It was Ada’s usual way of thinking. When she thought, she
imagined the words floating around in her head. Strings of white
graphic, struggling to find space in a black planet. She dreamt
in white and black. She had heard people say they dreamt in
colored. She could not just imagine it. Once your eyes closed, it was
darkness, how could anybody dream in colored.
She was sitting across the table from her man. Watching him gallop
down a glass of chilled Guinness stout, her glass of smirn off ice
untouched. He was trying to make light conversation with her, and
she had lost her voice because there was so much darkness in her
head. She just watched him and thought darkness!
The waiter came and started to take away the bottle he had drained.
She stopped watching her man for a moment, and watched, the
waiter. She was sexy, the waiter, but not in a way that made her
jealous. Her figure was like a coke bottle, the waiter, and she
had this arse that went, left, right, up down, out of control in her
clinging uniform. She gave it to her, the waiter was sexy but not in a
way that made her jealous.
She returned to watching her man, just as the waiter unintentionally
spilled a drop of Guinness on the right sleeve of his immaculate
white kaftan, then rushed for her breast pocket and produced a 23
clean white handkerchief and started to clean him. He weakly
tried to stop her, but she insisted, apologizing profusely, so he just
stopped, amused, and watched the waiter, while she cleaned him,
caressed him. The waiter was flirting with him.
She was flirting with him, the way a waiter would flirt with a man
knowing he wasn’t much interested in the girl by his side.
It amused her dark thoughts, how some women would flirt with
anything, anybody. Some would go to bed with anybody, as long as
he was handsome, handsome like this one. Then she thought about
herself, how she was different from most women. How she loved to
know her man, know them deeply, know them in spirit, know them
in soul, then know them in body. She loved to know everything
about her man, just as she knew this one.
Yes, she knew this one, knew him from years ago when he had
lived next to her, lived just next to her, for fourteen long years.
He lived with his father, next to the room where she lived with her
father in the big man’s boys’ quarters. Thin walls separated them.
They used to rub their hands hard against the walls, to see whose
hands was first to produce blood. Roughly plastered walls, no
paints, chipped plaster
They did everything together. Sometimes they ate together,
the children of his family and the children of her family, they
dipped their hands into the same pots, even though their hands
would often get stuck in the little pots, and the fish would always
They visited the communal taps together, old saclux paints buckets
balanced on cloths on their heads, and whenever hers would fall
off her head, because the weight was too much for her frail neck, he
would walk all the way back to the tap with her and fill it up again.
They fetched firewood… they stole firewood together, because their
fathers had no farmlands. And the day the villagers caught her
mother, in another woman’s farm, he held her hand, as the village
woman stripped her mother, and flogged her all about the village,
as they do to a firewood thief. They watched together, the night her
mother died because she could not recover from the beating.
Yes, that was how much he knew her. He knew her shames, and
the things that still made her wince in the dark. Stuff she would die
than admit to even herself that it happened. He knew them, just as
she loved her man to know her
They played in the moon light together.
He played ten-ten with her. A game for little girls, where they
clapped their hands and moved their legs trying to repeat the same
movement. And She played the Biafran war with him, a game for
boys, where they fashioned guns from sticks and tried to take the
life their partner.
He was her playground bodyguard; nobody dared touch her, for 25
fear of his wrath. He was her everything. When her nails grew, he
bit it off tenderly with his teeth, sometimes he pulled her cortex,
until she had whitlow, then he helped her apply awolowo leaf on
the wound. When there was sand on her hair, he helped her remove
Even though he was an innocent child and beauty meant nothing to
him, he loved to touch her skin, to hold her hands. He always knew
she was beautiful.
It was together they realized, as children must one-day do, that the
world is made of two deeply opposite shades. Shades as extremely
opposite as white and black. They had to walk their one-mile trip to
school, while his father drove the big man’s children to school.
They were motherless and they cooked and washed for themselves
but the rich man’s children were motherless, and her father cooked
for them, her father washed for them.
Together, they grew very envious of the big man’s children,
together they decided they would grow up to be rich, richer than
the big man, the richest in the world.
The villagers called them ‘husband and wife’. When they were not
together, they would ask her ‘where is your husband’, they would
ask him ‘where is your wife’.
Then one day when they played Biafran war, and he found her
hiding inside the mmagha leaf, the leaf they boiled and drank
when they had malaria, the day he found her hiding behind theleaves, and the flower was falling on her head, he said, without
even bothering to shoot her dead
‘You look like somebody doing wedding, I would put this flower on
your head, on our wedding day’
He said he would marry her.
At nights when they were not together, when they had gone to their
rooms, she would listen, listen for every sound he made from his
She heard the loud kpoi kpoi when he pounded his mother’s
crooked mortar, helping his mother prepare dinner. She loved the
swish swish from his tongue, when he licked the achara soup that
ran down his fingers. She heard creaking on the bed when he and
his mama went to bed, then She would wait to hear his papa’s
heavy footsteps across the veranda, and his papa’s heavy hands on
his mother’s back.
That was how much she knew him. She knew his shame and the
things that make he would never admit to any flabby-arse, big
breasted coke bottle. She knew them all. She could never be jealous
of a woman, when it came to him.
In those days, he would always creep soundlessly to her window,
and tap so lightly so as not to wake her father. But he always did
wake him, but he always allowed her to creep out and comfort himTomorrow I would hit him back’ he would say to her, every time 27
his father had hit his mother.
Every day, he planned to hit him back tomorrow. However,
tomorrow never came. Because she left him, she ran away.
He came to her window and he said
‘She has gone, I know she has gone’ and she watched tears run
down his face. And She said in her mind.
‘Don’t worry, I would be your mother’ She said it in her mind,
but She knew he heard her. She was a child without a mother; She
knew how to be a mother. She was a mother to her four siblings, a
wife to her father.
And from then She kept her promise, he would pound the thin
mortar, and her little hands prepared the soup. An even when the
oil rose and the water lay low, and the achara danced around the
water like frustrated children masquerades, he ate it. He ate it, she
ate it and his papa ate it.
And the days he starved, he and his seven siblings. He was very
troubled, he wanted to take care of his younger ones, to be their
father, but he had no money.
She told him not to worry, because She was his mother, she would
provide for them.
Where do you get it’ he would ask, only after he had eaten to his
‘I steal from my father’ She would say
‘I wish I could steal from my father too’ his eyes would say ‘but he
does not have any money’.
Then She would make another silent promise, to take care of him.
And She always took care of him, because he was her brother her
big brother. The one She loved…
He would call her to the window at night, and touch her body,
caress her sprouting breasts and lie on top of her. She used to like it.
Yes, he thought she really used to like it, and he truly used to like it
too. Until the day he caught them.
She remembers the day he caught them, and how he had fought for
her, hit his own father, because of her. His muscles were bulging,
the day he saw them. She with his papa, on their creaking spring
bed. He hit his papa with that crooked pestle. As he had always
longed to do. He hit his papa until he fell. He hit him.
Then he cried out for help, he took his papa to the hospital. And
though she had seen him hit his papa, she told a lie for him. She
said she knew nothing, that he had come home drunk as always.
No doctor would treat him; his papa had no money for the doctor.
He brought him home and he watched him die. He was asleep 29
beside him, the night he died, and he crept to her window and said
‘He is stiff nwanne, he is not moving’ he said it and he cried. He
was big then but he cried like he did the night his mother left. He
hung on her shoulder and cried. And in her mind she made him a
‘Everything would be alright’ she said in her mind and she knew he
heard. He heard and he believed her.
She was interrupted by the waiter. Her black thoughts stopped to
flow, as she watched the waiter. She was coming back to their table,
uninvited again. She was asking him, if he wanted another bottle,
she was almost touching him again. But she was not jealous. She
would always be his woman. The only one that he ever had. What
is a man who would not tell you about his past. The murderer in
him, and the baby in him who cried at night. No woman would
ever know him, like she did.
He smiles at the waiter, and now Ada is irritated by the glow on
the waiter’s face. What does she think she is. What is the worth of a
woman, if she cannot find out, that what she thinks is a smile on her
man’s face, is not a smile. Yes, Ada knows him well enough to know
that that thing on his face is not a smile. It is like a sickness. servedow the buttocks of a sick chicken folds in sickness, that is how this
man’s face is folded in sickness. It is not a smile.
He says ‘yes’ to another bottle, and the waiter smiles. An ugly
smile. Her body is sexy and her face is ugly, spoiled by hardship, or
maybe ageing, or bleaching, Ada cannot quiet say. But that face was
ugly and spoiled. Another reason she is not jealous of her. What
is an ugly face on a sexy body. The waiter saunters off and she
resumes her dark thoughts, where did she stop .
Now fate had never been their friend. For everything broke apart
after he had buried his father.
Her belly started to swell.
He was the first person she told. She still remembers the fear in his
eyes and the question on his mind. ‘Nwanne, you are still a child,
we are still children’
‘I am not a child’ She said to him. ‘I am fourteen and you are
seventeen, we are not children’
But deep within, she knew the reason for his fear. He was afraid
of being a father. Maybe She should have told him right then, that
there was no reason to be afraid, that the child could belong to
It could have been his own
Or his father’s
It could have belonged to the man of the big house whom their
fathers served It could have even been her own sister, if one night of drunken love 31
with her father, could make a baby.
That it was how she got the money. The stipends she spent on
feeding him. She did not steal from her father, her father had no
money. Rather she crept into the creaking beds of mischievous men,
and they gave her enough to feed him.
But She never got the chance to tell him. Because the next morning,
she could not find him. She searched everywhere, and She could
not find, and She searched everywhere, and She could not find him.
But She really wanted to see him. To cry by his window as he
always cried by hers. To tell her how afraid She was. For her
swollen tommy. For the wrath of her father, for what people would
say, for herself, she was so afraid, she searched for him, and he
could not be found.
She told herself it was for his good. That he would come back for
her when things were good. He had run away for his good, because
nothing good could ever happen within their thin, plastered, paint
less walls, so he had run away for his good. She was happy for him,
but still She searched for him.
Her mind returns to the present as she stumbles on another reason
why she is not jealous of the waiter. The waiter has no idea of how
his betrayal smells Or how terrible it was to encounter the coward in him. The one who
runs away at the end of the road. It would take her by surprise, if
she thought you could just pick a man by the restaurant and go
straight to his bed.
She knew this man. Too much about him, perhaps in a way that was
unhealthy for anyone at all, to know someone.
She had searched for him, desperately, until she had given up.
Given up on him, on love, on humanity.
And five years to come, she stumbles on him quite by accident
She calls him Chukwudi and his face abruptly acquires this folded
look, like the buttocks of a sick.
They sit down to a drink and both of them are tongue tied.
She is tempted to think maybe it is a natural phenomenon, that
when you meet a person with whom you have so much to discuss,
you remember nothing
But she knows it is more of the coward in him, who has run away
from the past and wants to keep running.
She wants to tell him that she still takes care of his younger ones,
she has always been and she still is a mother to them. Even though
he had made enough money to look after them, she still does it for
him, because it is a promise she made to him.
And now She knew She would do it forever, now She knows he 33
would never come back, now She knows he would see any of them,
any of his siblings and say to them with his nose turned up like that
‘I cannot quite place your face’ as if he does not remember
She wants to tell him that for a long time after he left, the thoughts
of him were the only thing that kept her alive. She wants to tell him
of how her father had also left them in death. And how she had
suffered, she and her siblings and his siblings, until the rich man
took them in, and finally married her.
She wants to tell him of the darkness over her head that never
leaves. Of how her thoughts come in black and white. She wants to
ask him if he is among the foolish people that think in colors.
She even told herself that if she could find him, remember these
things together with him, then She can breathe them out, let them
Because sometimes her mind tries to play tricks on her, to make her
wonder if all these truly happened.
But seeing him now, she knows that he does not want to go there.
He has made a new life for himself, and he does not want her to
infect it, stain it, like how the stout stained his white caftan.
She still does not know the father of her first child.
On the days when her mind seems like it wants to break forth in
madness of thoughts, she would often find peace, by going to the
cemetery. The place where his Papa was buried, where her papa is
buried. She finds her peace in that place. In the silence of the dead.
And she wonders, how healthy it is, for both of them, to find peace,
She lives in that big house now. She married the big man. New
people live inside their thin walls, and She would often like to stare
at them and imagine they are them. Her and him, all grown up with
children, she always thought that was how it would all end.
But years later, she have found him, quite by accident, in a big city,
in his fancy Kaftan, and fine car, he is soaked in rich perfume but all
she can smell on him in sand and cassava, that is the way he always
smelt. She recognized him, not just his face, but his smile, and his
smell, and without thinking she had called out to him
and with that sick smile, he had said
‘I can’t quiet place your face’
She knew it was a lie. A big lie. She knew when he lied. Another
reason she was not jealous of the waiter. He was a liar
She has money now, her English is as fine tuned as his own. It is a
life anyone would want. And she knows he wonders,
Why does she think it wise to re-open the past, the past, nothing
but a can of stinking darkness?
Why does she think talking to him would take this twelve year weight off her chest? 35
She is like a coffin maker, praying for a customer, a professional
mourner wishing for good business
She wants them to play Biafra again, just her and him, and she
wants him, this time to shoot her dead with a real gun. Yes, she
dreams of it, she thinks of it, she wants it.
She wants for a great wind to blow, and blow open the bottom of
this sick chicken on his face.
She knows that he wants to tell her, that there is no need going
there after all.
That it feels like they are playing oga again, and try as he may, he
cannot repeat the same pattern as she.
They have gone two different ways, ways that never meet. And now
she knows they would never meet again.
He seems afraid of her, afraid of the darkness within her, that
threatens to erupt, ticking like a time bomb, threatening to explode
and infect the light he have built for himself.
Her dark thoughts come to an end, and all of a sudden she gets tired of sitting, waiting for him to come to her, and caress her thick
hair like in the past, and tell her that he remembers her, that she is
Suddenly she knew he would never do that. She had always known
it, he was a coward. He had not always been a coward, but from
the day he ran away, he became a coward, he would always be a
Suddenly, she sees herself standing. She is walking to the counter,
where the waiter stood flirting with another man. That should have
discouraged her, but the pull was stronger. He turned to watch her
as she left, and she knew he thought how mad her eyes looked. She
reached the counter and roughly shoves the man, then she looked
into the waiter’s ugly face and said
‘You do not know that man, that black man in a white caftan, you
do not know him at all, but I do, I know him’.
The waiter is looking at her, terrified. She knows she was thinking
that she is mad, so she stops talking, it was no use, talking to the
waiter, or talking to him, talking to anyone at all. No one would
understand these thoughts which refused to take any lighter color.
So she walked away, out of the doors of the restaurant.
And she knew they watched her, the waiter, and her man, and anyother person who had noticed. She knew they thought she was 37
mad. But deep within her she was convinced she was not mad. She
was just someone who thought in black and white.