It was the perfect song when I listened. Temi liked to stand too close and call my name softly- the cue to begin singing. When my arms linked behind him, he asked, his head dipped to meet mine, “Will you stay with me forever?” and I thought of the many times Papa had hissed, “Ndi Yoroba”, “tufiakwa“, pausing to shrug and snap his fingers dramatically, crumpling his face like a baby in pain and sometimes spitting out saliva. I thought about Nneoma’s look of displeasure when she saw his pictures, “Who is this one? Why so thin? He looks so poor”. She went on and on, barely stopping for breath. Then, dismissing, “Can anything come out of this your romance?” I thought of the strange old man who cursed us and called us awon omo oloriburuku, while we held hands on a walk. He went on unintelligibly in Yoruba. Ashawo was his goodbye that night.

It was the same song, the same lyrics we knew so well, but with every day came a new worry, the type you hide from the audience — a typical Nigerian singing about fame and wealth but really hoping his record would sell this time, Iya Rita smiling at new clients with their weird expectations, hoping her years of experience would cover her for one more day, a bird building its safety nest on a tree, knowing the bough could break at any time. But Temi’s arms were the only place I wanted to return to after every horror story, every curse, every victory dance. So, I replied, “Temi”, stretching the ‘eh’ like in egg rather than the correct “ey” like in age. I had mispronounced it on our first meeting, and he loved it.

“I’d love nothing but to die in your arms”. Temi started to rock to the music in his head, his eyes closed.

“Say it again, slowly this time. Don’t lie to me, Ifenna”. He pronounced my name as a faint breath, flattening the thickness of the n’s.

“I want to be with you forever”, I managed to croak out before my throat became too heavy with tears. I always cried. Nne had said that “O ka n’ebe?” had been the most frequently asked question about me as a child. Temi held me, and stroke after stroke, sent the stiffness in my throat, along with every doubt in my heart far, far away, all the while whispering, “Forever”. The last music in our song.

But Temi drowned himself before forever, dragging the weight of my heart with him until he hit sea bottom. I would never recover from anything. Not his unflinching smile the night before, not his persistent promise of a love forever, not the way he prepared me for his death, deliberately teaching me to dance on my own, to my own music — he said that the sharp sound of split velcro is the sound of heartbreak and he never wanted to hear it, not my eventual realisation of his planned exit— not his guitar, not the lily garden he tended for me and definitely not the unity that comes with death. The awkwardness between me, the ajokuta ma momi and Temi’s mother no longer existed. Neither did Papa’s disgust, Nneoma’s displeasure and Nne’s indifference.

We all mourned this loss, together. Perhaps my family mourned because they knew, just like the sharp pain in my left breast that confirmed Temi’s death to me, they had lost me too. But before I let myself go, before I allowed every speck of emotion leave me a black kite in a vast sky, I replied Temi’s letter – the one I found beneath his guitar, just after I started to panic.

I wrote, my blinding tears softening the paper and causing the ink to run:

“I know that your heart broke in a million pieces when you sang here

I know that the cancer came again, and you couldn’t stand it

And Temi, this may have been how the sun chose to set,

Dimming its light slowly but surely

You should have let it

You should have let it

And allowed me a few more days of singing

It really is the perfect song when you listen, but I doubt you can hear me now….”

Muoh Norah is a reader, writer and proofreader when her face is not in a bowl of food. Norah thinks that the world can do with a little more party jollof, love and understanding. A lover of literature, one of her greatest challenges is getting the words out of her head to paper. Another is trying to balance life as an idealist and a Nigerian. Norah wishes to find expression to her enthusiasm for the arts, culture and the intricacies of language. Norah lives in Lagos with her parents, sisters and dog, Dawn, and aspires to be a ‘baby girl’ forever.