Fiction

Joseph Ofejiro Bilabi: When the Moon Journeys Home

moon journey
Image: Cdd20, Webflippy, Gerd Altmann, etc., via Pixabay

I can make it seem better for a while- Iris Dement

Every day is continuous like your gaze today, your heart racing again like you lost count of memories of uncommon successes, your fingertips cringing at every calculus you attempt to muster. You are the same today, gazing at night clouds, your breath slower, attempting to catch a glimpse of every sleaze of time that made mortality a comic script that singes at dawn. This time, you hold your arms together, not in a prayer, the right fisting on the left like a wish. These arms remind you of children, how they occupy our hearts in a battle of love, our lovers fading into a mirage to accommodate them only for a while. How they too become stoic, caught up in the same antic of mortality, as home becomes a memory they lost to the wings of progress. You smile with difficulty, your face carrying a visible reluctance. This is how it feels, when a lover longs for reciprocation, to no avail. You are nostalgic as always, the script of experiences carrying a ferocious grace, that veils the pains like a cryptic deception.

Every week, you had waited for him to array you with attention, since you “fell”, a term used by teenage girls when they gossip in whispers, reinventing the burly young men whose eyes looked like the sun, fierce and accommodating. You had once wondered if love was a pit, deep and dark, and uncertain. So you were scared to fall, until the seduction whiffed like smoke, an aroma that caught up with you as with other girls. You had cradled his face with your palms as you reached for his lips in a tiptoe, because height was the criterion too. The phantasm of joy, the beauty and perfection when he hugs you, made you melt even deeper, craving for his all. He called you emerald, called you jewel, and it gave you a feeling of radiance, of elevation. Every week, you kept calling, the weekends drifting into emptiness without him. You asked if he had seen another sunshine, or he was just a busy fool who didn’t understand the intricacies of attention when a lady is all yours to savour. He talked about dreams and becoming, talked about money and time, talked about perfection. You were twenty-two, young enough to know that perfection was a mirage in this world, the very thought of it an illusion. You were precocious too, your hands enterprising, an art you had imbibed from years of farming and trade with your dear mother. You did not let the city steal that away, shuffling between Onitsha market and Uniben, clothes and books, selling and reading and thinking, of him, on the weekends, he skipped, preparing the right words that would pierce through his heart, and bring it back to you alone.

Every month, was the same, sweet and sour, fruitful and fruitless, his eyes pleading, his stories similar. Work was hectic. Warri to Benin every week was suicidal. Coming Friday night, leaving Sunday morning, to start work on Monday, wasn’t the best. Love will still grow over a phone call, sight an infinitesimal contribution. The heart was the most important organ of the body in the journey of love. A heart knows the language of loyalty, and distance only fuels its submission. You had nodded in affirmation, your eyes lighting up, your trust forceful, as you conjured it with an overflow of thoughts, drowning the voices of the girls: “He would soon find a more beautiful girl.” He has already started sleeping around”. He wouldn’t love you if he doesn’t hear your voice once every hour, 24 times every day. Get a side guy. No man is sure…” Your Ebuka wasn’t like other men, though handsome. He was shy, and quiet, his eyes looking at his feet so often with beards like philodendrons, tended into neatness with brushes and clippers. There is something furtive about the way he speaks about his love for you, his steps matching up his confessions like the way he dawdles when you are sad, when he is saddled with the responsibility to make you smile. The way he counts the strands of your hair with a certain assurance, the sort that love has become these days, blind and compromising, questioning and mercuric. You trusted nonetheless like a baby, innocent and pure.

Every year folded into memories, your sun, sheltering into a blur. You worked your way through prying eyes, the young and sturdy guys, who carried a confident gait like a badge of honour. Someone soon learnt the art of trudging you home, his aura authentic, crisp like his arms that gripped your palms without your consent. He would buy you suya on some nights with meat, gristly like his resolve. He would call you other names; not like precious stones. Something more familial: “baby,” or something distant yet close enough to muster ownership and melody; “bamby”. He will adorn you with uxorial eulogies, swearing that he would remain celibate for life if he doesn’t walk you down the aisle, embroidered with flowers and glass awnings. He would make your heart beat faster at the thought of your Ebuka. Was it betrayal, or were you scared of the omnipresence of time and its sovereignty over love, sprouting tenderly before the midday sun? Why did this someone play a substitutionary role so suddenly, after years of faithfulness? How did he bring warmth like worship to your cold heart?

Every decade told the same story. You were 10, he was 12, fit as fiddle, dandy for his age. He had walked up to you when you first came to JSS 1, (your new school), 3 weeks after the actual resumption day because mummy needed to do some more sales before she could buy the text books for study. He shot you a smile. He was so handsome, his looks graceful, his uniforms neat and crisp like new wads of naira notes. He had shot you the smile again, an invitation, his secret charm. This was how he got Kudirat, the pretty “hard to friend” Muslim girl. This was how he got Bola and Tracy too. You had scurried away, clasping your school bag in a full embrace. He would later be your “husband”, you his “wife” joined in matrimony by jealous and unsuspecting eyes, your classmates, wondering how two mates of the opposite sex could bond so well. He has broken many hearts too. Kudirat cried every day, they said, her sobs fizzy, anytime he sat with you, or walked you home.  He always carried your “water-bottle”, buckled your sandals, fixed your “hair packers”, or your ribbons. You had liked him so much, you looked forward to coming to school.  This lasted until SS 3 and you were 15, he was 17. He didn’t know if it was just friendship now. You didn’t know either. You only knew that he made you cry when he snubbed you or when you had a quarrel. You would not sleep all through the night. His heart took a leap when he saw you too. Something you both got to understand as you passed through the rigours of your teens, and found a world that accommodated expression for every age. He was the first to whisper it to your ears “I love you”. But you would not be ecstatic and jolly for too long. You will not tell the story of his indirect proposal for too long. He had gone with the boys one night to the bulrushes close to the river. They all sneaked out of home from behind the door. They had “embalmed”, amidst cuts and bruises made with knives they took along, and broken bottles. He had angrily broken into a fight with one as to who should be “Capon”. That one had run a broken bottle through his stomach. The meeting ended in pandemonium, everyone dispersing quickly. He was found lifeless in the pool of his own blood the next morning.

Every minute still reminded you of him today, Elliot, being his name, as you looked into the eyes of Ebuka, when he asked you why your heart has become a distant thing, your love dissolving like cubes of sugar, losing its sweetness along with immersion. “Do you still love me?”, he had asked, his eyes losing its luster, taking a redness that gave it anonymity. You had answered sincerely, your heart trusting. “Of course, I do. But someone has been disturbing me lately.” He had hugged you tightly, begging you not to leave him. He was 30, you were 25. Next year hopefully, he had said, and the diamond ring would scare away someone, everyone. He had embarked on a journey to Abuja the next day for an important business meeting. That night, you had called his number but it remained switched off. The news at 9pm came like an elegy, inexact, and sad. The voice of the newscaster echoed: “Unknown Gun Men kidnap four passengers, as a bus carrying 14 passengers was attacked along the Kogi-Abuja Road. Other passengers escaped and the driver was shot dead. The deceased who was identified as Femi Olukoye…” You had panicked. Screamed. Shouted. Hoped. Cried.  Everyone hoped that Ebuka would be released by the gunmen. But another year passed, and your Ebuka never came back.

Every hour became cranky, tortuous, as you become a stranger seeking to find yourself. You have become lost, in mind and body. And so when Someone came to ask your hand in marriage undermining your grief, you felt you were already sharing affinity with strangers. You agreed to marry him. You had never wanted to call someone by his name- Eric. You had avoided the familiarity, had loathed it. Now you are like the waves of the sea, carried by the wind. You had wedded, and he was good to you, your Eric. You both had 3 children: Miracle, Melody and Faith. You had hoped these names would redefine your existence. Had hoped these kids would bring back melody to your life, drowning into everything bland and sad. You had hoped for the miracle of longevity, of recovery. You had hoped one day, Ebuka would walk into your house with his wife, assuring you that he lived and began another life. You had kept faith, that everything would once again, break into a happy song.

Today is another day, your hair greying slowly, grudgingly, as you shift again, your chair, accommodating, worn with aging too, your favorite companion since Eric left the home when you were 40, and never returned. You heard he stayed in a hut with an ugly woman. You were beautiful. And this was a beautiful bungalow you lived in with him. It is magical how things become sour and strange, and pewter into absurdity. But you were determined never to lose your kids, 2 boys and a girl. You sheltered them, arrayed them with love. They are grown now, the two boys in the US, the girl married to a man in Australia. As you gazed at the swollen moon tonight, you wondered if they will ever come back home to even see your face again. You tried to force the smile the second time but what you felt was a sensation, then the tears rolling freely. You looked at those arms again, gone coarse with labour and faith, and forced melodies, and uncommon miracles.  Every second is precious now, because soon you too will journey home, from this body. Maybe when the moon fades, maybe for another moment longer, before the sun sets, or maybe you would wait for your children if they will remember to return. Maybe you will just wait a little longer, before you go to bed.

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Image: Cdd20, Webflippy, Gerd Altmann, etc., via Pixabay

About the author

Joseph Ofejiro Bilabi

Joseph Ofejiro Bilabi lives in Nigeria. He writes short stories and poems. He is the recipient of different awards in poetry, prose and Playwrighting. He won the 2016 Green Author's Prize for Poetry and he is a co-author of the award-winning poetry collection titled Rainbows and Fireflies published in 2016. He has won other competitions in poetry and fiction, including the annual Festus Iyayi Awards for Excellence for three years Consecutively- 2016 (second runner up prose category), 2017 (winner drama Category) and 2018 (first runner up Prose Category). He graduated from the department of English and Literature, University of Benin. His works are published or forthcoming in different online literary journals and magazines. He is currently at work on his debut novel.

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