Hand on your nose by Augustine Okam

Hand on your nose

Akanimi. Aka n’imi. Hand on your nose. It was what we called the woman that refused to give Mama a discount on that bright red bag everyone was carrying that Mama said she dreamt about. Aunty Njide bought hers for less than what the woman claimed was the price that will cause the closure of her shop. Dramatic woman, always exaggerating things, Mama was not asking her to give the bag to her for free, but what else would you expect from a seller who doesn’t greet her usual customer, a cheap wig-wearing woman who couldn’t recognize her most loyal customer the second time she patronizes her. Granted, the first time Mama did not buy anything or planned to, she was passing and saw a bag that caught her eyes and went to enquire about the price. Each time we passed the woman’s shop, Mama would push her mouth to the corner, like she was about to produce a long whistle, and whisper akanimi, and we would pinch our noses and giggle.

Akanimi was distaste, people we didn’t like without any reasonable reason. The teacher that made sure Adaku and Mgbafọ, my younger sisters, wiped off all the face powder we sneaked from Mama’s handbag. People that refused to respond to our greetings; people that reminded us to greet them; people that said “didn’t your parents train you well. Are you blind or am I too small that you cannot see me?” People that were fully aware that we didn’t see them walk past us, and refused to believe that we greeted them but they didn’t hear. Akanimi was Papa’s second wife, the one that we all agreed not to touch her or her things because who knew what that albino carried around, waiting to spread it? Who knew whether the charm she used on Papa was weaved into her clothes, hidden under her almost white skin. Akanimi was what we whispered to each other as she moved around the house, our house, Mama and Papa’s house, as preparations for her traditional marriage went on.

“Which waist will she tie wrapper on?” Mama asked, even though her waist was broader and more prominent than Mama’s slender waist. Yet, we all agreed that she had no waist, that the too expensive wrapper will slip and fall to the floor she didn’t know to sweep, that what a waste it was, how such a beautiful wrapper deserved better. What pity that the wrapper was stuck with someone whose waist cannot hold unto it.

We said akanimi when Papa kissed her slender fingers with bright red nail polish; how she squirmed like a little girl who was handed her favorite biscuit. Mama was with us, me and Adaku and Mgbafọ, and when we were giggling and murmuring about how shameless and stupid she was, she was silent, a silence that froze her face, as if she was surprised or suddenly realized something. She stood up and went into her room, the one she used to share with Papa before he moved to the spare room with the albino woman. When she came out, her eyes were swollen and red, redder than when I accidentally splashed pepper into her eyes while pounding red pepper. Adaku and Mgbafọ were outside, playing dodgeball with the girls from the next house. She sat down beside me, on the sofa that was worn out because it was directly opposite the television and everyone wanted to sit on it and started staring at me. I reduced the volume of the television and sat properly, my thighs pressed against each other, and stopped chewing the gum I picked from her handbag when she wasn’t looking. I must have done something, I thought.

“Nkechi, you know I am still young enough to give birth. My mother gave birth to a boy, Akachi, your uncle when I was almost ripe for marriage. You know I can still birth to a boy, shey?” she said, scaring me a little because I wasn’t expecting her to say anything to me. Her stares were always enough to caution us. I was even more confused because I wasn’t sure if her question was an actual question or a statement, or one of those questions she asked us when we didn’t do what we were supposed to; You are blind abi? You did not know you were supposed to cook before I come back? Is it that you are blind? Is this the plate you should serve your father’s food with? There was neediness in her entirely new voice, that made me uncomfortable because she was a woman that needed nothing, a woman that said what she wanted how she wanted to.

“I am still beautiful,” she said, more to herself than me, and lacking any sense of confidence, like she was trying to convince herself. I was quiet and uncomfortable. I wished I had joined Adaku and Mgbafọ to play dodgeball in our backyard. 

“Do you think I am still beautiful?” Mama asked, there was a little grease on her forehead, a wrinkle I have never noticed before. I opened my mouth to answer but nothing ever came out. I didn’t know what to say. I was 14, what did she expect me to tell her? Her eyes left me and moved to the floor. And I thought about Ejike, I thought about the letters he sneaks into my locker during breaks at school, I thought about the content, how it made me smile so wide I worried a letter made me too happy. 

“You are more beautiful than the morning sun,” I said, the first line of the last letter Ejike sneaked into my locker. It wasn’t intentional but it made Mama raise her head and smile, a smile so wide that it startled me a little. It made the grease on her forehead disappear and a spark form over the tears in her eyes. I continued the content of the letter. “Your beauty makes the flowers bloom and the sky turn blue. You are the reason Don Williams wrote love songs, that Mikel Obi scores all his goals. You’re more beautiful than Naomi Campbell and Gigi Hadid.” Mama started laughing and I wondered if it was the football reference or if it was because she didn’t know who Gigi Hadid was. She hugged me, pressing her elbow on my back. I took in her scent. She was sweet and spicy. And as she caressed my back, I wondered what her reaction would have been if I had completed my letter, the part where Ejike wanted to kiss my lips and make love to me all night long and have eight children with me.

Augustine Okam is a 21-year-old Nigerian. He is Igbo and speaks English better than Igbo (unfortunately and something of an embarrassment). He reads too much fiction for a medical student and adores Chimamanda Adichie for obvious reasons.

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Art Nandam Pixahive CC0 ALT: a beautiful blue-faced baby in a blue hat – big eyes, big cupid’s bow – swaddled in cloths, a colourful abstract background

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