It is lonely at this end of the world. The dust on the floor is quiet. It is submissive. The grains of sand lie prostrate. No wind stirs them up. You etch your days on the sand. I have been here for eight months, you say to yourself. Two hundred and thirty-eight lines glare back at you from the dust. A line for each day.
You scratch your thigh, trying hard to reach the unreachable itch. If you had a pair of scissors, you would probe deep into your flesh after the itch. You would chase it along the highways of your blood stream and draw it out but there is no scissors. There is nothing sharp around here. They have taken everything away. Your jailers. You scratch and scratch, parting your thighs, bending them like two Vs facing each other. Your skin flakes onto your hand. Your once-lovely-ebony-smooth-craftman-polished skin. Your glowing skin, so alight it struck a man’s eyes and he could not see any other woman but you. And he had to marry you to regain his sight.
Skin rashes fester all over your body. Where the bed bugs and cockroaches left off after the night, the germs continued by day. They gave you no soap for your bath, since the last one your husband bought finished. You asked the doctor to get you a tube of Troysd cream to cure the rashes on you. He said ‘I cannot promise. I will look into the stock we have and if there is one, l will make sure you get it.’ And if there is none, would your skin perish in the dust? He avoids your eyes and makes no answer. He shuffles out of the room.
The unreachable itch, you keep at it. All your fingernails are broken but at least it helps to while away the silence. This eternity of time you do not want. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day, And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth month. And time flows on, leaving you gasping for breath, desperately etching your days in the dust.
You keep scratching your thighs. Your woman smell pervades your nostrils. Your panties unwashed for three days, redolent with dried piss and all your juices. You are in the middle of your body cycle. Your egg-white juice flows into crystal clear elastic liquid. It stretches and stretches. You could almost lay it from one end of the room to the other. In another time, in another place, it would have been a season to hug your husband, to squeeze him deep in you, holding him tight with all your woman muscles and he would sigh and come and cry a little, flooding you with his seed, gazing at you from behind his love eyes.
This four by four cul de sac with a little-about to-die-light-bulb and a window which threw in a tiny shaft of light. A window way high beyond your highest reach, an armed window, riddled with steel bars that had nail teeth. A piss pot stood in the corner. And beside your cot, a little stack of books. The books keep your mind alive but they do not answer your hunger. Your thirst for news. This is your greatest pain. The starvation diet of no news. The news is breaking all around the world. Flash bulbs are exploding, CNN is bursting loose but the news spills without you. Students riot in Indonesia. Hundreds are dead. Fuel crisis paralyses Lagos. Leaders betray acolytes, sentencing them to the firing squad. Sycophants import rice for kings who would never leave their thrones even for their sons’ sons but you do not know all of this.
Once a month, they allow your husband to speak to you across a steel barricade for thirty minutes. He holds up new photos of your daughter and her scrawled multi-crayoned greeting – “I love you mummy, when are you coming home?” You say to him, “what is news?” He tells you, “The courtiers have said the king must stay on. The royal shoe maker says his equipment was custom-made in Italy for the king. No other successor can wear his shoes. The royal chef says his recipes were crafted solely for the king’s pleasure”. “Everyday, the praise singers hold concerts in the palace courtyard shouting his praise, saying he is the only lord who can rule the land. His slaves have threatened mass suicide if he leaves the throne. Day by Day, the royal drums announce the visits of hungry delegations who have crossed the deserts and the seas just to beg the king not to leave the throne.”
You say to him in rising anger, “But the law of the land says the king must leave after ruling for four years!” Your husband says to you, “there is no law in this land. “A royal decree has been promulgated saying the king can rule for all eternity If the people so wishes. And delegations of chiefs all across the land are falling at the king’s feet begging him in the name of the people to please stay on…” You ask your husband, And the king, what does he says?” He gives them some bags of rice and bars of soap and says nothing” “He says nothing?” `Yes’, your husband replies, ‘he says nothing…”
A prison warder comes in and taps your husband on the shoulder. “Time up” he barks… Your husband hands to the warder a plastic bag containing four bars of medicated soap, three cartons of fruit juice, some biscuits, a jar of body cream, a little tub of butter, two packets of sugar, two tins of Ovaltine and some money. You know you will only get half of it, the prison warder will steal the other half and take it home to his family as booty.
Your husband stands from the stool he has been sitting on and walks out backwards, keeping you within his still love-struck eyes and blowing you kisses as he melts out of sight. Your daughter question looms before you: “mummy, when are you coming home?’ …I don’t know honey, I don’t know…’ Your anger wants to curse the warder’s children, you know they are out under the trees playing with their own mother while your daughter is curled up in front of a television set, comforting herself with kiddies cartoons until daddy comes back from visiting mummy in prison. Curses begin to bubble from your mouth. They float vigorously, forming a circle, travelling towards the prison warder; may his children become orphaned,, may an east wind blight his harvest, may he sow a hundred-fold and reap emptiness. The circle begins to close in on him. Closer. Closer. But you draw them back; you break up the circle of curses and burn them in a heap of fire. Why orphan his children with curses when the guardians of the nation have mortgaged the lives of the people for bags of rice and bars of soap? Why soak the bloodied land with more blood?
As the warder opens the door of the little cubicle to lead you back to your cell, you know the plastic bag is already lighter. He has stolen your property in a pico-second. He hands over the bag to you. His hand lingers on your hand; his thumb caresses your palm. You snarl at him and hurry your footsteps into your cell. The door clangs shut. You sit on your cot and tear open with your teeth, a pack of biscuits and a carton of fruit juice. You laugh softly to yourself, as you begin to munch, at how redundant knives, spoons, plates and cups can be when a woman has the full gift of thirty-two sharp teeth in her mouth.
Between the fourth and fifth chocolate coated biscuit, your husband has smuggled a note. You open it and read, ‘I love you very much. I wish I could take you in my arms right now. It’s really hard on me at night…” The sinews of fear grapple for a strangle-hold on your heart. What is he trying to say to you? You try to unravel his words because you know the power of words. You do business with words. It was your words that get you into jail. Your screaming cover story that sold out your weekly news magazine in one day- KING BREAKS HIS PROMISE. HE SHALL NOT LEAVE ON THE 12TH OF JUNE!
You had heard rumours of a plot orchestrated by the king to ensure his eternity in power. The news hound you are tracked the reports travelling round the country researching reliable sources and conducting interviews with palace aides who were willing to talk in anonymity. And then you crafted the story in prose worthy of the Pulitzer Prize. The news hit the four winds. The winds ran with the news like motorcycle outriders to the centres and outposts of the country. The people were dazed. The king they hailed as a patriot and a genuine lover of the people had promised them in a lyrical moment- “I do not need riots to make me leave. I shall leave on the 12th of June and hand over power to a democratically elected government.”
Your carefully researched story had spilled the state secret and his hounds had come calling. They hauled you before a court hastily convened at night. The bleary-eyed judge dressed in judicial wig and his bedroom slippers kept dozing off through the proceedings. He woke up in time to sentence you to twenty-five years imprisonment for intent to cause a revolt against the king… And eight months into twenty-five years, you are chewing your husband’s words- `It’s really hard on me at night’, your daughter’s ‘mummy, when are you coming home?’ The bitter words are crunching in the chocolate biscuits under your molars. Bitter chocolate. What is your husband saying to you? Who has he started sleeping with?. Will his love-struck eyes last the years in the distance? Will your daughter love another mummy? You chew your biscuits. You gulp the fruit juice in the carton. You cling to the present. Who knows? Perhaps today, they will walk you into the final night at three in the afternoon.
© Toyin Adewale-Gabriel