Countdown

It was almost dawn, that precarious hour when night and day still lived together. The moon, a half disc, still stood bright though filtered by the morning fog. The sun had not yet risen, it was only announcing itself with a pink hue that meshed into the tired blue sky on the horizon. Slowly the world was waking up, a symphony of chirping birds and murmuring engines.

She however had not slept.

Her clothes were neatly folded, books shelved alphabetically, tables dusted, floors swept and moped. She absentmindedly examined her work from her bed. She tended to turn to cleaning when all her other distractions had failed her. Who she was cleaning up for, she could never tell. The last words of her Skype call still echoed in the air till they were like a shattered plate on the floor she was trying to put back together. “It’s all in your mind.” As if that in itself wasn’t a problem. She could not understand this obsession with separating the mind and the body, as if either could survive (or thrive)  without the other. Did thoughts not shape actions and words? Did all that has come to be not begin as a single idea, germinating slowly in the confines of someone’s mind? This divide made no sense to her.

The sun’s early rays pushed through her window. Though  her blinds were always down, light somehow managed to invite itself in like those aunties whose one week visits from the village always seemed to morph into month long stay-cations. Jagged beams slowly bathed her white walls with a pale orange hue. She sat still, her body waiting for a silent command, direction, purpose.

Shower.

Mechanically, she peeled herself off her sheets. “It’s all in your mind.” The words returned with one last whimper before dissolving into the atmosphere. She couldn’t linger on them any longer, her day had only just begun. Her sleep clothes found their way into the laundry basket and she made for the shower. Water streamed down her back as she turned both nobs. She could never get the temperature right. It either scalded her or drenched her in a frozen rain that made her wonder what she had done to deserve such evils. Today she managed a lukewarm flow – it would have to do. She could feel herself coming back to life – at least she’d start the day recharged. After dressing up (the same pair of sweatpants and T-shirt she wore almost everyday despite a full closet) she quickly had breakfast (if it could be called that – a handful of muesli and a gulp of milk) and headed for the streets.

It had already started raining by the time she reached the bus shelter. Looking through the glass she prayed for the bus’ electric blue lights. None were in sight. What a pity she thought as she watched raindrops fall on the glass wall. One would slide down the wall, quickly at first, then, slowly it would lose pace. Sometimes it happened to veer near another droplet, stationary on the glass. They would merge and suddenly travel faster, meeting new droplets till they were racing down the end of the wall and then… She didn’t like to think of where they ended. She just loved to watch them as they fell.

I don’t want to get old.

She quickly pushed the thought to the back of her mind in a crevasse filled with a darkness that had already crystallized under the weight of other such thoughts. One day it would resurface, clad in armour leading the other inhabitants out of the shadows. She would deal with that when the time came she told herself. Today, however, was not that day.

She lit a cigarette, a beacon for the bus, and was happy she was alone. She didn’t have time for an over sabi Aunty’s unwarranted concern for the health of her lungs and marriageability. A sense of shame always crept over her every time she encountered them when smoking. She kept puffing it in quiet defiance though, knowing full well that if said Aunty knew her and her family, her cigarette would find the bottom of her shoe before the woman took her next step. She found ways to cover her indiscretions (or so she thought), always fully loaded with gum and scented lotion and oh so frequent bathroom trips to wash off the evidence. The looming spectre of the older woman always plays tug of war with her freshly lit cigarette. The latter was still winning for now. The bus finally arrived in the middle of her reverie. She put out the half cigarette (the beacon had yet to fail her) and took up a seat at the back of the bus.

The Nils Frahm soundtracking her journey through her earphones added an ethereal quality to the day’s air. Circling. The song was apt. It was as if she’d reliving the same day for weeks. Nothing seemed to change but the weather which was getting fouler by the day. These public transport trips were the only highlights. She could be alone with others, a favourite paradox of hers. She’d pick a random number and find her way to the bus that carried it, looking for nothing in particular, just a break from the ordinary. Movement without responsibility, no direction in mind, a pointless change. On today’s agenda: 132. Her bus pulled into the subway station and she made her way to her platform.

She stared at the overhead screen. Your train arrives in two minutes. Somewhere in the depths of her mind a timer began to count down. The ridged separations on the platform were meant to serve as a warning but today they seemed like her very own yellow brick road. She slowly etched closer, careful not to raise any alarm. This wasn’t a spectacle. The whole station vibrated as she heard the train coming in. Soon enough she saw the lights. Her countdown was coming to a close. Five. Four. Three. Two. As she stepped over the yellow line she thought, perhaps this too is all in my mind.

One.

The Plagues

It had been three weeks since the first plague hit our town. That’s what everybody called them. Every sink and shower in the area had begun to spurt out a viscous brown liquid. The authorities couldn‘t make any sense of it. The whole town was advised to drink bottled water from then. The frogs arrived a few days later. Preachers from every street corner had started to waive their bibles, calling out for the end of days.
“It is as it was in the times of Moses! Repent and be saved!”

Be steadfast and pray my mother had said. She was just trying to comfort me. Nobody had said it out loud but they knew how this ended. “And the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maid servant that us behind the mill.”

They couldn’t look at me. I wasn’t gone yet I tried to tell them but the words clung to my throat.

The Darkness came after the locust. Families everywhere rushed to dedicate their eldest to whatever god they believed in. It was chaos. The time was near.

Sleep came hard to me. I refused to accept this fate. Global warming, pollution, something had to explain this madness. Slowly I drifted into a dreamless slumber….

It was twelve when a sharp chill woke me up. I jerked up from my bed, heart racing. The tv was still on. I could hear the static, humming softly as if calling out to me. I just laid back down, willing myself to sleep. The sound was unbearable. I peeled myself off my sheets. My feet hit the ground. At least I thought they did. I floated to the stairs, my nails grazing the bannister. I needed an anchor. Not for the darkness. No, this was my home, I drifted through obstacles as if it were day. The anchor was to remind me that I was still here, to remind me that all this was real.
The house was quiet. Too quiet. No snores. No tapping of keyboards. Just the humming. I got to the basement. Aku had fallen asleep there again. The pulsating glow of the tv bathed my brother in a soft light. He almost looks ethereal. I turned off the tv. Still the humming persisted. It must be the generator. Nothing to be done.
I walked back up to the kitchen. My stomach grumbled loudly. I was raiding the cupboards when I heard shuffled steps behind me.
I turned around.
Two blank eyes met my stare. Aku. I tried to call out his name but couldn’t make a sound. My hand surfed the counter top, searching…. I could hear the floor board creaking from upstairs. Mum, Dad- the words barely escaped my mouth. No answer. Aku walked slowly towards me. As he approached the same chill that had woken me up enveloped me. Was he still there? I tried to find my brother, the brother who cried when I had accidentally given him his first scars pushing him down the driveway in his walker. The brother who clung to me for hours after our dog had chased him around the yard. The brother who doubled down up with laughter the first time I wiped out with my skates on our daily treks around the neighbourhood. Two other figures appeared behind him. I didn’t want to see their faces. My back was up against the kitchen island. The cold had begun to sear my skin. I hadn’t found my brother. I killed that hope the instant my fingers grazed a knife handle.

Night

She had made up her mind. She would sleep with him tonight. For no reason other than that it was a possibility. A course of action clearly in her grasp. An unthought thought she hadn’t considered lurked behind her resolve. A force slowly building. A gap between the desire and the attraction, both like magnets, moving towards each other via forces of nature already preordained.

His kiss surprised her, a mid sentence lurch towards her frame, planted on a chair half expectant half hesitant. Still there he was, in front of her, on his knees (her height – or lack thereof- always a challenge in such intimate gymnastics). She had willed it and it came to be. From the balcony to a couch, her mind everywhere but there.

It struck her quite suddenly.

How had she become an observer in her own life? Girl meets boy. Boy kisses girl. Girl kisses back. A scene she was too familiar with. Or so she believed. She didn’t remember the last time she had actually been in the moment, free from the weight of trying to pry into the mind of the other. Enjoyed the action for its own sake, in its entirety. Slowly she anchored herself to him, for the first time feeling his lips against hers. Not the idea of the lips, not what she thought they felt like, what they had spoken, would speak. Lips slightly parting hers, tongue tasting of cigarette and weed shadows, slightly sweet as it searched for hers, a nameless hunger. A warmth not hers yet not alien. His hand tracing her form, the soft wetness between her thighs, his growing hardness, Yin meets Yang. She was there. Completely. The sensation was foreign. Not pleasure. A baser, rawer force – the need to be part of a whole.

Ema

It was one of those nights. The moon shone, a half crescent in its perl-esque beauty. The air was heavy with a cacophonous melody of laughter, spoken half promises, empty declarations and song. A soft wind blew through the dense night of Douala. Clear and unbroken like a ray of light beaming through a broken shutter illuminating dancing dust, he heard it. The sound of vibrating brass piercing through an urban symphony. He knew. He knew his mind spoke the truth when it told him he would die with a sax in his arm.

When They Shut Their Ears

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” His grandfather’s words still resonated in the air as he looked on to the road that lead out of his village. I cannot turn back now he thought. All those visions that once resided only in his mind were now laid out on the horizon. He only had to put one foot before the other.

Ahamadou was afraid.

Not the type of fear that paralyzed you, sucked the essence and will out of your body till all that was left was an empty shell. No, his fear was like a firm hand pushing him out the door, opening his eyes, birthing him into a foreign world. This fear knew him, it was his friend. It did not promise an easy road. It simply lead the way into a darkness that only he could illuminate. Who was he to refuse this quest? His vision had been made clear to him: he had to go – and he would.

Waiting

Waiting: to remain or rest in expectation. My perpetual state of late. Suspended in time, ever expecting. The restlessness is unbearable. My doctor just sent me to the labs for a blood test. We need to eliminate all other factors before we can confirm your diagnosis he says.

…..

This might be one of the most depressing waiting rooms I’ve ever been in. Everything is washed out, even the air. The walls are painted with this bland shade of white (probably tainted with the despair of the room’s occupants) a hybrid grey-teal, and some other indistinguishable colour. I spend five minutes trying to decide if it’s green or brown. This room does not reassure me. I want to know beyond a reasonable doubt that I am in a place where I will receive the best possible care. So far I am not convinced. The receptionist’s counter has a widening chip on the bottom right corner. Exposed copper piping travels across the room, birthed from a jagged hole in the ceiling. The posters, drained of color from exposed light, barely cling to the walls.

This is the place where hope comes to die.

The man next to me is groaning incessantly. Or humming off tune. I can’t tell the difference. They call out his number – I had a quick glance when I sat down next to him.

“Number 50”

He rocks back and forth.

“Number 50”

I give him a slight nudge and he springs out of his chair.

How did she know my number his eyes betray.

I’ll let him think I’m psychic for now.

He walks up to the counter and drops his forms. I wonder what he’s here for. He picks up his groaning  as soon as he’s back in his seat. I should feel sorry for him. He might be in pain. Aren’t we all? But I don’t. I just sit there, slightly annoyed by his cacophonous mumbling.

I try and tune him out. A baby three chairs away starts to cry. I know he’s not here to get his lungs checked out. His mother covers him with her cheap sweater and offers a tit. His mouth is busy for the next five minutes. They call my number out but I’m too busy cursing the forces of the universe to pay attention. The receptionist almost skips me but I quickly come back down to Earth. I give her my health card and she directs me to the doctor’s office. The walls are decked with the same dreary colour trio. Oh joy.

The nurse attends to me rather quickly. I whisper a small apology to the forces of the universe as I roll up my sleeve. She tourniquets my arm and looks for a vein. It is abnormally pale today so her mission quickly bears fruit. She dabs on alcohol and finally it truly hits me: I am in a clinic. Suddenly, I am six years old in Les Bleuets hooked up to an IV. I dread what is coming next. I can see the needle. Memories of the sharp sting race through my mind. The pain is not the problem. I welcome it. It is what this needle represents: it means something is wrong. I look like everyone else but inside something is not right. I need fixing. This, I fear. The needle pierces through skin. I watch as my blood rushes out of me, eagerly filling the vials.

I wonder how long it would take to drain a small woman.

The nurse wishes me a good day as she walks away with my blood. As I straighten myself up I can faintly hear the baby laugh. At least someone here is having a good day.

Two weeks they say. Two weeks and we’ll know what’s eating me.

Le Cancre

Splish. Splash. The water resonated mockingly as he swished away at it in his bathtub. Another loss. His team was never going to reach the playoff with this abysmal performance. No worries, at least now he’d have time to finish his model Iron Throne. He never cared much for volleyball anyway. Joining the inter-house team was just an easy way to gain extra action hours for his CAS requirements. He already had well over forty and no fucks left to give. To hell with playoffs, to hell with it all!

He chuckled. He did have quite a flair for the melodramatic. Not a month had passed since stood on the cafeteria tables, face painted blue screaming in protest over the school administration’s latest attack on the student body.

“THEY MAY TAKE AWAY OUR EXEATS BUT THEY WILL NEVER. TAKE. OUR FREEEEDOOOM!”

The room erupted with cheers as let himself fall into a welcoming sea of  undulating hands and ululations. It took five school guards, three teachers and thirty minutes to reign in the budding anarchists. Two week suspension and prep isolation. Not the ideal result, granted, but the exeats remained. A job half well done.