I can’t tell you why I love Akuli. I couldn’t tell you it was her indecisive afro, its right side with its spiky ends and left side pressed like a helmet because she always rested it on the window when she took the train to her internship. I can’t tell you that because she woke up last night, three months after we’d met and two after we’d moved in together.

“Zirra”

“mmm”

“Will you cut my hair for me?”

I sighed

I picked up my phone cursing as I reduced the screen brightness “Aku, its 4AM, we’re an hour from the city centre, and the shops here don’t cater to black hair.”

“I know Z, you cut it for me, we’ll use youtube”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes”

“Maybe you want to sleep a bit more and if you still feel this way when you wake up we’ll cut it?”

She looked at me, that beautiful canary face with wide black eyes and a mouth that was always half an inch open”

“okay”

She doesn’t mention it when she gets at eleven. She just does her yoga and drinks her horrid green tea(she forces three sips on me). We get dressed- her a  black tank top, and leggings, a thin green scarf tied backwards on her neck and a leather jacket and boots, me a teeshirt, jeans, grey sweater and dirty Nike’s.  Two hour later she’s laying blankets in the park and I’m placing a portable grill over hot coals.

She grills the chicken- marinated in her special sauce and I make the cocktails- gin based concoctions. It’s a good day, we laugh and eat too much meat watching the sun rise and dip at intervals turning Akuli’s hair golden. She bring out her phone to take candids of me

I turn around stretching my hand to push the camera away “No, nope haha no”

“Okay” she shrugs and starts taking her selfies

I hum as I chew, “the chicken is great bae, better than anything I’d have made” I tell her

“I know.” She replies laughing “If you did the cooking, I’d die earlier than my body has predicted”

I take three bites in succession hoping my mouth is full of enough chicken to swipe the new taste of dread I have acquired. I don’t want to think about death, not when Akuli who is moving so quickly under its hood has commanded me not to acknowledge its part in her life and ours.

In the evening, I follow her to the saloon and watch as a woman with red tattoos shaves most of my girlfriend’s hair leaving a mini Mohawk behind. I look at it for seven seconds

“looks good” I say

She shrugs “You’d love me if I was bald or furry right?”

I smile “you’d love me if I was bald or furry right?”

She squeezes her nose “I can work with bald, furry? Nope sorry”

If you ask Akuli why she loves me, she rattles on about my intelligence and large breasts. After our friends have left, when we have both removed our costumes as friends or acquaintances, when we can be fully ourselves-skin to skin, brain to brain, crazy to crazy and she thinks I’m asleep, she tells me she loves me because I am a wonderful ending chapter to her small life.

When people ask me, I laugh and tell them I love her for the sake of love. When we’re in bed, I trace the lines on her palms. The anxiety I have pushed down all day resurfaces as Akuli falls asleep. When her heavy breathing begins, the room suddenly feels too hot. I take my hands out of her hair, and go to the balcony. I sit on the floor cross legged and light a cigarette.

Why do you love her?

I’d fallen in love before Akuli. First with my mother whose face I carried on mine and whose sense of patience fit me as well as too small shoes.  I loved her unending devotion to her children, our quiet slices of softness when we watched Telemundo and she’d trace circles on my hands. I loved Richard and his stories- he wooed me with travel vignettes tinted with culture and filmy encounters with strangers. I fell in love with places- the first time I walked into a Florentine church, I exhaled and fell as the greatness pushed me to my knees. I fell in love with strangers carrying tribal marks, with scuffed gravel roads, and plastic bottles that dangled from ropes tied to rooftops, with water with wine. Somewhere between I fell in love with myself.

Akuli came after them all on a flight leaving Amsterdam. She sat beside me, snatching my book away from me as she asked;

“I’ve read this, its nice eh?”

She was pretty so I obliged “sure, but the middle is a tad stretchy”

“Don’t be so anxious to get to the end, enjoy the experience, don’t wait to exhale, just do it”

“I like that analogy”

We spent the rest of the two hour flight comparing the politics in fashion and film. She explained the evolution of Chanel and why Virgil Abloh was as amazing as his hype demanded. I gushed over Bertolluci’s The Dreamers and the exciting rise of contemporary Nigerian creatives.

“Its why I’m moving here, It’s basically a first world version of my hometown” I said

We exchanged numbers when we landed and she called me an hour later.  In the evening we met up for drinks at a jazz bar in Mitte, we had sex in the bathroom. I was so shy I covered my face as I came. She removed my hand from my face kissed my forehead, my eyes, my nose, lips and chin before putting my fingers in her mouth and sucking.

“I think I love you” I panted

“ditto” she smiled

I inhale too much smoke and blink many times. I’m afraid to th Maybe its why when she asks me to cut her hair, I postpone because I don’t really want to do it. If I say it out the news is no longer something in the future but something racing fast into today. That’d I’d rather allow a random barber or her sickness take her hair away than me, that I only love her because she’s not permanent.

When she told me about her condition-one month after we’d met, she asked me to come with her to the hospital. We told the nurse we were family and I’d escorted her to the doctor’s office with its cool blue wall and ugly fluorescent light. I could only blink and stare as the doctor prattled on in medical speak. She held my hand till I felt all the blood leave my palms, but she held on and I stayed, as we listened to medical speak and she requested a DNR form.

“If I go I go properly, not as a Halfling hoping for a life that will never be full”

After, we left the office and walked to the station that would take us to our separate places. As we waited, we looked at down and suddenly I was aware of the separate tracks, two trains running in different directions, meeting at the same point once or twice a day for seconds then moving apart.

Akuli spoke “its funny when you think of it you can just jump a second before the train passes so runs you over and its, over”

I blurted out “Akuli, will you move in with me?”

She looked at me “my lease is up in a week, yes”

I read somewhere-“love is strong precisely because a proper relationship is not possible in the real world, because love is fated to be in some way unrequited or incomplete.” Maybe I only love Akuli because my strength and affections are on lease, paid for, love for love on a short term contractual basis.  I love Akuli, because it is easy to.

I exhale and look up. It’s a pretty night, the sun just beginning to set making everything it touches postcard pretty, poetic-the girl with the long hair smoking alone on a porch contemplating love and death. Catnip for tools like me.

I get up, stub the cigarette and walk to the bedroom. She’s turned in her sleep, her back faces me and her pyjama top has risen to her waist. I get in beside her and stare at the ceiling, counting sheep my mother would call it trying to ignore the voice in my head; the one that won’t stop counting how man days the doctor says we have left

Sixty five, sixty four, sixty three

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18 thoughts on “Temporary Cast Members of a Play Called Love

  1. The title is a drama itself. I like the honesty of your characters self reflection. I mean if we can’t be honest with ourselves, then we are lost.
    Nice, nice one here, Alithnayn.
    Good luck, girl. Cheers!

  2. There are a lot of grammar and punctuation errors in this. The story in itself is nice, but it just isn’t properly written. Almost seems like you were in a hurry or you didn’t proof read and proof-proof read. Quoted sentences still need to end with a punctuation just before the “, and so and so.

    There are a lot of good writers who aren’t too good with the technical (if I should refer it as so) aspect of writing. I advice that you improve well in that aspect. It’s quite okay for stuff like that to be ignored when you’re writing casually. But, in a competition such as this, I think it should matter a lot. Get a friend who is good at punctuation, even. Send your stories to a couple of trusted friends to check before submitting, maybe.

    This is getting too long. It’s just that I enjoyed the story so well but I cringed so many times, too.

    Good luck.

  3. I feel the terminal could have been handled a lot better. It came off a little like a device to advance the plot and make their love more urgent, fraught and fragile. It could have been handled in a way where the cancer was happening in spite of the plot.

    They were interesting together, but as individuals they didn’t move me. Which I guess is the point of the story.

    There is a short story by Melissa Bank that, encapsulates terminal illness and love quite brilliantly. You should find it.

  4. I love this story and it brings tears to my eyes.Maybe it’s because I knew someone who had the kind of life Akuli have.You are good.Goodluck

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