How do you kill a shadow that stays when the light goes off? You sit at the edge of your bed in the stillness of the young night and count the number of times this dream has replayed itself. Your grandmother stands at the shore of a familiar beach and calls you to come. Her voice, lifting the voracious sea in its depth, says maa bo, Ola.
Today, you wake up from the dream breathing heavily, your heart racing as if it will leap out of your mouth. This is the same way every one of your fears leaps out of your body. The fear of heights, the fear of water, the fear of staying. Today, this dream came to take a chunk of your peace away. Your bed drenched in sweat, you must have bodied so much water to have rained this heavily. You tried to cry in the bathroom the night before but the stars in your eyes stood heavily, unshaken, unmovable.
You bring out your journal to note this dream down. It's the 23rd entry this year. Maami died two years ago. You remember the way the winds took ownership of the room where you slept, how they whistled angrily. Your father as he walks in, decked in his jalabiya, his shadow standing taller than him in your room, his eyes searching for meaning in yours. Your mother's voice now rising like a whirlwind, calling your grandmother's names, Arike, Olanike, Adégbolá, Arike… while yours settles into her growing absence the way birds digest wholewheat.
When someone dies, everyone talks about how pleasant they were. How they were once the sun rising in the east of their problems, how they were someone's saving grace. But you say nothing. What do you say when you carry a mouthful of salt in a wounded mouth? Your throat slowly thawing the reality of someone's absence.
This dream is never complete, you know. You wonder why someone, even in the death of their conscience, still deeply wants to bring you close. The fan in your room comes on, power has been restored. The candle you lit before you dies silently. Your grandmother, whose mouth you know so well, once told you the body will listen when the earth speaks. In May, you woke from this dream and tried to overdose on a sleeping tab. You say you wanted to sleep for a long time.
You know it is not just this dream that haunts you. You know that this house, this room, the shadows and the way they form on the walls, the bed and the way it creaks, everything brings you close to someone's grave. You have always wanted to say it but who do you tell? How do you say it?
Your mother comes through the open door of your dark room and you begin to cry. She hastens towards you and puts your head on her chest. She does not ask what it was. You do not say a word.
I know, Ola. She finally says.
You do not think she does. She unwraps the edge of her old ankara to wipe your tears.
The spirit of your mothers are with you, Ola. I know you miss her so much. Your father and I heard you call her name out of your sleep moments ago.
She does not know your grandmother, one evening when you were seven, walked into your room and asked you to undress. She placed her lips over yours and sucked your lips into her mouth. This ritual is sacred, she said. She asked you to pack your books away from your bed and lay. You laid. She walked her mouth over your young body. You ached. You shivered. Calm, calm, Ola, she said, this ritual is sacred.
That was only the beginning of a life that you lived pleasing a now dead woman.
I know, Ola, I know, your mother says. She does not. Thank you, mummy, you mutter, from your heavy mouth.
Adedayo Agarau’s chapbook, Origin of Names, was selected by Chris Abani and Kwame Dawes for New Generation African Poet (African Poetry Book Fund), 2020. He is the author The Arrival of Rain. Adedayo is an Editor at IceFloe, Assistant Editor at Animal Heart Press, a Contributing Editor for Poetry at Barren Magazine. His works have appeared on Agbowo, Glass Poetry, Mineral Lit, Ghost City, Temz, Linden Avenue, The Shore Poetry, Giallo, and elsewhere. Adedayo curated and edited an anthology of Nigerian poets, Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry. You can find him on Twitter @adedayo_agarau or agarauadedayo.com
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