“At night your dog kept barking,
we thought it was learning to accept the heat.” — Akpa Arinze.
Thick, smoky clouds fill the sky, and darkness spreads over everything like night. It’s a few minutes past four. The wind blows things in the air. Strands of nylon. Pieces of clothing. Dirt. Dust particles. Everyone is busy: market women are packing their things—pepper in tiny bowls of different colors, fish on wooden trays, vegetables, loaves of bread, fufu—off the stalls, and taking them into their shops. Okada men are in a hurry to get somewhere—home or a park where the sky won’t shed its tears on their tired bodies.
I’m running to avoid being beaten by the rain. It is unlikely that I will get home before it begins to rain hard; it’s now drizzling. I should seek cover, find somewhere to shelter, but I can’t afford to get home after five. I ought to have been home before three. School ends at two p.m., and, by bike or taxi, getting home takes seven minutes. Walking—walking alone—takes more time, almost thirty minutes. But walking with my friends—David, Ibro, and Agboola—takes double the time it would take if I were alone.
Today is the first time I’ve walked with them since Tobi left. I stopped walking with them because Mommy is now too concerned about me. She no longer sends me to buy things outside past seven, unlike before, when I used to go and grind pepper at Iya Tosin’s down the street past nine whenever she got back from work late and there was no light at home. Before, I’d go buy bread past eight. When Tobi was home from school, it was always around ten p.m. that he got hungry and he wanted to eat suya. I’d go along with him. But things have changed. Other than not letting me go out at night, she has stopped me from playing outside, on the street, and nobody is allowed to come into our compound to come and play with me. Whenever Paul, the boy who stays opposite us, comes over to ask me to come and play with him, Mommy tells him to go home and do something useful with his time.
The rain is now heavy. I run for cover under the eaves of a building complex. There, about eight other people are sheltering, all of them waiting for the rain to quiet down. I stand next to a girl who is seventeen, maybe eighteen. She smells of fish, fried fish. I guess that’s what she sells. She reminds me of Bose, the daughter of the woman we used to buy fish from before Tobi happened. Every time I went there to buy fish and Bose was around—and she was around almost all the time—she was the one who sold to me. Whenever she sold to me, she’d add extra. As she handed me the nylon bag, she’d ask me, “How is Tobi?” I’d tell her he was fine. She’d ask if he was coming home, when he was coming home. Whenever he was around and we went there together and she saw him, she acted like a child, almost tripping over things. I knew she liked him, but I didn’t mention it, because he knew it too. One evening, when he was at home, his phone rang and he smiled that wide smile of his and said, “This girl ehn!” Afterwards, he told me she’d said something like “I want you to use your hmm to shift my womb”, a line from Kizz Daniel’s Madu. I thought he was joking until he showed me one of her messages where she was asking if she could come over to our house one morning when no one but Tobi was at home, for the thing. I didn’t know what to say; I just wanted to laugh, but I was trying very hard not to. And then I laughed. Tobi looked at me and said, “Why are you laughing?” I was just thinking of him shifting her womb with his hmm, I said. He looked at me and smiled, said he didn’t do girls. The next minute, before I could ask him what he meant, he was asking if the food was ready.
Ernest O. Ògúnyemí is a writer from Nigeria. His poems and short stories have appeared/ are forthcoming in magazines, including: Yemassee, Indianapolis Review, Litro Magazine, Acumen Poetry Journal, Lucent Dreaming, 34 Orchards, Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry, Erotic Africa: The Sex Anthology, and Agbowó, amongst other places. He is the curator of The Fire That Is Dreamed Of: The Young African Poets Anthology