Fiction

On the Flip Side: Fiction by Deleteh Bank

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Image: Pixabay.com remixed

Letters fascinate her – not numbers. The way they string together to form meaningful words and then sentences, even compound sentences. And how meanings are buried in-between lines so that they mean different things to different people. Oh, the loud feelings mere unspoken words can evoke! Writing is the best part. Letters are whatever she makes them. She can make the eyes of her letters well up with tears pouring out as ink, if she so wishes, or make them rain with happiness. She is careful for nothing. They rush to her biddings. Adaora is a master in her own rights. She was born for this. She knows.

It is a brilliant Saturday. The morning sun trickles into the room through the space provided by the partly parted black blinds. Adaora’s bed is directly opposite the window, it is the warmness on her eyes that wakes her up: the sun rays easily locate her face. She stretches and yawns. Covering her bloodshot eyes with the back of her hand, she gets up lazily from her bed, and finds her way to the bathroom to relieve her heavy bladder. The littered pieces of paper on the floor, a habit that stuck from her formative years, are a reminder that she’s sort of a messy writer. She comes back and resists the temptation of going back to sleep. It is 10 a.m already. Her laptop’s battery indicator light is blinking at one corner of the room. Last night is still hazy. The last thing she remembers, she was sitting on the floor typing from the disjointed manuscripts – she had to be done and out with the lingering story.

With a sudden realisation, she grabs her phone from the floor. It is connected to her portable computer via a USB. A very uncontrollably visible smirk appears on her face as she reads the letter acknowledging her submission. It is from one of the biggest indigenous online print magazines. Adaora is a paid contributor and an indispensable resource person to their bi-monthly publication. There is satisfaction in her mind as this story is done, dusted, and like her other great stories, the twists in the plot would hold the audience spellbound. Almost everyone thought she should be writing books by now, but somehow that’s not clear in her mind yet.

The grinding sound of the ceiling fan notifies her of electricity. Power in her area has been fairly constant lately – six to eight hours of epileptic electricity a day is considered fairly constant when you live in a clime where darkness is the norm. It’s that time when the Power Distribution Company officials come to disconnect those who haven’t paid their bills, and so the “fairly constant” electric energy is even like an enticement to pay for a barely existent service for the rest of the month. But what can she do? She needs power whenever they can provide it. It saves her a lot of stress.

She shuts down the dying computer and plugs it to a socket. She relishes one last time the attachment in the Inbox folder of her mailbox before connecting the mobile device directly to power. Too tired for routine morning duties, she clears the papers on the floor onto a corner and jumps back on her 20-inch bed. Lazy days such as this, she could remain under the comfort of her duvet keeping good company with her thoughts, but not today. She is sitting up already and resting her back against the wall directly opposite her television.

Saturday morning television had never interested her. She believes the local stations are mostly flooded with cheap eyesores in the name of entertainment: “discards of the western world!” like she says. But as her remote is handy, she decides to justify the fixed and somewhat extravagant electricity bill she is required to pay every month. The telly- trashy or not – is now on.

As she scans through the channels hoping for something worthwhile, she is captivated by a picture of an athlete on the screen. He is tall and heavily built with prominent muscles and a broad, finely chiselled trunk. She can almost visualise the strata of firm muscles underneath the loosely fitted white jersey covering his sweaty torso.

She has a thing for well-built men, you see: it has something to do with the courage and forbearance that they invest to keep in shape. Once, she had decided to run a five kilometre distance on alternate days of the week for at least three months (she could not fit into her rather skinny jeans at the time, and the next logical step was to burn up some fat), yet no thanks to the cold morning breeze for always tangling her hair, plus five solid days of running that made no impact on the 69kg reading on her bathroom scale, she had resorted to cutting down the carbs and having more vegetables. To her, this was a more considerable and less tedious option than a ‘messy’, exhaustive and sweltering run in the chilly air which puts her at risk of pneumonia. Even as she had since then concluded that running is for boys, deep down, she still feels more than a tinge of envy for girls who have the fortitude to keep fit.

Basketball had never interested her either, but then there is this man on her TV. He is in an oppressive and seemingly sticky court, putting the ball through the hoop with all the energy in the world. Not even gravity or the sweat dripping from his forehead into his eyes will deter him. The grip on the ball and power in his biceps say it all – he is smart and savvy. The looks on the spectators’ faces confirm his skills are electrifying and technique consummate.

“...a professional basketball player and cult hero with an impeccable record,” a voice in the background was saying, “who had missed more than nine thousand shots and lost almost three hundred games!

“This shooting guard had failed over and over again to score points for his team that, on twenty-six occasions, he fell hard on his knees and buried his head in his hands as the crowd hailed the rival team. Those twenty-six times, he was entrusted to take the game’s winning shot, and he missed,” he continued. She’s not sure the reason this documentary is airing, but the number 23 emblazoned on the guy’s jersey plus the repeated mentions of failure and its synonyms already jar her thoughts to something in the past. It’s been over ten years now and she has no regrets. At least not any longer. Literature is the best thing that has happened to her. The gold-plated plaque resting on the shelf by the corner attests to that.

*   *   *   *

It was 23rd of April, the day she failed out of medical school. In those days, she woke up feeling like punching the innocent wall; some other days, she felt like smashing things; and some days still, she felt as though her shoulders had been relieved of some huge weight; her feelings snapped like a rubber band; but mostly, she needed to find answers to the avalanche of burdensome questions that tugged her mind. Closure was hard to find.

*   *   *   *

Yes, she remembers those days clearly.

*   *   *   *

One time, she was alone in the hostel and was fiddling with her phone. Somehow she had gotten on Google. She was not sure what she was typing, but she was typing anyway, lazily, and as though counting the letters in her head, she needed to find peace by whatever means necessary.

H-O-W T-O M-A…

Unsolicited auto-complete guesses, one of which had caught her eyes, popped up in the search box. She had ignored it and continued typing. Doesn’t everyone know about how to make love already? She had almost snapped.

K-E P-E-A-C-E…

Not even one guess had sufficed as intelligent with every letter she punched in. Google probably isn’t as smart as we think. That night, she wasn’t looking to make peace with her “past” or with her “god” as the search engine had suggested. Even, something about seeing the word “god” had irked her. She had wondered why the hell God would take a break from His role of crowning the efforts of diligent people with success.

She had been clearly victimized by that sadistic, difficult-to-please professor who expressed dissatisfaction at her during her viva– under God’s watch! That was exactly the way she had felt. Her seemingly perfect explanations of all the –itis’ and –omas’ of pathology weren’t enough to change the look of disappointment on the grizzled professor’s face.

“It’ll end in praise,” her pastor had said while asking her to have faith, even that as small as a mustard seed, in God. She had believed in her pastor’s conviction of certainty. Her pastor was wrong. God was a party in her failure. Or so she had thought. And Google Suggest has the guts to mention God.

W-I-T-H F-A-I-L-U-R-E

She continued typing.

HOW TO MAKE PEACE WITH FAILURE, her itchy fingers had typed. It had seemed to make some relevant sense. She had clicked on Search, and awaited results. Search results were out. No, there was network failure. She cursed under her breath. Everything was against her. She was a failure, she had thought. It even seemed as though there was a grand conspiracy to disappoint her parents who had already been christened papa doctor and mama doctor. She needed to become a doctor so badly for their sake. She’d always felt she owed it to them. She had been really scared of what would happen to her parents when they heard. But surprisingly, they had understood and were even quite supportive.

*   *   *   *

“This player could only have succeeded overwhelmingly because he failed and failed. Records don’t lie,” she hears the 42-inch plasma LCD television blaring.

She remembers her first rejection, amongst many others.

*   *   *   *

Her Blackberry Z10 had beeped from a distance that night. She had fumbled for the phone in the darkness of her room with a reflex swiftness that was– and still is– associated with every phone alert she received. The flickering red notification light helped her find it. She had reached for the phone on the nightstand and swiped the screen with her thumb without hesitation. The smart device had jumped to life; she punched in her six-letter password. The handset had given her access with automatic recognition. The notification was for an email. Probably spam, she had thought. She received a lot back then.

She slid into her inbox with fury, ready to delete the unsolicited message. A rejection mail for a submission had stared her in the face. It was for one of her best works at the time.

She had stared back blatantly, re-checking to be sure her eyes were not deceiving her. Lost in the darkness of her thoughts and surfacing self-doubts, insensitive to everything else, the light on the phone in her hand had gradually disappeared into a dimness that blended with the room’s darkness.

*   *   *   *

The same voice from the TV that is facilitating this retrograde stream of thoughts jolts her back as it reverberates audibly, as though it was patiently waiting for the right moment for a lasting strike,“…yes, even Michael Jordan wrote his name in the hall of fame with failure as a critical motivator, enabler and teacher…”

That name. Michael Jordan. She knows it from commentaries from basketball enthusiasts. He is referred to as the greatest of all time. Until now, she did not know anything else about him.

“…this is proof that every damn great story is a story of many many tremendous failures…” the excited voice continues. He goes on and on, divulging new information in a pitch that heads for a crescendo.

In the rat-race, even as an award-winning creative writer, Adaora’s fair share of let-downs still check in every now and then– from failing to meet up deadlines for publications to failing to sign record-breaking deals, amongst many others.

As she stares at the television screen, she is assured she’s in good company: a company comprising the Thomas Edisons, J.K. Rowlings, Ibukun Awosikas, Jason Njokus and Michael Jordans.

“This is it today, people! Catch us same time next week to see our next celebrity feature on The Flip Side,” the TV voice wraps up.

It’s not so trashy on Saturdays after all. Or today is just a good TV day, she imagines and smiles. Broadly.

She’s not sure why, but suddenly she feels geared up. It’s time to cave in to the unending pleas from ardent fans of her work. She’ll try her hand at writing a book.

There is a story to break. She is ready.

——————

Image: Pixabay.com remixed

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