The craving won over Feyi that day, I tasted heaven, bliss. I spent the night in a king sized bed. When I woke up the next day, I realised my “king sized bed” was really the “gutters”. I staggered back home subdued and depressed.
Feyi came knocking that afternoon and fortunately, the effects of the drugs had worn out by then, or so I thought. I could barely look into her eyes and I found it strange that I cared what she thought. That care was an emotion I could not put a name to.
She sat quietly on the couch, staring at the curtains billowing gently in the wind, half her face bathed in sunshine.
“I think you might need to see a shrink?”; she said.
I looked into her eyes and then lowered my gaze.
“Why?”; I asked in a little more than a whisper.
“I know you went back yesterday, and no, I did not follow you”
I hung my head into my open palms, there was no use denying it.
I grunted as my heart hardened. “And what’s it to you?”
“Nothing. It takes time.” she stood and picked her bag “I pray for you each day, I just think you should know.” She turned and walked out the door.
When she left the silence screamed at me, cacophonous silence, the irony. I screamed back and threw a pillow at the flower vase beside the TV; it fell with a crash, its white, ceramic fragments flying in several directions. Who was she to matter so much? I wondered why I had even taken her up on her offer.
Then, it occurred to me that perhaps somewhere in my subconscious mind, I really wanted to be free, really wanted to matter to someone, really wanted to be a better me. Thoughts of my parents and sister who I had not seen in a long time bombarded my mind.
I came to a conclusion at that moment. In the words of switchfoot band “Life begins at the intersection.” It was also her fault I even knew the song.
She came visiting a few days later and breezed in as if nothing happened the last time. I told her of my decision to see a shrink. She smiled and did a merry jig, laughter bubbled out of my lips before I could stop it.
I went for sessions twice a week and spent a bulk of my time, tie and dyeing clothes. We agreed on a fifty-fifty split since she bought the materials and dyes and I used her shop for its sales. I also opened a bank account, hope shone down on me like the mid-day sun.
It struck me one day, like a bolt of lightening, as I was dishing some food in a plate, that I was falling for Feyi. That day, she had challenged my cooking abilities and I wowed her with a dish of fried rice and curry chicken, she asked for seconds. So there I was holding a curry sauce stained spoon in my right hand and the dish in my left, as I made the most startling discovery ever.
“Hurry up O!”; she shouted from the parlour.
I closed the lid of the pot, dropped the spoon into the sink and walked to the parlour, carrying her plate with a smile on my face.
“See, you begging for more”; I teased.
She stuck out her tongue at me.
When she left I confabulated on my new discovery, contemplating her reaction. I considered where we met, and everything she knew about me. A groan escaped my lips; I decided there and then that the stupid feeling was just going to have to go. It really wasn’t stupid though, it was beautiful.
A few weeks later, I found myself drawn to a wedding store, after one of my sessions. I smiled and shook my head as I walked in. Years back, I would have never thought I’d find myself in such a place. I pointed at a white gold ring with diamonds embedded round about; it was different from the popular engagement ring which often bore a single stone, so like Feyi, a flower in the midst of weeds, the moon in the midst of stars.
I swiped my ATM card through the POS and walked out with the package. A bit impulsive, but in my defense, I could always resell it, so it was really no loss.
The year drew to a close, and with it came the harmattan that dried the insides of my nostrils and left my lips chapped. By that time, I had made enough money to move out, or start paying rent as the case may be. We had agreed that she would keep selling my works at her shop/gallery.
She was ecstatic that I was clean off drugs. I did not tell her I had gone back once, after I started seeing the shrink. But the visit was a turning point; everything I hated about that sort of life became glaring. I had lain on the ground, wasted, as I stared at the stars, burning in the sky. Filth from the wet muddy ground seeped through my clothes and several malodourous scents invaded my nasal passages. I had communed with myself that night, and swore to stay off drugs, even if it killed me.
In the following days, I did everything possible to drown out the seductive whisper of the cravings. Prayers, long walks, loud music, tie and dying, sports.
I was seated opposite her, thoughts of my future gliding through my mind, leaving traces of fear in its wake. Like the movement of a snail left a trail of slime. I had decided I would return to school part time to acquire a degree in creative arts and I told her this. But I was nervous, nervous of what the future held for me. I stared at a smooth, shiny, black sculpture beside the television; its lifeless eyes stared back.
“Feyi, I’m a bit worried, what if I go back, I wish I was as wise as you, you know you’re perfect right?”
“I’m not perfect, no one is, we can only keep trying, Akosile ti duro, there isn’t much we can do to change the circumstances we face”. She stood, walked towards me and squeezed my shoulders “you’d be fine, you’d see.”
I decided to stay a little while longer, procrastinate the inevitable, so I payed for a month’s rent. I could have chosen to remain, but I knew it wasn’t the right thing, besides I had to think of other addicts out there.
The next day, I followed her to her shop for the first time. She was hosting an event in which she wanted to introduce artists who had their works displayed in her shop to the general public. An awareness campaign or something of the sort.
I was humbled but the handshakes, pats on the back and “you’re so talented” I got. Each time I caught Feyi’s eyes they’d smile at me, even before her lips did. I felt heady and thrilled. I was doing something I could be proud of for a difference.
“So, what did you think of the event”; she asked me afterwards
I shook my head slowly. “I’m short of words.”
She laughed softly. “It was like that for me too. With this awareness, you can sell your tie and dyes with or without me”
We were seated on the couch at my place watching the News. The newscaster, a pretty lady in a red blazer was reporting the news. She spoke of the director of police pension funds who had stolen billions in naira from the pension funds and was let off with a two year jail term or an option of fine in the sum of N750, 000. I was irritated, slightly disappointed.
Certain lawyers were defending the judge, saying he acted based on what was written in the constitution. I did not blame the judge; actually the incident was a sort of eye opener to the error that was our constitution. But sadly, we all knew the issue would die down, with no changes made, like a bonfire goes out, when it runs out of fuel.
As if mirroring my thoughts, Feyi changed the station.
“I’m sorry”; she said “hope you don’t mind? It was a little infuriating.”
“No, not at all.”
The next channel showed a boating competition, which I thoroughly enjoyed it. I imagined feeling the sea breeze sweep through my hair and feeling the spray of droplets of water reflecting the sun rays, against my face. I asked feyi if she had ever been in a boat before.
“Yes. In my head, so many times”
“I mean real life jor”
“Well, if I had ever gone before, all I would have had to remember it are memories. So since I already have those memories already, it’s the same thing”
The next day found me at her house watching her paint; it was a romance between her, the brushes, paints and canvas. Each stroke was filled with emotion, passion and of course, colour. She seemed to be in a different world. Suddenly, her face wrinkled in pain. I was a little confused and wondered if it was an emotion she wanted to paint, but it remained and soon she was panting heavily. She sat on the tiled floor hitting her chest. Alarmed, I walked towards her, lifted her up the floor and placed her gently on the couch.
“Feyi, what’s wrong?”
“My chest.” she kept hitting it. “It hurts madly, could you go to my room? It’s directly opposite the stair case. You’d see a sachet of ibuprofen, right on my bedside table”
I half ran to her room, there were several painted canvases stacked against each other against the wall, several hung on the wall. On her bedside table, beside several knickknacks and framed paintings, my eyes caught the blue ibuprofen pack. I went to the kitchen, where I got a glass of water and returned to the parlour.
Feyi sat up, took the drug and water and then swallowed both.
The pain continued. She told me of the hot water bottle in her kitchen. I set water boiling on her gas cooker, and poured it into the water bottle as soon as the water boiled. I placed it against her chest.
At this point, she could barely talk. I stilled my trembling hand, as I glanced around wondering what to do. Then I saw her car key, carelessly tossed on the center piece. Without thinking, I picked it, carried her into the car and started the engine.
I had barely driven for long when I noticed a police checkpoint ahead. I was stopped.
“Where’s your license?”; the police officer asked peering into the car.
“Oga, please I have none, my friend is sick, and I needed to carry her…”
“What! No license! Step out of the car now!”
Feyi moaned as I stepped out. Panicking, I prostrated before the policeman.
His eyes grew larger.
“Please don’t let my friend die. Please sir”
“You have no license! Na my Job I wan do nah”
“Its also your Job to protect the lives of the citizens of this country!”; I said. My tone was sharp.
He stared at me in silence then flicked his wrist “No make I catch you again.”
I thanked God he had a conscience, thanked him and slipped behind the wheel.
Feyi was carried out of the car in a stretcher, a thin film of sweat clinging to her skin. I sat at the reception and prayed. It was then it occurred to me that I did not even know her parents.
I drove back home and searched her bag for her phone. I was not comfortable with doing that, but I knew it was expedient. I found it, scrolled through her contact list and dialled “Mom”
She answered on the first ring. I told her of the situation of things. She did not seem surprised; it was like this sort of thing happened occasionally. I told her about this.
“Well, it hasn’t happened in a while?”
“What hasn’t ma?”
“I thought you said you were her friend?”
“Yes ma, I am but…”
“Her crisis. She has sickle cell anaemia.”
I wondered why I never knew, I felt like the worst friend ever. I returned to the hospital using public transport, I could not afford to get into any more trouble with the Nigerian Police. A woman, with Feyi’s face, and a man with her thin lips was seated at the reception when I arrived. I shook hands with them and introduced myself; they thanked me from bringing her to the hospital.
The doctor came out about three hours later. He was a wiry man with rectangular spectacles and tired eyes.
He asked to speak with Feyi’s parents alone and led them into his office. I followed them, but stayed outside the shut door. A piercing scream came through the door a few minutes later.
I was later to learn that she didn’t have a crisis. She had died of pulmonary embolus. The doctor had had no idea of what had caused it. I cursed my self for not knowing a little more about medicine or diagnosing certain symptoms.
She left me, she who taught me to love, to live, to believe. The engagement ring I bought still lies on the table in my room. The heart rending part of it all is that I never got to profess my love to her. It’s my one regret, my one heartache.
She still haunts me, like she did the first day I met her. I see her in her church members that come to comfort me occasionally, the nice neighbours that come to spend the evening with me, even though I no longer lived at the boy’s quarters, or they could be somewhere else; in the warmth of the sun and the cool sweetness of the evening breeze. She was the light, my light.
I cupped some water in the palm of my hand, splashed it on my face and smiled as I saw her smiling face. I really wasn’t alone. Love stayed.
I made up my mind, to visit my family the next day.