After she has emerged from the bathroom, she shuffles to the outdoor kitchen, chewing stick in mouth to the old kerosene stove in a corner, the pot of beans from yesterday’s supper perched precariously on it. She moves to the stove, uncovers the pot and sniffs deeply. Her nostrils are filled with the smell of burnt beans, and underneath, a different sourer tone. The beans have gone bad- Amina has not warmed it in spite of her several warnings last night. She lights the stove, stirs the beans and then makes her way to the bathroom in the corner, from where she can hear the splash of water on the rough concrete floor, thankful that her neighbours seem to still be asleep. She is tired of all the talking, all the scolding, and is ashamed that her neighbours will hear her raising her voice again, so early in the morning.

She takes a deep breath then raps obliquely on the corrugated metal door of the bathroom- in reality, an enclosure of three walls with a flimsy zinc door. Amina stops humming, and calls out:

“Who be dat?”

“Useless girl. Didn’t I tell you to warm that beans last night? What are we going to eat this morning?”

She is keen to keep her voice down, shamed by her poverty. She knows that her neighbours are often keen to know her business- that they resent the way that she always tries to keep to herself, but she finds that she has little in common with them. She marvels at her straitened circumstances- she who was once the toast of Lagos owambe parties, the subject of several songs by the juju maestro, Sunny Ade, the queen of Balogun market, reduced to living in a face me I face you compound, her neighbours ignorant brutish traders at the nearby market and their slatternly wives. That was such a long time ago.

“Oya when you finish your bath, go and grind the remaining pepper and add it to the beans, let’s see what we can make of it” she mutters and heads back to her room.

She enters the cramped space, taken up by her bed the small refrigerator and the large television that sit at one corner of the room. On top of the refrigerator, an array of cosmetics are laid out carefully Making her way to sit on the bed, she stumbles over the mat that Amina has shoved carelessly under the bed, causing her to curse the girl again. She reaches for the tub of Vaseline and begins to anoint her body, marvelling at the wrinkles, the sagging flesh.

Amina enters the room the blue and white checked dress that is her school uniform straining at the bosom and the hips. She is carrying a tray with a plastic plate with two scoops of beans on it, and beside it, a hunk of Agege bread. She balances the plate on top of the television, pulls out a small stool from the corner and places the plate on it. She opens the fridge, takes out a bottle of water and sets it by the stool.

“Food is ready, ma” she curtsies.

She looks up after carefully applying her eyeliner and notices that Amina still hovers at the door.

“What is it, eh? Haven’t you eaten?”

“Ma, remember I told you that the teacher asked us to bring our education levy today…”

Folashade fixes her with a stare, kisses her teeth and unleashes a tirade.

“Ungrateful girl. I should have left you to starve in that village. It’s not your fault. Because I brought you here and sent you to school, everyday it is money for this and money for that. Go and tell your teacher that I don’t have- if they want to send you home, let them, then maybe you can come and help me in my stall. Get away from here”

Amina shuffles out of the room, crestfallen, stooping to retrieve her schoolbag from behind the door.

Folashade takes a deep breath, and buries her head in her hands. It is not that she is uncaring, but life is so difficult. Business has been poor- today she is going to make the rounds again of all the people who have bought clothes from her stall on credit. But she already knows that she is likely to be unsuccessful. They are mostly civil servants and for the third month running, the government has failed to pay salaries.

She retrieves her handbag and searches for her mobile phone in its depths. Before she finds it, her hands close around a key ring, the type of tourist tat sold in shops all over the world. It is a fading gold, wrought in an imitation of neon lights and it reads “Fourteenth and Serenity, heart of the city”. She rubs at its worn surface and then removes her phone and begins the round of calls. There is really no point in rushing to open the stall today, her time will be better spent chasing up those who owe her. Perhaps she will go and visit Alhaji her ex-husband and see if he will agree to help. She hates the thought of having to beg him for anything, especially after the way he has treated her, but she is desperate. She opens her purse and counts the grimy notes nestled in it. If she walks all the way to Ojuelegba, she can just about afford a bus to CMS where Alhaji has his business.

As she locks her door, she sees that her neighbours are all getting ready for market. Mama Emeka, the rotund dark-skinned woman that is her nearest neighbour is serving up a heaped plate of steaming rice with rich beef stew, the smell and sight of the chunks of meat make her mouth water.

“Good morni Sister Shade” she calls, “come and eat, na Papa Emeka food I just dey dish”

“Morning my daughter, I don chop” she lies, even though her stomach is growling- the beans was still inedible in spite of Amina’s liberal use of pepper to mask the underlying sourness.

“You no dey go market today?” Mama Emeka asks, her curiosity piqued by the care that Folashade has taken over her dressing today.

“No, I dey go see person for Island.”

Go well, Mama Emeka urges and she steps out into the hustle and bustle of the now-livened street. She ignores the battered buses clustered around the junction, with the conductors screaming “Ojuelegba straaaaiiggght, enter with your change o” and begins the long trudge to Ojuelegba.

When she arrives at the six-storey building that is Alhaji’s office, she pauses outside, remembering how she once would have entered with all the dignity due to the boss’ wife. Now, she shuffles carefully, head down, hoping that no-one she knows recognizes her. She is surprised that Alhaji’s Mercedes is not parked in front as is usual and as she makes her way to the grimy staircase, she is struck by how quiet the building is.

Trudging up the stairs, she remembers when this office block was built, the party that they had to celebrate- the street closed, three cows killed, and the abundance of rice. She remembers dressing in the latest lace, Alhaji and their only son wearing matching outfits. It was the son that eventually drove them apart- Alhaji was always convinced that she spoilt him, indulged him too much. And so when she colluded to send him to America after he had spectacularly failed his School Certificate exams for the third time, buying him a visa through someone who knew someone who knew someone at the American Embassy, it was the last straw for Alhaji. When he packed up her things in five suitcases and threw her out, she thought that he was joking- after all she only wanted the best for their son, her only child. But Alhaji was serious, and not only refused to take her back but cut her off completely. Even after he reconciled with their son, he still refused to speak to her.

She is on the final floor and as she makes her way to the door, she sees Fatai, the old security man sitting in front of the door.

She greets him now, “Ekaaro o! Fatai”

He turns towards her and his face blanches.

“They told you? I’m very sorry ma, this is very very sad”

“Don’t worry Fatai, I am surviving- I have just come to discuss something very important with Alhaji”

Fatai lifts his ragged beret off his head scratches his sparse grey hair and then utters the words that stop her in her tracks

“Ah, Mama Toyosi, Alhaji is not coming to the office today. He is at home, making preparations – did you not get the message?”

Something in his voice forces her to look up and it is then that she notices the photograph of Toyosi placed on a table, swathed in black ribbon. It is the last thing she sees before she falls in a dead faint.


He saw her before she saw him. He knew that back anywhere, the curve of her spine, her black hair pulled back and twisted into that strange bun of hers. It had to be her, even though he had not seen her for more than ten years, he was sure it was her.


He reached out to touch her but then he hesitated…his hesitation meant the woman turned around before he could put his hand back to his side. For a moment or two, it seemed his hand would remain indefinitely in mid air…but it did not…it found its way back to his pocket and for that the man was glad, he did not want the woman to see his sweaty palm.

“Joe…Joe Macauley…hi…”

“So…there you have it…finally…what did you think?” he asked.

“It was beautiful, beautifully violent. You should be very proud”

“You did not think it was too much?

“Delightfully, so”

“Did you like the last scene? I keep thinking there was something missing…”

“Isn’t there always something?

“Yeah.I don’t know…”

There was a silence that had always been there, one that had always been theirs…ten years ago and Maureen would have tried to fill it with a joke or a witty comment but that night, she let it settle over them like a comfortable fog.

“So, I see you’re back huh?” she asked the question in that sneering way she adopted when she knew she was right…he knew she was saying “I won”. Her stare was unflinching as she draped a black shawl carelessly around her shoulders. She was the only woman he knew who could do this…stare at somebody so resolutely whilst performing another action.

“Yeah. I needed to get this done. I am surprised I am here…I never expected this…I just wanted to get it done”

“Well, I am not surprised. I believed in you”

“Yeah, you always did”

She looked down at her shoes before looking casually around, as if expecting someone.

“So, where’s Yvonne?”

“Oh….we are divorced now…almost five years”

“I see….did you ever get your team of little Macauleys?”

Joe laughed, he could see she was trying hard not to, he wanted her to laugh too, but she kept a straight face.

“Yeah, I did, twin boys and a little girl…they are with their mother…I am afraid I became that kind of dad…”

“The one you always detested becoming….Well...that’s life”

Again the silence enveloped them, as they starred at each other, each trying to assess the damage age had done or perhaps they were remembering the days of their youth, when optimism and a desire for change had made them embark on journeys that weren’t theirs. The days when they ate and breathed the street. Every life mattered; every story had to be told.

“I have been so proud of you Maureen, you’ve done well…I read the last book, it was great…many times I wanted to call you…and say that ”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I don’t know. I was not sure if you have forgiven me…have you?”

“So what happened with law? Was it all that you dreamed it would be?”

He knew she was avoiding the question….the question of forgiveness. That night, so many years ago, she had looked him straight in the eye and said “I will never forgive you!” It was a night he would never forget, a night that changed both their lives forever…he wished now, he had handled things differently.

“Law….it puts food on the table, bread and butter…but no, it was not all I dreamed it would be….and you, your writing?

“It is all I dreamed and more….much more than you can ever imagine”

“I am happy for you Maureen. Truly I am…I just wish…”

“Wish what?”

“I, forget it...nothing...well, congratulations....” he said, looking knowingly at her huge stomach.

“Yeah...due any day now...”

“Really? Wow! And what the hell are you doing here? You should be home, with your feet up”

“And miss your premier? Never!”

“I hoped you will come…I wanted you to be here…it is as much yours as it is mine”

“You did it Joe, your grandma would be proud”

“Will you ever forgive me Maureen?”

“I see you put a new scene in...the one with the pregnant woman...fits right in doesn’t it? You’ve always been good at that…reflecting fucking reality....”

“Maureen please! When you said you were pregnant…I thought of my dad… I was just sick of everything you know…the streets, the constant fighting…for what? To prevent what? Who the fuck did we help?...we were both young…hell…all we had was our youth…and to spend it fighting for a bunch of worthless junkies…and you…you were so beautiful…so young…I got scared. I did not want to become my father…and every day, no matter what I did…the street was taking its toll… all I thought of was becoming like my father…or ending up like my mother…I hate myself for what I did to you…everyday, I have hated myself”

“You are not your father, you never were and you never will be”

He just wanted her to say the words “I forgive you, Joe, I forgive you”....instead, she was now reaching into her bag and showing him a picture of her first son.

“How is he?”

“Joseph is fine. He is doing great”

“I am so sorry Maureen, so sorry”

“Like I said, I will never forgive you”

He watched her walk away; he watched the great love of his life disappear with the picture of his first child in her bag. He watched her kiss another man on the cheek and it was only then he noticed the piece of paper....

“Maybe, someday...” it said.

Forgive Not Forget - Laleh

This is intended to be a multimedia experience so please open links in new tabs/windows. If reading at work please wear headphones or turn volume down (nothing raunchy, promise!). Purists ignore above and read on.

The history of these streets is my history for my story begins here. My mother was born on Friday June 13th 1969, the night of a full moon. My grandparents were both civil rights activists who came north with the Movement when Dr. King called for men and women to join him in his fight for equality in housing. Grandpa was a freshly minted lawyer from DC and his newly wed wife, a school teacher from Selma, Alabama. They marched, they organized and they bought a house, 1469 S Serenity Avenue, in this New Jerusalem alongside many other idealists. The neighborhood soon thrived with black owned homes and businesses including the club at the corner, Mississippi Moon. It was a favorite watering hole for the activists, featuring leading Blues and Jazz performers. It is rumored that MLK himself may have listened to Muddy Waters there. Unlike many other establishments, it survived the riots after the murder of Dr. King but barely. The neighborhood fractured after the murder of Robert F. Kennedy, seemingly surviving but with its pulse irregular, its soul scorched and weakened, much like the partially burnt buildings that bore testament to its anguish. My grandparents never considered moving away, to leave was to hand victory to the murderers of MLK and RFK.

My mother was born one month and one week before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin cavorted on the moon. The images of grown white men in oversize white suits floating across the lunar surface like dandelion puffs whilst ordinary folks struggled to rebuild did nothing to ease the pain in the neighborhood. Their wry resentment was expressed in the phrases “they can put a man on the moon but they can’t …”, and in music. The slow burn of resentment yielded to the raging flames of anger, and in anger they waited for the revolution that would not be televised. The revolution was not televised. The revolution was not televised because it did not happen. Instead our young were sent to be devoured in the napalm fueled fires of Vietnam.

They named her Amina Alcyone, after the Hausa warrior queen and the Greek goddess of Tranquility, for they envisioned for her the life of peace and tranquility that they were waging war to secure. Some said her names were pretentious but this was a time children were named for the aspirations they would carry like freshly thrown clay vessels into the kiln that is life. My grandparents were unrelenting marshals in the rebuilding effort and spared no time for distractions including raising my mother. Alcy, as she was called by everyone else, was raised by the neighborhood and in the early days this was a good thing. The neighborhood included the baker's shop over on East 14th Street, Sherita's soul food kitchen two blocks south on Serenity, the drugstore Meekhams adjacent to Christ the Avenger Church of the Purifying Conflagration which was opposite the square from Mississippi Moon. She walked to elementary school at our Lady of Serenity Chapel Parish school four blocks north, just past the train station on 10th Street.

Vietnam took our young men and those it did not send back in body bags it sent back as shells with battered bodies and tortured souls. They brought back their nightmares and the drugs to silence the demons that haunted them. Young men who should have learned how to build bridges and heal bodies had been trained to blow up villages and to maim people. They came back and were unleashed on our neighborhoods. Alcy came of age in the 80s as did the scourge of crack cocaine in the community. I believe they call it crack because it cracks everything it touches and in the summer of 1985 it touched Alcyone. My grandparents fought to keep drugs out of the neighborhood but could not keep them out of their daughter.

One of the few pictures I have of my mother is her High School freshman class photo. She is looking into the camera, bright eyed and full of promise, with lips that parted away from beautifully set teeth, her jaw thrust forward in a defiant pose I recognize as Grandma's. She seems to be saying to the world "bring it on!”. Ah, if only. She was captain of the debate team in her sophomore year, taking advance placement classes for college, destined for all the greatness her talent promised and her names demanded. Then she met D'Angelo. D'Angelo, or Smoke as he was known on the street, was everything Grandpa fought against. He started out selling weed in school, graduated to dope and dropped out just in time to claim the corners for the new drug-lords and the poison they sold. I do not know what the attraction was, if Grandma knew, she never said. Alcy was Smoke's girl until she got pregnant, a fact she hid from everyone until her belly's protrusion could no longer be disguised under sweaters and oversize coats.

On Friday June 13, 1986, her 17th birthday, she confronted him, begging him to come talk to her parents. He beat her until her waters broke and she lay on the street bleeding from her mouth and vagina. The force of her contractions tore her uterus expelling me onto the street. I was born on the corner of 14th and Serenity while she lay there hemorrhaging to death. My mother, Alcyone died on Friday June 13, 1986, killed by my father as he attempted to kill me. He would disappear from the neighborhood never to be seen again.

Tranquility died on Serenity Avenue and my grandparents were never the same again. Grandpa continued to practice law and to represent minorities and union workers in disputes across the state but he no longer had his heart in it. Grandma loved me with an all embracing love that squeezed out the world outside and almost let nothing including air in. Their friends and family urged them to return south but again they refused for they could not bear to leave behind their memories of Amina Alcyone. They hardly ever spoke to me about my mother but when they did a cloud would loom overhead resulting in precipitation from grandma's eyes. I had grown used to her eyes lighting up when I did something special. She would start to say how my mother used to …, and her voice would trail off, memories of my mother dissolving like clouds of dust into the boundless desert.

I grew up in this neighborhood but I never felt part of it. I viewed it from my cocoon much like a fish in a bowl sees the distorted images of the world behind the glass, content to live its confined life blissfully unaware of the lights and shades outside. Even as I grew older it never was for me the place my grandparents recalled. Mississippi Moon had closed down only to reopen years later as Castignalio’s. The Rialto Theatre where legends like Redd Foxx once performed was now a crack-house. The banks were gone, replaced by a currency exchange. The barber shop, the bakery, the hardware store all gone, the store fronts boarded up. What we had in their place were the liquor store and opposite it the fried catfish and chicken hut, for what was better to gulp down your Daniels than a good helping of grease, gristle and bone. And on every corner were the hustlers and hoppers, who like termites gnawed away at the very foundations of the community blind to their own self destruction.

I went away to college, to Grandpa’s alma mater, Georgetown and I still remember the look on his face the day they dropped me off. On his face were etched hope, loss, joy, and pain as his eyes brimmed with unshed tears. That would be the last time I would see him alive for he died that Fall, from a stroke. He was buried next to Alcyone an empty plot to his left. Grandma was alone in a house that was now full of ghosts, shattered dreams lurking in every corner whilst laughter had long departed. I decided to quit and return home but she would have none of it and insisted I remained at Georgetown. She decided to become a foster parent caring for children who were the detritus of the carnage crack and heroine, like Scylla and Charybdis, had wrought on the community. She did this through my first three years of college until she gave up because of her failing health. She still found the strength to visit me and cheered louder than any parent when I walked across the stage to receive my diploma.

We planned to go traveling together. She wanted to take me to Selma, to see where it had all begun for her, so I could understand the journey that was not only hers but mine as well. The morning we were supposed to meet up she did not call as she always did. I phoned her only friend in the neighborhood, another hold-out from the Movement but she had no news. I called Father Michael who hurried to the house and later confirmed my worst fears with a call as I waited to board a plane at Reagan National.

There is a hole inside me, bigger than that being filled with the clod and sod and my beloved Grandma as she is interred alongside her husband and her daughter, all that is good of me lying in those holes. I have returned to Serenity Avenue to bury my past, I wish I could so easily bury my sorrow.

I am 22 today and alone. I stand on the corner of 14th and Serenity where my story began and I wonder, now what?


The wind fluttered with a false start, but soon picked up pace. An empty plastic bag bounced down the street, as if a marionette controlled by an invisible string.

The dirty plastic bag was not the only thing that appeared controlled by strings. He looked out that rain stained window and could only think that his body, heart and his common sense were no longer under his control. As he watched the wind manifest its dominance, he noticed the clouds gather and darken. Through the corner of his eyes, he saw bodies hasten their step in an effort to seek shelter before the sky exploded into God's angry tears.

The water from the shower stopped and the silence riveted him back into reality. The first drum roll of thunder was unleashed on passersby.

For 2 months, he knew that something was wrong. She would clam up every time he asked her about her day. She was secretive in a way she had never been.

She's cheating on me!

He hired a private investigator who reported that something indeed was going on, but he didn't know what. The investigator handed him a sheet of paper that read, Hotel Phoenixia, Wednesdays @ 12pm. 639.

Apparently, his wife frequented a cheap, run down hole in the wall, perpetrating as a hotel on Wednesdays.

To meet her lover. That bitch!

So, he decided to put an end to her philandering. He took the train to 14th Street and walked with his umbrella the short distance to Serenity Avenue. That part of town was despicable. Haggard prostitutes on many a street corner. Aimless men spending their day with open containers of beer and hard liquor. He walked into the Hotel Phoenixia and quickly made his way up to the 6th floor.

I know she loves the excitement of danger, but this dump?

On the 6th floor, he witnessed what was nothing other than an omen. A raucous scene of a crying, screaming wife, a pleading, cheating husband, nosy, hotel customers enjoying the show and men in suits to witness the scene. There was even a haphazardly dressed, buxom red head screaming at some of the suits. He prayed that that would not be his portion.

Room 639. He rapped his knuckles on the door 3 times and announced, "Room Service! Compliments of Management."

"I'm coming."

He heard her voice. She always purred like that after a good one.

The door opened and time stood still. She looked at him with widened eyes. Her lips parted and her voice got stuck in her throat.

"Dapo! What? Uh?" she sounded shocked.

He rammed his way into the cheap hotel room. Clothes were strewn everywhere. His wife's underwear flung on a lamp shade. A man's pair of shoes, reminiscent of the Wale Adeyemi loafers that she commissioned specially for his last birthday, lay in a corner. He looked at his wife through dark eyes and felt absolute hatred.

"How could you?"

"Dapo," she looked bewildered and confused.

"You didn't think I would find out about your affair?"

"Affair? Dapo, please, I, I..."

"Is that all you have to say for yourself?" His voice was laced with pure venom.

She looked towards the bathroom and then stared at him. "Dapo?" She asked.

He looked around the room again and saw a half eaten slice of Devil's food cake next to an empty bottle of Veuve Cliquot. She had introduced him to the rich, chocolate delicacy and he had loved it immediately, just as he had loved her from the start.

How could she do this to me!!!!!!!!

She was whimpering and repeatedly mumbling, "What's going on?"

He grabbed the cake knife and rammed it into her stomach. Her eyes widened in shock and terror as she wrapped her hands around the knife.

"Baby..." she croaked.

"I am not your baby!" His voice was thunderous and competed with the roaring outside. He watched her slump to the floor. He felt nothing, just a dark, roaring anger. He stepped over her body and looked out the window, waiting to confront the person in the shower.

All that was barely 5 minutes ago, even though it seemed like years had passed. Then the shower stopped and he heard footsteps approach.

"Hey, sleeping beauty..." a man said.

Dapo turned around, looked down at his dead wife and raised his head slowly to see his own face and hear an evil cackle. It was a sound he had thought he would never hear again.

"Did you just kill your wife?" the man chuckled, "I always knew you would never get rid of your lust for killing family members."

Dapo stared into the face of his twin brother Kehinde.

"Kehinde???" He asked astonished. "What are you doing here? You were sleeping with my wife?" His voice raised to overcome the boom and rumbling from outside.

"Hahahaha. Taiye. Yes, I am..." Kehinde stopped mid sentence and glanced at the body on the floor. "Well, I was sleeping with your wife. I definitely understand why you married her."

Anger began to rumble and soar. "DO NOT CALL ME TAIYE!" He screamed.

"Why not?" Kehinde asked laughingly. "Oh please. You think you can send me to jail, move away with that miserable thing we had for a mother and change who you are?"

"Don't talk about my mother like that!"

"Why not? You and I both know what she did to me. She hated me! She treated me like an animal. She touched me in places and ways no mother should. And when YOU killed dad, she covered up for you and set me up for it. You didn't even protect me. I spent years in jail for a crime that you committed! Do you know what that place does to a person?"

"That was not my fault..."

"Really?" Kehinde cut him off. "You killed dad, that bitch let me take the blame because you were the golden child, the promise of the family, and my going to jail for you is not your fault?"

"Look K, all that doesn't change the fact that you were sleeping with my wife. Look what you caused? I just killed the girl."

"Ehen, so? Oh, that is not your fault either, is it? You are an absolute idiot!"

Dapo looked at his wife's body and turned back to the window.

How do I salvage this situation?

Kehinde was still talking. "Had you simply told your wife you had a twin, this would have not happened. I sat in jail thinking of what I could do to make your life as miserable as mine. And now I have done it."

Kehinde began to put on his clothes. "I have taken the one thing I know you have wanted for a long time, dear brother. Do you know that she was pregnant?"

Dapo's heart stopped. He turned around to look in the face of the person he had hated even since the womb.

"No, no, no....."

Dapo bent beside his wife, realizing that when she cried "Baby" she didn't mean him, she meant their children. For the first time in his life, he began to weep.

Kehinde was still talking. "Oh yes, she saw the doctor today. Don't worry, the twins weren't mine. She was 4 months pregnant and we have only been at this for 2 months. But, still I achieved what I wanted. Your complete destruction."

Kehinde slipped his feet into his loafers and walked over to the mirror to tighten his tie.

"By the time the world finds out that the rising political star, D. Roger Cole, murdered his wife and unborn twins! Oh! It will be rich!!!!! And to imagine, all I did was make her believe that her husband wanted some secret weekly rendezvous with her." Kehinde continued to laugh as he put on his hat and a black trench coat.

Dapo's mind was set. He knew what to do. He lifted himself off his knees slowly and as he stood still, watching his long lost twin, the god of thunder cracked his whip, and the lights in the room went out.

I must make my move, now!

He yanked the silver knife out of his wife's belly and moved with lightening fast speed in the direction of the mirror, where he last saw his brother. A bolt of lightening illuminated the darkened room and the glint of metal could be seen as it dove towards a body. The torrential rain got louder and thunder continued to roar. But within seconds there was nothing but silence.

30 minutes later, a man walked out of Hotel Phoenixia and walked down Serenity Avenue. He got to the intersection with 14th Street and on a lamp post, there was a flyer inviting all to a nearby church. The picture of the Reverend was a turnoff. The man's eyes looked too much like his own. He glanced up the street and saw a bar. He figured that he didn't need church. God was too busy answering Obama's prayers to give a damn about the likes of him. What he really needed was a stiff drink.

The Ties That Bind

The Ties That Bind

The ties that blind take me back
To the corner bar and first taste of crack
In a previous life on Fourteenth Street
At Castignalio's, where we used to meet
There, everything had a price in dollars
A lot of things went down for tenners
Sex, drugs or even cold blooded murder
And somebody died one way or another

I still mind travel to that time and place
The crime scenes of a previous phase
You never forget where you left your ex
Or the first time you ever paid for sex
After all that, you’d give up on love
When guilt fits the hands tighter than glove
Inside me was a god sized hole
Am breaking up but only love makes whole

The tears that blind made me see
I lost a better half of me
Can I forget the very first time?
We ordered gin and you added lime
I was ebony, you was my ivory
And together we both made poetry
We talked of you and me and stardom
And what we’d do with money if we had some

But I had no money so I got a job
The options were few when I joined the mob
Being a bartender was just a front
I knew if you knew that you’d say, “Don’t”
See, I made much more dough selling joint
So many lies added up to the tipping point
But your love was blind so you couldn’t see
The little changes that happened to me

Till gradually we drifted apart
I always had many secrets of the heart
The baby mother you didn’t know about
Or when cops had for me a warrant out
At least it won’t hurt if you don’t know
That I had a family in another town, now
I came less and less to Serenity Avenue
The price I paid; I had to lose you

If I tried to explain, will you understand?
It’s a tough road to being an African man
Dreamy eyed, I left a third world country
Came to yours, hurt, broke and hungry
Meeting you was magic, our love was surreal
New chapters of passion, you did reveal
Accepted me wholly, without issues
I, a jigsaw puzzle, with missing pieces

You didn’t ask and I didn’t tell
About my past. It served me well
You were bed, meals and a green card,
Full disclosure would end what we had
That was, till Meekhams’ offer came
He owned the street, and I was game
You dine with the devil; you pay the price
I was down for whatever, like a roll of dice

Then, as they say, it came to pass
The cops came looking for my ass
I cut a deal, served three years clear
Came back confused and a little bit queer
Good thing my lawyer found a way
To clear my records and get me a stay
And just when I thought I was free at last
You came knocking from the past

What did you want? To have me back?
It so easy now to color me black
And just like you, I have a question
Was what we had love or just after a fashion?
Was I your man or your Mandingo?
I’d never know since I let you go
But I’ve gone too far to come back now
And it’s no use explaining why or how

Serenity NOW!

The ominous green glow of tornado skies foretold the impending tragedy that promised to arrive that day.

I woke up at 7:30--one full hour after my alarm clock started blasting Bone Thugs N’ Harmony on a continuous loop.

It’s the first of the month/wake up wake up wake up.

I rolled out of bed reluctantly and hit the floor with a loud thud.

‘What the hell happened last night?’ I thought, as I hoisted myself off the floor and onto the bed. Then I remembered; Toyosi…that bitch...and his poor wife, that's who I felt sorry for. What the fuck was he thinking, trying to make a pass at me? I would kill him again if I had the chance. I had been used all my life and I refused to let a little fag like him take advantage of me. And then there was the bar I went to afterwards. Shit, did I get drunk? I never remember things when I drink.

‘But did I get rid of the body?’ I suddenly thought, a short wave of panic paralyzing me for a moment. ‘Eh, whatever. That bitch got what he deserved. His brains can rot all over that fucking couch for all I care.’

Then just as suddenly as the thought had arrived, I was jolted back to the present by a deep but feminine voice that sleepily asked from the bed, “Baby, are you okay?”

I turned around quickly, first noticing the blue spider web-like veins that created a convoluted maze across his chest, and then the flat breast that weren’t quite breast. My eyes traveled across his body--completely ignoring his dick--all the way down to his feet, where I noticed not one, but two pairs of feet. There was no way that what I was seeing was real. There was no way that these two men had spent the night with me. I’m not fucking gay!

“Who the fuck are you and what the hell are you doing here?!” I yelled, ignoring the pounding headache that threatened to break my head apart. Then I reached under my pillow for my glock. “Why are you here and what did you do?” By now they were both very alert and the fear and confusion in their eyes made my blood curdle.

“What do you mea…baby please don’t, it’s us. Baby you always pick us up when you come to the bar,” one said. Then from the other, “Wait, please….please…you don’t remember last night? Maybe because you were drunk. You picked us up from the bar and…” But I never did give him the chance to complete his sentence. I blew two clean holes straight through their hearts, whispering to them, “I ain’t no fag.”

At that point, I was no longer on earth; I was now in a place beyond anyone’s comprehension. Cloud nine, or cloud ten, hell, even eleven. Either way, I was floating; I had reached my breaking point, which would explain why I gently tucked my glock away and began my morning regimen, completely ignoring the four dead eyes that seemed to follow my every step as I slowly and methodically got ready for work.

Of course I eventually decided not to go to work, but if you asked me that morning if I gave a shit I would have probably shone you the biggest grin ever and told you to fuck off. That’s how things were now; I could hardly give a fuck. I was on a natural high and I didn’t want it to go away.

I stepped out and onto Serenity Avenue. Looking down my street, it still amazed me how I ended up there, having grown up in three loveless foster “homes” on fourth street--not including that of my mother--Cece…Clara, or whatever the hell that crack whore calls herself. But I did it all by myself. No one was there when I, at the tender age of seven, suffered sleepless nights, those filled with nightmares that woke me up swimming in my own sweat and crying out for someone to care. I nursed myself when I was sick, only I controlled my life and the way I lived it. I put myself through school and fed and clothed myself. And I hustled until I was able to become manager of a CD shop. I put myself on Serenity. I control what happens to my life. But that was a story that I did not want to revisit today so I continued walking.

As I strolled down Serenity, past the CD shop, past the church, and past the beautifully lined trees and well manicured men and women walking their beautifully groomed and neutered dogs, I realized that non of them would never be like me; Free.
I reached the bar on the intersection of fourth and serenity and walked in without a second thought.

“Hey Carl,” yelled Tony the bartender from behind the counter. “How’s it going man? What do you want, the usual?” he asked. Tony and I had grown up together, supporting each other during the hard times. Gone through the same foster home bullshit and we both ran away from them all, refusing the abuse that often came with those places.

“Nah, give me a bottle of Jack, Tony. I feel like celebrating!” I exclaimed, with a big smile on my face. I knew he could sense that something was wrong but that’s what I’ve always loved about Tony; he never asked questions. He grabbed a bottle from the shelf, put it in a brown paper bag, and slid it across the counter. When I reached for the bottle, though, he pulled my arm, looked me in the eyes, and said, “It’s on me, but Carl, be careful man. You become someone else when you drink.”

“Sure thing Tony,” I said, as I walked out of the bar--my eyes glazing over in sudden realization of what he was implying--as I stepped once again into the odd amber-green glow of the sky. I walked about two blocks and entered the pharmacy. It wasn’t that big but it had been a part of the neighborhood for many years. In this store, were my true friends: Vicodin, Hydrocodone, and the sleeping pills… All of them, they took me away from my sorrows. Once again, I came to my old friends, in need of something that would keep my current state of bliss permanent. I perused all the aisles, oblivious to onlooker’s stares and concern.

I had a mission to complete.

When I found the perfect new friend I walked up to the check-out counter, where a sign begged, Please have your money ready. I fished in my pockets, suddenly aware of forgotten pennies and dimes; I was prepared, the conveyor belt sounding its familiar hum, making me dizzy.

“Six dollars,” Charlotte said, as I put the bottle of aspirin in my pocket; no need for a bag. She smiled, said, “Have a nice day sweetie!”

I responded, “Yea, that’s the plan,” then I walked out the door and made my way back to my house and into my car, with Jack Daniels and my bottle of sleeping pills promising to take me to heaven.

I was no longer thinking as I merged onto the highway and pried open the bottle of aspirin, emptying its contents down my throat. “Wash it down with a bit of Jack and Serenity will never escape,” I muttered to myself and laughed out loud.

There was already someone waiting at the station when he got there. The man asked him about the routes, he explained politely, in detail, as though it were quite an interest of his. Well, he didn’t know this man and no he wasn’t charmed by the man’s grey eyes and unnecessary smile. He nodded, smiled back and fell into a vague pensiveness, hands in pocket as he strode into the empty street. He himself was uncertain what the final outcome of the day might be, what really he might have to do, but the piece of iron in his pocket was there, cold and ready.

He crossed the intersection at 11th and went south. There was a dangerous quality to him, square-jawed, handsome, offering some unspecified challenge. He could have been an off duty soldier, nervily alone, counting on build, raw reckless strength and his close-cropped head.

When he first met Bell 2 weeks ago, she asked him “are you in the navy?” he said “no” with a guarded smile that irritated her. When she squinted and looked away he felt a tug in his heart. A certain something he had never felt before. He agreed with himself that this was Love beginning.

It was his first time at a Naming Ceremony. A colleague at the CD shop he worked in had begged him to come along. He had been feeling out of place until Bell came with her ‘Navy’ question and later introduced herself. Bell’s cousin Toyosi, who was father of the new born, sort of pranced about, forcing more drinks and food on the guests. Carl admired the fact that it was custom for them to throw a party for their 8-day-old babies. The fact that the baby is welcomed to the world with a bang and is named at a public party.
Carl had lived through 3 foster homes where home was really mere shelter, meagre meals and- for 2 of the homes- a hand that came to grope at night. He had learnt to fight it off by going to bed with a fork in hand.

Soaked in Campari and Vodka, He and Bell made out that night by the shade. He fingered her. That was what he did. He fingered her and she moaned and moaned till spit got caught in her throat and she began coughing. He chuckled mostly while she gave him a hand job. It was ticklish but besides that it didn’t do much for him, being a veteran wanker himself.

Now, however, he walked past the street that had the church in it. The church itself was tiny but the street was wide and clean and lined with trees that stood away from each other and waved with the indifference of rich neighbours. He had a recall of Father Michael saying, in a sermon, that God made the world Ex-nihilo (out of nothing). Something in him agreed that this was true, but the thought itself, at that moment, came unbidden and was of no relevance to him. The phone call too from Toyosi, two days after the ceremony, was unexpected.

“... to say thank you for ... Bell gave us your number before she left this morning....... yea, back to Lagos” the man was confident and sailed smoothly.

“So what do you say? You could come watch the game at my house..... Very glad to have you”
When Toyosi called again the next day Carl felt that something rotten was going on. Toyosi’s boldness startled him and later made him worry. People didn’t call to say things like that on a whim. Carl’s silence must have suggested consent, because the man went on: He had recently fallen into a little misfortune with his car, but it would be perfectly fine as Family would be going away at such and such a weekend. He could accommodate.

At 17, Carl had often been told he looked older, had been asked if he was in the military? One chick who wrote poems in school once called him a quiet animal. No one had ever called him gay. But here he was being propositioned, with careless certainty, by a man he barely knew. His ego, still young and unformed, wanted to know why. Zephyrs of thoughts and questions murmured in the background of his mind like thankless relatives.

He crossed the street and rang the bell at Toyosi’s door. It was a quiet afternoon even on Serenity Avenue. A police van crawled along toward the bar. Toyosi opened the door .

“Do I look gay.... do you think am gay?” Carl began to ask. It couldn’t have been obvious at all that he had come all the way just to ask this. Toyosi was enjoying the game already “no no... Not at all... I just have exceptional gaydar”

“You know I’ve often wondered, I mean, if the point of it is to fuck or love a man, whichever way you like to look at it, then why fuck one that looks and sounds like a woman. There s a pointlessness to it then don’t you think?” He asked. Then he noticed Carl was still standing, “....please sit down... yea..queens disgust me. Modern day abominations”

Carl on the couch thought it was ironic, this brand of bigotry. He picked the Ebony magazine on the coffee table and didn’t know what to make of Whitney Houston and Ray J as a couple. He wondered if there was a chance for a world where everyone thought alike and shared the same moral values and had the same tastes.

Toyosi may have been blinded by his own vanity. He admonished Carl to ‘loosen up’. As a joke, he told him he was celebrating his 30th and was marking it by doing several remarkable things. Then he winked at Carl “try anything once”. So "it isnt like I fancy blokes or anything ridiculous like that." Now he sat down beside Carl and said " But I do fancy you."

He asked Carl what he did, and Carl said he would start Uni in a month. He gave a little shout when Carl said he was 17 and he told Carl he looked like somebody who was really talented in something “ maybe a sniper... a genius sniper” then he got excited and said “there was this quote I read somewhere that, Homosexuality is God’s way of ensuring that the truly gifted aren’t burdened with children”. He paused to look at Carl’s face and began to laugh again “People write all kinds of shit. I swear.” Carl winced a bit, swallowed and bit his lips hard. He was aware he had begun to bleed but there was nothing he could do about it.

When he wacked Toyosi with the piece of iron from his pocket, although the first blow cracked his cranium, he didn’t stop there. He wacked him again and again and saw that it wasn’t, in itself, a very hard thing to do. Carl kept muttering “isn’t that what you want?.. Isn’t this what you want?” as he shoved a carved stick, the size of a man’s hand, into Toyosi’s asshole. He sodomized him with the stick again and again. Toyosi lay there, with half his brain splattered all over the place, twitching at intervals.

Siren from a police car blared on the street. It was not for him. His hands trembled, his heart stood away from him. In a twisted sort of way he yearned for the tranquillity, the quiet confidence.... the serenity of many years ago. When in school, he memorized psalms and sang cherry hymns. But in the light of the moment, even the idea of a prayer seemed ridiculous.

Before the Fire

“You really don’t have to talk about this”

Let me… just let me do this Jack… I need to say this as much as I think you need to hear it…

I only wanted ten dollars that night… I had started feeling the ‘crawlies’... and the cold. I just needed to fucking shoot up.
$10. Two blowjobs… or a quick bendover in the alley would take care of it…

I still remember the snowstorm that night…nobody was passing by… or cumming through… not even the ones who gave me the money just to shut the fuck up.

You were the only one who’d come by my end in 3 hours…I reached out… frantically grabbing and trying to pull your fly down
'What you want sugar… lemme give it to you… '

6ft 3, black-as-night niggah broke down and started crying like a newborn

Now trickin’ I done had all kinds of reactions… grunts… screams… singing… slaps… one of my best paying customers JJ Rest his soul used to play Andrea Boccelli and strangle me and shit to get off…
Being on the streets for over 29 years I done seen everything the world seen fit to show me… but I never seen no grown-ass man bawling cos of some aging pussy.

‘Walk on bitch-ass niggah’ I'd screamed… ‘Get the fuck outta here’
I didn’t even know how to deal with the shit… I just wanted $10 to pass by Reggies real quick before he ran out of merch and them loud-ass tears were working my last nerve… scaring customers and shit.

Was fitting to cut a niggah…started reaching for my swiss


I was so shocked it dropped… don’t nobody out in the streets know my government name… at that point I’d almost forgotten it my damn self.

I looked… really looked and for the first time in 29 years I was sober…

…The nose that had never quite gone back to normal after that fist fight when we were teenagers… those jumbo ears… them pink lips still the same…JACK!
Jack motherfuckin’ Roberts!!!

I’m not sure if it was me you cried for or your ex-wife, Nina… but something shriveled up inside me and died that night…

I looked into your eyes and saw a tired, dried-up, cracked-out street whore… Me. A caricature of the woman I once was.

It’s been 18 months since that night on Serenity… and… and…

“Clara it’s obvious this is very painful for you. It’s fine… you don’t have to…”

Jack please don’t interrupt. I’ve practiced this speech a million times… just let me get it out…

Right now my sky is still dark. Sometimes it feels like there are no stars to guide me… but I’m figuring it out. I’ve learnt to just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving… and so far I’m finding my way. I’ve started to believe in who I am… in what I can do… and for the first time in a long time, I feel strong enough to take a risk.

Jack… I love you

“Clara… I”

“Don’t say anything… just please let me finish”

It’s been almost 30 years… but I love you Jack. I loved you before you grew chest hair… before you were charming and strong and beautiful. I loved you before you wrote your first speech… back when you were nervous in front of a crowd.

I know that even now as you look at me you probably still see the toothless, whoring crone you saw that night on Serenity… I know that I have made such a mess of my life that my very presence probably repulses you…

But I want you to remember me before the tricks and the drugs(the ones I took to sleep… and the other ones I took cos I had to wake up).
Remember, Jack, and remind me.
Remind me how it was before life turned my brown eyes cold and black… back when I laughed with my eyes. Remind me of hours together when we didn’t talk cos the words got in the way of our harmony…
Remind me when I was Cece not Clara.

Remember what you once told me… that its not when we’re at our best that we should be loved the most… but when we’re down and don’t even know how to love ourselves…
Love me now Jack…

I have fought while others love. I have screamed while others laugh. I have starved while others eat. I have stared into the abyss… and seen it stare right back at me…
There is no one who demands my company… no place that would be empty without me…

Love me now Jack…

I know there’s a chance that there’s already somebody else… that you’ve found a simpler woman who does your laundry and prepares your dinner at 6pm and never nags and wants the billion children that neither Nina, nor I ever wanted. Maybe this is too late and you already have the joint bank account and the title… your fairytale…

But in case you haven’t Jack… I want you to know that I am here hanging on a limb hoping you’ll be there at the bottom when I fall.

I know that mine is not an innocent love… a book of blank pages waiting to be filled. It’s the shades and shadows of words already written. It is not the dream we have underneath the stars but the familiar body we reach out for when we wake… the known face, the comforting smile. It’s not the fantasy of mystery… but who is and what is.

You’ve made some mistakes… and I’ve lived a mistake. It’s the living we’ve already done that makes us rich for ourselves.

I’m still angry and bitchy and violent… the streets have left their residue. I still get the itch and sometimes wake up sweating… craving a needle… a pill… a drink… but I’m fighting- harder than I ever have in my life.

I had to move away from 14th street to find serenity.

Now I listen to Jazz and iron my jeans. I eat pickle sandwiches and pork rolls. I hate cranberries and spiders. I read Shakespeare and volunteer at the HNBC every Wednesday.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… I’ve muddled the first 47 years of my life. I want to spend the next 47 making things right... with you.

Lets find our rhythm once more… our rhythm of friendship and history… before our daughter Kayadunza… before Nina… BEFORE the fire.

My wife loves talking during sex.
Last night she called me from the Hotel.

I tell my wife that I have loved her since our first meeting 15 years ago.
This is not true.
I have loved her far longer than that.
I fell in love with her from the time my parents told me my very first fairy tale.
Every night, Tucked beneath the warm blanket, with one on each side of me, my parents told me stories of love and its triumph.
They were a classic act those two. My mum and my dad.
My mum filled my heart with visions of burning passion. Of substance that transcended the imagination of mortals and yet still permitted it's pursuit.
Every man has his snow White. My mum whispered to me with a smile. We all have our Princes waiting to carry us away.
Dad guaranteed that however flighty my dreams were they were still anchored on things earthly and important.
Snow white was a beautiful girl with an even more beautiful Ass. Dad added. The reason why they called her Snow White was because every time she walked. You felt it was Christmas.
Snow? Christmas?
Get it?

I got it all right.
The whole idea behind romance and love. Dad's point was simple
It was okay to fall in love and live happily ever after but did you really want to do it with a mermaid who had an angry father in the Ocean? If I was going to fall in love with a girl she would have to be perfect.
She would have the hair of Rapunzel, and breasts of Sleeping beauty.
The reason why they called her Sleeping Beauty was because you wanted to sleep between those beauties.
Her Ass would rival Snow white's and she would have better vision and wits than little red Riding Hood.
Most importantly, she would not smell of fish.

When I first met Nina I knew she was the one I had been waiting for.

Smart, funny, incredibly beautiful with the softest of smiles she sent me tumbling down a long spiral well into the depths of love. She fitted the image I had been in love with for the last 23 years of my life. Falling in love with her was automatic.
We got married 5 months later.
A lovely Chapel on Serenity Avenue.
Nina was the perfect Princess that day. She was Snow White, Cinderella and a million other fairy tale princesses. She smelt of Jasmine and a hundred breadth of singing angels.
Every eye in the Chapel was on her that day.
Well, not every. The young priest in the Chancel kept giving me a funny look.
I suspected he was gay but I was in spirits too gay to care.

15 years went by without a hiccup.
"She is the best thing to ever happen to me." I told my buxom secretary often with a smile. “I could never leave her. No matter what she did. She could never hurt me or surprise me."
My Secretary gave me a smile. Like she had seen it all. Like nothing this good could last forever.
Maybe she was unto something.

Something started last week
Last week she left for a conference in Spain leaving me behind at home.
It was nothing strange. She had often traveled for conferences.
She left in a yellow cab for the airport. We both hated good byes. Riding out into the sunset in cab was a more fitting exit.
All was okay for 12 hours and then it wasn’t.

She had promised to call me once she landed in Spain but she didn’t.
I sat beside my phone for hours waiting for the call. It never came. I checked my phone a hundred times to make sure it was turned on. By the seventieth time I could feel the phone begin to frown at me.
Japanese phones and their elitist attitudes.
Ignoring it, I was just about to give up and call the airline when a beep from the computer alerted me to an incoming email.
It was from her.
"Hi dear. The networks here are jammed. I'm really sorry that I can’t call. Will try later. Love you"

I suppose if I had half the wits that she had, I should have realized that something was amiss.
But I didn’t and so I didn’t.
Assured with the shortest of sentences I returned to work and life as it was.
The week went on with little or no event.
She didn’t call after that but continued to keep me updated of her program. Her notes were short and brief. Almost as if she didn’t have time to talk to me. Faint undercurrents of resentment began to flutter in me.

"DO you think she is cheating on you?" My secretary asked with a chuckle as I told her my feelings. I felt like hitting those perfectly made lips of hers but I controlled myself and sent her on some errand.
My mind worked itself into overdrive.
Nina couldn’t be cheating on me. It didn’t make sense. Sleeping beauty never cheated on the prince. Not ever. There had to be an explanation for her silence. Why would she not call me? 5 days had gone by since her exit to Spain
What was she doing?
Who was she with?

And then she called me last night.
One minute the phone was there, silently laughing at my excesses and the next it was ringing.
“Hi dear." Her voice was high pitched. My shot nerves went a notch higher. We hadn’t been married for nothing. I knew when there was something wrong and I sensed it now.
“How are you?" I asked softly. I rubbed a hand across my brow. My skin was drenched with sweat.
“I’m fine." She replied slowly. "What about you? Where are you?"
“At home. Watching a movie. It's not the same without you."
I heard a voice in the background. It was low and faint. But it was there.
It definitely was a man’s.
“Oh Jack." She said to me. And the she hung up.

I sat down in shock.
That had been a man's voice. I was sure of it. The time was 8pm over here. 2 am in Spain. What was a man doing with my wife at 2 am. I wasn’t imagining it. There been a man talking in the background.
I stared at my cell phone in my hand and my blood had gone cold.
The number with which she had used to call me was still on the screen. It was a number I knew. We had called the same number 15 years ago when we had our honeymoon there.
It was the number of a Hotel on Serenity Avenue
Serenity Avenue!
What was she doing on Serenity Avenue? She was supposed to be in Spain not there. What was she doing at the hotel? Who was the man in the background? Why was she with him?
Why were they calling me from the Lobby of the Hotel Phoenixia on Serenity Avenue?

I felt my body grow cold.
"What’s wrong honey?" My secretary asked me. She cuddled me from behind rubbing her erect nipples against my sweaty back. She was requesting an encore. She was joking.
"Oh God." I groaned.
“What’s wrong Jack?" She repeated with alarm. She jumped of the. bed and looked at my face with concern. She was mostly naked. I stared at her red hair.
Most lies about Red head are false. The Curtains did match the Carpet.
She approached me. Sleeping Beauty boobs swung in front of my face.
It didn’t work this time.
I felt my Bean Stalk wilt.
"My wife just called.” I said to my secretary in a whisper.
My secretary raised an eyebrow in amusement. “How is Spain?”
I closed my eyes.
“She isn’t in Spain, Rani. She called me from the lobby of the Phoenixia."
My secretary,Rani, stared at me with shock.. She had the wits of Gretel on her.
“But that c..Can’t be She’s supposed to be in Spain. She can’t be at the Hotel Phoenixia. That means she’s in town..” Rani stammered. “That's on Serenity Avenue. That’s..."
Her face turned white.
"...Downstairs" I finished.
The doors of the hotel room crashed open and Nina walked in. Her face red with fury. Beside her were two men. One dressed like a private investigator and the other looked like a lawyer.
It was the scene from a familiar story.
Angry little red Riding Hood. The muscle man. The narrating lawyer beside her. A guilty wolf sitting across the room. Beside him rests a rather sexy Grandmother clad in the barest of lingerie which exposes a perfect set of breasts. A set which ,minutes before, he had been happily chewing on...
“You son of a bitch" She screamed lunging at me.
Little red riding Hood furious with the wolf...
I was familiar with this story.
And it didn’t end well for the wolf.

She pauses mid stride to light her cigarette, her stubby, grime encrusted fingers coming up to frame the flame from the wind. She takes a generous drag of the little white stick and grimaces as if she knows that indeed, it is poison to her very existence but she shrugs as if that, like all other things is out of her control. Her eyes come up in a vague appraisal of her surroundings and they meet mine, staring out unflinchingly at her from the second floor of the three story walk-up on Serenity Avenue.

For a second she freezes, recognition giving way to a nasty scowl. Her other hand comes up. She has given me the middle finger. I don’t miss a beat. I return the greeting. She blinks rapidly. I smile because I know it is the last thing she would expect from me. Then, like we used to, we both drag the finger to our lips; our silent code from the streets. Unlike her, I have been able to leave. She has not been as lucky. Her throne has been reduced to no more than a patch on 14th Street, stripped of the glamour and power she once had. Her hand drops and she moves on. Dear old Clara.

“It is ready” his voice comes from behind me like a wisp of smoke. In the stuffiness of the studio, the air is thick with fumes emanating from paint drying on canvas. It makes my head swim.

I struggle to focus on the huge painting he has presented before me, partially hidden by a swatch of cotton. It is of the famous disney fairy tale character with a twist. Her face is not the typical pale skinned princess of old. It is of another. Mine.

“That is wrong,” I say to him, pointing to me as the courtesan. He has stepped back to regard his work, hesitant, almost begging for my approval.

“That is wrong.” I repeat, “She is wrong. She is not saying what she is supposed to say”

“What is she to say?” his words are a whisper, soft and fearful. I smile because I have expected him to ask me that question in the very same way. This is not the first time, I have come to the studio on Serenity and this is not the first time, I have been dissatisfied with his portrayal of me.

“Look at her,” I tell him, “That is no princess. That is a whore.”

“I have painted her as you asked. Rani, as Sleeping Beauty.” He has come behind me, his breathing raising the soft hairs on my neck. I ignore the shivers. I need him to pay attention to what I am saying.

“Well, she looks like a slut, which I am not.” I turn around to face him “At least, that part of me is not included in this painting.” I move closer, tickled by the sight of his Adam’s apple bobbing uncontrollably in his throat. “Her breasts are wrong. She is a temptress, a promise of pleasures unfathomable to the mind” I take his hand and place it on my breast.

His breathing quickens.

“What do you feel?” I ask of him.
He squeezes. I smack his hand.

“What do you feel?” I ask again. I move into him, standing up to whisper in his ear






I move away from him. “That is what you are to paint. Fix her tits. If I wanted to do porn, I’d be my sister.”

He does not move. He appears frozen. His hand remains mid air, where my breast would have been. I look at his body. At least one part of him is not frozen and its rising heat is evident against his jeans.

I motion for the table on which his cans of paints sit opened, the smell of varnish slowly spreading to the rest of the room. There are cans of red and blue. I reach for his belt.

“I did say that I wanted hues of purple on the painting.”

It takes only minutes. Expecting any more from him would have been foolish on my part. Still, I allow myself to linger, coated in sweat and paint, allowing the throbbing wetness between my legs to subside. He traces circles on my skin with a finger.

“Where will it hang?” he asks of me.

“I don’t know.” I reply, “It’s not for me. It’s for him. I don’t care what he does with it.”

His lips replace his finger. My belly button is his starting point. My body knows where he is headed. I close my eyes and slip away for a minute.

It is ironic that I lie here, just feet away from the Hotel Phoenixia where only days before, the web of lust and deceit was ripped apart. The earth is yet to settle from the uprising. Jack has left me just as I knew he would. He belongs to Nina. Sadiya is yet to take my calls. I do not expect her to. I know her like I know my own skin; maybe more so because we do have the same skin.

I am thinking with devilish glee what sort of havoc this painting is going to cause when it arrives at the house of whom it is intended when suddenly I realize that Majid has stopped his motions…his touch.

I open my eyes just in time to see his left hand rise up and swoop down to plunge the palette knife into my chest. I am shocked more than anything else. I open my mouth to ask him why but my words become blood, hot, red and metallic. Gasping, I look from the object protruding from the bleeding wound to his face.

He is calm. And then I know. I know as my life pours from me across his table of spilled paints. I know now why my calls have not been taken or returned. It is not possible to return calls to one who has ceased to exist.

From the corner of my eye, I see the image of myself in oil on linen canvas; me, Rani, as Sleeping Beauty.

I don’t fight the end. I lay back and bleed the red for my purple.

I can't believe that bitch did this to me".

"I thought that ours was a true friendship".

"On her wedding day, I was the one that hitched her white skirt over her head when she had a sudden case of the shits".

"I should have let her skidmark that fucking white dress".

"I kept her secrets and trusted that our plans and hopes for the future would materialize.

"We were in it together, we planned the perfect caper."

"Nine years of work, nine years of pandering to that geriatric bastatd>"

"Now, It is payback time".

Many thoughts go through my mind as I make my way down 14th Street. I am not surprised that I still get stares from the crack-heads, pimps and whores. Maybe they recognise me? Maybe they don't, but right now I don't give a shit. It is time to get the show on the road.

"No more miss nice bitch", got to make it known that I still have my edge.

14Th Street hasn't changed much from when I was "buy-sexual", as I used to say; "you buy and I am sexual".

The sights, smells and sounds of this place haven't changed. The train station with its boarded up windows and oppressive odour of urine clearly is still a crack den.
The dumpster right before me was the scene of my introduction to the dark side of city life. I had no idea what a cleveland steamer was until that very night, and bot what an introduction it was.

The abandoned Rialto Theater is still here, I wonder if the bug chasers still go there on a Thursday night to be infected with a heady dose of HIV. Sex shops, glory holes, porno theaters, snuff movies, rent boys, kiddie porn, She-Males, cut throats and killers. Every peccadillo is catered to on these streets, but my mission tonight is somewhat different from what the usual 14Th street straggler has in mind.

"Hey watch where the fuck you are going" . I snapped in irritation as a short fuck wearing a hat and walking with a limp bumped into me. Bastard seemed in a hurry, I guess we all have our demons that we are fighting.

I get to the bar, I don't want to be followed so I do a quick volte face, walk halfway around the block, turn around as I get closer to Clara's patch. I don't need her recognising me. As I make my way back I check my inventory; mace, condoms, a couple lines of coke, cigarettes, cuticle cream, nail polish, flick knife, .22 caliber Smith and Wesson, tampons, and her picture.

I walk in and order myself a scotch, I survey the area and inwardly smile at the memories this place evokes. I light up a cigarette and wait for him to arrive. Nine Gauloises, and three whiskeys later he comes in. We exchange a knowing glance and walks over. He lumbers towards me, and I can't not help but feel somewhat intimidated by him. He is at least six foot four but has such poor posture that at best appears four inches shorter. He is almost as broad as he it tall, his face is scarred and contorted in a permanent satanic grimace. His leather jacket was cheap and smelled like the animal it was made from, he sat down beside me and held out his caloused hand.

I hand him the picture and wait for his reaction..............

"This dame looks just like you". He said in the typical wise guy fashion.

"If you want me to whack you, it is gonna cost you extra lady, and payment upfront"

"That is my twin sister" I said ........

"Make the bitch bleed"


Late October in those parts was decidedly wintry and unfriendly. The man shivered slightly as he walked towards the intersection. He was of middling years and he carried a limp as he walked in the swirling night rain. In spite of the weather, his attire was exaggerated for the occasion. The scarf was wrapped a little too tightly, his overcoat a little too large and the deerstalker hat pulled right down to the brim. Here was a man who had made a pact with anonymity and he did not wish to renege.

It was close to midnight yet the intersection was as populous as at any other time of the day, its denizens disregarding the lateness of hour and severity of wind-chill. There was Clara at the corner, moustachioed, ragged and toothless, accosting all male passer-bys for loose cash often offering a blow job in exchange. Most people afforded her a dollar or five, not as a supreme act of charity but more as a disincentive for such a repellent offer. In a previous life Clara had been a street girl and she retained a healthy distrust for other women, often acting aggressively towards them. In her mind she still possessed the swagger and allure of her old profession; a fantasy which was a testament to the delusional effects of crack cocaine.

The busy streets suited the man’s intentions and he made his way in the direction of Meekhams the vendor. Several times he would glance around furtively hoping to avoid recognition. On approach, he searched for Davina from a distance amidst the usual throng of her species, observing them as they barracked, enticed and invited potential customers to treat. They had a secret sign. He would upturn the collar of his oversized Macintosh in a dramatic fashion as he approached and she would follow.

Her den, above Castignalio’s, was sparse, dingy and functional, respecting the need of the client and nothing more. The smell as he entered was musky and pungent, a vile combination of nicotine, spermatozoa, sweat and cheap lubricant.

‘I wish you would do something about the smell’ he said, irritatingly, as he sat on the only chair in the room.

‘Funnily enough you are about the only one who seems to give a shit’ she replied in that falsetto of hers.

‘Could you not at least air the place every now and then?’ he continued, removing his clothes as he spoke.

‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. In this weather?’

‘Shut up! Take your clothes off and get over here you whore’

‘Yes sir! I do love it when you talk like that’

Dutifully she disrobed to reveal a hard, lithe body with small, disfigured silicone mounds where once there had been breasts.

‘Will it be the usual big boy?’

‘I tell you when to talk dammit. Get on your knees.’

He was not the tallest of men and even with him standing and her kneeling; the top of her head was still level with the base of his sternum. She began by licking his navel and then working her way down towards his penis.

After a few moments, he grabbed the back of her head roughly and with a handful of horse hair flung her in the direction of the bed. He was fully aroused now as he walked over to the bed and Davina had already assumed a canine position in anticipation of his next move.

The sight of that firm ass floating in the air was more than he could bear and he rammed his small cock directly into her asshole with some force. He loved anal and he felt a bit annoyed that Davina’s sphincter had lost its elasticity which meant that her anus was no longer as tight as it used to be. He would have to get himself another regular he thought to himself as he gyrated spasmodically in an awkward, arrhythmic fashion. He did not have sex regularly and he knew that he would reach climax in a few strokes. He leaned forward slightly and cupped one of Davina’s silicone mounds with his left hand. With his right, he reached underneath her flat belly and run his hands down until it reached her semi-hard cock. He ran his fingers across its length and tugged at it roughly until he ejaculated with a little scream. He lay on top of Davina for a while, his body shuddering as he continued to play with her now erect penis. It was bigger than his and he found it mildly ironic, amusing almost, that a fully-fledged man such as himself could have a smaller dick than a fucking tranny. He hated the aftermath of sex, as this was when overwhelming guilt and disgust would begin to envelope him. He would often swear privately to himself that this would be the last time.

He would then rise from the bed, often without words, dress hurriedly and throw a bundle of notes in the vague direction of Davina.

“When next big boy?’ Davina would call out hopefully. He never answered, her question lost amidst the darkness of night and the incessant rap music that blared from below.

On that wet October night, as he reinforced his disguise by wrapping the scarf fully across his face so that only his eyes were visible, he promised himself that this really would be the last time. He needed to find a way to conquer his demons and achieve tranquillity....serenity. As he started his walk towards 16th street and home, making his way past the Metro, a voice called out behind him.

‘Father Michael?’ the voice queried inquisitively. He ignored it and walked faster, his limp more pronounced.

The voice was persistent and called out again this time closer, more urgent.

He turned to see who it was and it took only a moment for him to recognise the face. It was a young girl from his congregation. She had one of those African names that he found impossible to commit to memory. How he had always dreaded such a moment and this confrontation reinforced his conviction that he must forever abandon his great sin. For now he prepared his lies, removing the guilty visage of sin and replacing it with one of sanctimony.

‘Hello Father I thought it was you. I recognise that your walk anywhere. What brings you out at this time?’

‘Ah how are you my dear daughter? So good to see you. I am just picking up my prescriptions you know. 14th street seems to be the only place that still runs a 24 hour pharmacy these days. But wait, I have not seen you for many a Sunday now. I hope nothing is the matter.’

‘I’m so sorry Father. I have been going through a really rough patch in my private life. Actually I would be very grateful if you could make some time so I could come and see you this week.’

‘Of course, of course my dear, you know my doors are always open. But what on earth are you still doing out at this hour? And in this neighbourhood? A young lady like you should not be about so late. One never knows what sort of predators and weirdoes one is likely to meet’

‘How right you are Father. How right you are’


I walked with a kind of saunter to the bar on 14th street as if I hadn’t a care in the world. For a well known street I had driven on for three years, the paved sidewalk and scenery seemed so unfamiliar. The neighborhood albeit urbanized from the corner of Serenity Avenue, still consisted of rundown residential homes and boarded houses with crack corners. In my opinion, it appeared that the people that often visited the outskirts of 14th street did so for two reasons, to drink cheap beer or to buy drugs.

I looked like the latter – a crack head junkie! Although I had already stopped crying hours ago, my mascara had run to form black rivulets down my cheeks. My clothing and hair disheveled from the one woman pity party I threw in my apartment before I decided to go to the bar, the only place I knew Toy will not look for me. It was not difficult to tell that I was distressed and skittish; showing emotions alien to my temperament. The lady who usually stood on the street begging for spare change uttered no word but instead stared me out of countenance. I could understand her reasoning, she was protecting her space. She had been there for so long that she felt she was the only one that had the right to ask people for spare change in this area. She will rather die than let another bitch curtail her dole.

At twenty eight, I am about to have my first strong drink. Although I am no virgin to alcohol, I wouldn’t call my sporadic cherry flavored drink a potent beverage. Infact, any drink mixed with sugar and lemon is hardly alcohol; I consider it spiced up orange juice designed to perk you up. The strength and courage I had to enter the bar I hated going with Toy was foreign. The place is very filthy. To an anosmatic person, the bar would seem like any other cheap bar; however, this bar stank of vomit mixed with urine and beer. The garbage in the corner was overflowing; the tables were caked in mud as if it had been stamped on by a multitude of people. The ladies restroom is frequently out of order, which means men and women would share the men’s restroom. I personally believed that the manager and his employees did this intentionally – Perverts, the whole lot of them. I just don’t understand how Toy enjoys this place?

“The usual?” came the sound behind the counter. I wasn’t sure why the bartender chose to speak to me. He usually pours the drink with a stern look and went about his business. I had often concluded that he had no personality, he was grunt and you could never catch him smile. So why did he talk to me today? Could it be that he perceived a change in my demeanor? Clearly, I wasn’t as sophisticated and guarded as I usually am, especially when I come with Toy.

“No…Amaretto sour is not strong enough to numb me. I’ll have a glass of Everclear, straight up, and yeah, keep it coming”.

His left eyebrow rose “I think grain alcohol is too much for a lady like you”

His insult, though unwitting pained me. I gave what I thought is a good retort “I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think is good for me. Give me what I asked for” suddenly remembering my manners I added a faint please. I yelled at him because he vaguely reminded me of Toy’s comments. “If you don’t do this or that, I won’t marry you” I altered my attitude and molded my personality to everything I thought he wanted in a wife. I should have known the silly bastard never intended to marry me. He was already married; he has a son and another baby on the way.

Earlier in the day, I had gone over to Toy’s house, but strangely the doors were locked. He had actually changed the locks. I knocked softly, not wanting to alert the neighbors. A petite lady in adire [1]came to the door. Perplexed, I asked for Toy. She informed me pleasantly that no one by that name lived there. Just then I noticed a cute little boy- splitting image of Toy hiding behind her. I tried again but with foible stamina knowing fully well who and what I was dealing with. “May I speak to the man that lives here”?

“Folake, tani yen[2]” I heard Toy voiced

“Mi o mo. Won bere enikan ton je Toy”[3]

“Emi ni won bere. Awon kan o le pe Toyosi[4]. Who is that?”

“Toy, it is me. Who is she?”

My question was greeted with shouts of derision. Toy gave me a warning not to ever come to his house again then the warning followed with an advice “when a guy does not return your calls, gumption should tell you it is over” But before he closed his door I heard him tell her “eniti mo koko fe fi se iwe ni yen”[5]

Being a linguistics polyglot, his remark was not lost on me. I wept inconsolably on his door step for a long time.

The bartender slapped his palm on the table to get my attention then he slid the tall glass my way. As I took the first sip from my drink, I felt the ethanol in the alcohol make its way to my cell membrane; it produced a terrific buzz that I wished would last forever. I was in a state of pleasant intoxication which gave me the confidence I never knew I possessed.

In a gulp I finished the drink. My head burned, my eyesight became blurry and my movement a little delayed. I noticed a jukebox in the corner but wondered if it still worked. I gave my bag a good rummage but couldn’t find any change. Brave enough; I dipped into the tip jar for a quarter. I staggered barefooted towards the jukebox, slotted in the coin and selected Billy Holiday’s “Baby Get Lost”. It played alongside the loud obnoxious rap from the radio. The bartender noticed the sound conflict but did not bother to turn the radio off.

I started dancing, then twirling like a thread on a spindle. I felt the heat in my stomach rise up and pass through my lungs and it came out of my mouth as laughter.

I laughed myself into the state of tranquility… serenity. I was aware everyone in the bar stared, but couldn’t care. I had devoted myself to him for three years and nothing to show for it. My laughter grew louder as I remembered my act of vengeance. I had let out the air in his four tires, then brought out my keys and scribbled words of profanity all over his car. My emergency Swiss knife did what it did best – I used it to cut through the leathery roof. For the grand finale, I picked up a stone and threw it at the windshield then proceeded to do the same to the side mirrors and navigation system. He deserved it. Toy had worked overtime for three years to buy his BMW M6 convertible and it took me just half an hour to destroy everything.

We are not even until I demolish all he has worked for in his life.

[1] Tie and Dye cloth
[2] Folake, who is that?
[3] I don’t know. She is looking for someone named Toy
[4] That’s me. Some people can’t pronounce Toyosi
[5] She is the one I wanted to use for my immigration papers

14th and Serenity


The Line Up

Let the countdown begin.

Monday 26th May: Allied

Wednesday 28th May: Atutu

Friday 30th May: B

Sunday 1st June: Catwalq & Guest

Tuesday 3rd June: Overwhelmed

Thursday 5th June: Jaja

Saturday 7th June: Rayo

Monday 9th June: Kiibaati

Wednesday 11th June: Solomonsydelle

Friday 13th June:Naapali

Sunday 15th June: Waffarian

and closing out the show,

Tuesday 17th June: UK Naija.





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