Dried Roses by Claire Eze

There’s this thing everyone in Lagos is acquainted with, something whose only job is to provoke. It stares you in the face with empty eyes giving no care to your social status, your health problems, or your efforts to revoke your financial instability with an 8:00am appointment. Doesn’t matter who you know. It taunts you with a staring game, almost daring you to win, but you can’t win. It’s been living here long before you came, though not in the early stages of the state’s 77 years as the Country’s capital but long enough to become the city’s trademark, something you are not. It isn’t what one reaches out and feels; if it were tangible, it would have been dead long ago; if it were dead, Amara and Jidenna wouldn’t have met.

Jidenna, whom, growing up, everyone called “Eze Okpokoro train”, meaning he could close his teeth and still have enough space for a train to pass through. A piece of evidence he sucked his thumb as a child. Jidenna, whom everyone thought would die while in University, he had rolled with a group of over-ambitious boys who wanted fast money. He couldn’t do what they wanted, and so they lashed at him. Here was Jidenna sitting behind the wheels of his Toyota 2004 model, honking at the Venza 2015 model in front of him, who was honking at the yellow and black molue, honking at a truck. He was on his way to appeal to Zenith Bank, Maryland, for the umpteenth time to grant him a loan; however, this thing in Lagos had other plans for him.

An okada man, in a bid to bypass this thing, turned with his passenger to follow the BRT lane before Anthony Busstop but mistakenly collided with an incoming. The BRT swerved wrongly, and in a split second, the man’s head was under the bus throwing out its secrets, painting the tarred road a very bright red. His passenger had her left knee cap exposed and tibia sticking out. Everything is always a mistake; nobody ever deliberately sets out to meet death on a glorious morning like this; that is nobody but Amara. A morning that would have seen her last day on earth. She had planned it out last night: jump on a bike, make him take a bad turn, get killed, and be free forever. On the tarred road was the dead man, and about two feet from him was Amara, screaming murder from the pain in her leg.

Amara, who growing up, everyone called “Ogbanje”, a water spirit because her skin dazzled, and her black eyes sparkled like she had water in them. Her grandmother had insisted on marking her face to prevent the water goddesses from making her one of theirs, but her mother wouldn’t hear of someone marring her beautiful daughter’s face because of some silly belief. Amara whom everyone loved from afar but avoided in University, as rumor has it that anyone she rolled with blossomed for a while, dried up, and fell off like dead roses approaching the end of its season. There was a reason her grandmother called her “Ochicha mere ihe eboro oke” (the cockroach who does things everyone believes to have been done by a rat).

Days after the incident Amara would marvel at the general misconception about suicide, who knew that deciding to live another day wasn’t bravery, but mere cowardice. Days after the incident, Jidenna would marvel at his willingness to go poke-nose at something that had nothing to do with him. On a normal day, he would never have opened his car to go peep, most especially when it had a gathering. If you’ve lived in Lagos as long as Jidenna had, then you would know the risks of getting mugged in broad daylight in any small Lagos street gathering. On getting to the scene of the crime, amidst the voices echoing for the ambulance, and the voices offering to rush the lovely girl to the nearest hospital in their cars, Jidenna got a hold of the bike whose back wheel was still rotating after people pulled the girl from under, he started it and urged people to put the girl behind. He had gone a long way from the scene before he remembered that his car keys, phones, and wallet were in his car and his door unlocked. Jidenna would come back to meet his car parked at a corner, two agberos sitting on his car bonnet, smoking and waiting for the good samaritan who had saved the beautiful girl; they were safeguarding his car as a thank you.

That accident, in collaboration with the thing in Lagos, started something it shouldn’t have between Jidenna and Amara, something his inner eye foresaw and told him to let go of Amara, but he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He was more concerned about Amara leaving him. Since Amara accepted his promise ring while in the hospital on one of his numerous visits to her, his business had flourished like never before. Where he used to appeal for loans, banks sent agents to his home and office trying to convince him to get their black card. He’s had to change his personal phone number multiple times; he was living the life he had envisioned for himself. What could possibly go wrong? 

Discharged from the hospital and with one and a half leg, Amara moved in with Jidenna, living off the wealth he insisted had come to him through her. She didn’t believe him; you know how men lie, but she stayed anyway, living. Months after the horrible accident, Jidenna’s younger sister moved with them into their new home in Rockview Estate at Ago Palace Way, Okota, to complete her education. Somehow Chizoma did more of caring for Amara than furthering her education; the other anomaly was how happy Chizoma was, doing it.  

She would never let anyone else touch Amara’s meal, run Amara’s water, or make Amara’s bed. For the first two months, everything was okay until Chizoma began drying up like a dead rose; if Jidenna noticed, he never uttered a word. One afternoon, Chizoma took a nap and slept forever. 

Jidenna’s mother, in her grief, came all the way from Nnewi, Anambra state, to heal. Some days after her arrival, she began taking care of Amara. Mama bloomed and laughed like her life’s been filled with nothing but happiness, like her husband’s first wife hadn’t cost her the “mama ejima” title, by poisoning her twins at ten months, like her husband hadn’t driven her out of his house and turned her remaining kids into servants, like she hadn’t risked her life and freedom to smuggle in rice and drinks from Cotonou, so she could sell in Lagos, get enough money and get her kids out of that hellhole. It was as if God himself had wiped her grief slate clean. 

One evening on her way to deliver Amara’s dinner of stir-fried veggies and a glass of hot Tumeric, Mama fell and broke her hip; that night, Jidenna picked up his phone to call his eldest sister Chinyelugo. The last time he saw Nyelugo was at Chizoma’s burial. They had exchanged hot words, words that time cannot heal. Nyelugo had told him to his face, he used their baby sister Chizoma for a money ritual and wanted nothing with him. Hearing strangers whisper was one thing, but coming from his sister? It broke him. He smashed the phone.

That night Mama cried like never before; God hadn’t wiped her pains, just archived them. Jidenna didn’t hear his mother’s heartbreak. His and Amara’s moans drowned the sound. That night Mama crumpled; Jidenna didn’t feel his mother’s spirit leave her body. Amara’s toothless hole already had him sinking into the same pit of ecstasy mama just exited.

Rockview Estate residents often see the beautiful lady with one and a half leg limping on her crutch, swaying under the weight of her groceries. They offer help when they can but never to the point of going into her house. Rumor has it that anyone she rolls with blossomed for a while, dried up, and fell off like dead roses at the end of its season.

About the Writer

Claire Eze is a writer and editor at WiglessMag.Com. When she’s not working, she’s masquerading as a Rihanna stan. Tweet at her @FentyCops

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