All Men Must Die (Short Story)

You get out of your car after it destroys the beautifully trimmed hedges in your driveway.

“Welcome,” Aira’s voice comes from the speakers after you slam your front door shut. She tells you your husband is on his way home.

You go into the bathroom. Dr. Frankie had told you to take it easy but you don’t care. You don’t even know what easy means, how it feels, not for the past twenty years.

In the mirror, your hair looks great, your eyes slightly crazed. You’re crazy alright. You wouldn’t be seeing a therapist if you weren’t. Tonye and Tega wouldn’t be at your mother’s house if you weren’t. Your husband would have been home two days ago if you weren’t. But life had been cruel to you. You have a right to be crazy.

You blend your foundation properly, reapply lipstick, wash your hands and head to the kitchen.

Aira tells you that you have ten messages, six from Chinaza, two from your mother, two from Nonso. You tell her to delete them all not because you don’t want to know what they have to say but because you already know what they have to say. You mother wants you to tell her that what she heard wasn’t true. Chinaza wants to know if you’re done with your project. Nonso wants to know if you’re home yet.

You pour wine into two glasses because Nonso will be home soon. With a glass in your hand, you walk into the front room of the house. When you both were newly weds, you had the idea to turn it into a gallery. Lining the walls were pictures of you both, the children, skylines, mountains, random objects, random people and random splashes of paint on canvas.

“What was going through your mind when it all happened?” Dr. Frankie had asked you that morning.

“Nothing. It just happened,” you replied.

“Do you think about it often?”

“I don’t think about it. I just live through whatever happens.”

And that’s all you ever did. From growing up in the slums, making your way through secondary school, getting married before you were nineteen, holding your baby boy before you were twenty, all you ever did was try to live in the moment and not think about what would have or will be. Not think about your mother struggling to take care of six kids, not think about your dad staggering home stinking of cigarettes, beer and women; not thinking about your brothers hitting you because you refused to do whatever they asked; not thinking about whether you passed or failed your exams, not thinking about whether you loved Nonso or not before agreeing to marry him. You did not think things through, you just tried to live in the moment.

“You do have to pause and make decisions,” Dr. Frankie said.

“And I do.”

You hear your front door open and close and for a split second, your heart catches in your throat. In seconds, you feel his familiar presence, standing in the doorway, staring at your back. You count to five before you turn around. It doesn’t matter though because the sight of him still takes your breath away. You wince when you see the scar running from his forehead to his cheekbone.

“Well,” he says, his bag falling to the ground, his lean, muscular arms outstretched.

You move into his arms, inhaling his scent, pausing only to kiss him. He hesitates but he kisses you back. He loves you, you know and it hurts.

It hurts that he came back home. It hurts that he still loves you after what you did. It hurts that he’s so stupid. And it brings tears to your eyes.

For the first time, thoughts of all the times you spent together run through your mind: the vacations, the alone times without the kids, the first date, the first time you saw him.

Now the tears are flowing and he tries to comfort you. He whispers apologies and comforting words in your ear, but you’re the one who should be sorry. He does not see you reach into your dress. He does not feel the cold blade of the metal. He pulls away, disbelief on his face, then pain. He falls quickly.

The tears are coming hard now as you watch him writhe, blood coming up his throat and out of his mouth in short bursts as he tries to breathe.

Aira announces an incoming video call and she wipes her eyes.

“Number 969548SL done,” you say to the woman on the screen.

The woman nods and looks in the direction of the body on the floor. “Ooh, nasty.”

Hardwired For Story

The human brain is hardwired to pay attention to story. Imagine you’re sipping coke and the bottle slips out of your hands, falls to the ground and shatters. Now imagine that before the bottle falls, you’re sitting in your green couch in your green living room with the AC on and the fan rotating (I resisted the urge to say turnioniown). The paper you’re editing is waving at you because the fan is teasing it. An army of ants are marching up the wall. Your younger siblings are running up and down the stairs and you can hear your older sister screaming bloody murder on the person that wore her very expensive custom-made sweatshirt. The sun is shining. The sky is (still) blue. Birds are flying overhead and somewhere the war of five kings is going on. Now while all this is going on, Your bottle of coke falls and shatters. Tell me now, what does your brain focus on? You guessed right. The shattered bottle. You jump up in surprise and panic because you do not want your feet pierced and the bottle wasn’t even half empty yet . In that moment, your brain, (which was designed to be efficient) will not remind you that, “hey, the sky is blue” or “damn, what are those ants doing there?” or the fact that the Nigerian version of GOT is happening but in low-budget movie style. (If your brain does that, please question it’s efficiency and your sanity). All your brain will be focused on is “My coke fell and the bottle broke. Oh my God. My feet! The glass could cut my feet! Jump out of the way. Okay, I have to clean this up, so I don’t get hurt and my mother doesn’t kill me. Where am I going to get money to get another coke now?!”

You see that? The event that happened is what holds your brain’s attention and what keeps it is how whatever has happened affects you, what you do about it and how you change as a result of what happened. Now, that’s a damn good story because you can now go on to beg your sister for #100 because your coke bottle broke and you were traumatized. You can go on to tell your boss how you hurt your feet and can’t make it to work the next day. A story isn’t just when something happens like your drink being cold, or the sky changing colour or the AC being on. It’s when you get a brain freeze, get soaked in the rain and freeze to death in your living room and you have to drink hot water, change out of your clothes and turn the damned AC off. When those events affect you, your brain makes you the protagonist and edits whatever is happening around you with the precision of the best video editor, bringing up past thoughts, ideas and memories (like the first time you got drenched, you changed out of wet clothes and into warm clothes, right?) which it had stored for future reference. When that happens, you can tell that you’re in a story.

A damn good one at that.