Online Literary Magazine

No-Fly Zone | Jerry Chiemeke

It’s another Saturday. These days, I’m not really enthusiastic about weddings because I’m no longer sure what to make out of the confetti, all that love in the air totally lost on me, but this one is different. Ene, my friend of nine years, is trading her last name for another, and it’s only right that I honour her with my presence one last time, before I quietly rid my contact list of her phone number. The reception jollof is above average, and Ene shocks everyone with dance steps that she wouldn’t have tried out six years earlier, and the guests add up to a university reunion of sorts.

There is a lady seated opposite me on this table decorated in Ogbomosho pink, with a touch of cockroach blue. The way the lone strap of her red gown rests on her smooth shoulder (I can tell from the one devoid of fabric) draws me in, her braids are well laid out, and it turns we have a mutual interest in the same kind of music. We mock the MC’s try-too-hard attempts to be funny, and we try out a few moves in sync to Flavour’s Ada Ada, my awkward rhythm causing her to chuckle repeatedly. The conversation we get to have is stuff of dreams, but when she hands me that “don’t you want to get my phone number” look and asks if I could see her sometime, I grin and say “that would not be necessary”. I could do without the reminders; her eyes, her chin and her cheeks bring back memories of you, Mimi, memories that I just can’t seem to banish.

I’ll never be able to wrap my head around how a curious phone call grew into a text-a-thon, or how your reluctance to reveal your favourite pastime grew into a mutual yearning for hugs. It was meant to be “one of those things” and our thoughts ran along the lines of “ok, we find each other interesting, let’s see how this goes”, but two visits later, we were singing a different hymn.

I loved how I would hide the clock away whenever you came over, and whenever you asked why, I’d say Time had no essence while you were around, and I know it was corny, but the feeling was great at the time. We would do nothing but watch movies on that banged-up laptop of mine, and the cakes you brought along would stand the risk of melting, but I was fine with having cranberry juice and your lipstick for lunch. Late goodbyes became fibs to your mother so you could spend the night outside her roof like you had never dared before, and from “forgetting” some of your jewellery in my wardrobe, we moved to joint baths.
Mimi, I’ll never know if it was the twelve calls I refused to pick because my uncoordinated thoughts could not process any conversation, or the birthday night where Chidinma took a huge slice of cake thinking it belonged to ‘her man”, or the chat where I reminded you that you showed up to the world thirty months earlier than I did.. But I love to think I deserved a few words, a “raison pourquoi”, an explanation for the fact that the forgotten strands of your hair on my chest and my multi-coloured sheets are a distant memory now.

I know there was that late evening months ago, where I said things about “setting you free” and my persona being too complicated for you, but what happened to the four-page texts that always ended with “I love you always”? Whatever happened to “baby, I am always here, even if you don’t have a job, even if you run out of money, even if the city doesn’t love you”? Sure enough, you complained of a slowly forming gulf when I switched cities, and I admit that my off-colour statements made it harder for you to hang on, but I wish you had fought harder, just a little bit more. Now I wish I had spent a few more minutes in that hotel room with you, and if I ever had an inkling that I was never going to have my eyes run into yours again, I probably would not have been so quick to assist you in zipping up that yellow, flowery-patterned George dress.

Mimi, I can’t really wrap my fingers around what meaning it makes, but I still love the way the alphabets of your name roll off my mouth, and the feeling they leave on my tongue.  I still wear that silver-coloured pair of socks and those white vests you bought for me three birthdays ago, and still head straight home on Fridays to be alone with my thoughts.  I still adorn your old watch on my left wrist when I step out, and I still don’t like to sit astride the bath tub.  I know you do not really need the information, but the blanket remains folded at your favourite portion of the mattress and whenever I eat at The Place, I find myself trying out the salads you always pined for.  Oh, the dog left, so you need not bother with hairs on those tight jeans anymore, if that blue pair of denims will ever march in, if you’re not too busy being happy to drop by.

Mimi, on 7th July I wish the earth could display us in some sort of split screen, so I could find out if you feel any sort of nostalgia, in memory of that late Monday afternoon when you figured you were emotionally comfortable enough to take off your bra, when you slowly straddled me and said “hey, I think I like you.” The numerals that make up your phone number are impossible to unlearn, and I had to use the block button on Facebook because I could not deal with what a ‘’like’’ or comment from you did to my mental landscape.  On some evenings it felt like I was one text away from going back to all the warmth, and on other mornings I wondered if you cared enough to even hold on to.

That said, Mimi, I don’t think I could ever set foot in Uyo anymore. I don’t know what it would feel like to land, and not be able to race to your door because there no longer exist any emotions to trigger an urgent search for commuting tricycles. I am not sure I could live with walking along Oron Road without your voice to tell me, “take a right, ignore the junction that heads to Nwaniba and tell the cab driver to drive towards Peperoni, I love you”. Ibom Tropicana would feel lifeless when you’re not there to shorten the popcorn, and the grassy park at Udo Udoma would drown me in a sea of loneliness. Uyo is a no-fly zone for my heart; I would die if I saw you, and I would die if I ended up not seeing you.

I understand that leaves have seasons, and green ultimately falls off the stem, but it hurts when the door is shut without a word, when there is no one or nothing to blame, when the candle goes out without warning flickers, when there’s no shot at a post-mortem by way of closure. I should stop staying stuff like “how can you hurt a man who’s already a stacked-up pile of broken pieces?”, because you apparently took it up as a challenge, found the right gloves to hold my infamously slippery heart, and then blew it to smithereens! I was going to ask that you reserve a special invitation card for the big day, but never mind, never you mind, because I doubt the ability to maintain composure in your atmosphere – if my lungs do not fail me altogether.

Jerry Chiemeke is a lawyer, screenwriter and literary critic who lives in Lagos, Nigeria. He has been published in Brittle Paper, The Kalahari Review, and The Daily Nation Kenya. A lover of finger foods, Jerry hosts a column on Bellanaija where he critiques African literature on behalf of online publishing platform Okadabooks, and he renders the same services to literary blog Bagus Mutendi. He enjoys traveling.

TD: Tell us a little about this story. Where did the idea come from?

JC: The story is inspired by a wedding at which I was a guest, where I ran into a lady that reminded me of an ex-girlfriend. The resemblance was striking, and memories of the relationship began to float in my mind.

TD: Who is your greatest writing influence?

JC: My greatest writing influence would be Ernest Hemingway. His work always had so much soul, and I always wanted to know how his mind worked.

TD: What is your favorite place to write and why?

JC: My favourite place to write would be the beach, because I get to connect with nature, which in turn sharpens my creative instincts. I love writing in my bedroom too, but the beach wins it for me.

TD: Favorite word?

JC: My favourite word would be…Really.

TD: Do you have a favorite reading ritual?

JC: I would not describe it as much of a ritual. I plug in my earphones to listen to some alternative music for about ten minutes, gently wipe the front cover and then dive into the pages.