By Samuel Ekanem
As the only human figure in the void corridor, Inem Ikang paused and wondered at her shadow cast on the corridor walls – the corridor her only possible passage, walls made of plywoods. She’d never imagine this: someone casting shadows in the absence of light. And so she started to dance her body slowly side-to-side, until the shadows made clearer semblances of her and she’s sure they’re not spirits. By the time her hearts started to bang in her chest, she stopped the dancing and craned her neck around the corridor, searching for light. But then she realised that you don’t search for light when you don’t have it, and that there’s no darkness in the presence of light.
She moved closer to the wall and caressed the shadows with her both hands. The feelings awed her, the wall doughy like half-baked bread. She caressed and caressed. And they remained mere shadows, of course, of her. And now, she knew, it’s not the shadows anymore, or the corridor, or the walls, or anything else – she’s the bizzare thing – how can she make believe with mere shadows of herself?
She retrieved her hands and smelled them: shadows don’t smell after all. Or could those made in the absence of light? Or could the wall? No, the wall didnt. She wished there’s light so she’d see the hands, perhaps the wall smeared on her fingers like, muds.
She robbed the hands on her dress, the dress the kind of thing you don’t clean hands with. And for the first time and just that once, she had the time to check on her looks: the milky-white gown on her made of the silkiest geogette stuff she’d ever seen; the sort of gown she could’ve never picked at the market, even at the cheapest bend-down-select; the sort of gown that you feel naked inside, easily swelled apart by the lightest breezes. The thing around her head not the velvet rope she used when she went out in gowns. Her head heavier, legs too light and too insensitive to be hers, that she wondered if those legs actually walked her there.
Now, then, she’s certain she’s at a strange place, and how did she get to this tunnel of a place?
She plodded her way towards that darkest region ahead of her, where her fingers touched on the walls, her shadows, tall and slant, cast across the wall from her left. She stopped and wondered briefly, her hands still on the wall, shadows still. Then she continued hustling till she ended up at where she’d started, where her shadows were now fuller and bolder, at the either sides of the walls. She paused again, untangling her hands slowly and fearfully off the wall. She then stood out in the middle of the corridor and panned her head sideways, to see her new shadows. Again and again she panned the head, as the shadows kept mimicking her. She steadied the head and starred furiously into the dark front, her heart binging tremblingly, head burdensome, legs the more insensitive, eyes useless. Her mind went out briefly and she didn’t know whether, when it’d ever return. By the time her mind returned she felt some sweats soaking down on her from the heavy thing on her head, across her brazier and down to her pant, running down on her legs. But what she felt most was a resentment. A resentment that was pumping in her heart and ballooning her bowel. A resentment that she knew must’ve reddened her eyes, those eyes that were now pinching her intensely as though they’d ooze off into their sockets. She hoped that before she closed and opened her eyes, that resentment would’ve metamorphosed into an unalloyed strength that’d swell her muscles beyond that of a woman. The strength that she needed to revolutionize her world. With this strength, she hoped to pull down the walls and migrate into a world in which she could use her eyes, where her body can function or simply sublime into a gas and leak out through available space.
But it wasn’t. She’s the same helpless, frustrated middle-ager, chucked up in a world too dark for a habitat.
She strode back towards the wall, forcefully now, hoping to pull it down with the same strength that failed to be, and so where was the strength?
Once, then twice she’s on the floor, the same floor that her legs had been insensitive to, and the floor not worth the fall. A floor without floorness, a floor a mass of water that didn’t drench her clothes.
With the same failed strength, she slapped the mass-of-water of a floor with her two hands and didn’t feel the coldness of water on her palms, but the slapping echoed loudly and scarily in and out of the tunnel, sounding very brassy like two pieces of zinc clapped together. She looked up from wherever she was sitting, and, later, rose to the shock and, at the same time, hope of seeing, possibly touching that zinc roof that made that brassy sound, perhaps it’d be her only way out. She jumped and jumped, falling and getting up and falling back. Then she realized that there wasn’t any roof, or that the roof was just hanging too further above beyond her reach. Then she steadied up and placed her ear on the wall, curiously calm, till she heard a calm, steady sound that didn’t radiate, sifting through into her ears from across the other side of the wall, then she realized that there was a world, perhaps a real world, and that there was light in that world, and there was life, maybe far away from the tunnel or above it or close or just around it.
As she listened on, an iota of strength beeped into her through her left ear, searing down through her gastrointestinal track and further down her bladder and then down her legs that she felt a little sensitivity in those legs. Then she ran her hands on the legs, to be sure it wasn’t another downpour of sweats. And as she felt the warmness of her palms on her legs, she realized that there in her was her greatest asset and weapon – strength – the only phenomenon that could manipulate her survival. She stood up, starring devilishly at the wall opposite her, her face twisted into a black mask. She folded her right hand, pulled it beyond her trunk, and closed her eyes tightly. Then she punched the wall, an escavating punch that shook the entire tunnel like an earth quake. Her hand broke through the wooden wall across to the other world. A light seared in, white, sparkling and forceful, like a lightning, and blinded her, a chucking, indefinite blinding that almost sucked out her eyeballs. With her right hand hanging on the wall across to the other world, she pressed on her eyes with her left, flips of same brightness swaying across her face, needling into her brain, whooping out of her ears and stiffening her entire body that she felt the dumpness right into her bone marrow. Yet nothing seemed important to her as what had been her new fate: what had become of her now that her body was apart, her hand in a new world, her body here deafened in the same place she’d been struggling to flee; what has become of a place ever so infeasible, now that a strange light had crossed in. Nothing. Not even the green blood now running randomly in the veins of her eyelids, like a beep of chlorophyll transported to and fro in a plant. Not even her whole body starting to dry up gradually yet not radiating. Perhaps the light had collapsed the corridor, her darkest world ever, fallen it apart, her body hanging and swinging on the broken wall; perhaps it’s even her body, burnt, ashened and swept off by the light.
Times passed. Moments elapsed. Her hand still squashed across the plywood, like an arrow piercing through an object but refusing to fall off. Now, she heard the wall, perhaps the entire world, really collapsing, a sudden falling that just happened, yet like something that had long started gradually. She knew the wall had collapsed, meaning her hand had loosened free of it, so she strained the same deadened hand to grasp, but nothing.
The voice reached her sharp and brassy like that when she slapped the floor in the corridor, entered her through every opening on her body. She felt the voice pushing into her body like a block of ice that’d never desolve. She felt the voice in her mouth freezing her tongue as though an ice block was melting in it. She felt it in her nose crawling out, dull and irritating, like a cool catarrh. Then she felt it tearing her eyelids, her eyes widening to the glowing of this new world.
There’s nothing like this world. Her eyes couldn’t just stand it. A world even more infeasible. The evenness of this sort of incandescence. A world pure and sparking it must be a heaven. Something of a beautiful residence but of no walls, no boundaries. Its smell no doubt a nice fragrance.
“Hey!” She shouted back, her voice thin but arrow-headed, echoing aloud but dissolving rather too quickly because the world itself was too cool and too soft.
The voice was calm, now, nearer and human. She felt the more nervous and yet the more prone. There’s a tap on her back, and it’s a hand, the owner a man, tall and banana skinned, his face chiselled, nose a pair of funnels. His head the kind of baldness that wrinkled his forehead, two big W-wrinkles that guttered across his forehead, eyes a leopard’s. He stood out in front of her, shading her significantly of the glareness of the light.
She looked up at him with an utmost apology. But it wasn’t done. The question was clear: who she was. No apology. Nothing. Just who she was.
“Inem Ikang”, she said and looked down, at the man’s pair of velvet boots, brown and blameless, his toes swelling up from inside, then at her own skin covered with goosebumps the sizes of uncooked rice.
“Just that?”, he asked.
She starred away briefly, the man still looking directly into her eyes. Then she looked up back at him, as if to confirm he really asked her why.
“Nothing”, she said. “That’s my name”.
He looked up, as if to pluck down another question, his nose the more funneled. But what scared her was his tummy, too flattened as if nothing was in it, as if it contained something other than what an ordinary tummy did, perhaps only superstition, with which to spell her. Then he looked down, tilting a bit backwards and sitting on a rather ramshackle seat that, before now, was but an icicle. Then the question came across, clear but punchy as usual: “Where’s your home?”
“Home?” She asked, her ears roused.
“I’m homed in a beautiful apartment by Hotel Street downtown”.
Her voice was steadier now, her heart gentler, and but not for the strangeness of this sky of a place, she’d have felt even more calm.
He laughed, a beeping laugh that’s not it, that rather fuelled the obsoleteness of everything, that revealed his set of gold teeth that glittered frantically, shocked her that there’d be a man with body parts so out-of-order.
“Then you don’t have a home”, he said and completed the laugh.
“I do, Sir. A good home”.
“How long have you been homeless?”
“I’ve never been homeless: born into my parents’ house, rented an apartment thereafter, and now I have my own home”.
He laughed some more, and sarcastically.
“Who makes your home?” He asked.
“The bricklayers, the carpenters, the plumber”.
An uncertainty grew in her eyes. She jacked her head gradually, her eyes not wishing to see him anymore. But then she fixed those eyes back on him.”Is that what you mean?”
“No. I mean your home, not house”.
“You don’t know? You don’t know a home? A true home?”
She looked a bit sobber, and then sour.
Home. Home? true home?
“Which, what home?” She asked.
“Accept the truth: you don’t have a home”.
She ragged her brain, until it started to whistle, then she assumed that he meant a home here, in this place, then she nodded quickly.
“You see? You’re homeless.”
Now her tears wear feasible, glassing her eyes, dropping on her hands hot and acidic.
“I need a home, Sir”, she said. “A good home, to lay my head”.
“You can’t get a home because you don’t know what it is. Or didn’t you say so?”
She panted her face, her eyes still glassed with tears. She wished she’d walk up to him, to learn what a home is. But she couldn’t – those gold teeth, the yeye laughs, those funnels of a nose.
“You don’t make a home alone”, he said. “Someone makes a home with you. Someone who’s ready, your true home maker, your home mate.”
He paused briefly. There’s something still about how his voice quenched, perhaps his lips were tired of pestering and pestering and pestering.
“So who’s your home?” He asked, a little pedantically.
His laugh was more toothy, more mocking.
“You see? And how long have you been homeless? “
“43 years down the line”.
“No one’s chosen to make my home”.
The world suddenly began to deem, as if it all waited to hear her out. She wondered how it all happened. And where’s all the glowing. By the time he stood up, fear had engulfed her, hunching her into someone who’s evidently homeless, desperate and in search of a true home. Perhaps he’d just swallow her up like a Python, after all she’s homeless. She felt the warmth of his hands on hers, as he touched her, and really sensed a home in those hands. By the time he stood her up, everything on him was just normal, a home, a true home. Nothing like those awkwardness and unrealness, after all the light itself had faded away, making everything just a home.
“I’m homeless”, he told her, too carefully he sounded too nasal. “I own this whole place, yet I’m homeless”.
The silence was cool and tense. He folded her into his alms, truly like a Python wrapping on its prey. And until she felt the pulse of his heartbeat, pounding in steady rhythms, she never believed he’d be that feasible.
“let’s make a home”, he said, his voice already a home, pressing her to himself. She dropped her head gently on his bosom, feeling the silkiness of the hairiness of that bossom, feeling a true home.