Unraveling 8 (Invitation) – Sleeicktales

unraveling

CHAPTER 8: INVITATION

He lies awake and stares

At nothing but himself

He creates another and looks through their eyes

He curses his weakness and all that it seems

His faith misplaced, drowning in disbelieve

Still, He lies awake and stares

Fishing for light or her soft lips

One is good, one is better or so he thinks

Then, he lies awake and smirks

At nothing and everything

Thinking of shadows, death and skins.

 

JJ watched Leah walk off, his hands absentmindedly rubbing his shoulder. It was not the first time he was by a girl. It certainly was not the first time he one or two had warned him. But it was the first time it hurt.

As her strides carried her round the bend, JJ began his sluggish walk. He had once read about times when strings of bad luck followed. He had the bad luck of being born, but that was awhile back. His bad luck had allowed The General to slip away, had pitched him in the Emeka-Leah-Ter triangle and now Ter had threatened him, Leah had threatened him, and he was certain Emeka would have his fair share of threatening to dish out. The sound of thunder rolled off the building walls. The lights went off, and JJ took the advantage to lean against the wall. He placed his head in his hands. He really did not need drama, especially one where he could not define his part, or worse, his feelings. As the lights came back, he knew where to go.

Despite sprinting under the rain, JJ was drenched by the time he made it to Dr. Sulo’s office. His boots squelched angrily as he walked. The lights flicked off again and JJ cussed. He bent down and fidgeted with his lace. By the time he rose to his full height, his soaked boots and socks were in his hands. He walked bare feet to Dr. Sulo’s office and knocked. There was a sharp intake of breath and some hurriedness within. JJ had a sense he was interrupting something – not that he cared much for it.

“Yes?” came the Dr’s voice.

“It’s JJ. I want to see you.”

“Obviously.” The Dr responded. JJ cocked his head. He never figured her for the sarcastic time. Was this a bad time? “What do you want JJ?”

“Well, for starters…to dry off?”

There was a moment of silence during which JJ began to reconsider his actions. Why had he thought the doctor would drop everything thing she was doing just to have a talk with him? It was presumptuous. Every gang leader should know not to operate based on assumptions. He could kick himself for this mistake. Just as he made to turn around the door cracked open.

“God must love you JJ. That’s why He sent the rain,” said a dishevelled looking Dr. Sulo. She looked different from what JJ had grown accustomed. Her hair ruffle was off causing her hair to sprawl all over her face. It looked unkempt. She wore a light brown shirt over a dark brown suit skirt. The top buttons were undone and JJ averted his eyes. She picked up a bottle of Kagor and a picture frame from a glass stool JJ had never seen, sauntered to her desk, staggering a little, and stashed them inside her drawers. She seemed to consider her appearance then. After buttoning her shirt, she picked a hairpin and packed her hair perfectly. When she turned to JJ with her characteristic smile, JJ was looking straight at Dr. Sulo.

“Estranged family?” JJ asked.

He saw a glint of sadness sit in her eyes. A hard gaze quickly replaced it.

“Perceptive this evening, ain’t we?” She opened a slim Oakwood wardrobe, which housed her suit and tossed JJ a face towel. “You will dry off without taking off a single piece of clothing. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly.” JJ dabbed his arms, his eyes trained on her. The room light was dim, no music playing from the background, no window curtains drawn. Even the aquarium light was off, the fish asleep, giving the room its final sombre look. “You never answered my question Dr.”

“You never understood my answer JJ. What is my job if every Q&A session was straightforward?”

“So you consciously make vague your approach?” JJ asked, pausing in his tracks.

Dr. Sulo chuckled and took a sit, crossing her legs. She indicated the opposite seat, and JJ sat down.

“What do you want JJ?”

“I feel…strange.”

“Have you tried…sitting on the toilet seat?”

“Dr?”

“OK. Forgive me. It’s just weird you barging in here and telling me you feel strange. It’s a ridiculously inconvenient time for me so could you be more articulate please.”

JJ was ruffled. He stared Dr. Sulo straight in the eyes, neither blinking away. She looked prim but he could tell when a set of twigs were barely holding it together. There were dark rings under her eyes. She obviously had not had time for makeup. JJ suddenly lost the appetite to talk. He rose up abruptly.

“I’m sorry to bother you Dr,” he said, bowing his head slightly, “but I would be leaving you now.”

“Sit down JJ.”

“I cannot sit here and discuss my issues with you when you clearly have unresolved ones yourself.”

“Sit down.”

“Please go clear the mess with…”

“Sit down now.” Dr. Sulo had risen from her chair, her voice booming round the room, aided in cadence by the thunder that roared immediately after. Her fists balled up and her chest heaved. “For years I have sat in this chair and listened to kids rant on and on about how life is unbearable and how their problems are unsolvable. For years I have poured myself into these kids. You know why JJ?” She paused and JJ shook his head in the dim light. “Because with each child that learns something revolutionary from me, with each mended relationship, every raised hope, every conquered fear, my wound is soothed. My own personal demons are abated. My…mess as you put it…though not cleared up, becomes bearable. Will you take that away from me JJ? Will you deny me my balm?”

JJ saw her eyes glaze and knew it was not the alcohol. He tried a step forward but she raised her arm.

“I’m not a hugger JJ. I’m a talker. So now, talk to me. But about you. That’s when I can shine.”

JJ nodded again. His voice jammed, his palms clammed. Through his sessions with the Dr. he had come to respect her, think of her as a voice of intelligent reason. She indeed had helped him. He just never knew he had helped her too. JJ realised he never really had considered her as a person. An actual person.

“I’m sorry doctor.”

Dr. Sulo groaned. “Enough with the apologies. I will grant you one privilege tonight. Drop the doctor.”

“OK.”

“Wow. That was rather quick. So again, what do you want JJ.”

JJ sucked in air. Then said, “I used to be an arms dealer. I sold guns and ammunitions. More like a broker. The middleman. Had connects in Yemen. Unfortunately, I dealt with some real goons here. Bastards. They used my guns in the wrong region. Killed innocents. I sought to kill the main man. But he has escaped doct…Sulo. He is gone. I keep having these stupid nightmares. Nightmares of death. Of my parents. Of people I don’t know. I should be locked up. I promised not to interfere with any bodies lives. I promised to cleanse myself. I can’t fulfil either now.”

“Either?” Sulo said quietly.

“Emeka, my roomie, likes a girl named Leah. She was sort of involved with another guy named Ter. Emeka met me for help in getting Leah. I said OK. Fate, or at least I thought it was, made Leah and Ter split. Ter threatened me at some point to stay clear of Leah. I got an informal date for Emeka with Leah. Minutes ago though, she threatened me also. I don’t want to go to my room just yet. Emeka might do same and get punched.”

“Why would you punch him?”

“I don’t like being threatened.”

“Is it the threats that bother you. Or the feeling of letting people down.”

JJ considered Sulo. “You want to talk about my feelings?”

“Your feelings are incongruent with your mannerisms.”

“Care to explain Sulo?” JJ sneered.

Sulo did not rise to the bait. “Moments ago you wanted to help me. You were willing to reach out and hold me. Do you know what might have happened JJ?”

He knew but he kept quiet.

“It would have gotten heated fast between us two.”

“You are twice my age Sulo.”

“You are desirable to even the blind JJ. You are smart and have a roguish thing about you. As a result you are not conscious of the vibes you give out. You are not conscious of the extent of your actions. Rather, you are always shocked at the results you get.”

JJ sat still, images flooding his mind. He thought of Leah. How could he communicate that he was between the rock and the sea? Emeka had been desperate and he had stepped in to help. Was not that what the Jesus Believers clamoured on and on about? Help in the time of need?

“I am not bad Sulo.”

“But you are perceived bad.”

“I do a lot of good to make up. Just like you.”

Sulo opened and closed her mouth, like one of her fishes. The sorrowful look returned to her eyes and this time, it remained. “JJ,” she seemed to struggle with herself, “it doesn’t work that way.”

“It works for you.”

“That’s not why I do what I do.” She finished. “You have to be conscious of your actions. And to think of people’s feelings when doing them.”

“Back to feelings again Sulo?”

“That’s what we relate to people with. Feelings. Words, actions, inactions, all bow to how you make a person feel. In this latest debacle you find yourself in, Leah is the constant. How do you think you’ve Leah feel?”

“Bad?”

“Be more acute.”

“Sad. Like she came here for blueprints out of her confusion and I just helped deepen it. She hates me. Probably can’t look Emeka in the face. Regulations prevent her from seeing Ter. I have made her feel sad.”

“What was your intention though JJ?” Sulo asked, leaning in.

“I…I don’t know. I guess I didn’t think of how I would make her feel. I…I…”

“You are not used to considering other people’s feelings JJ. You are your own compass and unfortunately, you lord that over others. Therefore, you assume they should understand your motivations. With their brains. Without any consideration to how they would feel.” When JJ did not speak, she continued. “So the guns you sold? That was meant to kill people. Innocent is relative to us. A boy whose parents are murdered is innocent to us until we learn that his parents are terrorist recruiters and the boy is already on the fast lane. But you didn’t think of that. Of the feelings of the killed.”

A phone rang close by and Sulo tilted her head towards the sound. “I should get that.” She said.

JJ bowed his head. He wove his fingers around each other, lacing them. His mind reeled as he thought of himself in this new light. It was definite then, he was selfish. He thought of Big Pa and Sweet Ma. JJ shut his eyes tight, deciding the tears would remain inside.

“I’m afraid our time is up JJ. I got called to attend to a matter elsewhere. Transport is outside this moment.”

JJ had not heard her come back. “What do I do?” he asked.

“Think. That’s a starting point. Then come to my house Friday evening. I’m hosting a couple of students. Mine only though. You are not allowed to bring a friend.”

JJ’s head sprang up, a smile forming on his face. “This is legit?”

“The camp thinks it’s therapeutic.” She winked.

“Is it?”

“Come and find out JJ. To help your thinking, remember, people will forget what you say to them. True. But, they will never forget how you make them feel. Goodnight Jide Jackson.”

 

——————————————————————–

 

“That’s why you have to turn to your bible for guidance. He said to us that His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.”

JJ fixed his eyes on Leah. He had tried getting a seat beside her but she had fought against it. He had never been in this part of the camp before. It was away from the other buildings. The shape was confusing. Arguably the smallest building on camp, it was the queerly built. JJ had recognized it upon sight. The building was petite and compact, housing only three rooms. It had no windows – air swept in from the big door. Or door space. There was no door, not even a doorframe. The Faith Building was built with mud. Plastered handprints could be seen on the walls – both outside and inside. Stories had it that the building had been a project of some grateful campers at one time. The roof was a dome, which tapered at the top with a short thin rod at the apex. It could pass for a mosque or a church. JJ figured that was the idea.

Leah had seen him immediately he walked in. Her gaze had met his searching eyes so instantly that he had a nagging feeling she knew he was coming. He hoped that she had hoped he was coming. Immediately she saw him though, and had sent daggers his way, she beckoned on a lady to sit beside her. All JJ could do now was stare at her unashamedly until this preacher dude was done with his droning.

“Exactly.” The preacher said. “What of you Jide. Would you like to try?”

He quizzed himself on why he was desperate to speak with Leah. Was it to exonerate himself? Or to lift his own guilt? He had managed to dodge Emeka after his impromptu meeting with Dr. Sulo. Once out of his wet clothes he had felt immensely relieved. That lasted for about ten seconds though. Leah twisted her head and looked at him. Such large eyes, he thought. He realised he liked the way she looked at him, with amusement. Almost like, she knew his train of thoughts. Leah darted her eyes to the left repeatedly. JJ frowned and broke his gaze, his senses becoming aware.

“Jide?”

“I’m thinking.” He lied. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Leah stifle a chuckle. He raised his head, confusion etched on his face. “It’s a tough one sir. Give me a few minutes and I might rack something up.”

“OK. Let’s have you Patrick, after which Jide you are up.” The preacher said.

JJ caught Leah shaking her head slightly. He winked and looked away quickly.

“For me,” Patrick was saying, “I think the Holy Spirit is willing to lead us when we are confused and unable to find our path. That we are here,” he swept his hand round the room, “in confused crazy states, does not negate his existence. Just like because bad things happen in the world does not mean God is dead or does not exist.”

“I could take you up on that Pat.”

All eyes turned on the speaker. JJ looked at Leah, who regarded him with incredulity.

“You could take me on what JJ?” Patrick asked.

“On God been dead.”

“What?”

“Well I best define what I mean by dead. I don’t mean non-existent. I don’t mean alive and now murdered or something. I mean,” JJ paused, for effects, “God doesn’t interfere with lives anymore. God is dead. To me, at least.”

“Are you speaking from a Christian point of view Jide or is this an atheistic reasoning?” The preacher asked, mopping the quickly forming sweat beads from his brows.

The gathering had gone quiet. Arguments were encouraged in the Faith Building. Christian way versus Muslim Way. Trinity or not. But nobody had ventured into this territory. To suggest the unthinkable.

“You see,” JJ began “I have lived a rough life. Well, I suppose a lot of you here have. That’s why you are here right? But I have had a crazy rollercoaster ride. Not once can I point at an incident where something inexplicable happened for my good. Not once. Every choice I have made has led me down the wrong tracks.” He turned briefly to Leah. “Even when I genuinely try to help one, another gets hurt. And just so you know, I’ve gone down routes like killing innocents – babies, children, fathers, mothers. And I’ve done all this not because of some inherent bad in me, but because I was left, by this God, with no other choice.

Several times I called out to my parents in times of despair. They were good people. How does a freaking useless truck that the stupid government should kept off the road, lose control of its brakes on one side of the road, and cross over the road divide to the opposite side, crushing the third, not first or second,  but third car on a line. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s the sort of occurrence where you’d say something divine was at work. Or at least supernatural. Good people died. Good people who could have shown me love. Good people who could have corrected some of my misgivings. Good people who were my parents. I called out to them severally. But they didn’t answer. They didn’t feel for me anymore. There were no emotions to spare me. You know why? You know? It’s because they were and remain, and will always be dead.”

He ended abruptly. JJ slowly stood up, deciding he had done enough therapy for one day. He looked round, mild disgust fleshed with anger on his face. “So is this God. I’ve been hearing of Him since since. I’ve been hearing of how He is mighty to save. I call bullshit. I’ve called on this God. But like my parents he has never answered. He doesn’t feel for me. He has no emotions to spare me. You know why? Because like my parents, God is dead.”

With that, Jide Jackson walked out of the gathering, Bessy on his mind.

Unraveling 7 (Sexual Tension) – Sleeicktales

unraveling

CHAPTER 7: SEXUAL TENSION

The site of her brings her dread

Her perfume repugnant, brings fear

Her smile is spiteful

Her voice destroys

Her palms is sweaty

Filled like a glass blasted by the rain.

Still she stand and look devoid

Beaming outwardly for that love

That love despiteful and disgraceful

 

Leah’s mother sat in a slim, light brown arm chair staring at Leah with an indecipherable expression. She sat with her back straight and her fingers laced over her crossed knees. A few inches above them, her deep blue, knee-length dress lay hiked, revealing creamy, smooth, brown skin that matched Leah’s. Her children got their looks from her. In her late forties, she appeared half her age. With her lacquered manicured red nails, six inch heels and her carefully coiffed hair, she could pass for Leah’s slightly older sister. A fact she took great pride in.

She sat very still with her head slightly titled. Her eyes began to move languidly over the airy visitor’s lounge, taking it in. They stayed briefly on a heavy man in the corner, sobbing with his arms around his equally heavy daughter whom Leah had seen around the place- She always offered Leah a smile but kept mostly to herself. Her mother’s lips twisted in distaste at their display of emotion.

When her attention retuned to Leah, it was with striking scrutiny.  Her disconcerting light, brown contacts bore into Leah, making her want to fidget. She squelched it firmly and instead focused on the gold, statement necklace around her mother’s neck.

“I’ll admit,” her mother said dryly, her voice smooth and cultured. “I didn’t know what to expect. I thought this place would be hell but it is…. Not bad. Maybe I should come here when I need a break,” she said.

Leah caught the subtle implication that her stay there was nothing more than a tantrum.

Her voice turned brittle. “You should. It’s nice.”

Her mother nodded briefly, a small smile that didn’t reach her eyes appearing. “You know I’m very angry with you, Lee lee,” she said. “You haven’t called since you got here. You didn’t give your brother a message for me. I can understand if you treat other people like that, but not me.”

Her unblinking eyes rested on Leah. Leah tried to match her gaze, but finally caved. “I’m sorry, Mama.”

Her mother’s smile widened and she nodded again. “Good girl.”

Her mother began to tell her about the things she had missed in the few weeks she had been away from home. Who had come visiting? Her projects at work. Complaints about her grandfather and brother.

”I guess it is to be expected. They are men after all. You can try to refine them but they remain animals. It’s not like us,” her mother said. She reached out and held her hand out to Leah. She waited patiently for Leah to lean forward and place her hand in hers. “We’re special,” her mother said.

Leah had heard those words many times in the years after her parent’s divorce. Her mother had never been overtly maternal. Both her parents had always preferred each other’s company to their children. But after the divorce, her mother had grown significantly harder. While father eventually remarried, Leah’s mother remained single, living with them in their Grandfather’s house, channeling all her energy into her career in banking, and evolving a severe disliking for men which extended to her own son.

When they were growing up Stephen had spent most of his time and energy trying to please her. She’d offer him a distant smile, dismissing him with a wave of her hand while she led Leah away for their girls’ only moments. Leah and Stephen never spoke about it now, but Leah knew how hurt he had been.

She pulled her hand out of her mother’s.

“Don’t you have to go home? It’s getting late,” she said to her mother.

“Are you chasing me? I came to spend time with my favorite child,” her mother replied.

As always, Leah gave in and let her mother fill the conversation with small talk. Her mother stayed for another half an hour later, before she rose, smoothing down the creases in her dress. Leah rose too, dwarfed by her in flat shoes.

“Walk out with me,” her mother instructed.

She obeyed, leaving the visitor’s lounge and walking down a hallway towards the entrance. As they approached it, Dr Sulo appeared around a corner and Leah’s heart sank. She was the last person she wanted to meet her mother.

Dr. Sulo wore a simple white dress. Her right hand clutched a thin file loosely. Her gaze moved back and forth from Leah to her mother as they walked towards each other.

The three of them drew to a stop as they met in the middle of the hall. Her mother glanced from Leah to Dr. Sulo proceeding to size the woman up. Her eyes moved from her plain face to her ugly, sensible shoes.

“Leah,” Dr. Sulo said. “Is this your mother? I see the resemblance.”

“Yes,” Leah replied and introduced them. Dr. Sulo smiled and said a polite hello. Her mother murmured a reply.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Dr. Sulo said.

Her mother ignored the pleasantries. “You’re her therapist?”

Dr. Sulo nodded.

Leah’s mother’s eyes turned cold. “Don’t fill my daughter’s head with nonsense,” she commanded.

The two women stared each other down, neither giving in to the other. Leah’s mother looked away first, turning to Leah.  Her voice lost its hardness when she addressed her. “I’m leaving. I’ll talk to you later, Lee Lee.”

Her mother walked around Dr. Sulo, her heels clicking against the tiles until she disappeared out of the door. Leah remained standing with Dr Sulo, acutely uncomfortable.

She apologized for her mother.

Dr Sulo shrugged it off. “You should only apologize for yourself. You can’t control anyone else’s actions.”

Leah continued to stand with her as people shuffled past. She didn’t like the way Dr Sulo was staring at her, gauging her, as though she had seen her in new light.

“Good bye Dr. Sulo,” Leah said quickly.

“Goodbye, Leah,” Dr. Sulo replied as Leah walked away.

**

Leah was quiet the rest of the day. She sat in the circle at Education group, drawing her knees up and resting her chin on them. The Psychiatrist, Nnenna, went on about manic depression, every now and then gesturing to the images of carefully curated information flashing on the projector before them. Afterwards, for the first time Leah chose to spend rec time holed up in her room. She sat by the window, the door wide open behind her, watching people play sports and laugh amongst themselves.

Leah’s mind kept looping back to her mother’s visit. She replayed it over and over again, each time upsetting her a bit more until she felt half crazed, ready to pull out her own hair. By night she was exhausted emotionally.

After Closure group, she walked out of the building into the open air, staring straight ahead at the empty field.

“Leah,” Ter said, appearing beside. He took one look at her face.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine, Ter,” she said, her voice devoid of emotion.

He didn’t appear convinced.

“You shouldn’t be talking to me here before they see us. I don’t want you to get into trouble for no reason,” she told him, quickly before he pressed her for what was wrong.

“No one’s watching,” he said, placing his hand lightly on her arm.

She shrugged him off. She just wasn’t in the mood tonight.

“I’m really tired today, Ter,” she said, already backing away from him. “I think I’m going to crash early.”

He began to speak but she cut in. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said and quickly turned away and headed inside. Tomorrow she would make it up to him.

Leah went straight to her room. She flicked on the light switch and stood, unmoving in the doorway. It was quiet at first and then she heard the sounds of a male voice trickling in from Mamita’s room. She moved to the connecting door tentatively and pressed her ear to it. She heard the voice again, clearer this time, followed by Mamita’s giggles. Leah took a step back. Mamita had been exempted from her usual schedule the last two days because she had told the attendants she was battling extreme cramps.

Leah had known immediately that it wasn’t true, but she had been worried that Mamita wanting to be alone had to do with the message she had received on the field. A message she was sure came from a man on the outside. Now she saw there was another one in the Centre involved as well.

Not wanting to be in the room when the giggles on the other side turned into something more, her gaze swept over the room looking for an out. She spotted her open journal, and remembered she was supposed to be meeting J.J. at this time. She heaved a sigh of relief and grabbed the notebook she designated for her poetry exercises and left the room, jogging out of the building to where they had agreed to meet.

Even late she was the first one there. “Nigerians,” she complained.

Leah was good at poetry in the same way she was good at most things. She picked it up easily and found enjoyment in it. There was something soothing about it. She didn’t particularly like being made to write as part of the exercises. Dr. Sulo pushed them into it, insisting that it would help them express their deeper emotions. To Leah it took the fun out of it and made it work. It took the simplicity and dirtied it a bit with their lives.

But she had promised she would help him and it was exactly what she needed now to occupy her thoughts.

Leah wasn’t quite sure how she felt about J.J. Originally she had been neutral. He was nice to look at which was a plus but he possessed a certain air of arrogance that rubbed her the wrong way- especially after what had happened with Ter. His apology had made her less averse to him, but she was still glad Emeka was coming. She would not have to be alone with him, and Emeka was light and humorous.

She sat on the bare grass, folding her legs beneath her. The grass was damp but she didn’t care. She’d only been waiting a few minutes when she heard footsteps and muffled conversation behind her.

“Okay, okay, I’m ready,” she heard Emeka say. She didn’t turn but waited for them to reach her.

“You’re late,” she said, looking up at them.

“Sorry,” J.J. said, sounding anything but apologetic. “We had a lot to do.” He smiled at her. The white of his teeth contrasting with his dark skin and the black t-shirt and jeans he had on.

Emeka looked particularly nice this evening. He was usually in old t-shirts and faded jeans but tonight he wore a blue long sleeved shirt and nice jeans.

“I’m not even going to ask what that means. Hey Emeka. You look nice. Special somebody?” she asked with a smile, wiggling her eyebrows.”

From where she sat she caught a whiff of his strong perfume.

Emeka broke into a bashful smile. His gaze flit from hers to J.J.’s unamused face and he immediately composed himself and managed, “Well, yeah, she is.”

Leah laughed, feeling better about coming out.

“Sit,” she told them.

Emeka immediately did, taking a spot beside her in his nice trousers.

“Special invitation?” she asked J.J., raising an eyebrow.

He shook his head. “No thanks,” he nodded to the grass. “Dirt.”

“Too clean to get yourself dirty?” she mocked.

J.J. gave her a strange look.

“What?” she asked.

“I’ve gotten myself very dirty already.”

Somehow she didn’t think they were still talking about the grass.

“If you sit down on the ground I promise to be extra nice to you,” Leah offered.

He inclined his head, appearing to be considering it.

“How nice?” he questioned, suggestively.

She thought about Ter and her mouth twisted. “Not that nice. Sit please. We have work to do.”

J.J. appeared torn. Just when it seemed he would give in, Emeka cut in.

“J.J. where’s your book?”

J.J. glanced down at Emeka. They stared at each other for a long moment. Leah frowned in confusion.

“You guys know that you can just use mine, right? I’ll tear out the page and give it to you later. It’s not that deep.”

J.J.’s eyes left Emeka and returned to her. “Nah, I like mine,” he said drily. “You guys wait for me. I’ll go get it and be right back.”

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Leah complained.

“There’s enough,” he said, cryptically and pushing into movement, walking away slowly. She heard him whistling as he disappeared.

Alone, Leah and Emeka quieted. He had plopped down quite close to her, she noticed, and put some space between them, turning her body in his direction. Her legs were crossed Indian style.

She smiled at him. “You don’t need help with your poetry, do you? Because I’m really not that good. Besides, I like you. You should do what they tell you to do so you can leave this place faster. J.J. can stay forever if he wants.”

Emeka grinned. “No, I’m a beast,” he bragged.

Leah looked doubtful. “You are?”

“I am, “he replied confidently, turning in her direction.

“I’m pretty certain you’d say you are a good poet.”

“Yeah, I do a lot of it, so yeah. There’s this bar in Wuse. Not too big. Kind of hidden. We have Spoken Word every Friday night and people just drink and have fun. You should come. Open mic is on Fridays.”

Leah laughed. “No, no.”

“I think you’ll be good. You have that energy. I can sense it.”

Leah shook her head resolutely. “No. It’s not my thing but I’ll come and watch you.”

Emeka was pleased. “Really?”

“Really,” she confirmed.

He eyed her. “Good. So you want one?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding.

Emeka pushed closer to her on the ground. His gaze was intense as he began,

The shock of my feelings was instant. A bolt.

Alerting me to visual of her that threatened my sanity

Her smile, her frowns, her distant stares

I noted them down, became accustomed to them

 

The Jolt was also there, steadily encouraging

in a manner that never left me

I couldn’t remember how not to feel or show how I felt

Instead I stared at her openly and in secret

Silently relishing my pleasures, taking in her beauty

 

Her wits, the gentle sway of her hips, her laugh

They consumed me, making me sweat at just the thought

Making me doubts my strength, my intelligence

Still, I crave them, crave her, every part of her

Now am seething with need, a desire to try

Now I need to expose myself, to put these out there

Making all feelings bare and hoping for approval

I would take anything from her

I would be content for her

Because my heart would do what it needs – simply to love

He finished his poem and waited patiently for her to react. She stared at him, uncomfortably. She had been in this position more times than she cared for. Usually before venturing too deeply into friendships with men, she liked to make it clear that that was all they would be. But with Emeka and most of the people here it hadn’t felt necessary. They were all there for such a short time. There were ships passing at sea.

“Emeka,” she began carefully. “You’re really good.”

The hope reflected in his face dimmed considerably. He knew what was coming.

“I love the poem,” Leah continued. “It’s so, so good.”

“But?” he prompted.

She gave him a small smile. “But….”

“No,” he interrupted. “Don’t worry. No need to finish sef.”

Leah continued to stare at him with a pained expression on her face.

“I wrote it for you,” Emeka said, turning away from her to the open space. “I’ll write it out and give to you later. Keep it,” he said and joked after a moment. “Laminate it and store it somewhere safe so you can show your children you knew me before I was famous.”

Leah smiled, relaxing a bit. “Thank you,” she said softly.

She turned away too and they lapsed into a short silence.

“J.J. is taking too long,” she noted.

“Mmm,” he murmured, looking down at the grass between his open feet.

“Emek…” Leah began but he moved swiftly, jumping to his feet and dusting off his palms.

“This place has mosquitoes. Let’s go inside.”

She examined his face for a second then rose quietly. She cleaned her hands off on her jeans. They were dirty now anyway.

They walked back quietly. She clutched her notebook in both hands, her mind churning furiously.

“Emeka,” she said, without beating around. “Did J.J. set us up?”

Emeka couldn’t hold her gaze. He muttered something unintelligible under his breath and escaped in the direction of the male dormitory.

Leah remained where she was. It was such a small thing. Miniscule compared to the things she had seen in her life, but for some reason it enraged her. Maybe it was the day she had had, maybe it was having to be put in that position with Emeka, but Leah was more upset than she had been in a long, long time. She wanted to punch J.J. in his stupid, arrogant face. She wanted to hurt him. She was tired of people always thinking they could do whatever they wanted with her. She wouldn’t take it anymore.

This time she would do something about it.

**

True to his word, Mr. Melvin had pulled Ter from all of her groups and J.J. had taken his place. The next day Leah was still seething as they sat almost directly opposite each other in the circle of chairs. He sat pretty low in the chair, clearly unimpressed. His face seemed drawn, tired. The room was chillier than usual. It was raining heavily outside.

The question for the session was “What is your golden rule?” It was supposed to get them to delve into the principles they lived by. Leah had to resist the urge to roll her eyes at the question. She wasn’t sure how they came up with these things but each one was more rudimentary than the last.

Leah tore a piece of paper out of her notebook and wrote one word and folded it neatly. When the Psychiatrist , Sylvannu’s attention was diverted, she passed it to the person next to her and whispered directions.

The paper moved steadily until it got to J.J. who hesitated before collecting it. Leah watched him unfold it and read. His forehead pulled together in a frown. He looked up at the person who handed it to him, but the young man ignored him, focusing on the Psychiatrist . J.J. looked around until he came to her and she stared back directly at him, her hostility clear on her face and in her demeanour.

“Liar,” she mouthed.

“Leah,” the Psychiatrist  said. “What’s your golden rule?”

Leah turned her head to Sylvannus, sitting straighter in her chair.

“Hmmm,” she said pretending to think and said with a mocking smile, “Love God. No, nooo. Love your neighbour.”

People laughed. Slyvannus gave her a patient look. “Yes, for many those are the golden rules. But what’s yours personally. Be honest.”

Leah sighed. She glanced at J.J. “Don’t lie to people. Don’t think you’re superior to other people. Don’t think you know better than them how to live their lives,” she said. “What do you think J.J? What’s your golden rule? Do unto others?”

J.J sat up in his chair. “No,” he said his gaze on her. “A friend in need is a friend indeed. What do you think?” he asked, turning to the Psychiatrist . “Isn’t it important to help other people?”

The Psychiatrist  nodded. “It certainly is. Depending on the situation and context, of course.”

“Yes, situation and context,” Leah jumped in. “Something any reasonable person would consider before they act.”

J.J. quieted, eyeing at her.  At first, she refused to look away under the force of his gaze, but eventually she turned, finding Sylvannus watching her. He said nothing about the exchange, just moved on to others. At the close of group, he asked them both to wait behind.

“We all have our issues but this is not the place to fix them,” Sylvannus said.

“I thought this was the exact place for our problems ,”J.J. said smirking.

Slyvnanus shot him a look. “Real problems. Not your stupid sexual tension,” he said wiping J.J.’s smile. “Now get out.”

They left the room together. As soon as they were in the hall, Leah bunched her fist and hit J.J. in the shoulder as hard as she could. The force of her pushed him a step back, his other hand went to his offended shoulder. His eyes narrowed, his shoulders tensed.

“What the hell?” he demanded.

She took a threatening step forward. He remained in position, bringing her close to him.

“Listen to me,” she ordered. “Don’t you ever, ever, eeeeever, think you have the right to do something like what you did with Emeka yesterday. I don’t know you. I don’t like you. I have zero ties to you. It’s not okay for you to interfere in people’s lives like you’re God. Are you? Are you? No? Then stay away from me.  We won’t be here for long. Let’s all mind our business and leave in peace. I don’t know what your problem is but it obviously runs very deep, and I just don’t care enough to be included in it.”

Leah took a step back and examined him to make sure her message had been received, then she turned and walked away.

 

Unraveling 6 (Lemons & Lemonades) – Sleeicktales

unraveling

CHAPTER 6: LEMONS & LEMONADES

All promises were made

Not all were kept

Some we remembered,

Some we deliberately dismembered

All promises are strong

Like bonds on bonds

Yet all we break.

For reasons, mostly our sakes

 

JJ was ill besotted at life. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonades. He swore at the originator of that statement. The sun was in its dying state and JJ eyed it. It looked in control as if it were aware what the next day held. The sun was content with where it was and what it had. The morning belonged to it and not the night. That was perfect for its portfolio. Such power. JJ recognised power as contentment with one’s portfolio. The poor man, he figured, was only as powerful as his contentment. As the rich man. As he, JJ. Right now, Jide Jackson was powerless. He basked in the sombre rays, sifting thoughts, waiting for the right one to latch on. His wandering mind settled on General Habhu. The man, once again, proved elusive. JJ’s face squeezed in disgust. His contact in Kaduna made sure to arrange the meet-and-pick with the General’s aide. It should have been easy slipping in the bomb. But the fat man used his god-like paranoid antennas to sniff out the danger and fly out of the country.

Kill the General while in a camp for crazy people. His alibi was foolproof.

A butterfly fluttered by, eager to find haven before dark. It landed on a blade of glass and surveyed the lay. The butterfly complemented the sun, red as burning coal, free as blowing wind. JJ scowled. This place was to mark the beginning of freedom. Albeit, pseudo. His life had always been one big confluence of lies. His parents lying they would come back but dying in a car crash. The doctor lying he and repressed amnesia and could not remember the event -meanwhile he saw it and dreamt of it every night – which was why he rode a power bike. Big Da and Sweet Ma lying to be his biological parents, despite the fact the glaring truth was smack in all their faces. The first gang he joined lying he was an ideal leader because Labake lied he was the leader of the group of rapists. JJ scrunched his face as Labake’s face and voice came to mind. He never liked her. Her nickname was C-Bucket back then. It was a surprise to all students that she could claim rape. The parents, however, did not take likely to torn panties, dried semen, and bruised face. JJ made a point never to interfere with domestic affairs again.

Now though, his task was to come up with a plan for Emeka to secure a date with Leah. Why? The disciplinary committee hearing was a nasty piece of business. JJ wondered why he even bothered his mind with it. He did not fancy Ter. Leah annoyed him with her goody-two shoes persona. Emeka clung to him closer than wet clothes. He should not care much for this bunch. Yet JJ found himself drawn to the drama. Was it because he wanted to see Ter cry? Or Emeka happy? Or Leah…he wasn’t sure what it was about Leah pulled him in. True she was exuberant and matched him in wits and looked pretty under the right light – which shone all the time – and  had a pleasant enough personality and was sexy the way she twirled her thumbs when in doubt…but still…

His eyes followed the rise of the butterfly as it flew towards the almost set sun. It fluttered its wings as if to make up for lost time. As it grew tiny in the distance, JJ closed his moistened eyes. What was wrong with him? Did the General’s death hold so much grip on his heart? He was shattered when he realised the man who used him to murder innocents for so long was gone from his grasp. Forever. For a long time now, JJ sort redemption. Ever since he found out his smuggled weapons supported terrorism, rather than fought against it. JJ wept for days on end. His sins combined were red as scarlet. Then steel coalesced on his heart and he decided his two-faced contact – the General – must die. Killing him ought to dose the pains and nightmares; maybe even rid him of some of his atrocities, making him white as soya milk, or at least as grey as a cloudy day. JJ’s plans were without holes, yet they all failed, and the General roamed free, taking with him JJ’s last chance at redemption.

“JJ?”

He pretended not to hear his name. Then he remembered Emeka’s fondness with kicking.

“Yes?”

“Where have you been?” Emeka asked as he sat beside JJ. He wore light blue jeans but was oblivious to the dirt on the field.

“You are like the connoisseur of rhetoric, ain’t you?”

“Huh?”

Leah might have understood the jab. JJ scolded himself for the thought. He sat bolt upright as if a spider had crawled up his nether regions.

“OK. Time for action right?” His pitch high, earning a raised eyebrow from Emeka.

“Yes, but before that,” Emeka swivelled on the dirt and faced JJ. JJ could make out his wide grin in the semi darkness. His eyes shone with excitement and he sucked in air, like one preparing for a sprint, “you should have been there for Faith Time. It was…I mean I’ve been to church a couple of times with my folks but it was nothing like this. We discussed, we argued, and there was only one facilitator with us who knew what’s up. Like he let us ramble, and then he brought all our different points together, and formulated the answer. So at the end, there was no stupid and wrong question but there was the answer.”

“Really? No stupid question and you say you participated?”

Gerrahere jor. But for real. You should have seen Leah. She’s not like the expert yeah but you can almost taste her hunger for answers and stuff.”

“That’s tasting sounds sexual Emeks.” JJ said, swatting a buzzing mosquito from his arm.

“We talked about sin and forgiveness and…”

“Really?” JJ interrupted. “What exactly did y’all discuss about forgiveness and sinning?”

“I think the faith lingo is sin not sinning JJ. Well, Jesus died for our sins and washed them away. So that we don’t need to bear the guilt anymore. One scripture was quoted that said we should lay down our burden at his feet.” Emeka replied

“This Jesus concept has always seemed so abstract. Like how would I lay down my burden at his feet? I like practicality and not abstract speaking. I would rather am told how to lay down whatever is troubling me from an application point of view. Don’t just tell me to do it. Freaking tell me how. That’s being my major ish with church. Loads of these preacher dudes tell you what’s up in an abstract form.” JJ made a heavy sigh. “Anyway, I didn’t think you came all the way to preach to me. You are hardly saintly yourself, chasing after a woman’s pants.”

“JJ I swear I’ll spit in your eye if you insinuate again that I’m trying to screw Leah.” Emeka said, balling his fists on the grass.

“Are you saying, for the records that in this romance thing if Leah drops her pants for you you’ll run away?”

“I’m not…I won’t…JJ please can you just focus on the task at hand?”

JJ smirked and dipped his head. Now though, there was a solid reason why he did not want Emeka and Leah together. Leah was not in Emeka’s league. JJ knew he would never say that aloud.

“So we’d be clear though,” JJ added, “this won’t be some candle light stars freckled table for two romantic date. Let’s be clear on that. First, this camp will fry your ass, second I don’t do mushy. We clear?”

Emeka nodded. Then swallowed. “Does this plan have what I will say to her during the date?”

JJ’s mien told the answer.

“For one, we get to rejoice over Ter’s misfortune. I for one will enjoy that. He will watch you dance close to his darling and not be able to stop you. Except maybe to threaten you in quiet corners.”

“Yeah. Ter. Gone. Got it. Threaten my life. Got it. So O Wise One, what’s the plan?” Emeka asked.

JJ gave a Cruella worthy grin like a man who held a world-shattering secret.

 

————————————–

 

JJ waited at the bend of the lecture room building. Men like Emeka had no clue what it took to get girls. They called it mere luck, or charisma. They worshipped such women-getting men, exalting them and reducing their own self-image. As a result, an Emeka assumed a Jide had more chance than he at securing a date with a Leah. JJ smiled -Emeka was damn right. JJ had honed the fine art of sultry and Pandora box opening over the years. It was a needed skill as the 16 Buff Gang Leader, Head of all factions across the compliant schools. His power of persuasion was legendary; it brokered repeated booty calls with some of the most illustrious sirens. He remembered Tunrayo, the vixen who moved from the States into the neighbourhood next to his, for a two-week vacation. Bullied into action by demands from his peers, JJ swept into her life. He manipulated his way in during the first week and by the next week penned her into his choked booty timetable. JJ was a master at seduction.

Yet, his palms kept clamming.

He saw Leah walking out of the building and towards him as predicted. The wind blew at her dress and she flung used one arm to keep it from showing her business. The green field provided a lovely backdrop to her butter coloured mono strap flower dress. It was fitting, showing off her flat tummy and trimmed arms. Against the girl by her side, she was like the moon to the stars. Although, the companion was as bright as Leah was. JJ frowned; he was not expecting company. Once he fixated on her, he recognized her as Mamita. Mamita? When did she get close to Leah? He had avoided her the past few days. Although, their escapade the first night was hardly a mistake – he would call any subsequent frolicking a terrible step. As the duo came into view, Leah marched ahead, furious.

“Were you lurking?” Her grip tightened on the bag straps, her knuckles pale with anger. “Please tell me you were.”

“Oh Leah,” Mamita sang as they caught up, “this is JJ. You know him right? Of course you do.” When Leah did not respond, she continued. “Remember when we played hottest guy on camp and we were to write on a sheet of paper our top three countdown? You and I wrote…”

“Thank you Mamita for the detailed reminder.” Leah snapped.

JJ fought to hold back his smile. So Leah fancied him.

Imagine that. He shook himself. Emeka was the focus.

“I need to speak with you Leah.” JJ ventured.

“You need to speak with me my ass.”

“Mamita,” JJ arched to address Mamita, standing closer to him than Leah, “could you excuse us for a full minute?” He took extra time to wink at her.

“No she will not excuse us for…” Leah began.

“OK.” Mamita spun and moved away.

JJ watched her while Leah glared at him. Mamita glanced back more than once, confusion etched on her face. JJ decided he owed her. He turned to Leah and flinched.

“Begone Satan. Bring Leah back. What’s with this devilish look?” JJ asked

“Do you have any idea whatsoever what would happen if people find out that I’m standing with another…you here discussing alone?” Leah fumed.

“People would assume you and I are an item same way you and Ter were? Are? That means they would label you as a…” He paused. Leah’s look dared him to finish. “Very social person.”

“What do you want JJ?”

JJ bowed his head like a gentleman at a ball, embarrassed at his next request. His downcast eyes wandered to Leah’s open toes in her flats. They lingered on her calves, tracing each length, each contour. They travelled upwards, savouring the scenery, her legs, the helm of her skirt just at her knees…JJ raised his head sharply like a wary deer, staring straight into her amused eyes.

“What do you want JJ?” This time her voice toned down.

“Here’s the thing,” JJ slurred. It was clear he would be picking his words. “My personal counsellor is real strict and harsh. And I’m not just into what is being taught because it’s a load of wool. But I have this assignment to do which if I don’t, then no lunch for me…you know the drill.”

He hesitated and Leah nodded to fill the silence.

“The assignment is to do this piece of poetry that would reflect my thoughts on women.” He blurted it out as fast as he could causing Leah to burst into laughter. She caught herself and stopped.

“So what do you need me for JJ? I don’t think you are appreciating my time here.”

A shadow crossed JJ’s eyes, but he kept his calm. “I can’t do poetry to save my life.”

“And I can?”

“I hear you are the best in this camp.”

“Says who? Who did a competition and won?”

“Leah,” JJ looked her dead in the eyes. He parted his lip a tad bit and his nose flared. He did not blink, holding her gaze. He took a step forward, one she did not notice. The air cackled in the distance between them. Her ragged breath crossed the distance to him and she curved her head to maintain the gaze. “I am sorry. I didn’t know there were guys awake. It’s not in my code to interfere with other people’s business. I don’t know what you and Ter had going on and frankly I don’t care but I am sorry it had to end the way it did, starting from what I did. I am sorry Leah Abba.”

JJ surprised himself by his own sincerity. Sure he meant to apologize but not with so much…candour.

“Well,” Leah began, her voice softer than before, “I’m not expert at poetry but I might be able to help here and there.”

“You are sure about this?”

Leah smiled and gave a small nod.

“OK. Should we meet at say the room behind the Money Booth after activities tomorrow? 8PM?”

Leah seemed to consider it for a while.

“That’s fine.”

“OK. I’m coming along with Emeka.”

“Why?” Leah said, her eyebrows rising. “Are you scared you would do something to me if we are all alone? In the dark?”

Flirting? Leah Abba just flirted with me? JJ matched her smirk, winked, turned and swaggered off. Sometimes silence was golden.

 

——————————–

 

“What are you planning?” Ter asked. His cheeks puffed, rage danced round his eyes. He closed the distance between himself and JJ. One more step and their bodies might touch.

“Let me see,” JJ began, counting off his fingers, “survive this camp, start my own coy, make stupid money, oh and get laid soon in this camp.”

“You dirty bastard.” Ter spat.

“Sex is dirty? Sex between two willing parties is dirty? Who are you? Virgin Terry?”

Ter took a threatening step forward, to which JJ retreated. “Listen pretty boy. If you so much as hurt the air around Leah. I will make your life a living hell. You got that?”

“And how do you intend to do that dear unwanted bodyguard? If I hurt her, that is.” JJ asked. His voice was thick with emotion. He tolerated Ter’s blocking his way as he went to inform Emeka of his progress and the set up date. He allowed Ter puff in front of him like a wounded hippopotamus. But no one, Ter especially, threatened him. To each it’s price.

“You just try and see. And you’ll understand that to everyone there’s more than meets the eye.”

“I’ll advise you listen closely to your advice.” This time JJ’s voice was as low as the growl of a suspicious mongrel. He looked straight into Ter’s eyes as if he could make out his soul. JJ half-hoped Ter would hit him. But every gang leader worth his salt knew private beating was never worth it.  People distort the stories. The first to tell the tale always gained the crowd sympathy. Public humiliation however, always got the job done.

JJ watched Ter leave in a huff. JJ pocketed his hands and made his way to the hostel, philosophizing on how pissed off at life he was.

Unraveling 5 (Busted) – Sleeicktales

 

unraveling

CHAPTER 5: BUSTED

We all reach for that which is forbidden

Like Adam, eve and the apple

A longing beyond our reach

A love fragile, uncertain and unstable.

You see, the satisfaction isn’t in the getting

For the forbidden can be easily forgotten

 

Leah flipped her eyes open in the dark. She blinked rapidly, trying to adjust to the darkness. It took a while for her to get her bearings and when she did she realized that it was the middle of the night and she was on her back, on the floor, in Ter’s room.

The blankets she was lying on- hers and his- were thin. They made a poor bed. Her muscles ached from being unaccustomed to sleeping on the floor. She stretched them, moving slowly into a sitting position.

Gradually, her eyes adjusted to the dark and she saw that the room was dimly lit by the fluorescent lights in the hallway, coming in through the space at the bottom of the door. Ter’s sleeping presence and the steady beam of light made the shut door not to be a problem.

He was the only one in this place who had some semblance of an idea why she was there. When she’d told him about the other night, he’d offered to let her stay with him. She’d been skeptical. She truly loved him already like she did her own brother, but she was wary of confusing things. His reassurance in the chapel had decided for her.

She was glad she had. She hadn’t slept so well in a while. Having someone else in the room took the sting out of the silence.

“Can’t sleep?” Ter asked, his voice low and quiet but fully awake.

Surprised, Leah flipped her head in his direction. He was lying on his back as he had the two nights she had been there, his head turned in her direction.

“I can,” she said softly. “Just woke up.”

He grappled along the bed until he found his watch and checked the time. “It’s two a.m.,” he informed her.

Leah smiled in the dark. “I wake up a lot. Why are you up? Did I wake you?”

“Mmm mmm,” he denied. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Why not?”

He was quiet for a moment. She couldn’t feel his face but she was sure he was watching her. Suddenly, she wanted to wrap the blankets around herself.

“I don’t know,” he finally said. “Just thinking. You know you’d sleep better if you agreed to take the bed.”

She relaxed. “Mtcheew. Just because I’m a woman I can’t sleep on the floor? Feminists everywhere will burn their bras if they hear you say that.”

Ter chuckled. “Or maybe it’s because I’m a gentleman.”

She smiled to herself. “I know. Your mother must be a strong woman.”

“She is,” Ter said, the amusement evident in his tone. “Too strong. I can still feel her hand on my ass when I went out of line.”

“Remind me to thank her,” Leah said, lying down again and stretching into a comfortable position. “And I’m good on the floor. It’s very comfortable,” she lied.

Ter laughed deeply. “I’ve lain on that floor before. You’re a liar.”

She laughed too. “Yes, I am.”

**

The next morning Leah woke up before dawn. She rose swiftly, folding up the blankets and placing them at Ter’s feet on the bed. She tapped him awake and he rose groggily. She felt a twinge of guilt to be intruding on him so much. She would like to let him sleep in a bit more but at this hour the entire place would be still and deathly quiet. She couldn’t possibly navigate from the boys’ dormitory on one end to the girls’ dorms on the other end by herself.

She stood behind Ter as he opened the door and carefully exited first to scope out the hall. He nodded back to her and she came out as well, shutting the door behind her.  They didn’t speak as they began their journey to the other side. Neither wore their shoes to avoid the noise, instead they held them in their hands, swinging beside them with each step.

They were almost at the door to the male section when she heard a noise. Leah stilled, clutching at Ter’s arm, bringing him to a stop.

“What?” he whispered. She pressed a finger to her lips to quiet him. She turned slowly, her eyes scanning the length of the hall. There was nothing in sight but she could feel someone watching them.

“There’s someone there,” she whispered.

“Where?” he asked, whispering too as he searched.

She did a quick once over of the place. “I don’t know, but someone’s there.”

Ter looked around for a second. “There’s no one there, Lay. Let’s go.”

She didn’t move immediately.

“If there’s someone there, let them watch,” Ter said impatiently, tugging her along. They walked through the doors back to the female dormitory where he left her at her door.

The rest of her day went by quickly, flowing from one activity into another seamlessly. In her process group- led by a young female Psychiatrist who Leah was sure was fresh out of school- they were pushed into delving into their insecurities. She pushed them to expose what made them vulnerable.

By evening, Leah was tired but in a good way. Ter noticed her good mood and suggested they take advantage of it.

“Never waste a high,” he said.

He liberated some playing cards from the rec room and invited a few others back to his room. They waited until after lights out and after the attendants had gone around for inspection before they converged.

Because the game was in the male section, very few women agreed to it. Besides Leah, only Mamita and Ita were present. The men more than outnumbered the women.  There were the regulars; Brima and Mushin, as well as six others all crammed into Ter’s room. Leah ended up on the floor, her legs folded under her, next to Emeka. Every now and then, she noticed a look pass between him and J.J who was standing by the door, leaning against the wall.

“What are we betting?” J.J. asked before they started.

“The joys of winning?” Ter asked, sarcastically.

J.J. snorted. “How much?”

On the other side of her, Leah felt Ter begin to tense. She patted his knee absently to calm him before it turned into a male show of dominance.

“Five hundred per person,” she said.

“Only?” he asked, staring at her down.

“Only,” she returned, refusing to yield. “Are you going to sit?” she asked him, inclining her chin towards the floor. He looked at her bemused, as he moved slowly, finding a place on the far edge of the group.

The game lasted well into the night. A few people dropped out along the way, the rest were beat out until only Mushin and J.J. were left. The others watched them intently. It had never occurred to Leah before, but seeing the intensity of Mushin’s expression, his wild fervor and remembering all the times he had pressed them to bet on trivial things, she realized that his relationship with gambling was more than casual. He had said he came to the Centre for anger management. He was always getting into fights and with his size, it meant he was always putting people in hospitals. Now she wondered if that was only half the story.

He won and whooped loudly causing everyone to shush him forcefully. They all quieted to listen for any indication that they’d been found out. After a moment, they relaxed and one by one began to pay Mushin what they owed him. The tension cut, Mushin and J.J. laughed and shook hands, bonding over their game. Leah massaged her shoulders with her fingers, suddenly tired.  She glanced at Ter and found him looking back at her. They exchanged a silent look. He nodded slightly, barely visible to anyone but her.

“Okay,” he announced. “This was fun. It’s sha getting late. Everyone get out.”

The group broke apart slowly, taking care to be quiet. The girls got ready to leave together.

“Aren’t you coming?” Mamita asked, when she and Ita were by the door.

Leah shook her head. “I’ll meet you guys.”

“We’ll wait for you,” she insisted.

“Go,” Ter intervened, giving her a look. “I’ll bring the thing tomorrow.”

She nodded and followed the girls, trailing behind them until they got to their dorms and dispersed into their rooms. Inside hers, Leah left the door slightly ajar and hovered around the doorway waiting. Ter arrived not long afterwards, pushing the door open soundlessly and gesturing to her to come along.

They circled back to his room where he disappeared into the bathroom and Leah began setting up her bedding. Once she was done, she climbed on to it and closed her eyes. She was asleep in minutes.

Her dreams came to her in vivid, disjointed bursts. She had visions of contorted faces enveloped in darkness and voices that sounded familiar but changed just as she was beginning to place them.

She woke with a jolt to the sun streaming into her face and for a moment, she stared at the window, not comprehending what was happening. Once she did, she shot up into a sitting position.

“Ter,” she hissed at him. He remained sprawled on the bed, the covers thrown to the side.

“Ter,” she tried again, but he remained motionless, passed out in front of her.

Leah rose hurriedly, checking her time simultaneously. It was past six which meant in a little while the attendants would be around for the wakeup call. She had to get back to her room before that happened. She balled up the blankets and tossed them onto Ter. There was no point in waking him at this time. The two of them together would just attract more attention anyway.

Leah gave the room one last look, making sure she hadn’t forgotten anything then headed to the door, pulled it open and ran straight into J.J.’s tall, hard frame. She staggered and regained her balance while he picked his phone which had clattered to the floor. He straightened, facing her directly. His eyes roved over her disheveled appearance, flitting briefly to open door behind her.  He didn’t seem surprised. It was almost as though he’d already known. Leah though about the previous day, being sure that someone was watching them.

Her face tightened. “Were you waiting for me?”

His eyes narrowed in response. “Because I have nothing better to do?”

“I don’t know, do you?”

“Trust me, love, I do.”

“Don’t call me that. I don’t know you.”

He gave her a small, smile. “Sure love.”

Leah exhaled, trying to contain her irritation. “Just pretend you didn’t see me,” she told him evenly.

He glanced over her head into the room again. She could almost see his mind working, putting her and Ter together, making assumptions about things he didn’t understand.

“This is none of your business,” she told him.

“I agree,” he replied.

Hope swept through her. “So this will remain between us?” she asked.

Leah caught his momentary hesitation and tensed again.  “Are you planning on telling someone?”

“I might,” he said tightlipped.

“Because somehow this very important news has to be shared with someone else?”

“There are other people involved,” J.J said, sighing.

“What?” she asked, confused. She waved her hand, shrugging it off. “I don’t have time for this. I am asking you not to tell anyone you saw me. Will you or won’t you?”

J.J. looked exasperated. “Why is it always the complicated ones that everyone likes?”

Leah gave him a dark smile. “Because we make things interesting.”

His eyes inclined towards the door. “I can see that.”

Leah’s patience snapped but before she could speak, he cut in.

“If you’re going to make this a habit, be gone before people wake up. It’s the simple logic of doing bad things. You never know who might be watching. At least make it hard for them. And of all the guys, you chose that one,” he said, shaking his head.

She immediately stepped up to Ter’s defence. “You don’t know him.”

“I know a hundred of him.”

“I know a hundred of you,” she retorted.

He smiled, mockingly. “You can come out of my room too in yesterday’s clothes…I don’t get,” he said, sounding disgusted. “You could have at least brought a different set of clothes to wear so people would assume you came this morning.”

Leah remembered her terror the other night.

“I wasn’t thinking with my head,” she said then realized how it sounded. He gave her a knowing smile, making her want to hit him. “I don’t have time for this,” she said, throwing up her hands and giving up on convincing him.

She stalked to the door and moved to pull it open, but something at the back of her neck, made her pause. It’s just him, Leah thought, but a movement in her peripheral vision made her twist slightly to the right. From the open door of the game room, she caught the flash of someone’s clothes as they dashed quickly out of sight.

Her hand dropped from the door handle. She walked slowly to the room, taking a few steps inside where she scanned the empty room and then cautiously peered behind the door.  There she saw one of the male patients she had seen around the Centre but never spoken to. He stared back at her with unconcealed repulsion and she knew without a doubt that he had been the one from the night before.

She felt J.J.’s presence, towering over her from behind and turned. He glared at the man, vibrating with a dangerous tension. Leah was taken aback by it and almost stepped between him and the man, but J.J moved, taking a step backwards, his eyes drifting shut briefly like he was calming himself.

After a moment, they snapped open and he glanced down at her.  “I guess you found your stalker.”

Leah looked into his face, remembering some of the things he had said. She wasn’t quite ready to absolve him entirely. “I can have more than one.”

**

Leah walked out of the double doors onto the wide verandah, glancing up at the brilliant horizon. The sky was a clear blue and white, without a hint that darkness would ever come. She walked down the short steps that led to the field.

It was rec time. A group of men and women were playing football, a much smaller group were pitching volleyballs.

Leah made her way to a cluster of white lawn chairs, occupied by Brima, Mushin and Mamita, who sat watching the football game. She was distinctly aware of people watching her as she moved. All day everywhere she went people had been staring at her and talking amongst themselves.

“Hi,” Leah said brightly as she sat.

“Hi,” the men returned.

“Hey,” Mamita said with a big, mischievous smile.  “I hear you have been getting into trouble.”

Leah glanced around. The men looked away, distinctly uncomfortable but attempted not to show it.

“What do you mean?”

“You and Ter. It’s everywhere,” Mamita told her.

The men suddenly became intently focused on the match before them. Leah’s heart plummeted. “Who told you?” she demanded.

Mamita shrugged. “Like three people. Everyone knows.”

Everyone knew but there were only two people who could be responsible for the news spreading. Leah didn’t trust either of them.

Ter appeared and sank heavily onto an empty chair with a whoosh. “What’s up?” he asked, oblivious to what was happening.

Everyone quieted noticeably. Leah sighed, looking at their faces.

“Okay, since you people won’t ask,” she said directly. “I’m just going to tell you. Nothing happened. We played the game and we slept. End of story.”

They glanced in her direction, examining her. Seeing the seriousness clearly visible in her features, they relaxed.

Brima laughed. “Next time, come and crash in my room. I don’t trust that boy,” he nodded towards Ter.

Ter threw a water bottle at him which he bent swiftly to avoid. Leah’s smile returned, relieved to at least have her own people believe her. She swung her legs onto an empty chair and leaned back to relax.

“Gooooal,” the men screamed, leaping to their feet as one of the teams scored, making her smile. She glanced in Mamita’s direction and noticed a bulge in her jeans pocket that had a familiar shape to it. She reached out and poked it with her finger and as she suspected it was the hard feel of a slim phone.

Mamita glanced at her and held a finger to her lips. She hopped from her seat on to Leah’s and eased the phone out of her pocket, slipping it between their bodies.

“My sister snuck it in when she came to visit,” she whispered to Leah. “Two months without that phone? Who dem born?” she said and chuckled. Mamita pressed a button on the side, bringing the phone to life. On the screen Leah saw a message notification.

“Don’t look,” Mamita said playfully, and brought the phone up close to her face, shielding it in her cupped palms. A moment later, she brought her hands down onto her thighs, her elation gone.

“What happened?” Leah asked.

Mamita stared straight ahead without responding.

After a moment, she came to her feet and began walking away. Something in her face, made Leah reluctant to follow. Concerned, she watched her walk away and disappear into the building.

As she turned back to the game, Leah spotted J.J. crossing the far edge of the field, one hand in his pocket. The sight of him made her chest tightened, thoughts of Mamita temporarily pushed to the side. A slow kindle of anger began to burn inside her.

**

Each evening, closure group was consistently the most sober time of day. As they each filed into the room, a heaviness descended on them, like it was in the air there, stuck to the plastic seats arranged into an oval shape.

The Psychiatrist rotated for Education and Closure groups, each taking different days- or in the case of Education, topics according to their expertise. Leah had noticed how they all had their own way of going about it. Some preferred a more subtle approach, others were pushy in getting them to speak. The men she noticed were particularly more impatient. Like they all had long days and couldn’t wait to get home to their wives.

Today she noticed how the pudgy Psychiatrist , Ahmed, kept glancing in her direction, his eyes dropping to her body before flitting to the others to encourage them to speak about what they’d learnt that day and the progress they had made. Closure group, Leah had learnt was about who could tell the best cliché’s in the most convincing manner. She thought she could win but she didn’t try too hard. Considering her personal sessions, Dr. Sulo would counter it anyway.

Once the group ended the weight lifted and chatter filled the room. By the door, an attendant stopped Leah as she left with Ter.

“The director wants to see you,” he told her. He nodded at Ter. “You too.”

They exchanged glances. They both knew what it was about. Ter gave her a reassuring smile which only made her feel worse that she had included him.

“We’re badasses,” Ter whispered to her as they followed the attendant. She chuckled, lightening.

As they followed the man, Leah felt like a child summoned by her father. Her actual father had never been involved enough in their lives to bother disciplining her or Stephen, but her grandfather had been a strict father figure. She used to tremble when he called for her after she’d done something wrong.

At the door of the Director’s office, the attendant knocked, waited a second then pushed it open. “They’re here,” he said, standing in the hallway. Mr. Melvin didn’t respond but the attendant stepped to the side and waved them in to the room.

Leah went in first, followed by Ter. Mr. Melvin gestured to the two black, leather chairs on the other side of his impressive desk. Once they sat, he leaned forward shifting the weight of his heavy torso onto his elbows perched on the desk.

He went straight to the point.

“The two of you aren’t children. You understand that there are rules and boundaries in place for a reason. In normal circumstances relationships are complex things. You have to manage them carefully. In this circumstance, relationships are even more complicated. They are a distraction. They are not what you’re here for. You’re here for one reason and one reason only, for your own personal development,” he emphasized the last two words. He paused gauging their reactions. They stared back at him with blank expressions.

“You can’t afford to take the attention off yourself and invest it in someone else. Right now all your energy has to be focused inwards. On you. It’s why we have these rules against relationships between patients.” He paused to inhale audibly. “We take what we do here very seriously. When you breach these rules it affects more than just you. It’s a slippery slope. Other people see your conduct and start to think it’s acceptable when it’s not. Our usual reaction to this type of thing is expulsion from the Centre…for the sakes of everyone involved. But,” he said glancing from Leah to Ter. “In this case and this case only, we’ll make an exception.”

Leah examined him critically. “And why is that?”

Mr. Melvin appeared bemused. “Your grandfather is a friend of the house. Out of respect to him and your family, we will forget about this and help you to the best of our ability. We want you to go home to him healthy.”

“And happy?” she asked, sarcastically.

He stared back at her impenetrably without responding.

“I’m lucky I know you,” Ter commented.

Leah laughed.

Mr. Melvin darkened. “Make no mistake, there will be measures put into place. To begin with, from this point on whatever is going on between the two of you ends. Contact between the two of you will be monitored and limited. There will be no physical contact of any kind. You will both be supervised by attendants each night to make sure you remain in your individual rooms. Do you understand?”

Leah glanced at Ter. His entire body had tightened, his hands dug into the arms of the chair.

“Yes,” Leah said.

“And starting from tomorrow,” Mr. Melvin said, “Your groups and common activities will be varied. We’ll mix you up to make sure that you’re focused on what’s important.” He finished speaking and tapped the desk definitely, signaling the end of his speech.

“Do any of you have any questions or something you want to say?”

Leah opened her mouth to speak and closed it again. Nothing she said would change anything. Even if she told them the exact circumstances that had her on Ter’s floor, she was sure Melvin would maintain his position to keep her coming to them and not to Ter or anyone else.

“No,” she said.

“No,” Ter repeated.

“Good,” he declared. He called out to the attendant, waiting outside the door and asked him to escort them to their rooms. They rose and left the room with the attendant following closely behind them as they trudged down the hall. The other patients watched their parade, some of them stilling to the sight of them being escorted like criminals.

At the juncture where their paths diverged, Leah paused, turning to Ter’s serious face.

Guilt assuaged her. “I’m sorry,” she said, reaching out and squeezing his hand.

“Mmm mm,” the attendant murmured, pointing at their hand. She released his, hers falling at her side.

“Seriously, I’m sorry,” she told him sincerely.

“No,” he said, taking step towards her. “It’s fine. Don’t worry,” he said firmly.

“It don do. None of you is dying,” the attendant said. He put his hand on Ter, nudging him in the opposite direction. Ter walked backwards, keeping his eyes on Leah.

“That’s what he thinks,” he said with a self-deprecating smile then turned and walked away with the attendant.

Leah waited until they were gone to head to her own room. She moved slowly, not speaking or acknowledging anyone. She arrived at her door and placed a palm on its surface pausing for a long moment to brace herself. Finally she turned the knob, and walked inside tentatively. Her heart sped up as the all too familiar tension seeped into her shoulders.

She shut her eyes, silently praying that all her demons would not come flooding back.

Unraveling 4 (I’m Fine) – Sleeicktales

 

unraveling

CHAPTER 4: I’M FINE

Whose side where you always on

When papa’s cane made thumbing sounds

When whispered echoes drowned my muffled cries

When anxiety made me groan

Whose side where you always on

When I looked at you for reassurance

Wet eyes, bruised lips, seeking pity

When I peeked for warmth or a soothing piety

Whose side where you always on.

 

I asked for love you gave me some

I asked for more, I called you mum

Whose’ side where you always on

And why couldn’t you love me more.

 

Leah trailed her fingers over the spines of the minty new books crammed together on the bookshelf. The new-book smell was heavy in the area. The light brown shelves, mahogany table, soft, blue paint, even the certificates on the wall appeared new and staged, like the occupant had just moved in and had yet to begin making messes.

Leah’s manicured fingernails clicked from book to book, adding a sound to the low music the middle aged woman had playing in the background. It was designed to soothe them, she knew, but it had the opposite effect of grating on her nerves, digging under her skin like an insect.

Still she kept the small smile stationed on her face as she moved gracefully from one shelf to the next to the third.

“Do you like books?” Dr. Sulo asked, watching Leah move from a plush leather arm chair. A notebook was balanced delicately on her thighs as she twirled a pen between her fingers. She was a pretty woman in her late thirties, but her drab, oversized clothes and unflattering hair made her look older than she was.

Leah wondered what her actions told the woman. If the fact that she hadn’t sat since she came in for her session said something to Dr. Sulo or if she thought it was just another session passed in silence or idle chatter.

“Do you like books?” Dr. Sulo asked again.

Leah nodded. “I do.”

“Any in particular?”

“Yes.”

“Which ones?”

“Why? So if I say I like romance novels you’ll say that I want to live in my fantasies and if I say I like horror you’ll say that I enjoy pain?”

Dr Sulo laughed hard. “I’m just curious.”

“I don’t have to respond to your curiosity,” Leah said drily.

“You’re right,” Dr Sulo conceded. “You don’t. Do you want to talk about anything else?”

“Hmm,” Leah said, making a show of giving it some thought. “No, I don’t. Do you want to talk about anything?”

Dr. Sulo didn’t rise to her bait. She remained silent letting Leah fill it once more, singing the chorus of a slow song she liked.

“You do have a nice voice,” Dr. Sulo observed, when she finished.

“Yes,” Leah said, absently. “I’m the only one in my family who does.”

Leah stopped moving and turned to face Dr. Sulo. The sight of her always made Leah tense.  Dr. Sulo had always been perfectly pleasant to her and she possessed a voice that was low and mellow, inviting people to confide in her, but something about her made Leah angry, ready for a fight.

“Would you like to sit?” Dr Sulo asked. “You seem restless today.”

“I’m fine,” Leah replied, but moved towards the chair opposite the doctor and took a seat, crossing her legs delicately.

“Leah, you’ve been here for three weeks and you’re still exactly where you started. You understand that I’m trying to help you, don’t you?”

Leah glanced around, anywhere but at the woman, a sardonic smile appearing on her face. “I do. What does Sulo mean?”

“Chosen,” Dr Sulo replied and pressed on. “Are you upset that your time here was involuntary? You grandfather insisted on it and you came to appease him. Do you think that might be holding you back from receiving the best of this place?”

Leah stared directly at her. “I love my grandfather. It was an easy choice to make for his sake.”

Dr. Sulo nodded. “You seem to have a very positive, healthy relationship with him.”

Leah smiled at that. “What exactly is a healthy relationship?”

“You tell me.”

Leah rolled her eyes. “My grandfather is great.”

“And you understand why he insisted you come?”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t agree?”

“Do you think I don’t agree?” Leah asked, mimicking her tone. Dr Sulo remained expressionless which made Leah laugh before continuing.

“I perfectly agree with my grandfather. A wiser man has never lived. I know why he wanted me to come. The last few months have been difficult.”

“Would you like to talk about them?”

“No,” Leah said firmly.

Dr. Sulo flipped open the file on her thighs and smoothed down the white papers inside. “Do you know what he said about you when he had you admitted? He said you have been becoming increasingly aggressive. He said you had a fight with your father and it became physical. You attacked him very badly.”

Leah stilled. “It was nothing,” she said in monotone. “Families fight. My father and I have never been close. I don’t know him well. He tried to tell me what to do with my life. I disagreed.”

“So you attacked him.”

“I was angry.”

“He’s your father.”

“I don’t care.”

“Why?”

“Like I said, I don’t know him. My parents divorced when I was five. I’ve barely seen him since then.”

After the divorce Leah’s mother had moved her and her brother Stephen into their Grandfather’s house. One of her earliest memories was walking into the place for the first time. It had seemed enormous to her five year old self. She’d stared up at the twinkling chandeliers, the spiral staircase, mesmerized.

Her grandfather had examined them, his face stern. He and her mother hadn’t spoken since her mother had defied his wishes and married her father. She remembered her Grandfather shouting and her mother begging. Eventually, his face had crumbled like it was disintegrating into dust as they fight left him, and he drew them all to him, hugging them. She remembered his tobacco scent. It still made her feel safe.

“How do you not like someone you don’t know?” Dr. Sulo asked, returning her to the present.

Leah snorted derisively.

Dr. Sulo let it go. “Okay, let’s talk about what you disagreed about. Work, isn’t it? You don’t think that’s important?”

Leah shrugged. “Finding a job has never been my problem. I just find too many. I don’t see why that’s a problem though. I might not stay in one for long but I always get another and I’m always good at them. The problem isn’t with me but with everyone else trying to force me to be like them. What’s so special about having one job? Why can’t we do what we want and learn as much as we want for as long as we can? I enjoy the freedom of moving and I take care of myself.”

Dr Sulo wrote something in her notebook. “Do you think instead of freedom, you’re running from responsibility?”

Leah bit into her lip to keep from lashing out at her. “I just said I take care of myself.”

Dr. Sulo nodded. “Maybe not responsibility then. You know they want you to be more stable. Maybe you’re doing it to punish them?”

Leah’s eyes narrowed. “Is that a question?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will not answer.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to.”

Dr. Sulo leaned forward in her seat. “Leah,” she began but a knock on the door interrupted her. A young woman in a white attendants’ uniform stuck her head in and raised an index finger.

“Dr Sulo,” the woman called.

Dr. Sulo nodded at her and rose. “Wait for me, I’ll be right back,” she told Leah.

Leah waited just long enough for her to leave the room, before rising and following her out. That was enough therapy for one day.

**

Leah peered into the open door between her room and Mamita’s after lights out. Mamita lay on her bed with her earphones in, her eyes shut. Leah inched forward and pulled one of them out, screaming in her ear.

Mamita shrieked and shot out of the bed. “What the hell?” she said, her hand clutching her chest.

“Sorry,” Leah said, laughing. “You didn’t hear me.”

Mamita shook her head, a smile beginning to form. She pulled out the other ear of the white earphones and dropped them on the table.

“It’s cool. This is the first time you’ve been in my room? Do you like my superior interior decorating?”

Leah looked around. It was completely stark, except for Mamita’s clothes hanging on every surface. “The two of us are hopeless.”

“Hian! Please, don’t compare me with you,” Mamita said smiling.

“How are you enjoying prison so far?” Leah asked.

Mamita shrugged. “I can’t wait to go home. The view is nice sha. Plenty cute boys.”

Leah smiled. “There are? I haven’t seen.”

Mamita eyed her. “You’re lying. That your friend Ter is fine na.”

Leah shrugged. She hadn’t thought about him that way.

“J.J. too,” Mamita continued.

“I guess,” Leah said.

Mamita shoved a pile of clothes off a chair and took the seat.  “It always makes me uncomfortable standing next to him.”

“Why?” Leah asked incredulously.

“He’s too fine. It makes me self-conscious.”

“Have you seen yourself? He should be the one uncomfortable with you.”

Mamita didn’t look convinced. For the first time Leah noticed how much make up Mamita wore. She was messy, her room was a disaster, but outside she was always impeccable as though she was trying to hide her insecurities under layers and layers of perfection.

Leah was silent for a moment. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, why?”

She wasn’t going to mention it, but now that she was here it slipped out. “I heard you crying yesterday.”

Mamita looked away. “I hate nights. They make me sad.”

Leah understood that, especially in this place. “Anything I can do?”

Mamita gave her a smile. “There’s nothing anyone can do.”

**

Leah shared a striking resemblance to her fraternal twin brother Stephen. They both had the same complexion, the same smile, the same nose and eyebrows. Standing side by side it was impossible to miss that they were related.

The two of them had always been very close. As children they had stuck together as much as possible and even after they had grown up and Stephen had moved out of their Grandfather’s house leaving Leah behind, they still saw each other multiple times a week.

“It’s just now you come to see me?” Leah demanded hugged him.

She sat in one of the wicker chairs facing an open window in the guest area and he followed suit. “I thought you liked me more,” she complained.

Stephen offered her a small smile. “Life gets busy nau. Football. Girls. Football. Girls…”

“Did any of them share womb space with you?”

“They better not have, because that would be disgusting.”

He pushed a small traveling bag towards her with his leg. “I brought you clothes, books and some things Ma sent you. I’m sure she wanted to come by herself but you know how she is.”

Leah looked out the window. The carpet grass was dewy green. “Tell her not to come,” she said quietly. “I won’t be here long anyway.”

“How many months is this thing?” he asked.

“Two and a half.”

Stephen shook his head. “Do you want me to talk to the old man? Even if he doesn’t agree you can crash with me.”

Leah declined firmly. “No. Let me just finish it and leave. It will make him happy.”

“You’re always too good,” Stephen said. You should be like me. I no send.”

Leah laughed. For all his jokes she knew him well. She knew the real reason he hadn’t come to see her was because he didn’t want to see her here. He hadn’t even been able to look her fully in the face since he arrived.

“Stephen,” she said.

“What?”

“When you leave, just focus on football and girls. I’ll soon come home.”

He stared at her soberly. His eyes misted and he blinked the tears away rapidly. “I still have time for you.”

“I know,” she said. “Still, just don’t come back.”

He leaned towards her. “Are you okay, Lee lee?”

She truly hated that name. “I’m fine, Stephen.”

Or at least she hoped she would be.

**

After he left, Leah headed to rec room which was booming with people. It was everyone’s favorite place and time of day. The room was huge, containing a football table, a pool table, a table tennis board, board games and a sofa and TV in one corner. It led out to the field where people played volleyball and football each day.

Leah scanned the room. She spotted Ter watching TV on the sofa with one leg propped up on the center table in front of him. She walked over to him, tapping him on the shoulder from behind and circling the chair to collapse next to him.

“What are we watching?” She asked, nodding towards the screen.

“Soap operas,” Ter said dramatically. “The shady millionaire just seduced his daughter in law and now she is racked with guilt.

“Poor girl,” Leah said.

“Poor guy,” he returned. “He thought she could handle it. It’s not his fault she has no stomach for betrayal.”

“But just think, how is she going to face her husband now?”

“With drugs and counseling?” Ter suggested.

Leah smiled.  “She should have come here.” She took the remote from him and began searching through the channels.

“You’re not happy with such an excellent show?” Ter asked. “Shame.”

“You shouldn’t be watching things with romance and betrayal,” Leah told him. “You’re already messed up enough.”

Ter laughed hard.

“And why do you think, you’re the only one sitting here?” she continued.

“Because you’re the only one who likes me?” he asked.

Leah snorted.

“It’s true,” he insisted.

A table tennis ball flew over their heads, knocking into the TV screen. A hefty man jogged up and picked it up. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

Leah followed him as he jogged back to the table. Emeka, his opponent smiled and waved at her with his bat. “Leah,” he called. “Come and play with us.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know how to play.”

“I’ll teach you,” he insisted.

She considered it. “Tomorrow,” she shouted to him.

“Emeks,” J.J. called to him, appearing through the door. Emeka turned and nodded to him, handing over his bat to a waiting player and headed towards him.

J.J. glanced briefly at her and Ter on the sofa, his eyes going over them. He smiled mockingly at them. She frowned back, turning her attention back to the TV.

“There’s something annoying about him,” she told Ter.

“There is?”

Before she could respond, Mamita appeared by her side. “Hi,” she said to them.

“Hi,” Leah said with a big smile.

“What are you guys doing?”

“Watching the best show ever. Come and sit,” she said, making room for her on the couch.

**

Leah sat in the back row of the chapel, listening to Ita sing. She had the voice of an angel. It was powerful and possessed a purity that Leah could only envy. Once Ita began singing an unconscious grace seized her as though she was firmly in her element.

All the patients listened to her in silence, captivated by the words and the melody. Some people were on their knees, kneeling, some had their hands up. Leah’s eyes were closed, her head swayed back and forth to Ita’s voice.

Faith time was a voluntary item on the schedule. They were encouraged to join in but not forced. At seven each evening, the patients split into their different beliefs- Muslims and Christians. Patients who were neither religion or were not interested returned to the dormitories for the hour.

Mostly Leah noticed that people chose to be involved in faith time even if the numbers didn’t remain set; they contracted and expanded from day to day. She herself came because it made her feel part of something. She felt wrapped up in a community, and found it safe and comforting.

“Are you still coming?” Ter whispered. He sat beside her on the wooden bench.

Her eyes flipped open. She hesitated, not sure she wanted to cross this line with him.

She turned to him and saw the absolute lack of ulterior motives on his face. His eyes shone with sincerity.

Her heart expanded with gratitude towards him. “Thank you, Ter,” she whispered back, meaning it. “I think I will.”

“Why are you whispering?” Brima asked, in a mock whisper of his own on the other side of her.

“None of your business,” she replied in the same manner.

“Is it a private conversation?” he said suggestively.

“Yes,” Leah and Ter said immediately in unison.

“Shhh,” someone reproached from the front and they all fell silent like chastised children.

Leah closed her eyes again. Ita’s voice climbed, reaching a glorious high, enveloping her in the sound. Consumed by it, everyone else faded into the background. It was perfect until her mind flit unwillingly to things she would rather forget. Suddenly she could hear the voice calling to her.

“Lee lee. Lee lee. Lee lee Lee lee .”