Certain Solid Fragrance
Being home alone, sick, comes with different bones of depression. But not when you have a book that ignites fire in your bones. I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and I always had to slightly adjust my limbs to ease the pain that came with taking malaria drugs. It made me cry in the most unusual way. I was not that kind of person who was easily moved by movies or books. People expected that as a girl, I had the tendency of being emotional to everything. I expected the same of myself, because looking at my parents, they expressed emotions – laughed at the right minute, cried at the right and wrong moments – without shame or apology. But something, I could sense, was breaking slowly in my entire being. And when I’d gone outside to let fresh air into my lungs, maybe it was the tears or the book, or the new air in my lungs and face, but like the characters in the book I read, I felt infinite.
I saw her, our new neighbor’s daughter. I wasn’t sure if she saw me looking at the Neem tree in between our lawns, as though there were angels sitting on the branches and fondling the leaves. I smiled when our eyes met. She didn’t smile back. She dropped the trash barrel she was holding by the side of the dying frangipani. Aunt Akuabata said she liked the yellow and white of the waxy petals, but the fragrance made her nauseous when she was carrying her youngest daughter in her. She said Uncle Jideofor bought the house twenty-nine years ago, but it didn’t look like an aged building – white like the sky before the afternoon sun, with louvers that glittered and squeaked each time I cleaned them with the liquid soap of pine-lavender scent. It was bought six years before I was born, eighteen years before my father died in an accident, and twelve years before my younger brother was born, after my mother had had four miscarriages. This broke mother into different rough ways. Aunt Akuabata said that some fruits learn to stay, while some lose their will to stay. They get tired of waiting to ripe, and they fall off, red and pure, from a woman’s body. My brother, mother always said, was her countermeasure. The new girl walked right into the front door without acknowledging my friendliness, which hardly I was to people. It annoyed me for just a split second, because in that moment, I was still excellently measureless.
She was in her room the next day when I saw her through the window of my room – made of thin, almost transparent aluminum grid, a one-way glass that only shows your reflection when you looked from the outside. She was standing sideways with a mirror in her right hand, while the makeup brush in the other hand swept her face. Talcum powder was the only makeup that graced my face. And as I watched her, I wished that the bristles would swing through my face till it became a polished bronze.
Two days after was when I saw her again, outside the supermarket as I went to pick some groceries. She’d missed one step and slipped to the rough floor, and spilled the contents of her bag. I helped her up. When our eyes met, I swear, I could see loneliness in them. Not the kind of lonely that came with being alone, but the kind that haunts a person even in a gathering of friends and blaring music, and in the midst of an intense sex. She was gathering the things on the floor while I went inside to get another bag. She was gone when I came out. There was a small packet of something that lay close to the tyre of an SUV. I was sure it was among the things that fell from her bag. When I picked it up and looked at it, the bold letters read, Pregnancy Test.
When I was sure her parents weren’t home, and her younger brother had gone to school, I went to knock at their door. At first, I stood there with my hands folded into a knuckle ready to hit, and something in me held it, something similar to butterflies. She questioned me with her eyes when she opened the quaky door, having endured years of pulling and seasons that never stopped coming and going.
“I think this fell off from your bag at the supermarket.” I said. I held the pack up to her. I watched the changes her face went through under few seconds. It took on an offering of remorse, shame, and then, like a harmony of something simple yet complex, tears took stage.
“Thank you,” she said. And I knew it wasn’t because I picked it up for her, but because I knew not to bring it when her parents were around.
She made to close the door. “Are you sure you’re alright?” I asked.
She nodded, but then said, “No.”
I didn’t ask her if it was okay to come in. I just walked in, took the door handle from her, closed the door behind us, and as though someone else was operating with my body, I unlocked my arms and hugged her. The first thing I sensed was the sunflower smell of her hair. I let her tears wet my floral blouse and the nether of my neck. I let her cry without saying a word. The words were slow in my head, “It’s fine. We’re in this together. With me, you’re safe.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said as she pulled from me.
“It’s fine,” I said. The only words I could find to say. “I can go while you check or I can stay while you check…if that is what you want. I mean, I can do whichever you want.”
She smiled. “Stay,” she said. “I want you to stay.”
She came out of the bathroom holding the strip as if she was a kid holding a lizard by its tail. She showed it to me, the two pink lines. She was pregnant.
The next day, we sat on the trunk of a fallen coconut tree at the beach, half kilometer from our back yard. The smell of the fresh water was the reason my uncle bought the house. We sat there silent for few minutes, enjoying the cold breeze as it flapped in our faces and our legs. We watched the wave fold and unfold, and we drew in deep breaths to gain the strength to break the dead air.
“I still don’t know your name,” she said.
“My name is Kairaluchukwu. I know it’s too long,” I said. “Call me Kaira.”
“Mine is Abaeze,” she said.
“I know, but I just know what it means.”
“It means Branch of the Kings.”
“Okay,” I said.
There was a brief muteness, I, thinking of her name and thinking about trees. She, perhaps thinking about mine, or about the pregnancy that she’d not said anything about to anyone.
“What do you like doing?” Abaeze asked.
It was one question I didn’t think about when asked. “Reading books,” I said.
She stared at me in that sort of irritable surprise – the skin in between the eyebrows pulling together and forming the kind of ocean ripples – and she said, “That’s one tiring hell of a thing to like doing.”
It was my turn to be shocked. I felt my head heave while I blew out dismayed air from my lungs with a pouted mouth. “Books are awe-inspiring luminaries. It’s transcendental and therapeutic. It’s something you feel. It’s something that the hands inside of you touch, and your inner lips kiss. They are stars plucked from the sky and broken into alphabets for your heart to witness. How can you say they’re tiring when they have the capacity to light up your whole damn world?” I think I was a little upset.
“Uhmm! I don’t understand what you just said,” Abaeze said. We both laughed.
She stood up and took my hand. We languidly walked from the pale-cream sand to the cold water rippling itself on our legs. She said she wanted to melt into the ghost crabs that ran across our feet. We watched a woman and her daughter walk towards a wrecked ship while we kicked our feet on the water. The little girl slipped her hand from her mother’s and squatted. She put her hand into one of the holes the crabs made.
“Stop that,” her mother said.
The little girl withdrew her hand but didn’t stand up. “Mum,” she said, “the crabs are lonely.”
I squeezed Abaeze’s hand, and as though she knew what I was thinking, she said, “I’m a fireball waiting patiently to explode.”
“No, you’re not,” I said. “We’re going to figure out how to break it to your parents. I’ll stand with you all the way.”
“It’s not about the pregnancy. I have leukemia.” At that very moment, my legs felt weak. My eyes became wet, and I wanted to hug her, to be her miracle, to take away the cancer in her. “I’m the reason my parents decided we moved here, close to the sea, close to fresh air…and I was raped by four men five days after we moved to this place.
I couldn’t hold back the tears that had overwhelmed my eyes. This time, I took her hand and walked us out of the water, because there were things you don’t talk about standing close to an ocean. We walked silently back to the house. She didn’t us going to my Aunt’s house. She just followed my lead. And I wondered why people would rape a lonely, dying girl.
We sat in the double, auburn couch, and in-between us sat perfect silent, healing us of some of our aches.
“Do your parents know about the rape?” I asked.
“No, I didn’t want them to worry as much as they are,” Abaeze said.
“Before we moved here, after we discovered I had cancer, I unscrewed my boyfriend from me. It hurt more than the knowledge of knowing that the blood transfusions weren’t working, but I did it. He begged me not to hurt him that way, but he’d hurt the more when I leave without a goodbye. So it was better to say a goodbye before leaving. He is such a sweet soul. He calls every day, and sometimes when I don’t pick, he would text me long sweet thing full of worries.”
“You love him?”
“Yes, I do.”
“You love someone?” Abaeze asked.
“I’ve not found the love I think I deserve.”
“It needs to deserve you too. But what’s the use of love or of loving, when one day something or someone comes and takes it all away from you? Why is it a necessity?”
I took my time like I took in my breaths, to thoroughly think it through, because I’d learnt that words chewed before spitting comes out quite refined. My eyes were on the television on the wall, but I wasn’t seeing it, or maybe, at that particular minute, my mind took my sight and was showing me the photographs of all it had. When I blinked, I knew it was over. I culled my left leg in the couch, facing Abaeze.
“It is love that makes the world survive every second,” I said.
She adjusted her legs and faced me. It was as if I’d drawn her with balm of love. “What kind of love?” She asked.
“All kinds of love,” I said. ‘All kinds’ I said slowly and detached, and ‘of love’ I said in concert and most consummate.
She stretched her arms the way I did when I was cold inside, when my body spoke a different language.
“I’ve become faulty,” she said. “It is pity that replaces love most times. No one loves a broken thing.”
“I think that the beauty of everything is in their faults, and not in their perfection,” I said
She moved again. This time it was her head. And her lips fell on mine. I kissed her back. The taste of her saliva kindled my fire-flowers in drops – classic and measured – like the replay of a forgotten dream.
This is the love I deserve.
Photo by Stephanie Braconnier