A Firefighter Goes in Search of Fire

Kanyinsola thought long and hard about it. There he was, long and hard. And fretful.

And she thought about this fretfulness, his fretfulness, long, and hard.

For the duration of a blink she panicked at the enormity of it all. What had she gotten herself into? Na mistake to get boyfriend again?

True, a woman’s “nothing” can mask plenty. True, a woman appreciates a man who isn’t fooled by the cutaneousness of things.

True, she appreciates, every now and then, the constant, genuine (from the looks of it)concern (unusual in men) for her wellbeing, as though her wellbeing were inextricable from his.

But still. A woman needs her introspection every now and again, needs to live in the pond of her own head, unrippled by pebble boyfriends. Sometimes they need to understand the skies cloud over for the fun of it.

She was furious and wanted, like an electron being slapped around by photons, to break free of her ground-state calm.

She wanted to rent her tank top, beneath which she was naked. She wanted to fling at a wall something that could shatter. She wanted to burn things that could pop and whistle. She wanted to scream screams that each could lacerate a larynx.

She did none of these, sorely though she was tempted. Instead she lay still, contenting herself with her ground state, the back of her head nestling in the weave of her ten fingers, staring up beyond the ceiling into something unknown.

She had not imagined it was this pathological a need, this need for Lanre to seek a personal Nirvana through the Eight-fold Path of her psychological wellbeing. Or his perceptions of it.

She had not imagined Lanre to be the kind of guy  who doesn’t feel in a relationship, feels less of a lover, is emasculated, if he isn’t putting out fires. But maybe it gives him sustenance. After all, did some fires no burn without smoke telling on them? Lanre is a first responder, his love as intense as the high sun at noon arriving hose blazing, many times at nothing.

All it takes for the battery of questions to arrive is for her to drop the intensity of her liveliness (necessary every now and then; no one can be bubbly all their life). Are you ok? Ehn? What’s wrong? What is it? I’m here for you, you know? I’m your G (H,I,J,K ad nauseam, emphasis on the nausea). Talk to me baby.

I can tell when something’s wrong with you. Talk to me. Shut up. Just shut the hell up. That, is what is now wrong with me. So what if they’d earlier done Tarkwa Bay in all its tranquil glory? It was her first time out on the sea, and those canoes with out-board engines masquerading as boats hadn’t helped matters. Not one tiny bit.

She’d latched on to Lanre like a leech latches on to whatever a leech latches on to as the water rushed past, immediate and psychedelic in its terror.

One by one, the horizon ate up Lagos Island’s citadels of capital. Sea-faring ships on the way to the high seas slithered past tooting gruffly their horns. God, they were slow. And gigantic! Oyinbos in sailboats sailed past. It could only be them. Oyinbos.

Some daredevil boatmen went even faster than the boat she was in, jumping, borne by the unseen hands of giant waves. Then shore. Finally, shore.

She got used to the water soon, egged on by Lanre. The receding water pulled the sand from beneath her feet. She giggled. They kissed. The salt stung her eyes and relented.

She wandered farther from shore, farther into the turning and turning sea (this is the only beach at which you can try this and not become plankton, Lanre said).

She jumped into waves, ducked under some. Some slammed into her. Sent her clawing and kicking to right herself. She shrieked with glee. They kissed – hugging tightly – as if to squeeze the life out of each other.

She felt a oneness with this nebulous, endless thing. It was how omo omis must feel. It was home. She belonged here. Right here at the hem of this turbulent calm. It had been exhilarating. No, it had been exhilarating! So what?

Back home, she’d retreated into her shell, for no reason really. Her mood had just called timeout Inexplicably. Nothing was going on. She wasn’t even tired. She just did not want to talk. Why would he not just get it?

She’d told him nothing was wrong eight times now, EIGHT TIMES! But he still wouldn’t give her space to breathe (talk to me baby, he implored again, as if on cue, and she resisted the strong urge to exhale dramatically and roll her eyes). And this when he knows she isn’t the kind of girl to play girl with her feelings. But it never stops him.

Perhaps his selflessness is a circular selflessness – an elaborate selfishness, a from-me-to-youback-to-me, a selflessness whose ultimate end was not her but him, a selflessness that was the ying to the yang of his turbulent mind. His inextricable linkage of their wellbeing probably made sense this way.

They’d met at a training thing, one of the many things banks are obliged to subject their personnel to – not that you could tell that some of them had undergone any training at all.

You naturally deferred to him. He exuded a centripetal influence. Things revolved around him and tended towards his centre. It hadn’t been a surprise when he was made group leader.

She had woven scenarios in her head long before he came to sit beside her one training afternoon, her Arsenal key-ring the Judas who kissed Jesus.

I see you around. You don’t say much but your face betrays you. What are you hiding… and you support Arsenal? Have you written your will yet?

She learnt in two months. That, one – he was magnetic in public. That, two – he was an unsure, fretful thing in private. Just what the link was between these two personas was the e=mc2 she was searching for.

And now he wanted a fire, firefighter’s axe swinging, waterhose raring at the orgasm.

Fine. She would do better. She would give him a fucking inferno, something that roared and bucked and heaved, like Sango, or anyone who could be lord and husband of the mother of all things turbulent.

She could go down the Biodun route. Biodun has been calling me, she could say, still looking beyond the ceiling. He would recoil slightly, even if he quickly gathers himself.

They’d swapped ex stories in those early days, censoring just enough details, tucking backdated jealousies behind a veil of mirth that sometime slipped.

She’d dated Biodun for three long years, till he left for England, too suddenly quickly, like, you know, a plane falling out of the skies. Not that she had wished him any ill.

Biodun, who had been able to upset her equilibrium by the simple act of existence.

And unbalanced, she had needed him—required him even—to sit ever closer to her fulcrum. Till suddenly he left her upended, clutching. Till he left her flailing wildly.

She had since peeled a patch of bark from around the trunk of that tree of memory. She’d salted it, copiously.

That tree had wilted and withered. She’d hacked the carcass into morsels which she fed into a funeral pyre. The ashes were loaded, meticulously, into urns which were swallowed by the sea, under the surveillance of dry, pensive eyes. It sounds straightforward now, but it had taken a whole lot more than five sentences to get over him.

I’ve always believed it’s a waste of energy hating someone we once professed to love, Lanre would offer, joying in this new fire, pyrophiliac that he was.

What’s the point?

Well, here’s the real point, she would not reply, both love and hate are a misapplication of energy. A misplacement of priorities.

He’s coming back to Nigeria, she could continue, tone as uniform as North Koreans, the implication so low-hanging he could gnaw at it with his teeth, because, why else would she be telling him?

The silence would be one of those tense silences, a silence so silent you knew something shocking had to jump out of it. Out the corner of her eye she would see him squirm, unsure how to confront this new reality, this lapping fire, this impending loss.

Or she could travel down that well-worn path, condoms not being one of Lanre’s favourite things. (To tell the truth, she couldn’t blame him – skinny dipping is just too good, too involved, too involving, too agricultural, to wrap-up in things inhibiting and plastic. Biodun had once compared it to eating a banana with the skin intact.)

Lanre prides himself on control, keeping a tight rein about his wits. He reckons he knows just when to detach his module so things don’t balloon out of shape. And there is always Postinor, never mind the accusation in the eyes of those salesgirls. Never mind the conspiratorial whisper with which they suggest she put the pack in a black bag. Never mind that last time around it prolonged the Suicide of Spurned Eggs by two too many days, with the extra cramps and padding and all.

But best laid plans also go awry. Safety itself has blind spots. Something could slip in and swim all the way. They say condoms aren’ entirely failsafe, that there’s always a smidgen of a chance something could squeeze through. The Postinor could be mere placebo, Postinor only in its nondescript whiteness, this being Nigeria after all. Or shit could just be written in your stars. All of which meant that one never could be quite sure what wasn’t what. Except you weren’t doing shit at all.

And so Kanyinsola turned into Lanre, so she could look him not in the eye, but between the eyes, that point from where the nose grows down into a nose. Tongues of fire danced upon his face. The pyrophiliac brightened at the kindling of the fire he had always suspected was burning, hemmed her legs in with one leg, and pushed into her so she could feel the tautness, the alertness, of his body. I’m pregnant, said Kanyinsola, having arranged her face into the hangdog likeness of distress.

His erection shrank instantly into insignificance (he was almost always erect around her, like she was a tarantula bite, and he unfortunate). She watched the fear jump into his serene eyes, watched the brightness on his dark face wither into dread. She heard his heart tumtum-tum like a big bass drum beneath a chest steadily going to fat. She saw his square jaw drop, saw the gushing stop, saw the limp hose fall to the floor from deflated hands, heard the clatter of its nozzle, saw him shuffle slowly backward.

Wait, what? He said, his eyes two Os beneath bushy brows that now looked like drumsticks mid-beat.

A millennium passed, in which it was found that Hitler did not expire in Berlin but lived on the fullness of Nazi gold and the odd Brazilian nymph near the expended Guyanan utopia of Jonestown, and in which the globe warmed so much fish learned the many joys of sand.

I’m pregnant, she said, again. Seven weeks. At the corner of one eye a tear swelled into a globule and then ran, carrying with it mascara. A blur descended over the room, inserting itself into the machinations of clarity. She sniffled, tightening the act. He shifted away from her and sat up on the bed, back to headboard, legs crossed, gaze fixed beyond a blurry Henry frozen in full flight on the opposite wall.

But I thought…, he started, one hand unfolding over itself, gesticulating. It couldn’t possibly be…She cut him off that path of suspicious doubt, beginning to bawl. She was a Hilda Dokubo, a Blessing Nwosu. The tears seemed real enough. No, the tears were real enough. His voice trailed off and fell. Then his hands fell too, having become tongue-tied. He couldn’t even look at her. She chuckled an inward chuckle.

The speechless helplessness would eventually wear off to reveal a cold-eyed trouble shooter. That much she knew. The fire-hunting son of a Titan would return to the scene of the incident with a million fire trucks blaring their one million war-songs. When the fire-fighting effort was in full swing, she would reveal herself to be intact beneath the cgi. He would fume, his ears smoking like a Danfo’s silencer, like a character from a cartoon. She would kiss the birthmark shaped like Italy on his thick neck, and maybe cook him something nice.

She was hungry, come to think of it.

Kayode Faniyi is a writer and cultural critic. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the Obafemi Awolowo University. His work has appeared on the The Kalahari Review and Music in Africa.
Twitter: @kxyde