By Oluwabusayo Madariola
The young woman sniffed the riffling pages with her eyes closed. Drawing a long breath, the musty smell caressed her nostrils. She was at the fourth bookstore and had asked to see the blemished, slightly worn-out brown book slanted against the array of vertically arranged spines behind the tall, locked glass bookshelf. What seemed to be the name of the author, BY A BOSTONIAN, had first caught her attention. The title, TAMERLANE AND OTHER POEMS, however, seemed quite ordinary. “That goes for five hundred and ninety-eight thousand,” said the bookkeeper in a white knitted high-neck sweater with long sleeves. He gave her a bleak look-over. Adjacent to the bookshelf was a large circular coffee brown table with pedestal legs. Hard copy books in dark colours were stacked according to width. A single grey sofa faced the branded glass window of a huge cláirseach with metallic strings. On its armrests laid empty stockings in red and green with white and yellow embroidery loops. A cream-coloured throw pillow with the picture of a reindeer nested at a corner. “Thank you,” she said, handling the buckram-covered book back. She smoothed the pink ribbon holding her ponytail.
She removed the bow barrettes. Gusts of wind ruffled her mid-back blonde waves into her face. Standing on the boulders breaking the currents tumbling from the Atlantic Ocean, she observed its rich, light sky blue colour. Removing her shoes, she took steps down the granite stones. She spread her arms, inhaled deeply and stuck her tongue out. The salty ocean air, carried in by the incoming waves, dissolved down her throat.
Straightening out the frayed corners of the worn-out diary, she took in a long drag of air from its gutter. Her eyes settled on the sentences highlighted in light green as she caressed the hair clips securing her hair. The tattered book was part of the personal items collected from his desk. The voice of the driver made her look up. “That’s a Nigerian hip-hop artist. Wizkid. Heard of him?” She followed his indication to the art on the pier. Underneath the bridge, the sea of heads flowed rapidly in different directions. She looked to the right. The elevated walkway was dominated by hawkers. An elderly woman sold plastic bottled water inside an oval bowl. The younger women selling fried buns on a tray called out to a toddler in dirty oversized shorts, who was running barefooted, and with outspread hands towards Santa in a rumpled red and white costume. Santa’s padded buttocks jutted out and jiggled as he danced, pointing to passers-by to check out the plastic watches displayed on the brown carton by his foot. She saw street urchins block the passenger door of the rusty yellow fourteen-seater. The bus driver was attempting to pick passengers by the side of the pavement. He had told her about this part of the city. Her mouth curved into a smile. Her eyes remained lifeless. It would be their third remembrance. The contracted driver-cum-escort glanced at her through the rear-view mirror. “British?” “Irish,” she said. Turning back to the highlighted words underneath the cursive handwriting, she read, “‘Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound, and fury, signifying nothing...’ Could Macbeth be right? Maybe not, I know and understand my life, I know my place in this world.”
Sunflower imprints covered the plastic body of the deep pink toddler bed. Minnie Mouse, wearing a pink polka dot head bow and a smiling face, formed its footboard. Without the hairpins securing her curls in place, her thick jet-black hair tumbled down in massive ringlets. She looked angelic with her eyes closed in spite of her dishevelled hair on the tiny doughnut pillow under her head. Their luggage was packed by the front door. A Christmas tree with wrapped presents around its trunk stood close to the door. Garlands lighted the stairs. Her husband was in the kitchen, packing some snacks when she made a last-minute dash to the convenience store. Thick smoke rose from what seemed to be the chimney of the house. Blaring lights and commotion had caught her attention from the corner street. Neighbours were outside, some still in their robes, covering their faces in horror. Throwing down the package, she ran towards the building. Police officers caught her by the yellow barricade tape with Do Not Cross in bold. Covered bodies were carried out on stretchers by sombre-looking firefighters. She tore away from the grip of law enforcement agents and ran towards the open door of the ambulance. She dove into the two stretchers, yelling their names. What smelled like burnt pork on a grill knocked her into unconsciousness.
She scrubbed the tears from her cheeks. Then lifted the spine of the diary to her nostrils. His scent still lingered on it. The hair clips also still had the fragrance of talcum powder. The night before the incident, he had laid on her lap. She had lovingly stroked his bushy afro hair as he told them folktales his grandmother had raised him on. Their little girl, seated on the rug, listened with rapt attention. Her light blue eyes, wide with excitement. The coroner had said it was a gas leak. That Christmas was supposed to be celebrated with his family. She would have been meeting them for the first time. She didn’t want to remember them by their last smell. From the half-opened window of the car, even on another continent, the dry harmattan festive air smelled charred.
Oluwabusayo Madariola enjoys writing realistic fiction. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Writers Space Africa, The Kalahari Review, Isele Magazine, and Northern Anthology of Short Stories. She loves the serenity of any open space because it affords her the open-mindedness to conceive stories in her head.