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Ola W. Halim: The Water

“God. I can’t destroy this diary. Last night I couldn’t bear to burn it. I haven’t finished reading it. Maybe at the end, she leaves an address…”

1. Drowning II
—When I was fifteen, I did some online stuff about what might cause my death.
—Really? And what was it?
—Wow. So, you avoided the water?
—I do. But the water doesn’t avoid me.
—How so?
—If I refuse to bathe, to eat, to have anything to do with the water, can I refuse to cry out my pain? Isn’t it water I cry? The same water I avoid?
—Hold on. Don’t you believe my tears can drown me?

2. Goodbyes
She rises. Says she wants to leave. Psychotherapist, Goodbye. Goodbye. That’s the last word she says—goodbye. It echoes over the silence, renders it vulnerable, snaps it into shards. She’s seated again. Her eyes counting the cobwebs netted about my ceiling. Why do psychotherapists ask too many questions, she says, and why do they pretend to understand people?
Goodbye. It echoes. Like the last lines of the ditty you learnt as a child. It was just some thrash about a lonely black cat. Now it’s about death. A black cat squashed by a cab. Lying there, lonely in death. A week later, swells, smells. Then it echoes. Echoes into the loam. To become manure.
—No psychotherapist can understand me, no matter how much of me I let away. My Mum can’t even understand me whole. I’ve spent twenty years with her yet she can’t understand me. How can you, a stranger, understand?
—Just talk. Let’s see.
She says nothing more. Typical of her. Only goodbye. Takes something from her bag. Lays it on the floor. Carries her bag. Then there’s the knocking sound of her shoes down the hallway.
I’m standing by the door. Watching her walk away. She turns and sees me watching her. She takes to her heels. I want to run after her. But I stand there and dial her number afterwards.

Jan. 13
I’m happy today. Dancing like a mad woman. Twirling. Whirling. Screaming. The world’s all mine. I’m learning the guitar. Stroking the strings to Raybean’s Lost Souls (Oh lost souls/Come back home/Home is where you sprout the wings/That flutter at noon/And send you to cloud supernovae at night/Oh lost souls/Come back home.).
And Mum. She’s telling him on the phone: Tumininu’s madness has come again.

Jan. 29
Sad today. Hate I stutter when I look at you. Hate my hands tremble. I break the cups and Mum yells. I replace my profile picture on Facebook. Now there’s a lily. A broken lily. And the wing of a dead butterfly. I want to cry. But I avoid water. I’ll drown if I do. I cut my hair and face the mirror’s truth. It’s harsh. This truth. I can’t be anything. Except Tumininu. Standing before the mirror. Looking lost. Blood dotting my naked skull.
Mum. She’s telling him on the phone: the evil spirit has come over Tumininu again.

4. Faces
Did the kiss really happen? God, how could it? What am I seeing on the walls? A face? Her face? God. Where’s the switch? God! Please—
—Mummy. Mummy. Mummy. Mummy. Mummy—
My daughter. Her echolalia comes more intense when she sees something strange.
What’s that?

Oct. 19
The water. Today I walk to it. Its calls are alluring. Adenoidal voice. Calm breaths between the syllables: Tu-mi-ni-nu. Navy blue, mysterious, mystical. Lavender foams bubble. The waves rise. The waves rise like a cobra. Smell of fertile wetness. Fecund. Like dew sliding down a bean shoot. Ever smelt that? The water laps. Like it’s falling on glass. It’s a friend. It’s a foe when it roars at night, though. How does it taste? The saltiness of blood?

Dec. 25
Christ is born, or so many claim. I’m here again. By the water. I’m running my fingers over the railing of the bridge. Over the net that could trap people attempting to jump. Could. You figure why I use could, right?

6. Kisses
It’s true. We kissed. She was sobbing. After an hour of silence. An hour of us listening to the pattering of rain on the roof. Of silent thunder shaking the sky. Lightning cracking pods open. The lips parted and the tongues slid in. Searching. I don’t know who initiated it. But we kissed.

May 8
I meet her today. A crescented rainbow is her cover photo. So I know she’s like me. She has the kind of eyebrows I like. Straight. Thick. I DMed. She attends the university I’m applying to. I send her my nude photo. The one I took in the bathroom. My legs spread open.

8. Lighters
God. I can’t destroy this diary. Last night I couldn’t bear to burn it. I haven’t finished reading it. Maybe at the end, she leaves an address. Maybe she relocates. Forget about the details she left on the bookmarked page. She can’t be that one who—
My daughter sways here. I pick up the diary and leave. The lighter is there. I’m not scared because she can’t just pick things by herself.

Apr. 19
Today Mum says I’m possessed. I can’t be liking a girl and be normal. It’s the evil spirit. She puts a candle inside my thing, since I don’t want to stop using my fingers. She takes me for deliverance. I ensure I leave with my diary. I should spend seven days there.

Apr. 27
I just ran away from the last deliverance session. I’m standing by my girlfriend’s lodge. I beg her to run away with me. She says she can’t abandon her schooling. You’re being ridiculous, Tumininu. You’re sick. Last time you wanted to put me into trouble by drowning. Now, run? God forbid!

Mar. 4
While two boys are being burnt for reportedly sucking each other’s balls, Mum is pushing her breasts towards me. She wants me to touch her breasts and swear that I won’t be liking girls anymore. I touch her breasts and feel mine stiffen.

Jul. 17
I watch porn for the first time. A white girl fingering her thing, curling three fingers and forcing them inside, and cringing and squirming, and licking whatever liquid she fetches out. My nipples brush against my blouse. I want to grab the girl’s breasts. They’re like watermelons soiled in clay. I want to bite into them. I want to suck sensation out of them, render them numb. I want to moan like she does. I want to encircle her belly button, paint the ring with my saliva. I want to gasp at the same pace with her.

11. Psychotherapists
It seems I’m up in the penthouse. Gazing into the sea below. It seems like a wild sense of vertigo grabs me. It seems this penthouse is my house. I drive in most evenings. Look up the towers and wonder why I’m here. I want someone to shake me off this dream. This isn’t reality.
My husband is the sea. Just as calm these days. I asked for time. Space. Patience. I’m going through a lot of trauma. But I didn’t ask for silence. For passivity. I didn’t ask him not to reach for me under the duvet and squeeze my breasts. But he’s doing all that now. He’s even ignoring my calls at the office. He’s the sea, calm, and like the sea, deadly.
My daughter is the vertigo. The therapy should be working. But I no longer care. She just sways and fixates on the wall. You try to touch her, to carry her, she yells. You want to press the VOL+ button until you no longer hear your tears taunt you, she clamps her palms over her ears and yells until you reduce it. She can’t tell you she’s hungry. Or wants to pee. The only thing she does is arranging her pencils in a large rectangle and shutting you totally off. But it’s not her fault. I’ve stopped taking her for therapy. So she becomes a vertigo. Scary. Strange.
The river is the safest place I can be now. I stand by the bridge. Stare into the water below. I wonder if she’ll hear me if I scream, call her name. An official comes to drag me away. I walk up and down the bridge, reading her obituaries. Many of them are handwritten, by her coursemates. I wonder which was written by her ex. And which of them. The one who refuses to run away with her should write something choppy. The drug addict might just be among those scribbling RIPs over her face. I clap eyes on a post asking whoever is reading to think twice. To think about all the love and beauty in the world. To imagine the cruelty of transferring pain to someone else instead of trying to find a harmless solution. There are eighteen emergency numbers to call if you need help under each post. Yes I count them. I want to add two of mine, to make them twenty. But I don’t. Where do I find the guts to, when I couldn’t help her? What psychotherapist fails like that?

Sept. 16 (11:46am)
Today she takes me to the pool. We’re here to celebrate the second anniversary of our relationship. That’s why she’s here, at least. But I’m here to taste the water, to answer its call. So when she playfully splashes water at my face, I crash into the water and try to stop breathing. My heart is pumping, enlarging. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. It’s whispering it. But the water is begging me to surrender. Why is it so impossible to just hold your breath and go?

Sept. 16 (Noon, don’t really know the time)
I’m awake. On a hospital bed. Our university teaching hospital. Mum’s talking on the phone. Is she telling him that my evil spirit made me attempt suicide? Who’s him? Why can’t she reveal him for once?

13. Words
My daughter said her first word today. It wasn’t that echolalia sort of thing, no. Her therapy was working fine. Seemed she’d reduced her stereotypy. She now let her father wear her pajamas, change her dress after school. She now smiled when her father tugged at her cheeks. But I, I’m hidden in my own shell, brooding over a client. Who became a crush. Who I couldn’t save. So I didn’t know when she said her first word. I didn’t know what she said. But I believed my husband when he ran into my room and said, Sweetie, she talked.
—Who talked?
—Our daughter. Adunni.
—Aren’t you happy? Won’t you ask what she said? Shouldn’t I bring her so she can repeat it?
—No, no and no.
—You know, Sweetie, I’m trying. I’ve been patient with you. I’m dying in silence. You have to accept it wasn’t your fault and move on.
—She left her diary in my office. She left details. Site. Time. Mode. If I’d run after her. If I’d found the diary earlier.
First of all—
—Leave my room. This discussion is over.
—You’re pushing me away. One day you’ll wake up to find me no more.
—If you’re contemplating suicide, please make up your mind. Get out now.

14. Songs
—Why don’t we just listen to music today? The counselling isn’t working. Can’t you see?
—Okay. What songs do you like?
—Wrong question. What artistes do I like? I’ll tell you: Sadcore and The Lovelorn.
—She sings a cappella. She believes that instruments in music makes it celebratory. You hear her voice echo. You hear her heartbeat. The slurred voice. The studio blurs. All of them contribute to giving you the perfect sound.
—You should be a music critic.
—I am.
—So what’s your favourite Sadcore song?
—I like all of her songs. But from her recent album, Clanging Silence, I love four songs.
—Okay? Can you name them?
Shroud. She was singing about buying a shroud for herself. The shroud has to contain flower patterns. At least, it’s going to make up for the flowers she tried planting without success on earth.
—Wow. What makes you listen to these songs?
—I’m not done answering your first question. You asked if I could name all the four songs on her new album I liked.
—Oh yeah. Go on.
Surrendering to my Demons. Shadows. Suicide Notes. You don’t like me talking about them, so I just name them.
—Tell me about The Lovelorn.
—I’m done for today. I’ve talked too much. It’s exhausting.

15. Details
I call her after she runs down the hallway. I haven’t found the diary then. Haven’t even entered my office. Number switched off. The goodbye echoes still. I step back into my office. I find the diary on the floor. I pick it up. A bookmarked page says:
12:30 if all goes well.
Pink sandals if all goes well.
Apala River if all goes well.
Drowning if all goes well.
Note on FB already.
Take care.
God. Oh my God. My heart has never pounded louder, faster. I literally fly in my car to the river. But it’s 12:57pm as I get there. People are thickening around the bridge railing. She leaves her sandals. Pink sandals with golden buckles.

Jan. 6
Today she tells me she’s HIV positive after we’ve fucked five times. I know she’s suffering. I know she can’t keep her fingers from her thing because her uncle started it with her when she was nine. I know she drinks and sniffs anything that can blur her senses. I know she’s a masochist. She binds me up into a circle so that my breasts rub my thing and pushes her lubricated fist into me. I know she has shot someone before. I know the person was her uncle, twenty years after he first fingered her. Common sense should have told me she has HIV. But it doesn’t.

Jan. 29
After thinking for a long time, I break up with her today. It feels good to initiate a breakup. You feel your self-worth. But it doesn’t last long, because she doesn’t beg. When my ex said she wasn’t running away with me, it hurt me. I pleaded with her. But this woman I met after running to this strange city, escaping deliverance, doesn’t plead. It only feels good to initiate a breakup when your lover begs you to stay.

17. Suicide Notes
(I’m not putting this up here to gain attention. If you think I am, I’d be long gone before you change your thoughts.)
Well, let’s say I’m tired. To illustrate this, I’ll quote lyrics from two different songs by my favourite artiste, Sadcore:
The first, Surrendering to my Demons:

Ain’t mine
Fought hard
So hard
Planted flowers—wilt
Love—shards of glass
Can’t you see now?
Why I’m surrendering?
Surrendering to my Demons?

The second, Suicide Notes:

Nothing makes you glad
No more
You just know
You just know you’ve outlived
You just know you’ve outlived your life
This is why
This is why you are
This is why you’re leaving
To let the glad live.

I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.

18. Aftermaths
I’m leaving. I’m leaving my daughter and husband for now. I’m taking a hotel room overlooking the river. I need to do this. I’m tired. I need to walk that bridge again. They say the obituaries and posts have peeled off. Her memory is fading. Her story is fast becoming history. Comments and reactions to her Facebook posts, especially her suicide note, no longer come in hundreds per hour. There’s another piece of news in town, obviously.

Aug. 5
Dearest Psychotherapist,
I didn’t accidentally leave this diary in your office. I left it with you because only you have proven worthy of knowing me. You’re my best friend. How else do I pay for all the silence I gave you, despite how hard you tried to make me talk? So, do read. After reading, you can decide to do anything you want with it.
That kiss we shared was the most genuine thing I’d ever felt all my life. But, sorry, you met me a broken record. You couldn’t have loved me. At least, not the way I wanted.
I love you.
Thank you for being part of my miserable life.
PS. You should check out the following songs, if you like; they’d help you understand me more:
1. NamELess – Happiness is a Luxury
2. Sadcore – Shroud
3. The Lovelorn – Baby, I Used to be a Survivor
4. Sadcore – Surrendering to my Demons
5. The Lovelorn – Wet Nights
6. Sadcore – Shadows
7. Mystique – Like a Piece of China Floating Aimlessly
8. The Lovelorn – One Last Kiss
9. Sadcore – Suicide Notes
10. NamELess – What If…?

20. Drowning II
—Figuratively, yes, your tears can drown you. But literally, no.
—If literal means real, and figurative means implied, then I can tell you I’m a figurative person. I’m not real.
—Why do you think so?
—Does the water call real people? Do they even hear?
—Maybe you listen too hard and you hear things that aren’t speaking in reality?
—Isn’t that why I said I wasn’t a real person? What if I was born to die?
—No, you’re not. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been born at all.
—My mother made a mistake. She doesn’t know the man who put me inside her. But there’s this man she calls whenever I’m having an episode.
—Do you know him?
—I don’t want to. And, yes, I can’t talk about who I don’t know. So don’t get me started on that.
—Today, I think we should get your body used to water. And water used to your body. You two can make good friends, you know?
—I wish I knew. How do you intend doing that?
—Figuratively. You’re a figurative person.
—You’re funny, Psychotherapist.
—My name is Bosede.

Image by Pfano Rathogwa from Pixabay (cropped)

Ola W. Halim
Ola W. Halim
Ola W. Halim writes fiction and reflections somewhere in Edo State, where he teaches English Language and Literature. He was a runner-up for the 2019 Teach for Change Teacher's Prize, and also for the Sevhage Short Story Prize. His work has appeared on the Kalahari Review, African Writer, Praxis Magazine, BrittlePaper and elsewhere.


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