Portraits: Finale

Hi everyone! Now, those of us with our finger on the pulse have been avidly following Stories’ captivating series, Portraits (For those who haven’t, never fear. Read the entire Portraits series CLICK). Every couple of days in the month of June, we were treated to a new strand in this fascinating web, and today, it all culminates in one last, chilling perspective.


Someone said, ‘Life only ends when you die if you thought it began with you’.
Isn’t it funny how words can be so heavy with meaning?

I used to love words when I was alive, like the bible says, ‘God spake’. Words are powerful because to be able to name a thing is to gain control over it. Even dogs heed when you call them by their assigned names. I never had enough words back then; dictionaries were too big and I was too easily distracted. Now every word is a thought away, and I think of one that aptly describes what I feel right now – ephemeral.

Ephemeral. The antonym is corporeal, which is what I am not. I am a shadow, moving between places faster than I can think it. Right now I am watching Funem, sit in his mother’s shrine weeping as she bleeds on his trousers. He’s only a child. The gifts he has are such a responsibility. I’m happy that he at least had the illusion of a normal life, if only for a while. Being able to see people like me is not something you should pray for. And Ndukwu is such a slave driver. For someone who was murdered six hundred years ago, his grudges are still very fresh. He will drive Funem crazy in the next few years, whispering secrets into his ears, urging him to urge people to do terrible things. Sometimes the truth is worse than a lie.

I wish I could help him, but incorporeal beings are always so… impotent.

There is too much to watch, and watching Raji lie there, willing himself to stay dead amuses me. He thinks he is the worst person in the world.  I want to tell him how wrong he is. Three years in a catatonic state seems punishment enough for strangling a girl and throwing her body into a canal.  Or not. Today isn’t one of my benevolent days. I’ve wondered if it was his destiny to become a killer. Or if I pushed him. I was fourteen and stupid. I liked him. I don’t think I’ve ever liked anyone the way I liked him. I used to put my hands down my skirt and imagine that they were his big, clumsy hands finally finding deftness. When I saw him that day, I was flushing so hard, I thought I’d faint. We were finally alone. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t scream at first when he put his hands to my neck. I remembering thinking,“He wants me this much…”

I’d always somehow known I’d die young, but I never expected that kind of violence.

His body is atrophying, the brain stem too. In a year, he’ll be a vegetable. In the state he is in right now, I could tell him this. A coma is a death, of sorts. The fact that he still holds on means he doesn’t want to die, not really. But I won’t tell him, not today at least. Maybe tomorrow, if I’m feeling benevolent then.

I should come clean too to Chidi, who wants to eat the forbidden fruit but, not really. His heart is racing as he wobbles to Michael’s car. He is so drunk that I feel woozy. He should have seen the roofies slipped into the drink; I did. But then again, I see everything. He has quite the arch, if you know what I mean. It’s not exactly as if he ever trusted Michael or that he was unaware of the depths to which Michael would sink. It was almost hard to watch but I did. Very little moves you when you don’t have a literal heart. Chidi’s limbs are supple vines, twisting around Michael’s hulk, his eyes lolling at the back of his head. The bed is massive but Michael is like a dancer, using every inch of space. Chidi almost looks like he wants it. Almost. Michael looks into the camera as he says,
“Let’s make a sex tape, do you want a sextape, baby?”

Chidi’s bleary eyes turn to the blinking red light and the fish eye lens. I’m a small speck of light in the top right corner. He blinks, utterly confused, and for a second I think he will realise what’s happening. But then he nods and lets his head droop. Michael grins and lifts Chidi up so the camera sees all of Chidi, and I can almost feel my non-existent heart breaking, like a phantom limb feeling pain. I don’t wait to see what happens when he wakes, I already know how that part of the story goes.

I know he will hide this from Dayo, badly. Like he’s hidden everything else.
Dayo will pretend not to know.
Like’s he’s pretending right now not to feel the icy rigidness between his parents. His mother skirting around his father, entombed in a ritual of domesticity. Sweep, clean, mop; cleanliness is next godliness. A life run by bible verses, Dale Carnegie and Robert .C. Maxwell. He wishes his father hit him or cheated on his mother; that would be easier to explain. How do you explain that a look is worse than a slap? How do you explain emotional warfare?
“No woman can reach the level of godliness I have wrought in you. You don’t need friends.”
“You are mine, my property, your flesh is bound to mine. You disobey me, you disobey God.”

His father hasn’t spoken to his mother in a month, hasn’t let her out of the house.
“Until your son repents of his sin, truly repents, I will not commune with you, I won’t be tainted by sin in my own house.”

He knows he shouldn’t have smoked that cigarette, he knows he should have aired his shirt. He knows he shouldn’t have followed his father to that shrine and watched him threaten that witch doctor woman to burn her house down around her and cleanse his parish of her iniquity. He shouldn’t have talked back to him. He thinks of that as he casually mentions to Ameli that Chidi went to sleep with a gay man, and hates how much pleasure it gives him to see her try and fail to hide her hurt. He thinks of how much like his father he is as he listens to Anwulika crying on the phone, calling him ‘Akpan’ over and over, begging him to not make her sleep with a man for money.

“What do I care?” He listens to himself say, “If the bastard dies, even better for me. If you like, don’t fuck the man, keep disturbing me.”
He puts the razor blade against his thigh and pulls, and hopes that maybe this time he will have the courage to press down. But he is a coward.

A coward, just like Baba Raji, fighting cold feet, his head lights off, parked two houses away from Ameli’s. He can hear the screaming, loud and angry. Ameli is always so calm, he is surprised by how loudly her voice reverberates down the street.
“How dare you check my box?”
“How did you get the money? Abi you have gone deaf?”
“You have no right to look through my things, they are MY things!”
“Why won’t you answer me? Abi you have started letting old men put their hands inside your nyash abi?”
“Ehn yes!!!! Shebi that’s what you want to hear? I’ve started sleeping with men. At least I didn’t start when I was thirteen.”
There is silence, then screaming. It’s like an animal being massacred, the sound. Utterly terrifying. He starts the car, ready to leave when the door slams open and a black gale exits the house, striding purposely to his car.
“If you go, don’t come back!”
“I WON’T!” Ameli screams into the night.

She enters the car, the front of her blouse is torn and there are scratches on her neck. She turns to him, humming with adrenaline. Baba Raji’s never been more conflicted in his life.
“Are we going or not?” She asks, there is no sadness in her eyes, only resolve.
Hate bubbles in him, clear, dark. He revs the engine, puts the car in reverse, reaches down and checks for the nut wrench underneath the driver’s seat.

Ameli angles the passenger mirror, looks to see if her mother is following. Instead I see me.
I see myself clearly reflected in her. I know she is going to die. I feel helpless to save her.
Everyone is afraid of dying.

I was destined to die young, I always knew this. I’m sure you have a cousin or a friend or sister who shares this destiny with me. It’s very easy to spot people like us; we never talk about the future, we live squarely in the present. We have no dreams, little ambition, no ten year plan. Our names get forgotten.

Many young girls get killed. No one remembers them.

All I ask, all we ask, is that you remember.


I love to learn. I love to teach. For me the two are the same.


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