It was absurd, he thought, walking home that evening. Coming from a bar, he had been left bewildered by the story told of a young man, nineteen or about, who had been expecting his girlfriend and, in his great expectations, taken a drug to boost his sexual performance.

“Burantashi,” a man had offered. Apparently he knew about the drug sold by some Hausa kiosk traders and the Niger Republic women – bronze and slender, with their brown teeth and tribal marks around the mouth, on their cheeks, on their temples – that marauded the streets, claiming to possess all that could make a man happy.

The young man who’d taken this drug was let down by his girlfriend, a Meimuna. Prowling the streets, the man sought to quench the fire within him but alas, he had no money, not even the customary five hundred naira for the Old Ones – what the old and, most times, shabby looking prostitutes were called – at Phase Two or Easy Bar. The story goes thus: because he had no money, he masturbated. This would have been okay, seeing as masturbation is quite healthy, but our young man poured his stuff outdoors, behind a white Mitsubishi van under repairs. And it was just beside a church! And that, his moaning and all, had drawn the attention of the worshippers inside the ALADURA CHURCH OF JESUS, of which the narrator had been amongst.

“Oh, what a shame!”
“But, how could a –“
“Youths of nowadays are something else!”
“I’ve even heard worse…”
Opinions were shared, the people pontificated on the forthcoming weekend English Premier League games; the local madman, Lokosa, came to drop some “sure” Baba Ijebu numbers; the evening eased into a denouement.

His mother has been dead for nine years now. It seemed that each evening, he went out of the house in a bid to outrun the overwhelming power of her in the house. His father received his mother’s death worse, the loss like a painter’s hand, spreading great colors of doom and gloom over his face. He began to seek the community more often: Sometimes he’d find them under a Mango tree which served as a meeting spot. There, his father played board games with other men whose heads were mostly grey than black, even though many of them tried to reduce this effect of aging by dying their hair. The men, who knew him from his father’s pointed finger would, at times, holler at him and when jolly, he would buy a crate of beer for the men who then laughed off his unemployed status, one of them implying that this country is no longer about what you study o. “But what you can bring to the table,” another added with a magisterial tone.

On the day after a remembrance for his wife, he takes a stock of his life. Two years before, his son had been scammed by a Dutch woman who claimed to have managed Nwankwo Kanu in the lanky forward’s heydays. He had sent her some hundreds of dollars, and he was done with. A classic maga, you know the story…

Once every month, money comes into his hands by way of pension and he and his son go to the market and buy fresh foodstuffs to cook with. Sometimes, he surprises himself with his haggling skills; other times, he lets the Maggi “EVERY WOMAN IS A STAR” apron-wearing women hail him with teasing renditions of ‘Baba’ as they inflate their prices, swearing with their lives that what he was offering wasn’t even equivalent to how much they purchased the goods. His son keeps his quiet on these shopping outings.

So on this day after The Remembrance he wears his favorite shirt –blue and crisscrossed with white lines – and blue trousers. He sprays his perfume generously and steps into the street. Okadas pass him with their typical nonchalance; hawkers; Danfos and their boisterous conductors screaming the names of places. A young couple in a sleek Mercedes asks him the way to the Trinity cemetery. He finds tears welling up in his eyes. The surprised man asks in an affectionate tone: “Sorry Baba, person die?” He doesn’t answer, but he does direct them to the cemetery where his wife is buried, her grave perpetually threatened by wild flowers and grasses.

Life is as it should be; there is so much death everywhere. Under the Mango tree, there are only two men there. He finds them in a pensive mood. Sam Ekwilo is dead, one of them says even without him asking. What happened, he asks, sitting down on the bench.

Sam Ekwilo had been taking a stroll. Quite unfortunately, a trailer nearby was staggering and although the driver tried very hard to steer it into balance, it fell, crushing the frail man underneath the weight of its container’s frame.

Arms folded, he looks at the ground, at the colony of ants who had gathered over a beer splotched earth.

Nobody knew where he came from about thirteen days after; CJ Ekwilo was there dressed like a very expensive clown, demanding his father’s body. He is taken to the mortuary and he pays up, even graciously tips the mortician. He hires men who lift Sam Ekwilo from the mortuary to the cemetery. CJ bribes the security men and hastily buries his father in a shallow grave, saying a prayer and had one looked at him closely, might have seen a tear fall from an eye. The son was an odd one, the people commented.

His son was, too. One July night, when reading Esi Edugyan’s “The Second Life of Samuel Tyne”, the young man walks into the house and slumps into a sofa, before saying in a most resigned tone, “I’m going away, daddy.”

That night, he turns in his bed and remembers when the boy was just nine. An adventurous one, he had found a picture of a man squeezed into a pocket in his father’s jeans.

“Who’s this, daddy?” He asked.

“Oh,” he had said, “He’s a friend.”
“He has these strange eyes.” The nine year-old, who had just returned home from a Mathematics contest, said.

Those eyes. They were brown, but there was the understated presence of another color. This gave it its brilliance, its sexy, its unpredictability. When they first shared a laugh at a mutual friend’s birthday party, he attributed it to the feel-good atmosphere; plus, they were drunk on wine.

It had been in a sudden burst of determination that he managed to drive all the way to Agor Palace way from his residence at Olodi – Apapa. Already, he didn’t think he’d be able to because he was feeling feverish that day. But then he had, and for thirty two minutes, he was navigating through the Apapa – Oshodi expressway which was marred by the trailers and trucks, the potholes, and incessant checkpoints. “Even on a Sunday!” He had said when he passed a barricade mounted by policemen who asked if he had anything for the boys.

At the party, the hall, bathed in generous light from the chandeliers, was spacious, and people engaged in conversation that was as shiny as the smiles everywhere. Sitting by himself and drinking from a glass of Spanish wine, he heard a voice come up behind him.


“Barely,” he said. He wanted to say something else but the man had sat down. Their discussion continued late into the evening, as, amongst other things, they found out that they both loved boxing and the Nigerian heavyweight, Samuel Peters, was their favorite.

When it was time to leave the party, they exchanged numbers.

He could have been no more than fifteen. It was a Friday; he doesn’t remember now. He returned from school, his bag slung over his shoulders. Usually, the house would be swept up in silence but then, he heard, over the humming sound of a boiling food, someone crying. It didn’t take long to figure out it was his mother.

On the downtrodden bus to Abeokuta where he had decided to go learn a skill, he realizes that his father must have made his mother cry; then, he interpreted it physically. He had looked for a flesh wound on his mother’s skin but found none.

As the bus speeds past the green, the mundane assumes a new form; he flips and weighs, he is a philosopher. That Friday isn’t just another Friday, it is a final-straw type of situation. She had had enough. Of what, then? A kid snores. He looks around the bus and, even if for a second, he imagines that he dies, spending his last moments with these people. What would the fear of their final seconds reveal about the core of their person, the content of their individual philosophies?

His father began to keep notes when his mother died. He remembers the man furiously writing and perpetually apologizing. He seemed to want to say something to her – his mother – but he seemed unable to. Eventually, he didn’t have to, as a popular gossip magazine ran the story. His father had a gay lover.

On the bus, as a kid stirs and stirs on its mother’s back, he admires the patterns on the wrapper which holds his frame. He imagines the possibility of the scene: his mother, disillusioned by it all, holds up her cancer-infested breasts to his father’s face, her face awash with tears. “This can’t keep you happy?”

Now that he is an apprentice, he has to work really hard. His boss, Olawale, a guy he knew from NYSC is demanding, but it is for the best. On his first days he had taken buses throughout the city, seeking beautiful things. On his first day out, he returned with pictures of a woman roasting corn, a burning house, and a river, brown and dirty, debris afloat. Olawale had called him a “fucking colonialist.”

In between in his days at the studio, he finds time to go to a nearby beach. This is where one day, he finds her. Smoking under a coconut tree in the distance, he regrets having not brought Olawale’s second camera which he uses. He stands up and walks up to her, attempts a conversation. It falls flat, but she gives away her phone number. “Never believed in first impressions,” she says.

The next day, he chats her up on WhatsApp. She isn’t wordy, but tells him to keep it up. What, he asks. The seduction, she replies. I loooove the seduction. [emoji: smiling face]

HA-HA-HA-HA!!!! He sends, text accompanied by a flurry of yellow faces and white teeth and blushed-out cheeks.

In about a month, they become pretty close. One day, strolling the streets with Olawale, he sees her. He doesn’t call her attention but he watches, her hair bouncing, swaying, those eyes…mine, he whispers. Almost immediately, he realizes that she isn’t his, and his mood sours. Olawale is animated about a fight at the KekeMarwa park between two drivers and a NURTW official but he isn’t looking. He only hears the noise – the noise of people screaming in Yoruba, the sound of flesh hitting flesh – which prevents him from imagining her say the word seduction.

“Do you have a man?” He’ll ask the next day over the phone. He was seating on a bench, his eyes fixed on Olawale’s favorite pictures.

“What are you then?”

“You know what I mean,” He said, a snap of impatience rooted at the base of his words. Has he been unreasonable?

“Meet me at the beach,” she said. “In two hours.”

As soon as he reached there, she stood up from the sand and said, never do that again. He stood, facing the water, his pose pensive, as if he was deep in thought about her ‘proposal’. She looked at him.

‘‘Come, you’re with your camera,” she said “Take a photo of me.”

Was he the sentimental type, he’d paste the printed picture where he’d see it everyday, which was what he did, on Olawale’s fridge. The man couldn’t care less. He was going blind in one eye and had the conviction that he had little to live. On one of his better days, he asked his apprentice to make sure he doesn’t run the business to the ground.

“Oga, snap out of it,” the apprentice said with a tinge of irritation in his voice. “you can live with one eye.”

“Like, who?”

“Odin, Captain Jack Sparrow…” He mulls over his next names; he can hear Olawale’s labored breathing “That’s all I know.”

“Fucking colonialist.”

He keeps a journal now: Although the dates are far flung apart, he is, one night, stung by the similarity between his days. There was the emptiness still, settled deep in his heart as a stone would, at the base of an ocean.

In a journal entry titled “Letter to my Son”, he begins with the searing line, “Our souls are fires that have forgotten how to burn.” The words set up a block; each night, he basks in their gloriousness but finds it hard to write any other thing.

Far away, he thinks on this night, so far away, his son. Not the geography, but his son; technically, one could, from Lagos, reach Abeokuta in about three hours. His son’s location was not so far away, but the boy was. He had felt it, like an arrow straight at his heart, the pain when a man called him the previous week.

“I’m Olawale,” the person had said. His voice was distinct; weak, alright, but buried in its casualness was a reveal: it was no doubt authoritative.

“I’m Mr. Enafoghe,” he introduced himself.

“Good day, Sir,” the person said, coughing ever so slightly. “I’m Olawale, your son’s master. He’s learning photography.”

For how long? Had he plunged himself deep into the job as soon as he left Lagos? He understood the boy was depressed after losing money to a scammer but photography! Eccentric now, wasn’t he?

“He’s learning very fast, although I still call him a colonialist.”

Mr. Jonathan Enafoghe chuckled. He wanted no intimates on what was obviously an inside joke. “Does he have a girlfriend?”

“It’s been only five months,” Olawale said.

“Yes,” he said sullenly. “Five months, surely.” He felt that the young man on the other side didn’t seem particularly curious about continuing this weird discussion. “Thank you, mister,” he said, waiting for a few seconds before the call went off.

What had driven his kid to photography? Passion? He wasn’t so sure, for he had, throughout his life, had very little contact with photography. There was of course, that encounter when he stumbled upon Cosmas’ photo.

After Sam Ekwilo’s death, the games’ meetings was infrequent. Sometimes, as few as three men showed and much to his dismay, they discussed politics. During his years as a civil servant, he barely talked about politics and a former comrade once joked that he took too serious the idea that people in his position were to be politically neutral.

Naturally, he began to drift away, staying for long hours inside his house, cooking and reading and drinking. He still suffered over the next sentence of Letter but he found no words. One day, bored, he sat over his unfinished plate of Beans and, thinking about it for as long as a second, he picked up his phone and called Cosmas Obioma.

“Hello?” Cosmas had been deep into a conversation with someone. Remnants still filtered into the present call. They were noises from a market; subsequently, Cosmas revealed that he was at Ladipo Market, looking for ezigbotyres for a car he had bought not too long ago. “How far?”

Why had he called Cosmas? He scarcely knew, but it was good hearing his voice. Nothing, he mumbled; picking the plate and making his way to the kitchen, the memory of his wife standing over his bed with a copy of the magazine which carried the news of his affair hit him. Printed in yellow, the headline was typical of such media outlets: “Popular Lagos businessman is gay; find out who his lover is.” Why? Sylvia had asked. She set the magazine aside gently, then proceeded to strip off her clothing…

“How are you doing, Cosmas?”

“Fine, Jonathan. You?”

“‘Our souls are fires that have forgotten how to burn’ ”

“What’s that?”

“Something I wrote.” He replied, he didn’t particularly want to know what Cosmas thought about it – the man had no patience for the literary. “Could we meet on Sunday? The usual spot. Or should I say not-so-usual?”

“I’ll try.”

Cosmas didn’t show up. Dressed casually and looking into his watch every now and then, he had drunk two bottles of HERO Lager when he decided to go back home. As he walked out of the hotel, teenagers trooped into the place, clinging to themselves like the sweat on their bodies.

Marijuana heals, he hears her say over the phone. She has taken to him. They hang out regularly now, and have had sex twice. Who was she talking to?

“This yeye girl,” she said flippantly, as she did. She walked over the Bluetooth speaker and pressed next. Bob Marley’s Satisfy My Soul came on. She bobbed her head gently, her lips stretching into a smile. “She wants to start a WhatsApp group to help suicidal people kill themselves faster and better. The details are vague but, you get, she’s like…loco.”

“Hmmm, that is disturbing,” he offers, sitting there on the bed as she moulds her weed. When she’s done, she’ll stretch it forth to him even though she knows he’ll never take it.

Her laugh fills up the room. What? He asks with his eyes. Nothing, she answers with a kiss.
“We’re in love, aren’t we?” He asks; almost immediately he realizes he never should have.

She laughs again. This time, it is sad, and there are unshed tears in her eyes. The Bob Marley song had stopped and from the window, the slowness of rural life presents itself. Buckets and trays balanced on heads. Ákàrá being fried. A kid pushing another kid on a brown-rusty wheelbarrow. The streets untarred, the people boisterous, seemingly comfortable with their small lives. He wonders how he came to be in this room at this moment. The magic of their union isn’t lost on him, even more so now.

She’s in her NYSC year, but she didn’t live in the camp; she had a self-con apartment to herself. Attempts made by him to tear into the flesh of her past ended up in sharp resistance, a recoiling, a You-should-know-better attitude from her. But he didn’t know better, only that she was fascinated with Reggae, and had wallpapers of Burning Spear and Peter Tosh in her room. (“Bob Marley is like, too popular, but I fuck with him. Heavily.”) A liberal, Olawale would tag her.

She’s with him on the day his father’s two-sentence letter arrives. “…I want to burn again, Son,” the ever dramatic man had written. She finds it cute, and asks for his phone number. He laughs.

“What do you want it for?” He asks, keeping the letter inside a notebook.

“I never had –” She catches her tongue and forces it back into her mouth. Tossing her braids away from her face, she says: “You know what? Never mind.”

Emmanuel Esomnofu is a widely published music journalist and he is fascinated by all things Hip Hop and Reggae. Find him at odd places arguing for the greatness of the contemporary. Published by litmags such as Brittle Paper and The Kalahari Review, he is certain that he is destined to write The Great Ajegunle novel.