While we weep – while we weep
We breathe as though we feel
A hand choking us as we sleep
A plan making sure we sink
While we weep – while we weep
We reach for a steady grip
A grain of peace within our dream
A tighter clasp on pleasures deep
While we weep – while we weep
We search for things both seen and unseen
On tormented paths we see or seem
We course through layers of draining dreams
All these we do
While we weep…
Jide Jackson woke up to a pool of his sweat. Stupid dream. He lay still -savouring yet despising the coolness of the sheets. The pillows scattered on bed and floor, duvet, a dark brown lump on the rumpled lighter brown shade of the bedsheet, crumpled in a corner. The pendant on his barrel chest clung to his skin, rising and falling. He willed his breathing to normalize, slowly steadying himself. Control was opium for him. He grasped at it in all his deliberations. And now, as it returned, he felt the darkness receding. Stupid dream.
He stared at the wooden ceiling, unmindful of the whirling fan. Its lull coaxed him back to sleep but Jide was wary of nightmares. He fingered the pendant, tracing its oval shape. Often, he pried it open to see its contents. It was his go-lucky amulet. He could not recall when last it left his neck. Black gold chain -his favourite colour -with tungsten open-shut locket. A flurry of warm thoughts invaded his mind. Jide blinked at the ceiling, chiding himself for being mushy. His ears perked, as if waiting for something. After a few moments, he hissed at himself, favouring a smile. This was not his Abuja home, or any of the other places he slept where he always woke to the crow of the cock. Or the waggle of the ugly tolotolo. It was a taboo in his land to call the tolotolo ugly -something about a tolotolo once saving a king. Jide could not care less for kingdoms and coincidences.
Emeka’s not-so-quiet morning rituals forced Jide to pay attention. Thin light illuminated the bottom of the third door. Jide eyed Emeka’s passing shadow with disinterest. He listened, playing an unconscious game of guessing at what his next-door roommate was doing. Singing -easy guess. Drying off. Deodorant spraying. Cloth wearing -now cloth take off -then trying another -taking them off also –then final selection. Bag arrangement. Now walking towards the third door. Jide closed his eyes, mustering a light snore.
“What is doing this one?” Emeka closed the door with a bang. Through his eye slits, Jide saw Emeka walk towards the bed. Go away. Go away. Go away. Jide grunted as Emeka shook him.
“Need a morning hug?” Jide asked.
“Wetin dey do you? Wake up joo.”
“Leave me.” Jide screamed and made a grab for his duvet. Emeka held if far from his reach. “What are you: the fastest duvet yanker? Give it here. Do you have a death wish or something?”
“Come on na. It’s breakfast time. Personal session after that. I hope it’s a young hot woman that attends to me oo. I’m under the Habit Reformation and Restructure Counsellor. Who are you under?”
“Not interested in all that. I just want to sleep.” Jide said. He rolled to his side and snuggled deeper. “Besides what happens during this personal session? You sit and talk your life out before a shrink? Ain’t that mean we all are cray cray?”
Emeka wheeled and stared at Jide. “But yeah. We all are crazy. Different sorts of crazy though. This place,” he swept his arms in a high arc, “is designed to help us.”
“Help us do what?”
Emeka shook his head. Sage-like, he said, “No not do but become. And speaking of becoming, I need you to become something to me. Or for me. To me sounds better. Anyhow, will you?”
When Jide did not respond Emeka continued. “I want you to become my wingman.”
“Your wingman?” Jide asked, amusement dancing in his eyes. He looked Emeka over, his mien betraying his thoughts.
“Yes. There’s this girl I like. I want to get but she’s like…”
“Not in your league?”
“Not very available.” Emeka corrected. “I want her to be mine really and I need your help. You are like the smoothest dude I know and I think its fate that has brought us together. Think of it: we meet, I meet the girl of my dreams, I need…”
“Hole Up Nigga, Hole Up.” Jide pointed his finger to the ceiling. Hole Up was a statement gone viral on social media, which became colloquialism for Hold On. “Fate. Girl of dreams. Dude, I can get you a quick lay but this romance thing you seem to want to get going on, count me out. Go look for Hitch.”
“Hitch. You know…Hitch. Will Smith. Kevin James. No. Nothing? Really?”
“Come on please. You can charm the shell off a tortoise. With your help I can get this girl.”
“That’s the problem right there Emeks. I would rather you said ‘with me I can nail this girl’. That would wild me up.”
“What’s doing you na? Help me please.” Emeka said. His eyes glistened. Jide angled his head, believing it must be a trick of light on his friend’s face.
“I said OK. I’ll help you. I’ll give you pointers that would help you secure one date. Get it? One. This,” Jide wagged his finger back and forth between himself and Emeka “is not unending. I don’t do romance. I can’t and won’t make this girl of your dreams fall in love with you. I don’t do midnight smoochie feely drama. You will not come to me and cry. You will not ask me for relationship advice. You will not speak to me about this girl except to tell me you’ve nailed her. Only thing I’m doing for you and Emeks don’t think I’m joking cause you are smiling stupidly right now. Only thing I’m doing for you is getting you this one date. And don’t you dare come hug me while I’m lying on my freaking bed.”
Emeka skipped away, leaving Jide brooding over his decision to involve himself with another man’s life. Again.
Jide snuggled deeper and tried to sleep. Five frustrating minutes later, he pushed himself off the bed and made it to the showers. Under the steady flow of cool water, he went through the plan again. He had been double-crossed. No. He had been used. Jide did not believe in forgiveness. He believed in retribution. His Kaduna contact should have set his plan in motion. Heads would roll. This time, not the innocent ones. Hopefully.
Still he knew his sullied hands could not become clean by one act, heroic or not.
He garbed in a grey hooded short-sleeve, jeans and blue-black high-tops, the flaps hanging Slipping his hands into his shirt pockets, Jide left his room. He walked towards the camp gate. The sun was high but Jide kept his hood up. Clusters of campers scattered about. A group though, gathered round a massive Money Booth that stood by at the edge of the field. Jide spied large cards in the hands of most of the campers on the queue. He figured they had to have a no cash spending policy. Camp money was legal tender here. Jide walked up to and nudged the last on the queue.
“Hey bro. What’s up? How do I lay hold on one of those?” His nod showed the card. On closer look Jide noticed a big 10 written on two ends of the cards with scribbles in the middle. For outstanding participation: Personal Session. Dr. Agege Oluwatishe, Counsellor Depression and Dark Aura Alleviation.
“Erm…I’m not…erm…sure…myself. All I did…was…answer the Dr’s questions during the…interrogation…session…personal session.” The Last Man on The Queue said.
“Right. Thanks bro.” Jide patted his back and kept on walking. The camp used the carrot and stick method for change. If you adhere to the rules, you enjoy your stay better. He crossed over from the field to the tarred ground. The gate appeared bigger than what Jide remembered. He noticed a sign he had missed earlier. Electric Fence. Be Warned. He again wondered why the camp had a high fence barbed with electric wires.
The guard came out of his post and cut off Jide.
“Exeat plix.” His voice was as gravel on glass.
“Akpan,” Jide started, reading off the nametag “you and I know I have no exeats.”
“Ye see yaself mbok. Read book you wee not read. What ro you want from me this moring?”
“I need to check on Bessy.” Jide said.
Akpan gave a blank stare. Then his lips curled into a sneer. “Big Boy. Bad Boy. Tough Boy. Your bike is Bessy? And you call yaself a man.”
“Well…I need to keep it…light sometimes. It’s easier to have people take care of a Bessy than a Shola.”
The guard laughed, switching tongues he said, “I dey sometimes lonely for here oo. Make you come na, make we drink small. Just small my brother.” Akpan spied to the left and right, like a thief on the lookout, to be certain there were no eavesdroppers. “E no be like say you dey crazy sef. I sure say na douxing you come for, make you nack all those mad girls for the clinic. Abi? You no look like any of the other guys.”
“What do they look like?”
“Ah! Don’t you see them? Them dey be like say this place get Holy Ghost way dey run up and down to comot the crazy way dey body. It’s all booshit I tell you. All the papa mama get plenty money, spend for here, and then their pikin leave with different crazy.”
“What if they are right though?” Jide asked.
“Bout the Holy Ghost thingy.”
Akpan looked at Jide as if the young man had stripped naked before him. “Don’t tell me you are one of them. You don’t have the look.”
“One of who? The Jesus Believers? For the shock on your face, I wish I could say yes but no. I’m not. But just because I don’t believe what they believe does not mean I should disdain what they believe. Sometimes nonsense is merely more sense limited by no sense.”
Akpan gaped at Jide Jackson as if the young man was tap dancing in kilt and thongs.
“Can I go see Bessy now? I won’t be long.”
“Yea sure…sure.” Akpan fumbled with the bunch awhile before slotting the right key in the teeth. “But the distance…”
“Never mind that. I need a walk anyway.”
One hour later Jide sat in front of Dr Sulo’s office. He crossed his arms across his chest, flapping his foot. Jide kept glancing at the closed door, wondering why she would not attend to him yet. Not that he wanted to be here. After checking on Bessy, he had run into Emeka who warned him his lunch pass would come from his personal counsellor. The passes admitted only one camper and the system had blocked other overt routes. Now, Jide pouted, applauding the centre for placing stringent measures to engineer participation.
It was not all bad for him though. The old man had cleaned his bike with the right chemicals and refuelled it. Though impressed, Jide kept numb. He was on his guard against the old man. Jide naturally distrusted people who were nicer to him than he was to them. As long as his bike remained in top shape, he could make his getaway once the plans were successful.
At last, a bell rang and Jide stepped into the office.
He strode in with purpose, staring only at the other human in the room. Dr Sulo sat regal in an opulent purple…club chair. She sat as still as the Eko o ni baje statures, as though she had been waiting for Jide her whole life. Jide did not miss a beat as he sat on the soft stool, the only piece of furniture he could sit on. To hell with her if she thinks there would be cuddling.
“Jide Jackson.” Her voice made Jide perk. It caressed his ears. He almost gave away a wide smile but changed it last minute to a smirk.
“You seem…driven. For a Jackson though, that’s not strange. What’s strange is where your drive takes you to. The influence of your motivations is not apparent. Why is that?” She carried a trace of Hausa accent underneath her practiced phonetics.
Jide let out a low chuckle “You sure don’t like foreplay. I hate it too. So I’ll jump right in and level with you. This psycho thingy ain’t for me. It’s being tried before you know? Failed. I was like the Joker to my psychy’s Harley. You need not worry though. I am here, for today at least, to get a meal ticket.”
“I will make you a deal. You talk frankly with me for ten minutes and I’ll give you the ticket?”
“That’s the existing deal Doc. Hand me another.”
“Dominant male. Alpha.” She scribbled in her notepad. “You like being in charge don’t you?”
Instant images of nightmares and paralysis flooded Jide’s mind. He stalled his answer for a few moments, allowing the wave to pass. Then, “I would say, I like being on top.”
“But in this facility, power is stripped from you. There are rules that put you under. In order to effectively pass through this camp you have to be submissive. Of some sort. Case in point, your meal ticket. If you do not cooperate with the goals of this session, you do not eat lunch. Legally, at least. I take it you skipped breakfast because either a, you are not a morning person or b, you don’t do breakfast or c, you just don’t like the idea of being told when to wake up and when to eat. This place is an enemy to your very self. It is similar in structure and construct as the two schools you got rusticated from. The same pattern Jide Jackson. This is not conducive for you. Yet here you are. Sitting, not lying, on my quite expensive lounge. You knew this. You are smart. According to your records, the few semesters you stayed put in school, you were outstanding. And without much visible effort.”
“A true artist knows how to hide his sources.”
“So then, why are you really here Jide Jackson?”
Jide stood from the seat and walked towards the aquarium at the window. He tapped it with his finger, attracting one fish and scaring off the other. Then he placed a finger in the crystal water, and began twirling it, disturbing the calm. As it settled, he turned to the counsellor and grinned. Jide repeated this roughen-and-settle action a couple more times before straightening and walking towards Dr. Sulo’s bookshelf.
“You are good. I give you that.” Jide said as he picked the first book of interest. “What band is this playing in the background?” he asked.
Dr. Sulo gave a knowing smile, a twinkle in her eyes. “Switchfoot.”
“I don’t know them.”
“You don’t know a lot of things Jide Jackson. Like why you change posture, location, subjects by default, so you can wrestle back control of situations. Does it hurt that you can’t do same with your family? Just change them?”
Jide stopped mid-step, book in hand. He slotted it back into the shelf space and faced the counsellor. Her round face was handsome. Life’s hardship had beaten the beauty away, leaving only enough tender features as a picture of the past. Her eyes pierced from behind her rimmed glasses, gleaming in mischief, much like Loki, as though she knew something she wasn’t about to tell. One or two strands of grey hair ran into the packed bun. Jide suspected they were dyed. For effect.
She had still not adjusted on her seat. It unnerved Jide somewhat.
“Why did you say what you said?”
“I’ve said lots of things Jide Jackson. Would you care to reduce your view of my…psychic abilities and be more specific?”
“Why did you suggest I wanted out of my family?”
“Why is my answer important?” Dr Sulo challenged.
“Because…it…because it would make me talk freely. If you answer without fibs though.”
The Doctor smiled, glanced at her watch and said, “Oops, your time is up Jide Jackson. I expect to see you by the next personal session. There we will…how would you put it… get up close and personal.”
Jide left Dr Sulo’s presence unsatisfied. Despite his cajoling and baited statements, she refused to utter another word save ‘keep this up and I’ll call security on you.’ He turned around more than once to go knock on her door and demand to hear what she meant. He knew he should not do that though. It felt like he needed to talk with her. Jide decided it was too dangerous.
Dr. Sulo was a smooth talker. The numero uno rule on the streets was Don’t allow a smooth talker speak. If you do, don’t believe the smooth talker. If you do, don’t trust the smooth talker. If you do, you are screwed.’
He knew this to be true because he was one himself. It would be folly for him to unravel to a woman who has only being in a university; her greatest challenges being exams. When she hears her name called in the dead of the night by unknown voices, he would open up to her. Resolve made, Jide hunched his shoulders and navigated to the next activity. Lost in thought, he bumped shoulders with another camper.
“Watch where you are going guy.” Jide spat.
Jide walked into the room that housed some other campers working on their projects. A panoramic sweep of the place gave Jide a headache. The excitement was palpable. White lights hung overhead, casting a chaste shadow on the campers. The brouhaha gave off an original noise symphony. The ones closest to the door were busy with sketches; their palettes smeared with overlapping colour pools. Most were dirtying their canvases with random splashes of paint. The cluster close to the window had a lot of women, knitting and sewing. They generated the most buzz, as their crafts did not require undivided attention. Their section was also the most crowded. Cut cloth materials – ankara, lace, kente -littered the space. The colours were all bright.
As he looked round, he stared smack into Leah Abba. She bent her head slightly, observing him without realizing he was doing same. Why did she look at him that way? Like she knew him. Like she was as sad as he was. Like she could understand him like none other.
She smiled at him but he nodded in return. He did not trust himself with a smile at that moment. Someone whispered his name sensually in his ears. He knew who it was before turning around.
“My Fair Lady.”
“You’ve earned the right to a first night. After last night. I’m Mamita.”
“It was my pleasure Mamita. As you can tell, I’m good at many things. Even when I lay down.”
“I noticed.” Mamita giggled. “You want to hangout this night?”
Jide’s bluntness stopped Mamita, whose mouth was already opened with formed words. Her next words came out softly, like a deer treading suspicious terrains.
“Next tomorrow night?
Jide tried another tactic. “Maybe. Maybe not.
“Next tomorrow night then.” Mamita hummed as she walked towards a group of acapella hopefuls.
Jide decided he would leave but then he spotted Emeka. He walked up to him.
“That’s her. That’s her.” Emeka jumped excitedly immediately Jide was within earshot.
“Who is her?” Jide inquired.
“The girl of my dreams.”
“Who?” Jide asked, now getting interested. He scanned the crowd, looking for a suitable candidate.
“There. Leah. Leah Abba.”
Jide’s smile formed slowly, but lasted long. Emeka averted his eyes, examining his shoes.
“I know she’s hot stuff on this camp, but with you I believe I can get her.”
Jide remained silent, considering his friend. “OK. With women it’s all about action. So first rule: Act Fast. Listen to me carefully. Every event happens because of the combination of several other events. The size is unimportant. So bedding a woman is…”
“That’s not my goal JJ.” Emeka interrupted.
“Agreed. But that’s not a bad milestone either. In addition, don’t interrupt me again. Bedding a woman is an event borne out of several other events. Miniscule events. Gigantic events. It doesn’t matter. What matters is you take matters into your hands and create these events.”
“So I should…I’m sorry but I don’t understand.”
“We’ll create an event now.”
“Now like now now?” Emeka asked
“No, tomorrow. Now, you nincompoop. You didn’t listen to the speech I gave? Really? You are Kevin Hart in Ride Along. This is what needs to happen. Leah needs to know you are competent. It doesn’t matter what at. All that matters is you are highly skilled in something. Skill is spelt Sexy in female lingo. The more skills the better. So tell me, what are you competent in?”
“I’m a good listener.” Emeka blurted.
“Shut up. Who listening epp?” Jide chided. “I’m talking vocation-ish.”
Emeka looked round. “I’m good at table tennis.” He gestured to a group playing table tennis in a corner.
“Great.” Jide said, pulling Emeka closer. “Now this is what we would do. Have a pen?” Jide automatically put his hand in his pockets and pulled out a short piece of paper. He started scribbling.
“What are you writing?” Emeka asked.
“The Unravelling of Kpekus 101.” Jide said.