“Grief is nothing but love unbound and homeless. What does love do when it has no place to go? When it has been so abruptly displaced from its home? It morphs.”
Mide opens the door to his flat to find Diora’s mother staring back at him. He recognizes her easily because he has seen the many pictures of her in Diora’s phone, has memorized the dips and curves of her face, the texture of her skin, the quality of her smile. He has expected her arrival for a week now and yet he is stilled by the woman before him.
Her skin is the color of fired clay: a deep reddish brown that gleams almost golden in the light of the sun. Her hair is the ashen color of clouds, drooping to her back in an unsteady straightness, fuzzy and curly and flat. She has worn out its kink with hair relaxer and now the hair sits on her head in a manner that is indecisive, a reluctant afro. She has eyes that remind him of Diora: the same almond slant and golden brown irises and lush eyelashes.
She looks too much like Diora: similar small shoulders and long necks and the subtle aura of a person for whom being beautiful is always an option.
Mide is too stunned by the starkness of their semblance; he forgets to greet her.
“You have killed my child.” The accusation is gentle on her lips, a near whisper. He almost does not hear it.
“Good afternoon, ma. Welcome.” He moves away from the door to allow her entrance into the flat. She makes no move to enter.
“You have killed my child.” The strength is reinforced in her voice, the accusation is stark; a large thing that hovers before him, malignant and powerful and smothered in rage.
He does not know what to say in the face of her allegation, cannot muster any word that will absolve him of shame and guilt, that will free her of her grief. He says nothing.
He watches as she pounds yam in a mortar that is more than half her wiry frame. Her arms grab at the pestle strongly, fiercely, unlike his own tentative grasps. Her shoulders are inched towards the mortar and as she pulls the pestle away, she sways backwards and then lands in the same position with a definite thump. The hot white dough is, at first, a rough, uneven texture. But as she pounds, it melds into itself, succumbs to her will and morphs into an enviably smooth whiteness. When it is pounded to her liking, she takes a flat metal plate and scoops the dough into a bowl.
“Do your people eat nli ji?” The question is abrupt, almost startling. These are the first words she has said to him since that afternoon when she pressed blame into her voice and accused him of killing her son. There is something gently ostracizing in the way she says “your people,” something self-absolvent in the manner of her speech. He is—to her—a person for whom ”your people” will always remain a valid form of identification, an identifier of his separateness from her and by extension, from Diora.
“Yes ma. We call it iyan in Yoruba.” He is careful not to lower his voice into a whisper. It is instinctive, the desire to whisper in her presence. He finds that his usually loud baritone—the voice Diora had called “alluring”—is mellowed into a whispery alto when she is around.
She hums in response. The sound eases him because this is what he is used to with her: a low, guttural hum, something that, at the same time, acknowledges his words and denies his presence. Words are new and bruising; words accuse and words illuminate grief. Hums are solemn and carefully nonchalant. He finds that he prefers her humming responses.
“Diora hates nli ji.” She punctuates the statement with a small laugh, a gently indulgent laugh.
He notices that she speaks of Diora in the present tense and the small action steals the breath from his lungs, tightens the knot in his throat. He does not cry.
“Really? I didn’t know that. We never cooked it.” He is intentionally emphatic on “we.” He expects a reaction from her: a raise of her brow or a sudden stiffness in her movements. She continues to scrape off small chunks of yam dough from the mortar, fluid and unencumbered by worry. This—her fluidity—annoys him; the absence of a reaction irks him. Her nonchalance does not acknowledge the existence of a “we,” the reality of their togetherness.
“He does not eat it cha chali.” She continues to speak of Diora in the present tense.
Mide does not know what else to say. He wonders why she has chosen to speak to him only now, whether she knows the distinct quality of his grief, the nature of his discomfort with her sudden joviality, the unease that stretches his skin taut whenever her eyes meet his own. He questions if she can truly see him, the curve of his shoulders, the length of his legs, the muscles pressed into his chest and arms and thighs. He ponders if she can see the malaise that clouds his face and the tears that cause his eyes to glisten glossier. And in this—his wonderment—he searches for the blame in her voice, and he is almost saddened when he does not find it.
When Mide sleeps, he dreams of Diora. He likes these dreams because in them there is no pain or fear or carvings of hollowness in his chest. In these dreams, he is fresh and new and glimmering. He is complete and unbroken and unbreakable.
But the quality he loves most in these dreams is the way Diora manifests in them. In these fantasies, Diora laughs in a manner that freezes worlds, stills realities. It is this, the nature of his laughter, that attracts Mide to him.
Iridescent. Adjective. Pertaining to lustrous, brilliant colors. An utterly riveting collage of chromatism. No other word better describes dream Diora than this. With Diora, mundane things take on a sparkling newness, an enchanting otherness. He is the type of man written about in romance novels: the kind whose presence makes the skies seem a little bluer than usual, the leaves a little greener, the air a little fresher. In his fantasy, Diora is the kind of man who uses words like “belligerent” and “denouement” in simple conversations and still manages to not sound overly pretentious and stylishly aware of himself. He exudes easiness, the kind that infects others and causes them to laugh a little more freely than they ordinarily would, dance a little more roguishly, flirt a little more blatantly.
In his dreams, Mide is newly enchanted by Diora: the supple, gleaming fairness of his skin, the mischievous curve of his lips whenever he smiles, the way he cannot seem to remain still as though he needs to always reassure Mide of his presence, as though stillness will erase him from existence. He is awed by the dreams of Diora because they do not fight in those dreams; there are no stifling silences and bristling glares between them. Diora does not have a sudden headache during one of their fights. He does not fall to the floor in a manner that reminds Mide of boneless, fluid things. Diora does not die in the cab on the way to the hospital, and Mide never hears the doctor say “aneurysm.”
He likes these dreams.
Obianujunwa does not know how to be loud with her love. She does not understand the need for affection to be inflamed, for emotion to be large and open and utterly flagrant.
Her parents shared this trait; they did not know how to give love in its entire fullness, did not toe over the “just enough” margin of affection. They measured their love in the physical things they could give—clothes on her back, a roof over her head and just enough food to keep her sated. Very rarely, they would indulge her, allow their love a small moment of respite to grow into something like largeness, something not quite gigantic but big enough to tower over the usual “just enough” perimeter of their love. In those rare moments of indulgence, they allowed themselves to laugh with her, to ruffle her hair and throw her small frame into the air before catching her in their steady, ever-present hands, gleaming with her and loving with her until the moment passed and the just enoughness of their love returned.
When she met Igueze, she marveled at the unrelenting nature of his affection, the starkness of his love, the way he seemed to give and give until there was nothing else to give and yet still he continued to give. That was why she married him, because with him she felt adequately smothered in affection, comfortably cloaked in tenderness. But even in this, his unwavering adulation, she reserved her own affections. She loved him in the same manner that her parents had loved her: gently and carefully and just enough. She indulged him too sometimes, allowed for her emotions to morph into something like largeness, like too-muchness. And it scared her, the wildness of her adoration, the way her passion seemed to transcend her, to drown her away. And because it frightened her, she reigned in her love and held it desperately within her.
When Igueze died in a mining accident two months before she was due to give birth, she remembered the sense of displacement that overtook her, the sudden feeling of groundlessness that formed underneath her feet. She fell, wholly and mightily, into her grief: the all-encompassing largeness of loss, the constant morphing of emotions—sadness into anger into fear into guilt. She lost herself in it. Until Diora rescued her.
He was—at first—a kindly formed foetus with almost pink skin and tiny tufts of curly hair on his surprisingly large head and she regarded him with an emotion like wonder: this new being who caused her to receive four stitches in her vagina and cried every night by 2:00am for a month. And for two months she referred to him only as “the baby” before—on the day when he first laughed—calling him Ifedioranma. He saved her merely by being exactly as he was: small and innocent with a nose that reminded her of Igueze.
She was awed by him.
“I could not attend the burial.” Mide is crying as he speaks and Obianujunwa has her back to him. She is carefully peeling the ripe yellow skin off of a pawpaw with a kitchen knife, and her movements do not falter after he speaks. She does not regard him. “I called and texted and I begged you to allow me to attend the burial.”
His voice quivers with sobs and something has gathered in his throat, something large and choking.
“A burial is a family affair.” Her tone is flippant, her answer is brisk. She has expected this conversation for a while.
“I am family too.” He speaks softly but assuredly. It is only then that her methodical peeling pauses. She drops the knife on the kitchen counter and turns to him, incredulous. He does not wait for her retort. “You might not have approved of it, but I was his family too. He belonged to me as much as I belonged to him.”
It is only after he has spoken that he realizes he has shouted at her. Remorse quenches the rage that froths inside him but he does not apologize.
“Ifedioranma Sylvanus Ezekwesili never belonged to you.” She is emphatic on “never” and she punctuates the word with an adamant shake of her head. “You might have been his friend or his lover or whatever it is you call yourself but you did not carry him for nine months in your stomach. Gbo? Did you?”
She claps her hands in his face and she is conscious in her intent to mock him, to hurt him.
Mide tries not to cry but there is a triggering cruelty in her aura: a sharp, intentional wickedness that provokes him into more tears.
“I begged you,” he says.
There is a small moment where she pauses, a moment where her eyes find Mide’s own and she sees in their glossiness, a mirror of her own grief. The moment freezes her, causes her to lose sense of her limbs, to feel anew, the sensation of groundlessness. She falls.
And Diora is not there to save her.
Chidera Solomon Anikpe is a twenty one year old, queer, Nigerian storyteller and an avid lover of contemporary literatures, abstract arts, pop music and mythologies. He is the last of nine siblings and the self acclaimed ‘rainbow sheep’ of his family. Chidera is published in Brittle paper magazine and Iskanchi Press amongst other magazines.