An extract from The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa by Stephen Buoro, published by Bloomsbury in April 2023.
Sun is up now. We’re still sitting on the bed. A rope of sunlight crawls over our legs, showing the contrast. Her skin is evenly coloured, no stretch or spot of red or pink. It’s so unreal how her skin is perfectly marble everywhere, from eyelids to toes, unlike mine that’s a multitude of black shades: black here, black black there, black black black there. And all about her are these little translucent hairs, her halo. Wish I could finger every single one.
As I look away, I realise she’s staring at me again. Not checking me out. Just pure staring. Probably at my fat nose. The springs of hair on my head. She must have Reawakened again, must be wondering what the hell she’s doing with me. I smile, but she doesn’t stop.
‘What’s on your mind?’ I say.
‘Nothing,’ she says.
‘Then why’re you staring at me?’
‘Aren’t you the one staring?’
I chuckle, wishing to change the subject. She chuckles too.
I caress her face, smell her bun, untie it. Instantly her hair cascades on us.
‘Amazing,’ I say.
I want to tell her that if you take out the braids from Mama’s or Zahrah’s or Fatima’s hair, it will remain standing like Eiffel. But this explanation is so long-winded and tame that I don’t bother.
I move the curls from her face, her ear. I hold and stare at them until my thoughts become as manifold as the strands.
I realise her hair is just hair – sleek, colourful, of course – but hair still, not something extraordinary, beyond human imagination or attainment, not a piece of vibranium or unobtainium. Still, there’s something magical about it, an x in the strands that calls to me, that makes my fingers tremble and miss holding them the very second I let go. I’m sure that if given infinite time, I’d still be unable to find what I’m looking for in the hair, to satiate this craving I’ll never understand.
‘Take off your shirt,’ she says.
Does she want to check if I have a six-pack? If my chest is as beefy as those of Elba and Foxx?
‘Wow, your stomach is so flat.’
Is she saying something about my poverty?
She ties her hair back into a bun, makes me lie down and begins to examine my body with her fingers. My stomach, my ribs, my chest. She plants a kiss on my neck – warm, moist – and scans my lips, my nose, pries my eyelids open. Now she’s on my hair. She spends an eternity gazing at it, fingering it. Why is she so obsessed with it? Is she composing an elaborate proof for why hers is sleeker and shinier? Isn’t that obvious enough?
‘What’s up, Eileen?’
‘What are you doing?’
‘Trying to memorise your body.’
She lies down on the bed afterwards, says she’s feeling unwell and dizzy, that her head is still banging.
‘I’m so sorry, Andy. But is there a tiny tiny chance that you could get me breakfast? Please? Coffee would be nice. And an avocado toast. Shouldn’t take you long.’
‘Yeah, I can get you breakfast, Eileen.’
‘Everything is in the kitchen. You can get yourself whatever you want.’
‘Thanks, Andy. Just too hungover to get up.’
I put on my shirt, go to the door.
‘Andy? D’you know you’ve got a cute bum?’ She laughs.
In the kitchen I spend a full minute checking out the supersleek counter and microwave and gas cooker and toaster and sink. I’ve only used a microwave twice in my entire life, both times at Zahrah and Okorie’s here in Abuja. The box is really dope – how can you warm or cook food without fire and water, without stirring smoke? I check out other devices which I don’t know, then take out the bread and avocado from the fridge.
I’ve never made an avocado toast before. In fact, I’ve never made any kind of toast, ever. Although avocados are grown in the South, we rarely eat them at home. Mama considers buying them a waste of money because it could go to getting important foodstuffs like rice and garri. We only eat avocados when parishioners returning from the South give them to us.
I stare at the items on the counter without knowing what to do. Maybe I should’ve been humble and told her I didn’t know shit, have never known shit. But what would that achieve? She’d think I’m a Homo habilis or something. Even cave dwellers in ancient Britain knew how to make toast. I pace about a bit, realise that Fatima or any female schoolmate wouldn’t make me do this. In fact, I’m supposed to become offended, even angry, if they make such a request. Cooking is supposed to ‘make a man less a man’ – very silly indeed.
Suddenly I get a techrrific idea. Google! YouTube! I take out my phone, search how to make the shit. Halfway into the video I hear her coming downstairs. I pause the video asap. A tsunami of shame inundates me – the Shame Mama and her mother and everybody on this land has ever felt. She comes into the kitchen. I can’t look at her. I don’t know where to look. Everything in the kitchen screams at me with its shine, its newness, its artificiality. She flicks on switches, turns on the toaster and coffee maker, takes out a knife from the rack and begins to prep two plates. Wish she would say something, but she’s silent, as if she isn’t surprised by my failure. I must be the dumbest person she’s ever met. She probably thinks everyone here is so dumb. I can picture the scene: she and her Brit friends sitting in a park, legs crossed, cackling at a joke she’s just told them, of a boy she met in Africa who couldn’t even make toast.
In two minutes she’s done: two plates of yummy avocado toast, two steaming cups of coffee. She takes her plate and cup and marches upstairs. I take mine and trudge after her.
In her room she’s sitting on the bed, chewing quietly. The curtains are parted. Sunlight pours in, particles frolicking along the beam. Outside in the distance, dudes and gals with bodies painted in charcoal are dancing, placards held high above their heads. A couple are around my age. I move quickly from the window to a chair under the air conditioner. She takes a remote, turns on the screen opposite the bed.
‘Sorry about that,’ I say.
‘It’s alright,’ she says.
Wish she would smile, but she doesn’t, eyes glued to the documentary on the screen.