IV

The salon reeked of synthetic rubbers, and rancid coconut. A fair and almost bald woman was being sized for a wig. A male stylist turned her neck sideways, then up, and down. As a Fortuneteller would, he held her head straight, stretched his arms to full length, and looked into her face. He then tilted her head mildly to the left.

“Aunty, I should use this number three for you, it’s just perfect”

He sustained a smile, in the manner a salesman selling dust would, and returned to stand behind her.

I had a sit next to the door, opposite the male stylist, and his fair specimen. The fair woman looked shy of fourty, thirty-eight, perhaps. She bent her head over a loose aggregate of fashion magazine. Occasionally, she would raise the papers close to her face, enough to touch it with her pouted lips. In response, the male stylist would smile or make a short comment. Sometimes, he was the one who would reach out his gloved hand to touch a picture on the magazine. Her laps were tightly held together in the most womanly fashion; the fashion my mother used to teach us to close our laps.

Laide was standing by a hairdryer next to the fair woman and her stylist. A fan nodded it large head lazily at the left corner of the salon. Laide looked towards me and winked repeatedly, a gesture offered to dissolve my building impatience. Her hands were busy on the head of an older woman. The woman was drained and lethargic. Once and again, she would turn to look at the fair woman and the male stylist, then roll her eyes inward in disgust.

The saloon was small, about the size of a photocopy shop, and only had a window. Whilst, like every building in Taiwo oke, it sired sweat profusely, and a single lazy fan doesn’t help that much.

“This kain October heat. Hmmm”

The woman seating next to me killed our silence. I turned towards her, and smiled briefly.

“Yes, the rain hasn’t been helping at all”

“I tell you my sister, everywhere is just so hot. I wonder how people in the north will cope sef”

“Are we not in the north, this is north”

“At all. Ilorin in central Nigeria, like Abuja or Kogi”

Within minutes into the conversation, the woman had owned my respect, I looked to her. She wore eye glasses like my aunty Lola, and spoke with a confidence only born from numerous achievements. A confidence of capability.
She made efforts to explain why there could be a confusion that Ilorin was north, and even stepped further to dissect historic tendencies. She mentioned Arewa, Egbas and Oyos, and Afonja, and Dan-Fodio. I smiled helplessly, in partial marvel of the energy she spoke with, but mostly, in the complexity of our scenery; that I was having a profound and intellectually deep conversation with a stranger in a saloon. A stranger in a saloon.

I wanted to ask her about Jos and northern Nigeria, but I was careful not to give her too much control of the conversation than she already had, careful not to make a class of a conversation. I nodded a couple more times, before she pointed at the male stylist. He was done with the fair woman’s hair and my stranger friend was next. I felt a mild jealousy, that the talkative flirtatious was about to have a throw at the stranger.

“Bimbs. Just gimme a sec, I’m almost done here”

Laide was rinsing the older woman’s head. She draped her hands with a small towel and walked to me. She was a small lady like myself, barely stretching beyond five foot. She sat next to me, from where the stranger had just stood, and touched my lap gently.

“Sorry Bimbs. I didn’t know there will be much customers this early”

“It’s cool, it is very good for business. You know you’re doing well, very well”

“I don’t know. Sometimes, it is really tough to survive off this. I have to pay David thirty thousand every month, then rent, and other bills just seem to swallow everything.”

“It is business now, it is always tough at first. Just keep to the good work, you know customers talk, especially women customers”

“Abi o. I saw aunty Lola the other day, she was looking as fresh as ever, that aunty no gree old o”

We laughed, like we were the only ones in the saloon. Laide put her palm over her mouth. Her eyes were bright with the laughter still, and tears had begun to settle at their limbus.

“I think I can have a break now, David should be able to handle the saloon”

“Isn’t that what you pay him all those money for?”

“Abi o. I think we  go to ostrich bakery, I’m beginning to fall in love with their butter cake”

“You don’t mean it. The only thing good there is their stool”

-Nel Ibuola

III

The next morning, I woke up to a dark space. The room was void, and seemed to stretch into infinity. My skin was greasy and wet. Warm sweats thread from underneath my hair, and my armpits discomforted me.

I knew the routine well; three days and six nights of light, then one night of darkness. Thursday nights were the dark nights. We didn’t expect too much, we couldn’t afford to. People that lived uptown had light all days, and nights, they were the people that could afford to expect ‘too much’. Too much was wanting light all night in Ilorin.

I rose up, from the mattress, and tried to find my way to the toilet. My bladder held on, until I was seated on the dish, then they gave way.

Quiet and dark nights always left me to myself to wander, to revisit locked lockers in my mind. They were quiet and whim all at once, and funny thoughts spiraled around my head.

I had truckloads of unexamined thoughts, truckloads that I consciously avoided. For a start, I debated one of my long-standings; if I should continue to wear brassieres. Their plastic cusps squeeze against my chest, too hard for comfort. Laide suggested I wore a size above my breast-fit, but then, those left my boobs shagging around like water tied loosely in nylon. It collected sweat, and I don’t know freshness until I peel them off. I could also think about religion, and love, and all of their complicated variants.

I was haphazard that night. I wanted a tranquility that wasn’t within reach, a yearning too distant to grab.

I climbed back into my bed, and tossed around like a man awaiting his lover. Time was crawling, and with it, dawn, my lover.

The darkness in the room was uniform, and all its pieces fit as one. It was an immaculately emptiness, and I could make anything of it.

I could make of it to sneak into its thickness, write a hurried valedictory note for my aunty Lola, and scurry to Jos. But then, there’s a problem with the plan; Jos isn’t a place I could scurry to. The town is volatile, and it places itself miles from Ilorin. On their streets, I’d be a wandering Cinderella; lost in site, focused in sight. Its language are many, and I speak none of them.

I thought about what could become of me in Jos; who I will be, and with whom I will be it. The many possibilities scared me, there were too many moving parts. A lot of ‘what if’. I began to sincerely think along my aunty Lola’s opinion; that there were a lot of things to consider before one moves to a strange town. The people, norms, facilities, security, and even myself. Too many moving parts.

But it shouldn’t be difficult, I thought. I didn’t want too much, none more than my chance to be heard in life. For eyes to be closed, mind fixed; for a moment in life when everything is paused for me. When the market is quiet, and the bars are silent. A moment when my voice is afloat, and single. All held frozen for me, that everyone should truly hear how I mold brilliant words around ingenious tunes. I’d do it like none before me, and then no one after me will be able to match my prowess.

When the silence is eventually broken, and the conversations re-emerge, they would only be of my talk, of my woman-ness, and my talent. I had a plan, to take a moment, and hold it forever.

I thought, and tossed a lot that night.

Outside, the moon had no glory. Darkness pocketed its beauty, and shamed its strength. A dog backed from a distance, and its fellows followed suit. They kept at their midnight wailing; one pitching just after the other waned, like in a rehearsal or contest. Perhaps an intruder had been spotted, and the helpless animals call for help. But who is to hear them, who is to wake and walk into their uncertainty? Help is needed, but no help is given. It is to be behind a soundproof glass, and cry out your anguish at walking men; none will answer, none will stop walking.

I liked how the words spaced out- none will answer, none will stop walking. I thought to begin to write a song about it, scrambled for my phone, and found it powered out. Damn NEPA, I want your ‘too much’.

-Nel Ibuola

II

My aunty Lola thinks it’s a bad idea. She strolled around the kitchen, knife in hand. A chopping board is left forgotten atop the deck, red pepper scattered in diced fashion over it. The neighbour’s generator was working and shaking against the kitchen wall. Its fumes snuck in between window frames and mixed with the steam from our pot. I straddled over a bench to prune efo tete.

My aunty Lola said it would be a bad idea for me to go to Iloffa to see our Grandmother. It was almost a year since our parents died, and our grandmother is kept in the dark about it.

“Bimpe, grandma is very sensitive, even if you’re not showing it, she will sniff it off you, you know all these old people.”

“Aunty Lola, nobody had gone to see her for almost a year now, you think that is not suspicious enough. Nobody knows how the old woman is fairing, she doesn’t even have a phone”

“She’s very fine na, uncle Sola and Aunty l’Akure saw her just last month.”

My aunty Lola lied, our grandma is not fine, she is never fine. Maami always had a thing wrong; her joints were arthritic, her nose bled if she walked under the sun, and her skin scales. She is an albino, and she complained about that too. She told the story of how she was dropped from a scholarship interview because of her ‘skin colour’.

The interview was in Lagos, 1948. She had qualified as the third best student in the southern region then, a boy from Oyo, and two other from Ekiti had joined to make four from southwest, four also came from the southeast and seven from the north.
It was her second time in Lagos, she had been there once to buy fabrics with her mother. She travelled for the interview with a reverend Sister Julia as her tutor and guardian. She said they slept in a large room at a hotel with white bedsheets and multiple pillows. She spoke highly of the place and people, the refectory and modest lavatory. At night, she would crop up next to Sister Julia on the pavement, British brown prints haphazard between them.

Those were her word. Refectory. Lavatory. Pavement. Haphazard.

On the day of the interview, they had arrived late. Neither her nor Sister Julia understood Lagos’ road-networks well, the roads were broad and busy. They found the council difficult to find, all of them from southwest. The southeastern candidates had found it more easily. They were told the British interviewers drove the northerners to the council, they had slept at the same hotel it seemed.

A Yoruba man was in the reception, he was to screen the candidates’ papers, and present them to the board. He was an Egba-man, my grandmother will emphasize. “His marks and lip told me, there was no hiding that.” The Egba-man told Maami she wasn’t qualified for the interview.

“A! Afin are juju people, I cannot allow you to evil my oga o. No madam. No Sister, you don’t understand these things.”

Afin was what Yorubas called albinos.

In classical Yoruba, afins were believed to be fetish creatures made pale by the gods’ anger. They were no good sight because the gods were angry with them, and like in every classical teaching, a sure way to find the masters’ favour is to fall his foe.

The egba man knew and believed this, he started off what my grandmother perceived was a joke, and he kept at it like madmen to the slum. He ran to lock the door to the interview room, held his face against it, and shouted “Professor Whitebread, I’m sorry it’s my family people again, I will handle it. Sorry, master.”

My grandmother was in awe. She knelt and began to beg the man in English at first, and then Yoruba. Sister Julia stood by and wept, entirely lost amidst the tantrum.  Other people pleaded with Maami, they begged and wept for almost half an hour. Twice or more, someone tried to run close to the door to shout at the board men, but the Egba-man wouldn’t let that. He held talk about his job and protecting his bosses, about being a Yoruba man and albinos.

They returned to Iloffa the following night. Sister Julia telegrammed a priest who knew a board member, he replied her the next morning, the men had returned to London.

The night had settled its darkness broad over us, it was impossible to call another by their face again. The neighbour’s generator was still loud and smoky. We put two lamps on, one adjacent other, their strength and site made a joke of us in our shadows. They split our shadows in two and throw it distant from themselves. My aunty Lola’s shadows were cast stretched on the door, it elongated her limbs and trunk greatly like stalks on agunmaniye.

-Nel Ibuola

I

There’s a stool by the large window, my Aunty Lola sat on it and her legs stretched to rest on the sill. She turned her head every now and again to look at me, to assure me she was listening. Each time she throws her head in my direction, I see how brightly her glasses reflects the light from the television, and if she stayed longer I could make out the figures on it. Once, she looked at me long enough to stare into her glasses, they were thick binoculars and the reflections were greatly detailed. Some old-woman had accused Bill Cosby of having non-consensual sex with her while she was twelve. His face, from Aunty Lola’s glasses was tired and flawed. The telly was low.

Aunty Lola smiled briefly before her head looked away towards the open window. I turned from her to looked behind me at the telly, the Cosby talk was still on. He was pleading not guilty, he said he hadn’t known the woman was a minor then.

“Ehn-ehn Bimpe, so where do you reason is best now, Lagos-hustle is not a joke o”

I turned back to her, she was facing the window and her back to me, with her right fingers probing her mouth.

“No, I’m not thinking of Lagos. Gawd, that place is over-populated. I want to go to Jos”

The sitting room is umber and the curtains, golden. She turned to look at me again, a smile smudged over her face. Her gaze was sustained and mine didn’t flutter.

“You’re joking, right?”

“No, I’m not. Look it isn’t as bad as you think, the media just over-blow the news to sell. My friends there tell me it’s a beautiful place”

I leaned forward towards her, elbow-to-knee, stretched by the need for her to be persuaded.

“O, you have friends there already. And you want to go and see a beautiful place abi?”

“Aunty Lola, this isn’t about  beauty, Jos is right for me, they do good music”

“Maybe, maybe they do good music and have Ice cubes and Em-highs, but sister, Jos is NOT right for you”

She stood up, walked toward me and sat back again, now facing me with her back to the window. Her face was oxidized, she’s been sick and held back at the hospital for days. She turned her head sideways as she probed her mouth with a toothpick.

“I can’t let you go to Jos, Bimpe. I can’t. Of all places in Nigeria, north?”

“Jos is not north o, Aunty Lola”

“Idiot, you want to teach me geography, south ni, Jos is south-east”

For people like Aunty Lola, Nigeria has a north, and two souths. A part referred to as Central -a part even us in Ilorin belong to- was nonexistent to them. She would be fast to refute me that we were south-westerner, that all Yorubas are.

“Sister, I need to go to Jos, I’m not doing anything here”

“Look at your mouth like ‘you’re not doing nanathin yia’. So because you’re not doing anything I should let you go and die in a bomb abi? Olo’un maje. Over my dead body. People will ask me, people will curse me”

“It’s my choice to go na, nobody can fault you for my choices o”

“A! Ewo omo alakoba. You will not be here again to defend me na. Everybody will be waging their tongues at me, that I was the wicked person that killed her sister just after their parents died, that I want to inherit everything. Hmmm, Bimpe don’t even bring Jos up, mo be e, biko.”

She put out her palms and rubbed them against my shoulders, twice or thrice in circles. I nodded, a promise that I would not talk to her about Jos again, at least not until it became inevitable.

-Nel Ibuola

Fore

“These cigarettes could become an addiction, I hold them far too long till they burn short. Their red ash dig into my palm, and I can swear I smell roasted meat everywhere I go.”

Quote from Bimpe Adebiyi, the protagonist of the new blog-novel I will begin to post ‘Thursday-ly’. But I’m not going to attempt bribing away my absence with some quote from a struggling addict. I am sorry I tried that, I’m sorry I’ve been away far too long.

There’s been a phase of laziness that I let last. It is from the continued support of friends and family that I draw will to keep writing; @goldenwura and @SimplyRoli are etched on that list.

This new work brings on a similar core, one of a struggling young woman; first for a career, and eventually for life. It is a mildly difficult perspective to write on, but I’d like to try.
Thank you.

-Nel Ibuola