Okoloma

by Bryan Joe Okwesili

You are wrapped in Blynn’s arms, in his room, in cold southern Chicago. It is snowing outside; small small white balls toppling one another. You feel the warmth of Blynn’s breath against your ears making your nipples harden like pigeon peas. You edge closer, adjusting your position. You wish to inhale what he exhales. This is what you want your love to be- breathing.

Blynn is saying something about Trump and abortion and more Trump. You nod like every time, agreeing to everything he says. You also want your love to be like this- an agreement, even if it is one-sided, even if you think nothing evil about abortion, even if Trump was what Mama calls a poor harvest; Ngabiga, an experience. When Blynn stops talking and his silence melts into the dimness of the room, the whiteness outside reminds you of harmattan and you a suddenly engulfed with a sickening nostalgia for the place you called home for fourteen years.

You have been reading about Nigeria on the internet; the incessant Labor Union strikes, the fire outbreak in Onitsha Main market, the crawling development of Lagos and Abuja. You have read about the University Library in Calabar with an elevator that terrifies the students rather than amaze them. You laughed at the fight in the National Assembly and at the comic representations of Nigeria on her Independence Day. On the day you read about the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, same day Blynn brought a dog home from the rain, you locked yourself in the basement and sobbed, chewing your tongue because the jerking human with the smashed skull reminded you of the days you could not breathe. 

You imagine what Adazi, your home town, looked like now. You imagine the rash harmattan settling over the town like a shared pride; the ashened knuckles and elbows, the cracked lips, the bustling movements in the market, the old men rolling up in tiers, sipping dry gin. You imagine the ecstacy on the children’s faces; the expectancy of wearing new clothes dubbed ‘christmas clothes’. You try to imagine what Mama would be doing, where she would be. You try not to think of Papa but there he was, darting through your mind like a swift, silver fish. The memories you have of him we’re like the feelings that prickles the nape of your neck when you leave your house and can’t remember if you have left the gas on. You remember the afternoon he looked at you like he knew you from somewhere. That afternoon, when he opened the door, you were still in Mama’s dress, swallowed in it, dancing and swaying. He stared. You stared. A cock crowed; the world did not freeze, did not know it should freeze. At night, he called you to his room- a darkened space smelling of tobacco, stripped you and while he whipped, Mama cried, saying “hapu ya, leave him.” You were ten, suffocating. Years later, when you learnt to stiffen your walk and deepen your voice and Papa began calling you ‘my good man’, a literal translation of your name in English, you still could not breathe. So at night, you stole away, boarded a bus headed lagos- the place of possibilities, filled with people with the will not to unite but to survive. You had read that somewhere.

You knew no one in Lagos, so you slept under the bridge at Ikeja and soon became friends with other boys who knew no one also. You began to breathe. 

You searched bins for traces of sadine oil and leftover noddles. Bread moistened by morning dew was your favorite. Years later, in Blynn’s family home, sitted at the breakfast table surrounded by people talking about Africa as a town, you wondered if they knew that bread moistened by morning dew tastes like scrambled eggs. 

At a cleaning job in Main Lane, a man smelling of crude oil money asks your name and tells you you have the eyes of a mermaid. Max, you say, then you blush because of the way he is looking at you. When he asks if you would love to model in America, you do not know what you said but few weeks later, you are on a plane, revelling in the feeling about what you had read in a magazine- The American Dream. You knew someone here so it was easy to settle, to ask questions and get answers, to ease into the modelling life. The cash flowed in, quickly because you knew how to make white men feel. You used your mouth, your hands, your feet. You were their ‘bitch’. You were beginning to suffocate but you liked that it was called modelling and not prostitution. You were twenty-one.

Then you met Blynn at a park in Princeton, cradling a camera. When he looked at you, you smiled because you knew he had fallen in love. He wanted much. He wanted you to love him, to live with him. He wanted to hang your photo close to the smiling photo of his parents in his bedroom. He wanted you. You could have moved away, said no but you stood there, smiling and saying something about his too pink skin.

The snow outside is now a mass of fallen clouds, sidewalks and hegdes buried under. Blynn is still silent, still unruffling the curly hairs on your thighs. Your memories grip you. 

“I must go home, Blynn,” you say, slicing the silence, startling Blynn.

“What?” He asks. For the first time, he smells of tobacco. You walk to the window. 

“Max, what is wrong?” He beckons. You turn, looking at him 

“Okoloma. My name is Okoloma.” You look away, a little amused at his facial expression- a dawning wha-da-fuck that left his jaw dropped. You are not sure if this is how to breathe, if you wish to breathe, anymore. But, you are glad you remember everything, everything; because in remembering, we heal.





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