Night 


There is a future I glimpse, occasionally. It gives me hope.

I am gliding on an empty road, in a car with no roof. A woman wails a song on the radio, and all the night is aching loneliness. This stillness is like bated breath; I am alone here. I don’t think the car will stop for a very long time. A grin tears across my face.


There is a limp figure in the seat next to mine, passed out, hair strewn across her face. What little I can see of her is beautiful – dark eyelids, cheekbones glinting in the night light. She snores almost inaudibly. Does she know how much of my dreams she has brought to life?

Does it get any headier than this here, singular moment? This is probably just a passing snapshot of my life, a mundane and unhappy life: I am probably just this woman’s driver, returning her home to her husband after a night out partying. This beautiful aching music is probably something I have no time for anymore. 
But whatever life it is, it has moments like these. I’ll take it. 

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Childhood


There’s a joke I remember from childhood: 

Two robbers are hiding out in a cemetery after raiding a house. When the coast is clear, they decide to share the loot there, to save time. 

 An old man, taking a walk home by the cemetery, overhears two deep male voices in the cemetery, murmuring;

“This is mine. This is mine too.” 

“No, this is mine.”

In a panic, he runs into the town square, shouting, “God is bargaining for our souls with the Devil! Come, let’s go and beg God!”

 

The joke ends with a punchline I can’t remember: something funny that the robbers say when the entire town turns up at the cemetery. 

I can’t remember it, but as it often is with childhood memories, it’s not the punchline that’s the point, it’s everything else.

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Blinded


He’d been married almost 2 years. Two whole years, but sometimes he was startled to find a sleeping figure in his bed when he woke.

He’d lay awake, waiting for morning, and the dark grey light would shape out a pale face on the pillow right in front of him, its mouth slightly open in sleep.
He’d panic for a second, and then the thought: It’s your wife. It’s just your wife, calm down.

Just last Monday, they’d been out walking and her voice had startled him out of his thoughts; she was laughing at something on her phone.

It seemed so alien, the idea of another laugh he would hear for the entirety of his life.

It wasn’t love, or lack of it. He knew he loved her, it was just the idea of her otherness, the novelty of it – it startled him, excited him, repulsed him.

Inspired by the music video Blinded, by Emmitt Fenn.

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  But It Claws Its Way Out

                                                                 
“Beloved, we are gathered…” 

Sekou was shaking. He was grateful his suit was several sizes larger his size, so it wasn’t so visible. His palms were slick with sweat; he couldn’t wipe them on his trousers anymore, or they’d start looking moist, like he’d wet himself. He did, incidentally, feel like wetting himself. Be brave, Sekou

 “The two families have been waiting for this glorious day..” 

The man’s voice sounded miles away; he couldn’t hear anything over the blood pounding in his ears. 

Sekou, be brave. It was his mother’s childhood mantra. He would come running home in bruises, after the older neighbourhood boys had beaten him up or after someone in class had confronted him and he’d fled. His mother only ever had that to say. Fight back, be brave. He never did. He had hated himself for it all his life, but he could not bring himself to stand up to anyone, always taking the conciliatory way out. If anyone so much as raised their voice at him, he cowed, and spent the next few hours burning with mute resentment. 

And here he was now, unable to run, unable to do anything but stand waiting. He’d been instinctively throwing panicked glances at the front pew where he knew his parents sat, but he wasn’t wearing his glasses; it was all a blur. 

He was not prepared for this. He was not ready to be married, and especially not to this woman.

 Why was he still here? 

The belch of the organ swelled in volume all of a sudden, and the procession entered, his wife-to-be demurely walking behind two flower girls, hand in hand with her father. She looked beautiful, Agyeiwaa. She’d collected ridiculous sums of money for the dresses and cakes and whatever else she’d gotten (“12,000? For a dress?” She’d coldly replied with,”You don’t know anything about weddings, do you?”) and left him in quite a bit of debt. The dress wasn’t worth 12,000 cedis, but it was certainly flattering, with the way it lightly emphasized her curves. He thought he heard a few whistles from the back where his cousins sat. He would’ve been amused another day, but today his face was taut with fear. He wasn’t hiding it. Grooms looked emotional when they saw their brides approaching sometimes, he knew, so perhaps they’d ignore it, applaud him, even. 
Agyeiwaa would know, though. She was halfway across the hall now, and her face was veiled, but he knew what he’d find when he took off the veil; a disappointed sneer. Was he really marrying this woman? 

                                                                  ***
Agyeiwaa walked leisurely down the aisle, head modestly downcast, watching the grey petals thrown on the carpet ahead of her. She was aglow. This was her day! Her wedding day! She looked around; it was perfect. She hadn’t gotten round to selecting the organ piece and it sounded gaudy, but she could forget that because everyone’s eyes were on her dress, and the cathedral was the one she’d fantasized about since she was 8, and her father looked so happy it was silly. 

Everything was perfect.

Her eyes finally rested on her fiancé. Sekou looked like he was waiting for his death. That was fine. It could ruin your mood to be walking down the aisle to a man who looked like he’d rather be anywhere else, but Agyeiwaa had always been nothing if not pragmatic. One took what one got in life. He wasn’t the most courageous man, but he was smart, and he would succeed. He’d even been romantic back when he was trying to get her to sleep with him. She wasn’t bothered so much; they had the rest of their lives. He would learn.

It had saddened her a bit that fate had saddled her with a weak man, but she was not greedy. She knew how lucky she was that everything else had fallen into place. Now, look at her, 2 months pregnant, marrying a successful man in the making, well on her way to a stable home. She wasn’t completely sure the baby was his, but what did it matter? One did not take a woman to bed unprepared for all possible consequences. So he’d accepted her proposal (after begging, shouting, threatening, everything, really, to get out of it) and now they were almost married.

She stared at his terrified face through her veil, and smiled a little pitying smile. More and more, recently, she’d wondered how it would be, always so afraid of life. She sympathized with him, loved him, even. He was a spineless fool, but he had a way about him. She thought of how her uncertain past was clearing up into a clear future, and her smile widened into a grin. She wanted to break into dance. 

                        ***
Sekou had been truly brave in his life just once, the night before. What he’d done made him physically sick just thinking about it, but earlier that day Agyeiwaa had attacked him again for money, shutting down his protests with taunts about his manhood. He’d seen a picture of what the rest of his life would be; day after day of aggressive demands, pushing, draining him of his money for herself and soon for a child he was sure wasn’t his, for the entire length of his life, till he broke down and died of misery. 

So he’d manned up and did the brave thing. 

But here she was, still, gliding to him like a scepter amidst the chatter in the church. She was still here. He was so frustrated he almost felt like crying. 

She stopped and turned to face him, head slightly bowed. He bent and lifted her veil. For a second her beauty rocked him, contempt and all.

“Who gives away the bride..”

“Does anyone have any reason..” 

The priest spoke and he went through the motions, woodenly. 

                                                         ***

Agyeiwaa’s stomach rumbled, and she pressed her hand to her abdomen. Was it the food she’d eaten this morning? She would sue the hotel if she had an upset stomach, today of all days. She hadn’t even bloody ordered for the food.

“We shall proceed to the vows. Kindly take out the ring, my son. Please repeat after me.” The priest turned to Agyeiwaa. 

“I, insert your name…” 

“I, Agyeiwaa Aduhene,” her voice shook a bit, like she was scared. Agyeiwaa never sounded scared. Sekou look more closely and saw her face was coated in sweat. Her eyes were getting bloodshot.

“..take this man, insert his name..”

“Take this man, Sekou Adidi..” She felt dizzy, and her throat was clenched. She opened her mouth to speak, and all that came out was a whisper. What was happening to her? “I..l..” She was swaying now, unable to stand. Sekou reached out and held her by the waist, curious. The people were shouting now. Her family was on their feet, and her mother made to come forward, but he held out his hand. He was a doctor, he would take care of this. She sagged into his arms, little moans of pain escaping her. Whatever was happening to her was taking effect quickly. He checked under her eyelids and alarm clouded his features. 

He shouted, “Someone get a car out!” but he knew it was futile, as the priest hoisted up his robes and run outside. The sides of her mouth were beginning to froth. His heartbeat skyrocketed. Her skin was turning clammy in his hands, and he looked around for something to help, knowing there was none. He raised himself up into a crouch, holding her. Tears flowed down his face, tears of self-disgust and relief.
Agyeiwaa’s throat felt like a demon was sitting on it, choking her to death. She kept gasping for air, her eyes wildly looking for help. Her husband was holding her, uselessly crying as usual, doing nothing. She was trying desperately looking for some way to communicate that he should do something, anything, when she realised his mouth was not twisted in grief. He was grinning.

What was…Why? 

The shock took out what little air was left in her. She tried to squirm out his grasp, but he held her firmly, looking to the rest of the world like he was protecting her.

She’d assumed one of her bridesmaids had ordered the food for her yesterday, so she’d taken just a little so she wouldn’t be bloated in her dress.

Him?

It wasn’t possible; Sekou did not have the balls.

But she looked into his eyes and saw the truth. She used the last of her strength to try and shout at him, but her throat would not oblige her. Darkness overcame her.
Sekou held her till the shudders and squirms stopped, and watched her lips struggle to mouth, “Coward!” before the lights went out of her terrified eyes. Her entire face was inflated. She looked horrifying, and the contrast to how beautiful she’d looked earlier almost amused him. 
Yes, he was a coward, but this was the bravest he’d ever been, so he didn’t mind. Everyone was on their feet, most of them just looking confused at how quickly things had progressed. He slowly shook his head. “She’s gone. I think..I think she was poisoned. What did she eat? Oh my God,” his face crumpled.                                             The hall erupted in noise; everyone scrambled to get out or get to the body, shouting, wailing. He processed all of this apathetically, the weight of the body straining on him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her mother faint back unto the pews. He gently lowered her to the floor, shutting her eyelids. He remained there in a squat, his mind ringing with a cyclone of thoughts. It all slowly quieted to one. 

 She’s gone.

 He wanted to break into dance.

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ON THE CONCEPT OF BROKEN HEARTS

 

 At night I watch the moths                                They fly round and round my lightbulb          Till their wings die                                they think it’s the moon 

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Cosmopolis 

​I’m sitting at the back of a car, parked by the sidewalk, and life is bustling around me. People are in a real hurry. It’s 9, and I’m guessing most of them are late for something. Morgan is very uncomfortable at the front seat; I can tell by how he’s constantly fidgeting this way and that. He would’ve turned and asked me when we were leaving a long time ago, but I haven’t encouraged a cordial relationship. I would be uncomfortable too, parked right in the middle of such a dominantly (poor, violent) black neighborhood in a white limousine. Death wishes don’t come any clearer than that. I initially got Morgan as a sort of joke, you know, a black man from the ghetto with a white driver who’d try to act black to please me and all that. After a while I got bored of the routine, but I kept him anyway because I sensed that it pissed off my white business partners that my driver was white, and really, why lose an opportunity to amuse yourself?
I park here, sometimes, and just sit and stare at people rushing by. I don’t see anybody rushing anywhere, where I am now. Everybody moves like they know what exactly their next move in life is. Office. Meeting. Limo. Home. Bed. Limo. Bar, probably. And so on. Which is mostly true. It’s also mostly true that they couldn’t rush even if they had to, with their excess weight hanging off their torsos. Excess. It’s the first thing you have to get used to with money. The hardest, too, in my experience. To go from not having enough to having to dump things because you can’t keep them, well.

Right now there’s a boy,about 19, shuffling by, hands deep in pocket, eyes swinging this way and that like he’s waiting for something. Twenty short years ago, I was him, the boy walking quickly towards the traffic lights. If there’s any similarity between us, he’s probably not going anywhere, just really hungry and looking for something, anything, really to do. Nothing legal; that word is a joke around here. The boy’s eyes dart quickly from side to side, then he crosses the road. I really hope he’s as similar to me as I think. I was focused, determined, but that’s in abundance all around here, regardless of anything the media will tell you. We’re not all lazy cocaine addicts waiting for our next opportunity to get food in jail. But I was talented with numbers.  Could run numbers, play with numbers, predict numbers. I fought my way on out of here, found me a gig at the stock market, and the rest is math. 

Still, I appreciate this place. I don’t have that distant disdain most people who have struggled out of a place have for it. I’m not fond enough of the place to go around giving out money and advice, but I pass around occasionally and hope some radical change has started taking place. Pretty stupid, pretty selfish, maybe. But I’m no philanthropist. The place may not disgust me, but it’s left its mark pretty well. Just yesterday, I was with my therapist( Mandatory for every worker at the firm, for “workplace stress.” First time I went to see him I spent half the time laughing. It just seems like such a white thing to do, another product of life in excess. I actually like the guy half the time.) and he asked me about the challenges I’d faced as a youth in a dispassionate voice, with his hands steepled under his chin, looking into my eyes like they must’ve taught them in psych school or wherever. I stared at him, and for a second I almost told him I despised him for having had the opportunity to become moderately successful without it being an anomaly, without it being such a superhuman effort that it basically consumed your entire life and left all this residual bitterness and an inability to enjoy what you had except with this righteous I  earned it! sort of anger, and this faint aftertaste that what you had wasn’t really yours, that someone would come along for it. Wasn’t the point of all this money that you became happy? Wasn’t this sort of stress for poor people?                                                             But I smirked and told him it’d been real dandy, imitating some movie star I don’t remember.  

I’m almost done with the bottle beside me. I could tell Morgan to leave now, and I probably have better things to do, but it’s fun watching the man squirm in the front seat. What does he think, someone is going to jump through the half rolled window and attack him? It’s possible, though. Very. I’ll give him a few minutes more, then I’ll leave. Stretch this too much and he might quit, and where else would I find a white malleable driver? I laugh a bit at this, and he looks in the rear mirror.                                       “Anything the matter, sir?” I shake my head and continue looking out. The crowd of rushing people is thinned out now. Did they get to wherever they were rushing  to, I wonder? 

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On the Joys of Motherhood

Gyebi had gotten a tattoo yesternight, while she fell into a worried sleep. Not too worried, because the boy had almost no perception of time, and he was an inconsiderate fool, and she knew all this. Both attributes seemed to have increased since his recent surprising fame. Something about social media videos or something. She’d known he was probably out partying somewhere and forgotten to call. She was tired of screaming at him about it, and besides, they could both tell her heart wasn’t in her threats to leave him if he continued to act like a child. They loved each other too deeply. But now he was standing in front of her bed at 6 in the morning with a partially unwrapped bandage around his arm. What she was seeing underneath it was reddish skin (her heart caught with worry at how painful that must be, then she remembered he did it to himself and got pissed all over again) with something like a skull in black ink. She looked up from his arm to find him smiling like a student showcasing a new painting in class, “Eh? Eh? Isn’t it sexy?Look! It wiggles when I move my muscles.”

   “You don’t have muscles.” The retort came naturally. She wasn’t really thinking. He’d roused her out of sleep (knowing full well that she needed her sleep for work). A tattoo, of all things!
  “Ah ah. I’ll get muscles. I told you, I’ve registered us for the gym o.” He laughed as he said this. She was about to give the standard “With which money?” response, and remembered they had extra money now because he’d got a job. She was still in shock over that one.

She was puzzled. How exactly did he think this was okay? She wanted to beat the lights out of him, but she also needed to go back to sleep, so she couldn’t get agitated. She forced herself to remain calm as she asked, “Gyebi? Why did you get a tattoo?” Even though she knew the answer would frustrate her with its stupidity. For a second he looked honestly confused – like all this anger he sensed was unnecessary – and that was when Mariama lost it. Forget sleep. “How could you do this? I mean, what kind of-  YOU DO THIS KIND OF STUPID THING ALL THE TIME! DO YOU KNOW THE TIME I SLEPT YESTERDAY WAITING FOR YOU!? EH?” She was fully screaming now. The couple upstairs had been woken up, she could tell.

  “Ah, listen o-” His face was slowly realizing he was in trouble.  “And I don’t understand how you came here looking at me like that,” she continued, fully awake now. A part of her mind considered that she must be dousing him in morning breath. “What did you want me to do, pat you on the head?” Honest to God, this boy frustrated her!  

  “Mariama,” He’d taken on a petulant expression. “I got the tattoo as a sign of our love o. Our looove.” He said loove with a wiggle of his eyebrows and a smile, like it was supposed to be funny. Like he actually thought he could get out of this one by joking. How in the hell had she ended up living with this boy? She jumped off the bed and started shouting at him, punctuating each syllable with feeble punches on his chest. “How does a tattoo of a skull smoking signify love, eh, Gyebi? You. Are. Going. Go. Get. This. Shit. Removed! Do you understand me?” 
“Yes, Ma.” He was trying to look appropriately sorry, but he was still smiling, and he slowly brought his left hand from behind his back. He had a brown bag in it. Something heavenly hit her nostrils. 

“What is that smell? Is that-”  He was grinning now. 

“Oh, I’m sorry. What were you saying?”

“Gyebi, I’m giving you two seco-” 
“Okay, okay. It’s grilled chicken. From that chef at Novotel. I was going to start eating it, but, you know, I thought…” He was deliberately looking away now, pretending to try to walk off. 
“Bring it here!” She snarled, and tore it out his hand. Oh God, that man’s grilled chicken. She was practically salivating as she grabbed a particularly thick thigh.
So. He’d come prepared. 
“This. Changes. Nothing.” She said around mouthfuls of chicken. “You’re still getting that removed…” 
But his eyes were laughing now as he nodded obediently. They both knew she’d lost. He’d probably remove it, but then again he didn’t have to. She was his nanny, after all, not his mother.

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