Every day, for the last two years, I relive the high-def loop of our last moment together–the bus station swathed in morning mist, the blare of radio gospel, hawkers and farewell honkers, you against me. I refused to let go as if I were the 16-year-old girl and you were the father. You patted my shoulder. Reminded me that you’d be back from boarding school in time for Christmas.
On December 24, your return bus was the opening segment on AIT news. Vanished en route, driver, all 90 passengers. You were nameless, featureless, sandwiched between ads about low-sugar soda. Your mother, never one for common sense, planned a funeral. I heard she rubbed her spit all over her scalp and beat her breasts and jumped into the pit to caress your empty coffin. I did not attend. Did He not return Isaac to Abraham? Did He not restore every stolen daughter to Job?
They turned your favorite store–the orange-Ribena one three blocks down–into a church. Minister Danlade lays his hands on dead-wombed mothers and fetal hearts re-kick. Farther away, near Ninth Mile, Holy Ghost Pentecostal rings its bells at midnight, one for every freshly-expelled demon. From the front row, I watched them purge a 70-year-old woman. The pastor tapped her forehead with his cross and her legs spasmed downward. She foamed at the mouth, breathless and blue.
You were 13 when you tracked dirt into your Mama’s kitchen with a fistful of backyard worms. You declared you’d be a geologist. Igneous rocks and regolith formation graced my lexicon. Did you know there’s a topology to the 74 miracle-work churches in Enugu? South-west to north-east means evergreen hills to valleys, corrugated roofs to open air. I left the post office–you know how much I hated working there anyway–so that I could attend a new sermon daily. The closer I treaded to Enugu’s outskirts, the more I fought traffic, so I unmoored myself from home. What is home without you? The company of your mother’s frosted shoulders? Her faithless mourning? Her useless weeping in a pool of grainy photos? No, the Honda’s backseat is home enough. It keeps out the icy rain, though the lack of wind makes it burn in the afternoon. One night, I slept parked next to a field of chrysanthemums. They glittered violet in the moonlight. I memorized the shape of the lone hill it slopes beneath. Someday, the sight will make you gasp.
Redeemed Hope, the 74th church, has craggy walls and the biggest statue of Christ I’ve ever seen. After the homily, its white-robed priest sanctifies the pupils of blind-since-birth kids with raw fish. Amina, a skeletal girl with cornrows, knuckles her new eyes and stares wide-mouthed at us. She wears the same face you did when I took you to Zuma Rock, that beast of stone you said resembled a monster’s head. The sound of her awe is far less convincing. Amina points–ceiling, ground, sun, this born-blind girl–screaming white, red, yellow. 600 believers unite their tongues in praise. As I exit the building, deflated but unsurprised, I remind myself of Matthew 7:15, that warning against preachers in wolfskin, how their abundance hides His emissaries. There is a topology to the desires of false prophets: folded fists, frayed wallets, nylon bags, the tucked corners of gray wrappers. All the ways loosened naira notes discover shiny collection basins.
A chipping billboard wishes me well as I leave the borders of Enugu. I park by the roadside to stretch my legs and eat cold okpa. I call your mother, even though she no longer answers. I consult my dictionary of stapled notes. Ten kilometers to Minister Odogwu. They say he turns men with war-torn legs into marathoners. When I arrive, the evening is carving shadows on the lot across his locked gates. Until dawn’s light swings them open, I lie tossing in the backseat. I count stars on the roof. I sift through the gravel near a roadside flower bed, digging with cupped hands for what lies beneath. Sand and clay, dirt and stone, anything but you.
VINCENT ANIOKE — Vincent is a software engineer at Google. He was born and raised in Nigeria but now lives in Canada. His short stories have appeared in Split Lip Magazine, Carve, Pithead Chapel, and Bending Genres, among others. He is the 2021 Austin Clarke Fiction Prize Winner and was also shortlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Find him on Twitter at @AniokeVincent.
Art by DAEGAN LUNSFORD — Daegan is a multidisciplinary artist living in Canada. He currently works in gouache and egg tempera, as well as many other unconventional mediums. His artwork focuses on delight, nostalgia and Americana.