CloudYOU! – #TheBlossom (Part 7)

This poem is the sixth in my CloudYOU! series. Learn more about the series in the Introduction. Read the first, second, third, fourth and fifth poems from the previous posts.

 

The day before today, the day

I made
talk of the cream and soft crack of corn
with old okra and fine fish,
talk of the grit of grain in the thick of milk,

I slipped
in and out of sleep,
with thoughts of You,
with reads of Lahiri – but mostly
with of thoughts and loves of You –
wafting in and around my head.

I don’t
know why I write today but

I do
know You should know
nothing much has changed,

31235049_1811918348860656_6164188156150153216_n

Picture mine: The sky with a coconut tree close by, a roof and a mango tree behind it, a telecommunication ‘plant’ standing farther and too tall and straight, and iron rods jutting out of a building-in-progress.  –– Wednesday, 11th April, 2018.

nothing that
You or a Cloud
with the scent of water, if not
a cup pouring over with same

nothing that
You or a Cloud
with the break of sun, if not
the shine and gold of same

nothing that
You or a Cloud
with a hue that is blue and
true and just You

nothing that
these three or two
cannot easily solve,
cannot freely give.

 

*

Love,

AishaLovesToo.

– Tuesday, 29 May 2018; North Kaneshie, Accra.

*An earlier version of this poem first appeared on Facebook page.

Exam Woes, Throes and Worse.

Even the temperature in the make-shift exam hall seems to have soared several degrees higher since you last heard the stubby, bulky man, the invigilator, announce that there are twenty-five minutes left to the end of the exam.

Suddenly, you are a mere block of something hard on the harder seat of some rickety chair. You barely cover the decrepit desk with the sparse frame of your upper torso. Your shoulders sag lower, by the seconds, as you bury your long face, dig your BIC pen deeper, into the paperwork before you.

Exam Red Pen

Photo mine: A red pen, thoroughly used, to grade student papers. Circa: March 2017.

Soon, “Ten minutes more!’’ thunders the invigilator.

By now,  you have attempted most of the Multiple Choice Questions. You are still struggling with the first question of the second of a three-section exam.

You begin it:

Thinking. You think and think your mind away.

But even the scanty clues you eke from all the drudgery of thinking play elusive games with you. So that by the time you have carved one definite idea out of the already scanty, tricky clues, the clues slip out of your mind’s grasp like a morsel of banku in the throat would, when greased with thick slimy okro stew.

Exam Okro

Photo mine: Beef and fresh tilapia in light soup, with generous okro, for the sake of banku – not shown here.
Circa: December 2016.

All this while, time does not wait.  It gallops. And you find that you have to quickly try something else:

Recalling – since Thinking has failed you, and you do not wish to fail this one critical exam in your life. But much sooner than you expected, you are to be failed again.

Recalling too fails you.

Perhaps, this is either because you are remembering things you should not be remembering in the middle of an exam of this nature or you are  remembering things you have never learnt in the first place.

“Oh, my God!” was all that you can muster to mutter.

Still, time does not wait.

You are not sure if you will hear all the words in what will be the invigilator’s next announcement.

But you are certain you did hear a word that sounded like ‘F-i-i-i-v-v-e’. Fine beads of sweat sparkle in your right palm. The other palm, it is as cold as a three-day-old kenkey – a coldness which cannot be cured even by the hottest pepper sauce, the freshest of ground pepper and its embellishment of  crescent strips of onion, and of course, the sexiest of fried fish.

It must be the thought of food, again, that makes your mind turn a stream muddied and choked by stones pelted in by a bunch of naughty children. Besides stones, the children hurl shouts, and together with shouts and stones and worse, the children let themselves wallow wild and wide. In your muddied and choked – messed and tossed – mind.

Your mind sours and hurts. Your head quakes with aches unknown and uncountable.

Exam Stone

Photo mine. A close shot of one of many ingeniously crafted art pieces in and around the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana.  Also, this is the Feature Image of this blog post. Circa: July 2017

And time makes more haste.

Suddenly, steadily, the familiar deep voice begins to loom large and louder in the room. It rumbles and tumbles in turns. The voice.

But you are not listening. You are fastening your answer booklets together. You have long given up on this exam, and school, yourself and…and…and maybe God.

The voice rumbles on. But just before the man finishes speaking, a generous chunk of your memory returns, to you. It is as sudden as it is surprising. This return.

And with it comes all the answers to all the questions you are yet to even attempt. These jump out of nothing, it seems. The answers.

And each answer leaps about you, out-shouting the others for your attention.

You refuse to mind them all. All these run-away-suddenly-come answers. You use your mind for something else:

Deciding. Between:

a) Sitting on the cold cracked concrete floor to weep at the import of the announcement.

b)  Jumping up and down, rolling and roaring with laughter at this sweet second chance…

Exam Fruit and Milk

Photo mine: Apple and ripe papaya in milk – a taste of sweet second chance. Circa March 2017.

All that one Mr. Kwakuvi Mawutor, the invigilator had said was:

“I am sorry, ladies and gentlemen. I have just been informed, by a representative of the West African Examinations Council, that this year’s Literature in English Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination has been  cancelled.”

*

Love,

Aisha Writes

North Kaneshie, Accra; Friday, 3rd November, 2017.

Not Without Okro. (Part 2)

As unusual as it was, Akua stayed in the room that whole day. As long as she was in the room, no one talked much. No one even coughed with comfort. It was only when Benedicta entered the room that the heaviness that seemed to hang in the room shifted, receded, and even so, only slightly. Shortly after Benedicta had left the room, that heaviness returned, and this time with a grimmer edge which was as bone cold and ancient as it was intimidating, yet all too familiar. With humans, especially.

The heaviness left with Akua, when she finally went out a little before dusk.

The following is the second and last part of the story, Not Without Okro. Read the full Part 1 here if you haven’t already.

            *            *            *

It was only after Akua was away when Naa told Mina about how she had used Akua’s sanitary towels the day before. Mina meant to rebuke Naa for not telling Akua earlier in the morning, but Mina’s words and voice dripped with plea and angry fear. It was Dora who, albeit odd of her, had added, ‘Who is she, by the way? Why must anyone enjoy being dreaded like the way she carries herself about? Are we not supposed to be roommates?’

‘I don’t know which one of us here dreads Akua. I don’t know… I just don’t know. All I’m saying is that Naa should have asked Akua for the pads. Or she should have told Akua that she had used her pads the last time. Akua is female too. She will need the pads soon. Soon or now. Who knows? Only for her to find that…,’ Mina worried.

female

Photo Credit

‘How often does she stay in this room? If there is no such thing as roommate, then why did she ask me for one?’ Dora flared up again, this time, too forced and quite unnecessarily.

‘Dora, don’t pretend you don’t to know why I’m concerned. I’m not in my menses. Akua is, I suspect. And she was in the room the last time I was asking for a pad. On behalf of Naa. Now, you both know that for reasons best known to her, I am the last person Akua should suspect took her pads,’ Mina strained to hold back the lump of pain clogging her throat.

In a flash, Dora remembered the look on Akua’s face and the glares which Akua had cast at Mina that morning. As the pictures of the faces flipped past her gaping gaze, Dora shivered. She quickly tore herself from the ‘trance’. She shrugged, jerked her head and with a twitched mouth, squealed ‘She can go to hell.’ No one was amused. Not even Dora herself.

A taut silence ensued. It loomed large in the room. Dora, Mina, Naa, looked helplessly lost, felt weighed-down, empty-spirited, too afraid. Of the silence. Of all that had happened those few days. Of Akua. And of everything. Even Mina had to admit, for once, to herself, that she dreaded Akua. And Mina could not explain why she sorely missed Benedicta. All of a sudden…

Suddenly, ‘E-heeh, Mina, tell me about the second movie,’ Dora started, and in so doing, undid that silence, but only some.

Mina began, dryly, ‘It was about three sisters who always quarreled over nothing. One day, one of them decided she had had enough. She could not tolerate the other two anymore. She just did not want to continue staying with them. So…’

The door went knock, knock, knock.

‘Male or female?’ Naa asked, indifferently.

‘Female,’ replied the sheer baritone of a voice.

‘A-a-a-a-h. Eric. Please wait,’ laughed Naa.

Naa quickly wrapped her naked body in a towel. She snatched a panty and for the first time, asked Dora for something – a sanitary pad. Dora pretended she was only surprised at the request in itself. Naa rushed out to the bathhouse. The next two minutes, she was talking to Eric on the verandah. The next minute, she was in the room, to dress up, to go out with Eric.

When she returned in about three hours’ time, Naa came with the oddest collection of items: more-than-generous helpings of banku with really slimy okro stew which contained assorted, animal protein items; six colourful strips of kente; five rare-shaped, different-colour shades of sea shells; four fancy, lacy hair bands; two tired fireflies trapped in one random transparent polythene bag; a leather-bound, customized diary for the just-around-the-corner next year; a terabyte computer hard drive; one cute promissory ring. And three packets of sanitary pads.

Around 10p.m., Benedicta came to meet Mina, Dora and Naa sprawled on the floor, devouring a feast. Benedicta did not wait to be invited.

For the mere love of the food and the crisp cheer of the moment, Mina, wet with sweat,  suddenly lifted her head from the food. Amidst short, quick gasps for breath, Mina vainly fanned herself with her left hand. Finally, she managed to say, still between the gasps, ‘Naa, now I understand you. Provided you will always give me some, you can always eat banku with anything okro. I will nurse you when the cramps come.’

okra-pods-on-plant-web

Photo Credit

Benedicta and Dora had to hold their sides with laughter, at Mina’s words.

Naa nearly choked with eating, laughing and replying Mina: ‘Foolish girl. What I love will kill you. Too. First.’

Everyone knew Mina was not that shallow to have meant what she told Naa, but Mina did not look like she was joking. Maybe the food had some not-exactly-funny effect on Mina, in particular.

Suddenly, it was raining. Thunder ripped the solid black sky into shreds. Dora, Mina and Benedicta could feel the rain drumming on their skulls. Their feet turned wobbly with the tremor of the concrete floor.

At first, Benedicta thought to start tellingly her roommates to repent. Surely, this must the second coming. To her roommates she must preach Jesus the Christ. Once more. This one last time. Just when Benedicta remembered that Akua had not been in the room all this while, and that she was still not in the room, even that late in the night, something bit Benedicta hard in the stomach. She flew to the washroom.

Two minutes later, Dora followed. To the washroom. Then Mina. By the time Naa was tugging at a toilet roll, everyone knew the reason why nature had decided to call them in turns at such a doubly dark hour.

And Naa was the only one who did not return from the loo in one piece. On her way back to the room, Naa slipped and fell hard on the verandah. One lady who was enjoying a free-night call on the verandah said she heard the crack of something like harmattan-dried coconut and the crumbling of a sun-caked mud house, when the fall occurred. Dora was the one who said no one should pay attention to what the lady had said about Naa’s fall. Amidst the pangs in her bowels, Dora explained, ‘That girl. She is in a Creative Writing class. At the Department of English. Together with that guy I have a crush on. Those students are like that. Big English, big describing for simple small things.’

Naa laid, pale, limp, and still, on her bed. She screamed pain at the slightest touch. She stared unblinkingly at her roommates’  worried, hovering faces around, above her. Dora, Mina and Benedicta took turns keeping wake by Naa and using the washroom.

With everyone not knowing what to do to help each other, especially to help Naa, Benedicta decided to grind two tablets of Paracetamol and some other coloured tablets, on a mock saucer, using the back of a long teaspoon. After, she stirred the near-powdered drug into a plastic tumbler of cold water. With one eye screwed shut, Benedicta watched the cold namelessly coloured concoction twirl and climb up and down the sheer narrow length of the transparent tumbler.

PARA.jpg

Photo Credit

Dora teased Benedicta: ‘Shi-e-e-e-e, the Maame Nurse. Or is it Doctor?’

This turned out to be a lame joke in a grave time. As grave and lame as Naa. That, everyone knew too well.

Bit by teeny little, the three squeezed the liquid down Naa’s throat. It was Mina who carefully saved every drop that frayed off Naa’s lips, and gently forced it back into Naa’s mouth, as if Naa’s life depended on that very drop, and that alone.

The next morning, Dora, Benedicta and Mina woke up with itchy blood-shot eyes. None of them knew better than to blame the woes of the previous night only on the food they had eaten. And none could readily think of what else to blame. Worse still, none of the three remembered having slept at all during the night. And even though they would all agree that she needed it (for a reason they might never know), the three let Naa sleep…

That morning, the birds were not heard singing. Their songs were drowned in some distant unhappy droning. One of the cleaners was slumped at one far end of the floor’s verandah. She was crowing a lone long wail. The wail. It woke up most students on the floor, and the block. For those who were too deeply asleep to be roused by the wail, it seeped into the dregs of their nightly dreams. Out of both curiosity and irritation, many students poured out of their various rooms onto the floor. Some ventured towards where the cleaner sat. A few asked her what the matter was. The cleaner answered to no one in particular.

‘She is gone o-o-o-h! She is gone. Dead. Gone. Just like that!’

The cleaner, a woman, paused to swallow on the choking of her mixing talk with weeping. Then she hurriedly felt for, and fetched one end of her faded threadbare cover cloth. She meant to wipe her tears and fill the end of the cloth with a generous goblet of mucus from her nose, but she ended up smudging her right cheek – almost to her right ear – with the last of the streak of mucus. And the cleaner, she was too sad to care that she had spited her face. She heaved. Heavily. She sighed. With fresh grief. Then, the cleaner continued, again, to no one in particular:

‘How can a candle burn a woman and her son to ashes in one night? Within a short, small time. And in the midst of heavy heavy rains? Hmmm!’

Without any warning of any kind, the cleaner sprawled on the cold concrete floor and exclaimed so hard that her vocal cords, on their own accord, screeched into a hiss, then to a clean stop. Some of the students tried not to laugh. Even the Psychology students did not know what to make of all these.

Then suddenly, she sat up, wiped her tears with the back of her right hand, and rather calmly, said, ‘I told her not to take the money. The way that young lady had insulted her, it was not good. Not good at all. But if Prince Maame had not taken the money she had seen in the pad wrapper which the young lady had swept unto the mobbed verandah, maybe, just maybe, this too would not have happened.’

Having heard these last words of the cleaner, Dora covered her opened mouth with both hands. She hardly muffled the scream. Without thinking and willing it, she turned round, running back into the room. Just then, she saw Akua, and more of her, Akua.

Akua looked drunk, ruffled, tossed and was covered in a thin film of dust. As one cool morning breeze heaved past the block, two bird breastbone feathers shifted and waved from the cleavage of Akua’s breasts.

Mina shot past Akua and Dora, into the room, all the while, beating her bust. Then screaming all the life out of her lungs, Dora soon sped after Mina. All attention on the verandah turned on the two. The crowd swooped after Mina and Dora, towards the two’s room.

The crowd saw Benedicta’s head buried in Naa’s bosom, on the bed. The crowd could not tell whether Benedicta had cried, because her eyes, just like Dora and Mina’s looked like they had been reddened and swollen for long – throughout the night before, possibly. Bereft of tears and voices, Dora and Mina hissed, groaned and hissed some more.

door-frame.jpg

Meanwhile, Akua stood frozen and transfixed in the room’s doorway. All around Akua’s frame, the crowd continued to stretch and lower their necks, all eyes peeking and peeping their way into the room.

 

Photo Credit

The End.

 

Love,

AishaWrites.

 

***

An earlier version of this story, titled Life on the Wrong Side of Okro, was first published in two installments (Friday 20th & 27th July, 2012) in Citi 97.3 FM‘s The Weekend Globe, a lifestyle news magazine.

 

 

 

Not Without Okro. (Part 1)

Mina is naïve, likeable and lively. And she cannot ignore that Akua does not like her.

Akua drifts between the room and the next one. No one knows her beyond the fact that she does not like Mina. Neither does Akua like her room, and maybe, her roomates.

Dora is sticky, loud and saucy. She is plain indifferent about Naa but flows well with Mina.

Akua and Dora still wonder how Naa got a bed on campus. 

Naa is intelligent and sophisticated, tends to be vain and carefree. Naa dresses to kill, chills, and only God knows how she still manages to get her grades. She had a fit of some illness twice or thrice last semester. This mystery added to the bad-girl air around her.

Benedicta cannot be bothered. She does not stay in the room. She is only two things while the twenty-four hours she has in each day lasted: a krife and a science student. Anyone who comes looking for her is first directed to the residential hall chapel or the sports-cum-prayer field; the library or a lab-cum-lecture room in her department. And that is, if anyone comes looking for her at all.

     *                  *                *

Mina was warning Naa to stop eating it just before Akua entered the room. Akua never forgot what Naa told Mina:

‘I will not, cannot stop eating. Not until I find something that goes down well. Like it. Something sweeter, more slimy and insatiable than that.’

Before the next day, Akua and Dora were convinced that Naa was really a ‘big time’ girl who aborted a foetus each time she so much as sat on a toilet bowl. Akua also told Dora that she suspected Mina was going after her (Akua’s) boyfriend. Although she liked Mina, Dora was yet to fully accept her as a roommate. But until Akua mentioned this, Dora did not know why Akua hated Mina with too much intent and vehemence. At the same time, Dora was as surprised as she was not surprised: the thought of a percher snatching the boyfriend of a bedowner! But since the one with whom Mina perched was more than rotten and more than a friend (to Mina), perhaps, there was no reason to be surprised. Mina must be a synonym of Naa because Mina and Naa are cousins who shared the same bed. And the two shared one half of a locker, with Akua’s being the other half.

Dora pretended she knew nothing. Nothing in the room changed.

Two days later, Naa’s illness came. Again. She ground her bed and teeth with writhing and gnashing. Dora was dressing up for an early morning lecture. Naa moaned. Mina chided her, ‘As if you didn’t know the consequences. Didn’t I tell you to stop eating it? What you love is what kills you.’

Immediately, a phone rang with the lone chorus of a song, ‘Behold, I come to judge the quick and the dead. And each one shall be rewarded according to…’ Benedicta quaked out of sleep to answer her phone. Everyone was surprised to know she was in the room.

‘That is our ghost roommate for you!’ Dora sang, stretching her neck to have a proper look at Benedicta lying on the top bed.

‘It’s rather the room mouse. No, the church-mouse-turned-room mouse. Rather,’ Mina teased.

Even Benedicta had to laugh at herself. Naa was too occupied to be amused. Mina got up and went to the balcony. The water she was boiling for Naa was still not hot enough. Naa moaned again. Benedicta was just about to ask her what the matter was when Dora started cat-walking to where Mina stood.

‘How do I look, girl’, she chirruped, flaunting the rounded stubby figure of a girl.

‘Like an organized monkey, girl’, Mina said, with a mock expressionless face.

Dora feigned anger and strutted back to her locker.

Again, Naa moaned. Akua entered the room. Without greeting, she scrambled up the bed above the one Naa and Mina shared. Naa called Mina in a low whisper. Mina came and sat beside her on the bed. Naa said something to Mina in a lower whisper. The next second, Mina asked, ‘Roommates, please can I get a spare sanitary pad from anyone?’ Benedicta said a sad ‘No’ and went out. Dora spun herself towards Mina.

‘On one condition’, Dora hissed.

‘What?’ Mina frowned.

‘How do I look. Now. In the *abortion belt?

‘A-what belt?’ asked Mina, with sincere innocence.

‘A-B-o-o-r-r-tion bel-’

‘Oh, better girl. In fact you loo-’

Akua hastily joined in, feigning innocence, ‘Ei. You, Dora. Is it called title belt or aB-O-R-R-tion belt?’

‘Abortion belt. Title belt. Whatever. But it is not a boxer or a fighter of any kind I want to look like. Anyway, I’m already late for my lecture. B-y-e-e’.

okra

Before Mina could take the sanitary pad from her, Dora dangled herself out of the room. Akua, strangely, very amused with herself, quickly got down and followed Dora out of the room. Mina left to the next room to look for sanitary pad to borrow. She did not return soon.

Naa dragged herself off the bed. Clutching her abdomen and holding on to everything and air, she trudged her way to the locker. Naa found four sanitary towels in Akua’s section of the locker. She made another long and painful journey to the bath house. Benedicta met her there. She helped Naa back to the room. She also helped Naa with the hot water massage on the abdomen. Then, Benedicta gave Naa some Paracetamol tablets and left the room.

Dora had returned from her morning lecture. She was in the room when Naa went to the bath house to use a second or third sanitary towel. Dora did not even need to pretend she had not seen Naa because there was a perfect excuse for ignoring her: Dora was busily cooking for the whole world. An earpiece shut her out of this same world. Soon, Naa had to also endure the crude smell of dawadawa, the tear-inducing spray of cut onion, the grating sound of a blender at work and a room so easily turned into the heat chamber of an oven.

It was long before Mina entered the room, crooning about how nice the movies she had been watching in the next room were. Dora was eagerly listening to Mina narrate the first movie when Naa came toddling into the room…

 *                  *                *

While she was dressing for an evening lecture, Akua saw a pad wrapper in Naa and Mina’s part of the locker. She remembered she too had a similar packet. But not expecting anyone,  especially Mina, to take anything of hers – not to even talk of Mina taking it without asking – Akua convinced herself that that particular opened packet of sanitary towels could not be hers. Besides, the last time she saw the pack, her pack, there were four pads – not one – left inside it. Also, and howbeit vaguely, Akua remembered she had hidden something else inside the pack.

                                     *                  *                *

The next morning, another person in the room had her menses.

Akua looked very angry while she desperately searched for something in her side of the locker. Twice or thrice, she momentarily paused from her frantic search to furiously, suspiciously glance at two or three things. Akua looked inside her part of the locker – where her pack of sanitary towels should have been – and the empty pad packet on the floor, in front the locker unit.

As many times as Dora asked her what she was looking for, Akua said ‘Nothing’. And once in a while, Dora saw Akua cast a devilish glare at Mina. Mina never saw Akua make any of those faces, she had her head down, undoing her own braids. Akua shook her head several times and chuckled a foreboding ‘Hm’ each time she glared at Mina. Then a hideous smile bloomed and blanched off Akua’s face as quickly as it had formed. For once, Dora thought Akua was a cat. The thought of Akua being a cat or having the queerer natures of a cat sent Dora restless, inwardly and for a rather awkward, shifty reason.

So Dora was too afraid to refuse Akua a pad when she asked her for one.

Mina waited for Dora to snuggle into her bed before she reminded Dora that it was her turn to sweep the room. Per the room’s occupants’ agreed-upon rota. With an exaggerated chuckle, Dora asked Mina whether that was her new way of saying ‘Good morning’. Mina was still laughing when Dora finished sweeping the room.

All Dora did was to hurriedly sweep every speck and scrap and what-not on the room’s floor onto the floor’s verandah. Dora had hardly shoved the room under a bed, and climbed back into her bed when, Prince Maame, the hall cleaner assigned to the floor, knocked the door.

Prince Maame wanted to find out who just (recently) swept the rubbish onto the veranda she had just mobbed. Maybe the cleaner was not polite enough with the asking. Maybe Dora had already had enough for one morning. But it happened that Dora lashed out all the scare and annoyance she had had in the room that morning on the poor woman. To put it simply but as it was, Dora told Prince Maame that whatever bad thing she had done was the very reason Prince Maame was able to feed herself and that kwashiorkor scarecrow she had for a prince.

Poor Prince Maame did not cry for long. While cleaning the new mess, something she found made her think that Dora’s insult could be the truth after all. Something which fell out of a pack among the pile of rubbish which Dora had swept from the room onto the veranda.

As unusual as it was, Akua stayed in the room that whole day.As long as Akua was in the room, no one talked much. No one could even cough with comfort.

It was only when Benedicta entered the room that the heaviness that seemed to hang in the room shifted, receded, and even so, only slightly. Shortly after Benedicta had left the room, that heaviness returned, and this time with a grimmer edge which was as bone cold and ancient as it was intimidating, yet all too familiar, with humans, especially.

The heaviness left with Akua, when she finally went out a little before dusk…

(TO BE CONTINUED.)

 

***

An earlier version of this story, titled Life on the Wrong Side of Okro, was first published in two installments (Friday 20th & 27th July, 2012) in Citi 97.3 FM‘s The Weekend Globe, a lifestyle news magazine.

* abortion belt is one of the popular names for a type of belt which ladies wear on top of shirts, blouses or even dresses.It is particularly thick in width and may cover from just below the bust and as far as the entire waist. Its technical (as in fashion) name is likely to be ‘wide belt’ and it may have a waist-clinching effect on both outfit and body figure of wearer.

Feature image: Credit.