Tonight I’ll be in the bath. Green toenails soaking and my hair wet. Little pinpricks of bubbles popping in my ear and a borrowed shea butter smell in a house that was not mine but rather an old friend’s. Dog smell. Big house. Wooden floors. It’s hot during the day and hotter at night. All to be expected in Dunedin summer, swatting at mosquitoes and remembering familiar faces. Yours especially.
I hate to be rash. My tongue is like a knot in my mouth. I just have to ask. Can I hold you? Just under the jaw, where your hair stops. Where you brush your hand nervously over your chin. Where you lend your breaths to the tending of steady Yoruba. You mumble to yourself about groceries, taxes and unemployment. What fruit grows in Ile-Ife? When you were young, did the trees bend down to meet you? I imagine a choir of birds with fog and sunlight, frogs the size of dinner plates. I imagine a mountain top. Villages that lick over hillsides stretch wide like forest fires. In my dreams I am sitting in a church, a woman born and raised in the tropics. I’m a mother or an aunt with laundry to do and books to read. I pray instead for my imaginary children or my nephews as you whisper beside me in a hymn that sounds like thanks. Thanks for the bread and butter, thanks-for-the-lightswitch, and the moon.
Your cologne is mostly fabric softener, ocean-smell like those flowers you bought me when we were 16. I regret not loving you the way I wish I could. The way I do when I’m alone.
In this church with the verses of Moses and Joseph heavy on my teeth, I am little more than a mutt of different sounds and airs. Young and wild and Kiwi, grappling for my grammar, tearing the house apart for my accent in a language I lost in 2008. The church is cold and I am in the bath, bubbles popping, thinking of my childhood home. The place you will return to, that I will run to, with delicate, curious hands and the colonised education of a woman softened by her mother’s childhood, Ebute Metta.
You tell me my accent is different sometimes. When I’m tired or nervous or speaking quickly like I rarely do in English. My Ẹ káàrọ̀ becomes kaaro. A balanced diet of vowels and tones, dry-swallowed. You laughed because my accent reminded you of the men from the Horse Country TV show, who ride into town like modern cowboys. Like they have stories to tell that could never reach this church or this house with these floors. At any rate, I was scared this morning that someone had broken into the house, stick-em-up style, dual-wielding, a real old Scottish in the heart of Dunedin. So I hatched an escape plan through the upstairs window, the open balcony where I slept last night, and stared out into the blackness of total starlight. Guess that sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
You called me laughing and told me you guessed it was, and you played your shekere until the sun finished her rising. Until the footsteps in the foyer sounded more like fairies. This summer I’ll sleep in a bed of papaya, okra and grass. Do they grow starfruit in Wellington? Or does the bitter taste come straight from the soil we pat down together? In the river, does the water move like this when you stand and shake dry? I’ll be waiting with the Cowboys by the broken window for you to swing by. Bring the ransom. Bring your pretty hands. Bring a travel itinerary and your suitcase. We’ll head home tonight.
Just let me pack my things.