Rumpus Original Fiction: The Litany of Invisible Things


Sleepless, you have started thinking of the little shop at the end of Dhamijah Street. For five hundred dollars, its slender wall-propped mirror reveals—what do they say the wizened shop owner calls it?—your “onye ndu.” The being (or beings) with whom you are guaranteed a lifetime of happiness. You have started thinking of this little shop even though you and your husband of eight years promised never to enter it: You do not need magic to understand what your hearts already reveal.



Sleepless, you think, too, of Ebenezer, who (until last year) lived in the adjacent apartment. He played full-volume porn at 2 a.m. and never picked up after his teeth-flashing pitbull, dried clumps of feces lining the path from his front door to the building elevator. One evening, long before his departure, Ebenezer returned from the wine bar down the block, staggering as usual, his words slurred but oddly gleeful. With some effort, you discerned the jubilance of his syllables: “She exists! She exists!” You knew then that he had made a pit stop enroute home. Strange to think, even now, that he had glimpsed another’s face in the shop’s burnished silver. A soul that was his. It should have proven the mirror’s fraudulence, but no, barely a year afterward, Ebenezer’s finger sported a glittering oversized diamond. You and your husband were soon kept awake, not by sultry post-midnight moans, but by the patter of tiny feet, the sound of shattering ceramic, his cursing, his wife’s too, but that light and playful sort of cursing, the kind that says, “My darlings, you can break every mirror, steal the coins from our wallets, even set us ablaze, and we would still love you forever.” When they moved away last year, the duo and their dog and their three rugrats, a silence took over their late-night reverberations. It is this silence that keeps you up and turns your thoughts toward that little shop at the end of Dhamijah Street, even as your husband snores beside you.

You have always overwritten the moonlight’s quiet with a hierarchy of forthcoming melodies: first the wailing, day and night, of your flesh-and-blood, yours, yours, then the twisting of gums to sound out MamaMama before Dada being non-negotiable—then their slow and measured reading from large-font picture books, the world discovered in nouns: rainbow, fish, sun, sky, love. The sound of love discovered in you: the stifling of tears after a bad day at school, your fingers wiping salt off their cheeks; the laughter following a sixth-grade Spelling Bee contest, not because they won, but because they did it at all, braved a march onto that podium, faced those strangers with a tall back and said, Throw your fiercest words at me; the patter-patter-patter of their aching heart thanks to that boy in eighth-grade Geometry, and the flutter in yours when you watched your husband hold them close, watched him whisper, “Let the patter lead you to love. ‘I like you’ is only three words and three seconds. It’s how your mother became mine.”



The sound of love: you and him. Once upon a time.

The sound of life: the silence at the doctor’s office after “male infertility.” That night, instead of drowning his sorrows in your ears—like you two had promised you always would—he chose a bar—Ebenezer’s, funnily enough—and a bottle without end. He passed out in one of those alleyways that makes you think of bat-wielding strangers and lit cigarettes and evil intentions. Gargled on his own vomit, and who knows where he would be now but for that Good Samaritan, some passing nervous teen on a bike who called 911 even though it was past her curfew, and she surely got in trouble, like you imagined your own angel would someday, imagined your letting them know that you were disappointed but also so very proud, and even if they hugged you all quivering or stormed up the stairs and violently slammed their door, the loudness of their existence was all you would ever need.

After the hospital discharge, he apologized.

“Don’t,” you said.

He apologizes still.


You know he means it. You hear it in the hiss of the oil when you return from work, the scent of your favorite chicken curry welcoming you. You hear it in his clatter of fork against plate—timid, slow-moving—as he asks about your day, seeking even the littlest moment of yours that he can make his. You hear it in the rustling sheets when the lights dim, and he snuggles his back against your chest because he likes when you hold him, your dear husband, likes how your arms tangle around his midriff until the snores start. But then it’s 2 a.m. and he is gone; you are not. There is laughter in your head, a chorus. After all this time, you can’t tell if it belongs to Ebenezer’s rugrats or to yours, the ones that don’t exist, except up here in your head—and perhaps in that mirror that you can’t stop thinking of. In that mirror, do their faces show? You know so little about how it works. Maybe they even speak.

So, the next day, while your dear husband is at work, you call in sick and make your way to the little shop at the end of Dhamijah Street. You wait sweltering in line for hours, ignoring the patrolling hawkers selling strawberry yogurts, paperbacks, umbrellas, love trinkets. Once inside, you push the creased notes into the shop owner’s liver-spotted hands. You let her position you this way and that until you’re standing at the perfect angle. You expect to see yourself staring back—and maybe there would even be immeasurable relief in that; maybe the mirror is just a mirror, no answers to be found—but the glass is already steaming, distorting. From its mist, a blurred shape forms. It is not them. It is your husband, unspeaking, his pixelated smile uncertain. Is there any surprise? The universe crafted him for you. The universe knows that he can be enough. Still. Listen to your heart, how it sinks at this revelation.

When you return home, the door is unlocked. He is clad in his sea-green apron, sprinkling diced peppers onto a pan of fried eggs. He kisses you on the forehead. Enquires about your day despite a knowing in his eyes. Trembling, you fall into him, your face against the jalapeno fragrance of his chest, and you tell him that you want a divorce.



Rumpus original art by Lisa Marie Forde

Vincent Anioke is a software engineer at Google. He was born and raised in Nigeria but now lives in Canada. His short stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Split Lip Magazine, Carve, and Pithead Chapel, among others. He is the 2021 Austin Clarke Fiction Prize Winner and was also shortlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Find him on Twitter at @AniokeVincent. More from this author →