Lilea didn’t know what the universe said to lovers. A tiny shrug, a blank expression, she spits them out from her dark corners and struts away. And to cupid? Her middle finger shot up in the air, an imp smile spreading across her face.
Lilea met Obinna in her second year. It was one of the usual evenings when she went for the meetings of the writers’ club. Those evenings when she would sit and interact with the non-conformist members of the club.
“The minds of writers are warped,” they would say as the basis to support their unusual views about contemporary issues. Everyone held their intellectualism so dear, the ‘woke’ embers in a blind world. Lilea was loud in those meetings, reaching forth into her wealth of knowledge and spilling words like spring water; sharing opinions, supporting views.
“Patriarchal norms should be wiped out of our society.”
“Queer rights should be upheld to the utmost.”
It was in the club that she learnt to use ‘bourgeoisie’ after a dreadlocked dark girl with transparent glasses kept repeating it while talking about the effect of capitalism in the country. Lilea would look up the new words she learnt after every meeting and arm herself with them in the next meeting.
Obinna awed her though. The first day he came for the meeting, he was quiet. Not the quietness of one who didn’t know what to say but that of an adult who watched two children bickering. He didn’t contribute to the conversations they had about plagiarism in writing. When she said something about occasional coincidences, he smiled. She saw his teeth, held together by braces, and his lips, the way they parted and stretched like pink elastic bands. He nodded at intervals. Two boys read their poems aloud later and he typed on his phone as they read. She watched him.
“Obinna Ikezuruonye,” he said while shaking hands with her after the meeting. He had called her ‘Lilac’ when she wrote her name on a paper for him. It was a game she loved, watching people try and fail always at pronouncing her name. He was different. He said her ‘e’ and ‘a’ looked like ‘a’ and ‘c’ and so she was at fault. He smiled at his lame excuse but still refused to throw away Lilac and embrace Lilea. She let it slide. They walked back together that evening because they found out they lived in the same street asof the Lecturer’s Quarters behind the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.
“Goodbye Lilac,” he said as she took the turn that led to her own house. She knew she would be Lilac. For him. For something she couldn’t quite place her fingers on.
Obinna wore his sophistication like a pair of cufflinks, seemingly insignificant but the very piece that held his whole appearance together. He never wore trousers, only shorts—that displayed his lean, smooth legs, t-shirts, and face caps like he was shielding his face from the sun and everything else that was unworthy. He had slender fingers and supple flesh, a delicateness that spread like butter on bread from his almost transparent skin to his pedicured toenails that peeked through his sandals. He quickly passed for gay, especially because his gestures were sometimes effeminate and his overall body type just wouldn’t fit into the skin of male stereotypes. It was a gentle defiance, one that unnerved Lilea.
There was an eerie stillness about him. In the days when he invited Lilea to hang out with him or when they went together for the meetings of the writers’ club, he held her hands and just walked; no sound, too much air. The air engulfed all the questions she had in her mind. It took her to a place of bliss where it was just his supple palm in hers and his eyes, mesmerizing. On other days, he would stop under a shade or in a park and read his poems out loud for her. He always memorized them and they sounded lyrical, like songs he had composed while sculpting her, a part of her soul. She was fascinated by his poems, his metaphors, the cling clang of his alliterations as he flicked his tongue, the fluidity of his lines as they rolled into each other. One line stood out to her, like ripe mango fruits:
“Love is the sequin on threadbare hearts.”
She tasted the words later, painted them on the walls of her eyelids; they would send her to sleep with a grin.
In those moments, Lilea felt inconsequential. Her poems tasted like bland liquor and so she never poured them out for him to gulp down, to lick up the contents and belch his satisfaction. She hid her poems in her heart and groomed them, bathed them and fattened them up for the appointed time when she was going to amaze him with her literal prowess.
Lilea visited him just before the second semester ended. The Faculty of Arts was hosting a dinner party and she wanted to ask him out. Something she wondered how she would do.
“Writers have warped minds,” she reminded herself. It wasn’t going to seem weird.
His room was small and almost empty. There were just two chairs, a table, a big bed, and then space. There was a beautiful artwork that hung on one part of his Lilac walls. She wondered why a boy would like Lilac for his walls. She smiled. Lilac made her smile. Just like his texts that always ended with ‘For Lilac’.
Let’s hangout, your soul is magic…
There were no photos of him or any other person. There was a desktop on the table competing for space with several books that were left unarranged. His wardrobe was locked, with no clothes lying around. Everything was arranged except for his books. The books were littered on the table as if he was frantically searching for something in them, something he could never find. There was just one window; large enough to let in air to breathe but too small to fill up the void his silence created and to engulf her questions. She asked freely then as if a bit had been removed from her mouth. It was the first time he really talked to her.
Obinna was a computer science student in his final year. He was obsessed with codes. Java, Python, and Ruby, creating apps, and hacking systems. He said he had learned them from his mum when he lived with her in Georgia for three years. She worked as a data analyst for a secret service agency in Georgia. He had gone to visit her when he was ten years old and had learnt the basics of coding then. He was the only child of his parents, living in Abuja with his Dad who had divorced his mum when he was two. After his mum moved to Georgia, he went there to visit her every summer.
He talked about his days in Georgia, Atlanta. Atlanta of art, Picasso and ****. Atlanta that held his fondest memories: Brunswick stew, cinnamon rolls, chilli cheese dog, funghi fritti. The city that honed his love for food. He talked about Downtown and all its beauties, the high-rise buildings that made him dream about owning a skyscraper casino sometime in the future. The grandeur of the Downtown Olympic Park was surreal.
In primary six, his mother had promised to take him to Busy Bee Café only if he came first in school. As if by a jinx, he came second that term and had cried until his father decided to take him there the next summer if his mother didn’t. She did. He was the object of his parents’ contention; they fought for his love like a trophy. His days at Atlanta were, therefore, a makeup for lost time with his mum. He wished he would not return to his workaholic, melancholic Dad in those days. He always returned.
“Nigeria is the place to train a child, Ike,” His mother would always say to his father when he suggested keeping him with her.
Obinna was not sure if she just did not want him or if she actually thought his Dad would do a good job of raising him.
Lilea talked about herself too, in bits, in the spaces that were left off after he had recounted pleasant memories
Her birth wasn’t received with much enthusiasm because she was an unwanted child. Her mother, Priscilla Ume was just eighteen years old when she gave birth to Lilea. ‘A punishment for her immoral ways,’ people said. She had just finished her senior secondary education when she got pregnant. Lilea’s father, Christopher, was a clueless twenty-year-old who ran away as soon as he heard of his girlfriend’s pregnancy. He came back, however, after he was reported to have attempted suicide.
Priscilla loved her daughter instantly and then on the eighth day when it was time to name the child, she discovered she hadn’t thought of any name yet. It was Priscilla’s mother who called the child ‘Chibuolileanyam,’ which meant that God was her hope. It was an appeal rather than a boast; God was her only hope when it had to do with shouldering the shame her daughter had brought to her. In the days that followed, the child was called Lilea.
After Lilea’s birth, Christopher had gone to Lagos to be an apprentice to Mr Oba, a rich Igbo businessman who sold vehicle spare parts at Oshodi market. Priscilla and Lilea, however, lived in a small single room in Umuahia with Priscilla’s mother. The house ached of overuse, ridden with cobwebs and slimy walls. Priscilla’s father had died two years before and her two brothers sold clothes at a market in Aba.
Lilea was ten years old when she moved to Lagos with her mother. Lagos, the land of broken dreams, the bustling that shook a person to his senses and gave him the will to thrive. Christopher had gotten established as a seller of vehicle spare parts. He had finished his apprenticeship five years earlier and had started his own business with the money his former oga had settled him with. He had rented a two-room apartment in Somolu, a relatively quiet area of Lagos state and he had immediately sent for Lilea and Priscilla. Priscilla had aged much; her hips were large in the skin-hugging red dress she wore. She was still the very beautiful girl he had dated though. Her lower eyelids were darkened, a great contrast to her wide, bright eyes. Lilea looked at her father with uncertain eyes, the father she had only heard and seen motionless pictures of.
“Lee-Lay not Lee-Leh or Lee-Lia.” This was the sole reason why Lilea fought with Adejo. Lilea’s first year in secondary school was a little short of traumatic. Everyone laughed at her Igbo accent. Times when she was called upon to answer questions were comedy sessions in her class. From a high self-esteemed girl back at Umuahia, Lilea morphed into a shell of herself, a shell that harboured pent up anger; at the world, at everyone. Her relationship with Christopher was strained as he was hardly ever at home. She didn’t have any friends at Salvation Secondary School which she attended. Her only confidante was Priscilla who had become a housewife since they moved to Lagos.
And so, the day Adejo had called her Lee-Lyah, she came for his soul. She clawed and scratched and bruised. The boy was a bloody sight when she was separated from him. In the days that followed, everyone looked at Lilea with fear, a silent fear that just made them polite to her.
She learned fast. From pronouncing words correctly, to learning Yoruba slangs and phrases. She would spend her evenings reading books, watching cartoons, and listening to radio presenters pronounce words. Lilea’s search for acceptance drove her to places an eleven-year-old would never have gone. Lilea’s love for books heightened with every book she read. She discovered later that Kemi, one of her classmates lived on her street and with time they became good friends. They went to school together and after school hours, Lilea would go over to Kemi’s house and listen to her talk.
Kemi was a very boisterous girl, a year older than Lilea and so she took pleasure in being Lilea’s idol. It was Kemi that told Lilea about Ariana Grande, Meghan Trainor and Justin Bieber and that children were not born the same way people defecated. It was Kemi that taught her to touch herself at night, to stifle orgasms and muffle moans…
Obinna cooked noodles as he listened. Then they talked about God. He talked about God like a fond memory, so pristine, so untainted. He said God was the one person that loved him the most in the world. She cringed because God was her rival now, she was sure her love for him transcended God’s love. God was Rosary and ashes for her, and early wakings on Sunday mornings. A chore.
She didn’t invite him to the dinner again. She couldn’t. He was a prize she shielded from the eyes of the wide-hip girls in her Faculty.
Their love was swift; like a furtive glance or a graze of thighs under a dinner table. It inhabited small spaces, a being that was not planned but still happened and happened quickly. It was silent too. He never told her that he loved her but she knew.
It was in the way he looked at her, the closure, the way his caress lingered like incense. It was in the butterflies he fed her for dessert. His unconventional love that was a telling in itself. He gave her a chapbook he had written titled For Lilac on her birthday, together with a pack of hairpins. He didn’t say Happy Birthday or sing for her. Instead, he sent her his favourite songs; Nina Simone and Aurora, and slipped his cologne into her handbag. He said he would never be enough but his favourite things would speak volumes of the fact that he was hers. Tears lurked in her eyes for him. She knew that the things left unsaid were alive, they defied the power that a name gave. It was nameless and still powerful. Their love.
Lilea learnt fellatio the same day her father died. She had gone to Obinna’s house that day because her legs were wobbly because she couldn’t believe that her father was gone. Obinna’s silence was all the comfort she needed. He held her and listened to her sobs, as they rose and fell with her heartbeat, as her world shook and rattled and gave way. He didn’t say anything.
He obliged her later that night when her desire toppled over and she needed the pleasure to soothe her. She gasped at the electric currents that found a home beneath her skin, the surge of pleasure as she beheld his tumescence. He let her be the rudder because even if her world was not hers to keep anymore, she had him, she owned him. He was healing.
Lilea learnt to play the guitar in her first year. It was her companion on late nights and sunny afternoons. She would compose songs in her head and thrum the strings of the guitar. All beautiful harmony. That was what Obinna reminded her of.
The exams came like crashing waves, willing everyone to succumb to studying and hibernating. Lilea’s roommate had lectured her on “see finish,” a term to describe her excessive visits to Obinna.
“He wouldn’t like you again. He has seen you too much,” she said and rolled her eyes.
“Why? What if we get married? We’d see each other every day then.”
“That is different,” she said as if exacting her opinion on a deranged child. “You mentally prepare for marriage. marriage is for grownups!”
Lilea dropped the case. She would wait, till his want for her toppled over and tipped. She would wait.
The water pouring ritual had a thrill to it. One that excited Lilea. Final year students were bathed immediately after their final exams. Excited students and friends would splash water on them from corners. They would pour soapy water sometimes, and sign with black markers on their white polos. Names like ‘Silencer’ and ‘HOD’ would stand out on their backs. They would sing the famous Styl-Plus “Four years Don waka…” as they danced around the school.
It was amidst the glee that Lilea went to Obinna’s room.
Her knock was rapt, excitement bursting her seams. The door was surprisingly unlocked. She went in, head first and it was her eyes that received the sacrifice of still, splayed limbs, shut eyes, and the bottle of tablets. The world was not silent but she was.
His note was quick—like he couldn’t wait to be done with the whole ceremony of cold sacrifices. It was a question.
Did the one person who hurt you the most in your life ever apologize?
It was written in crisp handwriting, at the left end of the torn-out front page of his copy of Things Fall Apart as if in mock assent. At the end was his customary signature; For Lilac.
She knew the answer to his question. No. It was Obinna. Obinna of sunrise and beautiful songs. Obinna of sad stories.
About the author:
Martins Favour is a believer in all the beautiful things life affords us. Her works have appeared in Kalahari Review, African writers and elsewhere. When she’s not writing, however, she lives out her not-so-big dreams in her head. She loves the Lord, yam and purple hearts.