I have often wondered how long it takes to have a flash back of your entire life, a minute, an hour, a month, a year? Most often we are told that before people die, it happens within a split second, but then again how can we be sure about that since nobody comes out of death alive, but then again, there are near death experiences. Well I had an akin experience, although, the flashback did not begin at the beginning of my life, it started at the middle, close to the end actually. You see, I’m walking to a pole, where I would be strapped, then a priest and an Imam would come to ask God to have mercy on my soul and pieces of hot lead would rip through my flesh, blood and bones. It was on my journey to this inevitable agony, that my flashback began.
The first time I saw her was at the bookshop, she sat down at a table with a cup of coffee, or perhaps it was tea, placed on a saucer, there was also a cupcake placed on another saucer beside her. Her face held a frown as she wrote hastily in her notepad. I watched a movie once, where it was said, that if you are lucky you would meet someone who would split your life into two, the time before you met them and the time after that. It was farcical that I remembered that quote at that time, almost celestial. I glanced at her left hand placed carelessly, in a delicate manner on the table and I saw no ring. I silently blessed God.
I went to the bookshelf to pick a book then walked towards her table.
“Can I sit with you?
She agreed without looking up, just a flick of her wrist.
I did not attempt to concentrate on the book because I knew it would be a failed effort. So, I used it as a cover to study her. Several times, she would look up and catch my eyes and I would quickly look back at my book. After some minutes I decided to converse with her.
“Umm, H-hey, are you a writer.”
Shoot me now, I thought. I heard the tremble in my voice.
“I simply enjoy it as a hobby,” she replied glancing up to look at me. She look composed, and her eyes held a glint of mischief.
“Okay, so what sort of things do you write about?”
“Life, injustice, prejudice.”
“Interesting, I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
Please say no, please say no, I kept repeating in my head over and over again.
“No, not at all. I think I needed the break, the storyline was getting all…” she raised her hands and and made two circular motions beside her temples “….. jumbled up in my head.”
“Okay.” I ran my right hand through my hair nervously, then stretched it towards her “I’m Dapo.”
“Shade.”; she replied taking it.
We talked about her favourite authors and books she had read, some of them were also my favourites. Afterwards, she allowed me to go through her short story and although it was not finished, it was beautifully written, it was a tragic piece which I wanted to believe would have a happy ending. I hated tragic endings, as a child whenever I read novels with a tragic endings, it left me feeling depressed for a number of days. The conversation drew to a close when she glanced at her watch, she had to leave. We exchanged phone numbers.
“Keep writing Shade, you have a gift.”
A smile lifted the corners of her lips, she nodded.
“Thank you, Dapo.”
She turned towards the door and walked into the outside world.
When she left, I glanced at the paper where I had scribbled her number, in a world of no common sense, I would have called her there and then, but, we do not live in such a world.
So I waited till it was night time and called her, we exchanged pleasantries.
“So, have you finished your story.”
“Not yet, I haven’t had any free time.”
“Okay, but what’s going to happen to Naomi.”
“She dies at the end.”
I blinked twice and swallowed, there was a little stretch of awkward silence before I gained my tongue and steered the conversation in a different direction. She barely revealed herself to me, although I did not expect her to, we had just met, so the conversation focused more on writing and books.
And that was how our friendship began, we spoke every night and met occasionally at the bookstore. Whenever I spoke to her, I could sense some undercurrents of fear and sorrow. At first I thought it was just my imagination, but I do not believe it is, because now it feels palpable.
One day I got fed up of our restrictive conversation. That day while she sat opposite me in the bookstore, talking about Chimamada Adichie’s short story, bird song, I reached out and touched her hand on the table.
“Shade, I’m more interested in you, than what you have to say.”
She kept quiet and her face looked a tad bit pale. Her eyes darted left and right, so I squeezed her hand reassuringly.
“Let’s start with me.”
I told her about the schools I attended, where I lived, my first love, everything you could tell someone who wants to know you or in this case someone, you wanted to know you.
She started out a bit shaky and told me mostly about life in her teenage years and where she lived; little information, but it was enough, it was a start.
About a week after the conversation, I decided to pay her a visit, I knocked the door, holding a box of large pizza and two cola drinks, breakfast. A little boy of about ten answere the door, I was a bit suprised.
“Uhm, hello there, I’m looking for Shade.”
“Uhh……” That was all he said, looking at me as though I had just spoken gibberish.
“I don’t know who Shade is.”; he said. “But I will call my mummy.”
He ran inside shouting “Mummy, there’s a man at the door looking for Shade.”
The world was spinning under my feet. I was half hoping I got the wrong address.
Shade came into view, her hung mouth open mutely.
I greeted her and handed over the pizza and drink to her as she finally led me in. We were both quiet, as I sat in her living looking around, I saw picture of Lola, the little boy and a little girl scattered all around the house, no father.