Rumpus Original Fiction: When Will You Arrive?

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After the relationship, what’s next? We cry and cry in dimly lit rooms because NEPA has taken light, digging into another tub of melted vanilla ice cream and hiding under our beds. Our friends send tiny paragraphs to our phones, flash us since they cannot visit due to insecurity, but we’ve switched off our phones and lay under dusty covers. Our mothers say it will be all right, massaging the words between an offered plate of ogbono soup and a sigh mixed with worry. There will be no marriage to come soon, no lined asoebi, no gele. But our relationship is now gone and we are in this country, so how will we survive?

Tinder is useless on our phones, nothing’s like our exes. A random hookup will do us some good, another partner in communion, but the move to another person’s house in the middle of the night will get us stares from those big big policemen outside the communal gates of Lekki’s GRA, accusations of offing pant for anyone from our mothers, stops at the checkpoint by military officers that will look at our hair, our painted fingernails, our short shorts that are meant for American and UK dorm rooms and not for this weather. We are baby boys and girls with faces still fresh from coming back, so we cannot handle any wahala, we can’t bear harassment. And how do we even set up that profile picture again, what do we even say? When we sit at dinner dates, we both just look at each other, us and the new person also recently came back, before one of us starts ranting about how boring our consultancy job is and the other gets up and leaves.

We forget you aren’t supposed to bring up work on a first date—how could we have been so stupid? It’s a whole other language of flirtation we have to relearn, and it’s all so difficult. Now we’re in the ocean without a life raft, dreading the coming storm.

We crave a life change, a new beginning, a church resurrection, and so we do it. We shave our heads low cut and dye our hair purple, blonde, deep red, post it on Instagram for the ex. We go back into church, shouting a mighty hallelujah, leading the crowd in fervent prayer. Our exes ignore us everytime we text them, but we hope that they watch us on social media secretly from a friend’s phone, that they keep us as their phone screensaver, that they’ve masturbated to our thirst at least once. We imagine them coming from our pictures and we come as well.

We write long paragraphs on social media about meditation and how relationships are toxic, hoping to be the topic of discussion. We write long sappy posts talking about how we’re scared about DMing the one again but they know who they are. We get high amounts of engagement, comments saying preach. We’ve talked to our best friends about it and we’re hoping for some type of closure—sex—or some type of conflict—sex—or even a response from the ones we loved. All we get is a block on their page, the slow detachment from our lives, them picking up their palettes and starting to walk. The ex is writing a book. Starting a wig business. They’re working at a software company, and our heart aches each time we know we’re not a part of their lives.

The relationship is over, and the storm is approaching quickly.

 

The friend of our cousin is the first to announce the wave. She comes to our regular brunch Sundays with a circular ring engraved into her finger, a smirk in her eyes. It becomes all of the topic of conversation, all the oohs and ahhs and claps. We immediately notice we are starting to flap amongst the tide.

“It’s twenty-four carat diamond,” she says, with a theatrical showcase. I can’t believe it, I never thought it would be me! she says, but then everyone of us, wed or not, roll their eyes. The friend of our cousin has been dating her partner for over four years now: they were the first to meet the other in their Foundation degree in UCL ages ago, and since then they’d been at the hip. They went everywhere together, did NYSC pictures as #CoupleGoals, posted about the same dreams and aspirations of tech law domination. Lawyer bae and lawyer boo. So of course, it’s her first. It doesn’t surprise us. But it makes some of us of us wonder if this would all be easier if we were still abroad.

She leaves the brunch Sundays with her usual cheery inflection, off to another friend tour to showcase her ring. And before she goes, the friend of our cousin adds us all to her wedding WhatsApp group chat, where she’s already picking out her asoebi colours. She writes that they’re thinking of next year, March, in their local church, no sometime in the summer maybe, and we all agree. We don’t care about the details. Because where there’s a friend group, there’s an amen congregation.

We are forced into our own little roles: man of honor, asoebi girl, drinks organizer. When all of us see her off, we wave her a haze of congratulations, and when she’s gone we insult her with no abandon. We curse the marriage till the day it was born. We call her a useless girl, an ashawo, a miss I too know. We insult her on our burner accounts and troll her on Twitter. We order more margaritas and shawarma from the bar and coat our longing with a laughter that’s hollow.

We are lonely. We are angry. We are swimming against the tide. We can only think about our ex, how they are deleted from our phones, marked as taken in someone’s social media handle, dead. To us, at least, someone ran over them in a nasty accident, killed them in an armed robbing accident, stabbed them in a Grecian betrayal, no funeral. We imagine their bodies rotting in a dirty politician’s gutter and it gives us a true nature of laughter. We do not all feel bad. When we see our loves at a party, at the club, at a small chops festival because Lagos is so stupidly tiny, we avert our gazes and bump into someone else. We spill our over-doused Long Islands and cover our eyes behind our iPhones, vanish because we cannot laugh there. We sink into a pile of shame and collect our puddles into Insta stories. We drink to excess at the brunch table, we scream at the servers, collide into private story and main because our exes never see us at our best and bad-bitchiest, painted in that sunset light of post-breakup glow.

 

Femi has been a single bachelor all through to his forties, so is it a surprise that he is next? All these big men like small girls, so he shows up with one Fanta-bottled colour girl that resembles Pinocchio. Most of us met him in NYSC camps last year where he often came to gist with military officials who were his friends, so we know that he has an affinity for people that can either push like he does a press up or fall under his weight. The girl is spindly and patchy and round eyed, so she does not move mountains, she is not a way-maker.
He says that it is a marriage of two friends getting it over with, but it’s still a ring cutting into fingers, so there’s a blood declaration. We all do not know this girl from anywhere, so we sit her down at our Saturday football matches, at the back of our peeled-paint and slow-fan offices during lunch break, our new workplaces. We offer her Fanta, ask her if she needs anything. She says no, shakes her head like she’s been promised better tomorrow. We ask where she knows Femi from, what she likes about him, because we want to know the language. She says he comes to her university three times a week for logistics purposes, that he has her, ok he gets her. We know that Femi has a habit of doing like a raven, as he collected all of us under his wing during NYSC, introduced us back into the country, bought us suya, but we did not know he was ready to make a nest. At all this, we do not know what to say, so we are silent in the passing tide.

We learn later that Smallie is like an inflatable bouncy castle, so the more we pump her full of questions, the more she can move like trampoline. The next time we see her at one of Femi’s little Friday get-togethers at his house, she opens her mouth and tells us she is studying economics, that she knows the matters of this country like cheap pre-inflation rice, that she learnt how to trade and barter from her father, she says she plans to work in banking. We say hmm and ask her if she’s feeling the new presidential candidate, but Femi steps in to tell us she doesn’t like to discuss politics, so what is blown up does not burst. He drags us aside to tell us to be cool in front of his girlfriend, to not embarrass him, and some of us correct him that it is now fiancée, that it is a bigger title for a big man of his age, but we know we cannot push him under us. He is the bar and we are relegated to handles. We feel like when he thinks of us, we are angels and Esaus that are meant to carry him on the push-up bar up to heaven.

Two weeks later, Femi does something that genuinely surprises us: he bombards us in the group chat with messages that feel like he is having a midlife rapture; he tells us come see his father, that he needs a gathering for his informal introduction. At this time, most of us are getting drowned out by the rackety standing fan from the dead paint office that overwhelms, by the hustle and bustle of Lagos traffic that demands you go stay here today, by sweaty bosses who reprimand us for filing improperly then ask to be called Mummy and Daddy. We are surprised, and some of us giddy, at the nature of his need: we did not think he rated us enough to be vulnerable. Most of us are busy sha, so we have to form small, raise chest, breast, but all of us say okay, hope there’s food. We pack ourselves till we are compressed like body odour inside shirt and tie, till we are royalty inside Femi’s big Benz since our father’s cars are not available, plus his has soldier inside, and from there we go.

We do not have lovers, so we cannot be at dinner eating steak, asking the waiter if there is Parmesan cheese even though there’s never good cheese in Lagos. We do not have lovers, if so there would not be need to reply or congregate to these stupid events, because the language of two people together is the exclusionary body of themselves. In the absence of a body, we settle for Snapchat, which all of us use to take pictures of the Benz and then add it to our TikTok page. We tag it #RidingHigh on Insta and immediately get seventeen likes, which fills us with small chops in our teeth.

Femi’s introduction is no small affair. There are big black cars with customized name plates—Lamborghini, SUV, G-wagon—lined up at the front of his parents’ two-story mansion, outside his gold-plate gate that resembles the one for Heaven. There are big bodyguards at the entrance with muscly arms and tattooed faces who check everyone who dares to come in. We feel like small ones at the door, like we didn’t go to big schools in America and the UK, like our parents didn’t shed heavy Viola Davis snot to pay school fees, with our black sandals and midi dresses and our cheap suits from work, not yet changed. We look at Femi and say, I thought you said this was a small thing. He nods. He tells us there is small for 20 and there is small for 40, and at his age a man like him getting married requires some testimony.

The inside of his house feels like a balloon when we enter—all the people there look like air. They have blank unrecognizable stares that float above their tiny bodies, lightly colored complexions, and the minute we see their blown-up faces most of us want to pop them. We’ve known Femi for a while but we do not know these executive managers, these First Bank men in tailored suits, these heavy bellied gold ring women carrying baby number three. They hover next to the metal trays that hold hot fried rice and smoked turkey, lounge on plastic chairs that are as white as their shirts and dresses, neatly ironed. Femi shows off his big big friends and Smallie to his single father, a former military man who wears straight white agbada and a checkered cap, as if to contrast the opposites and differences. See them, see those, and see me. His father lightly taps him on the shoulder, nods, and it brings out a smile in the big man that’s equivalent to a dog that wags its tongue, doesn’t stop panting when you feed it.

Femi does not show us off, so we feel restless. We did not know that when he asked us to come there would be a hierarchy of personalities, and we did not think that we would be so low on the ranking, swimming amongst the tide. We look around, and we feel like just a statistic, national census. We are not famous or hold any prized possessions. We do not carry baby number three or this country as soft currency. But we carry our phone and record the whole thing, some of us tagging it as “Owambe” or “ew capitalism” on our handles, since many of us are liking the trend of socialism. Femi moves around in this party, greets Smallie’s parents, a meek man and woman with wide-eyed faces that resemble deer in headlights. He sorts out the food, laughs, but he does not see us still, notice our presence.

When the talk reduces at the gathering, the DJ plays Daddy Showkey’s “Diana” from the speakers, and many of the big big people immediately tell the DJ to calm down, that is this a beer parlor, that just because they’re murmuring doesn’t mean they’re not speaking. We want to dance, move galala with our legs like a swiftness, but we cannot think of doing it here, where everyone watches us with eagle eyed tightness in their voices. It is not like when we were in school, going for our ACS parties. It is not like when we are alone, where we can smack the head of our house helps when we vex, where we can rage and complain about our day to our mothers, where they can cry about birthing us here, in this country. This country. When we were abroad, we used to shake our ass for beats that went as low as dog’s throats, we used to kiss boys and girls because we could, walked out of grimy clubs at 4 a.m. and hailed an Uber to find cold peri-peri chips from a corner shop that was about to close. We sit down now on the plastic chairs with a plate of fried rice balanced on our knees, our collars and tops of our clothes tight around our necks, and snap pictures of the bluish-purple no-cloud sky. We take little bites, trying not to spill our food to the floor, but most of us are ravenous, ravenous.

As the party is winding down, one of the First Bank managers, a big big man, bumps into us near the gate entrance, where we are waiting for our Ubers, and asks us who we are with a squeezed face. We do not know how to answer that question, so some of want to say who are you, but we all say we are friends of Femi. From the abroad. He smiles and asks us whether we are here to visit or if we’re here to stay. We say to him with a shrug, we are here till we are not. He laughs deep from his belly and leans down to get a good look at our faces. We let him see our soft black eyes, too soft for this suffering, our no pimples, our curved bellies, in case he is inspecting for us other reasons. We do not know if he wants to fuck us, but we imagine the power of it all, even if it’s for a brief hookup, imagine protection. Then the big man’s face goes dead, caught with sweat. He tells us, no joking, that we better pack our suitcases and go back to where we came from.

Do you know what the price of school fees is these days, he says before we can answer, we don’t know the answer, he is howling, howling into the sky. Like one repentant thief. We think, is this not the First Bank man? We wonder why he is behaving like he has sinned. We cannot even look at him when he talks to himself, shakes his head bitterly, so we look around, wondering if there is an evil spirit. Wedding fees? he says. Hey God, fuel? Rice?

Things for your wife, for your husband?

Summer holiday, nko? Valentine’s?

Or armed robbers, even? Do you know that we were traveling to Jos, bulletproof glass o, and they shot my brother? My only brother?

Our Uber arrives. We stick ourselves inside the car quick quick, like we are balls of chewing gum put under a table. We cover our eyes, avert our faces, since this is embarrassing. The First Bank manager knocks at our Uber window like it is a coffin, looks at it with his rabid face. His bloodshot eyes. We wonder again if there’s an evil spirit.

Or you can pay for Wi-Fi? TV? Eh?

Salary? Hospital?

Shebi you get money? You get money?

 

In the coming weeks, most of us lay unsettled in our beds, unable to sleep without nightmares. We see ourselves devoured by a fire that comes out of our eyes and throats, unable to be quenched with sand or water. We see our exes laugh at us with their lovers, then call us callous, call us demonic. Some of us see aunties and uncles who offer us plates of food, and once we start to eat, we feel so full that we fall to our bellies, then we are kicked in the stomach. It is not the fire of the Holy Spirit we see in these dreams, so all of us scream, wake up drenched in sweat.

We notice that our thoughts starting to fragment. Some of us are angrier at the state of our world, so we shout at the new interns that litter our workplaces, we pack their desks full of files that are bigger than Femi’s gate. Others fall into a deep state of mourning and depression, so we wear all black and post it until our followers ask us if we are all right, if we need anything. We take money because we need it, as a consolation prize to our bank accounts. The remainder of us become prayerful, going back to church, clutching the Bible with a firm hand next to our mothers. Our mothers. Who are still our comforters, our ranting partners, not like our fathers, who we never see. Who are too busy leading the companies that some of us work in, telling us that we should not disturb them for salary, that we should work from the ground up before they decide to promote us, which is selfish. Our mothers are not like them, so they pray over us, cover us in anointing oil. They take us to their pastors that live in Victoria Island who tell us that there is something in our bodies that we need to remove to stop these nightmares. That there is an evil spirit stopping our new relationship from happening, a spirit of defiance, maybe feminism. That our lives cannot be built on blood and ungodly charms and be expected to stand like it is divine.

Hope you did not do any of that Western rubbish when you were in university, many of our mothers tell us thereafter, but they say it like they already know. We cannot tell them yes. We cannot tell them no. Some of us want to tell them who we want to sleep with, who we eyed at parties, what we used to wear that was worse than short shorts before we landed in this country, because that will bring up questions we cannot begin to answer, fights we can never ever bridge.

We do know that we all want a wedding, a life that will establish us here, so we promise to release any evil spirit. We dance and offer testimonies in church. We commit ourselves to nightly prayer. We sit in front of our phone and tell everyone on Insta-live that there must be a reckoning. The Lord is coming. We do not all believe it. We change the details in our bio to #prayerwarrior. We are a far cry from perfect, but we know that we can lead a new beginning, part a sinful Red Sea with influencing, so we post our confession on our social media handles in the hopes that it will move people. At this our mothers nod and smile, so we nod as well.

And it’s because we know who our followers are, even before we check the following list. They are the girls in our churches who always looked at the expensive wristwatches that we wore when we came back from school for Christmas holiday. They are the suya people who walked by the street of our father’s houses on weekends and whistled at our big gates, opened their eyes, as if to swallow it. They are our university friends, the ones whose dual passport allow them to flex and rest abroad, who can post summer pictures in Hawaii and Ibiza without having to worry about visa issues. Some of them unfollow us immediately for becoming too holy holy, for now being performative or having dead vibes, but we tell them that the Lord will strike down all sinners, shebi Jesus was a communist. Others come and cry in our comment sections, telling us that they have cheated on their university exams, that they bullied juniors in secondary school till they were hospitalized, that they are cultists, and we cry with them, say that the spirit of the Lord will intervene. It is the struggles of suffer head in this country that makes us this way, we tell them, tell ourselves. Our numbers grow by the month—on pages, on timelines, on the algorithm. There is seventeen to seventy, seven hundred to ten thousand, ten thousand to twelve thousand. We cannot look away. With this chance to be the culture, to be way-makers, finally, we know we cannot waste it.

We organize ourselves to sell fasting plans for the public, a waist trainer that can help hold the stomach with the Word. Then we put up name-brand shirts and knee-length skirts on our websites, categorize them into medium, small, and snatched waist small. We post diet plans and comedy skits and inspirational reels daily, tailoring them to be color coded with our new pages. Everything now is bright on our handles, pastel and white to dim out the darkness of our haters, and soon we open our YouTube channels for business. Some of us are foodies and lifestyle bloggers, dancers and existers, but we remain Christians, most importantly. Our followers cash out and subscribe to our content, they ask us for advice 24/7, they fill our inboxes. Sometimes we answer, give them the grace of our wisdom, but when we get tired, we tell them they should stop trauma-dumping us and find a good therapist.

We can no longer move like we are learners; we know, we know the ways of the country. We are after all, the children of our fathers. Did we not see them, walking into their Benzes every day with a swagger in their chest? Did we ever see them sweat, except for school fees? When we drink Fanta now, we crack open the bottles with our teeth, we tear chicken like it is small thing. We eat three-course meals till the food is bulging in our belly, and we sleep in the night like we are blood-filled mosquitoes.

It is not like the big money has entered our account yet, but we choose to move with faith. There is a manner of doing things in country, a culture, so we have to act in favor of it. When Femi and his gang ask us to go to exhibitions and art galleries for the logistics of it, we ask what time. When our friend invites us to their complementary movie premiere and asks us to pay for our tickets, we say how much. Because it is important, even if our bank accounts enter overdrafts. When we dress up, we show off the hot clothes we bought from Michael Kors, Paris, from one brand we cannot name all on social media. Because these things are the siren call, the current, and it pushes us to the top of the wave. So, when some of our exes message us in our DMs, like a post, pokes an eye in the comments section, we do not reply immediately. We have to raise small chest, breast, before we offer them our big big testimony.

 

Due to our newfound success, we have to celebrate. Many of us have just hit two hundred thousand followers on at least one platform, so there is a heavy swagger amongst ourselves. We want to dance galala with our legs like a swiftness. We are in the mood to bless somebody, so there will be an Instagram giveaway. Two custom shirts, an exclusive party. But most importantly, there will be a night vigil in church to thank the Lord for all that has happened. Some of the followers will be invited from the comment section, in order to flex with those who have supported us. At this, our mothers and pastors agree.

For the next few days, we conduct a raffle on all our handles, trying to find the top twenty lucky winners who will attend our event. Only twenty, because too many people can kill the vibe. We go to church, and oversee the construction of the vigil, watch the workers line the parish with loudspeakers and microphones. We tell them brighter banners, bigger speakers, larger microphones. We tell them larger seats for us that will sit in front, no plastic chairs, we ask for more. They place streamers all over, white custom leather seats to match the color of our aesthetic. All this pleases us, and we think of ourselves as the light that catches the surface of a full moon.

On the night of the vigil, we come with our agbada and lined asoebi, neatly ironed. We come with pearls that stretch over our necks like the teeth of a great white shark. Our mothers come with prayers. Some of us stretch out our hands to God. A lot of us are not praying, but those who are, are praying for wealth. We are asking for favour. We are asking for belonging. The pastor speaks higher, higher, with a reckoning, and sings “Igwe,” which sends down the heart of God in the parish. The choristers and ushers move down from their post dance with us, and we shake body in return, moving our hips, turning our legs, ravenous, ravenous.

After the closing ceremony, we pack inside Femi’s car to go back home, since his is still the biggest. We are halfway through the streets when we hear the sounds of the country. A bang. Boom. Gunshot. It’s coming from outside the church, after we left, and we look through the windows to see people are running. Our followers are running. There is another bang, and the legs hit the ground like knives.

Try not to look, Femi says, shaking his head, but all we can do is stare. We cannot be shaken. We cannot say we are surprised. Instead, we smile. Because do you know, when we entered our fathers’ cars, when we went to church, when we went to the airport to leave this country, whose faces we first saw?

We bring out our phones and press record.

 

 

***
Rumpus original art by Dmitry Samarov


Osahon Ize-Iyamu is a Nigerian writer of fiction that blurs genre boundaries. He is a graduate of the Alpha Writers Workshop and his fiction has been published in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Fantasy magazine. You can find him online @osahon4545 More from this author →