For Tahakeino …
Mr Anansi came over the other day.
It was a very strange visit. The doorbell rang and I hurried to answer it with change, hoping it was the Popeyes’ delivery boy with half of my dinner. It turned out to be just Mr Anansi. I opened the door and we stared at each other for a while before I ventured to speak.
“Hello Anansi. Everything okay?”
“Hello Ike. Yes, yes, everything is okay.” He stuttered, all the while avoiding my eyes and paying close attention to the worn out carpet the landlord had insisted was brand new when I first moved in.
We stayed like that for a minute or so. Besides the usual ‘hellos’ and mulling over the weather, Anansi and I have had little to say to each other in the two years I have lived in the complex. The couple of times we have engaged in meaningless conversations, it had been in neutral territories; the basement where everyone in the building did laundry, the elevators-on days I was too lazy to take the flight of stairs. Whatever had brought him to my door and the uncharted space of my apartment was something I could not fathom.
“Anansi, I am in the process of making dinner. Is there anything I can help you with?” I finally asked the man when it was evident he wasn’t going anywhere.
“Oh, am sorry to disturb you.” He replied. He moved a couple of steps in no particular direction before raising his eyes to look in my face, but not without pushing those thick glasses into firm place, as if they could protect him from me or something he was afraid of.
“I got promoted today. And the office people gave me a bottle of champagne. I was just wondering if you would like to have some.” The man asked.
It took my brain a moment to adjust to the fact that Anansi had just asked me to drink with him. I smiled and wondered if he really got promoted or if it was just a ruse to be around someone that would remind him of you.
I opened the door wide to let him in. I needed some alcohol anyway.
“I hope you like peppery Nigerian food and chicken wings from Popeyes.” I said to the man as I showed him to the couch.
“Oh yes, your girl, Taha, she used to bring me some rice on Sundays when she cooked. She is very nice.” He said, his stutter getting worse as he blushed in embarrassment. He probably thought I had no clue about you sharing our Sunday lunches with him or about how you spent time being kind to the lonely, old, African man who lived upstairs.
I handed him the TV remote and told him to make himself comfortable while I searched for wine glasses.
I shared dinner that day with a man I had spoken less than 50 words to before then. We said little or nothing to each other during the meal. I cleared the table and waved off his attempts to help me wash dishes.
He insisted on staying with me in the kitchen as I cleaned up.
“So have you heard from her?” He asked.
I didn’t need to ask of whom he spoke.
“Yes, I spoke to her last week. She is alright.”
He nodded in response and sipped some more champagne.
“Do you think she will ever come back?” He asked when the wine in his glass was all gone.
“I am not sure, Anansi. She was tired of this country.”
Outside it was snowing. The kitchen window gave us a glimpse of a world that was pure and perfect; a world that had moved on without you.
“She wants to make a difference.” Anansi said to me as if in plea.
The anger I felt the first time you told me your plans to leave for Yola started to rise.
“She can make a difference here. America needs heroes too. Why does she need to go home to Nigeria to be a hero? She was making a difference here – in the lives of her patients, her friends, me… Why does she need to travel halfway across the world to a place where even angels fear to tread to make a difference?” I said barely succeeding in keeping the anger out of my voice.
The day you packed up your stuff, I watched you and not a single tear fell from my eyes. You did enough crying for us both anyway. The day I dropped you off at the airport, the tears I so wanted to cry seemed unfitting in that cold, sterile place filled with strangers so I stayed them from falling. I didn’t cry on that first sleepless night without you. Tears also failed me the day your sister called to say you were missing after another Boko Haram attack near your hospital. My eyes stayed dry when you were found safe and sound hiding in one of the ambulances.
It took a man whose accent I had laughed at a couple of times in bed with you, a man who seemed to look on in fear at the rest of the world from behind his glasses, a man who lived in the same apartment complex as I did for over 2 years, a man whom I had always felt somehow superior too – he was Ghananian and of darker skin after all, a man whom I had never seen smile until the day I introduced you to him on the elevator and you took his hand and said ‘Mekyea wo’…. It took that man for those tears to finally fall.
They fell into the dish washing water and blended in nicely. I sniffed and gathered myself.
“Allergies.” I apologized to Anansi.
“Yes, it must be the hydrangeas.” He said pointing to the plants you left behind. “I should leave. Thank you for dinner.”
I walked him to the door but before I could shut the door on Mr Anansi and his subtle reminders of you, he got in one last word.
“When it is a woman’s absence rather than her presence that makes you cry, she is worth going after. I should know.” He said before taking my hand and shaking it.
I have taken the advice of that man with the funny accent. I stared in his eyes and saw wisdom that only experience can give. I watched his gray haired head bob up the stairs to his lonely apartment and saw grace.
My flight leaves for Abuja in an hour. I dropped off a recipe for spicy jollof rice and the hydrangeas for Anansi before leaving for the airport. I hope the flowers provide him with an excuse for having allergies in wintertime. I hope it helps him ease the pain of missing you. It didn’t work for me any. Maybe he will have better luck.
As for me, I am on my way home.
Anansi is a West African god. He often takes the shape of a spider and is considered to be the god of all knowledge of stories. He is a spider, but often acts and appears as a man.
Kiah was the first winner of TNC’s The Writer competition. She moved to the US from Lagos a few years ago and is still getting used to the idea of snow, and cheese in everything. When she isn’t writing, she is reading or taking in the sights at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
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