When she thinks she has forgotten, she remembers from the start, again. It keeps happening in widening gyres, and she thinks it would never end. Her memory is not sealed off; it has not disappeared with her change of name. It remains inside her, and she cannot forget. Her name is now Atna, it was once Anta. She now writes it backward. Her husband says she is mischievous: why did she not change the name altogether? She asks herself this too, often, each time she writes her new name. But she thinks there is something in the old that should be retained. This is why she cannot forget. This is why she will always remember.
Atna plays this game each time she comes to this restaurant. A game of forget-and-remember. Sitting with or without a bottle, she would stare at a blank space on the wall, one of the only corners that has no dirt or wallpaper, and she would see her mother’s face. Then her mother’s face will disappear, because she will remove it from the blank space. Somewhat, it is an invocation and revocation, a play and replay, a deposit and withdrawal. At the end of the game, she is unsatisfied. She might have scored winning goals, the crowd might have cheered, they might have booed her opponent, raising their hooh-haas in her favour. But her opponent always scores a goal, a lone goal, and it seems that lone goal was enough to defeat her.
Today she is in the restaurant again, and she is staring at that blank space. It has become hers now. Each time she enters here, which is called Papa Lick Finger, with ‘PLF’ bracketed on its signpost, she looks for the blank space. Who knows, it could have gone while she was away. When she sees it today, she sits down and waves at a waiter. He comes over and smiles to her. (Atna has a face you can smile to. You might not think she is outrageously beautiful, or that you can leave your wife for her. But when you see her, you would always smile. It seems her power-to-attract-smiles is a compensation for what has happened to her, those unsmiling things) The waiter knows she will ask for a Legend, but he asks her what she wants.
“Legend,” she says, and he smiles again. She is the only woman he knows that drinks beer in public. Here in Afikpo, beer is known to be drunk by men, not women. He brings the beer, and asks her if she wants anything more. She wants to say pepper soup, but she recalls that the last time she drank it she kept using the toilet. So she waves her hand in the negative. And the waiter smiles away. Then she sips her Legend and turns to the blank space.
In PLF there is a portrait of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It was placed beside Atna’s blank space. The Reverend’s face is like Big Brother’s, although his head is bent and his hands are clasped. What Atna sees each time is not his face or head but the ring on his finger. She sees this before she turns to her blank space. It is a recently created portrait, so it has a quote by Daniel Barenboim.
“IN ANY CASE, THE IMPOSSIBLE HAS ALWAYS ATTRACTED ME MORE THAN THE DIFFICULT.”
If she had been her husband, a History Lecturer at Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, she would have thought it was an abuse of the Reverend’s ideals, of his quotes, of his historical significance. But she is not her husband. So she takes her eyes away, from his ring and Daniel Barenboim, and looks at her blank space.
She should not have turned her eyes away from the portrait. If her eyes had been focused on it, if she had not turned to her blank space, she would have been unable to see the shadow of a woman entering PLF.
It is her mother that enters PLF.
Atna is not shocked. She does not know what shock is. She does not know what it is she is feeling, or how she is feeling it. Her mother, tall as in the past, her hair plaited with rubber threads, does not seem to see her, or anyone. She walks right past her. She is wearing a patterned white gown, a gown patterned with roses, red roses. Her gait is not fallen, as Atna would have wanted, as she had created in her remaking of the past.
But it is surprising to Atna – not surprising, because she knows no feeling – that her mother is looking straight ahead, so she should have seen her.
Or does she see her? Atna does not know. She cannot know. Her body is at war with her. It is carrying her away. She wants to stay, she wants to watch her mother eat, or drink, or fall dead. But her body wants her to leave. She tries to rebels against her body. She wants to sit still, but she is standing. In this war between her body and her, the Legend tumbles, its liquid starts spilling. But her body catches it before it falls to the floor. The waiter hurries over, smiling, but her mother, who is now at the counter, does not turn. While her body sees the smiling face of the waiter, she sees her mother at the counter.
It is her body that wins their war. It takes her away from PLF. Outside PLF, though, her body gives in to her, and begins to shake, to feel the sun, although the day is humid and there was a forecast of rain falling. She suddenly feels sympathy for her body, and she begins to shake too.
If her mother just entered PLF – her mother from her past – she and her body must shake. It is impossible for her to reach her house with her senses intact. Very utterly impossible. The crowd cheers her, boos her opponent, she scores several goals; but she still loses the game.