There is something to be said about the year 2020. It was the year I lost my best uncle, best parent’s affection, best friend, my mind. For three days, I stayed locked up in my room, awaiting the return of the search party that went to retrieve my mind from an ant colony of confusion. Water became food. I obeyed sleep, but I sprang up whenever I imagined Osa had called me. Tears and spittle formed white whiskers on my cheeks. My fingers were stuffed with flesh exhumed from scratching the existence out of the scar on my right cheek.
While Osa and I were at it, three days ago, my father walked in on us. She walked like a spirit, noiseless, as though her feet were an inch above the ground. Though our slippery bodies dripped of post-coital sweat, my father dug her fingers in Osa’s jugular notch and flung him off me. She woozed him. The slap was so charged, so heavy, that it cracked Osa’s nose and sent an ounce of his blood, enough to fill a bottle seal, seeking refuge on my white bed sheet. His palms uncovered his erect penis and covered his cheeks. His penis lowered its head in shame. My father’s eyes were death, her voice, fire. ‘If I EVER catch you near my son again, i fuo. Nzuzu.’ She took two steps backward. Osa fled, pulling up his trousers. She turned to me. Her face became, as usual, worriless as a sleeping infant’s, but the words of her eyes nearly clubbed me to unconsciousness. When she left, I knew she meant what she said to Osa. I knew she could delete him if he came close to me again.
That was my thought when the dreaded knock came. It was soft, loving even, but annoyingly continuous. I picked up a yellow thread from the rug and placed it into the trash before I unlocked the door. The seed of beauty, my father, stood there all dressed in her white royal attire, her soft hair a mixture of white and grey. I avoided her eyes and instead counted the red beads on her neck: five. I walked away from the door and returned to sitting at my dressing table. She shut the door and walked noiselessly to my bed, sat, and crossed her red-bead-laden ankles. Her black nail polish contrasted well with her pineapple-juice-coloured skin.
‘You are a mess,’ she said.
My father’s calm talking voice caressed one’s eardrums instead of beating them. One must strain one’s ears to hear her. But when she was angry, she roared, and her voice, if it had a colour, would be the enchanting orangeness of fire – at least in my third eye.
‘Just look at you,’ she said.
I looked in the table mirror and was surprised at the version of me it chose to display. The flakes of disappointment lumped on my flesh made me look like a corpse, made me remember Uncle Ifeanyi’s corpse. It flooded memories in my head, memories messy like a poop-paste painting, smelling like rotten air, decaying water. I looked away.
‘Wifeoma, I sent for you. You did not come. Why?’
I glanced at her forever-calm face. Her sclerae had taken the colour of a pomegranate. It was the same colour her eyes were when she soundlessly came in on Osa and me. I knew I had better start talking, but how would I open my mouth when I had neither brushed nor talked in days?
‘Your mother called me. Why haven’t you been answering her calls?’
A little black ant strolled past my father’s white slippers. I squeezed my eyes tighter as if doing that would dust my memories in white. I glanced at her iris because that was the only window to her emotions since her forehead was never creased.
‘My goodness, Wifeoma, what happened to your face?’
If my father were a man, her ‘orange’ voice would sound like James Earl Jones. No, too deep. Her voice would sound like Pete Edochie’s. She came closer, held my jaw with her thumb and forefinger, and turned my face toward the fluorescent lamp. My scar was as shiny as a red-hot metal.
I collected my face back. ‘It’s been itchy.’
‘Since…’ I shrugged. ‘That day.’
She took two steps back, but her gaze stayed on the scar. I waited until the door clicked shut after her before I settled down for proper scratching.
There is something to be said about the scar on Wifeoma’s right cheek. After I caught him with that onye nzuzu, I immediately consulted the dibia who brought back memories. Memories of the sky dressed in deep orange, refraction of daytime going into the night, when I carried my fourth child for the first time. He was as weightless as an egg. My heart swam in joy. I danced Egwu Okanga. Sitting on the throne of my ancestors, I raised him in the cup of my hands and thanked Chukwu okike for another gift. I blessed him and blessed his generation. I held him close to my chest, and that was when I saw it. Joy leaked from me. He cried and kicked, but my eyes stayed on the scar on his right cheek. My head felt as if its tenants were running errands for confusion. I looked at his toothless mouth, full of pink. I gave him my finger. He held it. He stopped crying and started licking his lips. I chuckled. I named him Wifeoma: a child of fine things.
The next day, I had Wifeoma brought to my nonagenarian dibia whom I invited to my obi. He carried Wifeoma, looked at him, examined his penis, and gave him back to me. I covered the crying boy and returned him to the maiden waiting outside. Back in my obi, I found the priest chewing his teeth, looking down at the ugili strings spread out between his legs. His slouched shoulders made me know that my instinct was right. Something was up with that scar.
He fixed his forever-teary eyes on mine. ‘Your Highness, nnukwute agwọ nọ n’akirika.’ He shuddered and shook his head.
I listened to his silence before he spoke of an angry spirit, the spirit of a former slave who was wrongly accused and condemned to death. But before the stoning began, she picked a stick, dug it into her right cheek, dragged it down to her jaw, and placed a curse on the family of her accuser. Her accuser, my great-grandfather, died of decay. He decayed while still breathing. He was so decayed that if one ran their finger on his skin, one was sure to scoop some mashy flesh garnished with maggots. Even when the rot ate his face, he was not buried. He went six-feet the day the howling stopped. Now, the slave’s spirit had reincarnated, and she found her way into my son.
‘But I have no hand in this,’ I said to Dibia.
‘Your blood has a hand in it. You must take precaution, Your Highness.’
I dragged in the blood-reeking air.
‘Your Highness, as I said, a big python is on the thatched roof. I am going to take the snake and bury it in a hole. Your job is to keep it in the hole as long as your son lives.’
‘And what if I fail to do this?’
He looked at me, smiled lopsidedly, turned to his ugili strings, and began to sing.
Wifeoma and Ọmụ
There is something to be said about these hypocrites holding umbrellas above our royal heads. It was surely one of them who ratted me out to my father when Osa was with me. I inhaled the rusty freshness of the thawing cloud, wondering if God was crying or pissing. My father poured praises on our gods, facing where the rising sun should have been but for the cloudy sky. She prayed for her people. She prayed for the Igbo race. She prayed, and this recently got on her list, for Jacob Blake’s life. She prayed for his family and his children, and – this was the part that always annoyed me – she asked for the forgiveness and repentance of the people who sprinkled bullets in his body. I listened to bleating and barking, shouting, and singing. I thought of Osa. The way he looked at me when my father slapped him as if hoping that I’d save him. I remembered the film of shame that covered his eyes, a shame so strong that even his penis bowed. I wish I had said something. I did not blame him for not returning my calls.
When my father finished praying, I chanted, ‘Ise!’
She picked the kola nut from the saucer in my hand, cracked it into lobes, and scattered them chunk by chunk in our compound, calling the name of one ancestor after the other. After the prayers, we went inside for breakfast. My mother’s place at the table, by my father’s right hand, was set even though she was in Utah for ọmụgwọ. As we ate our breakfast of boiled yams and egg sauce, my father talked about the latest on Jacob Blake. She must have sensed my disinterest, yet she told me that Blake was recovering well but still in constant pain. I kept my phone on my tray where my eyes could see it. I often glanced at it without glancing at it. I heard the fine sound of my father’s laughter. I must have missed the joke. Her dimple, so burrowed in, and her fine teeth lighted my world and warmed my heart. She was my best friend. I grew up in the shadow and love of my father, the most beautiful woman to walk on earth. Subtract my sprouting beards and my brown skin and you would get a younger version of my father’s face, undiluted.
‘Wifeoma, you have not touched your food.’
I smiled closed-lip and picked up my cutleries. She asked me if I thought God should have made us all one colour since he knew there would be racism. It was as if she wanted my eyes off my phone and on her. So, I indulged her, said yes. She smiled and disagreed. We debated. By the time I looked at my front, my tray had disappeared. I almost had a panic attack. My gay porn photos, Chilekenna! What if Osa called!
‘Hey!’ I shouted towards the kitchen. ‘Who cleared my plates and my phone?’
One of the hypocrites came rushing toward me, holding the phone in the cup of her palms, bobbing her head, apologising.
I snatched my phone from her. ‘Did you not see my phone on that tray? ‘Are you stupid?’
‘Watch it, Wifeoma. Be polite.’
‘Sorry, sir. I did not see it,’ the maid said.
‘You did not see it? Are you blind!’
My neck obeyed my brains and screwed toward my father. She moved her right palm up and down. She looked at the maid. ‘But why did you take his phone?’
‘I am so sorry, Your Highness. I did not see the phone on the tray.’
‘Did it touch water?’
‘No, Your Highness.’
My father waved her hand. The maid murmured an apology to me and disappeared into the kitchen. It was present: the ever-severe calmness that lived on my father’s face. I became overwhelmed with shame for transferring my aggression to the maid. My phone vibrated. I looked at the, now bright, screen. It splashed Phone is restarting.
After breakfast, we took a stroll to my father’s n-shaped, covered, flower kingdom: alone. She asked her maidens, those I like to call ‘Daddy’s tails’ to leave us. I knew then that we were going to confront Osa’s wahala. She tapped her elephant tusk on her palm as we walked to the garden while she told me of my infant nephew in Utah. Her voice took on a kind of smoothness as she spoke about the videos my mother had sent her. The gravel under our feet covered up for voice when my father took a breath.
She tucked her elephant tusk under her armpit as she pruned weeds from her flowers. I wondered if that was how she would slash Osa away from me.
‘You know I sent an awful lot of money to your mother to buy me the seeds of lip flower. I cannot wait to watch them grow.’
I chuckled for want of what to do. Thankfully, her attention was on her flowers. She chopped off a weed, picked it, and flung it.
‘Wifeoma, why did you do it?’
I had been waiting for that question. I had prepared my answer, rehearsed, and re-rehearsed it. Now, my head was blank. The sermon I had prepared, the excuse I had made, the blames I had taken off Osa and heaped on myself, all evaporated. I heard the sharp clink of the blades, and I knew I had to get to it. Knowing my father, she would never ask me that question again.
‘It was my fault,’ I said.
She continued pruning weeds.
‘That day, I woke up very early to see Osa’s WhatsApp message. It was a picture of T’Challa. Under the picture was a message, this fine actor is dead.’
I took a deep breath and scratched my scar. The air scented of the flowers and colours blanketing us. I recalled, aloud, how I rushed on Twitter when I saw Osa’s message that morning. Twitter shrouded me in a quilt of weakness. I fell back on my pillow, looking at the POP ceiling but seeing images of Chadwick Boseman. I imagined what he’d look like lying on his back, facing his God. I thought of the Black Panther movie. I thought of his laughter and the way he said ‘Vibranium’ in that exaggerated African accent. I could not stop asking God why he took Chadwick away. Last month, we buried my best uncle, my mother’s cousin, Ifeanyi, who died during brain surgery. I kept a picture of his corpse on my phone. In it, he lay on a rusty metal pan. A clean white bandage wrapped his head. A part of his fair-coloured skin was sewn up, evidence of the hacking that offed him. I imagined that after he expired on the operating slab, the neurosurgeon roughly stuffed his brain into his skull before bandaging his head. The pink lappa on his body lay tossed aside on his chest as if someone carelessly uncovered his face. His beard still looked as fresh as his skin. Were it not for that rusty pan, I’d not believe that he was dead. Then Chadwick, my hero, now also changed his address to heaven. I wondered if there was any need to be here. It appeared God was handpicking the good people and sending them up there.
That was how Osa found me, dazed and moping. I did not hear him enter. I felt a cold touch. I jumped out of bed, thinking it was a ghost. He rushed to me and held me, shaking me, asking me if I was all right. I slid to the floor, cupped my face in my palms, and cried. I cried all the tears I held back at uncle Ifeanyi’s burial while trying to ‘be a man,’ never mind that I was only fifteen. I felt awkward crying for a celebrity I never met but whom I loved fiercely. I cried for Jacob Blake, for my powerlessness, for my reluctant acceptance that my father was right in praying for his shooter’s repentance and forgiveness. If Osa asked me, I was going to lie that my tears were for my uncle. He did not ask. Instead, he placed my head on his chest and told me that he too cried when he read the news of Chadwick’s passing. I felt so transparent, so seen, that I burst into tears afresh.
‘I swear, Dad, my friendship with Osa was purely platonic. But he kissed my head that day. It must have been the grief, the cruel confusion that comes with loss, that made me… do it.’ What I didn’t say was that I dug a kiss on Osa’s lips. He pushed me away. I was stupefied. I folded myself by the wall, my cloth soaked in tears, sweat, and snot. I could not voice the apologies in my head. The pains of loss and desire occupied the space between us. Osa grabbed me.
My father’s nod was so loud that it filled the jarring silence. We walked silently to the garden bench, she hitting her elephant tusk on her palm, me holding her pruning shears. Blades of light carved into our garden. The perfume of flowers was a welcomed joy. I was afraid of what my father would do to me, but I was ready. I had cried enough over losing Uncle Ifeanyi, Chadwick Boseman, my father’s affection, Osa’s friendship, and my mind.
My father ran her forefinger on the long cicatrix on my face. ‘Do you know what this is?’
Was it no longer a scar? My father sighed and relaxed her back on the bench. If it was cold on her skin, she did not show it. She rapped about some angry spirit and about her yearly sacrifice to keep a figurative snake in a fictional hole. She tapped the tusk on her palm, moving her right foot to the rhythm. She disclosed consulting the diviner after seeing the wreck my scar had become.
‘The diviner told me that the spirit is not angry. He said that though you are a boy, your spirit is that of a girl. And as a girl, she will naturally be attracted to a boy. So, your story pieced the remaining puzzle. It explains your attraction for Osa. But,’ she looked at me, ‘I am not angry with you. It’s not your fault. However, I will be angry with you if you continue this path. I have explained to you something I should not have uttered unless on my dying bed so that you will know na ihe ji gị aka kalịlị gị; you need to fight it. Your spirit might be that of a woman, but you are a man. Wifeoma, you cannot have feelings for a fellow man.’
‘Dad.’ I scratched my ear. ‘Are you saying that all the gay men in the world have conflicting spirits?’
‘I don’t care about the world. I am talking about my son that came out of his mother’s womb, bearing the mark of a troubled spirit. You, Wifeoma, are not gay. You just have an angry female soul manipulating you, and you must fight it. Mberede ka-eji amakwanu dike.’
What’s my effing business with calamity defining a warrior? Something, maybe this troubled spirit, fanned red coals of anger in me. ‘What about you, Dad? Do you have a man’s spirit reincarnate you?’
She chuckled as if to say she was expecting that question. ‘No,’ she said. ‘You know about the ọmụ stool. So don’t start questioning our values.’
‘Values?’ I remembered Osa’s bowed penis. It enlightened my anger. ‘You, of all people, ought to be more understanding. You’re married to a woman.’
‘I am married to a woman, but I am not a lesbian. I am a man by virtue of my position as Ọmụ. You know this. You know that I was bestowed with the rights and privileges of a man during my coronation. And because my spirit is now male, I cannot marry a man. I must marry a woman. That is what you should do as well, marry a woman.’
How easy it was for her to say. I did not want to tell her of the many times I caught her staring at my mother’s buttocks. Or the times she ran her thumb on my mother’s hand. I did not want to tell her of all the nights I heard… anyway, no need.
‘But my two parents are women. And yet you ask me to…’
‘Are you mad?’
Neither the fire in her voice nor her pete-edochie-voice scared me. ‘But you are my father, and you are…’
‘I have told you that my marriage to your mother is tradition. Spiritually, I am a man, not a woman. My femaleness was ritually stripped from me and replaced with maleness.’
I thought she would slap me at that point, but I was not cowed. ‘Dad, ayam still not understanding. How can you, of all people, be hostile toward gays? A woman-to-woman marriage is called what?’
‘Cheli! Cheli!I am your father, yes, but did I get your mother pregnant? Do I have a penis?’
She closed her eyes and let out a deep sigh. ‘Wifeoma,’ she said, standing, pointing her tusk at me, her face sweating calmness. ‘If I ever hear that you indulged in that act again, hear me loud and clear, I shall have you castrated.’
Her eyes had stiffened and taken the colour of pomegranate again. She was so not joking.
‘And if I catch you near that, onye nzuzu, that fool, again, you will live to regret it. Idiotu zuzuru ka-eme.’
She walked away, hitting her tusk on her palm. Her very deep last words played drums in my head: an idiot enrobed in foolishness. The sun’s rays punctured my face and made the scar itch. I scratched it.
A loaf of the sun
There is something to be said about the mischance called my birth. Whose idea was it, seven years after their last baby, to have another child? It had to be my father’s. My mother was just an instrument. She was the surrogate mum in whose body the product of purchased sperm and my father’s egg were injected for germination. My mother told me that my father always insisted on buying the sperm of a dark-complexioned man. My mother birthed, nursed, and mothered us. Each time I thought of my mother, I wondered if she was still a virgin; if she slept with my father; and why she even agreed to such an alien union. How was it that she agreed to stay in a ‘sexless’ union where she could not sleep with anybody else or it would be called adultery? Was it because she was an orphan? My father always spoke fondly of my mother. They were legitimately, traditionally married. Their love for each other was as loud as heavy rain. I wondered who my biological father was. He must be dark-complexioned, but was he gay? Or was my gayness a product of my parents’ marriage? Was it the evil spirit? What I felt with Osa was real. When he grabbed me and canoodled me, numbness toured from his spit and into my body. I rolled in the soft dust of ecstasy, rolling as fast as a ball of fire going down a slope until I blasted out of myself and skyrocketed into a feeling I’d never felt before. And when the warmth of his mouth gobbled my dick, I screamed and begged him to ‘destroy me in fuck.’
My thoughts hardened my penis. I checked my phone: nothing from Osa. I buried my head in my pillow, scratching my scar. I bawled myself to sleep.
I woke up, not grumpy, but very clear-eyed. I woke up loving myself. This was who I wanted to be. Osa was my first, and I did not want the touch of any succulent flesh that would feel as though I was being sponged with wet bread. I wanted to be held, caressed by strong arms, arms that made me feel… well, touched. I went into my bathroom, took a picture of Sniper, and sent it to Osa alongside a text.
Osa, I’m no longer a coward. I’m in love with you. If you don’t call me by tomorrow, I shall soak my organs in this ‘milk’.
It was an empty threat. If I wanted to die, I wanted to die as a man, not as a rat who can’t tell that Sniper is poison, not milk. Bad as e bad,I would find myself another lover. Like my other unanswered messages, this one delivered to Osa. I felt good, having emptied my heart of the grim of confusion. I looked out my window, at the loaf of sun. Love would find me at dawn. I wondered who my new lover would be. Would he be as thick-chested as Osa? He’d better. My phone rang. Osa!
Wifeoma and Osa
There is something to be said about my phone’s strangeness. Since that day, three weeks ago, when the maiden cleared it with my plates, I noticed that the screen light came on at will even when I did not touch the phone. My phone battery drained easily. And whenever I answered a call, there were background noises that sounded like poor radio reception. These background noises were worse on my ‘last’ morning at home. I could hardly hear Osa, so I rang off and sent him a text before I went for prayers and breakfast with my father. She asked us to take a walk in the garden. She complained of my elder brother’s nonchalance towards Mummy. I wanted to tell her the truth about why my brother was acting up, but not today.
‘Are you okay? You are so quiet.’
She looked into my eyes. ‘Wifeoma, I have faith in you. Please, don’t let me down.’
Her eyes were pleading. Was this still about my brother? Or had I been fooling myself, thinking I was fooling her, the many times I met with Osa at our secret rendezvous?
When I finally entered my room, I called Osa. The network reception was a bit clearer. He reconfirmed that he was still in on our simple plan. By 5 p.m., my father’s standard nap time, Osa and I would meet by the main road where we should get a car to Lagos. Our destination was Porto Novo. Eloping was the only way we could be together. My penis rigidified as I ruminated about when we would make free crazy-ass love.
By 4:30 p.m., I called Osa. He confirmed that he was already on his way and that he would be standing by the road.
‘I’m leaving my house now,’ I said.
‘I will be there before you. I can’t wait to see you. I love you.’
He rang off before I told him that I loved him too. My blood cooked. Osa sounded very excited. The thought of having him to myself forever saw me stand up and head out of the house. My father was asleep when I left the house.
Our rendezvous was a slim road between two thick corn farms. My peppery Osa, stood at the other side of the road, grinning and waving, almost jumping like a child who received a new toy. His brown loafers reminded me of just that: loafers. I tapped the back of the okadaman. He stopped his motorcycle. I climbed down and paid. A girl carrying a pyramid of boiled groundnuts on a tray on her head stopped in front of me.
‘Oga, you no go like to buy groundnut?’
I shook my head.
‘E sweet well well o. You go like am. Taste am first.’
She fetched a few seeds for me. I swathed the girl away, but, like a stubborn, big, blue fly, she buzzed. I willed the cars to hurry up let me flee from this idiot. The traffic was elderly. There was a deep, muddy pothole across the road that made cars slow down. I managed to sight Osa on the other side of the road, pressing his phone. A grey Honda Element, the last visible car, slowed down to enter the pothole. The car shook vehemently as if people were struggling inside or was it was the tires struggling with the mud? It soon sped on its way. On the other side of the road, where my eyes last saw Osa, was one of his loafers, tossed as though it was flung. Big-blue-fly groundnut seller had disappeared too. I wiped my eyes and looked again: one shoe. I crossed the road, squatted, and studied the ground. The shoe imprints on the wet sand were different. I abducted my phone from my pocket and dialled Osa’s number: number not reachable. Kyrie Eleison! I picked up his loafer, rewinding my thoughts. Osa waved at me from where I now squatted, no bi so? At what point did he disappear or was I imagining things? My father’s voice came back: her promise to delete Osa, her plea to me not to let her down.
Stupid corn stalks wouldn’t shut the hell up and let me think! Rains of sweat fell from my heating head. I scratched my head, my armpit, my scar! No, Osa must be playing hide and seek. No, don’t tell me he’s gone missing. No, it’s a game! It had to be. I had no life without Osa. Ready or not, Osa, here I come. I jumped into the farm behind me, into a pit.
And then what happened…
There is nothing more to be said. Ndị asịrị. ∎
Kasimma is from Igboland (obodo ndị dike). She’s the author of All Shades of Iberibe. She is the 2022 Nikky Finney Fellow at the University of Kentucky and the Humanities Graduate Fellow at the University of Utah. Her short stories, essays, poems, and scripts appear in Solarpunk, LitHub, New Orleans Review, Magonprism, The Saltbush Review, Afreecan Read, Native Skin, Meet Cute, and many other online journals and print anthologies. Kasimma is an alumnus of Chimamanda Adichie’s creative writing workshop, Wole Soyinka Foundation writers’ residency, and other residencies across four continents. You can read more of her pieces at kasimma.com/read-online/
Dante Luiz is an illustrator, art director for Strange Horizons, and occasional writer from southern Brazil. He is the interior artist for Crema (comiXology/Dark Horse), and his work with comics has also appeared in anthologies, like Wayward Kindred, Mañana, and Shout Out, among others. Find him on Twitter or his website.
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