- Dear Lara,
How are you? How have the many years that hang in the yards of earth between us been? How is the man you married, and your kids? I heard from a mutual friend that the first is almost as tall as the plantain tree we used to measure our heights against as kids.
I wonder how your face looks hearing from me again. Will you wear that expression of shock, the one you wore once when I told you I was the one who broke the headmaster’s door? Or the delight you wore that day you eloped with your husband, as if he were all of the world, as if the stars and the moon rose from somewhere inside his eyes. Or would it be indifference, the one you wore that day back in the yard as you watched your mad mother dunk your clothes into the river one after the other. You wouldn’t know, but that day, your look chilled me to the bones and my one wish was that you never looked at me that way. Now, I can only take refuge in my pen and pretend that your lips are tugged up, even if reluctantly, in a smile.
Do you know? That I sometimes stare at the clock in the silence of my house and wish that it would turn back, just for a minute. Just so I could not look at the clock, just so I could not think the thought, just so. Because I hate more than ever now, the one minute it took me to erase you from my life. Why did I let you go? And I spend those hours after resenting myself, resenting him, resenting my mother who gave me away to him. And then I resent myself for resenting you. You have done nothing, you tried all that you could to stop me so why do I resent you? But I do. I resent that you didn’t try harder, I resent that when I let go of the rope on one end, your hands didn’t falter as they let it go on the other end. I resent you not looking back. I resent your happiness Lara. Your joy brings me pain.
I divorced my husband ten years ago, and it was messy. I wanted your hugs so badly. I needed someone to tell me that I didn’t have to wait because of my kids. I needed someone who saw the bruises on my face and those I wore beneath my dresses. I needed someone who saw the scars on my heart, the tears in my eyes, and the hysterics in my voice. But you couldn’t be there. And I couldn’t bring myself to let you know. How could I? How could I return to you as a failure, when I had cut you off so brutally sure, so confident that you wanted to ruin my one true love after finding yours?
So I was brave. I held it in. I treated myself like a person again after so many years. Not a worker, not a mother. Not a wife nor a daughter. The first time someone called me Suby again, a tear rolled down my cheek. She didn’t call me Subomi, or Mrs Martins, or Mommy Lade but Suby. All the burdens fell away and when I stood in front of the mirror that night, I saw me. I hadn’t seen me in a long while, I hadn’t even had an unbroken mirror in a long while. And then I got a new job in a new city. You know how we had both always wanted to live in Port-Harcourt? I got a job in Port Harcourt so that I could live there for both of us. There’s a plantain tree at the back of this house, so like the one we had growing up. But it keeps growing taller than that one, so I prune it every fortnight. When I remember to.
I didn’t give myself to my job. It was a lesson learnt the first time around. No job was worth dying over, not at forty seven. All humans are resources, and you can only be as useful as you are new and predictable and stable. And my two kids had betrayed me, or that was what I thought then. They stayed in Lagos. With their father. With the man who had spent many years plunging punches into me while they covered their heads with pillows in their rooms. They let go of the woman who had chosen them every time and every day over freedom. So whenever I sit in the comfort of this room, I pretend that the only reason I shudder is because of the air drifting in through the open windows.
And Lara, I had nothing against dating again. I wanted it so badly, so desperately but it teased me. I wanted to feel like a woman again, once desirable, once lovable. But what had come so naturally to me some thirty years ago became alien. It was as if men went out of their way to avoid me. Lara, I am not fat or ugly. Of this, I can assure you. I wore dresses, and amped my breasts up till my jaw rested in their cocoon. It did not matter if I had to slather a generous amount of balm to my sides to relieve the pain caused by the harsh welts of the undersized bras. I went to clubs, withheld the judgmental gazes of young girls with perfect breasts and hips and slim thighs. I was once like that too, thinking it would last forever. I let men paw at my breasts, pat my buttocks and whisper into my ear with nauseating alcohol laced breath. On good nights, I went to my house with them. But in the mornings, they always turned cold and mocking, as if while we undressed at night, my shameful secrets had fallen out of my chests.
And so the loneliness gradually came. I pined for everything. For the job that had consumed my life once. I pined for my children, the ones who were not even allowed to visit during the holidays. I pined for friends and familiar faces. I was curious about the woman who always sold me bread on the way to work, about the beggar at the gate of our estate. I wanted to see my mother, my father and even your mad mother. There were days I could taste the panla soup she used to make on days her sanity stayed with her. And I pined for you, so badly. I searched the internet like a stalker, for glimpses of you. Once I saw a picture of you, with many nurses at the Claywood Senior Home Grand Opening. And I called the hospital, telling them you were my sister. But white people. They refused to tell me a thing about you or share your contact. And when I started to miss my husband too, I knew I was going mad. I never remembered the beatings, only the days when love was the dew and he was on the other side. Mystical, beautiful, beckoning. And I wanted him again, with alarming fierceness.
And then a year ago, I couldn’t find home. I was driving in my car and I didn’t know where I was going. So I drove in circles. For minutes, for mounting minutes till I found home. Then I remembered how I couldn’t find my keys. How I couldn’t find my books. Why would anyone not be able to find home? The same home I had lived in for up to six years. Was I thinking too much? High blood pressure? So I went to the hospital and got tested. The doctor was a young man, handsome, the kind I had wanted for years to desire me. And he treated me like an old person. Asking me for dates, for my anniversary, for my best friend and my favourite colour. Of course, I knew. Why wouldn’t I? So I told him. I answered correctly, feeling insulted. And then he still looked into my face and told me that I have Alzheimer. If there was one thing I knew, it was that you had to be old to have Alzheimer. To have your brain tell you that it was tired and could no longer do what it had been created to do. And I wondered what right this young handsome man had to be the one telling people that they had the old person’s disease. What did he know about being old? How could he begin to fathom the missile he was dropping into other’s lives?
So here I am now, writing to you. I remember everything so well today. Some days are like this, every memory clear as if being replayed. And others are hazy and it’s a struggle to remember which hole under me is for what. Your face, your smile, your birthday, the height of your kid; I remember today. By the time this reaches you, I wonder if I will still remember. Or if it will all be vacuumed away. I wonder if I will still remember it’s me when I look in the bathroom mirror. I thought about being a heroine. Leaving without letting you know of my pain. Leaving silently while grief and doubt eat me up inside. But I am selfish, slavishly. I want you to know, if no one else. And I pray that I forget quickly. Just so no matter what reply comes when you read this –or if none comes- I won’t feel pain. I have already felt enough, grieved enough and I wish desperately that you bear it for us both now. I am going to die. I hope its sooner. So that I do not become what your mother became to you to my two boys.
I love you, now that I remember you. I will love you, even when I can’t. After all, it’s not the brain that feels, it’s the heart, it’s all the blood that gets pumped in it. I wish you happiness. I wish you your memories, sister.
In the heart,
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