Our first date is in Yaba. Car horns blare outside the congested intersection as we climb the air-conditioned stairs of Domino’s Pizza, me ahead of you. I am self-conscious because my slipper broke, and I am trying not to hobble. You are wearing an unapologetically bright pair of gold shorts.
You text me when you get home to ask me out again. I am skeptical but bored enough to agree. We go to a seafront restaurant and order more food than you can afford. I am annoyed. Your clothes are still too bright.
I invite you over and play a movie about transgender sex workers. You place your hand next to mine, palm up. Your eyes are fixed on the screen, but I can sense your heart waiting. We hold hands.
You give so easily that my own fists unclench, and I offer you what you want before you ask. I am getting ready to leave on an errand, nothing important, and you say, “Stay.”
You feed me roast chicken and moin moin while sitting naked on my carpet. The light bulb flickers over us, the generator thrums from outside, and my hands drum a beat on my lap. I feel young again, like the year I was small enough to fit in the oven with Jimmy my cat. The scent of love melts in my mouth as you watch me chew.
I feel sick from all the time I have spent with you. My head hurts and my heart thuds close to the surface of my skin. Your smell haunts me. Not your cologne, but the smell of your sweat, generously dripping through your t-shirt while we climb the Lekki conservation center walkway. I cling to your torso and drink you in.
It is almost time for your travel. You have no plans to return. You text me:
“Our last week together, let’s make it amazing.”
I text back, “Sure.”
I am flippant. I don’t realize that when you leave my gut will unravel like thread tied to your little finger, and my thoughts will yank me across oceans in search of you.
We go to Federal Palace that night because you know I like to walk. We stroll to the abandoned pier where fish have flopped up from the ocean onto the wooden platform and died while watching the sun set, but all we see is the moon, all I feel is your hand, enclosing mine.
We go home and have a dance party in the living room, just the two of us and some vodka. You make head-bobbing movements that are out of sync with the music. I watch you, and to my surprise, my heart is fierce.
The day you leave your lips press too deeply into my mouth. This draws tears from me, and I am ashamed. You touch my cheek before I can look away.
“Sorry,” I say.
“Don’t say that.” You reply.
Though I see your backpack, and your driver, and your ticket to another life, I am still surprised when your hand leaves mine. I wash my face vigorously when you are gone, as if I can remove the softness of your lips with water.
In the transition between sleep and consciousness, I forget you were here. But then I remember sitting on my mattress with you lying next to me, watching the rain through a gap in the curtain. The rain fell hard, flooding the roads, bringing the cracked earth back to life.
Then it stopped as if it had never even happened.
I lie in my bedroom, sweating from the relentless heat of the sun, straining to remember the coolness of past rains.
I stop saying your name aloud. I can’t remember your voice, but I know my favorite place to be was nuzzled to your cheek. Silent, sensing each motion of your body, studying you. I remember how when you saw me in a bright green shirt and long flowing skirt, you became a child touching a flower. I remember how it felt to be a flower.
I have a new bathroom now. It’s not the one with a bucket in the tub, trailing a snake of disconnected shower-line from the tap’s rusting head. This one sparkles silver as it emits a jet of hot water that splashes onto glistening new tiles. In the morning I sit on a snow-white toilet bowl, thinking about where to go for drinks, what to wear, when to leave, everything and nothing at the same time.
That’s when I see you, relegated to a story on my Instagram feed. There is another face next to yours, and you are laughing with her while pointing at an object that is out of sight. Your body is wider, stronger somehow, more real in this video than when I was still able to reach over and touch you. I close the app.
Suddenly it’s there: Perhaps I can describe it as a bird, certainly a winged creature, that flees behind a bush when it notices my scrutiny. It has to be fleeting, to greet me in the moments between when I flush and when I jump into the shower ( I left the water running, my guilty pleasure) but here it is, this thought: I am whole.