Them in us by Temitope Akinleye

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I

I tried. I tried so hard. Perhaps I really didn’t try hard not to blame myself. Was it my fault? Did I push my strength farther than it could go? Did I pull more than my grasps? Should I have pretended I wasn’t hurt or provoked by the only statement my medulla oblongata couldn’t stop processing after our phone conversation?

I had thought of looking beyond it, just like I did with the other word. Yet its notification ding wouldn’t stop ringing in my head. I was scared. I was scared of what this pregnant statement would birth in the morning. I recalled one of your famous statements, as I turned in bed for the umpteenth time, mindful of my niece, nephew and siblings who wrapped up the entire bed space.

You would say, it’s better to settle our differences in a day, than to wake up with an aggressive grudge the morning after. You’re a conflict resolution freak. But, I love these words. Peculiarly because it’s the new norm that paint my sky whenever we calm whatever storms our peddles created; squarely – because on this dark adventurous journey, these words were like light to my feet.

What was I anticipating as a response? Apology as usual? The everyday explanation? That familiar excuses? I guess I was counting on nothingness or possibly my Chi was awaiting something impassable. Either ways, I wasn’t prepared to hear the other word, just like we hardly prepare for some of life’s bluntness. You and your thoughts would never allow sleep visit me tonight. I watched my niece cuddle closer to one of my siblings as I adjusted my pillow and wobbled to the edge to create more space for the six of us. I was convinced I wasn’t wrong with what I had said during our conversation. I had acted simply on my mother-hen instinct. I would do the impossible to protect you, to protect me and to protect us. Even if it’s to protect you from your shadow or from them. I was right. You’re wrong. You were sometimes right when it came to them. You’re most times wrong when it came to me and them.

I remember most of our storms were quite caused by them. They were the book in our library we never flipped. They were the right shoes that never fit the feet of our relationship. I was right, you’re wrong, my head kept programming this. While i reminded my heart not to summon tears, trusting we were stronger than them, even when the echoes of your statement were drowning me,

“See girl, you can’t control me. That’s something you can never do.” And your other word, locked my blank gaze, “Husby!”

And tonight, for the very first time, I watched in silent distance as the sun went down on your anger.

II

My heart wouldn’t stop pounding against my tiny breast. The melancholic rhythm of my heart isn’t the tune I subscribed to hear. I wanted to reply your last message. To blunt out my caged words. To empty the overflowing bucket that sat at the shallow pit of my heart. But, words failed me and the bucket became too heavy to lift. I felt tired in the one hundred and twenty eight days of our happiness. I lost the will to do whatever the hell that wasn’t imminent. I couldn’t stop my nerves from pulling down the wall of tears. My brains had already reached its maximum functional capacity before handing over to my heart. The heart, in many ways, in different directions, in difficult circumstances, and complex outcomes had always proved without doubt, that it still beats.

I miss all you. I miss everything. I miss the pulsation of your laughter, your jokes, your playful dares, your lovable threats. Most of all, I miss my everyday smile. The drop rolled down my cheeks a bit too fast before I remember you made me promise to never shed tears for you again; after it had happened twice. You said no man was worth my tears, not even you. What you didn’t know was that, you’re both my hidden tears and my exposed smile.

I smiled in my tears. I remember that soulful night we met in an inexplicable circumstance. I could vividly picture your face when you stepped out of the car and the display of your audacity that ensued. You’re that one person I never believed our alphabets would form a word, much less meaningful words, structured into adorable sentences.

Your attractive audacity reeled its ugly head when you didn’t respond to the so-called apology I sent yesterday. The idea behind the rationale of such apology brought a wicked grin to my face. No wonder you choose silence for the whole day. The reason I had to apologize was unknown. Or, I apologized because settling our differences in a day was the new thing.

I knew you would reach out today. Yesterday was your moment, a chance you wouldn’t miss to prove you were right with the other word. A heavy grunt escaped my lips as I scrolled through the green texts and read your last message, one more time, then again and again. Still, I had no dictates to overthrow yours.

I just wish for that normalcy to return. I wish the earth would resume from its impromptu vacation. I wish it wasn’t this sort of intruder that made us realize the fragility of our littleness. I wish I could have back my normal life, to see you often. I wish we could pick up the broken pieces of our guiltless laughter in the ashes of this lockdown.

You had sent a message to bring home your other word,

“You’re the man in this relationship.”

I broke that promise. A river of tears bathed my pillow while wishing the sun never reached its clime.

III

Whatever my Chi was awaiting never came, not even in the form of a disguise. Still, I believed I was right to have cautioned you on being careful when visiting them. One of them was sick. Gone are the days; when everything free was taken for granted, when the nucleus of our communities was inseparable, when hugs were therapeutic, when echoes of laughter could be heard in public spaces, and when feelings are part of humanity.

We both know times have changed. This is the defining moments. The world is no longer ours to command. We are all fighting to stay safe at the mercy of this intruder. I remember accusing the air of being unfaithful when I was a kid. I couldn’t recall the systematic way in happened. I do remember how I felt the shit it brought when it sneaked home. It defiled my innocent air way. I knew the world, as I lived it, changed that night with each conscious and laborious breath. The house filled with odd ambience and walls occupied by nuance of stories became my second home.

You weren’t the only one at risk, if confronted with this intruder. You knew the stakes were high with me in the picture. Yet, when it came to them, we never flipped the book. There’s no way to expound the bond between you and them. You’re the only one who could present that bond in such a beautiful package and logical way that looks grotesque and sounds visceral. You could give your all to them without a blink.

“Would they do the same for you?” I once inquired. You shrugged with smile of certainty,

“I’m sure they would do more for me.”

If only you knew the depth of shallow waters. That’s one secret i couldn’t bring myself to share with you or the rest of the world. Hopefully, whenever the wound heals, I might be ready. But, till then, I would wait patiently, like the rest of the world, in hope that these shades of pandemic would exit the way it arrived. And you would be back in my arms unaffected by the intruder, with a package of explanation or graced apology. Maybe, we might eventually flip that book in our library.

With time, the world would get rid of the intruder. But its scent and footprint might dawdle for an unknown time in the new life. We would be fine in our strengths and weaknesses. Just like always. And I will never stop protecting you from them.

There’s always something to live for. I will never leave quietly. I will continue to fight my weak and polluted air passage for survival.

I Know you would always come back to meet me, placidly waiting, halfway under the moonless sky.

Temitope Akinleye

Temitope Akinleye is a writer of short stories, poems and articles. Her work has been published in several online literary platforms. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria. Twitter@OfficialTemmyT

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