Somewhere Inside Bitrus

Theophilus Sokuma

The day after Bitrus returns from school, he tells his mother that he will be travelling to their hometown in faraway Borno. His clothes and books from school are still neatly tucked in the box he brought back from school, so he has no need to pack.

“Are you out of your mind?” his mother asks, moving in her chair and twisting her legs into each other. The setting sun sneaks through the window pane and rests on her face.

Bitrus has not been to the village since he was 13. Ten years have gone by.

“Do you even remember the way there?” his mother asks. Bitrus rises from the chair he is seated on at the dining table. He picks the plate of half-eaten rice and goes to the kitchen.

“You don’t know the way there,” she says when he returns to the living room. Bitrus can hear the worry in her voice.

He does know the way there. The roads are vivid in his mind. Their last journey there is imprinted in his mind and still haunts him. He knows there is a mosque on the lonely path that leads to his grandfather’s house. He remembers there was a mango tree by the side of the mosque and a baobab tree just before his grandfather’s compound. He remembers that beside the house was a blue gate with moon-shaped metalwork.

“I just need to get away from here,” he says. As soon as he says it, he realises the implication of it. He does not want his mother to think he wants to get away from her, that he does not cherish her company for he does. In fact, he prefers that she goes with him or that they relocate back to the village altogether but he knows that his mother, who escaped rural life, will not see reason. It’s not that he has any logical reason with which to explain his desire for relocation. His reason for wanting to go is totally emotive and inexplicable.

“Not from you,” he says, and moves closer to where she sits on the chair and wraps his arms around her. “I just need to get away from Lagos. You know I hate it here.”

His mother looks at him through tired eyes, the affection she has for him lining her pupils, and untangles herself from his grip. She gets up and paces about the living room, the hem of her unevenly tied wrapper kissing the tiled floor. When she finally stops, she faces him, folds her arm around her chest and lets out a defeated sigh. “Let me call your grandfather to tell him you are coming.”

He knows she wants to say more: that Borno is still dangerous, that she had lost two of her brothers to the terrorist killings. Does he want to render her childless? But she doesn’t. She tucks her words into the mouth of her wrapper and ties it to her chest. Bitrus sighs and allows the balloon in his chest to deflate.

*

The sun is slowly setting when Bitrus reaches his grandfather’s village, which makes the village take on a hue of a town dipped in red oil. He has spent two days on the road. The village is a canvas of dust, and Bitrus feels himself entering a painting. The hills lie in the distance, quiet and brooding. Bitrus remembers his endless visits, as a child, into those hills; how alive he always felt, how eternal they made him feel. He smiles for the first time since he embarked on this trip. He begins walking, the weight of his bag dragging him down. He reaches the mosque, old but still familiar, history laying on its back. By the mosque is an old man bearing a striking resemblance to the image of his grandfather in his head. But the image in his memory is like a faded picture, any old man could fit into the frayed edges. Bitrus is surprised when the man calls him by name.

“Don’t tell me you have forgotten your grandfather,” the man says, laughing when he registers the look of shock on Bitrus’ face.

Bitrus blushes. He had not expected this familiarity and geniality from the man, had not known what to expect even. He had not thought about this encounter. Sure, the old man once gifted Bitrus a comic book about a black girl named Sara when he was a child, and he had read and told stories that now as an adult he struggles to remember, but time and age could turn one into something they themselves could no longer recognise, let alone others.

Bitrus struggles to find his words. He tries talking but all that comes out is sour breath. He wants to ask how the old man knew he was here. He had not called to tell his mother he had arrived in the village. The last time he spoke with her was when he was in Abuja, and his phone has been off ever since.

“How did you know I was here already?” Bitrus finally asks, pushing the lump in his throat down to his belly.

“I sensed you were here.”

Bitrus wants to ask what his grandfather means but decides against it. They walk in silence to the house. Bitrus is surprised that everything is as he recalls. Time has not swept its way through the houses here.When he mentions this to his grandfather, he replies with: “Old people are not like young people. We prefer the familiar. Too much change would kill us. So if something does not need changing we do not bother to change it.” This makes Bitrus smile, and a pit forms in his belly, a new worry: will his grandfather consider him changed and too modern for him? Will he consider him changed now that he has grown into a boy that loves another boy? Or has he always been that boy?

As though sensing his grandson’s worry, he says, “We are not totally against change, you know. A building might bend to the caprices of time but we would be able to look at a crack in the building or a piece of it and say we know when this crack was made. Like you now, I know when you got this scar.” He lifts his hands to Bitrus’ face to touch the scar that rests above his lashes. “And even though you have changed and grown hair all over your face, I can still recognise you by your scar.”

“Was that how you knew it was me when you saw me?” Bitrus asks, fiddling with the scar on his face. The memory of the scar’s origin is like the quiet hum of a fading song.

“Well, no. It was from the way you walk,” he says. “I can’t forget a walk like that.” The old man laughs.

The quality of his grandfather’s laugh, his earlier comment about sensing that Bitrus was here, and his veering into random philosophical musings make Bitrus question the senility of the old man. It was possible that as age dug its claws into the man, he had begun to lose his sanity. Later that night when he calls his mother with his grandfather’s phone, and mentions this to her, she laughs just like the old man. Bitrus wonders if it is genetic, and if in time his mother will also cave in like her father.

The sun’s dull edges are the only thing visible on the horizon when they reach his grandfather’s house, and the darkness that lies upon the house is so thick Bitrus can barely see the way. He looks up at the sky but there is no moon. Just then the old man says the moon will be out later. The man leads him to the small room by the gate, the room he and his mother always stayed in when they came, and tells him to wait. He returns with a torch and leads the way into the room. It is like a sardine can, small and cold. Bitrus drops his bag on the floor and glances at the peeling walls and the dull corners. The musty smell of unuse dances around the room.

Bitrus lies in his bed and thinks about Nonso. He feels the urge to call him but his phone is off and his grandfather had told him that electricity in the village was erratic. He would have to pay to charge his phone in one of the shops by the road. His mind wanders – to the first time he saw Nonso and the knowing look they exchanged, to Nonso’s raspy laugh – and this sends goosebumps spiking all over Bitrus’ skin. He thinks about the last night they were together. He had taken Nonso’s hands in his, after a night of passionate sex, looked him in the face and said he could no longer continue with what they had. From the moment they had started dating, Bitrus had been plagued by an inexplicable fear that one day Nonso would wake up tired of him and end things. This was made worse by the fact that he loved Nonso beyond what his heart could contain. He had even envisioned a future of marriage and kids and ageing together with Nonso. He was aware of how pathetic he was, how overly enthusiastic and deluded he was for envisioning those things when he did not know what the future held.

Nonso was not one who thought about the future as Bitrus did. He preferred to take things one day at a time, to count the days as they glided past, wrestling the storms as they reached him and not before. Bitrus had shared this concern with Nonso once, and he had looked him in the eye, taken his hand to his hairy chest and asked that he feel his heartbeat. “This heart beats for you and you alone,” Nonso had said. And this act, instead of assuaging Bitrus’ fears, compounded them. They loved each other immensely, but the outcome of their future was not in their hands, and this threw Bitrus into an abyss. He felt that ending things now would save both of them heartache.

He ended the relationship in person, at the mouth of the lagoon by the side of the school. He had chosen it because it was their least favourite place, and he wanted that when Nonso or he thought back to this moment, the memory of it would be separate from the other beautiful memories they had shared. He decided to go away to avoid the desire to get back together with Nonso. A part of him hoped Nonso would call to assuage his fears about the future, and if that happened, he was ready to get off the bus and run back into his arms. But it did not. It did not happen when he was in Lagos and did not happen even after he had sent Nonso a message telling him of his journey. Nonso had simply replied with: “Ok, journey mercies.”

He wades through memories of Nonso until he settles at a faraway corner in his mind, where there lies an image of a boy, his voice loud as they chase after pigs in a field. He tries to recall the boy’s name but fails. He tries again, and this time he comes close, but the bleating of the pigs swallows the name. He chooses to stay there, in the place where the boy exists as a mirage. Before, he would have considered it unfaithful, a travesty, to think about Nonso and another boy in the same breath, but now he is no longer with Nonso.

The boy is from his past, from before he knew who he was. He had loved the boy from the day when, with a smile on his face, the boy had given him a piece of fried yam after he had refused the soup his mother had given him. His love for the boy had started as a need to always be around him, forfeiting the comfort and stability that came with being around his mother for the adventure and anxiety that lay with the boy. They would often go running into the hills, catching huge, brown locusts, which they boiled, fried and ate with pepper. On other days, they would go round the village, herding the pigs that belonged to the boy’s grandmother. Bitrus had loved the boy and wanted to stay in the village with him, but they had been separated, not of their own accord, and there was nothing either of them could have done about it. 

When he was leaving his village ten years ago, he could not make himself look back at the boy, but had instead allowed the dust the car awoke on the dusty path to coat the boy and memories of him. Now he tries to dig into himself to find the memory of the boy’s name, but each time he feels he is close, it slips out of his hands and he feels a sharp piercing within him. He wonders if the boy could still be in the village, if the boy would remember him, and if he had missed him the way he had missed him those first few months after his return to Lagos.

The sound of his grandfather coming into the room steals him away from that world of wandering and settles him back in the room.

“I have prepared water for your bath,” the old man says.

Bitrus wonders if he should ask his grandfather about the boy but decides against it. The man would not know who the boy was, and even if he tried to describe him to the man he would only come up with bits and pieces not good enough to paint a coherent image.

*

The next morning when Bitrus wakes up, the small room he slept in is filled with a splash of orange light. He looks about the room, which is the size of their store back home, where his mother keeps the things that cannot fit into the kitchen. The ceiling is riddled with cobwebs and the walls have black stains at random places. He sees a tray holding a silver cup and something in a black plastic bag. When he opens it, he realises it is his breakfast: kunun shinkafa and kosai. He slept the previous night without having any dinner. After eating, he leaves the room and sees his grandfather’s compound under the glare of the sun’s light. It looks as it did ten years ago. The fence that divided the compound from the compound behind it is no longer there, which makes the compound look longer, with random mud rooms scattered along the length of it. He sees an old woman spreading groundnuts out in the sun. Goats and chickens strut around the compound like companions. The air is thick with the smell of smoke and goat faeces, and Bitrus draws in a breath. The familiar smell takes him back to his childhood in the village when he chased after the goats and the chickens.

He remembers when he was eight and came here to spend the two-month holiday. It was the longest he had ever spent in his village. When he arrived at the village he developed an affection for one pregnant goat. He would not have taken notice of it had it not been gouged in the stomach by an angry ram. She had fallen to the ground, writhing, until his grandfather had come and lifted her up, carried her in his arms while stroking her neck. Bitrus worried for the baby goat or baby goats in her womb. He and the boy had taken to feeding the pregnant goat, ready with a stick in hand to chase away the ram whenever it approached. The day she gave birth, he was there with the boy, staring intently as the little goat dropped to the floor, covered in green slime. The mother had licked the baby dry afterwards and, as though inviting him to look at her baby, looked Bitrus in the eye. He and the baby goat were inseparable after that, just like he was with the boy and Nonso. And yet, he had still managed to forget about the goat and the boy and would soon forget about Nonso.

Nothing lasts forever, not even love, and this makes Bitrus feel his stomach cave in. He wants to love Nonso forever and feels he will love him forever, but now he is no longer sure. Why start something that will not last forever? Why embark on a journey whose destination you will not reach?

Bitrus leaves the compound to go drop his phone off to charge at the shops by the side of the road. He walks the untarred village paths and sees children scurrying about, their clothes mismatched or torn at the knees. He walks past elderly persons walking with hoes slung over their shoulders, bringing his face to the ground to avoid their gazes. Less than five years ago, the village was overrun by insurgents and everyone was forced to run away, but the people here had been lucky that their houses were not burnt to the ground like those in other villages in the northern part of the state. However, Bitrus’ uncle was unlucky; his body was found in a pile of grass, his blood congealed on the earth. 

His mother did not scream when she was told the news. It was as if she had known that it was coming. Death was inevitable, and to her, it didn’t matter how death came upon her brother. But now, this all seems to be in the past for them. A newcomer to the village would not have known that at one point the houses here were empty because people were hiding in the bushes.

When he returns to the house, he goes to knock on the door of his grandfather’s room but does not get any answer.

“He has gone to the farm,” the old woman from before tells him. She is sitting with other women underneath a mango tree in the middle of the compound. He greets them and walks into his room, avoiding the gaze of the women as they throw baobab seeds into their mouths. He sits on the bed, staring at the walls. Soon, he dozes off.

When he wakes up, his grandfather is staring at him. For the first few seconds he feels disoriented, wondering if he is dreaming. He looks around the room, at his grandfather’s smiling face.

“I have always liked watching you sleep,” the old man says. “Do you remember?”

Bitrus does not remember. He remembers he was close to the man and that the man told him stories, but how was he expected to remember something that happened only when he was unconscious.

“I looked for you,” he says, trying to change the subject.

“An old man like me needs to move around and not stay in one place lest death finds me.” He pauses and sits on the floor. “And I am not ready to die yet since I still have unfinished business. But death does not care if you have unfinished business, so you have to trick it, and I trick it by not staying in one place.” The old man ends his musing with scattered laughter.

“I brought your phone for you,” the old man says. 

Bitrus takes it from him and fiddles with it, wondering for how long he has been asleep. The old man stares at him before quietly stepping out. Bitrus switches on the phone, types a message, and sends it to Nonso: I got here safely last night. It is lonely here. I miss you. He switches off his phone so he won’t be tempted to keep checking if Nonso will reply or ignore him. He instead allows himself to marinate in the machinations of his mind, where Nonso replies with an equivalent: I miss you too and it is not the same here without you. Come home soon. This thought, though unreal, makes his insides flutter. And in a corner of himself, he hopes Nonso will send such a message. That he regards the single room he lives in, which was a witness to their lovemaking and awkward dances and singing, as their home. 

He thinks back to when he had hopped off the bed they lay on when Nina Simone’s ‘I Shall Be Released’ played on the booming speaker Nonso held. He had thrown his hands in the air as Nina Simone sang. That day, the words had felt true to him. He did not know what he wanted to be released from, but singing those words at the top of his voice, with the atoms in his body agreeing, felt like the right thing to do. Nonso had looked at him as one regards something wondrous, something that had captivated and commanded your awe. Bitrus, at that point, knew he wanted to be looked upon that way as long as he lived. 

He remains there, in this world, nestled between past and fantasy until a knock on the door draws him back to the present. A little girl walks in with a tray in her hand, which she puts down without a word, avoiding his gaze. Outside, Bitrus hears his grandfather conversing with someone else.

“This your grandson just stays indoors like a new bride. Does he not want to mingle with his clan people?” the voice says. It sounds like a man’s.

His grandfather laughs and says, “He will come out, he is just shy.”

Bitrus decides to join his grandfather outside. He takes the tray of food outside without opening it. He is not hungry and, even if he were, he is not sure he would want to eat whatever it is they brought him. He ate the kunu and kosai because his mother makes them for him in Lagos so he is familiar with them. But his mother always told him how the village women do not cook with seasoning cubes, just salt. He recalls how they always licked their plates whenever his mother cooked for them but they themselves were not privy to the wonders of seasoning cubes. The few that were aware used it in small quantities, one cube at most, as though scared of what the cube would do to them. 

When he reaches where his grandfather is sitting under the tree, he is surprised that the voice he had taken to be a man’s is actually a woman’s. Her white hair sits on her head like a thorny bush and her skin is somehow free of wrinkles, but you can see the age in her tired eyes.

“Baba na,” she says. “We see you at long last.”

Bitrus smiles and greets her. 

“This is my mother’s sister’s child,” his grandfather says. 

Bitrus does not bother to chart the family tree in his mind but simply smiles and says “wow” remembering too late that they might not understand the expression. He takes a seat beside his grandfather on the mat, placing the tray in front of him.

“Don’t tell me you have finished eating your food already,” the old man says.

“No, I want to eat with you.”

“But I have eaten.”

“Then you can watch me eat.”

He does not know from where this breeziness of speech and camaraderie sprouted, or maybe he does. Maybe he just wants to stay here, outside with his grandfather, so he can avoid thinking about Nonso; he came here to forget him. The old woman walks away silently, as though not wanting to interrupt a sacred moment. Whether his grandfather notices her leaving Bitrus does not know, for the man says nothing. He opens the flask and a ball of tuwo and a vegetable soup he cannot make out stare back at him. He can see beans in the green mass. He washes his hands, takes a ball of tuwo, dips it into the soup, and brings it to his mouth. Immediately, he wishes he had stayed inside to eat. He struggles to swallow the tasteless lump in his mouth.

“Yesterday, you said you sensed me coming,” Bitrus says, after the lump has gone down his throat. He hopes that by engaging his grandfather in a conversation, he will be able to avoid eating the food.

His grandfather laughs. “I thought you wouldn’t ask.”

Bitrus was not planning to ask, but as they sit there, an uncomfortable silence between them spurs the question, and now the tone of his grandfather’s reply piques his interest.

“You know, I have always wondered how it is that there are this many people in the world. Do you know how many people have lived on earth from the start? More than I can even count. Then someone tells me that someone made all of them. How is that possible? To keep making different people for years without making a repetition, that seems impossible.”

Bitrus does not know where the conversation is heading, but he is glad because a part of him is interested in what his grandfather is saying even if it might not make sense.

“But then the answers came with the sun,” the old man continues. He lifts his head to look at the sun slowly setting in the sky. Bitrus follows his gaze and his eyes fall on the hill that lies in the distance behind the house.

“The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It goes into the earth to rise again the next day. That is how human life is. A man dies and is reborn as a different person. This makes more sense than the tale about someone up there creating different people, never making the same person twice. I would get tired if I were him, especially since there is a simpler way. And the world recycles events too.”

Bitrus ponders what his grandfather is saying. He wouldn’t call himself religious. He fell out of love with religion as a child, and his mother was one not given to religion. Reincarnation had always appealed more to him. It denotes an end and a beginning, even though cyclical, as opposed to living once and dying. Forever in a limbo-like world scared him. But forever through multiple lives lessened his existential dread. You get to live again, on a blank slate. At one point, Bitrus thought it better for a reincarnated person to possess the memories of his previous life, but to be burdened with the past of previous lives would be exhausting. The burden of the past of a single life was exhausting enough.

“From the moment I set my eyes on you as a baby, laughter escaped my belly. And the anger I felt at your mother for getting pregnant without being married vanished.”

Bitrus feels uncomfortable with the change in subject to him. He had not known his father, and when he asked his mother about him, she only said that he left. Bitrus did not ask further. He left, those simple words were enough, and he had never once imagined what it would have been like if his father had not left. Had not allowed himself that. He did not want to confer on the man an importance he did not deserve.

He sees his grandfather’s hands trembling and wonders when it started. He does not know how old the man is and has never been curious enough to find out. The man looks into the distance, and Bitrus feels he is trying to will his hands to cease shaking. Those hands that have for years dug into the ground, kneaded the soil, planted seeds in it, and nurtured those plants to life are dying now. Death and endings – two things Bitrus would never be able to reconcile with living.

“When I looked into your eyes, I knew then that he had come back.” The old man turns to look at him and Bitrus feels a queasiness in his stomach.

“My brother had returned, and I knew I had a chance at redemption. And oh how you walk like him. I saw him take his first few steps, lifting one leg after the other as though he was scared the floor would swallow his legs. Now you walk exactly like that.”

Bitrus shifts where he sits. He thinks about how he walks. There is nothing spectacular about how he walks. He doesn’t have straight legs. His legs are slightly bowed and his friends had always mentioned that they should have allowed him to be a great footballer, but he is terrible at it. No one had ever mentioned his walk, not even his mother.

“He was my brother,” his grandfather says.

“What happened to him?”

“He died. He killed himself.”

Bitrus sees his grandfather’s hands shake again, and he wonders if the trembling is caused by age or the tale he was telling him. Those hands had once held a living sibling.

He listens as his grandfather talks about his brother. He was ten when the boy was born and when he saw him and looked into his eyes, he was taken in by the fragility of the boy. It was the same feeling he had when he held Bitrus after he was born.

“I loved watching him sleep the same way I love watching you sleep. When he died, I was not here. For years, I have been haunted by that. Maybe if I had been here I would have stopped him.”

Why did he kill himself? Bitrus wants to ask but stops himself, sensing that the old man will arrive at the tale.

“He was different, had a fragility about him. He was 23 when he killed himself, and the last time I saw him, he had this look in his eyes like the night was camping there, and I should not have left but I still did.”

His grandfather turns and looks Bitrus in the eye with a look that makes Bitrus turn his gaze to the tufts of white hair growing above the old man’s eyes and extending from his nostrils.

“I saw that look in your eyes the last time you were here. I still see it.”

The old man’s gaze is still fixed upon him. Bitrus tries to hold his gaze. He looks into the old man’s eyes, as though daring him to look deeper, as though saying: these eyes of mine hold nothing dark, and I do not resemble your brother, neither am I like him. But he finds he cannot hold the man’s gaze. He turns away.

“That boy you were so close to then. What was his name even? You know he was always asking about you, asking when you would return.”

At the mention of the boy, Bitrus’ eyes wear a bright sheen. He waits for his grandfather to say the boy’s name, but he does not. Maybe the name is lost to the ravages of time. But the sheen disappears. His grandfather knows. Has always known.

“See, in this family, we love too much and too deeply. My brother loved deeply. I see that in you too. I saw that in you when you were leaving. And after you had left, there was no way to know if you would survive or not. Until your mother came home one day and said you were fine.”

Does she know? Bitrus wants to ask, but he does not.

“A person can do things differently, but we pretend not to see because when the time reaches, the person will get married and have children. But my brother did not want that. He loved a man and wanted to remain with him but the man did not want the same thing.” 

At this point, Bitrus notices his grandfather’s fingers shake more than ever.

“He killed himself,” the old man says. “He killed himself on the day the other boy was getting married.”

Bitrus does not know what to feel or say. He settles his hands on his grandfather’s hands and watches as the stillness settles. His eyes remain there, inside him a static sound.

“You loved a boy like that too. I feared you would do that. My brother had come back, and I feared he would repeat what he did the last time.”

Bitrus blinks to test whether he is asleep or not. He feels a weight in his eyes and soon this weight pours out slowly, softly. Whose tears are these? he wonders.

“I have been thinking a lot about the boy,” Bitrus says. “Do you remember his name? Do you know where he is?” The old man takes a deep breath. “Nanle. That’s his name.”

As the name leaves his grandfather’s mouth and falls into his ears, he feels a gentle unfurling inside of him. It increases until it fills him up and exits through his head, and as it floats above him, Bitrus feels the balloon dragging with it a bit of the burden he had on his shoulders. “Nanle. Nanle. Nanle,” he repeats to himself, singing the name like a song of salvation.

“He left,” his grandfather says. “He left after you left. I didn’t know him before you came and after you left, he disappeared too. He was like a ghost.”

Bitrus feels a gaping hole within him, an absence at this revelation.

“You know. After my brother killed himself, the boy he loved threw himself on his grave. He wanted to dig into the earth to bring him out. He too vanished. Nobody knows where he went. The day the news of his disappearance came to me, I went to my brother’s grave, and the sand on his grave looked fresh.” The shaking in his hands moves up to his arm, swallowing it up in a slow vibration until the old man’s body is shivering. 

Bitrus rushes to him, takes him by the hand. “What should I do?” The only utterance his lips can make. The old woman from before appears suddenly and joins him where he is. She takes his grandfather into her arms.

“What do I get you? Does he have medicine you use? Does this always happen?”

“Janee, Baba na. Go and get me water,” the old woman says.

Bitrus returns with the water to see his grandfather being carried into his room by two men. The old woman takes the water from him and follows the men carrying the old man.

“Don’t you think we should take him to the hospital?”

The old woman turns to face Bitrus. “Don’t worry,” she says. “He will be fine.”

Bitrus nears the door of his grandfather’s room but doesn’t go inside. The two men exit the room, and one of them pats Bitrus on the back. He wants to run into the room but the fear of what the room might hold dissuades him. He returns to his room, switches on his phone to call his mum. He has a text message on his phone. It is from Nonso: Here is not the same without you too. I was listening to Nina Simone, and I felt an emptiness within me. God. I love you so much.

Bitrus stops in his tracks. He does not call his mother but calls Nonso instead . He does not want to worry his mother over something that might be resolved. Nonso’s ringing tune brings the beginning of comfort to him, like a child returning to the safety of home. Nonso picks on the third ring.

“Hey,” Bitrus says.

“Hey.”

Nonso’s voice sends Bitrus tumbling, and all the pent up emotions come pouring out.

Nonso asks him what is wrong. 

Bitrus can feel the panic in Nonso’s voice, and he gathers himself. “It’s my grandfather. I don’t know what happened, but I’ll be fine.”

The panic is still hidden in Nonso’s voice, and Bitrus does not know when he says: “God, I love you and miss you so much.”

Nonso’s reply comes in bated breaths.“What is going on?”

“Say it back,” Bitrus says.

“I’ll say it back but please tell me what is happening. What happened to your grandfather?”

Bitrus suddenly remembers his grandfather and exits the room, dropping his phone on the bed and leaving Nonso’s voice to meet with the void in the room.

Back at the door of his grandfather’s room, Bitrus sees the old woman talking to the two other men.

“He is now sleeping,” she says to him.

“Are you sure?” he asks, not believing a word she said.

He rushes to his grandfather’s bedside, and takes his hands in his. He holds them and tries to find the faint song in his veins that signifies life. The man’s hands are frail but also rough like a tree’s bark. He presses his fingers into them until he finds life in his hands, and he feels himself returning to himself. He takes his ears to the man’s chest and hears the faint whispers of life in them. He sighs a breath of relief and stares at the face of the old man. What is left of him is wrinkled skin covering fragile bones. White hair jutting from his nostrils. He stands by his side and gazes, a part of him afraid that if he leaves the room, the old man will die.

“I should not have left,” he says. The words come from a place deep inside of him; a place at once familiar and strange. He sits by the old man’s bed, and the bed creaks. “I forgive you,” he says, unsure for whom the forgiveness was meant. As the words leave his lips, he feels the fogginess lift from his head and he becomes light. His eyes close and he drifts away into a bright light. 

When he wakes, Nonso’s voice hovers around him, raspy, joy hidden in its edges. “He is awake.”

Theophilus Sokuma is a Nigerian writer. He presently works as a communications specialist. He was a participant in the SprinNG Literary Writing Fellowship and an alumnus of the Purple Hibiscus Writing Workshop.

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