Fiction

Letters to You

By: Adedoyin Ajayi

You had this laughter, the kind that bubbled from deep within your chest, it rumbled forth from somewhere happy in you, like a wave rising from the deep and washing softly over everyone who stood by. It was the kind of laughter that made me feel like laughing too. There was this way you threw your head back when you laughed, that made me know I could listen to you laugh all day, and all would be well. Each time I told you about your laughter, you would screw up your face, smirk playfully at me and call me old-fashioned. No one fell in love with someone because of how they laughed. But that was how it was for me. Sure, I noticed the way your long, blue dress hugged every bit of you, making my eyes linger on your lovely frame. You would laugh again, call me corny, and say I didn’t need to sweet-talkyou, as you were now my girlfriend. You would tell me that your fringes were uneven, and that the hairdresser messed them up. You would remind me that you weren’t wearing a bra under that dress, and that your breasts were hanging down like sad teardrops that were in a hurry to hit the floor.

But I never noticed any of that. Your laughter was enough for me. It made you perfect.

It was your mother’s birthday party. She was turning the big fifty. She was the family matriarch since your father died many years back. I didn’t know you, but I knew your elder sister, Gbemi. I’d once seen your picture on her phone. Your features were blurry and slightly out of view, and I only filed you away in my head as Gbemi’s sister. I didn’t want to attend the party, as I was not in a partying mood. You would probably say I was never in a partying mood. I never got round to being the party type. But with your laughter as music, life was a party I could never get tired of attending. The party was an opportunity to think of things other than Chemistry classes, and my pitiable attempts to find a girl of my own; only if I didn’t trip over myself in trying to chat up another girl that night. I was content to attend the party to make Gbemi happy and watch old people swill beer and talk loudly.

I left campus with Tunji and Felix. They only knew Gbemi through me, but she had assured us food would be plenty, so we all came in tow, unable to turn down such an offer. Any opportunity to keep the pressure off our slim wallets was always welcome. Some of your sister’s friends had come by too. They all looked pretty, and trust Tunji, he knew some of them. The party was winding down when you walked up to me and asked if I had enjoyed myself. You looked tired, but happy. You had obviously enjoyed yourself. You had this presence that comforted everyone who came in contact with you. Yet, I remember fumbling my words and saying something like going out to seek one of the guys for a reason I can’t remember. You would later say that I looked like a lost little boy who needed a mother. It was when I walked back in that I heard your laughter for the first time. I wasn’t the only one who was affected by it. A few heads turned towards you, but you didn’t notice.

You were standing by the stairs, one hand holding the glossy oak bannister, a piece of cake in your other hand, while you threw your head back and laughed at something Gbemi said. Your eyes lit up like Awolowo Street at night, and your body responded to your laughter. A bit of icing sugar was on your chin, but you didn’t care. I don’t even think you knew. I don’t remember much of what happened again that night.

Gbemi saw me the next day in class and said you liked meeting her friends. I held it close to me for the rest of the day. I spent the rest of the day thinking of ways to make you laugh, if I ever saw you again. You liked to say that was why I loved making you happy. Laughter came easy to you. It was your solution to life’s problems.

You loved to dance too. That was how we met again. Two weeks later, you came to a party holding at the students’ union building. We ran into each other at the shawarma spot close to the building. You had smiled instantly like you recognised me; like I was someone you were happy seeing again, not a guy who tripped over his words when he spoke to you. You were vivacious, even more than the day we met, which it made it easier to talk to you that night, and I knew the happiness you showed at seeing me was real. It wasn’t the smile of a girl who remembered a guy who garbled like he had a mouthful of bloody cotton wool. You were wearing a white top, and tight, blue shorts that showed much of your thick thighs. You hadn’t changed your hairstyle, and your fringes still framed your face. They spilled down over your brows, and you kept swiping at them as we spoke. I wished I had seen you dance that night and I told you so. You looked at me incredulously and said you would be glad to dance for me. You liked it when I stood behind you and rocked you, while you did your thing in front of me.

You took my phone and typed in your number. It was like you saw into my heart. You would later chastise me and say I would never have gotten your number if you hadn’t been your own fairy godmother. I would try to defend myself by saying I would have asked you when next we saw, and you’d counter by saying we might never had gotten a third chance encounter. You were right.

We hung out so much the rest of that semester. We would talk over the phone about everything and nothing in particular. We texted a lot too, and you would tease me, and say you tried to imagine how I looked reading your messages. When we met, you would pout, saying I should have met you earlier. You loved eating suya. Whenever I chewed on a piece and complained about the tough, leathery meat, you would simply reach into my mouth and pull out the half-chewed, still-spicy piece and pop it in your mouth. You liked doing that so much, and I think that was why we bought so much suya together. You would then say I was too soft for a guy. But after we made love later that night, you would say I had just the right softness a guy should have. I would tickle you and tell you trying to understand you would drive me crazy. Then you would play ‘Mad Over You’ by Runtown on your phone, turn up the volume, get up from the bed, put on just my T-shirt and nothing else and dance while I watched the cloth billowup your thighs, till you came and dragged me up to dance with you. I was indifferent towards Runtown, but you loaded my phone with your favourites of his, and made me his fan.

You liked walking by my side, so you could rest your head on the outside of my shoulder, and say I was the perfect height for you. I would then ask you if I had been shorter or taller. You would reply me, saying I was here now, and you had no need to think about another guy of a different height. You always knew the right things to say. I never quite got over the thought of another guy sweeping you off your feet, even though you never gave me any reason to think so. Your love was this kind of secure love, the kind you could take to the bank and cash in trust. Sometimes, you would tell me of a guy in your class, and how he tried asking you out. There was one guy, whose picture you showed me. He looked better than I did, and he even had a car. When I asked why you didn’t go out with him, you hit me with a pillow, pulled my arm up and snuggled up close and said he wasn’t me. I didn’t want to lose you, but what we want and what we get are often different.

I ended up losing you, not to another guy, but to that reaper who scythes us down. It was that phone call no one hopes to receive. It killed me. I don’t know what it was, but something in me died with you that day. Gbemi called me and told me they found you laying face down in the pool. She said by the time they got to you, your body had gone cold. You had obviously been dead for a while. It crushed me that you had to suffer so much. I wondered if you screamed for help or if your last thoughts were of me, were of us. I was far away, and I couldn’t help you. I wish I could have. I never even got to say goodbye.

You had enough love for both of us. If mine were half as strong as yours, it might have carried us further. Sometimes, when the pain gets too much, a part of me regrets that what we had was so strong, so deep. It made it harder to forget you. Then I would remember being with you was the happiest part of my life, and forgetting you meant losing that happiness. To have had it was a bigger joy, one that made the pain worth it. I realised that pain and joy weren’t as far apart as people thought. They were close, they appeared together, and one could so easily be mistaken for, or cause the other. Laughing and dancing should have been joyful, but were now painful instead.I couldn’t laugh and dance like you always wanted me to.

I’m now over forty, and I’ve never told my wife about you. Telling others about you would only reduce what we shared. They just wouldn’t understand. I was married, I shouldn’t have been crying for another woman. They would call me stupid for crying over a long-dead undergraduate girlfriend, and say it was a young, silly romance. Telling others about you would only make me cry, make me lose that pain, which sadly, was the biggest reminder of you. And it’s even worse that I can’t grieve for you anymore. It comes out in tears meant for others – like my sister’s demise. My wife doesn’t understand my fondness for suya. Each time I take her out to my favourite suya spot on the island, she always likes it, because it comes as a pleasant surprise. Then she’ll kiss me and tell me she loves me. If only she knew I took her there to preserve what little memories I had of you. It wasn’t fair to her. I couldn’t help it. But I had no choice. Grief comes out in different ways. I couldn’t shed tears for you anymore. I had to remember you in other ways. My wife says I have this muted kind of laughter. I don’t know what she means. I guess when life happens to you like it did to me, it changes the way you laugh. It makes suya dates with your wife more significant, even when you know she would never take a half-eaten piece out of your mouth to eat. It changes the way you act around her too, when she doesn’t think you’re the right amount of softness for her.

I miss you so much. Pain is a double-eyed lens with different views. I find myself questioning if I could have one more day with you, or what we had was enough. Would I have one more day to create more memories that would later troubleme, or would they be another token to hold on to? I never thought the day would come when the thought of hearing your laughter would make me cry; make me think twice. My wife knows I’m dealing with loss of some kind, she knows all isn’t well with me, but she doesn’t know the full story. Her fringes don’t fall over her eyebrows like yours did. They’re always perfectly cut, and she has no need to swipe at her forehead like you used to. Neither does she run to raise the volume of the television when Runtown’s songs are played.

I find myself asking if our love would have burned out. Would the day have come when I wouldn’t want you anymore, or you wouldn’t want me? Did death do us both a favour by sparing us from finding that out? When my thoughts run to places like this, my grief becomes clouded by shame. It doesn’t feel any better, I tell you. They say our loved ones are in a better place, but it sounds like such nonsense. If that is true, why aren’t tickets on sale to get there so easily? I can’t remember the last time I saw Gbemi. I heard she left the country with her husband. That was right after your mother’s death. I guess she couldn’t take being around the scene of so many of her hurts. Unlike her, I can’t run away. It plays on my mind non-stop.

You always liked stories. I hope you liked this one. It’s for you. Just you. I can imagine you reading it and pointing out flaws in my version of you, and of us.

I can also hear you laughing every now and then.

***

Index

Suya – A common Nigerian snack. Means marinated, spicy kebab often garnished with onions and cabbage. It is eaten alone, or sometimes eaten as a side dish.

***

Adedoyin Ajayi studied Economics from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. To him, writing equates creation, and he loves the feeling of taking hold of a reader’s mind and taking them to a world of his making. His collection of short stories, ‘Too Short a Tale,’ was published earlier this year. His work has appeared in Brittle Paper, The Kalahari Review, Afrocritik, and Livina Press.

Categories: Fiction

2 replies »

  1. That was a wonderful piece bruh. Love they say is mightier and stronger that death but it can’t stop it from happening. The biggest price is that some people are just too special that when death do us apart, it creates a hole in our heart forever but I guess “what we want and what we get are often different”.

    • Thank you so much Basit🙏🏼.
      Love is truly a wonderful thing, but it’s powerless in the face of death.
      It’s a lovely thing to have our loved ones in our hearts long after they’re gone.

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