She stood at the door, her hands hidden behind her. She was peering across me into the nearby thicket searching for answers for our collapsing world. Everything we shared that day was fizzling away gradually. I noticed her halfway pointed nose. Some watery substance was crawling out of her nostrils. I don’t know if the water running down her cheek was a result of the smoke or her thoughts.

I moved my gaze to the cracking mud wall in front of me. The crevices of the cracks were images of the splinters in my own heart. It has begun to bleed through my eyes. I tried hard to fight it back, winking a thousand times to no avail. I raised my face up to force the tears back into my skull, but they dribbled through my temple down.

I waited for the pungent stench to pass away. It would not budge. I wanted to wish it away, but it had me on the ground. It was heavier than the One Ring. 

I mustered the remnant strength in me, stood up and began to walk away. Maybe by the time I get home all these thought would have disappeared.

“You are going?” she queried distressfully.

I nodded, not looking up, not turning back. I carefully avoided looking at the direction of the window.

“You are leaving me Bright!” her voice haunted me.

This time I looked back at her. She was now about five steps away from the door, standing like the Apostles at the Ascension. Again I don’t know if she asked a question or made a statement. I continued out of the compound into the road. I was walking into a whole new world; a world where you cannot have whom you love.

I can’t tell how long she cried. Walking away, I heard her sobs until I was out of ears’ reach. I reminded myself again; there are many worlds in this world.

Right inside my belly an eruption has began. It was one of anger mixed finely with rage and disappointment. “Why me?” It was boiling like my grandfathers oil palm. “Why us?”So long as I wandered in my thought, a force was pulling hard at all the energy and charm she has released into me. It was shredding it away like a shirt being pulled out of one’s body. I was already torn into shreds, piece by piece. I didn’t want to see her again, though I wanted more than anything to see her.

I was not thinking, yet a thousand thoughts ran through my head.  Could this be the end of our devotion to each other? How our world came crumbling in seconds. My first time of reeling out my heart to someone, I heard first loves are divine and ordained. How much of me was left with her, you can’t imagine. She once confessed to me “I have no more love remaining inside me, I have given it all to you.”

Feeling the power of her surrender to me was the best feeling of all. Saying goodbye means I would never get to hug her ever. I would have to live as though she never existed. She would live separate with a lot of me inside her and a lot of her inside me.

Could I ever say ijeoma, goodbye, to Ijeoma?