Short Story: Mama Tayo

The thundering and splattering of the noise baptized her in a familiar fear. The women held themselves as they saw the thick black circle of smoke rise from the village square miles away. 

She made the sign of the cross and clutched the white beaded crucifix hanging from her neck. She knew what it was; it was the people of Okoko land, a neighbouring village, waging war against them for the death of their prince. 

The two royal families used to be inseparable friends that visited each other often. Especially the princes, Kolade and Falani. They were closer friends than green on leaves. It so happened that Falani, the prince of Okuku land, came visiting his friend on a chill friday morning and his lifeless body was returned home. 

The story had been told that the queen had prepared a meal for them and Falani after a few hours started to cough and gasp desperately for his very life. In less than an hour, he was dead. Everyone was in grieving shock as songs of woo were chanted by the town crier as he led the way to the deceased’s home. 

King Faderanti did not take the news of his only son’s death well, this was evident in the dead bodies that were returned to Prince Kolade the next day and the successive killings and burning of homes that has been occurring since then. 

It has been three weeks of constant brutal attacks; hundreds of men and women have been killed. The royal family had gone into hiding and now the people were left to fend for themselves. 

Mama Tayo had lost her husband and the last of five sons to one of the fires and she was now the sole breadwinner of her family. It is unbelievable how fast things change.

The few of the women that still found themselves alive had agreed to clear a new piece of land farther than usual from the village so that their new source of food and livelihood would be speared. It was here that Mama Tayo found herself this evening when the monstrous explosion coloured the skies in colours of pain and doom. It would take more than two hours for her to return to her home just by the village’s border. She had warned the children to stay inside. She had locked them in their small bungalow and taken the keys with her. 

She quickly dropped her hoe and climbed on her already worn out bicycle, heading for the village, paddling hard. All the while praying for the safety of her children. 

Her gratitude knew no boundaries when she saw that the yellow bulb in their veranda still shone like a lighthouse on a stormy night. And as she came closer to see Sibi, their family dog, wagging his tailing in welcoming of her, she knew that all was well but there was no promise of tomorrow and they must soon come to bid this place they call home goodbye.

PS: this story is practice for the @farabaleafrica contest I want to enter this week. Wish me luck. Lol. Money is involved. 

Photo: @farabaleafrica

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Short Story: Hey Stranger

“You have to get over him”

“Ehn.” She sighed in between the gasps that were already heaving from her chest. “I know that. I’ve known that for a while now. The question is how? How am I supposed to get over somebody I love this much and have loved for so long?”

“I’ve told you.” Bimbo stands from the bed and paces the free area of the entire room. “I’ve told you. Get a rebound. I know all those Google articles tell you that’s the worst thing you can do. But see, this your case is serious.” She sits at the edge of the bed. “You’ve been off and on with this guy for six long ass years Helen. Six years!!! Do you know if you had had a kid, the kid will be in primary school by now? Find a new flame babe. Please!”

“It’s not that easy to meet new people.”

“Abeg, just slay and you will know how easy it is.”

Helen manages a smile.

***

She has just returned from her PR work at 7:30pm. She is fagged out. But not too fagged out for Instagram. That’s when the dm came in.

josh555: hey

josh555: You bio said I could say hey.

She remembers the bio: I do pr stuff plus I like art. say hey, I like to help.

hforhelen: hey right back at you.

josh555: So pr.

hforhelen: Yes pr. It’s not as interesting as it sounds.

josh555: Lol. I know about a bunch of stuff that’s not as interesting as they sound. Take for instance, library science.

hforhelen: Haha. How would you know? Are you a library scientist?

josh555: No, but my best friend is and he is the most boring nigga on earth.

hforhelen: Lol. Smh.

And so it went on for weeks, with Josh. He was a fashion designer. Like, a legit fashion designer. When she saw his works via shared photos on Whatsapp after she finally agreed to let them exchange numbers, she was dumbfounded. He did women and menswear, swimsuits, bridals, name it. And he wasn’t hustling either, as  per, he was already stable to an extent.

They had chemistry, if chemistry meant that two people could basically not be without contacting each other every single minute of every single day. Then, they had enough of that to call a planet. And there were calls too. Calls that seemed to last forever. People started to notice at work that she was always napping during the day because she didn’t get enough sleep at night. When she spoke to him, she felt that her life meant something, of course she knew that he life meant something before but now, with him, it meant something more.

***

Joshua A *heartemoji*: When will you come have dinner with me?

Reply: Is this a playboy move?

Joshua A *heartemoji*: So what if it is..

Reply: Lol it better not be. it’s been five months o

Joshua A *heartemoji*:…And im already your bestfriend abi

Reply: Loooool for your mind

Joshua A *heartemoji*: So dinner?

Reply: Sure.

Joshua A *heartemoji*: Where?

Reply: You choose.

It wasn’t that much of a fancy restaurant but it was classy. Helen had been to fancier places, but because she was going to see him, she was timid and self-conscious. She wondered if heels were too much for a causal first date and whether or not her dress was too short. He came a tad late and smiled a widespread smile when he saw her.

“Wow, you look hot!”

“Wow, not mincing words now are we?” She had replied as she offered him a sit.

They both laughed.

“My bad, you look amazing Helen.”

“Thanks Josh.”

“I’m sorry I am late, traffic.  What will you have?”

Meeting him was great, he was even better looking in person, better articulated. She liked him and by the time they were done with dinner he had asked her to be his girlfriend and she had stammered and said “…there’s somebody else”

“Are you kidding?” He chuckled

“No.”

“You’ve never mentioned somebody else Helen” he leaned towards her from across their table “and we’ve basically spoken every day for the past 162 days and you haven’t mentioned anybody to me.” He took a deep breath “Are you serious right now?”

She was quiet.

“Okay then.”

He called for the waiter, took care of the bills and left.

She left too, after several minutes of not understanding what had happened.

She expected him to call later that night but he didn’t, or the day after that or the week after that. By then she had tried calling him and texting him and sending him dms. But he had blocked her everywhere and now she was at the verge of hot madness. She did not know how to function without his good-mornings, or how-are-you-loves… or smile-for-me na. She never thought a time would come she would wish for days of no love. But here she was, on the floor in her room watching reruns of scandal and eating dry cereal and there was no emptiness quite like the one within her and she wanted nothing more but to hear his voice and when the urge overtook her she would go to their chat history and she would find and replay the voice note of him explaining how fashion is art and how it’s a personal statement of creativity and she would marvel at his brilliance and how foolish she had been to ruin it all and she would wonder why she had such bad luck with people and love and she would eat some more dry cereal and let herself cry as Olivia pope does Olivia pope.

Short Story: A Supposedly Bad Day

A SUPPOSEDLY BAD DAY

When Sope got out of bed that Tuesday morning, she didnt know this was the day she had long imagined and hope to come, so she grumbled a little at daylight and how gloomy the hours spread out before her would be. She had not gotten any sleep the night before because she was going over the procedure for a surgery she would perform and all the risk factors involved. The big white wall clock with black numbers on her bedroom wall told her she got into bed at 5:38am. She sunk into her bed and turned to her side, faced by the empty space she is reminded of her husband. Emma, her husband of six years and a few months, was away for a few days. You would think after all this time she would get used to his trips but quite the contrary, every time felt like the first time, leaving her sore and impatient for his return. You can go with me you know? He had said. He was right, she could but she also could not; she had finally found a charity hospital for children, intensive surgeries all week for ridiculously subsidized prices. She loved it. It didnt earn a fortune but she didn’t quite need to earn so much as one naira with her husband working at the UN as a socioeconomic consultant, they had enough money to move out of their middle-class bungalow and into one of the mansions down the citys edge; where all their friends lived, but they had never quite fancied the fancy life. Maybe because they both grew up in places of the sort and didnt want to raise their own kids that way—surrounded by enough money to drown in. At a point you start to think, living like that, there isnt a thing money cant buy and thats the beginning of a fall that lands you flat on your face. It had its overflowing perks, but they, Sope and Emma, both agreed there was a line and they would draw that line bold for their own family.

She was just driving into the hospitals yard when Emma called. She parked and picked up. Speakerphone.

Hey Baby. His voice filled the car like a balloon, obliterating everything in its path, including her. Her first. 

Hey Mr. M. 

He chuckled. Why do you sound like that like you are about to have a bad day. 

Her sharply drawn brows were on the rise as he asked, then she answered, barely letting him finish. Oh but baby, you know I always have bad days when you arent here.  

He was quiet.

Whats the matter? 

Im sorry, I have to stay back a few more days.

She stayed quiet.

Can you not do that? He said in a rush.

Do what? What do you want me to do?

I’m sorry, okay? Ill be back there as soon as I can. 

I need you here now, you’ve been gone for 4 days already, and you were supposed to be back tomorrow. 

I know, I know.  I’m sorry. Can we at least agree that the next time I need to leave you’ll come with me.

You know I…

Just once. 

Can you at least get back here and then well talk about it? How long?

I dont know, two or three days?

Okay. 

Im sorry love.

It’s okay. I’m a little upset but its fine. I’ll call you when I get home. 

I love you. I’ll see you soon.

Line dead.

Out the car, black flats on brown sand, then concrete. The hospital was a two storey building by the road, painted a hot pink colour with bluish random pebbles on the walls. It looked like a giant Lego building from the outside. It had to, it was a children’s hospital. Inside though, the walls were a crystal white.  They were repainted that colour every month to keep the space serene and clear perhaps. The hospital got its funds from the Federal Government and two or three NGOs that chipped in from time to time. The doctors were all volunteers and had day jobs in other places, unless they decided to work full time, like Sope, which a few others did. 

She checked on all her patients, gave the nurses instructions, made funny faces when she needed to, reenacted Ben10 and Princess Fiona.  By the time she retreated to her office she could feel the uneasiness well up in her abdomen. More than any other place, this was the place that reminded her of him the most. These faces. She love it here and she hate it at the same time. It was the oddest feeling. With the air conditioner humming in the background she heard herself hyperventilating. E-mails. She should check her e-mails. The distraction did calm her for some strange reason and she was on her feet again in a few minutes, ready to scrub in on her surgery.  

The surgery lasted the rest of the day and she was grateful it was successful. This is why I come back here every day she said to her black sleek car as she got in. The feeling of doing something good and meaningful filled her up and she didnt notice when a smile buried itself in her face.

Traffic was in full swing by the time she curved into the main road. Traffic like this always made her go down a trail of thoughts and get lost. It was mostly of her son, but now, because she missed her husband she thought of her wedding day. It seems so far away in the past but palpable still. How unsure she was, even though every minute spent with him cemented her conviction, still when she walked down that aisle she doubted. Am I really doing this? Am I really trusting this man with the rest of my life? And how lucky she got that day. There was no man quite like the man she married. He knew her. He saw her and he loved her. When things got hard, she never feared that he would leave. She would reach and he would be there. Perhaps thats what we all need.

A little after they got married, they discovered after trying to have kids for a while that she couldnt. There was something wrong with her cycles. She wanted kids and she knew they had a chance with IVF. She had been the one to suggest it and he agreed. They got lucky. They got pregnant on the first try. They had himAdetola, the most beautiful creature she had ever laid her eyes on. She thought she had felt everything there is to love with Emma, but Tola open the portal to a whole new world. 

On a sunny July afternoon, when he was four, they went to the mall. Hand in hand. They had entered a store to get a few supplies. She dropped his hand for a minute. One minute. And like lightning he was gone. It made no sense. At first she thought he ran off somewhere and she didnt want to make a scene so she went looking for him on her own and asked around. An hour passed and she hadnt found him. She told security, she called her husband. They called the police. Two years had passed now and they still had no idea where He was. People say losing a child is the worst thing that could happen to a parent, but whats even worse than that is not knowing where your child was. Not knowing what they were doing or where they were and not being able to do anything about it. That. That loss of awareness, loss of responsibility, loss of presence, knowing very well that they could be anywhere longing for you as you are for them, is pure torture. 

Emma fell apart. They both did, he was better at it. Giving the police something every month so they wouldnt stop looking. He never stopped hoping. Sope didnt care. She could not understand how he was gone in the first place. Why he was gone. Why her. Emma wanted them to have other children, so they went for another procedure. And it failed. And another, and it failed. And she didnt want to do it anymore. And he let her be. She would hear him in the bathroom in the middle of the night, sobbing gently, sniffing like he couldnt breathe, then he would come to bed, lay next to her, fold her in his arms, kiss her forehead and say, Hes alive Sope, he has to be. Hes alive, barely letting the words leave the gates of his mouth like he was telling a lie. He would say it over and over and she would try to sleep believing him. 

Its funny that she met him in a public bus, because they both had cars and both their cars had broken down on the same day. Whenever they told this story, wherever they told this story, no one believed them. They themselves did not believe the story was truly theirs, but it was. She had seen a book she loved in his hand, and made a move. And so, conversation erupted. Longest 15 minutes of her life. He found her on Twitter. They were private, keeping this thing to themselves for over a year, until he proposed to her, in the most unpopular way there is. It was dinner, many of which theyve had by now. 

I want to marry you.  He said out of nowhere

What? 
I dont think I could spend my life with any other person. He had said, as if this very fact had just urgently become apparent to him. 

Are you proposing to me? 

I think I am.

You think? Are you serious?

Laughter. 

I am Sope, do you want to marry me? 

Yes yes, I want to marry you. She had said, letting herself breathe.

There was no ring. No kneeling. No friends or family. Just them in a random restaurant, on a random night. She had asked him later if he had thought about it at all, or if it was as spontaneous as it seemed. No, no. I knew it was you the second time we spokewas his answer

The second time we spoke was two months after the first time, on a phone call that lasted an hour and half. She had known then too. And had hoped she was right.

She got out of her car to open the gate. Her muscles seemed to ache, she stretched and yawned. Opened the gate. Drove in. Got down again to close the metal gate, looked at her house. Home, she thought and exhaled. She could feel the warmth all the way out here, in the evening cool. She looked at her watch; 7:48pm. Exhale.

 Barefoot, bag and shoes in hand, she walked toward the door. Aduke came running towards her.

Welcome ma. Tola came o. Tola came home! 

Her heart jumped into her throat. Her arms grew numb so her bag and shoes fell to the floor. Wha what are you saying?

The ache in her body vanished that instant. She ran inside, entered his room and he was there, sleeping in his bed. She dropped to the floor like a globe of water falling from the tip of leaf, entirely. Aduke was saying things. 

He said he walked home. He said they took him from the mall, bad men, and, and then, this morning he found himself at his former school, so he started walking home. I bath him and gave him fo

Sope couldnt speak, she didnt have words. She was devoid of weight or comprehension or whatever it was that was supposed to help her come to terms with the present. It was as though the world was spinning too fast for her. Her eyes were pouring out rivers of transparent liquid from God knows where. She did not know what to do, so she laid there on the fur rug with Mickey Mouse smiling right across. She laid there and sobbed, her heart collapsed with unbelief even though she had prayed for this every day. And to think this morning, she had grumbled. To think she had thought, in her infinestimal mind, that today would be a bad day.

Short Story: Walking on Water

I

Ugly brown curtains patterned by spaced average-sized golden birds swallow the white blinding sunlight and colour the room a burnt orange hue. The door is shut with great care and locked swiftly as a slender young woman is leading a much younger girl to the bed in the corner of the room by hand. They did not switch on the led bulb that hung from the ceiling. The young woman sits on the edge of the bed and faces the younger girl. Her eyes intent, drunk with knife edge focus. Her face, shinning with striking raw beauty even in this dark square room, is unreadable. She is starting to undress. First, her hot pink shirt and then more slowly, almost like she is rethinking, her lace cream bra, releasing two round curveballs hanging from her chest in perfect alignment. The younger child, getting bored, is surveying the room with curious eyes. She had been here before; it was her house after all. She was going to ask a question when the now shirtless, braless figure before her said, Simi put you mouth here, pointing to her bare left nipple. Simi hesitates as a result of confusion.

Suck it, baby. The young woman says, making herself clear.

Simi is six.

II

Yinka is her neighbour and best friend. It is a misty Saturday in September and they are spending the day together. Yinka is only a year older than her, thirteen and already has a mobile phone. She is playing the same game she has been playing for over an hour on the rectangular box. She has lost this round. She needs a break, she presses hard the button with the red telephone doddle and the square screen goes black. They are in Yinka’s room. There is a table with a desktop computer on it at one end of the rather spacious room. There is a big bed on which Yinka is reading a novel. Simi is on a baby blue couch opposite the table, just beside the wardrobe on the right. A full length mirror stands erect on the left of the couch. She looks at the dark monitor screen a couple feets away. She fumbles the phone in hand and then switches it back on. Home screen. Gallery. Videos. There are about a hundred. She is surprised at that. She plays the first one and her eyes are glued in an instant. White nude bodies. Moaning. She pauses the video after about three minutes, unsure what to make of it. She returns to her game trying hard to force the images out of her head, but they have already latched on too strong. Yinka doesn’t notice or hear anything, perhaps she is pretending not to.

III

She turned eighteen last month; her father got her a laptop. She had been begging to have one for months. Dreams do come true.

This is the right time to do it. Everyone is asleep. It is one am. Her room is motionless. The world is quiet. She switches on her laptop and connects to the internet. Plugs in her headphones. She knows the sites. She knows how to cover her tracks. She has never been caught. In 30 minutes, she is done; she feels utter relief. Then crippling disgust but she is exhausted so she falls asleep.

IV

She is seated by the window of a public transport bus on her way home for the Christmas holiday. The air is beating against her cleavage and fights its way further down, she can feel the arousal between her thighs and suddenly she is hit with a nausea from within. Like she just might puke. She is now a walking sex machine. Couldn’t she enjoy life, enjoy air without thinking, sex, sex, sex. She takes a deep breath and somewhere between inhaling the air and exhaling the air she hears from inside her that she could be saved. That this wasn’t the way that life and her body ought to exist. And she knows it would sound crazy if she said out loud that God was calling her, so she didn’t. She keeps it in her head, but the fatigue of being who she had become—a prisoner in her own body—makes her ask for His help. And she knows that He had heard and that things will be different.

V

Simi has not touched herself in a little over six months. She has been reading the bible. She has found a church. She has experienced God in wondrous simple ways. She is happy. She feels free. She is in her apartment outside campus, a self contained flat in a three storey building painted a fading pale colour. It’s a Friday night and she on her bed, watching a movie. They are kissing. They are naked. She is horny. And it happens. Again.

Sunday morning mets her burdened by guilt so monstrous she cannot find the heart to attend church and look God in the eye. She walks from her bathroom towards her bed and falls like a heap of lifeless clothes on the soft foam overlaid with a lemon coloured cotton bed sheet. She says she is sorry. Her heart is sunk. Her feet are heavy and she is shocked that, out of nowhere, she feels the familiar urges rising within her. She beings to cry. Heaving. She can hear somewhere between her gasps, like a whisper. Look me in the eye my love. Stare. Don’t take your eyes off me. This is how you soar. This is how you walk on water. This is how you rise, and stay risen.

She wipes her tears and wears her clothes, heads out the door and almost runs to church, a steady impatient joy greasing her feet.

 

Short Story: The Story Of Prince Ade II

Ade is a prince with an attitude, that is what Queen Jemima of Odeoku said to the king, his father, when she came visiting them for a week.  She came to see to some overdue business deals and see for herself the king’s famous grand farm. King Ade was no ordinary king,  he ruled the seven kingdoms under him with great power and immense compassion.  His people knew him as just and often called him the wisest man on earth because of how he dissolved the unsolvable issues of the land. Although some people had began to speculate that the king was no man at all,  but an incarnate of God, no one could prove it. The rumour roomed the lips of both young and old. Indeed,  King Ade was in numerous ways Godlike; eyes like that of an eagle,  strength like that of a bear, undefeated warrior of seven lands of Ademide. The people feared him, and stood always in eye-widened awe of him.  Just when they thought he couldn’t be more grandiose,  he added another page to his glories. The people loved him and hoped that his reign would not end.  Another, perhaps more pressing, reason this hope bore deep in their hearts like the roots of an Iroko was because of the prince, Ade II, who made it his mission to be the everything his father was not.
Prince Ade,  second in his name, only son to King Ade and Queen Omolabake—deceased—and heir to the throne was a 19 year old town troubler.  There was not a crime that he did not commit with such finesse that made you wonder if this was a crime at all rather than an act of diety.  He broke all of his father’s laws and his father being the just and wise ruler of all the seven kingdoms, never pardoned him.  Perhaps his father hoped as the people hoped that he would one day repent and live as the prince that he was,  but that day never came.  He only grew more notorious  as the seasons changed and years rolled away into the past.  It was when he killed an innocent man in his twentieth year that his father grew unforgivingly furious.  In an heartbeat,  it was done and it could not be reversed—Ade was exiled,  never to return for 10 years.  And even if after those years, he did not see himself unrighteous  and guilty and repent, he was to remain in exile—away form the seven lands of Ademide or face death at the hands of the grim executioner.
Prince  Ade did not leave without a scene. He gathered the town rascals and they raided the palace together, asking for the Prince’s royal inheritance. The king told them that the prince did not have an inheritance as he—the prince—had never worked a day in his life. The king relented form engaging in a fist fight but when Adisa, the most impatient of them all, came at the king with a cutlass, threatening to cut his head.  The king rose to defend himself—in one swift sway there were six heads on the floor, leaving only the prince’s head on his neck. These were the kind of events that made the people doubt the humaness of the king. There were no words needed,  Prince Ade ran and did not stop until his heart felt as though it would burst out his chest and run it’s own race.
***
No one heard of him for six years until the news bearer came yelling in woe the Prince was held captive like a common man, sent to the cave prisons of the darklands—on the other side of a boundary river that separated the light and darklands of the world—on a life sentence. No man ever crossed that river and returned the same. They teetered on the border of madness and sanity, neither claiming them. Everyone eschew them—the mildly madmen—with  an almost violent resolve to never cross their paths. When this news got to the king, he became gravely depressed.  It was then, in the midst of his consuming sadness, that he decided that he must go and get his son.  The towns people did not agree but they trusted their king and so they supported his mission as theirs.  

The king was triplet born; he had two identical  brothers with whom he shared his birthday and other congenital similarities. His brothers were, Aderemi the man of war, chief warrior of the seven lands and Adegboyega the explorer, weightless traveller of far and wide,  like the wind he kissed every border, east to west, drawing maps for future explorers that he believed would be born in the bright future of their kingdom. They couldn’t be more different and yet  more alike. It was as if they were forms of one another, like water, ice and steam.

A week after, King Ade called for Adegboyega to come and serve as acting king while he went visiting their other brother, Aderemi, on the war front.

***
Aderemi was hefty. As far as hefty men went, he was by far heftier. His entire physique command a kind of metallic resilience that made you ten times, if not stronger, braver by just looking at him. He was training the new recuits when news of his brother’s arrival reached him through the lips of his right hand man, Gabriel; not equally hefty or brave, but buff and brave enough to be who he was. Gabriel carried himself like his master—unflinching, unmovable. To say they were confident was a brutal understatement.
“Brother!” Deremi announced with his arms spread out before him
“Brother!” Ade replied mimicing his brother, laughing loud, hard and standing to embrace him. They sat on the embroideried mat in the central tent.
“What brings you to the land of blood my king?”
“Ade.” he paused to watch his brother eyes widen. “he is in trouble”
“I understand. I have heard the rumours. Do you want me to go alone? I will not even take Gabriel.”
“No, we are going together.”
“At once.”
King Ade laughed loudly as if he could not believe his ears but he knew his brother well, that he was a man of action and it was not his custom to waste time at talking when they could be doing.
“At once.”
“Gab!” Aderemi called. Gab appeared. “I will be gone for…” he shook his head like he was arguing with an invincible force “… I do not know exactly. Hold the house. I trust you to keep things in order.” Gab noodded and left them again.
“Aren’t you going to ask me why?” The king asked
“No. I understand, I told you.”
King Ade nodded. “Thank you.”

***

The river was not far from sight from the camp grounds, since it was men from the darklands (that were trying to encroach their own lands) that they were mostly at war with. They crossed the shallow river and move on from it’s bank with urgence and alertness. They had not been here in many years before when they, Adegboyega included, killed the dark king during the great war years ago but that is a story for another time.

They moved on foot, quickly. It wasn’t long before the dark creatures started coming at them. Aderemi worked wonders with his bare hands as expected and they both escaped narrowly. The forces of the dark were great but they—the brothers—knew they could very well handle it, for it was no secret that the creatures of the darklands feared greatly the royal brothers of Aramide.

The cave prisons weren’t exactly caved. They were underground, but the only way in was through a cave right in the middle of the darkest forest of all. They knew where it was, but they needed a differnt route in, they did not want to announce themselves. Deremi came up with a plan to take the boy’s place in the darkland’s prison. This was the easiest way to get the prince out. He told his brother his plan—kill a darkman, wear the dead darkman’s clothes approach the prison and ask to take his brother’s (the prince’s) palce (the caved prison was know to allow this kinds of exchange for centuries because the new inmates were usually strong and healthy, and could work efficiently for at least another two years compared to the already overused and near death inmate).

“No, no. this is not what I had in mind” The King objected raising to his feet, close to anger but also knowing this was no doubt a great plan, perhaps their best shot.

“They will know we’ve been here. You need to leave. I will stay. I will take his place and be back when his offence is fully atoned for.”
The king knew better than to dessuade him. His brother was as strong headed as could be.

“But he was sentenced to life..”

“I know. Fear not, I will escape. It will only take some time. Who are these dark creatures, compared to us, men of light”

“I have heard you” the king removed one of his beaded breaclet and made a promise that he would be waiting for him.

“Thank you Aderemi, I won’t forget.”

Deremi nodded. “I will leave at dawn. Stay here and wait for your son. You must be strong and alert.”

The king sighed, weighed by the thoughts of the future.

The king waited for five nights and four days and then on the morning of the fifth day as he was gathering wood to make fire for his breakfast of a robust rodent he had killed the previous night, he saw a figure like that of a man appearing in the bushes. It didn’t take him long to realise it was his son, brusied and broken. The king couldn’t wink away the tears from his eyes, he ran and held his child.

“My son” he panted.

The prince, inrecongnizable with a beard the magnitude of a large bush and skin lying over no flesh at all but bone. He collaspes in his father’s arms, he tried to speak but the king hushed him and rocked him and let himself feel his son alive in his hands.

“Are they after you?” he finally asked.

The prince shook his head no.

***
The journey back to Ademide was long and hard, longer and harder for the king without his brother. Ade, the prince was already decapasitated in most ways and so could only carry himself so long. The king did most of the carrying and nudging and pulling forward. They returned home in spilling-over happiness and also sadness for the loss of their royal warrior. The people forgave the prince for his overflowing list of trespasses and allowed the king to welcome his son back as he had seeked his fathers forgiveness and made a vow to be respectable and honourable as a prince should be. Prince Ade was forgiven and he felt deep humidity and gratitude from that mere fact. Everyday, he waited expectantly for his uncle’s return and so did his father.

Adegboyega was saddened by the disappearing of his brother but without much thought, left three days after the king and prince’s arrival believing that soon Aderemi will also return.

***
In the tenth mouth of the twentieth year of waiting, Aderemi slipped into town like a stranger, he could not be recognized and so as he approached the place the guards held him at the door and when he mentioned his name and they did not believe him, he shook his head gravely. And fought his way in. The king did not need any introduction when he saw him. He could smell his blood in the room as the rugged man stormed in. They embraced, teary, shook by emotion.

The prince was in the farm and when they told him his uncle had returned, he left all he was doing and began running to the palace on foot, forgetting his horse and servants who tried to no avail to stop him, his heart bursting into an impossible number of minuscule pieces all the way. What is it you do for he who has given his life for yours?

Short Story: The Legit Year

Tomorrow, Salewa will be a year older, and the least thing she wants from the universe is to see another sunrise. It is 9am and she is on her way to class, pink short-sleeved shirt tucked into navy blue pencil skirt, flat shinny black shoes, her backpack sagged just enough to give off an hint of undergraduate swag, marley braids in a bun—they were over two months old but you wouldn’t notice if you were watching her all the way from her faculty building—Engineering—only a few feet away like Badewa was. He was standing by the entrance, studying her strides, thinking all along what he could possibly get her for her birthday.

“Birthday girl. Can’t believe you are about to be 18.”

“I am” she replied feigning excitement.

“Remember when you used to come to our house with your blue facecap and suspenders?” He was laughing, she joined in.

“Oh please.” She managed to say.

“You always wanted to be a boy eh, Sisi?”

Everyone called her Sisi because she was the only girl in the second year civil engineering class who still dressed and spoke like one. The other four were already totally converted to the male folk. The irony of it! She used to be a tomboy throughout primary and secondary school, but then the gap year between the latter and university had forced her into a love affair with makeup. Let’s not get into it, but it might interest you to know that she once got paid 250k naira for a magazine photoshoot a year back—She was a beast at the craft, no doubt.

Lectures faded. Salewa, Badewa, and Ope—the third musketeer—met at The Chill Zone, a small restaurant just on the other side of school. They were there to plan the dinner for the next day. It was their thing, anytime anyone of them had a birthday, there would be a dinner. Planning Sisi’s own was the most tedious because she was popular. Her room was always bombarded with cards, balloons, cakes etc. calls flooding her phone and let’s not get into all of the social media drama.

So they sat, ordered Coke and made plans. Salewa had already mastered the act of being her alter ego. The person she let the world see was upbeat, interesting, fashionable and always happy. She was not a fine girl, not in the instagram-slay sense. Her eyes were big, bigger than most and she had an asymmetric nose that led straight down to a small mouth and sharp jaw but she knew people’s fine-threshold was very flexible. If you were a jolly person, the light bulb in the room and everybody’s confidant, they don’t look at your big eyes or small mouth anymore, they look at what you do for them and how you do it and they see you that way. Asides that, her makeup game was always on point, so somehow she had been able to convince her entire department if not the whole faculty and school that she was a fine girl, so much so that she won the most recent Most-Beautiful award.

The meeting took longer than expected. Where. Check. When. Check. What to wear. Check. Cash. Check. They left Chill at aroung 7:30pm. Ope walked as though her body could not contain all her excitement, she hopped and skipped and jogged a bit.  She just couldn’t keep still. She had the stature of a slightly taller-than-average 12-year-old so she found these kinds of gymnastical movements easy. Salewa laughed hearty laughs at their jokes. At her life. At the lie of it all.

It wasn’t until she got to her room, removing her clothes, standing there naked in the dark that she let the tears come. Easy. Slow. Like a gentle river, almost soothing. “Please”, she said, breathing shallow. It’s the prayer she’s been praying for about six months now. God should let something bad happen to her so she wouldn’t have to kill herself—an accident perhaps; some kind of death she couldn’t see coming. She couldn’t do it herself. She wasn’t strong enough for that. Just like she wasn’t strong enough for anything. She did it; she let her brother die. The image flashed before her again and she shut her eyes so hard they began to hurt.

“Please”, she said again.

After a while, she got into her bed, covered all of her body with her blanket and turned on her phone. The happy-birthdays had already began. It made her sick. Just as she let the phone drop from her hand, Badewa called.

“Sisi.”

Sniff. “Bobo.”

A chuckle. “Hahan, what’s that?  Don’t tell me you’re already sleeping o.”

“No… No I’m  not.”

“I just thought I should call to see how you were, you were quiet at Chill, not like yourself.”

She wasn’t  quiet at all, all day. She made it a point not to be.

“I was?”

“No not really. I don’t know, I just felt I should call.”

“L.O.L. Badewa are you catching feelings?”

She could slip from one persona to the other like this without effort.

“Hewww, oya goodnight o.”

She started laughing.

He started speaking. “Listen, I just wanted to tell you that I really appreciate  your friendship and you being there for me all these years.”

“Epistle.” She mocked

“Goodnight.”

Line dead. He wasn’t angry. This was the normal order of their dialogues. She sighed because speaking to him had exhausted her in some way.

Badewa was the guy next door. Not exactly best buddy though at first. Their parents were. They attended the same church,  same school, same house fellowship. Pretty much same life. Badewa became a bad boy in secondary school and she told him about Jesus. For a long time he ignored her. Then one day, as though possessed, he came saying he wanted to hear, and she told him everything—Jesus died and rose for you, accept him as your Lord and savior and you’ll be saved—and he accepted and so since then, like two sides of the same coin, they have been inseparable.

She was still thinking about him when she fell asleep.

***

It was the heavy knock on the door that woke her. She knew who it was. Not who but what. She knew what it was. She grabbed her shorts and a tank top on the plastic chair by her table and yelled I’m coming. It was just 7am.

She opened the door to three cakes on her doorstep. She sighed. Thank you she whispered to the air. And carried the first and second, one after the other, in their cardboard boxes into the room. She was about picking up the last one when Ope arrived.

“Birthday sisi”

“Agbe” she replied calling her friend a farmer in Yoruba.

Ope roared in laughter and tooked the cake from her.

“They have already stated burying you in cakes ehn.”

They both laughed. As soon as the cake was out of her hands, Ope jumped on Salewa from behind and shouted—happy birthday my darling!!!—and started planting pesky kisses on her back. Sisi was giggling.

“No class for you today.” Ope added playfully

“L.O.L. you wish.”

Her mom and dad called together, soaking her in copious prayers, prophecies and advice. It lasted at least 30 minutes. After the call she decided to switch off her phone.

“But why? Who switches off their phone on their birthday?” Ope wanted to know and asked rather loudly.

Salewa just guffawed at Ope’s confusion as though it were their inside joke and they had been sharing it in public.

***

When Badewa saw her at the Gazzie Restaurant—a fancy place just opposite the school gate—his breathing became short and fast and for several minutes, words did not come to his head or mouth. In fact, he felt like all the blood in his brain had suddenly dried up and he needed to lay down a while. She was wearing a black sleek gown that stop just an inch above her knee and silver jewelry that made her eyes shinny, angelic. She looked like royalty and in many instances during the course of their little party, especially when she laughed she left him in unexpected awe.

They sang, they laughed—a lot—gave gifts and spoke highly of their friend. A cake was cut. A few tears were shed because Ope was one to cry without so much as a reason, according to Badewa. They ate and made merry. Anyone who saw them would account that they were the happiest bunch that night at Gazzie.

When they got back inside the university’s walls. Badewa offered to walk the birthday girl to the hostel. Ope said her goodbyes; she had someplace to be.

“Did you have a good day?”

“I can’t complain.”

“Ope said you switched off your phone for the day..”

“I just wanted some quiet.”

“Are you okay?”

She laughed. “I’m fine. I am eighteen. Finally legal!” She chanted with her arms in the air.

He laughed. “I am worried.”

She was starting to get worried herself that he was being this persistent.

“I am fine.”

“You’re always fine.”

“I am. It’s God.” She could feel the lie surround her like a dark cloud.

He stopped walking and watched her move along before she stopped too.

“I’m fine Badewa!” Her voice cracking.

“Please tell me what’s going on.”

She continued walking. He followed her. He didn’t say anything until they got to the front of the hostel.

He hugged her, short, tight, and told her, “Happy birthday Sisi. I know God will take care of you even if you won’t let me. Next year will be better.”

And that’s when she let her wall down, the tears followed and flowed easy. He let her go, not sure what to do. He held her hand, as if asking for permission to hug her again. She didn’t want it to get awkward so she sat down on one of the three steps that bordered the verander leading to the entrance of the building, and as if programmed, a couple of girls passed them by, mummurs and low hushes. Selewa got tissue out her bag and did the needful. Sniff, sniff. He didn’t say a word, he was watching her, guarding her with his gaze as if any moment she could be gone. He wasn’t a man of many words, Badewa. He just waited for her, he waited till she was ready.

“I have been obssessing about dying.” He tried to act like he wasn’t hurt by her words, his fear being fulfilled, but his eyes betrayed him. She saw it. She looked away. After a few minutes he decided to ask, “Is this about him?”

“Yes.”

“Salewa co…”

“He was my brother, my only brother, you don’t understand.”

The quiet was so heavy it fastened both their butts and feet to the platform beneath them though the two of them now wanted nothing more than to abandon the whole conversation. Her more than him.

“You don’t know what I did.”

“You didn’t do anything. It was an accident.” He didn’t intended to, but his voice rose. They hadn’t had this conversation before because she wouldn’t allow it. She would say she was fine. She didn’t need to talk. Everything was okay. He was wrong to have believed her, trusted her to keep it together. To have let her pretend she was strong enough to carry herself. He died in December, this was the following September. All this time he thought she was fine. He could feel the guilt lodge in his throat. He wanted to say he was sorry but she spoke first.

“You weren’t there. I was. He was missing for more than an hour and I didn’t notice my brother gone. I didn’t notice till it was too late.”

The tears were back, with a vengeance this time; unwelcomed, forceful and messy. Badewa was listening, words kept escaping his grasp. He hadn’t heard this part of the story before. He just knew Tayo die from drowning. It was only his second time at the beach with his sister and family friends over the weekend.

“He drowned because of me. I knew he couldn’t swim. I knew and I forgot about him. I forgot him. Why should I get to be here? Why should I get to get older and he doesn’t?” She wanted to get up but he held her back.

“Please…” He paused, searching for words “please, you can’t keep doing this. You need to forgive yourself. God has. Your parents have. Even Tayo has I’m sure… It wasn’t your fault Salewa”

“He was just 6. Do you know how long my parents wanted to have him? Do you know how much I wanted him. How I prayed and waited and hoped..”

Her voice trailed off.

“Yes. I do. I know. I was there. I’m sorry. But I need you around. Your mom and dad, they need you. Do you really want to hurt them like that?”

“No.” She answered breathlessly.

“Have you talked to God about this?”

“I don’t think God wants to hear about how I want to be dead.”

“I think He does, cause He kept bugging me to ask how you were.”

She laughed a coarse laugh. “And here I was thinking you had fallen in love with me.”

He smiled. “How do you do that?”

She looked at him, her eyes asking what?

“Switch like that, pretend everything is fine.”

“I’m not sure. Being doing it for way too long now; all the lines are blurred.”

They sat there a while. In total noiselessness, a few centimeters apart, staring, everything around them growing darker with time.

She spoke up when the stars started to grow so visible you could distinguish which was which. “You should go, it’s late. Do you want some more cake?”

He got up, pulled her to her feet, threw her one of his legendary smiles. “No, maybe tomorrow. Tell God about it… and when you’re done talking, listen for a reply. He cares about you, about this.” he made a face that said, please?

She nodded. “I will.” And smiled back.

“Is that real?” Referring to her smile.

She embraced him in a pretend rush. “It is, thank you…” And started walking away. “…for everything.” calling out to him from the gaint door that secured the hall.

He nodded and waved goodnight.