In the first dream, she was floating along Old Street, across waving grasses and the loud silence of the still night, beneath the dead gazes of countless stars, and she felt, outside herself, a burgeoning hope, as if there was a quick nearness to her dreams, as if it was really possible to free herself of the weariness that came with being born into the world. But she fell, and the stars retreated, and the grasses took on a slow stiffness that made her stare long at the sudden crumbling of her world, of how easily hope could become despair when a little too much of ourselves was given to it. She stood up, brushing wet sands from her pyjamas, and she mourned the seeming endlessness of the street, how far her journey still was, but what started the light sobs was this; that she could not float again.
In the second dream, the vastness of the tawny marsh where her husband worked was the first thing that intimidated her. Then came the rough pounding of hooves and the glitter of unsheated swords under a clear harmattan sky. The men shoved her away, proceeding to pull her husband from his work and take him away, and as they left, she watched the heavy gait of the retreating horses and the flailing arms of her husband that seemed too far. She clutched the sides of her head, as though if she held it a little longer, the men would return her husband and perhaps the ground would not be so quick in its disappearance and the hollow emptiness in which she began to fall in would not be so real. But everything all around her gave way and she was alone, in a vast darkness that was stark in its emptiness; an emptiness that swallowed her screams and spoke too much of the things she did not want to hear.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Precious swung the hoe a little harder than she needed to and a thick clump of soil jumped to swat her face. She cursed the soil first, and then the hoe, mumbled something about giving up, and then dropped the axe. She stomped back toward the house, aware of the worried gazes that trailed her every step, and when she heard footsteps outside her door later, she was sure it was Thomas. He walked in without knocking.
“Hey! Good morning. I got to be the first one to say that today!” Thomas said, offering a smile that failed to hide his unease.
She wanted to be able to be grateful for his concern, to feel something that normal, but she wished that he would not be so indirect in his approach, and for this, she felt a twinge of guilt. As if to make up for her thoughts, she smiled back. The man and woman who called themselves her parents–and everyone that worked in the farm–always said that Thomas was her boyfriend, to which he would smile, as if he expected her to blush and run into his arms, or perhaps he thought if she was reminded often, her memory would return and she would remember the first time they kissed, under the mango tree, or the portraits of both of them that hung high on the wall of his house in Lagos. Her ‘father’ would tell her ‘mother’ that if she had listened to him and had agreed to postpone their daughter’s trip to Lagos, the plans of the enemy to set an accident on the way would not have prevailed and their daughter would still have had both her memory and a vision not absent of colour, and her mother, as if she had long accepted it as her fault, would say, “Let us just thank our chi that she is still alive. That is all that matters.”
Precious tried to remember before the accident, before her world was bleached of colour, before she did not get angry at everyone and everything, before she did not cry at night and act all positive in front of a sea of painfully encouraging faces in the morning, those times they told her that she was the closest thing to a sweetheart, before she began to have dreams she did not understand but yet that left her with a feeling of a reachy longing each time she woke up. She tried to remember Thomas, the man standing in front of her now, whom everyone said she had been going to visit before it happened, this handsome man who visited everyday and said things like, “Love conquers all things. Our love will conquer this amnesia,” and “Maybe a kiss is all you need to remember me, to remember everything.” And so, on one rainy Sunday afternoon, when her ‘parents’ had gone for one certain village meeting, she had allowed him kiss her and they had both waited, expectantly, his face glistening with hope, hers with a careful uncertainty, and she remembered how his smile had taken on a plastic quality when she told him she remembered nothing. There had been more kisses after that and she found herself increasingly attracted to him, but not in the familiar way he wanted her to.
“You do not seem yourself today, Preshy,” Thomas said, moving closer to sit beside her on the bed.
She looked at him and wanted to tell him that she had never felt herself–if she could even know what that meant–since the accident, but instead, she told him about the dream she had the previous night.
“That doesn’t look good,” he said, but he was smiling.
“What’s funny?” she asked.
He did not answer her immediately. He looked away, then stood up and offered her his hand. “Come. There’s something I want to show you.”
She stared at his outstretched hand and wondered, fleetingly, what colour it was. Perhaps red from holding a hoe for too long. Or perhaps brown. Or…she wandered back into her black-and-white world and took his hand.
He smiled, and this time she noticed a lasting genuineness to it; a smile free of sadness and several unspoken wishes. Then he led her out of the house, towards the village’s only restaurant. The farm’s field was empty and she wondered where everyone had gone to, surprised by her own worry as she would usually not care. Maybe it was the protective clasp of Thomas’ hand over hers, the safety in being held.
Just before they entered the restaurant, he turned her to face him, took her face in his hands, and kissed her. She felt light by his touch, as though she was floating, carried through the air, and she remembered the first dream and pulled away. There was a sad understanding in his eyes when she finally looked again at him, and she felt the urge to run back into the house and lock herself in her room. But he took her hands again and led her into the restaurant.
The dizzy cheer of “Happy birthday, Precious!” had her motionless for a moment, her eyes struggling to take in the setting all at once; her ‘parents’, hands held together, grinning like it was all they could do, the farm hands all smiling that she feared their chin must be hurting and the uniformed attendant nodding as if her shock was what he had expected. She looked up at Thomas who was smiling too, her face seeking an explanation.
“It’s your birthday, sweetheart.” This time, he held both of her hands in his.
That did not help and as if he sensed it, he added, “We celebrated it this time last year in Lagos, and you were all gorgeous and happy.”
She just stared at his eyes, at the shimmering gleam it had taken on, and, for a moment, she regretted that she could not know what colour his eyes were. She only felt her own tears when his finger wiped them off her cheeks, and he pulled her into his chest, kissing her hair. “Happy birthday, Nkem,” he said, his mouth full with her hair.
Her ‘father’ walked forward and just stood there, and she lifted her head to look at the bald-headed man. There was a rush of new emotions that overwhelmed her and she threw herself on him, feeling his hands rubbing her back as she looked at her ‘mother’ standing behind him.
When she cut the cake and they all had her make a wish, Thomas lifted her off the floor and kissed her cheeks, smiling and looking unbearably happy, and she thought she remembered a hanging portrait of a man with a dimple as fine as his, but it came and went and she was not sure. When they all sang for her again and he remained clung to her side, she looked at him again and felt like she had known him for the most of her life, before now, but again, it came and went.
She looked away at the walls and then outside the restaurant’s door and she thought what she saw was the sky, not as a mixture of black and white, but a light blue, and she thought, distractedly, that perhaps that was the colour of hope, but she was uncertain, unwilling to believe that she just saw a colour that was other than white or black. So she looked up again at Thomas and her gaze met the face of a smiling man with a lightly brown eyes.
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