LAST DAYS
Last days

Isn’t it funny how everything becomes urgent only when you have little time to do them?  Think about it. That last project you stayed up all night to complete, only because you had a deadline to beat the next day.  Having just two years to live feels the exact same way.

We are on our way home in a blue, Honda Accord from Saint Nicholas hospital. It is the fifth time I have been there this year. Nothing has changed really. I still have leukemia. I still suffer through sleepless nights. Sometimes, I go for treatments  to numb my pain and slow my death, but at the core of it, the final fact is –  I’m dying.

However, Talatu, my best friend, who is on the wheels at the moment, still believes I have a fighting chance. She is not spiritual, has never been, but lately she has been sending me weird Bc’s on WhatsApp.

“Healing service at Chapel of goodness. Theme: Hand of God. Come experience your divine healing with Prophet – Insert name of choice here. May you be blessed as you come”

Of course, I ignore her. Just as I ignore thousands of Programme on Television advertising the “Power of God”

I am not against religion or God or miracles, but this things have to do with some semblance of faith. A raw, jaw breaking faith that I honestly do not have.  The weirdest part is this shouldn’t be happening. I should be a psychotic fanatic by now; attending bible studies from Monday to Friday and perhaps set up my own prayer group.

I hear this is what terminal ill people do these days. We involve ourselves in spiritual activities in search of meanings, finding solace, making amends, questioning life and death and fate. I have none of these episodes. For now, I am content with “being”, the act of simply living in the present. Not the past, not the future, but  in the moment as it is. This is my own epiphany.

 

As we drive past City hall at the heart of Lagos island, I close my ears for a Nano second to block out Talatu’s horrendous voice. I don’t know which is worse; to hear her sing or hear her brutalize  Sade Adu’s Sweetest Taboo for several hours. Her voice sounds like the piercing and painful sound of  someone scratching their long nails against  a blackboard .

 

I would beg her to stop, but I know Talatu.  She no dey hear word.

 

Most people consider Talatu to be – not exactly sure of the word I’m  looking for-  Crazy? Weird? Eccentric?.  Whatever the word is, she is different. For one, she has lots of Tattoo’s. On her arm are different types, the latest being a sketch of my face next to a quote which reads Sex is art in motion.

She likes Jazz, smoky rooms and good gin. I like quiet. I rarely listen to music and when I do, it’s never something deep and artsy like Sade Adu or Lauryn hill or Erykah Badu. She owns her own spot, Jazz room, home to alternative sound and spoken word artist.

I on the other hand, own nothing. Every single thing I have had is because of whatever role I have occupied. A student. A daughter. A wife, but I have never really built anything. To be honest that has left me wondering a little about the kind of life I have lived.

Was it mine? Did I love it? Would I do it again?

Sometimes I talk to Talatu about this vacuum I feel. This need to create something, build something, be remembered for something.  She says I should take a professional baking class. “You always loved cakes. I am certain you will find a good school online” She said.  I’m not sure I will. I am still thinking about it. But this is why I love Talatu. She understands me alot, knows what to say or how to say it. However, I think she takes her love too far. For example, my face on her arm. What happened to pictures or getting a painting or making a video or any one of the one thousand things she could do to remember me than permanently immerse my face on her skin? I often tell her, her energy and unconventionality reminds me of the street of Lagos. (What a weird comparison right? but it’s true)

Out here, everything moves in a frenzy, from young peddlers pushing their wares in impatient drivers’ faces, to the boisterous shouts of conductors in yellow commercial buses.

Talatu reminds me of that. The hustle. The need to survive as different faces chase survival in their own little way.

Even though Talatu’s parents died in an motor accident at the age of Ten, she didn’t stop for anything. She worked her way to the university, dropped out and started her own business. She does not have a London education like me, neither did she have a comfortable life, but she survived against all odds.

This is the kind of strength I wish to have. But I would be a liar if I tell you I don’t wonder about it all sometimes. If I didn’t ask questions.

For what purpose? To what end? What will it serve if eventually everything we work hard for ends up in the hands of those who never understood the passion that drove us to get it?  This chasing and gaining? Do we relent? Should our fear stop us?  I don’t think so. We might loose at the end. We might leave all we worked hard for behind. We might die building empires and structures and landscapes, but in my opinion whatever good we spread with our limited time on earth makes our efforts worthwhile.

I turn to face Talatu. She has finally stopped singing—thank heavens—maybe now would be a good time to tell her what happened yesterday.

“Olohirere came to visit me at the hospital,” I say softly, as though announcing a visit from my ex-husband’s mistress (now wife) meant nothing. But I guess my announcement must mean a lot to Talatu however, for she slams hard on the brake with a force that flings me towards the windscreen like a rag doll. The only thing that prevents me from flying through the glass is the seat belt fastened across my chest.

“Talatu!” I yell once I regain my ability to speak. Thankfully the road is clear, and we have caused no accidents. Talatu’s face beside me does not spare as much as a crease for the road; it turns on me with hawk eyes.

“How on earth did that happen? What did that witch want?” Her lips tighten, and the purple veins around her neck strain against her light skin. Whenever Talatu hears Olo’s name, two things happen: first, she calls her a witch; second, she forgets we three were once childhood best friends, and grew up shaping the same sand. Sometimes, I swear, I cannot remember whose husband Olo slept with; hers or mine?

“She and Maruf are getting a divorce,” I say. Talatu’s loud laughter does not startle me. The length, however, is unexpected. She stops after a while and just when I think she is done, she starts all over again, tiny drops of water forming at the edge of her eyes.

“Well, isn’t karma a bitch?” She says gleefully when the laughter passes.

“But wait o! What did she think would happen if she told you? That you would suddenly get amnesia and forget she fucked your husband?”

“I don’t know,” I answer. It does not matter to me why Olo came, but that she did. I do not tell Talatu this, however. Instead I say, “She mentioned he impregnated her sister too. She said she’s sorry.”

Talatu’s face brightens up again, and though she tries to keep a straight face, the corner of her lips curve in a little grin. Her shoulders begin to shake with poorly constrained mirth till she bursts into another round of laughter that lasts almost a minute. She finally calms down, puts her keys in the ignition and drives off.

I imagine what is going on in her head. Possibly the same as mine. Maruf was my first love. It didn’t happen in a conventional, highschool kinda way though. Atleast something for once in my life went out of the box.

He was actually the “plans” of my mother falling in place. She first mentioned him when we went shopping.

“Do you know Chief Ayeni?”

“No” I replied almost rolling my eyes.

“Well” She continued, picking more items off the shelf. She lifted a tin of milk, examined it abit, then dropped it.

“His son Maruf just returned from UK where he did his masters. We are hosting them this evening”

I waited to hear why this was my concern but nothing was forthcoming.  Afterwards, I knew why. Maruf was handsome. He was tall, lean and wore a white kaftan with a blue cap.

When he stretched out his hands and smiled at me when I came downstairs to greet him, I felt as though I was before a demi-god.

“Is that the latest swatch wristwatch?” I commented when I saw his wrist. For months, I begged  my mother to get me one, but she refused. But here it was and I could touch it.

I fell in love.

Within weeks, my mother was planning our engagement and telling all her friends her daughter was marrying into major money. I didn’t mind at all. I was happy. Everyone said we looked good together, everyone except  Talatu.

“ I don’t know. There is something off about him”

I remember Olo hissing.

“You have come again with your inclinations and feelings. What is wrong about him?”

Talatu and Olo never saw eye to eye on anything. They often clashed in opinions, but I couldn’t help but agree with Olo on this one.

“ Is it your inclination or feelings? ” Talatu hissed at Olo and faced me again.

We were at a spa. I was having my nails done while Talatu and Olo waited their turn.(We liked that particular Manicurist) Although Talatu would have preferred to be somewhere else, we insisted she did something to her horrible looking nails.

Talatu was still talking.

‘ I just don’t know but my spirit does not align with his.’

Now I love Talatu but she can be abit dramatic a times, especially with aura’s and vibes, and spirit mumble jumble, but in the end it seemed Talatu was right after all.

At first I didn’t believe the gossips about his affairs, but soon it became impossible to ignore. I was getting texts messages, threats, videos. His attitude towards me was different.

I remember I would complain to Olohirere about it. “ I don’t know what to do”  She would listen to me pour my hearts out, while she was one of his several women. Eventually, she became the only one.

They said the affair started almost immediately after we got married, but it hadn’t just been the betrayal, but the reaction to it – my reaction to it.

For a long time, I blamed Olo alone for my broken marriage. I bought into this idea that Maruf was only a man, and it was in his nature to cheat.  So in preparation, I did what most women do; I accepted it as part of his weakness and waited. For you see, to accept means you are ready for the inevitable.

The truth is infidelity is a choice.  It’s not something written in the skies as inevitable. No forces beyond Maruf’s control pushed him to sleep with my friend. There were no charms involved! No spells! Just his itching piece of shit!

******

We arrive home to find my mother waiting for me on one of the cane chairs placed outside the house. As always, she is impeccably dressed; this time, in a fitted white jumpsuit and yellow courts. Her braids are styled neatly in a bun, and her neck adorned with a teal pearl necklace. I greeted and invited her in. Talatu would have greeted her too, but she knew there wouldn’t be a response, so she didn’t bother and headed upstairs.

“How are you doing?” she asks as she perches at the edge of the sofa, her spine as straight as a rod and her Chanel purse clutched tightly in her fists. Her eyes take in the sparsely decorated room, artfully avoiding mine.

“Fine, Mother.” From years of experience, I know it’s the only acceptable answer. Details of feelings have after all never been encouraged.

There are a few seconds of awkward silence, and then she looks at me with an emotion I can’t quite place. Concern? I wonder, but I am not sure.

“You must come home,” she says. “You should spend time with your family. This is no place for …” She pauses in mid-sentence as her eyes circle our sitting room with a wrinkled nose, as though she breathed a different kind of air here—stinker air. She continues, “…a Benson. Your friend is not of our social class, she is a nobody! A riff-raff! Come home.”

She says the words ‘your friend’ with a pinched expression, deliberately ignoring the fact that Talatu’s family and ours had once been in the same social circles before they died.

One year ago, I would have followed her home dutifully.  But things are different now. I’m different and her words no longer affect me.

“Thank you, Mother, for your sincere concern but I’m fine here,” – and for good measure I added “—with the riff raff.”

She glares at me for a full second then storms out of the house with her chin raised high, a faint trail of Chanel No. 5 in her wake. I hold no hope I will see her soon. I guess my boldness scares her more than my death, but as I said, cancer changes things.

When I decided to leave home and move in with Talatu, I knew I was shaking tables.

My doctor advised I remained positive , be around loved ones and aside my father who died shortly after my wedding, the only other person I could think of was Talatu. She was like a sister to me.

After Maruf cheated, she was the only one who encouraged my decision to leave.  My mother on the other hand? Well, we have always had a distant relationship.

All my life I lived under her thumb. She commands, I obey. I studied law because she wanted me to; married Maruf because, somehow, marriage to someone outside my social class was abominable (Even though I fell in love with him). I stayed married to a cheat for two years because mother wondered what her friends would say if I ended my marriage so soon.

Your daughter cannot keep a man!  Just imagine at her age and already divorced, was all my mother feared her friends would say when I told her of Maruf’s affair with Olo. Yes, I could have stayed and worked on my marriage, but Mother never suggested that. She thought it was ludicrous that I complained.  “It is what it is,” she would say. “Men will always cheat!”

 

In retrospect, I guess mother made it easy for me to blame her for my poor life choices. I used her need for control as an excuse not to live my life. However, the more I think of it, the more I realize that nothing but fear held me back. Fear I would fail if I defined my own path; fear of  gossips if I divorced my cheating husband just after two years of marriage; fear to stand up to Mother, to stand up for myself; fear  I wasn’t good enough, for or by myself.

So instead of doing the ‘unpopular’, I let my mother and society dictate to me. After twenty-six years, I find now that I am no longer afraid. I have cancer. I will die and there is nothing more terrifying than that. Or what more is there to fear?

After she leaves, I sit by the computer and search for catering schools online. I have decided I would enroll in one after all.

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