I walked out of the house hating what Uncle Bongo had done. When I told him about my score in the JAMB exam, he had done little more than shake his head, only for me to realize he had not really been unconcerned, for I had heard him speaking to my father telling him I had failed the exam the second time and that he was tired. ‘Efe spends his time chasing girls here.’ That was the statement that upset me the most. And I knew he had said it because of Bimpe. He had seen us together one evening, talking on the balcony. He was usually very reticent, so he had not said much that evening; just grunted a half-hearted reply when we greeted him. That was what annoyed me the most: he acted like these things were not his business, but when you least expected him to, he’d talk about them.
Outside, the street was quite noisy. Some men had gathered around a new car, A Mercedes Benz Formatic, from which music was playing, and they were drinking and laughing and talking loud. I knew the man who had bought the car. Everyone called him Bros, but his name was Mr. Kelechi. He and Uncle Bongo were friends, and I gathered from him that Bros got his money by bringing in things: phones, electronics, cars and wines. But still, people in the neighbourhood said he was a ‘yahoo’ boy (an Internet fraudster). I didn’t care. I hated such talk. People were always fond of attaching stupid meanings to things or calling every wealth they did not understand dubious.
I branched off Kiloko Street and went to Mama’s Kitchen, the restaurant where Bimpe worked. When I saw her, she was at the kitchen entrance wiping her hands with a towel. I waved to let her know I was around. She moved her lips and made the words: I am coming. Bimpe had a long nose and deep brown skin, like coffee. She had dimples in her soft round face when she smiled. To me she was just beautiful. When she came to me she made small talk, and I responded half-heartedly.
‘Is it your uncle again?’ she asked.
‘Don’t worry about me. Just came to clear my head. I am fine.’
‘You,’ she said good-humouredly.
‘Don’t worry about me. You should get back to your work. Bring me Sprite while you are at it.’ I smiled.
She brought the drink and went back into the kitchen.
I drank and sat a little while, then I left.
I walked through the streets, moody and bored. On Newlane Street, there was a small party which had taken up the road with its blue-and-white canopies and dancing people. Rubbish, I said to myself as I wound my way through the festive crowd, the Juju music, and the thick smell of palm wine, fried beef and stew. There was a woman rolling her buttocks in an excited dance, calling on a man to dance with her: ‘ewa jo.’ As the man stood up, the people seated around hailed: ‘Oko iyawo!’ with mirth, and between mouthfuls. I had little patience for these kind of excessive partying that the Yorubas were fond of.
At the end of the street, Papa Maurice was on top of his roof hammering away. The man was always mending his house. When he was not, he was at Newlane junction selling newspapers, his wife beside him selling ogogoro to okada riders. That was how I knew his name: customers always calling his name: ‘Papa Maurice, you get ‘Vanguard’?’ ‘Papa Maurice, why you no get ‘The Nation’ na?’
The roofing sheets made grating sounds in the wind. He didn’t mind it at all. Kpan-kpan-kpan, he hammered away. The image of the house made me laugh. It resembled something recovering from a severe hurricane, beaten and tattered, with torn blackened netting. Its walls were a mural of discoloured paint and peeling plaster, the doors an assemblage of wood nailed roughly together. If his house were a human being, it would be a hopelessly shy one with a badly bruised self-esteem.
Continuing along, I laughed to myself as I pictured him, small like a squirrel, on top of his rugged house.
I passed by my street, Pa Ogazie’s Street, and entered the next street where I went into the compound of an uncompleted church. I sat on a metal bench under a guava tree. Bimpe and I had come here several times, especially in our first month of dating. My phone rang. It was my mother.
‘Efe, what happened to your phone? I have been trying to call you.’
‘It might have been the network.’
‘OK…. So how are you?’
‘I am fine.’
She kept quiet for some time, and I knew she was thinking how to give it to me.
‘What is happening?’
‘About? I don’t understand.’
I knew she was talking about my JAMB score. At that moment, the score loomed behind my eyes, a miserly 192, sitting like a permanent stain on the paper.
‘Don’t play games with me. You know full-well what I am talking about. Now tell me, Efe, what’s happening?’
‘I fell sick before the exam.’
‘Who did you tell?’
‘I didn’t want to bother anybody. I thought it would last only two or three days–‘
‘Who do you think you are lying to? If you had been that sick, your Uncle would have called us. Efe, Efe, Eeefe, this is your life–‘
‘I don’t think you do. And I don’t think you realize that how you turn out affects your father, me, and your younger ones.’
I felt anger rising inside of me. I hated that she liked to hammer and hammer on an error that saddened me enough already.
‘Your father is really angry, you know. He has threatened to bring you back to learn a trade if you fail for the third time.’
I knew my father had not said that. This was just her hoping she could scare me to succeed.
She was still speaking to me when I saw Bimpe enter the compound, dry leaves rustling under her feet as she drew closer.
‘No… nothing,’ I continued speaking to my mother, answering to her asking if anything was bothering me.
‘Are you sure nothing? Tell me o. Don’t keep anything from me. You know everything we’re doing is for your own good.’
‘If you say so…. Well, your father and I are thinking to tell your uncle to enroll you in a tutorial. We think it would help, and don’t tell us you don’t want it. That was the same thing you said last time– see where it got us?’
‘Alright,’ I said, not resenting the idea of a tutorial anymore, glad for the opportunity to go out of the house more often.
‘OK, then. Take care of yourself. I will call you tomorrow.’
‘Alright, bye.’ I ended the call.
Bimpe smiled and said, ‘Your mother is concerned for you.’
Shadows and light from the tree played on her face.
‘How is your uncle? Hope he is not too hard on you?’
‘I don’t care.’
‘Stop sounding like that. Don’t you know they all mean well?’
‘Forget about it. I am just tired… How’d you know I would be here?’
‘I donnow, just guessed. But you know you have to listen to them, and work harder.’
‘Have you come to preach to me?’
‘Don’t talk like that. I am only concerned for you.’
‘I have heard, thank you.’
We both fell silent and watched the leaves stir gently at our feet. Bimpe broke the silence.
‘I think we should go home. Don’t you want to go home?’
I stood and started walking to the opening in the fence where a gate was to be erected. She joined me.
‘Efe, try and cheer up,’ she said after we had walked in near silence all the way to her street, two streets from mine.
I wanted to say something; it was not the kind of evening to be moody. There was already too much silence. But I only walked on, the twilight deepening around both of us.
‘Say something, Efe. I hate it when you are like this,’ she said, tugging at my hand gently. Her fingers were very soft and moist.
‘I am fine.’ I said, letting my voice fall softly for her sake.
A timid yellow dog barked at us as we passed by a gate that was made of parallel rods and welded floral patterns.
‘Shut it!’ I barked at the dog.
Bimpe held onto my hands a little more fondly, and rested her head on my shoulders. ‘It’s all right,’ she whispered.
We got to her fence, and I stood there with her a while as she told me in several sentences and tones that it was all right.
‘I have heard,’ I said, looking at her. And then I said good night and turned to go.
She pulled my hand, and she kissed me. I kissed back. She felt warm. I had never felt her more earnest, never felt her so full of soul, so deeply sympathetic. It was the most meaningful moment I had had in a long time, a moment that held the making of memories.
She pulled gently away.
‘Good night,’ I said again.
I turned and started towards home, and her eyes were watching me. I felt them.
When I got home, Uncle Bongo was out. It was almost 8:30 p.m., so I went into the kitchen, took a tuber of yam, peeled it, cut it into cubes and cooked porridge. It was already very dark when Uncle Bongo came in. He didn’t eat, just went into his room and talked on his phone for a long time and fell silent. We were still angry with each other.
My father had sent me to Lagos to live with his brother because he thought it would make me focus on my exams. My mother had not said anything; she had just gone along with his decision. ‘You know your uncle lectures at Yaba Tech. It would be good for you to stay there– the academic surroundings of his house would help you focus more. And he could also help you prepare,’ my father had said with that benign finality of his that broached no arguments. If only he had known I would fail twice.
After Uncle Bongo had called him, my father called me. ‘What is this I hear? When will you get serious? Tell me. Now you are busy chasing girls, is that so? Why are you doing this to yourself when you know you can do better?’ That was how he talked, always asking questions that he didn’t require you to answer when he meant to reprimand you. He was the kind of man that by expressing his confidence in you made you feel his grave disappointment. That was his way of showing concern and offering guidance, his way of showing love.
Listening to my father, I really wanted to do my best at the exams. I knew he had only meant to act in my best interest, but coming to live with Uncle Bongo only depressed me. Uncle Bongo was extremely reticent, spending his time, whenever he was in, either reading, sitting in front of his laptop or listening to the news with serious concentration which he broke sporadically with his impassioned comments. He also drank every once in a while.
The only reason I liked Uncle Bongo was because he wasn’t religious. He felt that religion was full of hypocrisy and that many clerics were just money-minded pranksters. He had once said, ‘It is all theatrics and money-making monkeying…’ One time we had been watching the news; there had been a bombing in Maiduguri and he had blurted, his face contorting with fury, ‘These people are just fanatical bastards! And they imagine they are doing God’s work.’ That day, I had felt he was going to spit in rage, right there on the rug. Because Uncle Bongo was like this, I went to church only when I liked, and he didn’t bother me. On days when I didn’t go to church and had made lunch, I sat out on the balcony and looked out at the quiet neighbourhood, or I went to the sandy field where we played football.
It was at the field that I met Kelechi and Sayid. Kelechi was light-skinned and lanky; too lanky to be Igbo, but he spoke perfect English, the kind that made you want him to keep talking. Sayid was Hausa; his skin was the colour of dust, and he always hung a camera down his neck. He told us he was going to be a professional photographer. I found the idea ridiculous, and I told him. Whoever becomes anything by being a photographer? Nigeria was not the place for such professions. Most photographers I knew were like Uncle Sunday who looked thin and underfed, who spent his days sitting outside his dark, sparsely furnished shop, calling: ‘Get your 5-minute passport, eight copies hundred naira.’ But Sayid talked about photography in such a way that convinced me that perhaps there was something to it and that maybe he could make it where others had failed. And I was right– Sayid’s photographs were going to take him to New York on a scholarship to study photography.
Kelechi was going to be a lawyer. He had passed all his exams and had been admitted to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, but the universities were on strike. The universities had been on strike for three months, so he had to remain at home.
‘You must find it boring here. I do find it boring, painfully boring; can’t wait for the strike to be called off,’ Kelechi said.
‘It is not so boring when I am outside my house. Inside that house, I feel like I am choking.’
‘Every house is like that. I have to sneak out on most days.’
‘Do you ever go to church?’ I asked.
‘Yes, every Saturday.’
‘Oh, you are a Seventh Day Adventist.’
‘Yes. And you know what? I am tired. My mother must never know this. She fears that everyone in the house is drifting away from God, so she hammers in my ears every day: “You must love The Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.” Well, she doesn’t necessarily say it like that always, but that is the essence of what she says to me about religion: you must be zealous for God– that sort of thing.’
‘Too bad for you. Me, my uncle doesn’t care if I go to church.’
‘Really? What is he? An atheist?’
‘Does he believe in God?’
‘I can’t really say. But I sure know he hates pastors, imams, reverend fathers, all of them.’
We talked like that, Sayid in front of us with his headset on, all the way home.
That was the first time I spoke with them. So most Sunday afternoons after that, we met in the field trading boys’ stories, about school, fashion, gay marriage, Africa, politics, football, women, God, sex. One time they even spoke about Bimpe.
‘Does she ever give you ‘any’?’ Kelechi asked with a mischievous look in his eyes and with a tone that was half-serious, half-mocking.
I knew what he meant, and I immediately felt embarrassed and defensive, for the question suggested I wasn’t getting ‘any’.
‘I don’t see how it is your business.’
Sayid smiled, and muttered something to himself, not wanting to be pulled into the discussion.
‘Well, that girl’s too churchy, that’s all I’m saying. You need to be with a nice girl who lets you know she cares, and I mean reeaaally care.’
‘He likes her like that, so leave him like that.’
‘You know what I am saying, Sayid. Tell him about Faith, would you? Efe, she was really good to him. He told me himself- Sayid told me himself that she was his first and his best. I still don’t believe you broke up with that girl.’
‘Na wa for you o, Kelechi. Person no dey tell you something o.’
‘Well, Bimpe is nice, and sometimes too nice. But what we do as regards sex is our business.’
‘Anyway there’s this girl I know down the street. Her name’s Adanna. She loves you to no end. She told me herself.’
I knew the Adanna. She was pretty, fair, with fairly large breasts and behind, soft pink lips and large attractive eyes. She was not so tall, but she was what I would describe as a good average. Hearing she liked me stirred something in me, and briefly I flirted with the possibility. But I shrugged it off. I felt guilty just thinking about it.
‘Tell her I don’t care,’ I told Kelechi.
‘Well, I thought I could help a friend.’
‘I didn’t ask.’
Sayid sensed I was angry.
‘You don dey vex now now. Don’t think about it too much. You know Kelechi, na so im be.’
I tried to hide my anger and embarrassment.
‘I am looking for a good tutorial,’ I said, steering the discussion to another topic.
‘Tutorial? I thought you didn’t like them,’ Sayid said.
‘Well, things have changed, and I want it this time.’ I didn’t want to tell them my mother had persuaded me to have one. I imagined myself saying it, how it would have sounded, lame and childish.
‘How about High Flyer, the one you attended, Kelechi? Let him try there, abi?’ Sayid said.
‘Never. High Flyer is poorly run, and hardly beneficial- leaves you dumber than you began. I escaped because I knew they were no good. Don’t go there. I’d recommend Benchmark tutorials. I hear they are very good.’
‘Alright, then. I’ll make enquiries tomorrow.’
Tomorrow would find Uncle Bongo in my room, sitting on my bed. I was a bit startled when I walked in from washing plates and found him sitting there, sombre and unexpected like someone from the dead.
‘Good morning, Uncle.’ I greeted, although I had already greeted him when he was sitting in the parlour looking through a recent issue of Tell magazine he had brought home yesterday evening.
In his characteristic way, he pulled two books from beside him and placed them on the table, and said: ‘I would like to talk to you, but take these books first.’ He pushed them across to me. I looked at them: Calculations in Physics and New School Mathematics.
‘Your JAMB exam will be here anytime soon. You should begin to study, and hard. If you need anything, let me know,’ he said and fell quiet, his silence urging me to speak.
‘I will read them. I will do my best.’
‘Your parents think you should go to a tutorial. Well, if they want you to, then I think you should. Try and make enquiries about some of them in the area, and get back to me.’
‘I will,’ I answered, itching for him to leave my room.
He rose, walked to the door and then turned to look at me again as if to be sure I had taken what he had said well.
That was how we lived, like strangers who wanted more than to be strangers, fumbling for words, stumbling over gestures, clumsy at forging a relationship.
In front of our block, there was a truck, a dirty brown truck with an open back piled with chairs, a standing fan, a cupboard, a small refrigerator and other household items. They belonged to DJ, a new neighbour who had dreadlocks. He had just moved in that evening into the flat beneath ours.
It was the fourth month of the strike, and that evening I had only been returning home from Benchmark tutorial where I had gone to ask about the enrolment fee.
After a few days, I learned a bit about DJ. He liked to listen to reggae music: Bob Marley, Culture, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Majek Fashek. He didn’t go to church or to the mosque. He smoked, a lot, and he watched pornography. DJ didn’t have a girlfriend, and I wondered why for it seemed to me like he needed one. Neighbours were beginning to complain. They said he touched their daughters.
As soon as we began to hear such news, and my uncle began to notice DJ’s habits, he called me and said to me quite tersely: ‘Be careful with that man, and I don’t want you going there anymore.’ I was quite surprised. His words seemed lean, uncoloured by his usual judgemental or accusatory tone. It was pure concern.
But that was after I had started smoking.
That Saturday, I had been going up the stairs to my flat when I saw him. ‘Come. Come help me with something,’ he had said. I went in. We both pushed his cupboard away from the window. ‘The rain gets to it too much were it was,’ he said. I was about to leave when he said, ‘Relax a bit, my man.’ I didn’t want to be rude, and I was curious about him, so I sat. It was then he lit a cigarette for himself and offered me another. I shook my head. ‘Try it,’ he urged. Something in me threw my hand forward. I took it. He lit it. I took my first drag, coughed only once or twice, and it became easy. ‘You feel it, eh.’ He said, genuinely happy that he had taught me something, proud of his kindness.
From that day I learned how to hide. Maybe that was what freedom was, hiding.
Things began to be different from the day Bimpe knocked on my door in March. They had already called off the strike which had lasted six months, and Uncle Bongo had travelled to Ibadan for a research he was doing. She had come to tell me she was going away to university next week– the University of Benin had admitted her to read animal science in their department of agriculture. When I heard her knock on the door and call out to check if I was in, I quickly flushed down the cigarette I had been in the toilet smoking. I doused on a spray of Brute to mask the smell of tobacco, and went to the door. When I opened it, she looked at me with critical eyes, searching my face and the space around me with steady curiosity as though her coming here was in response to a rumour she had come to confirm.
‘Have you been smoking?’
Her directness shocked me. I wondered if she could still smell the acrid stench on me. I looked down, overwhelmed with embarrassment.
‘It’s been barely two months,’ I said. ‘Do you want to come in?’ She entered and went to the balcony and said something to me. I didn’t hear at first, then, noticing I had not heard, she said it again, ‘You have to stop.’
There was an uneasiness about that evening, an uneasiness charged with disappointment and shame. For some reason, I felt I had betrayed her. I had been hiding from her too.
‘I am going to miss you, miss you already in fact,’ I said, and made an effort at a smile.
‘Three or four months won’t kill you.’ She said dryly, looking firmly in front of her. ‘How ’bout your uncle?’
‘To where? When?’
‘Ibadan. For one research like that. He left two weeks ago.’
‘Oh, I see…’
‘See what?’ I retorted, like a kneejerk. I didn’t like the edge her voice took.
‘Forget about it.’
‘No, I won’t forget anything. What? Say what’s on your mind.’
‘Efe, I said forget about it.’
The air felt taut. It was uncomfortable, this unspoken accusation, this unspoken guilt.
‘If it is about the smoking, I am sorry.’
‘Who needs your sorry?’ She fell silent, and rested her head on her knuckles. Then suddenly, she turned to me: ‘To think that you would become a smoker, and keep hiding it from me.’ Her voice choked with tears.
I was confused. She was taking it too personally. Why did it hurt her so much that I smoked?
‘Is that why you stopped coming to see me? Were you too ashamed?’
Her words stung.
‘No. I was trying to sort through things at home. I can’t avoid you. Why? I have been busy these past days, tutorial and things.’
‘No problem.’ She sniffled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
‘Bimpe. Bimpe. I am sorry.’
‘Why didn’t you at least call me?’
‘I am sorry. I should have. I guess many things overwhelmed me.’
‘I called you last week, twice. I would have come over here, but I thought no, I won’t. It’s been two weeks, Efe. Two full weeks of no seeing, no calls, no chats, nothing.’
‘I am sorry, Bimpe. Please. I am begging you to let it go.’
I didn’t tell her about spending my evenings in DJ’s room before Uncle Bongo came home. I didn’t tell her that I was beginning to enjoy smoking, that I especially enjoyed it when DJ and I would sing along as Redemption Song played from his DVD, our hoarse voices mixing with smoke plumes. I didn’t tell her about what Kelechi– and sometimes Sayid– said about her: that she was not giving me ‘any’. I didn’t tell her about Adanna.
Now, I could never see Bimpe without thinking of what had happened with Adanna.
That day, Kelechi met me on my way back from Benchmark. He was walking with a kind of excited swagger and his head seemed to be bobbing against the afternoon clouds. He told me he was leaving for school in two days, and that there was going to be a small party in his honour that evening. He told me how much beer he had secretly stashed away. He told me that Adanna was coming, and I was gripped with curiosity and excitement. This excitement seemed to charge the afternoon as we walked to his house.
When we arrived at his house, a number of people had arrived, a large number of whom were teenagers our age. Some men sat with Kelechi’s father, drinking, talking and laughing, all of them big men with throaty laughter. A dark-skinned woman with flabby arms rushed everywhere in a blue, flour-covered apron. Some girls leaned to one another and whispered in one another’s ears and sniggered, covering their mouths shyly with their fingers. A chubby boy, Kelechi’s younger brother, came over and asked impulsive questions: ‘How old are you?’ ‘Are you going to the university too?’ ‘I know you are Kelechi’s friend, but why don’t you like coming here?’ Getting impatient, I told to him go and play. Some minutes after I had sat down, Kelechi’s mother entered the sitting room wearing a blue gown studded with sparkles. She smelt of a soft fragrance, something fruity like pineapple and rosewater. She had Kelechi’s height and his long, beautiful face. She moved around, asking us things like: ‘How are you?’ ‘How are your parents?’ ‘Have you been given admission?’ ‘Hope you people are comfortable? Food will soon be ready, OK.’ She had a detached kind of niceness, a niceness she stretched out to you from a distance, like someone holding a stinking rag at arm’s length, with one hand around their nose. Simply, I found her niceness and overtures condescending.
The air was filled with voices and laughter, until Kelechi entered, wearing a white jalabia, and went to play some music, and some people began to sing along, some even making dance moves on their seats, none bold enough to stand up and lead the dancing. Kelechi was about to go back outside when he called me from the door: ‘Efe, come.’ Then he widened his eyes and made quick movements with his lips: The beer.
I was glad to leave the sitting room. Everyone had begun to roar along with P-Square’s Ifunaya, a song I hated.
Outside, following Kelechi to an old Toyota Camry, his father’s old car, I saw Adanna. She winked at me. She was looking sensuous, wearing a glossy lipstick and a purple gown that hugged her figure. I swallowed saliva, a nervous reaction to the disarming look she had given me. Kelechi winked at me, noticing what had happened and that I was uncomfortable. ‘Don’t mess it up o. It’s your chance,’ he said to me as we got to the car and started removing the cans of beer and putting them into his school bag.
We put the school bag into his room through the window. Then we went back inside, Kelechi to his room and I to the sitting room. She was there sitting, her legs crossed, and smiling as a boy was talking to her. I recognised him from Benchmark. They called him Deji. She looked up and saw me, and waved discreetly at me the way girls do– wiggling their fingers. As twilight was approaching, food was served, music was still playing, a few people rose and started dancing, and some people started leaving for home. Adanna called Kelechi’s younger brother and said something to him. I knew she was asking for the toilet. He told her, describing with his hands, and she left the sitting room.
Where I was sitting I was getting tired of the music. It had been playing too long and too loud, a noisy number from Terry-G. So I went to Kelechi’s room. I was quite surprised to find Adanna on the bed, perched seductively, like a regal cheetah.
‘Where have you been?’ Kelechi asked almost immediately. ‘Come, come, let’s drink these things.’
I reclined beside him, one elbow on the bed, and we began drinking. After several minutes of drinking and engaging in careless conversations, Kelechi left the room. Within minutes, Adanna drew closer to me on the bed. There was a boldness about her, a fierceness. She spoke softly to me, saying things to me that I stopped hearing. I felt excited, uneasy, tempted. The room seemed to grow intense around us. She smelt of vanilla. I felt her hand, warm on my face, trailing down my neck. Soon we were kissing, exploring each other, and grappling at each other, urgency spiking. My head roared with passion. And in the bloodstorm of the moment, I felt guilt, racking guilt.
Then I heard voices. We stopped abruptly. ‘It is late. They should go now.’ ‘I have not seen that Kelechi’s friend.’ Adanna straightened her gown and hurried out of the room. I followed after some minutes, and I stumbled on the dark-skinned woman who had been wearing a blue apron. As I passed by her, she looked at me, her eyes cold with accusation and disgust.
Those were the eyes I saw when I looked at Bimpe. They were the eyes I saw as she sat beside me on the balcony.
‘Walk me home,’ she said and stood up.
I got up and followed her.
I tried to speak to her, but she didn’t answer. The road was quiet, no movements, just yellow lights shining from people’s houses and occasional soft songs from windows. It was an evening to be quiet.
I got to her gate, and she just opened it and walked in, no good night. I tried to say good night, to say I had cheated and I was sorry… that I loved her, but I just stood there and watched her disappear behind her door.
That night I would go home, would stop at DJ’s door, would wonder briefly if I should enter, would decide against it and then continue up to my flat where I would send Bimpe a message on WhatsApp before falling asleep. I would dream about Adanna and wet the bed. Immediately, I would wake and guilt would flood me as though it were real unfaithfulness. I would take my phone and find that Bimpe had replied. I had sent: ‘I luv u 2 heaven nd back’, a line I had heard from a movie. She had replied: ‘I’m not sure’. That night I would fumble under my mattress for my pack of cigarettes. I would take one out and smoke. That was the first time smoking hurt. It hurt so bad I almost cried. But I continued. I convinced myself. This was guilt purging guilt, pain purging pain. As I smoked, I laughed at the contradictions that were my life, the endless expectations. I would take another cigarette and smoke it, trying not to enjoy it, trying not to hear Redemption Song in my head.