Nnedimma – Kasimma

        I look at my phone, Nnedimma splashed on the screen, hoping that underneath her name, 00:00 will appear. It does not. This is the seventeenth call just this morning alone. My cry to Nnedimma, my plea to her to save me, lie spread out on the floor like the crier. How do I live without Nnedimma? How can Nnedimma turn her back on me? I still feel the softness of her lips at the back of my ears. She says she wants to be the only one kissing me there. So that if I move on, God forbid, she says, or she moves on, impossible, she says, I will remember her because nobody will ever kiss me right behind my ears. Now, this same Nnedimma is not answering my calls.
        I lie smeared on the cold white tiles, my eyes tracing the rain stain slithered on the ceiling, my left palm clutching the bottle of poison. I have poured rat poison into a container of sniper. I have crushed twenty-point-five tablets of sleeping pills and poured them inside the same sniper container. There is a sharp knife beside me. That is what I will use and slash my wrist after drinking my poison. I want all the blood in my body to cake under my corpse. I want these white tiles to turn red. I want this white dress I am wearing to bear the mark of what love can do. I do not want anyone to find me dying. Let them find me dead. Let them find me as stiff as… as… as Nnedimma’s new conscience. Tears stream down my eyes. I sit up. I grab my phone and press the power button. 09:34. I look at myself in the mirror. I already look like the ghost I shall soon become. I smile. White lines of dried tears lay mapped on my sunken cheeks. I look gaunt. My eyes are in the hollow of its sockets. My skin looks whitish. I smile, but I see a ghost, not me. I see someone else beside me in the mirror. It is me, an angry me, who looks cleaner than the real me. The angry me is scowling at the real me as though wondering why the heck I have not killed myself. Well, I am waiting for Nnedimma. Surely she will not throw our seven years away. Surely Nnedimma will come to my aid. Surely Nnedimma will save me.
        I make one last attempt at saving myself. I send Nnedimma a message.
        Nnedimma, I’m begging you to save me. I don’t want to die. But I cannot live without you. Save me. Help me get over you. If you ever loved me, Nnedimma, I’m begging you, for the sake of friendship, save me.
I click the send button. I type again.
        If I don’t see you here by 7 p.m., and I don’t care where the fuck you say you travelled to, if I do not see you here by 7 p.m., expect news of my demise.
        I click send. Then I arrange my transition tools. I take a picture and send it to Nnedimma so that she will know I am not joking. My messages get the double blue tick. I nod and drop my phone. Nnedimma has not blocked me yet. She reads my messages then. She misses me. She is still in love with me. I look at myself in the mirror. I remember the first time we kiss.
        We were in Nnedimma’s room. We were fourteen. Our hairs were in all-back cornrows, the school style for that week. Nnedimma came to our school nine months ago. The moment I saw her, I felt this chill run down my spine. Her eyes, o kyrie eleison, her eyes were the brownest eyes I had ever seen. Her long face; her skin as brown as walnut; her height and breasts marching her age, made her stand out.
        “Welcome, Nnedimma!”
        What! Welcome? When did the teacher introduce her? Nnedimma sat two seats in front of me, on my row. All I saw was the tip of her cornrow, resting on her back, adjacent to her shoulder. Making that hair of hers would become one of our love relaxation exercises.
        When the bell for break tolled, she kept sitting there as though she did not know what the bell was for. I stopped by her locker and placed a hand on her shoulder. She shuddered. I smiled. The wrap of her wristwatch was blue, red, and white, like the American flag.
        “You do know the bell is for break, right?”
        She nodded, looking me in the eye. Maybe that was the point, I don’t know. She looked so innocent, insecure, unsure. I guess it’s because she was in a new school. I smiled at her.
        “Welcome to Urban High.”
        She smiled closed lip. “Thank you.”
        I returned her closed-lip smile and walked away. My boyfriend was by the door, waiting for me. I felt Nnedimma’s eyes trailing me. I held hands with Ike and we walked away.
        I encountered Nnedimma the next day during sports. I belonged to Red House. We called it Reddington. So my sportswear was a red coloured T-shirt and a red, wrap, mini skirt. I hated red, still do. Red makes me feel as if I am wearing blood. How can I wear blood both inside and outside my body? And I hated my Physical Health Education teacher, with his head like opiora mango, for imposing Reddington house on me. I stood with my crew, under the mango tree, sucking my mango, and watching the football match. There were five of us and I was the leader of the clique. Ike was playing. He was the football star. He dribbled SS2 and SS3 students as if they were learners. Ike passed the ball between the legs of one SS3 boy. The boy was so confused that he fell. Short Uche, the second clique leader, held my hand and squeezed it. Dark Uche—the one whose mouth was full of tongue, who shook her legs even when her feet were stuck to the ground, number three of the clique—winked at me. The other two girls smiled. I felt bloated with pride. That was my love the whole school applauded. I imagined meeting him in the toilet and kissing him, telling him how happy I was to be his girl. I was thinking of this, licking my mango, when I sighted Nnedimma. I did not know she was in Reddington too. She stood alone, arms crossed across her chest, looking very uninterested in the match. She turned in my direction and gave off her closed-lip smile again. I beckoned to her to come. She started walking toward us. A bird perched close to my foot. I kicked, missed. It flew.
        “I don’t understand, Uju. Why are you calling that new girl over?” Number four asked.
        “Her name is Nnedimma,” I said, enjoying every word.
        “And look how she is smiling.”
        I feigned a frown and smiled. I love that name, Nnedimma.
        “Don’t you think six is a crowd?” Number Four still asked.
        “Three is a crowd. And judging by that, you should not even be here.”
        “Well, she is here,” said Uche Short, the person who introduced her. Uche Short and Number Four were neighbours.
        Nnedimma reached us. She smiled at the girls and said hi. They said hi too. I introduced her to Uche Shaky-Legs and Numbers Four and Five who were not in our arm of SS1. Nnedimma stood there with us and watched the game. She uttered no word. She did not smile at me when Ike made any moves. She did not seem to notice what her mates were doing to make me feel special. She just folded her arms across her chest and watched the show.
        “It was nice hanging out with you girls,” she said, when break time was up.
        We all smiled and nodded. She walked away.
        “She was actually hanging,” Number Five said.
        “Hanging like a hanger on a pole,” Number Four said. They giggled.
        Nnedimma stopped walking for a second, then continued walking again. She did not look back. I felt bad.
        “What’s your own?” I snapped at Number Four.
        She opened her palm. “What?”
        I hissed, tossed my mango seed on the ground, and walked away. From the corner of my eyes, I saw Uche Shaky-Legs’ very slim attempt to launch forward after me, but Uche Short pushed her back.
When I arrived at school the next morning, I was second to Nnedimma. She was scribbling furiously on her notebook. She looked up at me and smiled closed lip. I rested my palm on her desk.
        “Wow, you do get here early,” I said.
        “I’ve so many notes to update.”
        “I understand,” I said.
        She continued to write as though she wanted me to walk away. I stood there watching her. She did not care to give me another glance.
        “I’m sorry about what my friend said yesterday.”
        She sighed, dropped her pen, looked at me, and said, “I appreciate you saying that.”
        I copied her smile. “I could help you copy some of your notes, you know.”
        For the first time, she grinned. I was so happy that I flashed all my teeth. Then we burst out laughing. That was the beginning. I’d hang out with Ike during breaks and sometimes walk home with him after school, but I made it a point of duty to come to school as early as can be; I helped Nnedimma copy her notes. Sometimes we worked in silence, other times, we gossiped about our schoolmates or our teachers.
        I kissed Nnedimma in her house three weeks later. Our clique gathered in her house to hang. Though grudgingly, and with time, the others started thawing toward her, especially when they realised that she too was a rich kid. We talked about boys, teachers, movies, songs, menstruation. It was our first time hanging out at Nnedimma’s. Nnedimma and I were washing plates in the kitchen after we’ve had lunch. The others in our clique were neck-deep drowned in a movie. Nnedimma’s parents were out. Her one sister and one brother were scattered somewhere in that their big house. Micheal Jackson’s songs bounced out of one of the closed doors and to the kitchen. Nnedimma said it was her brother’s room.
        “So you’ve kissed Ike, haven’t you?”
        I chuckled. “I noticed you were so silent when we talked about kissing boys.”
        She looked at me and rolled her eyes. “It’s good the others don’t really notice me. But you, your eyes are everywhere.”
        I laughed. The girls were unwelcoming toward her, and it made me feel the strong need to defend her. I found myself looking out for her, studying her body language. I knew that her closed-lip smile meant she was shy. When she rolled her eyes, she thought the words and their speaker were stupid beyond redemption. When she rubbed her middle fingers against her index fingers, she was uncomfortable with the topic.
         “Where do you guys hide to kiss?” she asked.
         I laughed. “Where was your mind? We exposed all our hideouts and even suggested new ones. You were not listening?”
        She was busy rubbing her mid-finger against her index while our clique discussed kissing. I tried changing the topic but Number Four was adamant about staying on it. She just started dating Nosa and she needed to know the in and out.
        “Have you ever had a boyfriend?”
        She shook her head. “There was this guy in my former school. I don’t know if I should call it crush or imposition. But we never hugged or kissed. He was interested in a senior girl.”
        “Then we have to get you hooked up.”
        She scrunched up her face. “I don’t even know what happens in the mouth when people kiss. I don’t think I want to mess it up for any guy before they will use me as news like we do your friends.”
        “We could fix that.”
        She turned to me, her eyes popped out, her palms covered in lather. I winked and smiled.
        “We could fix what?” she asked.
        “Abeg, go and sit down. You should be grateful to me for wanting to teach you.”
        “Teach me what?”
        “Are you mad? Abeg wash your plate.”
        “The dirty plates are finished.”
        “Oh, great.”
        I rinsed off my hands and drained the water in the sink. She did same and wiped her hands on her black jean shorts.
        “Teach me what, Uju?”
        I facepalmed. “All right. I was half-joking when I said that, but now, I am serious. Let’s go to your room.”
        “And do what?”
        “And worship Jehova. Idiot. Lead the way please.”
        She sighed heavily and shook her head. I grabbed her hand and dragged her along. When we got to the kitchen door, I stopped and put my index on my lip. We left our bathroom slippers behind the kitchen door and tiptoed up the stairs. Waste of time because the girls did not shake. She led me to her room. Her mattress was eight spring. Her bedsheet was plain green. The tiles were brown and shiny. Her wardrobe was closed. I opened it. All the clothes were painfully arranged. Tyrese Gibson’s “How You Gonna Act Like That” played softly on repeat. She had a CD player but no TV.
        “Why are you squeezing your face? My parents thought they should always be aware of what I watch so I’ve to watch TV in the sitting room.”
        “Remind me never to take you to my room,” I said.
        She giggled. Then she went dull, her eyes darting left to right like a thief. I remembered why we were there. She smiled closed-lip, rubbed her fingers. I held her palm. They were dripping sweat.
        “Relax o. It’s just a lecture. It’s not the real thing,” I said.
        Maybe she knew. Maybe she was sharp enough to figure out that there was nothing flippant about a kiss.
        I looked at her. “I like to close my eyes when I kiss.”
        She looked away.
        “Now I will put my lips to yours. Just relax, let me through, and then do what my tongue is doing. Cool?”
She nodded. I placed my lip on hers. Hers felt like the very wall, cold, stiff. My tongue slowly broke the gate of her lips, the walls of her teeth, and finally found the treasure of her tongue. It was felt so soft, softer than Ike’s. I was still holding her hand. How you gonna act like that was still playing. I licked up inside her mouth, her tongue, her emotions. She tilted her head. She loosened up, and her tongue loved mine. I do not recall at what point we unclicked our hands and found each other’s necks, cornrows, face, breasts. As she squeezed my breasts which were still secured behind my bra and top, my hands slid down to her buttocks.
        How you gonna up and leave me now? How you gonna act like that? How you gonna change it up? We just finished makin’ up. How you gonna act like that? How you gonna act like we don’t be makin’ love? You know we be tearin’ it up, Breakin’ stuff, that ghetto love, How you gonna trip? How could you forget? How you gonna act like that?
The song faded away and started again. As if that was the cue we needed, we stopped and looked at each other. My head was filled with How you gonna act like that? I looked into her brown eyes. I stepped back. My heart wanted to beat out of my chest. Tyrese’s voice was the only one in the room. It was not how I planned it. I just wanted to teach her how to kiss. But staring into her eyes that day, seeing things I could not read because my head was mixing cement, I knew I would be kissing her again.
        We kissed in the school toilet, her house, mine. We never made it obvious. We were never isolated from our friends.
It would be months later before she told me she was in love with me. Who was I kidding? I was head over heels. I stayed with Ike until we left school just to avoid suspicion. That was when she started kissing me behind my ears as her special place where Ike did not touch.
        We planned it and went to the same university. We wore the same kind of gold anklet and necklace. We stayed in the same house. It was in that small self-contained room that we discovered our bodies for the first time. I remember touching every part of her body. I traced my palm all over her body, mapping her body into my palms so that she would forever remain a glance away. Nnedimma became my heartbeat, my lifeline. Whenever I passed by the Economics department, never mind that I did not go anywhere close to her class, I would get a text from her You just passed here, didn’t you. And just before my appendicitis operation, when I passed out—according to Nnedimma—on the corridor of Faculty of Arts, she found me. All I remember was feeling intense pain in my stomach, a pain that had lingered for some days. It was evening, I remember, and I was reading in class. Then I thought I should leave and go rest at home. I carried my bag, walked out of the class, slowly, because my body scourged in pain. I found myself in some dark place. I neither knew how I got there or where the hell I was. I remember the place was dark; I was running out of breath; I was sitting on the floor; I was scared to death. I was crying, digging my hand into my bag, trying to find my phone and call Nnedimma. I could not find the phone. I gasped for air, trying to reach out for something to hold and pull myself up and out of that darkness. I could not. I was running around in a dark maze, filled with closed doors, afraid, alone, banging on the doors, calling for help, getting weak, but still banging on doors. This must have happened in my mind because Nnedimma told me that she found me crouched down in a dark corner of the staircase, hugging my bag, my eyes closed, my breathing mild. But I felt a hand hold me. I heard Nnedimma’s voice sounding very frantic. She touched my face, shook me, and the last I heard was her shriek for help. I woke up seven hours after the dicey surgery at the school’s medical centre. Nnedimma was there, smiling, crying, sniffing, rubbing my head.
        “Your mother is on her way,” she said, before I dozed off.
        My mother stayed a week with us after I was discharged. When she left, Nnedimma and I made love like hungry angry animals. It was after that lovemaking, when we were holding each other, naked, that she began to cry. She told me she’s never been that scared in her entire life. Those seven hours before I opened my eyes, she was busy thinking of how to kill herself if I did not make it. She admonished me for not calling her. I said nothing. She slept off after crying. I stayed awake watching her sleep. I stayed naked. When she opened her eyes, three hours later, I was still watching her.
        “I tried to find my phone. I couldn’t.”
        She smiled and knelt up. She pulled my right ear down and kissed it, our dangling breasts high fiving themselves.          “You didn’t need to call. I sensed you were in trouble, and I listened to my heart. It led me to you.”
        We planned to relocate to the United States, where there’s the freedom to get married. National service corp separated us into two states, four hours apart. We applied for our masters in the same school in the USA. Then Nnedimma fell sick right after she escaped a ghastly motor accident. She had an itch on the left side of her navel. She scratched it until she peeled her skin. That was the genesis of doom. The peeled flesh started going deeper, smelling, decaying. Nnedimma underwent surgery. I was there for her.
        We were laughing about a meme on my phone when some people, three men and three women, gathered at her bed. They said their church sent them on hospital visitation to pray for patients. I knew they were trouble once I saw their oversized clothes and the way they hugged their Bibles tight. One of them looked at Nnedimma’s feet. His eyes stayed on her anklet before he pulled them away. Then he looked at mine. I followed his gaze to my anklet, then to his shoes. His big right toe stuck out as if it were a surveillance camera. His thinned out eyes, when he looked at me, was stuffed to its brim with disgust. I immediately disliked him too. He asked Nnedimma about her health, if she was married, where she worked, what happened to her, etc. I wish Nnedimma did not indulge him, but I understood because having a close brush with death was humbling. I’ve been there. Luckily for me, my phone rang. It was my boss, and I knew he would be livid. So I went outside to answer the call. I purposely stayed there until I was sure they were gone. It was as if they left with Nnedimma’s vibes and left that of the peeping-toe man with her. She was quiet and lost. Nothing I said or did made her spill what the issue is.
        Nnedimma remained cold toward me. Two days later, after the normal battle of words with my supervisor, Nnedimma insisted that I go back to work lest I lost my job. I did. Our communication relocated to the south. Three weeks after, she visited me and said she was breaking up with me. When she walked in, I noticed her anklet and necklace were absent, and I knew a cobra had entered the drinking water pot. What happened? That a preacher told her to cease being lesbian or she would die. She recalled her heart beating loudly when he said that because she never told him she was a lesbian. She managed to hear him warning her that if she did not, the next attempt at her life would drag her by the hair and deposit her in hell. I already knew the nonentity who told her that farce.
        All the net of reasoning I cast out to Nnedimma caught nothing. She did not want to die. She was done. Just like that, Nnedimma was out of my life.
        My cry to Nnedimma, my plea to her to save me, is now gathered in a brown bottle of poison that I will drink soon. I grab my phone and check the time. It is 18:30. I listen for Nnedimma’s knocks. Nothing. I close my eyes and sigh. I search for Tyrese Gibson’s “How You Gonna Act Like That” on YouTube and I play it. At least, if I am going to die, let me do so while listening to Tyrese ask Nnedimma how she gonna act like that.
        I set an alarm and wait. 19:00 is the time. I spend the remaining twenty minutes of my life thinking about the good times Nnedimma and I had. I want to die loving her, not hating her. I look at my palm, where she is mapped, and I watch all our good times. I laugh. I cry. I smile. Nnedimma is my best friend. A mosquito buzzes in my ear. I let it. I wish it will gather its family because there shall be blood in abundance soon. Outside someone laughs. I laugh too. My alarm rings. I tighten my eyes shut. I sigh deeply. I open my eyes. I smile closed-lip. I dismiss the alarm. I shake the bottle of sniper. I uncork it. I hear a LOUD bang on the door.