Like a Sunflower in the Rain
I can tell it’s going to rain again and I’m pissed off in advance, even though the air is gentle and smells like wet grass; like blossoming cashew trees. Like February. The first rain always brings with it a melancholic nostalgia; reminds me of a bad break up. We are sitting on the concrete bench opposite Block A, saying nothing. A small comb is stuck in her short hair and she smells like antiseptic. Her perky breasts poke against her light shirt and for a moment I just want to press her body against mine. She’s wearing a short cut from my faded jean, revealing a fresh cut just above her knee.
You’re cutting yourself again, I say.
Not your business, she retorts, staring at the stark darkness behind me.
You need help.
Saw you and Vuga tonight.
Don’t fucking call him that.
You got smokes?
You want to smoke here? Are you out of your mind?
Do you have or not?
My boy Leo walks by, slows down when he gets to us, squints a bit and smiles mischievously when he recognizes my form and continues walking to the hostel. She takes off her glasses, cleans the lenses with the base of her shirt and puts it back on. Then she sniffs and says, You got pills?
I reach inside my pocket and pull out a quarter card of Diazepam and hand to her. She gets up and starts to walk away, then she stops and says, Your new girl, she’s pretty.
I know, I say, even though Dammy and I ain’t fucking around. Yet.
I watch her go, her lanky figure becoming a silhouette against the floodlight beaming from the roof of Block A until she disappears through the bend on her way back to Adam & Eve.
We are supposed to be four people in the room. But Hamib, boy’s got bread, so he bought himself an apartment off campus close to the gate. Tonye and I met here on the first day of resumption but Leo, he’s my Day One. Been together since my degree days. Fucked up clubs together before throwing up at the balcony of our shared school hostel. The guy I could tell about any chick like, You see that Becky for Arts, I don fuck am. Leo and Tonye don’t like themselves much though. They share a subtle mutual resentment of themselves but I’m cool with both. Tonye digs me. Digs me like, tells me stuff about himself I really don’t want to hear about. But we’re all good.
After our group meetings in the evening we would hop over the low fence behind the last block of the Snake Island hostels and then walk some twenty-five metres along a narrow path that leads to the base of a cashew tree where we would smoke joints and jaw about stuff. Mostly girls and football and politics but sometimes, life. We are usually joined by a group of other boys from Blue Roof who come with spirit but I’m not so good at holding my liquor so I almost never drink.
Tonight though, it’s just the three of us sitting languorously beneath the tree, smoking slowly. Tonye tells us about his baby mama—for like the two hundredth time—and about his plans for her and his son. Boy is a spitting image of Tonye—smoky eyes and fat nose and all. But tonight he’s talking about his baby mama in a way that personifies her. Tells us her name—Helen—and how they first met and for the first time I actually think of her as a person.
Me, I don’t say much. I just smoke my gem and pass it and breathe. After the short silence punctuating his love story with the mother of his son, he turns to me and asks, Guy, your Bini girl, una still dey yarn so?
Yes nau, I say. She dey alright.
But really, I have no idea.
WE USED TO BE tighter during the break. Everyone but us went home for Christmas. Just us and the Cameroonians and the northerners stayed back in school—a tiny, insignificant number of us. At some point we fucked like, everyday. In her room and my room. Then we would play songs and smoke, ashing the cigarettes against the steel frame of the reading chair. She liked French classics; Jacques Brel, Gloria Lasso, Charles Trenet, and Édith Piaf, whose La Vie en Rose song is her all-time favourite. Not like I knew any of these people anyway. She liked that I liked Bill Withers but didn’t dig him much. Just shows that you know good songs, she said. We both agreed Anderson .Paak was an angel on drugs.
Chicks from wealthy homes, I’d learnt, didn’t act rich. It just oozed out of their every gesture. Showed on their skin, their countenance. They have an affective gentleness, as though they feel remorseful for being born into privilege. Eseosa was nothing like this. She was unapologetically upper-class and didn’t hide her disgust for having to be in a country this fucked. She complained about everything; the school, the weather, the food, the hygiene, the boys, the Cameroonians. The noisy, noisy Cameroonians. Compared everything here with London and Paris; even the quality of cigarettes.
I SAW THE CUTS on her body on the first day we shagged. It was a day after Christmas. Things had gotten particularly warm between us the previous night after we’d gotten back from Flakes and we kissed. Or, say, I kissed her and she let me. In front of her room. Her lips, predictably soft, moved in a slightly slower rhythm than mine but I didn’t mind. Lasted a few seconds and half a lifetime. She looked at me like, What the hell? Then I turned and walked away without saying a word; making an effort to wipe the smirk off my face.
That night we texted but made no mention of it. Just stuff like,
Hey, thanks for today.
Lol. You’re welcome.
Nothing. Just reading.
A novel. L’Étranger.
Cool. Will leave you to it then.
Alright then. Goodnight.
And that was it. I opened my laptop and watched South Park till I dozed off. It was barely daylight the next morning when she called to say, Hi. Just to know where I was. I told her I was in my hostel and she asked if she could come over and I said, Sure. I thought we’d just stay in the garden and chat as usual but when she reached Snake Island she called again to know which block I stayed. I thought shawty was bluffing so I told her E2 and dared her to come in. A minute later my door pushed open and there she stood, wearing a really short, casual loose-fitting orange blouse and bum-shorts. I’d been alone since the break so the room was pretty much tidy. Nothing to be embarrassed about. She just walked straight in and flopped on the bed opposite mine; Tonye’s.
For the next couple of hours we conveniently broke all hostel regulations in our handbook. I wasn’t exactly a stickler for rules but I never messed with the campus rules. It was her who busted into my hostel room; who pulled out my drawer and saw a pack of Chesterfield and a lighter and took one out and lit it; who lifted the base of her blouse in front of me to tug at the little extra flesh threatening her flat belly. It was then I saw the rose tattooed below her navel and asked about it. Then she, without the slightest inhibition, probably still convalescing from the steam of the previous night’s kiss, pulled off her blouse.
Her obsession with French was duly highlighted by a French sentence beneath the arc at the base of her left breast. She refused to tell me what it meant. On her left shoulder blade was Barthélemy that now had a line drawn across of it.
Ex-boyfriend? I asked.
Teenage stupidity, she said, laughing. Funny how I still don’t regret it, she added.
Then she pulled her short down to reveal another tat drawn brightly on her right hip. A sunflower inside what looks like slants of rain, with the words: Comme un tournesol sous la pluie inscribed underneath. Like a Sunflower in the Rain, she translated.
There were several cuts too—some healed, others healing—on her upper arms and her thighs. But I didn’t ask about them till much later. At this point the hormones were raging and it didn’t take long for us to do what had now become inevitable. I grabbed her lips with mine and with a measured urgency, we romped.
Neither of us came. Just shagged till we got sore. After we were done she told me to play a song and I did but she didn’t like the one I played so she took my phone and kept skipping through the shuffle till she settled on Katy Perry’s Chained to the Rhythm. Then she got up, still naked, and pulled me along with her for a clumsy dance. She rocked my groin with her ass till I got hard again so we got down again and she rode me till I came inside of her—which she didn’t seem to be bothered about.
When Tonye resumed in January he made me swear I didn’t do stuff in the room and I gave him the straightest face I could manage and said, I swear, I no run shit for room.
He seemed disappointed.
She does random, crazy spontaneous stuff like, banging on my door at 10 in the night. It’s new year’s eve and the pre-new year encomiums are already spilling over. I open the door and ask if she’s crazy.
What the hell Eseosa?
She moves past me into the room and sits on the table on one ass. Her hair is all over her face and for a split moment just beneath the light I can see how beautiful she is. She doesn’t say a word, just takes an Oris out of her purse, pulls the drawer and starts to search for the lighter. I close the door, open my wardrobe to get the lighter and then toss it to her. She lights her cig, takes a drag and lets the dizzying effect wash over her like a cascade of electric current. Then she looks at me and says, So what are you doing tonight?
Nothing, I shrug, just wait I guess.
Well then, she says, let’s be epic.
We spend what is left of the dying year smoking and talking. Usually she’s a bit tied-up, almost not very willing to talk personal business but this night she starts to spill about her family in intimate details. Her mother is a neurosurgeon and her late father a diplomat and she spent most of her childhood moving but settled in France and has become forever obsessed with highborn Parisian men. That she didn’t go home because she isn’t feeling home anymore; that she doesn’t do people and that she’s having the time of her life now that she’s all alone on her floor; that Fuck this Law School shit, soon as she’s done she’s tossing away her wig and travelling around the world.
An hour to the new year she says she needs to go get her teddy bear from her room. That she’s coming back to mine so I have to go with her. Outside is cold and I really don’t want to go out but I have to walk her through the empty school to Adam & Eve to get her stuff. In her room she says she’s hungry and insists on making cereals. I’m burning inside but I say, Aight cool. When she’s done we head back to Snake Island.
It’s quarter to the new year and she says we should sit outside and watch the stars till it hits 12. We sit silently on a concrete bench in the garden opposite block A for a moment, me just pretending to give a fuck about the whole star-gazing bullshit. A couple of minutes later she leans over and kisses my chin. Her lips are cold and rough. I turn to her and kiss her on her lips, then she reaches into my sweatpants and starts to pull out my dick.
I reach for her hand and say quietly, Not here, Ese.
She looks me dead in the eyes and says, Who’s watching? Then she bends over and takes me in her mouth. At first she’s doing real good, her head moving up and down with such dexterity I start to think her neck is loose or something. Then her hair starts to get in the way. She tries to adjust it but it falls back down. I chuckle and then she slams her clenched fist on my lap so hard I scream. I pull her up by her shoulders and say, What the fuck Eseosa!
You better not laugh at me when I’m trying to make you happy! She says, almost screaming, and stomps away. Shocked speechless, I tuck my dick back inside and start to limp after her. Midway to the room, fireworks crack in the distance, announcing the new year. In the room she has already put the light off and gotten curled up in bed. I try to talk to her but she doesn’t talk back. I cuddle her from behind and kiss the back of her neck and whisper Happy new year to her but she totally steels out on me. She doesn’t say shit until I fall asleep. I wake up at dawn and she’s gone, her scent everywhere.
We don’t see until six days later when school starts to fill up again. She’s with her fine-ass boyfriend looking all brand new and different. They stroll past me and Tonye at Ojukwu Market and we just pretend not to see ourselves. I don’t even turn back to look even though my heart starts to do jumping jacks the moment I see her.
No be that your girl be that? Tonye asks.
She no be my girl but yes, na Ese be that.
Oh, since when she cut her hair?
It then hits me. I turn back to look at her again but by then they have disappeared into the bubbling night.
On Friday nights we gather in front of the floodlight at the gate; like insects drawn to bright yellow lights. An assembly; of students shedding off the stress; of boys spitting clever lines to girls they hope to smash for the weekend; of smokers defiantly dragging whiffs of tobacco just across the road; of rich kids with nice whips picking up chicks for Friday-nighting.
It’s on Friday nights we get our cuts for the next week from Osas, the security guy who doubles as the school’s chief underground G. Arizona, Skunk, Kwale, whatever brand of grass you want, he’s got. His Friday shifts end at 8 so he just pulls his uniform and steps out in his black shirt with a knapsack slung over his shoulders. Business time, he says, with that ugly scowl on his face.
Tonight Tonye is doing the runs with Osas. Leo’s with Emediong. Back in the room he talks amazing loads of shit about her but I can tell he’s doing that for show. He likes her really. I’m talking to Oroma, an Ikwerre girl with a slim neck and a moon-face that makes her look like a soup-spoon. Tonye signals at me to bring cash.
I walk over to him and dip my hand in my pocket and pull out a bunch of crumpled notes. It is then I notice the piece of paper stuck to one of the notes. I pick out nine-hundred in five bills of four two-hundreds and a hundred and give to him, then wait for him to walk back to Osas before I open the paper. A note passed to me from Eseosa earlier today in class that I forgot to open. It’s barely coherent. “I see you don’t talk ta me again but I will see you tomorrow again at the corner when I take care of myself for good but nevermind u dnt deserve 2 live with urself.”
I crumple the paper into a ball and hurl it as far away as I can. She’s plain psycho, I tell myself. I’ll just ignore her. I turn to go back to Oroma but she’s already talking to another guy who’s like one hundred feet tall and looks like he sleeps at the gym so I just recoil to myself. Hard as I try, I can’t shrug away the sour feeling of reading the note off, so I call Eseosa. It rings off. I call again and a guy picks up. It’s Vuga.
She’s at the Medical Centre, he says, sounding grave as hell. His voice is remarkably soft, no wonder she clings to him like an undersized tee.
Is she alright? I ask.
Well, dunno. Maybe.
The line dies. I look around. The night is cold and Tonye’s laughing at some joke, Leo’s still with Emediong, everyone looks yellow under the reflection of the light and I’m all alone. I signal to Tonye that I’ll be back shortly and then head for the Medical Centre.
SHE’S SITTING ON THE bed, saying something real funny in French to two Cameroonian girls seated opposite her and they are laughing like they’re just trying to make her feel good. I don’t go to her when I get into the wardroom, just walk up to Vuga who’s standing at a corner of the room and we bump fists like we are friends.
What happened? I ask in a whisper.
Dunno, really. Vuga says. They found her semiconscious on the floor in her room.
His big arms are clasped around each other and he’s staring at her in a supervisory way.
Oh . . . She’s sure looking better now.
She doesn’t as much as acknowledge me a bit. Just talks really fast, switching between English and French. I can’t hear most of what she’s saying but I know damn well they’re mostly nonsense. Standing there within the range of Vuga’s charms, I start to reflect on her profound strangeness: All the inconsistencies in her behaviours; the times she hit me for silly reasons; her periodical irrationalities; the spontaneity of her madness. I used to think her crazy, but for most of my life, I’d seen crazy, met crazy, fucked with crazy, and this is not crazy.
She’s insane, I say suddenly. To myself, but loud enough for Vuga to hear.
What? He says, looking at me. More of, sizing me up, as if daring me to say it again.
I stiffen up and repeat, with the gravest voice I can muster, loud enough for just him to hear, She’s insane.
His eyes linger on me for a moment, as if trying to take it in, then he looks at her again, then just chuckles and leans against the wall with his arm. I walk over to her for the first time and ask how she’s doing, but she doesn’t as much as look at me. Just continues twittering. I smile and nod to the girls with her and they smile back.
Later! I say aloud to no one particularly, then I walk out of the room. Straight to my bed.
WE HAD OUR FIRST term dinner on a cold Friday evening and everyone turned up in their sleekest tuxes. Eseosa wasn’t there. Law School dinners are compulsory rituals with dire consequences in default of attendance. I knew it wasn’t beyond her to decide to damn the consequences and just skip, but then Vuga was there being extra-social; hugging this girl and pecking that one with a deliberate flamboyance. So I just knew something had happened. The Body of Benchers hardly left the hall when I bolted to Adam & Eve, still in my three-piece suit. Didn’t even bother calling first. I knocked at her door but there was no response so I pushed the door gently and it gave way.
She was at the farthest corner of her bed, knees pulled up to her shoulders and held together by her skinny arms. She didn’t look up. I locked the door and got on the bed and sat beside her, then she looked up at me and her eyes were tinted red and swollen, beautiful in the light of her guileful innocence. Without saying a word, she collapsed on my outstretched legs and sobbed. I let her cry.
That’s what he said.
No you’re not.
Yes I am.
We were two naked bodies overlapping each other under the darkness of her room. When it’s cold outside and you’re alone, waiting arms have an aphrodisiac effect on crying eyes. We laid still for a long time after we fucked, saying nothing. And even when her roommates returned from dining and knocked on the door, we didn’t move. She just pressed harder against my body like I was a door to her redemption and she was trying to get inside of me. I basked in the warmth of her familiar presence.
I’m leaving, she said.
I dunno. Anywhere.
I sighed. Psycho, I thought. She turned over and laid fully on my body for a while then said, Come with me.
For real. Let’s leave this place.
I gently dropped her off of me, rose over her and said, sternly, We’re going nowhere. We’ll finish sooner than you know it and you’ll be happy again.
She shoved me aside and turned her back to me. I started to put on my clothes. She just threw a sheet over her naked body. I’ll leave without you then, she said.
Don’t do anything insane, I told her at the door before I exited the room. Outside, the night was lethargic. Everyone moved sluggishly, as if overfed from the Jollof rice and chicken served at dinner.
Leaving. I wished that I too could afford to just, leave.
Leo finally decides to cop his feelings and pin Emediong once and for all. He even puts up an attitude when we troll her now. Tonye’s going out with a chick from Babcock but his baby-mama decides to move on with some other man in PH. Dude is livid like, spends half an hour on the phone begging, cussing, begging and then simply asking, Why? Baby-mama tells him that she’s got to move on. Love’s lost and she isn’t ready to put a hold to her life just because of his baby.
Chin up guy, I tell him. Girls choke everywhere.
I know, he says, but Helen dey different.
These days he lingers too much in the bathroom, as if trying to scrub away the hurt stuck to his skin. It never did seem to me that she meant that much to him until now, and suddenly it seems that she left with all of his gleeful playboyishness. He smokes less now, just overdoses on Fluoxetine.
Ese, she did leave, but not in the way I thought she meant. Less than a week after asking that I leave with her she overdosed on Olanzapine and was found sprawled at the entrance of her door, knocked out cold. She was rushed to UNTH where I heard they were able to keep her alive. Vegetative, but alive. I heard her mother came for her. I heard she’s been flown out of here.
Sometimes I go through her pictures on my phone, all taken during the Christmas break. Nudes mostly, some taken without her knowledge and others where she’s posing; on my bed, on the table, against the wall, her skinny body the colour of polished mahogany. Other times, I dream of us together again, in my bed, bodies intertwined, smoke from our cigarettes hovering above us. Whatever the hell we were, I still can’t place. We were just fucking mostly, but we shared a weird mutual satisfaction from just being together; talking or arguing or her threatening to stab my feet with a fork. In the space of one night she would wear like four of my polo shirts, tossing them on Leo’s bed when she felt like changing. Took a couple of them with her and never returned them. The ones left still smell like her.
Everyday in class I look at where she used to sit but someone else sits there now. There’s a passing mention of her by the DDG the next morning but that’s all they say about her. Vuga moves around now with a skinnier girl clinging to him like he’s the air she breathes. I still burn grass with the guys, school’s still moving on and everyone seems genuinely happy. But me, I’m stuck in a loop. No, I’m drowning. Drowning in the hole left behind by a girl who decided to leave.
About the Author
Victor Daniel is a Nigerian writer and student of Law. His short stories have been published in African literary journals such as The Kalahari Review, African Writer, Brittle Paper, The Naked Convos and so on. His nonfiction “God’s Mailbox Is A Traffic Jam” has been published in the print version of Selves: An Afro Anthology of Creative Nonfiction.