Butterflies (Hour 12)

The congregation nod as the pastor “preaches”

he decrees death upon women following other people’s husbands

“Ride on Sir” Ejiro echoes


Now she turns to me

gifts me an ear-to-ear grin

then points with her gaze

“that woman is sleeping with the husband of the woman sitting next to her”.

“How do you know this?” I ask.

“Everyone does. They’re best friends but she goes on trips with her friend’s husband

The decree was for her”.


the women are dressed alike–

like butterflies

I want to ask if the innocent woman knows this

they are whispering and buzzing like bees when I steal a glance

I conclude she doesn’t.


The pastor decrees the wrath of God on promiscuous members of the church

he ends his preaching and praises ring to God


We dance out to give our offerings

as the drum thuds to the keys the choir hit in their praise

I begin to feel the service was worth my time.


An announcer mounts the podium to announce Thanksgiving

The butterflies flutter to the back of the church.

the cheating husband trudges to join them

a little girl and a boy walk in front of the couple–

beautiful fruits of the union


the pastor blesses the man

cries how much he contributes to the work of the Lord

“church, this man has been a good member of the church, one worth emulating”

I laugh at the hypocrisy.


I kiss Ejiro goodbye

promise to bring her my famous Oha soup to work the next day.

Making oha soup is very therapeutic to me even if I don’t eat it

That is better hypocrisy to watch.

A Gleeful Pair (Hour 11)

We sit side-by-side on the bleachers on our street

It’s been a long school term so we fill each other in

I tell you about the boy I like


“Our first kiss was like magic

It wasn’t quick or like the marriage of lips by amateurs

It was heaven and sugar and bliss

I chuckled after in high clouds

but a teacher saw us the whole time”


I tell you how my mother beat me blue-black

I raise my skirt to show you the proof of my stupidity brandished on my thigh

you guffaw and quake to the ground

I cannot help it, I cackle along


My story takes a back seat to yours

you failed math again so you would be back to my public school

with a loud roar I collapse beside you

we are going to make a bad pair at school


How many trials before we get it right?? (Hour 10)

How many times do we fall in love?

I look at you and I am blank as a page

my heart thrums in my chest

it flutters like feathers in the wind

my arms instantly go cold

a heat of desire burns in me


you are my happy place

all the fears I fight surrender to you

your love makes me safe


how many times do we fall in love?

How many trials before we get it right?


This is my stop

I want this as my last turn

Christmas at Grandma’s (Hour 9)

I sit with legs spread wide

a piece of chicken in one hand

a spoon to shove rice and stew into my mouth in the other


All the Christmases in my lifetime

none comes close to the ones spent with grandma in the ancient city of Benin


The Christmas stew always hits different

curry powder is replaced with fresh curry leaves for better flavour

chicken spices are thrown out, many cocks go to the slaughter before dawn


It is a season of joy

every room fills up with voices that sat on the other ends of phones all year long


Not missing the bustle and noise that comes with Lagos life

we awaken on Christmas morning to grandma’s humming and dancing

we hum along to the rhythm

pausing to steal a piece of chicken or two from the kitchen


the cake sits at the top of a fridge

too far for the children to reach

it is to be consumed under supervision by an adult

or all of them


when we tire out of playing around the kitchen we go for the fridge

hoisting one another up in turns to take chin-chin and skim icing off the cake


By afternoon we have the house upside down

no corner is pitied in our hide and seek game

Grandma shoos us to bed

and under duvets we plan our next adventure outside the door of the room


Evening brings another feast

ice cream flows and sauced chicken is served on plates with salads

we cry for the Christmas rice and stew

it is gone and would only return the year after

that gives us another reason to look forward to the next Christmas at Grandma’s

Saviour (Hour 8)

I will cry for my mother till my eyes grow sore

My father’s sister moved in the day after– she says her name is “second mummy”


Her body was only buried hours ago

But her replacement sits here trying to fit into her shoes

“Can you just take me with you, mummy?”


I will wail till I lose all my strength

life is too cruel for me to go on


it started with a slap and it ended with a slap that sent her down the stairs

to the first hit the pastor asked her to go home and to the last he prayed for her as she went home to God

Second mummy says crying will make me sick

“I will cry for my mother till my eyes turn sour”


“I will wail till I lose all my strength”

Years after I will tell this story to women

Let their children be ignorant of the pain I knew


I will help second mummy when daddy starts again

I will slap the pastor when he asks her to go home to my father

Confidence is a dress that always fits (Hour 7)

Lagos traffic at close of business does a thing or two to you

then it leaves you grumpy and tired

Your body feels heavy but at the same time, you can’t feel a thing

You stare at your reflection in the mirror as you strip out of the day’s clothing

Then you wear confidence

Your smile goes wide as you say to yourself

“Girl, you are so fine”


When you’re full as a drum of water

And your body bounces like a panda

Your tummy sits sticking out and you are decorated with rolls of fat in every place

-all the ways society makes you feel out of place

you rub your bulge and caress the excess skin

you say to myself

“Girl, you are thick in the right places”


When work wears you down

when the schedule squeezes the life out of you-

so much that you cannot eat

Or when your body loses its rolls of goodness

and the bones stick out calling attention to themselves

you admire how you can give any model a run for their money

you call yourself what you are-

“A babe!”


This dress always fits

It is the air the room needs

it is comfy,  it is free

a replica of home

that is how you keep your confidence in check.

With Love from Heaven (Hour 6)

Hello my love,

no one smiles like they have a billion stars in their mouth here

no one has eyes that twinkle when they laugh

no one makes me happy like you

and it breaks my heart that I can no longer tell you these things


I’m here wondering what would have been if death did not snatch me from the earth

not having you with me shoots at my heart

breaks it into a million pieces

like the bullets that ended my life


but I want you to be that woman we always thought you’d be

the picture should be better than all the times we imagined it


I want to you love

I want you to know happiness again

I want you to have someone to adorn you with words–

maybe better than I ever did


I hear your silent sobs each night

I see you light a candle to honour me every anniversary of my death

I want you to know I miss you too


With love from Heaven

Melody on Wool (Hour 5)

I had a roommate once

she had skin like caramel

and she liked to tell us stories


One day after dinner we asked why she’d rather sit on the pavement to knit

while we drowned our sorrows in wine


She smiled like the sun on a dark day

her silver tooth twinkled like a star in the night sky

and she told us why-


“I was taught to hide my pain in knitted yarn

go for bright colours to show happiness

make melody on wool


I am half cast- that’s the Nigerian word for biracial

I used to say I’m half of my mother, half of my father

now I see myself as a knitted yarn

made of loom and loop,

full of each


I embody two cultures, two skin tones

I’m a confluence

I make them meet


one grandmother pounds me yam every Christmas

she teaches me to move my waist in the rhythm of the drums

the other teaches me country songs

she bought me a pony at sixteen

taught me the art of knitting

and named me sunflower”


that night- we knit a sunflower handkerchief


now when I try to fill the space in my life

I drop the wineglass for the knitting pin

Aku-ngala (Hour 4)

You never met your father’s grandfather

but you know him through evening tales

you know him in songs of him

you know that he is the first generation of pride


When your father tells your history

he tells you to hit your chest and say-

“I am Adannaya, the fourth generation of pride”

every one of us has it running in our veins

we bear a proud name


you see-

the father of my great grandfather was the first son of a rich man

like light that attracts moth, wealth attracts envy

in his riches he was open to death attempts


swaggering round the village after the birth of his heir

he recognised envy when he saw it mirrored in people’s faces

that is how we got our family name

Akungala, proud wealth


In a hundred years

three generations or four might have come through me

carrying the weight of the name

pride flowing in their veins

amassing the wealth of a thousand people


may they swagger as they walk

may their shoulders be lifted up in their gait

may they flow on riches

just like him

City of Stars (Hour 3)

The city stays beaming and breathing while others sleep

it lights up on weekends

the bubble spreads like a wildfire


alcohol exhumes wild personalities tucked in all week

loud pass hands

bodies seek warmth in others

the city is alive in a high mood


Saturdays are for owambe

there’s an aunty in yellow-

her face is beat fifty shades lighter

her gele stands tall

how else do you know she has arrived-

if her aso-oke doesn’t speak hundreds of thousands of naira?

that jewelry is definitely from Dubai


she orders for amala

there must be ogunfe and big fish

those bottles of minerals would find a home in her bag


Her daughter’s waist is snatched in a corset

this is the hundredth wedding she is attending as an asoebi girl

but who is keeping count?


Sundays are holy, sabbath should be kept

those wild bodies go back to God

with gloomy faces they sit through sermons-

prepared to tuck the wildness in work pants the next day


While dawn stretches each morning, the city sits wide awake

the scorching sun rises and sets on the backs of the working class

they sit packed in buses and cars

some shirts billow on bikes avoiding the traffic jam


the city plays a game of make or break

every sojourner desires to be another star

some give up this hope early

some do not but-

“eko oni baje”


the five days of the week drag

patiently like fanatics, they wait to unleash their beasts

faithful in this religion