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I’ll Write you a Thousand Words

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I’ll Write You a Thousand Words

Maya stopped attending the book club meetings. She didn’t read any of the books anyway. She didn’t even watch the movie versions in order to avoid actually reading the books like she used to before. She had stopped making any efforts at all at doing anything sometime back: any efforts to participate in life or in the little activities that combined together to define a living.

They didn’t do anything at the club anyway but sit around a coffee table and talk about non-existent people in such moving words; rolling out adjectives after adjectives and watering them down with severely yellow orange juice.

Also, Maya had stopped cooking the Italian dishes whose recipes she found in a cookbook because she wanted to have some more things of interest to tell O’Neil when she wrote – though she never told him that she threw the food away because they were too spicy. She had thought he would like the connection that this brought them across the continents and countries separating them.

In fact, Maya had stopped bothering to collect experiences so that she could meticulously transfer them onto the scented cream writing pads with sketches of the skeletons of leaves on the top and bottom and sides, which she afterwards pressed to her nostrils for several minutes and imagined her breath mixing so completely with the scent until all that O’Neil could smell when he opened the envelope was her breath on it.  But as she licked the gummy flap of the envelope and caught again a whiff of the scent, she began to worry that it would all be gone before it reached him. She worried that the postman’s breath would suck it all up, or the long travel would have dulled the colour and smell, that it would arrive gray and scentless.  Then she worried that O’Neil would find the sketches on the borders of the writing pad too distracting. So she wrote more things in so that the words would far outnumber the sketches.

But the longer and more desperate her letters grew, the shorter his replies became. This worried her, too. She remembered the times when she had leaned over him as they studied the legend and ran their fingers along the dotted red lines on the map and tried to determine how many airports it was between Nigeria and Turin, and the time difference, and the weather conditions and the exchange rate of Euro coins to the Naira and what kind of food he would be eating once he got there. She remembered how he had brushed aside her growing anxiety over the drift that showed up already between them. He had said, “Let us never underestimate the power of a well-written letter. I’ll write you a thousand words”. They had pressed their bodies tightly together and kissed so desperately that night before his long trip to Italy. He was going to get permanent residence after his studies and then he would send for her.

At first he wrote back to her as promised, telling her about the stacks of potatoes he roasted in the microwave for lunch and dinner, and how he had to carefully ration gas in the cruel winters so he wouldn’t freeze to death. Then he didn’t tell her so much in his letters and at last he stopped writing altogether.

When an envelope finally came again just before winter addressed to her in his run-away scribble, she wondered guiltily what she could tell him in her reply. When she opened the envelope, it contained a thousand words – a wedding picture of O’Neil and a White woman.

16th Feb, 2011


Written by cedarreviews

March 13, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Posted in Short Stories

The Preparation

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The Preparation


Trial is war and second place is death. Not the words of my professor, I confess. I picked up the line from one of those fast-paced legal drama series they show on cable TV nowadays, the ones which we only get to watch several months in arrears when they are piratically put on VCDs and vended in the video shops on the street corners. I just happen to like the ring of it, and I have since adopted it as my mantra.

I am not even preparing for a courtroom showdown. It is just my first semester 100 Levels Law exam, Introduction to Legal Methods & Skills – the only Law examination I have to sit for this year. Still, this is not GSS English. It is Law. It’s an important examination.

I haven’t slept at all since I got back from school yesterday. I figured that sleep is not a good strategy in wartime, and coffee is my able Lieutenant. I review my strategy for answering whatever question I will be tested with: Honesty in examination is rare, but where found, is always refreshing. Discus completely what you know about the subject and where you are not sure what the position of the Law is, do not be afraid to say so. I read that, too, once in a book about writing examinations, a book called Examination Without Tears; or something like that.

My mother is awake now. I can hear her moving about opening the windows. She will soon start the kerosene stove. The smoke will seep under the kitchen door and fill the house with what I like to call “Morning smells of House 5, Beckley Davis Street”. It’s so embarrassing when we have early morning visitors; second only to the noise my brother makes at the back of his throat while cleaning his ears with a thinned feather.

Although the water tank in the bathroom is empty, we have a ring coil which serves just fine – when the electricity is on. But Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is withholding the power. As usual.  So, we mostly use the smoky stove to boil bathing water.

I shut my eyes and go over the names of the cases: Heydon’s Case; Grey v. Pearson; Wade v. Simeon . . .

The Professor is in front of the class; we are talking about Law and Morality today. “Neglecting to pull your neighbour away from danger is a sin and not a crime; you’ll miss heaven but you’ll also miss goal.”

His speech evokes sporadic laughter around me, but I am too nervous to join in.

“Miss Owan, care to debunk that assertion?” The Professor is suddenly by my desk.

“Not really, sir. I quite agree with the principle against legislating on private morality,” I stutter.

“Then you care to support the principle with case law?”

“Wade v. Roe?”  I venture tentatively.

Another round of laughter. Louder.

“Roe v. Wade?” My voice comes out in a muted squeak.

“I believe you have just run out of possible ways to rearrange the words, Miss Owan!”

The class goes berserk, laughing and leering at me, their red tongues hanging out of their mouths, which keep expanding like they were made of rubber until I can see their esophaguses. They jump on the desks and begin to stomp so loudly that it is as though they were drumming on my eardrums . . .

My mother shakes me awake, “I knocked, dear, but you did not hear me. What time is your examination this morning?”


4th March, 2010


Written by cedarreviews

March 13, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Posted in Short Stories