Grace The Writer

by - September 23, 2017

Chronicles of Paulinus


'I’m an LGBT activist,' Grace asserted as we bent on the balcony rail in Eko Hotel overlooking the boisterous Bar Beach, gawking at the beautiful sight of a ribbon of sand between the angry sea and the placid bay. It was our first time together. I had braced the courage to approach her for a chit-chat after a stimulating session during the Farafina Trust Writing Workshop. Grace’s face was standing as she sniffed the freshness of the sea that was whiffed by the gust of air. Her carefully treated afro hair shimmered in the emerging sunlight. I had seen her the day we resumed. From then, I began to wish for a slice of her time.
There was a beguiling atmosphere that hovered over her. The well-mannered demeanour she lavished on the Ushers that helped carry her luggage was a clear-cut contrast of the ladies I saw lingering at the corners of Eko hotel, feigning posh to their prospective male subscribers. She was unapologetically natural and proudly female.
But there was something weird about her: she spoke meanly which gave her little fortune of mingling and making friends in such a company of mirthful participants. Even after three days of our arrival. I stayed my distance from her but always stole glances at her from tiny angles of my eyes. People were getting acquainted with one another; they blabbed about their ambitions, sang the beauty of their beginnings, and pined their lost opportunities. The mouth-lashing on the Nigerian politicians, which has become commonplace among Nigerians, was not in any way wanting. Some lamented the government’s ill-disposition towards Writers and Journalists: how they used Writers rather as stooges, whose persuasive writings placated the hapless Nigerians to consent to their spurious projects.
But Grace was noncommittal about all these discussions. She was always snubbing everyone and would occasionally walk down the unfrequented alleyway with a kind of saunter as if nothing bothered her in the world. I heard some people made silly comments about her, ‘She’s just a spoilt brat,’ a kinky-haired woman complained with a pique that sparked like lightning. I disliked that part of her: the eccentricity. I wanted to resent her like every other person, but the more I tried the closer my heart leaned to hers.

*
And so today I convinced myself that I must speak to her even if it was a ‘hello’. I waited for the first session of the workshop and during break time I walked to her favourite corner. There she was reclining on a chaise longue, calmly supping through a glass of lemonade. 
'Hello, could you spare a moment?' I requested.
She turned her head towards me and gave what I thought to be a who-are-you kind of look that almost pulled me to the ground.
'You’re welcome, Paulinus,' she said with a glowing smile.
'How come you know my name?' I asked.
Helloo? Come on we’re just seventeen here. Besides, names stick faster in my brain.
I listened to the melodious sound of her voice dribbling each syllable of my name, Pau-li-nus, with warmth and peace. It wasn’t a sound of a lonesome voice as I had imagined, it was a lush of admiration that evinced her deep-seated love for solitude and imagination.
'Thank you,' I said and perched a part of my buttocks on the plastic chair in front of her. My mind scrabbled to invent a topic for dialogue. Until now, I had no plan of how to go about my little victory of getting her to talk. I had only wanted to give it a shot. So I sat there staring at her well-formed lips, no lipstick yet lustrous. She emptied the lemonade into her mouth. Her lips lingered a moment on the rim, her eyebrows raised as she waited for me. Seeing that my mouth kept opening and closing doltishly, she intervened:
'Sorry, I am always like this. I love my lemonade,' she made a face. Her sense of humour pulled off the hold of anxiety on me, now I placed my buttocks completely on the seat.
'At least, I don’t need to ask you your favourite drink,' I feigned jovial. I was a cheerful type though but since I came for the workshop at such prestigious hotel I had somehow vested myself with great finesse that left me feeling ridiculously stupid.
'I’m called Grace,' she pushed out her left hand for a handshake. Sorry, I’m a left-handed babe,’ she gave a lopsided grin and changed to right. 
'I-I am… anyway, you already know my name but I’ll love the sound of Ifeanyi on your lips.’ Why must you apologise for your left-handedness? I wanted to ask her while reaching out for a handshake but I shoved it aside since it would be too early to question her opinion.  
I sat with her there, savouring the beauty of her mind as she revealed her convictions about LGBT people.
'I can’t remember when love became a crime,' she said to me. She was not the dummy or the snobbish that others had branded her. She was luxuriously full of life and had excess to share. I was inwardly startled when she proudly told me that she was a lesbian and an activist on LGBT issues. I could only imagine her courage for wielding such a task in a nation that had considered LGBT a punishable offence under her Criminal Code of 1990. It looked jinx.

*
We finished the workshop. People exchanged contacts – emails, phone numbers, Facebook usernames Skype ID etc. Grace could not be found anywhere; I was the first to notice her absence. Others were busy packing their luggage and taking final snapshots with Chimamanda and Binyavanga to pour them later on their Facebook walls and Instagram pages.
'Has anyone seen Grace Ilo?' I scurried to the hallway. I checked her apartment, she wasn’t there.
'You may want to check some of those lonely corners you know she loves her time alone,' a well-meaning plump lady suggested.
I followed her advice and combed every area I assumed she would be. I even had to literally sniff around and not even her scent was left a trace.
'Please, have you seen any lady - afro-haired, about five feet tall and maybe a brown pouch?' I asked the red-eyed sentinel.
'Hah Sah, people leave ere hin droves hand hit will certainly be himpossible to hidentify them hindividually,' the one with a slight stoop retorted with a funny accent.
'Does anybody have her number?' The bad news had found its way to Chimamanda. She had asked after her a few minutes later when everyone was out for the goodbye kiss. Immediately, she lunged into the matter, dialling numbers I couldn’t make out until she was speaking to the Commissioner of Police Lagos State. That was when the matter throttled to a climbing gear. My heart took on the pace of the moment and banged on my chest.  
I remembered she had given me her number reluctantly. I don’t usually pick calls, I prefer text messaging, she told me while dialling the numbers with her manicured fingers on my phone. The police commissioner tried to get us tranquil, saying that they would get to the root of the matter. But she was not oblivious of the national name Nigerians had branded the police: barefaced liars. Chimamanda’s total involvement and her disturbed countenance were awe-inspiring; being so perturbed over someone she barely knew. We all rallied our phones trying the number I had retrieved from my phone. Such affective concern was immensely edifying, it bonded us like one family. That was in fact what we had become. After several trials, the annoying electronic female voice kept buzzing: Sorry the number you dialled is switched off please call back later.
I watched as anxiety shrunk Chimamanda’s robust face into wrinkles, washing off her beautiful ebony into ash-grey. She fidgeted in her seat, asking me incessantly when last I spoke with her and what we discussed.
'It couldn’t have been a kidnap, Eko is quite secured,' she shrugged off Binyavanga’s remark.
I couldn’t remember Grace’s last words but I knew they carried a gleeful flavour. That was yesterday before we left the dinner table. She was working on her article about the gay massacre in one of the Nigerian Universities. She couldn’t have run away. That would be silly for me to think. So the depressing question that worried us all was: where could she be?

*
Ten minutes later, which seemed as if eternity had fleeted among us, my phone vibrated to life. The creaking of my Frank Edwards’ Mma mma’s ringtone sliced the silence that steeped us into thought. I flicked my fingers on the pouch and saw on my screen: Grace Ilo Calling …
'It’s Grace calling,' my voice wielded the strength of a thunder as it cuts the marauding silence.
'Let me pick the call,' Chimamanda flung her hand but Binyavanga stopped her. Her voice was already stuttering. He wanted her to relax and just listen. 'I need to pick this call,' she pleaded as if her life depended on it.
'Just calm down I’ll handle this,’ Binyavanga’s warmth voice melted her gnashing anxiety.
He took the vibrating phone from me, swiped it to the right with his thumb and neared it to his left ear,
'Hello, Grace, where are you?' You kept us all worried
'Mr man shut that hole and listen,' a baritone voice barked over the phone.
He made a slight jerk and clenched the phone back, took in a lump of air and courage that would be commensurate to the voice he heard. 'Sorry, who a-am I -'
'Mr man who are you?' The voice cut him short. His treat-reeked words seemed to fume out through the earpiece. 
'He is yet to say what he wants,' Binyavanga told us between sigh and head-wagging. He dropped the call. The room was abuzz with violent confusion. He said he will call back for a chat.

*
Terror filled the more remote corners of my brain with unsettled thoughts. I felt hot blood in my veins. Our minds dangled on a thin rope between insanity and frustration, waiting for the unknown. We prayed that the ransom would be within reach. They must surely ask for money, so why the waste of time, Binyavanga complained.
The eyes of everyone in the room teem to my Nokia Lumia 930 like those beckoning before their village shrine to hear it speak. Moments later, the most anticipated call entered. I picked it myself and the furious voice ordered that it be put on a loudspeaker. I did. His voice towered over the atmosphere as he scooped out his threat:
'This is the beginning of a whole package of terror for all of you untrimmed Writers. You think you can write anything. The culture that had guided us right from Adam, you want to paint away with your nimble pens.'
'Please, can we at least hear from –'
'Shut up and listen,' The voiced slit my words. 'Grace Ilo wrote a scandalous article recently about LGBT and we are out to deal with her kind. As for her, we’re going to bang her until she confesses the ravaging power of the penis. Continue with your fucked up workshop, we are coming.' The call died. 

*
I had made my way outside the hotel and flagged down a cab that I wasn’t sure if I could pay the ridiculous fare. Our gathering had dissolved into fleeting sparks after the call. They are watching us, my mind couldn’t swat the thought away. Some incensed persons were out to haunt us – I couldn’t imagine I would ever be haunted for my leisurely writing. I knew quitting writing was never an option to consider, so I should need safety. I needed a life for me to write. Dead men don’t write. It was then I made the decision to join my siblings in Canada. There, safety would near me. But still there are other members of the family – writers, who don’t have the fortune to travel out? Harm to a writer is harm to all writers. We have become, unfortunately, the endangered ones. 


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