Even though she died when he was only sixteen, Kelvin wasn’t going to pretend it hurt him that much. He had spent his life in a haze of her smacks and screams and her absence felt at first like some cleverly scratched rash. He spent the first few days locked up in the solitude of his room, among his shirts, novels, Cristiano Ronaldo wallpapers, pens, trousers, and Xbox game controllers, binging all day on Grand Theft Auto and PES 2018 underneath the soft glow of fluorescent blue lighting. He liked all of the lively soundtracks that came with PES where he discovered his favourite music band Twenty One Pilots from. He also liked shooting unsuspecting pedestrians at the beachside in GTA San Andreas, stamping on the dead bodies, and orchestrating an escape from police officers in a light frame sports car. It all felt like a relief to him: carbonated, cold, and bottled-up.

He wore a pristine white singlet and a pair of shorts all day. He didn’t brush his teeth or take a bath. Two times a day, he creaked the door open and allowed Funmi to pass a cooler of food and condolences to him. His face was oily, his hair was clumped-up like a shag rug, and Funmi would politely ask each time if he was okay, her face streaming with soft pity.

“Yes, I am,” he said each time, impatient to shut the door against what came from beyond it.

Kelvin feared the din beyond the door. Although the commiserators were mostly silent, humanity had a peculiar noise to it. The groans and burps and mysterious conversations, all of it felt like the dim rush of some obscure river, and this noise pestered him in the same way John said the screech of white chalk on the blackboard and nails on smooth surfaces disturbed him. Kelvin wondered what it was with that—nails on cement, sticks against walls, the pointed against smoothness—that troubled so many little humans.

He always snuck back inside with his plate of jollof to put it on his bed. It was one of the many things he could do now without her, without a fear of the door opening and her figure standing there, seething with loud instructions, the scarf on her head done loosely.

After he ate, he would continue with the games on his Xbox until a cold breeze rustled in through the window, bringing the snarky scent of fallen flowers and 5 o’clock with it. That fragrance made his cousin, “Pawpaw”, sick during the last holiday and they’d had to make him sleep upstairs in the guestroom. Kelvin had liked that and he’d transplanted more of the flowers closer to his room the next week so that Pawpaw wouldn’t come in at all.

Nowadays, if he didn’t have to hole up inside his room because everyone was around and wanted to see him, if PHCN had not suddenly become so generous with the electricity for hours and hours without end, he would have loved nothing more than to unmoor his bicycle from the defunct antenna pole in the backyard and push it down the road, riding out to the Methodist Church—seven laps around it—with the breeze in his face. Then he would likely ride on to John’s house and stand in their front lawn with the bicycle leaning proudly against him. John, of course, would ask for a ride up the road but he’d go beyond the barbershop two streets away before reemerging again, appearing slow and remorseful around the bend to the Soccer viewing cafe. When he was near enough, John would stick his tongue out at Kelvin and pedal gloriously off again, this time up to the Methodist Church and its bizarre seven spires.

Kelvin was fascinated by the Methodist Church, the sombre ardour of its bell tower and sister spires, the mysteriousness of its dim interior, the slanting slope of cheerful-green earth the little church sat on as though it were a living thing, some sort of exotic creature soon to grow flowers up the roof. Or maybe he was more fascinated by the view from the other side around the fence, where the earth was suddenly dark and sad and moist and he could see how small the church really was, bell tower and all, its drab behind exposed to the world like some pitiful and fragile slow-moving animal. It was from back here that you could see the graves and headstones springing up against the church’s behind like a call from the wild. The graves caught his eye all the time. Dank, exposed, and crumbling. It seemed like a long time since the church had buried a body despite the many cane-wielding, bald and grey-haired members in its congregation shaking out of the front gate every Sunday, their clothes as faded as their frames.

Well, the church would have somebody to bury soon enough.


The burial was not a solemn affair. Kelvin sat in a row behind the rest of the family and watched with amused eyes how the Methodist preacher struggled to draw something profound out of the occasion. The preacher referred to his Bible often—after about every two sentences—as though he wasn’t sure if his voice conveyed obvious truths. Across him to the left was the mass choir, resplendent in their purple and gold garbs, each of them trying to keep a most solemn and respectable face towards the direction of the preaching, their awareness of being watched apparently from each wrinkle in their clothes, in each drag of a foot, in the comical stoicism of stationary faces with eyes attentively turned inside out, devoid of soul or a smoke of active thought. The congregation copied this stoicism, as it befitted the occasion. The babies were largely silent, too bewildered that their mothers weren’t paying much attention to them. The toddlers all seemed content without crinkling packets of biscuits and juice to assuage their sweet teeth today. Even the road in front of the church was silent; it was as though everyone in town had come to pay their last respects to Mrs. Eunice Aderibigbe, 1967-2014. All that was audible was the preacher’s voice skating above heads, soaking up space like a motivational speaker’s. Beneath that was another sound, a dim murmuring of legs and breathing that made Kelvin shifty, and above that, the clipped noise of children from the neighbourhood playing on the cemented verandahs of their homes.

Funmi did not look back at him throughout the service. Pa did, severally, as though to confirm whether he had been vapourized or not. Funmi had picked up the unspoken order of things—one of which, obviously, was not to look around during this solemn preaching—and had adjusted to fit accordingly. She had this gift. It was scary, the way she quietly engorged and disengorged to assume the shape of appropriateness in all social settings, how people passed their eyes over her as though she wasn’t there. It was remarkable, even. And that was how she spread over the surfaces of things like groundnut oil: quietly, modestly, efficiently. Already, he didn’t like how she sat so close to Pa with their hips touching as though the pew was packed, how her perfume was everywhere inside this church, carrying her very essence: subtle, unassuming yet strong. Pa did not seem to mind. He never minded, not nearly as much as Ma who only got to Funmi out of sheer paranoia and bossery and saw to it that all her clothes were natively designed, no low-cuts anywhere, no meat-packing skirt. But here she was, in a tight short gown he didn’t know she had, drawing heat from Pa’s waist.


The days after the ceremony were less leaden, freer. Everyone slowly dispersed like ants after sugar. The bulk of them went quickly while some hung around for some time and even turned it into an impromptu stay-over, like Bro Pops, Pawpaw’s elder brother.

Bro Pops had a face full of lush hair, which he carefully maintained with combs and brushes and creams, hiding his failures in life behind it. He had not gone beyond a second year at BABCOCK and his airtime selling business had failed or was on the verge of failure, despite cash injections from literally everyone in the extended family. Bro Pops was relaxed, though. He spoke slowly and confidently, emphasizing every phrase in that silent way of his, and constructing a semblance of maturity with each finished sentence. Over years, after much careful speech, he seemed to have grown into the maturity of his speech. Maybe it was a thing of age instead, but Kelvin found him interesting to listen to after everyone had gone. He seemed to know something about everything or he seemed to say things in a way that suggested he knew something important about them.

“Girls don’t like boys who don’t have lots of friends like you. Although you are a fine boy, it is more the social part that can do it for you at this point. When I was in SS3, I was not fresh at all. But I was a talkative and could talk myself into anything. That was how I got Rhoda, that girl I carried in my graduation magazine. Did you see the picture? She was always crazy to see me.” They were sitting on the balcony of the second floor, watching the empty street below. It was three weeks after the burial. Bro Pops was trying to download something on his Blackberry phone but the network wasn’t having it.

“I am not looking for a girl,” Kelvin said.

“Forget it. Girls like men that talk. Have you seen Amina? That light-skinned girl I put on my WhatsApp?”

“I haven’t checked.”

Bro Pops touched his beard. “She’s fine like mad. You know how I got her? I was talking about all kinds of things to her ear when she came to Enugu to serve. All kinds of things. Everyday. It got to the point where she just let me do whatever I wanted and that was how I entered her.”

Bro Pops chuckled and Kelvin looked at the wristwatch on his hands. It said 4:45 and he remembered a moment in the past. He was 7 or thereabouts and she was standing beside him in a ceremonial gown, beaming. She had her lipstick on, nude and shiny, just how Pa liked it. That was the only type she wore before she joined Higher Life Bible Church and became something else, something insufferable, tight on the inside, wearing loose scarfs and berating him for not moving his feet properly across the floor. Kelvin could remember the compound in which they took the photograph. It was in Badagry with Ms. Nneka her friend who also came crying during the burial. That compound had a wide gate…

“Have you done your JAMB exam yet?” Bro Pops asked, looking at his phone.  Before Kelvin could say yes, Funmi came in with a tray of juice.

She was wearing one of her new gowns that terminated at the knees. “Does anyone want some juice?”

Bro Pops broke into a smile. He liked free things and the concept of being served. Being served made him jovial, louder, less mature, and more open. Kelvin was amused by it, how it strangely fitted in with every other aspect of his personality.

“Sister Funmi, you are godsent sha. I was just getting thirsty. This your Akure sun has no chill at all.”

Funmi poured the juice and gave the first glass to Kelvin. She began to pour the second. “That’s how we see it. Sun all the time. You guys seem to be enjoying yourselves. I hope you are not talking about me.”

Bro Pops had a slightly stupid smile on his face. “Eh, rara o. We were talking about girls. I’m trying to show Kelvin the way.”

Funmi served him with a little smile and Kelvin watched her process what to say next. The glass was cold in his hands.

“Well, K-Boy is still young o. Please don’t corrupt him for us.”

Bro Pops broke out into a laugh. “How? Me? A gentle boy like me? He just needs small orientation. That’s all.”

Funmi looked at him with the idle half-smile and said bye. Bro Pops turned to look at the horizon, his lips on the glass. Kelvin looked at his juice.

Cold. Yellow. Little bubbles here and there. Sweet and eager like fresh oranges. Kelvin thought about how Funmi did not look at him at all, how her eyes seemed full of plans and mascara. How her hips were wide and tightly restrained by the gown. How she had become prettier since the burial. How she seemed to get out of Pa’s way but was always in his way. How she used nude lipsticks nowadays, soft and shiny. Then he drank his juice and felt an urge to go inside his room.

Agboola Timi Israel serves as an editor on the Afro Anthology Team, which recently published The Year of Free Birds and Selves. His works have been sampled by Nigeria Abroad, PRAXIS Magazine, Thursday’s Children: An Anthology of Personal Essays, and also forthcoming at The Lunaris Review and elsewhere. He runs a creative newsletter called “The Billionaire” and thinks Don DeLillo is his literary godfather.